Remembering Michael Schumacher’s first Formula 1 win
With so many exciting hotshots on the grid in 2014, now is a good time to look back and celebrate one particular hotshot’s maiden win from back 1992. And this is a guy who went on to become the most successful Formula 1 driver in history.
By Andy Hallbery
August 30, 1992, Belgium: It was your typical Spa race day for the Belgian Grand Prix in 1992. The so-far dominant, all-gizmo Williams-Renault FW14B was running away with the world championship, and in one, on pole position, was points leader Nigel Mansell. Alongside was reigning champion Ayrton Senna in the less-competitive McLaren-Honda. Lining up third 22 years ago was a 23-year-old hotshot, who exactly 12 months before had been making his Grand Prix debut. His name? Michael Schumacher.
Schumacher’s 1991 debut, in the Jordan, signalled his arrival in F1, and precisely one race later he was Flavio Briatore’s new hope for Benetton. By 1992 he was already a regular podium visitor – he’d had three podiums, including an emotional one at home at Hockenheim. By Spa he’d also scored two second places. So Belgium, as much his home race as Germany, was as good a place as any to open his victory tally.
In the build up to the race, Schumacher had a good feeling. “I really don’t know why, but I really began to believe I could win…”Rain just before the start evened up the competition, and it was Senna who got the drop on Mansell. The Williams was without doubt the better machine, and with Mansell in full-on mode, he raced Senna side-by-side through the flat-out sweeps of Blanchimont to take the lead on lap three. At the end of the next lap, with the rain getting heavier, Mansell pitted for wet tyres.
Schumacher pitted next time by, while Senna waited until… well, he just carried on! He was working to the principle that in a straight fight, Mansell and Williams had him beaten. The only way to upset that was to do the opposite of Mansell.
The Williams continued to lead, with the second FW14B of Riccardo Patrese following in a distant second. Schumacher, and Benetton team-mate Martin Brundle were next up. “At that moment,” said Schumacher after the race, “I remembered my feeling in the morning when I felt I was going to win, and thought I’d been wrong! Everything was OK, the car was going really well, but I was looking now at second or third, rather than winning.”While not giving up, lap 30 might have briefly pushed the ‘winning’ thought even further from the youngster’s mind. On a drying track, he ran wide about three quarters of the way around the lap, onto the wet grass and nearly swiped the barriers, in the process allowing Brundle to nip by. In fact, though, the off was a blessing. As Schumacher rejoined behind Brundle, he noticed his team-mate’s tyre beginning to blister. That was enough, and just a quarter of a lap later, Schumacher knew he should switch first and headed for the pits, and new slick tyres. Brundle stopped next time around, but having been very evenly matched, the damage was done. “Getting past him as he went off seemed to ‘deflect’ my thinking,” said the Brit. “I should have come in right then…”
Schumacher – having been the first to stop – was making the most of it, lapping way faster than his rivals. Mansell stopped three laps after and when he rejoined the Benetton was already six seconds ahead. He began closing the gap, and it was all set for a grandstand finish. Then the Williams was struck, unusually, by an exhaust problem. Schumacher didn’t slow, lapping faster and faster, the gap growing from four seconds to eight, 15, 20, and 27s by the flag. On the penultimate lap he set a time that would have put him fifth on the grid (and was only 0.5 slower than his actual time!) to beat the existing lap record from 1991 by 1.4s…“My car had a compromise set-up,” said Schumacher after the race, “which meant really, I had too little downforce for the wet, and too much for the dry. But at the end of the race it felt fantastic – even better than in qualifying.
“I am really happy that I didn’t win the race because of accidents or somebody having a problem on the car,” he continued, “or for whatever reason fell out. I really won this race by myself and with the team. Everybody has done a fantastic job. I really had the car today. It wasn’t actually in the qualifying, it wasn’t as good as it was in the race. That was unbelievable, and I have to say thank you to the team.”He paused after the TV press conference to gather his thoughts. Facing the print journalists, Schumacher found the words to describe his feelings, and the emotion growing from his recent third place in Germany. “I had water in my eyes for the first time at Hockenheim when I was on the podium, and here even more so. I feel this is a victory we really deserved.”
Mansell agreed: “I must admit I was looking forward to the last seven laps, until the exhaust broke. I was still going flat out but still losing about five seconds per lap. We were very lucky to finish, and I was pleased for that. But it was a great race, and a great race for Michael to win.”
Ten years after, Ross Brawn, himself new to Benetton in 1992, looked back on that day, his first of many successes with Schumacher. “It showed a completeness that Michael has a racing driver, his ability to make the most out of those mixed conditions,” Brawn said. “His ability to work with the team, to come to the right decisions on what to do with strategy, what to do with tyres and giving the information, giving the pointers that you need to help come to a conclusion.“Those first few race wins that Michael had were opportunist wins in the sense that we perhaps weren’t the fastest car on the day but he managed to put it all together in difficult circumstances,” Brawn added. “Then of course as the car improved and we were able to give him a better car then the wins became more consistent.”
Spa 1992 was the first of 91 wins for the German, and the build up to seven world championship titles. But as this celebration of a special moment in his career is written, we at motorsportretro.com wish him all the very best as he chases his biggest victory of all following his skiing accident in December. #KeepFightingMichael.
Photos: Paul-Henri Cahier
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