Fernando Alonso did a remarkable job to win the Malaysian Grand Prix for Ferrari. It was a fantastic drive in a not so good car and a result that was largely unexpected. Almost as surprising as when Nigel Mansell won on his grand prix debut for the Prancing Horse some 23 years ago today, in fact.
Towards the end of the 1980s Ferrari were at the forefront of transmission technology with the Ferrari 640 – their 1989 challenger – which featured the first seven-speed semi-automatic gearbox to be seen in Formula 1.
Problem was, however, that the car was ill-handling and largely unreliable and before the season-opening race in Brazil it had failed to run for more than five laps without breaking down.
Mansell was well aware of the car’s shortcomings and had privately arranged to make a swift departure to the airport for his wife Rosanne and himself as he had little hope of surviving the race distance.
But remarkably, he managed to defy blistered hands, the lurking menace of Alain Prost and the unpredictability of his car’s gearbox to weave himself to victory and into Ferrari folklore, where he attained the nickname Il Leone, the Lion.
And, of course, he missed his early flight home.