Motor Racing: Mansell offered Williams drive: Newman-Haas cool on Ecclestone's enticements to IndyCar champion

Click to follow
The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL has been offered the chance to resurrect his Formula One career with a return to Williams-Renault for a limited programme this season and the prospect of a full contract for next year.

Grand prix racing's impresario, Bernie Ecclestone, left without a genuine contest for the world championship after the death of Ayrton Senna, has opened negotiations with Mansell's IndyCar team, Newman-Haas, for the 40- year-old Englishman's services when his American commitments permit.

That amounts to only six races and would scarcely threaten Michael Schumacher's pursuit of the title, but the attendant publicity and the possibility of securing Mansell for 1995 are evidently considered worthy of the effort.

Ecclestone, president of the Formula One Constructors' Association, confirmed he had had discussions with Carl Haas, and that although there was little likelihood of their selling his contract, Mansell was free to compete in grands prix which did not clash with his IndyCar races.

'If I can make it happen, I will,' Ecclestone said. 'I think there are possibilities that we could do something this year. I believe it's possible in Mansell's contract, and I think Carl is prepared to release him for races that don't conflict with his American commitments.

'I never wanted Nigel to leave Formula One in the first place. He's still young enough to come back and it would be good for him. It would also be better for Formula One if we got someone in to take on Schumacher. Now it's up to Nigel. He's the only one who can decide.'

Mansell was lying low yesterday, although he did state a few weeks ago that he had no desire further to burden an already hectic schedule. He has hinted, however, that he would be content to consider offers from Formula One for next year and he might view this as an opportunity to ease himself back. The role of the saviour on the charger would also appeal to him, as would the money, possibly a dollars 1m a race.

The other parties were similarly reluctant to comment yesterday. Williams had nothing to say, while a spokesman for Newman-Haas said: 'The team is totally focused on the Indianapolis 500 and this is a distraction. The only thing we care about right now is the 500. I cannot help but remember, however, being asked about this time last year when Nigel was going to join Benetton]'

Mansell left Williams under a cloud after winning the 1992 World Championship and failing to agree a new contract. He crossed the Atlantic and, in his first season of IndyCar racing, won the series. His main objective this year is Sunday's Indianapolis 500, but he also hopes successfully to defend his title.

Williams's enthusiasm for Mansell's return, especially on a part-time basis, is difficult to gauge and the team's major sponsors insist they are not applying pressure for a big-name signing.

'As far as we are concerned, they (the team) are the experts at securing a strong drivers' line-up and we are leaving it to them,' the Rothmans International promotions manager, David Beck, said. 'We have the same objectives. We both want to win. A big name may sound very attractive, but it may be that a younger driver, who may take a little longer to come through, could be better for the future.'

Mansell would be available only for the grands prix of France (3 July), Belgium (28 August), Portugal (25 September), Argentina (16 October), Japan (6 Nov) and Australia (13 Nov). Ideally, Williams need a front-line driver alongside Damon Hill now, but approaches for Rubens Barrichello, Riccardo Patrese and Martin Brundle have met with failure.

They are due to give their test driver, David Coulthard, his debut in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix and the 23-year-old Scot's performance may influence developments thereafter. So might Mansell's fortunes in the Indianapolis 500.