Nigel Mansell, Williams, Silverstone, 1987

“Today’s drivers will never know what a proper F1 car feels like” – Mansell

2019 F1 season

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Today’s Formula 1 drivers will never experience what a “proper” grand prix car should feel like, according to 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell.

Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and other F1 drivers have urged the sport to reduce the weight of the car in order to improve the quality of racing. Mansell’s 1987 Williams was built to a minimum weight of 540 kilograms, 200kg lighter than today’s limit (which now includes the driver).

Mansell said Formula 1 “will never get back to” the cars of the eighties’ turbo era. “Driving those turbo cars was the most exhilarating, frightening thing that you could do in your life,” he told the FIA’s Auto magazine.

“The Williams FW11B: Nothing comes close to that car, nothing in the world. And Formula One will never get back to that. Really, today’s drivers will never know what a proper F1 car feels like.

“In qualifying you literally had up to 1,500 horsepower – it’s reputed that BMW had more. And to have wheelspin in sixth gear down the straight, at 175 or 180mph… You cannot put that into words as a driver. At every single corner you came to, the car was literally trying to kill you.”

Drivers have also called for circuits to offer more “consequences” for going outside track limits instead of the widely-used asphalt run-offs seen at many modern tracks. Mansell described how the tracks of the eighties offered an intimidating challenge for drivers of the time.

“If we were racing at the old Silverstone, for example, you’re going down Hangar straight with qualifying boost, well in excess of 200mph. You’re turning into Stowe corner flat, without a lift – and this is on the old circuit, with six-inch-wide poles and wire across them on the outside of the corner as catch-fencing – and you’re running wide and almost hitting these poles.

“Then you’re into Club corner flat again and you don’t lift. You’d come out of the corner and literally breathe a sigh of relief. One, because you could breathe after the extraordinary the G-forces pulling you around; and secondly, and most importantly, because when you came out of the corner, you’d think ‘I made it’.”

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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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  • 83 comments on ““Today’s drivers will never know what a proper F1 car feels like” – Mansell”

    1. I could be pedantic and say that obviously F1 drivers know what an F1 car feels like – they drive them!
      But I get what he means here and I will always like Nigel – not because he was an entertaining driver or because he went from F1 to Indy so successfully.
      The Reason I will always like him is because of the way he once ran up behind Ecclestone who was doing a live interview on the grid and with a big grin Nigel said into the camera,
      “It doesn’t matter who comes first – Bernie always wins”

      Top man Nigel :)

      1. Nige, you drove whatever the designers designed and the engineers built, right? Same today, mate. Except the cars are so much faster today – compare lap times for any track. Old codgers always think things were harder, tougher and meaner in their day. Go take another nap, Nige.

        1. Faster og slower doesnt matter. I’ve done 250 km/h on the german autobahn driving a good car. You do 200 km/h in a tool not built for it and you’ll feel on the raggity edge. Nigel is 100% correct that even going slower the cars back then were visceral, on the limit, on the edge of being out of control, and very much able to kill their occupants with unpredicatble turbo-lag behavior. The circuts were also more dangerous. None of this is present today.

          If he is guilty of anything it is to forget the appaling machinery his predecessors had to survive – but at least compared to the current silky smooth F1 circuits with wide run-offs he is undeniably correct.

        2. You think a can with a semi auto gearbox and 2x the grip, endless differential settings etc etc is not easer to drive than an 80’s car? Ask and driver on the grid what they think

        3. Whilst I was/am a huge Nige fan I wonder how he would deal with the complexities of modern F1 cars … different era, different beasts, different drivers.

    2. And the races were always up the hill….
      against the wind….
      in the snow…

      1. We didn’t have pit boards the engineers just had to write on the back of a shovel.

        1. But you try and tell the young people today that… and they won’t believe ya, nope, nope nope

        2. up at crack of dawn to lick grid spot clean wi’ tongue…

        3. joe pineapples
          23rd July 2019, 13:51

          If it looked like rain, we used to lean ova’ side with a rusty old penknife to carve a bita tread on’t slicks, while goin through Eau Rouge.

          1. Slicks? Looxury! Why we had ta mould our own tyres out a’ melted down pencil rubbers 29 hours a day, went through Eau Rough with NO hands cos we were busy holding the car together, changed gear with our toes, an’ slept with eyes open to make sure the car didn’t come kill us in the night.

            Thanks for inspiring me to watch the Four Yorkshiremen sketch again!

            1. I gotta say I did some good chuckles at these, I like to think even ol’ Nige would doff his cap to it

      2. And he didn’t even mention about the insanity of driving those things in the rain.

    3. *eye roll*

    4. What a piece of nonsense!
      Driving a car, which can kill you, doesn’t make “your” F1 any more “proper” than today’s F1, Nigel.

      1. And none of modern drivers think of them as SO special as to retire the car just because they don’t like to drive it.
        Just look at last years of Alonso!

        Says everything about Nigel…

        1. @dallein many modern drivers have said similar things to this, and regularly praise these old F1 cars. They’re always talking about how it should be more difficult, lighter, more power, etc, as it used to be.

          Of course they won’t play down current F1 too much because they’re competing in it.

          As a viewer, the 80s cars are far more exciting to watch.

    5. 1950’s drivers would like a word, Nigel.

      1. Yes I would say that the 60s was, I think a pretty interesting time to be a F1 driver as well.

    6. They had to use a clutch back in the seventies. Monaco was around 2000 gear-switches a race.

    7. Oh, it’s not like in my day. Then men were men and had to do tough things these kids would never understand nor would they have the grit. No, it’s not like in my day.

      In those days we had to boil down a dinosaur to get fuel, and peel snakes for tyres. Ah, those were the days.

    8. Adam (@rocketpanda)
      23rd July 2019, 12:20

      This kind of stuff really annoys me. Who says F1 cars should be difficult to drive, or hard work, or painful for the driver anyway? If it is the ‘pinnacle’ of motorsport, why would it be ‘hard’ and why is that important?

      Sure it was probably ‘harder’ back whenever, but they’re also generally slower and less technologically advanced than today’s ones. This focus on the ‘difficulty’ of the cars isn’t as interesting as showcasing how fascinating they are as machines, how they inform and develop so much technology and how fast they can be.

      Also minimum weight to improve racing? Surely making the cars able to follow each other properly and narrowing the performance gap between the slowest and fastest teams would be a better and more complete way of doing it?

      1. @rocketpanda
        Obviously I can’t speak as a driver, but as a viewer those difficult cars were far more exciting to watch. It relied on driver skill a lot more.

        I might be in the minority on the internet (particularly forums which are often full of people who find technology exciting), but modern technological advancement has killed F1. It’s all computer programmes, simulations, and clinical perfection now. That bores me to death

        1. Nothing has killed F1, it’s very much alive and well. If you are bored to death please don’t watch the upcoming German and Hungarian races. Go watch cricket or golf. Real fast, exciting sports, those.

        2. James Neutron
          23rd July 2019, 18:29

          Better you than the drivers. Dying that is.

    9. While I think it is a bit of a ramble on Nigel’s part, there is some truth to it. But for different reasons. The first, technology was not as advanced back then so you were putting 1500hp on 80’s suspension chassis and brakes, which, like group B rallying, has to be genuinely terrifying. The other part was deregulation which allowed these qualifying trims with ridiculous engine settings. The first is long gone and cannot be replicated, but not the second. Current drivetrains and chassis could take much more power than what they did in the 80’s I wager. It would be fun to see this happen, but FIA seems to want to go in the opposite direction and regulate everything until we have a spec formula.

      1. What I most remember is the eye-watering fuel – literally eye-watering. I believe it was mostly Toluene – the final ‘T’ from ‘TNT’. That and the very high levels of unreliability.

      2. The first, technology was not as advanced back then so you were putting 1500hp on 80’s suspension chassis and brakes, which, like group B rallying, has to be genuinely terrifying. The other part was deregulation which allowed these qualifying trims with ridiculous engine settings. The first is long gone and cannot be replicated, but not the second. Current drivetrains and chassis could take much more power than what they did in the 80’s I wager.

        This is all 100% wrong. Deregulation did not allow qualifying trims and ridiculous engine settings. That has always been part of the sport. Back in the 60s some team had a small knob in the car to adjust the carburettors on the fly. Do you think he turned it up or down for qualifying? Engine modes have existed as long as engines have existed. As soon as ecus were used to control the engines the teams used different “programs” for the qualifying and the race. Back then these programs were on computer chips you had to physically change. Later the more advanced cars could have two such chips in the car and the driver could switch between the two.

        Current drivetrains are much more carefully crafted to save weight than the gearboxes from 80s. Current gearboxes can handle the 1000bhp very reliably but they’d instantly melt if you put a 1500bhp turbo engine in the car. That is of course misleading because gearboxes are not rated by horsepower. They are rated by torque and also by rpm. But even then this whole comment about the durability of the gearboxes is so weird. Gearboxes are always made just enough durable so they can do the job that is required. If f1 wanted more power new gearboxes could be made very easily. What f1 needs is proper engines. Even these 1500bhp beasts from the 80s weigh less than the current engines.

        1. @socksolid, don’t tell me that you believe the myths about them using rocket fuel as well? You surely can’t actually believe those utter lies, can you?

          1. As typical you ignore everything I said and focus on attacking my personality. Try again, troll.

            1. @socksolid, whereas you angrily shouting at other posters that they are “100% wrong” for daring to have a different opinion is not trolling? It seems that you are deliberately just trying to distract from attention by complaining about personal attacks – whilst, simultaneously, being rather happy to provoke, bait and abuse others – in order to avoid answering questions that you don’t have an answer to.

              Why don’t you, therefore, start answering the questions instead of deliberately trying to distract attention. Do you believe these supposed power figures? Do you believe the old legends about things such as the use of “rocket fuel”? Or are you only repeating these claims because they fit into your personal prejudices and because they fit the agenda you have?

        2. @socksolid starting a comment with “this is all 100% wrong” is a great way to have a conversation. Secondly I meant current technology is surely capable of taking and controlling more power than 80’s technology was. Third, deregulation meaning, back then an engine did not have to last a number of races, or else they would be more mindful of setting it to those power figures.

          1. Taking and controlling moew power. Gearboxes are well understood technology. Ability to handle high power and torque levels was not a problem in the 80s. After all in pretty much all racing the cars had more power back then. Rally cars had more power, f1 cars had more power, touring cars had more power. What has changed is modern boxes shift a lot faster and are lighter. And materials of course.

            1. Why are you focusing on the gearbox? 80’s suspension,brakes,ECUs,aerodynamics. You have roadcars today handling 1000hp. Everything changed. A modern F1 car could, i reckon(with a different gearbox and drivetrain parts) handle 1500hp much much easier than an 80´s car would.

    10. The older i get the power of the 1980’s turbos in qualifying trim gets ever higher. I still have some time to go, so i’m pretty sure soon enough they will be making a cool 2000 hp!

      1. That’s funny. I was wondering when someone would call out this nonsense.

        1. @darryn, it does indeed seem to be that, every decade or so, magically those 1980s turbocharged engines manage to gain another 50-100bhp, so now we are supposedly over the 1,500bhp mark. Equally, now it’s claims of wheelspin in 6th gear, which is another new record – it used to be claims of wheelspin in 4th gear, and then more recently in 5th gear, but now we have to adjust that claim as well to match the inexplicable growth of the power output of the engines.

          You are right that the figures that are talked about are complete and utter rubbish, but sadly it seems that some are cheerfully swallowing the nonsense – either because they want to buy into the romanticised myths, or because it suits their political ends for the rants that they want to peddle.

    11. Schumacher kept ‘sharp’ and ‘fit’ for F1 cars, by testing Karts whenever he could.

    12. Ok, this sounds a lot like grandpa’s “back in my days”.

      But wheel-spin in sixth gear looks much more cool than current era fastest lap and overall much higher average speed.

    13. I guess you could say the same about road cars – the old boys who croak on about “times before power steering and gear sticks you needed real muscles to wrangle into the gate”.

      And creature comforts like properly adjustable seats, cruise control and parking sensors? Nah, real men just need a wheel, 3 pedals and grit.

    14. Nigel needs lose 6 stone and get into a current car, then tell us how easy it is.

      Oh, no excuses about the need to understand computers, etc, etc.

      1. A 2019 car is a million times easier to drive than the 1500bhp beasts nigel had to deal with back in his day. Everybody can lap 2019 f1 car around any track. Not at very high speeds but still could do it. Very few of us could do the same in mid 80s turbo cars.

        1. Suffering Williams Fan
          23rd July 2019, 13:33

          But you need to be careful on those pit exits.

    15. Nowadays the drivers only breathe a sigh of relief when they make to the end of the race with enough rubber on the tires and enough fuel in the tanks despite being forced to save both all the way through the race.

      1. @socksolid, so, this is going to be another of your infamously exaggerated and hyperbolic claims over fuel saving apparently being “the worst ever” – because, of course, everything has to be “the worst ever”.

        Since you apparently know how much fuel saving went on in the past, why don’t you thus provide us with the detailed breakdown of exactly how much fuel saving went on in every single year of the sport? After all, you have previously asserted that fuel saving is apparently at its maximum now, so you must know exactly how much fuel the cars were using in every single year before that to make such a precise and accurate claim – unless, of course, the answer is that you in fact have no idea how much fuel saving was actually going on and you were making a completely over the top and inaccurate claim simply to fit your personal prejudices.

    16. Can someone actually provide proof of Nigel’s claims that Stowe and Club were flat out in qualifying trim? I find it quite hard to believe.

      Oh, and I suppose Nigel’s championship-winning car from 1992 doesn’t count as an proper F1 car, as it didn’t have “1,500 bhp” and had all kinds of driver aids.

      1. If it was it’s hardly anything to brag about. If you can get through a corner flat it might as well not be a corner. 130R was neutered and it’s no longer a challenge. Some were claiming Copse would soon be flat out as if it was something to look forward to.
        And if you can go flat when in qually trim how boring must it be in race trim.

      2. @kaiie Remember that Stowe/Club were very different corners in the 80s/90s & it was just about possible to take them flat in qualifying trim on a new set of qualifying tyres if you had a good car balance.

        One of the reasons they changed the circuit for 1991 was because they felt it was losing it’s challenge given how most the circuit was full throttle by that point & they were only having to touch the brakes twice (The old Becketts & the Bridge chicane).

      3. So.. You’re asking an Internet forum to verify something that you don’t believe. That is being told by an actual Retired F1 driver who drove the car and won many races and even a championship…🤔 . But is some random fan says it’s not true, then you will believe it.. Seems a bit bizarre to me that you would value anything a stranger says over an actual F1 champion who we all know absolutely drove an F1 car at its maximum potential

    17. @dallein

      Mansell lost 4 world championships due to unreliable cars and bad luck. His 1 and only dominant car (compared to Hamilton and Schumacher’s numerous examples) came out of sacrifice.

      Perhaps learn more about his era than making derogatory comments.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        23rd July 2019, 14:49

        Mansell was beaten by de Angelis, Piquet (until Imola87) and Prost. No other F1 champion has been beaten so many times by teammates.

      2. Mansell wasnt even the third best driver of his generation. Prost and Senna were light years ahead of him and Piquet had the beating of him until Piquet’s horror accident messed with his depth perception.
        His fame was due to being an exciting charger and primarily, his nationality.

    18. He’s right! These current cars are like luxury limousines needing to be gently guided around. You only have to watch onboard videos from the 80s/90s so see how much they had to wrestle around ever corner.

    19. ..”every single corner you came to, the car was literally trying to kill you.”
      That’s great stuff. Agree with Nigel or not, those were entertaining comments.

      1. GtisBetter (@)
        23rd July 2019, 20:26

        Yeah, I know that he comes across as a grandpa talking about earlier times, but he has a point. Just like he didn’t drove the cars in the early days, where people risked everything and actually expected people to die every season which is just unimaginable, the machines were a different kind of nuts in his days. I am glad though. I have seen plenty of fatal accidents to prefer an easy car over a dangerously unsafe one.

    20. To be fair, Norris was saying only the other day that F1 cars were easier to drive than F2.

    21. Sadly he doesn’t fit in an F1 car anymore but I think he would have change his mind by lapping ten second faster with much higher speed in corners than he’s use to. Today’s car with less steering help would be a good “in-between” I think.

    22. The car was trying to kill you in the turns?
      That’s nothing. Back in my days, when we were racing in circuses in Rome, it was actually the drivers of the other chariots that were trying to kill you. Now that’s what I call proper racing.

    23. Sergey Martyn
      23rd July 2019, 16:34

      Agree with Nigel – those were the days and that’s what I call racing.
      Capslock isn’t mine.



      1. Gerhard Berger. Driver. Racer. Caps lock abuser.

        1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
          23rd July 2019, 17:23

          You’d think he’d be used to manually shifting

          1. Post of the year.

    24. georgeboole (@)
      23rd July 2019, 16:45

      Please Nigel stop that.
      I like F1 from the 90s, I became a fan watching all races available in the late 80s. Senna had to die so that tv channels here would show us the full calendar through the year.
      But I still don’t like seeing horrible crashes and people risking their lives just because it is a man game. I want to see drivers fighting (much more than they do now) but coming out of their cars in one piece.
      And I m pretty sure the g’s you feel with the current cars are much much more than they were back then. Try keep your head straight while taking most of turns flat out.
      F1 will be the pinnacle of motorsport as long as fossil fuel exists. Different eras will provide different thrills. Some will like them. Some will not.
      That’s what we like to see.

      1. @georgeboole the cockpit is so much safer today than it was then. You could bring back something similar to the 80s cars with a modern cockpit structure

        1. georgeboole (@)
          24th July 2019, 10:02

          Jamie B, everything that existed in the old F1 still exists. Some parts are more highlighted than others but that’s evolution.
          What we need to make it spectacular again is drivers fighting each other on track. Not being afraid to step on the gas. Not fearing the car will do whatever it wants under braking. Simple as that

    25. *yawn* old guys wittering away about how it was all better in the old days.

      The sport evolves to stay relevant, big old units with big engines were refined into the cars we have today, in the same way road cars were. It’s a different sport with a different challenge these days that’s all.

    26. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      23rd July 2019, 17:06

      Pretty niche Nige! I mean only you and Piquet got to drive the FW11B. No one else has lived or even driven a proper F1 car!

      They’re pulling 6G now, that’s damn impressive. Sort out the extreme grid disparity, overtaking due to dirty air issues (meaning we don’t need DRS) and ideally a more inspiring engine tone and we would have an amazing era of F1.

      PS I’m not hybrid bashing, or ranting about volume, just something a bit more inspiring sounding will do me. There are plenty of amazing sounding hybrid super cars.

      1. The next generation will be almost silent . Well, let me clarify. Eventually, the sounds we will hear will be the tire friction. It won’t get louder.

    27. James Neutron
      23rd July 2019, 18:38

      Better you than the drivers. Dying that is.

    28. F1 is by definition a formula that is constantly evolving for better or for worse, there never has been one standard that has been accepted as THE F1 formula. Drivers of course actually used to die back in Nigels day. For sure part of the excitement of watching was willing them to go fast without serious injury. The formula back then wasn’t designed to be dangerous, it just was and hadn’t yet become safety oriented. There is practically zero real danger in today’s cars unless a driver has seriously inadequate skills. If today’s races are more boring because the air ambulances remain on Terra firma then so be it. Find other ways to generate excitement.
      Early nineties turbo cars did not try to kill you every corner. You knew they had ridiculously over the top power before climbing in. Better to say the drivers were suicidal back then rather than the cars homicidal.

    29. “Mansell’s 1987 Williams was built to a minimum weight of 540 kilograms, 200kg lighter than today’s limit (which now includes the driver).”

      As it now includes the driver, with Mansell in the seat, that’s about the same…

      And has he driven one of the current cars to give a fair comparison?
      Thought not…

    30. Yes, I admit I signed up just to comment on this article (though have been an avid follower/reader for years)

      Yes, I admit I was – and am – a Nige’ fan.

      But cut the man a little slack. I am not disputing what he has said, nor suggesting it wasn’t perhaps a little embellished, but at the very least we do not know the context of his comments. When articles state “So’n’so said….. ” we do not know what he was asked exactly.

      It seems unlikely that he just waltzed up to a FIA’s Auto magazine journo, and began proffering unsolicited comment. And hasn’t he earned a little bit of leeway to be able to gush about ‘his’ F1 experiences.

      Finally, I do not see where he is suggesting that current cars or circuits should be death traps, or making any other suggestion regarding current F1 reverting to his day (quite the opposite in fact) yet many comments infer that he does. One poster even said that this sort of thing “annoys him” What?!!! Really. Just What.??

      I’m not saying people shouldn’t have opinion (after all, that’s why I have read these comments sections for years), however, there is ‘opinion’, ‘conjecture’, and ‘baseless negativity’.

      One opinion I have – yes I have one too – is that whilst I still enjoy F1 after all these years, never miss a race, and ‘know’ that the current cars are faster, I still feel looking back at the old races that they ‘looked’ faster, and you got a greater sense of what the driver was going through. (Again, I am not making any suggestions regarding the current regs… just making observation and comparison).

    31. Good grief, he is entering the “back-in-my-days” phase of life.

      Yeah, Nige, and you’ll never know what a modern day F1 car feels.
      Get over it.

    32. Ayombo Awogboro
      24th July 2019, 11:31

      Ok, that is nagel mansell opinion, but i can say the same thing to him, he talk about the 90s, so what will someone like niki lauda(rip) say back to him, he wouldn’t know how a f1 car driven then feels like approaching a corner with top speed not safety requirements just man and machine, what a bunch of nonsense sorry to sir nagel mansell. F1 is about innovation, technical advancement, technology of combustion engines, real life safety equipment e.t.c. So for me I don’t understand him and he says he understands f1 and the most important issue in f1 is about technology advancement and improvements in all areas, the cars today with less fuel, aerodynamic improvements, battery charge deployment e.t.c to say the least.
      So for as an ex f1 driver he doesn’t actually know what f1 stands for. He stay stock in his era and see how the world moves forward and leave him his is past, as he forgotten the saying old school his new school. Come to think i was rooting for him in his time and era
      I am now so disappointed with and in him, shamble talk sir nagel mansell. Just my opinion

    33. :D Coming from a Sim driver experience, I have to agree.

      80’s turbo F1 H-box car with 600ish kg and 1400 hp is like a cartoon.

      2019 turbo F1 H(ybrid) car 800ish kg and 1000 hp is a precision instrument.

      Everything is so sanitized and balanced. 80’s car the normal thing is driving sideways because you are loosing control always. 2019 is all about picking correct line braking on your mark and getting to full throttle ASAP.

      In 80’s car loosing control and trying to regain it is just a thing you do allover the place, under braking, when turning and then when boost comes on. Shifting the gears is as much about revs running out as it is about regaining traction, just no comparison.

      I believe some drivers today would do just fine with such cars and we would see dancing the way Senna used to do it.

      Needless to say cars were Formula 2 fast when it came to the stop watch. Fun does not equal fast.

      1. @jureo: Great point.

    34. Piquet said this car had average power.. the real beast he drove was the Brabham
      BMW BT53. Williams FW11 was just a little car next to it, he said.

      1. Average 1400 :D Brabham BMW BT53 reportedly never ran on a dyno that could measure full power. So it’s power is stuff of legends.

        I wonder what these engines we have now could do if unrestricted.

    35. F1 has always been the highest tech in powertrain and handling. His car had less handling but also less power than the f1 cars today

    36. IF you think about it, Mansell is never really a world champion….. He only won it due to the active suspension, which is banned, TC, which is also banned……

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