Motor Racing: Mansell is presented with crown duel: Britain's latest Formula One world champion is facing a challenge for the seat of power at Williams-Renault. Derick Allsop reports

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The Independent Online
THE crown has scarcely been adjusted on his head, but already a new challenge beckons: to defend it and to do so in direct competition with Alain Prost.

That is the situation confronting Nigel Mansell, Britain's first Formula One world champion for 16 years. Long before he secured the title, with second place in Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, it was apparent his team, Williams- Renault, had prepared a place for Prost next season.

Mansell's opposition to the move has been public and consistent. His relationship with the Frenchman turned sour when they were partners at Ferrari two years ago and he is anxious to protect the outright No 1 status he has enjoyed with Riccardo Patrese on board.

Williams, and perhaps more especially Renault, their engine partners, have ambitions of even greater domination and Prost, three times champion and holder of a record 44 grand prix wins, has the credentials - as well as the nationality - they require.

Mansell has gradually, if very reluctantly, come round to accepting the inevitable. He is conscious, also, that Ayrton Senna, another triple champion, is waiting for the opportunity to take the best seat in Formula One. If personal terms can be agreed, it now seems almost certain the Englishman will stay with Williams.

Mansell seeks guarantees that Prost would not have superior equipment or be able to draw the team effort to his own course. He believes he was politically outmanoeuvred at Ferrari and the experience has taught him caution in the business of negotiation.

But then Williams have steadfastly defended their policy of no team orders, which applied even on Sunday, when Patrese was allowed to deny Mansell the first corner. Mansell v Prost would give the championship an ingredient it has, alas, lacked this season. Mansell's strength is, and always has been, racing. Should he line up alongside Prost he would have the platform to demonstrate he is one of the sport's genuine greats.

One man who relishes the prospect of a Mansell-Prost duel is Stirling Moss, now content his countryman is off his patch, leaving him once again to enjoy the distinction of being the absolute, undisputed, No 1, greatest British driver never to have won the world championship.

Moss said: 'I tried four times for the championship and failed, so I know what it feels to miss, but I don't know what it feels like to win, just to lose. Nigel must feel exhilarated and relieved the pressure is finally off. He is my kind of driver, always a challenger. Now he can go on and win more races.

'I would like to see Mansell and Prost together at Williams. They have the best car by miles. It is in a class of its own, and Nigel should make the most of it. If I was Frank Williams I'd offer him a fair wage and the opportunity of driving alongside Prost with a promise of equal equipment, no team orders, just go out and win races. It would be an uneasy partnership. Things are bound to be difficult. But they should drive again together.

'Ferrari would be a backward step for Nigel. There would not be many opportunities of winning races and holding on to the title with them. And it would be a great shame if Nigel retired because he is good for the sport. He is a goer, he gets on with it. It would be a shame for everyone if the world champion was to hang up his helmet.

'He's still not a great driver like Fangio, Clark or Senna. He has still not reached that order. He is very good and it would have been fairly boring without him over the last three years. But he still has to be a lot more if he wants to be considered up there among the greats.'

The hope in British circles is that Mansell's success will help the flow of funds to nourish the careers of fledgling drivers. James Hunt, the last Briton to win the championship, explained the dilemma facing our youngsters: 'Britain is the home of motor racing. We have the talent and the standards, but because of that all the best foreigners come to Great Britain to further their professional careers in the junior formulae and into the Formula Three championship.

'The trouble is that talented British drivers, like Mansell in the 1970s and me, at the end of the 1960s, cannot, without a proper budget, compete with foreigners who gather up all the sponsorship. It's difficult to stand out. If you are in a car that is slightly off the best, coming up against the cream in Formula Three, you could be fourth in a car that should be 10th and that's brilliant, but nobody knows. That's the problem we have with British drivers. The talent cannot spread on the surface the way it does in foreign countries.'

Martin Brundle, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill have at least made it to Formula One. Perry McCarthy awaits a realistic chance, Mark Blundell another chance. In the wings are the likes of Allan McNish and David Coulthard.

But for another year, at least, it appears British prospects rest mainly on the broad shoulders of Mansell. If he is relieved the title has at last been won, spare a thought for Goodyear, his tyre suppliers in 1986, when he lost the championship through a blow-out, and his suppliers again on Sunday, when he had a slow puncture, but made it back to the pits for a change of rubber and successful final charge.

Barry Griffin, a Goodyear spokesman, said: 'We're always happy when anyone wins a race or championship on our tyres, but we are particularly delighted for Nigel. We felt so sorry for him at Adelaide in '86. He never made a word of complaint. That's a sorry chapter we can now close.'

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