Motor Racing: Mansell dampens down the doubters: Speculation about the future takes a back seat to getting into shape in time for the next three races

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL had limited opportunity to test his driving reflexes here yesterday, the rain condensing his Formula One rehabilitation into an afternoon session, but he fended off questions about his motivation and commitment for a credible comeback with honed contempt for detractors and a hefty portfolio of good intentions.

He had crossed the Atlantic armed with a stock of responses: all delivered with soft smiles and diplomacy. Mansell, returning from IndyCars for the final three races of the season alongside Damon Hill at Williams-Renault, refused to be drawn into specific plans for next season, just as he refused to be drawn into a debate about the justification of his recall.

Mansell's 39 laps yielded a 'very encouraging' best time of 1min 20.39sec, compared with Damon Hill's 1:19.62 and Michael Schumacher's 1:19:28, and he insisted he was not here for the million- dollars-a-race ride. He has, he is adamant, designs on a championship challenge next year as long as he is afforded the commitment he maintains he is already giving.

He said: 'I've got just as much motivation as I had when I won the championship in 1992. The desire to race still burns inside me. I've got nothing to prove. I don't pay any attention to what is said. I don't rise to the bait. If I'm given another opportunity to do the job, I'll do it.'

Mansell held out for unprecedented backing from Williams before that successful assault on the championship. He believes similar conditions would enable him to contest the 1995 title.

He cites selling his home in Florida and returning to the Isle of Man as evidence of his commitment. He is also a month into a fitness regime aimed at shedding the surplus one and half stones he exhibited when he appeared at the French Grand Prix in July.

Mansell, emphasising America and IndyCars were now past tense, said: 'I am showing my commitment by moving my family. We've told the children we've had a two- year adventure in America and now we're embarking on another adventure and they love it.

'I am preparing for '95 now. I am keeping to a sensible diet and training hard, and I've lost 10lb in the last month or so. Anyone who knows me knows it's not easy for me to lose weight. That shows I'm serious about this.

'If I'm given the commitment and the encouragement, I have no problem with age or anything else. If I don't get that I don't want any part of it. Even with the backing it guarantees nothing, but it gives you the best possible opportunity and that's all I ask.'

The weather has frustrated Mansell's endeavours to familiarise himself with the changes made to the Williams since last he drove it, though it did enable him to catch up on some lost sleep.

He envisages the momentum coming back during practice for Sunday's Grand Prix of Europe at Jerez, Spain, the competitive edge being sharpened come Japan, and perhaps the prospect of racing for victory in Australia.

In the meantime, he is content to 'help the team hopefully earn some points towards the constructors' championship' and leave Hill to confront Michael Schumacher for the drivers' title.

The irony of suggestions that he might be willing to assist Hill by giving way are not lost on Mansell. Somehow, he points out, that is not quite consistent with queries about his ability to hack it again in Formula One.

He said: 'I have heard that Damon wants to win the championship on his own, and I hope he and Michael go away in the distance and get on with it, and have their own championship. I'm happy to run my own race. I'm not involved in the championship.

'It's very good for the sport that it's going down to the wire with two drivers. We want no reliability problems and no political wrangles. Formula One needs a good conclusion to the championship after such a sad year.'

The Ligier team said yesterday that Johnny Herbert had joined them in place of Eric Bernard. He will race for Ligier in the final three grands prix of the season. Herbert had been racing for Lotus, who recently ran into financial trouble. Olivier Panis has renewed his contract with Ligier for the next two years.

(Photograph omitted)