THE FIRST OF MICHAEL’S MANY
It was 25 years ago, just a year after his Formula 1 debut at the same venue in Spa, that Michael scored the first of his record 91 grand prix wins, as Peter Windsor recalls…
It was anniversary time. In 1991 Michael Schumacher had replaced Bertrand Gachot to make his F1 debut with Jordan at Spa, and now, one year and 16 races later, he was back in the Ardennes forest, driving this time for BenettonFord: Ross Brawn. Rory Byrne. Tom Walkinshaw. Flavio Briatore.
The 1992 season, however, was all about Nigel Mansell and the Williams-Renault FW14B with its active-ride/traction control/launch-strategy brilliance. Mansell exploited it to the maximum, while his team-mate Riccardo Patrese rued the loss of the passively suspended 1991 FW14.
At Spa, as at all the circuits that year, Nigel was again seemingly unbeatable. He was quickest in most sessions, including in the wet and in the warm-up on Sunday – and on Friday he took time to scrub in extra sets of race slicks because rain was expected to disrupt Saturday’s running.
Then all but Ayrton stopped for wets. Senna plugged on in the lead, gambling that the rain would abate, but by lap 14 he was obliged to stop. The two Williams were by then leading the two Benettons: Mansell-Patrese, SchumacherMartin Brundle. Soon the rain ceased and it became a race of tyre management and strategy. Ayrton kicked himself; up front, Nigel was building up a margin. All seemed in order.
On lap 29, with 15 to go, Michael, his left-front tyre feeling the heat, missed the apex at Stavelot and ran wide onto the grass. Rejoining behind his team-mate, Michael saw that Brundle’s rear tyres were showing early signs of blistering. He took an immediate decision to stop for slicks.
In front, Nigel Mansell had also decided it was time to switch tyres. He radioed his intentions but Patrick Head’s voice boomed in response: “STAY OUT. STAY OUT. RICCARDO IS COMING IN!”
It was lap 33 before Nigel was allowed to stop. When he rejoined the race, Michael was leading by ve seconds. It would have been close, since Nigel’s newer, nicely scrubbed slicks would surely have told over the last ten laps, but then Nigel’s Renault engine suddenly lost power. His became a race of survival. Michael surged away to become the rst German to win an F1 race since Jochen Mass’s half-points day in Spain, 1975. A new era was under way. Michael nonetheless felt condent and calm. The B192 was beautifully balanced through Eau Rouge, Pouhon and Blanchimont; it braked well and had the power – even if it wasn’t a Williams. With grey, leaden clouds overhead, Michael was second in the Sunday morning warm-up.
THE HEAVENS OPEN Drizzle at the start would soon give way to a genuine Spa downpour. With all the main contenders on slicks, Ayrton Senna took the lead into La Source for McLarenHonda, with Nigel braking early and holding the middle ground. Within a few laps, however, Nigel icked to the outside into Blanchimont and seized the lead as they dived into the high-speed corner. Michael, who had started from P3, had a ringside view of the audacious move, running just behind the leaders as the rain began to fall with greater intensity.
Michael Schumacher in his yellow Benetton, on his way to victory at a rain-soaked Belgian Grand Prix