/ Nigel Mansell
Affectionately known as ‘Our Nige’ by his enamoured British fans and called ‘Il Leone’ The Lion, in Italy when driving for Ferrari, Nigel Mansell was a man for all people. A gritty street fighter of a driver, Mansell was the bravest of the brave, a true racer from the old school and as quick as can be.
Mansell’s dogged refusal to give up attracted the attention of Colin Chapman at Lotus who said that he recognised ‘A good ‘un’ racing for Lotus from 1980 until 1984 Nigel scored just five podium finishes before his potential was fulfilled with a move to Williams in 1985. Mansell quickly came to terms with team mate Keke Rosberg and scored his maiden victory at the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. This was followed by a successive win at Kyalami in South Africa. Nigel Mansell was a winner after seventy-two attempts.
1986 saw Nigel Mansell paired with Nelson Piquet and Mansell dominated his new team mate taking five wins. The Championship was there for the taking, but in the final race at Adelaide, a tyre failure saw Mansell dramatically out of contention.
Six Grand Prix victories in 1987, but they were not enough for Mansell, a practise crash at Suzuka handed the World Championship to team mate Nelson Piquet. Losing Honda engines to McLaren in 1998 meant a wilderness year for the now Judd powered Williams team. The highlight of Mansell’s year being a quite sensational second place at Silverstone in the wet.
In 1989 Nigel Mansell moved to Ferrari and immediately put himself into Italian folklore with a first time out win for the Scuderia at Brazil. Two seconds at Paul Ricard and Silverstone, thirds at Hockenheim and Spa and a second win at the Hungaroring put Mansell fourth in the Championship.
Four more podiums in the following season with Ferrari and a win at Estoril were disappointing for ‘Il Leone’ and Mansell’s love affair with the Prancing Horse came to an end. 1991 saw Mansell enticed back to Williams and the first Adrian Newey penned car. Mansell took victories in France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain. He finished second in the World Championship to Ayrton Senna. It was to be a precursor to total dominance in 1992.
Nigel Mansell took five straight wins at the beginning of the season, and in the Patrick Head – Adrian Newey masterpiece of technological and aerodynamic excellence, FW14B, Mansell went on to win nine Grand Prix. He hardly put a foot wrong, to take the World Title.
A contract with Williams for 1993 was not reached, with both parties unwilling to compromise and so Mansell headed off to Indy Car racing with Newman-Haas Lola.
Proving all doubters wrong, Nigel not only won the PPG Cup at his first attempt, but also made light of the black art of oval racing, to such effect that he was almost omnipotent, he was very unlucky to miss out on a maiden win at the Indianapolis 500 first time out.
Following the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994 a return to Grand Prix racing with Williams was irresistible to Mansell. He competed in four Grand Prix culminating in a win at Adelaide at the end of the season.
In 1995 an ill-advised signing with McLaren saw Mansell compete in just two Grand Prix before bowing out. Brief forays in other Formula yielded little.
Nigel Mansell remains a true hero in the hearts of all motor racing fans. His O.B.E. was upgraded to Commander of the British Empire in 2012 for services to children and young people for his work as President of U.K. Youth. ‘Our Nige’ remains a legend of motor sport.
/ Riccardo Patrese
Riccardo Patrese competed in a staggering 256 World Championship Grand Prix. During the seventeen seasons that he spent racing at the highest level Riccardo matured from a wild and cock-sure enfant terrible into a contented and charming elder statesman, happy to still be a part of the scene, that had changed so much since he began.
A karting whiz kid, Riccardo Patrese took the World Title in 1974. This was followed with successful campaigns in Formula Italia where he was runner up to Bruno Giacomelli and in the Euro Formula Three Championship which he won in 1976. A year in Formula Two with Chevron impressed enough to put him into a Formula One seat with Shadow as a replacement for Renzo Zorzi.
Patrese was part of the breakaway Arrows Team in 1978 and was sensationally quick, leading comfortably in South Africa until an engine failure robbed him of victory. Riccardo stayed loyal to Arrows from 1979 through until 1981, but a move to Brabham in 1982 saw the Italian in a truly competitive environment which was rewarded by a maiden Grand Prix victory at Monaco in that year. In 1983 a certain win was thrown away at Imola but a perfect race at Kyalami showed everyone what might have been, with a great victory in what was otherwise a disappointing season.
The wilderness years followed. Riccardo struggled for two years with the Benetton sponsored Alfa Romeo before returning to a Brabham Team that was in terminal decline. At least as a works driver for Lancia Martini in sports cars Patrese took wins at Silverstone and the Nürburgring in 1982, Kyalami in 1984 and Spa in 1985.
Riccardo Patrese joined Williams in 1988 but with Judd power failed to impress. With Renault engines in 1989 Riccardo appeared rejuvenated. Relaxed and confident he forged an excellent working relationship with Patrick Head and was largely responsible for putting the Didcot team back at the top of Formula One. Certainly he was unlucky not to have won at least two races that year, but he put that to rights in 1990 with an emotional win at Imola.
Paired with Nigel Mansell at Williams in 1991, Riccardo scored wins at Mexico and Portugal and a further six podium finishes. In 1992, when Williams were totally dominant with their FW14B Patrese would finish second in the Championship to team mate Nigel Mansell, winning in Japan and scoring another eight podium finishes. A lucrative contract with Benetton for 1993 would be Riccardo’s Formula One swansong. He was at that time Grand Prix racing’s most experienced campaigner.
/ Damon Hill
The first second generation driver in history to follow his father with a Grand Prix victory Damon Hill, like Dad Graham, fought his way to the top the hard way.
Damon had little in the way of financial support, so crucial in modern motor sport, or, sadly the benefit of his father’s experience. But through determination and hard work Damon progressed entirely on his own merits and no one in the Formula 1 paddock could have begrudged him his success when, in 1996, he emulated his Father in winning the World Championship.
Hill began his Grand Prix career with the, by then, back of the grid Brabham team in 1992. It was a disaster. But a test contract with Williams was Hill’s saviour. So impressed was Patrick Head with Hill’s contribution that he was Damon’s strongest advocate for a Grand Prix drive in 1993.
Partnering Alain Prost Hill won three times in 1993 at Hungary, Belgium and Italy, his win at Spa in particular, under intense pressure from Michael Schumacher proving he was the real deal. In 1994 Damon was partnered with Ayrton Senna.
Tragically within just three races Damon was faced with stepping up to number one status and rebuilding a shattered Williams team after the death of Senna. His Father, Graham had had to do the same thing at Lotus in 1968 following the death of Jim Clark. Damon responded magnificently taking six wins and finishing second to Schumacher in the Championship.
1995 saw Hill in the fabulous Williams FW17. He won at Buenos Aires and again at Imola. A further victory in Hungary and another win at Adelaide, saw Hill second in the Championship. His year was to come in 1996.
Partnered with Jacques Villeneuve Hill won eight of the sixteen races in 1996 driving the Williams FW18. The popular Englishman taking a deserved World Championship. Sadly it would be Hill’s last season with Williams and a top team.
At Arrows in 1997, Hill nearly took an amazing victory at Hungary, but problems on the penultimate lap dropped him to second. Hill’s final two seasons were with Jordan. In 1998 he won stunningly at Spa in the wet, Jordan’s first Grand Prix victory. 1999 proved disappointing and Hill retired at the end of the season.
Damon Hill is currently a respected pundit on Sky Sports F1 Grand Prix coverage.