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1992 South African Grand Prix

Circuit Kyalami in South AfricaKyalami
1 March 1992

The 1992 season began amid the usual frenzy of speculation as every scrap of pre-season testing data was analysed and rumours swirled around whether Prost would drive for Ligier. In the end, he didn’t: Erik Comas arrived with the team having hardly sat in the car all winter. The Andrea Moda team arrived too – only to get turned away by the FISA officials for not having paid their new team registration fee. Team owner Andrea Sassetti insisted that he didn’t need to pay the fee as it wasn’t a new team, just a renaming of the Coloni team and that Footwork, Leyton House and Fondmetal to name but three hadn’t had to pay the fee. The officials were unmoved though, and the transporters were packed up again after only having done a few Thursday reconnaisance laps while the arguments went on.

For everyone else, there was a new track to learn: the new Kyalami circuit was shorter than the original and much, much tighter – even harder to pass on than Monaco was the general opinion, though the journalists, fans and teams alike all appreciated the state-of-the-art facilities. With no Andrea Moda team, pre-qualifying was cancelled and the teams were thankful for some extra time to get familiar with the new circuit or fettle the car. The Williams cars had looked good in pre-season and Nigel Mansell, fresh and looking confident, took a dominant pole position, 0.7s ahead of second-placed Senna. Berger was Image result for 1992 South African Grand Prixthird and then a curiously out-of-sorts looking Patrese was fourth, a full 1.5s behind Mansell. Fifth and sixth were Alesi and Schumacher and an astonishing seventh in the underfunded March was Karl Wendlinger. Brundle and Capelli started their new “big team” careers from 8th and 9th respectively with Andrea de Cesaris 10th in the Tyrrell. Only two of the five debutants made the race, though, with Ukyo Katayama 18th and Christian Fittipaldi 20th: Belmondo, Chiesa and Amati would sit out the race, as would Stefano Modena whose Jordan blew several engines in the heat. So did Gugelmin’s – he only managed 23rd.

Image result for 1992 South African Grand PrixSunday was cooler and when the lights went green Mansell leaped away into the lead but it was Patrese who got the best start, passing both McLarens to take second, while Berger also dropped back behind Alesi and Schumacher. Many assumed that the Mansell and Patrese had been using the new launch control system but in fact it hadn’t been installed yet: Patrese’s start was all his own doing.

Wendlinger’s great grid position was wasted when halfway round lap 1 he collided with Brundle, putting the Benetton out immediately and damaging the March’s radiators sufficiently to put it out some laps later with overheating. Meanwhile, the Williams pairing were rapidly pulling out a lead – and Mansell in particular was disappearing away from Patrese at quite a rate. Such a rate, in fact that some began to speculate that there was something wrong with the number 6 Williams and James Hunt on the BBC – never Patrese’s biggest fan – to suggest that the Italian was lacking in motivation, having arrived for the weigh-in much heavier than Mansell.

Image result for 1992 South African Grand PrixWhatever the reason, Mansell was disappearing off into the distance while Patrese did just enough to keep ahead of Senna who was driving the spoilers off his 1991 McLaren just to keep pace at all and was being chased by an Alesi-Schumacher-Berger-Capelli train, all seeking a way past each other, but in vain on this tight, twisting circuit. It was entertaining to watch but nothing changed until lap 29 when Ivan Capelli’s Ferrari engine expired in a cloud of smoke. Eleven laps later Alesi’s followed suit in exactly the same fashion. More work to do at Maranello. So Schumacher was up to fourth and Berger fifth, with Herbert moving up into the points in the elderly Lotus.

Image result for 1992 South African Grand PrixAnd that’s where they finished, some thirty laps later, with no-one able to pass, and no-one able to get even a little bit close to the Williams duo. Fifteen fastest laps were set during the race: fourteen by Mansell and one by Patrese. Senna was a distant third and even then the McLaren was flattered by his driving. Berger was a much more ordinary looking fifth behind Schumacher, with Herbert bringing home a welcome point for Lotus. Comas came in seventh, with the Ligiers looking much livelier than last year with Eric van de Poele last of the classified finishers, 13th and four laps down but still running in the Brabham.

Image result for 1992 South African Grand Prix

Not a classic race, and it was clear that the other teams had a lot of catching up to do. McLaren in particular would need to decide whether to bring in that new car earlier, or stick to the original plan and wait until it was ready.


Drivers’ Championship

POSITION DRIVER POINTS
1 Nigel Mansell 10
2 Riccardo Patrese 6
3 Ayrton Senna 4
4 Michael Schumacher 3
5 Gerhard Berger 2
6 Johnny Herbert 1

Constructors’ Championship

 

POSITION CONSTRUCTOR POINTS
1 Williams-Renault 16
2 McLaren-Honda 6
3 Benetton-Ford 3
4 Lotus-Ford 1
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Andrea Moda-Judd

Image result for 1992 andrea moda caffi

Like his namesake Enzo Osella, Enzo Coloni had finally given up the unequal struggle to remain in Formula One after just fourteen starts in 82 attempts over four years (and hadn’t managed a single race appearance since 1989 and never made it out of Pre-Qualifying in 1991). In stepped Andrea Sassetti, a shoe designer with a considerable fortune (that no-one was quite sure of the origins of), who bought the team lock, stock and barrel, renaming it Andrea Moda but retaining cars, staff and the team’s HQ at  Passignano sul Trasimeno. With a supply of Judd engines and two Italian drivers in Alex Caffi and former Coloni man Enrico Bertaggia, the package was complete.


Caffi34. Alex Caffi it

Since making his F1 debut in 1986, Alex Caffi has gained a reputation as a promising talent who has never had the right equipment to make the most of it. Furthermore, the last couple of years have been plagued by injuries sustained both on and off track and when he returned to Footwork after his car accident in 1991, he never seemed the same driver and failed to qualify the car again. Released by Footwork in favour of Aguri Suzuki, he has found a berth at Andrea Moda but time will tell if that is an improvement or not.


bertaggia35. Enrico Bertaggia it

Bertaggia was last seen in Formula One in 1989, when he bought into the Coloni team towards the end of the year at the expense of Pierre-Henri Raphanel. He entered six races and was the slowest entrant for all of them. Since then he’s returned to Formula 3 and despite winning the 1989 Macau Grand Prix he has otherwise been unsuccessful. He has nonetheless raised the wherewithal to have another punt at F1 and will be hoping to make a better fist of it this time.

Jordan-Yamaha

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It’s all change for Jordan after an impressive debut season. Success came at a price and with the team racking up debts, Eddie Jordan was forced to give up the customer Ford engines in favour of the less impressive – but free – Yamaha OX99. Out went 7UP sponsorship and green livery and in came the blue of South African oil giants Sasol and the cream of Barclay cigarettes – whose sponsorship meant out went Marlboro-backed Andrea de Cesaris. So two new drivers were also needed; Stefano Modena leaves Tyrrell after a frustrating year and Mauricio Gugelmin is forced out of March by financial concerns.


modena.jpg32. Stefano Modena it

1991 was a deeply disappointing year for Stefano, who seems to have been knocking on the door of success for some years now without ever really finding it. He is highly rated by former champion and BBC commentator James Hunt, but never seems to have had the machinery to show what he can do. There’s a sense that 1992 with Jordan might be his last chance to impress.


gugelmin.jpg33. Maurício Gugelmin br

Like Stefano Modena, there’s an air about Gugelmin of a driver who’s never really fulfilled his promise and is running out of time to do so.

Venturi Larrousse-Lamborghini

Image result for 1992 venturi larrousse

After using Lola chassis since entering Formula 1 in 1987, the Larrousse team’s financial difficulties finally ended the arrangement due to unpaid bills, and the same went for Brian Hart’s organisation which had been tuning their Ford engines. Instead, with investment from the Venturi sports car firm, the team were able to hire members of the Fomet think-tank and their designs for what would have been Fondmetal’s 1992 chassis. Now the LC92, it would mount the same Lamborghini 3512 engine that the team had used in 1989-90 before losing to Ligier. Bertrand Gachot, who substituted at the end of last season following Bernard’s injury, is retained alongside Japanese rookie Ukyo Katayama.


gachot29. Bertrand Gachot fr

Gachot – now holding a French superlicence rather than a Belgian one, reflecting his passport – had had a decent season in 1991, albeit usually outperformed by de Cesaris, and scored three times before his indiscretion in London cost him his seat for the remainder of the season. Winding up at Larrousse to replace Eric Bernard in Australia, he failed to qualify but evidently did enough to persuade the team to retain him into 1992, especially as he has long experience in back-of-the-grid teams.


Image result for 1992 ukyo katayama30. Ukyo Katayama jp

Tokyo native Katayama’s journey to Formula 1 is quite a tale. He started out as a mechanic before driving in domestic junior formulae, finishing sixth in Japanese F3 in 1985 before heading for Paris – which he believed to be in England, the home of motorsport. Somehow, despite speaking only a little English and no French, he made his way into the Winfield racing school at Paul Ricard. While at the school, he drove in Formula Renault, where his career came to an abrupt end as he broke his neck and both legs in a horrific crash. Hobbling out of the hospital, he decided to go back into racing. Finding a drive at the tiny Duquesne team for the remainder of the year, his best result was 9th at Pau and in 1987 he headed back to Japan. Here he spent four years in Japanese F3000 with a number of teams, slowly recovering from his injuries as well as racing for the Courage team at Le Mans in 1988 (when he had another massive crash) and in 1989 he drove in Japanes and European F3000 for the Footwork team before being picked up by tobacco brand Cabin, who ran their own team. In 1991, injuries now fully healed, he won the Japanese F3000 series at a canter and was sponsored into F1 by Cabin.

Ferrari

Image result for 1992 ferrari f92a twin floor

A pretty dismal 1991 saw Ferrari fail to win a race for the first time since 1986 and they seldom looked competitive, even with the talents of Prost and Alesi at the wheel. There has been another internal reorganisation at Maranello and a new chassis by Jean-Claude Image result for 1992 capelliMigeot. The F92A (a new numbering system – a statement of intent to break with 1991) featured a revolutionary “double-bottom” (left) with the bodywork raised above the floor to give a mini wind-tunnel effect and give extra downforce. Jean Alesi takes over as team leader from Alain Prost and in the number 28 seat comes Ivan Capelli, out of a job at Leyton House/March on financial grounds but having proved his talent many times.


Related image27. Jean Alesi

Even the talents of Alesi couldn’t make the Ferrari 642 and 643 look good, but three third-places and several other minor points finishes saw him to seventh in the table at the end of the year. He has probably regretted not signing that Williams contract but on the other hand, what driver – especially one with Italian blood – could resist the idea of being lead driver at Ferrari in his third full season racing? He just has to hope that the new car fulfils its promise and gets the Scuderia back on track.


Capelli_ACI.jpg28. Ivan Capelli it

For five seasons, Capelli has been driving for the March/Leyton House team and was loved by the team as much as he loved them. He took them to two podiums in 1988 but team and driver kept faith with each other as the team slumped in form and he only managed nine finishes between 1989 and 91 (even if one of them was that fine second place which might have even been a win in France 1990). So dedicated to his team was he that he voluntarily stepped down to allow the better-funded Wendlinger to come on board and hung around to coach the Austrian. It seems fitting that such dedication should be rewarded by a high-profile drive with Ferrari.

Ligier-Renault

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It’s probably just as well that Ligier regarded 1991 as an interim year, because the results were not good. A second successive pointless year, the highlight being two seventh places for Boutsen, while Comas failed to qualify on three occasions to add insult to injury. Now, though, the team have nowhere to hide: with huge support from the French govenrment channelled through the Gitanes tobacco firm, the same Renault engines that power the Williams cars and a proven winner in the shape of Boutsen, the team have all the resources they could want. Throughout the winter, there have been strong rumours that Alain Prost would sign up to drive, and he has been testing extensively – often wearing Comas’ helmet to fool reporters.


boutsen25. Thierry Boutsen be

1991 was Boutsen’s worst season in some time – his first pointless season since 1986 in fact – and despite his reputation as a quiet, patient and professional man, he found it difficult to hide his frustrations. He will have great hopes for the 1992 setup, particularly as he is already familiar with previous evolutions of the Renault engine from his two years at Williams, and his smooth style means he should bring the car home more often.

 


Related image26. Érik Comas fr

The youngster’s debut season was a difficult one, with the perfect storm of inexperience and track-learning combined with a dreadful car and a massive shunt in Germany. However, his guts at getting back in the car after that and putting in a good enough lap to qualify didn’t go un-noticed. Alain Prost has been sniffing around the seat, though, meaning Comas has had little testing time this winter and begins the season still unsure if he will actually be driving or not.

Minardi-Lamborghini

Image result for 1992 minardi

The Minardi team had had high hopes of their 1991 alliance with Ferrari, only to be disappointed with the results; the engine was heavy and the car unreliable, and their only two points finishes were Martini’s two fighting fourths at Imola and Estoril. With the disgruntled Martini on his way, the team has acquired the use of Lamborghini engines from the now-defunct Modena team and gives an F1 debut to Christian Fittipaldi alongside last year’s rookie Gianni Morbidelli to form the youngest and least experienced line-up on the grid.


Image result for 1992 christian fittipaldi23. Christian Fittipaldi br

Son of former F1 driver Wilson Fittipaldi and nephew of double-champion Emerson, young Christian naturally turned to racing and worked his way up through the domestic scene, finishing second in Brazilian Formula Ford in 1988, third and first in South American F3 in 1989 and 90 respectively and fourth in British F3 also in 1990. During 1991, he entered the International F3000 series with the Pacific racing team and fought a close-run battle with Alessandro Zanardi, winning two races before taking the title. At the age of just 19, he is the youngest man on the grid and has a big family name to live up to.



Image result for 1992 gianni morbidelli24. Gianni Morbidelli

It was quite a debut year for Morbidelli in 1991 – only six finishes for Minardi, the best of which was seventh, then being called up to Ferrari to replace a sacked Prost. Steering the problematic car through monsoon conditions to pick up sixth place, he might have been hopeful of securing the place full time, but in the end Ferrari decided on a more experienced driver to partner Alesi and Morbidelli is back in the black car with a further apprenticeship to serve. He will hope to prove them wrong by excelling in his sophomore year.