Motor Racing: Mansell claims the greatest prize: The first British world champion for 16 years joins the ranks of motor racing's most illustrious names

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The Independent Online
TO THE glorious end, it was dramatic, traumatic, uncertain. It was ever thus for Nigel Mansell, the new Formula One world champion.

That title has beguiled the Englishman throughout his grand prix career, which started on this day, 1980. Even further back than that, through the years of karting, Formula Ford and Formula Three, he dreamed of motor racing's ultimate prize.

Now the dream is reality, the final doubts and fantasies vanished in a Hungarian Grand Prix worthy of the momentus occasion. Mansell completed a frenzied afternoon in second place, more than good enough to become Britain's first champion for 16 years.

His Williams-Renault followed over the line Ayrton Senna's McLaren-Honda and the Brazilian was gracious enough to drag Mansell up alongside him at the top of the podium, a gesture which symbolised the passing of the crown from one great sportsman and champion to another.

A day which dawned with such a clear objective for Mansell - victory would have settled the issue no matter what was achieved by the only other interested parties, his team-mate, Riccardo Patrese, and Michael Schumacher, of Benetton-Ford - became complicated from the start of the race as he was relegated to fourth place. Patrese's spin and later retirement brought new twists to the tale, only for the situation to be further confused by a slow puncture which forced Mansell into the pits and confronted him with a frantic charge from sixth to the third place he required in the 16 laps which remained.

Would fate frustrate him again, we wondered. He wondered, too. With five races left, the championship would surely be his this season anyway. But it seemed that the man who had three times been runner-up might have to wait a little longer.

He took to the task with familiar relish, however, and Schumacher's spectacular spin out of the contest removed one obstacle. He went past Mika Hakkinen's Lotus-Ford, then Martin Brundle's Benetton and, for the third time, Gerhard Berger's McLaren. The Austrian must have been dizzy following Mansell's progress. Certainly Mansell was. He thought he was third. He was, in fact, second and, as his pit crew informed him, he was 'OK' for the championship. Mansell said: 'I wasn't sure even then. I'd been close so many times before and wondered whether it might not feel all that good when I eventually got the championship, but I can tell you, it's the most fantastic, unbelievable feeling of my life. I've been close before and had so many set-backs. I've been competing in one form of racing or another for almost 30 years. But all the effort, all the heartache, is now worthwhile.

'I must dedicate this championship to all those who have believed in me and supported me over those years, the marvellous fans, especially those in Britain, who persuaded me I shouldn't retire two years ago, and to everyone connected with the team who have put in such a fabulous effort since then to make this day possible.'

His instant reward was a kiss, a hug and a tearful smile from his wife, Rosanne. She has been by his side through all but the very early stages of his sporting life and he has never missed an opportunity to stress the significance of her role. 'She has given me the calm support and strength when I've needed it,' he said.

The family celebrations continued last night, when the Mansells flew back to the Isle of Man to rejoin their three children. 'It's Chloe's 10th birthday and this is the best present we could have taken her,' he said.

Mansell is a hard man with a soft centre and here was his character laid bare. He, too, allowed the tears to fall and why shouldn't he? The sport has rarely embraced a more captivating, emotional story than Mansell's. At the age of 39, he has written an appropriate last chapter. The chances are that there will be more to come but this will do for now.

The argument about his place among other champions - fatuous though that is - will go on and the hard core of detractors will emphasise the overriding superiority of the Williams FW14B this season. That cannot be disputed. But then neither can the fact that Britain has a worthy world champion, a man who had the willpower to strive on when most would have given in.

Mansell might have given in, at least until another day, when Patrese, under no team orders to make way, squeezed him out of the crucial fight for the first corner on this, a meandering track where overtaking opportunities are limited. The Italian contained his partner so effectively that Senna and Berger were able to sweep around into second and third places.

Mansell dived inside Berger for the first time at the beginning of the eighth lap but, despite a number of assaults on Senna, the Brazilian, winner here last year, refused to yield. On softer tyres, he had just enough pace to protect his position.

Patrese was out on his own, venturing into Mansell territory and seemingly on course for his first victory of the season. The air was presumably too rarified and Patrese spun. He returned to the action, yet before he was able to improve his placing, he was forced to usher his car into the pits, his engine expired.

Mansell's pitboard delivered the news: 'Riccardo out.' That, apparently, was that. Mansell, for one, should have known better. Patrick Head, the team's technical director, screamed over the radio that their feedback indicated a problem. Now the pitboard read: 'Puncture?' Mansell said: 'I thought, here we go again. It meant a hell of a battle over the final laps but Gerhard helped by holding everyone up.'

Mansell made full use of the facility and Senna, assured by his crew that the championship was decided, realised his first place was secure. He allowed himself the luxury of a tyre change and won by 40 seconds. Berger was third, Hakkinen fourth, Brundle fifth and Ivan Capelli sixth, giving Ferrari the consolation of a point in their 500th world championship event.

Johnny Herbert, of Lotus-Ford, was a first-lap casualty but Williams's test driver, Damon Hill, in the Braham-Judd, stayed the course to finish 11th in only his second grand prix.

The work and the testing go on for Mansell this week. There are more wins to be gathered, more records to be achieved. Head leaned out of the Williams motorhome as the champion departed and shouted: 'Well done, Nigel, see you on Wednesday, nine o'clock sharp]'

HUNGARIAN GP

1 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Honda 1hr 46min 19:216sec (ave speed 174.424kph, 107.139mph); 2 N Mansell (GB) Williams-Renault +40:139sec; 3 G Berger (Aut) McLaren-Honda +50.782; 4 M Hakkinen (Fin) Lotus-Ford +54.313; 5 M Brundle (GB) Benetton-Ford +57.498; 6 I Capelli (It) Ferrari +1 lap; 7 M Alboreto (It) Footwork- Mugen Honda +2; 8 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell- Ilmor +2; 9 P Belmondo (Fr) March-Ilmor +3; 10 M Gugelmin (Bra) Jordan-Yamaha +4; 11 D Hill (GB) Brabham-Judd +4. Did not finish: 12 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 63 laps completed; 13 R Patrese (It) Williams-Renault 55 laps; 14 P Martini (It) Dallara-Ferrari 40; 15 U Katayama (Japan) Venturi-Lamborghini 35; 16 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 14; 17 B Gachot (Bel) Venturi- Lamborghini 13; 18 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork- Mugen Honda 13; 19 O Grouillard (Fr) Tyrrell- Ilmor 13; 20 K Wendlinger (Aut) March-Ilmor 13; 21 S Modena (It) Jordan-Yamaha 13; 22 E Van De Poele (Bel) Fondmetal-Ford 2. Failed to complete a lap: 23 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford; 24 T Boutsen (Bel) Ligier-Renault; 25 E Comas (Fr) Ligier-Renault; 26 G Tarquini (It) Fondmetal- Ford. Fastest lap: Mansell 1min 18.308sec (182.418kph, 113.352mph).

World Drivers' Championship standings: 1 Mansell 92pts (champion); 2 Patrese 40; 3 Senna 34; 4 Schumacher 33; 5 Berger 24; 6 Brundle 18; 7 Alesi 13; 8 Hakkinen 8; 9 Alboreto 5; 10= De Cesaris, Comas 4; 12 Herbert 2. World Constructors' Championship: 1 Williams 132pts; 2 McLaren 58; 3 Benetton 51; 4 Ferrari 16; 5 Lotus 10; 6 Footwork 5; 7= Tyrrell, Ligier 4; 9 March 3; 10 Dallara 2.

(Photograph omitted)

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