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Retro F1 - Nigel Mansell’s first Grand Prix

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Retro F1 - Nigel Mansell’s first Grand Prix
By:
Nov 21, 2018, 2:06 PM

British driver Nigel Mansell contested his maiden Formula 1 Grand Prix in Austrian in 1980 in painful conditions.

When he started his career, Nigel Mansell was a talented racer indeed, but stubborn, grumpy and without a personal fortune or generous sponsors. There was nothing, absolutely nothing to suggest that he would ever win a Grand Prix, or even become a World Champion!

Nigel Mansell was a successful Formula Ford driver, but a nasty crash left him with a broken vertebra from which he recovered He then moved up to the British BARC/BRDC Vandervell Formula 3 series in 1979, driving a March-Triumph Dolomite for Unipart Racing Team.

Before the F3 race that was held as a support event to the British Grand Prix in Silverstone, Mansell got introduced to two top guns of Team Lotus: Colin Chapman and Peter Collins. The latter told Mansell that he was looking to find the new British motorsport hero and he’d be watching his career.

Nigel Mansell Lotus 81B, who failed to qualify for the race with his mechanics

Nigel Mansell Lotus 81B, who failed to qualify for the race with his mechanics

Photo by: David Phipps

Nigel Mansell Lotus (Right) made his F1 debut. He retired from the race on lap 41 with a blown engine and suffered mild burns from a fuel leak. Here he talks with Nigel Stroud Lotus Engineer

Nigel Mansell Lotus (Right) made his F1 debut. He retired from the race on lap 41 with a blown engine and suffered mild burns from a fuel leak. Here he talks with Nigel Stroud Lotus Engineer

Photo by: David Phipps

Weeks later, Mansell - who owned an engineering degree - got a day job at Lotus Cars while continuing to race. At the race held at Oulton Park, Andrea de Cesaris sent his car in a series of frightening rolls. Mansell again suffered from another crushed vertebra.

The moustached driver was still wearing a cervical collar when he received a phone call from Team Lotus, asking him if he’d be interested to test an F1 car. Of course! Mansell lied about his painful neck and told Collins that he’d be at the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France the week after. Mansell drove from his place in the U.K. to Le Castellet under the relief of large quantities of painkillers.

Nigel Mansell (GBR) Lotus 81B crashed out of the race on lap 16 when his brakes failed

Nigel Mansell (GBR) Lotus 81B crashed out of the race on lap 16 when his brakes failed

Photo by: David Phipps

Nigel Mansell, Lotus 81B

Nigel Mansell, Lotus 81B

Photo by: David Phipps

Nigel Mansell made his Formula One debut racing a Lotus 81B

Nigel Mansell made his Formula One debut racing a Lotus 81B

Photo by: David Phipps

Lotus had to find a replacement for the departing Carlos Reutemann and also find a test driver.

Five drivers had been invited to the test: Mansell, Elio De Angelis, Eddie Cheever, Jan Lammers and Stephen South. Thanks to the painkillers, Mansell managed to drive without too much problem and set some competitive lap times. Elio de Angelis was chosen to fill in for Reutemann while Mansell got the test job.

Nigel continued to race in F3 and got to contest a few races in the new Honda-powered Ralt Formula 2 car. He finally got to test the Lotus 81-Ford F1 car where he set competitive lap times.

The British team decided to give him first chance to contest a Grand Prix in Austria on the blindingly fast and intimidating Österreichring where F1 cars ran just inches from the guard rails at 300 km/h. Mansell had a small sponsor, Pace Petroleum, which helped him secure the F1 ride.

Mansell was given a third Lotus 81 alongside regular driver, Mario Andretti and Elio de Angelis. His car bear race number 43 and his track engineer was Peter Wright, Team Lotus’ aerodynamicist.

Nigel Mansell with Elio De Angelis, both Lotus Ford

Nigel Mansell with Elio De Angelis, both Lotus Ford

Photo by: LAT Images

Nigel Mansell, Lotus 81B Ford

Nigel Mansell, Lotus 81B Ford

Photo by: LAT Images

Mansell’s car was a handful to drive and with just 10 minutes to go in the second and final qualifying session, the Briton was still non-qualified. The team allowed him to swap cars and give it a try in De Angelis' mount. On his last lap, he set a time good enough to make the start.

On the starting grid, the mechanics added some fuel in the tank of the Lotus, but there was a spillage and fuel flowed in the driver’s seat. Mansell felt the heat, but surely didn’t want to jump out of the cockpit. The mechanics then poured almost two gallons of water in his back moments before the green.

After a good start, Mansell ran in 19th place. However, the water had evaporated and the poor driver began to feel the acute pain again. Hanging on tight, Mansell was 13th on Lap 39 when two laps later, his Ford Cosworth DFV blew up. He was almost relieved to see his race ends, because he was in too much pain to continue to compete. He suffered from burns on his lower back, buttocks and thighs.

Back home in Great Britain, he headed to the hospital to have the blisters treated, as well as to have his wounds cleaned and disinfected. It took him 15 days to fully recover, but it didn’t matter as he had finally competed in his first F1 Grand Prix.

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About this article

Series Formula 1
Event Austrian GP
Drivers Nigel Mansell
Teams Team Lotus Shop Now
Author René Fagnan
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