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Motor Racing / British Grand Prix '92: Worrying case of national mania

AS A stumble in the wrong direction could easily have led to fatality when hundreds of Nigel Mansell's supporters flooded to within a few feet of the speeding finishers at Silverstone, further thought can be given to a disturbing trend in British sport.

It is nationalism carried to extremes on an ocean of union flags, us against them; crude examples of xenophobia. Hours before the high-powered racing machines were given life, there was the sight of a banner which read 'F. . . you Senna. No 5 (Mansell) kick ass'.

The scenes yesterday were a reflection not merely of Mansellmania, but the insatiable urge to take up every British sporting cause.

Once confined to football, you now sense it at Twickenham, at the great golfing venues and at cricket. It disfigures our appreciation of sporting achievement as a magnificent irrelevance.

How many of those, at no small risk to their lives, who cleared the fences to seek station in front of the rostrum, can claim to be true aficionados of grand prix racing? How many were simply there to celebrate a national triumph?

Times indeed change, and a comparison can be drawn with the late Jim Clark's victory at Silverstone 25 years ago. Clark, laurel-wreathed in an open car, was taken on a sedate lap of honour, receiving enthusiastic but polite applause.

Of course, none of this can be laid at Mansell's door, nor can it detract from the sustained excellence that took him to a record of 28 victories by a British driver.

From the moment when Mansell corrected wheelspin on the grid instantly to rob Riccardo Patrese of a small advantage in the other Williams-Renault, it was all over, so obviously a procession that attention was soon diverted to tussles in his wake. Patrese, as he admitted later, had already settled for second place. 'It was clear from practice that Nigel was in a different world,' he said.

Thus excitement centred on a duel for third place between Martin Brundle and Ayrton Senna, renewing their old rivalry in Formula 3. Confirming the progress he has made since being provided with better machinery, Brundle hung on, benefiting from better luck than he has known this season when Senna's gearbox failed shortly after overtaking him. Delighted with their man's appearance on the rostrum for the second week running, the Benetton team embraced and shook hands. With Williams and Mansell in such form a place amounts to a triumph.

It seems that nothing short of a disaster can keep Mansell from his first world championship, but demons always lurk in the mind. 'I'm not taking anything for granted,' he said. Try telling that to even his most accomplished rivals who quickly lose sight of him. 'Mansell was in a race of his own out there,' said Flavio Briatore, a prominent figure in the Benetton management.

Having brought their car to such a remarkable pitch, and with Mansell consistently quicker than any other driver, again cutting back lap records, Williams have reduced the season to a victory parade. The betting odds are meaningless unless they are laid without the favourite.

There is no reason why this should intrude upon Mansell's heady progress, or the status he has gained in the minds of an adoring public, although that may not be enough for him. There are critics to hand, people within the sport who think him to be less than a hero. Fully aware of them, he is given to barbed comments.

But the fans. Now that is a different matter. On the rostrum, wallowing in acclaim, he dedicated the victory to them. Unfortunately, in some cases, he was paying tribute to morons.