Nigel Mansell and "The Project"

Lord, Sir, King, OBE, World Champion and ACTUAL Lion Nigel Mansell made an appearance on FF1S 06. I was (completely correctly) aggrieved that Phill didn't ask him about MY "Project". Here's a little background...

A young Terry Saunders, probably about six here

Picture the scene: definite future Formula One world Champion Terry Saunders is ten years old and has been allowed to stay up to watch the first race of the 1990 season. (Phoenix, Alesi, Senna - you know the one).

When his mum asks what he thought of the race, he makes the mistake of repeating word-for-word what James Hunt said in the commentary, saying that when Prost's Ferrari blew up it reminded him of how engines went in the turbo days. Terry had only been watching F1 since June 1989 and turbos were banned at the end of 1988. She didn't pull him up on it.

This younger Terry was a nerd. He would study the qualifying times on Ceefax and diligently buy the BBC and Grand Prix magazines whenever he was in WHSmith's. 

 And so for the start of the 1991 season, not long turned 11, young Terry decided to embark on a career of copying things and drawing badly as he started The Formula One Project . 

This was off his own back. With great tenacity and few friends, he set off on what he hoped would become a hundred-year record of the normally unrecorded feats of F1, like "who won what race", "what was the fastest lap" and "who was Terry's favourite driver"? 

The Project was a fluorescent green ring binder wrapped in black teak effect sticky-backed plastic. But to young Terry, this was a scrapbook of F1. Maybe he could write stories and jot down his thoughts on the 1991 season?

One day this will be in the British Library  

One day this will be in the British Library  

Yes, I used to type up the times copied from ceefax

Yes, I used to type up the times copied from ceefax

Well, after having retrieved the project from the Saunders Family Archive (under my mums's bed)  I can exclusively report that the grand total of younger Terry's deeds are underwhelming at best. My "Project" was just me (or possibly my mum) typing up the qualifying and race results as they appeared on Ceefax and then printing them on a dot matrix printer, before filing them away. 

I then "wrote"  a series of in-depth articles about the behind-the-scenes world of F1 that were in no way copied word-for-word from the Official BBC F1 Magazine. 

 Nigel Mansell

So where does my ire come from with regards to the great Sir Nige himself? Well, my precocious eleven-year-old brain decided to write to some F1 people to see if they could send me anything I could use for my project.  

The Williams team were first past the line and sent me a badly photocopied corporate brochure. The bar for my heart and mind had been set low and stayed untouched.

Until one day I got a letter from the office of Nigel Mansell himself.

For those too young to remember the F1 glory days (it's easy to work out when the glory days were: always when you used to watch it), Nigel Mansell was the first genuinely good British driver for donkeys years. Like Andy Murray and Tim Henman went on to discover, there's nothing like the unrelenting pressure of the British media on top of the heavyweight of expectation from little boys like me. 

Frankly, it hadn't been going well. He'd been in F1 since 1980 and had narrowly lost out on the championship in 1986 and '87, and after a not-great 1990 at Ferrari he was back at Williams, as 11-year-old Terry reports:

My hero  

My hero  

...actually copied from the 1990 magazine, so unhelpful, as ever.  

Not the actual autograph

Not the actual autograph

So what did Mr Sir Mansell have to say in his letter? 

Firstly, it beat Williams' effort hands down by including stickers and a signed photo. For a second or two the young Terry was ecstatic. 

But then, fluttering down to the floral carpet like a turd that had just fallen from a corpse, was the compliment slip.  

One line typed on it was enough to shelve the F1 project until the world of podcasting beckoned some twenty years later.  

 "Dear Terry, all the best with the school project, Nigel Mansell" 

I surely don't have to reiterate here that it was not a school project. I wasn't doing this to learn or gain academic marks. This was something I'd wanted to do on my own and not have it tainted by education. This was my project, NOT THE SCHOOL'S. 

I never fully got over this mistake, I went off The Project and the whole of Mansell's championship winning 1992 season was sullied for me by his betrayal. 


So, Nigel, if you're reading. I'm still awaiting your apology, and a corrected compliment slip.