NIGEL MANSELL - IF DIFFICULT, SWEETER
provided by Maximiliano Catania/FUNO
Buenos Aires (AR), 22 Feb 2005
No driver ever proofed that massively, that a racer needs dedication and determination to achieve everything. He demonstrated, how a driver can survive any disaster and that the more bad luck you are suffering from, the sweeter the victory will be.
The early days. Nigel Mansell was born on 8th of August 1953 in Upton-upon-Severn. At the age of 15 he began to make his first racing experience in karting. He took a part-time job as an engineer, but he never lost the ambition to be a race driver, which cost him the major part of his engineer income, when he started to compete in the British Formula Ford 1600 competition in the mid-'70s. In 1976 he experienced his first-ever race victory at Mallory Park. Already one year later he could clinch his first championship, winning 32 of the 42 races he contested. In an accident he broke his back, but against medical advise, he return as soon as possible to achieve that first championship. In 1979 Rosanne, Nigel's wife and he sold their house to pay for a couple of Formula 3 races with the March team. Although the March was anything, but competitive, the efforts of Nigel Mansell were unbelievable and soon attracted the attention of Lotus Formula 1 boss Colin Chapman, who invited him to a Lotus test. Shortly before that test, Nigel crushed vertebrae in the neck after he had collided with Italian Andrea de Cesaris in Formula 3 race. Chapman was in doubt, whether Mansell would be fit enough for a Formula 1 test, but Nigel answered 'Don't worry, I'll be there!'
The Lotus-time of Nigel Mansell. In 1980, when Nigel Mansell had signed a test-driver contract with Lotus, he was hoping to get the vacant second seat alongside Mario Andretti, who was competing his last season with Lotus, but Chapman gave that cockpit to Elio de Angelis and Mansell had still to wait for his chance. In August 1980 he was given to prove his talent in a 3rd Lotus car at the Österreichring and Zandvoort; he was stopped by mechanical failures both times, but the first appearances were nonetheless very promising. In 1981 he was given a full time contract and he scored his first podium finish at Zolder, Belgium in 3rd position. In Jarama, Spain (6th position) and Las Vegas, USA (4th position) he could score points again. Chapman and Nigel Mansell became very close friends and the quite, but very hard-working Mansell had a very good relation to the team, something which is unfortunately not very normal in today's Formula 1. Chapman, who died in 1982, could see Mansell score points again in 1982, when he finished 3rd in Brazil and 4th in Monte Carlo. The Lotus team at that point was already leaving the times of success. The car was anything, but a top car and Mansell was often stopped by unlucky technical failures and some very bad driver mistakes. His spectacular spins and accidents and his unbelievable bad luck made him butt of other people's jokes. Nigel never got a competitive car until Frank Williams gave him the second seat alongside Keke Rosberg in 1985.
How to lose Championships. The season of 1985 began very badly for Nigel, because he was made clown by McLaren boss Ron Dennis at the end-of-season party in 1984. Frank Williams had just announced the contract with Mansell and Dennis showed a 'collection' of Mansell spins and accidents and asked Williams loudly 'This is your top driver?'. Remember it was the same Ron Dennis, who gave him a contract 10 years later to make him again butt of jokes for a bunch of people who laugh about those jokes. But Nigel Mansell is not the man to be hurt by those things. He kept on fighting and achieved a very emotional home victory at Brands Hatch, his first-ever GP victory, followed by a second triumph at Kyalami only two weeks later. After the end of the season Keke Rosberg left the team and Nigel Mansell was joined by Nelson Piquet. But Mansell, who was expected to be a 'classic Number 2' by Piquet, offered no signs to be Piquet's butler - on the contrary, he became the man to beat. He emphasised that, with 5 victories in Belgium, Canada, France, UK and Portugal. He qualified for pole in the season's last race, which he started as championship leader with a marginally advantage over Alain Prost. But his championship hopes blew up with his rear tyre, he kissed the wall and Prost snatched away the title.
The next season saw the two Williams-Honda cars to be the quickest all over Nigel Mansell won six times this year, but again he was not lucky enough to become champ. In a practice accident at Suzuka he kissed the barrier again and injured his neck. That gave his team-mate Nelson Piquet the chance to use Nigel's retirement in the last races to win the title with only 3 victories. After the season, Frank Williams lost the excellent Honda engine to Ron Dennis and the year 1988 turned to disaster, with the underpowered Judd engines. Nigel Mansell could finish in only 2 races where he took second place; all other races saw him retire earlier. The Commendatore Enzo Ferrari gave him a contract for 1989.
Mansell goes Tifosi. Nigel Mansell knew how to say 'Thanx' to the Italians for getting him out of the terrible Williams situation. He won the first Grand Prix of 1989 in the Ferrari, adding a second memorable win at the Hungaroring, where he stormed up the field from 12th position of the grid. He rated the race himself as 'definitely the best drive of my career.'
For the 1990 season the Italians signed triple World Champion Alain Prost with full support of Nigel Mansell, who expected the Ferrari team to be strengthened by Prost's arrival. He formed a rapport quickly with Alain, as they were doing an intensive winter engine testing. The start into the season was quite disappointing, but luck returned, when Nigel Mansell won the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril. This lifted him up into the position of the most successful British driver equal to Stirling Moss with 16 victories so far. Three second places and scoring points in three more races brought him up in 5th position in the championship at the end. At the British Grand Prix, Mansell announced, that he will be going to retire from Formula 1, which started a massive wave of public support for staying in the competition. Frank Williams, who had signed a contract with Renault, knew that there is only one driver, who is able to bring him up to the leading position - Nigel Mansell.
How to win Championships. Although he won 5 races in the first year of the Renault-powered Williams, the engine was not reliable enough to lift him into leading position, to often he retired with mechanical failures, but anybody knew, that the 1992 season was going to become his year, except the Williams crew would not be able to make the car reliable, but they did - 1992 turned into Mansell Year. He set an incredible number of 14 out of 16 pole positions. He won 9 of 16 races. And he clinched the championship after already 11 races at Hungaroring. In Monza he announced, that he had signed a PPG IndyCar World Series contract with Newman/Haas after failing to agree the terms for a new contract with Frank Williams.
Welcome to America. The IndyCar season began, like the Formula 1 season ended, glorious. Nigel Mansell set the pole time in his very first IndyCar race at Surfers Paradise, Australia. The IndyCar stars, like Emerson Fittipaldi or Nigel's Newman/Haas team-mate Mario Andretti (Do you remember? We heard that name already) were slightly surprised, but Nigel Mansell is not satisfied with a pole position and so he snatched away the victory too; he was the first-ever IndyCar rookie to achieve both pole and victory in the debut race. In the next race at Phoenix, his first-ever oval appearance he had to learn the difference between street and oval tracks. He lost control of his Lola-Ford and crashed heavily into the wall. But he returned already in the next race at Long Beach, despite a back-injury operation. He finished the race third, bringing him back into the championship lead. Now everybody was expecting him to be scared by oval tracks after the Phoenix disaster, but on the contrary. Except Phoenix and Indianapolis, Nigel Mansell won all oval races at Milwaukee, Michigan, New Hampshire and Nazareth. And even in Indianapolis he was close to win, leading most laps, but with a few laps to go he touched the wall which slightly damaged his front suspension. But he did a great job, keeping on fighting and he finished the race in 3rd position. After his win at Nazareth it was clear, that his advantage on Emerson Fittipaldi would suffice to make him IndyCar Champion as rookie. He was not only the first rookie to manage that, but the first back-to-back champion in Formula 1 and IndyCar. The second year with Newman/Haas was very disappointing, because all teams were outgunned by Penske, with a dominant performance by Al Unser Jr. Second thing was the jealousy of Mario Andretti, who was never able to follow Mansell's pace and could not stand the fact, that he had lost the status of the most beloved driver to Nigel Mansell. After the death of Ayrton Senna da Silva at the San Marino massacre, Nigel made four guest appearances with Williams-Renault, winning the heartbeat final at Adelaide, where Damon Hill shot Schumacher to champion. It was the last big win of Nigel Mansell and I can only say...
We miss you Nigel, Goodbye Lion...