Hall of Fame – Nigel Mansell 1989-1995

Mansell was confirmed as a Ferrari driver for the 1989 and 1990 seasons. The Tifosi took Mansell to their hearts, giving him the knick name ‘il leone’ due to his fearless driving style. He got off to a flying start for the prancing horse, winning the season opener in brazil, however the rest of the season was beset by problems with the teams new, experimental semi-automatic gearbox. Disqualifications in Canada and Portugal added to his woes but a pulsating drive from 12th on the grid to win in Hungary showed what the Tifosi could expect if he had a reliable car.

Alain Prost joined from McLaren to take over as team leader at Ferrari for the 1990 season but the team’s poor reliability again limited Mansell chances. When the car worked, he would often show what it was capable of, finishing on the podium in Canada and Mexico before putting it on pole in France. At the next race at Silverstone however, Mansell was less than happy with the car that had performed so well in the previous three events. Upon challenging the team’s engineers about it, it transpired that Prost had noted that Mansell’s car had the better performance and took the car for himself without anyone telling him. After retiring from that race, Mansell announced his retirement at the end of the season, picking up only one win at Portugal, finishing 5th in the driver’s standings with 37 points.

The planned days away from F1 were to be short lived as Sir Frank Williams tempted him to put his golfing plans on hold and rejoin the team that gave him his most success to date. Now powered by Renault and a new semi automatic gearbox, Williams looked to have their sights set on catching McLaren. After overcoming early problems with the new gearbox, causing Mansell to retire from the first three races. Mansell finished the Monaco Grand Prix in second, he looked like following this up with a win in Canada, only to embarrassingly stall the engine whilst waving to the fans on the last lap to be classified in 6th. This was merely a blip as he went on to win in France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain to close the gap on leader, Senna. With two rounds remaining, Mansell had to finish ahead of the Brazilian in Japan to take the championship down to the final round in Australia. Mansell was lying second to Senna in the early stages but ran wide at the first corner and ended up beached in the gravel meaning he once again finished in the runner up spot.

From the winter testing in 1992 Williams were seen flexing their muscles in the pit lane as they began testing their active suspension. It was soon clear to their rivals that this system gave the Williams drivers a marked advantage in cornering speed. Mansell duly sprinted out of the blocks, winning a then record 5 straight victories from the start of the season. He looked odds on the make it 6 but a slow puncture at Monaco meant he had to pit from the lead for new tyres, exiting behind Senna with only a handful of laps remaining. On fresh rubber, Mansell quickly caught the back of the McLaren but there was no way past on the twisty street circuit. The pair navigated the last three laps nose to tail in the most thrilling finish in the principality since the rain affected race of 1984.

As in ’91, France saw the beginging of the Mid season push, winning there, in Britain and Germany to give himself an almost unassailable lead in the championship. Needing only a top 5 finish to be certain of the championship in Hungary, Mansell made sure, finishing second behind outgoing champion, Senna to finally fulfil his ambition to become world driver’s champion.

With the news that Williams had signed three time champion and his former Ferrari team-mate, Prost for the 1993 season, Mansell decided to retire from F1, signing a two year deal with, CART team, Newman/Hass. Mansell made an immediate impression, winning the opening ever in Australia, going on to lift the title at the first attempt, becoming the only man in history to hold both the F1 and CART titles at the same time.

Following the tragic death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, Mansell agreed to race in selected events for Williams that year, taking his 31st and final win in the final round in Australia. A full time come back with McLaren was announced for 1995 but issues fitting into the car delayed the start of the partnership with Mansell missing the first two events. Two races later and Mansell called it a day for good, citing his unwillingness to make up the numbers in the midfield as his reason to walk away from the sport.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Hall of Fame – Nigel Mansell 1989-1995

  1. Steve

    I was always a big fan of Mansell, as he was pretty much the reason I started following the sport in my teens. Nigel’s performances nicely bookended the 3.5L engine era of F1, winning the first and last races (Brazil ’89 being the first race after turbos were banned, and Adelaide ’94 being the last race with 3.5L engines). A nice stat to have on your CV!

    Reply

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