Mansell in battle to start season

Click to follow
The Independent Online
McLaren-Mercedes admitted yesterday that Nigel Mansell may miss the first two races of the Formula One world championship if they cannot make him sufficiently comfortable and safe in their car. The team are still endeavouring to reshape the cockpit in time for the opening grand prix, in Brazil, on Sunday week, but face the prospect of having to build a new one. That would not be ready before the third race, San Marino, on 30 April.

A team spokesman, Norman Howell, said: "We are doing our best to modify the tub but the team is also responsible for the safety of the driver and if we are on the edge of safety then we would have to grasp the nettle, build another tub and Nigel may have to sit out the first couple of races. I'm not saying that is going to happen. It's a fluid situation. But it is a possibility.''

Technicians are now at work on computers at McLaren's factory, in Woking, trying to create more room and find their way out of the squeeze. It is not that Mansell has a weight problem, but that his hips are broad. They still hope to come up with a solution and give the 41-year-old former champion a test drive at Estoril later this week, but could leave a final decision until next Thursday, in So Paulo.

"Ideally, Nigel would like to test the car but he is a very experienced driver and could go straight to Brazil,'' Howell said.

Potential substitutes have already been mentioned on the grapevine. They include Martin Brundle, the man replaced by Mansell and due to be on the sidelines at Ligier-Mugen Honda until the fourth race, and his fellow Britain, Mark Blundell, who impressed the team as test driver and has not secured a regular Formula One seat for this season.

Mansell's broad frame presented McLaren with this embarrassing problem when he turned up for testing at Estoril, earlier this month. His team- mate, Mika Hkkinen, also had some discomfort but the Finn's slimmer hips have since been accommodated.

The car was originally designed with Hkkinen's dimensions in mind and long before Mansell's arrival. McLaren had hoped to sign the lean David Coulthard but he was eventually claimed by Williams-Renault. Although Mansell had the usual seat fittings at the factory and seemed content, there is no substitute for driving.

n Mika Salo, of Finland, signed yesterday to join Japan's Ukyo Katayama in the Tyrrell-Yamaha team for this season.