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EXCLUSIVE Nigel Mansell on Button, Singapore...and Rossi

10 September 2009

Jenson Button just needs to loosen up a bit, the constant scandals and controversies are damaging Formula 1 and Valentino Rossi is an 'extraordinary talent' who 'wouldn't fit in' amongst all the political wrangling and in-fighting so prevalent in the top flight – those are the views of Nigel Mansell as the 1992 world champion and British racing hero shared his views with Crash.net Radio of the state of play in the sport in 2009.

If Jenson Button manages to successfully recover from the mid-season 'wobble' that has seen him average barely two points from each of the last five grands prix – a far cry from his peerlessly dominant early run of six triumphs from seven starts, when he looked practically unassailable – and his advantage in the drivers' standings come under increasing threat from his pursuers, then the Brawn GP star looks set to make it back-to-back British title successes at the highest level. Mansell is confident that the 29-year-old he can do just that – and that such an outcome can only do good for the wealth of young home-grown stars bidding to follow in Button's wheel tracks.

“I think he's got to be careful,” the former Williams star urged. “I think he's got to give a bit of thought to what's been happening to him over the last few races – you can't have your team-mate out-qualifying you and out-racing you. There's obviously something going on with himself, but I think he's a mature enough driver now and accomplished enough to realise that even with a 16-point lead he's got to pay attention.

“He's got to just un-tighten himself; I think what it is, is that he's got a bit tight – when you win six races on the trot pretty much, you think 'oh, this is easy', but it's never easy until you cross that finishing line. I really do believe he'll still bring the crown home for Great Britain, though, and hopefully that will help demonstrate to sponsors and to all the teams that the home of motorsport is England. Hopefully British drivers and British teams will get more funding, because it's been very difficult these last few years.”

One competitor who Mansell clearly believes would add a great deal to F1 – but who he adds will likely never be given or accept the opportunity to do so – is record-breaking multiple motorcycling world Champion Rossi, who the 31-time grand prix-winner describes as 'unbelievable'. Earlier this week, fellow British great Sir Stirling Moss argued that the flamboyant, effervescent Italian is 'too good' to take a 'a backwards step' in joining the far more sterilised, clinical environment of MotoGP's four-wheeled equivalent [see separate story – click here] – and 'Il Leone' broadly agrees.

“Valentino Rossi is fantastic,” he stressed, “and not only as a rider and a driver but as a human being. I had a sensational time with him at Donington when I was invited to be his guest there, and [sons] Leo, Greg and I and some friends had a blast. It was unbelievable! I'd never been to a MotoGP race before, and I want to go to another one soon!

“He is the real thing. He is just extraordinary in terms of his talent, and he is absolutely crazy – the character he's got, with those donkey ears when he won at the last race, was sensational – but I think Sir Stirling is probably right. He probably wouldn't fit in, unless he could own his own team in Formula 1, run it properly and protect himself from all the political wrangling that happens there.

“I think Valentino will stay where he is. I hope he pulls off the championship; he should – he's 30-something points in the lead. It's never over 'til it's over, but he is just brilliant – he's a great guy, and his team are fabulous. I love him to death.”

Mansell was less willing to comment, by contrast, upon the 'Singapore-gate' row currently engulfing F1, with the top flight's latest scandal threatening to drive one of its staunchest competitors in the form of Renault out of the exit door. The 56-year-old expressed his opinion that the sport could well do without the series of controversies that have rocked it in recent years – when there has almost been more action off the track than on.

“When a car goes off the circuit and has an accident, I can't think for one moment that any driver would do that deliberately,” he opined. “In my whole career, I've never heard of that, so it would be a new one on me and if it is true or alleged to be true then I think it is very sad. Those things, if they do happen then they shouldn't happen.

“Everybody says that the time in which they raced was the best time, and we had challenges, but in the eighties and nineties there weren't the kind of things going on that are going on now,” he added, speaking to BBC Sport. “I just feel 'okay, if they're going on, they should be kept behind closed doors,' because some of it hurts the sport. I just find it extraordinary. Renault, Singapore – whether it's true or not, there's a stigma behind it all, isn't there.

“All the political things that are happening too... All the teams should get together and agree something sensible going forward. Fill the grid – we want 26 Formula 1 cars on the grid. If there are 26 places on the grid, let's have a full grid. How many years has it been? How many years do we have to go back since we had a full grid of Formula 1 cars? I'm with the fans here, I agree with them – let's go racing. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport; let's keep it that way.”

One driver who was right at the pinnacle of F1 in 2008 but slipped back into near-ignominy in early 2009 is reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton. McLaren-Mercedes' talisman driver has endured a torrid campaign during which an uncompetitive car and an opening race 'cheating' row have at times made him question whether he should even be there at all, but the Stevenage-born ace is adamant that all the trials and tribulations have only served to strengthen him [see separate story – click here] – and Mansell suggests he won't be down for long.

“I think in the beginning, badly,” he responded, when asked how he believed Hamilton has handled himself this year. “I think everybody can see that, but I think he's regained some ground. He's young, he'll regain his composure and I think it will be a year whereby he's gained a lot of experience.

“You have to learn by experiences, don't you, and if all you've ever done is just win championship after championship and you've never had a tough time, when the tough times come you don't know how to deal with them. I think now you'll see that he'll grow in stature, and hopefully if he gets the car underneath him, he'll win another world championship soon.”

TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE


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