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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK

In search of the 'Nigel Factor'

Nigel Mansell: Silverstone winner inspires Coulthard and Hill

BBC Motor Racing Correspondent Jonathan Legard believes British drivers are looking to a former hero and the crowd for inspiration at Silverstone this weekend.

There has been so much talk of emotion in the build up to the 50th British Grand Prix you would think the race was sponsored by Kleenex.

But you don't need to be Eddie Irvine to predict that the day will end in tears for Damon Hill, whose theme tune of the moment is The Clash's "Should I stay or should I go?".

[ image: Can Hill find some form for what could be his farewell?]
Can Hill find some form for what could be his farewell?
Apart from his glorious victory in 1994, Silverstone has rarely been kind to Hill, and he has failed to finish in four of his seven races.

He described last year's early exit at Brooklands as "pathetic" and, given his current form, even die-hard supporters must fear the worst.

The Jordan team were taken aback by his decision to continue after his gloomy comments in France, and one wonders at the atmosphere within the garage.

But there remains this unfathomable quality about Hill. When he is in the mood, in a car he trusts, he remains a dynamic competitor.

He sounded upbeat after two days' testing at Silverstone and in front of a crowd who would will him to the podium if possible, Hill could just surprise us all.

"I will need that famous second a lap which racing in front of your home crowd is supposed to give drivers", he says.

"I am hoping for something special but whatever happens I'll be out there to enjoy it."

Hard luck stories

Nigel Mansell always said a British crowd was worth a second a lap, and it is the "Nigel Factor" in another way which sustains David Coulthard in his darkest moments.

The French Grand Prix was just the latest hard luck chapter in the Coulthard Story. Into the lead - then out of the race because of another McLaren failure.

[ image: Coulthard's latest disappointment was in France]
Coulthard's latest disappointment was in France
But Coulthard draws heart from Mansell's experiences.

"For years he couldn't get the run, couldn't get the win and then suddenly he did", Coulthard says.

"This will change. If you are running at the front enough then eventually the car is going to make the distance and you'll win."

It is more than a year since Coulthard saw the chequered flag first.

But if there is one place he would love to do it, it is Silverstone, where his best result was third in 1995.

"Given the choice to win the French Grand Prix or the British, there's no question that this would be the one", he says.

"Personally it would be a fantastic achievement for me to win this, much more than any other Grand Prix."

Power shift

According to Coulthard's team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, the balance of power on the track has swung from Ferrari back to McLaren.

[ image: Hakkinen enjoyed a good result in the French rain]
Hakkinen enjoyed a good result in the French rain
"If you look at our results it looks that way", he says.

"We have won a couple of races in a row. Then I was second in France but it felt like I'd won the race."

Beating Michael Schumacher in the wet, having started eight places behind him on the grid, was a major achievement.

It also means the Finn is eight points ahead in the world championship.

Significantly, Hakkinen picks out the Stewart team as the most likely challengers to the Big Two.

"I think they are going to come up and surprise us with their performance," he says.

[ image: Herbert: Another Briton smiling through bad luck]
Herbert: Another Briton smiling through bad luck
Johnny Herbert, the last British winner at Silverstone, would like to think so.

His luck has been as miserable as Coulthard's while team-mate Rubens Barrichello - pole position and podium in France - improves with every race.

Finally, don't overlook Eddie Irvine, who is this season's leading British driver at third in the championship.

But for a pitstop from hell he could have won the race in France, and he is continuing to win admirers after his drives in Australia and Canada.

There are few better at telling it like it is - and how it used to be for him at the British Grand Prix, before he jetted the world on Concorde.

"It's not as exciting getting in because I have a pass now", he admits.

"It was much more fun cutting a hole in the fence. There was a hole I used to come through every year and I never knew why they didn't seal it up!"

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Formula 1 Contents

In this section

Toyota set to join F1

Irvine's $2m miss

Hakkinen crowned F1 champion

Finn toasts team success

1999 Championship standings

Ferrari dream in tatters

F1's emotional champion

Dreams shattered in Irvine's home village

Grand Prix's favourite son

Mika's glory: Japanese GP in pictures

Top cat Eddie

The best man won

Damon Hill: An F1 career in pictures

Silverstone to stage F1 Easter parade