F1 Blast from the Past: Mansell bests Piquet in Brilliant British GP Battle

Background

The 1987 Formula 1 season was approaching its half-way point as the championship rolled into Silverstone for the British Grand Prix.

Local hero Nigel Mansell was confident coming into his home Grand Prix, after victories at Brands Hatch in the previous two years. The first half of the season had proven troublesome for the Englishman, but a victory at Paul Ricard had elevated him up to fourth in the World Championship.

Senna led the driver’s championship after Round 6. Image: Pinterest

Brazilian Ayrton Senna still topped the driver’s standings with 27 points, one point ahead of compatriot Nelson Piquet and three ahead of double World Champion Alain Prost.

1987 would mark the first time Silverstone would permanently host the British Grand Prix and the circuit had been slightly modified with a chicane added between Bridge and Woodcote. However, the changes were not met with praise from the drivers, Englishman Martin Brundle in particular labelling the slow corner as “everything Silverstone is not.”

Qualifying

Qualifying unsurprisingly saw the Honda-powered cars lead the way, though the patriotic British crowd would not get the result they wanted. Nelson Piquet secured pole position by just seven hundredths of a second. Mansell’s last-ditch effort to take pole resulted in a spin at the new chicane.

Nelson Piquet claimed pole position in Silverstone. Image: Motor Sport Magazine

Senna was third, over a second shy of pole position, with Prost fourth and the two Benetton-Ford’s of Thierry Boutsen and Teo Fabi completing the top six.

Race day

Race day brought a hot summer’s afternoon for 65 laps of Silverstone. As the lights turned green, it was Alain Prost who made a demon start from the second row to jump into the lead at Copse, but the Honda power of the Williams was quickly able to rectify the situation, as Piquet re-took the lead at Becketts.

Nigel Mansell then demoted Prost to third going into Stowe corner, with Senna fourth, Boutsen fifth and the Ferrari of Michele Alboreto in sixth.

The opening laps saw the two Williams establish their superiority as they screamed away into the distance. A rare mistake for Prost at Copse saw Senna relegate the Frenchman back to fourth. But it wasn’t to last long as Senna began to hold up a train of cars as the Brazilian tried to maintain his tyres, Prost snatched back third position soon after going into Copse corner, redeeming himself for his earlier error.

Senna did his best to keep up with the Williams, but would eventually find himself a lap down. Image: Essaar.

The high-speed nature of Silverstone would lead to unreliability. After just eight laps, Andrea de Cesaris made a dramatic exit in the Brabham when the BMW blew its turbo. Stefan Johansson in the second McLaren wouldn’t last much longer, as the TAG Porsche engine gave up the ghost on Lap 19. Ten laps later, Brabham’s woes continued as Riccardo Patrese retired, again with a blown turbo.

On Lap 35, Nigel Mansell made an unexpected visit to the pits, the general consensus at Williams was that this would be a race without the need for tyre stops, however a balance weight had come off the left front wheel resulting in vibrations.

Mansell’s comeback

The Williams mechanics performed the tyre change in 9.5 seconds and the Englishman re-joined the race, albeit 29 seconds behind teammate Piquet. With a fresh set of tyres Mansell began close on Piquet at a rate of over a second per lap, ignoring his fuel consumption read out in the process.

Mansell was pushing as hard as he could to close the gap. Image: LAT Photographic

Ferrari’s disappointment continued Berger had already retired early on after a skirmish with Derek Warwick’s Arrows and on Lap 52 Michele Alboreto’s race came to an end with suspension problems. Prost lost fourth place one lap later when his engine cried enough.

After repeatedly breaking the lap record and with the help of backmarkers, Mansell to drew ever closer to Piquet and by Lap 62, he was right on the Brazilian’s tail.

On Lap 63 he seized his chance as he moved out of Piquet’s slipstream. He sold his teammate a dummy going down Hangar Straight and Piquet reacted to the move, leaving the inside line exposed and Mansell took the lead in a superb manoeuvre, the 100,000+ British crowd were ecstatic.

Mansell crossed the line to win, the eighth victory of his career. The Williams-Honda blew its engine on the slowing down lap due to the stresses of running on full power for numerous laps and Mansell was engulfed by the spectators invading the circuit.

Joining the Williams pair on the podium was Ayrton Senna, finishing a worrying entire lap down. His teammate Satoru Nakajima scored his best ever result in fourth, completing a Honda top four lockout. Derek Warwick finished fifth on home soil with Teo Fabi in sixth.

It was Nigel Mansell’s third victory in front of a British crowd and undoubtedly one of the finest drives of his career.

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview your British Grand Prix weekend? The Grid Talk crew have you covered with their British GP Prixvew. Ruby Price hosted Owain Medford, Louis Edwards and Phil Mathew in the latest podcast. Both audio and video versions are linked below:

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