Apr.1 (Renault) Some 17 years after his final grand prix race Nigel Mansell still ranks high on the lists of all-time F1 race wins and poles, where in 187 starts he raced for Lotus, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren.
Mansell scored 15 of his 31 Grand Prix victories with Renault V10 power behind him, and etched a special place in the company’s motor sporting history by earning its first World Championship.
Born in 1953, the Englishman began racing relatively late. After years of hardship and struggle through Formula Ford and F3 he made it to F1 with the Colin Chapman led Team Lotus in 1980, making his debut in the team’s third entry in the Austrian Grand Prix alongside regulars Mario Andretti and Elio de Angelis.
He landed a full-time race seat in the iconic JPS backed Lotus the following year and began to show some real promise, qualifying as high as third in Monaco, and finishing third in Belgium. The following year he had another third in Brazil (albeit after two cars ahead were penalised), and was fourth in Monaco.
Mansell’s relationship with Renault began in the turbo era in 1983 after Lotus secured an engine supply deal with the French manufacturer. Initially the team covered its options by running a Renault-powered car for Elio de Angelis and a Cosworth DFV for Mansell. The latter finally got his hands on the V6-powered Type 94T at the British GP, where he delighted fans by finishing an encouraging fourth. Later he took third – and set fastest lap – at the European GP at Brands Hatch.
Lotus and Mansell continued with Renault power into 1984. The new 95T was more competitive, and he regularly qualified in the top six, even taking his first pole in Dallas. But at that stage of his career he could be inconsistent and made some mistakes, famously crashing out in the rain while leading at Monaco. After four full seasons with Lotus the consensus was that he had yet to fulfil his true potential – and many critics thought that he never would.
However, Frank Williams had faith, and signed him up for 1985. At the wheel of the Williams-Honda Mansell came of age over the next few seasons, winning 13 races and coming close to taking the F1 world championship title in both 1986 and 1987, only to lose out at the last gasp.
Williams had no turbo engine in 1988 and at the end of the season Mansell moved to Ferrari for what was to be a turbulent two-year spell with the Italian team, one that ultimately ended in disappointment, although he impressed the tifosi who to this day still refer to him fondly as ‘il Leone’ (the Lion.)
Meanwhile Mansell watched with interest as his former team – Williams – established a successful relationship with Renault.
Convinced that the package was competitive, Mansell duly agreed to return to Williams in 1991. Armed with the Renault-powered FW14 he was the pacesetter in the latter half of the season, eventually finishing a close second to Ayrton Senna in the standings.
The following year, 1992, he was utterly dominant with the high-tech, actively suspended, Renault powered, Williams FW14B, an Adrian Newey design – winning the first five races and securing the title by the Hungarian GP in August, with five races still to run. This was also the year of the famous ‘Red 5’ that became his unofficial trademark.
However before the end of the year he had a public disagreement with Williams. In his autobiography Mansell writes that this was because of a deal made at the previous Hungarian GP, which Williams reneged on, and the prospect of Frenchman Alain Prost joining the Renault-powered team.
Thus Mansell made a bold move and opted out for 1993, moving instead to the Indycar series, where, against the odds, he won the championship in his first year.
After the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994 Mansell was called back to Williams, competing in four races that did not clash with his Indycar commitments. He was fourth in Japan and then won in Australia after team mate Damon Hill collided with Michael Schumacher. His F1 career fizzled out after a disastrous, brief spell at McLaren in 1995, although he has made sporadic appearances in other categories ever since.
Always spectacular in the car, and always controversial out of it, he remains one of the greats of the modern F1 era.
His record will stand for some time with one F1 world championship title, 31 wins, 59 podiums, 32 pole positions and 30 fastest laps. His last F1 race was at the 1995 Austrian GP.