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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
How to become F1 champion
By Sarah Holt

Nigel Mansell and the Formula BMW drivers
Mansell hopes to unearth the next generation of F1 stars
Under the watchful eye of Nigel Mansell, 14 aspiring racing drivers are tearing round Mansell Raceway, here to learn what it takes to be a Formula One champion.

The teenagers are all competing in the Formula BMW UK Championship - a class of racing about four rungs below F1 - but all want to climb to the pinnacle of the sport.

There is excited talk of "being the next Lewis Hamilton", but how many of them have a realistic chance of getting there?

"They could all fall by the wayside," Mansell, the 1992 world champion, tells BBC Sport. "Or maybe two or three will fulfill their ambitions.

"Motorsport is a roulette wheel. It's very tough, and sometimes even the most talented individuals will not be able to keep going in the sport."


Unlike any other sport, succeeding in Formula One does not rely on natural talent and the courage to defeat your rivals alone.

It also requires a little luck, lots of determination - and above all pots of cash.

For all his innate ability, Hamilton was given an immeasurable advantage, and freed of financial worries, when he was taken on by McLaren at the age of 13 and groomed as a future F1 driver.

After my first test in an F1 car, I phoned my wife and said 'this is not for me' - I was out of my depth.

Nigel Mansell

But for Mansell's pupils that hope is already beyond them - none of them are affiliated to F1 teams.

"Hamilton's case is extremely rare," said Mansell, 54. "He has been a chosen protege of McLaren and has had funds throughout.

"It's not a level playing field. There is no question that for anyone who doesn't have the proper funding and support that Lewis has had, it's much harder."

Mansell - whose 31 Grands Prix victories put him fourth in the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna - is speaking from experience.

He used his own money to claw his way up the ladder, buying a kart, investing 15 in a Formula Ford lesson and then selling his house and belongings to fund a second season in 1977, when he went on to win the title, and a start in Formula Three.

Mansell, who also worked as a window cleaner to finance his career, tells the young drivers he "sacrificed all the small treasures and trinkets" - before showing them his glittering F1 trophy room.

(Left to right) Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet
Mansell (second right) faced great rivals in Senna, Prost and Piquet

The teenagers already have to shell out on average 120,000 for the privilege of racing in Formula BMW for one season - and the costs escalate if things start to go wrong.

"It's nice to think that if, like Lewis, you have the natural talent then you would have financial backing too," said Henry Arundel, 19, who lies second in the UK championship.

"But lots of us don't. People say it's just rich kids going racing but we have to work hard for our sponsorship.

"And no-one will sponsor you into Formula Three, unless they will see a financial return on their money."

Finding sponsors to provide the cash required to allow your talent to blossom is not easy.

Kendra Abay has moved her family from Australia to support son Sam's ambitions and reasoned: "Your kid has to be marketable and able to sell themselves.

"After that, it's just pavement pounding. It took us three years to find investors so we could race here, but we're funding an apprenticeship."

Finding money requires determination and Mansell believes honing that single-mindedness is also crucial to success at the highest level.

The former world champion survived a broken neck (Formula Ford) and broken vertebrae (Formula Three) on his way up to Formula One.

Understand everything
Work hard - and then work harder
The word 'no' does not exist
Pull together with your team, friends and family
Keep finishing - even if you don't always win
Be professional in and out the car
Stay strong and positive

And on his debut with Lotus at the 1980 Austrian Grand Prix, Mansell kept going (until his engine failed), despite suffering serious petrol burns caused by sitting in fuel leaking into his cockpit.

"I know some drivers who could have gone all the way to the top but they chose, because they were going through difficult times, that it wasn't for them," said Mansell.

"After my first test in an F1 car, I phoned my wife and said 'this is not for me'. I was out of my depth and had no time to brake or turn corners. But the next day I tried again and my brain upsurged and I could cope with the speed.

"Stubbornness must have kept me going because there were many times, with people dying along the way, when you think enough is enough.

"It comes down to the dedication, the passion and the determination of the individual. Lewis is very strong-minded and his dedication to his job is extraordinary."

Hamilton made his own luck when, at the age of nine, he approached McLaren boss Ron Dennis and Mansell admits fortune and fate can also play a hand in F1.

Mansell himself was fortunate to be loyally supported by Lotus owner Colin Chapman in his early career while reigning champion Fernando Alonso attracted the eye of Renault boss Flavio Briatore when he won a Formula 3000 race at the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix.

But countless others have not been so fortunate.

"I was one of the lucky ones," said Mansell. "But opportunites can be limited.

Henry Surtees (left) and Nigel Mansell
Surtees says his famous surname opens some doors but shuts others
"You could get an amount of money together, race for one or two seasons in motorsport, but if you haven't made a position or a name for yourself then you can fade away."

Amongst the Formula BMW racers listening to Mansell is Henry Surtees, son of John Surtees, the only person to win both F1 and motorcycle world championships.

With his racing genes and background, the 16-year-old appears to have the talent, determination and backing to follow in his father's footsteps.

But has he, along with the rest of his 13 peers, considered that he might not make it to F1?

"Wanting to race is just inside me, there is no masterplan. At the moment I love what I'm doing and I love trying to be the best," said Surtees.

"I'm not dwelling on F1 right now because I don't want the ifs and buts coming in and wondering whether I'm good enough.

"There are a lot of good drivers who fail, but as a driver you have to be confident in your ability to get there."

Button chances are over - Mansell
08 Aug 07 |  Formula One
Mansell critical of McLaren row
06 Aug 07 |  Formula One
Mansell sons aiming to make mark
13 Dec 05 |  Motorsport
Mansell secures GP Masters glory
13 Nov 05 |  Motorsport
Mansell - F1 too boring
05 Jul 04 |  Formula One
Hamilton's early years
18 Jun 07 |  Motorsport


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