Posted by Paul Landry



The year was 1996, I was 8 years old and I was in a McDonalds tucking into a happy meal whilst my Dad was reading a newspaper. I remember he turned the paper around and showed me an article which reported that Nigel Mansell had completed a test with Jordan team and was contemplating an F1 comeback. To this day, I can still remember how excited this made me feel – considering that I had missed the majority of Mansell’s career due to the disadvantage of not existing or being a baby, I was still captivated from what I had seen on VHS and in various books. So the prospect of seeing Nige’ back in F1 and experiencing his driving first hand was massively exciting and was something that caught my imagination.

Fast forward twenty years to 2016 and it seems that on the surface, Mansell’s test with Jordan was nothing more than a PR stunt to appease their almighty title sponsors and bankrollers Benson & Hedges. But I think there is slightly more to it, as a fan.
As Jordan were on the back of a disappointing 1996 campaign they really had to engage in some marketing foreplay with B&H to excite them about the upcoming 1997 season and secure their long term commitment. Benson & Hedges wanted a big driver, a famous name, a World Champion – problem was that there were none available. Schumacher had an iron clad contract with Ferrari, Hill had already gone to Arrows on the promise of a competitive car from TWR’s involvement and the rest were ruled out because of retirement or tragedy……apart from one moustached man from Birmingham.

Nigel Mansell had retired from F1 after just two races with Mclaren back in 1995 and walked out of the sport with his tail firmly between his legs. Interestingly enough, that relationship was brought together by Mclaren’s then sponsors, Marlboro - an arranged marriage that both driver and team were very happy to end.

Despite all this, Eddie Jordan made the call, invited the 43-year-old Mansell for a tour of the factory and talked him into a test drive. Mansell was apparently very impressed with the Jordan factory and liked the sound of all this. One can’t really blame him for doing this, he was a big name with a big ego and probably saw this initially as a bit of a jolly and a chance to clear his name after that dreadful spell with Mclaren. Mansell was still adamant that he was in good shape physically and still had the ability and motivation to be competitive – Rocky Balboa anyone?? So he dusted off the legendary red, white and blue helmet and jetted down to Barcelona where the test was taking place.



Surprisingly, over the day and a half test he actually did a pretty good job with his best lap falling just three tenths behind a young and keen Ralf Schumacher.

Jordan designer Gary Anderson has mentioned that on Nigel’s last lap he came on the radio and said “my hands are cold – I’m coming in for a cup of tea”. Whether he could stay competitive over a full race distance was unknown at this stage but both parties seemed satisfied with the performance. However, Ralf was quoted saying “At his age, I would be doing something different”.

Jordan designer Gary Anderson has mentioned that on Nigel’s last lap he came on the radio and said “my hands are cold – I’m coming in for a cup of tea”. Whether he could stay competitive over a full race distance was unknown at this stage but both parties seemed satisfied with the performance. However, Ralf was quoted saying “At his age, I would be doing something different”.
Shortly after the Barcelona test, conversations started to swing towards the business of money and contractual negotiations. Although Mansell was very much an unknown quantity at this stage, he was asking for a £5m contract – a substantial amount by 1996 standards. Eddie Jordan, with the financial security of his team as paramount, knew that paying out £5m might not be the wisest move in the world and sought assistance from the likes of Bernie Ecclestone and ITV, all of which turned him down.

In a similar situation 6 years prior, Benetton signed Nelson Piquet on a ‘pay for points’ basis and had Jordan made a such an agreement with Mansell, he might have done alright out of it considering how their 1997 car turned out. After much thought, Mansell decided against making a return with Jordan and his F1 career was finally at an end. Although he had been retiring on a regular basis since 1990, he still had loyal fans all over the world and I reckon he enjoyed a well-deserved rest. Jordan signed Giancarlo Fisichella to partner Ralf Schumacher in the 1997 season and the rest is history.

At the end of the day, it probably was just a PR stunt that got a tad out of hand but it certainly had its effects. It got Jordan and Mansell in the headlines which appeased Benson & Hedges and created excitement and support for the 1997 season. On a wider scale, this caused a delay with a possible Martin Brundle/Jordan contract extension which pushed him into commentating and it also gave us the delight of watching a young Giancarlo Fisichella sometimes hassling the frontrunners in his bright yellow, snake nosed Jordan.

This wasn’t the end for Mansell and Jordan though. In 2004, he drove that year’s Jordan at an F1 publicity event in London, where no doubt, this whole thing must have been mentioned.



Despite all the what if’s there have been in F1, this remains one of the more fascinating stories because of exactly where Jordan were at the time and where Mansell were at the time. Sometimes with F1 it’s the things that don’t happen which are the most memorable.

 

Jordan Grand Prix

 

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