This weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix marks the 30th anniversary of Nigel Mansell clinching his long-awaited F1 title.
The British hero had suffered three near misses, finishing runner-up in the championship to Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna in 1986, 1987 and 1991 respectively. But he finally realised his dream at the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest, where his second place behind Senna sealed the title with five races to spare.
In total Mansell won nine races that season, including the first five, in the legendary FW14B, a version of which is owned by Sebastian Vettel, who took it for a demo run around Silverstone at the recent British Grand Prix. Mansell felt ’92 was his best – and possibly his last – chance to win the title, but his preparation for a huge year wasn’t ideal after he suffered a badly broken foot in the final race of the ’91 season in Adelaide.
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In monsoon conditions, the race lasted just 14 laps before being red flagged and abandoned following a spate of crashes, including one for Mansell when he ran over a piece of debris and speared into a wall.
“It splintered three of the toes in my left foot and completely broke the joints,” Mansell recalled in an interview with F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast earlier this year.
“It was a major decision on what to do because when we came back to America, where we were living at the time, the hospital said they needed to operate straight away.
“I said ‘hang on a minute, how long’s the recovery?’ They said three to four months. I couldn't afford that time, I couldn’t afford to miss the testing and development.
“I said it could wait and that if I walked on the inside of my foot and not put pressure on the outside of my foot, I could cope with it. A doctor friend had to come to the hospital and argue with them to release me.“
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Mansell kept his injury quiet and found a solution which allowed him to drive, even if it did lead to extreme pain during races.
“There was one set of boots I could wear with a carbon fibre insert which didn't allow any of my toes to bend in my left foot. If they did, it was incredibly painful,” he explained.
As well as managing his broken bones, Mansell set about losing more than a stone in weight to ensure he wasn’t at a disadvantage to the smaller drivers on the grid. The burley Brummie felt he had been losing up to half-a-second lap to some of his rivals.
The approach did the trick as Mansell and Williams dominated the first half of the season, meaning it was a case ‘when’ not ‘if’ he would end his long wait for the title. He finally went under the knife following the last race of the ’92 season which ended in another crash, this time after being taken out by Senna as the pair battled for the lead.
“I didn’t tell anybody about my broken foot,” he recalled. “You’ve got to be completely loony to drive the whole ’92 season with a broken left foot.
“After the last race in Australia, I was on crutches for three or four months because they’d repaired a more broken, a more damaged left foot than a year ago, but we got the job done.
“Some of the races were prolific from the pain but adrenalin overcomes everything. And if you’re having a good time and you’re winning, which we were, I wasn’t going to have the focus drawn to my foot or anyone else trying sabotage ’92. We got on with the job and it was a fantastic year.”
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