The power of sport is perhaps best demonstrated through its fans, and there are few more memorable examples than the 1992 track invasion at Silverstone. After the ugly scenes surrounding the 2021 European Championship Final at Wembley stadium, let us cast our minds back to when British passion was displayed in a much more savoury way. The 1992 British Grand Prix provided one of the most iconic moments in Formula 1 history, when Mansell Mania took over.
After finishing with a 39-second lead over the opposition, Nigel Mansell began his cooldown lap, soon to be joined by hundreds of joyful fans. ‘They’re breaking ranks!’ exclaimed Murray Walker as the supporters poured onto the track, surrounding Red 5, and bringing Mansell to a standstill as Union Jack flags flew proudly around the home favourite.
The track invasion represented a rare outpouring of emotion from fans that had seen their hero through the highs and lows of his Formula 1 career, believing that they would finally see the three-times championship runner-up take top honours that year, which he would do in emphatic fashion. The driver’s compelling journey through the sport captured the hearts of fans, with the emotion involved clear for all to see in such spectacular scenes.
Nigel Mansell enjoyed his return to Williams after a difficult spell at Ferrari, and went on to take the 1992 World Championship with nearly double the points tally of his team mate Riccardo Patrese. The Brit was utterly dominant in a record-breaking year, taking the most race wins and pole positions in a single season (although both records would later fall to Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel respectively).
His Renault-powered FW14B was streets ahead of the competition with its traction control and – most crucially – its active suspension, which allowed the car to reach rapid cornering speeds. At Silverstone in 1992, the 39 year old surpassed Sir Jackie Stewart’s record of race wins for a British driver in front of his adoring fans, who made their admiration known for the man from the midlands.
The race itself was relatively uneventful for championship leader, who saw off an early challenge from Patrese to cruise into the distance, spurred on by the passionate capacity crowd.
F1 fans will hope to experience some of the same passion and love of sport this weekend, 29 years later at the same track which will play host to a 140,000-strong crowd. To see such a celebration of sport amid a global pandemic that has caused so much heartache, has distanced the fan from the sportsperson, and has resulted in the cancellation of so much sport, could conjure up similar emotions to those felt on that famous July day in Northamptonshire.
Whereas the European Championship Final was tarnished by some of the most unpleasant divisions in British society, many will hope that the 2021 British Grand Prix can demonstrate the unifying power of sport once more.
British fans will seek to dwarf the negativity of last weekend with the positivity of their return to Silverstone as they cheer on one of their nation’s leading lights in sport. This year’s title battle continues this weekend as Lewis Hamilton will try to best perhaps the greatest challenger to his recent dominance in the form of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on home soil.