Nigel Mansell On Formula 1
Autosport|January 04,2018

In a wide-ranging interview, the 1992 world champion shares his views on how Lewis Hamilton could be the greatest F1 driver of all time, the pressure of driving for Ferrari and the rise of Max Verstappen.

James Roberts

 

The phone rings. Nigel Mansell has something to add. Five minutes after we’ve ended our conversation, the 1992 world champion is back on the line with another thought about Lewis Hamilton. It’s a bold prophecy: “I predict Lewis will challenge Michael Schumacher’s records in both wins and championships,” says Mansell. “I won my world championship at 39 and he’s only 32. Lewis is on 62 wins, while Michael has 91. With a hit rate of eight or nine wins a season, he only needs four more successful years to break all the records.”

Last year, Hamilton eclipsed both Ayrton Senna and Schumacher to top the all-time pole position list, and has only Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Schumacher (seven) ahead of him on world titles. Mansell’s right; it’s not insurmountable for Hamilton to become, statistically, the greatest F1 driver of all time.

“He has the most incredible opportunity and I hope he embraces it,” adds Mansell. “Lewis had the most outstanding season in 2017, running with the finest team and the finest car of the past few years. I think he got better last year and can get even better in ’18. Nothing beats winning and having support behind you. I hope he keeps his focus, as he has so much more to offer.”

There was a time when the man breaking all the records was Mansell. In 1992, he became the first driver to win nine grands prix in a single season. And when he dominated the British Grand Prix that year, he scored his 28th GP victory, breaking the 19-year record that Jackie Stewart held as the most successful British driver in terms of wins.

A quarter of a century has passed since Mansell was tearing up race tracks in his Williams FW14B, but after he finally quit F1 he stayed close to the sport. Following his single-seater comeback in the short-lived Grand Prix Masters series, he guided his sons Leo and Greg through British F3 and into sportscars, ultimately joining them in an ill-fated Le Mans appearance.

Mansell returned to F1 in 2010 when the FIA added a former driver to its roster of stewards at races, and he’s deliberated over many on-track indiscretions over the past few seasons.

He has also dovetailed his motor racing interests with charitable work for UK Youth, and today, while starring in the occasional magic show, resides close to his Mitsubishi dealership (and museum) on the Bailiwick of Jersey.

Mansell is set to kickstart a new year of racing when he appears at Autosport International next week (see p22), but ahead of the event we spoke to the 64-year-old about a wide range of subjects. With his typically forthright views, Mansell gives his opinion on Max Verstappen and track limits, Fernando Alonso’s racing ambitions outside of F1, his time at Ferrari and how Sebastian Vettel can return even stronger in 2018.

MANSELL ON

VETTEL’S TITLE CAMPAIGN

Ferrari’s fight for last year’s world title came to a spectacular halt in the first few hundred metres of the Singapore Grand Prix and was compounded by unreliability for Sebastian Vettel, both in qualifying in Malaysia and the race in Japan.

After failing to capture the championship last year, the Ferrari man needs to be even better in 2018, in a similar style to how Mansell came back stronger after losing out to Ayrton Senna in 1991. He believes that Vettel will be able to lift himself from the depths of defeat.

“You need to turn the negativity of losing into positivity,” he says. “You say to yourself, ‘Next year’s my year.’ Seb should bounce back strongly and he should understand it was 50/50 between him losing the championship and the team letting him down with unreliability and making bad calls. If you consider where Ferrari was in 2016, it did a fantastic job last year to be able to challenge for the championship.

“Having driven for Ferrari I know that momentum builds at the team. They made a fantastic start to the year and it all seemed to be under control. Then the most significant thing that happened is that some mind games started to play out. Baku [where Vettel bashed wheels with Lewis Hamilton] was a very unfortunate situation because without Seb getting a stop-go penalty, he would have won that grand prix.

“Then the race that made me jump out of my chair was Singapore. That was the defining moment of last year. Mercedes weren’t favourites to win that GP and it was handed to Lewis on a plate.

“What Ferrari has done to challenge the might of Mercedes in a short period of time was awesome to watch and it was disappointing to see some of the things develop that hurt them throughout the year. They will come back stronger this season.”

MANSELL ON

NUMBER-ONE DRIVERS

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