The first half of 1992 season has seen three different winners from three different teams and engines win races along with four different polesitters and eight different podium finishers. Some teams have also had varying degrees of success with technologies that have been developed, although one particular driver has had either bad luck or no luck all season.
For the opening race of 1992, out was the United States Grand Prix and in was the South African Grand Prix, which took place at a revised Kyalami circuit where four corners from the original circuit remained. The new circuit seemed best suited to Michael Schumacher, whose Pedersen glided round the smooth Midrand asphalt to take pole position by a quarter of second from the Willows of Gerhard Berger. The Nottinghamshire-based team had spent most of 1991 near the back of the grid, so a front row start was a welcome boost for them.
Both front row drivers battled hard with each other during the first lap, but Schumacher held on and steadily pulled away from the Austrian in the first phase of the race. Meanwhile, Alain Prost, who had returned to the Tornado team after a year at Pedersen, was stuck behind 3rd-placed Karl Wendlinger. The circuit proved difficult to overtake on, plus the Gojira seemed the quicker car in a straight line. In the end, Wendlinger was pressured into a mistake at Continental corner at one third distance and Prost managed to nip past at the exit. A few laps later, Wendlinger mirrored his error and lost 4th to Damon Hill, who was making his FF1M debut in an FJR that looked very quick in race trim.
With a clear track in front of him, Prost began closing in on Berger’s 2nd place, but he didn’t need to as the Austrian retired with suspension problems. Willows’ day didn’t get much better as Thierry Boutsen, who early in the race was frightened off the road by a charging Hill, retired with an engine failure. Others who had reliability issues were both Andrew Racing drivers and Martin Brundle, who was driving for Tini Racing and became the first retirement of the race, an inauspicious debut for the team. Mika Hakkinen and Alessandro Zanardi’s retirements on lap 9 were much more spectacular. The two ran side-by-side through the first corner when a twitch from Hakkinen sent him into the path of Zanardi, prompting a big collision and a couple of detached wheels.
None of this troubled the top three as Schumacher, Prost, and Hill kept it clean and finished in that order, Pedersen continuing where they left off from Adelaide last season. Despite his earlier mistakes, Wendlinger drove well in his debut race to finish 4th, while Johnny Herbert put in a gritty drive from 17th on the grid to finish 5th, making it two FJRs in the top five. Taking the final point was Ayrton Senna, who did what he could with an underdeveloped Darkfire.
Next on the calendar was a race that could be hosting its final race for a while, the Mexican Grand Prix, and Schumacher continued his strong start to the season with another pole position. He had the Andrew Racing of Nigel Mansell joining him on the front row with the two Austrians on the second row. Just as at Kyalami, Schumacher had to fend off Berger at the start while Mansell slipped to 6th.
The opening phase of the race was a cat and mouse affair for 3rd between Wendlinger, Hill, and Prost. The FJR could overtake Wendlinger into Peraltada before being repassed on the main straight, sometimes by both Wendlinger and Prost. Prost would then attempt an overtake for 3rd into Peraltada but not managing it, and the time loss would lead to him to be overtaken by Hill. This pattern ended on lap 11 when a small error from Wendlinger at the esses let Prost off the leash, and then Hill followed through on the following lap. Wendlinger then lost another place to Hill’s teammate a couple of laps later.
Prost caught up to Berger but just as with Wendlinger, couldn’t make an overtake stick and ended up losing a place to Hill on lap 21. Two laps later Hill, moved up to 2nd with Prost moving up to 3rd on lap 25 thanks to Berger crashing out of the race at Peraltada, the Austrian having smashed his rear wing to pieces on the outside tyre barrier before ripping a wheel off on the inside concrete wall. Riccardo Patrese also retired at the Peraltada in a strange incident. He had wanted to make a pitstop but found his teammate in the way, compromising his entry and launching his car over the inside kerb and into the tyre barrier. Mansell carried on as if nothing happened. Similarly, Zanardi found his path into the pits blocked by Michele Alboreto. A wild series of spins then led to a big shunt with Jean Alesi, causing the retirements of both.
Prost made his only pitstop earlier than planned in an attempt to undercut Hill for 2nd but encountered traffic on his outlaps. This meant that Hill rejoined still in front after his stop and on younger tyres, edged away from the Tornado. Schumacher’s big gap at the front meant that he stayed out longer, but his lead was slashed thanks to older tyres and heavy traffic, and he even risked dropping behind Hill and Prost after his stop… worse was coming for him… on his in-lap, he found Stefano Modena wanting to unlap himself into Peraltada. The two made contact, Schumacher spun into the gravel and then tore his nose off on the inside concrete. Then when he was in the pitlane entry, he inexplicably drove back onto the circuit and did a whole lap without his entire front end.
Schumacher’s omnishambles left Hill and Prost battling for the race win, but it ended prematurely after the Tornado suffered a suspension failure on lap 46, which left Hill free to take his maiden FF1M win. FJR’s triumph was doubled by Herbert taking 2nd, not far ahead of Schumacher, who had put in a tremendous recovery from 10th after his chaotic pitstop ordeal. Wendlinger put in another solid drive to finish 4th with Boutsen taking Willows’ first points of the season in 5th. Taking the final point was Alboreto, who inherited the place on the penultimate lap after the JGR Meister of Ukyo Katayama was forced to make an unscheduled pitstop with three laps to go.
The Spanish Grand Prix hosted round three of the championship having moved from the later slot of 1991 to a much earlier place on the calendar. Once again, pole position was occupied by Schumacher with Berger alongside him on the front row, but neither would lead going into the first corner as Boutsen made a flyer from 3rd and outbraked the two front rowers into the first corner. Schumacher didn’t take that one lying down however as he retook the lead into Repsol. Towards the back, Brundle was side-swiped by the Shake ‘n’ Bake of Bertrand Gachot after the Belgian made light contact with the Tornado of Derek Warwick going into the first corner.
The race would prove to be a rather chaotic and attritional encounter as drivers seemed to magnetise with each other. On lap 2, Alboreto sliced in front of Hakkinen under braking for the first corner causing the Finn to spin, and then the Pedersen driver ambled into the path of Wendlinger, causing a minor traffic jam. A small off for Hill at the exit of Renault dropped him behind Mansell, and then an attempt to get back ahead at La Caixa went badly wrong in a 50-50 incident that sent both to the back of the field. FJR’s race then got worse as Herbert chopped in front of Katayama into the first corner on lap 4, causing both to go off and drop down the order. Herbert was then forced into the pits a couple of laps later to remedy a gearbox electronics issue.
Banc de Sabadell proved to be a bothersome corner. The first driver to crash there was Erik Comas, who locked all four wheels and spun into the barrier, losing a front wheel in the process. His error was mirrored by Wendlinger, although the Austrian lost a rear wheel. The next one to be caught out, amazingly, was race leader Schumacher, but the German was lucky enough to lose his front wing, so could recover back to the pits. His mistake put the two Willows drivers in the lead, but Prost was driving a great race from 11th on the grid. On lap 13, he forcefully but cleanly overtook Boutsen for 2nd going into the first corner, and set off after new race leader Berger. Meanwhile, Banc de Sabadell bankrupted Hakkinen and Patrese’s races in quick succession.
Prost had closed in on Berger and on lap 19, took the lead going into the first corner. Although one of the few drivers to stop twice, new tyres proved to be a massive advantage with Prost lapping nearly five seconds a lap quicker than Berger, and he re-passed the Austrian on lap 31 before Berger made his only stop. Even on older tyres, Prost was still able to pull away, and comfortably rejoined still in the lead after his second stop and eventually took a commanding win. What should’ve been an easy 2nd for Berger ended heartbreakingly on the penultimate lap thanks to a puncture, so his place was taken by Warwick, who made it a Tornado 1-2. 3rd went to Herbert, whose charge included a triple overtake on Alesi and the two Pedersen drivers. Mansell took a hard-fought 4th, while 5th was Hill, who made a late pitstop with just four laps to go to remedy a similar electronics issue to his teammate. He did manage to pinch the fastest lap off of Prost despite a late and sudden rain shower. Taking the final point and indeed his first FF1M point was Zanardi.
The circus stayed in Europe and moved to Imola in Italy, although under the moniker of the San Marino Grand Prix. Schumacher was keen to bounce back after a torrid race at Barcelona which included his mistake, another incident with Modena, and an engine failure, but he had to settle for 2nd on the grid behind Boutsen, who took his first pole since the 1990 German Grand Prix. Once again, both Willows drivers made great starts and Berger moved into 2nd ahead of Schumacher, who dropped to 4th behind Wendlinger. He would regain that place on lap 4 after nudging the Gojira driver slightly wide at Tosa. The other Gojira of Zanardi botched an overtake on Alesi into Piratella and spun into the gravel, but rejoined.
Despite the long flat-out blast from Variante Bassa to Tosa, overtaking was proving to be a bit challenging in places. For instance, Hill, running in 9th behind Gabriele Tarquini, was much faster but couldn’t pass, and he ended up having to bump him out of the way at Piratella on lap 10 to move into 8th, and then quickly into 7th when 2nd-placed Berger crashed out exiting Acque Minerale. Hill’s next overtake was much cleaner on Hakkinen into the Acque Minerale chicane on lap 12, and Herbert quickly followed through on the right hand kink approaching Rivazza. Further back, Prost and Senna renewed their rivalry by battling on track for a number of laps, although for a lowly 10th. Prost won the battle, but shortly retired on lap 14 due to an engine failure.
Hill continued to make progress as he overtook the two Andrew Racing drivers to move into 4th place, and then on lap 21, moved into 3rd as he overtook Wendlinger, despite the Austrian’s best efforts to defend his position in the preceding few laps leading. The other FJR would overtake Wendlinger a few laps later to move into 4th.
Boutsen was driving a fine race at the front, but Schumacher had closed the gap to under a second as the pitstop window approached. Boutsen was the first of the two to pit on lap 34 with Schumacher making his stop three laps later. The Belgian maintained and extended his lead, but by lap 43, Schumacher was right behind him again. Boutsen managed to resist the Pedersen driver’s advances until a small mistake at the exit of Acque Minerale on lap 48 allowed Schumacher to take the lead. From then, Schumacher was unchallenged to take his second win of the season, while Boutsen took 2nd despite a frantic final lap in traffic forcing him to keep a charging Hill in check. Herbert took 4th with Wendlinger and Patrese completing the top six.
A driver change was the story heading into the Monaco Grand Prix, with Mauricio Gugelmin returning to Gojira in the place of Zanardi. To the amazement of the FF1M paddock, Gugelmin took his maiden pole position ahead of Schumacher and the two Willows drivers. Constructors championship leaders FJR struggled down in 14th and 16th, with Herbert ahead of Hill for the first time this season.
Gugelmin maintained the lead at the start as the top six remained in place. With overtaking so difficult on the tight principality, strategy would prove decisive, particularly as Gugelmin appeared to be pacing himself, keeping the field close. Alboreto removed himself from the field on lap 6 after he crashed out at the exit of the swimming pool section. Meanwhile, both FJRs were trying to progress and ended up battling hard with each other at Mirabeau on lap 13, with Hill winning the inter-team battle. He then outbraked Alesi into the chicane a lap later to move into 12th.
Two stop strategies were the order of the day on the street circuit, and of the leaders, Schumacher was the main beneficiary as an earlier pitstop meant that he jumped Gugelmin to take the effective lead of the race. Conversely, a later stop allowed Boutsen to jump the Brazilian driver to move into 2nd. Further back, Hill just couldn’t make use of his speed as he found himself constantly stuck behind other drivers. His frustration led to a clumsy error at the exit of the swimming pool on lap 46 and FJR’s first retirement of the season.
The final 32 laps saw reliability began to unravel for most of the top runners. The first one to go was the luckless Berger. He had taken advantage of some heavy traffic to overtake Gugelmin on track for 3rd, but his Ilmor engine failed shortly after his second stop. Having been jumped by Prost for 3rd in the second round of stops, Gugelmin then suffered a tyre failure on lap 64. Two laps later, 5th-placed Mansell, who thanks to a graphic glitch had been driving round with no wheels, suffered an engine failure of his own. Two Renaults then went pop on lap 70, one of which was Prost, and then the final key runner to drop out was Boutsen, who had kept Schumacher honest before his gearbox failed.
The high number of late retirements meant that Schumacher was left to take his third win of the season by more than a minute from Wendlinger, who took his first career FF1M podium in what had been an impressive start to the season for him. 3rd went to Hakkinen, which was a welcome result for a team that hadn’t delivered what was expected by many before the season began. A bonus for the Yorkshire team was Gachot finishing 5th. Sandwiching the two Shake ‘n’ Bake drivers was Senna, while Patrese took the final point.
For the first time since 1988, the Canadian Grand Prix played host to an FF1M race, which took place at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. For the second time this season, pole position was occupied by a Willows driver, this time with Berger, who took his first pole since the 1990 United States Grand Prix. Wendlinger made it an all Austrian front row, while Schumacher was 3rd and off the front row for the first time this season. Further back, Tornado struggled massively as they qualified on the 9th row.
Both Austrians made good starts to maintain their positions, but during the first lap Wendlinger came under attack from Schumacher at the Casino hairpin. Both made contact, Schumacher went off into the gravel, and dropped down to last. Any chance of a fightback ended suddenly on lap 4 when Tarquini stubbornly refused to give way at the final chicane and tipped Schumacher into the wall of champions, causing half his front wing to go missing. Remembering his Mexico calamity, Schumacher then tried to cross the circuit and enter the pitlane, but badly misjudged when to turn right and ripped the rest of his front wing off. Unseen, he either beached his car or damaged a wheel as he ended up retiring from the race.
After their disappointing performance at Monaco, FJR were back on the pace as Hill overtook Wendlinger for 2nd on lap 2 and quickly caught up to Berger. On lap 6, Berger ran slightly wide going into the 6-7 chicane and Hill capitalised to take the lead of the race. On the same lap, Herbert moved up to 5th after Gugelmin locked up and ran wide at the first corner. Further down the order, a battle for 8th between Hakkinen and Mansell ended badly as the two made contact going into Casino on lap 14 and multiple positions were lost by both. Two laps later, the other Shake ‘n’ Bake’s race ended when light contact with Prost caused a spin before being ploughed into by Patrese. The Italian attempted to ‘Schumacher’ his way into the pits and lost his front left wheel in the process, while the debris from the collision tore off Brundle’s front wing. The other Tini Racing of Andrea de Cesaris also needed a new front wing after misjudging a recovery from a spin at the 3-4 chicane.
Lap 18 saw contact between Herbert and Wendlinger at Casino with the Austrian coming off worst in the incident, dropping from 4th to 7th, while Herbert got away unharmed. Gojira’s race then got worse as Gugelmin’s engine failed whilst running 5th. At the front, Hill had built up a lead of over 10 seconds before making the first of two stops on lap 26, handing the lead back to the one-stopping Berger. Elsewhere, Mansell’s eventful race continued as on lap 27, he tagged the back of Comas going into Casino and spun into the gravel. Having rejoined, he received karma on the next lap when Warwick punted him off at the same corner.
On new tyres, Hill caught up to Berger on lap 30, but the Austrian put in a stern defence in an attempt to keep the lead. The two came extremely close to making contact on more than one occasion, but eventually on lap 35, Hill forced his way past at the final chicane to retake the lead. Berger’s heroic efforts were in vain as his engine expired on lap 40, six retirements out of six races for the unlucky Austrian. On the opposite end of the luck scale, Alboreto appeared to suffer a gearbox breakage, but because he was due in the pits on the lap his issue struck, and it had happened on the straight leading into the pit lane, he was able to have the problem mended and remain in the race.
Hill’s lead was such that he comfortably rejoined back in the lead after his second stop, and he duly went on to take his second win of the season. His teammate finished 2nd after a one-stop strategy gained him track position over Boutsen, who was fortunate to take 3rd after an electrical issue brought his second stop forward. Wendlinger was 4th with Alboreto 5th despite his gearbox gremlin. Taking the final point was Prost, who had quietly worked his way through the field from 17th on the grid in what was a tough meeting for Tornado.
With half the season gone, Schumacher leads the championship by four points from Hill, and it seems likely that the championship battle will be between those two drivers. Similarly, the constructors battle looks to be between FJR and Pedersen, with the Yorkshire team holding a useful 14-point buffer over the Danish team. However, a mid-season quiz will present the opportunity for teams to develop new technologies as well as their existing ones, or maybe even strengthen their finances for the 1993 season. The next round at Magny-Cours as well as the following five races will reveal any potential shake-ups of the pecking order.