A Frantic Sliverstone Grand Prix

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British Memories.My 2nd article for Formula1blog.com and I have a problem. See boys and girls NC, Grace and I decided me being the Brit and it being the British gp should do a nice bit of text for you to read before 20 cars head towards copse corner now only needing to feather the throttle rather than brake thanks to the amount of aero today’s F1 cars produce. Only trouble is what to write? I could talk about the pressure on Hamilton or current threats to the race itself. I could write on why we should get government backing for the race considering how they are blowing £9.3bn on the 2012 Olympics but wont fund say 5-10 million to secure the future of the British Grand Prix. But I really don’t want to get wound up and turn this into whole 2 pages of me hating on people. Instead I wanted to take a look back at something different a nice walk down memory lane for me. And what better than a look at the driver who was one of the main reasons I follow this sport today.

Silverstone this year is a sell out.  Hamilton mania will be at an all time high and if the boy wins James Allen may explode. But the Brits going totally nuts at Silverstone is not new. I know because I was there.

Rewind to 1992 and Mansell was god. Banners everywhere for “The Peoples Champion” “Our Nige” the whole crowd had turned up to see one driver and one only, Nigel Mansell. And in the midst of this mad crowd was an 8 year old Andrew Middlemore all excited because well… umm the driver my dad followed and who had drove those red cars I liked was on fine form. Devastating form in fact. Mansell was cleaning up by the end of the season Mansell had collected 14 poles in a single season a record still held by Mansell today and would win 9/16 races not surpassed until Schumacher 10 years later. The active suspension Williams Fw14b was the car that would break Mclaren’s run of titles since 1988. 92 would be the year finally FINALLY Mansell would take the title. Whilst some people criticized Mansell for being a “moaner” he was made of pure grit and determination. A never say die attitude that made him so loved by the public.

For example, At the start of his very first race in a lotus his car was fueled up to the brim at the start (pit stops were banned) sadly for Mansell he had found out fuel had been spilt down his into his cockpit down his back, His team gave him the choice of getting out the car with minuets left and not starting the race, Instead he decided to start and the team dumped a bucket of water in the cockpit to dilute the fuel and carried on. He retired 40 laps into the race when the engine went bang, He ended the night of his first race in hospital having blisters seen to on his backside. His determination to be in F1, selling his house that would fund just a few drives in F3. Suffering a massive shunt at Oulton Park breaking 2 Vertebrae in his back and then discharging himself early, then determined to get back in to racing started training again with pictures of the accident enlarged on his wall, making him determined to work harder.

Mansell had some mega moments his pass on Berger round the out side of Berger at the final corner in Mexico in 1990, or his wheel to wheel dice with Senna at Spain in 1991 barreling into the first corner separated by inches, his win from 12th at Hungary passing Senna for the lead on track! Then look at his pass on Piquet at Silverstone 1987 after fighting back from a tyre change that left him 28 seconds behind with 28 laps to go. He won and ran out of fuel on his slowing down lap.

For all the success though there were agonizing moments where you couldn’t believe how unlucky 1 person could be. Breaking down on the last lap in Canada whilst leading comfortably, the wheel falling off in the pit lane in Portugal whilst again leading by a mile. His most dramatic moment was the 1986 Australian GP the pictures of his tyre exploding which handed a title to Alain Prost which had seemed  Mansell’s for so long. Even Mansell himself said that if he hadn’t of won the title in 92 that 86 would of haunted him forever, he found the support of his fans got him through that dark off-season.

1991 was another miss where the bad luck of Canada and Portugal was also coupled with a Fw14 that was unreliable Mansell not scoring points until round 4 at Monaco and Senna had won all 4 rounds, Silverstone however was Mansell territory and a dominant win from pole and stopped to pick Senna up at the end of the race who had run out of fuel. The great pictures of Senna tapping Mansell on the helmet to say thank you for the lift back to the pits. Ultimately 1991 would be another year Mansell lost out but not disheartened Mansell trained harder than ever in the off-season losing 4kg and the Mansell Williams package was unstoppable.  Mansell however still would have his own dramas to contend with. In the final race of 91 he broke his foot aquaplaning off the track into he barrier. He had broken his foot before the bone not settling properly and the new brake made it worst putting his foot out of shape. He was told he needed surgery but that would mean 2 months lost of off-season preparation time. He decided against it determined to dominate 1992. Unfortunately that meant it uncomfortable for him to drive and after a race would have to limp to the podium.

Back at Silverstone and the crowd expected. I can remember the sheer noise as V8 V10 and V12 engines screamed around the circuit. As races go it was not what you would call a classic. Mansell lost out at the start to his teammate Patrese but passed him half way around the lap and never looked back. Every lap Mansell went past the crowd cheered, and Mansell set the fastest lap of the race on 57 of 59 just for the fans. Completing the weekend for the fans was Senna stopping in the same place as he had in 91 not far from the finish clutch failing this time rather than fuel. Mansell won in dominant fashion from his team mate and the crowd invaded the track Mansell had to get to the podium with help from marshals as the track became a sea of British fans. I was one of them on my dads shoulders as the whole crowd sang “We love you love you Mansell Mansell!” over and over again. Seeing him come out onto the podium is one of the memories I still have, faint but just there. I just know it was a great day.

Of course Mansell won 92 with ease but there was more drama with contracts as Mansell left at the end of the 92 season to go to America and win the CART title. But for me no matter what people say Mansell was a true great. Did he have as much natural talent as Senna or Prost? No but he had the hunger and determination and for a bit of good luck he would have been 86 87 and 92 world champion. He was” The Peoples Champion” and spectacular as ever. For me this is the main reason Hamilton will have a long way to go before he is anywhere near Mansell’s status. Maybe it’s because of the corporate -ness of McLaren or modern F1 but Lewis does not have the same attraction. Maybe it’s because of how Mansell had to fight so hard just to get into F1 or maybe it is the hype around Lewis that makes me switch off. But all I know is those classic drives Mansell gave us will forever be amazing. I still love seeing that pass on Berger in Mexico.

I would see Mansell race again and crash spectacularly in front of me into the bridge at Donington in the 1993 Toca shoot out and I’d see him again at Silverstone in 98 but the Mondeo BTCC car was not competitive (though that didn’t matter at Donington in the wet as he led the feature race!) But for me I got to meet my hero purely by chance as in late 2006 me and my dad headed to Oulton park mid week to see what was happening purely by chance Mansell was there helping his sons Greg and Leo who were testing there new F3 cars for the following season. After watching for about half an hour I managed like a nervous fan to ask for a photo, He gladly did, “Thanks for 1992 I started following F1 because of you” “Yeah he replied, good times they were” Sometimes it is worth meeting your hero’s!

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