Nigel Mansell's much-bally-hooed return to Formula One racing, however fleeting it may prove to be, demonstrates once again just how desperate the sport has become for excitement, even if it comes off the track. Indeed, that was where the return of Mansell, the 1992 world champion who last season jumped the Atlantic to take the Indy Car title, was announced last week, and that was where Mansell ended up midway through Sunday's French Grand Prix at Magny Cours: off the track with a melted gearbox. Still, the mere presence of Mansell overshadowed yet another victory for Michael Schumacher, winner of six of the seven races this season, who out-dragged Mansell at the start and never looked back.
Since the death of Ayrton Senna in April, Formula One has been searching for a charismatic star to challenge the dominance of Schumacher. Not only had the powerful Williams team lost Senna this year, but it had also lost defending world champion Alain Prost, who retired at the end of last season. Mansell had departed in a huff as the defending champion the year before when team owner Frank Williams brought Prost in at the urging of his partner, French engine builder Renault. Now, here was Renault asking Mansell, a Brit, to carry the tricolore at the French Grand Prix, and here was the Williams team, ready to hug the prodigal son to its bosom.
Before he could accept the offer, estimated at $1 million, to race at Magny Cours, Mansell had to secure the permission of his Indy Car team owner, Carl Haas. It was the cigar-chomping Haas, and co-owner Paul Newman, who had lured Mansell to the U.S. circuit two years ago when Mansell was feeling unloved at Williams. Haas didn't like the idea but held little sway over the actions of his driver. As Williams once told The Times of London, "[ Mansell] was terrific in the car, but a very tough man out of it."
The question now is whether Mansell wants to make an extended stay in F/1. Sunday's outing was hardly the triumphant homecoming Mansell or Williams and Renault had envisioned, but there were signs that Mansell is ready to be at least competitive on the circuit he once dominated, and that should be enough to keep Williams and the rest of the F/1 world interested. But will Haas permit Mansell to shuttle between Europe and the U.S. to race in F/1 when there is no conflict with the Indy Car schedule?
"That won't happen," snaps Haas. "One thing is for certain: He's doing all our races. He has a contract."
As he prepared for the World Cup at Argentina's training camp outside Boston, Diego Maradona wore a T-shirt that read, IF I STEAL A SMILE FROM YOU, I WOULD LIKE TO PLAY ALL MY LIFE. In his first two matches Maradona not only stole smiles but also cadged oohs and purloined ahs. At 33, he was still the maestro of the mid-field, orchestrating two convincing victories and steering Argentina toward the final of the World Cup for the third straight time.
Last week, however, Maradona robbed himself of a final chance to rehabilitate his outlaw reputation. After testing positive for five banned substances—one doctor called it a "cocktail of drugs"—he was suspended from the tournament by FIFA, soccer's governing body, on June 29. The next day Argentina fell to Bulgaria 2-0 in what would have been Maradona's record-setting 22nd World Cup match.
For years Maradona's transgressions off the field have overshadowed his brilliance on it. Italy, 1991: suspended from his club in Naples for 15 months for cocaine use. Spain, 1993: released by Seville for, among other things, an "erratic private life," which included, team officials said, frequent visits to the red-light district. Argentina, 1994: accused by journalists of firing at them with a pellet gun. While in the U.S., though, he seemed as bent on shedding his bad-boy image as he had been on dropping 26 pounds from his stocky 5'5", 165-pound frame, which he did while preparing for the Cup last winter in Argentina. "It's been a long time since I felt as good at training," he said after one practice. "It's the result of coherent and responsible work."