My personal reminisces of bygone seasons has reached 1992 when Nigel Mansell and Williams-Renault brought the four-year McLaren-Honda World Championship domination (Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had won two apiece) to an emphatic halt.
The Adrian Newey designed Williams FW14B with its semi-automatic transmission, active suspension, traction control and anti-lock brakes won ten of the sixteen rounds, Nigel Mansell winning a season’s record of nine and clinching the drivers’ title after just eleven of them. Team mate Riccardo Patrese was runner up winning one race and the pair achieved six 1-2 finishes.
Ayrton Senna, still with McLaren-Honda, won three races but only finished fourth in the Championship behind Michael Schumacher, whilst Prost having been sacked by Ferrari and unwilling to be a team mate to either Senna or Mansell, sat the season out.
An enthralling season it was not, but the three races I attended all brought different winners and I was there to witness landmark occasions for two future World Champions – Damon Hill’s first Grand Prix start and Michael Schumacher’s first win.
First up for me was the British Grand Prix and as was now my normal routine I drove up and back from London each day. My friend, David Morgan, had followed Eric van de Poele to Brabham and got me access to the pits and paddock during practice. This once great team with their cars now painted a lurid pink and turquoise were in serious trouble and terminal decline. Damon Hill had replaced Giovanna Amati and qualified for his first Grand Prix start at Silverstone finishing sixteenth in the race. This would be the last time I would see a Brabham on the race track.
I watched the race amongst a packed crowd from the grass bank on the outside of Maggotts which was still a spectacular spot despite the ever-increasing distance from the track. The race was a routine Williams 1-2 victory for Mansell. But that was all the crowd had come to see, cheering him wildly every lap he passed. The young lad sitting beside me, radio pressed to his ear could hardly contain his excitement, keeping me updated with all the Mansell happenings. The infamous track invasion whilst the race was still in progress resulted in the increase of fences and Silverstone’s future paranoia about track access over the following years.
By the time I arrived at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell was already World Champion by dint of his second place at the previous round in Hungary. Damon Hill’s eleventh place finish there was also the last appearance in F1 for Brabham.
The race started on a damp track before it rained and then dried out again. Mansell was leading from Patrese with Schumacher third when I made my way around to the podium and lost sight of the final few laps of the race. So when the trio arrived for the celebrations I was more than a little surprised when it was Michael Schumacher who took the top step to perform the first of his many victory leaps just one year after his F1 debut. He had delayed his tyre change from wets to slicks which worked to his advantage. Williams clinched the Constructors’ Championship with their 2-3 finish.
For my final Grand Prix and annual European road trip I went to Italy with my girlfriend. We flew to Naples, hired a car at the airport and headed for a few days on the Amalfi Coast with all its attractions before driving on to Rome, Pisa, Florence and finally beautiful Lake Como as base for my weekend at Monza, flying home afterwards from Milan.
We headed off into Naples, the dangers of which we had been warned, but thought we were too savvy to get caught. Wrong! Whilst stationary in traffic in a busy Neapolitan shopping street a youth on a scooter put a knife through one of our tyres. When we got out to change the wheel, his unseen accomplice took my girlfriend’s bag from the car complete with passport, airline ticket, credit cards, money and whatever else. Our first day in Italy was spent at the British Embassy obtaining a temporary passport and contacting banks and insurance companies before being directed to the special Naples police station purely for tourists who have been robbed, mugged or generally assaulted. There was no chance of recouping anything but it had to be done to authenticate insurance claims and get a voucher for a replacement airline ticket from the Alitalia office in Rome. It was a very busy police station.
In the Grand Prix the two Ferraris of Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli retired early, a cue for thousands of fans to make an early exit including the grandstand security. I only had a general admission ticket but was able to ‘grandstand hop’ around the circuit arriving at the main stand in time to watch the podium celebrations by winner Senna and the two Benetton boys of Martin Brundle and Michael Schumacher.
And that was my 1992 season. On my return from Italy I was off to war, not as a fighter but working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Bosnia. Neither the BBC World Service, nor local television gave any coverage of Formula One so I had no idea how the rest of the season panned out, but it was all done and dusted anyway. However, one unexpected F1 related image that has stayed with me ever since was the wallpaper I saw in what must have been a child’s bedroom in a bomb-damaged house in an evacuated Bosnian village – patterned prints of contemporary Grand Prix cars.
So, in his thirteenth season of Formula One, at the age of 39 and after two near misses in the mid-eighties, Nigel Mansell finally claimed the title he deserved but many thought he would never achieve.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.