DECEMBER 16, 1996

Mansell's Jordan test

NIGEL MANSELL returned to F1 in Barcelona last week, completing a day and a half of testing with Jordan.

NIGEL MANSELL returned to F1 in Barcelona last week, completing a day and a half of testing with Jordan. The 43-year-old former World Champion completed 49 laps on the first day but only 10 on the second. "The proof of the pudding is in the clock," said Mansell after the first day of running when his best lap was only 0.46s behind Ralf Schumacher, who has been the testing the Jordan-Peugeot heavily in recent weeks.

Mansell left Barcelona saying that it was "60-40" that he would be making another F1 comeback.

"Over the next few days we will consider our future, we will have to see what develops. The next few days will give us a good indication of where things lie, but people will have to be patient. I am under no illusions. I've been there, done it with motor racing. I have just got to see if I want to make that commitment. Unless it is for the right reasons there is no point making the commitment, because if you do you have to breathe, eat and sleep the sport."

"I don't think the taste for motor racing ever went away," he continued. "It does give you a buzz but it can frighten the hell out of you. It's the closest thing to the edge of life you can get."

Now that Mansell has shown that he is still vaguely competitive it is down to negotiating money and with Nigel expected to ask around $8m there is still a chance that he and Jordan will be unable to agree on terms. Jordan, however, has no real options open to him and he is likely to be able to find the money from Jordan sponsor Benson & Hedges and from F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone who would like Mansell back to generate more publicity for the World Championship.

"Nigel has his own expectations, and I have mine," said Jordan. "He has proved that he was not here for fun. But I don't quite know what happens after this. It will take the two of us to tango. Nigel understands the complications of committing himself to a full season and he will make the decision in his own time. But there is no pressure on us to name our second driver quickly. There is a lot more talking to be done yet."

There are plenty of reasons for Mansell not to come back to racing but in the past Mansell has shown that he can be swayed by good money. Nigel has been retiring from F1 on a regular basis since June 1990, when he announced he was quitting Ferrari at the end of the year to spend more time with his family. Two months later Frank Williams offered him a drive and Nigel took it, going on to win the World Championship in 1992 only to retire again in September that year when FrankÊWilliams decided he would rather have Alain Prost. Mansell joined the Newman Haas Indycar team for two years. After Ayrton Senna was killed in mid 1994, Williams offered him another F1 drive and Mansell returned for a number of races, winning by good fortune in Adelaide when Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher collided. Frank Williams had him under option for 1995 but decided to hire David Coulthard instead. This left Mansell with no choice if he wanted to stay in F1 but to join McLaren. He did but the relationship was a disaster and he quit F1 for the third time after just a couple of races.

The latest comeback is being greeted with even greater skepticism.

"At his age," said Ralf Schumacher, "I would do something different."