These two men were two of top four or five best drivers in the world at the time. But, god damn it, they had no style. Il leone and le professeur to some, but the moustache and the nose to others.
1986. This was one hell of a decider. Team in-fighting meant the dominant Williams Honda pairing of Piquet and Mansell were still within striking distance of Alain Prost. Nigel Mansell missed a chance to clinch the title at the penultimate round in Mexico, allowing Prost to close in on Mansell. Prost and Piquet both needed to win and have Mansell finished lower than fourth… I think. The points rules was complicated. Both Nige and Prost had 12 scores but only the best 11 counted. Unless Nige finished fourth or better his points wouldn’t increased, Prost needed a fifth or better to increase points but he needed to win the increase it by 8 and discount a sixth place. I uh yeah…
Anyway, back to Adelaide. Nige was well on his way to winning the title, sitting in third with Piquet in front of him in second, former champ Keke Rosberg leading in his final Grand Prix. On the 63rd lap, 19 laps remaining, Rosberg’s tyre gave out down the back straight. A lap later, so did Nige’s at high speed down the back straight. He should have been given a medal for being able to control a three wheeled 1000+ horsepower mid 80’s Formula One car at nearly 200mph. Goodyear told Williams they should bring in Piquet as his tyres were also at risk, but the same message was not relayed to McLaren after Prost’s team mate, Rosberg, lost his tyres. Apparently Prost’s tyres weren’t as worn.
Piquet relinquished the lead to Prost, who held on to win. Prost, in the most unlikeliest of circumstances, had just won his second consecutive title. Although he would not be able to keep pace with the Williams the following year, as Piquet and Mansell dominated, he would go on to clinch a record for most career victories with 28, breaking Sir Jackie Stewart’s record. He built it up to 51, a record untouched until Michael Schumacher would match it 2001.
Both Piquet and Mansell would go on to win titles for Williams, Piquet in 87 and Mansell in 1992. For many, however, 1986 was best known as the beginning of a Golden Era of Formula One that would last into the early 90’s.
To celebrate 1000 posts, I’m going to do a “Top Ten Favourite Drivers” list. I would just like to point out this is “favourite” not “best”, because we all know who the best drivers are. In no particular order. Here goes, in no particular order:
Francois Cevert. The handsome Parisian with eyes you could fall into was talented and earmarked to be successor to triple world champ Sir Jackie Stewart but unfortunately lost his life at Watkins Glen at what was to be JYS’ last Grand Prix, retiring immediately and not taking part in the race on Sunday. Hands down the most handsome man to have driven a Formula One car.
Gerhard Berger. The last man to be signed personally by Enzo Ferrari, the first and last man to take victories for Benetton Grand Prix, the original prankster of the Formula One paddock, and owner of the most stylish mullet in Formula One history. Favourite moments tied between that 1-2 at Monza in 1988 and that last victory at Hockenheim in 1997.
Felipe Massa. I give him a lot of stick recently, but the flood of emotions seeing him on the podium again brought back a lot of very fond memories. For three straight years he OWNED the Brazilian Grand Prix, and although it is my most heart wrenching Formula Moment watching him win the race but lose the title in 2008, and it is one that will stick with me for a long. He is Ferrari’s new guy, even if he isn’t the fasted. Like Michele and Clay and Jean and Gilles, he captured the passion and love for racing that is Ferrari and being beaten by three of the best drivers of the post-Senna era is nothing to be ashamed of.
Clay Regazzoni. Longtime Ferrari driver of the 70’s, Clay and his moustache always stood out for me. Team mate for Niki Lauda during the Championship years, Clay was also the first winner in a long line of great drivers for the Williams team. He would have his career ended after hitting an abadoned car at the USGP West at Long Beach 1980. Only his F1 career, that is, as he would go on to continue racing after being paralysed from the waste down. He had a custom Ferrari Daytona made for him that he could operate without the use of feet and fought for his right for a racing license and the acceptance of disable racers.
Mika Hakkinen. Spa 2000, nuff said.
Nigel Mansell. Il Leone. Our Nige. I’ve written at length about him before I think, and we all know who he is. Perhaps not quite as quick or naturally talented as Prost and Senna, he made up for it and then some. He earned his drive with Lotus, fighting tooth and nail, and again for his drive with Williams, and deservedly won a title in 1992 after many years of struggled. Should have stayed away from McLaren in 1995 though. Plus, dat moustache. Oh, and the reason why I like him? The way he drove. Oh buddy.
Jean Alesi. French-Sicilian and drove for Ferrari with his heart on his sleeve. The way he drove, the way he would lean his head into the corner, the tears when he won his sole race at Montreal, the tears after his car gave way after walking on water and leading by a country mile at Monza a year later. Was cursed to be at Ferrari during one of their worst periods since the 1980 season, but he chose the seat with his heart and not his head, turning down Williams which opened the door for Nigel Mansell. Imagining Jean Alesi winning a title for Williams feel weird, because although Williams has all that history, it just feels wrong separating Jean from Ferrari. Like Gilles and Clay before him and Felipe after, he was Ferrari.
Fangio. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest driver to have ever driven in Formula One. The Pelé or Johnny Unitas of Formula One, he wasn’t the first but oh boy is he the most well remembered. What he did at Nurburgring to clinch his final title is the stuff of legends. To come back from near death in 1952 to be the only man that didn’t drive a Ferrari to win in 1953, he then dominated three straight German Grand Prix in a row, won four straight championships (only matched by one man), and did it all while nearly twice the age of some of his closest competitors. The first great of Formula One and the finest.
Michael. When I was a little kid playing in the sand pit, five or six years old, every single car that had a 1 on its side was Michael Schumacher. He was my idol. All my friends cared about video games and football or whatever it was, all I cared about was Michael Schumacher. I hated McLaren, and Mercedes, and Williams, and DC and Mika and JV and Damo, and anything that wasn’t Michael and Ferrari. I have vivid memories of all these races, the elation of Hungary 1998, the devastating emptiness of Silverstone 1999, the amazing feeling when it all finally happened at Suzuka in 2000. All these strong memories tied to Ferrari and Michael. That final victory at Monza, oh boy, that one will stick with me a long time.
Sir Jack Brabham. Australia’s greatest ever driver, a national living treasure, the only man to win a World Championship as a driver and constructor. A true gentleman, only the second driver to win more than two titles, only the third to win more than one, and in a select club with Niki Lauda, JYS, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet of triple world champions (to be joined by Alonso soon -_O ). He is just one of the finest to have ever raced and as an Australian who is rarely ever patriotic, this is one of the proudest things I feel my country has done, creating this man and unleashing him onto motorsport, with two of his sons going on to win at Le Mans. Sir Jack, my favourite ever Formula One driver.
As always, photos courtesy of the Cahier Archive.
Remember when Sebastian Vettel lost the Canadian Grand Prix on the last lap to Jenson Button last year and everyone laughed derisively at him? Don’t worry, Nigel has got you covered. While waving to the crowd after a dominant performance to snatch ten points back from title rival Ayrton Senna, who had retired earlier in the race, ol’ Nigey boy slowed down so much the car selected neutral and stalled and he was unable to get it going again and ground to a slow halt, giving his old team mate and arch nemesis Nelson Piquet the win.
This would be Nelson Piquet’s final Grand Prix victory for the triple world champion.
Being the only man in history to have been born with a moustache, perhaps it came so much easier for him to become the fastest man in history with a moustache (no offense to Graham Hill, but we’re talking about il leone here). Seen here finally breaking his duck after nearly five seasons, taking his first victory in front of his home crowd that would later dub him “Our Nige”, Nigel Mansell became a cult hero in England and later in Italy during his brief spell for Ferrari. Such was the fanfare for their main man, when Mansell took victory at the British Grand Prix during his dominant 1992 title winning season, the fans stormed the track including one silly fellow who tried to jump on board with onto to break his leg. The only time I’ve seen a crowd so bananas for a guy is clips of Brazil during Senna’s heights.
The reason why he endeared himself to so many wasn’t because of the moustache, and certainly wasn’t because of his attitude off the track: in short, he was a moaner with an inferiority complex who thought the entire world was out to get him. It was because of the way he drove. Such tenacity made Gerhard Berger look tame, made Ayrton Senna look like the king of finesse, and made the tifosi draw parallels to their hero Gilles Villeneuve. Despite all the drama and politics off the track, despite the in house wars between Mansell and his team mate Nelson Piquet (a well known ruthless bastard), Nigel always seemed to put it all out of his mind as soon as the visor went down.
For British fans of the era, there was none finer. He is elevated well above the status of any other single title winner, and rightfully so (sans perhaps John Surtees because of the whole only-guy-to-win-a-title-on-two-and-four-wheels thing). Remember that overtake he did to Piquet down Hanger straight? I love that. And the dual down the brand new Barcelona straight with Senna? Pure grit.