This weekend’s race in Mexico could be a title decider, but 25 years ago it was the second race on the calendar after the season-opener in South Africa. The configuration of the circuit was also vastly different, with the Esses being much longer and the fearsome banked Peraltada corner still intact.
Nigel Mansell led the world championship after his dominant win in Kyalami from his Williams teammate, Riccardo Patrese, and Williams were looking ominous already. McLaren had dominated Formula 1 in most of the preceding years but 1992 was looking different, with the blue cars miles ahead of the chasing pack thanks to Adrian Newey’s genius design of the FW14B.
The Hermanos Rodriguez’s notoriously bumpy surface had caught drivers out all weekend, with even Mansell in his active suspension Williams struggling at times. Defending World Champion Ayrton Senna also ran into difficulties, suffering a nasty accident at the Esses which gave him a concussion. The Brazilian maestro still managed to get his McLaren onto the third row but he and teammate Gerhard Berger were over 2 seconds off the Williams pair who occupied the front row of the grid.
Williams profit on McLaren and Ferrari’s woes
Mansell led into turn one from pole position with Patrese close behind and Senna was up to third from sixth after a lightning start. The Benettons of Michael Schumacher and Martin Brundle impressed during qualifying but both fell back, Schumacher to fourth and Brundle to sixth.
Ferrari had endured an awful 1991 and things were only getting worse in 1992 with the car even further off the leading pace than the previous year. Ivan Capelli compounded this misery by tangling with Karl Wendlinger off the line and ending his race before it had barely begun.
Senna was trying to challenge Patrese for second and was faster in the corners, but his Honda engine was letting him down on the long straights. After a few laps, the Italian veteran had pulled clear of the Brazilian, who was now under pressure from F1’s newest young charger, Michael Schumacher. Bad luck soon struck the triple world champion though as his transmission failed after 11 laps to round off what had been a horrible weekend.
There was a potential classic Senna/Schumacher battle on the cards until Ayrton's transmission failed.
A Race of Attrition
As was the case in South Africa, the Williams cars were in a league of their own with Mansell and Patrese swapping fastest laps out front, and with no pit stops planned all the other teams could do was watch in awe. Further back, Berger was challenging Brundle for fourth place but the Ford engine was doing just enough to keep the Englishman ahead of the McLaren. Ferrari's miserable race continued too, as their sole remaining driver, Jean Alesi, was overtaken by Andrea de Cesaris' Tyrrell, and on Lap 31 of 69 he too was out of the grand prix.
By the halfway point, Berger still hadn't given up on passing Brundle as he sent his McLaren down the inside of the first corner, but the Benetton man got his elbows out and re-passed the Austrian. However, Berger didn't have much longer to wait for his next opportunity, as the two Ligier drivers threw a spanner in the works. In the days before blue flags, Thierry Boutsen refused to move over and Gerhard sensationally powered past Brundle before the Peraltada. It was an incredibly brave overtake and not too dissimilar to the move Mansell had pulled off 2 years previously.
Insult was soon added to injury for Brundle too, with the thin air of Mexico City being too much for his engine and it failed after 47 laps. This was very much a race of attrition due to the difficult conditions. The circuit was in a poor state and the uneven surface put additional stress on all areas of the cars. Of the 26 starters only half finished, something that you'd never see today in a normal race. It was very much about ensuring you finished rather than going flat out for 69 laps.
The rest of the race was largely uneventful as the remaining drivers conserved their battered vehicles.
Nigel Mansell led every lap and never looked under any pressure for the entirety of the grand prix. He was on another level in the race, showing the kind of form that would see him win 8 of the first 11 Grands Prix to become world champion that year. Patrese made it another Williams one-two, and Michael Schumacher claimed his first of 155 F1 podiums.
Berger got the token of fastest lap but in a 1991 car he was always going to find it difficult. Andrea de Ceasris claimed a respectable fifth for Tyrrell and future world champion, Mika Hakkinen, got another point for the struggling Lotus team with sixth.
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