|First race||Austrian Grand Prix||Spielberg||August 17, 1980||Race results|
|Last race||Spanish Grand Prix||Catalunya||May 14, 1995||Race results|
Nigel Mansell had to navigate a tough path to become world champion, but his determination and will to succeed allied to his exceptional speed and daring marked him out as one of the most exciting drivers to watch.
Mansell's passion for racing was fuelled by watching Jim Clark win the 1962 British Grand Prix at Aintree, and after a successful karting career he started working his way through the lower formulae towards Formula One. He had to do it the hard way, self-funding his career and having to recover from numerous accidents as a result of his driving style. One such crash in Formula Ford testing left him with a broken neck, and doctors told him he would never race again, but he returned to win the 1977 British Formula Ford title.
After being offered a drive and finishing fourth in a one-off Formula Three race at Silverstone, Mansell felt he was ready to step up and sold his house to finance his next move up the ladder. But another heavy crash - which left him with broken vertebrae - almost scuppered his big chance. He was forced to hide the extent of his injuries in order to test a Formula One car for Lotus, but he managed to impress enough to become the team's test driver, eventually taking part in his first grand prix in 1980. The race in Austria was again far from straightforward, with Mansell driving through immense pain as a fuel leak left him with first and second degree burns on his backside, before he retired with engine failure.
His time at Lotus was relatively unsuccessful, with an unreliable car seeing Mansell finish only 24 of the 59 grands prix he started. Following the death of owner Colin Champan in 1982, relations at Lotus were strained and Mansell was pushed out at the end of 1984 to make way for the incoming Ayrton Senna. He moved to Williams alongside Keke Rosberg, and after achieving second place in the Belgian Grand Prix, he then won the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch - at the 72nd attempt. Mansell built on the victory by winning next time out in South Africa too, marking him out as a serious contender for future seasons.
In 1986 he nearly delivered on that promise, winning five races as the championship came down to a three man decider in Adelaide. Mansell only needed to finish third to take the title ahead of his team-mate Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost, and was sitting in prime position behind the pair with 19 laps to go when his tyre exploded at 180mph and he coasted to a halt, leaving Prost to win the championship.
1987 was another competitive year, with six race wins including a memorable one at Silverstone that saw him come from over 20 seconds behind with as many laps left to pass Piquet. However, a heavy crash in qualifying at the penultimate race in Suzuka left Mansell with a spinal concussion and ruled him out of the final two rounds, handing rival Piquet the title. The following season proved to be a huge disappointment; Williams switched to Judd engines and were unreliable, with Mansell having to wait until the eighth race of the year to finish a race and only seeing the chequered flag in one more.
Many thought his move to Ferrari in 1989 was a risky one, with Mansell considered too British to fit in. He soon quashed such thoughts though, winning on his debut in Brazil, and eventually finishing the season in fourth place. The following year he was joined by Alain Prost, and Prost gained the number one driver status, with the tipping point for Mansell being at Silverstone where Prost had the team swap the cars over without Mansell's knowledge. After the race, the Briton announced his retirement, but Frank Williams stepped in to entice him back to Williams for 1991, where he went on to win five races and finish runner-up to Ayrton Senna.
It was the following year when everything came together though. Williams supplied the best car, and Mansell delivered the performances it warranted, winning the first five races and tying up the world championship at the 11th round. He went on to win nine of the sixteen races that season, surpassing Jackie Stewart to become the most successful British driver in terms of race victories, and dominated qualifying with 14 pole positions.
When Williams brought in Prost for 1993, Mansell retired from Formula One, heading across to IndyCar in America. He proved a point to his former employers by winning the CART Championship, but the honeymoon period was a short one, with his car off the pace the following year. Following Senna's death, Williams brought Mansell back to share the second car with David Coulthard. He won the season-ending race at Adelaide, but the team chose Coulthard for the seat in 1995. Two races with McLaren followed before he retired.
Strengths and weaknesses
An uncompromising determination, immense mental strength and impressive bravery helped Mansell reach the top. But it could all count against him, as he couldn't perform unless he was the de facto number one driver, and he crashed out of many races.
Winning the world championship in 1992, dominating the season to seal the title with five races still to go.
The death of Lotus team owner Colin Chapman in 1982, with whom Mansell had grown very close. It signaled the beginning of the end of his time with the team.
"I consider myself one of a very small handful of drivers in the world that are top drivers. The best one? I don't think anybody can say they're the best one because, from one week to the next, you can be on form or off form a little bit."
"I get a buzz every time I sit in a racing car, every time I start up the engine ... If I was earning £1 a race, I'd still be a racing driver - just a poor one."
Mansell was the last driver to be personally picked by Enzo Ferrari to drive for his team, an honour he calls "one of the greatest of my career".
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Red number five (November 23, 2012)
- Going down to the wire (November 21, 2012)
May 27, 2012
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February 14, 2012
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July 4, 2011
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