x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Mansell has a Samba shock

Ahead of Sunday's F1 decider, the Brazilian Grand Prix has always produced some dramatic races, particularly in 1989 when Nigel Mansell won in his Ferrari.

Nigel Mansell bringing home his Ferrari to win in the opening race of the 1989 season in Rio de Janerio.
Nigel Mansell bringing home his Ferrari to win in the opening race of the 1989 season in Rio de Janerio.

So here we are at the end of another season of Formula One. Brazil and the Interlagos circuit, which is its present home, has staged the final round of the championship for the past three years. Briton Lewis Hamilton takes a seven-point advantage over the Brazilian Felipe Massa into the event after winning in China, knowing that fifth place or higher in the race will guarantee him his first title.

But having frittered away a similar advantage last year in Sao Paulo, Hamilton and his McLaren-Mercedes team will be aware that nothing is certain ahead of Sunday's 71-lap event. But Brazil is known as a race where the unpredictable happens, and so that proved in 1989 when the race winner was arguably as shocked as his rivals at winning in South America. The race then was held at Rio de Janerio and was actually the season opener.

Nigel Mansell had joined Ferrari over the winter and had been so depressed at his car's unreliability as it struggled to do more than a few laps before breaking down that he had booked an early flight for Sunday afternoon, so convinced was he that his car would let him down during the race. But the Briton found himself up to third in the early stages and well placed after his teammate Gerhard Berger had collided with the pole-sitter Ayrton Senna at the first corner.

Probably amazed in his cockpit that his Ferrari was still going, Mansell found himself second at the halfway point and harrying the McLaren-Honda of Alain Prost after the Williams of Thierry Boutsen had retired from the lead of the race. The British driver overtook Prost, who was struggling with a clutch problem, down the main straight with 20 laps to go and he and his car held on for a surprise victory.

As he celebrated on the podium with Prost and the third-placed Mauricio Gugelmin, Mansell was no doubt praising his car for a job well done, but also aware that he now needed to book a second flight home from Brazil as a result of the surprising reliability. Another British driver, Johnny Herbert, was an impressive fourth in his Benetton on his Formula One debut, while the world champion Senna could only finish 11th after his opening lap incident.

There was a tragic element, though, as the AGS Phillipe Streiff suffered a horrific crash in pre-race practice which would end his career and leave him paralysed. @Email:gcaygill@thenational.ae