August 13, 1989
Many doubted the wisdom of Nigel Mansell's move to Ferrari, for the 1989 season, particularly over his ability to handle the unforgiving Italian press and the tortuous internal politics of Maranello. But Mansall emerged as a calmer, more relaxed driver and fitted into Ferrari instantly and effortlessly. He couldn't have made a better start, of course. His victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix was a dream debut for Mansell and John Barnard's new chisel-nosed car which had proved so unreliable during testing and practice. After that win he was dubbed "Il Leone" by the Italian fans, the tifosi.
The prospect of a duel to decide who would be in front
at the first corner, between Senna and Patrese, was something to look forward
to. Senna, who had battled here in 1988 for the rights of the person in pole
position to choose which side of the grid to start from, found himself on the
dirtier inside line in 1989. But although he almost managed to squeeze inside
Patrese at the right-handed first corner, the Williams was narrowly ahead and
Senna was almost squeezed over the kerbing.
For the first part of the race it was impossible to
judge the status of the drivers, since most of them were expected to make pit
stops for tyres. However, cooler weather than in qualifying, coupled with some
gamesmanship by the teams, allowed most of the leading contenders to run
Sadly, this promising four-way battle for the lead was brief, lasting until Patrese retired on lap 53 with a steaming engine. It was a stone through the radiator of his Williams-Renault that eliminated the Italian when he was admirably maintaining a narrow advantage. The battle between Senna, now leading, and Mansell was extraordinary given that the McLaren-Honda's power allowed it to pull away noticeably even on the short straights. In braking, and in most corners, the more aerodynamic Ferrari made up all the difference, and on lap times there was virtually nothing between their performances.
The deciding moment of the race came halfway round lap
58. Mansell had been tracking Senna's McLaren within less than a second, and
all he needed was a mistake by the Brazilian to let him grab the
lead. Senna did not exactly make a mistake: he had the misfortune to
come round a corner and be faced with a slower car, that of Stefan Johansson
(Onyx). Johansson, in trouble with gears, was reluctant to move off line,
despite moving so slowly, and Senna arrived behind him from the previous corner
so fast that he almost caught the Onyx. Mansell appraised the situation almost
instantly, braking hard and almost hitting Senna as he opposite-locked to his
"Ayrton is obviously more difficult to pass than Alain, but he was a bit too close to the car in front, and had to slow in the middle of the corner," said Mansell. "I was very close as well, and almost hit the back of Ayrton, but I was able to throw the car sideways and just have enough momentum to go past." He added that he was tempted to close his eyes...
The large contingent of tifosi in
the crowd got the message that a Ferrari was in front, and Mansell was greeted
with huge cheers. He went on to win majestically, with Senna in second and
Boutsen gaining third after a late pitstop by Prost to
clean his helmet visor.
Not even Ayrton Senna would disagree that Nigel Mansell deserved to win the 1989 Hungarian Grand Prix. Only Riccardo Patrese, who had driven immaculately in the lead, from pole position, for 52 of the 77 laps, could offer a better claim than Mansell's. It was a consistently hard, competitive race this - one of the best of Mansell's career by his own reckoning - that took the relentless Englishman from 12th place on the grid into eighth by the end of the first lap, and past no fewer than six rivals by sheer persistence.
During the first half of the season the Ferrari was rarely reliable enough to reward Mansell's efforts but he produced a typically gritty drive at Silverstone, keeping the pressure on Alain Prost (McLaren) all the way despite the McLaren's technical superiority. And then came his drive in Hungary.
This memorable race had produced a shock even before it started. Riccardo Patrese (Williams), whose only two previous pole positions dated back to 1981 and 1983, produced an astonishing lap on Friday which would stand even on Saturday. Ayrton Senna (Mclaren) qualified second, but the most impressive qualifying performance, was a popular third place for Alex Caffi (Dallara). Mansell found that the softer Goodyear qualifying tyres were difficult to use correctly, and twelfth on the grid was the best he could manage. However, there was an indication of what would follow in the Sunday morning warm-up, when he topped the list.
|1989 Hungarian GP - Mansell would battle from 12th on the grid.|
At the end of the lap, Caffi was third, followed by Gerhard Berger (Ferrari), Prost, Thierry Boutsen (Benetton), and Alessandro Nannini (Benetton) before Mansell appeared.
Starting the fourth lap, Berger managed to pass Caffi at the first corner, smoothly moving up to third place. Four laps later Prost also managed to use his Honda power to get ahead of the Dallara, but he would be the last man to pass the well-driven Dallara for fifteen laps, when Mansell at last burst through. But he was 17 seconds behind Prost and it looked impossible to make up the difference although Mansell, of course, had other ideas. He carved as much as a second a lap out of the Frenchman's advantage, and when Berger stopped for tyres on lap 29, Mansell moved into fourth place, 5.9 seconds behind Prost.
|1989 Hungarian GP - Patrese shows that he still has mettle.|
At half distance Patrese was defending the lead so firmly that even Senna, tracking his every move, seemed unlikely to pass. However, the Brazilian cannot have felt comfortable, for behind him now was Mansell, who had passed Prost and moved into third place.
|1989 Hungarian GP - Mansell doggedly pressures Senna.|
|Split second - Mansell seizes the opportunity to pass Senna.|
Determination was Mansell's outstanding quality: it kept him in motor racing when lesser men would have given up and made him habitually drive flat out when the few drivers who have an infinitesimal extra degree of talent might just ease off. This was Mansell's formula for success, fast and strong ... Il Leone indeed.
1989 Hungarian GP - Mutual respect from the titans of the day.