F1 legend Nigel Mansell on famous Ayrton Senna battle in Monaco: ‘I should’ve hit him!’

Exclusive: The 1992 world champion, the last Englishman to race full-time for Ferrari, divulges his most striking Monaco memories and gives his view on Lewis Hamilton’s 2025 move to Italy

Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 Correspondent
Sunday 26 May 2024 09:22 BST
Nigel Mansell won the 1992 F1 world championship with Williams
Nigel Mansell won the 1992 F1 world championship with Williams (Getty Images)

They say it’s the ones that got away which cause the most pain. Linger in the mind, like a pox on your skin. Nigel Mansell, with his swashbuckling driving style, unshakeable British charisma and iconic moustache, conquered many hills in Formula 1. One world championship. Two years racing for Ferrari. And four victories at the British Grand Prix.

Never a win at Monaco, however.

It was 32 years ago when he came closest, in the most despairing of defeats snatched from the jaws of victory. Mansell had claimed five consecutive race victories heading into the iconic principality, in a Williams car which he would steer relentlessly towards his only world title.

But Monaco was the one that got away. Mansell had done everything right: pole position, ahead coming out of the first turn, Saint-Devote, before stretching his lead metronomically throughout. It was not until eight laps from the end when disaster struck in the form of a puncture, a slow pit-stop and an obliteration of his lead. He was now in second, behind the man who mastered the Monte-Carlo streets like no other: Ayrton Senna.

“It was one of the greatest races ever,” Mansell tells The Independent. “The technical side of the race, even though I was second to Ayrton, it showed how close you could race two Formula 1 cars. Two supreme drivers and they didn’t hit one another.”

It was battle for the ages; a battle in many ways only Monaco can throw up. The Brit threw everything at the Brazilian, hustling the gearbox of the McLaren in a manner of a man desperate to recover his moment of mechanical misfortune. But Senna, a six-time winner in Monaco, closed the door at every turn. Nineteen of them, lap-by-lap.

Senna’s defence was later decreed as heroic but, slightly tongue-in-cheek, Mansell reminisces now of a time where the playbook was radically more lenient.

“I should have hit him up the back!” Mansell, now 70, reflects. “If the regulations were what they are today, he couldn’t have blocked me like he did.

“He would’ve got three stop-go penalties in the pits. He was moving across the track all over the place, blocking like mad. It’s totally illegal now. The behaviour of the driver back then would have been sanctioned.”

Mansell’s battle with Ayrton Senna in 1992 in Monaco was one for the ages
Mansell’s battle with Ayrton Senna in 1992 in Monaco was one for the ages (Getty Images)

Oddly enough, despite claiming the 1992 title, the memory of Monaco ’92 still loiters.

“I’m a sportsman so I care about it. I do sometimes think to myself… if I was holding up Ayrton like that, what would he have done? He’d have banged me up the back and given me a puncture! I suppose coming away from Monaco in one piece is also an achievement.”

No matter. Mansell had played his part in an all-time classic and it doesn’t ultimately eradicate his sentiments towards Monaco. A circuit where he endured a 360-spin coming out of the tunnel in 1985; an incident which “frightened to death” Keke Rosberg behind him, expectant of crash debris. Yet the Brit kept it on the road and powered on.

Mansell’s daredevil instincts empowered and enlightened him to fans across the world. The Ferrari tifosi fanbase, upon his two-year stint from 1989-1990, christened him “Il Leone” (The Lion). Though no title success was forthcoming in the famed scarlet red, Mansell’s move was still historic: no English driver has raced full-time for them since. Before Ollie Bearman stepped in two months ago in Saudi, no Brit had driven for them in over 20 years.

Mansell was the last English driver with a full-time seat at Ferrari
Mansell was the last English driver with a full-time seat at Ferrari (Getty Images)

That all changes next year of course, with Lewis Hamilton’s mesmeric transfer to the Scuderia.

“I think it’s absolutely brilliant,” he says of his compatriot moving to Maranello. “Lewis is a clever driver to get the support he’s had throughout his career, resulting in an amazing amount of world championships.”

Seven-time champion Hamilton is hopeful Adrian Newey – Red Bull’s design genius – will join him in Italy in what would be a similar final tilt at F1 championship glory. Mansell worked with Newey at Williams during the engineer’s first successful foray in the sport.

“If Ferrari get Adrian Newey, I’m pretty sure they’ll get another championship,” he says. “I don’t know if Lewis will learn Italian, it will help him if he does. Obviously now, Ferrari is more cosmopolitan than ever and the politics at Ferrari are more settled than they’ve been in a long time.

“I don’t think Lewis will have too many challenges – he’ll embrace it and the fans will embrace him.”

Nigel Mansell is celebrating his 25th year as president of UK Youth, a leading charity which supports vulnerable young people to turn their lives around. For more, visit UK Youth’s website.

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