Motor Racing: Williams steps up efforts to re-sign Mansell

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL provided ample evidence here yesterday of his intention to turn the final chapters of his Formula One career into a lap of honour. There are, however, moves afoot to disrupt his plans and keep him at Williams- Renault next season.

It is understood Mansell, who took provisional pole position for tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix, has been asked by Williams's managing director, Frank Williams, to reconsider his decision to leave the team and race Indycars with Newman-Haas next season.

What is more, it appears the powers that be in Formula One are encouraging Mansell to make a U- turn, so concerned are they that their show will fall flat next year. They take the view that if they lose Ayrton Senna, which is distinctly possible, there would be no one left to challenge Alain Prost, the driver already signed by Williams.

Mansell maintains he has no desire to change his mind, having sampled an Indycar race for the first time last week. He said: 'I'm impressed with everything about it and if the officials and competitors are always as helpful and co-operative as they were when I was there, it will be an absolute pleasure.

'It's going to be a hard challenge, no doubt about that. But it's going to be a good challenge. They all want to win, all want to race, and in Indycars they get the chance. That's great, and I'm looking forward to it.'

Williams and Formula One may still take some shaking off the trail, but Indycars are slapping themselves on the back for having hijacked Mansell. According to American sources, he will be paid considerably more than any other driver in the series: an estimated pounds 4m as against about pounds 1m for the current top earners. Those same sources also suggest the bounty was accumulated through contributions from several quarters, including rival teams.

Whatever the substance of that, there is little doubt Mansell is welcomed by the Indycar community. He has raised the wordwide profile of the series and television companies, not only in Britain, have been competing for the rights to screen his first season. Japan, for instance, is hugely keen to follow Mansell's progress.

Formula One do not want to contemplate the prospect of having neither Mansell nor Senna. Senna will be aware of that, so we should not rule out the possibility of another ploy on his part.

Mansell and Senna demonstrated their worth in yesterday's qualifying session. Mansell, on his first set of tyres, shrugged off a spin to edge in front of his team- mate, Riccardo Patrese, by seven thousandths of a second.

Senna, with extra muscle supplied by Honda especially for this event, summoned a courageous attempt to dislodge his old rival and was threatening to do so as Mansell, also given additional horsepower by Renault, went out again and found an extra eight- tenths of a second. Senna had to settle for third place, a tenth of a second behind Patrese.

Senna said: 'I had hoped that coming here we would have been able to close the gap to the Williams, but although the engines are running well they are not as quick as we expected.'

If Mansell retains his position in today's concluding session (the expected rains may ensure that), he will equal Senna's record of 13 poles in a season, and he has another race, in Adelaide in a fortnight, to come.

Martin Brundle had a more dramatic 'off' in his Benetton- Ford. He hit a barrier and ended the session a distant 13th. He said: 'That number sums it all up. I've been sick all day and it was inevitable that in the end I was going to lose it. I was just struggling to survive.'

Johnny Herbert was far more comfortable. He has done much of his racing on this circuit and familiarity contributed to his excellent sixth place in the Lotus-Ford. He reckoned a missed gear cost him an extra place.

JAPANESE GRAND PRIX (Suzuka) First qualifying times: 1 N Mansell (GB) Williams-Renault 1min 37.360sec (ave speed 134.731 mph); 2 R Patrese (It) Williams-Renault 1:38.219; 3 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Honda 1:38.375; 4 G Berger (Aut) McLaren-Honda 1:40.296; 5 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1:40.922; 6 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 1:41.030; 7 M Hakkinen (Fin) Lotus-Ford 1:41.415; 8 E Comas (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:42.187; 9 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Ilmor 1:42.361; 10 T Boutsen (Bel) Ligier-Renault 1:42.428; 11 N Larini (It) Ferrari 1:42.488; 12 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi-Lamborghini 1:42.617; 13 M Brundle (GB) Benetton-Ford 1:42.626; 14 G Morbidelli (It) Minardi- Lamborghini 1:42.627; 15 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:42.824; 16 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:43.029; 17 S Modena (It) Jordan-Yamaha 1:43.117; 18 B Gachot (Bel) Venturi- Lamborghini 1:43.156; 19 P Martini (It) Dallara- Ferrari 1:43.251; 20 U Katayama (Japan) Venturi-Lamborghini 1:43.488; 21 O Grouillard (Fr) Tyrrell-Ilmor 1:43.941; 22 J J Lehto (Fin) Dallara- Ferrari 1:44.037; 23 J Lammers (Neth) March-Ilmor 1:44.075; 24 M Alboreto (It) 1:44.149; 25 M Gugelmin (Bra) Jordan-Yamaha 1:44.253; 26 E Naspetti (It) March-Ilmor 1:47.303.