Brundle had stopped the rot at Imola, finishing a decent fourth in the new Benetton B192 that had been introduced at the previous race in Spain – with Schumacher spinning off while chasing him. Phew. Then at Monaco he picked up another couple of points with fifth. The trouble was young Michael was turning in a season that was hinting strongly at the greatness to come. Imola had been his only blemish after three consecutive podiums – and he finished fourth in Monaco, ahead of his team-mate. Martin badly needed a lift, especially with trigger-happy Briatore watching with increasing impatience.
“In Spain I’d retired again,” he says. “I was running well but had run wide at Turn 12. Then coming back I clipped Erik Comas going around the outside of him at Turn 3, and it was pathetic really – I got beached on a kerb. I hit rock-bottom at that point. It was a little bit like when I was up against Ayrton Senna in F3, and of course by this time Michael had already had three podiums and I’d yet to score a point. Michael was already a star. I remember at Imola trying to get back into the Benetton double-decker and having to move out of the way a load of journos who were waiting to talk to Michael, and I was trying to get into debrief. Psychologically it was… At this point nobody realised just how good Michael Schumacher was. He was a youngster beating the old guys and in my head I was struggling.”
Montréal didn’t bode particularly well after qualifying. Brundle lined up an unremarkable seventh – but in the race he pulled out a fabulous drive, which included a sweet pass on Schumacher. Ahead of them, Nigel Mansell had made a Horlicks of passing Senna and was out, then the electrics feeding into the Brazilian’s Honda V12 let him down and Riccardo Patrese, chasing Gerhard Berger’s McLaren for the lead, began losing gears. Brundle was now up to second and closing fast on Berger for the win – until the Benetton’s transmission failed, leaving Schumacher to pick up another second-place podium.
“The bolts were put in the wrong way round on the diff,” explains Martin. “ I overtook Michael, I was catching Gerhard at three quarters of a second a lap and he’d over-revved his engine as well. And then the normally bullet-proof 192 failed. Bizarrely I pulled up alongside where Ayrton had broken down and he was leaning over the fence. I got out of the car, stepped over and he said ‘it hurts, doesn’t it?’ It does… He got the first scooter back, so I sat in his car and took notes on where everything was so I could report back to my team! But that broke my heart. That race was mine.”
From then on, Brundle did at least enjoy by far the best F1 season he’d ever experience – as he puts it, “it was all points and podiums”: consecutive third places in France and at home at Silverstone, where he revelled (and won) a great battle with old F3 nemesis Senna, then strong scores in every round all the way to Australia.