Mansell vs Senna: greatest battles of the drivers 'born to compete'


Senna vs Mansell generated many of Formula 1's greatest scraps – which one would you pick out?

Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, McLaren-Honda MP4/7A, Williams-Renault FW14B, Grand Prix of Monaco, Monaco, 31 May 1992. (Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)

Senna claims the '92 win against Monaco – one of their greatest battles

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

In terms of vintage F1 rivalries, Senna vs Prost often comes to mind for many Formula 1 fans as the ‘greatest’.

Mansell vs Piquet was another bitter feud that provided much entertainment to fans, culminating in Prost ultimately taking an ’86 title which should have belonged to one of the Williams boys.

However, despite going toe to toe many times on track, the Mansell/Senna rivalry is less revered. It might be because there was less sniping in between races, less for the press to write about.

Occasionally the fighting spilled over into the pits — as in Spa, 35 years ago — but Mansell and Senna generally did their talking on the track (most of the time), creating great battles which have lived long in the memory. “Ayrton and I were born to compete with each other,” Mansell has said previously. Here are six of their best battle:


Spanish GP 1986


Jerez, the scene of one of F1’s closest ever finishes

Grand Prix Photo

Jerez played host to a three-car battle in 1986, as Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost went head-to-head in the second race of the season.

Senna started on pole, having secured it with a typically emphatic 0.8sec margin, and converted this into a race lead as Mansell passed his Williams team-mate Nelson Piquet for second.

He managed to box in Senna’s Lotus behind a backmarker to claim first on lap 39 but couldn’t pull away, as Prost in the McLaren also closed up.

Senna fought back, managing to eventually muscle back past Mansell 23 laps later, who ceded second to Prost also as he lost momentum.

Williams brought its man to the pits in a last-ditch attempt at the win, and Mansell began a momentous fightback on fresh rubber.

He gained 19sec over the remaining ten laps, quickly passing Prost in the process and soon having Senna in his sights as the Lotus driver struggled for grip.

As they rounded the final turn of the last lap, Mansell took advantage of a monstrous slipstream to pull alongside, but Senna held on – by 0.014sec, the third closest finish in F1 history.


Belgian GP 1987

The next season saw a confrontation which was over much quicker on the track, but went into a second round in the pits, where Mansell admits that the red mist descended and fists flew.

The Williams driver had taken pole by a huge 1.3sec from his team-mate Piquet, who was still suffering the effects of his horrifying Imola shunt that year.

But after a red flag due to the Tyrrell of Jonathan Palmer smashing into his team-mate Phillipe Streiff, Senna got a rocket getaway to lead at the restart.

Mansell, never on to be cowed, gave chase to the Lotus, gaining a sizeable draft out of Pouhon into Fagnes later that lap.

Mansell opted for the outside, but a tightening corner meant his rear-right hit Senna’s front-left wheel, sending both spinning off in an almost beautiful choreography.

Both ultimately retired as a result, but Mansell wasn’t going quietly. “I had a red mist, I’d never experienced it before in my life,” he said many years later. I thought. ‘I’m going to see my friend Ayrton’.

He headed for the Lotus pits, grabbed Senna by the overalls and pushed him up against the wall. “We had a very good communication. It was very lively and, to my amusement, because I had four people holding me, he stood in front of me and hit me quite a few times,” said Mansell. “The FIA didn’t do a thing. It was 2 big guys going for the world championship and we were threatening one another’s lives on the track like there’s no tomorrow and they thought, ‘let the drivers sort it out’. Sometimes the drivers need to sort it out.”

“Mansell fans will blame Senna, and Senna fans will blame Mansell, but the Brummie does make a (bad) habit of tangling with the hard Brazil nut,” commented our very own Jenks at the time.


Hungarian GP 1989


Hungary ’89: Mansell’s greatest win?

Grand Prix Photo

One of Mansell’s greatest wins which sealed his reputation as the beloved Il Leone of the Scuderia, and of one his most famous tussles with Senna.

From the archive

The Brit found himself 12th on the grid after a poor qualifying, but on a race day, when he summoned one of his signature charges, it mattered not.

As the lights went out the Ferrari immediately began to scythe its way through the field, over 2sec faster than anyone else on track.

By lap 40 Mansell was nestled third in the leading pack of Patrese, Senna and Prost, and when the Brazilian overtook the leading Williams on the next lap, the Brit immediately followed him through by crossing over into Turn 2.

Putting Senna under pressure for the next six laps, Mansell used the same trick as he’d done three years earlier in Jerez, boxing the McLaren in behind Stefan Johansson’s Onyx on the second straight to sensationally lead into Turn 4, carrying on to win.

“Maybe the best race of my life,” he said afterwards. It’s hard to disagree.


Spanish GP 1991

Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Michael Schumacher, McLaren-Honda MP4/6, Grand Prix of Spain, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, 29 September 1991. (Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)

Moments after the iconic shot…

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

Sparks flying, brakes glowing, vapour trails flowing – one of F1’s most iconic shots comes from Mansell and Senna dicing inches away from each other down the straight of Circuit de Catalunya.

Beginning on a wet track for the new Spanish venue’s first race Senna got the jump on second-placed Mansell at the start, who also fell behind the soft-tyred Benetton of Michael Schumacher a few corners later.

Mansell soon fought back though, and now in third began to close on Senna’s McLaren.

Coming out of the final corner on lap 3, Mansell drew up to the Brazilian using his slipstream.

The two could barely have been any closer to each other as they ran side by side down the start/finish straight. Mansell went deep into Turn 1 up the inside, but he had Senna covered and made the move stick.

A slow stop dropped Mansell back to third on the switch to slicks, but Senna spun off ahead of him out the final corner on lap 12.

Eight laps later Brit was hounding the Brazilian’s McLaren team-mate Berger when the Austrian snatched a brake at Turn 4, allowing the Williams through to romp away to the win.


Monaco GP 1992


Mansell hounds Senna, but to no avail


Senna is renowned for dominating Monaco, winning there six times, but it’s his defensive drive over Mansell which is possibly his most famous.

Mansell was desperate to claim victory at a race he’d never won, and he got off to a good start by taking pole by 0.8sec and then converting this into the race lead.

The Williams driver streaked away, leading by almost 30sec until lap 71, when Mansell thought he detected a left-rear slow puncture.

A long stop for the Williams man meant that Senna managed to take the lead. Coming out 7sec back, Mansell easily closed up, and with three laps left he was all over the Brazilian’s gearbox.

Mansell ducked left and right, but Senna was managed to make his MP4/7A as wide as possible, leaving no passing opportunity at all.

After three furious laps in which Senna put on perhaps F1’s greatest ever defensive display, the Brazilian duly took the win, snatching the victory from an exhausted Mansell.


Australian GP 1992

Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna (back seated, 2ndR) watches 92 British World Champion Nigel Mansell (in car) returning to his pit after the second qualifying practice session of the Australian Grand Prix on November 7, 1992 in Adelaide. - Mansell took the pole position while Senna will start in 2nd. (Photo by Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images)

Senna had Mansell in his sights early on in Adelaide


Mansell already had the record for most wins in a season – nine – in his championship year, and now he wanted to hit double figures at the season closer.

Taking pole was the right way to go about it, but after heading into the lead at the race start, the Brit found himself under heavy pressure from Senna in the McLaren.

The Brazilian managed to get past at the end of the Brabham straight, but his snaking McLaren overshot and Mansell crossed over to reclaim the lead.

The intensity remained though, as the triple-world champion harried the new world champion intensely.

Things then all came to a head on lap 18. Senna was still pressuring Mansell, but then misjudged – losing the rear of his McLaren as he slammed on the brakes into the final corner, thee red and white car smashed into the back of the Williams.

Both were in the gravel, and both were out. Mansell’s dream of double-figure season was over.