Whether or not Formula 1 wanted to admit it, its status as the world’s top open-wheel racing series was in jeopardy in early 1993. Its defending world champion, Nigel Mansell, had up and abandoned it entirely, and its previous champion, Ayrton Senna, came close to doing the same. In both cases, their potential destination was apparent: IndyCar.
The situation was one that has played out many times in Formula 1: too many egos, and too many people playing cards too close to the vest. At the second race of 1992, Williams-Renault had signed Alain Prost to come out of a yearlong sabbatical for 1993. The team neglected to tell Mansell, who was in a contract year, but the British driver had no interest in resuming what had been a toxic partnership at Ferrari in past years. Senna, meanwhile, had been hoping to move to Williams as well, although Prost refused to partner with him. This left both drivers searching for a ride.
Senna, it turned out, would return to McLaren in 1993, but Mansell chose to come to America and join Newman/Haas Racing (replacing Michael Andretti, who would himself partner Senna at McLaren). The season itself was a success, with Mansell earning five victories and the championship—and with the CART title decided before the F1 title, he became the only driver in history to hold both at the same time.
On the diecast collector end, Mansell was a similarly hot ticket. He had already signed a personal deal with the British-founded Matchbox, which was deeply invested in racing with Formula 1, Indy 500, and NASCAR-branded lines in the early 1990s. But his 1993 title-winning car would also be immortalized by Racing Champions and Minichamps Seeing the same livery on so many models provides us with a perfect opportunity to compare.
In a statement that should surprise nobody, the Minichamps car is by far the most detailed of the set. It’s closest in shape and detail to a road course-modeled Lola from 1993, and features intensely detailed graphics—all the way down to the helmet. (Keep in mind this car is no longer than three inches!)
The Matchbox model, meanwhile, is adapted from one of its F1 chassis—this one based on a Williams FW11. Ironically, it would be used heavily to model both Ferrari F1 cars and Mansell’s (and other) IndyCar rides. Slightly larger than the rest at 1:55, Matchbox’s scale of choice in the era (this was before Mattel took ownership of the brand), it wouldn’t quite lend itself as well to the Newman/Haas sponsorship package. Also keep in mind that there were no modifications to this production from one of Matchbox’s 1-75 mainline offerings, putting this at the bottom of the quality list.
Racing Champions, having returned to CART diecast, produced two toolings: a road course model, and a superspeedway model with more aerodynamic wings. Mansell’s ride was one of a select few that would earn a treatment on both models, and both are fairly similar. The biggest missing piece on these cars compared to the other two is that they lack a driver piece, going for an empty cockpit; this puts them firmly between the Minichamps and Matchbox. As for the wing configuration, that’s a decision that is perhaps best left to personal preference.