Fittipaldi and Mansell, Cosworth and Head


Emerson Fittipaldi & Nigel Mansell

They were champions with something to prove when they first stepped into an Indycar.

Emerson Fittipaldi – born on the 12th of the 12th, 1946 – had been in retirement for four years since the Copersucar Formula 1 project had turned sour. Nigel Mansell – born on the 8th of the 8th, 1953 – wanted to show that he was bigger than the sport, which, for a time, he was.

Their world titles were separated by 20 – and 18 – years, but, then, Emmo had glided through the junior ranks and won a Grand Prix at his fourth attempt, whereas Nige had nosed the grindstone for a seeming eternity and won a Grand Prix at his 72nd attempt.

It had been 10 years since Fittipaldi’s most recent F1 title and just 10 weeks since Mansell’s – so Nige was winning immediately with an established top team, Newman/Haas, whereas Emmo struggled initially with a brace of midfield outfits.

Ovals spooked them to begin with, too – and in Mansell’s case caused him 100 internal stitches after a 180mph kidney punch at Phoenix – but soon they located their grooves.

Fittipaldi, having joined Patrick Racing full-time in 1985, scored his first Indycar victory at the bumpiest and nastiest of the lot, Michigan International Speedway. By the time of Mansell’s arrival in the CART World Series in 1993, the Brazilian had won on 16 more occasions – at superspeedways, road courses, street circuits and ovals – including a dramatic rubbin’s-racin’ victory over Al Unser Jr at Indy in 1989, the year that Emmo, still with Patrick, also took the title.

Mansell’s States flit was big news. And when Ayrton Senna was spotted ‘secretly’ testing a Penske, under Fittipaldi’s tutelage, at Firebird Raceway there seemed a genuine risk that F1 might be superseded.

From the archive: Lunch with Nigel Mansell (2009)

That didn’t happen, of course – even though it was clear where the main excitement lay in 1993. It wasn’t in F1.

Mansell and Fittipaldi’s careers had only coincided for three GPs in 1980. Thirteen years later they would become inextricably linked and, at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport, memorably intertwined.

Nige beat Emmo, now with Team Penske, to the pole and victory at the opening round at Australia’s Surfers Paradise.

Emmo jumped Nige to take his second Indy 500 win when the latter “goofed” at the final green flag.

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Nige turned the tables with a brilliant victory at Milwaukee, matching Jim Clark’s feat of 1963: winning on debut at a short oval.

Their superb Cleveland dice – admittedly for second place in the dust of Penske’s Paul Tracy – fell to Fittipaldi.

Nige fought back with a brilliant victory at Michigan, arguably the toughest of his career. Feeling under the weather there was no need for theatrics on this occasion.

Another humdinger between the pair – plus Tracy, looking more like Joe 90 than the stubbly ‘truck driver’ he would become – saw Mansell win in New Hampshire, the victory that allowed him to adopt control mode.

Fittipaldi won at Mid-Ohio, where Mansell started from pole, and finished second at the Laguna Seca finale – but it was the Brit who prevailed by eight points.

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Somewhat predictably Mansell’s American love affair proved short-lived and he was successfully courted by F1 during 1994.

Fittipaldi was in it for the long haul – although his drinking of orange before Indy’s traditional milk in Victory Lane in 1993 made him some enemies. Michigan, however, finally caught up with him in 1996 and ended his career with a huge accident that broke his back. He was 49.

That should have been that.

But neither racer could resist the lure of the Grand Prix Masters in 2005.

This might have been a jolly get-together of reminiscing old sparring partners had not its creators pitched the level so high: 650bhp in a 612kg single-seater.

Mansell, still bullnecked strong, reportedly badgered, mithered and pushed like hell for the tiny advantages that mean such a lot in single-chassis racing, and was fastest in every session at a sweltering Kyalami.

He led the race throughout, too.

But bolted to his gearbox – 20 telling seconds ahead of the jolly, jostling pack – was a 58-year-old Brazilian.

With nothing to prove – Indycar success, albeit of differing orders, had rubberstamped their greatness – this was just the natural way of things.

From the archive: Lunch with Emerson Fittipaldi (2007)

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Keith Duckworth/Mike Costin and Patrick Head

Formula 1 drivers, the successful ones at least, must exhibit a selfish streak: one seat, one vote.

In all other aspects, however, it’s a team game that has swelled into an industrial endeavour.

The captains of that transition have often worked in partnerships: two heads being better than one. As the job became more complicated, it roles more defined, complementary aptitudes and attitudes proved increasingly beneficial.

In this way Cosworth Engineering added repeatable, widespread excellence to the equation, which in turn allowed the likes of Williams Grand Prix Engineering to consolidate and flourish.

Keith Duckworth, a no-nonsense Northerner shot through with a skein of genius, joined forces with his rock, Mike Costin, a Londoner blessed with good grasp and good sense – “the idealist and the realist” – in 1958.

United by mutual respect and a shared dislike of employer Colin Chapman’s sharp practices and unstructured processes, their MAE, SCA and FVA customer engines – designed by Duckworth and developed (and often tested) by Costin – were the building blocks of Britain’s empire-building during the 1960s.

And their subequent DFV was the keystone to its forbidding Formula 1 Ford-tress of the 1970s.

From the archive: Lunch with Mike Costin (2012)

What they meant to Frank Williams can be gleaned from his instant recall of engine numbers stamped in his memory and prompt settling of Cosworth’s bills no matter how parlous the state of his finances.

Cosworth was straight down the line. It delivered what it promised and expected to be paid in full, on time. It knew a struggling good ‘un when it saw one, however, and was able to turn the occasional blind eye because it had wisely ploughed its profits into securing its future.

It provided the blueprint in so many ways.

But only when he employed Lola-schooled Patrick Head was Williams able to follow it, did the ducker-and-diver’s team become a swan: still paddling like billy-o beneath but serene on the surface.

Head provided a reassuring engineering mix of Duckworth inspiration and military precision and Costin conservatism and common sense – credo/mantra: do it once, do it well – which freed Williams to concentrate on the aspects of F1 which were becoming increasingly important and at which he excelled.

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From simply existing, suddenly he was living the dream; a dream shared with Head.

Their relationship, though stormier than Cos-worth’s (sic), was also rooted in a friendship stemming from mutual respect.

They, too, had spotted, appreciated and encouraged each other’s differences that filled the gaps to create the whole.

L-R: Mike Costin, Keith Duckworth and Walter Hayes

They, too, applied modern methods to old-fashioned values.

They, too, were key to Britain’s continued hegemony throughout the 1980s and deep into the 1990s.

Costin insisted that he’d spent 40 years at the University of Duckworth. Others, like Robin Herd and Brian Hart, came, learnt and went.

Numbered among the alumni of Williams University are Messrs Brawn, Newey and Oatley – all of whom knew that there could only be one Head boy.

It’s a different kind of selfish. Still first-past-the-post, yes, but more proportionate, more representative: two men, two votes.

That gets my vote.

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