Motor Racing: Exit Mansell, enter the nearly-Famous Five: Britain's Formula One quintet are tuning up to make some noise at Donington Park. Derick Allsop reports

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ALL OF them will tell you he is a hard act to follow, that he has left a huge void. But the five British drivers currently competing in Formula One are relishing the prospect of spreading their wings now that Nigel Mansell has flown.

Mansell himself maintains Britain continues to produce talented drivers, it is just that they have not had sufficient opportunity to develop at the highest level. This season, the home squad should have the chance to express themselves.

An extra race in this country, Sunday's Grand Prix of Europe, at Donington Park, offers further encouragement to the nearly-Famous Five.

Damon Hill, Mansell's nomination to replace him at Williams-Renault, has the best opportunity of all. The 32-year-old Londoner recovered from his faulty start in South Africa to take second place behind Ayrton Senna in Brazil. He is equal third in the championship, along with Mark Blundell, of Ligier-Renault. Johnny Herbert (Lotus-Ford) opened his account with fourth place at Interlagos.

The two most experienced Britons, Derek Warwick and Martin Brundle, have yet to score, though the former is optimistic the new Footwork-Mugen will change his fortunes and the latter is comforted by the potential his team-mate, Blundell, is exploiting.

Brundle, 33, acknowledges he is being upstaged by Blundell, 27 yesterday and the youngest of the contingent. What's more, he believes his partner is the pick of the British drivers so far.

'I think it's fair to say, on the evidence of the first two races, that Mark is driving better than Damon or Johnny,' Brundle contends. 'We were together at Brabham in 1991 and he showed a lot of promise. But he's a much better driver now. He's learned and he's still learning, of course.

'He's certainly stealing my thunder, but then that's the challenge you have to come to terms with. All the new kids on the block are going to try to steal my thunder. We're all out there to show what we in Britain can do without Mansell, and we're out there on merit.'

Brundle's uneasy start is a painful reminder of last year, when he had to endure blanks from the first four races. He went on, however, to score in 11 of the 12 remaining grands prix and finished his best Formula One season sixth in the championship.

He said: 'This is an alarming parallel with the opening of last season, but things go up and down for all sportsmen, and I now know that panicking does not help. I won't let a piece of bad judgement or bad luck get me down. The problem for us, unlike footballers, is that one mistake or mishap can put us out of the game. We don't have another 89 minutes to make up for a bad shot. Ours is a one- shot situation. But I'll be okay, I'm sure of that.'

Barnet-born Blundell agrees: 'Martin showed his quality and consistency last year and, having worked with him, I know what he is capable of. I'm pleased with my efforts so far, but I know I've been lucky. I've had the breaks. That's how it goes. Sunday could be Martin's turn, or Derek's turn.

'The encouraging thing is that we have five British guys in pretty good machinery. We're all capable of finishing in the top six on a regular basis. Even Del Boy (Warwick) should figure more as the season progresses. Once they've got the new car working, he'll show how he can perform.

'Damon obviously has the best car and he seems now to be coping with the pressure. I would expect him to get more of the limelight, but I can see all the others figuring strongly. It's a healthy and exciting situation for Britain.'

Herbert, who gave Michael Schumacher, in the Benetton Ford, a ferocious fight for third place in Brazil, suggests the development schedule mapped out for his car should secure him a first visit to the podium.

'While I was a bit disappointed I couldn't stay ahead of Schumacher, the result was a huge psychological bonus for all the team,' said the

28-year-old Herbert. 'We have a proper test programme this year and that will enable us to maintain the momentum.

'Realistically, we are looking to move clear of the others behind Williams, McLaren and Benetton. I think we can do that. Sauber look good, but they've done most of their work. I can't see them making significant further improvements.

'I've felt sorry for Derek so far because he's not had the opportunity to mix it, but if the new car is competitive, he'll be right in there. We've got good drivers and it's nice when we get the chance to prove it.'

(Photograph omitted)