Nigel Mansell: I saw Villeneuve blow out of the car

( – “Back then, there were frequent deaths,” says Nigel Mansell when asked about the early 1980s in Formula One history, as the Daily Mail says. And Mansell admits: “All of this could occupy you mentally.”

Nigel Mansell

Nigel Mansell: The memories of Villeneuve’s accidental death never fade



An experience on the racetrack continues to haunt him to this day, says Mansell, Formula 1 world champion in 1992. It is the accident death of Ferrari icon Gilles Villeneuve. “I won’t forget what happened to him in Zolder until the end of my days,” says Mansell.

Villeneuve collided with Jochen Mass’s March in qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder. “I drove in the car and saw everything,” says Mansell. “I saw him fly through the air, how he came down, how he was thrown out of the vehicle, how he crashed into the crash barriers.”

Formula 1 as a high-risk sport

He could well remember what was going through his mind at that moment. Namely, that Villeneuve’s chances of survival “were practically nonexistent”, Mansell continues. “It was the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen. I was dismayed and still am.”

In Formula 1 of the 1980s, serious accidents like this were a cruel reality. Racing was a “serious deal” according to Mansell, who never officially resigned. He says: “Even if you didn’t die, you could get injured. The gangs were very close to the track. You never knew what would happen.”

A rethink in Formula 1 only began after the three-time world champion Ayrton Senna died in an accident, i.e. after the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, in which Roland Ratzenberger was also fatally injured.

Imola 1994 brought about a rethink

This tragedy was a “catastrophe for motorsport”, Mansell says in retrospect. “Because it has changed motorsport forever. There have been many good changes, but also some bad ones.”

For example, what Mansell sees as a “terrible mistake”: “Many racetracks around the world have been sterilized.” Traditional courses, which had remained almost unchanged for decades, were given a new face due to tightened safety requirements, courage curves disappeared, and fall zones grew.

Mansell is bothered by this trend. Reason: “Formula 1 was once an incredible sport because you were rewarded for driving well, and punished if you didn’t care. You couldn’t go through a curve with 250 things without a certain talent. Today” , says Mansell, “it is very different.”

What was better in the past

However, Mansell admits how difficult it is to compare different Formula One ages. For him, however, one thing is certain: In the past, it was much more dangerous.

“A lot of brilliant drivers had minor accidents at the time, but broke their legs or arms and had to end their careers. Today, the drivers sometimes make terrible mistakes but don’t injure themselves. They hardly sweat in the car,” says Mansell and jokes: “At the end of the race, it always looks as if they are fresh from the hairdresser!”

30 years ago, the reality was different. “In my time, you patted yourself on the shoulder after 180 grands prix and congratulated yourself on a good career because you survived,” says Mansell.

“Now the drivers compete in 300 races and get away without injuries. You simply cannot compare that,” said the 31-time Formula 1 winner. “Back then we had to invest blood, sweat and tears and only got nine points for first place. Today it is much easier – and you get 25 points for the win.”

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