Mansell's sudden departure ushers in a new era

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The Independent Online

They were back around the harbour, squeezing between the motor homes, seeking a glimpse of, or better still, an autograph from, Formula One's new stars. Nigel Mansell was gone, an era with him. No one quibbled with the decision, they were too busy getting on with the next.

This morning the younger generation of drivers will be out on the streets of the principality, practising for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, fired by the belief and desire that elevated Mansell to the pinnacle of the sport: men like Damon Hill, the current No 1 at Williams-Renault, David Coulthard, the young Scot preferred to the old champion by Williams, and Mark Blundell, the Englishman now given his chance at McLaren-Mercedes.

Blundell, who deputised for Mansell in the opening two races of the season, now has two races to present his case and he intends to be around for the rest of the season. "I'm happy at McLaren," Blundell said. "I know how they operate and they know me. I'm family. It's a fantastic opportunity for me and it's up to me to use it."

Johnny Herbert, of Benetton-Renault, believes Blundell will. He said: "If anyone can set up the car and go for it, Mark can. I know what it's like waiting for a chance.

"I think the decision on Nigel was only to be expected. He did all right in his first race but in the second you sensed his heart wasn't in it. On reflection, he perhaps shouldn't have come back, but I think he genuinely believed he could do all right and make it happen."

Hill's views are fairly representative of the Formula One paddock. Mansell was struggling, his confidence in the car shot, his motivation drained, and Hill said: "I wouldn't have liked to to have seen him carry on this season like that."

Coulthard, who was claimed from McLaren by Williams, prefers to recall Mansell as most of his fans do. "I was a fan of Nigel," he said. "I would only like to see him back in a competitive situation - battling for the chance to win."

Gerhard Berger, once Mansell's team-mate at Ferrari and now the senior driver in Formula One, sympathised with McLaren and Mansell. The Austrian said: "I can understand the situation from both sides, so it was the best thing to do.

"I remember Nigel as a great and quick driver when he was motivated. I have worked day and night to make Ferrari better but it is very difficult to drive a car when you are not motivated. Maybe if I had been world champion I would not be so motivated. But you can never say it is finished. Maybe in two races someone will break a leg, Nigel comes back and wins!"

Riccardo Patrese, partner to Mansell in his championship-winning season, 1992, and now out of Formula One, captured the significance of the 41- year-old Englishman's departure.

The Italian said: "We can see the old making way for the new. Ayrton Senna was the link last year, and when he died, Nigel was the last link. These days the drivers are quick and talented but they are young and boring."

Hill, perhaps now feeling he can at last shake off the spectre of Mansell, chases victory here on the stage where his father strutted his stuff so successfully, in the hope of containing the reigning champion, Michael Schumacher.

The effects on Karl Wendlinger of a crash while practising for last year's race have forced Sauber to replace the Austrian with the Frenchman, Jean- Christophe Boullion, for Sunday's grand prix. Wendlinger, who lay in a coma for several weeks, will remain under contract as a test driver. Sauber said the decision to replace Wendlinger was not an easy one, but in the four races in which he took part this season the Austrian's performance "did not reach our and his own expectations".