"The Mexican wave carried me to victory": Nigel recalls Mansell-mania at Silverstone


Fans surged onto the circuit to celebrate Nigel Mansell's British Grand Prix wins. Then he went back to his trackside campsite, had a barbecue and watched the highlights

Nigel Mansell on the podium after winning the 1992 British Grand Prix

Mansell wins the 1992 British Grand Prix

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If Lewis Hamilton wins the British Grand Prix on Sunday, you can expect to see a repeat of the home hero crowd-surfing down the pits, carried by adoring spectators.

But three decades ago, Silverstone was the hotspot for Mansell-mania. And the home hero delivered.

Buoyed by cheering crowds that burst onto the track as the chequered flag waved, Mansell won five grands prix on British soil: three at Silverstone, and two at Brands Hatch.

It was an era where drivers mingled in the paddock with the crowd; where supporters poured across the circuit post-race before the cars had returned to the pits; and where drivers, including Mansell, camped at the track, just like the spectators.

“The most fantastic memories I have from Silverstone are of the camaraderie, the whole thing was a party from start to finish,” he says, crediting the support for his performances.

“The overriding favourite moment is the fans, one zillion per cent,” he adds. “Having one huge family supporting you at the British GP, I felt, gave me a minimum of half a second in my pocket.

“Maybe in qualifying, hanging on for the fans and hanging on for myself, I could maybe squeeze another second out of the car. It was just a fantastic occasion.”

Nigel Mansell catches Nelson Piquet at the 187 British Grand Prix Mansell catches Piquet at the 1987 British Grand Prix

As Nigel tells it, it was the Silverstone crowd that helped him in his famous pursuit of Nelson Piquet in 1987, after an unscheduled pit stop to replace an unbalanced wheel.

With just under half the race remaining, he had a 20sec gap to make up, and Mansell was riding on a wave of support. “For 15 laps, we had this Mexican wave every lap. They were taking me around the circuit,” he remembers.

On lap 63, the two Williams-Hondas turned onto the Hangar Straight, Mansell tucked behind Piquet’s rear wing, bearing down on the grandstands at Stowe corner.

“Even now you can see the arms are going,” says Mansell, pointing to the goosebumps as he describes the famous moment when he took the lead. “The roar when I caught him, to sell the dummy and then be able to take him on the inside and then we touched at about 200mph going into Stowe – it was a sensational win.”

Nigel Mansell returns to the pits on a moped after winning the 1987 British Grand Prix

Race-winner Mansell returns to the pits on a police motorbike

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As Mansell ran out of fuel on his way to the pits, it became clear just how close he had been to the limit, and he was taken to the podium on the back of a police motorbike, weaving through the crowds that were flowing on to the circuit.

His Silverstone victories in the early 1990s also brought spectators onto the track, with Mansell famously parting the crowds on his slow-down lap, both in 1992, en route to his world championship, and a year earlier, while giving a lift to a stranded Ayrton Senna.

“I could see he was getting a hard time from the fans and I thought ‘Well I’ll give him a lift, see if I can drop him off’,” says Mansell. “The hordes on track were just responding to the victory,” he says. “It was spontaneous. It was absolutely spontaneous.”

The Silverstone crowd surrounds Nigel Mansell's car on track at the 1992 British Grand Prix

Mansell’s car barely visible in the crowd at the 1992 race

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Higher fences soon put paid to uncontrolled track invasions, as F1 became ever-more tightly controlled. “We were very fortunate when we were racing then, there wasn’t that political correctness of health and safety.”

Mansell describes nostalgically the ability of fans to see the cars close up: “The fans could come into the pits and mingle among the cars and mechanics and then it got more secure in the late ’80s and ’90s, and now you can’t go anywhere unless you’re badged up to the hilt.”

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He also laments the changes to Silverstone that have diluted the challenge that it posed in the 1980s.

“The old, old Silverstone was the most incredible track,” he says. “But the old corners that were so incredibly challenging were Stowe and Club and of course they don’t exist [in the same form] any more.

“I understand from a safety point of view, but motor racing is dangerous and you should have some dangerous corners because it keeps drivers honest and it keeps it exciting. If you want to do something outrageously bad, you have a penalty for it. The penalty now, you just run off the circuit and drive back on. I don’t think that’s a penalty.”

Nigel Mansell on the top step of the podium at the 1987 British Grand Prix

Mansell capped his 1987 celebrations with a barbecue at his Silverstone campsite

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Some parts of the past generate more amusement than nostalgia. Where drivers today leave the circuit via helicopter to luxury accommodation, Mansell says that he simply camped at the track on the Sunday, after watching highlights of the race, and left the circuit on the Monday – in part to avoid the heavy traffic

“We stayed in the infield in tents and caravans initially, then graduated to motorhomes, but that was in the early ’90s.

“In ’87 when we won the race there, we celebrated by having a barbecue. We had the fans and we had a little football match as well and then we watched TV — the highlights — and then we stayed the night and left the next day.

“It’s very, very different [now] and you have great difficulty comparing the different eras.”