Thursday, 25 August 2011

PIQUET VS MANSELL

Nelson Piquet career 1978-1991
Nelson Piquet started his Formula One career at age 26 near the end of the 1978 season with three drives for McLaren, achieving one ninth place finish in the old M23 model. Bernie Ecclestone then signed him for the Brabham team for the year’s last race in Canada, joining Lauda and Watson. He replaced Watson for 1979. Nelson could not have had a better formative start to F1 racing:, experienced team-leader Niki Lauda and he got on well. Based on season average, Lauda rated at 100.4; Piquet at a very creditable 100.7. After Lauda’s sudden retirement late in 1979, Piquet went on to lead the Bernie Ecclestone-owned team for eight seasons. From 1980 to 1984, he remained a leading contender and race winner. His best season was 1983 when he won the Drivers’ Championship and set a record ten poles in the beautiful, powerful Brabham-BMW turbo. Until 1987, Nelson remained a talented, shrewd race-winner, with great feel for the car and for race tactics.

Nigel Mansell career 1980-1995
Nigel Mansell also debuted at age 26 when he was taken on by Colin Chapman for Lotus for two races near the end of 1980. He retired in both. Chapman continued to believe in Nigel’s potential until his own untimely death in 1982. Overcoming this loss and several other difficulties, Mansell persevered. He started benefitting and displaying his talents after joining Williams in 1985. Thanks to his phenomenal winning record, sheer speed and fighting spirit, Nigel continues to have numerous fans and has garnered respect as one of the great drivers. Contrary to popular perception, Nigel was physically very sensitive, had superb feel and a delicate touch in the car. Much like a gifted musician. This is one of the reasons he was so good in wet conditions, and in an era when many drivers were not.

Despite their outstanding records, talent, abilities and long careers, neither Piquet nor Mansell seem to be mentioned in the same breath as Fangio, Moss, Clark, Stewart, Prost, Senna or Schumacher. This was certainly not due to any deficiencies in natural talent, which both had in abundance. Nigel’s phenomenal pole -setting lap at Silverstone in 1992 and Nelson’s speed and relish with the awesomely-powerful, turbocharged Brabham-BMWs of the mid-eighties, are just some of many examples of both drivers’ naturalness in the cockpit.

Piquet was perhaps too comfortable during his last six Brabham years. His team-mates were much slower, and never threatened or extended him. Perhaps this prevented him from overcoming the fastest team-mate he ever had: Nigel Mansell in 1986? . Thereafter, he crashed at high speed in practice at Imola in 1987; the consequent concussion definitely affected his speed. Mansell’s only weakness was in not being as politically-astute as some other great drivers in the out-of-cockpit internal team politics.

The table below compares their driver ratings (car neutral). Ultimate pace is 100.0, with ascending decimals being slower; each 0.1 being, say, 0.1 second in a 100.0 second lap. Bear in mind that, scored by this same Rating System, the peak ratings of Graham and Damon Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi were 100.5 when they won WDCs and that Hunt’s best rating was 100.3, Ronnie Peterson’s 100.2.

 
Season






1
1978
Piquet
101.8
1980
Mansell
102.0
2
1979
Piquet
100.7
1981
Mansell
100.7
3
1980
Piquet
100.5
1982
Mansell
100.6
4
1981
Piquet
100.3
1983
Mansell
100.6
5
1982
Piquet
100.1
1984
Mansell
100.5
6
1983
Piquet
100.0
1985
Mansell
100.8
7
1984
Piquet
100.2
1986
Mansell
100.4
8
1985
Piquet
100.3
1987
Mansell
100.3
9
1986
Piquet
100.3
1988
Mansell
100.2
10
1987
Piquet
100.5
1989
Mansell
100.4
11
1988
Piquet
100.7
1990
Mansell
100.4
12
1989
Piquet
100.9
1991
Mansell
100.3
13
1990
Piquet
100.8
1992
Mansell
100.4
14
1991
Piquet
101.0
1994
Mansell
100.8
15
-


1995
Mansell
101.4


Both drivers started off virtually equal-matched at 101.8 (Piquet) and 102.0 (Mansell), these ratings being within then-norms. Their real talent showed when teach rated 100.7 in their first full, second seasons! Stewart and Schumacher debuted at 100.8 and 100.7. Piquet continued a typical great driver’s climb to reach ultimate pace by his sixth season in 1983. By contrast, Mansell hardly improved after Colin Chapman’s death in 1982. The reasons were probably inter-team politics. Nelson was so comfortable with the Brabham team and designer-team-manager, Gordon Murray. Nigel did not have the support of new Lotus team manager Peter Warr, nor of many in the racing media, who did not rate his ability highly. In addition, he was competing with a very fast, naturally-talented team-mate, Elio de Angelis. Piquet had no team-mate threats at Brabham after Lauda retired, but he had had a season to learn from an experienced master; the two got on well and Lauda was very helpful.

The 1985 season was crucial to each driver’s career. Nelson was becoming de-motivated with his relatively low pay, and was looking around. Mansell left Lotus and joined 1982 Champion Keke Rosberg at Williams-Honda for 1985. Rosberg was very fast, and over the whole season shaded Nigel’s best times. In addition, Nigel was having to rebuild his own confidence and adapt to the new team and car with its powerful Honda turbo engine. By season’s end, Mansell had gained enough confidence to win at Kyalami. This when leader-from-the-start Keke slid on oil, Nigel took his chance and drove magnificently to his first win. This was a huge boost to his self-belief, which he was to retain until 1990. Piquet dropped from his peak to a still very fast 100.3 in 1985.

For 1986, Mansell was joined at Williams by Piquet after Rosberg moved to McLaren-Porsche. The Williams team were at the top, with unmatched Honda engines and two very competitive, virtually equal-rated drivers. Here lay the trouble: Piquet thought he would have little trouble from his team-mate who had never been highly-rated by many in the pit lane and the media. Nelson was in for a shock. Mansell won five times, he only four times in the season’s fastest car. Piquet’s response was to start out-of-cockpit tactics: very personal verbal warfare against Nigel.

At Imola early in 1987, Piquet crashed in practice and received concussion which slowed him by 0.2 secs per 100.0 sec lap for his rest-of- season average. Nelson related how he had suffered from headaches and tiredness for months afterwards. Nigel went on to six fine wins; Nelson admirably managed three.

Piquet left Williams for Lotus the next season - taking Honda engines with him - but his pace dropped to 100.7 and 100.9 for the two Lotus seasons 1988-89. Nigel stayed with Frank Williams and improved his ratings to peak at 100.2, despite Williams having lost Honda engines and having to make do with the small-budget and unreliable Judd engine. Nigel managed two fine seconds in the outclassed car. Riccardo Patrese joined Williams for 1988 and was to have such a beneficial affect on Mansell’s career later.

Piquet was lured to Benetton for his last two seasons 1990-91, where he raced at uninspired pace before retiring from F1. He first had as team-mate the fast but inexperienced ex-rally champion Nannini and then Moreno who equalled Nelson’s speed rating. Piquet’s race craft and experience nevertheless enabled him to take advantage of others’ troubles to score two more wins at the end of 1990. The first, thanks to the infamous Senna-Prost crash and Mansell’s Ferrari retirement in Japan, Piquet ‘inherited’ the win. He then scored another in Australia after leader Senna crashed. In 1991 Piquet managed one more win, in Canada, racing at a reduced season average of 101.0. The last five races of Nelson’s last season saw a link forged with the start of another era. The22 year-old Michael Schumacher became his team-mate and was immediately faster at 100.7 rating! Piquet’s experience, shrewd racing brain, car set-up skills and mechanical sensitivity were still there, however, as he just outscored the young German with a 4th , a 5th, a 6th and a 7th against a 5th , two 6ths and two retirements. This ended a great career of 23 wins.

 For 1989, Mansell accepted a good offer from Ferrari to join Gerhard Berger. The two chargers were close-matched for speed, but Mansell came out on top with two wins to Berger’s one in the unreliable-experimental, auto-gearbox Ferrari. Mansell was dubbed Il Leone by the Tifosi for his fighting performances and has remained a favourite in Italy.

For 1990, Mansell welcomed Alain Prost as team-mate at Maranello. Prost’s all-round diligence, political skills, technical competence and sheer speed shocked Nigel. He slowed to 100.4, even though Alain had dropped slightly from ultimate pace to 100.1. The wins went five-to-one in Prost’s favour in his great battles to try and beat Senna’s McLaren-Honda.

Mansell left Maranello at season’s end to rejoin Williams for 1991, now with advanced, pneumatic-valved, high-revving Renault engines. This proved a great move. Team-mate Patrese had done and continued to do most of the testing and development of the advanced Williams-Renaults. Consequently Riccardo became chief engineer Patrick Head’s favourite driver for his hard work and ability in testing, and for the fact that he would hop on a plane to test at a freezing Silverstone at any time. His more famed team-mate was not so inclined. The two got on well, mainly because Nigel was not threatened as he had been by Piquet and Prost. Mansell and Patrese scored five and two wins respectively in 1991. It must be mentioned that in the early races, the loyal Patrese virtually matched Nigel until his win in Mexico; hereafter he was told that ‘it was Nigel who must do the winning’!  In 1992 the Williams-Renault Team hit the jackpot. So did Mansell, who scored a record nine wins.

When he heard that Prost would be joining Williams for 1993, Mansell left to do Indycar racing. He returned to F1 for 1994 and some one-off drives for Williams-Renault in the wake of Senna’s death, and just about matched full-timer Damon Hill for speed. He scored a fine last win at the season-ending Australian GP. This after the infamous Schumacher-Damon Hill collision. Nigel’s last two F1 races in 1995 for McLaren-Ilmor-Mercedes failed: the car’s cockpit was too small! This saw the end of a great career at age that yielded 31 wins.

Purely coincidentally these two great drivers Piquet and Mansell debuted at age 26 and retired at 39 and 41 respectively. Piquet reached his ultimate, peak pace within six years, thereafter remained high rated for a further four seasons. . Mansell took eight years to reach his peak but he too remained at a high speed rating for another four seasons. Interestingly, even when each had slowed to 100.8 rating at 38 and 40 years old, they managed wins, albeit after faster packages retired!

In bare, historical stats, Piquet’s 23 wins places him up with Fangio, Nuvolari and Caracciola, while Mansell’s 31 puts him fourth of all time behind Schumacher’s 91, Prost’s 51 and Senna’s 41. One cannot read too much here into these stats nor make too close comparisons, but Nelson and Nigel really were in exceptional company.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.

9 comments:

  1. "His best season was 1983 when he won the Drivers’ Championship and set a record ten poles in the beautiful, powerful Brabham-BMW turbo. "

    He also won the 1981 championship...

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  2. Looking at the driver ratings for the Gypsy and the Lion, it makes Prost and Senna even more impressive!!

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  3. I would like to commend you on your blog and particularly on your rating system. I have read what I can find about it and I'm very interested. Do you have the data anywhere that I can access as I'm interested to see more. I've been a fan of motor sport since about 1974-5 and have not missed a race since the late 70s. Once again well done.

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  4. Hi Flavio
    Many thanks for your encouragement and inspiration for this one!
    Really enjoyed all the extra info you provided about NP! He could be very funny; a really great driver.

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  5. Hi Heslig

    Your positive comments are really appreciated. You certainly have a long history of following GP racing.

    I would like to have my Ratings System published as a book - the search for a sponsor/publisher is ongoing. Having experienced plagiarism involving some of my previous work, however, I have omitted from the Executive Summary a detailed explanation of how the System is calculated. The text in the Executive Summary was originally a proposal prepared with a view to obtaining a sponsor/publisher. My work on The Rating System has not been published yet, apart from this blog and some bits in the Planet-F1 Forum.

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  6. Hello Patrick,

    Why not publish the Book yourself? With the wealth of F1 knowledge you possess, I'm sure it will be a fantastic and insightful read and in my opinion, if Peter Windsor thought so highly of your system and the results it yielded, I'm sure it's accurate, fairly across the board.

    This article in particular is another fantastic comparison and read. As for Mansell, I'm more than certain he'd be ranked higher were it not for landing rides that were nowhere near as competitive as others early on in his career. Even still, he muscled some of those cars to podium finishes and victories in a way no other could. He came to the States to run in CART in '92 and immediately acclimated himself to the Newman-Haas Lola-Cosworth T91/00 and was instantly the guy to beat and took the Championship that year and did so as a Gentleman.

    Piquet is a Man's Man and though he lacks some tact, I think a great deal of his comments over the years were more of the Wise-Ass type rather than vindictive and mean spirited just to get under their skin to throw other drivers off their game, though most, if not all his commentary did reflect his core feelings about his colleagues. Either way, he was the kind of Character that is sorely missed in F1. Today I think there are too many Mansells in that everyone is too politically correct and far too few Piquets who say what they feel with the exception of 1 or 2 guys from time to time.

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  7. Hi Incubus

    Hopefully a publisher or sponsor will see the interest in and potential of my Rating System on this blog.

    Your support and interesting comments are appreciated. I did not mention Mansell's 1993 season as it would have made the piece too long. He was very succesful then, but it was Mario Andretti who did the develepoment and car set-up work which enabled NM, the younger, faster driver, to benefit. Agree with you that we need more Piqeut-type characters in F1 interviews today!

    I have re-read your ranking table from your previous Comment - it shows a lot of thought. As you said, Senna would be very hard for any other driver to beat.

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  8. Dear Patrick,

    great piece as always. I would however like to point out a small factual mistake. You wrote regarding 1985 Kyalami that:

    "Nigel took his chance and drove magnificently to his first win."

    Mansell's first win however was at Brands Hatch indeed, the race before Kyalami. Therefore Kyalami was his second victory.

    It would also worth pointing out that both for those victories Rosberg was pretty much in the running as he yet again was the faster of the two Williams. Nigel needed Rosberg's misfortunes to score his first two victories.

    At Brands Hatch the finn was spun off by Senna and got lapped because he suffered a puncture when Piquet hit his Williams facing the wrong way as a result of his spin. Nevertheless, the Finn magnificently unlapped himself from Mansell and ended up in third behind the Englishman and Senna! Also, after emerging from the pits following his unscheduled stop for tyres, he blocked and held the Brazilian back hence helping Mansell massively to get by Senna and gain a significant lead over him.

    I think looking at their respective race pace, there is no question that without Senna's unfair move at Brands Hatch and Ghinzani's oil puddle in Kyalami, Rosberg would have won both races.

    Regards,
    Richard

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  9. Richard, thanks for pointing out my error. You are right that Kyalami 1985 was Mansell’s second win after the European GP at Brands Hatch. I actually saw Rosberg’s spin on someone else’s oil at Kyalami’s Crowthorne Corner when leading, which let Mansell through. Prost in the McLaren-P then pushed Mansell hard, but had an elec problem and dropped back. Rosberg came charging past to close on Mansell but had used up a set of tyres doing so and had to pit, but still only finished 8 secs behind. An exciting race, the turbos doing nearly 340 km/h on the straight. I agree with you too that Rosberg was the superior/faster driver all season, which is clearly shown in my Rating System’s Season Summary for 1985.

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