Nigel Mansell was an explosively talented driver. His legendary record of achievement however was carved out during his two stints with Williams and one with Ferrari; even before he lined up on a starting grid for the first of his two races at the wheel of a McLaren-Mercedes MP4-10 at the start of the 1995 season it already looked as though his relationship with the Woking brigade was doomed.
Circumstances conspired to make Mansell’s brief tenure at McLaren no more of a success than Michael Andretti’s, proving yet again that timing is everything in life. Arriving in the McLaren fold off the back of a season-ending win for Williams, in the 1994 Australian GP at AdelaIde, created a keen sense of anticipation which was always going to be difficult to reconcile with reality.
Mansell had been used to a tough time as he climbed the F1 ladder. A protege of Lotus founder Colin Chapman he impressed greatly during his first F1 test in the summer of 1979. By the following summer he was making his GP debut alongside MarIo Andretti and Elio de Angelis in a third Lotus 81 at the Osterreichring, gaining full-time promotion to the Lotus team the following year. He quickly demonstrated he had the tenacity and speed to get the job done, but until he switched to Williams in 1985 he could not find the magic key to transform himself into a winner.
In 1986, driving the Honda-engined Williams FW11, Mansell was seemingly on his way to the world championship title when he suffered a 200mph rear tyre failure in the Australian GP. It would take him another six years, interspersed with a spell at Ferrari, before he got back behind the wheel of another Williams capable of carrying him to the title crown.
Angered by Frank Williams’s insistence that he would sign up Alain Prost as his team-mate for 1992, Nigel turned his back on F1. Instead, he signed for the Newman Haas Indycar team, winning the American championship at his first attempt and very nearly winning the Indianapolis 500 in the process. The tragic death of Ayrton Senna in the 1994 San Marino GP at Imola propelled Mansell back into the F1 orbit as a part-time replacement for the legendary Brazilian. But when Williams decided to retain Damon Hill and David Coulthard for 1995 the offer from McLaren looked as though it had come at just the right moment.
Yet the MP4-10 was a not a great car and, to heighten the frustration, Mansell’s hips were too wide for the cockpit and a brand new monocoque had to be made, forcing the team to sign Mark Blundell as a stand-in for the former world champion in the first two races. Mansell then suffered a puncture at Imola and pulled into the pit lane after a few laps at Barcelona. It was the end of a fraught and disappointing story.