Winter 1990. While Senna is in Angra Dos Reis on vacation, after flying over Sao Paulo, where work is underway on the restructuring of the circuit, Balestre's ultimatum to the Brazilian starts on January 10th:
"I tried to make peace with Senna. But he had, in a stormy meeting, an arrogant and contemptuous behavior. The very next day (December 8th, 1989) he said things that irritated all the members of the Council. Since Mr. Senna has been silent for five days, we are forced to publicly remind him of these things for the sole purpose of finding a constructive solution: if by February 15, 1990, the deadline for obtaining super-licenses, the Brazilian does not publicly retract all his lies, he will remain on foot".
An ultimatum based on article 58 of the sporting code, which provides that each driver undertakes to comply with all the FIA regulations and the decisions of the sporting authority. According to Balestre, Senna would have breached this commitment with his behavior, and therefore would not be in a position to obtain the necessary driving license in Formula 1. In Brazil, Tomas Rohony, a Hungarian who organizes the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo on behalf of Ecclestone, mocks the story:
"Disqualifying Senna in this way is technically impossible. It would take a long sporting trial with a very uncertain outcome. In any case, I bet one hundred thousand dollars that Senna at the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix, and maybe even in pole position. Balestre's blackmail appears in fact impossible. The article 58 he invoked does not at all provide that the president or whoever for him can force a federal member to apologize. Balestre, if he wants, can simply disqualify him. But it is clear that by doing so he would make himself even more frowned upon than he already is in the world of Formula 1. Balestre then tries to unload the responsibility for such a serious act on Senna".
Meanwhile, Ron Dennis, on January 12, 1990, issued a statement in which he is convinced that Senna will be at the start of the next championship:
"I have spoken to Senna, and I can assure you that he will be behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car next season. As for the possibility of his passage to Indycar, we do not know anything. However, I believe that at this point the best thing is to talk as little as possible".
Dennis then admitted that at this point McLaren must decide whether to take legal action against FISA's decision not to renew the super license to Senna.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian justice minister, Saulo Ramos, calls Ayrton to explain the strategy he is thinking of adopting in various international political forums, because Balestre's blackmail goes against the principles of the Brazilian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and work to its citizens.
Piero Gancia, president of the CBA, also moves, requesting the intervention of ordinary justice with an international arbitration of judges, to deliberate on the ongoing dispute, without binding the Brazilian to the humiliation of having to expose his apologies, and involves the President of the Republic of Brazil, Fernando Collor del Mello, who during a meeting with the French Prime Minister, Michel Rocard, talks about the Senna-Balestre case.
The lawyer Carlos Avalone brings a thousand people under the French consulate in Sao Paulo, with banners like Nazi crossbows, and promises Senna that if he does not start the first Grand Prix of the 1990 season, he will give life to a series of demonstrations to obstruct the landing of the materials of the Formula 1 teams at Guarulhos airport on the occasion of the Brazilian Grand Prix, and will block the roads. Bernie Ecclestone and the manufacturers also give their support to Senna, because they are starting to find the behavior of the President of FISA quite annoying. In any case, the apologies do not come, and nothing moves.
Therefore, on January 25, Balestre declares that he greatly appreciated Senna's discretion regarding the controversy surrounding the accusations he made, and adds that he does not expect the pilot to make a humiliating apology but only a retraction of what he said:
"The reporters edited this case, not me. I want peace. I am tired, enough of the controversy. It is not right for pilots to be subjected to further pressure. Journalists have no mercy, they just want to write. There is no Senna question, simply because he has not yet applied for the super license. He has time until February 15th. He did not ask for anything and I cannot deny him what he did not ask. Everything was exploited. On the contrary, I must say that I appreciated Senna's discretion, despite the assault that the press made him while he was on vacation, despite also the insistence of a light-thighed journalist. Have mercy on Senna, let him rest".
But from Brazil Senna answers ironically:
"If it was the journalists who put together a Senna case, now it's up to them to dismantle it".
The dispute therefore continues undaunted. On January 30, 1990, Balestre, during an interview with a French radio, adds:
"We decided to refuse McLaren registration in the Formula 1 world championship, as the Senna case has not yet been resolved and since the Brazilian driver is certainly under the influence of the team manager, Ron Dennis, we are waiting for him to be the responsible for the team to resolve the situation".
Three days later, the twist. On Friday, February 2, 1990, the International Federation announced that Senna had paid the $ 100.000 fine imposed on him by the Court of Appeal, but states that the question of an apology is still pending (in reality it is McLaren that pays the fine of $ 100.000. to FISA in place of Ayrton, who refused to pay). The Brazilian driver, in short, should submit to a public fine against the president of FISA, after the declarations made during the Japanese Grand Prix, considered seriously offensive. In the meantime, two McLarens have been entered for the world championship, one for the Austrian Berger, the other for a driver to be designated.
On February 15th, 1990, while Senna, finished his long holidays in Brazil, arrives in Europe after troubled months full of controversy, accusations and postponed armistices, on the day of the deadline set by Jean-Marie Balestre, the letter of apology arrives to the FISA President:
"Dear President, during the meeting of the FIA World Council on December 7, 1989, I heard statements and testimonies from various people, and I consider them sufficient evidence to recognize that there has been no pressure group and that the President of Fisa has not influenced the decisions relating to the outcome of the 1989 Formula 1 World Championship. I require the super license to participate in the 1990 championship. Sincerely. Ayrton Senna".
At midnight between Thursday and Friday, the famous letter of apology demanded by the French president still lies on the McLaren desk; Thursday morning the FIA Court of Appeal makes a relaxing gesture by canceling the sentence of six months of disqualification with the conditional sentence imposed on October 31th last. A gesture that still does not convince Senna very much - "I asked the president of Honda, Kawamoto, and Ron Dennis to decide for me" - as much as the McLaren team manager, who was forced to give up only when he saw the list of pilots with Palmer and Berger in the staff of his team.
Ayrton therefore limited himself to assisting in the negotiation between Balestre, Dennis, Marlboro and the vice president of FISA (and president of FOCA) Bernie Ecclestone, and then thanked Berger, Boutsen, Alboreto and Gugelmin for the explicit moral support, criticizing instead the president of the Brazilian Federation, Piero Gancia:
"The right to free expression of thought must be respected. What is happening in Eastern Europe is proving it. However, fortunately, everything ended in peace and harmony. I sent my apology letter to Jean Marie Balestre only after the disclosure by FISA of the list of drivers entered in the Formula 1 World Championship with the name of Jonathan Palmer instead of mine".
To tell the truth, there is very little of Senna in that peace letter, written, signed and sent by McLaren. In fact, he does not even think about apologizing to Balestre, he is convinced that he is the victim of the situation, the one who was obviously disadvantaged in the head to head with Prost and was subsequently treated without any respect towards his figure during the course of the whole affair.
Indeed, the letter that Ayrton sends to Dennis, to hand it to Balestre, is far from suitable for retraction. But it is clear that with the real one, Balestre would never have agreed to return the super license to the Brazilian driver. Therefore, Ron Dennis writes the letter and signature in his own hand, before delivering it to the President of FISA, who can only accept the false apology, and return the super license to Senna. This closes a case that began on October 22nd in Japan with the collision between Senna and Prost, now at Ferrari, and which has dragged on for months between courts and twists.
However, Ron Dennis is not happy at all and takes it out on the whole universe, as the team worked day and night all winter to put the new car on track a week from the start of the championship. The chronometric times were disappointing compared to those of the Ferrari, but the strongest concerns come from the changes made to the car and the gearbox. Five times Senna and Berger found themselves on the track with the car placed sideways on the edge of two hundred kilometres per hour. McLaren is technically impoverished both in terms of men and mechanical solutions. Berger himself makes no secret of it and regrets the automatic gearbox of Italian cars.
In the meantime, Prost closed an era in the best possible way, leaving after six seasons and three World Drivers' Championships a McLaren that had now repudiated him as its leader. Winning his third title was paradoxically a setback to his former team, which was fully deployed alongside Senna.
It is time to dress in Red, and to make Ferrari a winning team after more than a decade of abstinence from drivers' titles. To do this, Ferrari has strengthened its staff: 300 people work in Maranello, three times as many as the best teams, and 90 engines are under construction. Never before has the Red team had so many technical and economic means at its disposal; never as this year have they worked so hard during the winter, covering almost five thousand kilometers of tests and trials; morale has never been so high as now.
In addition to Alain, Nigel Mansell is also driving the 641 F1, and has no intention of limiting himself to being a follower of the newcomer, but wants to play all his cards in the fight for the title.
On February 20, 1990, fans attention was focused on the Estoril track, where Ferrari, Williams, Benetton, Lotus and Arrows take to the track. Prost is not only the fastest on race tires, but also runs an entire race simulation with no apparent problems. The Frenchman completed about 400 km, putting the reliability of the new car to the whip, with satisfactory results. In this regard, John Barnard, now at Benetton, while he is also in Portugal, expresses super laudatory words for Prost:
"McLaren has not yet realized how much it has lost by letting Prost go. He is the most sensitive driver I have ever met, a great professional. I am convinced that Ferrari will return to the top with him, if he has developed the car in the right direction and if it has managed to improve the engine".
At Silverstone, however, the new McLaren made its debut behind closed doors. The test marked Senna's return to the wheel, after almost two uninterrupted months of holidays and controversy; an indirect confirmation of the fact that the driver will participate in the championship. But Ayrton was not lucky: on his fourteenth lap he went off the road in the chicane of the very fast Woodcote corner. The car, apparently due to a gust of wind and the locking of the rear brakes, jumped on a curb and ended up against the protections. The pilot got away without damage, apart from a good scare. The McLaren, on the other hand, was damaged in the lower part of the chassis and was sent back to the Woking workshop for the necessary repairs.
McLaren resumed the track on February 29, 1990 for three days of testing at Estoril, while five days earlier, on February 24, 1990, in Italy Alain celebrated his 35th birthday, among friends, in the beautiful hall of the Hotel Cristallo, where he is a guest together with the majority of his colleagues.
A new atmosphere for him too, in the Italian style, in the name of good humor, cordiality, affection, sympathy, feelings that perhaps he never found at McLaren, where everything was more formal. Unlike his rival, Alain wasted no time and did not go on vacation. Intercepted by journalists, the French driver confides:
"I'm not tired, even though I've had very few holidays this year. But I had to learn Ferrari, understand the new team, discover the car, its strengths and even its flaws. I come to the start full of strength with only one goal: to win the world title, for the fourth time. The 641 seems competitive to me. If it is also reliable, we will fight well with McLaren and the others".
"I am convinced that we and McLaren will see it. Williams and Benetton disappointed me in winter testing. They will grow, but they are not yet at the top, even if Renault worked well with the cars of Patrese and Boutsen. Analyzing the situation, as far as I know, it seems to me that McLaren has focused above all on the refinement of last year's car, the Mp4/5 which was not perfect. It will certainly be a difficult opponent, but we are ready even if the first two races can bring surprises".
"The electronically controlled gearbox is fast, precise, comfortable for the driver. But I don't know what the percentage advantage is. We'll see from track to track. In any case, what was the Achilles heel for McLaren, at Ferrari it is a strong point. I did 2400 km without having the slightest problem. For the rest we are still working, we will grow with the passing of the days, on Friday at Fiorano a brand new wing will be tested. I am very curious to start, as if it was my own first day of competition. And this is a feeling that I really like, because it makes me understand that, despite my thirty-five years of age, as a driver I still feel very young. The experience I have accumulated so far makes me stronger and will allow me to assert myself in a season in which placings will also count".
A few days later it finally begins: everyone flies to the States, destination Phoenix.
On Wednesday, March 7, 1990, Senna arrives in Arizona, under the tan his face and his eyes send strange, conflicting signals. On one hand you can sense the determination of all time, the certainty of those who know they are among the best, if not the best; on the other, a certain concern, a torment perhaps due to some doubt:
"In fact, I feel double. The driver Senna has no problems, he has confidence in his means, in the team, in the possibility of continuing to win. On the other hand, the man Senna is disappointed, he would like to change, close this chapter of racing things in life and I don't necessarily stop racing sooner than people think".
"The rivals for this championship are the usual ones. Ferrari first of all, then Williams and Benetton. It could be a more balanced championship. But those who think they will find a McLaren unprepared are deluded. Honda worked hard and the new car has an exceptional ground effect. It will certainly be faster than the previous MP4/5, although perhaps not as far ahead as in the past. Better, there will be spectacular races".
"Ferrari is not just an institution where each of us dreams of one day having our most exhilarating experience. It is a combative team, with considerable means. It has strengthened a lot, worked hard and should reap the rewards. But don't ask me where it can go: we will only know at the end of the year, also because the first races will not be decisive for the purposes of the indications on the true values. Many teams will present more competitive cars starting from Imola in May. We have to wait, even if good results here and in Sao Paulo will be a notable starting point".
The winter accusations and controversies don't seem to have troubled Ayrton that much, although:
"I feel so sorry. But I have not changed, I am still the same and I think I have been right in many cases. Now I hope to have a sincere partner in Berger. I only ask him this, to collaborate in the development of the cars, playing with it his chances on the track. The teammate is the most direct reference to the value of a driver, but this must not be exploited to try to destabilize the team, as in the past".
The opening round of the championship takes place on March 11, 1990 on the Phoenix street circuit in the United States of America. The Mp4/5B is an evolution of the reigning World Champion car, equipped with the V10 engine supplied by Honda, while Ferrari remains faithful to its home-made V12 and its semi-automatic gearbox, now evolved after countless problems of reliability it caused during the previous season.
In qualifying, on Friday Ayrton, who had hardly ever lapped with the new car, is plagued by numerous problems, while the new teammate, Gerhard Berger, manages to set the best time despite encountering enormous difficulties in adapt to the very narrow car, which prevents him from even driving correctly.
But it is also the great day for Pirelli, which surprisingly places the cars with its tires in excellent positions, five to be exact in the top ten. In addition to Martini, second with Minardi, de Cesaris third with Dallara, Alesi with Tyrrell fourth, in his first season as a starting driver in Formula 1, Grouillard's Osella also managed to finish in eighth place.
For Ferrari, on the other hand, on this first day of testing there are endless problems with the tires and the semi-automatic gearbox. If Prost limits the damage and is seventh, Mansell is even seventeenth, with little expectations for the next day.
The first surprise arrives on Saturday: torrential rain makes it impossible for the second qualifying session to take place, so the starting grid is established based on the times recorded on Friday during the first session. As a result, it is unexpectedly Gerhard Berger who takes the top spot on his first official McLaren outing, with Senna only fifth.
On Sundays, gray clouds float across the Arizona sky, but unlike Saturdays, they don't bring rain; the race starts and ends in dry track conditions. At the start, Berger manages to maintain his position against Martini, who started alongside him, but is overtaken by Alesi. The French driver, who made his debut in the home Grand Prix the previous year, thus took the lead in the race, immediately taking off on his pursuers and accumulating an advantage of 2.4 seconds at the end of the first lap.
In the meantime Senna begins to recover and, after passing De Cesaris and moving into third position, he approaches Berger, who loses about half a second per lap from Alesi. The Brazilian has now reached his teammate when, during the ninth lap, the Austrian brakes on a bump in the road surface, spinning and damaging the rear wing of his car. Berger is therefore forced to return to the pits to replace the damaged wing; he later sets the fastest lap in the race, but was forced to retire due to a clutch failure.
At the moment of Berger's spin, Senna is 8.2 seconds behind Alesi. Not knowing if Tyrrell's Pirelli tires would last until the end of the race, Senna is reluctant to push too hard in the early stages of the race; however, the durability of the Italian tires will be proven when, after thirty laps, Alesi still holds the lead.
After patiently waiting for the best opportunity to pass his opponent, Senna attacks Alesi for the first time during the 34th lap, slipping him into the first corner of the circuit after the finish line, on the right, but the Frenchman tenaciously resists the McLaren's driver maneuver, remaining alongside him on the short straight following and passing him back to the next corner, in which he had a favorable trajectory; however, he cannot reply to the overtaking that the Brazilian inflicts on him a lap later, at the same point where the previous attempt has been carried out.
After several attempts to regain the lead, Alesi decides to keep the tires and let Senna go. Meanwhile, Prost slipped into ninth position at the start, as he was unable to engage third gear; climbed back to fourth place during the seventeenth lap, however, he was forced to retire four laps later, betrayed by the gearbox. Mansell's retirement, driving the other Ferrari, is more spectacular: during the forty-ninth lap, while the English driver occupies the fifth position, on his car the clutch disintegrates right on the main straight, at about 260 km/h. The oil tank is punctured by some pieces of the clutch and the engine explodes, turning into a huge ball of fire. Mansell somehow manages to control the car and stop safely.
At the head of the race, Senna stretches clearly over Alesi, taking his advantage over the young Frenchman to 28.5 seconds before having to slow down due to engine problems, which however did not prevent him from crossing the finish line in first position. After the race, Senna, climbing on the podium, where he carefully avoids any contact with Jean-Marie Balestre, asks:
"Where are the Ferraris? Retired? Ah".
After the awards ceremony, Ayrton is asked why he immediately asked for information on Ferraris:
"I didn't know anything about what happened. I only saw Berger's accident and then I had to fight with Alesi. I didn't have time to think about Prost and Mansell. My question had only one precise reason: I consider Ferrari, with Williams and of course with my teammate, who is very fast, the rivals for the world championship. This was an atypical race. We will see the true values only in Imola. I have found all the motivations, an important stimulus to continue When I arrived in Phoenix I felt like a foreign element, I could only forget the past by driving. Returning to Ferrari, given the result, I expected something more because I knew it has been very strong in winter testing. A bad day means nothing".
Then, shifting attention to his race, Ayrton admits:
"It was a difficult test. I could have made a mistake, I could have started badly. Already in qualifying I finished in fifth place after having always been at the top in recent years. Alesi committed me fully, I had to put all my concentration into the duel. We could also run into a collision. So I let him vent and only passed him definitively when I was sure not to risk too much".
"I had to save the brakes, not make too much use of the gearbox and also the engine which gave me some problems on Friday. I would say that it is basically still an excellent car, with a road holding higher than that of last year. strength is the Honda ten-cylinder".
"Also for the team it went very well. I'm sorry for Berger, but at this point I am convinced that we will both be able to bring the number one back to our team. After Brazil we will carry out a series of tests in Imola for the development of the car. Even though the new MP4/5B debuted winning, it's still not perfect. We'll have to work hard".
"I did not expect to return to success immediately, it was a surprise. I had a car that I had tested very little, I came from three months of inactivity, we were on a city track where behind every curve there is a wall that threatens you it. It was not easy to overcome so many problems. Now let's go to Brazil, on a real track, where I have never competed. But over there I'll be just Senna as always".
On the other hand, Ferrari's sporting director, Cesare Fiorio, at the end of the race, with great disappointment painted on his face, takes stock of the situation:
"On Prost's car the gearbox oil tank must have given up. On Mansell's car we still don't know exactly what happened, because we couldn't detect the data with telemetry, data that up to the lap before the retirement were perfect. But he seems sure it was the engine".
The hypothesis was then confirmed by Mansell, who arrived on foot in the pits and then left almost immediately:
"The engine exploded. I felt the car stop suddenly and I got another good scare. However it went quite well, within the limits of what has happened. My Ferrari, however, was not perfect, it was just so-so".
Prost was among the first ones, among the expected protagonists, to return to the pits. While the Ferrari mechanics were bustling around the smoking car practically from the start of the race, the Frenchman had his seat belts unfastened and got out of the cockpit:
"I immediately realized that it wouldn't last long. As soon as I started, rather difficult because I lost a couple of positions in the initial tussle to avoid an accident, I realized that the gearbox oil pressure has dropped. I felt a hole between fourth and fifth gear and I realized that it would be very difficult to continue. In fact, around the twentieth lap I had to slow down and re-enter the pits. Too bad, the car was more than decent in terms of performance".
Two weeks later, the Brazilian Grand Prix returns to San Paolo, in the renovated Interlagos racetrack, to the delight of Senna who can thus race in his hometown. Formula 1 returns to Sao Paulo after ten years and finds a brand new circuit, where however the works are still in progress, where nothing works properly, and with the rain that threatens to paralyze everything.
The boxes that already housed the machines and workshop equipment of the various stables are flooded despite the closed shutters. On the track there are heaps of mud that legions of willing workers remove with their arms, without realizing that the mud has now impregnated the new new asphalt, while the stands were mounted with metal pipes so thin as to seriously fear for the fate of the unfortunates who will sit down.
Even the mechanics of the stables are starving, because they can't change their money and they don't have cruzeiros to eat. Everyone gets by as best they can. Despite the numerous problems, all the drivers are enthusiastic about the track.
On Saturday, despite being in the lead, Senna managed to improve Friday's time. Boutsen and Patrese did the same. Even better did Alesi who overtook Martini and de Cesaris. Only the Ferraris got on the track without improving and the nervousness, at the end of the tests, is cut into slices in the pits of Ferrari thanks also to the discord sown by Ron Dennis, who teases his rivals by stating that they may also have won the winter Grand Prix, that is the tests, but not the ones that really matter.
Why has Ferrari still gone badly? Because there were oil stains on the asphalt, because a commissioner started to cross the track just as Mansell arrived, because a stone got stuck between the flywheel and the electrical sensors, says engineer Castelli, who then adds:
"There is nothing to be done, with the qualifying tires we are slower than with the race tires. But with the race tires and a full tank of petrol we had excellent times, we were competitive with McLaren".
Prost also confirms this optimism:
"I was able to keep up with Berger very easily".
Comic is instead the arrival of Jean Marie Balestre in Sao Paulo, after just two days earlier he made it known that he would not be traveling to Brazil for healthy reasons. At the entrance to the circuit, the Brazilian stalls welcomed him with a fashion show of T-shirts with his nosebleed face printed on them, and the words "Balestre, fuck you". Balestre, however, arranged things differently. Before leaving Paris, he sent a telex in which he imposed his conditions for coming to Brazil:
- VIP reception at the airport;
- A helicopter and an escort of motorcyclists;
- A squad of bodyguards;
- Evian bottled water and McDonald's in the room;
- Limousine with driver.
And finally, as he always does to show off, a nice press conference in which he thanked the Brazilians because they only throw tomatoes, while in Corsica (in the WRC event) they threw bombs:
"I would like to inform the Brazilian people that this is our World Championship, of the FIA. In the past we have had problems with Corsica, in the World Rally, and we have been forced to remind them that if they did not take the necessary measures, they would lose the validity of the race. And look now how better they are than the Brazilians, they do not throw the tomatoes, but the bombs. Although I doubt that at this moment the Brazilians have the money to buy them. This is the third time I come in San Paolo, and in 1979 and 1980 it was French pilots who won".
The response of the Brazilian supporters is not long in coming, and a banner is displayed in the stands whose translation is as follows:
"Cry unclean Balestre. Senna is the World Champion".
However, Balestre is still not satisfied, and decides to take a nice walk in the pit lane, on the circuit of San Paolo, very close to the main grandstand: as soon as he is spotted, from the stands, the spectators start throwing dozens of oranges aimed at him, many of which also hit the target. A tragicomic situation in which Balestre is rescued by the firefighters who escort him away, and in which he will still have the courage to declare:
"Confronting an angry audience is a perverse pleasure".
The FISA President will thus have to spend the whole weekend closed in the office, but will have his little revenge on Sunday, when his prediction of victory by a French driver comes true. With Senna and Berger in the front row, the Brazilian Grand Prix starts: at the first corner there is a collision between Alesi, Nannini and Andrea de Cesaris; the latter is forced to retire, while Nannini must return to the pits to replace the nose. On lap eight, Boutsen overtook Berger, moving into second position; nine laps later, the Austrian driver is also overtaken by Prost.
On lap 27 Mansell makes a pit stop to change the tires; returns to the track ninth, while Boutsen's pit stop, on lap 30, is disastrous: due to inefficient brakes and an insidious dip in the pit lane, the Williams driver is unable to stop his car, going to crashing into the tires stacked in the garage. This accident causes the nose to break, which must be replaced, and the Belgian returns to the track only in eleventh position. Four months after Suzuka, Ayrton and Alain find them back there to challenge each other.
Senna sets the pace but Prost is ten seconds down, and steadily gains over his rival. So Senna tries to speed up the overtaking maneuvers on the lapped drivers to lose as little time as possible, but when it is the turn of Nakajima's Tyrrell, the Japanese closes the trajectory not realizing the arrival of the McLaren, which consequently seriously damages his front wing.
Ayrton is forced to return to the pits to replace the wing, and sees the victory fade in front of his fans. Despite a furious comeback, at the finish line he is only third behind his teammate Berger. Alain wins his fortieth career victory, the first in a Ferrari suit. Mansell finished fourth ahead of Boutsen and Piquet, who got the last available point by overtaking Alesi - who was struggling with tires after attempting a race without a pit stop - during the last lap. Alain's emotion is such that he cannot hold back the tears of joy in the back box, embraced by his new team principal Cesare Fiorio:
"It is perhaps the best victory of my career".
Ayrton, for his part, does not take responsibility for the accident between him and Nakajima, and on the contrary, even replies by saying that everyone knows his driving style and that therefore the Japanese should not have behaved in that way. Ayrton Senna wants to leave McLaren at the end of the championship to join Ferrari. This is the shocking news that the Brazilian driver confides to the English newspapers at Imola, which reports some of his statements:
"I have to take my decisions calmly, but it's already time to think about next year. When you've been in Formula 1 for a long time, there comes a time when it's natural to consider driving a Ferrari".
However, his move to Ferrari appears problematic. Prost and Mansell have a contract that expires at the end of the year but there is already an option for renewal. On the other hand, Senna's coexistence with Prost or Mansell seems difficult, given that he had stormy relations with both in the past.
This confession comes in the first days of April, while between April 18 and 20, 1990, Formula 1, as usual, moves to Imola to develop the cars through a test session. On day one, Mansell drives thirty laps in the new Ferrari 641/2, but when he stops he is rather disappointed:
"First the rain, then the dry, we didn't have time to make all the necessary adjustments. We hope that the weather will change".
Comments Mansell, who is arguing with the team, declaring that he feels neglected:
"Oh yeah? Mansell wants a car and a forklift all for himself? Of course, I understand, if you want to be the first driver you have to have them. For example, I would love to have three cars and three forklifts all to myself".
Prost says ironically, accompanied by a sly smile. Then, at the end of his personal tests with the new Ferrari 641/2 modified by Scalabroni, Alain declares:
"Our program was not to obtain a sensational performance but to develop many technical solutions. For example, we have problems with the electronic gearbox: every now and then the gears do not enter. There is also a suspension problem; the rear one, all new, we sent it back to Maranello for some structural changes and so I drove with the old type. I did tests with a full fuel tank, in race set-up because I was interested in seeing some things. In short, this 641/2 for the moment is still a laboratory-car where old and new are mixed, different solutions, in search of the best. Only in the tests of May 4th and 5th, will we be able to run in an almost definitive version and pursue performance record".
"Next Tuesday at Fiorano we will do some new tests with the qualifying tires, but for now we are in bad shape. The Pirelli tires, on the other hand, continue to make progress. Alesi told me that he gains a second and a half, while I continue to go faster with the race tires. If things continue like this I'm afraid that there may be some unpleasant surprises on the grid at Imola. I'm optimistic, I hope everything will be solved because I know that a lot of work is being done in Maranello, but we are a bit late. The same goes for the engine: it has certainly improved, but there are still many things to fix. A week of testing in which the rain put all the teams in difficulty, but in which some cars and some drivers got in trouble confirming expected progresses".
During these test sessions, the enormous differences between two top drivers such as Prost and Mansell came out. To tell it in detail is Steve Nichols, who joined Ferrari together with Prost, but also strongly wanted by Mansell, even if, over the weeks, the British began to be hostile to the engineer, seeing him only as someone who worked exclusively on the car for Alain.
“Nigel had his race engineer, and Prost had his own; I was neutral, I wanted them both to have the same treatment, but the problem was that I came from McLaren with Prost. Nigel wanted little to do with me, as he only considered me as Prost's engineer. I rarely worked with him, in fact I thought he hated me. It was only years later that I found out that it was he, as well as Alain, who asked for me to be hired. So, the one and only problem was that according to Nigel, I was with Prost".
"Their working methods were very different: Nigel would arrive, do a few laps and then start a race simulation. Generally testers could try their hand at long runs, but Nigel insisted that he could actually go out there, switch off his brain without having to use it too much and run laps after laps, and then do a few qualifying laps at the end of the day. The problem is that in this way we wouldn't have collected anything useful".
"While he was trying his hand at this kind of thing, Prost's engineer told him: Nigel is half a second faster than you, you have to go to the track and do a quick lap. To which Alain replied: why? It's a waste of time. We have work to do, do some more long runs. No Alain, you have to take a quick lap because Nigel did one, and if you don't the team could start gravitating around him, because he's the Lion and all those things. Alain rolled his eyes in annoyance, he asked that the car was removed from the gasoline, went to the track and immediately recorded a faster lap of more than half a second compared to Mansell's, then returned to the pits and said: done, can we go back to work now? While poor Nigel was puzzling and starting to complain about political games".
On May 4th Alain is involved in a strange accident. During rehearsals, Ivan Capelli's Leyton House performs a frightening carom followed by a white smoke, then falls like a stone in the middle of the track, putting itself sideways on its side.
The Italian driver reacts promptly to the misfortune: he unscrews the steering wheel and, dragging himself on the ground, tries to get out of the cockpit of his car, while Prost runs towards his colleague, before the rescue workers arrive. Luckily Ivan gets away with some bruises in his legs, cervical rachialgia and a prognosis of six days.
On the Imola circuit, Ferrari debuts a new V12 engine that just the day before finished running on the bench, in the workshop, for the final touches. An engine that Ferrari wants to use only during the official practice of the San Marino Grand Prix. But in Ferrari there are also other problems to be solved, besides engine tuning.
It has in fact been discovered that the windshield of the new car modified by Scalabroni sends the wind in the driver's face rather than in the air intake above the helmet, which is intended for cooling the engine. So, in a hurry, new hand-made deflectors are tested to see if and how things improve. At the same time, Enrique Scalabroni confirms to the press that the 641/2 is nothing more than the evolution of the car designed by Barnard:
"The characteristics of this car which has three years of life as a design do not allow it to perform revolutions. So we tried to optimize everything that was possible. The car has a thinner nose, and new front air intakes, to try to eliminate the marginal vortices of air that caused some difficulties. We have lengthened the side bellies and changed the fairing even if you don't see much to the eye. We also proceed with the evolution of the suspensions and we have a new generation of rear wings whose purpose is to give, in other words, greater aerodynamic pressure without reducing the maximum speed. A work done with the computer, the wind tunnel, the conceptual study and the design. In my opinion it should bring good progress, in the order of 5-6% on performance".
The one who sets excellent times is Riccardo Patrese, with Williams equipped with a new generation Renault engine, while Cesare Fiorio confesses:
"We did some good tests, but we continue to have the qualifying tire handicap, we don't use them so well. For the rest we have done the whole program and this is already a positive result".
On the other hand, the absenteeism of the McLarens of Senna and Berger is inexplicable. They are almost not seen and not heard, even though they are lapping like crazy. McLaren is busy testing new brake cooling vents and a larger brake caliper, but times are scarce; so scarce as to suggest that it is all a fake to make some confusion.
Finally, after a month and a half break, we are back to racing on the Imola circuit for the San Marino Grand Prix, and not for the tests. On the F641/2, as anticipated, there is the new engine that will be mounted on the two cars of Prost and Mansell, while otherwise the forklift will still have the old twelve-cylinder:
"It has been redesigned inside, and its starting point is that of the arrival of the old engine. The current power is the same, but it allows an evolution that the other engine no longer allowed. It is used only in tests because the reliability in the race has not been sufficiently tested, and therefore we do not want to take risks".
Cesare Fiorio makes known. However, the tire problem remains. Ferrari suffers with Goodyear qualifying ones and in this aspect there are, unfortunately, no good news:
"We are at the point we were before. Here we will not suffer much because the power of the engine has its weight, but I hope that things will change for Montecarlo where the engine counts for little and the tires a lot".
For now, after three rounds of private practice at Imola, the results of the chronometer do not say exciting things about everything that has been experienced by Ferrari, but it is also true that in private tests everyone tends to disguise their cards well, so you can take nothing for granted. Meanwhile, the regional Snater, the RAI technical and administrative staff union, threatens to blow up the commentary on the Grand Prix. The reason? Not wage issues, but safety at work inside the Imola racetrack.
On the other hand, the event organized by the Sagis company has a good response from the public, so much so that about 200.000 people participate for the weekend. The grandstand tickets, in fact, have already been sold out for some time. The side events include the Volvo Hole in One, that is a mini golf tournament that sees Nigel Mansell as the winner among the drivers and Ercole Colombo among the journalists, and a tennis tournament, in which Riccardo Patrese prevails, beating in the final the president of Volvo Italy Luc Bracke.
On Saturday afternoon, the Villeneuve Prize is also presented to Senna by a deputy from the Department of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of San Marino. During Friday practice, the McLarens monopolize the front row, with Berger setting the best time in 1'24"027, trailing Senna by a few cents.
This is because the Brazilian driver, while launching with his second set of qualifying tires, cannot improve his time due to a serious accident involving Pierluigi Martini. The Minardi driver in fact leaves the track at Acque Minerali and crashes violently against the barriers, so much so that his car breaks into two parts, leaving his legs uncovered.
Rescued immediately by the commissioners, Pierluigi is extracted after nine minutes and transported to the hospital, where he is diagnosed with a micro-fracture of the malleolus with a prognosis of twenty-five days. Four tenths of a second behind the McLaren duo is followed by Patrese, at ease on the Romagna track, and Mansell, who despite various inconveniences gets a decent placement: the Englishman is in fact hindered by four cars in his fast lap, and has to perform an instinctive maneuver to avoid Paolo Barilla, who crossed the track while he was on his way.
Boutsen fifth, slowed down by a brake problem, precedes Prost, who is in a lot of difficulty: the Frenchman, after starting tests with the new 641/2 F1, decides to use the old chassis, with which he is better and feels less turbulence, but he still complains about poor grip, and is two seconds behind Berger.
The new super engine is sent back to Maranello, the qualifying tires are always a nightmare and now even the new car, modified by Scalabroni, is under investigation. All while the McLarens, which during the long tests in April and May gave the impression of playing in vain, inflict serious gaps.
To the doubts and uncertainties existing in terms of gearboxes, tires and engines, another reason for insecurity has now been added: Prost suspected that perhaps Scalabroni's car is wrong, and is worse than the old one designed by Barnard. It would be the English magician himself who opened his eyes during a long night meeting.
Prost immediately wanted to check, and so he went to the decisive tests for the starting grid with the old version of the car, but despite weighing about thirty kilos less, Alain was slower than Mansell, who drove the new car.
The next day, Saturday's session starts with a delay of almost half an hour to clean the track from debris left by Moreno's car, protagonist of an accident during the morning. Senna conquers his second pole position of the season, improving his time by about eight tenths and lapping in 1'23"220. He then manages to overtake Berger, second.
The second row is occupied by the two Williams of Patrese and Boutsen, while the Ferraris do not go beyond the third row. Mansell found traffic on his fast lap, while Prost still couldn't find the right feeling with the car, he tries to vary a bit with the choice of tires, but nothing to do.
Alain highlights a problem in the use of qualifying tires which, according to him, cannot guarantee the hoped-for performance, while Senna proves to be calm for the race and does not spare his former teammate a dig:
"It's just a matter of believing in if same. And not to make mistakes. You have to plan everything carefully. I think it would be possible to be more accurate: the 1'23"0 was not impossible, but maybe I should have to risk too much. My first lap was not effective enough, because I was losing speed by sliding sideways. I made small adjustments on the car, then everything went well. I was very motivated after seeing Berger's time. Hard to say beforehand how the race will go, of course we have a good chance. But for the moment I think above all to make a good start. I have Berger by my side. We are teammates who respect each other, we have not agreed. I don't think there will be any problems. That one - Prost - when he was at McLaren he complained about the chassis, he said they gave us different engines. Now he is protesting at Ferrari about the tires, also to diminish the value of our performance".
Alain replies with a simple:
"It does not deserve an answer".
The following day, the race takes place in sunny conditions in front of around 140.000 spectators. At the start, many drivers sprint ahead of the green (even if in fact no one is penalized); Senna and Berger keep the lead, but behind them a mistake by Mansell, who puts two tires in the sand, brings dust on the track, forcing Capelli to a sudden stop; the Italian is hit by Nakajima who completely destroys his car.
Shortly after, Boutsen passed Berger, however unable to get close to Senna, while Alesi passed the two Ferraris. The race order therefore sees Senna in the lead, followed by Boutsen, Berger, Patrese, Alesi, Mansell and Prost, and remains almost unchanged until the third lap, when Senna has to retire with a broken rim, leaving the first position to Boutsen. At the same time Mansell overtakes Alesi, regaining fourth place, and shortly afterwards the Frenchman sent Piquet off the track in an attempt to overtake him.
Orphaned of his leader, Berger forces his pace by canceling the gap of about five seconds he had on Boutsen, and begins to press the Belgian driver, who makes a mistake by inserting the first gear instead of the third, thus damaging the gearbox on lap seventeenth he was then forced to retire due to engine failure. Berger then leads the race, followed by Patrese and Mansell, who is recovering rather quickly; after seeing his attack rejected by the Paduan driver at the Tosa on lap nineteenth, he tries the same action again two laps later, and this time, he manages to take second place.
On the twenty-seventh lap, the British driver of Ferrari runs into the lapping of Andrea de Cesaris, who suddenly closes his trajectory at the Rivazza and they touch, later he proved to be harmless, but wasted precious time. Freed of the Italian, Mansell begins to increase his race pace, and on lap 34 he reaches Berger, tries to attack him on the outside on the uphill that leads to the Villeneuve corner, but McLaren closes the line, sending him off the track; the Ferrari driver still managed to continue, but a few laps later the engine of his car gave out, overheated due to debris and dirt that penetrated during the off-track excursion.
At this point, Mansell's retirement allows Patrese to move behind Berger; Riccardo begins to drive very quickly to the point of reaching the leader in a short time. On lap fifty-first, Patrese took the lead, overtaking Berger at the Tosa to the enthusiasm of the public and led the race to the end to take his first victory in seven years. Third on the podium is Alessandro Nannini, author of the fastest lap on the penultimate lap, and Prost, only fourth.
At the end of the race, Patrese appears visibly satisfied with the success achieved and, unlike what happened in 1983, when after going off the track he was overwhelmed by the whistles of the Italian fans because shortly before he took the lead against Patrick Tambay who Ferrari fans wanted to win, is applauded by the audience present.
Nannini also expresses his joy for the result obtained, while Prost complains of being damaged by a contact with Alesi at the beginning of the race that forced him to change his strategy:
"I had the tires compromised by a contact with Alesi immediately at the beginning, they were like hard tires, I had put them on so as not to have to stop and change them, I took the opportunity to put on the others, it was time. The same accident caused me imbalances to the brakes, which resulted in tire wear, as well as problems in the accelerator return. I went pretty well almost to the end, however, when the oil draining caused me problems with the clutch".
What holds the most at the end of the race is the controversy between Mansell and Berger: the Ferrari driver accuses the opponent of having made an incorrect maneuver that cost him a probable victory, while the Austrian says he acted regularly, and did not feel the least responsible for what happened. However, no measures are taken against the drivers, and everything is considered a normal race accident. These are still tough times for Ferrari. In view of the next race in Monte Carlo, Prost himself extinguishes the hopes of revenge:
"I have a bad view of our cars on this circuit, the McLarens and Williams are favorites".
And in fact on Friday, Senna trims more than a second to Berger, who has the same car and the same engine, and a second and a half to Jean Alesi, who flies with Pirelli tires.
Obviously, as often happens, there is no shortage of comments against Ayrton's performance, either out of envy or malice, of some colleagues:
"He was the only one to find a clean lap, an empty lap, with no cars on the track cluttering the asphalt. He has fantastic tires, all too high-performance".
To be fair, Senna also had his work to bring in:
"And then I also got into the wrong gear before a corner".
Those who complain about the tires are mainly Ferrari, given that the qualifying compounds continue to not work as they should, and if you don't start in a good position on the grid in Monaco it is a disaster, because putting it back together is an impossible task. Fortunately, on Friday Prost recorded an excellent fourth place with the old engine and with the talked about qualifying tires:
"On Saturday we will almost certainly use the new engines that will give us an extra margin to improve even more. With the race tires we did almost the same times as with the qualifying ones. I would really like to see what times the other cars are able to do with racing tires".
The miracle takes place on Saturday. On a track that was announced to be difficult for Ferrari, Prost starts in the front row, eight meters behind Senna, who by doing circus numbers kept the pole position of the Monaco Grand Prix:
"There was what is called the new engine, which is new up to a certain point, indeed it is not but it could become. The important point is this: a car is good when all its components are fine. Today the engine obviously went as it should go and everything worked properly. In the race, however, we will not use this engine, we are not ready yet, but this is not a problem. With the racing engine and the race set-ups, Ferrari it's already fine, better than many others".
Says Eng. Pierguido Castelli, Ferrari technical manager. The Mansell problem remains, given that with the same car and the same engine, except of course the differences in the set-up desired by the driver himself, such as the distribution of gears, his seventh place leaves even the Ferrari managers perplexed. Nigel insists on using the seven-speed gearbox, while Prost has chosen the six-speed gearbox.
In Ferrari the question of drivers appears rather ambiguous. A few days earlier, Mansell publicly complained, claiming that Prost copied everything from him, sending his technicians to peek under their heads (however, at least the doubt arises, since Prost always does the opposite of the British, and apparently he does it well), before adding:
"You will see that they will send me away saying that I am always the slowest".
It is even worse in the race, as Mansell has to stop due to battery problems, which certainly does not help to improve his mood. Prost's retirement then makes Monegasque Sunday a real nightmare for the Red team.
At the start of the race, Ayrton keeps the lead, followed by Prost, but at the Mirabeau curve Jean Alesi, with a daring maneuver, overtakes Prost who instinctively widens; Berger does not notice and crashes the Ferrari. Modena's Brabham also suffered damage in the fray and remained stationary.
The track is blocked and the race must be suspended. The Austrian and the reigning world champion have to leave with the forklift, but the Ferrari reserve car is prepared for Mansell, and therefore has a seven-speed gearbox. At the second start everything goes smoothly and Senna still keeps the lead ahead of Prost, Alesi, Berger, Patrese and Boutsen. After thirty laps, the exit of Prost, whose battery explodes:
"At a certain point the electronic gearbox hardened, almost blocked. Then the engine lost power. Then the battery burst. I arrived at the box with the engine off. I had run out of battery acid on my hands, I brought them to my eyes to remove drops of sweat and I felt the burning, the doctor immediately ordered me to wash them".
On lap 35, Piquet exits the track just before the Loews hairpin; to restart he must be pushed by the commissioners and this costs him disqualification. With Senna still firmly in the lead and Alesi and Berger fighting for the second position, Mansell still stands out, moving to fourth place after overtaking Warwick and Boutsen; this before the aforementioned withdrawal.
The inconveniences of Ferrari batteries, unusual in Formula 1, are probably caused by the excessive demand of the electro-hydraulic gearbox, continuously stressed in Monte Carlo, especially in the seven-speed version that Prost was eventually forced to use. In the last stages of the race Senna slows down, allowing Alesi and Berger to get close to him, but easily obtains his third career victory in Monaco.
The Brazilian went very well: Prost's retirement, the two starts without incident, the narrow escape when Warwick got sideways as he was about to pass, and the final with the engine losing power, which however did not stop him to win his twenty-second career success:
"Yes, I'm happy because this was a good victory. Monte Carlo is a Grand Prix that pays a lot for the ambition of a driver. A race that is always difficult due to the commitment that the circuit, the lapping, the maximum concentration requires. At the start I managed to get into the part of the track that was not slippery. When, for the first time, I saw the red flag that marked the interruption, I almost got hit. Everything needed to be redone. Luckily it went well. Then it went well the missed collision with Warwick's Lotus. It happened at the Piscine. I saw a marshall signaling me with the flag as to tighten the trajectory, I guessed and I widened. I passed for an inch. I respect people who does this job, but he made a big mistake there, I yelled at him all my anger. He could ruin my race. The Lotus was in the middle of the road, it would have been a terrible collision and Alesi and Berger were coming behind".
"In the final there was a drop in engine power, I slowed down, but I was safe. I had set the race on the pace and I continued to drive at a low pace, until I crossed the finish line. Now the championship is going pretty well, even if it is still very long. The Japanese will have to tell me why the engine in the final stages of the race did not work well. I am convinced that the extreme limit of exploitation has been reached. And our rivals still have room for improvement. In July at Silverstone I will test the new twelve-cylinder Honda. It was not planned to use this engine during the season. But I think maybe we need to make an effort, try to prepare for a quick change before the end of the championship if we don't want to face disappointment".
Alain, on the other hand, complains about a race that, according to him, he could have easily won:
"Too bad, my car was fantastic. During the warm-up I felt that success was within my reach. And, especially in the light of what happened in the race, with the problems Senna had in the final, I don't think that Alesi and Berger could have caught up with me. Unfortunately, what you all saw happened: I had to race in the reserve car which was adapted for Mansell and just retouched in a few minutes. I managed nevertheless to firmly hold second position. Nigel crashed in an accident, he lost over a minute, went from fourth to sixteenth and already moved up to fourth place".
"This means that the performances are there, that we are competitive. But I have the conviction that we are on the right path. Maybe we will still run into some road accidents, but Ferrari is now up to the level of McLaren. It is the moment in which we must grit our teeths, keep working, discover the last little flaws. Then we will take great satisfaction. I have been in Formula 1 for a long time and I know when the time comes when it is possible to win. We have lost precious points, but the championship is long and Senna has not yet won the World Championship".
On the Monday morning following the race, Ayrton gets up late: he stayed up late at the traditional Gala dei Ranieri, where great celebrations were reserved for him. Short shorts and dark T-shirt, he looked out from the terrace of his beautiful apartment on the top floor of the condominium on Avenue de la Princesse Grace and looked at the fortress, the promenade, and part of the circuit where he imposed himself for the third time. Although only in the fourth race on the calendar, Ayrton leads the championship with thirteen points, plus one point over Prost and Berger.
On the eve of the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks later, Honda runs for cover after the difficulties that emerged in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Not happy to have won two of the four races already disputed, to have conquered the pole position in all four, and to be at the top of both world rankings, the Japanese manufacturer was worried about the difficulties accused by Senna in Monte Carlo, where despite winning he risked losing the lead due to a drop in the power of his ten-cylinder. In this regard, Osamu Goto, technical manager of the Honda Formula 1 program, declares:
"We have accelerated the development program for the new twelve-cylinder engine. Senna will test it on the track by the end of June".
Ferrari, on the other hand, comes to Montreal with the certainty of having overcome the difficulties of Monte Carlo. The mysterious battery failures have found an explanation and should never happen again. Also to be taken into account is the record set in France by Prost, during private tests; a record that Senna's McLaren has failed to match.
However, the problem of qualifying tires remains completely unsolved. The new type of tires tested on May 29 in France turned out to be even worse than the old type, so that Ferrari continues to have speed only with race tires.
On Friday, as usual, Senna and Berger lead the standings after the first round of qualifying, but Ferrari got off to a good start with Prost finishing third just a few tenths off the two McLaren drivers. Mansell, on the other hand, has to settle for seventh place.
Canadian Friday afternoon is colored due to a polemical statement by Alain against the Montreal circuit, judged to be too dirty and dangerous. Prost is especially angry with Ecclestone, who according to him is not working for the prestige of Formula 1.
Furthermore a Canadian newspaper, on that day, reported a phrase by Bernie according to which Formula 1 is a small mafia, and adds "Don Ecclestone says it" in the title. Paraphrasing this title, Prost adds in his arguments that perhaps there really is a mafia in this sport, otherwise it is not clear why drivers should race on a bad track like this one, which the Frenchman hopes can be abolished starting from the following year.
The other news of the day is that the magician John Barnard, after the disappointing experience with Ferrari, seems to be reborn. Flavio Briatore, sporting director of Benetton, declares in this regard:
"In the morning at eight he is already at his desk and calls everyone to gather for the first meeting. One day John told me something, generally he does not like to talk about his time at Ferrari. He told me that they also held meetings in Maranello technicians in which they decided what to do or not to do, and the next morning he found everything spelled out in detail in the Italian newspapers. How is it possible? Could there be moles or bugs inside the Ferrari?"
Then Briatore continues, and a curious aspect emerges about the character Barnard that at the time Ferrari had been carefully concealed:
"Barnard does not know how to draw. He spends the whole morning sitting on a stool next to the designers and to each he says do this, round there, more inclined that way, correct this way, etc. He alone would not know where to start. Of course he is a bit slow, but the extraordinary thing is that in every moment he has a global vision of the whole car that has yet to be born".
"With next year's engines it will take a lot more petrol. The problem is where to put it. In front of the tank is the driver, behind the engine, under the asphalt, on the sides it is forbidden to put petrol. All that remains is to raise the tanks and move the center of gravity higher. A big trouble, not so much for us who have an eight-cylinder but for the others who have twelve cylinders, that is, very long engines that steal space they have to embark two hundred and forty and next year on certain circuits they will need to take with them two hundred and sixty liters".
A sentence, the latter, which will explain many things about Ferrari, which strangely will suddenly lose all its speed. Meanwhile, in Montreal, it rains on Saturday, so in qualifying the positions recorded on Friday are maintained. Alain, who had already complained about the circuit conditions after Friday practice, after Saturday is confident that if the conditions hadn't blocked him, he could most likely have set the best time:
"On Friday I could have taken pole position. I passed four cars in my fastest lap, I hadn't tested the qualifying tires in the morning, and I had a crack in the engine air intake that certainly didn't help me. We are competitive unfortunately absolute reliability and this, on a practical and psychological level, is the biggest problem for us. If unexpected events do not happen, there will be no limits for a positive result".
Ayrton's response, although full of emotion, is not long in coming:
"Our McLaren is not perfect, but it is always a car that offers guarantees to win. You don't have to think about others, about rivals, but about yourself. I am religious and this helps me. In the Holy Scriptures it is not said that one should not emerge at all costs, but it indicates that one can and must put his talent to good use and do his best. My best is to win races. On a strictly psychological level it is more difficult to be alone against everyone, but let's say it is also stimulating. And then I'm never alone, not even in my car".
The next day, the race takes place on a wet circuit, and this involves several runs, including those of Nannini, Alesi and Boutsen, winner of the previous edition of the Canadian Grand Prix. Meat to cook for Alain's complaints, who before the start of the race exclaims:
"It is not fair to drive in certain conditions, when the control of the cars is impossible and visibility is zero. The risk goes beyond the limits of a driver's ability, you just have to be unconscious to accept. Even Senna, in Adelaide in the last race of the 1989 season, risked a lot by hitting Brundle's Brabham. On this track, then, dirty and full of streams of muddy water, racing when it rains is madness".
Unfortunately for him, in the race Prost will encounter a trivial problem with the brake cooling intakes, which will prevent him from attacking the drivers who will reach the finish line not far from him, and he is only fifth at the end of the race.
In addition, the race winner, Berger, is penalized by one minute for an early start, thus handing the victory to team mate Senna; in addition to the damage, the mockery of seeing the rival triumph at the table. Senna tells reporters:
"It was a very tough race. I broke first gear once again when I stopped to change the tires, I was afraid that something serious would happen, that I would not be able to restart. It is true that in recent years no driver had succeeded to have such a large lead in the standings after the first five races. But the championship is long and Benetton is coming out strong".
Less tired but definitely nervous Prost:
"From the first laps I had problems with the brakes that overheated, because in the pits they forgot to remove the tapes from the air intakes. For this reason I could never risk that much and I was forced to suffer the initiative of the rivals. Too bad, once again, we could have done much better. Ferrari no longer has the habit of winning, they need to find a certain mentality and the right concentration".
Thus, Senna flies to thirty-one points in the drivers' championship, ahead of his teammate with nineteen points, while Prost, with only fourteen points to his credit, already pays an important points deficit from the leader, in a start to the season made up of only one acute, the one in Brazil, and some too many difficulties in adapting to the F641/2 corrected by Enrique Scalabroni. Time to react.
Only five races have passed, but for Alain it is already the moment of truth: he must respond immediately to Senna to prevent the latter's escape from materializing, just as Ferrari is called upon to react on a technical level in the battle with McLaren.
It is precisely for these reasons that the race weekend at the end of June at the Hermanos Rodrìguez racetrack in Mexico City is an important milestone for the season. However, qualifying seems to presage another weekend of great crisis for Prost, who struggles a lot in the Mexican rain and is even thirteenth, almost two seconds away from poleman Berger, who carries on the McLaren hegemony in qualifying: six out of six in season, respectively four for Senna and two for the Austrian. Senna, in fact, is only third, preceded by Patrese and followed by the other Ferrari of Nigel Mansell.
For the race, the unknown factor that can mess up the cards a bit is the wear, as well as the actual performance, of the tires, question marks for both Pirelli and Goodyear; it is right on this factor that Prost focuses to build his Sunday masterpiece, following the bad qualifying.
At the start Patrese and Senna make the most of Berger's indecision and pass him, but the Italian's moment of glory does not last long, as he is immediately caught by the pursuers, who waste no time and run away. The first sign that something is not going the right way is Berger's premature pit stop, in the pits to change tires when it is only lap thirteen. At the pit wall McLaren assess excessive consumption as a consequence of Berger's overly aggressive driving style, so they choose to let Senna continue without changing tires on his car as well.
On the other hand, the one who loves those conditions of the track and the race tires is Ferrari, which with its two bearers sets the Mexican Sunday on fire: Mansell moves into second position after overtaking, among others, the former Williams teammate Nelson Piquet; Prost is initially cautious on his tires, he does not want for any reason in the world to exploit them in an excessive way to risk ruining them, and starts his spectacular comeback a few laps later.
Alain becomes unstoppable, overtakes everyone with disarming ease, until at fifteen laps from the end he catches Mansell, the only obstacle to stand between him and Senna, who in the meantime struggles very much in the management of his Goodyear racing tires.
If the first attempt is unsuccessful, the next lap, also taking advantage of a backmarker that disturbs the British, Prost completes a fundamental overtaking not only to forcefully impose certain hierarchies that see him as leader within the team, but also to hunt for first place, now anything but a mirage.
In fact, a few laps are enough and the couple is formed, or rather the leading trio, as Mansell manages not to lose contact with the Frenchman. However, there is little to do for Senna, who tried not to make any pit stops in order not to lose positions, and now finds himself driving an unstable car: Prost has no problem getting rid of it, and Mansell hasn't too.
The disappointment of losing the win becomes even more burning for Ayrton when with three laps to go the right rear tire of his McLaren explodes, and there is nothing left for him to do but park it in a safe area of the track. But having completed at least ninety per cent of the laps, Senna is still ranked twentieth at the finish, making it his worst career result.
The race offers further emotions in parallel, as Mansell and Berger (the latter recovering after the forced stop) give life to a fantastic battle valid for the second and third step of the podium, won in the end by the Ferrari driver, protagonist of a memorable maneuver overtaking on the outside.
Alain crosses the finish line first, accompanied by an incredible joy of the fans that releases not only the tension of a beautiful, spectacular, uncertain race, but also to remove the anguish of a season that started badly, excluding the victory in Brazil. The Ferrari technicians, all lined up on the pit wall, wave flags, while the crowd waved the banners of Maranello. Then, to follow, the usual but never banal scenes of emotion and the splashes of champagne. After the podium ceremony, the winner, speaking of the race, says:
"I was starting back and had to make a risky choice, to fit a small wing that allowed me to have a higher top speed on the straight for overtaking. I immediately realized that it was good. I was quicker than Mansell. I think I have won the race in tuning. The team did an incredible job in a time of tremendous pressure. The result is fantastic, plus next week we will have the new engine. Now eight points behind in the championship is not much, even if Senna remains the favorite. McLaren always has the advantage of being faster in qualifying".
"After about ten laps I was confident. Halfway through the race, realizing that I was faster than Senna on the lap, I pushed hard. I was sure. I didn't realize that he had problems with the tires, his car seemed stable to me. Anyway, if he hasn't stopped to change them, that's his business".
"I studied tire pressure for three days: it was necessary to find the right value so as not to damage them. And the spoiler was also right: we even calculated the atmospheric pressure with the clouds, that is the environment we found in the race. If it had been sunny, I would have taken an even smaller wing. Then I used a gearbox that has faster shifts. I hope the new engine will give us more power. In the meantime we will try to refine the car. We have to work. If Mansell takes points away from my rivals it will be of great help".
On the other hand, a disappointed Senna talks about his misfortune with tires:
"There were twenty-five laps to go, when I felt the car becoming unstable, and I thought I had a problem with the tires. So I warned the pits via radio that I wanted to come back to change them. The first time they didn't hear me, the second time they didn't hear me. I replied to stay on track. Maybe they thought I'd even risk losing third place. In part it was my mistake to accept that decision. I had to take the initiative and stop. Let's say it's my and the team's fault. The championship is perhaps more open, tougher for us. But I have three wins and the best results to my credit. I have always been in the lead in the six races we have played so far. It will be easier for us in the next races, at Le Castellet and Silverstone".
Even Ron Dennis admits there was a misunderstanding:
"We were wrong, even though Senna's final retirement was caused by a puncture rather than a wrong choice of tires. A piece of metal got into the tire casing, letting the air out little by little. I thought that he wouldn't have had any problems. With ten laps still available, I thought it would be more appropriate to consolidate the third position rather than return to the garage. Amen, you can't always win".
And the Honda? Simply, through the mouth of Osamu Goto, he distances himself from the defeat:
"There is nothing that can be said from our point of view. The race was decided by the tires. Our engines are at the level of Ferrari's. Indeed, with the 10-cylinder we are not even at the peak of development. We do not blame ourselves nothing. In the next two races we will have advanced engines for fast circuits that could give us some advantage again".
In one of the most exciting Mexican Grand Prix ever, the reaction needed by Ferrari came, made even more important by the retirement of Senna, stopped at thirty-one points and now followed by the amazing Prost at twenty three, tied second in the standings with Berger. The French Grand Prix arrives with perfect timing for Alain, determined to earn important points in his home Grand Prix. Mexico has reinvigorated the spirits of the Maranello team, and it is Prost himself who transmits this energy:
"The occasion is tempting for Ferrari. Everything fits perfectly. The car is growing, now very close to McLaren, and Le Castellet is my favorite track, where, among other things, at the end of May I registered the unofficial record of the circuit in 1'03"81. In short, we are ready for a decisive turning point in the championship. Sunday I could be very close to Senna, and above all equal his number of seasonal victories. I am very concentrated, determined, as if it was the most important day of my career".
"McLaren is always the team to beat, there is no doubt. They have seven lives like cats, a great potential. However, the defeat of Mexico could have insinuated fears in the team. Even in Formula 1 morale, psychological warfare can have a decisive weight. When you feel the breath of your rivals on you, you are naturally inclined to take risks. Look what happened in the last race: Senna and Berger started like crazy, they tried an impossible pace with the result of ruining tires long before us. This may be an alarming sign for them, even if, I repeat, I believe they are still the strongest. They have the weapon of reliability which for Ferrari remains an unknown factor. It is true that in the last two tests we have always reached the finish line with two cars, but it is also clear that these were races that did not put the mechanical parts to the hardest test".
Mansell's pole position in 1'04"402 on the short circuit of Paul Ricard puts an end to the streak of Woking's team, which however is always there, in second position with Berger and in third with Senna. Prost for his part, struggles to find the necessary feeling to find the necessary flicker to get closer to whoever is in front of him, and is fourth, three tenths from his teammate's pole:
"Starting from the second row is great on a fast circuit like this. I'm sure I can win but I feel that a Ferrari like this can win all the next Grands Prix. We have done immense work on the test and race engines, on reliability on the search for power, on the set-up of the car. Here, in the race there will be only the problem of the tires. The asphalt here is very abrasive and therefore choosing the right tires will be decisive".
Meanwhile, in Ferrari, Enrique Scalabroni was sacked, while at McLaren, as can be easily imagined, they are not at all happy with the lack of speed in practice, but are convinced they can recover in the race. Or at least that's what Ron Dennis thinks:
"When I realized there was nothing to do we preferred to work ahead of the race and Ayrton actually set up the car for tomorrow".
McLaren is also talked about for a curious episode that occurred in the morning. This is a circumstance that gives the measure of how the challenge between the big manufacturers is lively in Formula 1. The Ferrari mechanics notice the presence of a Honda technician, in uniform, who is placed in front of their pits, with pen and notebook, accurately marks everything that happens: choice of tires, technical changes, exits and returns of Prost and Mansell, complete with scrupulously noted timetables.
The sheets were requisitioned from the stunned Japanese amid smiles and winks, while the engineer Visconti, one of Ferrari's technical managers, in plain clothes, eyed what was happening at McLaren, at least having the modesty not to take notes.
What stands out positively on Paul Ricard is the small Leyton House designed by a certain Adrian Newey, already departing for Williams having been dumped by his former team; after not even being able to participate in qualifying in Mexico, Ivan Capelli is in a decent seventh position, while the Brazilian Gugelmin is tenth.
Unlike Mexico, this time Gerhard Berger takes the lead, taking with him in order Mansell, Senna, Nannini, Patrese and Prost, sly when the red lights go out. The great heat here too causes a sudden wear of the tires, consequently everyone has to go back to pits to replace them. All except the two Leyton Houses, whose aerodynamic package makes the most of the conformation of the French track and allows the two drivers to better manage the Goodyears.
In the game of pit stops the two McLarens lose a lot of time, and have to give way to Prost, who has anticipated the stop to revive a race that seemed lost. Once again Alain, through his brilliant vision of the race, reminds those who have forgotten why he is nicknamed The Professor.
The two Leytons' dreams of glory are shattered by the V8 Judd, which betrays both Gugelmin just a few laps from the end while he was third, forcing him to retire, and Capelli, who encounters problems to a lesser extent than his teammate, but in any case enough to be reached and overtaken by Prost in three rounds from the checkered flag.
Not bad for the Italian driver, who wins his third career podium, the first for Leyton House, while Ferrari celebrates the hundredth victory in history. Ayrton, on the other hand, limits the damage and is third, but his lead in the standings is reduced to just three points. Prost, after getting on the podium, shaking hands with Ivan Capelli and not having deigned to look at Ayrton, explodes with joy with the journalists:
"This is the fifth time I have won the French Grand Prix. And that this affirmation coincided with Ferrari's 100th success is simply fantastic, fabulous. But it was perhaps one of the most difficult tests. I started calmly. I had also foreseen to lose a few positions at the start to avoid collisions. Then I did everything to get back to the front. I was on soft tires and I could not force at the beginning: I thought I would not stop and change them. But I was blocked for a long time by Patrese and I ruined. A must stop".
"When I got behind Capelli I gritted my teeth, second place was not enough for me. But it was very difficult to overtake: I had to pass him, but I couldn't stay too close to him because in the wake of Leyton House my car broke down because the aerodynamics was compromised. So I had to study everything down to the smallest detail. I was faster than Capelli and it also went well because three quarters of the way through the race a 25-centimeter-long piece of tread broke off and the left rear wheel vibrated".
"This is a victory that gives full serenity and confidence to the team. Then it is a good step forward in the standings even if the championship is still long. At Silverstone next Sunday we should be competitive. Mansell, who tested there, told me that the car was going very well. The conditions are good, but I don't think we have to fool ourselves. There is always work to do here. You saw how it went at Leyton House. Now I have to stop starting in the back rows, it's a too heavy a handicap".
And at this point Alain lets himself go to a light jab against his former team:
"In McLaren we see that there is no one who is capable of fine-tuning the cars, even if Honda still has a small advantage in acceleration, but we should have the new engine soon".
Then Alain greets everyone and goes to lock himself in the coach with the technicians, to dictate the list of things to do for Silverstone. A very different atmosphere is what you now breathe at McLaren, where Ron Dennis expresses himself outspokenly, accusing the work of the mechanics:
"It was a race that had tires as protagonists; two other cars made changes better than us".
Words echoed by Osamu Goto, who never misses an opportunity to praise his engines:
"In this heat our engines have worked very well. But Formula 1 has become very competitive and we will do everything after each race to increase the power".
Last but not least, Senna, nervous as a lion in a cage, takes it out on the tires:
"In the first laps I was faster than Berger. But he had a smaller wing and stretched in the straights. In the end, however, it was the pit stop for the tire change that made me lose the race. The second set was not going well he started with hard tires and the car had a special set-up. When the soft ones were fitted, the grip was precarious. I hope things will go much better at Silverstone and Hockenheim".
Arriving at Silverstone, Ayrton is asked if by chance he is worried about Ferrari's recent performance. The Brazilian driver replies curtly:
"Worried? Not that much. At this point we can only do better than we have done in the last two races".
Seemingly calm, Senna makes a careful examination of the situation, with reference to the crisis - or presumed one - of McLaren, explaining why he believes he lost in France, echoing Dennis' speech about pit stops:
"I don't know if Ferrari has a more suitable material for changing tires: I'm not a technician. However, it is clear that they're always very fast in this important maneuver. We have reached such a point of equilibrium that it can no longer be given away nothing. And we wasted handfuls of seconds in the pits".
When asked if the problem of the momentary lack of performance comes only from a tire problem, Ayrton replies:
"Not only that. Even if it is important. We were at the top as a car and engine in 1988. A fantastic complex, superior to all. In the middle of last season Ferrari began to progress with the engine, as the chassis was already excellent. And the McLaren, which made up for the car's shortcomings up to that moment with the Honda engine, began to lose ground. In the winter the Ferrari engineers made further progress. Now we are on par in terms of engine, but behind with the car".
"Our car should go pretty well at Silverstone. In recent practice we didn't score a great time, but that doesn't mean much. I think we'll be much faster than then. You can even win. The championship is open, Ferrari has done considerable progresses, the fight is on the edge of seconds. In the next races we will have new material to test, we will see. We have to work and hope that many things go well. In terms of reliability we are still the strongest and this is always a small advantage. It is necessary not to waste anything".
On July 15th we race in the homeland of Nigel Mansell, who is not experiencing a period of exceptional form. Fresh from retirement in France due to a mechanical breakdown, made even more frustrating by the doping test that kept him for forty-five minutes at the medical center, the Briton arrives at his home circuit with his nerves on edge.
At the end of Friday's qualifying session, Mansell quickly gets out of the car, has a discussion with his engineer and then, aboard a scooter, runs away avoiding the horde of reporters, telling them:
"If you want to know what happened today, look at the rankings. I have nothing more to say".
More than the ranking, which temporarily puts him third behind the McLarens, we must look at the top speeds, where Mansell is slower than Prost despite having decided to mount a rear wing that offers less downforce. Journalists immediately churn out articles accusing Ferrari of favoring the reigning champion. On Saturday, Mansell himself puts out the fire he created.
The air after all is good for the Lion of England, author of one of his best career laps and of his second consecutive pole position, this time obtained with an overwhelming superiority in comparison with his opponents. This time Senna is not giving up as he has been the previous Saturday in France, he tries to take the pole away from Mansell, but he can't even get close: he is six tenths away. To remedy the outburst of the day before, Nigel spends words of praise for the Ferrari engine:
"I dedicate this pole position to my country, but the reason I'm on pole is thanks to the power of the Ferrari engine that pushed me".
After that, he admits that he exaggerated his reaction the previous day. His show, however, isn't over yet. Ferrari is now faster than McLaren. This is also thanks to the new Goodyear tires, which now work better, as Cesare Fiorio declares:
"Yes, that's right, we've solved the qualifying tire problem that has been bothering us for a long time. What happened? Well, of course Goodyear has started to bring different tires to the circuits, nothing revolutionary but just enough to go faster. But there are still some strange differences between tires. Let's take Prost. He could have done pole position too but he didn't do it because of the tires".
Indeed, Prost's tires are full of stains, despite the fact that we are talking about the driver who drives with velvet gloves, who is very kind to the tires. But Alain doesn't seem alarmed. A qualifying time higher than nine tenths does not seem to worry him too much, after all he has been accustomed for years to performances of a completely different nature when it really matters, and that is in the race. Instead Mansell who seems possessed, and now talks about his performance:
"I think it was the fastest, most fantastic, most everything lap of my career".
Says Nigel, who, getting out of the car, paces nervously up and down the pits without being able to restrain the emotions of joy, after Friday was went under the awning of McLaren just to be seen by those of his team while talking to his opponents. Mansell seems to want to say to Ferrari: if you don't want me, there are many people who want me, who beg me, so decide, either you give me the six million dollars I ask for the renewal of the contract, or I leave, I don't want to stay at Ferrari with the prospect of being a driver for Prost. But the response from Fiorio and Fusaro is immediately ready, who went to visit Senna in his motorhome showing off great happiness at the moment of farewell. All moves in a long chess game for the renewal of contracts.
As early as the Brazilian Grand Prix, Cesare Fiorio begun to discuss the details of the contract that would bring Senna to Ferrari. And subsequently, Cesare and Ayrton had another meeting in Monte Carlo, where in practice everything was decided: only the formalization of the contract was missing, but the two only shook hands before leaving. All this without Nigel and Alain being aware.
While Riccardo Patrese is celebrated because his two-hundredth race in Formula 1 will be held at Silverstone (Renault's yellow-black balloons, plaques, prizes, cake, champagne and large water balloon by Alboreto and Nannini), a meeting is held in the McLaren van to analyze the situation. Under accusation is the chassis of the cars of Senna and Berger, considered unstable. Previously, the Brazilian had said:
"I knew it would end like this. With the first set of tires I experienced terrible understeer. So I had a smaller wing fitted to at least increase top speed, but it didn't help: in the middle of the second lap I realized that I was in danger of ending up off the track and I slowed down, pushing only in the final. But we are not beaten yet".
The situation has been reversed: now it is the Anglo-Japanese team that seems to be in crisis, just at the moment when Ron Dennis would like to conclude the story of the contract with Senna having the knife on the side of the handle. Prost, relaxed, appeared confident:
"Mansell was superb. He is very fast, when he wants. He was in front of his audience, it is right that he is on pole. I had two sets of qualifying tires: one was mediocre, the other bad, so much so that I did another lap and the tires haven't even warmed up. There are some differences. But it doesn't matter. I think I'm in good shape for the race. At this point I also have to think about the points for the world championship. Let's let the others slaughter each other to start in front. Of course, I would have preferred the second row, but here it is not impossible to overtake. It depends on the set-up of the car and the choice of the tires, which as usual is very delicate".
In the early stages of the race, the two drivers starting from the front row, Senna and Mansell, put on a show. The Brazilian driver has a better start and overtakes the Ferrari driver, who is not there and on lap 10 he overtakes Ayrton at the Woodcote chicane.
Senna therefore tries to force himself to keep in the pace of Ferrari, but exaggerates and to the delight of Prost spun, effectively compromising his chances of victory. But the race still has a lot to say.
You know, sometimes Formula 1 can be a cruel sport, as in the case of Mansell, victim of an unfortunate start to the season to which is added the rise of the newcomer from McLaren who has already won three races, and can thus claim the status of first driver. Winning at home, where he has already triumphed three times in the past, would be the ideal way to leave behind the first few outings and start again with a freer mind. But fate decided otherwise.
Heartbreak is the term that the British would use to best describe Mansell's race, who as the laps go by has to deal with problems with the usual gearbox that refused to give him respite for about a year and a half; Prost, who in the meantime passed Berger, came under threateningly, the team order is not to attack his teammate for the moment, but Alain smells the blood and goes in contravention of the team's orders, going to take the lead on lap forty-three.
A few laps later, Ferrari number two is parked off the track; Mansell is close to the stands to give memorabilia such as gloves and caps to his fans, and then shortly after declaring to journalists his desire to retire permanently at the end of the year, and help Prost win the title this season, giving himself in the meantime some other personal satisfaction.
The announcement of Mansell's retirement takes Ferrari by surprise, which in the meantime is celebrating Prost's third consecutive victory. Cesare Fiorio, when asked about it, had to submit again to the barrage of questions:
"What do you want me to tell you? We'll try to change his mind. I'll call him at home, but also give us time to understand. It's only been fifteen minutes since he said he was leaving racing at the end of the year. I'll talk to him calmly. We will not be able to convince him, however, it will be a great loss for Formula 1 because he is a driver of considerable value".
The possible replacement? Senna also has his say on a probable withdrawal of the British:
"I hope he reflects, it would be a serious loss for Formula 1. Mansell is a protagonist, a driver who shows off, particularly aggressive and with a combative style. Perhaps he decided under the pressure of disappointment and his comments that do not correspond to the real intentions. I hope that he thinks again and that he understands that this is not exactly the time to leave Ferrari. If he confirms the decision, it means that he will at least give a jolt to the drivers market, creating a new situation. We will have to think about it".
Finally Prost, rather on his own, comments:
"I didn't want to fight him at his house: I'm sorry he had some problems. Mansell is certainly a smart guy. I don't think he took such an initiative lightly. We have also seen more sudden and unexpected retirements, such as Lauda's who even left a half-race in Canada. I think a man must consider himself free to decide for his future. But if he thinks back, everyone will pretend nothing has happened".
In short, Mansell steals the show from everyone, while Prost slips the third consecutive victory in total ease in front of Boutsen and Senna, and steals the leadership in the overall standings from the latter. Precisely in this regard, Alain, who will test the new engine in Hockenheim, Germany in the following days, declares:
"The World Championship? It is open and still very long. We are at a good point, in the sense that Ferrari is making continuous progress. But McLaren is always a tough nut to crack, to some extent superior to us in the engine. We could perhaps have gone faster, starting with softer tires and taking some risks. Because now our chassis is the best and allows us to use the tires well. The driveability of the car made my comeback easier. But it wasn't a race they gave us, we got it gained, suffering as always. I confess I made some plans. Mansell was in pole position, this was his Grand Prix. If things had gone differently, if he had managed to keep his head, I would have been satisfied with second place. But I realized he had some problems and I got over him taking advantage of a favorable trail. I don't think McLaren is definitively in crisis. They can still return to the attack. They always have a good base. But we will not be outdone either. Our car is almost perfect and has further development possibilities, also for next year".
Ayrton goes from an advantage of seventeen points over the Professor to a deficit of two in only three races, among which the zero of Mexico weighs like a boulder:
"From the beginning, as in practice, the McLaren seemed unstable to me. I found it enormously difficult to keep up with Mansell's Ferrari, and in the end I had to let go. Our problem is in the chassis: I have worn out the rear tires in a frightening way, and several times I risked going off the track. The technicians are working to try to find better set-ups. Luckily the engine is always very good, which is why I am not too pessimistic. Of course we must not leave space for certain opponents".
In the game of back and forth between the two of them, which has been going on since the early stages of the season, it is now up to Ayrton to make his counter-move and respond to the domination established all of a sudden by Prost and Ferrari.
On Monday July 16, 1990, the day after the British Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell, who spends the day in his villa in Port Erin, on the Isle of Man, reaffirms his desire to retire at the end of the season:
"I'm not going back. I'll help Prost win the world championship, but I hope he'll help me win at least two races. I'm at fifteen, I could get to seventeen, to overtake Stirling Moss who won in sixteen races and become the Englishman who got the most Formula 1 wins".
The debut of the new Ferrari engines, essential to win again at Hockenheim, is postponed, while McLaren, in a now endless mutual espionage war, hires Canadian engineer Gordon Kimball, Barnard's former right-hand man at Ferrari, as well as specialist of the electronic gearbox that has given many advantages to the Italian team. Thus McLaren will be able to approach the secrets of the gearbox used in Maranello in the same way that Ferrari with Steve Nichols approached the secrets of Woking. Furthermore, on the eve of the German Grand Prix, Prost, the miracle man of Ferrari, involuntarily creates a new case, when he confides to French journalists:
"At the end of 1991 I could feel satisfied and give up everything. After Ferrari there can be nothing else, I exclude that I will continue to deal with cars in any capacity. For the current championship the favorite is Senna".
But then, urged on by Italian journalists, in Germany he declares:
"I am annoyed by these controversies that the Italian and German press create about my statements, from today I will no longer speak, I will limit myself to a few technical observations after the tests and the race. I have no intention of retiring and there will be no Prost-Senna couple again".
But what worries more than anything else is the ongoing war between Ferrari's directors.
The victories of Cesare Fiorio created envy at various levels, to the point that President Fusaro feels obscured, and to make his political weight felt, he decides to implement restructuring, although it is not clear how it will work. Moreover, in the previous weeks, Prost learned that Fiorio managed to get Senna to sign a pre-contract through Fusaro.
The Ferrari Sporting Director would have wanted Senna and Patrese for the 1991 season, but Prost, having learned of this pre-contract, talks to the lawyer Agnelli, and he guarantees that Senna would not arrive in Maranello, for the simple fact that he, Prost, expressly requested not to have the Brazilian as a teammate even before signing the contract.
Returning to the track facts, in qualifying on Friday Senna records a lap that is almost impossible to beat for everyone, 1'40"198, and having ascertained the impossibility of improving his time, on Saturday Ayrton thinks to carry out a half race simulation during the available hour.
The Brazilian takes to the track and begins a frightening long run, so that when the others see the timing in the other pits, they exclaim worried:
"If McLaren goes like this, Sunday is painful".
All including Prost, who confided to French reporters that he would be happy to finish third, behind the two McLarens. Delighted by the results obtained on the track, Ron Dennis explains the reason for such progress:
"Honda gave us a new, more powerful engine, the track is suitable for our cars, we have worked a lot on suspension, aerodynamics and set-up. But let's wait and see what happens with a full tank of petrol, in race conditions".
Indeed, in Germany Honda has brought the evolution of its ten-cylinder, characterized by weight reduction, increased power and improved electronic management. The only unknown factor for the Japanese engineers, however, is represented by the race, because the German track puts the engines to the test in terms of reliability.
On the other hand, there is concern at Ferrari about the visible gash on Prost's tire after just half a lap in practice. How is it possible? the journalists ask the engineer Castelli.
"We ask ourselves, too, last week we were going so well, the tires were perfect. If we already had the new engine...when we exit the curves they detach us, then we do better on the straight".
While wondering about tires once again becoming a matter of discussion, Enrique Scalabroni, a designer ready to leave Ferrari, is seen in the Hockenheim pits, commenting on his farewell to Maranello:
"I am used to going my own way, according to my own ideas. When you have to listen to too many people or when someone intrudes... I am not the right man to live in a large structure. It was a job of great satisfaction, I had a group of young engineers with whom we worked very well, we created many things, then something broke. It is difficult to get along within Ferrari, because it is a large organization, with a very complex structure".
"Ferrari is the biggest team in all of Formula 1, because it is the only team that does everything, cars and engines. So everything is complicated, the structure, the hierarchy, the decision-making process suited to the speed and flexibility that this sport requires. Inside Ferrari it is not enough for a driver to be good on the track, for an engineer to be good at his drawing board. No, you have to know how to do other things too, in short, man is variable, replaceable, erasable. And then you give yourself a lot of work and then you realize that something has broken, that it is not the place for you".
With these premises, the very fast German circuit becomes a hunting ground for the powerful V10 Honda engine available to McLaren, while the Ferraris of Prost and Mansell mark the Woking's cars closely, in the second row. The gap that separates them, however, is enormous: the Professor is a second and a half behind, almost two seconds the British.
Although McLaren cannot celebrate what seemed like a desirable double, due to the inclusion of an excellent Nannini on Benetton in second position, on Sunday for Ayrton the victory is a pure formality, while his direct rival must lead in defense and control (without too many worries) Patrese's Williams behind him, with fourth place finish. Prost's championship leadership lasts just one race; Senna sets the pace again at plus four point in the standings. After the race, in the press room, on one side there is Ayrton, the symbol of happiness:
"Today I'm really in seventh heaven. I got a victory that I think will count a lot in the World Championship. If I had lost here too, it would have been a disaster. But this success is not accidental: I never worked as hard as in recent times to come back at the top. You all know we had some chassis problems. I can't say they've all been solved, but we're on the right track".
"The race was difficult. I had a bit of understeer and I knew, for example, that the Benettons would not change the tires. This is why I had to contain my action. At first I had Berger pressing behind me, but I didn't want to force. Then, after the pit stop, I tried to attack Nannini but I realized that it was not easy to overtake him, for many reasons. His Benetton was faster in the mixed part of the circuit and came out better from the corners, that's why I could never hook him well to overtake. So I decided to wait for the tires of his car to give way. Everything I thought during the race then happened: at the right moment I was able to pass".
"But the next race in Hungary will be very difficult for us. I said that we solved a lot of problems, but there are still some. This week in Monza, from first to third August, we will try many new things on our car. The team has been busy, prepared even radical changes to the cars and a lot will depend on the results of the tests".
On the other hand there is Alain, who categorically says:
"Although we mounted the longest seventh gear available to the team, there were some problems. In the straights I went on the engine rev limiter. For this reason at a certain point I had to content myself with defending the position, because by pushing I would have risked breaking it permanently. In the end there was also a drop in power. Unfortunately it didn't go well: I said I'd be satisfied with a placement, a third place, but I didn't have to win that one".
In the middle of August it's time for the Hungarian Grand Prix, and this time the fastest car on the track is the Williams. In fact, in an anomalous phase of the championship where Goodyear tires have very ambiguous functionality, and Pirellis no longer give big advantages in qualifying, on Friday, Prost and Senna chase in seventh and eighth position, trailing by about two seconds. An inexplicable phenomenon even for the drivers and team managers themselves. So at the end of the session, instead of Prost, who refuses to be interviewed, Fiorio speaks, with heartfelt tones:
"This problem with the tires is really worrying. We have already encountered differences in performance on other occasions that remain mysterious to us. One gets the impression that the tires supplied to us and to other teams are not all perfectly the same. By this I do not mean that these are favoritism. Probably there is not yet sufficient quality control in this sector in continuous progress on all the tires prepared for a single event and such as to guarantee the absolute equality of all used tires".
At the same time, Senna also takes it out on the Onyx driver, Gregor Foitek:
"While I was trying to get a good time I found myself in Foitek's slipstream who, instead of letting me pass, hindered me for a long time. But I don't think I could have set a good time, because my tires had no grip. I don't know how to explain this situation, given that Berger, on the other hand, did very well taking the provisional pole".
On Saturday Senna limits the damage and manages to position himself in fourth place, while Prost on the contrary remains stationary in eighth, since just as he was about to use the second set of test tires, he was involuntarily hampered by Patrese, who then raced to apologize.
As anticipated, in a season full of disappointments and poor in satisfactions, spent mostly observing Ferrari and McLaren from below, with Riccardo Patrese's victory at Imola as the only real joy, the star of Thierry Boutsen shines on the Hungaroring track. The Belgian mocked Patrese himself for a few thousandths a few minutes from the end of the last practice session, blowing the lead from his partner, and a couple of tenths of Berger and Senna, who take the second row in this order. Meanwhile, Gianni Agnelli peeps into the Ferrari pits, who, despite Ferrari's performances at the Hungaroring are not the best, equally dispenses flattering judgments for everyone:
"So far it has been an excellent season, well beyond expectations. It is important to have caught up with McLaren. Being close to the Japanese means a lot. Now we have to maintain our positions. About the new Ferrari driver: I can't say anything. I would prefer a young driver".
"As for Mansell, we have to see if it is true that he will abandon. I spoke to him on the day of the British Grand Prix, after his announcement, he seemed really upset, but he is a combative driver. Alesi is different, he is an ace catcher who already signed a bit with everyone. I like a lot of Italian pilots, but don't let me mention names, otherwise the hunt for this or that is immediately unleashed".
"There are many good professionals here, but you live in the wake left by Lauda. Was there that Canadian, what was his name? Yes, I liked him a lot (Gilles Villeneuve), but today everything is different. I really like Senna, he is the only one who has something more than the others. Who knows if one day we will meet. It depends on many things, a driver is not enough to make a team, we will see".
The fantastic weekend of Boutsen and Williams reveals perfect on Sunday; the Belgian driver does not lose his temper throughout the race and coldly resists the pressure in the final of Senna, who thus has to settle for a second place, in the end gold, given that Ayrton was one step away from retiring after he attacked Alessandro Nannini at turn 6 in a slightly optimistic manner, with the Benetton driver who had the worst of it and was forced to retire:
"I think Nannini didn't see me. It was the only place I could try to pass him. I had already tried to do it on the previous lap. But when I entered the chicane, he widened. I put two wheels on the grass in an attempt to pass. I couldn't do more. I'm happy with second place after such a race and a puncture on lap 20. I have to say that I raced judiciously, trying to get the best result. I also tried to overtake Boutsen in the last laps, but it was not possible for me, because he resisted very well. I got some good points but the championship is still long".
Curiously, the same dynamic between Senna and Nannini reappears shortly after with Berger's other McLaren attacking Mansell, with the difference that both of them retire.
Mansell is the only one to pay physically for the carom game on the track that enlivened the Hungarian Grand Prix. In fact, the Englishman arrived in the pits after the accident with Berger, exhausted and with his right arm in pain. A kickback caused him to hit his limb against the steering wheel. Immediately rescued by Dr. Bartoletti, a Ferrari doctor, Mansell subsequently went to be examined in a hospital in the city, where the first radiological examinations ruled out fractures. In any case, the British driver will then move to Spain, to Mallorca, where his family is on vacation, and where he will undergo other tests.
Ferrari, therefore, will have to wait for a response from the Lion to define the week's programs, which included three days of testing organized by FOCA in Monza. In case of negative answer, it will be decided to convene one between Prost and Morbidelli.
The accident came at a very delicate and strange moment for Mansell: after announcing at Silverstone that he wanted to retire at the end of the season, arousing a jumble of hypotheses about his replacement, it seems that the Isle of Man driver would have changed his mind.
In fact, it seems that in the days before the Grand Prix he sent a fax to Ferrari to inform that due to the pressure received from his fans he decided not to abandon the races, making the situation even more complicated, given that Ferrari has already started looking for another driver for 1991, and at this point they should report to Mansell their intention to give up his support for next season, automatically leaving him free to drive for another team.
At the Monza tests, McLaren brings to the track an innovative car-laboratory that features a high nose, and enormously sized wing side panels to make the most of the aerodynamic flows along the entire bottom of the car. This project, however, has no luck and is never brought into competition.
Ten thousand people flocked to Monza on August 17, 1990, to see and applaud Prost in practice and to whistle Senna, despite the rain blocking the drivers in the pits for a long time. Ferrari continues work on the new 037 engine, which has now replaced the old 036, with Prost hitting the track in the afternoon with Mansell:
"We had a positive response on the reliability of the car. Mansell tested a new aerodynamic solution, a fast circuit wing, while Prost two different types of tires".
Says Cesare Fiorio, while in McLaren, only Berger tests the new twelve-cylinder Honda engine. Once the tests are over, Formula 1 is ready to move to Spa, stage of the next Grand Prix on the calendar; however, before arriving in Belgium, Senna gives an interview that leaves everyone stunned, in which he grants a series of confessions, ranging from his first erotic experience - at thirteen - with a twenty-year-old mulatto in the flesh, passing through the defense of his image of an authentic male, the relations with Prost (including the story of the episode in which he began to cry in front of Ron Dennis and his French rival: "Tears came to my eyes for the pain he made me"), up to his religious conversion and his relationship with God (he even says that in Monte Carlo he was enveloped by a sort of cloud of light and came out of his body, levitating while he was in the cockpit of the car that was not good, and that subsequently his McLaren became perfect, so much so that he won the race).
Recalling the case that exploded a few years before about Senna's homosexuality, born from a joke ("he doesn't like women") by Nelson Piquet, expressed during an interview with Playboy Brazilian edition, well, that same newspaper interviews Ayrton, which clarifies. Is it true that you fell in love with Caterina, Piquet's current woman?
"In love no, I met her. Known as a woman".
She had never said such a thing, Piquet might resent:
"But at least he can no longer claim that I don't like women".
"He is a worthless champion, without victory, without conquest. Last year he didn't even have the courage to celebrate his third title. He discredited everything".
At the same time, the story relating to the renewal of the contract with McLaren shows a determined Senna, a businessman, who Ron Dennis did not hesitate to define diabolical. Briefly, the situation looks like this: Ayrton is not happy, he criticizes the team's policy, and accuses the technicians of not being able to fine-tune the chassis.
In fact, McLaren, strong in results and with a certain presumption, in recent years has lost men like John Barnard and Steve Nichols, and has sidelined Gordon Murray to carry out the ambitious program of a GT car.
Ayrton then makes a big voice: he asks for money, starting with an initial request for eight million dollars to renew the contract, up to twelve million. Dennis takes time, he is afraid of entering a dead end round. So, in the meantime Williams enters the race, driven by the desire to have a champion in the team and by a sponsor, Camel, who would not mind the expense to remove the champion from Marlboro.
In the days leading up to the Grand Prix, Frank Williams gets loaded onto a hired plane and goes to Nice, where Ayrton is waiting for him. Time to open and close the door and the little jet is back in the skies of the Côte d'Azur. Frank offered Ayrton a contract to race in Williams, in exchange for a shared salary between Williams itself, Renault and Elf.
This puts Ayrton in an advantageous position, so he asks for more guarantees from Dennis. The British manager remains dumbfounded, he knows he could lose the Honda engines if the Brazilian was to leave, while on the other side there is Renault supplying its ten cylinders to Williams.
Ayrton continues to complain, even confessing to his friends that it seems to him that he does not have the same material as his teammate Berger. Ron Dennis tries to bluff, then summons the Italian journalists and states:
"In two months I have white hair. Ayrton is a terrible businessman, but now we are closer".
It seems that Honda itself has intervened, offering to help make up any differences with dollars. Senna thinks about it, and finally on August 25, 1990, the announcement arrives: he remains at McLaren, with a salary of fourteen million dollars for 1991, and another fifteen for 1992.
"The discussion took place on two different tables; on one side there were the technical discussions and on the other the commercial ones. I asked for specific programs because I want the machine to remain successful in the next few years. Then there were the commercial aspects. which are never easy to solve. Don't ask me how much I earn, beyond a certain amount they are just numbers. Anyway it was a good fight. My aim is to develop a winning car at McLaren. If it takes two years I will also stay two years, otherwise we'll see".
After breaking every engagement record, immediately Ayrton also breaks the track record of Spa-Francorchamps, conquering the pole position:
"Before I was too busy with the negotiations, now I can only think about the championship".
Meanwhile, Prost also collected twelve million dollars thanks to the renewal of the contract with Ferrari, and thanks to the mysterious tires that according to the technicians escape all the classifications currently in force in Formula 1, he marks the third in qualifying, six tenths from his opponent:
"Now that I have signed the new contract, my mind is completely clear, and this will be an advantage. I will be able to concentrate on driving, try to make the most of the qualities of a car, my 641/2, which is certainly among the best in the world. It is useless, however, to prepare tactics or plans. I like the track a lot, it will be necessary to attack in order not to take too many risks. The only real doubt that torments me concerns the weather: here the rain is always lurking and the wet track would be a real disappointment. But this will apply to everyone. It will be crucial to fine-tune the car, prepare everything down to the smallest detail".
"Senna is always the most dangerous opponent. But I will also have to take into account Berger's ambitions and Mansell's desire to aim for a success that he lacked so far. Unfortunately, I can't expect much help from Mansell. And, all in all, I understand. Ours is a sport for individualists, there is no one willing to sacrifice himself if he is not forced to do so. I only don't expect that episodes similar to those that occurred in Budapest when Senna and Berger respectively threw Nannini off the track and Mansell".
In this regard, it must be said that the FISA sporting commissioners on Thursday afternoon summon Ron Dennis, telling him to warn his drivers that other episodes such as those seen on the Hungaroring circuit will not be tolerated.
As for Ferrari, before the race various teams began to protest against the Goodyear tires that Ferrari tested over the weekend, coming from a warehouse on the Fiorano circuit. No regulation prevents them from being used, but there is an agreement according to which the teams should mount the tires brought by the American manufacturer for the current race. Cesare Fiorio, shortly before departure, admits:
"Apart from the fact that we do not have enough and not even the type required for this track, we have only made comparative tests. These are differently constructed tires that were produced up until the British Grand Prix. Our drivers are convinced that they were more suitable for our cars. For this reason we asked Goodyear to redo them and they will be brought to Monza, but for all the teams".
At the first corner Senna keeps the lead, but behind him a tangle of cars is created: Suzuki, Mansell and Piquet collide with each other, involving the two Lotus drivers, Warwick and Donnelly in the accident. Also during the first lap there is an accident between Modena and Nakajima, and the race is inevitably suspended. Even at the second start Senna he remains in command, but the race is again interrupted after a violent exit from the track by Barilla at the Eau Rouge.
At the third start, before which Suzuki and Barilla are officially retired, everything goes smoothly; once again Senna made no mistake and remained first, followed by Berger and Prost. After a few laps the Ferrari driver overtook the Austrian, taking second place and setting off in pursuit of Senna. The three leading drivers change tires; Senna leads the field, while Prost loses his position in favor of Nannini; shortly afterwards the Frenchman overtook the Benetton driver, he's now back behind Senna, without however being able to really worry him.
Berger also tries to overtake Nannini, but ends up touching the Italian's car; both managed to finish the race, however, with the McLaren driver in third position. Ayrton still makes full loot and increases his leadership over Prost with his fifth center of the season by another three points, with Prost satisfied with second place. At the end of the race the unthinkable happens: a timid but sincere rapprochement between Prost and Senna.
Ayrton receives indirect compliments from Alain, who commenting on the day, pronouncing the name of the enemy for the first time in a long time (until then he used expressions like that or him) says:
"Ayrton was good, he had a good race".
A climate weighed down for some time that was of no use to anyone, and which also involved those who had nothing to do with it in the well-known and unpleasant event of the 1989 World Cup. Now the grudges seem to be over. They seem.
Prost states in public that it was Senna who won thanks to his skill and not McLaren; Senna talks about him finally giving him a surname. They look into each other's eyes, they even exchange the microphone. After the race, Ayrton, in the usual press conference, shows a toothy smile:
"It was a difficult race, because the repeated starts made me fear I had compromised the transmission or clutch, but everything went well. At the beginning I also suffered from the tires, as Berger forced me to push more than expected. After the tire change, however, things went better, and I didn't have too many problems on a track where overtaking is not prohibitive. The championship? It's still very long, even if I feel good in my position".
Meanwhile Mansell confirms his willingness to leave Ferrari, but does not rule out the possibility of remaining within the circus in the event of offers from teams that guarantee him the fight at the top. Just in Belgium, to some friends, Nigel confesses:
"I can't understand. I think I'm faster than Prost at least in qualifying. But instead of helping me stay ahead of the McLarens, I'm being given second-hand material. And that way I can't be of any use to anyone".
The break with Ferrari is therefore now complete. Another demonstration was his return to the box, from which engineer Castelli had to accompany him to the motorhome to reassure him: the Englishman appeared very agitated and angry.
Ivan Capelli is indicated as a possible replacement for the British, the Italian made himself noticed at the wheel of the small Leyton House, in particular with the podium conquered in France. The Italian, to rumors that see him as Prost's new companion, replies that he feels ready for the big leap. But on the name of the driver, Fiorio is laconic:
"We have contacts with Italian and foreign drivers, but we are still waiting for the best solution".
A few days after the Grand Prix raced in Spa, Mansell and Fiorio meet in Maranello, since following the investigation that took place on the car of the English driver, who retired because he considered his car undriveable, it was instead discovered that the car was perfectly in order. Taking advantage of the situation, the Lion of England dissolves his reservations, reiterating once and for all that the following year he does not want to race for Ferrari.
After this meeting, on August 30, 1990, Cesare Fiorio, who arrived in Monza in the afternoon to follow the second day of testing, explained what happened and how they got to a solution that was all in all positive for both sides: Ferrari allowed Mansell to continue to race for Ferrari until the end of the season, when he will then have to look for another team, as long as he wants to continue his activity in Formula 1, thus freeing him from the option which was expiring to September 30th:
"We called Nigel Mansell on Tuesday evening in Maranello (August 28, 1990) to clarify the situation within the team. We looked at each other, talked, discussed and found some points of agreement, with each other satisfaction. Previously we examined the Belgian car without identifying anything irregular. Nigel probably did not like the set-up that had been prepared for Prost. We confirm the highest esteem in the driver, of great value, a champion. He repeated to be available to work for the team, to eventually help Prost in the challenge for the title. He also acknowledged that he took positions he shouldn't have taken. He asked us to free him from the option we had towards him. We satisfied him".
"We will provide him with all the best material like Prost and we will also try to make him win a race if we have the chance, as he wants to beat Stirling Moss' record. In exchange he offered us his commitment. We also exempted him from the tests that he finds so heavy. In any case, to answer certain statements, we want to reiterate that we would be crazy not to put one of our drivers in the best possible conditions to achieve a result. We will continue to alternate the reserve car between the English and the French, but we will bring four to Monza".
So here we are at one of the most hype-loaded events on the calendar: Monza, the temple of speed, where in 1979 Jody Scheckter won his only World title and is currently the last driver to have won the drivers' title for Ferrari.
Eleven years later, to continue hoping to finally be able to put an end to the fast of world titles, Prost needs to get closer to Senna, so he must win and maybe hope for a false step by the Brazilian, who has not shown himself so invulnerable to mistakes, the last one in Budapest where Nannini paid the price. After the overwhelming dominance at Hockenheim, with the long Monza straights it is easy to predict another soliloquy from McLaren and Senna; and instead, right from the free practice sessions, the two Ferrari are head-to-head. After the meeting following the Belgian Grand Prix, Mansell, who arrived in Monza with a thumb crushed, promises battle:
"Next year I will be a former driver. I have five races left to win at least one. I really hope to hit the target on Sunday. In the meantime I will try to take pole position, to drive Senna back. It would be the best way to help Prost. I mean, give my teammate a good hand so that he can fight for the world title".
Senna still manages to take the Pole number forty-nine of his career by lapping in 1'22"533; Prost, still dry of Pole this season, is second at four tenths, but thanks to a single thousandth of advantage he makes a mockery of the other McLaren by Berger, with Mansell and an excellent Alesi following way behind.
"Come and get me".
Senna says, alluding to Prost leaving behind him. The Brazilian mentions his rival when he admits that Ferraris have reached a very high level, albeit favored by the type of circuit. In addition, Ayrton goes so far as to say he is overwhelmed by too many emotions, if not downright worried:
"Because I have never won at Monza and every time, on the eve, something bad happens. I had big problems in setting up the car, and I don't know if I will have time to fix all the details for the race. I set the best time by running instinctively, in the race it will be something else. The best strategy is to race on Prost. After all, my goal is the world championship, not a one-day victory".
Alain also pretends to ignore his former teammate, already making us forget the half thaw in Belgium, and responds by citing only the McLarens, as if they were driven by a ghost. The same indifference that the French reserve to Mansell, with whom, he has been promising for days, he will speak on Sunday.
"I could have started in pole position too, the car and the engine allowed me, but the qualifying tires are still not as good as they should be. The difference between me and Senna was born entirely at the Parabolica corner, the last one before the finish line. That's where I couldn't go faster".
Prost could worry Ayrton in the race, but at the start the Professor snaps badly and is burned out by Berger, then at the Variante della Roggia he is also overtaken by a super Alesi, who wastes no time and immediately puts himself in the wake of the Austrian. The boils of the Tyrrell's Frenchman are immediately extinguished by the red flag displayed at the end of the first lap: it is caused by Derek Warwick, who puts two wheels on the grass losing control of his car.
The barriers are placed very close to the roadway, and the Lotus driver crashes into them, overturning at great speed. The accident is scary, but this does not seem to affect the concentration and motivation of the Brit, who a few seconds after the bang is framed as he runs towards his pits to get into the reserve car and take part in the restart, amidst the applause of the public, who can do nothing but appreciate his desire to drive.
The second start is a frustrating deja-vu for Prost, put in exactly the same way first by Berger and then by Alesi, while Senna is perfect as he was also at the first start. The young Alesi sniffs a great opportunity to put himself in the window again (perhaps to get noticed by Ferrari, in search for a driver), having fallen a little after the crackling start of the season that saw him protagonist from Phoenix to Monte Carlo; pity that Jean exaggerates in seeking the attack on Berger, thus putting an end to his race due to a trivial spin at the first corner, that leads his car against the barriers. Thanks to the mistake made later by Berger, without any particular exploit, Alain finds himself second not far from the leader, who, just like in Spa-Francorchamps or perhaps even more clearly, has no difficulty in keeping him at bay for the rest of the race.
Pole, twenty-sixth victory in Formula 1 and fastest lap of the race; at Monza Ferrari approaches McLaren, but does not approach Senna, whose superiority is inescapable at this time of the season. Ayrton wins despite a curious inconvenience: in fact, Honda brings a new fuel to Monza that guarantees more power, but which towards the end of the race causes an unexpected drop in power.
It is therefore a special victory for the Honda, led by engineer Goto, who thanks to the massive computer system at his disposal manages to bring almost a new engine specification to each race, making up for the lack of McLaren chassis.
Furthermore, given that on more than one occasion in the past he had turned a blind eye to Ferrari at Monza and to alleged technical facilitations, to avoid such dynamics Ron Dennis manages to get a can of fuel from an Agip man present at the racetrack, to analyze it and possibly make a complaint if this was out of order. No subterfuge, however, the values on the field are there for all to see: Ferrari has a better chassis, while the Honda engineers are able to bring a different engine to each appointment and make up for this deficit.
At the end of the race, therefore, comes the long-awaited reconciliation in the press conference, also driven by the events after the Belgian Grand Prix; a reconciliation, fictitious or not, which seems difficult to scratch, especially considering the advantage of sixteen points that Senna has in the general classification.
It is the post-race press conference of the 1990 Italian Grand Prix, when the envoy of La Repubblica Carlo Marincovich tries to set up an improvised peace table to seat both Senna and Prost. Who knows, perhaps the journalist rather than find himself in hand with statements announcing the end of hostilities, he hoped rather to throw fuel on the fire to feed more, and instead the effect is what you do not expect, and at the invitation of Carlo Marincovich, Alain takes the ball and replies:
"I don't like remembering the past, if Ayrton agrees too, let's make peace".
An output that takes everyone by surprise, including Ayrton, but despite the latter's heartfelt reluctance to cooperate, it is clear that using diplomacy at that moment is the best move to make, regardless of whether the apology is sincere or not. In addition, there has already been a refusal to make peace in Phoenix, following Balestre's attempt to reconcile them:
"When the desire to make peace is sincere and genuine is always welcome. In Phoenix it didn't seem to be the case, and it's not easy to forget what happened last year, but we are professionals, we do the same thing, and although we have little in common, we share the same passion. If this is his desire and it comes from the heart, I accept without problems".
Then Alain concludes:
"Ayrton is right, just remember the past. This is an important moment. He has his opinion on what happened last year, but we forget everything. It would be interesting for this sport if we could play these last four races in a different climate. Personally, whenever I'm next to Ayrton on the grid, I know there won't be any problems on the track. This rivalry was something sad, because it provided different images from what we really are".
Also on the initiative of the transalpine comes a handshake, probably one of the least genuine and sincere in the history of this sport, but the fact is that the media fall for it in full: after years of strong rivalry and no holds barred, Ayrton and Alain seem to have settled their differences. Yes, all this may seem like a big joke looking at what will happen in the following races, precisely in the remaining four where Alain preached that he could race in a different climate. In fact, the climate will be different, but it will only become even more fiery.
In any case, let's go in order, because before the aforementioned peace conference, the track continued to compete, and to the outburst of Prost who slipped three victories in a row in Mexico, France and Great Britain, the prompt reaction could not be missing of Senna, more motivated than ever to take back the leadership of the World Championship.
On the other hand, a World Cup without a photo finish would avoid those scenarios made by tensions between the two, which then led to the total breakdown of their relationship. In Formula 1 there are many very complicated situations to manage within each team, each of which consists of hundreds of people who work behind the scenes and whose synergy, combined with their skills, can prove to be fundamental to create a dominant team.
If what happens in the factories, however, usually remains in the dark of the enthusiasts, what on the contrary is highlighted most in this sport is undoubtedly the management of the drivers by the team, the one that for logical reason attracts the most interest of public opinion, especially in the event that skirmishes are created. The concept is simple: the rivalries between teammates have always fascinated fans more than anything else; the tension, the controversies, the battle on equal terms and all that they bring.
Who, obviously excluding the Team Principals have to manage this scenario in the best way, doesn't love all this? In 1988 and 1989 Senna and Prost offered us a show of this kind and that we have already told, with Ron Dennis who saw his hair loss speed up inexorably due to the stress that the two caused him, before the departure of the Frenchman with destination Ferrari.
And if in 1990 Gerhard Berger was totally aware of the role of wingman he would have to undertake once he got on board the McLaren, on the other hand the management of the Mansell-Prost relationship has been a taboo since the first negotiations took place in July 1989 with the aim to bring Alain to Maranello.
The reigning Champion had no intention of having someone put the spanner in the works in his very personal battle with Ayrton, on the other hand, however, Mansell did not even think about serving as a squire to the newcomer, regardless of his caliber.
The bad first part of the season of the Lion of England, at the same time as the four victories obtained by Prost up to the Hockenheim Grand Prix, forced Nigel to the role that he categorically refused from the beginning, declaring at Silverstone in the interview where he also announced his retired from racing, wanting to get at least another victory, but at the same time willing to help his teammate Prost to win the championship.
Statements of ritual or really heard by the British? We would have discovered it at the first valid opportunity, which is two weeks after the Grand Prix raced in Monza and won by Senna. Now F1 is in Estoril, for the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Among other things, it was in Portugal that Jean Alesi's arrival in Ferrari was announced for the following season, replacing Mansell, with the Frenchman who, one step away from moving to Williams, discovered Ferrari's interest and preferred to sign for the team that could realistically offer him more opportunities to battle for the World Cup.
Who knows what the neo-Ferrari driver may have thought when he saw Williams become the second force (and at times the first) of the World Championship behind McLaren, with his Red car trailing behind. But let's dive back into 1990.
After the Italian Grand Prix, Ron Dennis asks Senna to test a new bottom, so as to be able to maintain the technological advantage over his rivals for the last few Grand Prix. Ayrton is reluctant, but eventually accepts the invitation. Jo Ramirez, historic director of McLaren, after having obtained the OK from the Brazilian, once the construction of the new bottom is finished, rushes to the airport, taking the new component with him as hand luggage; after insistent requests, Jo manages to brong it on the plane, and shows up in Budapest just in time to let the Brazilian pilot try it out.
Ayrton gets in the car, does a couple of laps on new ground, lapping two seconds faster than test driver Jonathan Palmer, and finishes practice. Annihilated by Ayrton's speed, poor Jonathan tells Jo Ramirez:
"I think you won't need me tomorrow. If I leave right away I can catch the flight tonight to go home".
However, despite the changes made at McLaren, Ferraris are extraordinarily fast both in the flying lap and especially in the race pace at Estoril. The favorable track with its fast corners, the type of tires developed by Goodyear, and the new qualifying engines, provide Ferrari that little bit more to reopen the championship discourse.
Above all, the engines had been tested for the first time in Monza, but only in Estoril they reached an optimal arrangement that finally allowed Ferrari to fight on equal terms with the McLarens. Just to give an idea of the sophistication that Ferrari has achieved, the engine valves are sent to France to be coated and treated with special materials, at a cost of one million per valve.
At Maranello, however, they spared no expense in order to win the championship, especially when you consider that there are sixty of these valves in a single engine. Thus, during qualifying, the two Ferraris set the pace. Mansell scored the first blow, with Senna who, in an attempt to replicate, never saw himself driving in such a disorderly and disorganized way, he who manages to maintain control of the car even in the most desperate situations. Then comes Prost, who with a very clean guide leaves Mansell behind. It would be the ideal situation for Alain, on pole without the initial handicap of a Senna up front. Mansell, however, has other plans: back on track, he improves Prost's time:
"Have you seen what happens when they give me the good engine too?"
Nigel declares controversial, always obsessed with the alleged political games in the team, once the tests are over. Senna, on the other hand, is a bit stunned to see the two Ferraris fly in qualifying:
"I thought I did a bombshell, and instead I'm third. Damn".
The gap that Berger's other McLaren pays (a good seven tenths) in such a tight-qualifying-highlights marks the great difference that Ayrton is able to make on the flying lap as usual, but this time it was not enough to beat the two Ferraris. Cesare Fiorio, however, remains with his feet on the ground:
"Yes, we have always done well in the race, we did some tests with a full tank of fuel already and we have seen that the times are excellent, but we are not claiming victory because McLaren is not yet defeated. Here we have the advantage of a very favorable circuit to us, where we did very well last year, but with McLaren you can never tell".
The scenario that logically promises us in the race is Mansell who lets his team-mate pass as soon as circumstances make it possible, to help him in the desperate comeback on the McLaren rival, who currently has a comfortable sixteen points advantage.
After all, Nigel also stated openly, in the past, that he would have supported Prost, so unless there are complications, the outcome seems obvious, also bearing in mind that the race pace of Ferrari is clearly superior.
At the start, on the other hand, the Ferrari number two in name and in fact does everything it must not do: it clicks badly and to defend its position closes Prost, who is forced to raise his foot to avoid the pit wall, a bit like he did two years earlier on the same circuit, except that it was Senna who pressed him to the wall; the two McLarens promptly slip into the gap opened by the British, making a sensational pace at the first corner. Mansell is third, Prost is fifth, also overtaken by Nelson Piquet's Benetton.
A real disaster for Ferrari, but nothing is lost, as after a few laps of settling Mansell begins to put pressure on the two McLarens, and Prost, who takes about ten laps to get rid of Piquet, begins to reduce the gap that separates him from the leading trio to the sound of fast laps, going under the wall of 1'19. The Ferraris are faster, but Berger can take advantage of Senna's slipstream and his powerful V10 Honda, making it very difficult for the Ferrari drivers to launch a concrete attack.
On lap twenty-seven, a Mansell frustrated by the inability to engage in a duel with Berger ends up with two wheels on the grass, and although he manages not to lose control of his car, he must give up third position to Prost. It is immediately after that the pit stop waltz begins: the first to change tires is Mansell, the next lap is up to Senna, with Berger who, deprived of the slipstream of his teammate, is immediately overtaken on the main straight by Prost, which conquers a leadership that hardly lasts a lap, having to make his pit stop too.
Following Berger's break, the situation is as follows: the quartet has become grainy and each one is separated by a few seconds from the other; Senna always follows the pace followed by Mansell, then Berger and finally Prost, who in the post-race will have to say not only on the management of the start, but also on a strategy not really aimed at favoring him.
Mansell took a few laps to clear his gap from Senna, but a large group of lapped cars delayed his attack by several laps. An attack that finally reaches the fiftieth lap at the end of the main straight, at the same point where the British hit the Seine the year before, putting both of them out from the race.
Unlike that occasion, Ayrton is less rash in closing the door, on the contrary, he is extremely lucid and an accountant, aware of the fact that the Ferraris are too fast, so he opens the door wide and lets Mansell sit in first position. On lap fifty-three the lapping of Philippe Alliot's Ligier turns out to be more complicated than it should for the Ferrari driver, closed at turn 2 by the Frenchman. The contact between the front left of Ferrari and the rear right of the lapped is inevitable, but luckily the leader of the race comes out unscathed, unlike Alliot who instead crashes into the barriers.
Berger and Prost seem a bit in trouble compared to the leading duo, at least as regards the start of the second stint, then Alain plays the charge by recording the fastest provisional lap in the race, with a time of 1'18"426. A second wave of lapping helps the starting quartet to compose themselves again, to give the spectators a crackling race finale. The palpitations rise during lap fifty-nine, with Prost passing Berger again and immediately starting to bite Senna's ankles. Alain can't finish behind him again, it would be too hard a blow for the World Cup.
If luck turns its back on you, however, there is often little to do. On lap sixty-three the international director frames Alex Caffi's Arrows crashed into the barriers of turn 3, with the driver not coming out of the car with his own legs. The intervention of the race marshals and the Medical Car becomes necessary to extract it with extreme caution from the crashed car.
Caffi gets away with little, although he cannot participate in the next race, but the red flag at that moment is rightly considered inevitable, and with less than ten laps to go, the race ends early with Mansell's victory, ahead of Senna and Prost, mocked and perhaps deprived of a probable victory. Probably because, after analyzing the various race dynamics, it is difficult to assume that once Senna passed, Mansell would have given up the position and consequently the victory to the Frenchman.
Mansell's behavior on the podium also fuels any doubts about his relationship with Alain, and also of the latter with Ferrari, as the Brit seems to be more Senna's box-mate than Prost, since he repeatedly embraces the Brazilian until he raises his arm to the sky almost as a gesture of victory. And we are still talking about two who punched each other a few years earlier.
After the race, Prost gives two interviews, one for the Italians and one for the French. In both he is very hard on Ferrari, but in a different way: in the first he is critical, in the second he is devastating. Let's start with the heavier version:
"Today you all understood why Ferrari has not won the World Championship since 1979, a team managed like this will never win the World Championship. I did a huge job for Ferrari. I thought our intent was common, to win the World Championship. Now I realize I was alone. At this point I could review my position in the team for next year. I could go to another team, anywhere. Or even retire at the end of the season".
"Ferrari does not deserve to win the world championship. For me this is a huge disappointment. The car was perfect, I could play for first place, even if I lost precious time in the pit stop. My race was compromised from the start. There is no one in Ferrari capable of managing the relationships between the drivers. Nobody asked Mansell to help me, there is no team policy like there is at McLaren".
Of a different opinion is Cesare Fiorio, who minimizes everything, in a not very credible way, in the post-race:
"It is not true that we have not talked to Mansell. From three or four races we established that in certain situations the Englishman would have to help his teammate. If he has been second or third and so on, he would have earned him a place No problems. But Nigel never agreed to leave a win. And we never asked. It wouldn't be fair: a Formula 1 driver lives for these successes that go down in history, they also risk their lives for a first place. I had an interview with Mansell at 12:45 pm and he repeated this kind of availability".
"And I reported it to Prost. If it had been the last race with the title at stake, perhaps we would have also arrived at a solution like the one requested by him, but it was not possible with sixteen points behind. Alain was also unfortunate for the start, a mistake by Mansell, but certainly involuntary (and Nigel even went to apologize), for the interruption of the race when he could still hope to overtake at least Senna. If Prost wanted to win, he had to go and get Mansell this time".
Perhaps it will be as Fiorio claims, the fact is that during the race Prost moved into third place only thanks to a mistake by his teammate, not to mention the strategy that visibly disadvantaged him. In the opinion of the French driver, expressed to Italian journalists:
"The championship is over, I don't think about it anymore. Too easy for Mansell to make excuses. It is the third time in my career that this has happened to me, I am not willing to continue in this way. At the start I crashed into the wall, then I gave my soul to reassemble. And even when I was delayed to change the tires, these things happen in racing, there was still the possibility of recovering. I also ran out of sixth gear. But this is a race that I could easily win".
On the other hand, Ayrton can instead be satisfied, given that his goal of staying ahead of Prost was achieved without too many problems:
"I knew it would be difficult to win this race. Ferrari was superior, it had been already last year. Which is why when Mansell attacked me, I couldn't resist that much, I contented myself and widened the line to let him pass, also because I could not see where he was. If I had resisted by sticking to the brakes I would have risked compromising everything. Beautiful race, exciting start. Now I can do a little thought about the World Championship. Even if we still have to collect something. I think it will not be too difficult as, I admit, the advantage is quite substantial. Of course this Ferrari is really competitive".
Between the lines you can read a great satisfaction, but not only for the result in a world-class key: no one can take from the heads of the insiders that Ayrton lived the day even as a great revenge on the rival on a psychological level, more than on that one sportsman; the peace with Prost in Monza had been an obligatory gesture and more demonstrative than not heard, and the fact of knowing that now the Frenchman brought a lot of fuss even to Ferrari, can only please him, confirming his theories according to which the frog - so defines the rival when he talks about it with his friends - is now in big trouble. And he is right.
Alain is furious, and looking at the general classification certainly doesn't help him: now there are eighteen points to recover from Ayrton, with only three races left to go. But with the variable of the rule of discards, which this time could be in his favor.
A week after the internal turmoil involving Ferrari in Estoril, we move a few hundred kilometers east to stop in Jerez de la Frontera, the third-last round of a World Championship that is firmly in the hands of Senna, from the top of the eighteen points of advantage over Prost.
The variant that could favor the transalpine is the rule of discards, which provides for the counting of only the best eleven results obtained during the season, and which in 1988 proved to be crucial in order to decree the World Champion (Prost obtained more total points of Senna, but for this regulation he concluded behind the Brazilian).
Ayrton already had eleven important results: six wins, two second places and three third places; to increase his score in the standings he can do nothing but win or get on the second step of the podium, while Prost actually has few calculations to do; he must win the three remaining races hoping for the help of his team and his teammate, who has been missing on Portuguese soil. After the events in Estoril, the circus arrived in Spain, Alain speaks to the Ferrari mechanics and apologizes to them, after speaking by phone with the Ferrari executives:
"I had telephone conversations with Agnelli, Romiti and Fusaro, president of Ferrari. What I want, if I stay at Ferrari next season, is that victory in the World Championship is my number one goal, otherwise I can consider leaving Ferrari. I know that with this car all my opponents are behind me. But I have something with Mansell, who shows a lack of professionalism. Especially since he hasn't worked much this year".
The Spanish weekend starts in the worst way, as during the first qualifying session on Friday Martin Donnelly is the protagonist of a horrible accident, which initially suggests the worst.
At 1:51 pm, nine minutes from the end of the first qualifying session, under a merciless sun, Donnelly's Lotus runs normally around the corner at a speed of around 225 km/h, when suddenly the car slides towards the outside and crashes at full speed against the guardrails placed a few meters from the track.
It follows a terrifying crash, a horrible din, a dark blow and the car that crumbles, splitting into three sections, with the engine and gearbox literally detached from the cockpit.
The pilot, after having flown out of his car, remains motionless in the middle of the track, about thirty meters ahead of the point of impact, with his body bent in an unnatural position. Silence falls immediately on the pits, as everyone saw the images on television.
A few but very long minutes pass before help arrives on the spot. Nobody, not even the doctors, dare to touch the lifeless body. Then finally the ambulance arrives and the rescue activity begins. In the paddock, a general conviction immediately hovers: it is not possible that Martin saved himself from the impact at a speed that the telemetry calculated with the usual terrible precision. And instead, after fear, hope grows.
After Senna and the teammate of the Irish driver Derek Warwick return, visibly shaken, to the pits after visiting the scene of the accident, the first incredibly comforting information arrives:
"Donnelly is alive. He waved a hand and spoke".
Then the race to the hospital in Seville, the pilot is hospitalized in a neurosurgical clinic.
At 2.30 pm, half an hour after the accident, the Spanish organizers issue a statement, signed by doctors Watkins and Isserman, in which they report that on Martin's body they found fractures of the femur, tibia and fibula of the left leg, the fracture of the right clavicle, a state of concussion in the process of resolution, and vital and motor functions intact.
Subsequently, it is learned from the hospital located about eighty kilometers from the circuit, that the doctors rule out a possible skull fracture, even if the pilot experiences breathing difficulties; a fairly normal occurrence after traumas of this kind. Doctors operate him immediately to reduce the fracture in his leg. Martin remains on a reserved prognosis.
On that day Senna proves to be the fastest, but Martin Donnelly's accident involves all the drivers emotionally. First of all Ayrton, who walked to see himself what happened, while Prost makes the usual speech against circuits where safety measures have not been implemented with the same attention paid to the cars.
Under pressure, the drivers immediately ask the Spanish organizers to put in place, on the circuit, some measures that they consider necessary. And diligent officials arrange to accumulate piles of old tires tied by cables in the most dangerous points, at the exit of some turns and in areas where the guardrails are too close to the track. In order to carry out these works correctly, the subsequent tests started half an hour late.
"In this track, you reach five point of gravity when cornering. So you have to decrease the speed of the cars, but also think about the arrangement of the racetracks. If something is not changed here in Jerez, we may not be racing next year".
Prost declares. Meanwhile, Lotus technicians and mechanics worked all night between Friday and Saturday to reinforce the suspension of the single-seaters. In fact, it seems that both Donnelly's accident in the first qualifying round and that of his teammate Warwick at Monza were caused by the failure of the tie rods supporting the left rear wheel. Meanwhile, good news also comes for Martin Donnelly.
From the hospital we learn that the Irish driver has been operated on to reduce fractures and is perfectly conscious. Doctors issue a bulletin stating that if no complications arise, the situation can be considered positive.
Meanwhile, Dr. Watkins, a FISA doctor, after Martin's accident asked for a faster car than the one made available for quick help by the organizers of the Grand Prix. To satisfy him, a Porsche had been brought from Madrid, but the car was involved in an accident at the gates of Jerez and the driver was hospitalized in the same hospital where Martin Donnelly is present.
Saturday's tests, which as mentioned start half an hour late, see Ayrton further improve his time, despite the fact that the Ferraris are once again extremely competitive. The Brazilian driver thus reaches the remarkable record of fifty pole positions in his career. For Alain, the only hope of winning seems to be that of sprinting better than his opponent at the start.
Senna, however, is the author of a great start, closely followed by the two Ferraris, who do not waste time and begin to put pressure on him to try to induce him to a small indecision that can pave the way for them, while behind Jean Alesi, started from fourth position, is touched in the first corner by Patrese's Williams, his left rear is punctured, the Tyrrell becomes uncontrollable and ends up in the gravel. For the young Frenchman, the race lasts a few moments; a shame, given its starting position.
The first stint of the race passes unscathed for Senna, good at not being intimidated by the constant pressure of Prost, after which comes one of the key moments of the race, that of pit-stops to change tires: the first to stop is Mansell, then it's up to Prost to change his tires, with an aggressive undercut against Senna, who can't help but stop the next lap and hope to get back on track again in the lead. On the main straight Mansell steps aside and lets Prost pass, but he doesn't notice that Senna is right there next to him, just out of the pitlane lane.
Ayrton seizes the moment of indecision of the British and throws himself into the internal trajectory of curve 1, managing to limit the damage and steal a fundamental virtual second position (a third place would not have guaranteed him any points, due to the discard rule).
In the lead at that moment is Piquet, who unlike the others has yet to pit. Prost follows him, but before he can even sketch an overtaking maneuver, the Brazilian from Benetton goes wide, finishing off the track, leaving an open highway for Prost.
The disaster for Piquet was completed on lap forty-eight due to a battery problem which for him is synonymous with retirement. For Nelson, the glory days spent fighting for victories and world cup are far away.
The progress of the race does not offer many emotions, Prost runs away easily enough to be able to afford another stop in the pits, to be safe from any problems with his Goodyears, and get back on track again as a leader; meanwhile, behind him Mansell is unable to find openings to attack Senna.
The twist comes on lap fifty-one when a cloud of white smoke begins to come out from the rear of the McLaren. Ayrton loses power and has to step aside, allowing Mansell and Nannini to occupy the remaining positions of the podium. It was decided to change tires that made Magic hit again the track in sixth place, but a few corners were enough and the MP4/5B was parked on the track by the World Championship leader, due to problems with the radiator.
It is the third retirement of the season for Senna, the second actually since in Mexico he was classified anyway, having stopped only two laps from the end; however the latter could undoubtedly be the heaviest in the world.
The last action worthy of being put in the highlights of the race is offered by Gerhard Berger, author of an attack on the last corner of the fifty-seventh lap: the braking he tries on Boutsen causes the contact between the two, with McLaren taking flight using the Williams' tire as a ramp, landing sadly in the gravel without being able to restart.
Thus ends a Sunday to forget for the Woking team, while for Ferrari, on the contrary, a splendid double is achieved, this time with the right driver to cross the finish line in front of the other, namely Prost, who precedes Mansell by twenty-two seconds, unlike the previous weekend in the role of squire, with the exception of the lack of determination with which he defended himself from Senna for the second position. It does not matter, because Senna does not cross the finish line, therefore the logical consequence is that he does not earn any points, at the same time Alain puts nine points in the farmhouse and in doing so halves his gap from eighteen to nine points.
The scenes, after the victories, are always more or less the same: kisses and hugs and, in the case of Ferrari, besides the champagne, also the Lambrusco. But the atmosphere in Ferrari is different, more collected and at the same time more explosive, as if Prost's victory and Mansell's second place had awakened them from a nightmare. At that moment, perhaps the team finds itself compact around Fiorio, forgetting seven days lived in the worst crisis.
"In the morning's meeting with the drivers we made some decisions. We knew that the two crucial moments would be the start and the tire changes. At the start we didn't manage to take the lead, so we played the second card. Obtained two victories in a week and above all we have found, at least I hope, serenity. If we manage to have controversy even in this situation, then it means that we are really good in this field".
"Personally I am very happy that the two drivers have found themselves with an acceptable spirit for the team. Now we will continue to work. From tomorrow on we will be back in Estoril for four days of testing. And in the Fiorano workshop we still have something new to try. There are three weeks to go until the Japanese Grand Prix and I can assure you that we will be fierce at Suzuka".
Alessandro Nannini is also on the podium, unaware of the fact that his ninth career podium would unfortunately also be his last weekend as a Formula 1 driver; a helicopter accident in the week following the Grand Prix causes serious damage to his arm and will prevent him from racing again behind the wheel of his Benetton, or any other Formula 1 single-seater.
Even the podium shows a very different scene compared to the one we witnessed in Estoril, where Mansell and Senna played the part of great friends as if to annoy Prost. This time the two Ferrari drivers exchange smiles, a handshake and even a hug before leaving the podium.
The Portuguese skirmishes seem to have been forgotten, and Alain himself thinks to give a hand to this theory at the press conference:
"Today everything was definitely different than last week, and in all honesty I don't want to go back to what happened. I'm happy to be back to victory and how we won this race. In qualifying it was already good, and in the race the whole team was up to par, and I emphasize the whole team because they were all very good, both us drivers and the mechanics in the pit stops, and the strategy was also excellent".
"Also this season it was decisive to start from pole position. I've been in the front row for three races, but that's not enough. You've all seen: I could have gone faster than Senna, maybe even two seconds per lap. But I was behind until when we didn't change the tires. It was a perfect stop, nothing to say".
"The championship? Honestly, I haven't done the math yet. But I don't think there is a need for an abacus or a computer. The only certain thing is that Senna is still the big favorite. Basically I'll have to try to win again, maybe all of them. There are two races left. It won't be easy, but we'll try. Ferrari and I. Let's just hope those points lost in Portugal don't become too heavy".
Ayrton, as usual, after the race did not look for excuses and dark-faced, after having witnessed the triumph of Ferrari sitting at the pit wall he states:
"It was a good show, but for me this is the worst result that could have come from this race. Not even my teammate Berger managed to finish. When I stopped in the pits for the second time I thought I had a problem to a tire. Actually there was a water leak from a radiator and the liquid was dripping onto the right rear wheel. I continued, but without much hope. And when I saw the oil warning light show up because the engine temperature was increasing, I decided to park. I think a second place would have been within my reach. The car wasn't going badly, the tires didn't give me any problems".
For the engineer Osamu Goto, in charge of Honda, all that remains is to wait for the possible rematch in the race at Suzuka:
"Until the engine of Senna's car started to overheat due to water leaking from the radiator, all the data we had was normal. We will now try to win at home at the end of the month".
At this point, with a victory Senna would automatically conquer the title while, arriving first Prost, the closing of the championship would extend until the race in Adelaide, scheduled for November 4, 1990. Here we go again: time for Suzuka.
On October 21, 1990, in Suzuka, after a wait of over three years with over fifty Grands Prix disputed since his last victory at Monza in 1987, when he was still in Williams, three-time World Champion Nelson Piquet returns to success, and does in front of his teammate Roberto Moreno, Alessandro Nannini's replacement after the latter's helicopter crash a few days after the Jerez Grand Prix, and the Larrousse - Lamborghini of the home driver Aguri Suzuki, capable of bringing on the podium for the first and only time in its history the small French team.
The curious fact is that outside a small circle of people, corresponding to people who work in the team and perhaps to family members and their respective fans, no one cares about who won that edition of the Japanese Grand Prix, nor much less that an unknown team obtained its first podium. The reason is quite obvious, as long as there are those two phenomenons we're talking about so far, Senna and Prost, on which the total interest of the whole world of Formula 1 is concentrated starting from Thursday that begins the weekend, which can decree Senna World Champion, or postpone everything to the last race in Adelaide, in case Prost does his duty by at least scoring points.
The choice of Nigel Mansell also arouses greater attention, who on October 1, 1990, turns around and, unlike what was decided at Silverstone a few months earlier, opts to continue racing in Formula 1 also the following season at the wheel of Williams, replacing Thierry Boutsen:
"It was above all the pressure from fans all over the world that made me change my mind. They wrote to me, phoned me every day. I was thinking of changing activities, perhaps of participating in the endurance world championship. At the same time, however, the requests of the Formula 1 teams were more and more pressing. Williams prepared a program that I could not give up. I fought for many years to win the world title. Winning races is fantastic, but not enough as motivation. Now my old team, for which I have already driven for four years, from 1985 to 1988, made me a concrete proposal, valid in all respects, with many guarantees, and then I decided to try again. I know that my wife, although worried, will be close to me as always".
And the lack of competitiveness of McLaren also and above all arouses attention, given that everyone believed that Honda should make sparks on a circuit where, in the intentions, the work of the Japanese should be glorified:
"It's true, the Japanese work well. The engine is perfect, powerful and progressive. I think it has a few more horsepower, obtained by changing the design of the combustion chambers. They also let me know that the internal frictional resistances decreased and that the weight has been reduced by two kilos. A great effort that I hope to glorify with the world title".
Instead, the surprise comes from Ferrari, despite not knowing the secrets of this track as Honda does, which carries out tests there all year round.
"I want pole position, but even starting from the fifth row I will leave no stone unturned. I had a little problem in qualifying with the engine that went out a couple of times on the straight, but I think it's just a matter of changing settings. the rest there are no problems. I have to win and that's what I will try to do. There are no other solutions".
And Prost, on Friday, despite the second place in qualifying behind his direct rival, rejoices with the pleasant surprise:
"We are strong. I am great for this, because I am the only one who can change the fate of a team. Well not only me, Senna is good at this too, we are the only ones. But I expected more from McLaren. They rebuilt the engine, they improved the car and then it turns out that they go as fast as ourselves, maybe even less. We worked really well, we are strong. Tomorrow I will run practically alone. Alone against everyone, I will have twenty-five opponents".
"The Ferrari here looks even better than the one that won in Spain. But races are not won only with these things, they are also won with other things. For example with the tire change, and tomorrow we will have to be careful. Or they get lost by overtaking. Do you remember what happened a year ago? I can do my part and I will do it. For the rest I know, and I am surprised too, that this Ferrari is doing very well, better than all the wildest expectations".
"We'll see. But even if we don't win the world championship, we will still have a great result. At the beginning of the year we started with the aim of reorganizing the work and developing the chassis and engine. We succeeded in bringing Ferrari up to the McLaren level. The real leap forward will have to happen next year, and it's a possible and probable goal".
"We will have an engine that is giving a lot and will still be able to give a lot. They will have a new engine from which they will not be able to expect much at least in the first half of the season. This is why I am happy to stay at Ferrari. I am even more so than when I am arrived: because now I have seen the enormous potential of a team like ours and I have seen that this potential begins to emerge. So sorry if I won't win the World Championship, but what we have done so far is a lot".
A good reason to win the World Championship, the prize he would receive from Ferrari of two million dollars. In Suzuka, 150.000 people will attend the Japanese Grand Prix. They are only a part, the most fortunate one, of all those who would have liked to witness this event in person, which for years has been expected to be decisive. The requests for tickets amounted in fact to four hundred thousand, and this explains the kilometric lines that have been surrounding the Japanese racetrack for days.
In the meantime, in the usual briefing that takes place as per procedure every race weekend, it is easy to understand that there is little of that presumed peace that Senna and Prost had sanctioned in the press conference in Monza; the faces are tense, especially Ayrton's. Then Nelson Piquet comes out, asking for clarification and thus poses himself on the controversial situation of the year before that led to Senna's disqualification:
"If once we have gone long at a chicane, the stewards stop us and let us leave if there is no traffic, then yes, we can define it as safe. But if we have to turn around and go the wrong way to get back on track, with the risk that another the car goes wide and hits us in full, then it becomes dangerous".
The reference is obviously to Senna's chicane cut after the contact with Prost, the key reason Jean-Marie Balestre relied on to penalize the Brazilian. When asked if everyone agreed with Piquet, the rest of the pilots respond with a sharp Yes, to which is added a thank you with the mocking smile of Ron Dennis, who was also present at that moment. But Senna is not there, he feels almost ridiculed by the race direction. Piquet did nothing but repeat concepts that he himself expressed last year, with the result of being totally ignored, as well as seeing his disqualification and therefore his defeat with Prost confirmed:
"A farce, last year it was a farce".
Exclaimed aloud as he points his finger at Prost, who silently watches his rival who leaves the room in anger. Let's forget the past Prost said in Italy. Well, from the briefing between the drivers it is clear that Senna has not forgotten a damn thing, on the contrary, the setback suffered by the International Automobile Federation was held tightly on his finger.
In any case, on the track Ayrton is confirmed to be very fast also on Saturday, and conquers his ninth pole position in the championship, thanks to a great lap finished with a time of 1'36"996. The only one able to stand up to him is still Alain, which is still two tenths away, while the respective teammates are placed in the second row, in the order Mansell and Berger, very far away; if Mansell is half a second behind his teammate, Berger even pays over a second from Senna.
The pole position, however, does not relax at all the soul of Senna, who continues to be haunted by the ghosts of the previous year, by the frustration arising from feeling robbed of the last World Championship, which led him to seriously consider retiring from racing, assisted by the comeback of that Prost, once again, who is approaching the World Championship and is ready to snatch it again from his hands.
His request to change the position of the poleman's pitch on the grid, which up to that moment has always been on the dirty side and which Ayrton had never complained about in the two previous editions (where he started in Pole and the World Cup was played exactly like now), is the result of this very restless state of his.
His complaint, which is in any case sensible and legitimate, among other things is initially accepted by the race direction, but then the injunction from Balestre arrives and the starting position of the first on the grid remains on the dirty side. Realistically speaking, to expect that the FIA president, the same one who spent the last winter break making war with Senna, and who in Brazil was taken with oranges in the face by the Brazilians, would be able to accept this request that would have benefited Senna, it was pure utopia.
For his part, Alain is in an ideal situation to be able to postpone the fight for the World Championship to the last round of the calendar to be played in Australia: the script seems the same as the two previous races in Estoril and Jerez, with Senna playing a masterpiece in qualifying, winning pole or at least staying there in the top zone, but is then unable to counter the speed of the Ferraris on Sunday. Furthermore, the Latin blood of the McLaren driver is boiling with anger mixed with a lot of pressure, a factor that could become decisive for the race. And indeed it will be, but not exactly in the way Prost hopes.
The first crucial moment of the 1990 Suzuka Grand Prix also becomes the first and last twist of the race in a world-class key: Prost sprints better than Senna and after a few meters he is already in front of him, at the first corner Alain closes the door convinced of having conquered the leadership of the race, but when he goes to tighten the trajectory he is rammed by Senna who seems not to put his foot on the brake. Ayrton's maneuver causes both of them to take the escape route, where they remain stranded and with cars damaged to the point of not being able to re-enter the race.
The race of the two title contenders lasted so long but, just like 1989, the battle moves off the track and the spirits of those involved are incandescent.
At the pit walls there is excitement, while among the pitches various McLaren characters raise, at the Ferrari address, that famous finger that in Anglo-Saxon jargon leaves little room for translations. Senna asks Jo Ramirez:
"They won't interrupt the race, will they?"
On the other hand, Ferrari is demanding a severe punishment for the McLaren driver, but it does not arrive. With the retirement of Prost, Senna is mathematically World Champion for the second time in his career, while McLaren wins its sixth Constructors' Title. For Ferrari it is another season with a dry mouth, and in the most bitter way possible. Prost does not mince words to describe what happened, certain of the fact that Ayrton deliberately caused the accident to be sure of becoming Champion:
"I didn't expect him to throw me out like that right away. I had a perfect start. If I managed to escape he would never see me again because the Ferrari was superior. In any case, Senna showed his true face, that of an unsportsmanlike driver who wants to win at all costs. I think I'm an honest person, when there is criticism I do it, when it is time to praise I don't hold back. It was a very dirty thing. I don't like this Formula 1 and I am sorry for Ferrari that this time deserved the victory. In this way we will not go forward because it would lead to forming teams with drivers in charge of different tasks: one to score points, the other to knock out the rivals".
"Among other things, the accident was very dangerous, it took place at a point where you pass at 240 km/h. I risked getting hurt. It is time for the authorities to intervene, many things will have to change, otherwise the next races will be real battles. We need not rules, but someone who judges and applies sanctions. Otherwise we are in banger racing".
"Whoever is in front has the right to set his own trajectory. Senna, throwing himself in like that, would never have been able to brake. It is a real shame that a world championship ends this way. But it is not over. We will go to Australia to win because at the moment our cars are very competitive. As for the sporting authorities, I hope that decisions will be made. Ferrari does not make a complaint, but will present a detailed and documented statement on what happened this year in order to sensitize the Federation".
"We had a fantastic championship, perhaps the best of my career. I knew I could win and I also knew that I should never put myself in a position to overtake Senna at the chicane, because it would have been a game for him to close me down. I could have expected that he would have rammed me like that at the start. He did it deliberately. He is right when he says that whoever sets the best time in practice has the right to choose the starting position. But it is not my fault that the stewards do not allow to change it from right to left. So I managed to get past it, but it was all in vain".
"Seeing how things went, I am convinced that I did well to resist overtaking. At least everyone saw what Ayrton is made of. And then if I had to let him go, how could I have tried to overtake him? first chance, knowing that my car was superior and that I could win. No, there was no way out. Senna bumped me deliberately because he was afraid of losing the title. When I got out of the car I also wanted to punching him, but then I avoided physical contact as snakes disgust me".
Senna replies with all the malice in the world combined with the grudge he had in his body for some time, recalling quite clearly the incident of the previous season:
"Prost squeezed me too tightly and we touched each other. I'm sorry that the championship ended like this. But I was inside and I certainly couldn't throw myself on the lawn to let him pass. Only a madman would voluntarily cause an accident like this, dangerous, because behind was the whole group that was coming. It was Prost who made a mistake, it was he who had to make another trajectory. Not only that, but he had to know that he and only he had something to lose in a contact. It doesn't seem right to me that now you blame me".
"I was in pole position and I was forced to start on the wrong side, which is where the track is dirty. I have been saying this since Wednesday that I would have skated if the pole position had not been changed. They did not want to listen to me and then I had to suffer the consequences. And at the end of the fair it would also be my fault what happened?"
"What was I supposed to do? Throw myself in a meadow and tell him please sit down? I run to win, for passion, for the love of the challenge taken to its extreme limits and I don't feel violent, I'm not violent. But the racing environment is a little changed in recent years and sometimes it can happen that you feel this sense of violence. It really seems to me that you are exaggerating. Moreover, a Grand Prix can be lost immediately after the start or six laps to go".
Not only that, there is also time for a small criticism enriched by a mocking dedication to the Federation:
"If the FIA accepted my request to change the positioning of the grid, all this would not have happened. I dedicate this title to all those who fought against me in 1989".
Outspoken Ayrton, as always, on the other hand, frank and impulsive as he made himself known and loved by many, but also detested by others. This time, however, despite winning his second World Title, the Brazilian certainly does not show the best side of himself, and although he had several reasons to be enraged with whoever was putting a spoke in his wheel playing dirty, this does not justify one of the saddest pages in sports, and of Ayrton himself.
Even Prost, who was warned of the rumors that had been circulating since the Portuguese Grand Prix about Ayrton's alleged idea of revenge, did not want to believe it and branded these claims, which arose before the Japanese Grand Prix, as conjectures.
"I would have preferred to win the championship in another way, yes. But a world title is not the prize of a single race but of an entire season. So if I look at the 1990 season I think I can say that I deserved this world title more than anyone else and I could have won even more if there is not been that collision with Nakajima in Brazil, or the puncture at Imola and things like that. I'm also the driver who made the most pole positions".
"It is also true, however, that I suffered a bit in the middle of the season when Ferrari started winning. At that moment we did not have the right material to block Ferrari's attacks, but I still tried to think about the championship and put aside points and useful placings. I don't think I can give up my second title but I certainly would have preferred to finish the Japanese Grand Prix in another way".
"As for the pole position thing at Suzuka, I give my all, the best of myself to take pole position, and then they force me to start on the wrong side? This is not a post-recrimination, I had it done in a confidential way before the Japanese Grand Prix. I said, if someone starts on pole he has to take advantage of it, otherwise why do a driver and a team make so much effort and spend so much money on research and development?"
"In Suzuka the position from which the driver on pole starts is wrong, because he skids with the wheels and starts badly. So where do we want to go? To the absurd: in this circuit it is better for me to start on pole in the other ones, it is no longer sport, because in sport you need clarity and cleanliness. And how did last year's World Championship finish? Do we want to forget it? I haven't forgotten it. Did you know how bad I felt at the first Grand Prix this year in Phoenix?".
And to the declaration of Prost, who claims that Ayrton talks a lot about God but then behaves in the opposite way to what his religious believe says, the Brazilian replies:
"I don't want to argue with him. But forget about God who is the greatest thing that exists".
But the controversy doesn't stop there. At the end of the race, Jackie Stewart in a very elegant way asks the Brazilian driver what he thinks of the fact that he caused more accidents in the last 36/48 months than all his colleagues. Ayrton's response is furious:
"I am surprised that you are asking me this question, because you have a lot of experience and know the racing world very well. You should know that being a racing car driver means taking risks all the time. Being a racing car driver means you are racing. with other people. If you no longer go for a gap that exists, then you are no longer a driver. Because we are all competing to win. Our main motivation to compete is to win, not to finish fourth, fifth or sixth".
"It is irrelevant what you are saying, Jackie. I have won more Grands Prix than anyone in the past three years, I have been on pole position more than anyone in history, and I have won two world titles in the last three years. understand how you can turn the omelette over to say that I have had more accidents than anyone else, which is not even true".
The climate around the Seine is very tense. The FIA, however, remains to watch, and does not intervene. Balestre will pay the obvious consequences, starting from October 23, 1990, when the French sports newspaper L'èquipe publishes the results of a lightning survey carried out on a sample of 500 Frenchmen, from which it emerges that 79% believe Prost's behavior to be normal, 77% deem Senna's behavior dishonest, and 93% are in favor of imposing penalties on pilots to curb their excessive ardor.
The most interesting data, especially for Balestre, is that relating to the question of who should judge and apply the sanctions: thirtysix percent replied that this task should be carried out by the Federation, while thirty three percent prefer that a more impartial and competent commission could decide, formed by former pilots.
A bad sign for the FIA, which now, thanks to Balestre and its refraining from taking any measures, is the first not to enjoy great credibility right at home in France. At this point, also at the urging of the president of Ferrari, Piero Fusaro, who five days after the Japanese Grand Prix sends a threatening letter to Balestre:
"Everything suggests that due to the insufficient firmness of the race officials, some competitors have considered that collisions now represent a running tactic, tolerated if not authorized, thus endangering everyone's safety and the reason of very large investments requested for this activity".
The Federation announces its concerns following the events of recent years, and communicates to Adelaide the creation of a special commission that will judge any controversial events in the future. This is Balestre's response to Ferrari president Piero Fusaro:
"Due to the great importance, sometimes passionate that I attach to the Formula 1 championship, I can assure you that the recent accidents do not leave me numb. As I have already had the opportunity to state, the world council of the Federation and its President will not tolerate it coming brought prejudice, in whatever form, to a sporting heritage that took forty years to develop, and of which Ferrari is the oldest participant. Thank you for the trust you place in the Federation. It will not remain unsatisfied".
Therefore, on October 31, 1990, FISA announced in Paris the birth of a special commission of inquiry for safety in Formula 1. In the dossiers of this commission will end the stories of the sixteen Grand Prix of 1990, which recorded many accidents. The commission will have full powers, will be able to examine all the testimonies and documents it deems necessary, and above all will be able to decide whether to withdraw the superlicense from any of the participants of the next World Championship.
At the next Australian Grand Prix, the final race of the championship, there should be the 500th GP celebration, with great fanfare and high-sounding guests from all over the world, and the city is covered with magnificent posters. The title has already been awarded, and the two quarrels continue to attack after having indulged some relaxation in the previous days: Prost along the Great Barrier Reef to play golf, Senna in Malaysia to relax by the sea. In Australia there is a rumor that Alain would like to retire from Formula 1 after what happened in Japan; but Ayrton does not believe this hypothesis, and declares:
"Prost retires? But imagine, retires as Mansell was supposed to retire".
Then, returning to the Suzuka accident, he adds:
"Prost's is a well-thought-out strategy. Since he can't and will never beat me on the track, he just tries to find excuses. He's a squalid person, capable only of speaking ill of everyone. He did it when he was at school. Renault resumed the fight at McLaren, against the team, against me and against Honda. Arriving at Ferrari in a short time he denigrated Berger, again me, then Mansell, then Goodyear, finally Ferrari and its management and his own insults. I'm surprised, I don't understand how a group of the level of Fiat, and therefore of Ferrari, lets itself be exploited and used by a guy like him".
"I won the title during the whole season. But Prost wanted to make us believe that the result depended only on the Suzuka race, and the stupid fell for it. To finish first is my goal. I have nothing to prove, I deserved the title. But I race to beat the others, to be the fastest. My McLaren is fine, I like the circuit, I'm not afraid of confrontations".
Prost initially does not answer the questions of the journalists, so in his place it is Cesare Fiorio who clarifies the ideas of the Ferrari fans:
"I don't know anything about it, in the sense that Prost told me nothing. It seems incredible to me, he freely signed a contract with us, we made plans, why should he retire? With Prost we still have to discuss it and make a precise work schedule. For the moment I think Alain will take a rest break, then in December at Estoril we will start again with the winter tests".
"When did Ferrari really lose the world championship? Maybe even before the Japanese Grand Prix, when Berger threw Prost out of Monte Carlo. At that moment the championship took a direction that was not very nice and that culminated with the Suzuka episode. But today I don't feel like throwing the cross on Senna. As for Portugal, it was an unhappy moment but I wouldn't say that that was the decisive negative moment. Let's look at things differently: we started the World Championship without hopes. Then we saw that victory was possible, we believed in it, we put a lot of effort into it. We were sorry to lose him in an accident but, I repeat, I don't feel like blaming Senna. It went like this, but we proved to have been competitive and to have fought for the title. Ferrari had not won many races in one season for many years".
Why did Alain sew up his mouth? the reason is attributable to Johnny Rives, his friend and journalist, who titled in L'Equipe:
"Prost leaves, he asked Ferrari to look for another driver for 1991".
Arriving in Adelaide, Prost blocked all reporters by declaring:
"I don't talk anymore. Enough of this story of Senna and Prost, I don't reply anything to what he said. Every time I say a sentence, it is deformed. Now do as you like, you will still hear me open my mouth only when I want it and when I will be pleased".
For Alain, the Australian weekend is not good. On Sunday morning, he leaves the drivers briefing when Ron Dennis provocatively asks whether the curbs placed at certain points of the circuit should be considered as track edges or not.
Having been answered in the affirmative, the English manager recalled the Suzuka accident last year, when Senna was also disqualified for having crossed the yellow line that marked the entrance to the pits during the accident with Prost.
Alain feels almost made fun of and leaves the assembly, only to be officially recalled and admonished. A strange measure, especially considering that in Suzuka, Senna did the exact same thing, and had not received any recall. The Frenchman is under pressure, the victim of extreme stress, even for family problems; he is separating from his wife and lives with Bernadette Laffite, the wife of his friend and ex-driver Jacques.
His nervousness can also be seen from the fact that he refuses to accept an invitation to take a photo in honor of the five hundred Grand Prix, along with other champions who have come for the event, such as Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme, James Hunt, Nelson Piquet and of course Senna.
The race, for what it is worth, is still won by Piquet, who at the age of thirty-eight has thus judged himself the second consecutive success after three championships of absolute fasting. Ayrton, after dominating three quarters of the Australian Grand Prix, makes a mistake and ends up off the track.
If Ferrari had the small satisfaction to remain on par with McLaren in the number of seasonal hits (six for each team, then two for Williams and two for Benetton) the result of Adelaide - with Mansell in second and Prost third - has a double face. The positive one represented by the confirmation of the competitiveness of the cars and their reliability, even on the difficult city tracks. The negative is having lost another opportunity: this time the championship was really close at hand. Then there remains the uncertainty about the future of Prost, who continued his press blackout, saying only a few short sentences for a purely technical explanation of his race:
"My drive was conditioned by a wrong aerodynamic choice. I wanted a smaller wing than the one mounted on Nigel's car, and this almost immediately created difficulties for me with the tires that deteriorated. In the end I slipped off all the wheels you start and I had some problems with the brakes. I couldn't aim for a better result".
When asked what he will do in the next few weeks, Alain responds sourly:
"These are my business, they are problems of a human being and not of a driver".
Luckily Piquet brings a minimum of panache to the press conference:
"I am so old that it seems to me that I have competed in all these 500 Grand Prizes that we celebrated today. I didn't even dream of catching up with Senna. I was thinking about saving the tires, not making mistakes. When I was in the lead I also took a good advantage over Mansell, but I lost it during laps and for a half off track. When Nigel came on me at the penultimate corner I decided to keep my trajectory. We didn't touch each other by a whisker".
Taking advantage of the moment, given that his qualities as a driver had been questioned in the past following his three-year fast, Nelson takes a few pebbles out of his shoe:
"There are people who do not understand anything, especially some television commentators. The performance of a racer depends ninety percent on the car he drives. Nobody can work miracles with a coffee grinder. With a competitive car I can still race for the World Championship. And that will be what I will do in 1991".
Nelson later turns into Prost's defender, when the Frenchman refuses to explain why he abandoned the pilots briefing:
"Alain wanted to protest against the sporting authorities who did not intervene regarding what happened at Suzuka. On that occasion, Senna used a part of the track where he could not stand to overtake him. And he did what you couldn't do in a race".
A jab against Ayrton, who, as is well known, has no sympathy. In the meantime, Senna has already been gone for some time, after having said a few words too:
"I had to pay attention to the brakes from the start. I was always on the limit. I ran out because I couldn't shift into second gear and I was in neutral. Too bad, success couldn't escape me. In any case I didn't need to legitimize my second world title with another victory".
Remaining in Adelaide, however, on Monday November 5th Prost is intercepted by journalists; this time the Ferrari driver goes back to talking and letting off steam:
"After the nightmare episode of Suzuka I went on vacation to forget. And I succeeded. But when I arrived in Adelaide on Wednesday evening, and then Thursday morning, I realized I was in the midst of a senseless storm and forced to give justifications, to answer for statements that I had not made or had been deformed. In such a situation I really thought that it was time to decide for my future. And then I can confirm that I told Ferrari that it could think of looking for another driver. And it is equally true that I thought about retiring".
"But there are still many things that can happen to orient me towards one or the other decision, lead me to the retreat or convince me to continue. In any case I will not choose small country roads, underground roads. I will stop being a pilot or I will not stop, but the decision will be mine alone and in no uncertain terms. I will go on as I like: I could hold a press conference and completely empty the bag. And I can assure you that if I speak there will be something for everyone. Or I could shut myself up in full silence, without explaining anything to anyone".
On November 11, returning to Brazil, arriving at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo, Ayrton learns of an attempted kidnapping against him by the criminal organization Comando-Vermelho, which developed a plan to kidnap, in order to then obtain a large sum of money to free him, the new Formula 1 World Champion.
The revelation - of an undercover informant - was leaked a couple of weeks earlier, and the ambush was supposed to take place in the days of his return, during the holidays that Ayrton plans to spend in Angra Dos Reis, a seaside resort located one hundred and fifty-one kilometers away from the capital, where he is often a guest of the entrepreneur Antonio Carlos Braga.
At the airport, the police set up a surveillance service for the pilot, trying not to attract too much attention, but the driver himself, informed of the situation, was not too alarmed. Also because, after a traffic accident suffered in January of the previous year in the center of the city, Senna realized his vulnerability and adopted various safety measures, including, among other things, that of almost always using for his travels both the helicopter and the private plane.
The kidnapping, according to police information, was allegedly organized by the three bosses of the underworld, Antonio Rosa Silva, Daniel Francisco Silva and Marcos Alexandre Lessa, ferocious bandits who operate in the Jacarezinho favela, an authentic labyrinth of houses and shacks on the hills outside interior of Rio, where hundreds of people live. In the same month, a project was also discovered to kidnap his ex-girlfriend and famous television presenter, Xuxa.
The Senna family, moreover, had already been the victim of similar criminal attempts in the recent past: Ayrton's father, Milton da Silva, escaped an assault some time ago near the family residence, on the hills of the Serra da Cantareira, not far from Sao Paulo, but on board the car intercepted by the bandits there was only his driver. However, Senna reacts firmly to the risky situation, accepting the escort of some agents who accompany him in all his movements.
Despite the problem he ran into on his return to Brazil, Ayrton could not avoid the usual interviews, and as always happens in these cases, on specific questions from sports journalists, he spoke again about the season. And on the specific occasion, he repeated that he was on the verge of leaving McLaren to move to Ferrari:
"The negotiations started when my team had problems with the development of the chassis that was not up to the performance of the Honda engine. I did not conclude the agreement at that moment, because it could have complicated the championship, which for me was very important, as I was to win back the title. I'm sure I made the right decision by staying at McLaren for now. As long as this team offers me the best conditions to win, I will continue on the same path".
Yeah, Ferrari. What did Alain decide to do? In December, new Ferrari driver Jean Alesi laps for a long time on the new Mugello circuit in Tuscany, in a car equipped with active suspension, while Prost, during tests in Portugal, still threatens to never race for Ferrari anymore. However he promises a definitive and clear answer by the end of the month, possibly before Christmas. Ferrari offers him a reasonable increase in salary, from twelve to fifteen billion Italian lire, but the Professor would like to extend his contract to the whole of 1992 to block any possible arrival of Senna in Maranello. If Prost's answer were to be negative, it would be a big problem for Ferrari, since it is now impossible to replace him with a driver of equal value:
"In such a case, Prost will take full responsibility for such a decision".
In short, Ferrari would even be ready to sue Prost in court for damages, then, as promised, at the end of December comes the official statement that the three-time World Champion will remain not only for 1991, but also for 1992, except of course unexpected events.
Davide Scotto di Vetta