DECEMBER 9, 1996

Mansell and Jordan

NIGEL MANSELL's fourth Formula 1 comeback continues apace with the unsurprising news that the 43-year-old Englishman will test for Jordan-Peugeot at this week's Barcelona testing. Mansell and Jordan met last week and agreed that Mansell should do two days of testing.

"There's no commitment from either party beyond this test," said Jordan. "I've asked Nigel several times over the years to drive one of my cars, but the timing wasn't right. Now it is."

In truth Jordan has little choice but to pursue his chase of Mansell. He has missed the boat on all the other star drivers - unless one places Martin Brundle in that category. Brundle is waiting to see what will happen. If he is left out of F1 he knows that he has something of a cushion because Britain's ITV television station is desperate to sign him up as a commentator - which offers Martin the chance of a second career in the sport.

Mansell has nothing to lose from the test. He knows that Jordan needs him and that means that he can effectively dictate his financial terms - so long as these are within the bounds of reality. Benson & Hedges and Peugeot will both be willing to pay. A retainer of around $8m is thought likely.

This would be very tempting for Mansell although Nigel has said many times that he will only come back if he is offered the right package. He may have learned from his disastrous relationship with McLaren in 1995 that being needed by a team which is willing to pay a lot of money for his services does not guarantee success - and he will know that Jordan's resources - both financially and technically - are inferior to those of McLaren. Last year's Jordan was rarely competitive and the team failed to record a single podium finish. There has been considerable discontent in the ranks - with several important team members leaving.

After the McLaren debacle, there is little Nigel can do to harm his reputation - and much he can do to improve it. If everything goes wrong the team will have to take the blame. The only thing which Nigel must avoid is being beaten by RalfÊSchumacher.

The move is a big risk for Jordan but one which he probably has to take in an effort to hold on to his Benson & Hedges sponsorship and Peugeot engines in 1998. Mansell is a household name but his tendency to complain loudly if things are not absolutely perfect can lead to negative publicity - as happened with disastrous effect when Nigel was at McLaren.

The test in Spain will give Mansell an idea of how competitive the Peugeot A14 engine will be next year and whether or not he can work successfully with the team. He will probably be engineered during the test by Tim Holloway - who he will have known since the late 1970s when they were both involved in March F3 projects. He will also be able to find out just how quick Ralf Schumacher actually is. If the test goes well the talks will continue but Mansell is unlikely to make any final decision until he has had the chance to test the new Jordan-Peugeot 197, currently under construction at Jordan's Silverstone headquarters.