Well, the two men could not be more different, could they? And Nigel appeared to be, er, somewhat determined to prove who was the better man.
Or the tougher. Or the more stubborn, the more unyeilding. It’s a long-standing problem at Lotus, where Gerard Ducarouge, swanning about in the well-hidden shade of the paddock as the construction workers applied concrete like sticky plasters, has designed what is clearly a winning car. But one that isn’t winning. Here it’s been this, there that. And his drivers – at least Mansell – have not been that much help.
Duca is wearing a light tan cowboy hat and sunglasses over his black and gold JPS outfit. I ask Michelin’s Pierre Blanchet what he thinks is going through Duca’s mind. Pierre looks at me as though I’m crazy: “Why, obviously his drivers,” he says. “Duca is a man devoured by ambition. He lives for competition, for winning. Just think what it must be like for him.”
I did. I saw Mansell going up the hill in Monaco, getting the line wrong and banging the wall when he was leading; worse yet, calling it afterwards, “a little mistake”. Rosberg was pretty scornful about that in the Sheraton Coffee shop Saturday night. And that was before Keke had his own feud with Nigel during the race. And afterwards. Then there was that start at Detroit. A lot of opportunities wiped out. Yet at press conferences after Friday and Saturday, the pole in his grasp for the first time in his career, Nigel had looked a happy, relaxed man. If there were psychological problems – say an inferiority complex towards the younger, richer, more cultivated Elio – they weren’t showing. Maybe they just don’t show. But they’re there. Just as is the complex of every driver who hasn’t yet won a Grand Prix. Say, as they were with Elio before Austria and that remarkable battle with Keke. And Keke and Elio figure in this story of unbrotherly love, because they’re both, in a way, men who’ve made it: Keke as a champion and Elio as a winner. While Nigel is neither so far. And I’ve heard drivers say that of Nigel that it’s his concentration that’s at fault. That he can’t maintain that level of concentration throughout a race.
Not that Elio wasn’t having his own problems when it came to the race itself. He started out with ignition problems: “The engine was running on five cylinders for 50 laps,” he said. “I think because the fuel was too cold.” After a clean start by both Nigel and himself, Elio was running smoothly on grip but rough on his engine; then his tyres picked up marbles and Warwick did him in, then Lauda. As he said: “I tried to stay up with the leaders, but frankly it was impossible; I knew the only thing to do was to lie back and see what time would bring me. The important thing in this race, in this heat, which was intolerable, was just to avoid mistakes.”
Nigel, and on that score, Elio, was as implaccable as Keke: “The way he drove was not the correct way. I think today may have taught him a lesson he needed to learn. It is not right that team-mates should block you as he did me. I simply could not get by him.” Nigel would have responded, were he not still at the time being brought back to some semblance of life by intravenous feeds, that he wanted to win; he wasn’t out there to give Elio anything. And in his private mind, that could go further: that he wasn’t about to give Elio anything that Elio’s position, status and money couldn’t buy him. For instance, Nigel might think, a special relationship with the same Ducarouge.
Then, too, Nigel was having problems with his gearbox (as both cars had suffered in Detroit), first gear dropping out and then, who knows what other gears. Suffice it to say that as Nigel waned, Elio played his intelligent waiting game and won the points. It didn’t satisfy him. “We have a winning car”, he said after the race. “It is the best car out there. I am convinced of that. And I am sick of making it into third, fourth, always these places and still not a victory. The car should be very good on the fast circuits coming up.” But, he meant, how long, how much longer, must he wait?
As for Nigel, the image of his day was: pole position, playing doggo, holding up the winner, holding up Prost, who could have won, and finishing sixth trying to roll his car towards the finish line in a superhuman and useless effort (the flag had already dropped…but how was Nigel to know that, or anything?) and then collapsing, as in slow motion, by the side of his car. Like someone’s faithful dog who has given it’s life for his master: and not quite made it. A part of anyone must admire the doggedness and the desire; another part must wonder that it should be necessary. With a winning machine.