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.
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.
Keke’s gear. The sand dunes of Zandvoort, 1985 Dutch Grand Prix.
Keke Rosberg is another driver who I think is unfairly forgotten. Laying the ground work for future Finns in the sport, he personally opened up doors for drivers JJ Lehto and Mika Hakkinen as their manager, not to mention his son and current Mercedes driver Nico.
Further more, he was tenacious and ruddy quick. His qualifying lap around Silverstone in 1985 was the highest average speed a Formula One car had ever achieved around a circuit, and remained until Juan Montoya bettered it in 2002 (before bettering it once more in 2004, both at Monza). It was a symbolic achievement, as it really put a jewell in his crown as the most aggressive (in the sense of attacking the track and fighting his own car) of the turbo era, a crown he perhaps inherited during title winning season. The crown would eventually be passed on to the fiery Brit nicknamed “il leone” due to his own tenacity, but more on him later.