Nigel Mansell fans would probably like to forget the embarrassing end to his career in 1995 with McLaren.
After sponsors Marlboro encouraged Ron Dennis to sign the star, Mansell missed the first two races because he couldn’t fit in the car. Once that was sorted he only appeared for the team twice before refusing to drive the uncompetitive MP4/10 any more.
Although that partnership proved fruitless it may have led to McLaren nurturing and eventually signing its current megastar driver – Lewis Hamilton.
Writing for Autocar, Alan Henry relates an interview with ZipKart boss Martin Hines who helped Lewis Hamilton develop his karting career. Henry reports Hines saying:
Around the time that McLaren were going through their short-lived relationship with Nigel Mansell and was trying to persuade Ron [Dennis] that really ought to give some consideration into putting all McLaren’s resources into backing a young kartist, even if it was a ten year programme.
So he asked me for my advice as to whom I might think was the best youngster and I told him Lewis. He thought it all through and eventually took my advice. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Assuming this was in late 1994 or early 1995, does the timing stack up with what we know of Lewis Hamilton’s career?
In 1995 Hamilton won the cadet karting championship for junior drivers. It was at the end of that season tha Hamilton made his famous approach to Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards, declaring he wanted to drive for McLaren in the future.
Hines and Dennis had launched the Champions of the Future karting series in 1994 and Hamilton won the competition in 1996, collecting his trophy from David Coulthard. During the season Dennis had taken a helicopter out to a race at Kimbolton in Cambridgeshire.
The following year he created the McLaren Driver Development scheme and took Hamilton on board, and we all know how the story goes from there.
How appropriate that the end of Mansell’s F1 career should intersect with Hamilton’s just as it was beginning.
It’s also a reminder of how British drivers benefit from the extent of motor sport activity in the country. One of Hamilton’s biggest rivals from his junior career to today, Robert Kubica, had to leave his native Poland to hone his race craft in Italy.