A World Championship won in 1992, too little for his talent, but Nigel Mansell remains, even today, one of the most loved drivers ever. The “Lion of England”, which turns 70 on 8 August, was able to exalt the public like few other riders in the world by offering iconic images that remain alive even today. Like in 1984, in Dallas, when with terrible heat and with the car planted a few meters from the finish line, he got out of his Lotus and started pushing it around the world. A gesture that explains more than any other company on the track who Nigel Mansell is. Yet, in the early years of his career, he was nicknamed “the meek” due to the discreet results but never unsheathed his claws. The metamorphosis came with the landing in Williams, in 1985, where he crossed his destiny with that of Nelson Piquet; in 1986 he won 5 races but lost the World Championship due to a badly screwed wheel, the following year a terrible accident causes him to crush two vertebrae which prevents him from participating in the last two Grands Prix, leaving the Brazilian all clear.
The decline of Williams, despite an uncommon talent that earns him the unconditional love of fans from all over the world, seems to preclude him from the possibility of a world title, but in him Enzo Ferrari sees the qualities to bring Ferrari back to success; it was the “Drake” who chose him personally, but the world championship won’t come even with the Reds. It seems like the classic story of the unfinished talent, the fast driver capable of thrilling the crowd but unable to be concrete to bring the world title home. In 1991 Frank Williams decided to bring him home riding the dream of bringing an Englishman back to the title with a British car, but it was Ayrton Senna who celebrated at the end of the season. The right year, however, was 1992, the season that perfectly represented Mansell: 16 races run, 9 victories, 3 second places and 4 retirements. All or nothing, all-in, and in that case it was triumph. Even more sensational, however, was perhaps the following decision with his retirement and landing in the United States where he became champion in Formula CART.
After two seasons he will return to Formula 1, again with Williams but taking just one victory in Australia, at the last GP of the season, before retiring at the end of 1995. “If Mansell is still in the day and has the right car, it is impossible try to keep him behind. He will overtake you, even over the head, but he will overtake you,” Ayrton Senna, one of his bitterest rivals, once said of him. A phrase that testifies to his talent perhaps more than any world title. He has never been a tactical driver, no Niki Lauda race vision nor Senna’s perfection behind the wheel; the only thing that mattered to him was going fast, more than any other driver on the track. And that’s why Mansell, still today, is one of the most loved ever. Because, especially in the world of motorsport, it’s not the number of victories that makes the champion, but how they are obtained.