As the lights were doused, the conference hall fell silent. But not for long. Soon the journalists’ senses if, indeed, they are endowed with such were assaulted by the vibration of music loud enough to send you scurrying for the aspirins, and a ‘star wars’ laser display which would have American Presidents reaching straight for the cheque book. Mercifully, the world finally halted long enough for lasers to trace a map of Argentina complete with Falklands and spell out the three Ms: Marlboro, McLaren and Mercedes.
The fourth ‘M’, Mansell, was missing from the display of pyrotechnics, and from the race.
As a display of showmanship, Marlboro’s Argentine GP conference was stunning; as a display of optimism, the choice of ‘We are the Champions’ over the tannoy was unsurpassed. Only four things stand between Nigel Mansell and a second Formula One Drivers’ title: Williams, Benetton, Ferrari, and the weight of history.
Having missed the first two races of the season, the 41 year-old faces an uphill battle if he is to mount a challenge for honours in what could be his racing swansong.
In 1979 Jody Scheckter became champion after collecting only a solitary point from the season-openers in Argentina and Brazil, and you have to whisk the tardis back to 1970, and Jochen Rindt, to find a driver who failed to score in the first two events but went on to claim the title.
The championship featured fewer races then, and Mansell may also draw solace from Niki Lauda’s achievements in 1984, when the Austrian won the crown in spite of scoring only once in the first four races. That said, the task awaiting the Briton has not been accomplished since the rules were revised to consign ‘dropped scores’ to the history books.
“We took time in building a car, and subsequently paid the price when it had a flaw in it,” explains McLaren boss Ron Dennis. He estimates the price of a new car to be half a million dollars. But will it ultimately cost Mansell his championship aspirations too?