Motor Racing: Mansell ready to restate his championship case

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BLOCKADES are the order of the week here and Nigel Mansell will not have the use of a helicopter to clear any immovable objects come Sunday's French Grand Prix.

Those not up on the level of Mansell have had to bide their time and painstakingly pick their way through the trucks all but cutting off this circuit from the outside world. Truck drivers are protesting against a disciplinary points system imposed by new traffic regulations, and what better platform from which to appeal for the cause than the one presented to them by this global sporting event.

All yesterday teams - apart from Williams, McLaren, Tyrell and Ligier - were anxiously awaiting the delivery of engines, fuel and personnel. Lotus and Benetton were told their petrol supply vehicles were still 60 miles away, running the gauntlet of saboteurs brandishing flaming tyres, while Yamaha had a similar experience attempting to transport their engines to the Jordan team. The entire Andrea Moda team were also stranded. Riot police were summoned to help free the Formula One convoy from the town of Dordives.

The truckers insist they will not pull out for another week, threatening not only to disrupt proceedings here, but also the passage of the road show out of the area and on towards Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, on 12 July.

Mansell, leading the world championship by 28 points yet put out of his stride by the appearance of defending champion Ayrton Senna ahead of him at the last two races, intends to eliminate such complications this time by claiming pole position and staying there.

The frustration of Monaco, where he was held at bay by Senna, and the anguish of Canada, where he careered over the chicane and out of the contest, have wiped the smile off the Englishman's campaign. Now he arrives at a circuit where overtaking is little more feasible than on the streets of Monte Carlo, even for a Williams-Renault.

'This is going to be the hardest circuit for us,' Mansell said. 'There are slow corners, short straights and only one long one. Qualifying is going to be vital.'

Mansell declines to recap on Montreal, saying: 'I'm just relieved another grand prix has gone by and no one has got nearer to me in the championship. In a whole season of races there are bound to be ups and downs. It started to go a little awry at Monaco, but now the important thing is to focus on Magny- Cours.'

Despite Mansell's reluctance to discuss Canada, his early exit there remains a topic of conversation. Renault, in the person of race engineer Denis Chevrier, have revealed that Mansell's ill-fated attack on Senna had been pre-planned.

'It was always a possibility,' Chevrier said. 'Given the comparative estimated potential of Senna's car and ours, and in light of Ayrton's position on the grid, we concluded that Nigel could attempt to get past in the first quarter of the race.

'We also agreed the best place to try that would be going into the chicane, and his car was set up with a view to being at its best at this precise point of the circuit. The manoeuvre did not fail because of an enormous error on Nigel's side, it failed because it was a difficult and therefore risky move.

'I recently watched a video of French footballer Jean-Pierre Papin's 100 best goals. If they came out with a video of the best overtaking manoeuvres in Formula One of the past 10 years, I really do believe that some 90 per cent would involve Nigel. I admire his panache.'

This is where Mansell came in last year. He won his first race of that championship and went on to challenge Senna for the title. He, like the truckers, senses the opportunity to restate his case here this weekend.