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From the archives: Mansell's debut Grand Prix win

Sunday, December 27 2015

At this time of the year we usually look back at the past season's memorable moments, but 2015 marks 30 years since one of the biggest highlights in Brands Hatch history, when Nigel Mansell delivered his first Grand Prix victory, and became Britain's biggest Formula One hope since James Hunt in the previous decade.

The 1985 European Grand Prix was Mansell's 72nd F1 championship race. Having been ditched by Lotus, he had found fresh impetus at Williams, and headed to Brands Hatch on the back of his best result so far, second in the Belgian GP behind Ayrton Senna, his replacement at the Norfolk-based squad.

Senna had also brought momentum to Brands Hatch, taking pole position ahead of compatriot Nelson Piquet, who was in his final year at Brabham. Mansell was third ahead of team-mate Keke Rosberg, and a row in front of title favourite Alain Prost.

MansellWinStartWith the drivers wrestling unruly turbo engines off the grid, the start looked much more chaotic than the smooth efforts of today's electronically-managed cars, and whilst Mansell challenged Senna into Paddock Hill, Piquet, Rosberg and Prost's starts were pedestrian in comparison. But Mansell lost momentum up the hill and ran wide at Druids, letting his team-mate and the Brabham past. He completed the opening lap just ahead of the Lotus of Elio de Angelis and looked set for a tough fight to get on terms with the leading trio.

Typically, Mansell turned up the wick and was soon able to get back on terms with the cars ahead, just as Rosberg was lining up an attack on Senna's Lotus. He soon took a lunge heading into Surtees, but the Brazilian closed the door on entry, and Keke was forced into a spin. Poor Nelson had nowhere to go, and broke his suspension, retiring on the spot. Meanwhile the Williams toured into the pits with a puncture.

Rosberg rejoined the race almost a lap down and, clearly angered by Senna's robust defence of the lead, was in no mood to let him through. Mansell had by now closed on the Lotus, and sensing his opportunity, seized his chance to head the race to the delight of the home crowd. By the time Senna had lapped Rosberg, the Englishman had a useful lead.

But Mansell had led races before, most notably at Monaco the previous year, and victory was by no means assured. His pit crew even stopped putting out signals, figuring that it would add unnecessary anxiety. No matter; Nigel later said he could feel the crowd counting down the laps.

Senna would lose ground to the eventual winner throughout the race, later coming under attack from Marc Surer's Brabham and, temporarily, Jacques Laffite's Ligier. Behind him, Prost climbed his way up to the top six after his slow start, and after a fiery end in the pits for title rival Michele Alboreto's Ferrari, made it a double celebration by claiming his first World Championship. Surer's car also failed, enabling Senna to reclaim second place, but Prost would not join winner Mansell on the podium, for Rosberg completed an excellent comeback driver with third place.

There were grumbles from Senna fans about the manner in which the Williams drivers had ambushed the Lotus, but as F1 journalist Alan Henry stated in his book 'The Turbo Years', Colin Chapman's widow Hazel had told Lotus Team Manager Peter Warr, never Mansell's greatest supporter, that they were not going to protest the result. Henry also mentioned that Hazel was later to have said that she didn't really understand their process of choosing drivers and felt they should never have let Nigel go.

Mansell was, however, revelling outside the post-Colin Chapman Team Lotus atmosphere, and would go on to win the next race in South Africa before mounting his first title challenge in 1986, when he won again at Brands Hatch. It was the start of a long, often heartbreaking, journey to his 1992 World Championship.