#20 Hall of Fame: Nigel Mansell

2021-03-29 00:00

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#20 Hall of Fame: Nigel Mansell

Nigel Ernest James Mansell was born in Upton-upon-Severn on August 8, 1953, to Eric and Joyce Mansell. The future Ferrari driver is the third of four


Nigel Ernest James Mansell was born in Upton-upon-Severn on August 8, 1953, to Eric and Joyce Mansell. The future Ferrari driver is the third of four children, and already at the age of seven he drives a car in the field near his home. The racing fever, the one that runs through your veins and never leaves you, the mustachioed Englishman met it in 1962, when he saw Jim Clark win the British Grand Prix.


After having achieved excellent results in karts, Mansell made his debut in Formula Ford in 1976, despite his father being against. It takes a lot of money to participate in the races, so Nigel started working as a policeman to raise the necessary money. His first season in Formula Ford is triumphant, as he wins in six out of nine races in which he takes part. The following year he took part in the entire championship, clearly triumphing. Nonetheless, in 1977 he goes through a dangerous accident in which he breaks his neck, risking to interrupt his career prematurely. But with the determination that distinguishes him, Nigel recovers and shows up in 1978 at the starting line of the Formula 3 championship, scoring pole position on his debut and getting a podium.


At the beginning of the season, March promises him to sign him for the entire championship, if the Englishman has found sponsors: Nigel a does not hesitate for a moment to sell the apartment where he lives with his wife Roseanne, in order to obtain the necessary money to compete. the whole season. But shortly after this self-financing also ends and after four races the sponsor does not arrive; Mansell thus finds himself without a team. This is undoubtedly the most critical moment in his career and the Lion, in order to scrape together some money, will even work as a window cleaner. However, someone notices his qualities, and towards the middle of the season he is allowed to make his debut in Formula 2 at Donington Park, but an accident in the tests makes him miss the qualification.


Nonetheless, after a bad year, things are starting to turn for the right, as, in the meantime, Nigel learns that a seat in David Price's team has become vacant, and after a couple of interviews he gets the seat. But above all, not only would he not have had to bring sponsors, but he would also have received a salary, since the contract stipulates that he would have to work as a representative for Unipart, the official sponsor of the team. The weak point of the car will prove to be the engine, the Triumph, which suffers a lot of power at low revs. Despite this, on March 25, 1979, in a rainy Silverstone, at the end of a fierce duel with Andrea De Cesaris and Eddie Jordan, Mansell won his first Formula 3 race.


A few months later the Englishman will participate in the Formula 3 Monaco Grand Prix, and of the five March entered his will be the only one to qualify; on this occasion, several Formula 1 team principals, above all Colin Chapman, will notice the qualities of the driver. Towards the end of the season Mansell will be the victim of a bad accident in Oulton Park, caused by De Cesaris, which almost paralyzes him. The recovery will be long and painful, but this does not prevent him from receiving a phone call that will fill him with joy: that of Colin Chapman.


The British manager organizes a private test on the Paul Ricard circuit, with the aim of finding a driver to work alongside Andretti for 1980. In addition to Mansell, there are also De Angelis, Cheever and Lammers. The titular seat is assigned to De Angelis, while Nigel is chosen as the third driver. Mansell thus began 1980 racing again in the English Formula 3 championship, and then moved on to Formula 2 in the middle of the season, bringing the ambitious Honda engine to its debut in the second series. The results in Formula 2 are encouraging, given that almost as a rookie he manages to touch the victory in the Hockenheim race. At the same time, the Englishman tests the Lotus, but at the Austrian Grand Prix Chapman decides to field a third car to be allocated to Mansell, who thus makes his debut in Formula 1. A debut that ends with a retirement due to engine problems.


Even in the Netherlands things are not going well, due to a retirement due to a brake failure, while in Monza he even fails to qualify. But Colin Chapman adores this gruff boy and eager to show off, to the point that he will be like a second father to Nigel. And, not surprisingly, the Lion will be promoted to the starting driver for 1981, alongside De Angelis. Nigel starts the season driving an uncompetitive 81B-Ford, as the team's second driver. At the Belgian Grand Prix, in Zolder, after having obtained the tenth time in qualifying, he finished third at the finish line, behind Carlos Reutemann's Williams and Jacques Laffite's Ligier, conquering the first podium and the first points.


At the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, Lotus brings the new and faster 87-Ford to its debut, with which Nigel sets the third time in practice, but retires in the race due to a suspension failure. Despite being in his first full season in the top category, Mansell manages to shine with some excellent performances, immediately attracting the interest of the press and other teams, but Chapman does not want to deprive himself of the young English driver. In the last race, in Las Vegas, Mansell finished in fourth place and finished his first full championship with 8 points and the final fourteenth place. In 1982 will not go very well neither for Nigel, nor for Lotus in general: the British team embraces the return of Peter Warr, a historic technician who, perhaps jealous of the splendid relationship between Chapman and Mansell, develops a very strong antipathy towards the latter. Fans know that Warr usually repeats this phrase that goes something like this:


"As long as I have a hole in my lower back, Mansell won't even win a Grand Prix".


The season will take a tragic turn with the fatal accidents of Villeneuve and Paletti, plus the one that will put an end to Pironi's career. Mansell will be the victim of a bad accident in Canada, as he breaks his wrist in a collision with Bruno Giacomelli, being blocked for a few races. At the end of the season Mansell will close with only one third place to his credit, collected in Brazil, and a fourth in Monaco. With only seven points, Nigel is fourteenth in the final standings. The British driver also clearly loses the long-distance duel with his teammate Elio De Angelis, who collects three times the points and wins a very precious race in Austria.


At the end of the year, a heart attack takes away Colin Chapman, who had been a father figure for the Lion. Needless to say, the new team principal would have been Warr, and Nigel's last two years in Lotus will be very hard not only on the track, but also and above all off. Warr doesn't want Mansell on the team, but the John Player Special, which sponsors Lotus, prevents him from releasing him, as he wants a British driver behind the wheel of the gold-black car. Therefore, in 1983 Nigel is used to accumulate experience with the turbo engine, so much so that the season starts very badly. But once the legendary but outdated Ford Cosworth is abandoned in favor of the Renault turbo, the results begin to show.


At the end of the season Mansell has ten points in the standings, managing to do even better than De Angelis, thanks to a third place and the fastest lap obtained at the European Grand Prix. The following year, Lotus will be powered by the Renault turbo engine, and Nigel will become the protagonist of perhaps the most famous episode of his entire career: we are in Dallas, the asphalt is hot and the Englishman gets his first career pole. Then he dominates the race, stifling the attacks of his opponents, but at a certain point the tires put him in crisis and he is overtaken.


He is fifth, but on the last lap his Lotus stops a few meters from the finish. Despite the fatigue of two hours of racing and the suffocating heat, Nigel gets out of the car to push her but at a certain point he fainted and falls. An episode not allowed by the regulations, but which gives the idea of ​​this man's extraordinary courage and grit, and which allows him to enter the hearts of fans. Even in Monte Carlo he will go close to victory: in the race that will consecrate the talent of Ayrton Senna to the world, who started in the front row, under the deluge Nigel immediately takes the lead, going very strong. Too strong. In fact, he makes a mistake on the climb of the Massenet, crashing into the rear wing, and his race ends a few meters ahead, at the Mirabeau.


At the end of the season Peter Warr manages to get rid of him after putting pressure on the John Player Special, the sponsor of the team, taking on the rising star Senna in his place. Mansell is thus on foot, but Frank Williams, who is looking for a driver to work alongside the tough Keke Rosberg, finds in him the ideal driver for his team. From here begins the most important partnership of the entire career of the English Lion. Actually, Frank Williams had been following him with interest since 1981, and Jackie Oliver dell'Arrows also makes an offer to Nigel, based on his esteem for the qualities of the driver. Williams developing the new Honda Turbo engine is an unknown but Mansell is convinced that it is the best choice to make.


Initially his arrival in Williams is not well received by Keke Rosberg, who does not like the English as a teammate. However, relations between Nigel and Keke will improve over the course of the season, and the two riders will be able to work together to develop the car powered by the powerful but unreliable Honda engine. After a complicated first part of the season, the turning point comes in the last phase of the championship: on October 6, 1985, at Brands Hatch, Nigel wins his first world championship race on the day in which Alain Prost becomes World Champion for the first time in his career, and two weeks later the mustachioed of the Isle of Man gives himself an encore in South Africa.


With Keke Rosberg's victory in the last race in Australia, Williams lays the foundations to counter McLaren’s dominance from the following season. To put an end to McLaren's overwhelming power, Williams fielded the formidable FW11 and alongside Nigel will be Nelson Piquet, who has left Brabham. But the team Williams begins in the worst possible way, with the accident and the consequent rupture of the spine that will paralyze Frank Williams' legs, forcing him into a wheelchair. With team management falling on Patrick Head's shoulders, the two drivers will battle it out for all sixteen rounds of the championship. In quick succession, Mansell wins in Belgium, Canada and, after a fifth place in the USA, France and Great Britain, at the end of a spectacular duel with Piquet, taking the lead of the world championship mid-season.


Given the extraordinary results, the Lion received consensus and interest from other teams, first of all Ferrari, with whom he reached an agreement for 1987, which would then be rejected. The rest of the season will see an increasingly bitter confrontation between Nelson, backed by Honda, and Nigel backed by the team. To decide the world championship competition, we arrive at the Australian Grand Prix. On October 26th, one of the most dramatic races in the history of Formula 1 takes place: Mansell arrives at the final Grand Prix with seven points ahead of Prost and nine over Piquet Che. The race had a daring outcome with eighteen laps to go: Nigel was third, behind the two rivals, when on the Brabham Straight the left rear tire exploded, forcing the Englishman to retire.


To prevent the same thing from happening to Piquet's car, Williams called the Brazilian back for a precautionary tire change. Thus, the astute Prost takes command of the race that will hold until the end, despite the Frenchman managing the last drops of petrol left in the tank in the final laps. The world title belongs to him. The disappointment in the Williams house is enormous. Nonetheless, the following year Williams confirmed both Mansell and Piquet, but, if possible, the clash between the two will reach peaks never seen before. Like, for example, on the very fast Silverstone circuit, where Mansell humiliates Piquet with a film overtaking at Hangar Straight.


The genesis of that overtaking begins on lap thirty-seventh, when Nigel is forced to stop for a tire change due to the vibrations in his set of tires. With a new set of tires half a minute away from Piquet, the Englishman embarks on the craziest of comebacks and on lap fifty-eight he gets hooked to the leader of the race. The lap after the film library overtaking: Nigel takes advantage of the slipstream, feigning Nelson's attack on the outside, the Brazilian falls and goes to that side, leaving the inside uncovered. Nigel, with a feline maneuver, throws himself off guarding Piquet, who tries an extreme but useless defense. Mansell passes and the crowd goes wild, accompanying him for the last laps of the race. When the Lion crosses the finish line, the English fans invade the circuit. Probably the best victory of the English champion's career.


The contention for the rest of the championship will be a matter between him and Piquet, but the Brazilian, thanks to his numerous placings, will lead the world championship with two races to go. The final verdict comes on Friday October 30, 1987, the day of the first free practice on the Japanese track of Suzuka. Mansell will have a frightening accident that will force him to finish the season prematurely due to the fracture of some vertebrae, definitively precluding any hope of fighting for the title. For the Englishman it is a bad blow, both physical and moral, in the year in which he showed a clear superiority from a speed point of view in comparison with the Brazilian driver, with six wins and eight pole positions.


The 1988 season will probably be the most difficult year of Nigel's career, as Honda leaves Williams to supply McLaren with its powertrain, forcing the British team to fall back on the Judd engine, a handcrafted engine that precludes any world title speech. Mansell is joined by Patrese and gets only twelve points in the standings, the result of the two second places at Silverstone and Jerez. For the rest of the championship, the Englishman collects twelve retirements and will even be forced to miss two races due to chickenpox. At the end of the year Nigel leaves the English team to accept the challenge from Ferrari. The debut of the Lion of England at the wheel of the Ferrari is a dream: despite the new semi-automatic gearbox of the Maranello car denounces the expected fragility, with Mansell not even taking part in the warm-up, the miracle happens in the race.


After having demanded and obtained to take on the amount of fuel necessary to carry out the entire race, the Englishman makes a show of overtaking Patrese and Prost several times, and then taking off towards the most unexpected of victories. The rest of the season, along with some podiums, will however be studded - as expected - with youth problems of the car, the 640, which will reveal several mechanical failures to the transmission. But in Hungary Nigel does another feat that makes him enter the hearts of Italian fans. The Briton starts twelfth, but by virtue of an attacking race conduct, and also taking advantage of some retirements, the Englishman manages to move into the top positions. Then, at the right moment, he unleashes a decisive attack on Senna, and taking advantage of a misunderstanding in the dubbing of Johansson's Onyx, the Lion takes the lead and takes off towards victory.


However, Nigel also makes himself the protagonist of a somewhat questionable episode on the occasion of the Portuguese Grand Prix. On the Estoril circuit, the Ferraris of Berger and Mansell are very competitive, and at the time of the tire change the Englishman is ahead of everyone. But Mansell stops beyond the pitch of the Ferrari garage, and decides to re-enter it by engaging the reverse gear; a maneuver prohibited by the regulation. For this reason, after a few minutes the black flag is exposed to the British driver, who in the meantime has returned to the track behind Senna. The duel goes on but ends with an accident that knocks both out. In the pits the controversy broke out between Ron Dennis and Cesare Fiorio, with the Englishman accusing the Ferrari wall of not having warned Mansell by radio and of having left him free to duel with Senna, engaged in the world battle with Prost. Nigel's behavior will cost him the disqualification for the Spanish Grand Prix. The return to the wheel of Ferrari was followed by two retirements, in Japan and Australia, so that the first season with the team from Maranello ended with 38 points and the final fourth place.


In his second season with the Maranello cars, Nigel finds Prost alongside him: even in this case, the coexistence between the two will certainly not be idyllic. Ferrari has a car capable of fighting for the title, but the Englishman will be overwhelmed more than in pure speed, especially psychologically, by his new teammate, and will soon be cut off from the title fight. At the British Grand Prix Nigel is keen to make a good impression in front of his home crowd, and on Saturday he scores a fantastic pole position. In the race, the Lion seems the natural winner, but as usual bad luck accompanies him and it is the change that betrays him, even if Prost had overtaken him by not respecting the team orders. When Nigel stops, he first throws the gloves to the public, then announces his retirement for the end of the championship.


The news caused quite a stir and shock among his supporters, who in the following months sent thousands of letters to his address, requesting a second thought. But Nigel initially seems convinced of his choice and asks Fiorio for a courtesy, to be able to win only one more race, in order to triumph for the sixteenth time in his career, and reach Stirling Moss in the ranking of the most victories. In return, Nigel would pledge to help Alain in the run-up to the title. But thanks to a comeback of Senna's McLaren in the standings, and a postponed technical evolution of Ferrari, the Grand Prixs pass and the right opportunity never comes for the British driver. As in the previous year, Nigel will therefore be the protagonist during the Portuguese Grand Prix, in which he too imposes himself too authoritatively. During the start, in fact, Mansell, who starts from pole position, squeezes his teammate Prost, who started second, towards the wall, thus allowing the two McLarens of Berger and Senna to take the lead.


After clarifying what happened with the team, since in the meantime it is learned that Frank Williams convinced him to marry the new technical project, Nigel wins two more second places in Spain and Australia, finishing fifth in the world championship with 37 points. So for 1991 Nigel does not retire, but returns to Williams, in a moment in which the British team is ready to get back in the breach thanks to the official Renault engines and to a car designed by a young but talented Adrian Newey, whose inspiration comes from associated with the experience of Patrick Head.


1991 will start quietly for both Mansell and Williams, but at the end of the year they will replace Prost and Ferrari as challengers to the reign of Ayrton Senna and McLaren. The FW14 at the start of the season proves unreliable, but since the French Grand Prix, with his first win of the season, his seventeenth in his career, it allows him to beat Stirling Moss' record as an all-time Grand Prix winner, the hunt for Senna and McLaren begins.


Nigel makes him the Grand Prix of Great Britain and Germany, bringing him only 11 points behind Senna. The contest between the two is becoming increasingly bitter, thanks to the victories of the British in Italy and Spain, but in favor of the Brazilian there will be the withdrawal of Mansell in Belgium and the absurd episode in Portugal. The Portuguese Grand Prix is ​​always in the fate of the Englishman, for better or for worse. In this case in the bad, due to an absurd mistake of the Williams box during the tire change: at the moment of the restart, after the tire change, the right rear wheel comes off the Williams of the Englishman and Nigel is forced to stop in the middle to the pit lane.


The mechanics mount another tire in the pit lane, breaking any regulatory norm, and Nigel is back on track like a fury. In the following laps, the Briton moved up to sixth place, but the exposure of the black flag interrupted his comeback. Probably this episode, more than Suzuka's off-track in the penultimate act of the world championship, will be the cause of yet another world title failure. In 1992, the right opportunity finally arrived for the Lion, and Williams’s advantage was the new active suspension system. Thanks to this technical expedient, the FW14, marked by the B version, allows Mansell to win nine out of sixteen Grands Prix, and make his fourteen pole positions. In detail, Mansell wins the first five Grands Prix in South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, San Marino, and after a second place in Monaco, and a retirement in Canada, the Briton wins again in France, Great Britain, and Germany, winning his first and only World Champion title in Hungary, thanks to the second-place finish.


The title, however, is not enough for Mansell to keep his place at Williams, which at the same time has agreed with Alain Prost, his old rival, who takes the coveted seat of the English car for 1993. Given the impossibility of renewing his contract with Williams, Mansell, after evaluating his retirement from competitions, signs a contract with Newman-Haas Racing with which he runs the 1993 and 1994 seasons of the CART championship. The agreement is formalized during the weekend of the Portuguese Grand Prix. In the 1993 season Mansell drives a Lola T9300-Ford and has Mario Andretti as a teammate.


The debut takes place at the Australian Grand Prix in Surfers Paradise, where he gets the pole position and wins the race beating Emerson Fittipaldi; Nigel is thus the first driver since Graham Hill in 1966 to win on his debut in the category. A few weeks later, not yet used to the American oval racetracks, the Briton is the victim of an accident during the tests of the 200 Miles from Phoenix, and is forced to miss the race. He recovered quickly and finished third in Long Beach, starting from pole, and repeats the same placement at the Indianapolis 500, in which he loses the victory due to an error of inexperience following a bad restart. He will then be named Rookie of the year, that is best rookie of the year.


Nigel also imposes himself in the 200 Miles from Milwaukee, and scores pole position and fastest lap at the Detroit Grand Prix, where he finishes fifteenth. In addition, he starts from pole position at the 200 Miles from Portland and finishes second in the race, finishes third at the Cleveland Grand Prix and twentieth at the Indy Toronto, wins the 500 Miles from Michigan also scoring the fastest lap in the race, and at the 200 Miles from New England hits pole position, victory and fastest lap. Then he places second in the 200 Miles from Road America, sixth in the Indy Vancouver and twelfth in the 200 Miles of Mid-Ohio starting from pole, and at the 200 Miles from Nazareth he gets again pole position, fastest lap and victory, the last for him in the category. Finally, at the last race of the Championship, the Monterey Grand Prix crosses the finish line in 23rd position and wins the title with 191 points. In 1994 Nigel drives a Lola T9400-Ford, again joined by Mario Andretti.


At the inaugural race, the Australian Grand Prix, he obtained pole position and fastest lap and finished ninth in the race, then he was third at the 200 Miles from Phoenix and second at the Long Beach Grand Prix. At the Indianapolis 500 he finished twenty-second at the finish, fifth at the Milwaukee 200 and twenty-first at the Detroit Grand Prix starting from pole. He then places fifth at the 200 Miles from Portland, climbs to the second step of the podium at the Cleveland Grand Prix and crosses the finish line in 23rd position at Indy Toronto. He hits the third pole position of the season at the 500 Miles from Michigan, where he closes the twenty-sixth race, then he places seventh at the 200 Miles from Mid-Ohio, eighteenth at the 200 Miles from New England, tenth at the Indy Vancouver and thirteenth at the 200 Miles from Road America, where he marks the fastest lap in the race.


He ends the season with a twenty-second place at the 200 Miles from Nazareth and an eighth at the Monterey Grand Prix; this time, with only 88 points to his credit, Nigel is eighth in the Championship. In 1994, as mentioned, Mansell starts the season again in America, but in the middle of the championship he is recalled to Williams to run some races to replace Ayrton Senna, who died in Imola. Nigel runs the French Grand Prix with no luck. Subsequently, given the meager performance of rookie David Coulthard, Frank Williams decides to entrust the second car to Mansell again, in the hope that the latter will be able to help Damon Hill avoid a defeat by Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Ford.


Even at half service, after a retirement at the European Grand Prix and a fourth place in Japan, the Englishman managed to return to victory in the last Grand Prix in Australia, where he also obtained his last pole position. Hill loses the World Championship against Schumacher by one point, due to an accident caused by the latter, but despite this Patrick Head decides to look to the future, signing for the following year with the young Coulthard and not renewing the now 41-year-old Mansell.


Nigel then signs a contract with McLaren but soon discovers he is not at ease, and besides, he has a hard time getting into the narrow cockpit of the British team car. Nigel tries McLaren for the first time in testing and finds it extremely inadequate, an aspect that will weigh heavily on his second short career in Formula 1. The Englishman missed the first two Grands Prix in Brazil and Argentina, before returning to Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix, where he lost fifth place due to a contact with Irvine. In Spain, both the more than two seconds behind the leaders and the technical problem with the brakes that forced him to retire convinced Nigel to say goodbye to Formula 1.


This time for good, despite Eddie Jordan trying in every way to convince him to drive one of his cars in 1996. He will manage to snatch a test session at the end of that year in Barcelona, ​​where he will only be able to lap four tenths slower than Ralf. Schumacher who was to become a starting driver the following year. Mansell leaves Formula 1, but not the world of Motorsport, so he decides to try the assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 2010, but on his first and only appearance with a Ginetta Zytek in the crew with his children, he is the victim of a real disaster due to a terrible accident after seventeen minutes from the start, following a puncture.


In his Formula 1 career Nigel disputed 187 Formula 1 Grand Prix, with thirty-one wins, thirty-two pole positions, thirty fastest laps in the race and 480 points. In addition, he finished eighty-two times in points and fifty-nine on the podium, starting in fifty-six occasions from the front row. Nigel will not only be remembered for his iconic mustache, which by the way he no longer has, but also and above all for his tenacity, his determination that has always led him to try until the last corner of the last lap, to go systematically over the limit. Ayrton Senna, in the years in which they competed in Formula 1, will say of him:


"Of all of them I fear Nigel, because Mansell is the only driver who, if he attacks you, appears in both rear-view mirrors at the same time".


Simone Centonze


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