Thursday, 8 March 2012

1986 Hungarian Grand Prix - Hungaroring

August 10, 1986

With ten of the sixteen races done, the 1986 World Championship battle was about to go into its decisive phase in Hungary. Nigel Mansell (Williams) was leading the championship with 51 points. Hot on his heels were Alain Prost (McLaren) with 44, looking to defend his title, Ayrton Senna (Lotus) with 42 and Nelson Piquet (Williams), who was back with the leaders after his victory at Hockenheim, which brought him up to 38 points.

In the first qualifying session, Mansell immediately showed his confidence by driving the fastest lap by far. With a time of 1:30.516, the Briton was nearly a second faster than his teammate Piquet, while qualifying ace Ayrton Senna, who had scored five pole positions in the first ten races of the season, clocked a time 1.7 seconds slower than Mansell. Gerhard Berger (Benetton) set the fourth fastest time in the first session, helped by his Pirelli tyres.

Piquet - Back in the fight for the title.
On Saturday, Senna had sorted out how the track worked, scraping a massive 2.8 seconds off his Friday time to claim pole in 1:29.450. Prost also found his rhythm, improving by over 3 seconds to claim third. Between the two wasn’t Mansell, but Piquet. The Brazilian put his Williams next to Senna with a 1:29.785. Where most drivers found at least one and a half seconds on Saturday, Mansell improved only by half a second, moving him from provisional pole to fourth.

Senna - On pole for the sixth time.
In the race, it was clear, right from the start that this was to be a two man show. The two Brazilians on the front row pulled away, and were only seen again when they showed up in the rear-view mirrors of the drivers they lapped. From the start, even Piquet had trouble keeping up with Senna. The Lotus driver took off with an amazing 1:35 opening lap. Senna managed to create a small gap of about three seconds during the opening laps of the race, but Piquet counter attacked, and after eight laps he was right back under Senna’s gearbox.

For the next four laps, Piquet tried several times to outbrake Senna, but the tight circuit made such a manoeuvre extremely difficult. However, through sheer persistence the Williams driver finally squeezed through on lap twelve, and immediately began striking a gap. While Mansell, Prost and Rosberg didn’t drive badly, the record crowd of 200,000 was in awe with the display the two Brazilians were showing them. In three laps, Piquet increased his lead to five seconds.

Piquet chased Senna down and took the lead before the pitstops.
Then, on lap 18, Senna made a rare mistake, dropping no less than three seconds in one lap. Immediately following this error, the Lotus driver recovered magnificently, driving all out for several laps. He set a blistering pace, while Piquet was suffering from excessive tyre wear. By lap 25 Senna had brought the gap from eight back to three seconds, only to fall back to seven seconds again when Piquet pulled out another fast lap, with his tyres seemingly coming back to him.

After 35 laps, Piquet came in for his pitstop. At that time, his advantage was only five seconds, and so Ayrton Senna easily took over the lead. The young Brazilian then went full throttle until his own pitstop in order to build the maximum benefit from the laps between Piquet’s pitstop and his own. Senna’s plan succeeded perfectly and when his pitstop was completed on lap 42, he came out in the lead with seven seconds advantage. What followed was a frantic battle between the two countrymen on fresh rubber posting nearly identical laptimes for nearly ten consecutive laps.

Senna drove magnificently during the pitstop phase to retake the lead.
By then it became clear that Senna’s car wasn’t 100%. In a period of five laps, Piquet was able to close the gap Senna and began calmly stalking his younger countryman. As lap 53 began, with the Lotus and Williams passing the start-finish line nose to tail, with Piquet perfectly placed in Senna's slipstream. The young Brazilian, despite being in only his third full season of Grand Prix racing, instantly recognized what the wily Piquet was planning and deftly positioned his Lotus in the centre of the racing line to protect his position as best he could. As Piquet went for the inside line, Senna left him room but closed the gap enough to make Piquet's passing attempt as difficult as possible. They both went deep into the braking zone, leaving it all until the last possible second. Piquet reached the corner first, but the inside line that Piquet was on, that Senna pinned him to, was the dirty portion of the track and as Piquet got on the brakes his car immediately began slithering on the edge of adhesion. He could not make the apex of the corner, sliding wide, and this left the door open for Senna to retake the lead. It was riveting stuff from two brilliant racing drivers.

Piquet immediately slotted himself behind Senna once more and calmly took up the chase. In two laps Piquet was again under Senna's gearbox as they went across the start-finish line. The Honda power in the Williams ensured that Piquet quickly reeled in Senna's Lotus. Senna once again expected Piquet to dive for the inside and as before positioned his car in the centre of the racing line. Just as he did so, Piquet dove instead for the outside line. It was a bold move and Senna immediately realized the ruse and attempted to close the gap to the outside line in order to keep Piquet there through the turn. Piquet's bravery and determination, however, was not to be denied and with his wheels millimetres from the grass he went past the Lotus. Again the two daredevils left the braking until the last possible moment, Lotus on the inside, Williams on the outside. Again Piquet teetered on the edge of control, the back end of his car stepping out as he entered the corner, but this time he kept it together, made the apex and left no room for Senna to counter attack. It was an amazing display of car control and a stupefying pass that can surely be considered one of the best ever. In short, it was a work of art. 

Piquet goes around the outside of Senna into Turn 1.
With the job done, Piquet opened a small lead of about four seconds and looked free and clear at last. However, Senna responded yet again and what followed was a stunning race to the flag as the Williams and Lotus raced through the Hungarian hills faster and faster. There was little traffic left, as the number of cars had been reduced to just ten during the race. Each time one of the two leading Brazilians would improve their fastest lap, the other would respond right away with one of their own.

Ten laps from the end, Senna finally got his break as Piquet ran into backmarkers. The Williams driver posted a 1:35 and a 1:36, while Senna was running 1:34s at the time, allowing the Lotus driver to catch up for a grand finale. For the next seven laps there was rarely more than a foot between the two, but Piquet didn’t give Senna a chance to pass. On lap 73 Piquet set the fastest lap of the race with a ripping 1:31.001, two tenths faster than Senna during the previous lap and 1.6 seconds faster than the third fastest driver, Keke Rosberg (McLaren).

On lap 74 the great battle all of a sudden ended in an enormous anti-climax. When Piquet blasted past start-finish, the crowd waited and waited for Senna to show. The black Lotus finally showed, eight seconds behind Piquet’s Williams. As they came around again, Piquet’s victory was clear. The Williams driver had stopped pushing as Senna dropped yet another four seconds. The final lap saw Senna even registering a 1:40 lap as he crawled across the line to claim second. Piquet’s teammate and bitter rival Mansell came third, a lap and 40 seconds behind.

A thrilling display by both, but the wily veteran wins the day.
This was the first of many tough battles between two arch rivals. The rivalry between Piquet and Senna was not a subtle matter. This was Sao Paulo vs Rio de Janeiro, the old fox vs the young gun. Piquet was burning with desire to show the new kid he was still the master, but at the same time he knew that Senna was going to capture his throne as most popular Brazilian driver. This rivalry showed in every inch of the first Hungarian Grand Prix. 

Ayrton Senna, along with Alain Prost, indeed overshadowed their rivals in the Eighties to a great extent. The only man who ever really came close was Piquet, who won three World Championships and 23 Grands Prix. He was a driver full of guile and cunning with a talent that surely places him among the very greatest drivers ever in Formula One. 


  1. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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  2. Incredible how Piquet fought to control his car as he passed Senna on the outside. On the absolute limit .... those were the days.