'Refusing to accept defeat' – 1987 British GP

by Damien Smith on 6th July 2018

A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

I’d been counting down the gap, lap by lap, as the Williams duo blasted past into the braking area for Stowe. Nigel Mansell, the ‘true grit, true Brit’ hero of the masses, had been forced to pit for new Goodyears thanks to vibrations from a tyre imbalance. 

Before the days of pitlane speed limits, he’d charged in and out in a fury – and was now refusing to accept defeat in front of his ‘barmy army’ of patriotic fans.

Despite the best efforts of Alain Prost at the start, Nelson Piquet and Mansell had already crushed the opposition in the Silverstone sun, Honda power and their brilliant FW11Bs a cut above the rest. Prost jumped the Williams pair from the second row, but by Maggotts poleman Piquet was through and Mansell was soon to follow. With an eye on tyre wear and fuel consumption, they still left the rest for dead.

The gap after Mansell’s stop had been more than 25 seconds. We’d all thought it was over. But now the tension built as Mansell closed in on the enemy within – the team-mate whom he couldn’t stand. We didn’t need the snatches of commentary from the useless speaker system to tell us what was possible. We could see, as lap records tumbled. 

View the 1987 British Grand Prix on the Database

If I close my eyes, I can still see it all unravelling in a 190mph flash from my perfect vantage point: the cars appearing into view from Chapel Curve almost as one, the violent vibrations of speed down the Hangar Straight, the dummy left, Piquet’s jink to defend and Mansell’s glorious swoop to the inside. Through the turn the Canon-liveried rear wings were side by side, almost touching. But Mansell was past and gone – on lap 63 of 65. We roared as one, a moment of purest sporting joy.

It had been all or nothing, ‘Red Five’ running out of fuel after the flag. We swamped the track in celebration – then dutifully climbed back over the sleepers in time to see ‘the moustache’ riding pillion on a police motorcycle. They stopped in front of us, Mansell climbed off – and kissed the track, Pontiff-style, at the point opposite me where he’d sold his dummy. Blessed was he that day…

At Club corner, unknown future colleagues and friends cursed Piquet’s luck, having already seen through Mansell’s pantomime histrionics. But as an impressionable 13-year-old, cynicism had yet to catch on. He’d defeated Piquet at Brands in ’86, and would win here again in crushing fashion in both ’91 and ’92. But ’87 was something else. It was the greatest race I’d
ever seen. It still is. DS

About 100 Greatest Grands Prix | From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

This was a special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

You can download 100 Greatest Grands Prix in PDF form in the Motor Sport app.

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