August 30, 1992, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
The day when we witnessed Michael Schumacher’s debut win as an F1 racer. Schumi’s performances in his first complete season as an F1 driver with Benetton – Ford had been nothing short of something stellar. In the first 11 races of the season, he had completed 9 races and in none of these had he finished anywhere outside the top 4. The first 11 races also included 5 podium finishes. Needless to say, his first race win was becoming overdue.
The 12th race of the season was at the circuit where Michael made his debut a year back – Spa-Francorchamps. Michael had mentioned to the media before the race that he had a good feeling about the race, as he felt that this was where he would score his maiden win.
The season was being dominated by Nigel Mansell who represented Williams-Renault and qualified at polo for Belgium too. Next to him was the genius Ayrton Senna in his McLaren-Honda. Michael started from third on the grid with Mansell’s team mate Patrese on 4th. Traditional Spa rains again hit the track before the start, reducing the advantage that Mansell usually enjoyed that season in his superior car. At the end of lap 3 with rain falling, Mansell pitted for wets followed by Patrese and Schumacher on the next lap. Senna stayed out as a gamble hoping the rain would stop but it didn’t and he dropped out of the reckoning. When it all settled down, Mansell was at the front followed by Patrese then Schumi and Brundle (Michael’s team mate) in 4th.
By lap 30th the track was beginning to dry up and Michael had a moment, he ran wide allowing Brundle to overtake and claim 3rd. However, Michael noticed that Brundle’s tyres were beginning to blister and he immediately went in and switched to slicks. Brundle stopped a couple of laps later and with superior tyres meant Schumi was again ahead of him in 3rd. The Williams’ team was late in reacting and both Patrese and Mansell stopped a few laps later, but the damage had been done thus far. Michael had taken over the race and had a sizeable lead-up front, and the extra few laps on the slicks of the drying track had worked big time.
Mansell did begin to eat into the gap but he had a problem with the exhaust of his car and could not keep up the challenge. Patrese, on the other hand, too faced similar issues but had enough in him to keep Brundle behind him in 4th.
Schumacher eventually finished the race with 36 seconds clear at the front securing his debut win in what was to be the first of ninety-one career triumphs. The turning point of the race was undoubtedly Schumi’s decision to switch to slicks quicker than any of the other challengers for the race which highlighted two weapons which would form the key to Michael’s arsenal in his career: the first being his superior skills on the wet surface compared to practically anyone on the grid, and the second being Michael’s ability to make real-time changes to his strategy depending upon the race conditions, as he often saw opportunities which people in the garage with the luxury of all the technology and equipment failed to notice.