The World Championship appears to be a mere formality as Nigel Mansell slots his Williams into pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide. The popular Briton has had a spectacular season with five victories and leads the championship going into the final race. A third-place finish would ensure his first world title while his nearest rivals, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost, would have to win - and have Mansell finish fourth or worse. Everything is going according to plan for Mansell. With just 18 laps remaining he is comfortably in third place, behind Piquet and Prost. If the positions stay the same Mansell would become the first Englishman to win the World Championship since James Hunt in 1976. Then, suddenly, it all goes wrong. Travelling at 180 km/h down the straight Mansell's rear tyre explodes and the Briton struggles to keep his car under control, finally coming to rest with a gentle but agonising bump against a concrete retaining wall. His race is over but there is a slim chance that his championship hopes might still be alive - as long as Piquet and Prost fail to win. But with each passing lap the odds of that happening become ever longer. Piquet, Mansell's teammate, is called back to the pits to have tyres checked, the team not wanting to risk another blowout. That leaves the way open for McLaren ace Prost, who takes the lead and holds on for a four-second victory over Piquet and the World Championship. 'I feel so sorry for Nigel,' says a gallant Prost. 'I know how he must feel, losing the title on the last race. I did the same in 1982, 1983 and 1984.' Mansell is philosophical in defeat. 'We did everything we could, but in the end there was nothing I could do about it,' he says. 'It just happened without warning. 'The irony is that my team were going to call me into the pits on that lap to change tyres as a precaution. When it was all over, I was destroyed. It was, without a doubt, the biggest disappointment of my entire life. 'My whole life I had waited for this opportunity, ever since my earliest days in karts, buzzing around allotments in Birmingham. 'After all those endless hours of work, the sacrifices, the injuries and the stubborn refusals to give up, my goal, which so many people, including my father, had told me was impossible for a lad of my background, had been within reach. I had touched it briefly, but then it was gone.' Earlier this year, with Ferrari's Michael Schumacher needing just one point from the final race in Japan to claim his sixth World Championship, Mansell is asked to recall his heartbreak in Adelaide - and whether there are any lessons from that for Schumacher. 'Motor racing can be kind - but it can be incredibly cruel as well,' he says. 'When I finally brought the convulsing car to a stop, after nearly a quarter of a minute, it struck me like a thunderbolt. The World Championship was gone. I had been a mere 44 miles from taking the title and I just slumped. It was so hard to take.'