A long stop to recharge your batteries, relax your nerves and prepare yourself both psychologically and physically for the new season, without a shadow of a doubt the setting for a new duel between them. On March 26, 1989, in Brazil, Senna and Prost are ready to write the next chapter of their personal question, still lived in the same garage, and equipped with an evolution of the same monstrous car that the previous year won 15 out of 16 races.
Meanwhile at Fiorano, on January 6, 1989, Nigel Mansell tests the new Ferrari designed by Barnard, with the gearshift levers positioned on the steering wheel, and immediately beats the record set by Berger, before being the protagonist of a spectacular but at the same time breathtaking off-track, in his own style:
"I like the car. I find the gearbox idea very good and the engine responded wonderfully today. The organization that Berger and I have behind us is fantastic and in this first day in Ferrari is perhaps the thing that most amazed and galvanized me. Now we just have to get to work to improve and I am very ready. But I already feel able to make a promise to the Ferrari fans: I came to Maranello to win and I am convinced that the team and the car have these means".
On February 10, 1989 it was McLaren's time to test in Jerez. After three months of inactivity, Ayrton returns to the track, greeted by Alain certainly not with the best favors:
"Nice to be on vacation, huh? And we are here to work".
Alain exclaims at Ayrton's address, almost as if it was a first hint of what is yet to happen. The Brazilian has a tremor in his lip on the left side but pretends nothing has happened and actually sketches a mellifluous smile. After a long vacation, Ayrton has only arrived in Spain, leaving his beloved Xuxa, his new girlfriend, at home. After this event, the press asks Ayrton if he thinks that misunderstandings could arise in the year that is about to begin, but the Brazilian driver puts out any controversy in the bud:
"No, we will get along very well with Alain, a year has passed and we are more friends than before. It is the first time that I have taken a real vacation since I have been in Formula 1, and this has done me good, it has given me a tranquillity of mind that I had never known. Yes, I know, many say that when one wins the world title then he has no more stimuli, he takes his foot off the accelerator and no longer risks. In my case it is not true, I have the same desire to be the first, the desire to be the fastest".
At Jerez, Senna did just a few laps to understand the new engine developed by Prost, without forcing. According to Ayrton's thought, the records are a great satisfaction, but in this phase of the championship they are useless:
"It is more important to work meticulously to fine-tune the car. For example, I had tested this engine last October and now I am surprised by the progress that Honda has made. In just over three months, things have changed. At the last tests in Rio, the week before the Grand Prix, the new McLaren chassis will also be ready. It is not a problem of secrecy, we do this because the old car with the new engine is already fine and then the technicians prefer to work up to last moment on the new one. It will be a surprise for everyone, even for us. The naturally aspirated engines will make racing more spectacular, there will be more competitiveness, perhaps it will even be a little more dangerous. With turbos we always had a reserve of power available to overtake faster and more easily. Now no, so what then? driving ability will count a lot. Another important difference this year will be in practice because with the new qualifying tires that last one or two laps the driver will have very little time available to get a good timing. But since there will be more cars on the track, there is the risk that one will uselessly play the set of tires that he is using, so it will be very important to seize the right moment to do tests, that is, it will be necessary to go out on the track when there are fewer cars on the road".
Returning to Ferrari, the tests go quite badly, the engine of the new car breaks down almost immediately and the technicians remain to peer into its bowels for hours and hours. So the new control units arrived at night with Berger's plan. The automatic gearbox is creating considerable difficulties, and it is already rumoured within the team that starting the world championship with such an insecure contraption would be madness.
Thoughts confirmed upon returning to Maranello on March 5, 1989: after a week of testing, the balance sheet sees the negative notes far outweigh the positive ones. After the individual tests of the teams in the private circuits, Formula 1 moves, as usual, to a single circuit for the collective tests organized by FISA, which are scheduled in Rio de Janeiro, on the Jacarepaguà circuit. Popularity doesn't always bring benefits.
Alain Prost discovered it at his own expense, who on March 13, 1989, at the customs of Rio de Janeiro airport, was stopped by the police because his entry visa was not regular. Indeed, when he arrived at customs, the French driver showed his tourist visa - much easier to obtain than the one for work - but it was recognized by the agents and held for seven hours before being allowed to pass.
The same fate happened to the Williams mechanics and some Renault technicians: for all of them there was an exhausting wait and the collection of passports until the day of departure. Meanwhile, on the Jacarepaguà track, testing began on a day without sun but equally sultry.
On March 15, 1989, tragedy came close to the Jacarepaguà track: Philippe Streiff went off the track with serious injuries to his vertebrae. While driving a fast corner of the circuit, Streiff, at the wheel of the AGS, touched the curb of the track at 240 km/h, losing control of the car and taking off, beyond the guardrail. The car, before crashing on the ground, hit a marshal and a firefighter. The first got away with bruises, the firefighter (who jumped to avoid the car) suffered a broken leg.
Streiff was trapped in the passenger compartment of the AGS which in the impact had lost the side bellies, the nose, the engine and even the petrol tank, which fortunately did not explode. The body resisted and the French driver, washed down with petrol, was extracted by the rescuers after a few minutes of work.
In the hospital, Streiff underwent a CT scan and the control revealed a heavy balance: displacement of two cervical vertebrae and crushing of a dorsal that caused first paralysis in the legs and then in the arms. In addition, the pilot sustained a fracture in his left shoulder blade and right collarbone. The Frenchman was placed in intensive care.
Subsequently, it was assumed that the pilot could be transported on a special flight to Paris, where there is a particularly well-equipped center, but during the evening of March 15, 1989, the hypothesis of an immediate operation also appeared. The prognosis is reserved right from the start; doctors speculate that the pilot is at risk of remaining quadriplegic.
Meanwhile, the tests have stood still for a long time, with Streiff's colleagues speechless and tense due to the accident. Immediately, reviewing the spectra of Elio de Angelis' accident, Prost comments on what happened, arguing that Streiff's condition would be less severe if the intervention after the accident had been quicker and more qualified:
"A lot of money is spent in Formula 1; is it possible that we cannot organize a professional service with specialized doctors? I don't think it takes disproportionate amounts".
Two days later, on March 17, 1989, a cautious optimism spreads around Philippe Streiff, who, despite being conscious, does not remember anything about the accident.
Admitted to the intensive care unit of the Sao Vicente clinic, Streiff receives a visit from prof. Gerard Saillant, who examines his condition and approves what was done in Wednesday night's surgery. About ten days, if there are no complications, and the AGS rider will be transported to France.
"It is still early to know what Streiff's chances of recovery will be. It will take several hours".
Explains the surgeon Carlos Giesta, the one who performed the surgery on the vertebrae. Meanwhile, on the Jacarepaguà circuit, even if the crew members are still shaken by the drama, the tests continued. All eyes are obviously on the new McLaren MP4/5 that Senna tests for a long time. And, strange but true, the news is not positive: the car has sealing problems, the rear is broken. After the rehearsals, Ayrton prepared a page and a half of notes to request changes.
In the meantime, Prost, who was witnessing the tests from the pits, personally takes Ron Dennis and the engineer Goto, responsible for the Honda engines, to point out the difficulties of his teammate, and the latter trusts that the engine denounces the power gaps in release. It is clear that we are dealing with problems concerning a car in its first laps, but Prost and Senna are worried because they fear structural problems, which would lead to a significant step backwards compared to the previous model:
"The car is not balanced at the moment".
Says Ayrton, who was also the protagonist of a spectacular spin without consequences. Between ups and downs Nigel Mansell still manages to significantly lower the time obtained the previous year by Senna for pole position, lapping in 1'26"00 against 1'28 of the Brazilian; Barnard's much-discussed new naturally aspirated car seems to be going faster than the McLaren Honda turbo of the previous year. But to cool illusions and enthusiasm, it must be said that the Englishman managed to get this time by lapping alone on the track, that is, in unrepeatable ideal conditions during qualifying.
The negative part, on the other hand, includes many operating defects, poor reliability and several unknowns, given that the Ferrari 640 had major problems with engine overheating, the operation of the electronic control units that manage the engine itself and the new automatic gearbox. Both Mansell and Berger watched helplessly and astonished the sudden transition from fifth to third without having touched the levers that operate the electronic gearbox, an inconvenience that knocked out a couple of engines and could still happen again. Furthermore, the question of fuel consumption and reliability remains, given that Mansell and Berger were unable to complete an entire race simulation throughout the week.
Meanwhile, after the first tests carried out on the Jacarepaguà circuit, Alain replaces Senna in a curious event that was to have the Brazilian as its main actor. Ayrton was originally scheduled to submit to a commercial, but was not available at the last moment.
It is then up to Alain to take his place wearing Ayrton's helmet. With four days to go until the start of the championship, only Alain is confident about Ferrari's chances of triumphing at the first round in Brazil. An opinion that is coupled with the lack of confidence currently placed in the new McLaren:
"The car has problems of instability and it will be very difficult to win. If the technicians do not work miracles, on Sunday Senna and I will find ourselves with two handicaps compared to the other drivers: we will be forced to break the pace in the corners and stop at least twice in the pits to change the tires. In these conditions I see other teams as favorites: Williams, Ferrari, March and Brabham. There is something wrong, perhaps due to the fact that we have fitted the longitudinal gearbox instead of the transversal one. I am not saying that this car will never be on par with the previous one. At the moment, however, it is not good, nor perfect and we will be vulnerable".
Senna also warns reporters:
"Don't expect fifteen wins like last year".
But immediately, both Goto and Dennis scold him, later forcing him to downplay and say his statements were misunderstood:
"I said that the car was not balanced, not that it has congenital and irreversible defects. It is just a matter of finishing the tuning. And then, a car that turns in 1'26"34 two days after its debut, on this one track, does it seem so slow?"
Two days later, on March 23, 1989, Ron Dennis organizes a press conference in which Ayrton scolds the press:
"You don't have to write that the car is not going well. We admit that it is not yet on point, that there are problems to be solved but we will overcome them".
Dennis is also keen to have his say, and says:
"There have been speculations. We are still the same and we are not in crisis. The truth is only one: the car was designed to fit a transverse gearbox that is not yet ready. We had to use the old, longitudinal one, so, among other things, the rear and front suspensions don't work well together. Even the aerodynamics have been a bit compromised. But I assure you that we will be ok at Imola".
In short, McLaren remains the team to beat for the moment, but they are no longer so sure of winning as easily as last season. In the meantime, however, Nelson Piquet didn't think he could ride the tiger, and so he declares:
"Ayrton's car is a shack".
Before smiling, continuing:
"No, I'm exaggerating, but it's not good. He's got some chassis problems".
Not surprisingly, Emanuele Pirro, the test driver of the Anglo-Japanese team, works like crazy in England to remedy the problems of the new car; Senna phones him every two or three hours to ask how he's doing and to give him directions. In the press room, engineer Goto struggles to list all the progress made by the Honda engine in recent months. He speaks in Japanese because he always pretends not to know other languages, but when he listens to the English translation he is upset because his thoughts have not been well interpreted. Ron Dennis intervenes and Goto, who apparently only knows Japanese, makes big nods on hearing him say in English that it's true, the engine is fine.
Then Senna also loses patience, pushes the interpreter away and translates everything from Brazilian to English and Italian. In short, at McLaren the words are weighed in an attempt to hide what is becoming increasingly clear: the car was born badly. The reporters pursue Ayrton, to whom they ask what is on his mind, blurring his nice, polite boy's smile. Ayrton replies angrily that nothing is wrong, but Alain Prost, who is a great connoisseur of men, suggests an answer that displaces everyone:
"Fifteen victories in a year, as many as we did last year, create a difficult psychological situation for you, make you lose touch with reality and then the very idea of making ten victories instead of fifteen makes you feel bad, uncomfortable".
This is how Alain, the old fox, brings a very eventful conference back to normal. While in the pits of the circuit the mechanics are dripping with sweat to fine-tune the racing cars that will start in the first Grand Prix of the season on Easter Day, the drivers rest under the sun of Rio, the sun that will give them a lot of trouble during the race. Sea, swimming pool, beaches, tennis and great sleep until Friday, when the track will be reopened for practice. The most refined meet on the greens of the Gavea Golf Club, the exclusive club of the high society of Rio. This is where Mansell, Warwick and Prost himself relax their nerves of steel.
Meanwhile, in the Caligola, the Benetton gala is celebrated, the Lotus guests gather at the Hippopotamus, and an Italian party is celebrated at the Columbus, with the participation of all the Italian pilots who remained on the place, who for the occasion lend themselves to the figure of jurors to elect the miss of the Rio Grand Prix. Mauricio Gugelmin is constantly immersed in the pool, Piquet jumps at Ipanema, and Senna plays with a model aircraft that Honda gave him. Only one is missing, which journalists meet Jacarepaguà's pits with great surprise: lying under his March, Ivan Capelli fixes no one knows what, after he has cleaned the radiators and the fairing of his car.
There are many technical innovations for the new season, but above all we have to deal with an abnormal number of drivers, no less than thirty-nine, so that the usual pre-qualification will become necessary to eliminate the slower cars, consequently streamlining the grid. Senna easily wins pole, while Prost argues all weekend with the MP4/5 and is just fifth, with Patrese and Boutsen on Williams-Renault, and Berger on Ferrari to divide the McLaren drivers:
"I didn't think I'd do a time like that. I knew the car was fine, but there was the unknown traffic on the track and the sweltering heat. Instead, everything went perfectly. I think I did two very good laps. And you can't be that fast if the vehicle doesn't go along with you. I can't say that this McLaren is still at its best: the chassis and engine don't seem perfectly matched to me at the moment. But when the transverse gearbox arrives, we'll be fine. But now let's think about the race. I really think I have a good chance of winning. Williams and Ferrari can also give us a hard time, especially at the start of the Grand Prix. But I'm confident. At the end of the race, however, we may also have to reckon with March and Benetton. In short, I think people will have fun, that it will be an exciting test".
Ayrton is more than satisfied, the same cannot be said of Prost, who still has ambitions for success in view of the race:
"A lot will depend on the choice of tires and the setting of the car for the race. I don't feel left out. I am aware of the difficulties I will have to face, but at the same time I am confident in my possibilities".
Despite Berger's discreet qualifying, the new Ferrari is so unreliable that during the warm-up, all three cars are blocked by failures that seem unsolvable. Berger and Mansell are perplexed, the technicians bewildered and the mechanics desperate, until, at a certain point, the German technician Ralph Hahn, responsible for the electronic management of the engine, prevails on everyone and despite some contrary opinions, he mounts two old alternators that had worked well in Friday's tests.
Half an hour before departure Berger's car stops due to gearbox problems; the Austrian then passes on the forklift, which stops. Nonetheless, the Austrian driver manages to bring the car to the grid and is even a negative protagonist at the start.
Senna starts rather badly, losing the first position in favor of Patrese; at the first corner the Ferrari driver tries to overtake the world champion by passing inside, but the two cars touch each other: Berger's car is damaged, and the driver retires, while Senna stops in the pits for more than two minutes, and he starts again in a slow comeback attempt that ends with the final eleventh place.
Patrese therefore finds himself leading a race for the first time since the 1983 South African Grand Prix, ahead of Mansell and Prost. The order remains unchanged until the sixteenth lap, when Mansell overtakes the race leader by taking the lead; a few laps later the new Ferrari driver made the first tire change, imitated in the following laps by the other two. While Mansell continues to lead ahead of Prost, Patrese loses contact with rivals; the Frenchman remained in first position for two laps after the Ferrari driver's second tire change, but then had to give up the lead.
Mansell continued smoothly to the finish, despite persistent concerns from the Ferrari garage about the duration of the innovative semi-automatic gearbox after the second pit stop, in which the steering wheel was replaced. Nigel returns to win a race, and he does it with Prost with him. As soon as the race is over, Cesare Fiorio, new team principal, entranced to the point of invading the track when the checkered flag is waved to show his fist to his new driver, declares:
"It was not difficult to manage the race. The figures arrive accurate. I think the move to change the tires was the decisive one. Some thrills, at the second pit stop, when Mansell asked to change the steering wheel. We complied with his request. Berger, a bit different. Everything went well. Nigel was very good especially in the final when he got into the right rhythm so as not to take risks".
For the second time after Monza 1988, to interrupt the hegemony of the Woking team is still Ferrari, which can hope above all for the remarkable race pace revealed, with the only but important concern of reliability.
On the podium, after having his back watered with a bottle of water, as he is about to raise the winner's trophy, it is not known how, but the fact is that Mansell cuts his hand, and is barely able to spray the champagne for victory. Prost and Gugelmin, together with him on the podium, try to understand how the heck he did it, but in order not to take any risks, when they take their trophies they do it very carefully.
Drawbacks aside, no one can believe Nigel's incredible victory, as the system that controls the gearbox had never completed the reliability tests. In the great confusion of the post-race, during the celebration of the victory in the Ferrari garage, a mechanic is asked to take out the champagne, but the latter, nothing: he remains dazed without answering. Second request, and identical scene.
"So, do you take it or don't you take it?"
And the mechanic, who is also a survivor from the vicissitudes of a thousand Grand Prix, finally pulls out a faint voice and exclaims:
"I can't, I have goosebumps".
Even John Barnard has a different face all of a sudden, all beautifully smooth and colored, while Maurizio Nardon, the technician in charge of Mansell's car, now walks with his head held high and, a bit in the clouds too, grabs a fork to peel a banana. Even Giorgio Ascanelli, Berger's engineer, moves at a samba pace and hums the wonderful cocoa to anyone who crosses him. Phone calls float. From Kenya the call is from those of Lancia, who have recently been orphaned by Cesare Fiorio, and then from Romiti, from the lawyer Agnelli, from everyone. But the Ferrari carnival does not last long.
Conversely, on the hideous Honda computers some playful people have hung a bilingual sign: we are temporarily absent. The Japanese strive to digest the bad blow, Osamu Goto, the great boss of Honda, when he passes in front of the Ferrari pits bows and smiles, but closed inside the McLaren box, there are those who swear to having repeatedly heard fists banging on the tables. Goto screams that the engine is perfect, but someone blames him for Prost's broken clutch, so the Japanese engineer brings up Senna's mistake at the start.
Now Goto fears he will end up like the engineer Sakurai, who two years earlier, following Berger's victory with Ferrari at Suzuka, had been transferred to the Honda tractor department in Zambia; to avoid being sent to some remote corner of the planet, for Imola he promises more horses as if it was easy to improve the engine. At the same time, Ayrton, very disappointed, explains the incident with Berger:
"In fact, I was wrong with the gearbox. I shifted into second gear too early, which is why I found myself with the engine packed and the car slowed down. So Berger and Patrese were able to join me, one on my right, the other to the left. When we started to take the corner at the end of the starting straight, I was squeezed between one and the other. I just couldn't move. I also tried to brake, but the carbon discs were still cold and they didn't react promptly. What was I supposed to do? I'm not able to fly. After losing three laps due to the necessary repairs, I went back to the track trying to make up my mind, without thinking that I was just a pursuer. I did my race. In the end I realized that I could have finished first".
To console himself, Ayrton after the race participates in the birthday party of Xuxa, his beautiful girlfriend, a Brazilian television star, then leaves for Brasilia, where, invited by the Fuerza Area, he experienced the thrill of flying on a military fighter. He is counterbalanced by a strangely very happy Alain, although he was not the winner. The reason? He explains it:
"I think I had the best race of my life. From the first tire change I had practically no clutch and so I never risked stopping again. If I hadn't had this problem I could have won. I drove very well, resisting the attacks of Gugelmin and Herbert in the final. McLaren is not perfect yet, but they will improve. I have taken six precious points, as the differences between the teams this year will be minimal every placement counts".
Ron Dennis, like Goto, is also livid, as with three top-notch designers in the house, he just didn't expect his car to show certain flaws. Meanwhile, he launches warnings around and takes a subtle quibble to say that in his opinion many frames of the opposing teams do not comply with the regulations, and that if they do not all comply, in Imola he will begin to make a complaint against all the opponents, Ferrari included.
The first team that runs for cover is McLaren itself. On April 5, 1989, the British team brought two cars to Imola for a test session: that of the 88 with a naturally aspirated engine and the car that made its debut in Rio where it was sensationally beaten by Ferrari. A strong wind disturbs the first tests during which Senna, with 1'29"461, sets the best time.
During these tests, attempts are made to find a remedy for the defects found in Brazil, to the point of remaining on the Imola circuit until April 14th. The result is that on April 10, 1989, Prost with the old McLaren lowers the track record for naturally aspirated engines by driving in 1'27"772, while Senna with the new car and the transverse gearbox laps in 1'27"946.
"It is still necessary to drive many kilometers, the only positive sign is given by the fact that it has not yet broken, while as regards operation, there are still problems of hardness in the engagement of the gears".
It goes even better two days later, when Ayrton, with a new car but equipped with the old longitudinal gearbox, still files Prost's time, dropping to 1'25"33.
Senna would like to do as much as 1'24. but he can't. It doesn't matter, because the World Champion car runs with impressive continuity on times close to the track record. According to Senna and Prost however, there is still enormous potential in this machine to exploit. The new transversal gearbox tested at Imola did not give the excellent results expected, so much so that its use in the race is postponed to June, perhaps to July. Even with the tide of changes made though, the new Mp4/5 doesn't go as strong as the previous year's car. On April 11th, Alain comments on the tests, confiding to journalists:
"We are improving, hour by hour. Since Monday we have made enormous progress, only with the tuning. And we are waiting for some important changes for next week, hopefully before the San Marino Grand Prix. The car is very fast, but still difficult to drive. We still have to make progress".
The Ferrari public does not miss an opportunity to make a bad impression: in Imola, the crowd in the stands loudly whistles the whole McLaren team, drivers included.
Both are targeted by taunts and invectives, so much so that every time one of the two stops in the pits, a bunch of insults, of a purely football type, starts from the grandstand. The commitment of the British team was thus accompanied by this almost intimidating atmosphere, fortunately only verbal. But what is McLaren's fault? Simple, only to have inflicted multiple defeats on Ferrari over the last few years and to want to continue to do his job, trying to win again.
In the tests at Imola, Ferrari made two or three laps of the circuit, before running into long pit stops. A truly nerve-wracking trickle not only for the public, who paid ten thousand lire and wants to at least take away the whim of seeing the beloved Ferrari on track, but above all for the mechanics, for the technicians, and above all for Berger, who wanted to close his two days of testing with good weather to give to the fans.
The Austrian driver feels that the car is going strong, when it doesn't break, and even states that from mid-season onwards it will be a world title car. But he also notes that Barnard speaks only with Mansell, that the audience applauds Mansell more willingly, that even the clapping erupts when greeting the crowd is not even the one who has become the Lion of England for the Italians, but his manager Mike Francis. In short, Berger begins to have a great fear of ending up with Alboreto, and in this regard he lets himself go to a bitter joke that explains his state of mind. They asked him if this Ferrari could set McLaren's record times and he replied:
"Oh yeah, as soon as I get off and Mansell gets on".
Statement surrounded by that of Cesare Fiorio, who bitterly comments:
"Today is a lost day that forces us once again to delay our test programs. We still have to do the consumption tests, the general reliability tests, we hope to do them today and tomorrow, otherwise we will stay here on Saturday too".
In short, while Ferrari wraps up, McLaren ends its eight days of testing in Imola with a flourish. After Rio, there were those who wondered if the McLaren monopoly had not come to an end, and if Senna and Prost had a third wheel in their challenge.
The answer is no.
Ferrari's performance in Rio turns out to be a campfire, no more and no less, even if in the first hour of qualifying, thanks to the rain that fell on Imola, Berger deceives everyone by going faster than the McLarens, scoring a time of 1'42"781 against 1'42"939 recorded by Senna. But on Saturdays it's a whole other story.
Ayrton starts immediately on an almost empty track and marks an apparently beatable time. He had said it ten days earlier: you can get to 1'24. On Saturday he is still convinced of this possibility because after the previous 1'26 he tries again. But towards the Tosa he finds two cars that go very slowly, and the two seconds he was chasing fade into thin air. Back in the pits, he stays in his place behind the wheel and his eyes fixed on the small television that they put on the dashboard to follow the performance of the others. Behind him is Prost at a handful of thousandths, then an abyss and all the others.
Ayrton, not happy to have trimmed a second and a half to Mansell's Ferrari, starts again, but is unable to lower the time. He goes back to the pits, and a mechanic puts the jack to lift the car and change the tires. But in this moment a strange thing happens: the tires remain stuck to the concrete of the pits, the mechanic pulls on the jack and a suspension bends. Repairs waste time, while Ayrton is full of disturbances, almost furious.
Having repaired the car, he still goes out without improving, and when he returns he goes to the technical checks, which are mandatory for the first. Here, the technical stewards push the car by placing their hands on the rear wing, which then folds down. A little, but it folds. When the technical stewards notice the strange phenomenon, the checks begin immediately.
In the end, as always, it turns out that everything is fine, that under the thrust the aileron was only slightly deformed. Senna remains in his place and qualifying ends with the Brazilian driver setting a time of 1'26"010, with Prost following with a time of 1'26"235. Mansell is over a second and a half. Ferrari is no longer scary. After the rehearsals, Ayrton comments:
"I'm at the fifth pole position at Imola, the fifth out of five races, it seems to me that this is already a very important result. I set the time almost immediately, and without special tires. When I put those tires on, there was too much traffic. We could still improve. But speaking of improvements, I realize now that I didn't have to settle for the record so quickly. I wasted, without insisting with the utmost determination, almost half an hour of testing. A real driver doesn't have to relax. My car is better than Rio's. In Rio, however, I could have won, if it hadn't been for that accident with Berger. Here I can win, having a race in the lead, of course".
Prost, after recording his time on normal tires, comments:
"In the race we will lap them, other than Ferrari's miracles. With full tanks I think I am worth Senna, that is to start on par with him, even if in practice he was slightly better than me. I was able to do only two and a half laps without traffic. I was going to the maximum when they put the red flag for a Sala's off-track. I think, during the race, I will never stop to change tires".
A few health problems are certainly not enough to stop it:
"Yes, I have a bit of a stomach ache, I think it is an excess of fruit. I took measures, it should disappear in the night".
The only obstacle for Senna to overcome is the start. Considering his extraordinary race pace, once he has taken the measures in the first laps, it will be impossible to counter him for anyone, including Prost. Rock climbed with great ease when the traffic lights go out, when the French can only follow up and at the same time avoid being surprised by a strong Nigel Mansell, who tries to pass at the first braking of the Tosa, after having exploited all the wake of the McLaren running at full speed the bend of the Tamburello.
Nothing done for the British, consequently after the first stages of the race the leading positions remain unchanged. But on the fourth lap, Berger's Ferrari crashes into the barriers at the Tamburello at a speed of around 290 km/h.
After the violent impact caused by the collapse of the front wing, a radiator pierces the body in the area of the petrol tanks, and the Austrian's car suddenly catches fire, bringing to mind in no time at all the terrible accident that involved Niki Lauda.
Fortunately, especially thanks to the immediate intervention of the firefighters, who put out the fire in less than twenty seconds, Berger comes out of the accident with only a broken rib and burns on his hands, which force him to a month off.
The race is logically interrupted, and only after the driver has taken the necessary care and precautions out of the cockpit, can one breathe a sigh of relief. The next day, Ayrton will call Gerhard to find out how he is. Berger, still shaken by the accident, confides to Ayrton:
"We have to remove that fucking wall, it's too dangerous".
But, as Gerhard will later tell, when the two return to the Imola track to carry out tests:
"Ayrton looked behind the wall and saw that there was a river and he said...we can't move it, behind there is a river. We looked at each other and we agreed. So I told Ayrton: we can't do anything but surely someone will leave their mark on this curve".
After the accident of his teammate, Mansell, who was visibly affected, is not in the best psychological condition to race. Also because, like him, many drivers immediately realize that the crash was caused by a mechanical failure, and therefore question the quality of safety that the Imola circuit can offer in the event of sudden mechanical failures. Yet, despite the general feeling of dismay and fear, it was decided to give the race a new start.
The most important event of the day and the history that binds Alain and Ayrton takes place immediately after the second start, at Tosa. At the second start Prost sprints better than his teammate, but to Alain's surprise, the two are paired, and without thinking twice Senna pulls a great braking and is back in the lead.
The rest of Prost's race is a mixture of different emotions, ranging from the fury of the first laps when he tries to return the favor to his teammate in vain, passing through the frustration of not being able to maintain his race pace due to problems with the tires and for the spin that sees him protagonist while he was in the lapping phase, up to the awareness of having lost this battle. As expected by himself, McLaren laps everyone at Imola.
In fact, Senna gives at least one lap to all the drivers in the race with the exception of Prost, who crosses the finish line forty seconds after his teammate. Ayrton wins his fifteenth career race, the first of the season, necessary to leave behind permanently the unfortunate performance in the home track. After the race, Alain is unable to hide his disappointment, so much so that he tugs his teammate into the finish area:
"I'm not speaking today. In fact, I'm not even going to the podium and I'm not going to attend the usual press conference".
Prost says, returning to the pits by foot, very dark in the face, and walking briskly to disperse the reporters. Then he changes his mind and takes the podium, where he only allows himself a smile when Nannini is unable to uncork the champagne.
However, he remains of his idea and does not show up in the press room, getting a fine of 5.000 dollars. The French justifies himself by stating clearly that in these cases it is better not to speak. The only thing that is easy to understand is that Prost is furious as he has never been seen before. Shortly after, the French rider dictates to the Honda press officer a dry official statement about the race, through which he declares:
"The car was perfect. Unfortunately, a bubble formed in the left front tire and this caused problems, culminating in a spin in front of the pits with which I lost any chance to hang up Senna".
Prost later confides in a friend, with whom he cannot restrain himself and reveals:
"They did not respect the team instructions".
Ayrton, for his part, enjoys his first success of the season, and comments on what happened calmly:
"What did they expect me to do? We were practically paired, to stay behind him at that point I would have to take my foot off the gas, we weren't at the braking point yet. And I'm a driver. I'm happy because everyone already gave me up for dead. At the first start I had no problems, in the second Alain overtook me but I was able to remedy immediately. The car was well balanced. However I had small difficulties with the brakes and with the second gear. Otherwise everything was fine, apart from the fact that Prost's car had a better top speed. It was still a very tight race even though we had considerable advantages. Also in Monte Carlo in the next race I expect a great battle. However, I must say that our car has improved dramatically in just a few days".
Ron Dennis, perhaps the only one who truly has a big smile in his capacity as McLaren manager, says:
"Both drivers pushed hard from start to finish. And this is evident from the number of fast laps set. As usual they didn't have team orders. It is clear that I am excited to start from Imola with fifteen more points for the manufacturers".
The British manager has to let go smiles and enthusiasm: he has to deal with an angry Prost, who feels betrayed by Senna's attack, who bypassing him shortly after the start has not respected a pact they had made before the start of the race and which provided that the two drivers would maintain their positions after the start, in order to avoid accidents following the one that had compromised the Senna race in Rio:
"Team orders were not respected".
Thunders Alain at Dennis's address. The following week, during a test carried out in Pembrey, the team principal tries to convince both drivers to re-establish the rules, locking himself with both of them in the team minibus. Prost does not utter a single word, and only listens; Ayrton refuses to apologize and indeed says that he overtook Prost exiting the trajectory at the Villeneuve curve, therefore not contravening the agreements that provided for not exceeding braking at Tosa. It takes about twenty minutes for the Brazilian to understand that he is wrong.
A few days later, Alain gives an interview to L'Équipe, in which he defines, among other things, Ayrton as a dishonest man. Senna pretends to apologize, but at the same time cuts off all relations with the French. It is the beginning of the war.
The hustle and bustle following the Imola Grand Prix is heavy: two weeks later, we arrive in Monaco for the third round of the World Championship, and Prost seems to have not yet quenched his anger over the crime that took place at the Grand Prix of San Marino, firmly reiterating its intentions to conclude any kind of relationship with his teammate.
A concept that is reinforced by Ayrton himself, all while Ron Dennis, in a press conference held on Thursday, confirms that he was unaware of the tacit non-attack agreement between the two shortly before the start, but states that the differences between its drivers have been resolved and ensures total harmony within the team:
"There was an agreement between the two pilots that we were not aware of. For safety reasons they had established that whoever took the best way would not be attacked immediately. Senna admitted he was wrong and apologized. Now on no more episodes of this kind will happen because we will be informed of everything. I reiterate that we never give team orders on the competitive behavior of the drivers, the only exception concerns the return to the pits to change tires, in which the one in the lead takes precedence. Everything is over and we start all over again, serenely".
It is instead of a completely different thought Prost, who the following day, Friday 5 May 1989, lets himself go to a bitter outburst with the French radio commentators:
"Something broke and definitely, unfortunately, because Ayrton is a dishonest. I've been racing in Formula 1 for many years now, I've changed teams, I've changed teammates and I've always felt good with everyone because I've always favored human relationships which for me are a fundamental thing, at the basis of everything, work or not working. Which is why everything is over between him and me, everyone goes his own way. It is obvious that, being a professional, I will take McLaren's interests into account. On a personal level, however, it is as if we were in two different teams".
For Alain, relations with Senna have been definitively broken and there is nothing left to mend. Alain and Ayrton now can no longer catch even a fleeting glance:
"It was he who proposed that pact of non-aggression to me: we try to get rid of our opponents without going crazy among ourselves, without risky overtaking and then we play the race. I said it was fine, it seemed a reasonable thing. I behaved in Imola, then all of a sudden I see him slipping between me and the turn and away like a hare. Of course I am angry, he was not honest on his part and for me honesty is something that comes first than all the others. He is also a repeat offender because after failing to fulfil a pact of honor he denied for days and days that he had broken his word and I regretted this even more. I feel betrayed by a person I believed to be a friend, loyal, honest, clean. That's why I say that from now on nothing will be the same again. Everyone for himself, I'll take care to stay there and adjust the machine with precision and then realize that he copies everything I do. Go your own way".
For the rest of the season, during the briefings with Gordon Murray and the two respective engineers, Steve Nichols and Neil Oatley, the conversations will be rather ambiguous: Senna asks Oatley, Prost's engineer, about their car, and at the same time Alain addresses only to Nichols; there will never be more than a good morning between them.
As Honda has been doing for a few months, Ron Dennis also takes Senna's defense, and minimizes both what happened at Imola and what happened in the following days. Inside the paddock, on the other hand, doubts about Ayrton's personality return, although he is a very fast driver, he is seen as a touchy, vindictive and unscrupulous person.
The common thought is that he treasured many lessons that helped him mature, but many pilots still consider him someone to keep away, even one to be wary of, that not even coexistence with a mild and experienced pilot like Prost has changed. At the same time, in the home of the only team hoping to threaten McLaren's hegemony, that is Ferrari, the case concerning the nose of Berger's Ferrari breaks out, a story that is in some ways hilarious and that continues to keep everyone in suspense.
An in-depth weekly publishes the photos of this find that was allegedly stolen in Imola after the accident, and sent to the newspaper. For an unknown photographer from the province of Rieti, this thief is very good: the photos are perfect, taken in the studio, with an exceptional lamp park and very expensive lenses.
Obviously, Ferrari is very irritated by this story of the thief, by the overly professional images and by the fact that the find, if viewed by the Ferrari technicians, could provide useful information.
But above all, Ferrari asks itself a question: if the technicians of that newspaper have only seen the photos, how do they say that the piece broke due to micro-yielding of the carbon, given that only the tests on the scrap can provide this information? In addition, a mysterious video even appears captured by the closed circuit cameras of Imola showing the front wing of Berger's Ferrari bent, torn, twisted.
No one therefore manages to find peace, wants to know the causes of the accident that involved Berger, and the most worried are logically the drivers, even those of other teams, who, not being able to know the causes of the bang, fear that the same failure could happen even on their cars. Even in Montecarlo there is no lack of funny situations.
On Friday, Carolina di Monaco and her husband Stefano manage to enter the paddock only after having struggled with the entrance controls, as they do not have a card. The commissioner in charge of control does not want to intercede with the two nobles, until an employee of the automobile club arrives and pushes the commissioner away by the arm, telling him:
"You're crazy, it's the princess herself".
Thus, Carolina enters and makes her tour in the various stables, but in many of them she is forced to turn offshore, since the revived Berger is visiting, whom everyone is scrambling to greet by giving him a big slap on the back, seen that no one can shake his burned hands.
During the first hour of practice, Ayrton immediately puts himself in first position, with Prost in half a second; the Frenchman had a problem with the gearbox and went straight to the Sainte Devote with the tires flat, so he was unable to defend himself until the end.
What worries the competition is that Senna and Prost were able to afford this head-to-head duel without allowing interference, also because the Honda engine (in the Principality the Japanese have a special version, three kilos lighter and tailor-made for this race) showed frightening power. While taking into account that the speed performance also depends on the aerodynamic solutions, just to give an example, Senna was timed at 271 km/h after the tunnel and Prost at 249 km/h on the finish line in acceleration. On the same cells, in its fastest passage, Mansell's Ferrari passed at 254 and 237 km/h respectively.
An abyss, which explains the reason for the gap of more than a second.
"Today I drove very well, the automatic gearbox that was supposed to give me an unbridgeable advantage here in Monte Carlo worked wonderfully, but they are always ahead, very far ahead".
The day ends with a summit in a small motorboat offshore, between the lawyer Gianni Agnelli, who arrived suddenly in Montecarlo in the afternoon, Cesare Fiorio, Nigel Mansell and John Barnard. In the meantime, the convalescent Berger reaches the pits, after having walked down the circuit from his home, passing through the tunnel.
"What nostalgia. How I would have liked to be in the fray. I'm sure I would have done something good. Of course, seen from the outside, they go crazy".
The Ferrari driver did not lose his good humor, leaving the rehabilitation center where he is trying to recover after the accident in Imola:
"The burns don't make me suffer too much. It is the shoulder and rib fractures that are so painful that it is difficult for me to rest. But I am increasingly convinced that I will be able to get back on track in Mexico City".
Then speaking of the results on the track, Gerhard admits:
"Ferrari is the only one close to McLaren. I hope Mansell wins, in fact I will cheer for him. What happened made me understand how loved this team is. I never thought I would receive many greetings, telegrams, visits. As for the race, it is clear that Senna and Prost have again difficult cars to beat".
The Austrian driver then joked with the mechanics and the fans present in the pits, having himself photographed with his hands the nose of the car. But he did not want to go back to the causes of the accident, claiming that he did not have new elements to understand something more. Archived episode.
On Saturday the story does not change: Senna records an unstoppable time for everyone (1'22"308), including Prost who stops a second away (1'23"456). Mansell is only fifth, at over two and a half seconds, also due to the lack of confidence that the Lion of England has in his Ferrari.
The reason goes back to Thursday, at the fastest point of the Monegasque track, Nigel suddenly found himself with a broken suspension, while on Saturday morning, during free practice, his car suffered a disturbing break in the front wing. A break that re-proposes the theme of the problem Berger had in Imola, and reopens disturbing questions.
Thankfully, unlike Berger, Nigel didn't hit a wall; he returned to the pits, not a little upset about what had happened. For him, the success at Jacarepaguà on March 26th already seems a distant memory. At least Martin Brundle at the wheel of Brabham deserves a mention, who, having escaped elimination in pre-qualifying by only twenty-one thousandths, gets a remarkable fourth place to be exploited on race day.
At McLaren, facing the break between Alain and Ayrton, at the end of qualifying the Brazilian driver is surrounded by journalists, beautiful women looking for photography, gendarmes, mechanics, so much so that at a certain point it seems that everyone is really there. Prost, who is tracked down by a French journalist in the darkness of the box:
"Senna is not an extraterrestrial. His time is within my reach too. He starts with an advantage on me at the first corner, so he is the favorite. If he makes the slightest mistake, I overtake him. And then, I swear, I won't let him pass me again".
For his part, Ayrton comments:
"We have two formidable cars, treated in the same way, with the same engines, the same chassis. If I go faster than Prost, and I go faster, this means that in life I can do something better than him".
Shortly before the start of the race, Ayrton asks the technicians to change the rear springs, not being convinced of having the right set-up. A winning move, given that at the start the Brazilian maintains command of the race ahead of Prost.
The two McLaren drivers remain in this order throughout the race, despite the gearbox problems that occur on the car of the reigning champion, who is forced to drive for most of the race without first gear, and subsequently without second, while behind him Alain is heavily influenced by the lappings - in particular that of his compatriot and hated Arnoux - more complicated than ever on such tracks, and by a tragicomic race accident that took place on lap 33, which involved de Cesaris and Piquet aboard a mediocre Lotus; in fact, in an attempt to carry out the maneuver on the Brazilian, de Cesaris at the wheel of the Dallara throws himself inside, but is closed by Piquet.
The two remain stationary in the middle of the Loews and argue animatedly while remaining inside their cockpit, and forcing the pilots behind them also to reverse maneuvers to slip into the crack left open, and thus be able to resume their race. Among these there is also the disconsolate Prost, who in this circumstance loses about twenty of the total fifty seconds that divide him from Senna at the end of the race. Senna, after losing the victory a few laps from the finish due to a drop in concentration in the previous edition, wins comfortably in front of his rival, reaching him in the championship.
Forgetting all protocols, the entire ruling family, Prince Ranieri, daughter Carolina with her husband Stefano Casiraghi and little son, pours champagne from the podium, as he did in 1987. He did not spare, such was his irrepressible joy, not even the President Balestre, who at the end of the revelry was nervously cleaning his blue jacket.
Once off the podium, he lets himself go for a passionate kiss towards his girlfriend Xuxa, before giving her the Goodyear hat that she must always wear on her head by contract.
The celebrations then continued in the evening in the palace on the rock of Monte Carlo, where the traditional Grand Gala was celebrated. Senna and Prost submitted to the usual questions, smiling and even apparently made peace, so much so that they even gave each other a handshake:
"Today it wasn't meant to be that I could bother Senna. My teammate has always been more aggressive than me in overtaking. And I think that made the difference. Of course my friend Arnoux made me big. Maybe I could have kept in touch with Senna. But after a few laps I took twenty seconds in a pile of cars where the gearbox went into neutral. It wasn't meant to be this time that I could give Ayrton a little more trouble".
Alain summarizes his day thus, while Ayrton declares:
"It was a nice and painful victory because I had a lot of problems. In the first laps my car seemed not to be well balanced. I was struggling to keep Prost at bay. Then there were the overtakings that allowed me to conquer a good advantage, but there were other troubles. First gear broke down and I had to make the three tight corners in second. Then the second one also jumped. And I had to grit my teeth, adapt to a terrible ride so as not to make people understand that I was in trouble. In short, it was tough until the end, so much so that I had terrible pains and cramps in my leg. Winning in Monte Carlo is always a good goal, a threshold. But above all I am comforted by the fact that McLaren did well and strong even on a slow circuit. This is the demonstration that the race in Rio de Janeiro where Ferrari had won gave a result that did not correspond to reality".
The Brazilian is echoed by engineer Osamu Goto, technical manager of Honda engines:
"It was a perfect race even though the naughty Senna and Prost lapped faster than expected. In spite of this they didn't use all the gas we calculated to use".
With the exception of the second McLaren, all the other drivers who cross the finish line are lapped: third place Stefano Modena, on his first podium in Formula 1, is within one lap; all the others are even two laps later. Senna's overwhelming dominance is embarrassing to say the least, but is questioned by the race direction until late afternoon; the cause is the investigation that took place on the rear wing of the McLaren.
As had already happened in Imola, at the technical checks the commissioners paused for a long time on the rear wing of the two English cars, while someone, in the meantime, was sent for Ron Dennis, who was questioned by the FISA men. An alarming press release attests after the race:
"The ranking must be considered provisional".
The commissioners - gathered in a room - at 7:20 pm, when more than an hour had passed since the end of the race, discuss for a while, but in the end they formalize Senna's victory. Meanwhile, Ron Dennis continues his attempt to overcome the controversy between his two drivers, and declares to the press:
"Here we live as in a marriage, it succeeds well when husband and wife have a common interest to pursue. This concept applies to everyone here, you can even argue and it doesn't matter if the common interest remains. Understood? all and all for one. Those who don't fit in can sit at the exit".
And on the probable farewell of Prost, a possibility that now seems to be taking seriously, Dennis replies:
"In Brazil I told him I wanted an answer very soon, he has not given it to me yet and I am contacting all the top drivers who will be free on the market. If Prost goes away we will take one of his caliber, it is not part of our philosophy to have a good driver and a half".
The Hermanos Rodrìguez racetrack hosts the Mexican Grand Prix, three weeks later, there is no shadow of probable peace treaties, in spite of the harmony desired by Dennis. As told by McLaren coordinator and manager, Jo Ramirez, it is this weekend that a television reporter asks him to organize a joint interview with Senna and Prost, an ideal opportunity to try to bring the two together.
Too bad that nothing is done about it, especially because of Ayrton's reluctance, in this case. Between one refusal and the other to make peace with the neighbour in the box, everything on the track suggests another pole and another victory for the Brazilian, who on Friday manages to outpace Prost by more than a second, and Ferrari by two seconds and two and a half, respectively the ones of Mansell and Berger, setting off to conquer his thirty-third pole position, thus beating Jim Clark's record that has stood for many years.
On Saturday it changes little: Ferrari comes close to McLarens, but the gap remains one second and three tenths, while Prost is eight tenths of a second.
"I always try to be competitive, I like it and I always accept the challenge with anyone. The records come later, they are the consequence of this education, of this philosophy that marked my life since I was a child".
While still behind the McLarens, Gerhard Berger over the weekend praises the semi-automatic gearbox adopted by his team, which allows him to make the various gear changes directly from the steering wheel since, according to him, with a manual gearbox equal to the rest of the competition, in his condition following the Imola accident he would not have been able to compete. Meanwhile, however, Ferrari discovers that the car designed by Barnard weighs too much, it seems at least twenty kilos more than the regulatory minimum, but it is not known whether due to the reinforcements they had to make to the chassis after the Berger accident, or simply by the engine.
The Professor has to come up with something in the race to try to reverse a trend that currently sees him as a loser, consequently for the race he decides to mount the Goodyear C tire compound, which is the softer one, unlike Senna who opts for the compound B, slower but more durable.
Earning this nickname because of his excellent strategic vision, The Professor's goal is to make the most of his kinder driving style towards the tires, and gain the same in terms of speed compared to Senna.
Senna is the author of a masterful start, regardless of the fact that he started on the dirty side, and is closely followed by Mansell and Prost. But a carom in the middle of the group involving Modena and Grouillard forces the race direction to display the red flag and stop the action on the track.
All to be redone, but this does not annoy Ayrton, who makes another perfect start. Compared to the first, Prost is also attentive this time and maintains his second position, followed by a convincing Berger who instead overtakes Mansell, who fails at the sprint and only fourth, ahead of the two Williams of Patrese and Boutsen.
In the early stages of the race Prost makes full use of his soft tires and heels Senna, but he is never really close enough to worry him and thus launch his attack; on the long straight of the Mexican track the McLaren with the number one seems to have more, and here is the first element to feed the paranoia of those who drive the McLaren with the number two this year. Alain gets impatient, gives everything he has and the management of tires are affected. Suddenly, Prost loses several positions. An early pit stop is therefore necessary.
At the time of the tire change, his mechanics once again mount soft tires on the car, rather than fitting the harder ones foreseen by the strategy; Prost's doubts, anger and paranoia no longer have brakes, dictated by the frustration of a compromised race that condemns him to a miserable fifth place finish, again, for the second time in a row, more than fifty seconds behind his rival and race winner.
Senna wins, indeed, dominates in front of Patrese and Alboreto and puts in a row three wins, Imola, Monaco and Mexico; he is the new leader at 27 points, with Prost now chasing him at an altitude of twenty.
A race conditioned by tires, as also admitted by Ayrton:
"In fact, the race was played before the start, when it came to mounting the tires. Prost opted for the softer ones which were obviously faster, but also slippery. I adopted a safety solution and it went well".
The public apologies made by Dennis after the race are not enough:
"Alain risked wanting more tender tires. But we made a mistake when he stopped to put only the harder left front. We should have done it for the rear as well. This mistake caused the second stop".
Alain is furious and launches the first of many accusations over the course of the season against his team, claiming to have been equipped with a less performing engine than his teammate, the only plausible explanation in his opinion for the difference in speed on the straight:
"It was a bad race, I couldn't do more with the tires in crisis".
But that's not all. In the evening, after reflecting on what happened, Prost insists, and accuses Honda of favoritism towards his teammate:
"I realized that the Japanese manufacturer has been using different and more powerful engines in Senna's car since the beginning of the year. There is nothing to be done: Ayrton passes me as he wants even on the straight, even in races like this one in which I chose softer tires and therefore better performance. He is very good, but a decisive help comes from the engine".
The attempt to reconstruct a very delicate situation comes at a moment of particular tension between Prost and McLaren: Ron Dennis, in fact, has imposed a date on the driver by which to let them know if he intends to stay for next year or if he wishes to leave.
In short, McLaren dominates far and wide on the track, but the management of its two drivers has some difficulties. After the turbulent Mexican Grand Prix, Formula 1 lands in the United States, on the Phoenix street circuit. After acknowledging the allegations of favoritism against Senna, Ron Dennis convenes a press conference to explain positions, truths and so on.
"The engines are perfectly the same, indeed all the material we have is equally divided among our drivers. Honda has assured us that there are no differences. After all, what advantage would we have in favoring one or the other? McLaren has to win. And I'm sorry the team wasn't perfect in Mexico. We made mistakes changing tires on Prost's car and we wasted precious time too. It won't have to happen again".
Ayrton, who evidently feels called into question, has his say:
"If I can tell the truth, this history of engines does not stand up. In order not to be biased, Honda extracts the engines before the race. Just with the tickets, like in a lottery. So how could anyone be favored?"
But Alain couldn't help but reply to these words, so he blurts out:
"It is true that there is a draw. But what is it for if it takes place on Thursday evening? We all know that the engines are the same. Performance, however, is conditioned by the electronic mappings, that is, by the programs that are inserted into the ECUs that manage the engines. This is why if you want you can increase or decrease the power and efficiency at will. To avoid any manipulation, the cars should be pulled out on the starting line. And it is impossible because there would be no more time to fine-tune them, according to the pilot's needs".
On Friday, even on an unknown track, Senna is the fastest of all in the first practice session, trailing Prost by a second and a half, while Mansell is in third place and Berger is only eleventh: to justify this bad placement, the fact that the Austrian got into the car weakened by a violent bout of dysentery following food poisoning.
The refrain may seem obvious, but it is Senna and Prost who are starting from the front row in Phoenix, after that even during Saturday's qualifying the Brazilian, while failing to improve Friday's time, maintains the second and a half advantage over Prost who risked too much and was reduced to race with the forklift, as in the morning he crashed into a wall and rendered his main car unusable. The McLaren then kicks off without a spare car.
Meanwhile, the organizers realize that they have miscalculated, it is in fact impossible to cover the eighty laps scheduled in just two hours, so it is decided that at the end of the maximum regulatory time (precisely two hours) the checkered flag will be waved.
The start sees Senna make the pace easily, finishing the first lap ahead of Prost, Nannini, Mansell, Caffi and Modena. Ayrton immediately gains a small margin over his teammate, but then begins to be slowed down by technical problems and at lap 34 he gives way, returning to the pits; the Brazilian permanently retires ten laps later.
Prost therefore finds himself in the lead ahead of Caffi, who in turn took advantage of Mansell's retirement, stopped due to an alternator problem, to move to second position, before the 40th lap the Dallara driver is overtaken by Berger, only to return to the pits and retire on lap 53, due to a contact with his teammate. In the meantime, Berger also left the scene, also stopped by the alternator like Mansell; then the second place thus passes into the hands of Riccardo Patrese.
Prost leads the race to the end, crossing the finish line in first position at the stroke of the second hour, after having covered seventy-five laps of the expected eighty, and taking advantage of Senna's retirement, he leaps to the top of the drivers' standings with 29 points, plus two on the Brazilian.
In Canada, after five consecutive pole positions by Senna, on Friday Prost unexpectedly broke the monopoly of his teammate, taking the provisional pole with an advantage of just seven cents over the other McLaren. The positions remain unchanged on Saturday, as the strong wind irreparably dirties the asphalt of the Montreal circuit.
"The gusty wind was very strong, especially in the straight, it was useless to try to beat the times on Friday. The greatest difficulties were in the part of the circuit full of curves: the wind took the cars sideways causing them to skid in an often dangerous way, the control was very hard".
He supports the poleman at the end of qualifying. But how is it possible that the Professor, after so many beats in qualifying, manages to prevail over Senna in the flying lap? Well, after the Monaco Grand Prix, Ayrton had collaborated with Hiro Teramoto, and together they had developed the Showa shock absorbers. This had become Senna's secret weapon, until in Canada Steve Nichols, by mistake, mounts the shock absorbers destined for Senna on Prost's car, which magically conquers the Pole Position. Ayrton, when he realizes it, clasps his hands around Teramoto's neck, and only Nichols's intervention manages to avoid the worst.
Therefore, Alain does not deny that his decisions, which he will announce the following week, and which, according to him, would not have undergone changes following these momentary successes: the idea is to change team. The Canadian qualifications saw the disappointment of Ferrari, always hoping to get closer to the two McLarens: in the starting order, however, they come after Prost, Senna and also Patrese.
"During practice I had a sharp drop in power on the engine, after all it was the reserve car with a slightly tired engine. However, I am very confident for the race. Fuel consumption will be one of the dominant reasons for today's race".
Mansell declares at the end of qualifying. Unfortunately, even on Sunday, Nigel's trust will be betrayed. On race day, it starts raining in the morning, so the race starts with the track still wet. Mansell and Nannini try the chance and return to the pits at the end of the formation lap to mount slick tires, but the two leave the pit lane too soon, before the rest of the group has started, thus being disqualified. Berger, on the other hand, stops on lap six for trouble at the gearbox.
In Montreal there is also a disaster for the Anglo-Japanese cars: the first to leave the scene is Prost, who has to retire already during the second lap due to the breaking of a suspension; shortly after, many drivers began to fit dry tires and Patrese, who remained on the track with the wet tyres, found himself in the lead ahead of Boutsen, Senna, Alliot and Warwick.
A choice that pays off, because a few minutes later it starts raining again, and those who changed tires must return to the pits again: Patrese thus gains a good advantage over his pursuers, led by Warwick and the surprising Larini.
However, Senna began to recover quickly: overtaking Larini (forced to retire shortly after due to technical problems), he then took advantage of Patrese's tire change to move into second position, overtaking Warwick during the thirty-ninth lap and returning to the lead.
The Brazilian continues to lead up to three laps from the end, when he has to resoundingly retire due to an engine failure. Then the Belgian Thierry Boutsen took the lead, taking his first career victory in front of his teammate Patrese. At the end of the race, with great bitterness, Ayrton, convinced that he has the victory in hand, confesses:
"The engine crashed suddenly, I didn't even have the chance to realize it. The race has been very difficult as I also had problems with the left rear tire which was abnormally worn. And also I had to drive with one hand on the gear lever because the gears tended to go out. It was a bad blow for me. However, I will have a chance to recover soon".
The disaster on Canadian soil has stirred the waters in Ferrari, given that Ferrari has never finished a race after Mansell's success in Rio de Janeiro: first of all there is talk of a possible replacement of John Barnard with Enrique Scalabroni, an Italian engineer who worked in the shadow of Patrick Head, Williams chief designer; secondly, the engineer Gianfranco Carmigiani of Marelli is hired, with the aim of solving the many electronic problems; thirdly, it is assumed that Gerhard Berger will be fired this week, albeit reluctantly, given that to imitate Mansell, the Austrian has asked for mind-boggling figures and no longer wants to carry out tests, which the Ferrari, on the other hand, needs a lot to get out of the inferiority situation in comparison with McLaren.
In reality, these requests are all a palliative to free himself from Ferrari, because Berger has taken it into his head that McLaren is the team for him, he just waits for Prost to decide to leave. He does not imagine that, once an agreement with Ron Dennis is reached, he will take memorable blows from Senna.
But who will replace Berger in Ferrari? There is talk of young and aggressive Italian drivers, and the only probable candidate seems to be Nicola Larini, who in Montreal did an excellent race at the wheel of the Osella.
Due to the climate that has arisen, having arrived in France for the Paul Ricard Grand Prix, Prost sweeps away the doubts and decides to communicate to the press that in 1990 he would no longer race for McLaren, despite the previous days Marlboro attempts to everything to dissuade him from this idea. Jo Ramirez also tries to the last, but Alain doesn't want to change his mind:
"I don't think we could still work together. Unlike Ayrton, I'm not obsessed with winning. I've won a lot and still want to win, but I don't want to die doing it. I love my profession, but I want to have fun. And I don't enjoy myself anymore working with Ayrton".
This decision does not distract him from issues on the track, and during qualifying he gives himself the second pole position of the season, as if to remind everyone that the championship is still open, that the show promises well, that he will fight until the end of the season. Beaten by just twenty-five thousandths, Senna in spite of everything declares:
"Chassis, engine, aerodynamics, everything was perfect and I also found a good lap".
Third place Mansell, after Ferrari dreamed for almost three quarters of an hour of being able to take pole. After having covered 4800 kilometers of tests in a month with a car that had covered a tenth in six months, and finding certain defects that Barnard did not even want to discuss, Cesare Fiorio finally smiles again. The gap between Mansell and Prost this time is reduced to two tenths and if we consider that we are racing on a fast track, all this takes on greater significance:
"We are still missing something, but that will come too".
The good Cesare says optimistic. At the start Senna starts better than his teammate, taking the lead; further back, however, Gugelmin comes into contact with Mansell and Boutsen and his car overturns. The race is immediately suspended and a second starting procedure is organized. This time Prost maintains the first position, while Senna already retires during the first passage due to a transmission problem; Berger, Nannini and Capelli then enter behind the Frenchman, but all of them are forced to abandon the race due to technical problems that also occur on their cars.
Alain leads alone to the finish line, winning for the second consecutive time, in front of Mansell, author of a brilliant comeback after starting from the pits, Patrese, Jean Alesi, making his debut with the Tyrrel in place of Michele Alboreto, Johansson leading to the Onyx the first points of his history and Grouillard, who scored points for the only time in his career. At the end of the race, Ayrton very calmly comments on the technical problem, saying:
"There are road accidents that happen. In Formula 1, mechanical failure is always lurking. The gearbox in second gear got stuck and I stood still like a fool. Without transmission. I think it was certainly the shortest race in my entire career. The world championship? It is still long, we are at the beginning".
Prost is in the mood for pleasantries, who strangely after the race had words of comfort for his teammate:
"If there had been Ayrton it would have been much tougher. I still had a perfect car, in everything. The gearbox is currently McLaren's Achilles heel. But starting from the next race, that is, from Friday at Silverstone, we will have the new one, transversal, which should make us more competitive and solve problems. Senna is someone who treats gears rather roughly and that is why he happens to have problems. This was a double joy, winning for the second consecutive time at home. I showed however that, even though I announced that I will no longer race with McLaren in 1990, my determination is always the same, the desire to win the fight for the title is still long. Certainly winning on a day in which my biggest opponent, Senna, ran out of steam, is worth double. But he still boasts one more victory and that counts a lot. I had an even greater advantage than the current eleven points at this point of the season. Then he put in a series of statements that put me down".
Then comes the jab to the team:
"Have you noticed that when they give me the right engines I'm not that slow?"
A joke, the latter, to make it clear to Honda that not all is forgotten and that he expects equal treatment for the rest of the championship as well.
Finally he adds:
"In 1988 the title fight was a private matter between me and Senna. And Ayrton ultimately prevailed not for the highest score but for the higher number of wins. I had to discard some placings. Now, out of seven races, two already escaped us. One went to Mansell, the other to Boutsen. If we were to finish the season with this average, maybe even the second places would have a weight. And at that point I would have advantages".
"For my part, I will have to do my best to win other races, at least two or three. The undertaking is hard but not impossible. And I believe that Mansell could be the right man to put a spoke in the wheel at Senna, if Ferrari it will provide him with a competitive vehicle. In any case, a challenge with the participation of a greater number of competitors will be better for me than another head-to-head. Senna is a champion, one who goes very fast, who has learned a lot and quickly. But I wouldn't talk about fear. Ever since I complained about Honda engines in Mexico, on equal terms I have taken two consecutive pole positions. It's a coincidence? He had bad luck? I don't know. The only certain thing is that I beat him, even if by very little. And the confidence has returned to accompany me, I feel I can play an excellent championship, more motivated than ever".
"There is no need to repeat it, he is very fast. However, not all evils could be due only to bad luck. He is one who demands the maximum from the car. He does not spare it. So the engine may have given way in Canada because it has been overstretched by Ayrton in the pursuit of which he had been the protagonist. In France the gearbox gave way at the second start, after Senna shot off like a bolt of lightning in the first, without any savings. Among other things, I understood how he managed to be in front. For me he must have stolen a bit, anticipating the green light by a fraction of a second. In any case, he uses the gears like a madman. In part, the breakdown could also have occurred because of his fault".
Prost extends in the standings, reaching thirty eight points against his teammate's twenty seven, while remaining in a team that he is sure he will leave at the end of the year, and which he hopes will not row against him from here on. On the other hand, Ron Dennis said that anyone who did not want to stay was free to leave, and Prost took him at his word. Friday July 14, 1989, at 11:00 am, Ron Dennis confirms that starting from next season, Gerhard Berger will join Ayrton Senna:
"We are happy that Gerhard joined our team. His presence reinforces our strategy of always having two drivers capable of winning the world championship. Honda and McLaren clearly want to continue with the policy of providing both drivers the same material and technical support".
The Austrian driver, very happy, after having signed a contract for three years, with a salary of seven million dollars a year, comments:
"I wanted new motivations, different stimuli. I received a lot from Ferrari, I became famous, I was lucky enough to meet Enzo Ferrari. Beautiful, unforgettable moments. And I'm sure that Ferrari will be back on top. But it will take a while: a year, probably two. I'm in a hurry. I want to win the world championship, I signed up for the team that had the most success in recent years, and the team that has Senna, today the strongest driver. A bit of bad luck deprived me of good results. But I will go away as a friend, I hope, without slamming the door. And I can assure you that until the end of the championship I will be a Ferrari driver and I will try to win with Ferrari".
The day before, Ferrari made it known that Berger would leave the team at the end of the year. A bit fatalistic, Ayrton takes the news with disdain, stating:
"Berger? One is as good as another. In Formula 1 everyone wants to win. Better a good driver than a car wrecker. Gerhard and I are more or less the same age and the same character. In any case, he is different from Prost".
At Silverstone, McLaren brings the much-talked-about transverse gearbox, with the oil tank incorporated into the fusion. But the lubrication system is not working properly: intermittently blue smoke comes out of the exhaust, and the engine shows signs of lack of oil.
McLaren runs for cover trying to test another car in Newbury, but the problem is not solved. The result is disastrous for the team's morale, as Senna stops with the engine in pieces on Saturday morning. Ayrton then argues furiously with Dennis, accusing him of favouritism and giving Alain a better tank. After this quarrel, McLaren still manages to solve the problem (after numerous attempts) and to provide both drivers with two reliable cars.
After his teammate has beaten him for two Grands Prix in a row, Senna obtained the sixth pole position of the season, ahead of Prost by just under two tenths of a second.
In the second row are the two Ferraris of Mansell and Berger, this time four and seven tenths apart respectively.
Another step back, but Cesare Fiorio, who by the Ferrari mechanics has been nicknamed Hollywood, for his dazzling look and the confidence with which he juggles on the set, despite the not excellent results, traces the road that, in his opinion, Maranello's car manufacturer must follow, and declares:
"Next year Ferrari will still race with this car and with the automatic transmission. The changes to the regulations are not such as to justify a new car. We will therefore continue with the development of the current car. As for the automatic transmission, it has made us accumulate a so valuable experience that it would be a shame to put it aside next year when it is reliable and profitable".
At the start of the race in Silverstone, Prost tries to undermine Senna, but the Brazilian closes him decisively, keeping the first position. Senna is therefore in the lead, but is forced to retire once again during the twelfth lap, when he leaves the track following a new problem with the new transverse gearbox. For Ayrton this is the fourth consecutive retirement.
Prost then takes the lead, ahead of Mansell, the two Williams drivers, Nannini and Piquet. Third win in a row never in question for Prost, who increases the gap over Senna in the general classification to twenty points; Ayrton must now begin to worry. With a faint voice, but with eyes bright with joy, Prost celebrates his 38th victory in Formula 1:
"It was very important to win here. We went through a weekend full of troubles. The mechanics and technicians finished working, for two evenings, at two in the morning, constantly modifying the car. For this reason I started with some doubts, but instead everything was fine. McLaren is an exceptional team, they know how to react impressively to all adversities. And this is perhaps their strength. Senna and I were very close. At the first corner he passed. Ask Mansell what happened, he was behind".
"Do you want to know what I felt when I saw the Brazilian spin and stop in the sand? Well, a great happiness, indeed a great feeling. For me he is a teammate but also the greatest rival for the world championship. I have never had, in my entire career, when I was fighting for the title, twenty points of margin. I think it is a big advantage, I will try to manage it well. Of course, now I have a great charge: three wins, three second places, a fifth, always at the top. I equalized the score with Senna who also obtained three wins, but he has no position in favor. Now he is forced to attack, to take risks and I can fight back well".
Ayrton, without obvious angry gestures, declares to the press:
"The gearbox betrayed me. From the start of the race I had a hard time entering third in the uphills. Four or five laps before the spin I was about to go off the track at the same point. It was at the Becketts corner where I was unable to enter the third. I couldn't take the corner in neutral, and so the car started at the rear and I went out. These things happen".
It seems absurd, but despite Ayrton immediately explaining what really happened during the race, in the following hours an incredible smear campaign is unleashed: in just one day the Brazilian, king of pole positions, the fastest of all, passes from altar to dust.
"This is the beginning of the parable of the champion".
Declares someone, paraphrasing a famous sentence by Enzo Ferrari.
"It's a bluff".
"Senna is tired, he can't stand the pressure he's under now".
Of course, five retirements out of eight races, the last two due to a broken gearbox, pushes many insiders to ask themselves: was it the car that gave way or was Ayrton wrong? Is the anxiety of making a void behind, of demonstrating that there is an abysmal difference between him and the others, betraying the Brazilian rider?
Of course, after these statements Ayrton seems to get nervous, but from here to say that it is already in the waning phase, that he has suddenly become a bin, it seems really exaggerated. In short, the usual hyperbole of the media. But one thing is certain: eight rounds of the world championship remain to be played and Senna will no longer be able to discard anything. Each retirement will cost him a score-placement less (the maximum is eleven) to calculate in the standings, and Prost, has more and more reasons to keep smiling.
Arriving in Germany, Ayrton immediately makes it clear what his intentions are:
"My goal is to win a second world championship helmet. And to achieve that I can't afford to look anyone in the face. Prost has more points than me, he placed well and won some races in which I was forced to retire. But that doesn't mean that I feel beaten. On the contrary, there are further incentives to go even faster".
For Ayrton, however, things go from bad to worse: first of all Armando Botelho, a kind of father-manager-adviser, is now gone, he is in a hospital in Sao Paulo and his destiny is uncertain. Senna feels terribly lonely and continues to look over his shoulder which remained uncovered. Even Xuxa is gone, the two are on a completely different path. In worldly Grand Prix, where there is always a prince at whose table to sit in evening dress, Xuxa ran from all over the world, but now, in Grand Prix without worldliness, without principles, without parties, Xuxa is no longer there. Right now that Ayrton would need humanity, comfort, even good advice, he is left alone. To cheer him up, his sister Viviane, who works as a psychologist by profession, comes from San Paolo: in the pits she can be seen walking around with a bible in her hand.
Perhaps it is for all these reasons that on Saturday morning, Ayrton goes off the track at around 200 km/h, performing for around 200 meters in a series of spectacular spins before hitting the rear of the McLaren the tire guards stacked, folding a thick guardrail. The car is not even much damaged, but Ayrton confides to his men in the pits that he has a bit of a headache.
This does not prevent him from leaving everyone behind in qualifying, even if he started twenty minutes from the end of practice because his car was not ready yet. With the thirty-sixth pole position conquered, distancing Alain by one second, Ayrton would have the obligation to go to the press room and report his considerations to the microphones, but surprisingly declares:
"I don't feel well, I'm not going to the press conference".
No one in the press room makes a big deal out of it, but FISA sends him a doctor for the tax visit, while Ayrton is in a tent, with a nice iced tea in hand, talking to Brazilian journalists; he's fined $ 10.000. Alain knows very well that Ayrton could make some mistakes due to pression, and a couple of mistakes would be fatal to the very fast Brazilian, already twenty points behind and no longer able to accumulate the eleven results allowed. So Alain decides to play on the thin thread of psychology:
"Senna is an extraordinary driver and in some cases there is nothing to do against him, at least as far as lap times are concerned. The important thing for me, therefore, is not to focus on qualifications but on races, where not only I can defend myself better but I feel I am not inferior to him with the same means. For some time, Honda has provided me with good engines, everything has gone well and is going well, I don't see why this should change. Tomorrow, obviously, Ayrton will do everything to leave me behind and get his fourth win of the season, which would be very useful for the classification. But I will sti to him like a shadow, ready to take advantage of favorable situations".
The weather could help Senna, as the sun and abnormal heat that reigns over Hockenheim on Fridays and Saturdays should turn into rain on Sundays. Senna would be happy because he has a great need to win and who has always been at ease in the wet, while Prost who wants everything except thorny situations would suffer.
For Ayrton, who arrived on the circuit for the rest of the race weekend, in addition to the pole conquered, there is also a curious victory obtained on the German roads to the detriment of the Italian journalist Nestore Morosini.
In fact, while the well-known Italian journalist is on the highway that leads from Heidelberg to Hockenheim at the wheel of a Thema with an eight-cylinder Ferrari V engine and a power of 240 horsepower, in front of him he sees a Honda 1.6 with Ayrton Senna at the wheel.
Nestore glances at Ayrton, smiles and greets him with his hand, before accelerating: it is an open challenge between the two. Convinced that he can win, before leaving for Hockenheim, Morosini finds himself in front of two overtaking trucks. Morosini queues up thinking that Ayrton certainly cannot pass inside a truck.
Morosini is happy and convinced of the idea of having beaten the reigning World Champion, when Ayrton passes very quickly to his right, slipping between the two trucks, touching them and disappears at the exit of Hockenheim. Over the ten kilometers of countryside, the Italian journalist has a nice chase on curves and curves, but reaching Senna is impossible. Then, when he arrives at the parking lot, Morosini parks his car and heads for the paddock, before he hears a voice behind him:
"Morozini, el campeon del mundo soy yo".
Morosini turns and sees Ayrton astride a fence, who has been waiting for him in the parking lot with a mocking smile on his face. The opponent waiting for him on the starting grid for the German race is slightly more difficult to beat than Morosini.
The starting grid seems to be an old cliché by now worn out. McLaren was born for the new transverse gearbox, so as long as it didn't work and a longitudinal gearbox was used in its place, things weren't going well, but now that the new gearbox works, McLaren is able to give it all its designers expected. And if at Silverstone, on a circuit of about four kilometers, Ferrari experienced a gap of less than a second, at Hockenheim, where the track is seven kilometers long, the gap could only increase in the absence of real technical progress, up to over one second and seven tenths.
Precisely for this abysmal gap, two engineers try to go, at the end of qualifying tests, inside the McLaren pits, but they come out rather hastily. Everything languishes in Ferrari even on the front of the new driver who will take Berger's place. We continue to talk about the usual Patrese, Modena, Larini, Capelli, but Ferrari decides to postpone the announcement until after Monza.
On Sunday, at the start of the race, Berger tries to undermine the two McLarens, but is overtaken again without too much difficulty by both Senna and Prost. The Brazilian maintains the lead until the tire change, but his pit stop is quite long and for this reason he loses the first position to the advantage of his teammate for just three seconds.
Previously, Prost entered the pits to change tires when he was one second behind his teammate, and exited the pit lane twenty-eight seconds behind. After his slow pit stop, Ayrton lost the lead in favor of Alain, the new leader by 3"2. From that moment the two engage in a head-to-head duel that inflames the race.
Prost grits his teeth and performs fast laps, trying to keep the opponent at distance. He even increases his margin to four seconds, but then inexorably Senna gets in his slipstream. When everyone in suspense awaits the final attack and the reaction of the leader, the twist arrives: the sixth gear breaks in the gearbox of Prost's car. And so, three laps from the end Senna resumes the first position.
Out of twelve classified cars, nine were lapped, even several times. McLaren dominance knows no boundaries. It is useless at this point to be under any illusions, especially at Ferrari. In an attempt to keep the pace of the MP4/5, some pilots forced and there were also two spectacular crashes, fortunately without serious damage. Berger flew through the air in his Ferrari during lap fourteen as he tackled the first chicane.
The left rear tire of the car burst, and the Austrian driver was unable to maintain control of the car launched at full speed. Ferrari jumped curbs, wheeled, lost the front wing and finally got stuck in the sand.
Another incident, undoubtedly more dramatic, occurred to Emanuele Pirro with Benetton during the race. In fourth position behind Mansell, the Roman driver, while trying to catch up on the Ferrari, ends up right at the entrance to the Motodrome. The car swerves to the left, climbs onto the curb and then knocks down a series of polystyrene blocks placed as protection; light blocks, but resistant. The car jumps and Pirro suffered a blow to the foot, some bruises to the tibia and a cut. Nothing serious, but the Roman already at the first impact fainted from the shock.
The scene is dramatic, because far more serious injuries are feared immediately. Someone immediately hinted at the suspicion that a suspension gave way, but the driver later said that the car broke down under braking already several laps before. After four consecutive retirements, tired and struck by the strenuous resistance of his teammate, Ayrton comments on his return to victory after the race:
"I was not sure I could do it. I recovered a few seconds by fighting hard. So I won with a bit of luck. Fate paid me back partially for the injuries of the last month. I am still uphill for the championship even though my position now is much better, despite the gap of seventeen points. I think the next race in Hungary will be decisive".
At the end of the race Senna accuses the rear tire changer, indicating that he previously worked on Prost's car, so he demands from Ron Dennis that he no longer works for his car from now on.
On the day he triumphs on German soil, redeeming himself from the moment of difficulty, Ayrton is informed that Armando Botelho passed away the night before at the age of forty-nine. The team decided to leave the Brazilian driver in the dark until the end of the race. When Ayrton finds out, he bursts into a very loud cry, heard throughout the motorhome.
After nine stages completed out of the sixteen planned, the gap between the two title contenders has dropped to seventeen points in favor of the transalpine, who, as mentioned in Germany, suffered reliability problems without which he could have won the race and stretched further on his teammate:
"Unfortunately it's part of the game. When I realized that I no longer had sixth gear, I was stunned: with two laps to go it's a bad blow. I couldn't do anything, just finish at least second. This race, we'll see, will be very important in the fight for the title. The points that Senna has taken are worth double, even triple: he won his fourth victory against my four, he took precious points by taking them away from me. In short, a great misfortune".
On August 4th and 5th, McLaren experiments in Imola with new solutions for the air intake (one low and one high) and tries to fine-tune the new transverse gearbox in an even more definitive way. On the first day, in the morning Ayrton runs forty-one laps and sets his best time, 1'27"930. In the afternoon he laps in 1'27"160, thus lowering his personal best, but he can't do better than Prost, who stops the clock at 1'26"690.
The tenth race weekend of the 1989 World Cup takes place in the scorching heat of mid-August in Budapest. A heat incandescent like the title fight. Alain and Ayrton continue not to speak to each other, they do not meet, even that mutual esteem that had supported the relationship in the most difficult moments of 1988 has failed.
"Prost started off on the right foot, he was lucky, he almost always reached the finish line. I, on the other hand, had to retire four times in a row and I lost precious points. If I finished all the races there would be no history, I would have already won the championship mathematically. The truth is that he never beats me on the field, he always needs my troubles to win races. This year three wins so far, always when I was largely leading the races and I was forced to abandon for car breakdowns. It seems to me that there are no doubts as to who is the best and also the fastest".
Ayrton maliciously declares. A game, this, that Prost does not like:
"What should I say to someone who took the title away from me last year thanks to the help of someone who put me in a technically inferior condition? When we had equal means, I always made his life difficult. If I retired while he was in the lead, it's because I haven't attacked yet, because I was waiting for the right moment. And then don't talk about luck, Ayrton. What happened in the last race in Germany? I was in front when with three laps to go I broke the gearbox. He would never have overtaken me. By now we would be four to three for me and I would have twenty-three points ahead and half the title in my pocket".
The tortuous Hungaroring circuit is not a hunting ground for the cars of Senna and Prost, as understandable from Saturday's qualifying: Riccardo Patrese prints an exceptional pole, with three tenths trimmed to Ayrton, while the third place is conquered by a surprising Alex Caffi, skilled in exploiting the qualifying tires of the Pirelli, returned this season to the circus, particularly effective on this circuit.
A year and a month after the qualifying for the British Grand Prix that saw Berger prevail, the McLaren monopoly on Saturday is again interrupted, this time by a Williams, who claims the role of runner-up in the World Championship.
Ferrari seems to be dropping, given Berger's sixth place, and Mansell's sad twelfth position. Given the physiognomy of the Hungarian track that does not facilitate overtaking, the weekend of the Lion of England could be considered already concluded and lacking in expectations for Sunday.
Riccardo Patrese firmly maintains his lead in the early stages of the race, chased by Senna who struggles to stick in the Williams' exhaust. Behind, Alex Caffi's Dallara does not have a good race pace, and acts as a cap for those chasing him, in the order of Berger, who started well when the traffic lights went out, Prost, only fifth on Saturday, Boutsen, Nannini and Mansell, who, like his teammate, author of an excellent start that earned him four positions. A few laps later, Berger and then Prost get rid of Caffi, and very quickly reach the two leading drivers, forming a quartet enclosed in a few seconds.
When Nannini returns to the pits, the Ferrari number 27 climbs to seventh position, and it does not take long to overcome Boutsen and Caffi with decisive maneuvers; on lap twenty-four Nigel, fifth and with a clear track, prints the fastest lap in 1'23"338. With times like this, the four who make the pace are not far off at all.
It is lap thirty-seven and Mansell is already hooked with Prost, in turn very close to Senna, while Berger leaves his position on the podium to the Frenchman to return to the pits: the Austrian has not yet managed to finish a race so far, in a season that is cursed, and once again it was the gearbox that forced him to park his car on the track again.
The Ferrari 640 has exceptional cornering traction, and it is by exploiting this potential that Mansell also passes Prost, so surprised by the maneuver that he lost contact with the leading group. Nigel, on the other hand, wastes no time and immediately began to put pressure on Senna's McLaren as well.
The leading trio loses its leader on lap fifty-three: the excellent performance of Riccardo Patrese, able to keep the reigning World Champion behind without ever getting worried, is nullified when his Williams starts to lose power; he must give way to the two pursuers and abandon the race, just when his fast of victories of over five years seemed to be near to the end.
Senna in the lead, and Mansell to undermine him, the victory, it seems absurd to say, is a question between them, considering that Prost is fifteen seconds behind. The Lion drives in an excellent way, Ayrton manages to contain him with difficulty, and if the circuit should guarantee a single real overtaking point, that is the braking in turn 1, the Ferrari that chases him seems to be able to screw him at every point, exactly as it did previously with the others.
Seventeen laps from the checkered flag, at the exit of turn 3 Ayrton lingers in the lapping of Stefan Johansson. Now or never: Mansell joins him and before the braking he is already in front. It is done, the former Williams runs away to the sound of other fast laps, and crosses the finish line with a twenty-five seconds margin on McLaren, on the same spaceship that is dominating the season, and that for a weekend returns from space back to Earth.
It is Boutsen who completes the podium, not Prost, who returned to the pits and only fourth at the finish. Not bad for him, still leader of the World Championship with fourteen points over Senna. The scene on that Sunday, however, is all about the idol of the Ferrari fans, author of one of the most beautiful races of his career, as confirmed by himself after the race. On the other hand, the smiles in the McLaren garage after the race are a bit forced. Ayrton, in fact, comments:
"I tried to attack Patrese right away because at the beginning it was important to take the lead but his Williams was faster especially at the exit of the corners. Then Riccardo was also a bit lucky in the traffic. I understood that it would be a race of Ferrari, their car was excellent and Mansell also had a great, great race. He was lucky too. He passed me when I was slowed down by Johansson. Without this episode the race would have been more exciting and fought to the end. Maybe the Englishman would have won anyway, but I could have defended myself longer. In the end I had to slow down because I had vibrations in the wheels and problems with the brakes that had worn out too much. I can't say that the race was bad, but our cars were really out of place, not very balanced. I am happy to have six points in the pocket. Basically I can no longer afford to make mistakes. A second place is better than a third".
Moreover, Prost also remains on the false line of the hated comrade, declaring:
"At the start we tried to surprise Patrese, he managed to keep the lead anyway. At that point it was difficult to pass him because he stretched out at the corner. I'm satisfied with my fourth place. The Ferrari didn't surprise me, just in case I was impressed by Mansell who was very good. When he overtook me I realized that his chassis was more in place than ours. As for the engine, maybe we still have a little more, but this time it wasn't enough. It was not in my plans to change the tires, but I had to do it because I was forced to enter the pits. Staying behind Patrese, my visor got dirty with oil and I couldn't see anything anymore, I couldn't stay on the road anymore, also because in a couple of occasions I ended up in the dirty part of the track. The fact that in the end my direct opponent didn't win suits me very well".
On August 17th, 18th and 19th, testing will be back on the Monza circuit. McLaren is on the alert after the defeat in Budapest, so a new version of the Honda engine arrives from Japan, a solution aimed at making the most of the V10's energy. Ferrari also brings a new engine to the circuit, capable of bridging the power gap that still separates it from McLaren-Honda. On August 18th, after Mansell's sixty laps the day before, Berger gets into the car to continue the test program, and satisfied, when he gets out of the car he exclaims:
"The new engine for the moment is only one and I don't use it. I'll ask to have it in time for the Spa Grand Prix, otherwise I'll protest".
But by now, you know, Berger will no longer be the Ferrari driver in 1990, so he can expect little from the team. Furthermore, according to news circulating in Monza, rumors about a Prost-Ferrari meeting to bring him to Mrananello rise up.
At Spa, McLaren returns to lead the way, Ayrton flies. In qualifying, in dry conditions he has no difficulty in achieving the best time by beating by a few thousandths the track record that had been set by Mansell (1'52"026) in 1986, when the powerful turbo engines swept impetuously the old album of the primates.
At this point it is reasonable to think that Senna is satisfied with such a performance. He gets back in the car, looks at the clouds in the sky behind which rests his friend Armando who died a month earlier, the only true friend he had had on the track, and throws himself on the long strip of asphalt of the Ardennes, returning to the pits only after having recorded a time of 1'50"867, filing the record by over a second. Prost is half a second, in the second row are Berger and Boutsen, followed by Patrese and Mansell. Ferrari and Williams return to serve as simple non-paying spectators.
An extraordinary lap, one of the many that allow you to subtract it from comparison with any and all great champion of the past. However, Magic looks forward to the competition with terrible anxiety:
"I have no illusions, between us and Ferrari there is no longer the difference as before. And if it rains, Ferrari could win because in the wet its chassis is better than ours".
Mansell, on the other hand, is less cautious. He ignores the difference in performance between dry and wet, he is very excited by the comeback with victory in Budapest, and declares:
"Sixth position on the grid suits me perfectly, much better than the twelfth in Budapest where I ate four opponents in one go".
As expected, the race kicks off with the circuit still wet from the rain that fell in the morning, the ideal terrain for Senna, who easily maintains the lead ahead of Prost, Berger, Mansell, Boutsen and Patrese.
The only changes in the top positions are the retirements of Berger, due to a spin, and Patrese; Senna remains in the lead throughout the race, winning ahead of Prost for just one second and three tenths of a difference, and in front of Mansell for one second and eight tenths of a second.
A particular victory, the latter, due to the fact that during the race Ayrton wore a special helmet, prepared by a friend of his technicians, with slits that should have guaranteed the visor not fogging. The purpose was achieved, but it was precisely from those openings that water had entered.
For this reason, during the race Ayrton took advantage of a breather to raise the visor itself and clean it with gloves, but just at that moment a spark from the Minardi dubbed by Sala that preceded him hit him next to the right eye:
"I screamed in fear and pain but most of all I got scared. If the incandescent fragment had hit my pupil, maybe I would have gone astray or in any case I would have been forced to retire. This too went well".
Then he talks about his fifth success of the season:
"A good victory, even if I don't like racing in these dangerous conditions. I had too low pressure on the front tires and the car was not balanced. The engine in the final was also not perfect. That's why I slowed down, but they were serious problems".
With the second place obtained, Prost reaches sixty-two points against fifty one of Senna, who, although still in a deficit situation, tries to reopen the games. In all of this, it is not known where Alain will drive in 1990, as well as the catchphrase of the new Ferrari driver.
Will it be Patrese? Will it be Larini? Will it be Modena? Will it be Caffi? Or Prost himself?
Although he only told Brazilian journalists, in a post-race television interview, Ayrton concedes a half straight to understand where the Frenchman will race:
"Mansell attacked Prost, but in reality he only showed up with his Ferrari on either side behind McLaren. If I had been in Alain's place, I'm sure he wouldn't have given me the same soft treatment, he probably would have passed over me. He certainly could not have put his next teammate in difficulty too much".
Ferrari wallows in these rumors, fueling and denying them all in a whirlwind of chatter. The only certain thing was said by Cesare Fiorio to the French journalists:
"It won't be Prost".
If Fiorio said so, you have to believe it, right? Negotiations with Prost had begun at the French Grand Prix in July when Ferrari, fresh from the American misadventures, began to show signs of improvement.
In a law firm in Lugano, on September 6, 1989, Alain Prost and Cesare Fiorio with their respective lawyers put an end to the sickly summer soap opera embroidered by Ferrari. The two-time world champion next year will sit inside Gerhard Berger's car number 28, earning eight billion lire a year. At the same time, Mansell renounced the privileges previously desired: for example, there will be only one forklift and the two drivers will be treated equally. To convince the Brit to give up his status as first driver, Ferrrari even gives him his F640 at the end of the season.
"Ferrari is the dream of all drivers. For me this dream comes true in old age but I am equally happy", comments Prost after signing a long 66-page contract".
Prost had enough of McLaren and decided, after a negotiation that lasted all summer, to leave the team that made him world champion twice, to join Ferrari's ambitious project and to end the unsustainable coexistence in the same box with Senna. A coexistence that over time caused the break with the top management of the team and with Ron Dennis, increasingly aligned with the Brazilian.
Dennis does not take at all well the idea that the Frenchman can go to Ferrari taking the number 1 with him if he wins the title, as well as top secret information on his cars. In the previous weeks, Alain appeared to be on the verge of joining Williams, which the British manager liked, but the news of his move to Ferrari infuriated him. In Monza, the paddock comments on the announcement, each in their own way. Frank Williams, to whom they say the pilot was stolen, replies:
"They didn't blow me anything, I've known for a long time that Prost wasn't coming to me".
And speaking of Enrique Scalabroni, the designer who will land at Ferrari, declares:
"Scalabroni will be an excellent card for Ferrari, especially if they don't get him to work with Barnard".
Much more controversial is the comment of Prost's replacement in McLaren, Gerhard Berger:
"A beautiful couple Mansell and Prost, seventy years in two, will not last long. Senna and I have ten years of success ahead of us".
A little pale but apparently quite serene, even Ayrton agrees to give an opinion on the passage of his rival to Ferrari, putting aside the controversy with his teammate to whom he does not speak anymore except for very strict business reasons:
"I think it was a good choice for the driver and the team. Prost will be able to bring a lot of experience and Ferrari will probably give him new stimuli. As for me, I think I'll be fine with Berger next year. I shouldn't go wrong predicting a very hard-fought and spectacular 1990 season. I am convinced that Prost will be useful to Ferrari not only for his racing prowess. Among other things, he is one of the few who knows the power of Honda engines. I am happy: I spoke to Alain in Belgium, there are no problems even if we will be in competition with each other. As far as I'm concerned, I have renegotiated the contract".
At the same time, the imminent farewell of Alain at McLaren obviously does not calm the constant controversy within the team, but on the contrary, these have already been increasing since Friday.
In Monza, Senna has two cars, with twenty people around who are busy working only for him, while Prost has only one car, with more or less four or five mechanics. Alain finds himself alone in a corner of the pits. This becomes the most difficult weekend on a psychological level in the French driver's career. Furthermore, Honda has not been compliant with his demands. During free practice, the world leader pays a gap of even two seconds from his teammate and direct rival in the standings.
That it is purely about the skill of the driver is hard to believe, the difference in horsepower is all too evident, and Prost himself says he is indignant at the treatment received, even supported by other drivers in the paddock such as Mansell and Keke Rosberg.
"A gap like that doesn't depend on me, I'm not making a figure like that right in front of my new audience. At McLaren I'm isolated by now, no one takes care of me, they gave me an engine without horsepower. No, so I'm not really there. Now I'm going to ask them and if they intend to make me lose the world championship in this way, I don't think twice about it, I get out of the car and I don't even finish the season".
And while Alain vents with the journalists, on Saturday Senna is orphaned by the Italian ones, also feeling a little offended. The cause? Simple, the lawyer Gianni Agnelli arrived, whom an unwary and zealous commissioner wanted to kick out of the pits together with his son Edoardo, Luca Montezemolo and his son Matteo.
Obviously the commissioner was promptly relieved of weight by other commissioners. Never had Gianni Agnelli been on a circuit for so long. A whole hour of rehearsals and at least another between before and after. It had been a long time coming. Then the lawyer arrives and shields himself:
"What do you want me to tell you about Ferrari, the chronometers speak for themselves".
But at this point the audacious but likeable Bolognese journalist Raffaele Dalla Vite blurts out, and exclaims:
"Help me, lawyer, we have been here since seven and won't you tell us anything else?"
Startled but courteous, the FIAT president stops:
"Please, whatever you want".
The first obvious question is about Prost:
"He speaks Italian with the same accent as Platini. Ah Platini, what a great player, here we were lucky enough to catch him when he was young. Prost may not be as nice as Platini but he is a great driver".
In the meantime, the lawyer is looking forward to pole position at Monza, as there are seven or eight minutes to go and Berger leads the standings, but Senna goes out on the track, and gives Ferrari a second. Agnelli falls silent, then comments:
"Sure, sorry to be beaten in the last minutes but I hope that Sunday things will change. Tomorrow we will do great things, have faith".
The people are bold, and yell at him - Lawyer, it takes more money for Ferrari - and he in return, without wasting a second, replies:
"If only for those...".
Senna wins pole position by tearing up his opponents, while Prost is one second and seven tenths away in the second row, also beaten by the two Ferraris with Berger ahead of Mansell by just five thousandths. A cautious Ayrton comments on the pole obtained in extremis, declaring:
"I still don't know if I will be able to be faster than the Ferraris in the race, a lot will depend on the set-up of the car. In any case, mine will be a tactical test for once, I will try to think about the World Championship and not the victory even if it is against my mentality. If the Ferraris push too hard, I'll let them go. After the stint with the first set of tires, I had taken some precise references. I made a small mistake at the chicane going up a curb, but I knew anyway that I would have to push hard, no expense spared. It went well. And I think my secret was to make the tires warm up well, at the right temperature, because the asphalt after the rain was a bit strange".
Prost, on the other hand, dejected by the miserable fourth place obtained in qualifying, one second and seven tenths from his teammate, addresses the French press as follows:
"Guys, forget the holidays in Australia at the end of the season, because we will stay at home".
Thus, Alain welcomed the large troop of French journalists after the rehearsals. A joke, but it has been clearly seen that the two-time world champion has very little desire to joke. Dark-faced, with hardened features from closed jaws, speaking with clenched mouth, he then continued his litany:
"Impossible to adjust the car in this way, all weekend. The engine was irregular in operation. One time it went, the other not, I could not understand the behavior of the chassis. I worked really badly. If I had evidence of a differentiated treatment between me and Senna, I would have already left McLaren. I hope that the situation has not precipitated at this point. Of course strange things happen, as many happened in recent years, especially in the last and at the beginning of this. In free practice, for example, when we do the tests, we always get times on very similar values. I know very well the value of Ayrton, his ability to be not fast but very solid. But such a gap is ridiculous between two drivers of our level with the same car. At most there can be a few tenths. I don't want to ask myself too many questions. Better keep my mind clear. In the warm-up I will try to fine-tune the car for the race, then we'll see".
The order of the first four during the first phase of the race remains unchanged until the twenty-first lap, when Prost overtakes Mansell; there are no other changes until the forty-second lap over the finish line, a lap in which Prost also gets rid of Berger. Senna still seems to have victory in hand, but with nine laps to go his hard work literally goes up in smoke.
That the reliability of the MP4/5 this season is not the best is a fact, and in what was looming to be a walk to success, while it was firmly in the lead, Ayrton's engine is falling apart and forces him to the fifth seasonal retirement.
For Prost, on the other hand, in a race in which he felt he simply had to limit the damage, in the atmosphere of being separated at home that had been created, he saw the Monza appointment transformed into the stage that could perhaps prove decisive for the final victory of the championship, as he now has a twenty-point lead over his teammate. That Alain is now in total rupture with the team is shown by what happens on the podium.
Here, overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the Italian public who would have had him in Ferrari in 1990, at the incitement to pull the cup, Alain gives in and lets the trophy be taken over by the fans, contravening his contract which obliges him to sell it to the McLaren team.
Dennis, infuriated to say the least, waits for Prost to move away from the podium to throw the constructors' cup on his feet, but luckily the Frenchman's reflexes prevent him from a bad injury.
The McLaren boss feels offended by the gesture made by Alain, who in reality throws the cup not to offend him or in a gesture of defiance, but only to make happy the crowd that would have supported him the following year. One wonders how things change easily in Forumula 1: a few years earlier Prost had to go around the Italian paddocks accompanied by an escort; now he is ready to become the new favorite of the Fans. Alain, after the race, about the cup donated to the fans declares:
"My gesture was natural, spontaneous. I'm sorry it made someone angry. I saw people completely fanatic, I thought that I could, by making one overjoyed, make everyone overjoyed. I don't keep the cups, on the other hand. And then again on the podium it was different from any other time: never enjoyed like this, first of the day, launched at the World Championship, signed a contract with Ferrari 1990 and loved by all of Monza".
As if the history of the trophy were not enough to exacerbate relations with Dennis, in the conference Alain continues to allude to the fact that he has been given some inferior material:
"There must have been a major breakdown there at one time or another. I was lucky, I admit, but it was my turn. With twenty points ahead, at this point I should be calm, feel in an iron barrel. But no, the situation is far from pleasant. I'm afraid that I will be put the classic spanner in the works, all to favor that one there. I should be elated for the Monza triumph, but it was a random success. If my rival hadn't broken the engine I wouldn't have had any chance of beating him. I absolutely don't like to win this way. I'd rather play the championship on par, even knowing that he is good and very fast".
Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA, always very sensitive to this topic, feeds the controversy by insinuating that Honda is supplying different material to the two McLaren riders, just like the year before it did with reversed parts, thinking that Honda was at a disadvantage the Brazilian driver.
Honda's response is not long in coming: the Japanese manufacturer decides not to supply engines to Prost, and only a letter of apology signed by Dennis and the rider, as well as a clarifying press conference, restore calm between McLaren and Honda. With a few Grands Prix to go, the only concerns for the Professor are two: the reliability of his McLaren, and the rule of discards, which already mocked him in 1988, and for which he spared no criticism at the time.
Honda, on the other hand, has what to worry about and, during the Frankfurt Motor Show, makes it known that in addition to having problems with Prost, there are also difficulties with Ayrton:
"First of all there are some practical problems. We would have liked to invite our two drivers to do the honors in this review. But how could we invite Prost who has already publicly signed for another team? And if we had Senna arrive alone we would have been criticized. Everyone would have thought that we intend to favor the Brazilian. But it's not like that: Senna has been giving us some headaches lately. He is restless and disobedient. There was a race in which he was second but he was recovering. Our technicians had calculated that he could move up to first place in seven laps, driving at a certain pace. After two passes he was already in the lead, risking a lot. He does his own thing".
Meanwhile, Ferrari announces, through the words of Cesare Fiorio, that John Barnard, given as a starter in June, will remain in Ferrari and will work on the evolution of the car that will be given to Prost:
"We are all in a hurry, the new Formula 1 regulations have now been approved and we must start working immediately for next season. We need to establish the tasks and responsibilities of each one. With Barnard being very willing to stay with us in a new type of structure, two things remain to be defined: the tasks to be performed and the remuneration, both different from the past. We have already discussed this, we agree on the general principles, we just have to tighten the time for the final details. Before the Spanish Grand Prix the Barnard issue will be resolved".
In the meantime Fiorio fired the Finnish test driver JJ Lehto, who, like Barnard, slept for a long time before taking a few laps on the Fiorano track. Two weeks later, in Portugal, Senna continued his hegemony on Saturday, with his tenth pole of the season; Prost is closer, to put it mildly, and is seven tenths of a second, but this time too he is preceded by the two Ferraris, very much at home on the Estoril circuit. Fifth is the surprising Martini, driving a particularly competitive Minardi thanks to Pirelli qualifying tires.
Mansell, feeling in his hands a car capable of fighting the McLarens again, can only rethink his extraordinary performance in Hungary, eager to be able to bring it back to Portuguese soil. Unfortunately for him, things will not go just like in Budapest, on the contrary, it will be a real disaster whose only responsible to be identified is himself.
That Ferrari has something to counter McLaren can be seen from the start, with Berger sprinting better than Senna, taking the lead. Eight laps later the Brazilian is also overtaken by Mansell who in turn overtakes his teammate on lap 24, becoming the new leader of the race. However, at the tire change, the English driver goes long, missing the stall of his mechanics, and instead of leaving the pit lane to repeat the operation on the following lap, he decides to engage reverse gear, which costs him an immediate black flag. But the Ferrari driver probably limits himself to looking the other way, or wanting to support his thesis, he does not notice either the commissioner or the flag.
Therefore, having slipped into third position, Mansell continues undaunted, ignoring both the Ferrari radio warnings and the black flag that is displayed to him at every passage on the main straight. Meanwhile, in the pits, Ron Dennis went to Ferrari twice to protest, because Mansell did not stop at the black flag. The English manager foams with anger, while Cesare Fiorio signals him to leave, waving a hand. Shortly thereafter, Dennis returned to Fiorio because one of his mechanics pointed out that the Ferrari sporting director had also let slip a rude gesture.
Then the unimaginable happens. Arriving behind Senna, the Englishman tries an unlikely overtaking, putting both out of the race:
"I didn't see anything. In light of what I learned later, I'm sorry for what happened. But I swear on the Bible that I hadn't seen the reports. I was engaged in the fight with Senna, glued to his car that if I was distracted too for a tenth of a second I would have lost the duel. As for the entrance to the pits, there was a lot of confusion. I saw our mechanics when it was too late. I waited for them to pull me back, but no one came and I put reverse gear".
While Senna thunders:
"Mansell did a suicide maneuver. If he wants to risk his life, that's his business, but this time he made me risk mine. He should be punished harshly for that, not for the rest. I saw the black flag. You all could see where it was. it happened, there are also television shots. He was out of the race, he deliberately threw me out. I don't think there is anything else to add and there is nothing to say about the fight for the world championship".
But Cesare Fiorio immediately replies to Ayrton:
"I am very sorry for Senna. I hope that no one thinks that there was the slightest intention to influence the chase for the title. These are accidents that unfortunately happen in the race. Ferrari has often paid for similar cases. Mansell in my opinion made only one mistake, that of shifting into reverse. For the rest he had an exciting race, as well as Berger was very good. The McLaren mechanics somehow hindered Mansell as he came back by blocking his view. The Englishman thus arrived too fast. When the race director informed us of the disqualification we immediately proceeded to display the sign with the order to return. We also tried to do it on the radio, but it was not clear, there were some discharges".
The controversy, however, has no end, given that Ayrton's words are joined by those of Ron Dennis:
"Fiorio is lying, he's not a sportsman. For three laps he left Mansell on the track. And he was also rude because he made a bad gesture towards me. If something like this happens again I don't know how it would end. Ferrari also shares a sponsor with us and I think it is better for the Italian team to present itself with another sporting director".
After the race, Balestre, direct as always, shoots to zero, declaring:
"I refused to give the cup to the winner of this race. I'm sorry for Berger who is a friend, but I was too tense. I met up with Mansell and we saw the replay of the accident five times and we also saw the display of the black flag. The Englishman apologized, then said that he hadn't noticed anything because he was behind the Senna. But if in normal traffic someone does not see a red light or is in an accident or is fined".
Who thanks the Ferrari driver's day of madness is obviously Prost, who in total anonymity and aboard his McLaren ends thirty seconds behind the winner Berger, but is second and earns another very important four points over Senna, whose world championship hopes are getting more and more unrealistic. Yet even Alain, who should have been happy with the world title practically in his pocket, hardly spoke, also because he was fined $ 10.000 for not showing up at the press conference after the race.
On the afternoon of Monday September 25, 1989, after a night of rest, Senna explains his truth about what happened on Sunday at the beginning of the forty-ninth lap, when the collision between McLaren and Ferrari occurred:
"I have calmed down. For a year and a half I have understood that in these cases incredible things immediately pass in your heart and head. The best way to avoid losing the sense of proportion is to walk a little and put your ideas back at their place. First of all Mansell was out of the race and could not attempt to overtake or even think of doing so. I had seen a black flag, but I knew it didn't concern me because otherwise they would have communicated it to me via radio from the pits. All the signals were grouped together in a few meters. I had difficulty even distinguishing between those intended for me and those for Prost. When the message began, with which Dennis wanted to explain the situation, I felt the shock".
"I was determined not to get into the tussle so as not to compromise the car. The first time Mansell overtook me by taking the slipstream. The second overtaking, on the other hand, he attempted braking at the end of the straight. I thought he had come out just to be seen. He couldn't do it like that on the inside because he would have gone straight into the corners. There is no such thing as anyone. I watched television: it's very clear what happened. He was disqualified for a mistake he made in the pits, but they should have punished him for the danger he created in the accident. It's his business if he wants to risk his life, but Mansell put mine in danger. The speed was very high. Luckily there was two hundred meters of space, because if there if it had been a barrier I could have killed myself".
"Considering this fact, the suspension proposed for a race is far from what should be a fair punishment. That maneuver was also a kind of suicide. Mansell made two mistakes: he came too fast and therefore long to change the tires in the pits and he used reverse gear. And that's where the race burned out. The Ferraris were better than us with the chassis and slightly superior even by the two drivers were very loaded and hard to beat. I realized that Berger had pushed too much at the beginning, in fact later I approached him. At the tire changes I did badly in the laps but there were still many laps to go".
"I could have kept a good pace until the end. I don't know the others. Berger deserved to win, his race was an excellent one, he was good. And on Sunday in Jerez it may be that a race similar to that of Estoril will appear. The Spanish circuit is very similar to that of Budapest, where I have tried it recently and I went very fast. The current situation does not reflect the values of the drivers on the track. For the world championship I have to win the three remaining races. I'll try".
So, as confirmed by Senna, the signs were all too close to each other to be distinguishable, and Mansell's radio was not working properly. However, on the same September 25th, in Paris, FISA with an almost unanimous vote - twenty present out of twenty-two, eighteen votes in favor, one abstention, one vote against - decided that Nigel Mansell will not race the Spanish Grand Prix. The disqualification of the Federation takes the Lion of England by surprise, making him angry and not a little:
"Cesare Fiorio called me to tell me about the disqualification. It is an incredible thing that they managed to take such a decision on Monday without hearing my reasons. It is true, on Sunday the commissioners present on the Estoril circuit called me. They questioned quickly, I barely had time to answer. I've been running for so many years and I don't remember another disqualification like this one, so hasty and above all so brief, but it won't end like this. Of course, I knew that it is forbidden to reverse gear in the pits. All drivers study the regulations, even if they are often long and complicated. But there are situations that never occur and then it is easy for instinct to prevail over reason, above all if we take into account what was happening in the pits when I came in".
"Entering the pits I saw a lot of people in the lane, a lot more than there usually are on these occasions. I entered very fast, because I had seconds counted, I had to waste as little time as possible in changing the tires. The McLaren mechanics were all out, the Ferrari mechanics went even further out to be seen by me, the entry trajectory was no longer the same and I arrived long after having made two corrections so as not to invest anyone. In those moments you don't go to think about the so-and-so article of the regulation, such a thing had never happened to me. I saw a bit of uncertainty around me and I put reverse. But in those moments, I repeat, you don't think about the regulations. I have not seen the black flags, I repeat for the umpteenth time".
"Did you try to get on the circuit at that time in the exact spot where I was? It was all exactly against the sun, you couldn't see anything, you do a great effort even looking ahead because the track is undulating, you dance terribly, and you feel your head shaking. I saw the box sign instead, but I didn't understand why they gave me the box sign. I had just changed the tires, everything it worked well. I asked on the radio and the answer arrived fragmentary, nothing was understood. I asked a second time in the next lap, same incomprehensible answer. I did not insist, I was completely absorbed by the overtaking operation on Senna, the only point where you can try to overtake is right in front of the pits. If you like you can do it when you are already at the corner. There is no other possibility. This I was trying to do as I passed there, this I then did. Did Senna know that I had been disqualified? Ah, this then...no, I can't believe it".
"Senna knew very well that I was trying to overtake him and besides looking ahead he kept an eye on me in the mirror. But how did he look up there in the sky, against the sun? Maybe they told him on the radio, you see that their radios are working fine. But I don't believe it anyway. If Senna knew, why did he cut my line and cause the two of us to collide? seeing very well that I was starting to overtake, he even turned his head slightly towards me. Wasn't that where he tried to throw Prost out a year ago? Did he do the same maneuver he did with me a little earlier, only Prost managed to pass anyway. And you tell me now that Senna knew about my disqualification? No? I just can't believe it, I have no words".
However, the exclusion from the Spanish Grand Prix will not be taken away by anyone, because the appeal proposed by Ferrari against the FISA decision will not be discussed in the subsequent days. Ferrari claims that the rights of the defense in Monday's summary trial were completely violated. In any case, Ferrari will not replace Mansell with other drivers in Spain. And obviously Ron Dennis takes advantage of the situation to attack Ferrari's sporting director, Cesare Fiorio, again.
"The disqualification is a very serious measure for the driver in a world championship race. However, the main responsibility lies with the Ferrari sports management who was unable to stop him when the black flag was exposed".
On Tuesday September 26th, perhaps the decisive meeting between Fiorio and Barnard took place in Maranello. Contrary to recent statements, Ferrari no longer seems willing to keep Barnard. Piero Fusaro comments on the designer's farewell as follows:
"We parted by mutual agreement, without rancor. For us the relationship with him was already closed in June, then Barnard expressed the desire to stay and so we talked about it, but suddenly a week ago he changed his mind. We weren't with him, never got to deal with the economic question".
Barnard's departure reopens for Ferrari the problem of the Guildford plant in England where many other technicians work together with Barnard. It seems that Barnard wants to take away seventeen people, the best, to the new center that Benetton will build for him. In short, Ferrari would have the walls and machinery that would logically be useless without brains.
In any case, Jerez de la Frontera, Prost therefore presents himself with seventy-seven points in the standings, which, given the gap of fifth place in Mexico, become seventyfive, while Ayrton is still at fifty one. The Professor is aware that he cannot face the rival, since the second difference between the two has now become customary, and must therefore beat Berger's only Ferrari to win a second place and discard the fourth obtained in Hungary. Senna, for his part, has few calculations to do: he must win them all.
During qualifying, Alain even had to defend himself against Pierluigi Martini's surprising Minardi-Ford, who finished fourth behind the number two McLaren by just a tenth.
That pole is owned by Ayrton seems superfluous to say, while Ferrari proves to be increasingly on par in terms of competitiveness with the Anglo-Japanese team, given that Berger is on the front row not far from the best time.
"Gerhard is better than the other one, he's correct but he won't give me any help, it will be a tough race. Being on pole is a big advantage, but if you start badly it can be the end. Berger is very good at starts and maybe he is in advantage because he starts on the outside, in a better position to face the first corner, and then the semi-automatic gearbox gives him an extra weapon".
Ayrton comments, celebrating his fortieth career pole position, while Berger, for his part, declares:
"I don't want to have trouble with my future teammate".
The race offers very few emotions. This time Senna sprints well, and is safe from any attack by Berger and Prost: the three remain in this order until the end of the race, with the Brazilian who, thanks to the victory, reduces the gap in the standings to sixteen. An easy and somewhat boring race. Not for Ayrton, who presents himself to reporters distraught and limping:
"I am happy, but also so tired that the joy of victory has passed, a feeling that I have not felt for some time. Everything seems to have gone smoothly, but a cramp in my right leg and shoulder tormented me. This track is terrible on a physical level because it does not allow for moments of rest. However it went well. I was very worried in the first few laps, because I saw Berger very close in the rearview mirror and I couldn't tell if he was just waiting for the right moment to attack me or if that was his limit. Then I realized that I could take him off and I concentrated on bear the pain and make no mistakes. I sweated to overtake Alliot's Lola that went from one side of the track to the other, and De Cesaris also gave me a hard time. It must also be said that in the final I had the brakes on the limit and the gearbox not always worked perfectly. In short, a painful but important victory, very important for the championship. At least I will have the satisfaction of continuing the challenge to Japan or Australia, the track I feared the most, even if the task of winning is not absolutely easy, for many reasons".
Alain, who on the podium does not even shake hands with his teammate, does not overbalance himself with words, after having signed a non-belligerent pact with his team:
"This is exactly the result I was looking for. It was very difficult to overtake in this circuit and I could not have passed Senna and Berger at the start with my car. Not being able to attack I was satisfied with the minimum result, taking a point with third place: my rival will have to risk everything in the final. As for the race, shortly after the start I had problems with visibility as the helmet got dirty with oil and afterwards the gearbox gave me some trouble. However I drove quietly to the finish".
For the assignment of the world title, only the best eleven results are valid as anticipated: Prost can now only discard, having already thirteen scores (his real score is eighty one points). To win the World Championship, Senna must instead finish first in the next two Grands Prix. Even two possible places of honor for Prost would have no value: the Brazilian would boast a greater number of victories.
After a few calculations, and the result is as follows: with two victories in Japan and Australia, Prost would be fooled once again, and Ayrton could celebrate his second career World Cup, again prevailing over his rival. And with the full support of Ron Dennis and Honda, winning the last two stages seems anything but utopia. Paradoxically, the one who gives the impression of almost needing a miracle is Prost, at the expense of sixteen points ahead in the general classification.
Everything, therefore, can already be decided in Suzuka, Kansai region, Japan, where history was made the year before, where Senna rallied from the rear and passed Prost, where the first step was taken towards the end of the era of the Frenchman in McLaren, and where another chapter of this unforgettable rivalry will be written.
In short, the Suzuka race has only half the chances to prove decisive and it is therefore not clear where the Japanese newspapers draw so much certainty, which give the Professor as a certain winner.
Either they boast credit or have very good information, such as what the voice of the pits transmits from ear to ear to let people know that the Japanese already made a decision: the championship will end in Suzuka and Prost will win it, despite Honda has so far boycotted him and privileged Senna, has ended up damaging its own image and, while denying it out loud, is now making the figure of someone who has sordidly maneuvered the reins of a sport that everyone thought free from behind-the-scenes machinations.
Hence, according to recurring rumors, Honda's decision to cut the bull's-eye: let's win Prost and stop talking about it. Though it seems hard to believe that Honda is so easily willing to give up number one on McLaren, as Prost will go to Ferrari next year. But the answer that comes from the pits is truly diabolical: next year Honda would like to use the image of Prost in Ferrari uniform for its advertising with the following words:
"This man became World Champion, but thanks to us".
Meanwhile, Senna, who had to test with McLaren at Imola after the Spanish Grand Prix, went to Brazil to have his sore sciatic nerve treated after the Jerez race. Before arriving in Brazil, issues this statement:
"The Honda engine has some small problems that prevent it from increasing power. For the next two races I am not afraid of either Prost or Mansell even though Ferrari is now competitive. As for Prost, I have no respect for him for a long time. His accusations of favoritism of Honda and McLaren towards me are absurd. Two companies that spend tens of millions of dollars then do not waste time in doing so".
In Formula 1, there are circuits that over the years have taken on a certain role in the calendar: an example is Montecarlo, in effect the most glamorous stage of the season, or Sao Paulo in Brazil, often the scene of races. chaotic influenced by an uncertain weather.
The most striking example in this curious category is certainly the 8-shaped track of Suzuka, which year after year has become the ideal stage for the showdown between two drivers who were playing for the World Championship.
The first case, actually on the Mount Fuji's circuit but still in Japan, is recorded in 1976, when under the Japanese flood James Hunt and Niki Lauda were competing for the Drivers' Title after a season full of twists, the last of which in that race, with the Austrian who decided to return to the pits considering the climatic conditions too dangerous, and effectively delivering the championship to the English.
If we take a few steps forward on the timeline it becomes impossible not to mention the famous battles of the late 90s and early 2000s that saw Ferrari and McLaren, Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen as protagonists, or 2006 and the engine of the German's 248 F1 which went up in smoke while he was easily in command. A fundamental retreat for the title which then went into the hands of Fernando Alonso and Renault.
But let's go back again, because obviously among the most important (or perhaps the most important) battles that took place in Suzuka, the 1989 one between Senna and Prost is undoubtedly included, a sequel more than worthy of the other duel held the year before.
In summary, the situation that precedes the fifteenth round of the 1989 World Cup is the following: Prost is to all intents and purposes a separate at home. Alain is convinced that Honda wants to favor Ayrton by giving him the best material, but at his penultimate race aboard a McLaren he still has a very good chance of winning his third World Title before settling down in Maranello, where they await him with open arms, perhaps as defending champion.
Senna with the victory in Jerez de La Frontera has reopened an issue that seemed almost completely closed, and it is enough for him to win the two remaining races to win the World Championship, and once again make fun of his rival by exploiting the discard rule. He has the full support of the team on his side.
After the Imola Grand Prix, which had definitively sanctioned the end of any kind of friendly relationship, the track no longer offered an iron wheel to wheel for the two, who nevertheless continued their head-to-head race for the title. On that occasion Prost dryly declares that he no longer wants to have anything to do with his teammate, and shortly before the Sunday departure in Japan that could decree him champion, mindful of what happened in San Marino he exposes himself in this way:
"This year I have raised my foot many times to avoid touching him, but this time I will not give him room".
On the other hand, his retirement, also accompanied by that of the Brazilian would not be so bad, since it would guarantee him the mathematical certainty of not being able to be reached anymore.
On Saturday, needless to say, the pole is for Senna, for the twelfth time this season in front of everyone, and although the gap from the poleman is once again embarrassing (one second and seven tenths), Alain, second, can sketch a half smile, since this time the Ferraris of the returning Mansell, who served his disqualification race after the madness of Estoril, and Berger, who do not seem to be in a position to act in the role of third wheel. Consequently, Sunday promises to be again a personal matter between the two of them:
"Unstoppable time, there are no excuses, but I'm not giving up. Indeed, at this point, since they are in the front row, side by side, I don't even ask for Ferrari's help. I'll try to make it myself. For him the World Championship is a matter of life, I also have other interests. This is a sport, for better or worse, not a gladiator activity. I try to win, but I don't go further".
This is what Alain declares, while Senna knows he must win:
"I have to win, there are no alternatives. But luckily this doesn't change anything because I've always raced to finish first. Second place doesn't interest me. Maybe it would be even better, ideally, if the situation was always this: to be forced to win, a sublimation of the pleasure of being a pilot".
Although for different reasons, Suzuka resurrects some ghosts for both Alain and Ayrton: the former, the year before in Japan, not only lost the race, recovered and overtaken by his rival, but also lost the title; the second, despite the world championship crown conquered, cannot fail to recall the dramatic moments of the first laps and his horrifying start, which he then managed to masterfully remedy. Furthermore, Ayrton's starts during the season were not exactly his strong point, which is why his possible concern about this is to be taken into account.
In the evening, the two rivals dine in different restaurants, but they go to sleep early in two neighboring rooms, 2709 and 2710, in the same hotel inside the circuit. One eight meters away from the other, as if they were already lined up on the starting grid.
Sunday October 22, 1989, the Japanese sky is obscured by a blanket of gray clouds, which however, according to forecasts, do not threaten rain; unlike 1988, the race this time will be dry. During the morning, Ron Dennis addresses both:
"Guys, play the World Championship, but also remember that you are racing for McLaren".
At the click the ghosts make themselves felt more for the poleman, once again not very fast when the traffic lights go out; Prost does not linger, he cannot afford to do so, as this could be the only opportunity for him to overtake Ayrton, and therefore at the first corner he is the leader of the race. It doesn't take long for the two red and white cars to make a void behind them, but what is amazing is the way in which Alain manages to keep Senna no less than four seconds away for most of the race.
In the meantime, the two Ferraris say goodbye to the race within ten laps, since first Berger was stopped by the usual gearbox problems that affected the entire season of the Red team, and then Mansell, who had accused the same problem, albeit in a less evident way of the Austrian, is betrayed by the engine. After the game of pit stops, there is Alessandro Nannini and his Benetton-Ford on the virtual podium, in front of the two Williams of Patrese and Boutsen.
The one who is reinvigorated by the tire change is Senna. Magic in a few laps closes the gap from Prost, who is a bit undecided in making some lappings, in particular the Brabham of Martin Brundle, with whom he loses a lot of time. The fact is that on lap forty the two McLarens are reunited, and given the situation, if there is anything to be taken for granted it is that Senna will try an attack, otherwise, he will lose the World Championship.
After all, the Brazilian has nothing to lose, he must necessarily try to win the race, while Prost, on the other hand, must be perfect in his driving and not give him the slightest gap. Every lap, every curve, every feint of the Brazilian to be seen in the mirrors; these are moments lived heart-pounding by anyone who is watching this battle, because a risky move, or an apt move at the same time, can change the fate of the World Cup.
It is lap forty-six: Ayrton exits the 130R closer than he was in the previous laps. The last chicane before the main straight is the right moment, pull away and join Prost. Alain can't really believe what he sees and closes the trajectory. But Ayrton puts two wheels in the grass rather than stop. At this point Alain tightens the trajectory even more.
"This time I won't give him any space".
Alain had promised it and kept his word. The two McLarens go straight into the escape route nestled into each other. The right suspension on the number two McLaren is hopelessly bent. The transalpine wastes no time, he leaves the gear engaged to make it difficult to remove and immediately gets out of his car. Then he goes away, convinced that he is now the new World Champion.
Senna, however, does not give up, he invokes the help of the commissioners, who are able to push him back on track. It is forbidden, the journalists shout in chorus, but Balestre gets angry:
"No, that's not true, they can do it".
With the aileron damaged Senna goes to the pits to replace him, and when he is officially back in the race he is second just a few seconds behind Nannini, whose distance from the leaders before the contact was almost a minute. The Italian's leadership barely lasts five laps, the time to be easily reached and overtaken by Senna, who crosses the finish line as the winner and is now only seven points behind Prost. In the meantime, however, Alain, seeing his teammate who had managed to restart and recover Nannini, goes to Balestre.
Enraged, Prost points out that Senna cut the chicane to get back on track without completing the full number of kilometers planned for the Grand Prix. A stroke of genius by the French driver.
The previous year, according to the regulation, he had lost a title won on points only for a regulation now obsolete. Now for the same reason, according to the regulations, he asks FISA for revenge on his rival.
There is almost twenty minutes of waiting to see the drivers on the podium, but nothing happens. Prost and Senna are summoned by the commissioners and by Balestre to discuss what happened. Until, all of a sudden, on the podium Nannini, who wins for his first time in his career, Patrese and Boutsen.
At 2:55 pm the official communiqué from the sporting commissioners arrives announcing the disqualification of Senna. The reason, indeed, is the cut of the chicane when returning to the track following contact with Prost, and the help received by the commissioners, actions categorically prohibited by the regulation.
Alain Prost is officially World Champion for the third time in his career, while McLaren immediately appeals against disqualification. It should be discussed by the Japanese national court, but at the request of the British Royal Automobile Club, representative of McLaren, the story ends up on the tables of the FIA court. The Brazilian remains closed in on himself for three hours before speaking:
"The only thing I did was to put myself in a safe position as the rules say. As for the accident, I saw enough space to pass. I acted as was logical. It is Prost who closed. After that I tried to get out of the way as quickly as possible for safety reasons. In any case, the result of this race is provisional and does not reflect that of the track. We have appealed and we want to fight with all our strength. Now the question is out of my hands. It would have been a great party with my fans. I can only say in regards that any other driver wouldn't have closed my way like that".
Prost meanwhile, is seen refusing a handshake by Senna and Ron Dennis, while technicians and mechanics celebrate him as the new World Champion:
"I dedicate this title to my son Nicolas. I didn't like winning the world championship in this way, but I think I had a great race. He deliberately entered in a way he couldn't pass. I don't care about his motivations. I admit that Ayrton has also been plagued by bad luck this year. But I have had my problems and certain differences in the performance of our cars are still inexplicable. I can tell you something that I have never revealed to anyone: one day Ron Dennis called me and made me understand that the only way I could not have problems with McLaren to win my third title was to sign another two years for them. So I had to fight alone against the team as well. This success gratifies me much less than in 1986, but maybe I will be able to appreciate it more in the future. As for this race I was sure before the start that I would get a fairly easy victory or that we would have come to the accident. I wasn't wrong. He thought I would open the door for him as I had on other occasions. But he had hurt his accounts. Whose fault is it does not seem to me that there are doubts. Now I'm going to Australia to rest, to celebrate. But don't expect a compliant Prost in the last race".
On Sunday evening, Ron Dennis and Senna have a long interview with Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, the former lawyer of the constructors’ association, but now it is up to the judges. A little later, Ayrton dines with his photographer friend Angelo Orsi, to whom he says, interspersed with interminable moments of silence:
"He'll pay me for this. I'll make him pay".
Over the next few days, Prost steps up the dose against his rival, claiming during a television interview that Ayrton was convinced he could drive by constantly risking his life, just because he believed in God. Ayrton is deeply impressed by this statement, and he too replies via television media:
"Just because I believe in God and have faith in Him does not mean that I am immortal, or that I am immune from danger, as some have said. I am afraid of getting hurt like anyone else, especially in Formula 1, where the danger is constant".
And while waiting for the sentence, he comments:
"There is an appeal underway and therefore I do not think that, at the moment, it is appropriate to comment. I am not the one who has to decide. The ranking, in any case, does not reflect the sporting result of the day that an appeal has been lodged. The decisions taken are not the result of the testimonies of the local track marshals. But I must emphasize that they pushed me, removing me from a position of certain danger and when the engine started I went out on the side, less dangerous than the variant. I will go to Adelaide with maximum concentration. With the same serenity and determination with which I faced the other races of the championship. In any case, I know that I have to wait for the result of the appeal. In Japan, Prost got off to a better start than mine".
"Later I was put in trouble by gearbox problems that prevented me from shifting quickly enough. There was no way to overtake Prost other than the braking of the variant before the pits, as in the previous bend I went out at a higher speed. I tried to overtake it in that position for a few laps, even arriving with blocked wheels. When I saw the space to pass I did not hesitate, also because I knew that that was my only chance and that in order to still be able to hope to win the world championship, I still had to try to win the race. If I hadn't been trying to enter that point, but another competitor, I think Prost would have let him pass. I don't want to comment on what happened in the next few moments, there's television".
After the race, during the customary press conference, a journalist exclaims to Prost:
"Alain, you say it was a normal trajectory, but from the aerial shots it seems that you started to turn too early".
Alain, after letting himself go to a grimace of satisfaction at the question put to him, replies:
"I have won thirty-nine grands prix, and now three world titles. Do you think I would do something like that on purpose? I had already started the corner, maybe a little early if you like, but that was my line".
On Friday October 27th, five days after the Japanese Grand Prix, the FIA is examining McLaren's appeal against Senna's disqualification in Paris. A decision in favor of Senna would call into question the outcome of the World Championship. Meanwhile, the president of the Brazilian Automobile Federation asked that Brazilian, French, Japanese and British judges not be part of the jury.
Then, the FIA postpones any decision on the Senna case to the following Tuesday. Prost will therefore have to wait a few more days to be sure of being the 1989 World Champion. Given the importance of the case, the Court of Appeal has decided to extend the time of his reflection and decision. However, that of October 27, 1989, was not a formal session, given that the decision of the court came after a four-hour meeting during which the three members of the panel of judges, whose identities are secret, have seen several times the television footage of the 'accident. Both Senna and Ron Dennis were later heard. At the end of the audition Senna is confident:
"I am optimistic".
Said Ayrton before escaping the siege of journalists, cameras and fans who had surrounded the Crillon hotel. Afterwards, McLaren announces a press conference for the following Monday, despite the FIA having announced that it will not make a decision before October 30th. On October 29, 1989, during the aforementioned press conference held at London airport shortly before embarking for Australia, Ron Dennis first denies some intentions attributed to him by the French newspapers of wanting to prevent Prost from participating in the Adelaide race:
"I hope Prost wants to race".
The non-participation of Prost in the next and last Grand Prix would in fact result in the early termination of the contract between the Frenchman and McLaren, with serious economic consequences. But the most serious statements made by Dennis are those concerning the Senna affair. According to the McLaren team manager, FISA would have filed a pleading with the Court of Appeal in which Senna is defined as a driver who endangers the safety of other drivers. In short, Senna for the International Federation is equivalent to a real public danger that roams the circuits.
And to prevent him from continuing to run around undisturbed, endangering the lives of others, FISA would like to propose the suspension of Senna's super license for one year. However, this suspension would in turn be placed with the conditional. In short, it should work like this: Senna will be able to continue racing, but at the first incorrectness or dangerous action, the sentence would immediately come into effect with the material removal of the driver from the circuits. In order not to incur this condemnation, Senna should, in other words, avoid any overtaking, even on the lapped, always step aside, give way to everyone:
"If we do not obtain satisfaction with the appeal, we will initiate a legal action before the ordinary justice against FISA. There are precedents in this sense and we will not leave anything out to defend our reasons".
Says Dennis, and adding:
"I don't think Senna made a big mistake at Suzuka, cutting a chicane is a frequent occurrence in Grand Prix and this year he had never been punished. Senna was pushed by the Japanese commissioners because he was in a dangerous position he gained nothing in returning to the track by skipping the chicane, on the contrary, he lost a few seconds because he had to overcome the slowdown barriers. We are convinced that the FIA will have to cancel the disqualification, our lawyer Prat made it clear to the judges on Friday in Paris. And personally I have no intention of depriving Prost of the car on Sunday in Adelaide. On the contrary, Alain will have the same chances as Ayrton. In Australia there are already four cars, two each. This championship must end in fair play. With Prost relations were courteous up to Monza. Then something broke, a sort of rupture occurred, and from that moment it was better for both of us to set up relations only on a professional level".
For his part, Prost calmly comments on the fragmentary news coming from London:
"I'm going to Adelaide to race. I hope that there are no further negative developments to this already painful story. I have a contract with McLaren, I intend to respect it to the end and I hope that the team will do the same as it is their duty. There is a strong penalty in the event of non-compliance. At the moment I am not able to judge. I do not understand where we want to go. The episode had a resonance and above all reactions in my opinion disproportionate. The idea of the FIA, if confirmed, to propose Senna for a suspension of the license with the conditional has two aspects. On the one hand it is a dangerous initiative because it is difficult to define the rules of the game better than it has been done up to now. An overtaking, an accident, can have different interpretations and it is difficult to judge. On the other the track is not a Far West. I don't see any reason why the Federation judges should go back to the decisions made by the Japanese sports commissioners. A mistake has been made, it must be punished".
The next day, the Court of Appeal of the International Automobile Federation, composed of magistrates. van Roswalen (Netherlands), De Winghe (Belgium), Remvikos (Greece) and Macedo Cunha (Portugal), rejected McLaren's appeal against the exclusion of Ayrton Senna from the Japanese Grand Prix standings and imposes a $ 100.000 fine on the Brazilian driver and suspended license for six months. And the surprising thing is that the Parisian court tried to save face by reducing the suspension wanted by Balestre from twelve to six months.
With this unprecedented sentence issued by Paris, Prost officially becomes world champion and will bring his number one to the Ferrari with which he will race next season. Alain, awakened in the night by his secretary who communicated the FIA court sentence to him, declares:
"I am happy after a week of tension. You never know what happens in a courtroom, even if it is a sporty one. But I was sure that the Federation could not back down. It was the most difficult title only for the nervousness that reigned in the team. I haven't had any contact with McLaren for a week. I haven't heard from anyone, not even those from Ferrari, but I think Maranello is happy for this number one. If I think about when Senna pressed me against a wall in Portugal at 300 km/h, I can only approve. But I don't want to express a global judgment. In any case, the cars are increasingly difficult to drive, Senna believes himself to be immortal and makes others take terrible risks. Now I'd like to win on Sunday and then with Ferrari next year. But let me enjoy this moment: I know there was pressure from Ecclestone and Mosley against me. An incorrect thing, politics must stay out of Formula 1".
The sentence certainly does not serve to appease the spirits, on the contrary. The president of FISA, Balestre, in addition to accusing Senna of driving in a dangerous way and of having caused a stupid accident in Japan that ruined the sporting spectacle, harshly argued with Ron Dennis, for having revealed in the press conference held the previous Monday, a document that had to remain confidential, namely the one with which FISA even asked for the suspension of Senna's license for one year:
"I suggest to Mr. Dennis, who attempted to blackmail the FIA by circulating our confidential report on Senna in the London press conference, to re-read article 58 of the regulation: a FISA member must ultimately accept the decisions of the FIA appeals court. If he does not do this, for example by opposing in another jurisdiction, he can be excluded from the championships. And don't accuse me of being chauvinist, like the British newspapers do. I am as friends with Prost as I am with Mansell or with Berger. When I had something to say about Alain's behavior I said it. I am only interested in the end of the misconduct on the track".
"If you want to know, the best moment of this year was when I received a telegram from the president of the Ferrari, Fusaro, in which it was said: Enough with the courts in Formula 1. Fusaro was absolutely right, I make my words. It is a pity that Senna continued to make mistakes. On the other hand, the race director was so furious at Senna that he wanted to show him the black flag immediately after the clash with Prost. He didn't do it just because we at FISA opposed him. We didn't want to end the world championship on the track in this way. Senna broke our dream of a magnificent end of the season, of a close fight between two great riders, him and Prost. With Suzuka's behavior the Brazilian ruined everything".
While as regards the pecuniary fine of one hundred thousand dollars, also unprecedented, Balestre declares that he wants to donate half of it to the special assistance fund set up to pay for the treatment of the French driver Philippe Streiff, victim of a serious accident in Brazil and still to date immobilized in a bed.
But what did Senna do to deserve such a severe sentence? It is easy to say, as the International Federation itself has provided the judges with the list of infractions of which the Brazilian would have stained himself, defining it as dangerous for the safety of the other pilots as well as a repeat offender in this danger.
- Italian Grand Prix in Monza, in September 1988: collision between Senna (who thus lost the race to Berger's advantage) and Schlesser. In truth it is Schlesser, who was lapped at that moment, who did not see Senna and had to stop him, and it is therefore strange that today the blame is given to Senna.
- 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix: immediately after the start Berger tries to overtake Senna inside the first corner and is thrown out. The accident is considered by all to be a normal race event, given that overtaking is allowed both on the right and on the left and everyone tries it at his own risk, but it is only now that we learn that it is Senna's fault;
- 1989 French Grand Prix: Senna starts on the right, breaks the clutch and stops on the left of the track, cutting everyone off. It is true, but it is difficult to think that Senna wanted to cause an accident of which he would have been the first victim since everyone would have ended up on him;
- 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix: according to FISA, Senna is to be considered co-responsible for the collision with Mansell, despite the fact that only the English driver was held responsible a month earlier;
- 1989 Spanish Grand Prix: in practice Senna pretends not to see the red and black flags and continues to push;
- 1989 Japanese Grand Prix: the well-known events on the track are joined by another reported by Ferrari but apparently not detected by Balestre. When he restarts from the pits in the final after changing the nose broken in the accident with Prost, Senna re-enters to the track with a red light on the semaphore.
All this is strange, given that for the same infractions many other drivers have never even been fined or called to order. In the environment of Formula 1 there remains a bitter suspicion that behind this decision there are irrevocable reasons. After the sentence, Senna declares:
"I have never been under any illusions. When in Suzuka I found myself in front of a kind of court made up by Balestre, Prost and the three FISA commissioners, I realized that there was no hope for me, that I was condemned. with Ron Dennis and the whole team we immediately developed a strategy. The appeal to the FIA court was only the beginning of the battle that will lead us to a civil suit before ordinary justice. We are sure we are right. Knowing the political situation today in Formula 1, what happened was what we all had to expect. My disqualification was a real manipulation of the championship. This is our right. It is too early. to speak, there are a thousand other things that I cannot reveal now, but that will be clarified at the right time".
"Obviously there was a maneuver in favor of someone. It is not up to me to name the names, it is evident. The fact of which I am accused does not exist, I have not committed any infraction in Japan, on the contrary I have respected the regulation to the letter. And I am sorry that, since the majority of people do not know the rules of our sport, public opinion has been influenced in a Precise direction. They were all catechized against me. Think about it: Balestre is French, Prost too, the court met in Paris at FISA. This is a real manipulation of the 1989 championship, or built a castle of lies about me by passing off normal racing incidents as infractions. It seems clear to me that there was a very specific plan underneath this story. Going back to the Suzuka accident, I had thoroughly investigated the possibility of overtaking Prost at that point, before the chicane and I was sure I could do it. If you look at the shot from above, from the helicopter, you can see that the car Prost's, before the right-hander, leaned towards mine in a direction that would have taken her off the track on the tangent. This means that he deliberately caused the accident to put me out of the way. Anyway, it doesn't end here, it may go on for a long time but it doesn't end like this".
"There is a television shot made by the helicopter that exonerates me in full. The cut of the chicane through the escape route is another mistake, a fake. We got stuck before the corner with the cars jammed. He got out and left the gearshift in first gear so I couldn't move anymore. The stewards first had to push me back, then unlock the other McLaren to push it into position Other people on the route arrived and pushed me, so that the engine of my car started running again. At this point I could not go back, because I would have constituted an enormous danger for those who arrived, so much so that seconds after my car was cleared, an Arrows drove by. The only thing left for me to do was to take the escape route, at the end of which there was a green-flag commissioner to allow me to resume the track. But FISA argues that this was an incorrect maneuver, and it is another mistake that will backfire on them. We have dozens of similar examples for which sanctions have never been taken".
McLaren, as expected, does not accept this ruling that one of the owners of the team, Creighton Brown, defines as grossly unfair. The English team confirms that it has instructed its lawyers to study the revenge action against FISA in the ordinary judiciary. It is difficult to predict the outcome of such a procedure. Balestre replies to McLaren's announcement of wanting to sue the Federation for the harsh sentence against their driver, assuring them that there is no chance of success for them before the ordinary judiciary:
"The FIA is subject to French laws and already on two occasions, in 1985 and 1988, the Court of Appeal and the Court of Great Instances of Paris have agreed to the FIA and FISA, establishing that it is not the competence of the civil justice to enter into the merits of the life and discipline of an association provided that these fall within the scope of the internal statutes. In the case in question, the judges of the FIA acted in accordance with the powers recognized to them by the French judiciary".
In addition, the FISA president said McLaren could be banned from Formula 1 if it really does decide to take legal action:
"If the attacks against the Federation and my person continue, some illustrious heads are likely to fall".
And finally, Balestre announces that he will not go to Adelaide for the last Grand Prix of the season scheduled for Sunday, but will follow the race on television from his home in Opium in the South of France, and will remain in constant telephone contact with the race marshals in order to be present in the event of accidents that deserve a direct and immediate intervention. Pending the last race, the comments are flooding. In Brazil the attitude of the newspapers is quite composed, even if there is no lack of criticism of Balestre. Former world champion Emerson Fittipaldi argues that Senna's behavior in Japan was fair and correct; then he invites Ayrton to leave Formula 1 for the Indycar, since, according to him, the motorsport executives in that country are far more competent than Mr. Balestre.
Arriving in Adelaide, Ron Dennis calls several reporters into a hotel room to show them pictures of other drivers who in the past cut chicanes without ever receiving a disqualification. Even if by now irrelevant for the classification, the qualifications in view of the last race are dominated as usual by the two McLarens, with Senna conquering the thirteenth pole position of the season ahead of Prost. In third position is the surprising Martini, once again able to exploit the superiority of the qualifying tires.
Sunday 5th November 1989, the beautiful Australian spring sun suddenly turns into a gloomy day, with black clouds laden with rain. The water begins to beat in the late morning without stopping even for a moment. So the organizers of the Grand Prix are forced at 12:30 pm to allow half an hour of additional tests to fine-tune the set-up and tires for the wet asphalt. The storm continues to rage even when it is time to prepare for starting grid an hour later.
However, many drivers want to wait, postpone the race, or wait for a clear span. In the morning tests the same Senna has been the protagonist of a spectacular spin without damage. And Nannini and Mansell also ended up off the track, both damaging their respective cars. Prost, Piquet, Berger, Patrese and Boutsen immediately become the leaders of the protest and send a delegation to speak with race director Bruynseraede, while Senna sits motionless in his car. Many pilots are unsure what to do. Piquet tries to convince Bernie Ecclestone not to start the race, but the British manager dismisses him with a joke:
"Is it raining? Just an umbrella".
Boutsen goes to Senna without being able to move him. Stefano Modena confides:
"If I refuse to leave, Ecclestone will never show me a car again".
Cesare Fiorio leaves his pilots the freedom to decide, according to their conscience.
In a climate of coercion, in the most absolute chaos, the race starts. Senna snaps in the head and performs an intimidating maneuver closing Prost. The Brazilian takes the lead, but his escape is immediately blocked, on the first lap, by a series of off the track: the Onyx of Lehto and the two Ligier of Arnoux and Grouillard are stationary in a dangerous position. All that remains is to stop everything.
It is thus necessary to wait another half hour to to observe the regular procedures. At this point, however, everyone was, for better or for worse, involved and ready to go. The only Prost, from the top of a world title now assured, decides to remain in the pits, sitting against a wall, to explain the reasons for his decision not to participate in the race:
"It would have been right not to start the race. Senna was the real culprit of what happened, because all the undecided drivers, seeing him motionless in his car, didn't have the courage to protest. I would have stopped anyway, even without the interruption. The fact that I was the only one to give up is not a problem. But if you continue to accept certain decisions passively, sooner or later someone will die. The race seen from the pits did not make me regret anything. And the accidents of Piquet and Senna confirmed that I was right. It went well: the cars hit the rear of those in front and not the wheels. With the sculpted rain tires they could have hooked up and flew into the air. As happened to Pironi in 1982 when he hit me in similar conditions in Germany and smashed my legs. I am not a political leader but I can afford to make certain decisions. The attitude of Senna who has always remained in the car was provocative, needless to say that he agreed to postpone it. We could have waited an hour or two. Now I have officially won the world championship and I enjoyed being the protagonist of this pro safety episode".
Senna's reply, a little later, was not long in coming:
"The race had to be stopped. I was in favor of not starting, but I had to stay in the car so as not to lose concentration in the event, as it happened, that the start was given. But Prost doesn't count it right: if he stopped because he thought it was dangerous race, he did well and I respect him. But I wonder why he took part in the first start, tried to take the lead and, after failing to do so and realizing that he would not win, he stopped. But it all started with Suzuka manipulations".
To tell the truth, after the second start was given, Ayrton kept the lead, continuing to lead until, on the thirteenth lap, he hit Brundle's Brabham violently, which he had not been able to see due to the cloud of water raised from the car of the English. Boutsen then passed in first position, who would then lead the group to the finish line, winning for the second time in the season and preceding Nannini, Patrese, Nakajima, Pirro and Martini. After the race, disconsolate Ayrton confides to Ron Dennis his intention to think about a possible retirement from racing:
"I don't know if I stop or continue. I'll go back to San Paolo, I'll think about it, then I'll decide. But right now I don't know which way to take. I'm calm because God is with me. In fact, I've never been so peaceful. But I can't talk about next year, about revenge, because I don't know if I will race. I go home to rest, with my parents, grandchildren. I will play with my model aircraft. There are no problems with ties: the sponsors give me the freedom to do what I want. I was going through the best moment of my career, but to continue I would have to improve myself. I feel like a world champion: I lost only for mechanical failures and political reasons. I remain the strongest".
At the end of the championship, from Brazil Senna continues to argue against Balestre, and to reporters he declares that in Formula 1 the economic and political interests are now weighing more and more. That the President of FISA is pushing his hand a little too hard seems all too evident, and in fact, in a subsequent trial on December 7, 1989, Senna refuses to make any kind of apology for his statements, and reiterates that, in his opinion, Prost and Balestre manipulated the result of the Japanese Grand Prix.
Thus, Ayrton this time gets the label of arrogant and irritating pilot, and the super license is withdrawn for six months. In the meantime, there is a war between Ferrari and McLaren. Dennis refuses to give Prost permission to test with Ferrari before the end of the year, when his contract expires.
And out of spite, Ferrari imposes the same veto on the Austrian Gerhard Berger who in 1990 will move from the Maranello facrory to the Woking one. However, contrary to what were the initial indications, on November 15, 1990 Alain presented himself to the press in Maranello, in front of who came to meet him:
"Did you see? I already speak Italian much better than before and I will still make progress. What a thrill to enter this temple of racing, it is the dream of every driver and for me it has become reality. They all welcomed me with great kindness, with great sympathy. Here, I can already say that I have found a second home here. I left McLaren because I no longer felt motivated, there were no longer the right human relationships, but here it is something else. How did you spend your first day in the factory? I talked to Fiorio, then to president Fusaro and then we worked on the seat. They took my measurements, now they will have to make the seat with leather and special aluminum, then they will have to adjust the pedals, in short, next week I will be able to start driving on the Fiorano track. That will be a really exciting moment but until then I can't tell you anything, I have no idea how this car is going. Of course, I want to be aware of all the technical problems, I want to know the development programs, I want to intervene in the development".
At this point, a reporter asks Prost if he thinks Senna will actually retire from racing:
"Knowing him, I'd say no, and then I'd be sorry, he's a great opponent, a very good driver. I just didn't feel good with him from a human point of view, that's all. With Mansell I think things will go very well, he's a very fast driver, he will give me a hard time, humanly speaking he is not even comparable to Senna. A fourth world title would be fantastic but I don't think I'll ever reach Fangio's five".
On Wednesday of the following week, Prost tests the Ferrari in Fiorano, before moving to Estoril on December 4th, while the renovations continue inside the company: engineer Ascanelli, head of Berger's car, is transferred to the street production, from where he will definitively leave by moving to Benetton; and Juan Villadeprat, the chief mechanic imposed by Barnard three years earlier, is also about to leave. In addition, engineer Steve Nichols also comes from McLaren along with Prost. It is Alain himself who asks him to dress in red like him, and Nichols, despite the insistence of Ron Dennis who does not want to let him go, chooses to embrace the cause of bringing the title back to Maranello.
Six years, thirty wins, 458 points and three world titles. A winning partnership that ends bitterly despite the third world champion won. In any case, while Alain is ready for his new chapter in Maranello, to be faced as reigning World Champion, Ayrton rages in his war with FISA, refuses to apologize to Balestre, questions his stay in Formula 1, and since there is never a limit, he definitively breaks all relations with his girlfriend Xuxa. The winter between 1989 and 1990 has a lot to tell, just like the next championship, where Ferrari finally manages to fill the gap that separated it from the battleship McLaren.
Davide Scotto di Vetta