Nigel Ernest James Mansell (born August 8, 1953) is a British former racing driver who won world championships in both Formula One (1992) and CART (1993). He will race in the inaugural season of the Grand Prix Masters formula for retired Formula One drivers, starting in November 2005.
Mansell was born in Upton-on-Severn, a small town in the English county of Worcestershire. He spent most of his childhood and early adult years in Hall Green, Birmingham. He was a pupil at Rosslyn School, then Hall Green Bilateral, before studying engineering at Matthew Boulton College.
He had a fairly slow start to his racing career, using his own money to help work his way up the ranks. After considerable success in kart racing, he became the 1977 British Formula Ford champion, despite suffering a broken neck in a testing accident. Doctors told him he had been perilously close to quadriplegia, that he would be confined for six months and would never drive again. Mansell sneaked out of hospital (telling the nurses he was going to the toilet) and raced on. Three weeks before the accident he had resigned his job as an aerospace engineer, having previously sold most of his personal belongings to finance his foray into Formula Ford. Mansell and his wife Rosanne sold their house to finance a move into Formula Three for the 1979 season. His racing was consistent, but a collision with another car resulted in a huge cartwheeling crash which he was lucky to survive. Again he was hospitalised, this time with broken vertebrae. Shortly after this and hiding the extent of his injury with painkillers, Mansell performed well enough in a tryout with Lotus to become a test driver for the Formula One team. His F3 manager and team owner of Lotus, Colin Chapman, gave him an opportunity to test drive for Lotus, one of the top racing teams in Formula 1 at the time. Mansell's skill impressed Lotus enough to give him a pair of starts in F1 in 1980. In his Formula One debut at the 1980 Austrian Grand Prix, a fuel leak in the cockpit left him with painful first and second degree burns on his buttocks, but Lotus eventually contacted him to drive for them for the whole of the following season.
Mansell's four years as a full-time Lotus driver were a struggle, as the cars were unreliable - he managed a best finish of third place. Mansell became very close to Lotus boss Colin Chapman, and was devastated by his sudden death in 1982. Following that death relationships at Lotus became strained. At the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix Mansell surprised many by overtaking Alain Prost in a wet race for the lead, but soon after retired from the race. The team's new managers were keen to make space for Ayrton Senna, and Mansell left at the end of the season.
In 1985 Frank Williams snapped Mansell up to drive alongside Keke Rosberg as part of the Williams team. Mansell was given the now famous "Red 5" car, which he drove throughout his career (for Williams and Newman/Haas) and which was brought to the public's attention mainly through commentator Murray Walker and his enthusiastic commentary for the BBC.
1985 initially appeared to provide more of the same for Mansell, but he achieved second place at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, and followed this with his first victory in 72 starts at the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in England. He achieved a second straight victory at the South African Grand Prix in Kyalami. These triumphs helped turned Mansell into a Formula 1 star.
He followed up 1985 with five wins in 1986, a season for which Mansell is most known for his tyre bursting with 19 laps to go in the season finale in Australia. This race provided the key for Mansell, Alain Prost or teammate Nelson Piquet to win that year's World Championship, and Mansell consequently ended the season as runner-up to Prost. Mansell and Piquet grew to despise each other after their first race together, when Piquet barged Mansell off the road. The Brazilian publically described Mansell as "an uneducated blockhead" and criticised his wife, while Mansell privately felt Piquet did not pull his weight and was engaged in power politics.
Six more wins followed in 1987, including an emotional victory at Silverstone, in which he came from behind to beat Piquet, then stopped on the track on his victory lap to kiss the spot where he had overtaken his rival. However, at the Italian Grand Prix he missed a gear change and was passed by Piquet on the first lap. A serious qualifying accident at Suzuka injured his back again (a spinal concussion) and essentially handed the title to Piquet, as the injury caused Mansell to miss the last race of the season.
Mansell was quickly becoming a fan favourite, as his good humour and 'down-home' manner reminded many people of the late Graham Hill, a two-time champion with a similar rise up the F1 ranks in the 1960s. He was also popular for his aggressive and fast racing style, and gained a reputation in the F1 paddock for complaining about minor details and believing that others were plotting against him.
In 1988 Williams lost the turbo power of Honda to Team McLaren, and had to make do with a naturally-aspirated Judd engine. A dismal season followed, which saw Mansell finish only two races of the fourteen he appeared in. Illness caused him to miss two more. However, perhaps not wanting to let down his adoring fans, he somehow managed second place and the fastest lap at the British Grand Prix.
In 1989, Mansell became the last Ferrari driver to be personally selected by the late Enzo Ferrari. In Italy he became known as "il leone" ("the lion") by the tifosi (Ferrari fans) due to his fearless driving style. In his first appearance with the team he won the Brazilian Grand Prix, his least favourite track and the home race of the reviled Piquet. The rest of 1989 was characterised by gearbox problems and a disqualification. However, Mansell finished fourth in the Championship with the help of a memorable second win at the Hungarian Grand Prix, where, after concentrating on the race set-up of his car, he won after starting only 12th on the grid.
A tough 1990 followed with Ferrari, in which he had more reliability issues with the car, causing him to retire from seven races. In this season he was paired with Alain Prost (who played on Mansell's inferiority complex) and, after retiring from the British Grand Prix, announced he was quitting Formula 1. Frank Williams again stepped in and signed up Mansell with the promise that he would be the focus of his team.
His second stint with Williams was even better than the first. Back in the familiar 'Red 5', he won five races in 1991, most memorably in the Spanish Grand Prix. In this race he went wheel to wheel with Ayrton Senna, with only centimetres to spare, at over 320 km/h (200mph) down the main straight. However, an unreliable semi-automatic gearbox meant that he finished second in the Championship, behind Senna.
1992 would be Mansell's finest season, as he started the year with five straight victories (a record equalled by Michael Schumacher in 2004), and eventually won the Drivers' Championship by setting the then record for the most number of wins in one season (9) and highest number of pole positions (14). He only narrowly lost the Monaco Grand Prix to Senna in high temperatures after a puncture, but still finished in second place and had to be supported on the podium. Mansell was crowned Formula 1 Drivers' Champion early in the season at the Hungarian Grand Prix, where he finished second, adding another record to his collection by winning the Drivers' Championship in the least number of Grand Prix since the 16-race season format started.
Despite being world champion, Mansell had a falling out with Williams over money and the prospect of Frenchman Alain Prost joining the Renault-powered team. He consequently left to join the Newman/Haas CART team in 1993. At Surfers Paradise, Australia, he became the first "rookie" to take pole position and win in his first race. He had a five-win season, and it was good enough to give him the championship. He became the only driver in history to hold both the Formula 1 World Championship and CART championship at the same time.
In an unreliable Newman/Haas car he did less well in 1994. After the untimely death of Ayrton Senna he returned to Formula One with Williams replacing rookie David Coulthard for the French Grand Prix and the last three races of the season. Mansell won the final race in Australia, out-qualifying Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher in the process.
Mansell eventually ended up with McLaren in 1995, but, frustrated with his car's handling characteristics, he chose to retire after just two races with them. He retired with 31 victories in F1, the third highest number at that time, behind Prost and Senna; Michael Schumacher's success has since made him fourth of all time. Mansell's 'all or nothing' approach to driving may have cost him more victories and championships (he crashed out of 32 Grands Prix) than it won, but it also made him adored around the world. It is worth noting that, of his 12 full seasons in Formula 1, only seven were with a car that was truly competitive, and he never had the advantage of team orders.
Mansell made a brief return to racing in 1998 in the British Touring Car Championship, driving in a highly uncompetitive Ford Mondeo. Fans were treated to a last glimpse of Mansell at his very best at Donington Park: as rain fell, he went from last into the first corner to leading the race for several laps, and finally finishing 5th in a race regarded by many fans as one of the greatest in touring car history.
He won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice, in 1986 and 1992, one of only three people to do so. In 2005, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Today he lives with his family on the Isle of Man.
"The Nigel Mansell World Of Racing", a Ferrari dealership and museum named after him, is in Woodbury, Devon. The museum contains memorabilia and a number of historical Formula One cars, as well as some of the actual cars that he drove to victory.
Mansell has recently announced a race comeback in the new Grand Prix Masters Series. The 600bhp modified Reynard CART chassis will test Mansell's abilities well.
- Official site
- Biography of Nigel Mansell (Driver's life)
- BBC Sport - News of Return in Gand Prix Masters