Murray's Memories: Nigel Mansell at 1986 Australian GP

 

Legendary F1 commentator Murray Walker will be providing a series of archive-based videos and written articles for every race of the 2013 season.

'Murray's Memories' are his personal recollections of some of the greatest moments in the history of F1, starting with the 1986 Australian Grand Prix...

The Australian Grand Prix is such a fixture on the calendar these days that it seems bizarre to think that for more than half my career as a Formula 1 commentator the race did not exist.

But from the moment Adelaide made its debut in 1985, Australia has produced pretty much guaranteed nail-biting action - and that has continued since Melbourne took over as host in 1996.

Almost everyone loves going to Australia for the grand prix and there have been so many good races there over the years.

Australian Grand Prix 1986

  • Final race of the 1986 season
  • 82 laps
  • 309.960km (193.864 mi)
  • Pole: Nigel Mansell (1:18.403)
  • Winner: Alain Prost (McLaren)

The country hosted F1's 500th grand prix in 1990, which was a fittingly exciting battle between arch-rivals Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell.

There was also Ayrton Senna crashing out in torrential rain in 1991, a race that was run in such bad conditions that it lasted just 14 laps.

And so it has gone into the 21st century, with the chaotic race in 2008 when Lewis Hamilton won for McLaren after three safety-car periods and Jenson Button's brilliant victory in the rain in 2010, among others.

But through all of these thrills and excitement, one race stands out above all.

The 1986 Grand Prix was not just the finest F1 race I've seen in Australia, but one of the best of all time and the climax to one of the greatest seasons there has ever been.

The championship fight was for much of the year a four-way battle between Williams drivers Mansell and Piquet - who absolutely did not get on - McLaren's Alain Prost, and Senna in a Lotus.

By the time they arrived in Adelaide, Senna had dropped out and it was a three-way fight between Mansell, Piquet and Prost.

Mansell knew that if he finished third or higher, he would be world champion, and when he started from pole position it looked like the job was half done.

But in a race packed full of them, the surprises began at the very start when Keke Rosberg, in his last race before retirement, shot into the lead in his McLaren and proceeded to drive off into the distance.

Rosberg led until a puncture took him out, promoting Mansell to third place behind Piquet and Prost.

Classic F1 - Australian Grand Prix 1986

But Rosberg's problem was the indication of a wider concern - and not long afterwards Mansell suffered a puncture of his own in dramatic style with only 19 laps to go.

His left rear tyre exploded at maximum speed on the long back straight and, as he fought for control in a huge shower of sparks, he and the world knew his title hopes were over.

It was one of F1's defining moments and although I felt terribly sorry for Nigel, who is a long-time friend, you're so glad you're there. In the commentary box you're just reacting and your instincts take over - hence my words at the time: "And look at that… and colossally… That's Mansell!"

Even then the drama was not over. Piquet, in the lead from Prost, was now on course for the title but, following the punctures for both Rosberg and Mansell, Williams felt they had no option but to bring the Brazilian in for a new set of tyres for his own safety.

That left Prost, who had fought back past Mansell after an earlier stop for fresh tyres of his own, in the title pound seat.

But the Frenchman had worries of his own. His heart was in his mouth because his fuel read-out - these were the days of limited fuel - was negative for the final 15 laps!

The car held out, though, and he took a thoroughly deserved second drivers' title. Mansell was gutted but I was secretly smug - I'd prophesied on television that morning that Prost would win the race and the championship.

One of the times I did get it right!