Motor Racing: Mansell's cameo may be expanded: Williams-Renault hope to secure the services of their former world champion for the 1995 season. Patrick Miles reports

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The Independent Online
THE Williams Formula One team are negotiating to regain the full-time services of their 1992 world champion, Nigel Mansell, for next season, following at least one and possibly four 'guest appearances' this year. Mansell, who drove a Williams for six years in two spells during his career, confirmed yesterday he would race for the team again in the French Grand Prix on Sunday, a date which does not clash with his commitments in the American IndyCar series, where he is defending his title for Newman-Haas.

Frank Williams, the team leader, said he was hoping also to engage Mansell for the final three races of this season, and beyond. Williams said: 'We have done a deal for one race and obviously we are talking about races at the end of the year, but I can make no further comment except to say I'm very hopeful. It really is one step at a time.' Asked if he had already thought about 1995, Williams replied: 'In every way, shape and form, yes.'

After the announcement, which had been expected for several days, Mansell went for a test drive in front of more than 8,000 people at Brands Hatch, the nose of his Williams-Renault bearing the No 2 entered at the start of the season against the name of Ayrton Senna, whose death at Imola on 1 May intensified the efforts to draw the Briton back to the Williams fold. But Senna's white number was painted red for Mansell: Red Five? Red Two? It was of no concern to the unexpected throng at Brands Hatch, who saw their hero, 41 in August, spin on to the grass at the Graham Hill bend on his first lap.

'I just got it wrong,' he said after his session. 'It woke me up. I was pushing the car to the limit. I honestly expected it to be a quiet, private test with no one around, but to come here with apparently 8,500 people, and they're still coming through the gate, was fairly impressive.'

Lionised by crowds from Silverstone's Union Jack-waving track invaders to the tifosi at Monza, Mansell won the first of his 30 grand prix victories - 27 for Williams - at Brands Hatch in 1985. After a two-year stint at Ferrari, he joined Williams again but left for the second time after winning the title in 1992. His departure for the United States was not without acrimony, and was precipitated largely by the arrival at Williams of Alain Prost with the support of the team's engine supplier, Renault.

But Mansell and Williams buried the hatchet. Asked about having left the team in bitter circumstances, Mansell replied jokingly: 'Did I?' He continued: 'I think two years ago a lot of areas were taken (to heart) by myself personally. But I found out over a year ago, it's a big business. There were certain business decisions to be taken that did not go hand-in-hand with what I wanted personally. In the last two years I've seen a whole bigger picture, especially living in America. I'm a little bit older, a little bit wiser.'

The return of the champion, who has been struggling of late in the IndyCar championship, is unfortunate news for David Coulthard, Williams' British test driver who stepped in to partner Damon Hill after Senna's death in the San Marino Grand Prix.

Just as pressure from backers played a part in the machinations surrounding the employment of Mansell, Senna and Prost at various times in the past, it is a factor on this occasion, as Formula One is claimed to be lacking genuine crowd-pullers, like the Briton. The old guard - Lauda, Piquet, Prost, Senna and Mansell, one of whom has been world champion every year since 1983 - were all gone and a depressed sport needed a lift.

But this is to belittle, perhaps, the new talent, proven and emerging, of drivers like this year's runaway championship leader, Germany's Michael Schumacher, Hill, who will be Mansell's team-mate this weekend, Finland's boisterous Mika Hakkinen, France's Ferrari pilot, Jean Alesi, and Brazil's Christian Fittipaldi. All of them will be determined to put the old man in his place at Magny-Cours.

(Photograph omitted)