F1 archives: Nigel Mansell’s finest- Hungary, 1989

Published 07/17/2015, 12:59 PM EDT
Mansell raced and won in IndyCar and F1

The season of 1989, primarily remembered fondly for the McLaren rivalry of Prost and Senna and of course, the championship deciding race at Suzuka, it had many other remarkable performances and events that go down in the history of Formula One.
One such was the appointment of Nigel Mansell by Ferrari. He was the last driver that Enzo Ferrari himself selected before his death in 1988.

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Mansell was instantly famous among the Ferrari fans, popularly known as “il leone” (“the lion”) for his fearless driving. Although he won the season opener in Brazil, he had difficulties in challenging the McLarens and the Williams upfront in the next few races due to the heavily unreliable Ferrari.

But Mansell showed that he was known as ‘il leone’ for a very good reason. It was the 10th race of the season, held in Hungary. The Hungaroring was a tight circuit with limited opportunities to overtake. Qualifying had Riccardo Patrese on top followed by Senna. Mansell struggled with the tires and ended up 12th. With the layout of the Hungaroring, it seemed very difficult that Mansell would be able to do any good with his unreliable Ferrari.

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At the start of the race, the top 3 maintained the order, Mansell was upto 8th by the first corner itself! On lap 12th, he gained seventh position when the car ahead of him with Alessandro Nannini pitted for fresh tires. It took him further 8 laps more to gain sixth position from the Williams of Theirry Boutsen.

Nigel Mansell in action

By lap 22, four cars were in contention for the victory. The pole setter Patrese in front followed by Senna in second, Gerhard Berger in third and Alain Prost in fourth. Mansell was charging quietly from behind and the top four were unaware of what was in store for them. By the time he took fifth place, he was 17s behind Prost. His tires, were still in good shape. Prost passed Berger and the Ferrari driver pitted for new tires, pushing Mansell to fourth.

Nigel Mansell was able to pass Prost on lap 41 after constant pushing and was now ready to fight Senna and Patrese ahead. While Patrese drove the race perfectly, his Williams’ car developed an issue with the radiator and out of sheer hard luck, he was out of the race by lap 53.

With 24 laps still to go, a great battle was on the cards between Senna and Mansell. Both had a point to prove. Senna was 17 points behind Prost and Mansell was still working his way as a Ferrari driver. Both were ready to give the spectators a battle to remember.

Ferrari was a very unreliable car that season. Hence it would have been logical for Mansell to ease off and wait for the final few laps to charge or let Ayrton make a mistake. But neither was Mansell a man who would ease off at any instant or Ayrton a racer to make a mistake easily.

They both were lapping within a fraction of a second of one another. While Senna was strong along the straights with more raw power thanks to the Honda Engine, aerodynamically stronger Ferrari made it up to McLaren around the corners.

After losing to Nelson Piquet in the 1986 Hungarian Grand Prix after a fierce battle, Senna was reluctant to lose this one as well after battling his way throughout the race.

Nigel Mansell up on the back of Senna. Hungary, 1989                                                       Courtesy: f1greatestraces.blogspot.com

It came down to lap 58 when the tables actually turned. The two front runners, Senna and Mansell, were within a second of one another. On the exit of turn three, they both met a slower running car of Stefan Johansson’s Onyx, crawling around the track with a broken gear linkage. Johansson was trying to keep his car outside the racing line and in the attempt of doing so, took the outside line of the corner, which unfortunately coincided with the racing line. He was in direct way of Senna who was moving very swiftly, hence the Brazilian had to slow down. This mistake or rather a mere unfortunate incident, is all what Mansell needed to take the lead. He braked very late swiftly passing the Brazilian’s McLaren on the outside as Ayrton moved his way past the Onyx.

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From 12th on the grid, on a circuit like the Hungaroring, with a car that Ferrari gave him that year, he was now in the lead. He deserved the victory, and went on to win comfortably by a massive 26s lead! Even after being comfortably ahead of Senna in second, he was pushing and pushing. Easing off was not in his style.

Ayrton congratulating Nigel Mansell atop the podium. Courtesy: f1greatestraces.blogspot.com

Recalling the incident, Mansell comments, “Ayrton is obviously more difficult to pass than Alain, but he was a bit too close to the car in front, and had to slow in the middle of the corner. I was very close as well, and almost hit the back of Ayrton, but I was able to throw the car sideways and just have enough momentum to go past.”

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This Hungarian Grand Prix of 1989 is many at time regarded as the Briton’s finest victories of the career and especially for Ferrari.  This fierce drive made him even more popular among the tifosi. He was fast. He was fearless. In every true sense, ‘il leone’.

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Jaskirat Arora

450 articles

Jaskirat Arora is the Co-Founder & Content Head of EssentiallySports. He developed an avid interest in sports from an early age and actively follows F1, NBA & Tennis.

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