Former World Champion Nigel Mansell is celebrating his 57th birthday today!
The man whom renowned F1 journalist Nigel Roebuck described as being able to find “a problem for every solution”, Mansell remains one of the most popular drivers in his native England, who worked the crowds and the media brilliantly in galvanising support for his campaign.
After years of toil working on the sidelines for Lotus, Mansell was finally given his opportunity in 1980, but it took until 1984 before he won his first race – by now racing for Williams – at Brands Hatch.
It was a portent of things to come. A renewed man thereafter, he was a championship contender in 1986 until stymied at the final hurdle by an exploding tyre and again in 1987 until a practice crash at Suzuka caused a back injury.
Wherever Mansell was, there was always drama. He jumped to Ferrari in 1989 and won first time out at Rio, but was never a factor and threw a huge tantrum in mid-1990 when he threatened retirement, citing the preferential treatment of his team-mate Alain Prost.
He was coaxed out of his decision by Frank Williams, who offered him a clear number-one status for 1991 onwards, and he was again a championship contender until the Portuguese Grand Prix when a bungled pit stop killed off his championship hopes.
For 1992, he had the all-singing, all-dancing Williams Renault FW14B with every electronic aid in the book, and romped to the title he had so coveted. What irked many was not the dominant fashion in which he won the title, but the complete lack of humility he showed in failing to acknowledge that his success was easily down to having the most superior car at his disposal.
Crying foul again when Williams signed Alain Prost for 1993, Nigel stormed off to the USA and won the CART title first time out with Newman Haas.
The death of Senna saw Nigel drafted occasionally into the Williams team as his schedule allowed in 1994, and then McLaren made the curious decision of signing the then-42-year-old Nigel for 1995.
Too fat to fit in the cockpit and nowhere near motivated nor fit enough to coax the recalcitrant McLaren Mercedes MP4-10 around, he stormed off after two races in the cockpit.
Despite the histrionics, Mansell was a superb racer, and it would be difficult to find another driver in the F1 annals who was possibly braver or more committed during his heyday. He drove some truly fantastic races and was a hard-charging driver, but a truly complex man outside of the cockpit.
[Original image via The Cahier Archive]