Nigel Mansell, Formula 1’s greatest showman, was never the type to deny the crowds a dramatic spectacle. Self-confident and braggadocious, the hard-charging swashbuckler was either winning in style or crashing. For him, as tired as the saying is, there was no second place. Perhaps the grittiest, most determined man to pilot a Grand Prix car, Mansell put himself through the ringer to achieve what he did.
He had to surmount some obstacles to get his seat, which he won with talent, not money. He also entered an era in which the larger driver was becoming more of a handicap, and Mansell, the racer with a boxer’s build, was always disadvantaged when running against some of his jockeyish contemporaries. At 5’11” and 185 pounds, he was not exactly a heavyweight, but that extra bulk puts a greater strain on the heart. Perhaps that’s why he always looked so exhausted after a race.
Mansell was by no means out of shape, but the oppressive heat and the demanding layout at the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix proved too much for him, despite claiming pole position there. As was common during the height of the turbo era, Mansell’s Lotus 95T ran out of fuel on the last lap, just shortly before the finishing line.
In typical Mansell-style, he pushed his black Lotus towards the end, weaving worryingly on the way there. Collapsing beside his car, Mansell’s dramatic sixth-place finish marked the beginning of a career that was never boring. Call him a prima donna, but the man had a grittiness and a never-say-die attitude that won over millions of fans.