Motor Racing: Patrese's reward for assistance rendered

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The Independent Online
SUZUKA has never been a happy hunting ground for me, so I suppose I should not have been too surprised I couldn't even finish the course in this year's Japanese Grand Prix.

But at least it's some consolation to know my Canon Williams-Renault team-mate, Riccardo Patrese, won the race and that I was able to demonstrate my support for him by slowing down and letting him through to take the lead.

I was aware how despondent Riccardo had been and that he was desperate to get a win before the end of the season. You may recall I agreed to help him win at Monza but, unfortunately, that plan didn't quite work out for us. I had to retire and he eventually slipped back to fifth place. If anything, Riccardo has been even lower since then. In the last race, in Portugal, he had that alarming accident and he arrived in Japan in obvious need of a boost. He couldn't win the championship but he could be runner-up so, when we had a chat before the race, I promised I'd help again.

No matter how many races you have won, it's not easy to give up another victory, especially when you've built up a lead of more than 21 seconds. But hard though it was, I let him take over. As it happened, my engine went up in fairly spectacular fashion and I wouldn't have been able to win anyway.

Riccardo deserved the victory, just as he deserves to be runner- up in the championship. He has played his part in our magnificent season and it would be perfect if he added second place to our drivers' and constructors' titles. We have pulled together and that's the way we are working right to the end of the season.

As a team, we have made Williams the dominant force in Formula One and now they have the momentum to be stronger still next season. With the new car, the improvements on the way, and the continuing efforts of Renault, I can't see anyone touching them next year. The other teams are going through transitional periods, whereas Willams are on a roll and, for the foreseeable future, ought to be unstoppable.

People ask me how I maintain my motivation when I have the championship and a string of records already this season. The reason is simply that I'm a professional, I'm paid to do a job and, no matter what, I'll do that job to the best of my ability and with total commitment right to the last race.

En route to Suzuka, I went to the final IndyCar race of the season, at Laguna Seca, to get my first taste of the series and see the Newman-Haas team in action from close quarters. I must say I was greatly impressed by the racing and my new team, who, of course, took first and second places through Michael and Mario Andretti.

I can see it presents me with a daunting new challenge and that I have a lot to learn. The cars are probably very much like grand prix cars of around five to eight years ago. They are heavier than current Formula One cars and don't have automatic gearboxes. I am going to have to get used to changing gears again because I haven't done so for four years.

It's very open, very competitive racing and, I'm pleased to say, hasn't been taken over by technology as Formula One has. Yet again, I felt the atmosphere was so much more pleasant and that the competitors and officials alike were so much more co-operative than they tend to be in Formula One.

Once I arrived at Suzuka, my mind was very much on Formula One and the job in hand. The whole team, not least our colleagues at Renault, wanted to win in Hondaland. We knew that Honda would make a special effort in their last race at home and we remembered only too well how strong they and McLaren were here last year.

Renault gave us qualifying engines and, although we had problems over the weekend, we managed to claim front row of the grid. I was able to make it pole position No 13, equalling Ayrton Senna's record in a season.

I had a particularly eventful first qualifying session, including a spin, in windy, changeable conditions. This is not an easy circuit at the best of times. It is a good, challenging track and if you don't get into a rhythm, exiting each corner properly so that you are ideally positioned for the next, you will not produce a good time.

I eventually put in a good lap, late in the session, to give myself a cushion, although it wasn't possible to get near last year's times without qualifying tyres. In any case, it rained on the Saturday, so our positions did not come under threat.

I was very relieved to see clear skies again on Sunday morning and from the start of the race I saw a clear road ahead of me. I held my advantage into the first corner and set about opening a gap, as I had done in previous races this season. When we had safely negotiated the tyre stops and I was satisfied we were well clear of the opposition, I kept my promise to Riccardo.

From then on we gave a display of our superiority and it would have been nice to stay in close formation all the way to the line. With just over eight laps remaining my engine went, without any warning, and I could tell you it was pretty warm in the cockpit. Thankfully, Riccardo kept going and finished comfortably ahead of Gerhard Berger's McLaren- Honda and Martin Brundle's Camel Benetton-Ford.

For the next few days, I'm going to play some golf and do some fishing in Australia before the final race. As Riccardo now has a win, you can be sure I'll be going all out down there. I'll be trying for that 14th pole position and for what would be a very special win. It would be my first on the Australian circuit, my 10th of the season - and it would be the perfect farewell.

Nigel Mansell, who is contributing to The Independent during the grand prix season, was talking to Derick Allsop.

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