Monday, December 17, 2012

RETRO: Celebrating ’Il Lione’s triumph - Twenty years later

Bloody ‘Nige at the controls of the Red No. 5 - Suzuka, 1991 (Source:
So this thought has been bouncing around in my cranium awhile, like many other story ideas of which many become explicably trapped in thee all conquering NoFenders Wormhole Vortex - not to be ‘Cornfuzed with the Angstadt Unit of Time; Hya!

Thus I now find myself scrambling to poond out this story “Justin-time” to commemorate Il Lione, nee BLOODY ‘NIGE, aka Nigel Mansell’s Formula 1 World Championship winning season two decades ago aboard the mighty FW14B Williams-Renault.

And I’ll have to admit I enjoyed spending many years making fun of ‘Ol Bloody Nige - especially with my favourite memory being him bumping the kill-switch whilst waving to his adoring British subjects (fans) on the final lap of the 1991 British Grand Prix - as the car suddenly grounded to a halt and his bitter arch nemesis Nelson Piquet most surprisingly took the chequered flag for Benetton instead!

And there are other moments of lore, most notably his fine theatrical performance of fainting while pushing his stricken Lotus across the line in the sweltering heat of Dallas, Texas in the 1984 USGP, along with his backside - or was it his bum? Hya! Having become too large to squeeze into the 1995 McLaren MP4-10 chassis...

Yet, I find it somewhat karmic that I’m only discovering the latent disgust towards the Englishman in inner F1 circles now, most notably at Lotus; as I’m left pondering why Team Principal Peter Warr had such a huge stick up his ARSE over ‘Nige... With Warr proclaiming late in 1984: “He’ll never win a race as long as I have a hole in my arse!”

Which of course  Mansell dutifully stuck a cork up Warr’s backside by winning his debutant Grand Prix the following season at the European GP; upon having moved to Team Willy, nee Williams Grand Prix upon having been dumped by Lotus in favour of some Brazilian named Ayrton Senna!

Although Senna struck first blood by winning his debutant Grand Prix victory in the Portuguese GP - only his second outing for Lotus, our man Nige was busy nipping at his heals by finishing runner-up. Then Senna later claimed a second victory at Spa.

Yet,  just to pour salt in the wounds of Warr, Mansell triumphed with victory no less than upon home soil at Brands Hatch for his maiden F1 win later that season, before going back-to-back in Grand Prix victories after winning the South African Grand Prix, hence leaving the two future world champions knotted 2-2 in the win Colum for the ’85 season.

Yet, ultimately Il Lione would get the better of Senna during the Brazilian’s tenure at Lotus, as Nige would rack up a further 11-victories vs. Senna’s four, seeing the Bloody Brit outpace Senna 13-6 during the 1985-87 seasons, much to the chagrin of Messer Warr, presumably...

For 1989 Mansell moved to la Scuderia, reportedly being the very final driver personally selected to pilot the scarlet cars by its founder il Commendatore, nee Enzo Ferrari before his death late in ’88. As ironically it would be the Brit winning at Brazil upon his debut at Scuderia Ferrari aboard another Englishman’s revolutionary 640 chassis, in which John Barnard not only introduced the coke bottle shaped aerodynamics but introduced us to the now de riggour semi-automatic gearbox - which I can still recall being immediately discernable audibly over the entire field of F1 ‘Landsharks pounding ‘round the Valley of the Sun. (Phoenix, Arizona)  

And while Nigel won an even more impressive Hungarian Grand Prix later that season with his breathtaking pass of Senna en route to victory; 1990 teammate Alain Prost’s superiority saw the Brit contemplating retirement.

Yet with the immediate hiring of fired March technical director Adrian Newey to Team Willy by Patrick Head, Nige was coaxed into returning to the English team for what would ultimately become his shining moment in Formula 1, albeit he’d need to have a close battle with Senna in 1991 before reaching his zenith in F1.

Newey’s Williams FW 14 turned out to be the second most successful chassis on the grid that year, when McLaren’s MP4/6 Honda V-12 driven by Senna and teammate Gerhard Berger outscored Team Willy in the wins Colum 8-7; with Ayrton claiming seven victories to Gerhard’s lone win, while Nige won five races with teammate Riccardo Patrese garnering two. As the only other team to claim victory was Benetton with the aforementioned foophah by Mansell at Silverstone that year.

Yet Newey’s evolution, the FW 14B was to be so superior with its  active suspension, anti-lock brakes, fully-automatic gearbox and his trademark aerodynamics - that Mansell was able to duplicate Senna’s previous feat of winning the first four races the season prior by winning the first five on-the-trot in 1992, ultimately finishing with nine victories en route to the world championship. As Mansell’s feat along with Patrese’s further victory equating to ten wins vs. McLaren’s five and a lone Benetton victory for debutant winner Michael Schumacher rewarded Newey with his first Constructors title, not to mention Driver’s crown; as  Newey has now claimed nine Constructors championships, while the record  stands at six consecutive by la Scuderia; 1999-2004. As Newey’s won 3-consecutive ‘trice: 1992-94 w/Williams; 1996-98 Williams-McLaren and 2010-12 w/Red Bull; but I digress...

Thus as we all know, Nige and Sir Frank (Williams) had a falling out most likely over money, albeit apparently Mansell had numerous “Number-1” status issues, not to mention his good buddy Prost’s return which ultimately led to Manselll’s decision to retire from Formula 1 and cross the Atlantic in order to take up residence as Mario Andretti’s teammate at Newman Haas Racing for the 1993 Championship Auto Racing Teams series season, replacing Mario’s son Mikey who’d ironically jumped ship to Formula 1.

As Mansell simply went about winning five races not only en route to Rookie Of the Year honours but also the Driver’s title as well! Becoming the only driver in history to be the reigning F1 and CART champion respectively...

And I’ll have to admit I vaguely recall Jim McGee claiming he needed to take responsibility for Mansell getting jumped by ‘EMMO and thee Flying Dutchman (Emerson Fittipaldi & Arie Luyendyk) whilst leading his debutant Indy 500 before ultimately finishing third... Yet I seem to recall reveling more in the fact that Dennis “Vitale” Vitolo landed on top of an unsuspecting Nige the following year in ’94 instead.

Yet, Mansell’s sophomore season in CART was a relative disappointment, with Nige’s abrasive personality being so strong that perhaps it tipped Mario into retiring? Not to mention apparently falling out of favour with fans in droves, reputedly even leaving to the canceling of one Kmart promotion, before Mansell took the money and ran back across-the-pond to Jolly ‘Ol England and the rarified climes ‘O Formula 1, namely the stately confines of Team Willy to help fill the Ginormous vacuum left by Ayrton Senna’s death that May at Imola.

And although he was supposed to play blocking back for his teammate  Damon Hill who was fighting with Schumacher for the title - after the pair’s infamous coming together, the way was left clear for Mansell to claim his final Grand Prix victory before fading into oblivion after his failed attempt of further glory at McLaren...