In today’s F1 world, young aspiring drivers are coached and mentored from an early age. Newly crowned double World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, has enjoyed backing from Red Bull from an early age and Lewis Hamilton has been part of the McLaren family from his karting days. Talent and dedication are still needed in abundance but Mansell’s path to F1 (as was the norm back then) was a little different.
If you collate all the CVs from the drivers past and present, I doubt you’ll find many who worked as a part-time window cleaner to help fund his racing or remortgage his family home to cover a sponsorship shortfall.
It was legendary Team Lotus boss, Colin Chapman who saw potential in the moustached brummie and gave him a seat mid way through the 1980 season. Mansell was given three races that year, retiring in Austria and the Netherlands and failing to qualify in Italy. Chapman however gave Mansell a full time drive for the 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984 campaigns. The retirements racked up faster than the points for the Mansell and Lotus. Mansell managed only three podiums in his three years with the Norfolk based team. In his time at Lotus, he is best remembered for leading the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix in the wet before famously losing control just before Casino Square, damaging his rear wing and retiring from the race.
1985 saw Mansell move to the more competitive Williams Honda team, partnering Keke Rosberg and for the first time, adorning the iconic ‘Red 5’ on the nose of his car. Williams made a slow start to the season as they overcame teething problems in their new partnership with Honda. At the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch that year, Mansell finally stepped foot on the top step of the podium at the 72nd attempt, following it up immediately with another win in South Africa to finish the season in 6th place with 31 points.
1986 was a turning point in ‘Our Nige’s’ career. Spurred on by his two victories in the previous year and a stern test in the shape new team-mate, Nelson Piquet, ’86 was to be an epic year. In a pulsating race in Spain, at Jerez, Mansell lost out to Ayrton Senna by 0.014 seconds in one of the closest finishes in history. Red 5 went on to win five races in ’86, the most notable coming at Brands Hatch, the scene of his first win the year before. The championship went down to the wire, with Mansell, Piquet and McLaren’s Alain Prost were all in with a chance of winning. Mansell only needed to finish in 3rd to be certain of the title. Sitting in a title winning position with only 19 laps to go, his left rear exploded in spectacular fashion, leaving him as a spectator, powerless to influence the outcome of the title. Prost came out on top to reclaim the title he’d won the year before leaving Mansell as Runner Up.
Williams Renault once again dominated in 1987, but Bitter rival Piquet had the upper hand and tied up the title after Mansell missed the Japanese Grand Prix after injuring his back in a practice accident. As the year before, the season highlight came in his home Grand Prix, this time at Silverstone, where the world saw ‘Mansell Mania’ for the first time. From the start of the race, Piquet looked in control as Mansell suffered from a vibration from a missing wheel weight. Neither Williams were due to make a pit stop during the race but on lap 36 he decided he couldn’t continue on that set of tyres. He came out of the pits 30 seconds behind with only 28 laps remaining. Lap after lap Mansell broke the lap record as the gap between the two came tumbling down until with only three laps to go he was staring at his gearbox. On lap 63 out of 65 Mansell was in Piquet’s slipstream going down the Hanger straight, Piquet started to take a defensive line as Mansell moved to the outside. As the Brazilian moved back to cover, Mansell dived down the outside in one of the most memorable overtaking moves in F1 to take the win. On the warm down lap, the patriotic crowd broke rank in sheer delight of what they had just witnessed, surrounding the car as it made its way back to the pits.
William lost its Honda engine supply in 1988 and with the underpowered Judd unit, Williams couldn’t match the pace of the dominating McLarens.