Motor Racing: Mansell adds spice to fiery mix: Hill eager to get to grips with Schumacher in final rounds

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL made his latest return to Formula One with a few gentle laps of this Portuguese Grand Prix circuit yesterday - Damon Hill handing over the Williams Renault, his job done and, he was satisfied, done well.

The Mansell factor alone would normally be sufficient to spice the final three rounds of the world championship season: the European Grand Prix at Jerez, Spain, on Sunday, and then races in Japan and Australia next month. But this is also the sparring session for the title showdown, Hill v Michael Schumacher.

Hill, just a point behind Schumacher after winning two races in the German's enforced absence, draws strength from his performances here in testing and the example of Mansell's climb through the racing ranks and the barriers of prejudice.

The 34-year-old Englishman was quicker than Schumacher and, although he acknowledges that that achievement may have little significance come the business proper, he contends a pyschological blow has been struck.

Hill said: 'It's been a very worthwhile test and I'm very encouraged by what we've done and how our times have compared with Benetton. This is usually a good test track. If you go well here, you tend to go well anywhere. I'm excited and looking forward to it.'

But what of Mansell's presence, at a million dollars a race, in place of David Coulthard? Hill, who has suggested - perhaps jokingly, perhaps not - the former world champion should 'go and play golf' rather than try another full Formula One season, maintained he had no objection to this combeack.

He did point out that the deal was beyond his control, anyway, but no, he had no objection. 'I have every reason to believe that Nigel will help me, if necessary,' Hill said. 'I want to win the last three races of the season, win the championship and establish myself as a world-class driver. I have to think I have done so, but there are always those who have their reservations.

'People are reluctant to declare anyone as a great driver unless they are given very good evidence. It was a long time before Nigel was recognised as the great driver he is. He has constantly had to disprove his detractors.'

Mansell is here intent on proving he's worth the short-term investment and the long-term commitment of a new contract to contest next year's world championship.

He took a reconnaissance ride of the circuit in a road car, checking out the recent alteration and refamiliarising himself with a track that has mixed fortunes for him down the years. Then he climbed into the Williams, only for rain to interrupt his run. But more earnest work was always scheduled for today, when we will doubtless see the teeth of the old lion again.

The continuing endeavours by administrators to keep Lotus competing could mean Johnny Herbert switching from the British team to France's Ligier Renault for the last three races of the season.