Motor Racing: A fitting farewell to Europe

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The Independent Online
IT IS strange to think that I have just had my last race in Europe, but I could not have asked for a better way to mark the occasion. Victory in Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix gave me not only the farewell to the continent, but also a record ninth win of the season.

This has been such an extraordinary year in so many ways but, no matter what else may have happened, I hope no one will lose sight of what we at Canon Williams-Renault have accomplished. As well as the drivers' and constructors' championships, I managed a record opening sequence of five consecutive victories, passing Jackie Stewart's British landmark of 27 wins. Another pole position from the remaining two races, in Japan and Australia, will equal the best-ever total of 13, established by Ayrton Senna in 1988.

Records, as we know, are there to be beaten and I have no doubt my records will be eclipsed in the future. But the achievements live on and should be enjoyed for what they are. I am proud of my achievements this year and I trust I'll be able to draw satisfaction from them into my old age, when my racing days are long gone.

On Sunday my emotions were not only of satisfaction but also of relief. I was so relieved that my team-mate, Riccardo Patrese, was not seriously injured in his frightening accident. His car was thrown into the air when his front wheel ran up the rear wheel of Gerhard Berger's McLaren-Honda, which was pulling into the pits.

Fortunately, Riccardo's car did not somersault or land on the barrier and, although he was badly shaken, he was able to walk away unhurt. Riccardo, as I have expressed before, is a superb colleague and I wish him well next season, whether he is at Williams or with Camel Benetton-Ford.

Yet again, the modern Formula One survival cell did its job, but the scare was a reminder to everyone that this is a dangerous sport. The Formula One version of the sport is also a highly political arena and I have to say I'm glad to be out of the current wranglings, which do the image of the game no good at all. The situation revolving around Williams, McLaren, Renault and a bunch of drivers is really quite amazing.

I was rather amused to hear Alain Prost say it would have been war had he and Senna got together at Williams. Somehow, I do not think it would have been a bed of roses had he and I got together]

Only minutes before Sunday's race I was actually informed by Renault that the door was still open for me and that I could stay to drive alongside Prost next season. Suffice it to say I shall not be going back on my word to the Newman-Haas team and that I am looking forward to racing for them next season.

The more I learn about Indycar racing and the people involved, the more I like it. Clearly, it is a very different world from Formula One. I am convinced it will provide me with a stimulating new challenge in every sense.

In Estoril, for instance, last weekend, I was given another insight into the Indycar environment. Emerson Fittipaldi, who made the switch after twice winning the Formula One world championship, was at the race and offered to give me any help I might need to settle into the Indycar series. He is prepared to drive me round the circuits and advise me on the different techniques required, especially on the ovals, which will present an interesting experience for me.

I've had the same sort of offer from Mario Andretti, another former world champion, who will be my team-mate, just as he was when I first came into Formula One, with Lotus, 12 years ago. I get the impression there is a much more open attitude and genuinely more friendly atmosphere in Indycars, and that also may explain why so many drivers, such as Emerson and Mario, go on into their forties and fifties. They simply love their racing, as I do, and I hope to thoroughly enjoy my racing next season.

Despite all the comings and goings, the politics and the crossfire of accusations over the weekend at Estoril, we were able to get on with the racing, and the mechanics and engineers at Williams had a demanding job on their hands.

I had a couple of hydraulic pump failures on the active suspension of my car, the first of which, on Friday, sent me spinning off the track. The second one happened at the beginning of the straight, so I was able to keep the car under control.

Needless to say, those were alarming moments for me and the team. We also had to change the engine of my car between warm-up and the race on Sunday, but then this is the test of a good team and, once more, the guys at Williams showed how good they are.

We were on the pace straight away on Friday, a reflection of our excellent pre-season test on this circuit. We worked here for seven days and were immediately able to dial into an effective set-up when we returned. McLaren made good progress on the Saturday, while we were unable to get near our times from the first day. Overnight rain washed away the rubber so the track had less grip. It was the same on Sunday.

Still, I had pole, Riccardo had second place and I was reasonably optimistic for the race. I'd won twice before in Portugal but I had also had one or two mishaps, so there was no danger of my being over-confident.

I pressed on to build up an early lead and tried to delay my tyre stop as long as possible because, given the track conditions, there was a danger the second set would wear quite badly. I had a good, safe tyre stop (Riccardo wasn't so lucky as a rear jack broke), got out ahead of Ayrton and gave myself a cushion again.

Riccardo was fighting Gerhard for third place when he had his accident. I saw what was left of his car the next time round but the team assured me he was OK. I then had to be careful and concentrate on picking a line free from debris. At one stage I thought I might have a puncture but the team told me I had not and we did not want to take the risk of making an extra pit stop. We made it home and I had my 30th grand prix win.

We still have two races left this season and those are two I would like to win because they have so far eluded me. However, both the Japanese and Australian grands prix will be difficult. Honda will be doing their utmost to win with McLaren in their last race on home ground, and the Adelaide street circuit can be an unpredictable place.

The only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that we will be pushing hard right to the end. We want to finish this season as we began it, with a run of victories.

Nigel Mansell, who is contributing to The Independent during the season, was talking to Derick Allsop.

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