Nigel Mansell was the last driver to win a Mexican Grand Prix, back in 1992 for Williams. He dominated. Now, the Mexican GP is back for 2015 and Nigel has a corner named after him and is going to attending the event as a guest of the organisers – he’ll be meeting and greeting fans too. Probably talk about his new book too, but for now you can enjoy a chat with Nigel Mansell about the Mexican GP and F1 in general.
The last Grand Prix of Mexico was dominated by Williams, what did you think during the race while you driving alone on the track?
The big thing I thought about when leading any race was the management of the car, you want to make sure that you drive within the car’s limits and finish the race – that’s the most important thing. When I was competing, reliability was a huge issue so once you were out in front, the main focus was on bringing the car home.
Did you think to dominate the race in that way and who was the driver (oponent) to be careful of?
Good question. For me the key has always been to be focussed on myself and my machine and its limits and capabilities. Of course I was aware of my opposition, I raced with some of the best; Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and let’s not forget my team mate at the time, Riccardo Patrese, he kept the pressure on me too. I always tried not to look over my shoulder too much though, mostly it was me and my machine in my mind.
Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher are legends of F1, what did you need to beat them at the Grand Prix of Mexico?
I needed the perfect car set-up and that’s what I had. My engineer and I put in so much work to ensure the optimum set-up ahead of the race. That was really the key to my success on the day, we prepared really, really well and I drove a good, strong race.
What do you remember of the old circuit of the Grand Prix of Mexico?
The main challenge of the old track was getting the car balanced on all the corners. For the most part, this wasn’t possible as the altitude reduced downforce by approximately 20 per cent so we had to prioritise which corners we wanted the best balance on. The old track was a superb test of a drivers ability and nerve behind the wheel. In addition to the challenge of the track we had the atmospheric changes to deal with such as the heat and the high altitude, both factors that had a huge strain on a driver and he must adapt quickly to get the most from competing under such conditions.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was it a challenge race track?
Yes, it was famous for being extremely challenging. I think it was built on a old salt bed so it moved and shifted over time, it was a really dynamic track and the old Peraltada was a huge challenge and opportunity from a driver’s perspective.
How did you celebrate the win in Mexico? Did you meet any restaurant, you stay in the hotel or what did you do?
Sadly in those days there was no real time for celebrating like you have now, we finished the race, packed up, jumped on a plane back to Europe for a few days of testing before heading out to the next race. I can’t remember exactly but I probably got on the plane and fell fast asleep!
While you stayed in Mexico, Did you sightseen before or after the race?
There wasn’t really time for sightseeing however, I was and still am, a huge fan of playing golf so I did manage to squeeze in a few fantastic games of golf in Mexico during my times racing there. I always remember that the higher altitude allows the ball to go further than it does at sea-level which I really appreciated – it made me feel like a pro!
What was your favorite food while you were in Mexico?
Unfortunately I didn’t really have much of a chance to sample the local food outside of the race track. I know that Mexico is now famous for it’s cuisine and it’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to experiencing when I return for the race this year!
What do you think about the return of F1 to Mexico?
I think it’s great for the sport, for the city and for the fans. When I last raced there you could feel the passion and energy of the fans in the air. No where else on the race calendar brought that level of colour, excitement and diversity – I’m really looking forward to being back there for the race.
Have you seen the new track in México? In your opinion, what is the difference between the Mexico Grand Prix in 1992 and 23 years later?
I’ve seen graphics but i’m yet to see it in person. I think that the new track remains largely true to the former track so it will be great to drive. I’m told it will be the second fastest on the race calendar after Monza (Italian Grand Prix). The main change is to the final corner where the Peraltada used to be.
How do the drivers prepare before driving a new circuit (in this case, México)?
These days the drivers are incredibly lucky as they have simulators so the data of a new track can be loaded weeks ahead of the race for the driver to prepare. The technology is mind-blowing, the simulators provide such a real experience. It’s nothing like in my day when you prepared by walking and driving the track alone.
Sergio Perez is the only Mexican driver in F1 today, Do you think he has the talent to be champion in F1?
I think anyone who has made it as far as the starting grid has the chance to be a future champion but getting there is one thing, the most important thing then is to maximise on the opportunities once you’re there. You must raise your game, put in the time with your car and the team and make the most of every moment to improve and realise your potential. Sergio is a really good example of someone who is making the most of the opportunities he has, only time will tell if he has the talent to consolidate it all and become world champion.
Esteban Gutierrez is Ferrari test driver, in your opinion, what does he need to return to drive a F1 car?
Even as a test driver, I would say the same to Esteban as I would to Sergio, you must make the most of all the opportunities available to you – put in the time, the work and push your hardest.
F1 has changed so much. Were the old cars better compared to the current ones?
So much has changed since I was competing. The main thing for me is that the physicality has been removed, you don’t need to be as physically strong now to be a driver as you did when I was racing because you have the addition of power steering. In my day, the driver carried the car, these days I think it has become the opposite, the car carries the driver to a certain degree. Don’t get me wrong, talent is still essential but I miss the raw strength that used to be required.