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Nigel Mansell

Nigel Mansell
Country: 
Full Name: 
Nigel Ernest James Mansell
Birth Date: 
7 August, 1953
Birth Place: 
Upton-on-Severn, Great Britain
Driver Status: 
Former

1
Championship Titles

191
Races
31
Wins
32
Poles
1
Titles

Nigel Mansell Biography

Nigel Mansell F1 Career Overview

Gritty, aggressive and fiercely talented, while it took Nigel Mansell time to reach the very top of the sport, he did in style with a 1992 F1 World Championship victory that remained unparalleled for more than 20 years.

Spending much of the 1980s considered the sport’s ‘nearly-man’ after agonising circumstances that led to him missing out to team-mate Nelson Piquet in 1986 and 1987, he eventually struck gold in 1992 with a crushingly dominant performance of nine wins in 16 races.

A career littered with contentious moments on and off the track - especially with regards to his fractious relationship with Piquet - Mansell suffered no fools, so when he fell out with Frank Williams publicly and decried the decision to sign Alain Prost for 1993, he shocked the paddock by exiting F1 and heading to the US CART series for 1993, which he subsequently won.

He made a handful of sporadic returns in 1994 and 1995 with mixed success before quitting F1, taking in a handful of BTCC and sportscars races, including the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours, thereafter.

In 187 starts, Mansell achieved 31 wins - placing him seventh on the all-time list - 59 podiums and 32 pole positions

Nigel Mansell F1 Career - Team-by-Team

Lotus: 1980-1984

Bartering his way to the top of the sport - often at his own expense - Mansell made a name for himself in British F3 in 1978-1979, performing well despite his dated Triumph engine he pedalled in the former and proving consistent in the latter.

His efforts caught the attention of Lotus’ Colin Chapman, who arranged a test for him and subsequently added him to its considerations for a 1980 F1 season alongside Elio de Angelis, then racing for Shadow.

The more experienced Italian landed the seat but Mansell was held as test rider and duly promoted into a third entry by the team for a trio of outings towards the end of year. Though they were to be disappointing outings, Mansell had done enough to secure a full-time drive with the team, alongside de Angelis, for 1981.

He would go on to spend four full seasons with Lotus, in a deal many attributed to have been extended less because of form but by his close friendship with Chapman, who had signed him to the end of the 1984 season just before his death in 1982. 

Indeed, Lotus was struggling to replicate the form of previous seasons during Mansell’s tenure but he was still comfortably out-performed by de Angelis and there were reportedly repeated attempts to have him dropped from the line-up before the end of contract, most notably in 1984 when the intervention of sponsors John Player stopped the team from hiring a then-rookie Ayrton Senna because it wanted a British driver.

There were highlights though; he scored his first podium in only his seventh start at the 1981 Belgian Grand Prix and another four would follow over the next four seasons. However, for a team used to title-winning and with de Angelis scoring a win in Austria in 1984, Mansell’s time at Lotus wasn’t largely celebrated.

He did demonstrate his sheer determination more than once though, often at the detriment of his own health. As a driver who - during his pre-F1 career - discharged himself from hospital after an accident despite his injuries almost paralysing him, Mansell made headlines after just failing to reach the finish line of the gruelling inaugural (and final) Dallas Grand Prix, which was largely derided for being punishing to drive due to the condition of the track and scorching weather conditions that saw temperatures soaring to 38-degrees.

Mansell was heading for fifth place having started on pole but struck the wall on the final lap and his car instead came to a halt in sight of the chequered flag. He jumped out and attempted to push, but the searing heat overcame him and he collapsed with exhaustion. He was still classified in sixth. 

Williams: 1985-1988

Despite indifferent results with Lotus, Mansell was hired to Williams for 1985 alongside its 1984 F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg and overcame an indifferent first-half of the season - which included skipping the French Grand Prix with concussion due to an accident at the end of the 1.8km Mistral straight that unintentionally broke a new record for the fastest-ever F1 crash at 322km/h - to show strong form in the latter stages.

Getting onto the podium for the first time in Williams colours at Spa, Mansell’s first victory - after 72 attempts - came poignantly on home soil at Brands Hatch, before he followed it up with another at the season-ending South African Grand Prix.

With Mansell’s upturn in pace considered down to steady improvements with the Honda engine, there were high hopes of a title push for 1986. However, inter-team tensions were ramped up by the addition of Nelson Piquet, who famously sparked a feud by calling Mansell ‘an uneducated blockhead’ and criticising his wife Roseanne’s looks; Piquet later retracted these statements on threat of legal action.

The pair were closely matched all year but found themselves challenged all the way by Alain Prost, despite the Frenchman driving what was considered to be an underpowered McLaren. This reportedly angered Williams’ engine supplier Honda, which had footed the large bill to sign Piquet and wanted Williams to prioritise him over Mansell rather than have them take points off one another,

After Prost won two of the opening three races, Mansell struck back with four wins from five mid-season, before Piquet’s form picked up with three wins in the second-half of the year. It meant all three went into the Adelaide finale with a chance of winning, but Mansell held the initiative, needing third to clinch the crown, unlike his rivals who had to win regardless.

In the race Piquet led Prost, but Mansell looked comfortable in third position with 19 laps to go only for his left-rear tyre to blow spectacularly putting him out of the race. Piquet was pitted as a precaution, allowing Prost to win the race and with it the title. Mansell later said he considered parking against the wall in retirement - rather than on a run-off - to bring out the red flags, which would have likely seen the result called with him classified as third. 

Williams resisted Honda’s calls to replace Mansell with its own development driver Satoru Nakajima and retained both him and Piquet for 1987. Again rivalries flared, though Mansell enjoyed a satisfying victory over the Brazilian at Silverstone in front of huge crowds after hunting down a 28secs lead to pass him for the win before running out of fuel amost as soon as the chequered flag was thrown. 

They formed part of six wins to Piquet’s three with two races to go, but the Brazilian’s greater consistency kept him clear by 12 points as they headed to Suzuka. However, a crash in qualifying left Mansell with a neck injury that put him out of the final rounds and Piquet was cleared to claim the title, remarking it to be a win of ‘intelligence over stupidity’.

While there was perhaps some truth in the suggestion Mansell was the more risk-taking of the two drivers to a degree that was both advantageous and damaging to his championship hopes, Piquet’s pithy remarks simply heightened the Briton’s image of being a plucky underdog and drew a huge fanbase as a result.

Piquet left for Lotus in 1988, replaced by another Brazilian Riccardo Patrese, and took Honda turbo power with him, leaving Williams to suffer with normally-aspirated Judd V8s which were considerably slower than its main rivals. To counteract the difference Williams experimented with a number of technical innovations, including an early prototype of active suspension.

Coming years before the clever system would play a huge role in his 1992 F1 title win, it was otherwise clever but crude in 1988 and Mansell endured a desperately disappointing year in which he finished two races, albeit on the podium, at Silverstone and Jerez to leave him ninth overall.

Ferrari: 1989-1990

A change of scenery was due for 1989 and Mansell became the last driver to be personally selected by Enzo Ferrari before his death to drive for the Scuderia. Known as ‘Il leone’ (the lion) in Italy where he had a growing army of fans, the banning of turbo engines was perceived as Ferrari’s chance to reclaim glory after many lean years.

Armed with a semi-automatic gearbox that proved impressive but prone to break during testing, Mansell had high hopes for the new system but expected it to take time to become reliable. Nonetheless, he won first time out in Rio but his fears were confirmed in the following races as indeed gremlins struck the transmission.

Frustrations set in and Mansell found himself thrown out of two races for infringements; first in Canada in a bizarre moment when, having pitted to change tyres at the end of a first formation lap, re-entered the circuit not realising a second one had been called meaning he and also Alessandro Nannini had unintentionally started their races some 17secs before the grid took off.

He was also rebuked for an incident at Estoril when he overshot his pit box and engaged reverse to get back to the correct spot, despite Ferrari mechanics gesticulating for him not to do so. Reversing in the pit-lane was not permitted and though no harm had been committed, the FIA not only excluded Mansell but banned him for the following race.

Between these indiscretions Mansell notched up a second win of the year in Hungary to secure fourth overall and with it a renewed anticipation of a title tilt in 1990.

However, it was a false dawn and Mansell instead found the Ferrari 641 unreliable once more. Moreover, he was suspicious new team-mate Prost was getting preferential treatment due to his broader linguistic skills and ability to communicate fluently with the team. While Prost went on to fight for the title, Mansell was reduced to just a single win at Estoril to finish fifth overall.

Williams: 1991-1992 & 1994

Mansell sought a return to Williams for 1991 but engaged in a tough negotiation to make it happen, which included undisputed number one status over Patrese and assurances from engine suppliers Renault to focus on him in its efforts to secure the world crown. He said he would retire if the demands weren’t met and Williams subsequently - unusually - bowed to his terms.

It wasn’t an easy start to life together again as Mansell found himself again frustrated by gearbox issues, the legacy of Williams trying to get its head around its own semi-automatic transmission. Three DNFs coupled with McLaren’s Ayrton Senna scoring four wins in a row left Mansell with a mountain to climb if he wanted to win the title, a campaign he didn’t help when he ‘broke down’ while leading on the final lap of the Canadian Grand Prix. Mansell said the car failed but Williams believed it had stalled because he’d let the revs drop too far in order to wave to the crowd.

Mansell hit back with a trio of wins at Magny-Cours, Silverstone and Hockenheim, with two more occurring at Monza and Jerez. However, he blotted his copybook again with a second disqualification from the Portuguese Grand Prix in three years, this time for stopping in the pit road after realising his wheel wasn’t attached properly and the team putting it up on jacks partially in an active pit road. He still secured the runners-up spot, albeit 24 points down on Senna.

Now 39, it appeared Mansell best chances for World Championship glory were fading but after retaining number one status as Williams when Senna (erroneously) opted to remain with McLaren out of loyalty for 1992, he emerged as the dominant force that would bring him his one and only title.

After years of development, the Adrian Newey-penned Williams FW14B got all of its innovations - semi-automatic gearbox, traction control and active suspension - working to devastating effect and in the hands of Mansell’s more aggressive driving style the car was an all-conquering weapon. So quick early in the first part of the season that Mansell and Patrese could lap two seconds faster than its rivals, Mansell swept to victory in the opening five rounds. 

Three more wins followed in the next five events setting up an extraordinary premise where Mansell could be crowned champion as early as Round 11 out of 16 at the Hungaroring, which he duly achieved.  Winning nine races overall, he broke a series of records, including the most victories in a single season and the quickest route to a title win. 

Despite his march to the title though, tensions were brewing behind the scenes. Williams had - unbeknown to Mansell - signed Prost in 1991, but couldn’t run him until 1993 due to a clause in his Ferrari contract meaning he’d be Mansell’s team-mate, which the Briton didn’t approve of.. Moreover, it became known that Mansell could have been dropped altogether anyway had Williams been able to sign an eager Senna too, with the Brazilian’s deal only falling through on the back of Prost exercising a veto over his appointment.

With Williams satisfied to have Prost on its books as lead driver, it didn’t feel compelled to meet Mansell’s wage demands, leading to a breakdown of relations that saw him exit both the team and F1 at the end of the year.

Instead, Mansell accepted an offer to compete in the US CART series in 1993 with Newman/Haas Racing alongside 1978 F1 champion Mario Andretti (in what turned out to be a very fractious relationship), which in turn led to an Indianapolis 500 start. Despite his age and inexperience relative to his peers, Mansell swept all before him to claim an unexpected title in his rookie season. He’d go on to try defend it in 1994 and though he could only manage eighth overall, he did secure victory in the Indianapolis 500.

Despite his newfound US stardom and his F1 successes remaining fresh in the paddock’s mind, Mansell was still largely avoided by teams until he was - ironically - called up by Williams to rejoin the team for a selection of events in 1994. 

Starting with a one-off outing in the mid-season French Grand Prix to replace David Coulthard, who had been benched under the insistence from Renault as the rookie had thus far struggled to handle the overwhelming pressure of assuming the seat vacated by Senna’s death at Imola earlier in the year.

While Mansell impressed to qualify second on his return - before retiring in the race - his CART commitments allowed Coulthard back into the seat until his countryman’s US season had concluded. Returning for the final three rounds of the season, Mansell claimed his 33rd and final F1 win from pole position in Adelaide, even if his success was overshadowed by the controversial outcome of team-mate Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher’s title fight behind.

1995: McLaren

Mansell expected Williams to offer him a deal for the 1995 season but it instead opted to concentrate resources on Hill and duly held onto Coulthard in support of that. 

Instead, Mansell signed with McLaren, which had taken on Mercedes as engine suppliers for only its second season back in F1 (it entered in 1994 with Sauber). However, the MP4/10B was too narrow for Mansell’s frame and needed to be re-designed, forcing him to miss the opening two rounds.

On his return for Round 3, Mansell was unhappy to find the car not as competitive as he would have hoped and after just two races decided to quit the team and retire. He has since stated he regrets the decision and should have stayed to help develop a team that would eventually return to the winners’ circle in 1997 and win two titles in 1998 and 1999 with Mercedes.

Nigel Mansell - Beyond F1

Mansell remained active in motorsport in the years that followed his long F1 career, famously getting a handful of guest outings with Ford in the British Touring Car Championship for 1998, five years after rather infamously being knocked unconscious in a huge accident during the 1993 TOCA Shootout all-comers event at Donington Park (also with Ford) when he lost control at the Old Hairpin after contact and his Mondeo slammed into the barriers at high-speed.

He made his belated Le Mans 24 Hours debut in 2010, 28 years after a plan to do so was scuppered by old F1 boss Colin Chapman, who paid him not to compete in fear of it being an unnecessary safety risk.

Making history in the event’s long history by racing alongside his two sons Leo and Greg - who had just started their own racing careers and were enjoying modest success in the lower ranks - in a Beechdean Aston Martin Ginetta-Zytek LMP1 car, the family trio qualified 18th but the car completed only four race laps before retiring.

Other racing appearances include the FIA GT Championship in a Ferrari 430 GT2 and the Le Mans Series, though in recent years Mansell has become a staple of F1 race weekends again as the nominated ex-driver that sits on the stewards’ panel for each race.