• South African Grand Prix

Mansell's second win overshadowed by apartheid controversy

ESPN Staff
October 19, 1985
Nigel Mansell leads Alain Prost, who eventually finished third © Sutton Images

Formula One's increasingly unrealistic attempts to divorce itself from the bitter reality of the apartheid regime in South Africa ended on an October day at Kyalami. While Nigel Mansell followed his maiden win at Brands Hatch with a second a fortnight later, the race weekend was inevitably overshadowed by politics, so much so that even the FIA had to take notice.

Ligier and Renault both refused to race, in line with the French government's increasing hardline stance against the South African regime, while a number of leading drivers were caught up in political struggles as to their participation. The Swedish government unsuccessfully tried to ban Stefan Johansson from travelling, while the Brazilian authorities leant heavily on Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. Most drivers said that while personally very against what was happening in the country, they would follow team orders. Philippe Streiff, signed to Ligier, was loaned to Tyrrell for the weekend.

Even though most teams eventually took part, many of the cars had sponsorship logos painted out as companies decided association with racing in South Africa would be counterproductive. The surreal atmosphere was compounded by Carlos Reutemann driving a medical support car "borrowed" from the public car park after he had broken the two vehicles supplied by organisers.

Mansell took pole and was only headed once - and then briefly on the tenth lap - by Williams team-mate Keke Rosberg whose hard work was undone when he skidded off on oil deposited on the track when the engine on Piercarlo Ghinzani's Toleman blew. Mansell had actually waved Rosberg past. "I knew he was faster than me so I let him through," he said. "Then as the Gods would have it, he found the oil."

Mansell also spun, later saying "I don't know how I too did not go off", but regained control and the lead while Rosberg was relegated to sixth, although he fought back to take second. Niki Lauda briefly challenged for the lead until his McLaren's engine expired.

Newly-crowned champion Alain Prost coaxed his fuel-starved McLaren into third but that was not quite enough for McLaren to secure the constructors' title. Only seven of the 20 starters finished. The two Alfa Romeos of Eddie Cheever and Riccardo Patrese spun off at the first corner after a minor coming together and the crowd were treated to the sight of the drivers squaring up to each other trackside.

Within a month the FIA had bowed to inevitable - if commercial - pressures and announced there would not be another grand prix in South Africa until apartheid had been abandoned. It was also another last - the final time a grand prix was held on a Saturday.

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