Historical feature: 1992 Hungarian GP

The 1992 Hungarian GP holds a special place in Renault’s motorsport history as the race saw Nigel Mansell secure the company’s first ever World Championship.

Twenty years on Renault has laid claim to nine drivers’ titles.

Mansell had come close before during his first stint at Williams, losing the 1986 title with his infamous puncture in the Australian GP, and ruling himself out of the battle for the 1987 crown when he crashed in practice in Japan.
After a spell at Ferrari he returned to Williams, now partnered by Renault, in 1991. Armed with the FW14 he scored five Grands Prix victories that year, and finished second to Ayrton Senna in the World Championship.

At the start of the 1992 season the latest FW14B was utterly dominant. Mansell won the first five races and finished second in Monaco after a late pit stop while leading. He retired in Canada but then won in France, Britain and Germany. By now the title was a formality, and it was just a question of how soon he would wrap things up.

Remarkably his chance came as early as the Hungarian GP in August, with five races still to run. Only team mate Riccardo Patrese was left with a mathematical possibility of delaying the inevitable.

Williams was boosted by having the latest RS4 spec engine in both race cars and the spare from the start of Friday practice. However, things didn’t quite go Mansell’s way over the course of the weekend. Indeed for only the second time since the start of the season (after third spot in Canada) he was knocked off pole, and instead had to settle for second behind Patrese.

Mansell was not known for taking things easy, but he recognised that with the title in his grasp, he didn’t have to win to ensure he left Hungary as champion. At the start he opted out of a brave run down the inside of Patrese. Having backed off, he then found himself demoted to fourth by the McLarens of Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger, while Benetton’s Michael Schumacher slotted into fifth place.

Patrese had yet to win a race in 1992, and he was in determined mood. He soon opened up a significant advantage on Senna, while Mansell moved into third by passing Berger on lap 8.

A win for the Italian would ensure that Mansell would have to wait until at least the next race in Belgium in order to clinch the title. However on lap 39 Patrese spun on some dirt thrown onto the track by another car, and dropped down to seventh. Senna eased into the lead, and Mansell now had the second place he needed. When Patrese retired on lap 55, he seemed home and dry.

Indeed everything was routine until lap 60, some 17 from home, when Mansell felt a handling problem. Suspecting a puncture, on the following lap he came into the pits for tyres, and dropped to sixth place.

Now Mansell had to charge if he was going to secure enough points to settle the matter. He was helped when the Benettons of Schumacher and Martin Brundle collided and the German retired, and he then quickly worked his way past Mika Hakkinen, Brundle and Berger to reclaim second place. He eventually crossed the line some 40s behind winner Senna, having finally realised his dream.

He might have had the best car, but few could begrudge Mansell his success, achieved some 12 years after his Grand Prix debut and following much heartache and frustration. It was to be his only World Championship, but for Williams and Renault, the story was only just beginning.