The moustache saved him four tenths a lap

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Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing (1992 / 1993)

When people ask me who my favourite Formula 1 driver is, to a man (because women never seem interested in asking) they are all amazed when I say Nigel Mansell. By any measure, he is a terrible choice. Why not someone like Nelson Piquet? He was wild, and said what he want. What about Niki Lauda, God rest him, who came back from the dead in 1976? And James Hunt, whose reputation precedes him. Or, from the modern day, big fan favourites like Kimi and Daniel Ricciardo. Stacked up against these characters, Our Nige’s famously boring persona gets magnified and made to look all the more dreary. So why him?

In one attention-seeking word, juxtaposition. You expect this guy to be a stamp-collecting, bird-watching stuffed shirt. Certainly he plays a lot of golf, and he used to wear the jumpers and flat caps to match. He was and is one of the last men in history to wear a moustache, and it’s still one of the most famous taches around. He’s even spent years as a Special Constable around the Isle of Man, where he lives – Mansell perhaps wasn’t sexy enough for Monaco. But if you get caught indulging in some ‘furious driving’ over there, Nigel could very well be the one who lifts you.

Yet despite all that anorakery, when it came to getting out on track, the man was a nutter. You take the famous wheel-to-wheel moment with Senna on the home stretch of Barcelona in 1991, a stretch that I was thrilled to later stand on in 2017. There was absolutely no way Mansell was giving that one up. Now, obviously Senna gets deified, because he had the foresight to die tragically after having stamped the evil Alain Prost out of the sport – at least, that’s what the ridiculous Senna biopic conveyed.

But let’s not forget, he lost out to Mansell in that exchange. Possibly a moment from a previous Belgian Grand Prix, where Senna pulled a move on Mansell that later caused our hero to grab Senna by the throat and threaten him, that might just have been weighing on the Brazilian’s mind at the time.

The World Championship always seemed to elude Mansell, including a cruel moment in the last race of 1986 when his tyre blew to bits in a rage of sparks and rubber. “And look at that!” Murray Walker screamed, as though we somehow missed it. His race over, he still stayed ahead in the championship over his teammate and hated rival Nelson Piquet, but it meant he lost out to another soon-to-be-hated teammate and soon-to-be-hated rival, Alain Prost. Worse than that, using his considerable strength he actually managed to keep the now three-wheeled car relatively under control until he came to a safe stop.

If he had allowed the car to steam into the wall, the race would have been red-flagged and he would have been declared World Champion. He would almost certainly had to have broken one or both legs to secure this, even risking a not-insignificant chance of death. But I have no doubt that he would have done it, if he’d only known. You can’t get the rulebook out at 200 miles an hour, as the man himself observed.

So Mansell was all set to retire from F1 until Williams lured him back for 1991, and the car they built for 1992 was nigh unbeatable. It’s still considered one of the most technologically advanced cars in F1 to this day. It is my favourite F1 car, even though it’s essentially a cheatmobile. The actively working suspension suited Mansell’s style of throwing the car into corners and come what may. By contrast, the far more affable and timid Riccardo Patrese didn’t really feature – else he wouldn’t have been 2 seconds off Mansell’s pole position in Silverstone.

Better than that, if various Lotus, Ferrari, Williams and even briefly McLaren pit crews are to be believed, the man was allegedly a godawful tosser. Some of the mechanics who looked after both Mansell and Senna over the years said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Senna could sometimes be unpleasant to people in the garage. Mansell was unpleasant to everyone in a five mile radius.”

I remember as well after his commanding win at Silverstone in 1992, they all swamped his car, which is probably a bit annoying. But hell if he wasn’t swinging arms at people trying to get a piece of him, while Murray Walker looked the other way. Lovely stuff.

Yet, despite all the Mansell Mania that had gripped the UK in the late 80s and early 90s, we have to ultimately reckon ourselves with the fact that he wasn’t quite top quality. I suppose nobody could have beaten the McLaren-Honda of the time with Senna at the forefront (Alain Prost dared to try it in Japan 1990 and got violently dumped in the gravel for his troubles), but still, he was England’s great hope.

Mansell ended up with his own video game, on multiple systems. That’s pretty significant and unique. Lewis Hamilton hasn’t got a dedicated game. Michael Schumacher never got one. Senna sort of had one on the Sega – but Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing came to that console as well, and Mansell was big enough to even have an Indycar game as well, so that makes him the real winner.

Well, I know that you’ll just look at it as some worthless, antiquated sports games from the early 90s, and probably this is just nostalgia from me, but I’ll be damned if the Nigel Mansell game isn’t one of the funnest, purest bouts of console racing around. On any given day I’d sooner pop this in than put on F1 2019, and I mean that. Yes, you can only play as one driver, because there’s no point in naming the game Nigel Mansell but then starting the game up and picking Erik Comas.

There are only 12 competitors, one representative from each team, and you won’t have Prost (sacked by Ferrari and putting his feet up for the year), Piquet (he had retired the previous year) or Senna (he was tied to the Sega Monaco GP game – so you get Berger instead). But you will get Schumacher and Hakkinen, and I like to imagine that Damon Hill was part of the beta content that got cut before release. 

The 16 tracks from the 1992 calendar are there. Well, sort of. The maps do look vaguely like their real-life equivalents, but when you’re out on track, you don’t really know what way the track’s going to go next – it kind of undulates and sometimes the left and right turns tighten up suddenly and you fly into an object. But that’s fine, because flying into objects is what Mansell was all about.

You can get it on several versions – it started off on Amiga, then hit SNES, Mega Drive, even Game Boy. Retro UK gamers might be all about the Amiga version, but I say stick to SNES and cut out any loading times. Mind you, I’ll have to confirm this, but I think the Amiga version may very well have the infamous Andrea Moda F1 team on there – and theirs is a story that I’ll have to tell you another time.

There’s also the Mansell’s Advice mode, where you go on track with a pace car in front of you, listening to Mansell’s gospel on what speed to take through corners and with voice samples probably done by the janitor – Mansell was commanding big money at the time, the highest paid sportsman in the UK I believe, so I hardly think he came round to record a few lines of dialogue and give the low-down on getting round Monza… although I daresay that Nige is a bit slow in this mode anyway, since you can pretty well go through every corner at a stupidly fast 300km/h or more.

Also, you have some limited setup options for the car. The 1992 Williams was a rocket-car anyway, and in a sense this is replicated in the SNES game: put on some Soft tyres and lower the rear-wing and you can hit 382km/h top speed on the straights, by which time even an ox like Mansell won’t have the upper body strength to turn the steering wheel.

This is where you get the thrill of finding the braking point, while navigating around pilchard backmarkers. I know that sentence describes every single F1 game ever, but the level of focus required by this game is extraordinarily fun. Get it wrong in a corner and you won’t need to do a flashback like the modern games – you just get knocked back onto track at a standstill, and a dent to your car’s health, making that pit-stop needed sooner.

Almost 30 years later, the game’s ended up a lot like Our Nige – old-fashioned to an incredible degree, and sadly not in the public eye so much anymore. But you’d be a fool not to sit up and take notice when the moustached one takes to the track. And if that won’t convince you, then take a look at the hilarious Rik Mayall ad for the game, which you’ve simply got to see. Mayall and Mansell… throw in Gladiators and Noel Edmonds and you’ve got yourself the best of 1990s England.

8 November 2019

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