“On the last lap, the team came on the radio, saying ‘Push, push… Nigel is stopping’. It was a big surprise – a nice surprise!”
Nigel Mansell probably doesn’t look back on the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix with fond memories. Nelson Piquet on the other hand almost certainly does. We’re not looking to drag up any bad memories for all you Mansell fans out there, but when a driver breaks down so close to home it’s inevitable that it’ll be one to remember.
Mansell’s team-mate Ricardo Patrese had taken pole, but it was the Briton who led in to turn one and quickly began to pull away. By one-third distance the Williams cars had built a lead, but the first chink in their armour showed when Patrese began to slow. He was able to keep it going, but dropped behind Piquet’s Benetton and the Tyrrell of Stefano Modena as the race reached its closing stages.
Mansell meanwhile had been in total control, and led across the line to start the final lap. Then, just a few corners from home, as he waved to the crowd, Mansell’s car slowed dramatically. He’d lost power – ostensibly because of gearbox gremlins, though it’s widely believed he let the revs drop too low as he did his best impression of the Queen – and was grinding to a halt. He was passed by a somewhat shocked Piquet, who claimed the final – and perhaps luckiest – win of his F1 career. Behind him Modena was a career-best second, whilst Patrese saved some face for Williams, albeit 40 seconds down in third.
Afterwards, Mansell was understandably gutted: “It is almost unbelievable. I went into the hairpin changed down from fifth to fourth, like I had done the previous 68 laps, and then it went to neutral and the engine cut almost simultaneously, like there was an electrical failure. It just stopped, it was as simple as that. When you are that far in front and have driven a fantastic race, like I think I did, there really is nothing to say except we’ll have to try again. Up to that point I had had no problems at all”.
Piquet and Mansell never got on, so the fact that Nelson inherited the win must have made it all the worse for Nigel – and, conversely, all the sweeter for the Brazilian. We definitely fancy some last lap lead changes this weekend, but we can do without a repeat of what happened to Nige – it’s just too cruel.