Once up on a time in Formula One there used to be drivers whose fierce rivalry and supreme commitment elevated them to demi-god status.

he edge-of-the-seat spectacle they produced was even more remarkable considering that they raced in an era when the cars hadn’t reached the current level of sophistication nor were the safety standards as stringent as they are these days. From mid 1980s to early 90s, three drivers, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell, were engaged in a slugfest that produced some of the most spectacular racing ever. Even a circuit like Monaco, where overtaking is incredibly difficult, didn’t deter these drivers from providing pulsating action.

In 1992, Ayrton Senna was the defending champion. Prior to 1991, he had already won the drivers’ title twice, in 1988 and 1990. More significantly, Senna had won the Monaco GP four times between 1987 to 1991.

However, by the time the 1992 season had progressed to Monaco, Senna had been demolished by Mansell, who had won all the five races. Mansell was driving a Williams Renault car, which even today is marvelled at for its technological advances. It was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, including that of Senna’s McLaren-Honda.

It was apparent from the start of the season that even Senna’s heroics wouldn’t be enough to prevent the Williams-Renault car from romping home to the title. However, if there was a track that slightly negated the might of Williams-Renault cars, it was the one in Monaco.

Of course, in order to beat Mansell, Senna had to be ahead of the British driver on the starting grid. It was easier said than done. Predictably, Mansell took his sixth straight pole of the season with his Williams-Renault teammate Ricardo Patrese in second and Senna in third. Surely, there was no way Senna could have hoped for a fifth consécutive Monaco win, in a comparatively inferior car and especially, having qualified behind both the Williams-Renault cars.

Senna did manage to get ahead of Patrese at the start. However, that’s the best he could have hoped for. In fact, he would have been quite pleased with a second place finish. For Mansell had rocketed away.

By lap 71, of the total 78 laps, the British driver was leading the race by a comfortable margin of 28 seconds from Senna and cruising to what would have been his first win in Monaco. And then, disaster struck. Mansell’s car suffered a problem in the rear wheel that resulted in him having to make a pit-stop.

The time lost in going to the pits and the pit-stop itself, enabled Senna to go ahead of Mansell by nearly five seconds. However, in the next couple of laps or so, Mansell, in a better car and on fresher rubber, managed to close the gap on Senna. He also managed to put in the race’s fastest lap during this time (lap 74). With four laps left and Mansell’s car virtually stuck to Senna’s, Mansell’s win was an almost certainty. However, Senna hadn’t won the Monaco GP four consecutive times for nothing.

The Brazilian not only defended resolutely but, as Mansell later sportingly admitted, he also guessed correctly what Mansell’s moves were going to be. Mansell tried everything he could – from the outside, on the inside – but Senna had turned his car into a moving, impregnable wall. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible anywhere but Monaco. But perhaps, even in Monaco, only Senna could have pulled out such a result.

What was most refreshing was that Mansell showered compliments on Senna for his brilliant driving. The duel over the last few laps is réflective of the spirit of racing in that period, considered by many to be the sport’s golden era. The 1992 Monaco GP has become legendary precisely for what was witnessed over these six laps – fierce, uncompromising and fair driving. Mansell himself remarked that both he and Senna had driven beyond the limit during these laps.

Mansell went on to convincingly win the 1992 world championship, his first and only title in Formula One. In the procèss, he set up many records, including that of the most number of pole positions in a single season which was only broken last year by Sebastian Vettel. However, a Monaco GP win always eluded him.

On the other hand, Senna won yet again in Monaco. In 1993, he won his sixth Monaco GP, a record that is yet to be broken.

source: © firstpost.com By Dhananjay Khadilkar