Motor Racing: Mansell warns against Prost

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The Independent Online
THE piercing voice of Murray Walker drew yet another explosion of laughter from the gathering peering at the tiny screen of the mobile television. 'Wrong, Murray,' said Nigel Mansell, sitting at the front with his four-year-old son, Greg, perched on his lap.

Greg was more interested in picking out targets with his water pistol, while the rest of the family, relatives and friends were absorbed in a re-run of Mansell's British Grand Prix victory on the Silverstone track which circled their caravan compound.

'We've just got to hope Mansell doesn't overcook it,' Walker screamed as Mansell went about setting a British record of 28 grand prix wins. 'Thanks, Murray,' said the Williams-Renault driver. 'Now, is Nigel going to offer Ayrton a lift for a second year?' A shake of the head and more laughter.

It was a convivial, alfresco end to another perfect weekend, an unlikely yet now traditional setting for a champion in waiting. But somehow things are never quite perfect for Mansell and now he is pursued by doubts about the future.

Williams appear determined to bring on board Alain Prost next season at the expense of Riccardo Patrese, despite Mansell's expressed objection. The consensus of Formula One opinion is that Williams will remain the dominant force into 1993 and are therefore negotiating from a position of strength. They have expressed their desire to retain Mansell - and could scarcely be seen to be rejecting him - but believe they should improve their driver line-up by signing Prost or Senna.

A Mansell-Prost pairing seems the most probable - providing the Englishman can be satisfied he will have what he considers to be a fair deal. He feels he was politically outmanoeuvred by the Frenchman when they were together at Ferrari in 1990. Talks between Mansell and Frank Williams could settle the issue before the next race, in Germany, on Sunday week.

Mansell said: 'I must have the terms to make me happy and comfortable. Prost has told people there would be no problem for us but he will say anything that he needs to. I have a drive and he hasn't. Some of the things I hear are astounding but I'd rather deal with fact than fiction. Until I'm categorically told what the terms and conditions are, I can't make a decision.

'I am comfortable, I don't feel under pressure, although Frank wants to sort it out next week. But that's Frank's problem, not mine. I'm in a stronger position than I was when I re-signed for the team two years ago. I won't do anything next year unless I get the guarantees I want.

'Under the right conditions and with the right guarantees I'd even drive alongside Senna. He doesn't haunt me at all, but I've got to be guaranteed the same car and engine. If you've not got that, you're not competing on the same level. Ayrton is a great driver but he doesn't surprise me with anything, except perhaps his tactics sometimes.

'The only thing I object to is driving with a political driver who can then start to orchestrate things. The biggest question mark I have even considering Prost being in the team is prompted by the way things turned sour at Ferrari in 1991, and I had no part in that.'

The first hint of conciliation came, however, when Mansell said: 'I'll respect whatever decision the team makes because I know that there are commercial and political situations to accommodate.'

For Mansell - and indeed for Senna - the options include a move to Ferrari and no drive at all. Ferrari offer the money but, even with John Barnard back in the fold, it would take them a minimum of two years to re- emerge as championship contenders. Both drivers might prefer a break. In the case of Mansell, 39 next month, that would surely mean retirement. Senna, 32, would doubtless be anxious to return in 1994 to retrieve the crown he is about to surrender.

This championship could be Mansell's within the next three races. He has seven victories from nine grands prix and the opposition are as distant as ever. McLaren-Honda, however, promise improvements from now on and this week's test at Hockenheim will provide a measure of their potential.

Changes in crowd control at Silverstone are inevitable after the scenes at the end of Sunday's race. Max Mosley, the president of Fisa, the sport's governing body, said: 'We don't want to discourage the enthusiasm and demonstrations of pleasure at a great national success, but we must make sure no one is put at risk. It's not so much a question of new regulations as the organisation, and making sure people don't get on to the track too soon, while the cars are still running.'

Silverstone officials studied videotapes of the incident yesterday and will forward their report to Fisa. They are likely to recommend the deployment of a police cordon rather than fences to curb any 'reckless enthusiasm' in the future.