Zhou Guanyu crashes on the opening lap of the grand prix. Silverstone July 2022

Nigel Mansell: F1’s ‘amazing safety’ makes drivers ‘feel superhuman’

Nigel Mansell admits he finds it hard to believe drivers can avoid big crashes, such has been the progress in F1 safety.

The 1992 world champion, whose Formula 1 career began in 1980, raced at a time when, unfortunately, serious injuries and even fatalities still occurred all too frequently.

Mansell left for a season in IndyCar in 1993, also winning that series, and the following year made a one-time appearance for Williams at the French Grand Prix – four races after former rival Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger lost their lives. during the Imola weekend.

Today, the 69-year-old watches F1 and although from a racer’s point of view he regrets seeing certain circuits become “sterilized”, he nevertheless feels a sense of relief when he sees a driver emerge unscathed of a big accident.

All hail the Halo after Zhou’s crash

Without the Halo on his car, Zhou Guanyu’s accident might well have had tragic consequences.

“The shock wave went through every circuit in the world and they were sterilized,” Mansell said in a interview with Adrien Flux.

“So all the fast and dangerous corners have been removed – they’ve been erased, which was a real shame. Lots of fast corners now, you have these huge clearance areas, the curbs are very small. You can make a mistake and exit the circuit and go straight ahead.

“When we made a mistake years ago, we paid a penalty. We hit something – the Armco, the concrete wall.

“You say about people dying, there was [also] so many people injured outside of sport – broken leg, broken arm, broken back. They just weren’t physically able to drive a Formula 1 car for the rest of their lives.

“In 1994, about a month after the terrible double death, the whole perspective of Formula 1 changed forever more.

“From the driver’s point of view, it’s Christmas on sticks. They feel superhuman. They can have the most heinous accidents with cars right now and walk away from it. It’s amazing.

“Sometimes the old drivers will wince and say ‘oh, this is going to be terrible’, but then the driver jumps out of the cockpit and goes back to the pits and everything is fine, which is fantastic.”

Nigel Mansell poses with Carlos Sainz.  Silverstone July 2022.

How much has Formula 1 driving changed since the Nigel Mansell era?

Continuing the theme that F1 in the 2020s is a very different sport than it was in the 1990s or before, when he, Senna and Alain Prost were at the topMansell said the physical demands of driving the car are now much reduced compared to his time.

“They come out at the end of some errands and it looks like they just came out of the barbershop,” the former joked. Ferrari driver, whose last two F1 races were for McLaren in 1995.

“There’s no sweat, there’s nothing because the biggest thing that’s been designed in a Formula 1 car is the power steering. We had to have very strong arms and grab the car around a corner, and if you didn’t have the physical strength to hang on to a Formula 1 car, you would go off and crash. Now you drive it with just one finger.

“It opened up the sport to a lot of riders who didn’t really have the physicality. You had to be strong, you had to be a bit brutal years ago. If you were, you could pick up speed for a race because you used to be physically knocked out, like really knocked out, like “I can’t drive anymore, I can’t breathe anymore”, especially with the ground-effects.

“Now with the seats and the technology, you have 30 to 50 engineers balancing the car for the driver telling them to keep the car balanced, do this.

“We had a lead engineer, designer and analyst, but we did it ourselves. It has changed beyond belief and it’s amazing where the sport is today.

The classic will take place at Silverstone all weekend from August 26 to 28 and will feature a host of attractions, including Mansell’s car which won the F1 world title 30 years ago and which is part of an interactive exhibition.

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