1991 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX
Nigel Mansell, giving an autograph to my wife Marie-Jeanne.
Our son Mathias looks from a distance
There is a saying in the F1 paddock that those who adored Nigel Mansell were the people who had never met him. That harsh exaggeration highlighted the feelings of some insiders towards a man bullish with self-confidence yet at the same time racked with wearying self-doubt.
Mansell would stand on the gas and wring every ounce of speed from a car, racing wheel-to-wheel with the fiercest rival and exhibiting the tenacity that prompted the selective Italian fans, 'the tifosi', to bestow upon him the sobriquet Il Leone (The Lion) during his days with Ferrari. Yet take him from the cockpit, and while he might be ebullient with good humor, equally he might complain about perceives slights and see plots against him at every turn.
Mansell came up the hard way in racing, investing all his own money as he attempted to climb the greasy pole from the lower ranks. From karting he worked into Formula Ford, where he enjoyed great success. But his F3 outings were dogged by poor engines and lack of cash. It was not until Colin Chapman was persuaded by his team manager Peter Collins to give Mansell a chance as test driver for Lotus that things took off, and he parlayed that opportunity into a regular race driver by 1981. Few rated him initially despite sporadic promise, and it was not until 1985, on the 72nd attempt, that he succeeded in winning his first Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. Yet from that moment onwards he blossomed into arguably the most competitive Englishman ever to sit in a Formula One car, certainly the most aggressive. His 31 Grand Prix successes placed him behind only arch rivals Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the all-time rankings when he finally quit F1, and even today only Michael Schumacher has overtaken him.
It was as easy to see why the fans loved him, with his bristling mustache, his down-home manner and his never-say-die approach, as it was to see why those who had to work with him sometimes found his persecution complex hard going. He fudged his career in F1 at the very hour of his World Championship triumph in 1992, falling out with Williams in a row about money and kudos, but had his revenge when he won the 1993 CART PPG Indycar Championship at the first attempt.
A curious ragbag of contradictory emotions, Nigel Mansell was a determined driver whose character shortcomings sometimes obscured his achievements. It says everything about him as a driver that he was the one man Senna knew he could not intimidate.