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…

F1 Racing - - NOW THAT WAS A RACE -

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 condent 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

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