Nigel Ernest Mansell was one of the most exciting drivers in Formula One history, known particularly for his aggressive and daring style of driving. With 31 wins and 32 crashed, Mansell always remained a determined and hugely successful driver. Ranking third in fastest laps, fourth in number of wins and fifth in number of pole positions, Nigel Mansell fought hard to get into Formula One and even harder to be the best in it.
Born in Brimingham, England Nigel drove his first car at the age of seven. In the same year he watched Jim Clark grab his impressive victory at the 1962 British Grand Prix in Aintree, and since then decided to one day be as good as the great Scot.
Starting with Kart racing, Mansell soon became a success in the sport, and in 1977 he won the British Formula Ford championship, even though he was suffering from a broken neck from testing accident. After the accident doctors had warned him that he was dangerously close to quadriplegia and would have to take bed rest for another six months, and definitely no driving. But Mansell sneaked out of the hospital, by telling the nurse that he was going to the toilet and participated in the race.
Three weeks before the accident, Mansell had resigned from his job as an aerospace engineer, and had already sold most of his personal belongings to finance his Formula Ford foray. Mansell and his dedicated wife Rosanne, then sold their home to finance his move up to Formula Three. In 1979 Mansell had a collision with another car, which caused his car to cartwheel and he was lucky to have survived it. But he did receive a broken vertebrate from the accident and was once again hospitalized. Despite the pain, Mansell stuffed himself with painkillers, and gave a good enough tryout with Lotus, and was selected as their test driver for Formula One. He made his Formula One debut at the 1980 Austrian Grand Prix, but a fuel leak occurred in the cockpit and Mansell received first and second degree burns on his buttocks.
Colin Chapman, Lotus boss and Mansell became good friends, and when Chapman died suddenly in 1982, Mansell was devasted. He stayed on with Team Lotus for another two season, and then switched to Williams for the 1985 season. By the end of the season things were going nowhere for Mansell, with no wins for 71 Grand Prix starts. But the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, changed everything. Mansell won the race and wept at the podium and in the remaining 18 months, he won 11 more races, but somehow did not win the two championship titles he was almost about to win. In 1986, it was a burst tyre in Adelaide which destroyed his title win, and in 1987 a serious qualifying accident at Suzuka left him with an injured back and also lost the title to Nelson Piquet, his least favorite Brazilian. Nelson, who referred to Mansell as “an uneducated blockhead”, also took verbal shots at his wife, Rosanne.
Mansell managed to get his own back in 1987, at Silverstone, where a late race charge, where he set lap records an unbelievable 11 times, he beat Piquet. On his victory lap, thousands of fans gripped in “Mansellmania” poured onto the track, and Mansell stopped to kiss the tarmac at the point where he had overtaken Piquet.
As a driver, Mansell was driven by adversarial situations and often tried to create such circumstances whenever they did not exist. This attitude caused a lot of conflict amongst the Formula One fraternity, with Patrick Head commenting, “he thinks everybody is trying to shaft him at all times, and Frank Williams even went ahead and called him a “pain in the arse”. Despite the lack favor he found amongst other drivers and the media, his fan following continually grew, mainly for the pure aggression he poured into every race. But all this was also not enough to overcome the drawbacks in the Williams cars in 1988, he shifted to Ferrari the moment he got a chance, and was signed up for the 1989 season.
His Ferrari debut began on a good note with a victory in Rio and the manner in which he pushed his Ferrari to the limits throughout the remaining season, impressed his Italian boss, who termed him “Il Leone”, or The Lion. One particularly spectacular win was at Hungaroring, overtaking is nearly impossible here and Mansell had qualified a dismal 12th. But he managed to scrape past Senna’s McLaren, using a stunning maneuver and went on to win the race. In 1990, Prost came on board Ferrari and soon out-maneuvered Mansell. Following this, the “British Bulldog”, announced, quite dramatically, that he was retiring at the end of the season, but returned with Williams for the next season. In 1991, Mansell won five races in his Williams-Renault, but lost out the title to McLaren’s Senna. But the next season was owned by the British Bulldog who won nine out of 16 races in his Williams-Renault FW14B, and was declared the 1992 World Champion. He shortly announced his retirement after the win and mentioned that he had some disagreements with Williams, over money as well as for the fact that despised Prost might once again be in team mate for 1993. Williams made an attempt at retaining him, but Mansell walked off and joined IndyCar racing in America, a sport he immediately excelled in, and also won the 1993 IndyCar championship title. Williams managed to persuade him to return in 1994, for the final four races, out of which the last one was quite a memorable victory. In 1995, Mansell raced twice for McLaren, but on deciding that the car was not up to the mark, the 41-year old Brit left Formula One racing for good.
Mansell retired a rich man, operating numerous business enterprises, which included a golf and country club, as well as a Ferrari dealership, and lived a happy life with wife Rosanne and three children. “I had my fair share of heartaches and disappointments, but I also got a lot of satisfaction. I only ever drove as hard as I knew how”, he said about his career.