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Spain 1986 - Senna and Mansell race to classic finish 25 Apr 2008

Race winner Ayrton Senna (BRA) Lotus 98T leads a fast closing Nigel Mansell (GBR) Williams FW11, who failed to win by 0.014s - one of the closest finishes in Formula One history. Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez, 13 April 1986. World © Sutton Nigel Mansell (GBR) Williams FW11, gets to grips with some Spanish! Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez, 13 April 1986. World ©  Sutton Race winner Ayrton Senna (BRA) Lotus 98T. Spanish Grand Prix, Rd 2, Jerez, Spain, 13 April 1986. World © Sutton Race winner Ayrton Senna (BRA) Lotus 98T (left) beats Nigel Mansell (GBR) Williams FW11 by 0.014s - one of the closest finishes of all time. Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez, 13 April 1986. The podium to what at the time was the closest race finish ever (L to R): Nigel Mansell (GBR) Williams second; Ayrton Senna (BRA) Lotus winner; Alain Prost (FRA) McLaren third. Spanish Grand Prix, Jerez, 13 April 1986. World © Sutton

In 1986 Williams were on top of their game. Over the course of the 16-race season, the Honda-engined FW11 claimed nine victories for the British team and their drivers Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. At round two, however, it was Lotus - and star driver Ayrton Senna - who won, albeit by one of the closest margins of all time.

It was the first Spanish Grand Prix in five years and the first event to be held at the new, purpose-built Jerez track. Of the 25 competitors, Senna looked the most dominant in practice and on Saturday he comfortably took the second pole position of his career, beating the Williams of Piquet and Mansell and the McLarens of Alain Prost and Keke Rosberg.

At the start of Sunday’s race, the Brazilian retained the lead with ease from Piquet. Third-placed Mansell got off the line comparatively slowly and quickly fell back to fifth behind Prost and Rosberg. The Williams driver, however, soon knuckled down, gradually moving his superior machine through the field until, on lap 39, he managed to overtake Senna.

From then on, with Piquet already out with engine trouble, Senna and Mansell were pretty much left to fight it out at the front. There was little to choose between them in terms of speed - every time the feisty Briton managed to extend his lead a little, his Brazilian rival would up his pace and haul himself back into contention.

With ten laps to go, Senna was close enough to attempt an albeit daring pass, but Mansell had it covered. A second attempt quickly followed and proved successful. Forced wide, Mansell was powerless to stop Prost sneaking through too and found himself demoted from first to third in the space of one corner.

With the prospect of his first victory of the season fading, Mansell opted to chance an unlikely gamble. Pitting for fresh rubber with just nine laps to go, he emerged over 20 seconds adrift of the still charging Senna. But with new tyres, the irrepressible Mansell was able to charge faster still, steadily making up over four seconds a lap.

Of course, before he could reach Senna, Mansell had another obstacle to deal with - Prost. The Frenchman’s McLaren was significantly slower than the Williams but it wasn’t until the penultimate lap that Mansell eventually got past. Back up to second, the Williams driver found himself just 1.5s behind Senna but, with one lap to go before the chequered flag, to those watching a win for the British driver still seemed unrealistic.

Mansell, determined as ever, refused to give in. Quickly closing that gap too, he and Senna found themselves racing within inches for much of the lap before Mansell got a far superior exit out of the final corner. He waited until the very last second to duck out from the Lotus’s slipstream and to the naked eye the two cars seemed to cross the line simultaneously. It was a photo finish - and to Mansell’s dismay the photo proved Senna had actually got there first - the Brazilian took victory by the slimmest of margins - just 0.014 seconds.

In retrospect, you could say that that hundredth of a second cost Mansell the ‘86 title - he eventually lost to Prost by two points. Had he clinched nine points at Jerez, instead of six, he would have held a one-point advantage over the Frenchman and won the crown. Instead, he had to wait until 1992 for that honour.