Montréal misery: how Brundle came close to F1 win that never was


Martin Brundle never scored an F1 win – but, in 1992, a season that started out as a nightmare almost culminated in achieving his lifelong dream

Martin Brundle, Benetton-Ford B191B OR Benetton-Ford B192, Grand Prix of Great Britain, Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone, England, July 12, 1992. (Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)

Brundle's career was defined by grit and determination, but never yielded the F1 win it deserved

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

Martin Brundle must feel a twinge every time he travels to Montréal for the Canadian Grand Prix. Not, you understand, from the old ankle injury sustained in his Tyrrell crash at the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix that still gives him jip. His Canadian twinge will be in his head and in his heart, not his feet – because it was at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve where Brundle came closest, amid an eventual 158 grand prix starts, to the Formula 1 win that ended up eluding him. The Canadian GP, June 14 1992 – somehow a full 30 years ago.

That season was the one and only time Brundle, now 63, slid his bum into a genuine front-running, grand prix-winning F1 car. He’d earned his drive at Benetton the hard way after years of toil first at Tyrrell, at Zakspeed, in a half-decent Brabham in 1989 and then in an ineffective Yamaha V12-powered one in 1991. In between, he showed his true colours in Jaguar Group C sports cars and along with a Le Mans win in 1990, it was his performances in the wonderful Ford HB-powered XJR14 in ’91 that won him the Benetton drive.

Naturally, Tom Walkinshaw wanted him in the seat. Brundle had driven for the Scot off and on since 1979, but it was working with Ross Brawn at Jaguar that probably swung it his way. Walkinshaw and Brawn had joined Benetton at the 1991 British GP, when Flavio Briatore called on them to pick up the baton in the wake of the ill-conceived John Barnard alliance that had lasted barely eight months. Brundle’s fabled solo drive in the purple Jag at Silverstone, when he stormed back to third after a broken throttle cable lost him six laps, left an impression. Walkinshaw expected such heroics; Brawn perhaps didn’t.


Early season offs didn’t help Brundle’s cause at Benetton

Grand Prix Photo

But now he was finally in a car he deserved, Martin’s 1992 season got off to a start that he professes was “awful”. Paired with the precocious Michael Schumacher, in his first full F1 season and whom Brundle had come across as a tricky rival in sports car racing, Brundle went from one calamity to another – some of which were of his own making.

At the South African GP opener, he qualified eighth, two places behind Schumacher – and was out on the first lap. “I was out of position at Kyalami, was going past Karl Wendlinger’s March, got clipped and spun around,” Brundle recalls. “Then I burnt the clutch out trying to get back on track. I learnt a lesson the hard way that day.

“Mexico, I had a reliability issue, and then Brazil was ridiculous. I was coming up to pass Jean Alesi in the Ferrari and he literally ran me down into the wall going into Turn 1. I was livid and went up to the stewards who said ‘yeah, we need to do something about this’, but they never did. It was outrageous. We hug and chat forever now, but at that point Jean and I were sworn enemies. We kept finding ourselves on the same piece of track at the same time, even to the point where he threatened to kill me at Imola! We were nose to nose in front of all the Ferrari fans in the grandstand. He thought I’d baulked his lap or something. It was all getting rather heated. But that was pretty naughty of Jean on that occasion.”

From the archive

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.


Brund;e found himself under immense pressure from the superlative Schumacher – not to mention his team bosses…

Grand Prix Photo

“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.

It didn’t save him, of course. For Briatore, the damage had been done in those early races and perceptions, once they stick, are hard to shift. Williams triggered a dramatic game of musical chairs pursuing an on-sabbatical Alain Prost for 1993, leaving Patrese nervous for his F1 future. So he accepted Briatore’s advances and signed for the following season – only to regret it when new champion Mansell threw his toys at Monza and looked west to a fresh start in IndyCars. Patrese could have been Prost’s team-mate in ’93, but being the gentleman he is, stuck to his word and vowed (surely through gritted teeth) to remain faithful to his new Benetton contract. As Williams test driver Damon Hill stepped into by far the best car on the grid, Brundle headed for Ligier. The Renault V10-powered JS39 was decent, but it was no Benetton, and it was certainly no Williams (even if the gearbox was…).

Today, Pat Symonds and even Briatore readily admit ditching Brundle for Patrese, who endured a sorry final F1 season in the shadow of Schumacher in 1993, was a clear and obvious mistake. That’s small consolation. Then again, it could have been a different story for Brundle after 1992. Very different.

“What I thought I had done was sign for Williams,” he says. “In Italy when Nigel confirmed he was going IndyCar racing I beat Michael again and finished second to Ayrton. At that point I was under the clear impression that I was going to Williams, to the extent that Ayrton leant over and said ‘I hear we are going to be team-mates next year’.” Infamously, Senna had offered to drive for free as he jousted with Prost for the best seat on the grid.

1992: Williams Renault drivers Riccardo Patrese (left) of Italy and Nigel Mansell (centre) of Great Britain stand on the winners'' podium with Benetton Ford driver Martin Brundle also of Great Britain after the British Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit in England. Mansell finished in first place, Patrese in second and Brundle in third. \ Mandatory Credit: Mike Hewitt/Allsport

’92 season was uphill form Canada with “points and podiums”, but damage was already done

Mike Hewitt/Allsport /Getty Images

“That was an interesting comment. So Ayrton thought he was going to Williams as well in 1993 – and in the end neither of us were there! Frank did actually tell me I’d got the drive, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. I don’t think I’m the only person Frank told had got a Williams drive and who didn’t end up having it.”

All water under the bridge, of course. Brundle’s lack of an F1 win hasn’t exactly held him back… Still, that old twinge will always be there.

“Once I got over my initial horror stories in 1992, a couple of victories in there would have turned things around nicely, wouldn’t it?” he says. “It was the Canada one that killed me. It sort of wrecked my career in a way, that really finished it off. Had that gone from retirement to victory, having out-braked Michael, that would have transformed things. Those diff bolts cost me very dearly… but there you go.”