Perhaps the most famous of all British winners of the British Grand Prix gets his turn under the spot light today, and BlogF1 will look at the four victories Nigel Mansell took at the Brands Hatch and Silverstone circuits during his career at the top of motor racing’s pinnacle series. All of Mansell’s British victories came at the controls of a Williams car, starting in 1986 and finishing with Nigel’s championship-winning season in 1992.
1986 was Mansell’s best season to date and the Williams driver romped to second in the world championship, missing out on the title by just two points, Alain Prost being the eventual winner. Mansell’s tyre blew in spectacular fashion at the final race of the year in Australia, the footage becoming quite famous with Murray Walker’s startling commentary over the top.
However, while Mansell missed out on the world championship, he did take five victories that year, the British Grand Prix being one of them. Held at Brands Hatch, it was Mansell’s sixth career win and the fourth of the ’86 campaign. The race was typical of the season, with Mansell fending off his team mate Nelson Piquet. At the time Piquet had already won two titles and was an experienced and proven winner. In qualifying at Brands Hatch Piquet took pole position but Mansell was alongside on the front row in second.
The race start would not go Mansell’s way though and the Worcestershire-born driver suffered a race-ending problem with his Williams going into the Paddock Hill Bend. But luck was on Nigel’s side that day and moments after retiring from the race a dramatic accident brought out the red flag. Thierry Boutsen, somewhere in the midfield in the Arrows, lost control of his car and bounced off the barriers back in to the path of the backmarkers. Among them were Stefan Johansson and Jacques Lafitte, and as the Swede jinked right to avoid Boutsen’s Arrows, he clouted Lafitte and sent the Ligier into the barriers.
Lafitte was cut from the wreckage of his car and flown to hospital. The French driver had broken his legs in the impact, and although he would go on to make a full recovery, Lafitte would never race a Formula One car again. However, back at Brands Hatch and with the race being stopped, Mansell would be able to rejoin at the restart in the spare Williams. By the end of the first lap Gerhard Berger had squeezed his way past Mansell and demoted the Briton to third. However it wouldn’t be long before Mansell reclaimed the position and after Piquet missed a gear Mansell found himself in the lead.
The Williams duo fought it out for the rest of the race but Mansell remained in the lead and took his first British win in front of the exuberant crowds all around the Brands Hatch circuit. Piquet and Mansell lapped every other driver who was still on track for the final tour and the Briton managed the fastest lap on the 69th turn.
Nigel’s second British victory would come in the following year and again the Briton was pitched against his formidable rival, Piquet in the dominant Honda-powered Williams. Although Ayrton Senna managed to get ahead of both the Dernie-designed cars at the start, it wasn’t long before Piquet got past the Lotus of Senna, shortly followed by Mansell. The Williams’s powered off into the distance, but Nelson was putting in the faster laps and by the 45th tour, with just 20 laps left, the Brazilian had edged out a 20 second lead over his team mate. However, Mansell was determined not to give up and with Piquet’s tyres wearing out, Nigel dug deep and started to make up time. On lap 63 Mansell made his move, selling Piquet a dummy at Stowe and passing the then double champion.
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The win was greatly celebrated as one of Mansell’s finest performances on home soil and even Murray Walker, commentating for British audiences, cheered as Mansell overtook Piquet with just two laps left on the counter.
It would be four years before Mansell would win in Britain again, the years in between being spent driving the unreliable Williams FW12 which prompted a move to Ferrari, but few victorious results. A return to Williams in 1991 though proved to be a positive highlight in Mansell’s career though and with a new engine partner, Renault, the Didcot team had found their feet again and partnered with Riccardo Patrese, Williams were once again looking like the class of the field.
Mansell took pole position at the Silverstone circuit, but at the start of the race on Sunday, he made a poor start and Senna got ahead. However, heading down the Hangar Straight, Mansell turned off his rev-limiter and blasted his way past the McLaren. From this point Mansell remained in the lead and finished with a popular victory in front of the British fans. Senna, who was eventually classified as fourth ran out of fuel on the slow-down lap, and Nigel famously gave his rival a lift back to the pits while waving to crowds.
1992 would be Mansell’s last victory at home, but the season would prove to be his finest with a well deserved world championship at the end. Once again at Silverstone, the fans were expectant with Nigel in the Renault-powered Williams. Mansell was on pole and the tension was electric around the Northamptonshire track. As Mansell left the grid though, team mate Patrese got ahead and led Nigel through the Becketts Complex. As ever though, Mansell had none of it and repassed Patrese on the same lap.
58 laps later and after a relatively trouble-free race, Mansell was ahead by 39 seconds and took his fourth and final victory in Britain. The fans were so jubilent they invaded the track and cheered their hero around on his slowing-down lap; Mansell-mania had gripped the nation. Williams would go on to score another constructors title that season, but this was shadowed by the drivers title being won by Mansell. It would be the moustached-driver’s only title in a career that often left fan’s hearts in their mouths.
Following 1992 Nigel moved to America to race in the CART IndyCar World Series after a falling out with the Williams team. Winning the title Mansell became the only driver to have held both the Formula One title and the CART title at the same time. However, things started to deteriate for the Briton and an unreliable car prompted Mansell to return to the UK and take up the opportunity to drive for Williams once again. Mansell was placed in the car after the untimely death of Ayrton Senna, and he shared the drive with up-and-coming pilot David Coulthard. However, with three Britons on the team and only two cars, Williams chose Coulthard to race at Silverstone alongside regular driver Damon Hill.
After a win in the final round at Adelaide, Mansell moved to McLaren but it was an unmitigated disaster. Nigel couldn’t fit in the car and was unable to compete until the third round at Imola. However, Mansell was being outpaced by his team mate, Mika Hakkinen, and after just two races, retired from Formula One. But with four British Grand Prix wins and one Formula One championship, Mansell went down in the history books as one of the greats, and after Jim Clark, is the second most successful Briton at the British Grand Prix.
To read more in this series of articles, click the tag ‘British Winners’.