FEBRUARY 6, 1995

McLaren confirms Mansell

Nigel Mansell has finally been confirmed as a Marlboro McLaren Mercedes driver for 1995.

Nigel Mansell has finally been confirmed as a Marlboro McLaren Mercedes driver for 1995. Mansell will partner Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen while McLaren's driver lineup is completed by Danish test driver Jan Magnussen.

The long-awaited deal between Mansell and McLaren is believed to have come about after Mansell dropped his financial demands dramatically. Rumors in F1 circles suggest that Mansell's retainer dived from US$15m to around US$10m because Marlboro was unwilling to pay his original asking price.

Marlboro, however, was the prime mover in getting Mansell into the team, the cigarette giant insisting that it wanted to have a World Champion among its drivers. Since the death of Ayrton Senna and the retirements of Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet, there is a shortage of World Champions. Senna, Piquet and Prost monopolized the World title between 1985 and 1991 which left only Michael Schumacher and Nigel Mansell as possible McLaren drivers. With Schumacher tied into Benetton for one more year, Mansell emerged as the only choice.

Marlboro's financial power won over both McLaren and Mercedes-Benz, neither of which wanted Mansell. Mercedes was keen to have a lower profile driver - Christian Fittipaldi - so as not to draw too much attention to the company's new engine before it is competitive, while McLaren boss Ron Dennis's dislike of Mansell has been well-documented. At the announcement in London, Dennis said that Mansell was a driver with "a split personality" but that he had come to appreciate that there was a different Mansell behind the public figure. This was little more than a worthy PR attempt to paper over the cracks in the relationship. At the launch journalists were betting that the pair would not last out the season together and other teams were gloating that the battle between Mansell and Dennis would do more harm to McLaren than it would do good.

While Mansell remains a huge star for the racing public around the world, he is not popular in the F1 paddock, although everyone in the business recognizes that he has considerable talent and the McLaren announcement is being seen as a big boost for F1 in general.

But Mansell may not enjoy his last season in F1 because he is sure to be stretched to the limit by the pace of 27-year-old Mika Hakkinen. The Finn has to beat 41-year-old Mansell if he wants to have a future in a top F1 team. If Mika fails to outpace Mansell he will have no hope of keeping his place at McLaren in 1996 when Schumacher is expected to join Marlboro McLaren Mercedes. Hakkinen's need to prove himself will be sharpened by the knowledge that McLaren has rapid young Magnussen waiting in the wings to join the team in 1996, the Dane spending this year completing miles and miles of testing for the team - a similar deal to the one which resulted in Hakkinen winning his place at McLaren at the end of 1993, when he replaced the outclassed Michael Andretti.