Home - The Official Formula 1 Website Skip to content

Australian classic - Adelaide, 1986 31 Mar 2006

Nigel Mansell (GBR) Williams FW11, DNF Australian Grand Prix, Adelaide, 26 October 1986. World ©  SUTTON

It's hard to think that two decades have now passed since one of the most memorable of all Australian Grands Prix took place - the 1986 race which decided that year’s world championship at the demanding Adelaide circuit.

Back then, Australia was the final race of the season, with the prospect of a three-way tussle between Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost for the drivers’ crown drawing a capacity crowd of 150,000. The Williams team had been dominant all season, with drivers Piquet and Mansell having long since secured it the constructors’ championship (the eventual margin would be 141 points to McLaren's 96).

But the drivers’ championship was still wide open, although Mansell entered the race weekend as clear favourite. With 70 points to his name, and five Grand Prix victories already recorded during the course of the season, he had a six-point lead over second-placed Prost (64 points), with Piquet just one behind on 63 points. Under the regulations in force at the time, a win was worth nine championship points - so the Englishman entered the Australian race weekend knowing that even if Prost won, he only needed to finish in fourth place or higher to be sure of claiming the crown.

Qualifying strengthened Mansell's hand still further. His turbocharged Williams-Honda drove away from the rest of the pack, with his best time of 1:18.403 giving him comfortable 0.311 second margin over team mate Piquet in second place. Prost's prospects looked even bleaker - he finished the session down in fourth place, demoted by Ayrton Senna's flying Lotus. As the start of the race approached, the feeling was that Mansell's championship was all but in the bag.

Of course, it didn't happen like that. Mansell got off to a disastrous start - dropping back to fourth by the end of the first lap, behind leader Piquet, Senna and Keke Rosberg, who drove his way forcefully from seventh on the grid to third. As it stood, Mansell was still set to take the championship, especially as his closest rival Prost was one place below him in fifth.

Senna quickly dropped back down the order, being passed first by Rosberg and then, on lap three, by Mansell - putting the Englishman into third place. His championship prospects seemed even stronger when Rosberg muscled his way past Piquet and into the lead, although shortly afterwards Mansell lost third place to Prost.

Soon the race had settled down, with the McLarens of Rosberg and Prost leading and the Williams of Mansell and Piquet right behind - with Mansell inheriting second place when Prost pitted, and then dropping back to third behind Piquet as they approached the last third of the race. It really did seem as if Formula One racing was about to have its first British world champion since James Hunt.

On lap 63 Rosberg retired from the lead with a puncture. And just one lap later Mansell suffered from a spectacular rear tyre failure on the back straight. He just managed to keep control of his frantically see-sawing car, as sparks flew from the remains of his wheel rim - but his race was over and his championship hopes had been cruelly dashed.

Now the battle was between Prost and Piquet - with the Frenchman having to finish ahead to ensure that he became world champion. Following Mansell’s tyre failure, Williams had little choice but to call Piquet in for a precautionary stop, thus surrendering the lead and giving Prost a 15-second advantage. The Brazilian pushed hard during the closing stages of the race, but he couldn't find enough pace to get on terms with the McLaren - which took the flag 4.2 seconds ahead, earning Prost the second of his four championships.