British GP: Nigel Mansell and his Silverstone love affair

By Lawrence BarrettoBBC Sport

Nigel Mansell was a fighter, a man who would push his car to the limit no matter how good or - as was often the case - bad it was.

He fought for every position like his life depended on it. And it was for that reason the moustachioed Midlander took on God-like status among the British fans.

"You could see from the body language drivers showed in the cars who was trying and who was not," Mansell told BBC Sport. "I was very lucky that the fans embraced that. Even when I was in bad cars, they could see I was wringing the car's neck and really trying."

The Briton, born in Upton-upon-Severn, made his debut in 1980 with Lotus but had to wait 12 years to win his first - and only - Formula 1 World Championship, in what turned out to be his final full season.

With 31 race wins, Mansell had strong years - three-times finishing runner-up while at Williams - but he had far tougher ones at Lotus and Ferrari.

But if there was one event in which Mansell always lit up the timing screens, no matter what he was driving, it was the British Grand Prix - a race he last won 20 years ago this weekend.

In the seven home races between 1986 and 1992, he won four times and finished second twice - an extraordinary record considering the pressure he was under to perform in front of his home crowd.

"The British Grand Prix meant everything to me," said Mansell. "Silverstone is one of best, if not the best, circuits in the world. The fans are the most supportive and educated and they just adore it as much as I do. If there was one race a year I wanted to win, it was my home race."

Adore it the fans did, heading to the race in their tens of thousands, draped in union jacks with eyes for only one man.

"I remember in 1987, when I was chasing down Nelson Piquet," added Mansell, who turns 60 next year. "That race was just pure dynamite. It was like a chess game and I was doing maths for the last 28 laps thinking 'If I do X-amount of qualifying laps, can I find 29 seconds and catch him? And then if I catch him, is there enough time to pass him?'.

"The fans were getting into it. I could see the fans stand up every time I went round. It meant so much to me and you could tell how much it meant to them.

"You could hear the fans, even over the sound of the cars. It was like a Mexican wave of noise from the fans all the way round the circuit. That race was epic, especially as I was low on fuel. It was the most amazing experience."

While Mansell added that his first home win, at Brands Hatch in 1985, "was the start of my career", it was the 1992 race which sticks most vividly in his memory.

"Winning that race was the icing on the cake," said Mansell. "That was my championship year and I remember arriving at the track on Thursday and saying to myself, 'I own this. This weekend is my weekend'. I just fed off the fans and went as blisteringly quick as I could. I gave it everything."

Mansell crushed the opposition that year, setting a fastest lap 1.8 seconds quicker than anyone else. Despite losing the lead to team-mate Riccardo Patrese at the start, Mansell repassed him and then built a lead of more than 20 seconds by lap 10. It wasn't just a win, it was a rout.

By the time he started his final lap, many of the 200,000 fans had already started invading the track, desperate to celebrate this moment with the champion in waiting - Mansell would win the title two races later. They had got what they wanted.

"I remember having to avoid fans before I'd even got to the chequered flag. That was dangerous but it was an amazingly spontaneous thing. You can't tell fans how to react, they just want to show how they feel.

"They wanted to applaud the event, the race and how happy they were with the outcome. I personally loved it."

"I had to stop out on track. It was astonishing, you feel like you're in the dream. All the fans surrounded me and I was just caught up in the pandemonium.

"The only worrying time I had was when some of the fans were trying to break parts of the car off for souvenirs - so I said to them 'If you take any part of the car, the car will be disqualified'.

"Almost instantly, there was a circle of fans which formed around the car to stop anyone touching it so I wouldn't be disqualified. It was mega. I'll never forget that moment."

It is unlikely his fans will either.