26 July 1992
With the 1992 championship seemingly as good as over already, thoughts turned to the future and renewed rumours that Alain Prost would be returning to race in 1993 with Williams. What did that mean for Mansell? And indeed for Senna, whose contract with McLaren was up at the end of 1992 and who was known to be keen to drive one of Frank’s cars next year as well. Particularly if the other big rumour was true: that Honda would be withdrawing from the sport as an engine supplier at the end of the year. All would no doubt become clear over the coming months but while Mansell and Williams seemed to have the title sewn up there was plenty of competition further down to decide.
There was a real sense of excitement about Hockenheim this year, too, as the German fans felt they had a real chance of seeing a German win a Grand Prix for the first time since Jochen Mass in 1975. However, the nature of the circuit meant that the smart money was on the Renault-powered Williams cars, and qualifying just underlined this fact. With the Andrea Modas disposed of in pre-qualifying as usual (the hapless McCarthy was disqualified for missing a weight check, but it hardly mattered), Mansell and Patrese took the front row by over a second from Senna and Berger. Alesi was 5th, and local hero Schumacher sixth – a distant 3.172s off pole. On row 4, the unusual sight of the two Ligiers of Comas and Boutsen, followed by Brundle a disappointed 9th and Wendlinger an encouraged 10th. Herbert and Häkkinen were 11th and 13th respectively in their Loti, sandwiching Ivan Capelli. At the back, Hill and van de Poele both failed to qualify the ailing Brabham (the Englishman had a big off in the attempt), and would be joined on the pitwall by Andrea Chiesa – rumoured to be on his last legs at Fondmetal – and an unhappy Modena, which meant that Zanardi would start his first 1992 race in the Minardi.
When the lights went green on Sunday afternoon, Mansell got away slowly – his semi-automatic gearbox selecting third instead of second – and Patrese again surged into the lead, but Mansell was quickly past before the first chicane. Senna and Berger had a similar experience; the Austrian getting away better only to lose the place to his team-leader shortly afterwards. Behind them came Schumacher, and in sixth; Brundle, who had got a flyer, overtaking both Ligiers and Alesi to tuck in behind his team-mate. Another good starter was Capelli, who got past Herbert and Boutsen. So on lap one it was Williams, Williams, McLaren, McLaren, Benetton, Benetton, Ferrari, Ligier, Ferrari, Ligier.
That was still the order fourteen laps later when Mansell – by now five seconds ahead of Patrese and nearly 20 ahead of Senna, having already broken the lap record – came in for an early pit-stop, believing he had sustained a puncture. Rejoining fourth, he set about regaining the lead. Berger made things easy, coming in himself and then coming in again the following lap to retire with a misfiring Honda. Schumacher, with his little V8 Ford proved no problem but Senna is always difficult to pass. The Brazilian, running non-stop, made his McLaren as wide as possible and a battle reminiscent of Monaco developed, with Mansell unable to get enough momentum to pass even on the long straights. At the remodelled Ostkurve chicane, he missed the turn entirely and took a shortcut across the apex but still without getting past. Perhaps if he had, he would have been sanctioned in some way but as it was the stewards made no murmur and the pair raced on. After a couple of laps, Senna waved Mansell through, apparently unwilling to risk being hit by an impatient Nigel.
On lap 20 Mansell retook the lead as Patrese stopped for tyres, and rejoined behind Senna and Schumacher – another non-stopper – who was actually gaining on the Brazilian despite his relative lack of grunt. Patrese may have increasingly been seen in 1992 as a subservient sidekick to Mansell, but he’s still a racer at heart and set about Schumacher with gusto. For ten laps, the local boy in just his 16th race held back the veteran of 234, until he slid a little on his own leaking radiator fluid and Patrese was through at the chicane.
Patrese, lest we forget, was still in the title hunt himself and now really had the bit between his teeth as, with just ten laps to go, he reeled in Senna, breaking the lap record twice until he was right on the McLaren’s tail. As Mansell before him had found, getting past Senna is another matter entirely and the two took up the duel. No waving past this time: Senna wanted those six points and a chance at a win if Mansell should falter. The closing laps saw a ding-dong battle until, on the very last lap, Patrese made a last, desperate lunge into the stadium section and spun off, stalling his engine in the process. Mansell took the win with Senna second and Schumacher delightedly inherting third place, followed by Brundle, Alesi and Comas with Boutsen seventh: the Ligiers had done well for a change at this circuit which was all about their Renault power.
Mansell’s win was his eighth of the season, equalling Senna’s 1988 record and meant that his great rival could no longer win the title: the Brazilian was 62 points behind with six races to go. Moreover, if Mansell scored four more points that Patrese at the next race in Hungary – for example, if he won in a Williams 1-2 – then he would be crowned champion.
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