Why Nigel Mansell didn’t make F1 comeback with Jordan in 1997

Thomas Maher
Nigel Mansell testing for Jordan in December 1996.

Nigel Mansell could have raced for Jordan in 1997 but chose against making an F1 comeback.

Nigel Mansell tested with Jordan as he considered a comeback to F1 for 1997, but ultimately decided to stay in retirement.

Mansell had made a handful of appearances with Williams during the team’s turbulent 1994 season, before an ill-fated swap to McLaren that infamously fell apart after early season frustrations due to him not fitting in the car.

In late 1996, Mansell took part in a test with Jordan ahead of the 1997 season with an eye to taking part in a full campaign – Jordan giving him the chance to run with the new car in its 1996 livery at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in December.

Eddie Jordan explains relationship with Nigel Mansell

Speaking on the Formula for Success podcast, former F1 team boss Eddie Jordan revealed the extent of his relationship with Mansell which had dated back almost 20 years at the time he gave the British driver his run in the Jordan 197.

“I’d known Nigel a very long time,” he said.

“When I was living at Silverstone at a very young age when I came to England trying to find my fame and fortune, I was more attracted to Birmingham than to London – London was too big for me.

“Birmingham was fine, there was UB40 and all these great bands there so I loved that. Nigel, of course, was from close by and he and I became reasonably friendly through Formula Ford in 1977, ’78, ’79.

“He drove for Dave Price, with Brett Riley, in Formula Three in the Unipart team. What was surprising was he didn’t even come close to winning the championship.

“But one thing about Nigel Mansell, I have never met a person with more total absolute belief in their own ability than him, because it was never really matched by the amount of talent or I could never see the talent.

“So, in other words, when he went to Lotus that time, Colin Chapman thought he was the greatest thing on earth. I can’t imagine what Nigel had said to him but, whatever he did, it worked. And then he got in.

“Nigel was – I don’t want to call him a bull, but he was tough. When I say he was a bull, he didn’t seem to have a neck – because his head just seemed to sit on top of his shoulders!

“It was at a time when it was really hard for G-forces and the neck and the G forces. This was very tough in those days. Nigel Mansell had a lot of personal inner belief.

“If you can find that inner belief – I’m talking about 100 per cent – in Nigel’s case, it was probably about 200 percent. But he always believed in himself more than anything else. I think that’s what drove him on.

“So, to finish the story, did he drive for Jordan? Yes, we were mates, and he came along and he said he wanted to. He could see – at that stage, there was a changing of the fortunes of Jordan.

“The 1997 car was a particularly good one and we should have won some grands prix with that. We won’t go into that just now!

“But ’98 was a great car, and ’99. So there was a little purple patch. And Nigel was there. He came to me after Barcelona and he said, ‘Listen, EJ, I think time has run out. I’m in my 40s. I don’t want to do that anymore. But this car is a proper car.'”

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Nigel Mansell: Eddie Jordan created something very special

Mansell is widely believed to have kept his pace despite opting against continuing, with some reports being that his best time was just three tenths off potential team-mate and promising youngster Ralf Schumacher.

But a week after the test, Mansell confirmed he wasn’t going to make a much-anticipated return to F1, with the then-43-year-old saying: “I thoroughly enjoyed my test in Barcelona and the professionalism and atmosphere of the B&H Jordan team was as good as any I have ever worked with.

“Eddie Jordan has created something very special. Having seen their facility, and the 1997 car, I honestly believe that the team can enjoy success next season and become serious contenders.

“The idea of the test was originally to have some fun, but my natural competitive instinct took over very quickly, and a return to Formula 1 with Jordan Grand Prix became a serious possibility.

“However, after consultations with my family and business advisers, I quickly came to realise that my schedule would not permit me to give sufficient time to the Jordan team and their sponsors.”

B&H was believed to be fully willing to stump up the cash to pay Mansell’s salary demands, but this wasn’t enough to sway Mansell back towards making the call to return.

Instead, Jordan went with young Giancarlo Fisichella, with he and Schumacher’s inexperience perhaps costing Jordan precious points and strong results as the pair found their feet in F1.

“It was an honour to have Nigel in our car and we were very, very impressed with his approach and attitude,” Jordan said of the test at the time.

“I believe that Nigel can still be a winner, but I appreciate the honesty of his decision. The door will always be open for him at Jordan, and we will continue to explore ways for him to have an involvement with the team.”

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