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The Five Best Drives of Nigel Mansell

Red Five and his great rival Senna

Red Five and his great rival Senna

Nigel Mansell was one of the iconic drivers of the late 1980s and early 1990s, an era that many fans of F1 still consider the "Golden Age” of the Sport. This era saw numerous legendary drivers rise and leave their mark on the history of F1. Mansell most certainly was certainly one of them.

The British Lion, as he was nicknamed by the fans of Ferrari, had a rocky road until he arrived at F1, and had to wait for half a decade until he received a real title-challenging machine, but from that point on, nobody could have doubted the class of Mansell.

1987 British GP

When double world champion Nelson Piquet arrived at Williams at the beginning of the 1986 season, most expected him to easily outrank his much lower rated British teammate Nigel Mansell.

It did not turned out like that. Mansell proved a worthy adversary and actually finished the 1986 season ahead of Piquet.

Piquet suffered a huge accident at the 1987 San Marino GP, but was later able to continue his season, and in the end even won the title thanks to his consistency.

The two of them had a great battle at the British GP. Piquet took pole position from his teammate and had the better of Mansell for most of the race. Mansell realised that if he shadowed his teammate he will inevitably finish second. So he decided to take a gamble and made an extra pit stop for fresh tyres. After his stop Mansell put in a real charge to catch up to his teammate.

Overtaking in F1 was easier in the 1980s, than it was today, but it was by no means easy. Mansell had to put in a real top class move to snatch the lead from Piquet with three laps to go. The move of Mansell worked and he passed his teammate to win his home Grand Prix the third time in a row.

1991 Spanish GP

Mansell returned to Williams for the 1991 season after his frustrating 1990 season alongside Alain Prost at Ferrari. His season did not got off to a good start, as he retired from the first three races of the season, while his main rival Ayrton Senna won the first four races.

Still, Williams had a fast car, and once the reliability issues were sorted out they looked unstoppable. From the Canadian GP up until the Spanish race Williams had the fastest cars in F1, which allowed Mansell to close the gap between him and Senna. Some typical Mansell bad luck, however, let Senna and McLaren off the hook, and when the team arrived to the Spanish GP Senna had the chance to win the title if he finished ahead of Mansell.

McLaren also rediscovered their form, and locked out the front row in qualifying. Surprisingly it was Berger who took the pole, while Senna was only second.

When the race started Senna seemingly had no interest in racing for the win, and allowed Berger to pull away and build a big lead, while he was holding up Mansell. The tactics worked fine for a time, but the track started to dry up and Mansell made a move on Senna, another move that became iconic in F1, when the two cars were alongside each other on the main straight with centimeters between the two cars.

McLaren’s faster stops allowed Senna to pass Mansell again, but he then made a mistake which dropped him back. Mansell caught and passed Berger also and went on to win the race to keep his title challenge alive.

1988 British GP

After two superb seasons in 1986 and 1987, when Mansell was fighting for the championshipm the 1988 season proved to be highly dissapointing for the Englishman. Williams lost their Honda engines to McLaren, and the Judd engines with which they replaced Honda were not powerful or reliable.

In the early part of the 1988 season, Mansell struggled to even finish a race, let alone win one. When he arrived at the British GP he had the grand total of 0 points in 1988 and his chances of a good result in Britain were rather slim. Qualifying was difficult and he only managed an 11th place.

The race turned out to be a totally different proposition. Rain arrived on Sunday and turned the race into a wet one. The wet surface somewhat negated the enormous horsepower disadvantage the turbo-powered cars had over the rest of the field and allowed Mansell to really shine. Using his wet weather skills, and taking advantage of the struggles Ferrari had with fuel consumption, Mansell charged through the field to finish the race second. The result showed his doubters that Mansell was far from finished, and given a good car, he was still an absolute top driver.

1991 French GP

With 6 races done in 1991, Ayrton Senna was comfortably leading the championship. He had a 24-point lead over Riccardo Patrese, and a 31-point lead over Nigel Mansell. Still, Senna had no reason to sit back as the Williams cars looked utterly dominant in the previous two races leading up to the French GP.

The same pattern continued in France too, and Patrese took the pole position. Mansell was not as fast as his teammate in the qualifying sessions, but he still managed to get fourth on the grid.

Patrese remained stuck on the grid on at the start which saw him drop to the back of the grid. With Patrese out of the picture, Prost took the lead after the start, while Mansell passed Senna for second.

Prost and Mansell were much faster than Senna, and left the championship leader in the dust. As the leaders hit lapped traffic Mansell was able to pass Prost for the lead, but a quicker Ferrari pit stop allowed Prost to retake the lead after their tyre stops.

The race was a duel between the two of them, as they left the rest of the field a long way behind.

Prost held the lead until lap 54, when once again Mansell made good use of the traffic to close up close to Prost and pass him for the lead.

Mansell then pulled away from Prost to take the win, his first of the season, and a win in style, where he passed another great driver for the lead twice.

1989 Hungarian GP

After a dissapointing 1988 season, Mansell left Williams to join Ferrari. The 1989 Ferrari car was probably the second fastest car of the season in terms of speed, but it lacked the reliability of the McLaren Hondas, and the Ferrari engine was not as powerful as the Honda one either.

Still, in the right circumstances the Ferrari car had the potential to take the fight to the McLarens and be even faster than them. One such occasion was at the 1989 Hungarian GP.

Mansell had a difficult qualifying session which saw him start the race from a lowly 12th place. Still, despite his poor starting position he climbed his way up to the top six in the opening laps of the race, and once he had a clear track in front of him it quickly became clear that in fact Mansell was the fastest car on the track, and quite a bit faster than the leaders.

He caught up the leading pack by mid race and eventually passed Prost. Berger’s pit stop elevated Mansell to third, which turned into second when leader Riccardo Patrese was forced to retire with a technical failure.

With 25 laps to go Senna was leading Mansell. The Ferrari man looked much faster, but the high top speed of the Honda engine McLaren kept Senna safe. Mansell got his opportunity to pass his rival when they were lapping Stefan Johannson. The backmarker impeded Senna which allowed Mansell to have a run on his rival, and he passed the Brazilian in yet another iconic pass.

Mansell never looked back from this point on and he romped home to win the race by over 20 seconds.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler