Hungary 1989 - Mansells surprise victory 04 Aug 2006
The Hungarorings twisty layout and tight racing line have often prompted comparisons with Monacos compact street circuit. But whilst drivers grumble about the difficulty of overtaking at the track, one race in particular challenges its reputation. Nigel Mansells 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, Mansells 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 Patreses 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 Alesis Tyrrell, the Minardi of Pierluigi Martini, Derek Warwick in the Arrows and Brabhams Stefano Modena. He was already up to eighth.
Meanwhile at the front, Patrese was dictating the pace, having successfully kept Sennas 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 Nanninis Benetton, Thierry Boutsen in the Williams and the Dallara of Alex Caffi.
Already safely into the points, Mansells 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 Prosts 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 drivers challenge had finally run out of steam.
That was until lap 53, when fate kindly played into Mansells hands. A punctured radiator caused Patreses 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 hairs 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.