Williams F1 Co-Founder Reveals Why They Signed Nigel Mansell Over Others in 1985

Published 08/19/2021, 9:52 AM EDT
Formula One F1 – British Grand Prix – Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone, Britain – July 17, 2021 Williams’ George Russell during practice REUTERS/Peter Cziborra


Williams F1’s founding father, Sir Patrick Head, helped set up one of the most successful teams in the sport’s history. In conversation with Tom Clarkson in F1’s podcast, he discussed signing Nigel Mansell. The immensely successful British driver had no victories in hand when Williams signed him to their team.

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Joining Williams in 1985, Mansell had 71 race starts to his name. Clarkson asked Head what he saw in the driver to give him a chance to be a part of the team. Peter answered by recalling a conversation with Mansell’s former boss at Lotus, Peter Warr. “At Monaco, when Nigel was in the lead and put his tire in the wet over the white line going up the hill… Peter Warr was well-quoted as saying: ‘Nigel Mansell will not win a race as long as I have a hole in my a*se’.”

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Head added, “What did I see... we were looking to employ a driver alongside Keke and I think we had Jacques Laffite at the time in the car. And Jacques was a fantastic guy… but he didn’t quite have the heart- the likes of Nigel and say, Alan Jones had in terms of laying it all on the line in the race.”

Additionally, Williams was testing the waters with the Japanese Honda engine; Head was “keen to have a driver who had driven with a Renault engine behind him.” This would help the team gain perspective with the immature Honda

Williams- the catalyst in Mansell’s career

When Nigel left Williams for Ferrari in 1989, the Tifosi hailed the Brit ‘Il Leone.’ However, Ferrari’s Lion found his taste for victory with Williams.

Having joined the team in 1985, Nigel wept on the podium at Brands Hatch. What was only the start of a long list of accomplishments, the mustachioed driver won 11 races in 18 months. Although he lost out on two titles that would be his, Mansell left a legacy behind with the team.

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In 1986, a busted tire destroyed his season at Adelaide, while in 1987 an accident in Suzuka injured his back. The infamous rivalry between him and his teammate, Nelson Piquet, reached a pinnacle as the Brazilian took the ’87 title.

The highlight of the season was his home race in Silverstone. Late in the race, Mansell powered through to beat his teammate in Silverstone. A brilliant performance from Mansell, his home crowd rushed to the track as their victor kissed the tarmac where he overtook the Brazilian at 180 mph.

Watch this story: Top 5 Williams F1 Liveries of All-Time

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A legend of the sport, the aggressive driver had a lot to say and wasn’t always appreciated for it; but the fans loved the grit with which he raced.

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Shreya Sanjeev

323 articles

Shreya Sanjeev is an F1 author at EssentiallySports. Having attained a journalism degree from St Xavier's College, she finds comfort in the sound of her keyboard while typing and excitement in the sound of F1 cars speeding on a track. A street circuit and Daniel Ricciardo fan through and through, Shreya claims the 2018 Monaco GP to be one of her favorite races of all time.

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