It has been 25 years since Nigel Mansell won the Formula 1 World Championship, ending a wait of 16 years for a British winner.
Mansell was a true racer – spiky at times, fearless and unquestionably driven. The sight of a beaming, moustachioed Mansell on top of the podium was a familiar one in 1992, and the championship win was the crowning moment of his career.
To understand the importance of Mansell’s triumph in 1992 you have to go back to 1986. He led the title race going into the final grand prix at Adelaide and was looking comfortable when an exploding tyre put paid to his hopes. It was a violent and agonising end to the campaign.
The following few years were characterised by frustrations at internal politics and unreliable engines and he retired in 1990.
Racing was an itch he had to scratch, though, and Williams chief Frank Williams tempted him out of retirement to return to the team that so nearly brought him the title in ’86. If he was to return he had one specific condition – No 1 driver status.
He had been made that for the 1988 season, but the team was hamstrung by a weak and unreliable engine. With a brand-new car, the Adrian Newey designed FW14B, Mansell was aware that this time it would be different. Williams made him No 1 and this set the stage for an intense rivalry with Ayrton Senna.
A gentleman racer, Mansell knew that when he congratulated Senna on his title in 1991, his own time would be coming very soon. Going into the 1992 season with a broken foot, however, Mansell’s doctor told him he needed to be on crutches for three months – advice which he swiftly disregarded.
Mansell was determined to seize the day. “Life is about grasping the opportunities that come your way, taking that chance and running with it,” he wrote in his 2015 autobiography, Staying on Track. “I basically went into a dark room and virtually cried because of the pain I was in from my broken foot”. The media rolled their eyes and saw references to the foot as another example of Mansell whining.
He won the first four races and looked dominant in the active-suspension FW14B. In ’92 he was fast, very fast.
After the race at Silverstone the story goes that Senna was stopped by police for speeding in his Porsche on the M25, and was asked: “Who do you think you are? Nigel Mansell?”
Silverstone acted as a pre-coronation for Mansell, fans pouring onto the track as he secured his 28th grand prix win, surpassing Jackie Stewart as the British driver with the most F1 wins.
Mansell won the title in Hungary with five races to spare. It was an emphatic exorcism of the demons of 1986. Drawing parallels with Nico Rosberg in 2016, Mansell retired as champion and 1992 remains the culmination of a storied career.
He wrote: “It was the completion of one part of my life and dreams, and it felt especially good because I had been so close on all those previous occasions. Numbness, happiness, elation, so many emotions.”