McLaren race for Mansell rebuild

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The Independent Online

The McLaren team are working around the clock to build a car into which Nigel Mansell can fit in time for the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola on 30 April. As the Formula One world championship begins here in Brazil with qualifying today, Mansell is absent, his place taken by his fellow Briton, Mark Blundell.

"On Sunday we had a detailed meeting and I nearly fell off my chair when Nigel said that he wanted to drive the car as it was,'' the McLaren managing director, Ron Dennis, said yesterday. "We were firmly committed not to do that until further work has been done.''

Dennis faced the press here for the first time since the cockpit fiasco was revealed, and he managed to laugh at himself. "It is very embarrassing to have a car that is not large enough to fit Nigel,'' he said. "But it is important to understand that the problem area we are talking about is three or four centimetres, no more. The end result was that Nigel could fit but it was quite clear that he couldn't drive.''

The three or four centimetres are primarily in the region of Mansell's elbow clearance. The existing McLarens have been modified a little, but a significantly different chassis is necessary before Mansell can actually race for the Woking team. "Nigel is that little bit broader than our other driver, Mika Hkkinen,'' Dennis said, "and his elbows still clip the sides badly. That's aggravated by his driving style; that's not abnormal but just more elbows-out than some.''

The entire McLaren factory is now pushing ahead with a big enough chassis so that Mansell will miss only two races. Dennis said: "That's about three times faster than anyone else could do it, and twice as fast as we have done to date. Every single process in the factory is functioning on a 24-hour cycle. Monetarily it's not that horrendous; we'll probably wipe out half a million dollars on this. You pay for your mistakes in life, and that's how much this one is costing.''

Meanwhile, the 26 drivers who are here - Mansell, perhaps diplomatically, has stayed away - finally agreed to sign the documents necessary to secure their superlicences on Wednesday night. Gerhard Berger had led prolonged talks with Max Mosley, the president of the sport's governing body, the FIA, after the drivers voiced anxieties over details of third-party insurance and publicity schedules which the FIA had introduced without consultation.