Colle del Sestriere, late January 1986. A friendly soccer match is held between journalists and drivers, won by the latter thanks to the masterful performance of a small French guy with curly hair and a particular inclination for football. No, it's not Michel Platini, their similarity could be deceiving. It is Alain Prost, a former amateur player, a die-hard fan of Saint Etienne who scored four of his team's seven total goals in the match against journalists.
A few days later, the new world champion participates together with his colleagues also in the giant slalom, where now everyone can his part since the protagonist of the past years, Riccardo Patrese, is absent, busy in tests with the new revolutionized Brabham, according to rumors, low and ultra-flat with a seven-speed gearbox. The new Formula 1 season has actually already begun, to be precise on January 13, 1986 with tests carried out in Jacarepaguà. Alain gives his impressions in view of the start of the championship:
"I expect a decisive and ferocious attack from everyone. From Williams with Piquet, from Lotus with Senna, and then let's not forget Ferrari. Everyone gives it up for dead but I don't believe it. With the new 195 liters fuel rule, maximum consumption for a race, the games can be called into question. Even Ferrari, even if with a little delay compared to the others, will return to the top, I'm sure".
The further lowering of the fuel consumption limit wanted by Balestre to limit the power of these turbo engines constitutes not only the most important change in terms of regulation, but also the main question mark: already when in the last two years the limit was two hundred and twenty liters, there were numerous cars that failed to complete the races because they ran dry. Now, the engineers have to squeeze their brains out even more to prevent this from happening, but above all, the concern that grieves everyone is having to attend races made of pure fuel management, with drivers in the taxi driver mood, unable to attack.
Joining Prost in the pits from the first Grand Prix of the season in Rio de Janeiro is Keke Rosberg, whose choice to abandon the best performing car in last season's finale, Williams, may not be so prudent. The Finn, between a cigarette and the other, explains his intentions in view of his new experience in McLaren, without forgetting to take a dig at Senna, that impertinent Brazilian who pissed him off more than once the previous year.
"It will be an interesting championship, in which I will try to demonstrate my competitiveness. I like the challenge, winning is the only vitamin that gives me strength".
Then he adds:
"But let's not confuse the desire to win with irresponsibility. Let's take Senna, for example. He is certainly very talented, but races are not won on the first lap, at the first corner. A good driver is another thing, a combination of different talents. Maybe he will become one if he doesn't have an accident first, he takes too many risks. If there had been someone like Andrea de Cesaris in the front row sometimes, maybe he would have learned something more. We let him do it, because we have more experience. Only Mansell has given him some lessons".
Meanwhile, Ayrton vetoed Derek Warwick's arrival in Lotus, which turned to Ferrari in the role of tester, favoring instead Count Johnny Dumfries, son of the Marquis of Bute, one of Scotland's most important landowners. The choice of his new wingman, however, did not satisfy Senna, who in fact will not have a teammate to bother him, and furthermore having no experience, he will not be able to help him in an important way with the set-up and development of the car.
Interviewed, Ayrton explains the arrival of the British claiming that Lotus cannot afford the economic effort of betting on two drivers, after which he replies to Rosberg's attacks:
"I am now used to this and other accusations, and I don't worry. I go my own way, I leave the chatter to others. I have no time to waste. If the car is competitive, I am competitive too. This is perhaps why the other drivers oppose me. When one is strong, he is unpleasant. There is a game of power of people who do not look favorably on an emerging youngster, but I have not made as many mistakes as I am accused of. I made only one big mistake, due to inexperience, in Adelaide. I broke the nose and I did not notice it. It will be a tough championship. Much will depend on Brabham, a different car, in a certain sense revolutionary. If it does not have problems, the title will be a matter between Patrese and de Angelis, otherwise a fight with McLaren, Williams, Lotus and Ferrari. Williams has the best combination: a driver of Piquet's skill and experience and the single-seater that dominated last season's finale. I don't trust Ferrari too much: they say it's in crisis but is able to get back to the top".
In the new tests held in Rio de Janeiro in mid-February, the much talked about Brabham with full carbon fiber frame, designed by Gordon Murray, proves to be far behind, highlighting anomalous overheating problems, the usual fragility of components that has persisted for years, above all the gearbox, and pure speed which in any case is lacking.
Together with Ferrari, which rode in the '84 car but with some updates, it seems to be the one furthest behind, about a second and a half from Senna's Lotus.
However, Peter Warr's team also has to deal with Renault engines that break too easily. Overall, the teams that leave Brazil with a smile are McLaren and Williams, who have not encountered any inconvenience.
On the grid, for 1986, there are also some innovations, such as the team of Luciano Benetton, who overtook on Toleman, which entered the bankruptcy tunnel after Senna's farewell. Benetton has signed an agreement with BMW for the supply of turbo engines and with Pirelli for the supply of tires, and has hired the expert Teo Fabi together with the rising Gerhard Berger as drivers. For them too, the tests look promising.
There is also the retiree, or ex-retiree Alan Jones at the starting line, on the Lola Beatrice. Already in 1985 the former world champion attended three races without ever being able to finish them. The car, in addition to being unreliable, was also very slow. This year the Australian, paired with Patrick Tambay, has renewed his bet.
Saturday 8 March 1986, a couple of weeks before the World Championship begins, while the Williams team is on a test session at the Paul Ricard circuit, seeing that everything is going smoothly, Frank Williams decides to leave the circuit, and with a rented Ford Sierra he decides to head to Nice airport, to then return to England together with the team's press officer, Peter Windsor.
But about fifteen minutes after the start, arriving near the village of Meounes-les-Montrieux, due to the high speed the car driven by Frank Williams loses stability and ends up in a field, on the left side of the road, after having overturned many times.
Peter Windsor does not suffer major consequences, while instead Frank Williams is trapped in the car, as the roof collapsed leaning on the head of the team manager. Frank is conscious, and yells at Peter Windsor:
"Get me out of here, I can't move my legs".
Excerpted from Windsor, Frank Williams admits a moment later:
"I'll never drive that fast again. I'll drive a Gogomobile".
Meanwhile, some rescuers call an ambulance, while Windsor asks to be allowed to go to the circuit because Nelson Piquet has a Mercedes with a phone on board, and with this he can call Bernie Ecclestone and Sid Watkins.
However, it is a local kid who informs the Williams team of what has just happened, after arriving with his scooter at the circuit. Moments later, Frank Dernie, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet leave immediately to reach the crash site. Transported to the hospital in Toulon, the doctors diagnosed the rupture of the fourth and fifth vertebrae.
Frank Williams, after just an hour and a half is transported to Marseille, where Sid Watkins attends the operation, which lasted a few hours, and reassures Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Frank Dernie and Peter Windsor, present at the hospital.
After a few days, the doctor who operated on Frank Williams tells his wife, who has arrived in France as soon as possible, that it is better to transport him to England since he does not want to have complications; in short, he doesn't want Williams to pass away in France. Windsor is not there, so he calls Sid Watkins, who in turn invites Dr. Yates to Marseille: if Frank Williams is not urgently moved to England, he has no chance of saving himself.
Understanding the seriousness of the situation, together with Bernie Ecclestone and Sid Watkins, Peter Windsor organizes the transfer of Frank Williams to the hospital in London, in Whitechapel Road, and in fact they save his life, even if unfortunately the team manager of the homonymous team will remain paralyzed.
In his long recovery, the forty-four year old struggles with all his might. At first, the medical staff was dealing for nearly a week to prevent the lungs from filling with fluid; six weeks later, Frank is breathing autonomously.
On May 28, 1986, twelve weeks after the car accident, Frank Williams returns home and begins rehabilitation. The team, awaiting his return, is momentarily managed by Patrick Head, Frank Dernie and Peter Windsor himself. At Jacarepaguà, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell have one more reason to win.
Even the bookmakers believe and so much in the great competitiveness shown by the British team powered by Honda engines: Prost is logically seen as the number one favorite, but Piquet, together with Senna, is considered the first rival of the Frenchman.
Rosberg and Mansell, as well as the two Ferraris, enjoy less consideration; meanwhile Piquet, the two-time champion with Brabham, after two complicated seasons battered by technical problems on the fragile car supplied by Gordon Murray, is ready to be back at the top.
In Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the first race weekend of the season, fans are in hype, the streets are lined with billboards with the faces of Piquet and Senna, and Piquet, generally less popular than Ayrton in Brazil despite his two world titles, in his hometown seems to be able to enjoy a slightly wider support.
Charged to the maximum, it is they, Nelson and Ayrton, who put on a show in both qualifying sessions: Piquet takes pole on Friday, but on Saturday Senna, with an impressive 1'25"501, trims the Williams driver seven tenths, which, however, hecould not fight back due to an accident during the second qualifying session, also remedying a blow to his right wrist.
Nigel Mansell is third but a second and two behind the Lotus Renault, behind the British there are, surprisingly, the two old men of Ligier, Renè Arnoux, back on track after being fired by Ferrari, and Jacques Laffite.
Eighty-one years in two, but still a great desire to drive fast. The two McLarens do not yet have a Porsche V6 in the qualifying version, so the second session sees Rosberg and Prost respectively in seventh and ninth position, with a gap of more than two seconds from pole.
On Friday there are small, inevitable skirmishes between FISA and FOCA. Strangely enough, it was the police who blocked the track for forty-five minutes during free practice, as a dispute arose between the organizers of the Grand Prix and the police officers on the number of passes to be granted to the latter.
The Federation was unable to discover the authors of this action, but decided to impose a fine of $ 50.000 on the organizers, threatening to cancel the Jacarepaguà circuit from the 1987 calendar. Small detail: among the organizers there is also Bernie Ecclestone, who obviously cannot appreciate the tone with which the FISA addresses him.
Leaving aside the bickering of the Ecclestone-Balestre duo, Sunday opens up to the new season. Tens of thousands of Brazilian fans flock to the racetrack to support their favorites from the front row.
Piquet's sprint is not as brilliant as that of the other Williams, who slips into second position at the first corner. Mansell lets himself be gassed perhaps excessively by the great speed of his Williams and his excellent start, and at the end of the long straight that leads to the Sul curve, he also tries to pass Senna.
One is reckless, the other is even more so; the result is that Mansell sees a gap and throws in, while Senna closes the trajectory as if the British was not present. Williams number 5 spins and goes off the wall, finishing her race after half a lap. For the second time in a row, after Adelaide last year, Mansell retires due to a contact with Ayrton. Who to blame?
Probably both of them, too aggressive when they absolutely didn't need to be. Piquet, on the third lap, performs the same maneuver on Senna but brings it to the conclusion in the correct way. The superiority of the Williams-Honda is inescapable; Ayrton cannot react.
Behind, Prost remained entangled in the middle of the group, even fourteenth after a bad shot. Alain, however, recovered quickly and after about ten laps he was already fourth in the exhaust pipes of Alboreto's Ferrari, who instead got off to a great start.
The two contenders for the 1985 title show how it is possible not to throw away races, unlike Mansell and Senna, when at the Sul curve they find themselves in the exact same situation that led to the retirement of the British driver. Alboreto closes, but not before Prost has lifted his foot after realizing that there is no possibility of overtaking.
The lap after Alain tries again and easily overtakes the Italian driver. With Senna in a serious tire crisis, Alain also takes the lead, as Piquet has already returned to the pits in the meantime. Here is a variant that could blow the cards on the table even more than the petrol factor: excessive tire wear.
Goodyear has predicted two stops for all the teams that have their compounds, and judging by the premature pit stops of Piquet and also of Senna, who returns a few laps later, perhaps waiting a bit too long, given that when he returns to the track he finds himself behind the Ligier di Arnoux, it is to be believed that this will be the case.
Anyone looking to do something different is Prost, capable of handling the tire with greater delicacy given its not very aggressive driving style. The Frenchman delays his stop to the point of being overtaken by Piquet, then he decides to stop and goes back to third, behind Senna who in turn has easily passed Arnoux.
Senna doesn't have Piquet's pace, so the only one who can worry him is Prost with his different strategy. Unfortunately, the same problem that occurred at the start of the race on Rosberg's car, a short circuit in the engine, also occurs on the car of the reigning champion driver, who consequently leaves the two Brazilians in the lead in total tranquillity. free to manage the remaining fuel and tires as they wish.
The only moments of concern in Lotus house come serving the second pit stop to Senna. A Lotus returns to the pits, not that of the Brazilian, but that of Dumfries, who has some technical problems and therefore has taken the path of the pits. The mechanics, caught off guard, lose their clarity and mount Senna's tires on the British car. Fortunately for him, Ayrton returns only two laps later, when everything goes smoothly. Nelson Piquet wins the Brazilian Grand Prix with no more worries.
The Brazilian driver celebrates his fourteenth career success, as well as the thirtieth podium. With him on the podium there is Senna, with whom he proudly waves the Brazilian flag, and Jacques Laffite.
Patriotic pride is such that the full version of the Brazilian anthem is played, and the irreverent Laffite jokingly looks several times on his wrist at a watch that is not there, as if to say: is this anthem going to end? The points are closed by the other Ligier of Arnoux, the Tyrrell of Brundle and the Benetton of the promising Berger.
The Ferraris, both retired due to reliability problems, make people speak of them only for the terrifying accident happened to Alboreto during qualifying. A flight at 240 km/h caused by a misunderstanding followed by the contact with the Tambay's Lola, with the Ferrari ending against the protective barriers.
As expected, the red team proved to be clearly behind its rivals: there is a lot of work to be done on the young F1/86. Piquet dedicates the victory to Frank Williams, nailed to the hospital bed but able to watch and celebrate the victory of his new driver.
As for the rest of the World Championship, Piquet does not consider Senna as a rival of him, judging him too reckless. Piquet also judges the McLarens still too distant both in qualifying and in the race pace. His rival for the title race is Nigel Mansell, as he currently has the best car, that same Williams. However, the Briton did not start his season in a great way, and in the post-race he attacks Senna:
"I had already passed him when he held me, touched me and threw me out. That's not how it's done, it's always the same".
Then he also adds a mea culpa:
"But I too could have waited to try to pass. I was a fool".
Senna, on the other hand, in collaboration with the Italian newspaper Autosprint, summarizes the weekend:
"The only team that came to Rio with a perfect preparation was Williams. In fact, I understand that no other team has carried out winter tests over the distance of an entire Grand Prix. All the others have carried out surveys on a limited number of laps, looking for them to imagine what would have happened in the race. However, there are many variables and those who do not test on the distance of the Grand Prix can only get an idea of real consumption. At this point one wonders why only Williams carried out these important tests. As for us at Lotus, it was prevented by the fact that the second driver was appointed too late. I already had to test the old car, then the old car with new suspension, then the new car and so on. I could not do all this and Grand Prix simulations at the same time. It was essential to be in two. In any case we have had confirmation that Williams-Honda will be the car to beat this year. It was the most competitive at the end of last year and the Honda technicians have been working on their current engine for a year and a half already. They have a driver like Piquet who is perhaps the best of the moment. I still don't have an idea of what Ferrari and Brabham will be able to do, but if I had to make a ranking of the current values in second place I would certainly put McLaren. The TAG engine does not seem up to the Honda, but their chassis is more competitive than the Williams' one".
Ayrton also gives you an idea of the situations in which you can find yourself in the moments when you need to save gas:
"It can happen that you have an opponent behind you that you could easily control, but the computer says no: you have to let him pass because if you continue like this you will run out of fuel. Or it can happen that you have an opponent in front who could be easily overtaken, but as soon as he pushes a little more the computer still says no. Finally it may happen that the computer indicates that with that pace you can finish the race right. In this case it is better to slow down a little more, because the accuracy of the computer measurement has a certain tolerance and continuing in this way would risk remaining on foot. Formula 1 lives only for the public, and what spectacle did we offer in Brazil by driving slowly and avoiding any comeback attempt? I'm not a technician and making regulations is not my job, but I think the only solution could come from adoption of the American system that imposes a valve that is the same for all calibrated on a sufficiently low supply pressure. The powers would still be contained and the best engine would always exist. So the drivers could really race, attacking from start to finish".
The tests at the end of March at Imola offer an opportunity for teams such as Ferrari and Brabham (de Angelis eighth and Patrese retired in Brazil confirmed the difficulties) to immediately seek solutions to take a few steps forward in view of the second Grand Prix, to be held on the new Jerez circuit.
Spain, after leaving Formula 1 through the friction between the organizers, FISA and FOCA, in 1981, is once again part of the calendar. It does not take place on the Jarama circuit, but on the newly built Jerez de la Frontera circuit, in Andalucia, the southern region of Spain. Sixteen total turns form a tortuous circuit, with a single short straight of just six hundred meters where you barely reach 265 km/h.
The doubts that grip this track are many: built in nine months, the tightness of the asphalt is to be verified, as well as its layout, not really suitable for Formula 1 cars, being too narrow and thus making overtaking in fact impossible. In addition, nearby infrastructure and hotels are either non-existent or small. In short, the drivers are not at all thrilled with the second round of the season.
Given that the circuit is new, despite the fact that computer simulations are already carried out in the factory to evaluate what the ideal set-up could be, Ayrton, as usual when he does not know a track, decides to walk the track towards sunset time on foot, in order to understand all the crucial points. The more he is criticized by his opponents, the faster Ayrton goes, and his meticulousness in trying to find that decimal less in every detail can only benefit him.
Another pole for him, which exactly as in Rio is followed in order by the two Williams of Piquet and Mansell. Senna accuses a painful discomfort in his shoulder, but in order not to miss the briefing with Ducarouge, he resists and keeps the physiotherapists waiting.
Meanwhile The Professor is ready to redeem himself from the retirement of the first race; Alain is fourth, Keke Rosberg is behind him. From the tests in San Marino, it is undoubtedly the Mp4/2C to have made the most progresses.
The race is a succession of tire and petrol management of the five protagonists just listed, there are those who do it first and those who do it later, those who do it better and those who do it worse.
At the beginning of the race Nigel Mansell lets himself be overtaken by his rivals, then, when his on-board computer signals him to be okay, he begins to push seriously and furiously comes back until he takes the lead, overtaking Senna treads thanks to the help of Tyrrell from Brundle, lapped, who disfavours Ayrton.
On the same lap Piquet abandons the race, due to an engine failure. The winner of the preceding Grand Prix is one of the many victims of broken engines, gearboxes and brakes (there are just eight drivers who reach the finish line).
Keke Rosberg is one of the leading drivers who manages the car the worst. The Finn loses contact with those ahead of him, namely Mansell, Senna and Prost, returns to the pits to change the destroyed tires, only to end up lapped.
In such a race, made up of management and tactical intelligence, Prost is certainly the favorite among the three survivors, as Mansell and Ayrton, albeit very fast, certainly did not make themselves known for their exemplary racing management.
Unfortunately for Alain, the on-board computer jams, showing him less fuel than he actually has. For this reason he almost never pushes to the maximum, and ends the race with eighteen unnecessary liters of petrol and twenty-one seconds from the winner and the runner-up.
Mansell was comfortably in the lead when he had to contend with a slow puncture in one of his rear wheels, hit by debris. Nigel's error in judgment lies in the fact that he did not return to the pits immediately, instead trying to resist the attacks of Senna and Prost, who were behind him.
Ayrton tries for the first time and for a matter of millimeters he does not ram the Williams, who cannot resist for much longer. Both Lotus and McLaren parade it, and only at this point Mansell returns to the pits to fit new tires.
Senna and Prost, on the other hand, remain on track with increasingly worn tires. Thus, Mansell, gaining three to four seconds at each lap, clears the twenty-second gap that separated him from the leading duo.
Prost can't resist, has run out of tires and is, according to his on-board computer, running out of gas. Mansell loses a couple of seconds from Senna in passing the McLaren, but once he has acquired the second position he sets out on the hunt for victory.
However, there are only three laps to go, and the Williams driver is five seconds behind. On the last lap the two are together, Mansell is a second and a half away, but he is visibly faster; in every stretch of the track he gains meters after meters.
Exiting the last corner, Mansell is attached to Senna, obviously pulling better than the Brazilian rival's Lotus and joining him, but for the surreal distance of fourteen thousandths, he has to settle for second place. It was since 1971 that two drivers had not finished a race with such a minimal gap: it was Peterson and Gethin at Monza, also just a penny apart.
It so happens that the technicians, during their reorganization of the various plants in view of the weekend, had rearranged the finish line after an oversight about twenty meters further back, since it had been drawn too far ahead of the cabin of the timing. Twenty meters that in all probability could have given Mansell the victory. Ayrton calls his third career victory, the hardest fought of the three, and adds:
"It was not an easy race, at the beginning I had to save petrol and rubber without favoring the attack of my pursuers. When Mansell overtook me there was nothing to do, Williams was much faster, but in those moments we must not lose faith in our own possibilities, and only think about the behavior of the car, making the most of it. I dedicate this victory to myself, it was hard to get. Initially I was more afraid of Piquet. Nigel, however, is unpredictable, you never know where he wants to attack. In the end, someone thought I made a mistake on the finish straight and widened the line, but I was sure Mansell would not have overtaken me".
Gérard Ducarouge, on the other hand, is ecstatic, and exalts his pupil:
"He drove perfectly. It's hard to say who he looks like, but I'm sure he will become World Champion, and I really hope with my car".
Mansell takes it philosophically, aware that perhaps an early pit stop would have allowed him to win easily, and also justifies Senna's defensive maneuvers, since according to him whoever is in front has the right to protect his position. Finally, he jokes about the minimum gap at the checkered flag and also dedicates a thought to Frank Williams, saying:
"It was so tight that they should give us seven and a half points each! Anyway, I hope Frank enjoyed watching me on his television".
Piquet one, Senna one. Could it really be a head to head between them, just like Brazilians dream? Well, first Prost, and then Mansell, respond with a sharp no, woe betide just thinking about cutting them out for the World Championship issues. The first to react is the champion in charge. Meanwhile, spotted at the Turin Motor Show in the company of compatriot Gerhard Berger, Niki Lauda lets himself go to some predictions about the favorite for the championship:
"It is early to talk. In any case, I always see Nelson Piquet and Williams, they are the strongest team. The Brazilian has enormous experience and is a champion, he knows how to drive well on all tracks, he has no shortcomings. The team is among the most capable, very motivated despite the misfortune that hurt his team manager. Furthermore, the presence of a guy like Mansell can also be considered stimulating for Piquet. It cannot be denied that Senna has talent and courage, and a remarkable ability to concentrate. But all of this is not enough, you need a competitive car in every circuit. Prost? For now I don't see him in contention for the World Championship. A team also needs good test drivers, as well as good drivers. I don't think there is a great understanding with Rosberg regarding the development and tuning of the car".
In fact Niki is right on almost everything. It is true, between Prost and Rosberg the exchange of information is zero, the exact opposite of what it was with Lauda, with whom Alain engaged long discussions. Keke, on the other hand, is much more individualistic, even if given the difficulties encountered in understanding McLaren's behavior, an exchange of ideas with Prost would certainly not hurt him. Cutting the Frenchman out of the title fight, however, would be a serious mistake for everyone.
The weekend in Imola begins with the memory of last season, when excessive fuel consumption put out many drivers, including Prost himself, who finished the race but was subsequently disqualified as the car was underweight at the controls.
The concern is great, if not greater, this year, as the fuel limit has dropped further. Over the weeks the complaints from teams and drivers were not long in coming, and Alain was the one who made himself heard the most.
Jean-Marie Balestre, one who hardly accepts criticism, triggers the controversy and threatens not to renew the super license to the drivers who will continue to criticize the work of the sports authorities:
"Even the World Champion Alain Prost will no longer have his special Formula 1 license if he keeps saying that the regulations are wrong, that we do no good. There are at least forty drivers waiting to enter this world, we don't lack of choice. Competitors are free to express their opinions, but they must not foment useless discussions. If there is something to review, we can very well do it among us".
On the other hand, however, Bernie Ecclestone admits that it is necessary to reform some areas of the regulation in a radical but above all intelligent way. Perhaps, after watching television viewing rates, probably slightly down or not high enough to satisfy him, Bernie began to worry. That Senna and Lotus have an edge in qualifying is now well established: Ayrton takes another pole, always followed by the two Williams and Prost.
For the race, the poleman knows that it will be very difficult to maintain the position, given the high consumption of fuel and brakes that this circuit causes; Lotus is, among the top teams, the car that suffers the most. Prost's mood is different, confident that he can fight the two Williams.
After the umpteenth pole, however, there are those who - like Williams engineer Enrique Scalabroni - notice the copious sparks coming out of the bottom of the Lotus, a phenomenon that could suggest an uneven inclined surface. Despite no one complaining, the Federation launches an investigation on the 98T.
The checks do not reveal any irregularities, and later it is Gérard Ducarouge himself who reveals at least in part the interesting solution of his creature: an electronically controlled hydro-pneumatic suspension system that allows the car to remain very low on the asphalt regardless of the conditions; this also explains the sparks that the Lotus creates when it touches the asphalt. This innovation, together with the power of the Renault qualifying engine, makes Senna practically unbeatable, at least in qualifying.
In fact, in the race, as expected, in the very early stages both Piquet and the two McLarens got rid of Ayrton without too many worries. Mansell, on the other hand, left the scene almost immediately due to the breakdown of the Honda engine.
The two protagonists of the heart-pounding Jerez finale are eliminated within ten laps: even Senna suddenly feels that his right rear wheel has some problems immediately after the Tamburello. The Brazilian returns to the pits, where the mechanics find the hub broken. For him the race is over.
Prost and Rosberg remain close to each other for a while, offering a spectacle to fans with a couple of overtaking and counter-overtaking, but in the long run there are still problems in the management of the car for Rosberg, who is (together with Patrese and Ghinzani) one of the drivers who runs dry before the checkered flag, precisely two laps from the end.
Piquet, after taking the lead on the first lap against Senna, went away alone, but a clutch failure caused him a noticeable loss of pace, which relegated him to second position behind Prost.
To tell the truth, in a similar way to his teammate, Alain also remains without petrol, in the very last corners of the last lap: arrived at the Rivazza, the McLaren suddenly slows down, causing shouts of joy from the stands occupied by the Italian fans, as always hostile to the French, toxic in supporting Ferrari and hoping to be able to welcome Johansson on the podium, who occupies the fourth position.
Thirty seconds start with a heart pounding for Alain and the whole McLaren garage, led by Ron Dennis whose face is petrified. Everyone is waiting for Prost to cross the finish line before the car stops.
McLaren starts to zigzag, takes advantage of the very last drops of petrol left, and accompanied by Gerhard Berger, lapped, who does not pass so as not to make another lap (the Austrian finishes third and wins the first podium in Formula 1 for him and for Benetton), crosses the finish line as a winner. The car stops about a hundred meters later; Alain gets out and rejoices making his fist towards his box, but he doesn't even have time to take off the helmet that all the journalists surround him:
"Victory aside, I am satisfied because our TAG-Porsche engine is no longer far from Honda and Renault. It had to be the race of computers and instead we were a bit betrayed by these sophisticated electronic systems that we have on board. On mine the indicator still showed three and a half liters in the tank and instead I had practically run out of fuel. Luckily I was going downhill and I shook the car to take out all the petrol that was in the pipes. It went well".
Beyond the premature retirement, Senna admits that there would have been little to do against Prost and Piquet. Lotus still has to grow in terms of race pace, even if on city circuits such as Monte Carlo and Detroit they could seriously enter the fight for victory, and maybe, why not, with a bit of consistency in the results even in the fight at the top of the drivers' championship.
For the men of Ferrari, on their home track, the first points for Johansson arrive, with him being fourth at the end of the race. The three points won by the Swede, however, are only a very small consolation. The top teams are still miles away, and Alboreto has entered an endless tunnel: eight consecutive retirements. He has not finished a race since August of the previous year. This time to deny him the checkered flag with four laps to go, while he was in front of his teammate, a turbine failure that forces him to go back to the pits.
Even in the fourth round of the World Championship on the tortuous street circuit of Montecarlo, Alboreto, despite an extraordinary qualification, all his own thing since Johansson with the same car is only fifteenth, must postpone the appointment with a result other than retirement. It is always the lack of reliability that betrays him, in Monte Carlo it is specifically the turbo.
Riding the wave of enthusiasm, Prost decides that Monaco is the track where he has to dominate. Alain starts with a peremptory pole position that finally undermines Senna. Ayrton, third behind Mansell, complains about the slow cars found in his fastest lap, and in post-qualifying he compares the Monegasque circuit to the traffic found on Copacabana's Avenida Atlantica. Alain also takes the victory the next day, the third in a row among these streets that exalt him so much. To underline the clear superiority of the MP4/2C on this circuit is the second place of the ascendant Rosberg, started from the ninth slot.
The Finnish driver thinks well to celebrate the result on the podium by mocking one of the royal guards sprinkling a little champagne on his face, knowing that the latter certainly could not move away or do something that was not standing still.
Senna concludes where he started, third; the two Williams do not make sparks in a particular way on the street circuit of Monte Carlo. Nelson Piquet suffers above all: Mansell, although one minute away from Prost, limits the damage and is fourth, the Brazilian instead struggles a lot throughout the weekend, also held back by numerous technical problems. Piquet admits, among other things, that he does not like street circuits very much, it is certain that twelfth place in qualifying and seventh in the race have a certain effect.
With a Prost like this, no one, Piquet in the first place, can afford subdued performance.
Alain in fact becomes the new leader of the standings, with twenty-two points conquered. Senna and Piquet follow him respectively with nineteen and fifteen points scored in the first four races of the World Championship.
Before the San Marino Grand Prix, everyone enthusiastically welcomed the all-Brazilian fight between Piquet and Senna, mistakenly excluding McLaren and its reigning World Champion. But Alain responded in a big way, with two consecutive wins.
However, there is another driver temporarily excluded from the world championship speeches, Nigel Mansell, ready to remind everyone that he too is one of the eligible winners. In Monte Carlo de Angelis retired, but his Brabham was starting to show signs of recovery:
"Without the various failures, I could have been second on the grid. Too bad, we'll try again at Spa".
He said at the end of the Monegasque qualifying. Unfortunately, there will be no Spa for him. McLaren, Ferrari, Ligier, Lola, Tyrrell and Brabham attended the tests at Paul Ricard in mid-May. Elio is driving the BT55, the car full of innovations that for now has not given the desired results.
Around 11:15 am, at the chicane de la Verriere, turn 1, the rear wing comes off the Roman driver's Brabham: de Angelis totally loses control of the car at about 270 km/h, and starts a series of carom going beyond the safety barriers. A copious fire begins to rage; Prost, Laffite, Jones and Rosberg are the first to try to rescue Elio, but they are unable in any way to extract him from the burning car. Canadian journalist Christian Tortora, the only witness present, will recall the incident as follows:
"Suddenly I saw the car take off and after a flight of about two hundred meters it hurt the guardrail, bounced back in the air to end up overturned about fifty meters away. The first to stop immediately were Prost, Laffite, Jones and Rosberg who got out of their cars with fire extinguishers in hand and dumped them on Elio's car on fire. De Angelis was trapped under the carcass. Prost did not hesitate to dive between the flames to try to get Elio out, but there was nothing to be done. While the pilots went in search of other fire extinguishers to put out the fire, the fuel tank of the Brabham exploded, setting fire even to a pine that borders the circuit at that point. When help arrived and the fire was finally put out, everyone tried to get the driver out after straightening the car but it took a long time. The doctor immediately felt Elio's pulse and said it was over, but then added that he'll try everything. For a quarter of an hour he was given a heart massage and artificial respiration until the heart started beating again. Then the helicopter arrived and they took it to Marseille. When we straightened it, the roll bar no longer existed".
The first diagnosis of the on-call doctor on the circuit speaks of severe head damage and spinal detachment, but not of burns or fractures; however, the amount of carbon monoxide breathed by Elio in those minutes of waiting is such that the conditions are very serious.
The doctors of the La Timone hospital in Marseille immediately define the driver's conditions as worrying, specifying however that no surgery is planned, given that the conditions make it necessary to keep him in the emergency resuscitation ward directed by Professor François.
Elio falls into a deep coma, is rushed to the reanimation room, but hour after hour the hopes of survival are getting weaker. Doctors try everything from artificial respiration to electro-stimulators, but there's nothing they can do.
After harrowing hours of waiting, at 5:20 pm on May 15, 1986, father Giulio, mother Pina and brothers Roberto, Andrea and Fabiana are informed that Elio did not make it, the doctors turned off the machines that kept him artificially in life, the cause of death is asphyxiation.
Elio de Angelis passes away at the age of twenty-eight, with eight seasons in Formula 1, one hundred and nine Grand Prix races, two victories, ten podiums and three pole positions. The controversy broke out, one above all: with a regular security service, Elio's life would not have come to a tragic end.
During the tests, in fact, the number of marshals around the track is drastically reduced compared to normal race weekends and the safety measures are halved and totally insufficient. Furthermore the commissioners who helped Elio arrived on foot from the pits, and without the appropriate equipment. The safety theme is recurring.
The drivers, orphaned by a true leader like Niki Lauda after his retirement, return to raise their voices, demanding the same safety measures as the races also during the tests, with ambulance, helicopter and firefighters, and this time headed by Prost and Piquet, they also ask for a reduction in the horsepower of the turbo engines to 600, threatening, otherwise, to desert the Belgian Grand Prix on May 25, 1986:
"Today's Formula 1 has reached its limit: 350 km/h on the straight can also be there, this is not the most dangerous thing. But reaching 300 km/h after a few hundred meters, with 1200 horsepower engines, it's absolutely ridiculous. We need to take a step back as soon as possible".
Says Alain, while Michele Alboreto can't hold back the tears:
"It is like losing a brother, I still cannot realize that such a misfortune has happened. I will try to be very close to the family, and now we will leave no stone unturned to increase the safety of motor racing. Risk is our job, but much can still be done to reduce it".
Senna also talks about the tragedy of Elio, his former teammate with whom he did not have a great relationship, firmly underlining the poor safety measures present on the circuit during that test session:
"With Elio I had a professional relationship that was not the best, but I don't even want to talk about it; there was a big rivalry between the two of us. From the human side, however, I have always respected Elio: he was a very intelligent and kind man, one who raced for the pure pleasure of racing. The day before Elio's accident I made a mistake. I had problems with my car and before returning to the pits I drove a lap very slowly, looking around: along the track the security services were practically non-existent. I saw a man with a fire extinguisher, only one, but I didn't worry too much. I thought that the Paul Ricard circuit was a long circuit, with large spaces, and perhaps the emergency service was there, even if from the cockpit it was difficult to see how it was dislocated. Once that lap of the track was over, I should have better informed myself of the situation, asked where the fire-fighting men were and made the other drivers aware of the problem. But I did not, as I didn't in the past. I feel a part of responsibility for what happened".
"An adequate firefighting service would have been enough and Elio would still be with us. The problem of fire is increasingly topical since Formula 1 cars adopt turbo engines that reach very high temperatures. We had the hints of what happened at Paul Ricard last year during testing at the Nurburgring. Surer stopped along the track and the car caught fire. There was still no one there and Marc, got out of the car, looked around until he spotted a service van parked in the distance. Surer ran over there, got behind the wheel of that vehicle while the attendant was blissfully sleeping a little further on, reached his Brabham and He turned it off by himself. That day almost everyone laughed bitterly thinking that it was not right to have so many marshals along the track during the Grand Prix and none or almost none during private practice. We did nothing and everything remained as before".
"It is during the tests that we take the greatest risks, when we try new solutions that have never been tried before. The cars are getting faster every day; the circuits remain the same and many have not been adequate for a few years; FOCA only thinks about the interests of the teams, FISA leaves it to FOCA and we drivers don't give a damn. This is the stark picture of the situation. But it is a situation that cannot last a day longer. It had been a long time since there was a fatal accident in Formula 1 and we were all relaxed. Unfortunately, the irreparable thing had to happen to realize that the danger exists and that the time has come for everyone to do an examination of conscience of what happened to Elio: we are all responsible".
On Friday May 23th, while the Belgian Grand Prix is already underway, it is Balestre's turn, determined to revolutionize the regulations. After several meetings with Bernie Ecclestone's FOCA and Ferrari sporting director Marco Piccinini (in practice, the trio that decides where, when and why of Formula 1), they came to the conclusion to reduce power as soon as possible: six hundred horsepower engines. The methodology through which this modification will take place is not specified, but it seems that it may be a boost reduction valve, which would lead to half the power.
The layout of Paul Ricard is also subject to change: the corner where poor Elio lost his life is eliminated, and the long straight where 340 km/h was reached is halved. And this promises to be just the first of a series of changes to various circuits no longer compliant with current Formula 1.
In the following weeks there are other innovations that the Balestre-Ecclestone-Piccinini triumvirate wants to bring to Formula 1. First of all, three possible options are communicated to reduce the great power of the engines in view of 1987:
- Reduction of the base power to 1000 horsepower (the current is 1500 horsepower);
- Introduction of a valve that is the same for all that controls supercharging;
- Limitation of the air flow for the motor supply.
Especially prompted by Ecclestone then, it is proposed to eliminate the qualifying engines by upsetting the entire format. Bernie fired one of his first ambiguous and sophisticated ideas, suggesting only free practice on Friday, a short warm-up on Saturday morning, and a short eighty kilometer race in the afternoon, with a line-up based on the results of the previous race. The order of arrival of this short heat would define the starting grid of the next day's race.
A proposal that, however, does not solve the safety problems, much less the question of the power of the engines. Eliminated from qualifying, there is no doubt that the eager engineers would create an engine capable of running just those eighty kilometers, only to be shelved. The idea is not enthusiastically welcomed by anyone, and in fact it will never be put into practice.
The world of Formula 1, as has already happened in the past after similar tragedies, must go on, so Brabham finds in Derek Warwick the driver who will join Riccardo Patrese from the Canadian Grand Prix to replace Elio, while Williams and Lotus go to Belgium, on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, to hunt down Prost. In qualifying, total balance reigns, with an exceptional loose cannon: Benetton.
Gerhard Berger takes second place behind poleman Nelson Piquet, evidently more at ease than in Monte Carlo; Teo Fabi is sixth, but only four tenths behind the Brazilian. The team based in Witney, in the United Kingdom, continues to make progress: on Friday and for the first fifty minutes of the session on Saturday, Berger was on provisional pole, before Piquet arrived to deny him the joy.
Deprived momentarily of the famous suspensions that help him fly in qualifying, this time Senna has to settle for fourth place on the grid, behind Prost and ahead of Mansell. Nigel has to make a move, or he risks missing the train that takes him straight to fight for the title. He needs an important performance like that of Jerez, where he lost the race by fourteen thousandths, perhaps with a bit of luck to help him.
In fact, speaking of luck, first Prost and then Piquet are quickly ousted from the fight for the victory, so that only Senna is contending for the first place in the race to Mansell, however his Lotus does not have the possibility to counter the speed of the Williams on the race pace.
The start proves to be almost fatal for Alain, who finds himself close to the Source by Berger, who in turn is closed to the outside by Senna. Three of them do not fit in the first corner, Berger crosses slightly and squeezes Prost towards the guard rail. The McLaren hits the right rear suspension of the Benetton, after which both cars turn around, occupying a large part of the roadway, and triggering a carom in which Brundle, Arnoux and the French Lola driver Patrick Tambay are involved, the only one who must withdraw.
The two crashed off again with the damaged cars, and must forcibly return to the pits to change the front wing in the case of Prost, and have the damaged suspension in the case of Berger fixed whenever possible. Light years away from the top positions, Alain partially manages to limit the damage thanks to a comeback that certifies him in sixth position at the end of the race. There is no shortage of regrets for him, having been able to see for the whole weekend that he had an excellent race pace. Only when the car has returned to the pits, the mechanics can see what a miracle Alain performed while staying on the track: the contact at the first corner had not only damaged the wing and the front suspension, but also caused the anomalous folding of a motor mounting plate.
"In that condition it becomes difficult even to keep the car on the straight".
John Barnard states.
"Not only that, Alain also resisted the temptation to increase the turbo boost. Someone talks about luck, but this is not the case. Alain was intelligent. They call him the Professor and in this race he made it clear why he got this nickname".
After the race Prost accuses Berger of having tightened him, the Austrian in turn takes it out on Senna. While he was easily leading with a ten-second gap on the Lotus instead, Nelson Piquet suffers a loss of power and for the second time this season after Jerez has to abandon the race due to problems with the Honda engine. Senna finds himself leading the race, also thanks to the mistake that previously saw Mansell as protagonist, who, having risen to second position behind his teammate, spun and lost two positions.
But Nigel is much faster, and at the time of Senna's pit stops, he is attached to the exhaust pipes. The overtaking takes place immediately, but Senna does not give up, he tries to stay in contact with Williams until the on-board computer tells him that he must necessarily calm down so as not to run out of petrol.
Mansell wins his third race in his career, and thanks to the vicissitudes encountered by the two favorites on the eve, Prost and Piquet, he relaunches himself in the World Championship. During the interviews there is also a dedication to Elio de Angelis, his former teammate at the time of Lotus, and Frank Williams:
"I dedicate this victory to Elio and his family. He was a great friend, he helped me a lot at the beginning of my career. And I would also like to remember Frank Williams, immobilized in a hospital bed, it's thanks to him that I arrived at this point. They are in a wonderful team".
A glimmer of hope can also be seen in Maranello: Johansson's podium and Alboreto's fourth place finally breaking his curse give a little joy to the men in red, who are beginning to see the fruits of hard work. The celebrations for the podium make the Swede's order of team not respected, which has gone to attack and overtake Alboreto, even though he was told to slow down from the pits, to the background. Small deja-vu of the Villeneuve-Pironi times, only there the order of arrival of a first and a second place in Imola was decided.
Pending the American tour in mid-June, Formula 1 is shaken by another tragic event. During a German rally valid for the European championship, Arrows driver Marc Surer is seriously injured after his car, a Ford Rs 200, crashed into a tree and caught fire. The Swiss is rescued, but his co-driver, Michael Wyder, dies being stuck in the burning car. Surer is admitted to Schotten hospital in serious condition. He will be able to recover physically after two weeks of intensive care, but the brutal experience and the loss of his co-driver keep him away from the racing world forever.
In view of the Canadian Grand Prix, a lot of chatter rages in the newspapers and inside the paddock, from the non-decisions of FISA and FOCA on how to implement the reductions in engine displacement, to the rumors of the market.
Senna is approached with insistence to Ferrari, which would have offered the Brazilian a staggering salary of around six million dollars. Obviously, the lack of competitiveness of the Italian cars appears as a major obstacle to the success of the agreement.
Even the man of the moment, Nigel Mansell has to look around, as the contract renewal option with Williams expires in days, and the British team according to some rumors would have advised him to look for some free seats. The difficult relations with Nelson Piquet, who demands privileged treatment, as well as his meager salary ($ 500.000 per season) when compared to that of the other top drivers, Piquet included, are the points of disagreement with the team. Nigel was the second of de Angelis in Lotus, it was Keke Rosberg's when he joined Williams, but he has no intention of submitting even now that he is starting to win races.
Rosberg himself does not enjoy much consideration at McLaren after a dull start to the season that saw him perpetually behind Prost. Apparently Ron Dennis has already contacted Stefan Johansson, while the Finn is considering retirement. As if that were not enough, the US tax burden also breaks out in view of the Detroit Grand Prix, scheduled for the week following that of Canada.
The American taxman has in fact declared that it intends to levy taxes on the prizes that will be given to the drivers for the results obtained in the race. This is the sum of money that FOCA, which before anyone else receives from the organizers of the Grand Prix, pays to the teams based on the results obtained during the race weekends. The money that the pilots will also benefit from at the end of the year.
The taxman intends to withhold sixteen percent of these sums with a tax starting from 1982, the year in which the first Grand Prix was held on the roads of the Detroit circuit. In the US, tax evasion is taken very seriously and there is talk of criminal consequences, so many drivers threaten to boycott the event, also because the circuit is not so popular for its characteristics, especially for its asphalt. questionable and lack of security.
As always, good old Bernie takes care of the matter. Ecclestone negotiates with the American taxman, to whom he informs that he has no intention of cancelling the Grand Prix, so he arrives at the resolutive solution that provides for an immediate payment of $ 600.000. Before going to the US, however, in Canada there is a spectacular race that gives Mansell the joy of a second consecutive success.
The former Lotus driver takes pole, and is only for a short phase of the race overtaken by Keke Rosberg, who, as already demonstrated in the past, to stay with the leaders must completely give up fuel management, not surprisingly then he disappears and finishes fourth and almost doubled. On the podium with Mansell Prost and Piquet climb, while for Senna, who arrived in Canada as the leader of the World Championship, the limits of Lotus come out.
Ayrton tries to resist Prost's attacks with tenacity in the first part of the race, also creating a row of cars attacked behind him. But then Alain becomes the protagonist of a courageous overtaking at the first corner to take your breath away for a few moments, as well as at the limits of regularity, so Senna has to lift his foot to avoid a collision with the Frenchman.
Almost demoralized by having given up his position, in a few laps Ayrton was also passed by Rosberg, Piquet and Arnoux. The Brazilian driver finished the race fifth and lapped after an overtaking at the last minute on the Ligier of the transalpine. At the press conference, Alain was asked about the overtaking made on an aggressive and difficult driver like Senna. And he replies with a bold chuckle under his mustache:
"It wasn't difficult, perhaps a little dangerous maneuver, but that's all, we didn't touch. I passed it on the inside and then I found myself in front of the outside in the next corner".
Alain smiles, then swings carefree with his chair, perhaps a little too much, as he loses his balance and falls to the ground. Ayrton, on the other hand, takes it out on the fuel consumption, insists that McLaren and Williams are still too fast for him, even if for the moment he is second in the ranking, tied with Mansell and two points behind Prost.
Furthermore, the Detroit circuit, where it runs seven days later, adapts much more to the characteristics of the 98T and, displacing everyone, of the Ligier. Senna returns to pole on the US street circuit, trailing Nigel Mansell by half a second.
However, Ayrton is so busy working with his team - or so it seems - that he skips the usual post-qualifying press conference scheduled for the top three finishers, but in order not to leave the reporters dry-mouthed, he sends a taped tape where in practice he interviews himself, asking himself questions and answering. Is it just for the briefing with the team that Senna misses the press conference? Obviously not.
In reality, it turns out that Ayrton hastily returned to the hotel to watch the quarter-finals of the World Cup between France and Brazil on television, also seen with great interest by the French Prost, Laffite and Arnoux, ready to support Michel Platini's gang. Ayrton also bet a thousand dollars with Ducarouge on the victory of his national team, which unfortunately for him is defeated. Some improvement also in the relationship with his colleagues can be seen from the fact that Ayrton goes to apologize to Riccardo Patrese after slowing him down during qualifying.
The Ayrton of the times of the minor categories, or perhaps even that of the previous year, probably would have done otherwise. But the Brazilian continues his constant growth path both on and off the track.
We previously mentioned Ligier, who can celebrate Renè Arnoux fourth and the forty-two year old Jacques Laffite sixth in front of an awkward Prost. The signs of the French team are so positive that they cannot even be excluded from the fight for the podium.
Prost, on the other hand, starts the weekend badly, losing control of the car at the last chicane before the finish line and crashing into the barriers, all during free practice. The next morning, the Frenchman finds a note stuck on the steering wheel, which reads:
"Differential, brakes, right wishbone, left wishbone, suspension, gearbox, engine, underbody, wings - all new. Three hours of sleep".
Just to remind him to pay off the hard work of the mechanics after one of his rare mistakes. Before the race there was a small problem in the warm-up for Stefan Johansson, who having forgotten his gloves and helmet in the motorhome, after waiting a few minutes asked Mansell to lend him his. In perfect timing with all the market rumors surrounding the British and his possible arrival in Ferrari, the fans admire the F1/86 driven by a driver with his likeness for a moment in disbelief, before discovering what lies beneath it ambiguity.
A few hours later, initially the victory of the race seems to have to be a head to head between Senna and Mansell, who offer a nice back and forth to the sound of overtaking after which Ayrton maintains the leadership.
But invigorated by the breath of fresh air in the high ranking, Arnoux enters the fight and overtakes Mansell, just like Laffite a few laps later. Senna launches into a probable lonely escape, but a slow puncture to a rear tire ruins every floor: the early pit stop relegates him to eighth place.
Surprisingly, therefore, there are the two Ligier drivers to battle for the first provisional position, which for the first time in three years is occupied by Arnoux. The former Ferrari driver, however, suffers with his tires, and on lap 18 Laffite also feels the thrill of driving the race.
The overtaking is seasoned with a gesture of disapproval by Laffite addressed to Arnoux, guilty of having left him little space leading him to touch the barriers. Arnoux loses pace, is joined by the magnificent four who play the World Championship: in order Mansell, Prost, Piquet and Senna, who regained ground with fast laps and along the way easily got rid of the Ferraris of Alboreto and Johansson.
The brawl begins: Prost is passed first by Piquet and then by Senna; Ayrton redeems himself after just a week from the slap suffered in Montreal. Arnoux returns to the pits to change his destroyed tires, and Mansell is overtaken by the two Brazilians in the limelight. For the British, much of the race is affected by excessive overheating on the brakes, which causes an inconsistent race pace, sometimes fast, but then again too slow when the temperatures rise again.
Piquet and Senna have no problems, and in a short time they recover and Laffite too. At the pit stop carousel, thanks to a quick tire change, Senna once again takes the lead ahead of Piquet. The carioca forces his hand to reduce the gap from the Lotus, but makes a mistake and goes to the wall. The bad moment of the two-time world champion continues, in crisis of results following the victory at the opening of the championship.
His car also creates dangerous situations on the track; the commissioners in fact merely waved the yellow flags for a few laps that signal the danger of the Williams remaining on the track, rather than moving it to a safer place. At a certain point there are no longer even the flags, and poor Arnoux, who hits the crashed Williams and carambulates on the other side, also hits the dubbed Thierry Boutsen who was behind him.
After the race, Senna is among those who complain of poor organization. With Piquet's retirement, Ayrton can easily manage the Lotus to the checkered flag. His car was in no way inferior to McLaren and Williams; here in Detroit there was no concern about fuel consumption to limit its performance.
Ayrton crosses the finish line, and shortly after takes a Brazilian flag from the hands of a commissioner, and waves it during the return lap to honor his country, Brazil, and if we want also to avenge him from the defeat that France inflicted on him in the World Cup of football. The gesture exalts the small colony of Brazilian fans who came to support him, who also enthusiastically praise the maker of the car, Gérard Ducarouge.
In second place is the heroic Jacques Laffite, able to overtake a Prost in difficulty with his McLaren in the final. Mansell, on the other hand, finishes fifth, with a lot of spin in an attempt to resist Alboreto during the fight for fourth place.
Ayrton's masterful performance puts him right back at the top of the standings with thirtysix points, but the Brazilian remains with the realists, he knows that from Paul Ricard Lotus will come back to trudge behind McLaren and Williams:
"After the start I realized that the rear left was losing pressure, perhaps due to a small hole. The fact is that the car did not even go straight on the straight. So I had to stop for an unexpected, and in any case anticipated, tire change. However, I had doubts: they were fine with the tires chosen at the start, the hard Goodyear type B. I had a little trick to inform the team about my wishes in terms of tires to replace: if I passed in front of the pits touching my helmet with my hand, it meant that I wanted to hold type C tires; if instead I raised my hand it was the B. It was a little secret to help my race and on the other hand I had also taken other precautions: in fact, I knew that with the brakes it would be very hard and for this reason, towards the middle of the race, I preferred not to take risks with Piquet and wait for a few laps. My other little precaution: the protection of the hands. Here in Detroit with sweat the skin 'breaks' immediately and driving becomes a torment: for this reason I adopted half gloves for cyclists under the normal racing ones. They were very useful. not resolved, the feet: with so many changes and braking, after a while they became terribly stiff. And to say that the concentration could never be diminished even for a moment: in Detroit the walls are waiting for you at every corner".
Then, on the situation that arose with Piquet's car remained on the trajectory, he says:
"Piquet's car parked was a danger for us who were on the track, and in fact two cars were involved in an accident. Nothing serious happened but I believe that in the future the race should be stopped in case of a similar situation".
The happiness of the patron Guy Ligier for the second place of his Laffite driver is dampened the next day: reading the French newspaper L'équipe, an advertising article by Renault celebrates the victory of Senna and the Renault that powers the Lotus, without mentioning the great result of his team, also a Renault customer for the supply of engines. Guy Ligier tears up the annoyed newspaper and makes a decision: next year he will change engines.
What is certain, in addition to the abandonment of the Renault engines, is that the owner of the French team will certainly not be able to deal with BMW, as the Germans announce their retirement from Formula 1, leaving Benetton and Brabham without an engine for 1987, also now. looking for other suppliers. Benetton tries to get in touch with Honda for a double blow: the supply of Japanese engines and the hiring of Nigel Mansell.
Renault, on the other hand, having reached Paul Ricard for the eighth round of the championship, tries to give an important boost that can help Senna fight for the title without having to jump through hoops at every race, bringing a new version of their V6 Turbo, always powerful but consuming less fuel than the previous one.
To test the new V6 properly, however, Ayrton has to wait for the next race, since on the modified and shortened circuit of Le Castellet following the tragedy of de Angelis (from 5.8 km to 3.8 km), he slips on an oil stain left by Andrea de Cesaris' Minardi at the fast bend in Beausset. The high speed of travel leaves him no way out, and on the third lap Senna crashes into the wall of tires, not reporting any physical consequences. The victory is once again celebrated by Nigel Mansell, simply unstoppable for his rivals.
Prost, who moved with his wife Marie-Anne to the quiet French town of Bandol away from any pressure to better prepare for the tough fight against these super-Williams, is doing everything possible to get on the top step of the podium in his Grand Prix home. He tries a one stop strategy, when Mansell chooses instead to do two as well as Piquet, but there is nothing to do. The two pit stops were a choice of Patrick Head, confident that even in this way his cars would have the better, and would be safe from any excessive wear of the tires.
Alain manages to get behind at least Nelson Piquet, who with only twenty three points in the standings against the thirty-nine of the Frenchman of McLaren, the thirty eight of Mansell and the thirtysix of Senna, begins to understand that perhaps his status as first driver is not at all obvious, and on the contrary, with this bad habit he risks finding himself acting as a squire.
Before flying to his home country for the Brands Hatch Grand Prix on July 13, 1986, Williams decided to reward Mansell's excellent performance with the renewal of the contract, with a two-year duration and an increase in salary. Nothing better to make him go even stronger, were it not that Mansell refuses the offer. He wants more money than the English team offers, at least as much as Piquet gets, who earns more than three million a season.
The 1986 is the last edition of the British Grand Prix held at Brands Hatch; Ecclestone has in fact signed a five-year contract with Silverstone. Rumors say that President FOCA made this choice out of spiteful spite, having failed to purchase the track located in West Kingsdown.
However, it is the first Grand Prix that sees Sir return to the paddock aboard a wheelchair. Frank Williams after his long rehabilitation period, accompanied by Patrick Head, Ecclestone himself and his wife Ginny. Welcomed by a large banner that reads Welcome Back Frank - from Brands Hatch, the forward-looking owner must already try to figure out how to deal with the thorny situation with Honda, which is negotiating with Lotus and McLaren for the supply of engines. In fact, Soichiro Honda did not hide from Ron Dennis his desire to have Prost as his driver (same thing goes for Senna), and at the same time, to fuel the rumors there is the permanence in the Porsche circus far from certain. Meanwhile Williams shows up on both Fridays and Saturdays for a few hours, but on Sunday he decides to watch the race from home, in front of the television. In the midst of all these rumors and the flattery of the Japanese, Alain thinks about the race, and after a dull sixth place in qualifying two seconds from poleman Piquet declares:
"They don't give me the soul if I don't start from the front row, by now I'm used to it. I know I can recover, have a competitive car, and that's enough for me. I have confidence in my means and I'll try to get the best. it is hard, indeed, very hard".
Brands Hatch is also hosting the last Formula 1 Grand Prix in which Jacques Laffite participates, who just in France had equaled Graham Hill's record for Grand Prix, 176.
On the eve of the race weekend, the over forty-year-old declared that he did not have the slightest intention of retiring, and indeed, that he was impatient to try the new Ligier powered by Alfa Romeo after the dissolution of the agreement with Renault for the next one.
That car, Jacques Laffite will never try it. Among the many drivers involved in the crash at the start triggered by a contact between Jonathan Palmer and Thierry Boutsen there is also him, who ends up violently against the guard-rail. The Frenchman moves his head, he is conscious, but he can't get out of the car: he got stuck in his car crumpled up in the barriers, and his legs hurt him a lot.
Finally extracted from the rubble of the Ligier, Laffite is transported to the Queen Mary Hospital, where doctors diagnose the fracture of two bones of the right leg, a double fracture of the tibia of the left leg, five fractures of the pelvis and a fracture of a heel.
Surgery and lots of physiotherapy follow in the following months.
Laffite even thinks of his return to Formula 1, but Brands Hatch remains his last Grand Prix in Formula 1, which according to statistics he does not take part, having been a restart after the accident. The French driver therefore remains paired in the standings with Graham Hill, stopping at 176 Grands Prix.
With three wins in four races, 120.000 spectators come to the circuit to support him and with Frank Williams back in the paddock, Nigel Mansell cannot fail to win his home Grand Prix.
The mustache born in the tiny county of just 3.000 inhabitants of Upton-upon-Severn, first attacks Piquet by overtaking him, and then is able to effectively defend himself from the Carioca's counterattack, helped on a specific occasion by the Druids by the presence of a voice acting.
Even a little luck, the one which, as mentioned, he needed in conjunction with his crystalline talent to be part of the small circle of those who play for the title, helps him.
In fact, at the first start, Mansell did not travel even twenty meters after the axle shaft broke. But the race is logically interrupted after the crowded first corner that costs Laffite's career, and Mansell can take part in the restart with the forklift, which however has been prepared according to Piquet's instructions, a factor that makes his career even greater. enterprise.
During the race, taking advantage of a mistake by Piquet who fails to engage a gear, Nigel takes the lead. At this point, however, Nelson decides to anticipate the pit stop, hoping to overtake Nigel having the tires already up to temperature, but an unfavourable dubbing slows him down, and the home idol wins even if dehydrated, given that the Williams of escort did not have water on board.
On the podium, to collect the trophy for the winning constructor is Ginny Williams; Piquet is second, but pissed off with his team who, according to him, favored Mansell overtaking him, telling him to lower the turbo pressure just before his teammate's attack took place.
As for Alain and Ayrton, however, the situation does not bode well at all:
the transalpine finishes third but dubbed, in spite of his intentions of victory in the post-qualifying interviews, in addition he has lost the championship lead in favor of this unstoppable Mansell; Senna, who had to race with the older version of the engine having encountered problems on the new one, retires while he was third due to a gearbox failure.
Now the ranking reads: Mansell first with forty seven points, second Prost with fortythree, third Senna with fortythree, and fourth Piquet with twentynine points.
Nigel and Alain reacted with victories and podiums, so from being judged as uncomfortable thirds they became favorites for the final victory in a few races, although after Brands Hatch McLaren is heavily downsized.
But this championship is teaching that at the end of every Grand Prix you have to make some considerations sometimes opposite to those made previously, for this reason there is no doubt that there will be other unexpected developments in a very balanced four-way fight.
In the two weeks that divide the Brands Hatch Grand Prix from that in Hockenheim, Mansell decides to put pressure on Williams' top management regarding the contractual issues that are now going for a long time, flying to Italy to meet Enzo Ferrari and Marco Piccinini in Maranello. Marco Piccinini personally picks up the driver still under contract with Williams at Bologna airport, aboard his Ferrari GTO.
It was the Drake who asked to see the British, in order to discuss a possible engagement in 1987, a season in which Ferrari is preparing big changes, first of all on the technical side, given that also the contacts with McLaren designer John Barnard are already under way. A possible signing of Barnard would in turn lead Ron Dennis's team to push to sign the Senna-Ducarouge duo, currently at Lotus. The team change domino seems ready to spring.
Following his visit to Enzo Ferrari, Mansell is interviewed by telephone by the Italian newspaper La Stampa while he is at his home on the quiet Isle of Man. Nigel first denies having gone to Maranello, then when on the other side of the phone they point out that Ferrari itself has admitted that the meeting took place, he bursts into a loud laugh and admits:
"Okay, I went there. It was a great honor for me to meet the engineer Enzo Ferrari. I have not made any decisions for the 1987 season, everything will depend on the events of the next few weeks. Right now it is better to focus on what I am doing than on what I will do next year. It's a particularly happy time in my life".
This meeting, however, seems to have infuriated Williams, or at least that's what seems. To confirm this, there would be a somewhat ambiguous phenomenon that suggests that something is actually boiling in the pot.
After the meeting between Ferrari and Mansell, the bets, especially in England, on Nelson Piquet becoming World Champion have increased dramatically in a few days, and even the bookmakers have chosen to lower the odds that see the Brazilian as a winner. Given Carlos Reutemann's precedent in 1981, could Frank Williams' team suddenly decide to favor Piquet, as they did with Alan Jones? Among other things, managing the two drivers in that way, the World Championship ended up with Piquet champion, on his Brabham.
Leaving aside these hypotheses, real or fake, the drivers’ market - and not only - is in constant turmoil: Ecclestone is waging war with BMW after the farewell announced by the German manufacturer; Bernie does not want to find himself without a valid engine to push his Brabham, and threatens BMW with very high financial penalties to try to change their mind, but at the same time tries to buy the Lola-Beatrice team with the sole purpose of getting Ford engines.
Lotus, on the other hand, suppresses the rumors of a possible farewell to Senna, by signing an agreement for the supply of engines with Honda in 1987, which appeared in the current season as the most competitive engine.
Peter Warr decides to get serious to ensure Ayrton and Ducarouge stay. The Japanese, at the drafting of the contract, ask Ayrton to be joined by a driver chosen by them, and therefore, after Dumfries, the Japanese Satoru Nakajima is hired for the following season. The deal is announced at a press conference on Saturday morning by Yoshitoshi Sakurai during the weekend of the German Grand Prix.
A cold shower for McLaren, as Honda, as is well known, does not intend to provide more than two teams per season, and Ron Dennis, arguing with TAG-Porsche for the development of the engine, deprived of the possibility of agreeing with the Japanese, turns on Renault, which in turn was left without customers after the departure of Lotus and Ligier.
Ron Dennis' requests are exorbitant: absolute exclusivity of the engines for five years, the possibility of viewing the development program, availability in the event of a possible return to aspirated engines, and finally a profitable salary for the top driver, Prost, that would re-embrace his former team with which to tell the truth he did not leave very well.
It seems absurd, but the only matter that prevents the agreement from being signed is fuel. McLaren has a contract with Shell, Renault is Elf's long-standing partner, and Ron Dennis is determined not to change supplier. At Hockenheim, for the tenth weekend of the World Championship, there are other news for McLaren: Keke Rosberg announces his retirement from racing.
At the age of thirty-eight, the Finn feels unmotivated and little attracted to the new Formula 1 and its regulations, and the death of his friend Elio de Angelis seems to have irreparably disturbed him. The 1982 World Champion makes his decision known through leaflets that he distributes to journalists.
His gimmick also feeds the imagination and witty inspiration of Nelson Piquet, who enjoys a few hours later distributing other leaflets in which, playing the role of Rosberg, he declares that he loves the regulations of this Formula 1 and wants to remain in the circus for another eight years. The Finn doesn't like stunts that much.
The Brazilian is cheerful and relaxed in Germany, but he knows very well that he needs important results right away, or he can leave behind the hopes for the World Cup. Two podiums in France and Great Britain put him back on track after the mistake that cost him his retirement in Detroit, but at the same time there were two consecutive wins for Mansell, who is achieving exceptional results with the same car. Qualifying is unusually dominated by McLarens, with Rosberg on pole ahead of Prost: at the fast Hockenheim circuit the Porsche engine seems to have made some progress.
In the race, however, both Rosberg and Alain wasted their excellent qualifying position at the start, losing several positions and finding themselves third and fifth respectively, while it was Senna who had the best sprint and managed to take the lead. However, his leadership is short-lived.
The race is affected by high fuel consumption, and it is well known that the Brazilian's Lotus cannot even remotely compete with Williams and McLaren. The race is won by Piquet, who finally wakes up and returns to success after the one obtained in Brazil at the season opener.
Piquet gets ahead of everyone, creates a bit of chaos in his garage when he decides to return prematurely to change his strategy from one to two stops. It would be all right if it weren't for his first pit stop when it was actually his teammate Mansell's time for scheduled pit, as the current championship leader was struggling with excessive tire wear.
Patrick Head, infuriated, hastily warns Mansell to stay on track and posticipate the stop to a couple of laps later. Head's reaction is perhaps a bit excessive, unjustified even more by the fact that Piquet's strategy turns out to be the winning one, and after the race he apologizes and admits to having exaggerated.
After the second pit stop Piquet is third behind the two McLarens, but with new tires and with both Anglo-German cars sipping the drops of fuel, he has no problem reaching them and overtaking them easily.
The consumption crisis of Rosberg and Prost is such that even Senna, notoriously the one who struggles most on this kind of tracks that cause a lot of consumption, takes them back and passes them for second place.
Piquet crosses the finish line as a winner but with his gaze fixed on the on-board computer (he had already begun to zigzag in the middle of the last lap). Senna arrives in slow motion going left and right, but manages to finish the race second.
Rosberg, on the other hand, remains stationary at the beginning of the last lap and to return to the pits takes advantage of a pass granted by Piquet, while Prost in the last corners has a deja-vu that brings him back to Imola: a few meters from the checkered flag, the car is now without even a centiliter of fuel.
Alain tries to make it go through some body movements that give her a minimum forward momentum, then he has to unfasten the seat belts and get out of the cockpit to start pushing it, incited by the fans from the stands, in a scene identical to that of Mansell in Dallas, in 1984. Again the result is disappointing, and Prost parks his McLaren to the side and walks away with a gesture of annoyance. At least he didn't pass out.
Although he resisted a few more corners than Rosberg, Alain did not complete a lap that would prove him ahead of the Finn, so he is ranked sixth behind his teammate. Mansell took advantage of it, stumbled upon a disappointing weekend, perhaps conditioned by the many market rumors. McLaren's troubles push him back to third, but the Englishman complained of poor grip and strong oversteer at the end of the race. Did the bettors get it right? Meanwhile, Prost growls at TAG-Porsche, clearly late in comparison with Honda and, perhaps, now even against Renault:
"I cannot stand it anymore. It cannot be lost in this way, due to such a technical inferiority. Last year we were superior, but now we are behind. What worries me most is that TAG-Porsche has not ensured McLaren further engine development".
The statements of the transalpine are immediately exploited by most of the journalists, who begin to churn out front pages that sentence a Prost fleeing to Williams. Unfounded hypotheses, immediately denied by Dennis and Prost himself.
For Ayrton, on the other hand, the second place in Germany is a panacea, given that this result allowed him to gain a few points on Mansell; in addition, the prospect of having Honda push him next season is an incentive to be optimistic for the next future. Having started the second part of this championship, interviewed by Autosprint, Senna broadly traces what his and Lotus' season has been and can still be, with a look to the future.
"The Honda technicians are the ones who progressed the most in terms of consumption. We have a fairly competitive car, but on those tracks where consumption is high, such as Imola, Montreal and Hockenheim, we still suffer from a certain inferiority, especially compared to Williams. Renault is working well, compared to last year our engines have recovered something from the competition and have so far shown exceptional reliability. With the new EF 15C, which I used in Hockenheim, we have made another step forward, even if the power delivery is not yet as well distributed as in the previous version. This does not mean that the rest of the championship will be particularly tough for me".
"For the title race I see Mansell, Prost and Piquet as favorites, although Nelson has had some problems lately. If I lost ground to my rivals, it was also due to my mistake at Paul Ricard, when I came out on the oil that I didn't have seen and compromised what could have been a decent race. I was sorry not only for myself but also for the whole team who had worked so hard to provide me with a good car. It is now official that I will race with Lotus again next year, but with Honda engines instead of Renault. The situation has cleared up on the eve of the German Grand Prix. I made a professional choice, the one that should allow me to progress and improve, learn more. I'm sorry to have to give up the collaboration of the Renault technicians: I was on excellent terms with some of them. However, Honda is investing more than Renault in Formula 1 and too many sentimentalisms are not allowed in this sport".
After that, Ayrton gives his opinion on the likely changes to the regulation that FISA is proposing:
"FISA's decision to have a mini-grand-prix run on Saturday to determine the starting grid is absurd. It would be much more dangerous than qualifying today. First of all, these races would be shorter than a Grand Prix and therefore we would all use softer tires to go faster. But the real risk is another. Today, on the starting grid, we think about a good start, but we are all aware that a Grand Prix lasts more than an hour and a half and there is time to recover positions, so we keep a minimum of prudence. But in a mini-race the drivers would be forced to start with their heads down, trying to gain even a position that in the following few laps they could hardly defend. We will soon discuss this problem again in the drivers' association and I am convinced that FISA will take our opinions into consideration this time".
After much effort, the other Federation that governs Formula 1, FOCA, led by Ecclestone, managed to organize a race in Eastern Europe, territories under the dominion of the Soviet Union, with which there was no way to organize a competition in Moscow.
But Bernie managed to find an agreement with Hungary, which instructs the architect Istvan Rapp to create the new circuit, completed in nine months. The track is inspired by the new Nurburgring, but some drivers don't like it very much, including Nelson Piquet:
"Beautiful but soulless. To see it from the top of the hills it looks like a beautiful picture. Everything is harmonious, everything is proportionate, everything is pleasant, but...".
And even Clay Regazzoni finds it too drawn:
"They did a good job, but only theoretical, they took the beautiful curve of this or that other racetrack, they put everything together but they didn't think that then you have to get in the car and drive it, give life to a battle competitive, to a technical challenge. If they had asked for the advice of a driver, they could have avoided many useless things".
Michele Alboreto is also added to the chorus of the discontented, saying:
"Practically here you have to get on a track and follow that trajectory. The curves are many but what is worse is that they are one after the other. There is no space to overtake, except on the short straight to the finish line. you have to do everything in second and third, only in front of the stands you can put the fifth, but for a moment".
Alain Prost is also unhappy as he just got out of his McLaren, after two hours of testing, continues to massage his neck:
"Too many corners, too close to each other, on a narrow strip of asphalt: I don't really know where we can overtake. A circuit that is difficult to understand, only after Friday's practice we will know more about it".
Beyond the conformation of the track, the facilities are first-rate and the cheering, although it is just the first edition of a Hungarian Grand Prix, is extraordinary. Just take a look at the data: 200.000 spectators are registered for Sunday's race. In the meantime, Ferrari is only thinking about 1987, it is now clear.
While struggling enormously on the track with the innocent Alboreto and Johansson in an F1/86 born and raised badly, Piccinini continues to work to hire John Barnard, but during the weekend in Hungary he has to take a bad rap: Friday morning of a sultry August 8th, among other things on his birthday, Nigel Mansell formalizes his renewal of the contract with Williams.
Enzo Ferrari, who had managed to get Nigel to sign a pre-agreement, goes on a rampage and threatens the British driver to take him to trial. Finally, an agreement will be reached in which Mansell will pay a reasonable penalty by donating it to the Ferrari Foundation, the noble institution that the founder of the same name created to promote research and the treatment of dystrophy.
With Senna having already communicated his willingness to stay in Lotus, the only top driver left to be courted would be Prost, who however has repeatedly stated that he would prefer a sabbatical rather than driving an uncompetitive single-seater.
The only thing to do is to look for a young driver with an excellent future, and for now the most promising seems to be Gerhard Berger, defined, perhaps more for the same nationality than for anything else, the heir of Niki Lauda. In fact, by comparing the two driving styles, the young Berger is exactly the opposite of Lauda, with his ruthlessness mixed with a lot of aggression.
Mansell celebrates the renewal of the contract and his thirty-third birthday by conquering the provisional pole, but in less than twenty-four hours the track improves a lot, the times are lowered by two or three seconds, and after a battle with many changes at the top and many errors in looking for the limit, on Saturday Senna hits the thirteenth pole of his career, number 104 for Lotus, which overtakes Ferrari, stopped at 103. In the front row with him is Piquet. Prost and Mansell are immediately behind.
In the race Piquet steals the whole scene again, demonstrating qualities that previously someone did not dare to give him. His success in Germany was the result of an excellent strategy, also facilitated by the superiority of his Williams, which allowed him to compete for most of the time alone.
In Budapest, Piquet loses his position in favor of Mansell at the start, but re-overtaking him is not a problem, just as overtaking Senna is not a problem afterwards, braking at the first corner, one of the few (if not the only one) overtaking points on the Hungarian circuit. In the pit stops Ayrton gets back in the lead, having managed the tires very well during the first stint, which allows him an overcut on his compatriot.
Piquet begins to record fast laps after fast laps: twenty laps from the end they are hooked again, no one believes that Ayrton can resist Williams' attacks for too long. On lap 55 Piquet tries at the same point where he passed at the start of the race, turn 1, but goes wide and Senna gets back in front crossing the trajectory. Two laps pass and Piquet takes advantage of the Lotus' slipstream, but this time he does something different: he decides to stay outside.
Piquet extends the braking and throws himself sideways into the corner, closing the trajectory at Senna and concluding one of the most spectacular and courageous overtakes ever seen in Formula 1, made even more epic by the fact that the two interpreters of the battle are the two South American phenomena who do not like each other at all. After that Piquet has no more problems containing Senna, who tries to stay close to him for a while, but then has to surrender.
Piquet celebrates a success taken by force, different from his classic victories, he who is seen as the pilot who loves to go solo and avoid the brawl. But in this triumph there is also the genius of him, once again put on display after the excellent strategic intuition at Hockenheim. His plan begins in the warm-up.
Piquet did laps with a certain degree of differential distribution adjustment, recording quite high times. Mansell, on the other hand, was much faster than him with a different configuration.
The former Brabham made his rival and box neighbour believe that he had the best configuration for the race, so Mansell consequently stayed with what he tried in the morning practice.
Piquet instead used his winning setting in the race, showing his cards and defeating Mansell third and lapped at the finish. A stroke of genius further facilitated by the decision to no longer exchange technical information with his teammate.
The joy of the second consecutive success is partially dampened by the anger that Senna provokes for his defensive maneuvers, which Piquet comments to the microphones of the journalists:
"Senna closed me two or three times incorrectly, he's a bastard. When I passed him, however, I managed to screw him, he didn't expect me to go outside. It was perhaps at the same time the most difficult and beautiful overtake of my career".
And on his teammate joke, he confesses:
"I no longer give him technical indications, so let's see how he manages to fine-tune his race car".
The hundredth race in Formula 1 for Alain, however, turns out to be a real disaster. After less than a quarter of the race he has to go back to the pits to try to solve a problem with the electrical control unit; the mechanics work for a long time to try to rearrange it, so much so that Keke Rosberg, returning for the pit, has to go straight and wait for the next laps, when Alain's car has been removed from the pitch.
Having solved the problem, Prost returns to the track with several laps to recover, which means the race is irremediably compromised. Perhaps discouraged and devoid of concentration, the Professor definitively leaves the scene after a contact with the former rival in Renault, Renè Arnoux:
"To think that in theory I had a first place car. Things were going well, I had overtaken Mansell and was catching up Senna and Piquet. Then the engine started to act strangely. I went back to the pits to change the ECU, but one lap later that I was still standing".
On the contact that saw him involved with Arnoux, without any smile on his lips Alain says:
"I got under a dog that was in the middle of the track, much slower than McLaren. He died immediately, I finished my race shortly after".
It is clear that his relationship with his compatriot has not yet healed. After Jacarepaguà's retirement at the beginning of the season, Alain had always finished in the top six, but now the second race finished without taking points relegates him fourth in the standings eleven points behind Mansell, still leader of the championship. Piquet, instead, in two races was back in contention with forty seven points, one less than Senna, who is holding second. The two Brazilians meet at the Hungarian airport before heading to Austria. On this occasion, Piquet takes the opportunity and speaks to Senna saying:
"It's not fair that the rest of us have to take so many risks to overtake you".
The conversation continues on cordial tones, but ultimately Senna refuses to take any blame or apologize. In Zeltweg, Austria, the race is scheduled seven days after the one in Hungary. As this season has already shown widely, the cards change at every race, and if up to Hungary it was Piquet who risked exclusion from the fantastic four, now in the same situation there is Prost.
The curious but exciting thing at the same time is that every time the person concerned reacts properly and gets back in the race for the title: after all, we shouldn't be too surprised, given that we are talking about the fastest drivers in the lot.
As has already been suggested, Alain returns to win at Zeltweg, after a three-month fast that lasted from Monte Carlo. An unexpected triumph, in this case perhaps arrived thanks to the intervention of the blindfolded Goddess.
The qualification offers the exploit of the Benettons, at ease in the Austrian mountains, whose thin air favors the four-cylinder BMW (to further prove this is Patrese's fourth place with the Brabham-BMW); moreover, the Pirelli tires are also extremely competitive. Teo Fabi beats the rising star Berger, while to find the four competing for the championship you have to go down to the third row, occupied by Prost and Mansell, followed by Piquet and Senna. All four complain about problems on the cars, some with vibrations, some with poor grip, and those who take it out on the lack of engine power.
A balanced race is expected and made even more uncertain by the presence of outsiders such as the Benettons, and instead the Austrian Grand Prix becomes an elimination race that offers very little. Indeed, it is perhaps together with that of Rio de Janeiro, the most boring race of the year.
In the race, the disaster for the two Benettons is consummated: Fabi retires just as he has taken the lead that Berger had blown from him at the sprint; the Austrian in turn suffers from electrical problems and finishes three laps behind the winner. The engine betrays both Senna and Piquet, the break of the semi-axle instead puts Mansell out of the race. Rosberg also retires, also like Berger due to faults in the electrical system. Only Prost survives.
Alain wins ahead of Alboreto, second and lapped, and Johansson, third, two laps behind, with the Ferraris taking advantage of the many retirements, almost all caused by engine failures. Ferrari thus brings two drivers back to the podium; it hadn't happened since Detroit 1984.
Between smiles and a little champagne, Piccinini and the Ferrari team's attention continues to be focused on John Barnard. Ron Dennis' statement regarding his engineer bodes well:
"It may be that the reasons have failed, perhaps Barnard is looking for new challenges".
Race to remember also for the two Lola-Beatrice of Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay fourth and fifth, and for the Arrows of Danner, also in the points. The turbo engine that most of all suffered in the Austrian mountains was undoubtedly the Renault one, since none of their engines reached the end of the race (only Arnoux on Ligier is classified, but he too struggled with reliability and concluded at 5 laps).
For Prost it is a success that is worth double, since his nine points are offset by the retirements of his opponents. From minus twelve, Alain passes within a week to minus two from the leader Mansell. In addition, for lovers of statistics, the Professor reaches twenty-four victories, the same number as the great Juan Manuel Fangio.
The race, anything but spectacular, has awakened, as precise as a Swiss watch, the minds of those who are ready to talk about Formula boredom at the first less exciting race. Always interviewed by Autosprint, Senna exposes himself on the subject, speaking in favor of the current Formula 1, without however omitting doubts regarding the future:
"There were few spectators at Zeltweg, far fewer than last year. The race was anything but spectacular, but it seems to me that there is no need to rush judgments without taking into account the general situation. The 1985 Grand Prix was a real disaster for the pouring rain, outside the racetrack you could see floating tents and people with water at their knees; perhaps this time they preferred to spend a more comfortable weekend somewhere else".
"Twelve months ago, Ferrari was still quite competitive and the Italians were much more motivated for a summer trip. The Austrian Grand Prix has always relied heavily on the presence of the Italian public. We all know how important Ferrari is for its fans, but when they do not win, the Italians who go to racing drop dramatically and even the newspapers sell less. But these two circumstances do not seem enough to me to rule that Formula 1 is in crisis. In Brazil and in many other Grand Prix there was a lot of people, there were numbers in line with previous years. The new Hungarian Grand Prix was also an incredible success. The crisis does not live here. The most frequent criticism in this regard concerns the technical regulations that would have reduced the potential number of winners. There is some truth in this, but we cannot forget that most of this year's races have been fought, I am convinced that Formula 1 still and almost always offers a fairly good show, even if there is room for improvement. The basic mistake that Formula 1 is paying for is the admission of turbocharged engines: the turbo helps to amplify the difference between one engine and another and to widen the gaps between the performance of the cars".
"People are only interested in seeing so many drivers fighting for victory. This is why the long-term solution of returning to traditional naturally aspirated engines deserves the utmost attention in my opinion. In street cars production, turbocharged cars no longer represent more than two or three per cent of the market. I think there is therefore no reason for manufacturers to continue research on a type of engine that is currently in such limited use. Despite it all our championship is in good health. We run sixteen Grands Prix in different countries, new nations are asking to enter, and never so many car manufacturers have been directly involved in Formula 1. We are also heading towards an unprecedented season finale on the level of uncertainty in the title race".
Jean-Marie Balestre is also helping Senna's thinking, confirming that there is a serious possibility that F1 will return to aspirated engines. However, for the official regulations of 1987, it will be necessary to wait until October 3, 1986.
What is certain for the upcoming season is the absence of Pirelli, which announces its farewell to the circus after years of disappointments spent chasing the Goodyear-wheeled teams. A pity, given that in the last period, providing medium-high ranking teams such as Benetton and Brabham, the first important results for the Italian manufacturer were arriving.
News that does not please even Goodyear itself, not so excited at the idea of being the only supplier, due to the fact that their successes against other companies were a much greater publicity winning alone without competition. Pirelli's farewell to Formula One is not the only news that shakes the circus as it approaches one of the most anticipated weekends of the year: Monza.
On August 24th John Barnard went to Modena to sign a contract that binds him to Ferrari starting from the following championship. The tension with Ron Dennis in the previous months has reached an unbearable level; Barnard wanted a bigger power within the team, which was always denied by Dennis. The eccentric Ron reacts badly to the news that his engineer has signed with rivals, firing him immediately when the Italian weekend has not yet begun. Tim Wright and Steve Nichols will take his place temporarily.
In fact, McLaren has no time to say hello or kick Barnard out: there is still a championship to try and win. For the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, the MP4/2C is equipped with a renewed fuel system to overcome the problem of consumption. A few days later, the president of FISA, Jean Marie Balestre, also went to Maranello.
On September 4th, 1986, a meeting between Enzo Ferrari and Balestre took place at the Cavallino restaurant in front of a dish of tortellini. The two discuss the engines that will have to be used in the coming years, on which the International Federation will pronounce on October 3rd. In this circumstance, Ferrari gives its consent to the abolition of turbo engines, which have now become too expensive even for him, and to return to naturally aspirated engines.
The following day, in Monza, the president of FISA announces that the new technical regulations of Formula one will be released in Paris on October 3rd, 1986, adding that they will remain in force for four years and no one will be able to change them.
In qualifying, the impressive speed of 350 km/h is reached on the long Monza straights. To succeed in this record is the Benetton of Gerhard Berger. But it is the other Benetton, the one driven by Teo Fabi, to sign his second consecutive pole position, lapping in 1'24"078, four tenths faster than Prost, second.
Piquet, as well as his other rivals, has understood that even more than other years, reliability will play a key role in this championship final, and at the end of a disappointing qualification, one second behind Fabi, ironically predicts, but perhaps hoping for real, the result of the race:
"So, Senna and Mansell collide at the first chicane and go out immediately. Prost breaks the engine and gets out of the way, and the two Benettons don't finish the race for consumption. You draw your conclusions, who comes first? Me".
It certainly cannot be said that Nelson is not optimistic. And maybe even a bit of a seer.
Sunday September 7, 1986, there is not even time to expose the green flags to start the formation lap that the twists are already arriving: Fabi and Prost remain planted in their slots, some for one reason, some for another.
Alain realizes that his car will not start, so he jumps out of the cockpit and runs as fast as he can to the pits to get the forklift; Fabi, on the other hand, manages to restart, but will have to start from the last position. Prost, on the other hand, has to start his race from the pits, but there is a small sword of Damocles hanging over him: the regulation prohibits changing cars after the green light. Now, in fact, the pole position when the traffic lights go out is held by Mansell ahead of Berger.
At the start there is another surprise that awaits Senna instead: the transmission of his Lotus leaves him after a few meters. Ayrton must already retire. For him, two retirements in succession materialize and seriously compromise his race to the world champion.
Piquet's sentence has just started. Prost does not give up, nothing has been communicated to him about his erratic change of car, so he climbs up the standings and reaches fifth position. But if it's not the day, it's just not the day.
All of a sudden, at the twenty-fifth passage, the commissioners display the black flag with great delay. Alain pretends not to see it and continues, but two laps later the TAG-Porsche engine explodes. In one way or another Alain was not supposed to finish this race.
His forgettable Sunday reaches its climax when an Italian fan attacks him almost tearing his shirt while he is granting an interview, and Balestre fines him $ 5.000 for having criticized the work of FISA in unsuitable tones. Orphaned of Senna and Prost, and with a Benetton not yet up to the challenge in the race, the two Williams are left alone to fight for the victory.
This time there is no different strategy and no subterfuge to screw up the hated teammate; Piquet passes Mansell at the exit of the Variante del Rettifilo and does not allow the British to reply. Nelson gets his fourth win of the season, his third in four races, making him the most in-form driver of the moment.
Stefan Johansson comnpletes the podium. Piquet had spoken of Benetton that they would run out of petrol, and the Austrian promptly runs out of fuel on the last lap, giving the joy of the podium to the Swede and the thousands of Ferrari fans.
The championship is winding down, there are three races left and we need to start reckoning for each of the four contenders: Mansell has won four races, has collected ten results in the first six for a total of sixty one points; Prost also has ten points finishes under his belt, but has three wins and fiftythree points. For both the Brit and Alain, the discard rule, which provides for the count of the best eleven results out of the sixteen races disputed, is just around the corner; Piquet has four wins and fifty-six points, but with eight finishes in the top six, and with three races to go, he is safe from any gap, and for this reason he is undoubtedly the favorite for the final victory; Senna himself does not have the danger of running into discards, but the fourty eight total points and the two successes place him in a deficit situation from which it is difficult to get out.
Considering the inferiority of his Lotus-Renault, a miracle may not be enough for Ayrton. But beware of the internal fight at Williams: starting from Monza in the box of the English team you can see no less than four cars. In fact, to ensure equal treatment in all respects, the team equipped both of them with a reserve car. It is not excluded that, although they have the strongest car, the internal rivalry could take away points. Which is what Senna and Prost are hoping for.
The first of the last three 1986 Grands Prix was held in Portugal, on the Estoril circuit, on September 27, 1986. During the break between free practice and qualifying, something really bizarre happens in the Williams garage.
Throughout the year, the Honda engine had always accumulated and burned gasoline in the exhaust manifold, but in this circumstance it had not managed to get out or be burned. So when Les Jones starts the engine, a blaze fires from the exhaust manifold that knocks Frank Williams out of his wheelchair, his head hits the ground.
Steve Coates immediately rushes and rescues Les, who like Frank was hit by the blaze. And while the rescuers arrive to provide first aid, Steve looks for Frank, who in the meantime had already returned to his chair and was strolling around the box with his hair burnt and his face a little red.
In the meantime, he definitely jumps to the negotiations between McLaren and Renault.
After Shell and TAG-Porsche promise to increase the capital to invest in the months to come, Alain reports on the situation at the top of the ranking and declares:
"We have worked a lot these days to improve the engine, trying to get a more competitive engine that does not consume too much. It is certainly not easy, but with today's electronics everything is possible. The test results were satisfactory, but it will be necessary to have a counter-proof in the race. Piquet has more experience and a greater coldness, Mansell is more aggressive and very determined. I will try to remain in contention for the title until the end. This is what matters, and to do that I need to win at Estoril. Piquet and Mansell have four wins each, I only have three. And that's where I have to balance the score. Then eventually the placings will count. There could be some troublemakers, like the Benettons, or the Ferraris, which seem to have regained competitiveness at Monza".
Then he returns to the disqualification and the fine imposed on him by Monza:
"I knew very well that I could incur the black flag, but I had thought, at the beginning of the race, that if they detected an irregularity they would immediately expose it to me to report the disqualification. Instead I saw nothing and so I was convinced of my actions. Then came the black flag and the engine failure. What made me angry was not so much the attitude of the race marshals who did their duty, but the fact that it was communicated to me when I was out in the race, practically an hour later, when I had taken a lot of risks, I had tried to recover and had arrived in the very first positions. This is certainly not the correct way to do it. I called it idiot, but I was referring to the behavior, which was unfair, towards me. I absolutely do not intend to pay this fine, it is not fair, it is not my responsibility. I have been saddled for things that I do not have said or in any case I didn't mean to say. Anyway this is a second important thing that at most can make me nervous a bit. In any case, being tense can also do me good, because it increases my concentration, right now that we cannot relax".
During his approach to the third to last Grand Prix of the year, in Portugal, Alain has to deal with the disappearance of his older brother Daniel, struck down by an incurable disease at the age of thirty-three. Waiting for the funeral to be held the following Monday in Saint-Chamond, Alain runs one of the most emotionally hard weekends of his career.
The Portuguese race is a solitary ride by Mansell, who passes the poleman Senna at the start and never shows up again. Behind him is a three-way fight between Senna, Piquet and Prost, with the Williams driver exceeding in trying to stay attached to Ayrton and ending up in the gravel at the VIP corner; luckily for him he is able to start again avoiding a disaster, but he has to give up all hope of catching second place.
Although in a different way, Senna also asks too much of his car to withstand the attacks of Piquet first and then Prost, and because of this, with only a few corners to go, he runs out of fuel, and despite the fact that he manages to cross the finish line at reduced speed, his efforts are completely in vain, as the order of arrival certifies him fourth behind the two he has tried to keep behind throughout the race. After all, how to blame him, Ayrton could not do otherwise.
Mansell's undisturbed success, places him nineteen points ahead of Senna, and with eighteen points still to be awarded, there are few calculations to be made: Ayrton is the first to leave the top four.
The disappointment of Lotus contrasts with the joy of Williams, who can celebrate well in advance the third Constructors' World Championship in its history, the first instead for Honda. The one hundred and thirty points of the Anglo-Japanese team against the eighty one of McLaren highlight the ineluctable superiority of Sir's team throughout the season. The drivers' title is still open, even if Prost, left alone in the fight against Piquet and Mansell, does not seem optimistic at the end of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Indeed, it seems surprisingly compliant:
"After this victory for Mansell it is practically done, but I am happy for him, actually this year he deserves it".
It must be said that Alain's head at that moment is only projected on the disappearance of his elder brother, but it is not in doubt that in Mexico, for the penultimate round of the World Cup, he shows up more aggressive than ever to deny his own prediction.
With two successes achieved in Jerez and Detroit, along with several podiums that allowed him to believe in the title almost to the end, Senna together with Autosprint traces an account of his first real season spent consistently battling with the best:
"The hope of winning the title has never left me, although rationally I knew very well that my real possibilities were limited. You cannot race thinking only of fuel pressure and consumption. Unfortunately, today I have only the technical reality. Already from the winter tests in Rio de Janeiro there was a certain difference between our material and that of others, especially Honda. Despite everything we managed to remain in the leading group until three races to the end. It has gone wrong, there is nothing more to say. During the season I made good placements, but to win the title it is not enough to collect points: you also need to win races. By doing so many second, third or fourth places, you will not become a world champion, especially in a tough championship like this where it was necessary to win at least four or five races in order to then be able to count on the support of the placings".
"The hypothesis are of no use, in my season they would not help anyway because I have to admit that there were no other Grands Prix that I could have won, apart from the two in which I finished first for real, at Jerez and Detroit. At Imola I would not have made it, even if I had not retired. Potentially I could perhaps have succeeded in Monte Carlo, but the only truth is that in the race Prost was faster than me. In Francorchamps I felt able to go and get Mansell, but if I had done that I would have run out of gas and would not have finished second either. I didn't make big mistakes: I made a mistake at Paul Ricard, when I slipped on the oil, my fault. The transmission broke at Monza because I had a too long first gear".
"It is said that I would have had an advantage if it had rained in a couple of Grands Prix. I can say that it is not true. All season we had a technical problem with the low external temperatures; the engine was not working, it was blowing and giving no response. With the rain it would have been a real disaster, I can even be glad it didn't rain. Looking at the championship now, cool-minded, I realize that I absolutely couldn't do it. During the year we used three versions of engines, with the first two we raced, with the third we did not because it is not yet reliable. With the intermediate version I had problems in Austria and Hungary. In Budapest - as happened at Brands Hatch - I raced with the standard engine because the second evolution was not working. If this second version had already been released at the beginning of the year instead of late in the season, the championship would have been better".
"Next year I will use Honda engines. It was a necessary choice because the Japanese are the ones who are investing the most in Formula 1 and their commitment is so great that they do not stop at any obstacle: they want to win at all costs. French technicians have nothing to envy to the Japanese ones, in recent months they have only paid the consequences of the management errors of previous years. We tried, we did our best, me, the whole Lotus and Renault team, we have failed in sports, on the human side we have not, because only the fact that each of us has done our utmost counts. Now it is already time to think about the future. We should have released the new car in December, but the wait for the new regulations delayed the program by about three weeks. So I think we will not go to Estoril to try. This means that after the Australian Grand Prix I'll be able to return to Brazil and stay there until January".
Ferrari is also thinking about the future, and from November 1st, 1986, will welcome the newcomer John Barnard into the team, who will be given free space for his new project, which the technician intends to develop both in England and in Maranello.
As regards the driver issue, Enzo Ferrari announces the arrival of Gerhard Berger from Benetton in place of Stefan Johansson, with a large part of the young Austrian's hiring paid by Marlboro. The Swede, on the other hand, is headed for McLaren in place of Keke Rosberg, who has retired at the end of the championship. Enzo Ferrari does not just formalize the new Alboreto-Berger couple, but also makes surprising revelations regarding his contacts with Mansell and Senna.
With the British, after the meeting at the end of July everything seemed to be in the finishing straight, Mansell had even signed a contract defined in its smallest details. Then came the decision to stay with Williams which displaced the leaders of Maranello.
The speech concerning Ayrton was less intricate, with whom a meeting took place after the Belgian Grand Prix, but at the end of which an agreement was not reached.
The news for the Formula 1 of the future does not stop there, because as already announced for some time, on October 3rd, 1986, at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, Jean-Marie Balestre shows the new official regulations of Formula 1, Rally, Touring and Sport Prototypes, accompanied on stage by Pietro Lardi Ferrari, Bernie Ecclestone and Michele Alboreto, the latter representing the drivers.
Balestre also tries to surprise those present with an effective shot: the lights suddenly go out and the face of Enzo Ferrari appears on the screen, and at the same time a cassette is started where the Drake recorded a speech during which he praises the new regulations, safety regulations and the road taken by Formula 1. A small strategic move by Balestre to try to strengthen its position; the support of Enzo Ferrari is certainly the best way.
The rumors of the previous weeks are confirmed: for 1987 the turbo engines will remain, the cars will have a weight limit of 540 kg and will have a valve to control the air pressure set at 4 bar, with a tank capacity always limited to 195 liters.
The real novelty lies in the reintroduction of the aspirated engine, 3500 cubic centimeters of displacement and with up to twelve cylinders, with a weight limit for cars of 500 kilograms. In addition, the much-criticized qualifying engines will be eliminated.
The purpose of this change is to alternate turbocharged and naturally aspirated engines within a couple of years, as supercharged engines will still be usable in 1988, but their capabilities will be limited to such an extent that it could become virtually useless for teams to continue to adopt them.
With a look towards the near future, however, we must continue to look with extreme attention to the 1986 season finale. The championship, which still sees three drivers fighting for the conquest of the drivers' championship, is more hyping than ever.
The leader of the classification, Mannsell, arrives in Mexico, for the penultimate round on the calendar, bold and confident; in an interview he comes to define his teammate Piquet as a poor loser, of whom he will only bite. On the renovated Autòdromo Hermanos Rodrìguez, the Briton has his first match point. Not that Piquet is flattering towards his rival:
"Up to now Mansell has been good, he has raced well, but he has also been lucky. As at Brands Hatch, where he won a race after breaking the car in the first start and finding himself in favorable conditions for the second start, with a reserve car that in two days of testing only completed four laps. I aim to get to the last race in the conditions to fight again for the title, which is why I will do everything to win".
Always in the mood for jokes, interviewed by Mexican journalists who are not well informed about what is happening in the world of Formula 1, when asked where he will race next year, the Brazilian driver, already agreed with Williams for the following years, replies:
"I have an excellent proposal from Osella, but I haven't decided yet. I'm really tempted by the idea of changing the team".
The internal battle at Williams must not forget about Prost, currently at a disadvantage both in terms of the classification and in terms of performance, given that McLaren did not seem able to counter Williams at all. Despite this, even Alain is determined to fight to the last meter. The reigning champion does not want to abdicate without first fighting.
Starting from this Grand Prix, Alain will have to start discarding results as well as Mansell, but compared to the leader of the World Championship, he can leave two sixth places on the road. Mansell on the other hand, to score points, must finish at least fourth, having to discard a fourth and above all a fifth placement. Fifteen years after the last time, Formula 1 returns to Mexico thanks to the investment of a local businessman who spent ten million dollars to modernize the racetrack.
The last edition of 1970 is remembered for a sensational wave of fans that invaded the track and also caused injuries. With the 2.240 meters high at which the circuit is located, the thin Mexican air could create problems for both cars and drivers, who face the risk of suffering from a numbness of the muscles.
The biggest concern, however, is about the engines: mindful of the disaster in Austria where conditions were similar, the teams try to run for cover, adopting, among other things, larger turbochargers.
In view of the race, Benetton-BMW deserves special attention, which at Zeltweg was doing a double with its two drivers Fabi and Berger before technical problems excluded them from the race.
Respecting the forecasts, the new Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger remains on provisional pole for the whole of Friday, before being overtaken on Saturday in order by Senna, who still wants to end his season in style, Piquet and Mansell.
The Isle of Man's driver suffers from intestinal problems all weekend after binging on Mexican food on Murray Walker's birthday on Thursday. In the Saturday session he must return to the pits three times for urgent needs.
Very tough qualifications for Prost, sixth and very detached, beaten on the flying lap also by Riccardo Patrese on Brabham. His difficulties are not newsworthy; it is well known that the TAG engines, in qualifying, are clearly inferior to Honda and Renault.
Although his position does not bode well for the race, on Sunday, during the usual pre-race briefing, Alain taunts his opponent a bit, and asks race director Derek Ongaro to get a brown flag for Nigel Mansell, just in case the problems encountered on Saturday were to be repeated in the race.
The joke does not move the muscles of Mansell's face, still pale and with symptoms of fever, an inch. It is also bad for Berger, who insists he is fine but actually has a fever of 38.5 degrees centigrade. Among the usual four protagonists expected in the Mexican afternoon, the sick Austrian really slips.
The order of arrival of the race is decided in all respects by the choice of tires, which proved disastrous for Williams, in particular in the case of Piquet, which uses C compounds (softer) on the front, and B on the rear. He even stops three times during the race.
The championship leader also opts for a curious strategy: compound C on the rear left, and compund B on the rear right. In Mansell's case, however, it is not the tires that negatively affect the course of the race that could have given him the title. When the traffic lights go out, Nigel is a victim of the breaking of first gear, and although he is able to leave, he does so with extreme delay. Making real one of his worst nightmares, at the end of the first lap he is eighteenth.
Already deprived of one of the two Williams, at the very first lap, Senna and Piquet literally rotate, then under braking the two-time world champion takes the first position. A rather grainy leading quartet is formed led by Piquet, then followed by Senna, Prost and Berger. The Benetton driver has differentiated his strategy, fitting his car with the harder compound supplied by Pirelli.
Prost stops only once, Senna two, Piquet - as already mentioned - three. Berger, on the other hand, pulls straight to the finish line without any problem and wins the first race of his career, for Benetton and Pirelli, in general amazement. The sporting director of Benetton, ex Toleman, Alex Hawkbridge, at the end of the race exclaimed enthusiastically:
"I've been waiting for this day for six years".
A liberation for him and for Pirelli, even if now the regrets about the decision to leave the circus are increasing, right now that the results were coming. Same thing goes for BMW, which has not yet made clear its intentions.
A funny note concerns what happens during the honour lap, since both Stefan Johansson and Renè Arnoux remain on foot; Philippe Alliot transforms his Ligier into a taxi and loads them both, but the quest for reaching the garage takes a few hundred meters, as Alliot's Ligier runs out of fuel. All on foot then? Let alone. Shortly afterwards Nelson Piquet arrives and loads all three, before leaving for the pits.
The finish position of the drivers behind Berger is closely linked to their pit stops, and therefore Prost is second, having made a single stop, ahead of Senna and Piquet, who in the final race manages to avoid Mansell's attacks. furiously climbed up to fifth place.
According to the rule of discards, however, a fifth place for the British is equivalent to no point conquered, consequently Mansell tries in every way to take even a single point, which would be worth double if stolen from Piquet. But there is nothing to do, Piquet holds the fourth place with his teeth and Mansell, fifth at the finish, sees his desperate climb made completely in vain.
A rather unpleasant episode involves a driver who has already won the World Championship in 1982: Keke Rosberg suffers a puncture in the middle of the race, but mistakenly believes that his problem was caused by a mechanic's mistake.
The Finn returns to the pits and angrily gets out of the car. When Steve Nichols lets him know that the car is ready to get back on track, he pushes him and categorically refuses to get back into the race. Certainly not acceptable behavior in his penultimate race in Formula 1.
If Rosberg's season remains in absolute mediocrity, Prost has something to smile about: six points earned in a race spent with his heart in his throat due to engine problems, which fortunately did not cause him to retire. Six points that become in fact five by discarding one of the sixth places obtained in Belgium and Germany; Alain now has sixty-four points, and comes close to Mansell who has remained stationary at seventy points.
Piquet remains in the slipstream with his sixty-three points. To decree the winner of the World Championship it will therefore be necessary to wait for the last Grand Prix of the year in Australia, two weeks later.
Mansell likes the street circuit in Adelaide, where he won in 1985, a factor that makes him even more the number one favorite. The two pursuers, Prost and Piquet, arrive in the Australian continent aware of having to win to become world champions. However, victory may not be enough if Mansell should reach the podium.
This is why Alain and Nelson must hope for the help of uncomfortable third parties, such as Senna and Berger, who, however, could become double-edged weapons hindering their path rather than Mansell's.
For the occasion, the city of Adelaide spends twenty million to build new stands and better arrange the existing ones in view of the Grand Prix that will take place on the city circuit that blocks almost the entire city center.
Having landed in Australia, the World Cup leader seems to be the most nervous of the three, having never had to deal with such a high stakes; not even the company of his wife Rosanne seems to calm him down. The other two, on the other hand, already have many things to be able to tell their grandchildren, and they show themselves to the media much more relaxed. Alain is also with his wife Anne-Marie, while Piquet, having arrived in Australia with his private jet, goes around the paddock with his girlfriend Sylvia and his brother Gerardo.
There are many factors to consider for this final sprint: Piquet and Mansell are in the same team, they have been taking away points in the standings from each other since the beginning of the season; Alain, on the other hand, has never had this type of problem, and indeed, perhaps with a last blow of the kidneys, Keke Rosberg could prove to be a fundamental ally.
Senna can also mess up the cards on the table, as on a city track that is not too demanding on petrol consumption he can return to the top and be a key factor for the final outcome of the championship.
"I am now used to this type of fight, to tension. Even if it is not possible to completely get used to certain situations, because our sport is also made up of serious personal risks. After Mexico I was able to evaluate my situation and I am not at all dissatisfied: I can still mathematically win the world championship and I can participate in the last race without having anything to lose. Of course, Mansell has the knife on the side of the handle, Piquet and I have to win by force while a placement is enough for him, but it won't be as easy as he thinks. Our recovery is the result of meticulous work and many sacrifices. Don't forget that at McLaren we haven't had a coach of Barnard's worth for some time. And my teammate hasn't helped me so much since the beginning of the season. For the interest of the championship and the enjoyment of the public it will certainly be a tense and spectacular race. But to be honest, it could also be one-way, that is in favor of Mansell. Piquet and I, however, will not give up on defeat until at the last meter".
Prost's words, never banal and always realistic. A little more critical instead, Nelson Piquet, who thinks more about hitting his opponent psychologically than focusing on his performances on the track:
"Of course, we are not in a good position at all. If it were just us fighting it might be easier, but there are also others to take into consideration. I don't like the Adelaide track, these city tracks are made for go-karts, not for Formula 1 single-seaters. It is ridiculous that we should end the championship in this way. Unfortunately in our league there are too many wrong things. Luck will play a decisive role this time. And since it has given Mansell a lot of help so far, we hope it changes direction at the right time".
Ten times the drivers' championship has been decided on the last race, and six times the driver who was behind in the standings on the eve of the race won. A statistic that further galvanizes the two pursuers and puts even more pressure on Mansell, who, however, responds well during the first qualifying session on Friday, with the provisional best time.
"I don't think about my rivals, first of all I'll try to start as far forward as possible, then we'll see. My Williams is perfect, I'm just afraid of bad weather".
In fact, due to the arrival of rain during qualifying, Mansell was one of the drivers who suffered accidents without any consequences. On Friday he also smiles at Prost, who anticipates a promising start from second place, before in the Saturday session Piquet and Senna relegate him to fourth position to one second and two at the time of Mansell, who instead confirms the first time, driving in 1'18"403; 120.000 spectators are live at the racetrack on Sunday October 26th, 1986, to watch the showdown between Mansell, Prost and Piquet.
After the disaster in Mexico, the choice of tires for Williams ends under the magnifying glass, which in accordance with Prost adopts soft tires, also based on the guidelines of Goodyear, which has ascertained a duration such as to be able to finish the race without stopping in the pits.
Shortly before the start of the race, as usual when he is nervous, Alain is standing and constantly moving next to his car, and he eats his nails incessantly. Jo Ramirez, to try to defuse the French driver's moment of tension, stops his legs and exclaims:
"Better put your gloves on while you still have a few fingers left".
Then off we go. Great tussle in the first corners, Mansell has a good sprint but is cautious in battling with Senna, who, as is well known, does not look anyone in the face and attacks everyone without thinking too much. The brief fight with the Brazilian relegates Williams number five to fourth position, while Senna takes the lead, followed closely by Piquet and a surprising Keke Rosberg, who started from seventh. Prost, climbed to fifth position, minds his own business.
Also on the first lap, having reached the end of the long straight, Piquet takes advantage of the Honda engine and overtakes Senna's Lotus, which has to tag along helplessly. Ayrton has no pace, perhaps he has engine problems or pays for a too conservative choice of tires, the fact is that he is also easily pulled off by Rosberg, Mansell and Prost. Ideal overtaking for the British Williams, now third, who just needs the podium to be crowned champion.
Situation that becomes even more favorable after Rosberg, who decided to wake up at his last race as a Formula 1 driver, undermines Piquet from the first position, and then imposes a frenzied pace with the aim of creating a gap of several seconds.
With Rosberg in the lead, Nigel can manage his race even more calmly, so he does not offer the slightest resistance to the attacks of Prost, who takes the third position. The transalpine has just played the charge, demonstrating the ease with which he clears the gap of three seconds that divided him from Piquet.
The imperative of the Brazilian driver is not to let Prost pass, but a sudden blocking of the front right makes him spin. A sensational mistake for Piquet, now even fourth behind Mansell. An error that sends Williams' garage into a frenzy: if they play as a team in McLaren and Rosberg steps aside, Prost goes on to win the race. Mansell's third place would put him on the safe side, but now behind the Brit is Piquet, who certainly cannot be ordered to stay behind without trying to overtake, as he too is still in the game for the world championship.
Alain begins to approach Rosberg, sets the fastest lap in 1'22"544, and reduces the gap to twelve seconds. On lap 32 comes another twist, in what is becoming a real thriller: due to of a contact of his front wheel with the rear of Berger's Benetton, which was about to be lapped, Prost feels that there is something wrong with the car, probably a slow puncture. The Frenchman decides to go to the pits and change tires, and to make his inconvenience even more damaging for the purposes of the race, the slowness of the pit stop, seventeen seconds. Alain returns fourth but is far from the leaders.
In the pits, as a routine, the Goodyear men check the tires just removed from Alain's car, and seeing that the consumption is not high, they report to the Williams team that a pit stop is not necessary to change the tires.
However, the Goodyear technicians did not take into account the fact that the Williams, due to the Honda engine and the ailerons that generate more downforce, warms the tires more than the McLaren, and that therefore the consumption is higher. In the meantime, however, regardless of tire wear, what could help Alain is the struggle inside the Williams team, which could prove fatal, as feared by Sir. Frank and Patrick Head.
Piquet in fact has become threatening behind Mansell, both are pushing to the limit regardless of tire wear, one to defend and the other to attack; now it is Piquet who sets fast laps. While the fight is about to explode in front, Senna's season ends prematurely, which also ends the collaboration with Renault in a bitter way. The French engine goes up in smoke on the forty-third passage.
Piquet then violently throws in at the exit of the last corner, and at the following braking he takes the position on his teammate, who does not seem to resist strenuously to keep him behind. On the other hand, Nigel is now third, and Rosberg is thirty seconds away. The tires, however, are starting to show important signs of degradation, at the same time there is Prost who is pushing like crazy thanks to his fresh tires.
Panic is again in the box of Patrick Head, head of team management while Frank Williams is watching the race from England: Prost has now caught his drivers again, the difference in pace is so huge that the situation described above could be recreated namely Mansell climbing fourth and Prost going to win helped by Rosberg. Williams' Goodyears are destroyed...but Keke Rosberg's too.
We are on lap sixty-three, the international direction shows the McLaren with the number 2 parking on the grass with the rear left dechapped. Fearing that it was a serious breakdown of the car, Rosberg immediately parks on the grass, but once he gets out of the car, he notices that there is neither oil nor smoke escaping from the back of the McLaren; it is a marshall who points out the destroyed wheel, and at that moment the Finn regrets the thought that a pit stop would have been enough to continue racing.
No, Rosberg's retirement does not make Williams relax at all, which in fact sees the concern increase dramatically, since Rosberg had the exact same tires as Mansell and Piquet.
The decision is timely: Nigel is called back to the pits, he would come back third with new tires and there would be no problems, but the Briton receives the communication via radio only when he is already on the finish straight: he has to do another lap. A fatal ride. Mansell seventy-six, Piquet seventy-two, Prost seventy-one.
This is the situation in the drivers' classification immediately after Rosberg's retirement, with Piquet leading the race, closely followed by Prost who has already got rid of Mansell.
On the Brabham Straight, the longest straight on the circuit, Mansell lapped Philippe Alliot, after which the biggest fear of the Williams garage occurs: Mansell's left rear tire explodes and damages the suspension as the car travels at a speed of 300 km/h.
The car swerved abruptly, a tide of sparks flew over the track, but Mansell was able with great skill to control the Williams and park it in the adjacent escape route, avoiding any accident.
Leaving aside the miraculous rescue, for him the race ends there, his dream of winning the world championship still remains alive, but to be able to achieve it he must hope that his two rivals, who are the same ones left to fight for the victory of the race, do not go up on the highest step of the podium. A hope that at this point smacks of utopia. Piquet must forcibly return to the pits so as not to be in the same trouble with the tires, which is why it is Prost who finds himself leading the race with less than twenty laps to go. The road seems clear, but it's not over yet.
Prost's on-board computer tells him he is running out of petrol, so Alain has to manage the remaining fuel maniacally, but in the meantime Piquet is already pushing like a madman to try to close the twenty-second gap. In one lap he gains five seconds.
The laps pass and the data provided by the on-board computer does not change: according to past experience, this means that the device has broken down. Prost therefore has only to hope that the way he has driven so far has been adequate, and that luck will assist him on his journey to the checkered flag.
Piquet reaches four seconds, but there is no more time: Prost ends the eighty-second lap, crosses the finish line and stops the McLaren a few meters later, then gets out of the cockpit, jumps awkwardly and puts his hands on his helmet. Even he can't believe he made it.
Second world title, achieved by repeating last year's success, a feat that until then had only been successful for such sacred monsters as Ascari and Brabham. The twenty-fifth success in his career then puts him on par with Jim Clark. These few statistics are enough to show the level of greatness reached by Prost in his seventh season in Formula 1.
Euphoria also rages in the McLaren garage, which can, just like its favorite, celebrate a new record: third consecutive title, no other team has ever succeeded before. Alain's emotions are all contained in his words. Overwhelmed with joy, the Frenchman never loses clarity to thoroughly analyze the race:
"It's an immense happiness! Honestly I was hoping for it but I knew that the feat was not easy. I'm sorry for Mansell, I felt the same disappointment in 1983 and 1984 and I know what it means to lose a world championship in the last race. A slight collision with Berger caused the front right tire to sag, so I had to stop in the pits to change tires on lap 32. It was the defining moment, I had no more problems, even though I was tormented by the consumption of petrol".
There is also fair play for Nigel Mansell, who was defeated by the battle after a great scare:
"I may not be here. I may not be alive. When the tire burst I was traveling at about 300 km/h. The car skidded, it was as if it had gone mad. I am happy for Prost, he is a very good driver, he deserves the success. I am sorry for me, for the team, for Frank Williams. We all did a good job, but unfortunately it went badly. The team certainly has no faults. Goodyear had assured us that the tires could finish the race. As soon as they saw what had happened in Rosberg in the pits, they called me back via radio to return to the pits, but I had already crossed the finish line and had to do one more lap that I it was fatal. Now I want to take a period of reflection, I want to console myself with the family. Then we will start all over again".
Piquet does not really want to joke, he too was defeated by this very tight confrontation with three:
"When I changed the tires there was some uncertainty. They warned me on the radio and I waited for a lap before returning. Then seeing that I had vibrations in the rear wheels, I decided to stop in the pits, thinking that maybe Prost would have the same problems. Unfortunately this was not the case. Losing a title is very bad, but it was a very good season, competitive. You win and you lose. As far as I'm concerned, I've been at the top in Formula 1 for seven years and I haven't fought for the title for just one year. I think I can't complain. It is hard to work for a team where you have to work hard for two in the development of the cars, and this perhaps was the reason that ultimately led to the defeat. If only one had aimed for the title, perhaps now we would be here to celebrate".
In all probability Piquet is right in analyzing the defeat of their team. The infighting has only taken away points that could have gone to one or the other, while in McLaren, Prost had no one to put a spanner in the works. A supremacy within the team that Alain nevertheless earned with the results, regularly beating a world champion, Keke Rosberg, to the point of forcing him to retire from racing.
Alain won with a car inferior to direct competition, something more unique than rare in the racing world, he made very few mistakes throughout the season, he was always among the first even when the car did not allow him to. He drove as a champion, indeed, as a phenomenon, and for this reason he is now rightly compared to the greatest ever. Keke Rosberg joins the ranks of the many who praise him. his thoughts on Prost, the Finnish exposes it outright:
"Right now there is Prost, and then there are the others. Not only do I think so, but I know. Alain is by far the best driver I have ever raced with. He is complete, he excels in all circumstances, on all types of terrain. circuit, it's always very fast".
But at only thirty-one, with two titles won, twenty-five races won, and a completeness that frightens his opponents, Prost can't even think of taking a breather. Mansell, Piquet, and the Senna who will have Honda engines from next year are ready for a rematch.
Davide Scotto di Vetta