This following article appeared in the July 2002 issue of MotorSport
Nigel Mansell and Williams blitzed their opposition throughout 1992, yet ended the year in acrimony. What went wrong?
by Adam Cooper, Paul Fearnley and David Malsher
He had a reputation for not being keen on testing. But there he was pounding round Estoril, in February. At seven days, this was the longest pre-season evaluation Williams, the most fastidious of teams, had ever done. For they had a very big decision to make: passive or active?
Nigel Mansell was beginning to dig the latter suspension, having been one of its sternest critics. But whatever the decision, he knew this would be his best chance of righting the 1986 Adelaide wrong.
He was fighting fit, extolling the virtues of his new Florida lifestyle - and he was on it. Every session. He'd often downplay the advantage he possessed in the shape of Adrian Newey's FW14B. But when he was in it, he couldn't help himself. He loved it. Revelled in it.
David Brown, race engineer: "Nigel was gagging for it at the beginning of the season. He'd obviously primed himself over the winter, and never let up. The active car was quick immediately. There was obviously an advantage in it, and as ever with Nigel, if there was an advantage, he'd adopt it and get on with it."
Adrian Newey: "Nigel quickly realised we had a very good car, and that his most likely rival for the title was going to be Riccardo [Patrese, his team-mate]. So he set about systematically demoralising him."
David Brown: "We had the ritual weigh-in at the first race [South African GP, Kyalami], and Nigel was determined to be lighter than Riccardo..."
Adrian Newey: "I remember something about a dummy helmet..."
David Brown: "There were all sorts of shenanigans. No stone was left unturned in this effort for Nigel to be lighter. And he was [76kg to 78]. He was chuffed; Riccardo got extremely Italian about it."
It was about to get a lot worse for Riccardo: his pole-sitting team-mate was 1.5s quicker in qualifying and romped to a 34sec victory...
Adrian Newey: "The car looked competitive but, as always, you're never quite sure where you are until that first race. To qualify on pole by a big margin and then win, without any serious reliability problems through the weekend, was really something."
David Brown: "Kyalami was a bit of a surprise - it was certainly a surprise to Riccardo how much quicker Nigel was."
Patrick Head: "In 1991, Nigel and Riccardo were close on performance, but in '92 Nigel stepped up. The main reason for this was the feeling and feedback from the active system. Nigel worked out that, if you persuaded yourself to trust it, it would be there once you had got into the corner. He adapted; Riccardo always wished it was a standard car."
Adrian Newey: "Nigel definitely outpsyched Riccardo, but I think he would have outdriven him in any case. The active car was suited to his style - aggressive, throw it in, have belief in it. You had to muscle it because it was generating so much downforce. In the high-speed corners, Nigel was much quicker; it didn't have power steering, which it should have done in hindsight, and Nigel has tremendous upperbody strength."
Riccardo Patrese: "Nigel also benefited more from the traction control than I did. The year before, exiting slow corners, I was always able to carry a little more speed because I controlled the power and traction better. In 1992, the computer controlled it."
Frank Williams: "Spain in the wet is the race that stands out for me. Nigel just disappeared at the start. When Michael Schumacher began pulling him in at about two-thirds distance, and we thought there was a problem. But when Michael got within 2sec, Nigel pulled away again at 2.5sec a lap."
David Brown: "We were all right in the dry, but when it got very wet, Schumacher started to reel him. We were all wondering what was going on; talking to Nigel after the race, so was he. He couldn't understand where Schumacher was getting his times from. In true Nigel fashion, he decided he must be doing something wrong and so started driving on all the weird bits of the circuit, off-line everywhere. He found a load of grip that way and went faster again."
On the track at least, it seemed Mansell had it all under control - and some of it under wraps...
Adrian Newey: "He developed a couple of things that Patrick and I were slow to realise. There were various knobs in the cockpit that allowed you to change things such as ride height and the suspension settings. What Nigel would do was put them in one position, which is what would go down on the set-up sheets because, when you looked in the cockpit, that's where they were. (We didn't actually record those particular channels on the telemetry). Then he'd go out and, with David Brown's blessing, change them on the circuit. This developed to the point where Nigel and David would have a communal debrief as normal, them on one side of the table, Riccardo and his engineer on the other, but whatever they talked about was a load of rubbish mainly designed to fool Riccardo. Then they'd go away and have their proper debrief. From a team point of view, it was not constructive; from Nigel's point of view, it was quite smart."
David Brown: "We often discussed the car in relaxed circumstances out of hours. I don't think it was to the detriment of anybody in the team. Nigel required a bit of personal attention, and if that's what it took to get the best out of him as a driver, then I was happy to meet him in the evening. As far as debriefs are concerned, there was a structure and we adhered to that structure."
Adrian Newey: "What Nigel was doing was running the front much lower. He'd get a fair bit of performance out of it, though it would make the car more difficult to drive. Then in the debriefs Riccardo would say, 'I think I'll try going lower at the front', and Nigel would say, 'You don't want to do that, it's much quicker if it's higher.'"
Mansell was up against it in Magny-Cours, Patrese leading the early stages. Rain caused the race to be red-flagged, which is when Riccardo's season was turned on its ear...
Riccardo Patrese: "I think it had been decided at the beginning of the year that I couldn't go for the championship. But it was never said clearly to me, before Magny-Cours, that I had to be second. In my mind, I thought I could go for the title. That moment was a very sad one for me, because I was driving well and I could have won. But when they stopped the race Patrick told me. I think it was hard for him to say because he was always for me, but I realised I had to come down from my cloud."
Silverstone was next up - Mansell's Cloud Nine. Critics said his performance there proved he'd been holding back; believers said he'd just dug extra deep. Whatever, he pulled out a pole lap of apocalyptic proportions, almost 2secs faster than Patrese, 3sec ahead of Senna...
Patrick Head: Silverstone qualifying was pretty special."
David Brown: "The car was quite soft, and it used to move around a bit. Riccardo found it difficult at places like Copse Corner to put absolute faith in the car, whereas Nigel would just get on with it. He just had the confidence. Riccardo walked into the truck, came up to Nigel, looking very stern with his hands on his hips, and said, 'Stand up!' I thought, 'Oh my God, he's going to hit him!' Nigel stood up, and Riccardo stuck his hand out and said, 'Show me the size of them!'
By the time of Hockenheim, Prost was said to be a shoe-in for Williams. Mansell railed against this. He made it known he would be happier to have Senna alongside.
Riccardo Patrese: "I would have been happy to stay at Williams for 1993, but I thought there was no room, because Nigel was the champion and Prost was coming. It seemed to me incredible that an English driver could win the championship with an English team then leave for America. I was sure they'd find a compromise. I couldn't wait any longer and signed for Benetton."
Just hours before the Italian Grand Prix, though, Mansell announced his second retirement from F1; Indycars would be his focus in 1993.
Patrick Head: "It was rather a pity we weren't able to run Nigel in 1993. As it was, leaving enabled Nigel to win an Indy championship which probably meant more to him than another F1 title. The process we went through wasn't pleasant though."
Frank Williams: " Over the years the team had quite a few rocky moments, and Nigel didn't hesitate in expressing his disappointment in his own well-known way. But in 1992 things went well - for most of the year. Nigel had a winning car, but by that time he'd developed into an unstoppable driver. He was almost in a class of his own that year. We couldn't have won without him."
Or he without them. But modern F1, sadly, isn't all about winning.
© Motor Sport magazine - Reproduced with permission