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|
|Ayrton Senna: Mclaren-Honda|
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|
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|
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|
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|