The former world champion successfully came through a testing session with Jordan-Peugeot in Spain yesterday, 19 months after his previous comeback ended in an ignominious departure.
Mansell was not embarrassed by Jordan's highly rated rookie driver Ralf Schumacher, even though the brother of the former world champion, Michael, had clocked up thousands of miles in the car already.
The 43-year-old was just three-tenths of a second slower than Schumacher, with the team's owner, Eddie Jordan, astonished at how quickly he had got up to pace. "Nigel has proved today that he was not here for fun," Jordan said. "It was to prove a point. It only took him three laps to make an impact. I really didn't expect it - but I don't quite know what happens after this"
Mansell said: "I have always had belief in my ability. I didn't have much to regain as I have never lost it. Ralf is a very committed driver - he's very quick on the pedal. But I got close to him today, and he has done nearly 2,000 miles in testing. If you haven't got it, all you do is end up in the wall on the first lap. The proof of the pudding is in the clock.
"It's been in my blood for 20 years. You don't forget it. The biggest thing was the upsurge in speed. I have not done over 200mph in anything since the last time I drove a Formula One car early in 1995. The biggest difference I found was the brakes - they are phenomenal now. They are so much better that you can leave your braking much later.
"The fantastic thing with computer technology is you can analyse every aspect of the circuit. You can see where you are doing quite well and areas where you're not."
Mansell, the third most successful driver in Formula One history with 31 wins, added: "It took me a few laps to get up to pace. Ralf did 30 laps yesterday with a best time of one minute 26 seconds. On my third lap today I did 1:24 after two years almost out of a car.
"I think that surprised a few people - it showed the commitment was there, but it took me a lot longer to get into the 1:22s than I would have liked. You have to build a relationship with a car, but you don't do that in just over 49 laps. But I will build on what happened tomorrow and be quicker.''
FORMULA ONE TEST SESSION (Barcelona) Leading times: 1 J Villeneuve (Williams) 1min 19.35sec; 2 G Berger (Benetton) 1:20.19; 3 E Irvine (Ferrari) 1:20.61; 4 D Coulthard (McLaren) 1:20.84; 5 M Hakkinen (McLaren) 1:21.04; 6 J Alesi (Benetton) 1:21.87; 7 R Schumacher (Jordan) 1:22.59; 8 P Diniz (Arrows) 1:22.76; 9 N Mansell (Jordan) 1:22.89.Reuse content