Monday, 11 November 2013

1992 Monaco Grand Prix - Monte Carlo

    May 31, 1992

For the first time in a long time a Honda engine wasn't enough. Not even a Honda engine with Ayrton Senna sitting in front of it. After only 10 of the season's 16 races, Nigel Mansell would equal Senna's record of eight victories in a season. The Williams-Renault FW14B, "active" suspension and all, exerted a greater superiority over the rest than anyone could remember. McLaren, and all the others were not beaten in 1992. They were routed. 

Nigel Mansell: Williams-Renault
Coming into the race at Monte Carlo, Mansell had dominated the season to date, winning the first five races, a feat unequalled in Grand Prix history. He carried this form into qualifying, taking a comfortable pole position with team-mate Riccardo Patrese second and Senna third. At the start Mansell fairly leapt off the grid, moving smartly left to discourage any thoughts Patrese might have entertained about going for the lead. Riccardo, indeed, was not even second by the apex of the first turn at Ste Devote. "Monte Carlo is the hardest place in the world for overtaking," Senna commented later. "Even at the start you can't do it, unless you're really squeezing it. I went for it at the last moment, so as not to give Riccardo any indication, because otherwise he would have closed the door. I got into second place that way, but the problem was to stop the car before Mansell turned in, because I was coming so quickly I thought he might not have seen me. But it was a good manoeuvre, and the only way I had to make a place. if Patrese had been ahead of me out of the corner, I doubt I would ever have got past him."
Ayrton Senna: Mclaren-Honda
Michael Schumacher (Benetton) also got ahead of Jean Alesi (Ferrari) in the opening seconds, but on the run down to Mirabeau the Ferrari moved by the Benetton once more. After one lap, it was Mansell, Senna, Patrese, Alesi, Schumacher, Gerhard Berger (McLaren), Martin Brundle (Benetton), and Ivan Capelli (Ferrari).

Already it was clear that only some misfortune separated Mansell from his first victory in Monte Carlo. At around a second a lap, the Williams pulled away from Senna, who was now coming under pressure from Patrese. "I knew," Senna related, "there was no way to catch Mansell. Impossible, with the superiority of his car. At present we are not in a condition to win, and neither is anyone else. So what I tried to do was go hard enough to be in position to benefit if anything happened to Mansell, but still try to conserve my tyres - particularly in the early laps, on full tanks." After a while Senna began to lean on his tyres a little more, pulling a little way clear of Patrese. If he couldn't remotely keep Mansell in sight, at least he wanted the gap to be of manageable proportions. "I couldn't think of beating him, of course, but you never know what will happen at Monaco. Already in the early race I was planning for the late race ..."

Seemingly lost cause: Senna maintains pursuit of Mansell 
As Mansell continued to go away at a second a lap, it looked a forlorn hope, but Ayrton was right in his thinking. And at least, for the first time that year, he was betwen the Williamses, rather than behind them. Further back, Alesi and Schumacher were involved in what may be termed as a torrid duel for fourth and splendid it inevitably was, given the mentality of the two youthful chargers. You had the impression the Benetton was quicker, but Alesi wasn't for losing his position.

For Mansell, all was silky smooth. At this point he was almost 10 seconds ahead of Senna, and Patrese was dropping back from the McLaren. Such excitement as there was continued to come from Alesi and Schumacher; on lap 12 they made contact at the Loews Hairpin, when Michael tried to force through a gap not quite as wide as a Benetton. Jean all but spun at the exit, but gathered it up, and duly maintained his fourth place. Schumacher seemed to have gotten through the tussled unscathed. For Alesi though, the consequences were more serious. There was damage to the Ferrari's gearbox, which ultimately caused its retirement, on lap 29.

Now began a long period during which there was little on which to concentrate apart from the redoubtable Schumacher. Once Alesi's Ferrari was out of the way, and he had a clear road before him, he quickly began to think about Patrese's third place. Down and down the gap came, until by lap 40 the Williams and Benetton were running together. Patrese was an old campaigner, though. This was his 16th Monaco GP, and over time he had learned a lesson or two about the place. "I must say my car wasn't fantastic. There was a lot of oversteer, and it got worse through the race. So I was very busy when Schumacher caught up to me, and you could say I used my ..... experience to keep ahead of him."

Now we had status quo for a long time. Mansell serenely led, once in a while setting a new fastest lap, as if to keep his concentration alive. Generally the lead over Senna was around 20 seconds, Ayrton continuing to drive hard, but only in the hope that something untoward would befall the Williams in the late stages. On lap 60 the pendulum looked to swing even more definitively Mansell's way, for on that lap his lead was suddenly out to 30 seconds. At Mirabeau Michele Alboreto (Footwork), recently overtaken by Brundle, had spun, momentarily blocking the track. Next man through was the World Champion. "I just managed to stop," Senna said. "Maybe half a metre from him. I didn't dare to move, to go around him, because he was moving himself. So I waited there a few seconds until I could get by. I lost maybe nine seconds, which was a little bit disappointing. Still, all I could do afterwards was push, push, push ...."

Status quo again .... until lap 71, when the pattern of the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix shifted fundamentally. Down to the chicane, and on toward Tabac, Mansell's Williams was off its familiar pace. It was slow progress for him to return to the pitlane and there he was fitted with a new set of tyres. A pitstop at Monte Carlo is a lengthy affair, necessarily so, given the tight entry lane. Even so, Mansell thought the tyre change tardy, and said so afterwards. As he reached the pit exit, Senna hurtled by. For the first time that year something other than a Williams-Renault was in the lead of a Grand Prix. What had happened to precipitate this late stop? In the tunnel, Mansell had a sideways moment, and concluded that probably he had a puncture, that he needed new tyres. But afterwards Goodyear said this was not the case. A wheel bearing then? "No" said Williams' Chief Designer Adrian Newey, "because if it had been, the replacement wheel would have been marked at the end of the race, and it wasn't." What, then? "Difficult to say," Newey commented. "It might have been a loose wheel nut, perhaps." Whatever, it brought Mansell in, and it lost him the lead. Now we had the prospect of a race at last, of the fastest car, on new tyres, chasing the man who had won Monaco for the last three years.

Change of fortune: Mansell hounds Senna through the chicane
Even given the problems of overtaking at this place, Senna looked vulnerable. On lap 72 he led the Williams by 5.1s; next time around it was 4.3s, but a shattering lap by Mansell, almost two seconds faster than any other driver's best, brought that down to 1.9s. With three laps to go, the two cars were together and it seemed inconceivable that Senna could hold on. All around the circuit Mansell jinked and bobbed behind the McLaren, darting this way and that, looking for a gap that Senna never left. "I didn't really know what to do," Ayrton said, "because he was coming so much faster than I could go. My tyres were finished. They'd been good all the way, but this was the end of the race, and the grip was gone. And I was tired, too, obviously. It was hell to push at that point. I knew he would try everything. I knew we would be in for a major war in the last three laps. It was exciting but very difficult because he was several seconds faster than me and I had no grip to put the power down. It was like on ice. Fortunately I only had three or four laps that way. On the straights, it was like a drag race, you know, wheelspin in third and fourth gear....."

Last lap: Senna resolute on the racing line, follow-the-leader through up the hill, Senna inside for the curve into Casino, Mansell slightly wider; tight together through potential passing places but Mansell fractionally too far away. Tight around the Loews Hairpin, Mansell braking so hard he drew smoke from the left front tyre; accelerating from the crown of Mirabeau so ferociously the Williams bucked.

The race now turned on the chicane after the tunnel. If Mansell could find enough momentum onto, through and out of the tunnel he might thrust past at the chicane. They entered the tunnel nose-to-tail and Senna maintained that on the flight to the chicane. Senna wrestled the McLaren through it. Along the harbour front Mansell swarmed, making a last inside-outside lunge into the twist of Rascasse, the left-right right before the finishing straight. Senna nursed the racing line and Mansell went wide, wide, wide to go around him. Not possible within the confines of Monaco. Senna won by 0.215 seconds.

Unrelenting pressure: Mansell glued to Senna's rear-wing
Admirably, Mansell didn't complain about the fight that Senna put in. "I must compliment Ayrton, because he pretty well second guessed every move I tried to do and he was very fair, he was perfectly entitled to do what he did, to defend his position," he said. "It was regrettable that the tyre change took a few seconds longer than usual, because otherwise I could perhaps have rejoined the race without losing the lead. Also, the new tyres were very cold, and it took a lap or two to come to pressure and temperature. I can't remember driving harder than in those last few laps."

It is always a special thing when the two best drivers of the day go hammer and tongs right down to the finish line. Of course the circumstances at Monaco were the only thing that allowed this duel to be what it was. Senna could not have put up such a defence on any other circuit. Nelson Piquet once said that racing around the streets of the tiny principality was like "riding a bicycle around your living room." However, Senna's absolute refusal to give up on the chance to win, no matter how remote that chance might have seemed early in the race. His stubborn determination to not allow himself to be demoralized into accepting second are what put him in a position to capitalize on Mansell's misfortune. There have not been many drivers in F1 who would have done the same and on that day Senna was rewarded, though he had to earn every inch of that victory. One which tied Graham Hill's record of five wins at Monaco. 

Mansell summed it up best afterwards, "We gave it everything we had and more ... you have the race under control for seven-eighths of a distance, then you pick up a puncture. That's Monte Carlo for you. Then you have to drive ten to eleven tenths, and I think we were both driving way over the limit on the last six laps." All of this was said as Senna sat looking at his hand with a knowing, satisfied smile on his face.

This was the day when the unstoppable force battled the immovable object and it surely was a clash of titans which will always be remembered as one of the classic Monaco Grands Prix.

Sheer determination: Senna proves that luck is what you make it

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