Mansell unseated from first two races

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The Independent Online
McLaren-Mercedes have confirmed that Nigel Mansell will miss the first two races of the Formula One world championship because he cannot sit comfortably in their new car.

They abandoned hopes of modifying the cockpit and decided to build a new chassis for Mansell. That should be ready for the San Marino Grand Prix, at Imola, on 30 April. Another British driver, 28-year-old Mark Blundell, will deputise in Brazil, tomorrow week, and in Argentina, a fortnight later.

McLaren said in a statement from their Woking headquarters: "The team's recently-launched car incorporated a number of innovative features and had been designed prior to the decision that Nigel would drive for McLaren. On Nigel's test of the car at Estoril [Portugal], he and the team realised that he could not achieve a comfortable driving position in the car and that this would compromise his performance.

"Thus McLaren has decided to develop a new chassis for Nigel. Once completed, it will have to undergo rigorous FIA structural and impact testing and will therefore not be available until after the first two races."

But despite the loss of arguably the most charismatic driver in Formula One, the McLaren team spokesman, Norman Howell, remained positive. Speaking on BBC TV, he said: "You can't really start a season assuming you will win the world championship.

"You hope to win as many races as possible and if you can put your package together and your strategy together with your drivers, you may win the world championship. The car was designed around Mika Hkkinen. Mansell was not an option until late in the design process of the car so we carried on with the design for Mika.

"Mansell had a seat fitting in the factory and professed himself to be quite comfortable. He went to Estoril for testing, but driving a car at 200mph is quite different from sitting in a factory doing a seat test."

Mansell told the team in no uncertain terms that he was unhappy about the cockpit during testing at Estoril but it is understood he was equally dismayed with the car's handling. The feeling is that he might have tolerated some discomfort if the car had been more competitive.

McLaren designed the car to accommodate not only the slimmer dimensions of Hkkinen, of Finland, but the Scot they hoped to sign, David Coulthard, who subsequently joined Williams-Renault after a contract dispute.

Coulthard is now a relieved young man. While Mansell and McLaren have been struggling, Coulthard, and his partner at Williams, Damon Hill, have been setting consistently quick times in testing. Williams, in fact, appeared the best-prepared team going into the season and should provide the main opposition for the world champion, Michael Schumacher.

Coulthard, speaking at Williams' factory in Didcot, yesterday, said: "Had I gone to McLaren I would have been in a much less competitive position but I have no doubt that if any team can solve these problems, McLaren can. I am looking forward to racing against Nigel. He was a hero of mine and it will be very educational.

"When he is not racing, it will be one less to battle with but it would be nice to run wheel-to-wheel with him and see what happens. The positive thing is that this is a lifeline for Mark Blundell.

"I think if the car had been the quickest Nigel would drive it. He wants to be back not just to compete but to win and that's part of the thing. The championship's not gone for him but it's not going to be easy to make up two lost races. If anyone can come back from this, though, Nigel can."