Senna vs Mansell at the 1992 Monaco GP: how the Brazilian 'tamed the lion'


Thirty years ago the streets of Monte Carlo were treated to the epic F1 battle of Ayrton Senna vs Nigel Mansell in the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix



There’s a popular shortcut to viewing the Monaco Grand Prix: watch the start, then switch off the TV, knowing that nothing exciting is likely to happen on the other 77 laps.

If there was ever a year to pursue that strategy, it was 1992: Nigel Mansell arrived in Monte Carlo with five grand prix wins in a row, his Williams FW14B utterly dominant in a season that already appeared wrapped up by round six.

But the end of that race, 30 years ago, proved to be one of its most thrilling finales in recent history, as Ayrton Senna kept a dogged Mansell at bay with inch-perfect precision.

It was a battle intense enough that Mansell — not a stranger to melodrama — was so exhausted that he needed help from the stewards to walk to the podium. Perhaps it was the shock of not winning.

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Once again his Williams was blindingly quick, its active suspension keeping it noticeably flat and stable as rival cars rolled around the Principal.

Mansell’s pole time was 0.9sec clear of Riccardo Patrese, who started alongside him on the front of the grid.

Behind, in third, was Senna who had won four of the previous five grands prix in the principality. Since 1984, Alain Prost was the only other driver to win in the Monaco streets.

“As usual his McLaren was no match for the Williams-Renaults in qualifying, yet in a manner rendered unobtrusive by their sheer pace he was quick enough to carry the fight within reach of Patrese’s to line up third on the grid he has dominated since 1987,” wrote David Tremayne for Motor Sport. “And he was clever enough to pounce on the Italian right at the start.”

Patrese’s wariness at the start, as he carefully avoided Mansell going into St Devote, proved the opportunity for Senna to slot in between the Williams.

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Nigel Mansell after the race.

“I didn’t want to pinch Nigel, so I was a little cautious,” admitted Riccardo, who watched Senna move up the inside and ahead through Beau Rivage.

It was hardly a concern for Mansell, however, who was pulling away as usual, leading by 22 seconds as Senna’s McLaren struggled to keep up with the FW14B.

“I knew there was no way I could beat him [on pace],” Senna previously said. “It was impossible with the superiority of his car.

“But you never know what can happen at Monaco. So what I tried to do was go hard enough to be in a position to benefit if anything happened to Mansell.

“Already early on, I was planning for the late race.”

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In contrast, Mansell was giving himself less margin for error than he might have done. “In the past this year he has been criticised for continuing to pile on the pace, of setting fastest laps right up to the end despite the size of his lead,” wrote Tremayne. “In Monaco, ironically, he did the opposite. That he was on a ‘cruise’ was underlined by the manner in which he almost casually stretched his lead by two full seconds just on lap 59.”

That approach cost Mansell dearly on lap 71 when leading by 30sec: “Coming through the tunnel I almost lost it and the back end just went down,” Mansell recalled at the time.

“I felt immediately that I had a puncture. The problem was that I was halfway from the pits so I had to drive so slowly that I lost 15 seconds or so just getting there.”

The issue was in fact a loose wheel nut. Exactly the same problem happened five years prior in Hungary, which cost Mansell victory with six laps to go.


The theme of the race for the final few laps.

New wheels (securely) fitted, and with six laps to go, Mansell lay down a thick line of rubber as he powered out of the pits, but the McLaren was already past and in the lead. The crowd jumped to their feet as Mansell began slashing away a 5.1 second deficit to Senna.

He was on the tail of the McLaren within three laps. He harried and feinted, ducked and dived, looking for a gap to pass on the outside, the inside, over the kerbs.

Intimidating Senna was a folorn hope. The Brazilian stick to the racing line and made it impossible for Mansell to pass. The weaving may have even been counter-productive, as Mansell picked up the marbles and detritus off-line.

Senna crossed the line 0.2sec ahead of his rival, to claim his fourth of five consecutive wins in Monaco.


Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell at the podium

“I must compliment Ayrton because he pretty well second guessed every move I tried to do and he was very fair and he is entitled to do what he did and I think he drove fantastic and that’s why he won the race, I came a close second,” said Mansell in the aftermath.

Reflecting on the battle in Formula 1’s Beyond the Grid podcast more recently, Mansell suggested that the fight may have been different in modern F1. “Under the present regulations today, Ayrton could not hold me behind like he did,” said Mansell. It was like a bus; every time I went to overtake he just blocked it.

“If I’m really honest about it, I should have nudged him up the back quite hard on a couple of corners and given him a puncture, or something. Even if it would have broken my front wing off, I could have carried on and maybe won.”

“We both drove our hearts out, but I was very proud of the fact that we didn’t make contact. I was very honourable not to, shall we say, help him into the barrier.”

The pride, however, was mainly Senna’s after puncturing Mansell’s winning streak.

“I was heartened by my fifth win in Monaco, but this car is still quite inferior to those of Williams,” he said.

“The car was better at the race than at the qualifying sessions, but not enough to beat Nigel. So, I tried to keep as close as possible, because this track is very unpredictable, and I wanted to be in position to take advantage of that, as it ended up happening.

“When I took the lead my tyres were very worn-out, and I expected Nigel, who had new tyres, to catch up to me very quickly, even though I didn’t know how I would keep the lead.

“I had to use all my knowledge about Monaco, and it was really exciting. I tried to stay inside the track and at the right place.”

He added: “It felt good to tame the lion.”

Race Results - 1992 Monaco Grand Prix