Mansell wins in Piquet’s car

1986 British Grand Prix flashback

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Nigel Mansell scored a remarkable home victory at Brands Hatch 30 years ago today driving his team mate Nelson Piquet’s spare car.

But Mansell would never have had the chance to win the race had it not been for a race-stopping first-lap crash which ended Jacques Laffite’s F1 career.

Frank Williams returns

The Honda-powered Williams FW11s were flying high as the 1986 season passed the halfway point. But the man behind them had been laid low. Returning home from a pre-season test session at Paul Ricard in March, Frank Williams lost control of his rented Ford Sierra and crashed in field near Marseille. The car landed on its roof, inflicting injuries on Williams which left him paralysed below the neck.

Four months later, Williams had recovered sufficiently from his injuries for him to attempt the visit to the circuit to see his team in action. This was no mean feat for a man still adjusting to a new life in which he had become utterly dependent on others.

On the Friday of practice he flew to the circuit in Bernie Ecclestone’s helicopter and received a warm reception from the crowd. He returned on Saturday to watch his drivers lock out the front row of the grid for the team’s home race. But by then he was exhausted, and he opted to watch the race from home.

Despite Williams’ absence from the pit wall his team had begun 1986 strongly. Piquet won on his debut in Brazil but arriving at Brands Hatch it was Mansell who’d won three of the previous four rounds and closed to within a point of championship leader Prost. But Mansell’s swift rise rankled with his team mate.

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When Piquet had signed a highly lucrative $3.3 million contract with Frank Williams the year before his future team mate was yet to win a race. But as the Williams-Honda package came good Mansell swept to a debut win at the European Grand Prix, held at Brands Hatch, and followed it up with another success at the next race in Kyalami.

Piquet believed he had agreed undisputed number one status at Williams. This was the treatment he had enjoyed at Brabham where he had won two championships while partnered by the likes of Hector Rebaque instead of Ayrton Senna, who Piquet strived to keep out of his team.

But Frank Williams’ accident complicated matters. Number one status was not specified in Piquet’s contract – he believed it had been agreed verbally with Williams himself, who was no longer around to run the team. In the meantime Mansell had stolen a march, and Piquet was determined to reassert his superiority in the British driver’s back yard.

Farewell to Brands Hatch

The race day crowd at Brands Hatch was estimated at being between 115,000 and 150,000-strong. It proved a fitting audience for the final grand prix at the Kent circuit.

For over two decades the British Grand Prix had alternated venues between Brands Hatch and Silverstone in Northamptonshire. The organisers of the race, the Royal Automobile Club, were keen to see this continue and even add a third host, Tom Wheatcroft’s revamped Donington Park in Leicestershire.

However Bernie Ecclestone, whose responsibilities as Brabham team principal were increasingly eclipsed by his commercial obligations within F1, preferred to see a single host for each race. Jean-Marie Balestre, head of the governing body, initially gave approval for Britain to continue using two venues. But, under pressure from Ecclestone, Balestre fell into line and from the beginning of 1986 made it clear a new principle of ‘one country, one circuit’. would be enforced.

Ecclestone duly signed a new five-year deal for the British Grand Prix to be held exclusively at Silverstone. The vast crowd which lined the circuit on race day therefore expected they would not see an F1 race at the track for a long time.

Piquet beats Mansell to pole

Johansson fumed at Ferrari’s qualifying tactics
Senna had taken pole position for five of the previous eight races. But even with first use of Renault’s uprated EF15C turbo engine and the benefit of a special, lighter spare car with a smaller fuel tank for qualifying, he couldn’t beat the flying Williams FW11s.

But to the disappointment of much of the crowd it was not Mansell who claimed pole position, but Piquet. The Honda turbo engine now offered the best blend of outright power and fuel consumption in F1, and at Brands Hatch rumours spread that Lotus would have access to it the following year.

A fired-up Gerhard Berger in his Benetton relegated reigning champions McLaren to the third row of the grid despite the Woking team pre-heating their tyres in blankets for the first time. Keke Rosberg set the early pace in qualifying but was delayed after a tangle with Jacques Laffite’s Ligier.

Derek Warwick put his Brabham BT55 in ninth on the grid. The team was so perplexed by the failure of Gordon Murray’s radical low-line concept to come good that they had brought a 1985 BT54 chassis for his team mate. But Ricciardo Patrese could only manage 15th on the grid, almost four seconds slower than Piquet had gone in the same car the year before.

Warwick formed a trio of home drivers on the grid with Senna’s team mate Johnny Dumfries and Martin Brundle in the first of the Tyrrells. Behind them was the first of the Ferraris, Michele Alboreto’s F1/86. His team mate Stefan Johansson might have been there instead but he was told to get out of the team’s spare car during qualifying and let his team mate drive it instead. An incensed Johansson could only look on as he slipped to 18th on the grid.

1986 British Grand Prix grid

Row 11. Nelson Piquet 1’06.961
2. Nigel Mansell 1’07.399
Row 23. Ayrton Senna 1’07.524
4. Gerhard Berger 1’08.196
Row 35. Keke Rosberg 1’08.477
6. Alain Prost 1’09.334
Row 47. Teo Fabi 1’09.409
8. Rene Arnoux 1’09.543
Row 59. Derek Warwick 1’10.209
10. Johnny Dumfries 1’10.304
Row 611. Martin Brundle 1’10.334
12. Michele Alboreto 1’10.338
Row 713. Thierry Boutsen 1’10.941
14. Alan Jones 1’11.121
Row 815. Riccardo Patrese 1’11.267
16. Philippe Streiff 1’11.450
Row 917. Patrick Tambay 1’11.458
18. Stefan Johansson 1’11.500
Row 1019. Jacques Laffite 1’12.281
20. Alessandro Nannini 1’12.848
Minardi-Motori Moderni
Row 1121. Andrea de Cesaris 1’12.980
Minardi-Motori Moderni
22. Jonathan Palmer 1’13.009
Row 1223. Christian Danner 1’13.261
24. Piercarlo Ghinzani 1’16.134
Osella-Alfa Romeo
Row 1325. Huub Rothengatter 1’16.854
26. Allen Berg 1’18.319
Osella-Alfa Romeo

Laffite’s crash aids Mansell

Laffite’s crash ended his F1 career
The second the lights went out it seemed Mansell was about to fire past Piquet into the lead. The second after that his hopes appeared to be crushed.

“As soon as I changed gear something exploded at the rear of the car,” said Mansell. His differential had failed, and as Piquet led the field over the crest around Paddock Hill bend Mansell was already beginning to drop back.

But behind him there was consternation. Thierry Boutsen’s Arrows had snapped out of control. “I started to brake for the corner and everything was under control, no problem,” he explained.

“Suddenly the car pulled to the left really bad. I couldn’t control it, I hit the wall with the tyres, the car spun and came back into the middle of the track.”

Johansson swerved right to avoid him but Laffite was already alongside the Ferrari. The Ligier travelled a short distance over the grass and struck a barrier head-on. The race was stopped.

The first doctor at the scene was one of Laffite’s rivals: Jonathan Palmer, who clambered from his crashed Zakspeed and went to Laffite’s aid. The front of the Ligier was destroyed and it took over half an hour to remove him from the car. He was then flown to hospital with a broken pelvis, legs, ankles and feet.

While all this was going on the Williams team sprang into action to ready the spare car for Mansell. This had been set up for Piquet, and even with a lengthy delayed before the start of the new race there was only time to install Mansell’s seat and belts – it didn’t even have a drinks bottle.

“We’re getting into a car which hasn’t been set up for me and it’s going to be trust to luck whether it’s going to go or not,” he reflected as the drivers prepared to start again. But, he added, “I’d rather the accident not happen and I be out of the race because I believe Jacques has hurt himself.”

1986 British Grand Prix

Mansell passed Piquet for the lead
Mansell took it easy at the second start. So easy, in fact, that Berger slipped by him into second position halfway around the first lap at Pilgrim’s Drop. But after two more laps of sussing out his team mate’s set-up Mansell began to press on. He re-took Berger at the same spot and went off in pursuit of his team mate.

Behind them Senna was holding fourth and briefly looked set to come under attack from Rosberg. The pair had fought bitterly at the same race the previous year, but there was to be no resumption of hostilities as a gearbox fault sidelined Rosberg early on. Later Senna lost fourth gear and also retired. And Berger’s strong run in third was halted by an electrical fault after 22 laps.

Around the same time, Mansell had closed right onto Piquet’s tail and was hunting for an opportunity. Remarkably, his team mate offered one: accelerating out of Stirling’s Bend he missed a gear and Mansell was through in a flash. But the need for a mid-race tyre change presented an opportunity for his team mate to retake the lead.

Piquet came in first, which today would be considered advantageous because of the ‘undercut’ but wasn’t necessarily the case at a time when pre-heated tyres were a recent innovation. Now had tyre changes been drilled to astonishing speeds seen today. Piquet was stationary for 9.04 seconds, Mansell 9.57 when he came in shortly afterwards.

Prost beat Arnoux to third
As Mansell accelerated out onto the track Piquet was right on his tail. Mansell covered his line at the Druids hairpin but Piquet stalked him all around at the lap. At Paddock Hill bend Piquet went for the outside then swept across for the inside line at Druids – but found Alessandro Nannini’s lapped Minardi in the way. Mansell had bought the time he needed for his tyres to come up to temperature.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The two Williams drivers were now on maximum attack. Laffite’s lap record fell to Piquet before half-distance, and Mansell responded by lowering Piquet’s 1’11.250 to a 1’10.713. The remaining half of the race was a flurry of ever-tumbling times. Piquet produced a 1’10.089 on lap 54 and got under the 70 seconds barrier on the 68th tour with a 1’09.805. But Mansell could match him and more: a 1’09.593 on the 69th lap finally broke Piquet’s charge. Six laps later Mansell came by to take the chequered flag in front of the delirious crowd.

Prost arrived in third despite making two pit stops after losing a wheel balancing weight early in the race. He had spoken to Laffite before the restart and was shaken by his friend’s injuries, but persevered on a day when McLaren’s Honda-powered rivals were uncatchable. Rene Arnoux gave Ligier some small cheer by collecting fourth.

Warwick’s Brabham would have been fifth but he ran low on fuel late four laps from home allowing the two Tyrrells by. Patrese’s 1985 Brabham stopped with a dead engine. The final point went to Philippe Streiff driving the only car in the race which had an onboard camera.

1986 British Grand Prix result

15Nigel MansellWilliams-Honda1hr 30’38.471
26Nelson PiquetWilliams-Honda5.574
31Alain ProstMcLaren-TAG1 lap
425Rene ArnouxLigier-Renault2 laps
53Martin BrundleTyrrell-Renault3 laps
64Philippe StreiffTyrrell-Renault3 laps
711Johnny DumfriesLotus-Renault3 laps
88Derek WarwickBrabham-BMW3 laps
914Jonathan PalmerZakspeed6 laps
18Thierry BoutsenArrows-BMWNot classified
16Patrick TambayLola-FordGearbox
27Michele AlboretoFerrariTurbo
24Alessandro NanniniMinardi-Motori ModerniSteering
19Teo FabiBenetton-BMWFuel system
7Riccardo PatreseBrabham-BMWEngine
12Ayrton SennaLotus-RenaultGearbox
29Huub RothengatterZakspeedEngine
23Andrea de CesarisMinardi-Motori ModerniElectrics
20Gerhard BergerBenetton-BMWElectrics
15Alan JonesLola-FordThrottle
28Stefan JohanssonFerrariEngine
2Keke RosbergMcLaren-TAGGearbox
26Jacques LaffiteLigier-RenaultAccident
17Christian DannerArrows-BMWAccident
21Piercarlo GhinzaniOsella-Alfa RomeoAccident
22Allen BergOsella-Alfa RomeoAccident

Frank Williams watched from home as his wife Ginny, who had cared for him in the dark days, weeks and months after his accident, accepted the trophy for the race-winning constructor on his behalf.

At this stage in the season Williams unquestionably had the car to beat. But there was no mistaking the escalation in the rivalry between its drivers which threatened to go unchecked in Williams’ absence.

For Mansell, however, all seemed to be going his way. Britain seemed on course to celebrate its first world champion in a decade, as Mansell’s victory gave him the points lead ahead of Prost.

But he was well aware that his lucky turn had arisen from Laffite’s misfortune. The Ligier driver spent a month in hospital following the crash and although he went on to compete in touring cars he never returned to grand prix racing.

Laffite’s crash prompted a rethink of Formula One car design. To improve the leg protection offered to drivers new rules were soon introduced requiring the pedal box to be moved behind the front axle centre line, meaning more of an impact would be absorbed by the car instead of the driver.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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26 comments on “Mansell wins in Piquet’s car”

  1. This is the one that turned from an interested follower into an F1 Fanatic, this and many of Mansell’s numerous further achievements.

    Loved the guy for being the epitome of the ‘regular’ man getting to where he was through sheer determination and a heavy dose of natural talent.

    1. Me too. Most times I only got to read the race report by Nigel Roebuck in Autoweek, which I subscribed too, but every so often I was lucky enough to stay at a “friends” place for the night, and if they had cable, get up early and watch the race. In fact, one of my best memories was Monza 1988. I had explain to my “friend”(now wife!) about how Enzo had passed earlier in the week and the racing gods had shined on us Ferrari fans with a 1,2! Then explain who Enzo was, what a 1,2 was ETC……

  2. petebaldwin (@)
    13th July 2016, 13:03

    Watched this race the other day on Sky and despite knowing exactly what was going to happen, my heart was pounding. If only………

  3. Just a quick question regarding Mansell vs Piquet. When you look at the stats it looks as though Piquet was the better driver, but I know how misleading stats can be (eg the famous Jenson outscoring Lewis and Prost outscoring Senna”. I wasn’t old enough in that era so perhaps an impartial view would be much appreciated. Cheers

    1. eg the famous Jenson outscoring Lewis and Prost outscoring Senna

      Hold on a second? I know we’re all F1 fans and whom is the ‘best ever’ will always be a discussion but Prost was not an average driver who lucked his way into beating Senna. In my eyes, and in the eyes of many Prost is the most complete F1 driver, that does not implies he was the fastest on any given occasion though.

      1. Jonathan Parkin
        13th July 2016, 16:01

        One thing I’m always curious about Prost and Senna though, is Senna was renowned for his speed – even to the extent of frightening himself when he qualified for Monaco one year, and Prost was slow and steady. Yet Senna only achieved 16 fastest laps and Prost got something like 50

        1. It is 19 fastest laps for Senna and 41 for Prost, but you are right that Prost’s figures are much higher than those of Senna. Furthermore, when the two drivers were team mates at McLaren, Prost set more fastest laps than Senna did – 12 for Prost as opposed to 6 for Senna.

          People do like to characterise Prost in a slightly one dimensional way, but Prost was more than capable of turning in some extremely fast lap times. I think that his problem is that he never made it look anything like as dramatic as his rivals did.

          I recall seeing an article from Motorsport magazine’s archives where the writer was watching Prost in the practise sessions for the 1981 Dutch GP, as he was interested in seeing this new talented driver in action. The writer admitted that he left the stands being thoroughly confused at what he saw – Prost’s driving was so smooth and consistent that it looked like he was just doing outlaps, but at the same time he could see that Prost was consistently lapping about three seconds a lap faster than anybody else could manage at the time.

          To his mind, it had become instinctive to assume that a driver who was throwing the car around and visibly wrestling with it must be a driver who was exploring the limits of performance – because it looked dramatic and exciting, it had become synonymous with fast driving in his mind, particularly in an era when you had flamboyant drivers like Gilles Villeneuve.

          In that environment, what Prost was doing was almost alien to the mind of that author – it was impossible for him to reconcile the idea that a driver who was driving in what looked like such a placid manner could be so much quicker than everybody else, and he just couldn’t mentally accept that Prost could be so fast with such an undramatic driving style.

          I think that kind of thinking does still seem to persist to this day – when people talk about Prost, they talk up his ability to plan and calculate a race, almost as if they look to that as the only way to explain his performance.

          1. It´s pretty much the same reasons people today can´t handle Jenson outscoring Lewis, or consistently talk him down. Added to that Jenson not only has a very unspectacular driving style, but also appears humble and down to earth in interviews, and he has the image he has now (while still performing pretty much level with Alonso).

      2. I think your getting the wrong end of the stick here- I was not suggesting or trying to take away anything from Prost. My point was even though Prost “outscored” Senna in both seasons they were team mates, they had 1 championship a piece. Hence, statistics can be very misleading

    2. You don’t just luck into 4 WDC’s. Prost was not slow; he was just calculative. Back then, F1 cars broke down all of the time, so Prost’s view to drive the slowest possible speed to win the race was born out of necessity to preserve the car.

      Scroll down and look at the number of cars retired in each race in 1986:

      and compare to 2015:

      The cars nowadays are much more robust!

  4. @Blazz
    Do your self a favor and download through torrent engines all these amazing GP’s. If you don’t want to mess around, just download the reviews, e.g. 1987 F1 season review. I was lucky myself to catch them all live on TV. Nigel, although most of the times he had a dominant car, he was extremely unlucky. Especially that last Piquet’s title, he literally handed it to him. In my humble opinion, he deserved at least 3 championships.

    Prost is known as “The Professor”. He was able to calculate everything during a race. Nowadays, electronic aids do that for the drivers. Back then, only Prost could do it with no help at all. But the bad thing is that he hated taking risks. And rainy races also. These two situations were not good for his computer mind. If the most complete driver in F1 history is a combination of speed-stability-results, then yes. He definately is.

    But let’s face it. It’s RACING we are talking about. Adrenaline at its best. You wanna see driving with passion and heart, not with mind. That’s why Prost was not fast on any given occasion, as you already said.

    1. You are assuming too much for my liking @sakis. Some will prefer raw speed, others are more inclined to amazing control and anticipation, but both approaches are part of racing.

      1. @x303
        I have no reason to argue with you on the second part of your post.
        I am more of a passionate raw speed kind of guy.

        But tell me something, you said that I am assuming too much. I accept it, but care to tell me on what?
        Prost had said those things himself for his driving style, his pros and cons.
        The rest are just my personal opinion.

        1. @sakis

          No worry, I just wanted to introduce some variation in your speech.
          Reading your post (correct me if I’m wrong), I felt that for you racing is equal to raw speed. Thus your preference of Senna over Prost (which is completly fine).
          But Prost’s approach was racing too albeit maybe less spectacular.

          In the end, we are back to that never ending dilemma: Prost or Senna? :)

          1. @x303
            Yes, you are right, although I never said it.
            But I guess it’s clear from what I wrote, and due to my character I think, that I prefer Senna!

            If you are openminded though, you have to admire Prost as well. Although his racing style was not for my liking, I stand by what I said earlier. He was the most complete driver.

            P.S. We need to find a guy that combines both Senna’s and Prost’s skills. I maybe over enthused with what this guy has shown, but I think Max is getting close!

          2. You are right on that @sakis, right now Max potential promises a lot and he seems to be the perfect combinaison of both styles. Time will tell…

        2. A driver that is often overlooked is Sergio Perez.

          1. You are right. Actually, before the appearance of Max, he was my favorite guy. I still think he is made of the same metal that Senna was made and he has much better skills than all the Rosbergs and the Hamiltons, but the critical turn that destroyed his potential career was joining McLaren in 2013.
            It remind me when Jean Alesi had pre-signed a contract back in 1991 with the dominant Williams but he chose to sign with Ferrari, ruining his career. Had he signed with Williams, history would have been soooo different and most likely Damon Hill would never had appeared on stage.
            Back on Sergio, there were rumors that he might sign with Ferrari for 2017. I think these were valid and that the two sides had a contact. I also think that he demanded equal treatment with Seb and Ferrari did not accept this. It is not a coincidence that Seb has said “He is the best teammate I ever had” for Kimi. The best butler he meant. Just like Massa, Barrichello, Irvine, Salo.
            I am so glad that Sergio didn’t compromise.

        3. Very true sir. Let’s see how SP continues to do. He is an exciting driver to watch when he is on it.

    2. @sakis
      That’s why Prost was not fast on any given occasion, as you already said.

      This part of your analysis seems questionable. Someone already quoted the stat that Prost had markedly more fastest laps than Senna during their time together. This would suggest that Prost could be fast when needed, he just did not make a big thing out of it.

      1. @ph
        I accept what you say. But I have the perfect example for you.
        Last week Rosberg held the fastest lap at Silverstone.
        I am sure you didn’t notice it. You would bet that it was Hamilton.
        Did his overall performance was competitive at all? No.
        Max overtook him and Rosberg was struggling for quite a few laps to take that position back.
        So, as we have already said, Rosberg is not fast on any given occasion.

  5. What a memory. My first ever GP. Straight down to Brands from Wembley watching Queen in concert, without the aid of the M25 in those days.
    Thirty years on I’ve not miss a race in the UK since that day.
    Don’t tell the wife, but I must have spent a few quid!

  6. Nicely done article about a great race. Thanks!

  7. Nice article and that was a great race. Go find it and watch it if you can. But while watching it and lamenting the loss of the “good old days”, take a look at the action away from the front. Only 2 drivers finished on the lead lap. Another was a lap down. The next was 2 laps down. Three more were 3 laps down with the last placed car 6 laps down! Only 9 out of 24 runners actually made the flag.
    I see people saying that F1 today is boring and calling for closer racing. Umm… I think we already have reasonably close racing. There are battles up and down the grid every weekend now unlike then. And cars don’t break down. As a fan of F1 back then (well not that far back but certainly since the early 90’s), I can’t express enough how frustrating it was to see my favourite drivers retire from a race due to car failure. A driver leads all race and then his engine blows on the last lap. Ahhh…. So unfair. (Image the conspiracy theories the tin foil hat brigade could have spun up back then if they had had social media)
    I for one am happy that we don’t have that kind of failure rate of cars these days and we also don’t have the same kind of disparity of performance. Merc’s current dominance is nothing compared to the “good old days”.

  8. I think none of the f1 champs is renowned for being slow, and certainly not Prost. Just ask Hill, Alesi and Mansell or Lauda for instance. He just happened to be in arguably the most famous feud the sport has ever seen with quali-quant Senna.
    You state your curiousity but you already give part of the answer yourself. Senna was renowned for his q-pace before anything else, when talking about ‘his speed’. The 19-41 stats are fastest laps, per definition set in the race, not in quali.
    Also, don’t get caught up in stats; behind every figure there’s a whole story to tell. After all, you got lies, big lies, and then you have statistics.

  9. @Jonathan Parkin..

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