We’ve been promised Lewis-mania for Sunday. Britain’s prodigious F1 star has his homecoming before tens and thousands of enraptured fans.
The Silverstone crowd knows how to get behind a heroic home driver – none more so than Nigel Mansell. He held the crowd in the palm of his hand every time he went there after his rousing victory in 1987.
The occasional of his final home F1 race wasn’t so much a Grand Prix as a celebration of Mansell mania.
Nigel Mansell set some amazing records in 1992 – not least of which a new record for most victories in a single year that would stand for a decade.
All year long hie was setting pole positions and setting fastest laps by entire seconds. But when he came to Silverstone for his home race, he made you wonder if he hadn’t been driving with pace in reserve.
Playing to the home crowd always brought out the best in Mansell, and he dominated the 1992 race by flabbergasting margins.
Pole position was a formality in his devastatingly effective Williams-Renault FW14B. Aerodynamically sleek, impressively powerful, and above all, fearsomely cutting edge. Computer controlled active suspension tweaked the car’s ride from corner to corner to maximise its speed.
Around the fast sweeps of Silverstone it was untouchable. But Mansell moved the benchmark far beyond even team mate Patrese’s gasp.
In testing Mansell had set a new record of 1’20.56s – the re-configured Silverstone circuit only being used for the second year. He beat that on Friday with a 1’20.246 – but there was much more to come.
Halfway through the first qualifying session (then held on Friday) he he lopped a further second off his time – 1’19.161. And still there was more to come. With five minutes remaining he lapped the track in 1’18.965
To put that into perspective, Patrese was second with 1’20.884 – a staggering 1.919s slower. Ayrton Senna, third, 1’21.706. No-one else was within three seconds of Mansell’s time.
A second qualifying session followed on Saturday, but rain prevented any further improvements in lap time. Come Sunday, a crowd of 150,000 had amassed to watch Mansell’s magic.
Mansell was fastest in the morning warm-up, which Mika Hakkinen missed having been pulled up by Northamptonshire police for driving on the wrong side of the road.
Patrese got a better start from Mansell and led into Copse. But that would be the sum total of the race led by someone other than Mansell. He cruised past his team mate into Maggots, and thereafter became a rapidly diminishing dot in the distance:
Three seconds clear by lap one, 5.9s on lap two, 10.1s on lap four, 20s on lap ten. It wasn’t a race, it was a crushing demonstration.
The crowd lapped it up especially when, with two laps remaining, Mansell went for the fastest lap and claimed that too: 1’22.539, 1.805s faster than the next quickest – Michael Schumacher in his Benetton.
As the final lap wound down the crowd came spilling onto the track – oblivious to the fact that there were still 16 cars other than their hero circulating and some of them were racing hard for position. On his victory lap Mansell actually ran over one of them.
It was frightening in its irresponsibility – and yet somehow it was also charmingly un-British. Mansell was seen as a working-class hero, and it’s possible to see the same appeal in Hamilton’s popularity today.
Silverstone could ill-afford another such display on Sunday. In 2003 a crazed priest wreaked havoc by running onto the circuit. A repeat could give Bernie Ecclestone more ammunition in his efforts to unsettle the race organisers and end the Grand Prix.
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