The 1992 South African Grand Prix was the first round of the 1992 Formula One World Championship, held at the rebuilt and reconfigured Kyalami circuit in South Africa. The race was the first to be held in South Africa since the end of the Apartheid, and the first Grand Prix held there since 1985.
The race itself saw Nigel Mansell complete a dominant weekend to claim a second Grand Chelem of his career, as the William FW14B unveiled its raw pace for the first time. This fact was backed by Riccardo Patrese who made it a one-two for the British team, while defending World Champion Ayrton Senna claimed third for McLaren.
Ahead of the 1992 season, the FIA chose to make very little technical regulation changes ahead of the new season. The cars of 1992 were therefore expected to follow a natural development from where they had left off in 1991. The Formula One fraternity had now been exposed and intrigued by the success of the technically sophisticated, Williams FW14, the innovative design which had spawned from the mind of Williams's new chief designer, the keenly intelligent Adrian Newey. The car equipped with traction control and semi-automatic gearbox had nearly taken the world title, however poor reliability of the technology had hampered the chances of the car's drivers, Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese. However as the car began to improve late in the season, the team's began to realise that mastering technological driver aids would prove critical in taking the title for 1992. Both McLaren and Ferrari, Formula One's richest team's alongside Williams had both begun investing in research and development of technological aids during pre-season testing, attempting to match the technological might of the Williams FW14.
The only significant regulation changes in 1992 were to do with safety and tyres. Cars now needed a stronger survival cell to assist in improving the safety for rear impact accidents, the height of kerbs was also reduced at all circuits, however most significantly, the safety car would be introduced at all races for 1992. The use of a safety car would prevent the need for the race to be stopped in the event of a large accident. However its use was relatively untrialled and was met with skepticism in its introduction. 1992 would also see the banning of the ultra soft qualifying tyres for the first time since the 1982 season. This was done to provide a greater challenge for the lead drivers in qualifying, the ultra soft tyres making it easier to navigate the backmarkers on a busy circuit where it is difficult to navigate a clean lap. This was met with concern by Formula One's lead drivers, Nigel Mansell claiming that qualifying would become a "nightmare" and would see the most difficult qualifying for the drivers since 1982. With the withdrawal of Pirelli at the end of 1991, Goodyear once again would hold a tyre monopoly and would supply the 32 cars with the wheels in 1992.
"Conservatism" was the word used by Ron Dennis to describe the start of the season for reigning world champions McLaren-Honda. This methodology had allowed the team to triumph over Williams in the world championship in 1991. The McLaren MP4/6 did not have the technological developments of the Williams FW14, however it had reliability and consistency as well as being driven by the hands of Ayrton Senna, the reigning world champion and regarded as one of the world's finest drivers. However it was clear by the end of the season that Williams had closed the gap and were looking to be the leading car. It was clear: McLaren had to adapt and work with these new electronic devices if they were to match Williams in 1992, however the team was in no rush to complete their new car. Equipped with similar electronic aids to the Williams, the team's new MP4/7A was looking set to match the FW14 as the team's 1992 challenger. However the champion, Ayrton Senna and his compliant number two driver, Gerhard Berger would have to be content with racing an updated 1991 chassis labelled the MP4/6B. The car was equipped with a mildly revised front wing and the chassis had been updated since the end of 1991, however without the electronic aids it was not expected to be able to beat the Williams. McLaren instead would trust in the car's reliability and the skills of Senna and Berger to be able to take as many points away from the Williams cars as possible before the introduction of the new MP4/7A which was expected to debut at the start of the European season in Barcelona, Spain for the fourth round of the championship.
Williams had failed to take the championship in 1991 due to poor reliability, however as the team began to understand their own innovations, the car became progressively more reliable as the season went on. During the pre-season it was clear that the Williams was the fastest car and the team looked to have the best opportunity to take a world championship since 1987. The team's drivers, Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese had shared a healthy rivalry throughout 1991 and both driver's were considered to be among the championship favourites for 1992. Remarkably whilst Patrese was the most experienced driver of all time and Mansell had been championship runner-up in 1986, 1987 and 1991, neither driver had ever won a world championship. Frank Williams, determined for championship success in 1992 ordered his drivers' to ensure they would be in peak physical condition for the season ahead. Mansell in particular was expected to improve his fitness programme. Whilst being amongst the fastest drivers, Mansell had never had put in much concern for his physical fitness. However after an extensive fitness programme undertaken in his Florida home in the USA, Mansell claimed to head into the 1992 season fitter than he has ever been. Williams too have made further refinements to their car, Adrian Newey was providing further advancements in the retitled FW14B ahead of the new season. The car was now equipped with active suspension to match its already extensive electronic aids. Mansell immediately took a liking to the new active suspension, the increased down-force levels in the car suiting his aggressive driving style well. Patrese, however, was feeling less confident in the car and preferred the traditional push-rod suspension of the 1991 car, despite it considered to be slower.
1991 had been a total disaster for Ferrari, the team being afflicted by political struggles as the company still attempted to fill the power vacuum left behind following the death of the team's founder, Enzo Ferrari back in 1988. Due to a lack of clear leadership, the team had very little success in 1991, leading to the sacking of their lead driver Alain Prost at the end of the season. In November 1991, the Fiat organisation appointed Luca di Montezemelo as the new President of the Ferrari organisation. Montezemelo, a former Ferrari team manager would attempt to restructure and rebuild the struggling Ferrari brand. There was a huge restructure in the team heading into 1992, the team manager, Claudio Lombardi was now placed in a new role as technical director whilst inheriting the team principal role was Sante Ghedini. Harvey Postlethwaite had also returned to the team as chief designer after a two year absence to design the team's 1992 challenger. Postlethwaite's F92A was an ambitious concept with a notable double floor and semi-automatic gearbox, however the design had been rushed and both the team's drivers had identified problems in testing. After a season under Prost's tutelage, Jean Alesi, Ferrari's aggressive young charger was now expected to lead the team, now being joined by Ivan Capelli, the Italian finally completing his dream of driving for Ferrari after finally acquiring a top drive after several years of being among the best midfield runners.
After increasingly better results over the past few seasons, Benetton was finally beginning to establish itself amongst the top runners within Formula One. In the middle of 1991, team principal Flavio Briatore had recruited the successful sportscar team manager Tom Walkinshaw into the team as Engineering Director. Nelson Piquet, the team's lead driver had been dropped at the end of 1991 due to his decline in performance. Walkinshaw and expertise in sportscar racing would instead draw racing talent from his own field of knowledge. The team's young driver, Michael Schumacher, one of the rising talents in Formula One had joined the Benetton programme in 1991 after his success in the Mercedes sportscar programme. Walkinshaw also recruited Martin Brundle into the team, Brundle being a driver who had won the 1988 World Sportscar Championship with Walkinshaw and whilst despite having a reputation for being extremely quick had never been able to gain a competitive seat in Formula One. Schumacher and Brundle would have to compete in the 'B-version' of their 1991 B191, the team's new car, the B192, designed by Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn would not be ready until a little later in the season.
The full entry list is outlined below for the 1992 South African Grand Prix:
Qualifying for the 1992 South African Grand Prix was held in dry and warm conditions at Kyalami, with the 30 car entry not requiring a pre-qualifying session.
As was expected the revised Williams FW14B was the fastest car throughout the qualifying sessions. Nigel Mansell dominated both the Friday and Saturday qualifying sessions, his final pole time being nearly two seconds faster than his chief rival, Ayrton Senna. It was clear the McLaren MP4/6B was no longer capable of matching the FW14B, nonetheless Senna was hopeful that his car's stronger reliability record would allow him to take victory on the Sunday.
A career best seventh place for Karl Wendlinger put the Austrian ahead of Martin Brundle, and left him as the best placed Ilmor powered car in the field. Jordan, meanwhile, were surprising strugglers given their impressive debut season, only managing to get Mauricio Gugelmin qualified, although it was Eric van de Poele who just scraped through. Out of the weekend went Paul Bermondo, Andrea Chiesa and Giovanna Amati, all three on their F1 debut weekends, as well as the second Jordan of Stefano Modena.
The final result for the 1992 South African Grand Prix is outlined below:
|______________||Andrea de Cesaris|
|______________||Eric van de Poele|
Hot and dry in the South African sun, sunday afternoon saw the grid form with Nigel Mansell on pole and immediately identified as favourite to win the race. The question was whether Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger in the McLarens could keep with the Brit, while also denying a podium to Riccardo Patrese, Mansell's team mate. Only the race would reveal if the Williams was the car to have in 1992, or if it would prove as unreliable as its predecessor.
Predictably, the two Williams cars with their traction control devices managed to gain tremendous starts. Mansell soared from pole into the lead whilst Patrese shot right past the McLaren's of Senna and Berger to move into second. Gerhard Berger had made a poor start dropping to seventh losing out to Patrese, Jean Alesi and Michael Schumacher.
it was a bumpy start to the season, De Cesaris in the Tyrrell collided with Wendlinger's March. Wendlinger, forced wide knocked Brundle's Benetton off the circuit and into the gravel trap. De Cesaris and Wendlinger were lucky, losing only a few positions whilst Brundle who had dropped to the back of the pack would pull off the circuit after one lap, his clutch having been damaged in the incident.
After one lap, Mansell had already opened up a 3.5 second lead to Patrese who was being hounded for second place by Ayrton Senna. After five laps, Patrese finally began to pull away from Senna, however he still remained a significant seven seconds behind teammate Mansell. Senna who had now lost contact with the leading Williams cars was now falling back into the clutches of Alesi and Schumacher. At the end of lap eight, Bertrand Gachot, the new Venturi-Larrousse driver spun into the gravel and into retirement.
After eleven laps, Mansell leads by 10.5 seconds to Patrese. Senna is a very distant 16 seconds adrift, a further three seconds ahead of Alesi and Schumacher who were fiercely battling for fourth place. In fifth, Gerhard Berger was a further three seconds adrift of Alesi and Schumacher.
After an already turbulent start to the season, Karl Wendlinger retired his March with overheating problems on lap 14. Berger in the second McLaren was struggling for pace where he battled for the final points position with the Ferrari of Ivan Capelli. A few seconds adrift and within points reach was Johnny Herbert doing well in the now three year old Lotus 102D chassis. However looming within reach of the Lotus were the two Ligier cars of Thierry Boutsen and Érik Comas.
Lap 24 saw the backmarker car of Gabriele Tarquini retire his Fondmetal with engine problems. By this time the leading Williams pair of Mansell and Patrese had began to lap the backmarkers. As their chasing competitors began to be caught in traffic, the battle between Alesi, Schumacher, Berger and Capelli began to tighten. Senna still managed to keep distance from the four car battle for fourth place yet remained a long way adrift of the Williams cars.
As the first group of backmarkers were cleared, Berger and Capelli began to drop back from Alesi and Schumacher who continued to furiously battle for fourth place. After 28 laps, Capelli's Ferrari engine blew and the young Italian was forced to pull off the circuit.
Inheriting seventh place was Johnny Herbert who continued to keep the two Ligier's of Boutsen and Comas at bay. Now joining the battle for seventh was the Tyrrell of Andrea de Cesaris, attempting to make up for his starting error on the first lap.
Mansell continued to lead the race unchallenged, whilst moving through backmarkers the leader was balked and nearly taken out by the Tyrrell of Olivier Grouillard, a driver notorious for ignoring blue flags. Teammate Patrese had more difficulty getting through the backmarkers which had allowed Senna's McLaren to close onto the rear of the Williams.
On lap 39, Schumacher moved past Alesi with apparent ease. A lap later it became obvious why, like Capelli, Alesi's Ferrari engine had blown up, forcing him to pull off the circuit and retire. A few laps later, De Cesaris who had continued to battle with the Ligier's was forced to pull into the pits and retire his Tyrrell with engine problems. The same lap, the young Christian Fittipaldi retired his Minardi from his first race with an electrical failure.
JJ Lehto was the next retirement on lap 48, his Dallara pulling off the circuit with a problem with his wheel. The Dallara team enjoying little success to the start of their new season. Meanwhile up front, Mansell continued to dominate, his only problems being trying to make his way through the backmarkers. Mansell slowly and surely picking his way through the backmarkers and slowly continuing to consolidate his lead. Patrese meanwhile remained at only a 1.5 second lead over Senna behind him. Senna furiously chasing after the second Williams car.
Lap 57, saw Gianni Morbidelli retire his Minardi with engine problems. Mansell continued to hold a 25 second lead over Patrese who held a further five second lead over Senna. Twenty seconds adrift was an unchallenged Michael Schumacher in fourth ahead of Gerhard Berger and Johnny Herbert who was impressing for Lotus.
Lap 58 saw the second Dallara of Pierluigi Martini pull into the pits and retire from the race. Like Ferrari, its paternal team, Dallara suffered a double retirement. The final retirements of the race saw Thierry Boutsen's engine blow whilst attempting to lap Mauricio Gugelmin's Jordan. Inheriting his eighth place was Olivier Grouillard, however only two laps after Boutsen's retirement, Grouillard lost eighth place when his clutch failed.
It was an uneventful final few laps of the race, Mansell like he had done all race continued to dominate. On lap 70, he set the fastest lap of the race before completing the race two laps later, winning by 24 seconds over teammate Patrese. Senna had eased his challenge on Patrese in the final laps, the McLaren driver running low on fuel and having to settle for third place. Schumacher went on to finish a distant fourth, a largely quiet race for him following Alesi's retirement. Like Senna, Berger's McLaren was also low on fuel. Berger crossing the line for fifth and then immediately pulling onto the grass with an empty fuel tank. One lap down to take the final point was Johnny Herbert, Herbert doing a remarkable job in the three year old Lotus 102D. Herbert having to fend off the superior Ligier cars throughout the race.
The final results for the 1992 South African Grand Prix are shown below:
The top six finishers were all driving updated versions of cars designed for previous seasons, rather than cars designed expressly for the 1992 season.
Standings after race
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- '1992 South African Grand Prix: Qualifying', statsf1.com, (StatsF1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1992/afrique-du-sud/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 12/12/2015)
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|V T E||South African Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Prince George Circuit (1934–1963), Kyalami Circuit (1965-1993)|
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