The fierceness of their competition led to memorable battles on the track and some devious manoeuvrings off it. Their rivalry arguably cost one of them the drivers’ championship to Alain Prost in 1986.
But more than 25 years since the two champions last drove together they have been reunited by Ford’s Brazilian arm for a series of new and rather amusing adverts.
While Mansell was in the country the pair gave an in-depth interview to Brazil’s SporTV about their rivalry.
Piquet ‘never recovered’ from Imola crash
Piquet joined Mansell at Williams in 1986. “We have a good year together,” said Piquet. “Sometimes his car breaks down, sometimes my car break down. But I think I deserve more wins in ’86 and he deserve more wins in ’87.”
“’86 I have my car stop twice, engine failure and other things,” he added. “And ’87 I have this accident in Imola.”
Piquet said the crash affected him more badly than he admitted at the time: “I was no good anymore. I lost a lost of deepness in my view. I could not tell because if I tell people take me out of the [car]. And I was driving behind all the time.”
He kept quiet about his injuries through the season and won the championship when Mansell was injured in a crash at the penultimate race: “I talk at the end of the year,” said Piquet.
“Every two weeks I was going to the hospital in Milan. And I was improving, improving but in the first months I lost more than 80% of deepness. I have to look at the numberplate to brake. I was very good to drive behind somebody but I could not drive in front! And that was ’87.”
“But I ’86 was, like I said, I think if everything was good I should win ’86 and Nigel should win ’87.”
Piquet admitted he felt he never fully recovered from the crash, despite remaining in F1 until 1991. “It finished motor racing for me. I went for the money afterwards.”
‘Some of today’s drivers couldn’t race our cars’
Mansell said that being a ‘number two’ driver in the eighties was different than it is today. “When Nelson and I came together Nelson was already a double champion. When I raced with Keke Rosberg he was a world champion, with Alain Prost world champion, with Nelson.
“And in those days when you were a number one driver or a number two driver there was a big difference from the point of view of… it wasn’t anybody’s fault, technology then wasn’t there, as Nelson said with the computers it hadn’t really been invented then. And so the reliability of the cars was a little bit different.”
As well as being less reliable the cars of the eighties were also harder to drive. Mansell doubted whether all of today’s drivers could cope with them:
“Nelson and I, the cars we drove, there was no power steering. You had to change gear with the gear shift. There was three pedals, you had to synchronise the pedals, if you got the wrong gear changing down you blew the engine.
“There was a lot more input, you had to actually manage the car a lot more. And so some of the drivers today – only some, a few – they wouldn’t probably have the physical strength of the drivers of the past.”
Among the most famous examples of their rivalry was when Piquet discovered the benefits of a new differential the team had developed and kept it secret from Mansell and used it to win the Hungarian Grand Prix in 1986.
Mansell said he was more disappointed in the team than his team mate on that occasion: “Sometimes there’s more challenges that come your way that you shouldn’t have.
“Nelson’s totally entitled to do what he wanted to as a driver but the engineers in the team should be more transparent. And there was a problem at times where an engineer would not tell the truth… I just think it wasn’t very helpful.”
“Because I mean I’m a racer, if you look at all my racing, I won’t mention other people’s names – not Nelson so much – but there’s other great racing drivers who’ve won championships with crashing into people and that.”
“We never done that,” concurred Piquet. “In no championship we done that, that’s the truth.”
“And I think that’s important because I lost a couple of championships,” continued Mansell, “I was runner-up three times, I could have been champion four times.”
“And if I’d been a different driver in all those championships, I could have won more championships, but the championships that I won I did in a sportsman manner and I’m really pleased and thrilled and that’s why I have the reputation worldwide that I have and I’m very proud of that.”
Piquet on Senna
Piquet’s departure from Williams at the end of 1987 brought an end to his partnership with Mansell, but not the feud between them. The following year Piquet gave a notorious interview to Playboy in which he called Mansell stupid, said his wife was ugly and also called Enzo Ferrari “senile”.
Showing the same appetite for controversy Piquet used his latest interview to bring up a recent remark of his about another driver he never got on with:
“Another day a journalist asked me, ‘being honest, who was the best, you and [Ayrton] Senna?’”
“I said: ‘I’m alive…’”
The full interview was originally published here but appears to be unavailable at present.
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