Ayrton Senna: How he made Nigel Mansell world champion in 1992

(Motorsport-Total.com) – It sounds paradoxical, but it is like this: Ayrton Senna indirectly made Nigel Mansell the 1992 Formula 1 world champion. Because the superior Williams-Renault FW14B, with which Mansell won his only title, was actually reserved for Senna – but he overthrew his decision in August 1991 at the last minute.

Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna could have driven Williams back in 1992 if he wanted to

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Senna manager Julian Jakobi reveals this in an interview with the podcast ‘Beyond the Grid’. According to Jakobi, his protégé guessed as early as 1991 that Honda was on the decline. Senna was “worried” about this – and instructed his management to start negotiations with Frank Williams and Patrick Head, the heads of the rising Williams team.

Senna won the first four races of the season in 1991, but thereafter the Mansell-Williams-Renault combination emerged more and more. Mansell had won three out of the last five races and finished second twice when the Formula 1 team traveled to the Belgian Grand Prix, the eleventh round of the World Championship.

There Jakobi Senna presented both a Williams and a McLaren draft contract. “Ayrton felt he should go to Williams. Both contracts were ready for signing,” the manager recalls. “On Sunday morning we all thought he would sign with Williams.”

Honda President persuaded Senna on the phone

“But then it turned out that he had been on the phone with Kawamoto, who was in Japan, overnight. He came in on Sunday morning and said he would stay another year,” says Jakobi. Nobuhiko Kawamoto was the President of Honda, and Senna always had a much closer relationship with Honda than with McLaren and team principal Ron Dennis.

“His instinct told him to switch to Williams earlier, but he was loyal to Kawamoto,” says Jakobi. Senna and the Japanese automobile boss were “very close” – which is no wonder: Honda brought Senna from Lotus to McLaren at the end of 1987 and then won three world titles with the Brazilian. In Japan, Senna was considered a popular hero.


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Senna ultimately made the decision against Williams and pro McLaren “himself”: “We could only offer him both alternatives,” said Jakobi. “So he stayed with McLaren in 1992. He could have changed there. Then Nigel would probably not have been there – in the year in which he became world champion! Because Ayrton backed off, Mansell could stay.”

In 1992 Senna then fought with McLaren with blunt weapons. McLaren managed to make a coup with the electronic accelerator pedal (“Drive by Wire”), but Williams was number 1 in the technically innovative driving aids that were dominant in Formula 1 at the time, and the Renault engine was the better one Complete package than that of Honda.

In the end, the Honda group decided to end the Formula 1 program. Spicy detail: “They told Ayrton three months before they told Ron,” Jakobi reports. “He was devastated. So we had to look for another cockpit in 1993.” Particularly bitter: Arch rival Alain Prost had already signed with Williams at the time.

Jakobi: Both Sennas and Prosts Managers

Prost had left McLaren at the end of 1989 and Senna, meanwhile on Ferrari, delivered a hot fight for the world title in 1990. In 1991 things went downhill in sport and the fact that Prost scolded the Ferrari as a “truck” was not well received by team boss Cesare Fiorio. The “professor” was released prematurely – although he still had a valid Ferrari contract for 1992.

Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna

Silverstone 1991: Cheers in the red Ferrari, Mansell takes Senna as a passenger

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At that time Jakobi was right in the middle of the action. He was not only Sennas, but also Prost’s manager. “Alain was paid to stay at home in 1992,” he laughs. “Ayrton always found it very funny that I managed to get a driver to get his full salary for doing nothing for a year.”

Senna would not see any money for it, but after Honda’s exit and because Williams had no space, he ran out of options. “He thought about a year off, just like Alain did in 1992,” says Jakobi. The decision to hang up the helmet at least temporarily was “pretty close”.

A crisis meeting in February 1993 at Philip Morris’s Geneva office was required to persuade Senna to continue. Host John Hogan, who was responsible for the Marlboro sponsorship, drummed up all the relevant people. Also Senna, Jakobi – and, by the way, a young Marlboro manager named Maurizio Arrivabene.

Senna was already afraid of Schumacher in 1993

“It took a lot of persuasion to get Ayrton to keep going,” Jakobi recalls. First, Senna was concerned that McLaren’s new engine partner Ford would give the best engines to Michael Schumacher’s Benetton team. Second, Dennis now had to pay for the Ford engines, so he was only able to offer Senna a fee of five million US dollars.

That was a humiliation for the Formula 1 driver, who had been the highest paid until then. But that unconventional solution was found that day in Geneva: “Ayrton then said that he only drove the first five races. The room became quiet. […] So a contract for five races was agreed, with a million fee per race. After that you would go on seeing. “

The rest is history: Senna and Dennis worked their way from race to race, including classics like the Rain Grand Prix in Donington. Ultimately, no herb had grown against Cheers in Williams. Senna celebrated another historic victory at the season finale in Adelaide, in his farewell race for McLaren: McLaren was now number 1 on the eternal list of winners in Formula 1.

What was not known for a long time: “If his money wasn’t there on Wednesday, he didn’t come. It happened twice,” laughs Jakobi. For example at the fourth race of the season in Imola. Jakobi: “He was a day late. Jo Ramirez drove to Rome to pick him up by helicopter – but drove to the wrong airport! Then Ayrton drove the first practice session and threw the car straight into the wall.”

(Sponsored: If you want to find out more about the life and death of Ayrton Senna, we recommend the book “Ayrton Senna: Memories and Mementoes from a Life lived at full Speed” by Christopher Hilton, which was published in October 2018 of the 25th anniversary of death has been published.

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