Montréal misery: how Brundle came close to F1 win that never was (2024)

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.

Montréal misery: how Brundle came close to F1 win that never was (1)

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

ArchiveMark Blundell on Martin Brundle: My Greatest RivalThis has to be my old sparring partner Martin Brundle. When I started in Formula Ford in 1984 he was already in Formula 1 with Tyrrell but I caught up…July 2022IssueByMark Blundell

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.

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“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.

Montréal misery: how Brundle came close to F1 win that never was (4)

“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.”

Montréal misery: how Brundle came close to F1 win that never was (2024)

FAQs

Did Martin Brundle ever win a race in F1? ›

In 2012, he moved over to Sky's Formula One coverage. Brundle can be considered one of the best modern day Formula One drivers to have not won a Grand Prix, scoring multiple podium and points finishes in sub-standard cars.

Is Alex Brundle Martin Brundle's son? ›

Alexander Brundle (born 7 August 1990) is a British racing driver and broadcaster. He was the 2016 European Le Mans Series champion (LMP3) and is the son of Formula One driver-turned-commentator Martin Brundle.

Was Martin Brundle a good driver on Reddit? ›

It was mediocre in respect to results, but Brundle was in no respect a mediocre driver. In a sportscar he was unbeatable as shown with his time at Tom Walkinshaw racing in the Jaguars.

When did Martin Brundle retire? ›

He finished fifth in the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix, which was his last Grand Prix in Formula One.

Who is the most successful F1 driver never to win a race? ›

Sir Stirling Moss

During his career, Moss accumulated 16 wins in just 66 races, which to this day is more than anyone else to have never won a championship. He finished runner-up in the Drivers' Championship four times, and third on three other occasions.

Who has the most races without winning F1? ›

Nico Hulkenberg – 536 Career points

The German driver took the record of most career starts without a win at the Miami Grand Prix when he also inherited the career points without a win record.

Who did Ayrton Senna say was the best driver? ›

In fact, Fullerton recently received a letter from a longtime secretary of Senna's, noting how the Brazilian F1 great talked of Fullerton as the best all-round driver he ever competed against.

Why isn t Martin Brundle at every race? ›

The Daily Mail reports that Brundle's new contract with Sky Sports states that he will only attend 16 of the 24 races in 2024. This is said to be to save costs.

Was Kimi Raikkonen a good driver? ›

Räikkönen is the most successful Finnish Formula One driver by several metrics, and has the seventh-most podium finishes (103), third-most fastest laps (46), and second-most race starts (349) in Formula One history. He is known for his reserved personality and reluctance to participate in public relations events.

Who was the F1 commentator before Martin Brundle? ›

Formula One coverage on ITV
ITV-F1
GenreSports
Presented byJim Rosenthal (1997–2005) Steve Rider (2006–2008)
StarringLouise Goodman (1997–2008) James Allen (1997–2001) Ted Kravitz (2001–2008)
Narrated byMurray Walker (1997–2001) James Allen (2001–2008) Martin Brundle (1997–2008)
12 more rows

Why is Martin Brundle not doing the Grid Walk? ›

The new contract he signed earlier this year means he's only scheduled for 16 of the 24 races on the calendar - and it's also always been part of his deal with the broadcaster that he doesn't do grid walks at them all.

What car does Martin Brundle drive? ›

Brundle admitted he “loved” his Aston Martin DBS in a chat with Evo Magazine in 2021. However, one of his personal favourites is his Porsche Cayenne 4.2 V8 diesel which he revealed he took on road trips. The Sky Sports host has also owned a range of Ferrari's including the 328 GTS, 355 GTB and a 550 Maranello.

Who has won the most winning race in F1? ›

Lewis Hamilton holds the record for the most race wins in Formula One history, with 103 wins to date. Michael Schumacher, the previous record holder, is second with 91 wins, and Max Verstappen is third with 61 victories. Kimi Räikkönen holds the distinction of having the longest time between his first win and his last.

What is the fastest race in F1 history? ›

The fastest Formula One race of all time took place in Monza when Michael Schumacher won the 2003 Italian Grand Prix with an average speed of 247.585kph and a total race time of just 1hr 14m and 19.838s.

What is the hottest race in F1 history? ›

2005 Bahrain Grand Prix

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