Mansell vs Hamilton


A crow flying the 87 Middle English miles that unite Stevenage and Upton-upon-Severn would enjoy at mid-distance a view of Silverstone – scene of many memorable moments for Our Nige and, oh, go on, Our Lew.

Mansell and Hamilton. Red 5 and Red 44. Blue-collar boys who grabbed the golden ticket and refused to let go. Tough nut racers with surprisingly thin skins and a knack for dividing opinion.

Add to that: a shared fondness for facial fluff; defining seasons alongside a Mr Rosberg; the upstaging of double-world champion team-mates; a predilection for daring overtakes; karate black belts; and that nagging feeling of being the outsider.

No wonder they know where each other are coming from. Just look at where they came from.

When Mansell publically backed him prior to July’s British Grand Prix, an under-pressure Hamilton was genuinely flattered: “Of all the past drivers, his support meant the most.”

Were those words of advice – “He just needs to concentrate, settle down a bit and get more Lady Luck” – ringing in his bejeweled ears after that qualifying howler?

Twenty-nine points behind Rosberg and clearly embarrassed by his inaction – this was a genuine low point.

Yet Hamilton returned the next day a new man: he concentrated, settled down a bit and got more Lady Luck. He was able to do so for a number of reasons – faith, family and friends – but Mansell’s common sense can’t have harmed in the restoration of that ‘positive energy’ motif.

Three months later this unlikely pair are linked more closely than ever: tied on 31 GPs apiece, including nine each in a single season.

Though they arrived at the same point via similar, familiar paths, Mansell’s road to success was more winding. Bumpier. Hamilton’s was groomed, clipped, neat. Mansell’s was distinctly hairy.

The latter began karting aged 10 – one year illegally young – whereas Hamilton was competing above board by the time he was eight.

Mansell’s father Eric, up for fun, helped him on his way. But they butted heads in 1976 when Nigel, already 22, graduated to Formula Ford and things became more serious.

He starred initially, but his subsequent struggles in formulae 3 and 2 and immediately beyond were Sisyphean: the broken neck (in FFord), the resignation and remortgage, the broken back, the painkillers at the Paul Ricard test and the painful petrol bath of the Österreichring are rightly legendary.

Hamilton’s path was linear and nothing but serious. He was winning GPs by the time he was 22.

That’s not to say sacrifices hadn’t been made and difficult decisions taken.

Father Anthony resigned (from British Rail) and remortgaged, and simultaneously held down several part-time jobs in order to concentrate on and fund his son’s career.

When mother Carmen and her partner – his parents divorced not long after his birth – moved south, schoolboy Hamilton moved in with his dad, step-mum and half-brother.

The only black kid in a white scene, he stood out because of his diligence, discipline, preparation, speed and winning instinct. His legendary approach, as a cheeky-cherub 10-year-old, to Ron Dennis only worked because he ticked all the right boxes.

Formative Mansell’s most obvious attribute was determination. Though the more perspicacious had noted the speed too often shaded by circumstance.

Colin Chapman was his ‘Ron Dennis’. ACBC spotted the potential and slotted him alongside Elio de Angelis in 1981.

This was no sinecure, however. Not only was Team Lotus in a protracted slump but also its welcome mat was rolled up and stored after Chapman’s fatal heart attack of December 1982. Cue World Warr (sic) Three.

McLaren was no sinecure either. Yes, it placed Hamilton with the best junior teams, and its MP4-22 of 2007 was a belter, but its freakish control overlaid Spygate and Liegate and wore down an increasingly self-aware Hamilton.

So claustrophobic did the 2008 world champion eventually feel in that gilded cage he butted heads with his father/manager.

The move to Mercedes-Benz in 2013 was blessed relief.

Mansell’s out was Williams in 1985. At the 72nd time of asking, already aged 32, he scored his first GP win. Genius uncorked, he also won the next GP, this time from pole position.

Having set just a single pole and two fastest laps beforehand, thereafter he crammed 29 victories, 30 poles and 28 fastest laps into 114 starts.

Hamilton’s wins – he first succeeded at the sixth time of asking – 38 poles and 19 fastest laps have required 145 starts.

Whereas Mansell had to make up for lost time, he has had to find a way of making the best use of his. Having done so, he should now pull away – in statistical terms at least.

It’s unlikely that he will ever become Our Lew. (For which his handlers are probably thankful!) Though his victory at Silverstone was enthusiastically received, it was hardly Mansell-mania.

He lacks the common touch for that. His on-off relationship with a superstar pop star and tax haven homes in Switzerland and Monaco founder against Mansell’s ‘rock’ Roseanne and his homes on ‘low-taxed financial centres’ Isle of Man and Jersey.

Much alike, Mansell and Hamilton are very different in so many ways – and completely of their respective times: from Thatcher to Twitter, from homely national hero to a homey global brand, via Upton-upon-Severn and Stevenage.

But who is the better?

My answer at least should be obvious: they’re equally as good.

For now.

Which is perhaps why Our Nige’s trademark ’tache is back and bristling.


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