Nigel Mansell. The Great Moustached One. Exciting to watch, sometimes reckless, and sometimes brilliant. Mansell was my boyhood hero, and when I sat down to watch Formula 1, it was because I yearned to see him in action. This page is not intended to serve as a comprehensive look at Mansell’s career (there are plenty of sites out there that detail that), but rather, a personal reflection on my memories of his racing.
When I first started watching F1 in 1989, Mansell was racing for Ferrari. His was not the most competitive of cars (and Ferrari suffered a number of mechanical problems throughout the year), but his aggressive style and never-say-die spirit was exciting to watch.
1990 was, sadly, not a good year for Nigel. The Ferrari was quick, but only his teammate’s car (belonging to Frenchman and then-three time world champion Alain Prost) was reliable. Whilst it is understandable that Ferrari would favour a world champion, they short-changed Mansell (and Prost was also quite manipulative, having their cars swapped over for the British GP without Mansell’s knowledge when Mansell appeared to be faster at the French GP).
1991 saw Mansell struggle at first – he had returned to Williams (where he had been runner-up in 1986 and 1987), and Williams, pioneering a semi-automatic transmission, could not get the car through the first few races. Mansell would not score any points until a second place in round four at Monaco, whilst Ayrton Senna had won the first four races for McLaren.
So, straight away, Mansell was chasing. The car was good when it worked, and Mansell would come desperately close to winning the Canadian GP (only to end up retiring on the last lap as he let his engine revs dip too low and the car trundled to a halt). He would finish second in Mexico, behind his teammate Ricardo Patrese, finishing ahead of Senna for the first time that season.
The next sequence of races is one I remember clearly. Mansell took his first win of the year in France, and then won the British Grand Prix (where he famously gave Senna a lift back to the pits). A third straight win came in Germany, after which Mansell had cut Senna’s championship lead from 34 points after Monaco, to just eight points.
Alas, Senna halted Mansell’s charge at the very next race, taking his fifth win of the year to move 12 points clear. An electrical failure in Belgium for Mansell, coupled with a sixth win for Senna, opened up the gap to 22 points. Mansell would win in Italy from Senna, and so, with four rounds to go and a maximum of forty points available, he sat 18 points behind the Brazilian.
Mansell looked on course to do well in Portugal, until a pit stop that went horribly wrong – one of the tyres was not fitted properly, and came off as Mansell pulled out of his stop. The team rushed into the middle of the pit lane to fit a new tyre, but Mansell would ultimately be disqualified. Senna could only manage second place in Portugal, but now had a 24 point lead with only thirty points available at the most.
The Spanish GP of 1991 is famous for a side-by-side sprint between Mansell and Senna. The two rivals were separated by only centimetres as they raced, with Mansell having the inside line and sweeping past Senna. Mansell’s victory, combined with a fifth place for Senna, meant the gap was down to 16 points with two races to go.
Sadly for Mansell, he span out whilst chasing Senna, and thus, for the third time in his career, he was runner-up.
If 1991 had been yet another case of near but far for Mansell, 1992 was the year it finally came together for him. I remember watching the races, utterly enthralled and delighted as Mansell won the first five races of the year. He would be involved in a dramatic battle toward the end of the Monaco GP, where he would be second to Senna after being forced to pit for tyres late on. That battle undoubtedly goes down as one of the best F1 has ever seen.
Mansell would also win in France, Britain and Germany to leave him needing second to secure the title at round eleven – one of the earliest times the title has been decided in Formula 1 history. Seeing that moment was, for me as a youngster, a wonderful occasion, and I was elated for Mansell. He’d had some bad luck during the course of his career, and he most certainly deserved to be champion. I will always remember those moments fondly, and I thank Mansell for ignited my life-long love of Formula 1.