Mansell. This name still rings in every Formula 1 fan head. And boy does it evokes one hell of a lead-footed driver. But did you know that 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell struggled so much before being crowned…?
Let me stop you there. Say that Nigel Mansell is a horrendous driver and you’ll have to deal with me. By the way, if that’s what you tink of him, leave this article at once. So you dare to say that Nigel Mansell is the equivalent of Beppe Gabbiani and Jean-Denis Deletraz? Have shame. Italians nicknamed Mansell “Il Leone” and few drivers had the lifetime opportunity to receive such a nickname. His 1992 campaign should be shown in every Formula 1 schools (if they existed): 16 races, 14 poles, 9 wins and 108 points out of 160 scored.
However, the driver with a magnificent mustache has no good head. Besides his title, Mansell is known for his uncountable driving mistakes and brain fails. One single article is not enough to list all of them, so the editorial staff of Formule moy1 agreed to restrict itself to three blunders which made Mansell famous.
“HE’LL NEVER WIN A GRAND PRIX”
We just can’t keep up with the British driver blunder tally: silly incidents, pitstop fails, assaulted engines, etc. When he was a F1 rookie, Mansell was not considered as a top notch driver, rather as an average one. And even his own team thought so!
We are in 1984, Mansell has been in F1 for five years and he has stuck with the same team since the beginning, Team Lotus. Sadly, Mansell is teammate Elio de Angelis’ doormat. While the Italian scores on a regular basis, Mansell sinks. Nevertheless, karma intervenes to bring justice. In the streets of Monte Carlo, Mansell takes his chance. He clocks the second fastest lap of qualifying. And in a race flooded by the rain and illuminated by the genius of God-Senna, Mansell is unchained. He takes the lead of the race and will not let go!
His pace is so strong, he laps two seconds faster than everybody else! Prost remains second and decides to manage his race, thinking about the championship first. As you all know, Prost wasn’t the kind of driver to risk everything for a race win. When Mansell passed him, everybody thought that it was in the bag. However, Nige keeps his right foot down as if his life depended on it and what was bound to happen happened… The Lotus driver aquaplanes and ends up in the guardrail. Lotus’ director Peter Warr is not impressed. His team has been waiting for a race win for two years. Plus it was an incredible opportunity to snatch third place in the standings from Renault… Everything is ruined. And after Mansell’s retirement, Warr pronounced these famous words, cast in motorsport stone:
“Nigel Mansell will never win a Grand Prix as long as I have a hole in my arse.”
At the end of the 1984 F1 season, Mansell and Lotus part ways. In the standings, the Brit finished behind… Ayrton Senna, driving a rubbish Toleman at that time. It’s like seeing Daniel Ricciardo end up behind Marcus Ericsson, to tell you the truth. Mansell then was hired by an out of shape Williams team. Unfortunately for Warr, Mansell finally won one in 1985. Then he won again, and again, and again… Ten years after the Monaco disaster, Mansell left Formula 1 for good, with 31 wins and one world championship title. Poor Peter Warr’s behind…
THE DAY MANSELL DIDN’T STOOD STILL
1989 Formula 1 season. For every motorsport enthusiasts, this year is remarkable, really it’s a delight. That’s the beginning of the Prost-Senna war, with the infamous incident at Suzuka crowning Alain Prost for a third time. But do you know the other story of the 1989 season? Indeed, Prost didn’t won in Japan, he won in Portugal…
Formula 1 followed very strange rules back then, only the 11 best results counted for the championship. Don’t ask me why. It was very helpful for Senna though, he retired many times and only had to remove these races from his tally, by doing so he didn’t lose any points. That was not the case for Prost. The Frenchman often finished in the top 6 and therefore had to subtract a few points from his tally. To give a clear example of how it worked in the days, in 1988 Prost was runner-up although he scored more points than world champion Senna!
The battle for the title was intense. With four races to go, anything could happen. And, truly, everything would happen. Oddly, Ferrari driver Nigel Mansell is the referee of this Prost-Senna duel. That year, the Brit transcends himself: he wins the opening round in Brazil,
retires during the next five races and is in position to overtake Senna for the second place in the standings! In Portugal, Mansell takes his chance. When race-leader Berger pits after a twentyish laps, Mansell is in the lead!
When Mansell pits, the shitstorm begins. In those ancient times, there were no speed limit in the pits. Hard to believe, especially when you know that the mechanics only wore shirts and shorts… On the 40th lap of the race, Mansell boxes. His Ferrari crew is waiting for him, they are just behind the McLaren box. But the Brit completely misses his braking point! He stops six feet too far, right in the middle of the pitlane! His mechanics rush to his car, but Mansell has other plans, which is unfortunate. He hits the reverse gear to get back to his garage: that’s a mistake! Backing off in the pits is strictly forbidden. Mansell heads back in third, but it’s too late. He is disqualified!
Yet Mansell is still on the trail of second-placed Ayrton Senna. Once again, he’s keeping his foot down like a madman. When the black flag is first shown to Nigel, he doesn’t know, nor care. He only has Senna in sight. And every time the two of them cross the finish line, the black flag is presented to Mansell. And every time he refuses to slow down. Communications between nerve cells start to be problematic. The Brit brain gives one order only and it’s directly linked to the right foot: “crush this damn pedal”.
On the 49th lap, the improbable occurs. Mansell, who has been disqualified for three laps, pulls out a move on Senna. But that’s a desperate attempt, Mansell is too far away. He waves towards the inside of Senna. But the Brazilian doesn’t give in. He takes the corner properly, forcing any driver to abort any overtake attempt.
Yeah, but… you know, Mansell isn’t your average racing driver. He holds on his position and… hits Senna’s rear tyre. Both McLaren and Ferrari suspensions snap. Both drivers go straight into the graveltrap. Ayrton Senna has just been hit by a DSQ’d driver! This retirement diminishes the Brazilian chances to win the title. He will have only one opportunity left, in Suzuka. The rest is history…
Ayrton Senna and McLaren team principal Ron Dennis are livid. Dennis rushes to the Ferrari garage to punch the face of whoever wants to. FISA big boss Jean-Marie Balestre intervenes right away. Mansell is suspended for a race and has to pay a big fine. This suspension, Mansell doesn’t understand it. His defense? “I didn’t see the black flag, I didn’t hear anything on the radio.” It’s a merry mess, and another superb publicity stunt for Mansell. The British driver decides to announce he’s quitting F1 for good. However he will quickly reconsider his decision…
DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS…
Last but not least, I have to tell you the story behind his most famous blunder, in 1991. This season hasn’t been very gentle with the British driver. When Mansell had the chance to catch Senna in the standings, he always found a way to mess everything up. 1991 Canadian Grand Prix, fifth round of the season. Senna won four races out of four, that’s 40 points in the bag. And Mansell is already 36 points behind the Brazilian! A Mariana Trench type of gap I say. In Canada however, things were bound to change. Senna retires for the first time and guess who’s in the lead? You bet your sweet ass it’s Mansell! Strangely enough, the Brit only has to lift off the gas pedal to get an easy win. And that’s what he does, actually. After all, he is the fastest man on track and the driver behind is almost a lap down! But the Monaco demons are never far away…
69th and last lap of the race. Mansell has only a few corners to negotiate to win. But two corners, when you’re Nigel Mansell, that’s the end of the world. The Brit is on his little cloud of serenity, he spends his last lap waving at the crowd, arms up in the air, and sometimes forgetting to change gears. When he’s at the Casino hairpin, he faces large grandstands and a monster crowd roaring for the man of the day. This is Mansell’s moment. He waves like there’s no tomorrow, however he’s in sixth gear on a first-gear corner!
His carelessness results in the Williams stalling, with the impossibility to restart the engine. Mansell is stuck, half a mile away from the chequered flag! To add insult to injury, his arch-nemesis Nelson Piquet takes the lead. This is the third time in a few months that Piquet has inherited the race win after a late retirement. When the luckiest man in the world meets the unluckiest… But Piquet is a good sport. He says that when he saw Mansell stuck on the side of the road, he “almost climaxed” (his own words…) in his car!
Of course, these are just a few mishaps lost in a plethora of magnificent races. And if I face a very possible trial, I just wanted to clarify that Nigel Mansell is a talented driver and a great guy (editor’s note: mimicking a thumbs up).
Still, there will be a part two.