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Hungary 1989 - Mansell's surprise victory 04 Aug 2006

Podium and Results: first Nigel Mansell (GBR)Ferrari middle, second Ayrton Senna (BRA) left and third Thierry Boutsen (BEL) Williams right. Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary, 13 August 1989. World ©  Sutton. The first corner. With the leaders through Alex Caffi (ITA) Dallara F189 slots into an excellent third place ahead of Alain Prost (FRA) McLaren MP4/5 and Gerhard Berger (AUT) Ferrari 640. Note how far back the race winner, number 27, Nigel Mansell (GBR) Ferrari 640 is. Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, Budapest, 13 August 1989. World ©  Sutton. Nigel Mansell (GBR). Ferrari. Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, 13 August 1989. World ©  Sutton. An anctious Ferrari pit crew signal Mansell. Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, 13 August 1989. World ©  Sutton. Travelling Mansell Fans Show Their Support. Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, 13 August 1989. World ©  Sutton.

The Hungaroring’s twisty layout and tight racing line have often prompted comparisons with Monaco’s compact street circuit. But whilst drivers grumble about the difficulty of overtaking at the track, one race in particular challenges its reputation. Nigel Mansell’s legendary 1989 victory remains proof that whilst passing is difficult in Hungary, it is far from impossible. Starting from the wrong end of the grid, Mansell’s Ferrari passed, seemingly effortlessly, through the field to cross the finish line first. This is the story of that memorable race…

Mansell arrived in Budapest that year with a far from lucky Hungarian track record. Just the season before, he had qualified second alongside Ayrton Senna only to retire mid-race with heat exhaustion. And in 1987 he had famously lost out on victory when a wheel nut fell off his Williams just six laps from home.

As the 1989 weekend got underway, it seemed that run of bad luck was set to continue. After a disappointing qualifying session, Mansell found himself a lowly 12th on the grid, more than two seconds off the pace of pole-sitter Riccardo Patrese. Between him and victory were another ten drivers, including reigning world champion Ayrton Senna, who had qualified his McLaren second behind Patrese’s Williams.

With a mountain to climb, Mansell knew his first lap would be critical. As the 77-lap race began, he executed a perfect start and by lap 2 had overtaken Jean Alesi’s Tyrrell, the Minardi of Pierluigi Martini, Derek Warwick in the Arrows and Brabham’s Stefano Modena. He was already up to eighth.

Meanwhile at the front, Patrese was dictating the pace, having successfully kept Senna’s quicker McLaren at bay off the line. Whilst they battled for the lead, Mansell continued to scythe through the field and by lap 22 he was up to fifth, having moved ahead of Alessandro Nannini’s Benetton, Thierry Boutsen in the Williams and the Dallara of Alex Caffi.

Already safely into the points, Mansell’s quickening pace showed no signs of easing - on lap 28 he overtook Ferrari team mate Gerhard Berger, and then, on lap 41, he moved up to third after passing Alain Prost’s McLaren. But that was where his progress stalled. In front, only Senna and Patrese remained, but after several laps running in their wheel tracks, it seemed the British driver’s challenge had finally run out of steam.

That was until lap 53, when fate kindly played into Mansell’s hands. A punctured radiator caused Patrese’s engine to overheat and the Italian, having led the race from the start, was out. Senna thus moved into the familiar position of leader, with Mansell just a hair’s breadth behind the Brazilian.

For several laps the two drivers vied for position. Then on lap 58 they came up to lap backmarker Stefan Johannson in his Onyx. The Swede was experiencing gearbox problems, and when he slowed unexpectedly Senna was forced to back off. Mansell saw his chance and dived past both cars to seize the lead. He had achieved the impossible and gone from 12th to first at the Hungaroring. Senna maintained the pressure for a while, but unable to make an impression on the now faster Ferrari, he slipped back in the closing laps, allowing Mansell to cruise home for the most unlikely of victories.