Nigel Mansell admits he is saddened by how F1 circuits have become 'sterilised' in recent times.
When the 1992 world champion began his F1 career, it wasn't uncommon for drivers to suffer fatal accidents or be seriously injured. However, following the darkest weekend in the sport’s history at Imola in 1994, when Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger both lost their lives, rules were tightened up to ensure both tracks and cars were much safer.
There was been one fatality since then in F1 with Jules Bianchi losing his life following a crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. He may have been saved by the Halo, the head protection device which was introduced in 2018.
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Mansell has welcomed the vast improvements to safety but believes many iconic tracks have become “sterilised” with huge run-off areas, meaning drivers feel they can take more risks.
“The shockwave went through all the circuits throughout the world and they were sterilised,” he said in a filmed interview with Adrian Flux, headline sponsor of The Classic at Silverstone where Mansell’s F1 world title-winning car from 30 years ago was part of an interactive display.
“So all the fast, dangerous corners were taken away – they were obliterated, which was a great shame. A lot of the fast corners now you’ve got these enormous run-off areas, the kerbs are very small. You can make a mistake and drive off the circuit and drive straight back on.
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“When we used to make a mistake years ago we paid a penalty. We hit something: the Armco, the concrete wall. You say about people dying, there were [also] so many people injured out of the sport; broken leg, broken arm, broken backs. They just weren’t physically able to drive a Formula 1 car for the rest of their lives. In 1994, a month or so after the terrible double fatality, the whole Formula 1 perspective changed forever more.
“From a driver’s point of view [nowadays], it’s Christmas on sticks. They feel like they are superhuman. They can have the most heinous accidents with the cars presently and walk away from it. It’s astonishing.
“Sometimes the old drivers wince and go ‘oh, it’s going to be terrible' but then the driver just hops out of the cockpit and off back to the pits and they’re fine, which is fantastic.”
Mansell also says cars are much easier to drive than when he drove in the 80s and 90s, when brute force rather than finesse was required.
“They get out at the end of some of the races and it looks like they’ve just come out of the barbers,” joked Mansell.
“There’s no sweat, there’s no nothing because the biggest thing that’s been designed in a Formula 1 car is power steering. We needed to have really strong arms and catch the car in a corner, and if you didn’t have the physical strength to hang onto a Formula 1 car you went off and had an accident. Now you drive it with one finger.
“It’s opened the sport up to a lot of drivers that didn’t actually have the physicality. You had to be strong, you had to be a bit of a brute years ago. If you were you could make up some speed during a race because you used to get physically whacked out, like really whacked out, like ‘I can’t drive any more, I just can’t breathe any more’, especially with the ground effects.
“Now with the seats and the technology – you’ve got 30 to 50 engineers balancing the car for the driver telling them to keep the car in balance, do this. We had one engineer, a designer and a head analyst but we did it ourselves. It’s changed beyond all belief and it’s amazing where the sport is today.”
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