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F1 legend Nigel Mansell relaxes into role as "The People's Champion"

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F1 legend Nigel Mansell relaxes into role as "The People's Champion"
Jan 14, 2018, 10:08 PM

Last night was very enjoyable; a night spent hosting an evening with Nigel Mansell at the Genting Resort, next to Autosport International.

Last night was very enjoyable; a night spent hosting an evening with Nigel Mansell at the Genting Resort, next to Autosport International.

Mansell is quite different today from the edgy competitor of the 1990s. He has relaxed a lot, time has conferred a transformative sense of perspective and he is now a very entertaining public speaker. And the crowd loved it.

I saw it in December at the FIA Hall of Fame F1 champions event in Paris (below), where he said on stage to Alain Prost that he forgave him everything. He went on to say that he was "proud to be a humber two driver to three great champions" - Prost, Keke Rosberg and Nelson Piquet.

It would have been hard, if not impossible, in 1992 to imagine Mansell ever uttering those words.

In the footsteps of Sir Stirling Moss, Mansell now delights in his status as the People's Champion and he is on a mission to share the stories and his legacy of the sport.

And there are some gems. My person favourites are how he pinned Ayrton Senna up against the wall in the pits at Spa after the Brazilian had taken him out; how Senna leaned in a few years later on the podium in Budapest 1992 after Mansell had finally clinched the world championship and said, "Its a great feeling isn't it? Now you know why I'm such a bastard, because I never want anyone else to have the feeling!"

Another is the anecdote about the aftermath of a huge accident he suffered in testing at Paul Ricard in 1985. A tyre failed at high speed on the main straight and the car crashed heavily, knocking him unconscious. The medical helicopter was an old fashioned military type where the patient is strapped to a stretcher on the outside.

Mansell tells how he came too briefly and found himself in clouds. He thought he had died and was in Heaven !

Mansell's career is also remarkable for the switch he made in 1993, as the reigning world champion, to America and the IndyCar series. It was a wonderful two years, with some great races against drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr, Paul Tracy and Jacques Villeneuve. Many readers will recall some close battles, great drama and unpredictability, precisely what F1's new owner Liberty Media are trying to create after 2021 in F1.

But this was a dangerous moment for F1, as early in 1994 it lost its greatest star in Ayrton Senna. With Mansell so hugely popular and attracting world wide media attention onto a very competitive IndyCar series, F1's commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone realised he needed to get Mansell back - or at least out of IndyCar - and so he brokered a deal for Mansell to drive a few races for Williams, to fit in with his IndyCar schedule. He won the final round in Adelaide after Michael Schumacher took Damon Hill out.

In Mansell's eyes this would lead to a full time drive with Williams for 1995, but Frank Williams didn't play ball and so Ecclestone got Mansell a McLaren drive, which didn't work out as the car was uncompetitive and also he didn't fit the cockpit well.

This week we have seen a debate raging with Haas F1 team boss Guenter Steiner telling Autosport that there are not any American drivers around today who are good enough for F1.

"Just having an American driver who maybe cannot compete at a certain level is maybe not good for the sport.

"[Signing an American driver] would be an ambition, but at the moment there is nobody ready for F1 in the United States in my opinion," he said.

The reaction from the US has been negative. Time will tell whether the new orientation of F1 towards key markets like the US and China will lead to the fast tracking of an American driver. Indications from Chase Carey so far are that he is prepared to let the driver market take care of itself rather than intervene, as Ecclestone regularly used to do.

Are you a Nigel Mansell fan? What do you think of this latest development? Leave your comments below
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