Motor Racing: Passion fuelled by the fans: The Williams driver, who is giving his views in the Independent throughout the season, reflects on the historic events at Silverstone

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I THOUGHT I had seen and experienced it all at Silverstone, but the 1992 British Grand Prix has surpassed everything before. How could I have failed with 150,000 magnificent fans carrying me along like that? It gets more amazing every year.

It was nice to sit down on Sunday evening, with my family and friends, and watch the highlights of the race on TV and begin to take in the fact that I had my 28th victory. Jackie Stewart, whose British record I had broken, was gracious in his congratulations. That was a very proud moment.

The scenes at the end of the race were astonishing and as I came round to Club on my slowing-down lap I realised there was no way I would be able to drive back to the pits. I was swallowed up in a crowd of cheering supporters. It may have looked a little alarming and I was knocked about a bit, but it was sheer enthusiasm and I have no complaints about that. Those people have been pulling for me for years and this was their celebration as much as mine.

No matter how many races you win, you never take for granted the feeling and the emotions as you stand at the top of the podium. This time, though, flanked by my Canon Williams-Renault team-mate Riccardo Patrese and Martin Brundle, of Benetton- Ford, there was an extra special sense of achievement. We'd made another piece of history.

We were confident when we arrived at Silverstone and accepted we were strong favourites. The circuit suits our car, as we saw last year and more importantly, in the recent test there. We are very fast through those sweeping corners and are able to attack them. There was never, however, any suggestion that complacency might creep into our operation. We are a British team so this was a particularly big occasion for everyone at Williams. All the boys wanted to make sure we got it right. There is a tremendous amount of professional pride in the team and rightly so.

I said before the meeting that I thought, given the right conditions, we might dip below one minute 20 seconds in qualifying. That was quite a target because it meant stripping a second off my pole position time from 1991 and that was set on qualifying tyres. To produce a good time, grip and temperatures have to be favourable, and at Silverstone the wind is an additional consideration. It is an old airfield, open and susceptible to gusts of wind.

On the first day of practice and qualifying the conditions were just about ideal: dry but by no means too warm and with no troublesome winds to contend with. Even so, I didn't expect us to go as well as we did.

Straight away we were under last year's time and we kept on bringing it down throughout the session until we stood at 1min 19.161sec. I was fairly confident I could have settled for that but I was feeling good, the car was superb and there were so many people out there I thought I ought to give it another try. We managed 1:18.965.

I wondered what it might take to pull off a lap at an average speed of 150mph, but when I was told I had done just over 148mph I decided enough was enough. I could not have gone any faster. It required total commitment and perfect judgement all the way round, and through Copse, Becketts, Stowe, and then under the Bridge, that takes some doing. Riccardo, who was second quickest, congratulated me and said he wanted to know where I got the courage from - except that he didn't put it quite like that]

Unfortunately, there was no chance of improving on the times in the second qualifying session, because it rained throughout. To be frank, I don't think I could have gone any faster. I had aches and pains from the first day's effort. The body takes a pounding from the G-forces at this circuit, which is, I believe, the most gruelling in the world. It is a real test of a driver.

We had also had a severe setback, and Riccardo a scare during the unofficial morning practice session. He was backing off because the yellow warning flags were out, only to be hit by Erik Comas's Ligier-Renault. He was thrown into a wall and his car was a write-off. Thankfully neither driver was hurt, but it meant we were down to two cars for the afternoon, Riccardo having to take the spare. What's more, it meant we had to build up a new car from an existing chassis for race day, taking up more valuable time and effort.

The team are already working flat out on this season's campaign while at the same time pressing ahead with the new car, the FW15, and any extra workload inevitably has a knock-on effect.

At least we were able to get on with some useful wet weather running on Saturday afternoon and satisfied ourselves that we were prepared whatever the conditions in the race. It turned out to be fine on the Sunday and I felt easier from a safety point of view. We saw people spinning and sliding at Magny-Cours the previous week, because oil or fuel had spilled on a slow corner. At Silverstone such a spillage, on moving water could be lethal, since the corners are so much quicker.

Riccardo - yet again - had a great start while I had a wheel spin and followed him into Copse. I had the better line, however, and was able to pass him coming out of the corner. From then on we were in control and completed our sixth one-two success of the season.

It was marvellous to see our test driver, Damon Hill, make his grand prix debut in a Brabham. He, like Riccardo, has been a crucial figure in this campaign and everyone at Williams values his contribution enormously.

McLaren-Honda say they expect big improvements from next week's German Grand Prix, so we have to be prepared for a fight. That's why this week's test at Hockenheim is so important for Williams and Renault, who will obviously be pushing on with the RS4 engine programme. The euphoria soon gives way to business in this game, and that's the way it has to be.

Nigel Mansell was talking to Derick Allsop

Comments