Nigel Mansell OBE
Nigel Ernest James Mansell was born in Upton-upon-Severn, in Worcestershire on the 8th August, 1953. Mansell is a British racing driver and is the only person in history to have held the titles of Formula One and CART champion simultaneously. From the very beginning of his career, Mansell was successful and in his debut season, he won the CART title.
Mansell is the most successful British Formula One driver of all time, in terms of wins, with 31 victories and is in the top five on the overall Formula One race winners’ list, behind only Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. His highly successful career lasted 15 seasons, with his final two seasons being spent in the American CART series. Murray Walker, a Formula One commentator for 50 years, named Mansell in the top 10 Formula One drivers of all time.
The beginning of Mansell’s career was fairly slow as he used his own money in order to help work his way up the ranks. He was a successful kart racer and decided to move, despite the disapproval of his father, to the Formula Ford series. His success began in 1976, when he won six of the nine races he took part in, including his debut race at Mallory Park. During the following year he won 33 of the 42 races which he entered and became the British Formula Ford Champion of 1997, despite suffering a broken neck in a qualifying session at Brands Hatch. He was told by doctors that he had been close to losing all movement in his limbs, that he would be confined to hospital for six months and that he would never drive again. Mansell chose to ignore this devastating news and discharged himself from the hospital and returned to racing. Three weeks before his accident, he resigned from his job as an aerospace engineer, having previously sold most of his personal belongings to finance the beginning of his Formula Ford career. That very same year, Mansell was given the chance to race a Lola T570 Formula 3 car at Silverstone, and after finishing fourth, his new aim was to move to the higher Formula 3 division.
Between 1978 and 1979, Mansell began his first season in the Formula Three division, with a successful debut race, starting in pole position and finishing in second place. However, this success did not continue for long – his team was required to use Triumph Dolomite engines that were vastly inferior to the Toyota engines used by the leading teams. After this unsuccessful stint in which Mansell finished 7th place four times, he decided to leave the team behind and during the next season, he took a paid drive with Dave Price Racing. He saw his first win in the series at Silverstone and went on to finish eighth overall in the championship. He was a consistent racer until yet another accident which he was lucky to survive. He was hospitalised again and was told he had broken vertebrae. After his accident, Mansell insisted on hiding the extent of his injuries with painkillers, but this didn’t seem to have an effect on his driving. He was noticed by the owner of Lotus, Colin Chapman, and performed well enough to become the test driver for the Formula One team.
Mansell began his career with the Lotus team in 1980, when he quickly established his skill as a test driver. He impressed Chapman so much through setting the fastest time around Silverstone in a Lotus car at the time, that he gave Mansell three starts in Formula One in 1980, driving a development version of the Lotus 81 which was used by the team.
His Formula One debut was not a successful one. At the Austrian Grand Prix in 1980, Mansell was left with second degree burns on his buttocks after a severe fuel leak in the cockpit. He was unable to finish his first two races due to car failures and an accident at his third meant he failed to qualify. The leader of the Lotus team, Mario Andretti, announced he was moving to the Alfa-Romeo team at the end of the season, and thus, there was a vacant race seat for Lotus. Chapman announced that this seat would be filled by Mansell at the beginning of the season.
Mansell spent four years, between 1980 and 1984 as a full-time Lotus driver, but these four years weren’t plain sailing. The cars he drove were unreliable and out of 59 race starts with the team, he only finished 24 of them. Mansell’s best finish was in third place which he obtained five times during his career with Lotus.
During 1982 Mansell planned to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans sportscar event, in order to earn extra money – he was offered £10,000 to take part. Chapman believed, however, that Mansell was exposing himself to unnecessary risk by taking part and paid him £10,000 not to. Chapman then extended Mansell’s contract to the end of 1984 in a deal which made him a millionaire. After such gestures, Mansell and Chapman had a very close relationship, and inevitably, Mansell was devastated by Chapman’s sudden death in 1982. Mansell stated in his autobiography that when Chapman died “the bottom dropped out of my world. Part of me died with him. I had lost a member of my family”.
The 1984 season saw Mansell finish in the championship top ten for the first time and he took his first career pole. Halfway through the season, however, Lotus’ new manager, Peter Warr, signed Ayrton Senna for the following year, which left Mansell with no race seat at Lotus. He received offers from Arrows and Williams and despite initially turning Williams down, he eventually signed with them. When Mansell left the Lotus team, Warr infamously commented, “He’ll never win a Grand Prix as long as I have a hole in my arse”.
1985 saw the beginning of Mansell’s original career with the Williams team. He was given the, now famous, “Red 5” car which he continued to drive throughout his career for Williams, and which was brought to the public’s attention through the enthusiastic commentary from the BBC’s Murray Walker. This year began the same way previous years had done for Mansell, although he was slightly quicker than before, especially by mid-season when the Honda engines had improved. Mansell finished in second place at the Belgian Grand Prix and this was closely followed by his victory in 72 starts at the European Grand Prix, held at Brands Hatch in England. After he had achieved his second victory, at the South African Grand Prix, Mansell was finally seen as a Formula One star.
His successful career with Williams led Mansell to be voted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He proved he deserved this title in the following year, when he won six more races, including a popular and emotional victory at Silverstone. He came back from 30 seconds in 30 laps to beat his team-mate Piquet, with his car running out of fuel on the slowing down lap.
In 1988, the Williams team lost the turbo power of Honda to Team McLaren, and had to cope with a far inferior engine. In the particularly unsuccessful following season, Williams experimented with an extremely innovative, but highly unreliable, active suspension system. Mansell completed only two of the fourteen races in which he took part in 1988, both being podium finishes.
Before the start of the 1989 season, Mansell was personally selected by the late Enzo Ferrari before his death in August 1988. Mansell was the last Ferrari driver selected by him before his death, an honour which Mansell described as “one of the greatest in my career”. He felt that during this year, he would be able to challenge for the championship the following season and in his debut appearance with his new team, he had an unlikely win in the Brazilian Grand Prix, on his least favourite track and the home of his bitter rival, Piquet.
Team Williams again…
Mansell felt that during his career with Ferrari, he was seen as the ‘Number Two’ driver and when Williams signed him again in October 1990, Mansell ensured that the contract stated that he would be the focus of the team. Mansell was paid £4.6 million per season, which made him the highest paid British sportsman at the time. His second career with Williams proved to be even better than the first. He was back in the familiar ‘Red 5’ and won five races in 1991, the most memorable being the Spanish Grand Prix.
The 1992 season proved to be Mansell’s finest. He started the season with five straight victories and won the Drivers’ Championship by setting the record (at the time) for the most number of wins in one season (9) and the highest number of pole positions. He finished in second place in the Monaco Grand Prix, narrowly behind Senna, in high temperatures after a late-race puncture. Mansell was awarded the title of Formula One Drivers’ Champion at the Hungarian Grand Prix early in the season, adding another record to his collection by winning the Drivers’ championship in the least number of Grand Prix. He won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice, in 1986 and 1992.
After a year driving in the CART IndyCar World Series in 1993-1994, Mansell made a comeback when he returned to Williams, replacing rookie David Coulthard for the French Grand Prix and the last three races of the season. Mansell wasn’t as quick as Wiliams’ lead driver at the time, Damon Hill, but signs that his speed was coming back were evident in Japan, during a Ferrari battle. Mansell won his final Grand Prix, the Australian, which was the final race of the season.
Mansell lost his race seat to the person he took it from – David Coulthard – and he eventually ended up with Team McLaren in 1995. However, the season got off to a bad start for Mansell, as he was too large to fit into the car and wasn’t able to race until Imola, where his driving was only average. He chose to retire after only two races, which was an unfortunate ending to a fantastic career.
Despite his career being filled with near-fatal accidents, equipment failure and many close misses, Nigel Mansell is still one of, if not the, most dominant racer in Formula One, and it is due to this that Mansell was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2005.