The 1991 Formula 1 season was born with great regulatory changes. The FISA world council has in fact decided to change the method of defining the world drivers’ classification, and approved the establishment of a special commission of inquiry in order to improve safety standards during the races.
As for the drivers' classification, it will no longer be defined by taking the eleven best places out of sixteen Grands Prix: starting this season, the title will go to the driver who achieved the highest score counting all the races in the championship.
Furthermore, as already mentioned, a special investigation and safety commission, called Spics, chaired by Jean-Marie Balestre, was also created after the numerous incidents of the last season. This commission will also convene all the drivers involved in episodes that caused so much controversy in the last championship.
At the starting line for the new season, in Maranello Prost is still there, and on Sunday February 18, 1991, poses together with Alesi for the photos with the 642, before starting their work. The entire Ferrari staff is present at the Mugello Circuit, including president Piero Fusaro, deputy Piero Lardi Ferrari, sporting director Cesare Fiorio and technical director Pier Guido Castelli.
"We worked a lot, we think we are competitive. But we still have no terms of comparison, especially with McLaren, which has not yet shown its new car. I think it will be a very tough season: we will have to work hard and improve further".
The Professor declares, whose work in Maranello is schediled also for 1992, as made known on March 1, 1991, by the Maranello company through a press release:
"The agreement to continue the collaboration also for 1992 was finalized with Prost. Ferrari also announces that according to the stability criterion set out in Ferrari's sports programs, the 1992 option was exercised with Alesi".
With this skilful move, Ferrari cut off what was heralded as the catchphrase of the year, namely the arrival of Senna at Ferrari, which was already taken for granted by the whole circus. As usual, Ayrton left everything behind for the whole winter to dedicate himself to his holidays in Brazil. The one who takes to the track for testing is teammate Gerhard Berger, who, together with Joseph Leverer, also prepares athletically.
"Forget about Ayrton and let him get a tan. I'll do the tests this winter".
Last to hit the track in the final version, finished mounting on the morning of February 27, 1991, on the Portuguese circuit, the McLaren MP4/6, designed by Neal Oatley, made its debut at 2:45 pm, driven by Senna. On a purely aesthetic level, the English car has a slightly sharper and apparently longer nose than the Ferrari, but the similarities are quite impressive in the center and rear, with a rounded shape, high bellies and the upper air intake of significative dimensions. It is no mystery, moreover, that the same technician, Frenchman Henri Buran, who left Ferrari to join Woking's team, designed the aerodynamics for both racing cars. The similarity was confirmed by Senna himself, who said:
"If a person has certain concepts and is convinced of the validity of his ideas, it is normal for him to go a certain way".
Then he lets himself a joke:
"They didn't want to let me drive the Ferrari in 1991, so McLaren made me one".
Jokes and jokes at Alain's address aside, Ayrton can't hide the satisfaction for this first half day of rehearsals:
"It is better to be late, perhaps too late with a car that immediately seemed good to me, than to start two months earlier with a wrong chassis. I did fifteen laps without forcing, without looking for times, and it seems to me that the starting point is interesting. I have a good feeling. Of course we need to work on the set-up, on the suspensions which are completely different, but we have a few days before leaving for the US. The important thing will be to arrive in Phoenix without serious problems".
However, some progress must be made with the new Honda twelve-cylinder:
"I hope that the Japanese have a more powerful one ready at the start".
Until less than a month earlier, Prost questioned his participation in the 1991 World Championship, however the Frenchman obtained from Ferrari all the technical and financial warranty he asked for. He will be the first driver, and will earn about twenty million dollars a year, just like Senna.
The Professor therefore did not leave his seat to others, as did Nigel Mansell, who returned to Williams and gave Jean Alesi an uncomfortable role of second guide.
The FW14 powered by the Renault V10 is one of Adrian Newey's most successful creatures, and from the very beginning of the new season it proves to be extremely fast, but with one big problem: reliability.
1991 also included a certain Mika Hakkinen among its rookies, at the wheel of the Lotus, and, starting from the Belgian Grand Prix, a German boy named Michael Schumacher in a Jordan. In the following years these two drivers would write another beautiful piece of the history of this sport.
In the winter tests, Ferrari takes on the role of favorite for the first round of the year held in the USA, on the Phoenix street circuit, while McLaren fails to test its new chassis as it would like, so much so that it is able to assemble in full his cars just six hours before the first free practice session in Phoenix. However, when Alain arrived in the States, did not look serene and happy at all. There are so many things he doesn't like anymore in this Formula 1:
"But I'll just say one: we're here a few hours from the start of the tests and we don't know anything about the others. We know we've done a good job, but what about the others? Who arrived at the last moment, who changed the engine, somebody the chassis, some few things and some nothing. Never like this year there has been a real comparison between the main teams during the winter and this frankly worries me".
Even at the Australian Grand Prix, in November 1990, he said that he didn't like too many things, while remaining vague; now finally, he lets himself go to an epochal clarification outburst with the press:
"There are too many misunderstandings, too many enmities and even too many lies circulating. And what I regret is that you journalists often amplify these lies, while your job would be to seek the truth and spread it. But who says these lies? A bit of everyone, drivers, sporting directors, sponsors and journalists themselves. You are more and more ready to inflate things, to start controversy, to create cases".
"One of you once told me: but you see Alain, the newspaper has to sell, you need strong headlines. I understand it, but I don't agree with it. But who exactly is Prost addressing? Not you Italians, I say so in general. For example, when we were at Mugello on the days when the new Ferrari was presented, I saw some scary titles: Prost accuses, Prost does everything himself, Prost says that the Ferrari technicians don't understand anything. But can you imagine what a beautiful climate I find in the morning when I see the long faces of the engineers who have read these things?"
"And how did this controversy arise? It was born from an interview of mine on French television, an interview that the same evening, while we were having dinner together, no one listened to, but about which everyone wrote. And obviously they wrote a sea of lies. Now fortunately that taped interview has been transcribed and published and what comes out? Either that I never said certain things, or that the sense and tone had been inflated by hearsay. That's not right. We want to talk about a short little phrase that I said to an Austrian radio commentator in the tests in Estoril? Well, something else came out in the newspapers. If you want we can hear the recording again. Here, these are some of the things I don't like".
"But it doesn't just happen with you in the press, it also happens with other drivers, with people who live in this world, you say one thing and another is reported. I have been in Formula 1 for twelve years, and it bothers me to see that the environment has deteriorated so much. Once it wasn't like that, I assure you. Once you said good morning and everyone understood good morning, now you say good morning and when the phrase has gone all the way around the circuit it becomes something like: Prost wants to smash you the muzzle".
At this point, one of the reporters maliciously asks Prost if he doesn't think it was the press hype about him that allowed him to earn more today than he ever earned in the rest of his career. Alain's answer is clear:
"Maybe, but one thing doesn't justify the other".
Then, Alain turns his attention to the first race of the year:
"This circuit seems to me damn well suited to McLaren and I would not want them to start winning again even though they arrived at the last minute with a new and untested car and engine. I know them well, you should never trust their appearances. And basically here we deserve to win more, because we did a job that you can't even imagine. The car always looks like that, doesn't it? Instead, it is almost completely new and many other innovations are on their way".
Alain is right. Despite all the difficulties, the reigning Champion car proves to be quite fast, more than expected.
Ayrton, who carried out the test very quickly in Estoril and in this circumstance compared the new Honda engine to garbage, in qualifying trims a second to Prost, who manages to be the first of the two Williams, with Riccardo Patrese in front of Mansell, and over two seconds to Berger, who petrified comments referring to his teammate:
"What the hell does a man need to beat him?"
In short, everything seems as usual, with Senna unattainable in qualifying and Prost who for the race is the main candidate (if not the only one) to mess up the Brazilian's plans. The opening race of the World Championship is characterized by an enormous number of retirements, most of which caused by gearbox problems, which is why only eight drivers reach the finish line, among them only four at full laps.
At the start Senna keeps the lead ahead of Prost. Alesi, on his debut with Ferrari, overtakes Patrese during the first lap, but in the meantime Senna builds an important advantage over his pursuers; after ten laps the Brazilian leads with a ten-second margin over Prost.
Behind Senna, Patrese asserts himself, after passing Alesi for fourth position during the sixteenth lap, approaches Mansell, in turn threatening behind Prost. On the twenty-second pass, however, Patrese attempts an attack on his teammate, but due to a mistake ends up off the track, finding himself in sixth place behind Berger. Thus another trio is formed which includes Alesi, Berger and the Italian; the latter has already overtaken the Austrian McLaren driver when suddenly two drivers from the leading group retire in two consecutive laps. On lap 35, Mansell is forced to abandon, betrayed by the new semi-automatic gearbox of his Williams, while Berger retires a lap later.
When Patrese overtakes Alesi for the second time, the Frenchman realizes that he has excessively worn the tires of his car, thus making a pit stop on lap 43 and returning to the track seventh. Three laps later Prost, pursued by the only surviving Williams, also returns to the pits to change the tires, thus giving up the second position; the Ferrari driver's break, however, was slowed down by a problem in replacing the right rear tire, and Prost returned to the race in seventh position, behind Modena.
On lap 48, Senna also made his pit stop, firmly maintaining the lead of the race; in the meantime Patrese begins to have problems with the gearbox, which on the fiftieth lap goes into neutral gear in the course of curve 7. The Williams of the Italian goes off the track, stopping perpendicular to the track; Piquet and Häkkinen narrowly avoid it, but before Patrese is out of the cockpit, his car is hit by Moreno; the Brazilian's Benetton destroys the Williams nose, losing the right front wheel. Neither driver was injured in the accident, but inexplicably the two cars will be left where they are throughout the race, so much so that later Betrand Gachot, struggling with Nakajima, will go off the track to avoid them.
With Patrese retired, Senna leads with an advantage of over a minute over Piquet, who struggles to keep up with Alesi. The Frenchman conquers the second position on lap 53, while four laps later Prost gets rid of Modena. During the seventieth lap, Prost, Piquet and Alesi give life to an exciting duel: the Brazilian from Benetton attacks Alesi at turn 4, then passing him on the straight, while Prost overtakes his teammate at the next braking, then overtaking Piquet and moving into second position. Senna quietly managed his advantage of about forty seconds over his pursuers, while Prost limited himself to consolidating the second place until the end.
Problems with the gearbox move Alesi back to fifth position, before the Ferrari driver has to retire less than ten laps from the end; this gives the third position to Piquet who, like the two Tyrrell drivers following him, did not change tires. The race ends one lap early for exceeding the maximum limit of two hours, and Senna wins comfortably ahead of Prost and Piquet.
On the podium, during the photos, an always playful Nelson Piquet stretches his hand behind the head of President Balestre, and simulates the gesture of the horns, until the latter notices it. It all ends in laughter between the two. A few moments later, when Balestre rewards the winner of the Grand Prix with a medal instead of the classic trophy, after shaking hands for several seconds strongly, Ayrton jokingly reaches out towards the cheek of the FISA president, trying to give him a pat, but the latter withdraws to avoid being humiliated.
The curtain ends with Senna sprinkling the FISA president with champagne, only to suffer the same fate a few seconds later, when both Dennis and Balestre take revenge on the Brazilian. Scenes unthinkable a few months earlier.
"I had some problems with the gearbox and I was forced to concentrate as much as possible because the track was slippery. Overall, however, it went very well. The McLaren MP4/6 proved not only competitive but also reliable, a valid weapon to aim for the world title".
Declares a radiant Ayrton at the end of the race, who then adds, speaking with his Brazilian friends with the microphones turned off:
"I obviously had doubts before. Now I can give it for sure: with this car we went back to two years ago when my team won fifteen races out of sixteen. It is excellent in all respects. If I wanted to, I could have gone a lot faster. And then I know very well that Honda will make their engine even more powerful and eclectic in a short time".
Alain, on the other hand, a little disconsolate declares:
"For ten years no team that builds chassis and engine alone has won a championship. The fact of doing the two things separately is an advantage. When you put them together, also considering the commitment and seriousness of Honda, they always go well. And this is also a replica for those who, after the winter tests, were too optimistic about our chances".
But he does not give up, and adds:
"We will know the true values on March 24 in Brazil. The Phoenix track penalizes those who have the most refined aerodynamic and mechanical solutions. But the Japanese engine impressed me".
True values, however, do not satisfy Prost: in Brazil, Ferrari takes a significant step back in terms of competitiveness, finding itself behind both McLaren and Williams. A few days earlier, on March 21, 1991, Ayrton is at home in Sao Paulo, where he celebrates his thirty-first birthday. An intimate family reunion, in which the new girlfriend also takes part. Back on the track, Ayrton does not appear at all worried about the accusation of driving his helicopter without a license, which is subject to a fine of about five thousand dollars and the temporary seizure of the aircraft:
"The thing that matters to me now is to check what my car is worth in a fast circuit like the Interlagos one. I've never won in Brazil, let's hope it's the right time. But I'm very afraid of Ferrari and Williams".
In fact, although this is just the second race, San Paolo is already an important test for everyone. The teams must evaluate the engine's grip in extreme heat conditions, as well as the effective competitiveness of the respective aerodynamic packages, and of the chassis.
On Saturday, McLaren is certainly confirmed, with Senna putting everyone behind and taking pole, while Alesi and Prost are placed respectively in fifth and sixth position, over a second behind; the two Williams, on the other hand, are between the two MP4/6s, with Patrese and Mansell at three and four tenths respectively.
Senna does not offer any chance even at the start, and after the first eight laps he sets the pace with about three seconds of advantage, but suddenly, Mansell begins to approach and for the twentieth lap the Brazilian's advantage is near zero.
On lap seventeenth, Prost, stuck behind Piquet's Benetton, made a pit stop; Mansell imitates him on lap 26, but his stop lasts a good fourteen seconds, and this brings him down to fourth position behind Patrese and Alesi. After the pit stops of the latter, Mansell is seven seconds behind race leader Senna; the Briton starts to scratch away tenths, he can start thinking about how to overtake, but on the fiftieth lap he is forced to a second stop due to a puncture.
However, Senna cannot breathe, because he begins to have problems with the gearbox, and on the sixtieth lap he loses fourth gear; at this point, Mansell could still challenge the Brazilian, but the Williams driver is also held back by gearbox problems, which in his case do not allow him to continue the race. From this moment, Senna's transmission gradually loses all gears except for the sixth; Ayrton, with a sore arm caused by the urge to change gears, or at least try to change them, even at the cost of making immense efforts, manages to stay in the race, despite several times in slow corners his McLaren almost tends to switch off.
To prevent Patrese from catching up with him, Ayrton decides to change his driving style, lapping in 1'25, a time that Piquet later deems impossible to do in sixth gear alone; Ayrton, having learned of his compatriot's doubts, will demand the telemetry printout at the end of the race, so that he can show it to the dubious Nelson.
The miracle happens. Senna was the first to cross the finish line also thanks to the fact that Patrese, also afflicted with gearbox problems, was unable to take advantage of his rival's difficulties. The central grandstand explodes at the passage of their hero, who shaking his fists vigorously at the sky praises the victory.
At the end of the race, Galvao Bueno, via radio with Ayrton, hears him totally lose control, with incomprehensible screams and groans that alternate, in a mixture of joy and pain.
Magic gave it all to keep the lead, and his fight against his own car was so hard it caused him cramps and fever.
Stopping after the S of the main straight to collect the usual Brazilian flag, Ayrton is seized by fatigue and momentary paralysis. The attendants must arrive to take off his helmet and gloves, before taking him out of the cockpit, picking him up and taking him to the pits with a service car.
Arriving at the parc fermé, Ayrton asks not to be touched by anyone, but demands that his father can hug him. The moment is dramatic and jubilant at the same time. Dennis asks if he can help; Ayrton responds by asking to be able to bring the Brazilian flag to the podium. With difficulty, after having left himself to a liberating cry, he manages to raise the cup with the help of both arms, before showering himself with champagne. Ayrton seems to recover only when he arrives exhausted in the press room for interviews:
"A very difficult race, to remember together with my first victory in Portugal in 1985 and the first World Championship. I had gearbox problems from the middle of the race, and at the end I was left with only sixth gear. I had to slow down from 300 km/h at 70 km/h in the hairpin bends without any engine brake, which actually pushed. I had to push harder than expected because Mansell was attacking me all the time. I never suffered like this: I found within me a strength that certainly came from God. I asked him for a victory that I deserved. I dedicate this success to him. After the arrival I was shattered, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry".
On March 24, 1991, Ayrton added another beautiful chapter to the book of his exploits. That same evening, the thirty-one-year-old young man, in the company of his family, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jo Ramirez and Pelé, enjoyed the victory celebrating in one of the best night clubs in São Paulo. A sweet way to end a triumphal day.
Between April 3 and 5, 1991, Formula 1 returns to Imola, and thousands of people flock to see the teams run private tests. Prost has to deal with a Ferrari with evident problems, which is sarcastically called by someone, the winter champion, having carried out excellent winter tests, but which in fact are not confirming. Senna, on the other hand, is logically in a good mood, even more so after another excellent test session. The same cannot be said for Ferrari: the times indicate fourth Prost and sixth Alesi, almost two seconds behind the competition. Cesare Fiorio, disheartened, comments:
"We are working to improve the car. It is useless to say with what solutions: these days we foresee many. We are making comparisons, these are things that must be done. There is a scheduled intervention plan for the whole car. Engine, gearbox, aerodynamics, suspensions. We will also test at Mugello, one day next week. And if we find some interesting solution before the San Marino Grand Prix, we will use them".
At sunset on April 4th, even the whistles arrive.
When there are ten minutes to the end of the tests, Alain's red 27 refuses to leave. Nothing serious, these things happen, but those twenty seconds along the pit lane, with the mechanics pushing, are like an eternity. The car has turned off, and the stand in front, merciless, whistles, and even if Prost starts roaring two minutes later, these are the images that remain.
McLaren remains far behind, and hearing Senna who now sees Williams as the first opponent, provides another parameter of how critical the situation is. The third and final day of testing is characterized by rain, so Prost loses an important day to try and find the key to the problem:
"It was a very difficult week for us, because everyone is waiting for a quick recovery of our cars. Instead we must not let ourselves be overwhelmed by the enormous pressures we receive, and we must try to work calmly. It was very important to understand what happened in the two races that opened the World Championship. Unfortunately the rain did not allow us to finish the tests well, at the end of which I should have tested a new front suspension and Alesi simulated a race to whip the engine we will use in the San Marino Grand Prix. We will do it in the next few weeks. In any case we tried to discover the origins of the troubles we had in Brazil, which were both the chassis and the engine".
In essence, Alain reiterates that in Sao Paulo there were not only problems regarding road holding, but also a faulty operation of the twelve cylinders:
"The problem with the engine has already been discovered last week at Fiorano. It was a wrong mapping, that is, adjustments of the electronic system that were not right. And this is already a very positive, encouraging result. As far as the chassis is concerned, we understood that there was a mechanical problem that was also putting the aerodynamics in crisis. You can race for cover: this car can still be competitive. There are many new things to try, it is a race against time, but it is possible, I don't want to say that I'm optimistic, because I don't like using this word. Now we are behind the fastest by half a second, we hope to catch up. The most important thing right now is to have understood. We will also test at Mugello, but the tests of April 17-19th on this track will be decisive".
Ferrari returns to testing from April 17th to 19th, and something finally seems to be moving in the right direction, but a few days later, on April 23th, on the eve of the San Marino Grand Prix, Alain Prost goes down hard with his team, releasing an interview with the French weekly Course Auto:
"Having someone like Ron Dennis on the team, taking into account our potential, would be equivalent to being world champions every year. Dennis is a mechanic who knows Formula 1 well, a driver of men, a catalyst of energy that we lack. In Maranello they are too emotional, we react according to the results, we resent what the newspapers write. Organization and management have never been Ferrari's strength. The internal crisis is almost normal there, worse than the euphoria we experience these days. The choice to start with the 642 was not made by Nichols or by me. I would like to be just a driver, but the organization is not rigorous enough for me to be able to afford it".
On Friday, during the first day of qualifying, Patrese is very close to Senna, who decides to stay late in the workshop to follow the work on his McLaren, while Ferrari seems to be recovering, with Prost third, just three tenths of a second behind Senna, a trifle that can depend on many things, even a slight uncertainty in overtaking; scarce three tenths which increase the optimism considering that the flying lap is not exactly Alain's specialty, not inclined to squeeze his car fully in qualifying, but historically killing it in the race.
Qualifying brings a shy smile back to Ferrari, before the race throws the team into hell.
During the formation lap, on a wet track, Prost and Berger go off the track: the Austrian on his McLaren manages to continue, while the Ferrari driver turns off the engine and has to retire before the race even begins. The reaction of the fans is vehement and someone reacts with anger: peanuts fly on Prost's head, whole bags on Alesi, also withdrawn after an accident with Stefano Modena. At 2.10 pm, in Ferrari garage, the mood is bad. A mechanic repels the wave of reporters by twisting a wrench and shouting:
"Go away, nobody goes by anyway".
The first to come out at 2:50 pm is Steve Nichols:
"We can't accept that a champion like Prost comes out like this in the test lap. We don't know why it happened, do we have to check the gearbox. Alesi? Things that happen to a young man".
At 3:25 pm the pilots finally appear, together. The Professor dwells, looking for an alibi for his mistake:
"I was downshifting from fourth when my right rear wheel got stuck. Fault of the water or the gearbox, I don't know yet. In any case I ran smoothly on the wet grass. I tried to get out, but the more I accelerated the more I sank into the puddles. Until the engine stopped. Too bad because, then, with good weather, I could have undermined Senna. Now let's hope that everything works well in Monte Carlo".
In the race, at the start Patrese takes the lead in front of Senna. Mansell, who had a bad start due to a gearbox problem, retires at the end of the first lap after a collision with Brundle.
Leading without problems, Patrese stops in the pits with electrical problems; the Italian driver is back on track only to retire nine laps later. Patrese's retirement leaves an open road for Senna, who in turn bewares of Berger, who tries in vain to put pressure on him. Despite problems with oil pressure, Ayrton wins the third consecutive race ahead of Berger, Lehto, Martini, Häkkinen and Bailey.
"On the psychological level we are really solid. Now Williams, Ferrari and Benetton are beginning to be afraid. And they will be forced to seek impossible recoveries, to take risks. All in our favor, because we will be able to concentrate on work without being conditioned. The championship is still very long. But I had never started in such a fulminating way. I am not used to selling bear skin ahead of time. However this time I have to admit that everything is going well. And we will not be able to than improve".
Senna declares, despite a small inconvenience he could have stopped him during the race:
"Halfway through the race, when I realized that the oil warning light came on, I was resigned to stop. Usually, when that bulb lights up on the dashboard, the consequence is retirement. I did the only thing I could do: slow down, slow down the engine revs. I was also unlucky, because the radio system was partially broken: in the pits they could hear my voice, but I, on the other hand, did not hear anything Ron Dennis said in the headphones noticed that even Berger couldn't get close due to brake problems and so, waiting for everything to break, I kept going slowly. Then, suddenly, as if it were a miracle, that damned light went out, I calmed down and I won".
After three races, the balance is strongly disappointing for Prost and Ferrari: Ayrton leads the drivers' standings with thirty points, while Alain is third with nine, preceded by Berger with ten.
And even on holidays, things are bad for the French. On Sunday May 5, 1991, the Modena-based company gathers its employees for a family party at Mugello, celebrating Ferrari Day. All the men from Maranello met in the Tuscan circuit, refurbished and equipped with the most advanced technologies. About 1800 employees of the factory and of the team raced with their families, gathered behind closed doors for an internal party conducted by the president Piero Fusaro and his deputy Piero Ferrari, in which the drivers also participate.
But while Alesi makes a few laps amusing the public, Prost faces another accident: Alain drives for a hundred meters and, still in the pit lane, ends up against the protective wall, ruining the nose and the front suspension of his car. The episode leaves everyone stunned, almost ruining the party.
To make up for the lack of speed, Ferrari developed a special version of the V12 engine that should be particularly suitable for the Monaco Grand Prix. The intention is to have more torque at low revs and to achieve more progressive acceleration. But even on the narrow streets of Montecarlo, the story does not change.
In Thursday's pratice Senna laps in 1'20"503, leaving the experts amazed, as he recorded an average speed of over 148 km/h, considered very high for the Monegasque track. Prost remains for most of the session in the lead, but finds traffic in the last stages and fails to improve.
However, Alain declares to the transalpine press, given his silence towards the Italian one ("...with the French I speak, with the Italians no and woe betide the French if they then tell the Italians something, otherwise I will only have to speak with the Poles"), to consider possible a further step forward to Saturday.
After the tests, an anonymous phone call informs of the presence of a bomb in the motorhome. The area is cleared, while about fifty agents carry out extensive checks, but nothing is found.
On Saturday Senna maintains pole position, and not happy he sets the new record of the circuit in 1'20"344. At his side, there is a surprise Stefano Modena, good at exploiting the qualifying tires supplied by Pirelli. Prost accuses problems at the gearbox and complains of inefficient aerodynamics, especially in the second and third sectors, and in the total calculation it is only seventh:
"We improved something compared to Thursday. However, it wasn't enough to keep up with Senna and the others. The car continues to have serious problems, there's no point in hiding it. Starting in seventh position in Monte Carlo takes away any desire to really do the race".
Alain admits to the French television channel Cinq, before suddenly closing his mouth at the sight of the representatives of the Italian press, with which he has an open dispute.
Cesare Fiorio is also of the same line of thought:
"I have nothing exciting to tell you, we were convinced that we had improved and in fact, compared to Thursday we have seen something. But the others slide in front of us every time. Starting from the back it is clear that in a circuit like this there is little to do. to do, little to hope. We are aiming for a race of reliability".
At this point, Alain, given the results obtained, decides to confide in the French newspaper Le Figaro:
"The environment is unhealthy and I think they want to destroy me. The reference is to the Ferrari environment. My mistake in Imola ended up attracting all the attention while hiding the rest. It was a bit like aiming for a tree without noticing the forest behind it. Let me be clear, I don't have a thing on Cesare Fiorio, otherwise I would have explicitly mentioned his name. I have it with the whole internal system. I think that things at Ferrari will change from the inside. I'm paying for my sincerity but I believe it is necessary to move forward and improve. And the Italian press? They speak ill of me to sell more. It always happens like this, when you win everyone talks good of you, when you lose all of damage on you".
On Sunday, Senna wins with great ease, while Prost, after an excellent start and taking advantage of the retirements of Patrese and Modena, is hoisted for a moment in second position. Then a nut problem makes Alain decide to go back to the pits to change the tires. Here, however, the mechanics are taken by surprise, probably because the Ferrari driver communicates his decision to the wall too late. This brings him down to fifth position, which is also his final placement; in front of him, in addition to Senna, there are Mansell, Alesi and Moreno.
Senna celebrates his fourth victory out of as many races, and now boasts a twenty-nine point advantage over Prost, at the moment, although not for long, his closest rival for the World Championship.
"I am very happy with this result. Now the championship is in good shape, I have a good advantage. I do not know if it was an easy or difficult race, however it is never easy to finish first in Monte Carlo. It was important to win, and it was a test physically painful. I am proud to have won the first four races of the season, they told me that it is a kind of record, that no one had ever succeeded. Modena however put me under pressure at the beginning and I was forced to push too hard. So in the end I had the tires worn out. I had to sip the car's performance. I had several other problems. With the gearbox that was not perfect, with the engine due to a drop in power. We still have to work a lot, we cannot rest. Sooner or later the others will arrive, the season is still very long, I would not like to have any nasty surprises".
On the other hand, the internal situation at Ferrari is hot, in particular due to the episode of the sudden pit stop involving Prost, which recounts the problem that prevented him from getting on the podium:
"I had felt for a long time that the front wheel was giving out, but I had no idea it was the bolt. I tried to keep second place, then I had to give it to Mansell and concentrated on third place. Until I was in a dry mood and fearful of losing the tire for good, I quickly slipped into the pits. I cannot say that we worked badly. Of course, the tension that reigns around Ferrari now ends up affecting every little episode".
Four wins in the first four Grands Prix. No one, before Ayrton, succeeded in such a feat. The third iris seems already within reach. On May 14, 1991, in Maranello, Luca di Montezemolo is missing around the table of the Ferrari Board of Directors, because he is officially involved in Cannes for the festival. The real reason, however, is another: he is in total disagreement with the current management of Ferrari's sports sector, and prefers to stay away.
And what about the president Piero Fusaro, the vice-president Piero Ferrari, Cesare Romiti, Sergio Pininfarina, Marco Piccinini, Giovan Battista Razelli? Well, despite having three press officers in Ferrari, the journalists who call are told that one was absent, a second engaged in France, while the third preferred to tell old friends about certain culinary recipes he is experimenting with, despite the presence a meeting planned for a long time because it is officially intended to approve the financial statements that will be presented to shareholders and then made public.
The meeting lasted longer than expected, because of a deep examination of the bad situation in the racing department, brought to public as the bad performances that the team in making on tracks all over the world.
No official press release from the company is issued, but from the little that leaks outside, it seems that it has been decided to give a shake up, in the sense of redesigning tasks, roles and responsibilities in a more precise way so that Ferrari can have a management more unitary and authoritative. It was recognized, not without bitterness, that at this moment Ferrari offers an image of great confusion. Therefore, the first to pay the price is Cesare Fiorio.
"The Board of Directors of Ferrari in the meeting of May 14th, on the proposal of the president, entrusted the vice president Piero Ferrari with the responsibility of sports management with the relative powers. He appointed engineer Claudio Lombardi as director of sports management. He also entrusted the Marco Piccinini is responsible for coordinating relations with the sports authority and international organizations. Finally, the board of directors expressed its thanks to Dr. Cesare Fiorio for his activity as head of sports management".
And obviously, secondly, all the directors resented Prost's accusations, although some also wonder why these things always happen to Ferrari. First Berger, then Mansell, and now Prost, who from France has something to say on Fiorio's farewell:
"If Fiorio no longer occupies that position there must be a reason. There have never been personal conflicts between Fiorio and me. Now we have to do our best to find peace of mind. This is a team that is difficult for a driver to digest. Too many external pressure".
Now, however, the problem is to find an authoritative and charismatic person, capable of centralizing powers and exercising command. The board of directors was followed by the meeting of the executive committee which should implement the decisions taken, but also on this front the silence in front of the press is the procedure.
Meanwhile, on May 13, 1991, in Magny Cours, France, Ferrari and the other teams began a series of tests that will last the following Thursday. Prost's bad moment continues: after the facts of Imola, and the mistake in the empty pit lane at Mugello in front of all the Ferrari employees, even on the home track, the Professor spun around the track which, contrary to the previous cases, is completely dry.
On the other hand, Ferrari achieved the best time of the first two days of testing with Jean Alesi. Ferrari's technicians dedicated themselves to testing new aerodynamic and engine solutions; and if the results of these tests are positive, the new solutions will be shipped to Canada for June 2nd, date of the Grand Prix in Montreal.
Even on the artificial island of Notre-Dame, however, Ferrari just can't find peace: on May 29th, an accident occurs in the pits, luckily ending with little damage, but which could have had serious consequences. The faulty functioning of the valve of a cylinder causes a gas leakage, and a fire between petrol drums and combustible material. A mechanic, Bruno Romani, gets burns on his hands and is hospitalized. The quick reflexes and the courage of the foreman Benassi, who threw the piece into the nearby canal that served as the location for the Olympic regattas, resolved the situation. On the Canadian track, Riccardo Patrese conquers his fourth career pole position in front of teammate Mansell, while Senna and Prost are respectively third and fourth:
"In Ferrari the problems are a hundred times more difficult. Fiorio? He was one of our big problems. But it's not because he's gone that Ferrari will win in Montreal".
Then Prost attacks the Italian journalists, calling their pressure on the team dishonest.
Williams, which hired Adrian Newey the previous year, is now starting to have a seriously competitive car. The FW14, born on the basis of the ideas of the British designer who had in mind to put them into practice on the Leyton House, has been developed in the previous months in two different wind tunnels: the upper aerodynamic shapes had been developed in-house, in scale 1:4, while the rest of the car in the wind tunnel in Southampton. To these studies was added the semi-automatic gearbox, designed by Patrick Head using both Cad systems and classic drawing tables.
In Canada, Adrian Newey looks forward to win his first Formula 1 race as a designer, hoping that the lack of reliability of his car's components will not betray Mansell and Patrese yet.
And when Senna has to take a stop, and retire for trouble with the alternator, and even Prost, who although not there in the lead could still represent a serious threat, is betrayed by the semi-automatic gearbox, Newey begins to think that the time to celebrate has finally come.
Mansell leads the way, with Patrese following him; then, the Italian is slowed down by gearbox problems, and is passed by Piquet, but Mansell is still in the lead, and he is not experiencing any problems.
At least up to three turns from the finish line, before something as incredible as bizarre happens: the Williams driver slows down excessively at the hairpin of turn 10, too busy greeting the fans in the stands, and in doing so he stops the engine of his car, throwing to the nettles a victory that is now certain. However, the Briton is ranked sixth, having covered more than ninety percent of the laps, which in any case certainly cannot be a consolation.
Although the team declares that the retirement was caused by a gearbox problem, this motivation seems not very credible, aimed only at masking the heavy error of their driver. As a result, in Canada it is Nelson Piquet who halts Senna's dominance, signing his latest career success in his final season before retiring from racing, bringing with him the Tyrrell of an excellent Stefano Modena and the only surviving Williams of Patrese. On the Ferrari front, the air is stagnant. In view of the Mexican Grand Prix, the technicians hope to improve Canada's result, bringing two cars to the finish line without breaking, as admitted by Eng. Lombardi:
"The Montreal gearbox had broken due to excessive operating temperatures. We have found the remedy and now we hope it will not break anymore. The engine, on the other hand, had broken due to high revs. Again we made some changes. Time was short, but we hope we did a good job. Anyway, to be realistic I don't expect last year's success to be repeated now. A year ago, they told me that Ferrari won because they didn't change the tires. This year will be difficult because this car, the 642, is not as balanced as last year and so far we have not been able to understand why. I don't know the date of the debut of the 643 for a simple reason: first we have to understand the reasons why the 642 does not work and then we will put the 643 on track. We will do some comparative tests".
A reaction is urgently needed in Maranello, and immediately. In Mexico City, Senna shows up with a bump on the back of his neck following an accident with the water jet in Brazil. Senna will race even if the helmet on that bump isn't exactly a cure-all. And it is not especially so when one minute and twenty-five seconds from the end of the first day on track, Ayrton becomes the protagonist of a frightening accident.
His McLaren was running on the last set of tires and was in fifth gear and at 250 km/h, when in the area before the entrance to the pits, the car spun and crashed into the protections, overturning and falling upside down.
Rescuers find a destroyed car but an unharmed Senna. Pressed by the fear that the accident could have caused a fire, Ayrton attempts to unfasten his seat belts after removing the steering wheel. Fortunately, the incident ends with no consequences but big fright and a head injury:
"Today I saw her come close".
Ayrton confesses to Jo Ramirez, but his Mexican friend encourages him by jokingly replying:
"Bad boys never die".
In the meantime, due to the rain on Saturday that did not allow the drivers to improve, Patrese won the second consecutive pole position (despite an annoying intestinal infection) in front of teammate Mansell. Senna is again third at half a second from pole, while Prost is seventh at one second and four tenths. At Ferrari, once more, all that remains is to hope for a massacre of the cars in front of them.
Under the green light, however, Patrese made a bad start, making the great performance obtained during qualifying useless, slipping into fourth position behind Mansell, Alesi and Senna. The Italian, however, is on a day of grace, he parades them all, including Mansell, and this time there is no technical problem to stop him: he gets the first win of the season for Williams, with Nigel completing an extraordinary second place, and Senna third, but a minute away. A gap that sounds alarming to McLaren: if Adrian Newey has managed to resolve the reliability issue, the games get really tough, despite the perfect start to the season for Ron Dennis and his team.
Deep night at Ferrari: both Prost and Alesi leave the games prematurely due to technical problems. For Senna, the points in the standings are now forty four, against twenty for Patrese, who follows him second in the standings. Prost is further and further away, fifth with only eleven points. Yet, the lawyer Agnelli has faith in Ferrari, or rather, in its drivers:
"I consider the team of Ferrari drivers to be excellent. Senna is a great driver, but Prost is a superior professional in contributing to the development of the car. As for Alesi, I consider him the best among young thoroughbred horses, the one who promises more".
The French Grand Prix, held at Magny-Cours and no longer at Paul-Ricard, offers an unexpected boost of pride for Ferrari, which shows up on the Prost home circuit with a car, the 643, completely new and revolutionized compared to the 642.
The French designer Migeod, who returned to Ferrari in December, doing some experiments in the wind tunnel, worked on the many things that were wrong with the 642 and ran for cover. Objectively, this 643 does not feature any sensational innovation, but Migeod did his math and saw that the new car should have more downforce, better suspension performance and more effective road holding. In short, a drivable car, unlike the 642. But Alain, for now, preaches calmly:
"I don't know if you have seen the circuit but here it is hard to overtake and therefore those who start in pole position alredy do half the work. Williams has a Renault engine, but also Elf petrol. It already looks a bit better than the previous model, it has more cornering support and is more precise. However, it is too early to decide whether we will use it from Friday for the French Grand Prix. We will still have to check its reliability".
At the same time, Ayrton also speaks to the press about the related problems he encounters on his car:
"We have to work hard. I have been saying for months that our successes were ephemeral. We need to fine-tune the chassis and above all the Honda engine which is inferior to Renault and also to Ferrari, in some ways. The only positive fact is that the Japanese have understood and will try to prepare something profoundly innovative to get back to the top".
Nevertheless, on Friday Senna returns to pole position, albeit temporarily. Behind him Mansell, then Alesi and Prost at eight tenths. First impressions are that the new Ferrari, at least for now, is closer to the top:
"We are moderately satisfied for a very simple reason. This is our first official outing compared to the other cars. We here cannot use the references obtained during the previous Magny Cours tests, because we were present with the old car at the time. And It is therefore clear that we are just at the beginning, tomorrow it should be better because we are beginning to understand how the car must be set up on this track".
Words of Eng. Lombardi. And moderately confident Prost also appeared, focused as in the best days:
"I stayed in the lead for a long time in qualifying and I was thinking of going down to 1'16"5 with the second set of tires, more or less the time set by Senna. Unfortunately I had to overtake two cars and the tires didn't seem as good as the previous ones. In any case, I am satisfied, we are on the right path".
Senna, on the other hand, among various problems looming over his McLaren, thanks to his usual class manages to record a time half a second faster than Mansell's. Once again it was his ability that rewarded a McLaren that does not give the idea of having made great progress after the Mexican misadventures.
For the rest, the opening day of the new Magny Cours circuit could not have been worse. As soon as the cars started spinning during the morning free practice, the vibrations brought down the big timekeeping board. Interruption and repairs follow. Then the hare came on the track, a hare smarter than a fox and mischievous as only humans know how to be, since it lets the people in charge of its capture approach, then begins to run stopping again. After having teased it for quite some time, the hare with thunderous applause is gone.
At this point the official tests could start quietly, but actually they don't. The doctors stationed along the track threaten a strike if they do not bring them a packed breakfast; then they eat calmly and at two o'clock, an hour late, the official tests finally begin. These dynamics will cost the organizers a $ 20.000 fine by Balestre.
Balestre, on his own, is terrified about making a bad impression on the president of the French government, Mitterrand. On Saturday, Prost was close to pole position, but a kidney shot from Patrese denied him his first qualifying joy with the Ferrari.
"I am happy for many reasons. Because we have a competitive car, because we are working in the right direction, because the prospects are favorable. But I don't want to create easy illusions. We have prepared well for practice, but there will still be some questions for the race to answer. Anything could happen".
Taking advantage of a moment of respite, a journalist replies, playing on words, that when it comes to making the cap, given his stature, he is very good.
"Here it is a question of getting everything right, from the choice of tires, to the adjustments of the car, to the race tactics. It will be difficult".
Prost finally appears calm, ready to joke even with Alesi, when Jean (before the last qualifying round) tells him that he is old now that he should make way for the youngsters. Alain replies laughing and throwing himself at Florence, the blonde girlfriend of his teammate, with a scream:
"I'll show you if I'm a pensioner".
Senna, on the other hand, has to be satisfied with the second row, in a circuit where it is difficult to overtake and where he cannot count on a suitable number of extra horses. On the day of the race, Patrese is the author of another unfortunate start that relegates him to tenth position, leaving the way free for Prost and Mansell to stage a great duel for the victory.
Mansell is faster, and taking advantage of the presence of a backmarker he manages to overtake the Ferrari at the Adelaide corner after the long straight, but a problematic pit stop allows Alain to get back in front. Subsequently, a group of lapped causes again some headaches too much to the Professor, screwed exactly as before in the same place by the fastest mustache in the world, this time able to take the position even from the outside. Position that never gives up until the end and that earned him his first win of the season. For him there are seventeen career successes, one more than Stirling Moss; Mansell thus becomes the most successful British driver ever.
Witness of the progress of the Ferraris on the French circuit is also Alesi, who for the whole race undermines the third position of Senna, finishing the last lap just one second behind the Brazilian, who for two weekends in a row is unable to join the fight for victory.
There is certainly no celebration at Ferrari for the placings obtained; however, both Alain and Jean appear satisfied with their performance. Above all Alain, who, with his controversies and criticisms, caused the well-known commotion at the top of Ferrari, and perhaps even accelerated the arrival of the new car:
"I am very happy with this second place. First of all I want to thank Ferrari because they gave me a good car this time. In a few weeks the situation was reversed and this is already a result. I cannot say that everything has been perfect. The car's adjustments weren't very good yet. But that's understandable. In the fast corners Mansell was gaining a lot on me. And the engine also needs further tuning. But we're almost there. It was a tough race, especially in overtaking, a couple of times I risked touching, finishing out. The important thing is that, for the first time since the beginning of the season, I fought to win, for first place. I don't think about the championship and I don't think I can fight for the title. The difference in points from Senna is huge. I still hope I can win races. So anyway I have the motivation to fight. Unfortunately we lost time at the beginning of the season when we could never have beaten McLaren and Williams. Now we keep working on the engine and gearbox".
Not even Ayrton complains much at the end of the race, aware of having limited the damage:
"I did not manage to gain positions at the start as I planned. So, knowing that with Williams and Ferrari there was nothing to be done, I tried to limit the damage. A third place is good for the classification, fresh air waiting for our technicians and those of Honda to solve the problems and bring us back to the top in performance".
Seven days later, Formula 1 moves to the new Silverstone circuit. In fact, for the 1991 edition of the British Grand Prix, the English circuit is extensively modified, with the addition of several new curves; the track therefore loses its record as the fastest circuit in the World Championship.
In the home race, Mansell takes pole position ahead of Senna, Patrese, Berger and Prost. The great performance of Maranello's team at Magny-Cours proves to be an isolated exploit, as Prost and Alesi return to look at Williams and McLaren from the bottom up, paying more than a second and a half behind the poleman. Alain comments, again disheartened:
"There is no grip on this hopping track, the tires do not go up to temperature. Unfortunately the tests twenty days ago with the old 642 were useless. We have to start over, to try to understand".
On Saturday qualifying goes a tad bit better, Alain marks the fifth time after having overtaken his teammate, who jokingly comments:
"But as this Alain travels, I'd kick him in the ankle".
The modified set-up ensured the drivers a much better road holding, but there are still some complaints regarding the qualifying engines used on Friday, which did not give the desired results. It works slightly better for Ayrton in the fight against the now designated title rival, Williams; he is second, but pays more than six tenths of a gap from the pole scored by Mansell.
It's up to the Brazilian to try and stop (in vain) Nigel's Williams, also favored by Patrese's retirement in the early stages of the race. While up front they are racing on their own, Berger is playing for third place with the two Ferraris, before Alesi is forced to retire due to an accident with the backmarker Aguri Suzuki.
The twist comes when fifty-eight laps of the fifty-nine planned have been completed: Senna remains sensationally out of petrol and has to retire, but the fact that everyone except Berger and Prost had a lap late, allows him to be classified fourth and earn three points, which, given Mansell's insidious comeback, victorious even in front of his fans, in the general classification, could be gold at the end of the championship.
In fact, with twenty-six points in three races against Senna's eleven, Williams number 5 has reopened the games; mid-season Ayrton is at fifty-one, Mansell is chasing at thirty three, while Prost with his twenty-one points, still winless (a situation that will persist throughout the year) and equipped with an overly picky Ferrari, is already out of the fight. After the race, Senna is perhaps too pessimistic:
"The championship is not only compromised. It is lost. It is true that I still have a good advantage, but the prospects are bad: our engine is going very badly. And I don't think Honda will be able to recover, there is too much work to do. In future projection I do not see myself able to withstand the attacks of Williams. I had to do the entire race without changing the tires and things were going according to plan. Towards the end the left front tire deteriorated. It caused vibrations, but it was not a big problem. In the middle of the last lap the engine switched off. I only learned afterwards what happened. It's big trouble, because Ferrari is also growing and we are getting off".
At the same time, Alain also talks about the problems of the 643:
"The car in the first few laps was very good, although the engine had a slight drop. Then, as the fuel was consumed and lightened, the 643 revealed the same defects as the 642. When the tank is empty it jumps, it's difficult to keep on track. In the final it was a disaster. I would have been fourth if Senna hasn't stopped. The podium is therefore a good prize. For the future we must not be too pessimistic. It is difficult to make progress because the others are not standing still. But it is also difficult to dominate for a long time in the current Formula 1, keeping for a season is almost impossible. Now is the time for Williams. Therefore, free practice will come for us, starting on Wednesday at Hockenheim. It is the first opportunity to carry out extensive tests with the new car, we also hope to have an updated engine".
So Alain concludes by admitting:
"Ferrari's first victory will come when we improve and the others have problems".
After the two consecutive victories obtained in France and in his beloved Silverstone, Nigel Mansell is in great shape, ready to steal more points in the general classification from the leader of the World Championship Senna, who, unlike the British, is in a complicated phase of the season, mainly due to the great speed of a terrifyingly competitive and now reliable Williams. On the fast Hockenheim circuit, the Brazilian driver must absolutely try to react, or the gap he built in the first four races of the year risks being eliminated within a few Grands Prix.
In Germany, however, Ayrton does not appear in optimal physical conditions, following a bad accident which took place on July 20, 1991, during a test session, caused by a sudden puncture in the straight just before the braking at a speed of over 300 km/h, with consequent repeated overturning of his car. He will even need a night in the hospital for precautionary reasons. The next day, after the doctors of the Mannheim hospital, late Friday evening, allowed the Brazilian pilot to return home to Monte Carlo with his personal plane, Milton da Silva replies to the reporters and reassures everyone:
"Ayrton is fine. Now he rests, I'm sorry, but after what has passed I don't have the courage to wake him up".
In the hours following the accident, Ayrton suffers from the blows received in the shoulders and neck, but with the help of the masseur these troubles disappear quickly:
"These are things that happen to those who race in Formula 1. Those are the dangers of that job, even if it would be better not to happen. The drivers risk a lot during the races, it is not right that they have to suffer even during the tests for the tuning of the cars. One fact is certain, however: two accidents in a month are a bit too many, because in addition to the physical risk there is also a psychological damage, the most difficult to cure. The important thing is that Ayrton quickly forgets this bad adventure".
Ayrton quickly forgets what happened, unfortunately, the consequences of the collision are there and become evident when, for example, he leaves his tent and says:
"Now I speak with the Brazilian journalists then with the others".
Then the Brazilian journalists enter the tent, but Senna does the opposite of what he said and goes out to talk to the other journalists. The first hit on the head Ayrton took it in Brazil playing with the water scooter, the second in Mexico, then comes the third:
"And I must say that I was lucky because this time I really risked killing myself. It was the worst adventure since I have been practicing motor racing, and it is already several years. In 1987, at Hockenheim, a tire of my Lotus exploded on the straight, but I was able to control it. On Friday however, I realized that I was going straight into the guards and that I would have no escape. Even though the left rear tire was sagging, I tried to set the corner, anyway. But I took the curb, which is too high, and the car flew up turning several times. When I pass where I came out, I will probably remember the accident, but it will not be serious. The important thing is to program your brain before entering the car, to remove any psychological obstacles. We are professionals, the danger is our profession, even if I don't feel immortal. No, I won't be afraid. In that section of the circuit you pass so fast that there is no time to meditate. In any case, the risk is normal in Formula 1".
"I saved myself because my car is sturdy, well built. But there are some things to change. It would take even more space on the tracks, just to better cope with the unexpected. And the curbs should be done differently. The dangers can't be eliminated entirely, but we try to minimize them. I'm fine, my main concern is to fix the car that is not competitive. We have some mechanical innovations to try. We hope. However, I am convinced that with Williams there will be nothing to be done, here they're faster. This is not a good time".
Senna's problem is precisely this: now that he no longer has the fastest car he often has to go over the limit, and occasionally ends up in spectacular accidents. Then, as he speaks, suddenly Ayrton remembers the Brazilian journalists inside the tent, then enters but the tent is empty, since the Brazilians had in the meantime gone out, then hiding behind the other journalists.
The historically idyllic relationships of the McLaren driver with his engine supplier, Honda, begin to wear out, probably due to the pressure exerted by the Renault engine mounted on the Williams, which is creating a lot of headaches for the rivals. As if that weren't enough, the death of the founder and first president of the Japanese company, Soichiro Honda, adds meat to the fire, and is perhaps one of the reasons that leads Honda to declare that it wants to leave the circus momentarily at the end of 1992.
On the Ferrari side, in an interview given by the vice president of Fiat, Umberto Agnelli, with calm but firm tones, he essentially declares that Prost is a great champion but, in his opinion, currently not very motivated.
Alain's response is not long in coming, and he calls a press conference that ends up taking on the appearance of a hellish meeting, with people crammed into a tent, under the rage of a storm with thunder and lightning. Alain explains that he is above all embittered by the words expressed by Umberto Agnelli:
"What Umberto Agnelli said hurts me a lot. He is an influential and important person. To do a good job in a team you need to have the trust of the team, the press that matters a lot in Italy and the fans who applaud us. I am very down because it seems to me that the hostility towards me on the part of someone is increasing. The newspapers want Senna, Umberto Agnelli also wants it. I have never asked for anything, not even to do the first guide with Alesi, who is a young man. So if no one agrees, if Umberto Agnelli disagrees, if they want another one, I can leave at the end of the season, doing my best up to the point of leaving Ferrari, even immediately".
Then he again accuses journalists of misrepresenting his statements to their liking, of being the subject of a massive smear campaign, but of doing their utmost, without having the need to change mentality, having never considered it appropriate to throw away results to put on a show in the overtaking:
"I'm tired of opening the newspapers and seeing that they always make me cunning. Why do you always call me cunning?"
Prost railed against a reporter, who replied:
"But you see, cunning is not an offense".
Making Alain even more mad:
"Oh no? So cunning and shitty press are the same thing. If Ferrari, the press, the fans don't want me anymore, I'm ready to vacate my seat tonight. Just tell me".
Then silence falls. What is wrong with Prost is the fact that two months earlier, the Ferrari management made believe that with Cesare Fiorio leaving fifty percent of Ferrari's problems would go away, but in reality things have not improved. And Fiorio has become, in the eyes of journalists, a pretext, a convenient scapegoat.
Moreover, after the various complaints of the last races, the last one at Silverstone against the petrol supplied by Agip to Ferrari, the managers of the Italian oil company come to Germany to make their voices heard.
The engineer Luciano Nicastro, responsible for the research, clearly says that Agip does not feel inferior to its competitors, on the contrary it has paved the way for the current super-special fuels, maintaining a certain superiority. In qualifying, the results are terrible for Ferrari: Alain is two seconds behind former teammate Mansell, enjoying his very fast Williams. Alesi is also two seconds from pole, and demoralized he declares:
"Disaster, disaster, everything’s a disaster, engine, chassis...".
And he twirls his hands making it clear that whatever you want to add, at will, that too is definitely a disaster, before shutting himself in the Ferrari bus without saying anything else, leaving all the journalists prey to great curiosity. Even Prost, after Alesi, explains with bitterness that nothing is working, and that in the race only with a large dose of luck combined with bad luck for the others, he will be able to aspire for a podium:
"We are becoming a B-Series team. We cannot report more".
For the second time in a row, Mansell signed the pole position, author of a lap that is handed down to posterity as perfect, in 1'37"087, to underline the state of grace of the Lion of England. Senna follows behind, then Berger and Patrese, who closes the quartet enclosed in just three and a half tenths.
Saturday is marked by the terrifying accident that occurred at Érik Comas' Ligier in the second chicane, which consequently becomes a question mark regarding safety, a question which we will discuss shortly. The Ligier remains overturned and on fire, luckily the Frenchman manages to get out of the vehicle quickly; nevertheless, he is transported to the nearest hospital for investigation. All good for him, the next day he's regularly present on the grid to take part in the start. Comas is not the only one, given that the various Bergers, Gugelmin on Leyton House and Morbidelli on Minardi also run into accidents, again without serious consequences.
In the briefing between the drivers and the FISA, which takes place as usual a few hours before the start of the race, chaired by Jean-Marie Balestre and the race director Roland Bruynseraede, obviously Senna exposes the doubts regarding the safety of the chicanes. The Brazilian driver points out to Balestre that in his opinion the use of tires as barriers and above all as a chicane is not at all safe; according to the Brazilian's point of view, any contact with the tires can easily cause one or more overturns of the car, exactly as happened to him in the Mexican Grand Prix, therefore, it would be better to rely on the cones rather than the tires. But Balestre's answer leaves all the participants stunned:
"We can't do anything for today's race".
The tones immediately begin to alter, in particular those of Balestre who rarely allows Ayrton to express himself in full without interrupting him. The president of FISA is uncompromising; demands that the drivers start from the same point from where they eventually went off the track, since the entire mileage of the race must be respected.
The debate between Ayrton and the Frenchman continues until the Brazilian driver points out to Balestre that there is a paragraph in favor of his idea in the regulations distributed to the teams. Ayrton urges Balestre trying to make him understand that the best decision is to insert the cones, but the president of FISA negatively replies to the hypothesis presented by the Brazilian, until, surprisingly, he pronounces a sentence that would fit perfectly in any film of Hollywood mold:
"The best decision is my decision, always".
A statement that leaves the crowd of drivers and team managers in the room stunned and even a little embarrassed.
"I propose a democratic vote. Let's put Mr. Senna's idea to a vote by show of hands".
Balestre exclaims. Here, the president of FISA witnesses an indisputable unanimity for the cones, just as Senna suggested, and then for the occasion mocks Balestre by raising both arms even when asked who is against and who abstains. Indelible signs of a political power, that of Balestre, which is slowly eroding. After a brief revival of the dispute between Senna and Balestre, the time has come to race.
At the start Mansell is the author of a slight tail that does not make him lose anything in terms of the effectiveness of his feline shot, which allows him to stay in the lead; less reactive Senna, surprised and overtaken by teammate Berger. Behind the two McLarens, in order, Prost, Patrese and Alesi.
When it's time for pit stops, Berger sees his efforts thwarted by a complicated stop that relegates him to tenth place. A few laps later Mansell exits the pit lane behind Alesi who opts, unlike the others, to go all the way without ever changing his Goodyear. Obviously the Williams driver does not take too long to get rid of the young French driver and regain his undisputed leadership.
This while behind the two leaders a great battle breaks out between Senna, Prost and Patrese for the third position; in the end the Italian wins, and he begins to catch up on Alesi, while Alain and Ayrton continue to compete for fourth place.
After a few months from the last time, which ended in the worst possible way, here they are again neighbors involved in a melee, Alain and Ayrton, this time not for the World Cup, at least as far as Prost is concerned, but who cares, the important at that moment is to see them there, whether it is for a title or for a fourth place is irrelevant. Does this duel end better than the ten-second duel at Suzuka in 1990? Well, in fact, yes, since the battle causes only a fallen one, that is Alain, but in fact once again we are witnessing a contact between the two, and logically further controversies come back to light. For one Sunday, adding also the contribution of Balestre in the morning, it seems to be back to 1990.
At the thirty-seventh of the planned forty-five laps, Prost tries to overtake Senna at the first chicane outside, but Ayrton doesn't think twice and accompanies him without too many worries out of the limits of the track, sending him to the escape route and causing the retirement. Alain, arrived in the pits muttering swear words, bluntly attacks Ayrton, saying:
"Senna threw me out. I had been trying to overtake him for a long time. He was zigzagging through the straights and tackling the corners to get me in trouble he braked hard early, forcing me to lift my foot. At a certain point, given that fifth place didn't suit me, I tried to overtake him on the outside at the first chicane. He widened to close the road, and to avoid the accident I was forced to go straight on the escape route. I put the gear in neutral and the car didn't, due to being broken down for a clutch problem. Senna is always incorrect. It is not the first time. The next time I get inside Senna's car and I'll be the one to send him off the track. It's the only thing he deserves, given his behavior".
So Prost also finds time to take it out on FISA, underlining that this judicial body has not properly penalized Ayrton following the impropriety committed, but the Brazilian driver replies peremptorily to the accusations, declaring:
"It is useless to talk about this subject: Prost is always complaining about the overtaking he does and undergoes, about the car, the engine, the team, the rivals. What does he want, that we leave the door open? Don't make people laugh. Driving the Ferrari, look at what a beautiful race Alesi did".
In fact, compared to the recent past, this time the Federation is mild in punishing the two litigants. A simple reprimand for Ayrton for causing the accident, a suspension match for Alain for speaking ill of FISA, and not for threatening Senna by publicly saying:
"Next time I'll throw him out".
In the media chaos created by the two quarrels, Mansell goes on to win the third race in a row in total tranquillity, followed by Riccardo Patrese who in doing so completes the Williams double. The third step of the podium belongs to Jean Alesi, brave in attempting a race without changing tires which is also favored by what is happening around him, by the problems of Berger (fourth at the finish line), passing through the retirement of his teammate, until the retirement of Senna too, who for the second time in a row runs out of gas just one lap from the end, and if he was equally classified fourth at Silverstone, in this case he is seventh, out of the points. A disaster, especially considering Mansell's full loot.
The championship is therefore officially reopened; the Lion of England is just nine points away from Ayrton, while also in the Constructors Williams aims to seventy one points and takes first place, blown to McLaren, relegated to second position, at seventy points, and increasingly under pressure. After the race, both Ayrton and his teammate express the desire to have a tank with reserve, as on the production cars:
"I am too embittered to comment. You do the math. Now we are really going uphill. In the next races, if there are no new facts, I will not be able to defend myself from Mansell's attacks. I will have to hope for Patrese's help, if any of Prost and Alesi hoping that they will be able to snatch some victories from Mansell. A situation that is unfortunate to say the least".
Three days later, on July 31, 1991, Ferrari returned to the track to complete a half day of testing, just nineteen laps in two, as the other half was passed by the team to watch the storm raging on the track. So, contrary to what he had done up to that moment, Alain takes advantage of the situation and goes back to talking to Italian journalists:
"I repeat the things I said on Sunday, Senna braked on the straight and that was the only point where I could overtake him".
To which follows the statement of teammate, Jean Alesi:
"If those two continue to hate each other like that, one day it could end very badly. I didn't see the incident on television, but I'm sure I saw Senna with these eyes, after the start, zigzagging in front of Prost. And this is incorrect. And if, as Alain says, Senna braked on the straight, he did something very dangerous. In Formula 1 there are no stop signs, if one gets stuck in front of you, you don't notice it, you can crash and fly away. In the race, it's stuff that can kill".
The controversy continues until August 8th, that is to say four days before the Hungarian Grand Prix, as Ayrton exclaims to the press:
"Talking about Prost doesn't make sense, it's like throwing your time in the river".
But the FIA thinks differently regarding a possible clarification between Alain and Ayrton, so it puts in place a mediation work in Budapest to try to put an end to these hostilities once and for all. After an hour spent away from the cameras, able to talk to each other freely, Senna declares:
"Maybe nothing will change, but we tried. Only time will tell if we succeeded, the previous attempts were unsuccessful because we were not prepared. But now we have had the opportunity to be alone for over an hour, talking about us and our life".
And even Alain, like Ayrton, is satisfied with the chat:
"We have said everything we thought, we have clarified. I believe that this time the peace will last a long time".
If something has changed between the two, only time will tell, what does not change are the values on the field, despite Ferrari having a new car, a new engine, and new petrol for this appointment: Prost does not go beyond fourth place with a second and a half of gap, while the McLaren with an old car and an old engine, but with a new semi-automatic gearbox, hits a phenomenal pole with Senna.
In addition, on Thursday, Shell announced that a new mixture was ready to use, laboratory-produced synthetic fuels using one or two of the many known hydrocarbons, enough to give the engine that surplus of power needed to return to competition. This is not surprising, given that Elf, which supplies Williams’ fuel, produced at least one hundred and fifty different gasoline at the beginning of the season.
Ayrton gets the first time thanks to the amazing time of 1'16"147, one second and two tenths faster than the two Williams that follow him, with Patrese who for just 0"01 seconds is in the front row to the detriment of Mansell, who instead must settle for the second row alongside Prost, who on his own could try to enjoy one of those increasingly rare weekends where Ferrari can play his part, until on Sunday an engine problem drives him out of the game.
Ayrton's success on Sunday, dedicated to the memory of Soichiro Honda who passed away a few days earlier, is never questioned, Magic ends Mansell's streak of three consecutive victories and earns four points in the overall standings, increasing to eleven points his gap on the British.
At the end of the race, the Brazilian driver talks about a championship that is still very open, of a very painful victory, since the Williams were very fast as usual, of the possibility that in the next races the situation can still be reversed in favor of Mansell or of Prost himself, and the fact that McLaren's full recovery on any type of circuit won't happen for some time.
On the other hand, in Ferrari the new engine showed interesting qualities, however it was also the cause of Alain's retirement, who thus also lost a possible place on the podium:
"There were no signs, it stopped suddenly. Too bad because the car was really good. At the beginning I didn't exaggerate, I wanted to save tires, brakes and engine, yet I was able to keep the pace of the best. When I pushed to the maximum, it's over. This engine is better than the previous one, but apart from the reliability it would take even more acceleration".
Two days later, on August 13, 1991, almost like a cold shower for both Senna and Prost, hoping to be able to grab one of the two seats of the currently stronger car, confirmation arrives from Frank Williams, together with Patrick Faure, president of the Renault Sport, which for the year 1992 the drivers would remain Mansell and Patrese:
"I strongly believe in continuity and I am sure that Nigel and Riccardo, who have worked so hard this season, will be able to achieve even more success next year".
Says Sir. Frank, while his two drivers are in Monza for tests ahead of the Italian Grand Prix which will take place on September 8, 1991, together with McLaren, Benetton and Ferrari.
A few days after mid-August, the Jordan driver, Bertrand Gachot, is arrested in England. The episode that led to his conviction dates back to December of the previous year, when during a quarrel with a taxi driver in central London, due to a car accident, the driver sprayed a sting spray bought in Germany on the eyes of the driver to defend himself.
After being sued as the spray was illegal, Gachot was summoned by the judge in mid-August. The Belgian shows an irreverent attitude that irritates the magistrate, who, after finding that the pilot had not even paid the taxes due for his work in the British country, sentenced him to one and a half years in prison.
Jordan, to replace him, decides to hire the young German driver Michael Schumacher. His manager, Willi Weber, in order to convince Jordan to hire him, assures that Schumacher already knows the Belgian track, even if in reality, as revealed by the same, he never drove there before. Meanwhile, both Ferrari, in an attempt to recover the gap from its rivals, and Honda, to keep the championship lead, bring a new evolution of the engine to Spa.
And the fruits are seen in both cases, given that Prost will start behind Senna in the front row, albeit a second away, and albeit thanks to a relegation of Riccardo Patrese, author of a brilliant performance that brought him immediately behind Senna, but deprived of his time at the end of qualifying. This is because the Williams driven by the Italian driver was found not to comply with the technical rules during the normal routine check.
However, the reason why it was decided to take away the best time is quite particular. In fact, the engineer Gabriele Cadringher, chief technical commissioner of FISA, discover that the reverse gear does not enter, and by analyzing the car it is discovered that in the black box of the English car a wire had come off that prevented engaging this gear.
It seems like a trivial matter, but since by regulation all the cars must have the reverse gear working, which must basically be used to get off the track when you remain stationary, Patrese is deprived of the excellent 1'48"661 and returns to the grid with the very bad 1'52"646 on Friday, obtained after a very black day, as he managed to finish the first practice session without brakes. Paradoxically, to take advantage of this situation is the same Williams that sees Mansell start third instead of fourth.
In fact, it is now known that the English team is racing to project Mansell towards the world title, sacrificing Patrese to the rank of squire, that is, in the role of support game. This was already evident in Hungary, where Patrese even waved Mansell to pass. In exchange, Patrese immediately obtained the renewal of the contract for 1992. Some misguided ones therefore immediately think that what has happened is not accidental. A hypothesis that leaves Frank Williams stunned:
"You certainly don't think I'm going to lose sleep over something like that".
Behind Mansell, Berger, Alesi, Piquet and the surprising Schumacher, seventh at his debut. Not bad for a rookie. Too bad that his first race lasts just a few corners, due to a problem with the clutch of his Jordan that immediately puts him off.
To keep him good company is Prost, who after the second place obtained in qualifying was already looking forward to a rematch with Senna. Three laps are enough, however, and the breakage of a gasoline sleeve causes the fuel to spill on the engine, which inexorably goes up in flames, and with it the Ferrari driver's plans for revenge. For Alain these are three retirements in a row in a season that is increasingly an ordeal.
"I already had smoke in the cockpit and I understood that I would have to withdraw".
Schumacher and Prost's premature retirements offer a starter of what is much of the Belgian Grand Prix, based entirely on the cars' precarious reliability. In fact, after taking the lead, on lap twenty-two an electronic problem also forced Mansell to a bitter retirement, as he left the road clear for Senna both for the victory of the race and for that of the title. The dreams of the British almost come true when Ayrton also starts arguing with his gearbox, but not enough to have to retire.
Jean Alesi, who finds himself in the lead without stopping yet, could take advantage of this, and with Senna in trouble, the Frenchman begins to dream of his first success in Formula 1, before even his Ferrari engine fades and forces he to come back to reality. At that point Senna only has to contain any attacks from behind, but with Berger protecting his back, success is in the safe, as well as a twenty-two point advantage over Mansell, a reassuring advantage but still to be managed.
Nevertheless, the Brazilian driver is furious. On the radio, during the last laps of the race, he shouts to his technicians that this victory is only the result of luck:
"Now I only think about the title, at most I can count the points in the standings, where honestly I am well placed. If I win the next race or finish second, in Monza, I will be able to think seriously about the world championship. Apart from that, this time I was really lucky. In the first few laps I don't think Mansell could have overtaken me. But after a too long pit stop I wouldn't be able to catch him again. He was going too fast. Plus I had a problem with the gear selector: I didn't know where the gears were anymore and in the last laps in order not to risk I preferred not to use the first and second. And then in the last laps the tires reached the limit of wear".
After the race, there is no time to rest: let's go back to the track. On August 28th and 29th, three days after the Belgian Grand Prix; the top teams move to Monza to start preparing for the next race. Meanwhile, Ayrton begins to give some signs of physical and mental fatigue, despite the comfortable advantage over Mansell, when there are six races to go to the end of the championship:
"I am experiencing moments of incredible stress, after these tests I disappear for five days to rest in a place where no one can find me".
Perhaps this is also why the two-day test scheduled at Monza ten days before the Italian Grand Prix does not start well for Ayrton. His McLaren after a few laps stops at the edge of the track due to a technical blackout. Senna then resumes driving, but at the end of the day he only sets the fifth best time. All good for his teammate Berger, who set the fastest lap in 1'24"918.
Test days also for Ferrari, which brings two 643s to Monza that keep the mechanics and technicians busy for a long time. The day is for Ferrari to check the reliability of the engine and the new aerodynamic solutions designed by Claude Migeot.
But the great work done by the French driver and the technicians of Ferrari did not give the desired results. McLaren is faster even with qualifying tires and Ferrari's worries do not seem to diminish, and Engineer Lombardi declares:
"In qualifying, some measures will be used to achieve greater speed and reduce the vibrations that caused Prost to retire at Spa, but so far there have been no great improvements on the track".
He is certainly not watching Williams, even if Damon Hill, son of Graham and test driver of the English team, ends up off the track in the first variant, probably due to an automatic gearbox failure. The son of art then recovered in the afternoon tests, obtaining the second best time, while not much luck, as usual, for Patrese, who hastily returned to the pits with the car smoking. Back on track in the afternoon, Patrese then managed to complete fifty-four laps, and set the fourth best time in 1'25"52.
Two days after the end of the tests in Monza, on August 31th, Cesare Fiorio surprisingly gave an interview in which he explained the reasons for his dimissions from Ferrari, which took place a few days after the end of the fourth seasonal Grand Prix:
"Regrets for Formula 1 and Ferrari? For the first yes, for the second no. Next Friday I will be in Monza, to see the tests. Do you know who invited me to the pits? The Williams Renault. Someone pretends not to remember that in Imola the Ferrari in practice was two tenths of a second behind Senna, then Prost did what he did in the formation lap. Today the Ferraris are at least a second behind Senna. In Monte Carlo, Prost refused to go out in practice on the second day, causing Ferrari to lose several positions. When I told him to go out because the track was almost empty, he answered on the radio, I decide. He did it on purpose to precipitate the situation. In fact, they fired me".
"As soon as we got back to Maranello I wanted to punish him for that refusal and also teach him a lesson for all the statements he made to the press, but the president took him under his arm and cuddled him. Why was Prost so angry with me? Because last year someone important at Ferrari went to tell him that I was dealing with Senna, and so Prost unsheathed his claws. Basically I understand him, he was defending his place. Control over disorder. Strange that the engines break, we achieved excellent reliability. I would like to remind you that my management has achieved nine victories and many podiums".
Here then is revealed the mystery, that is, the reason why suddenly the relationship between Prost and Fiorio was broken, and this is why Fusaro, who certainly did not look favourably on the results that the sports director was obtaining, informed Alain of the negotiation. Senna thinks about putting the final seal, who on September 5, 1991 confirms that the previous year negotiations had taken place with Cesare Fiorio:
"Yes, it's true, last year in the middle of the season with Fiorio, we were one step away from the conclusion. Indeed we had practically concluded everything, I had taken a few days to reflect and inform my employers. Then I see Fiorio again, we had to sign and he mortified he told me that unfortunately he did not do anything. He looked up spreading his arms. It was not difficult for me to understand why it had all blown. And so here I am again at McLaren".
Then he doesn't think about his future:
"I've said it several times before, negotiations are exhausting for me. I prefer to concentrate on the thing I love, racing, and I want to win another world title. I'll try, even if it's not easy and so I'm just thinking about that. I will postpone the negotiations to the end of the season".
Meanwhile, Mercedes sends a statement announcing that starting from the Italian Grand Prix, Schumacher will race with Benetton in place of Roberto Moreno, who was thrown out without compliments overnight. The Brazilian, in the days preceding the race, opens a legal dispute with the team, obtaining the seizure of the car, but following an agreement between the parties, the situation is unlocked and the Brazilian passes in turn to Jordan with an agreement for two races. But the situation on Thursday is tragic and hilarious, as Jordan continues to keep the Schumacher lettering on one of their cars, while Michael has been locked up in the Benetton pits, watched by vigilantes. Obviously, the dispute between Fiorio, present in Monza because hosted by Frank Williams, and Piero Fusaro, president of Ferrari, cannot end:
"Ferrari has always been in my heart, before, during and after and today I cheer for it, I hope it can win here in Monza where I didn't".
This is what Cesare releases, while a few meters away a small group of journalists asks Fusaro for a comment on Fiorio and his recent statements:
"I don't mean to talk about a former Ferrari employee".
The contemptuous reply, while more affable, certainly more elegant and more gentlemanly, is the declaration of Piero Ferrari, even if he ventures into a gastronomic discourse that gives the exact idea of confusion reigning in Ferrari workshops:
"Many say that we are not able to serve the soup on the table. It is not true, the soup is there and it is made of good ingredients. But it is tasteless, it would be enough to add a pinch of salt and a basil leaf at the right time. Except that the others always do it before us. Hunting the cook is useless. Do you remember that tragic '86 when we were in another black crisis? We made a revolution. Then we made others and today we are full stop. It is useless to make revolutions".
And speaking of order, here is a fact that makes us understand many things about the environment that has been created in Ferrari: during a technical meeting, an engineer spreads his feet on the American-style table and says that this technical solution is a bullshit. Claudio Lombardi takes off his glasses and electrocutes him:
"You sit down, apologize and then provide reliable explanations rather than judgments".
Chilling silence. The situation in Ferrari in those days is like this, while in Monza the stands are half empty, a desolation never seen in this temple of world motoring. Certainly not the fault of the organizers, who had done everything right in the previous months, but of the dull Ferrari that has been walking around the world circuits for a year.
Prost and Alesi are seven tenths off the pole position set by Senna, who in turn precedes his title rival Mansell, and then Berger. At Monza, Ayrton knows very well that it would be enough for him to finish in front of his rival to close the fight for the title in his favor:
"I could even be satisfied not to win; it would be enough for me to finish in front of Mansell. It is clear that I aim for first place, because I always like to give my best. I am like a stranger at the window who looks at others and can intervene when and how he wants. I repeat that I would even like a good statement from Ferrari. It would still be a help for me and would make happy the home fans who have been dry-mouthed since last year".
During qualifying, Mansell stands out for his aggressiveness in jumping on the curbs of the chicanes, so Patrick Head approaches him to ask him how he did it, as his teammate Patrese was unable to do the same.
Since the chassis of the car has the structure of the cockpit that goes all the way over the steering wheel, Nigel makes up an excuse, and says that he sticks his knuckles into the interior walls of the cockpit, so that when he jumps on the curbs the steering wheel gets stuck.
Patrick Head reports what Nigel said to Riccardo, who in turn tries, but when he returns to the pits after only one test lap, blood drips from his hands through the Italian driver's gloves.
Nigel was certainly not new to these psychological games, since often, in agreement with his track engineer, David Brown, he had set-ups transcribed different from those he actually used during practice, so that when his teammate compared his data to those of the British pilot, he was confused and disoriented. For his part, after qualifying, Prost does not hide that he has a small hope for victory:
"I think Senna and Mansell will have to and will want to battle hard. And take some risks. We are close enough. And in the race the performances could be even more balanced. There is the unknown reliability, but this is always the case. We have to evaluate which tyres to use, which petrol to use. I would like not to change the tires, but starting from the back it consumes more".
Despite the Pole obtained on Saturday, Ayrton is unable to counter the strength of Adrian Newey's car. The first part of the race on the Italian circuit offers a Patrese in great shape: starting from fourth position, the home driver easily jumps over Berger, Mansell and finally Senna, conquering the first position in a spectacular way. Beautiful start, until the change betrays it and many greetings.
At this point Mansell takes the lead, overcoming Senna at the the Ascari and making the first position his own. Ayrton makes a forced stop in the pits, manages to recover up to second position but has no margin to disturb the British, who wins with about fifteen seconds of advantage.
And Ferrari? Well, they had worse days. Alesi does not see the checkered flag, again screwed by his fragile engine, Prost instead is the author of an excellent performance, and although he cannot resist the comeback of Senna, he climbs on the third step of the podium, which, given the recent bad situation, it is a very respectable result.
"My car was very fast at the beginning, it seemed to me that I could keep up with the best without too many problems. Indeed, during the morning warm-up I was the fastest ever and I had started with a certain amount of optimism".
Alain argues, who then goes on to state:
"Then, I simply ended up in the wrong place. Immediately after the start Alesi, who passed me, went straight into the chicane and filled me with sand. Later when I was behind Berger, the Austrian driver made all the close calls. It went out a couple of times and my car became like a garbage can, I picked up anything. The radiator grilles were partially clogged and the engine temperature, already suffocated by the heat, got higher than others fifteen degrees. So I couldn't force that much".
"We were doing well. But we are still not up to our rivals. During the race there is always a deterioration: the engine drops a little, while something gets worse in the balance, with the fuel tank emptying. The car started to jump. In addition, the tires deteriorated in the final. Senna had new tires and trying to resist him would have meant risking to throw away the placement. I'm happy with third place. A little oxygen for me and for the team, then we will see. The characteristics of the Estoril circuit, where we will compete in the next race, could well mask the shortcomings of our engine at low revs and make us more competitive. Furthermore, it is not excluded that in the meantime we will not be able to make any progress".
For Senna, however, the second place all in all is just fine, even if the championship is not yet closed in his favor:
"Second place is fine for me. It is clear that I wanted to win. But I have to be satisfied. The set-up of my car was not perfect. And this made the tires wear more than expected. I lost grip. The left front tire started to vibrate, then the wheel locked up while I was braking before the chicane. That's why I decided to stop, also because Mansell overtook me. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have finished second. It was a tough race. And I had a hard time with Williams. Nigel had to win and he did. The championship is open. However, every race that passes plays in my favor. The pressure on my rivals is getting stronger. For Mansell it will become more difficult: he cannot afford a mistake, a retirement. And then there will be circuits where we will be more competitive than we were this time in Monza".
Two weeks later, Formula 1 moves to Portugal, where McLaren officially announces the renewal of the contract for Senna, who will also remain with the team for the 1992 season together with Gerhard Berger.
Relaxed from renewal, the reigning champion has to settle for second place behind Berger on Friday; Prost returns to the mid-field with his Ferrari and is only fifth, almost two seconds behind the provisional pole. Frustrated, Alain complains about the usual structural problems, moreover he demands greater investments in the Research and Development plan. Faced with the umpteenth statement by Prost highlighting Ferrari's deficits, Piero Ferrari comments the following day:
"Prost speaks without knowledge of the facts, because he does not know the figures of our balance sheet and is unable to say if we spend little or a lot. One thing is certain: that we do not skimp on technical needs, and all our technicians can confirm it".
By contract, the drivers could not speak ill of Ferrari, but when this is pointed out, Piero Ferrari spreads his arms, as if to symbolize a kind of helplessness. Meanwhile, Saturday's qualifying reverses the provisional standings on Friday, as these are dominated by the second leaders of the two top teams, with Patrese and Berger occupying the front row ahead of the two rivals in the fight for the drivers' championship, Senna and Mansell, who in turn precede Prost and Alesi, whose gap falls below two seconds, but remains equally heavy: one second and three for Alain, one and eight for Alesi.
Patrese's third pole position of the season comes in a somewhat particular way. During the qualifying hour, the Italian driver broke the engine; when after ten minutes he reaches the garage, Patrick Head tells him to get ready to get back on track with the forklift, even if it had been set up for Mansell.
Patrese then asks why he should return to the track, given that there are only five minutes left, but Patrick insists, and after about two minutes of discussion, the Williams technical director almost physically slips the Italian driver into the forklift, and shouting exclaims:
"Go out and try. Get it all out, do what you can".
Patrese goes out on the track, and realizes that the car is perfect, so he pushes hard and records the absolute best time. Upon returning to the pits, Patrick Head beamed at him, then exclaimed:
"See, I was right. You didn't believe me, did you?"
Fortunately, Patrese is there to give a little joy to the Italian fans, given that in Ferrari things go from bad to worse: during the warm-up on Sunday morning Prost's Ferrari suddenly catches fire due to a petrol tube Broken; the French therefore takes off on board the forklift.
After having disappointed in qualifying by placing just fourth behind the two McLarens, the Lion behaves like this and at the start he burns out Senna and Berger, also cutting the road in a sudden and perhaps a little dangerous way at Senna, and a few laps later he gains the leadership of the race passing Patrese.
Estoril unfortunately does not do much good for Nigel, just remember his crazy weekend in 1989, or, despite the victory, the controversies with Prost in 1990. This time, the blame to be attributed to him are few if not non-existent: at the time of tire change, the right rear is not properly fixed, the former Ferrari driver starts again but stops in the middle of the pit lane once he noticed the loose tire.
While he is in despair beating his fists on the steering wheel, in the excitement of the moment his mechanics make an improvised pit stop in the center of the pits, fitting the tire correctly. The regulation is clear, and the furious comeback put in place by the British, who from the seventeenth place arrives in sixth, is made in vain by the disqualification sanctioned on lap fifty-one, and while the other Williams of Patrese goes to win, Senna is second and gains other fundamental six points.
With three races to go, Ayrton has an advantage of twenty-four points over his rival Mansell, whose chances of winning the title are therefore very limited; to hope to win the championship, Nigel just has to win them all and hope for three retirements of the Brazilian. On the other hand, the situation in the constructors' championship is more open, in which McLaren has a twelve-point advantage over Williams.
In Ferrari, meanwhile, when the race is over, engineer Lombardi curries the employees of Prost's car, guilty of the mistake made in the morning during the warm-up, threatening to replace the four guilty. But the chief of all mechanics holds out by refusing to apply such punishment.
After long discussions at night, even the most spirited ones come to the threat of not letting the trucks leave for Spain. Then everything falls into order only when the replacement of the guilty is canceled.
The last race weekend in September begins, to Senna's delight, with the official farewell of Jean-Marie Balestre, who bequeathed his position as president of FISA to Max Mosley, after the elections that saw triumph the latter.
An election that leaves everyone amazed. In fact, before the Paris meeting there was a veiled certainty that Balestre would have ended up winning, albeit with a minimum margin of votes. And instead, with forty-three votes against the twenty-nine of the outgoing president, the British lawyer Max Mosley, thanks to the votes of the Asian voters, part of the African ones and some European car clubs unhappy with the management of Balestre, wins the challenge.
"Taking into account the explanations of vote received, Balestre had to win these elections, evidently many friends betrayed him".
Thunders the French entourage of the former president. Many doubts existed about Mosley's candidacy right from the start, also due to the latter's choice to announce that in October 1992 he would resign to be judged in a new election after a year in office.
It is said of Mosley that he does not seem to have the charisma to govern a rich and politically difficult sport, also because the latter, a friend of Ecclestone, was seen as a man of little importance, placed in the right place at the right time to grant total power to the British manager.
Thus ends an era in which the president of FISA tripped over spectacular gaffes, or threw a tantrum if at the airport he did not find the limousine with the flags on the fenders and the escort on a motorcycle, or on the starting grid he demanded to let a pilot out from the cockpit to get in the granddaughter.
However, it should be remembered that Balestre also managed to stop the bullying of the English teams, giving space and a voice to Ferrari and other continental teams. But as mentioned, at least for now it is Senna who rejoices, who believes he has freed himself from a very cumbersome political obstacle.
On the Ferrari front, the relationship with Prost worsens day by day. Even those who defended him to the bitter end, like president Fusaro, now complain that his protege didn't make a single phone call to inform him of his desire to create an all-French super team together with Guy Ligier:
"I learned everything from the newspapers, I was disappointed".
For this reason, following the summit on Monday 22 September, Ferrari commissions a fine of approximatively two hundred and fifty thousand dollars from Alain. The delicate problem is that no one has been able to communicate this condemnation to Prost, because in Maranello no one knows where he is and the driver did not show up in the days preceding the Spanish Grand Prix.
Moreover, after having decided to issue the fine, no one goes to Alain's to redeem the money in the following days, such is the fear of the Ferrari management of a possible disproportionate reaction from the transalpine driver.
Senna has other thoughts, in Montmelò he has the chance to win the World Championship, from the height of his considerable advantage of twenty-four points over Mansell. For him it is enough to keep a gap of at least twenty-one points at the end of the Spanish race; otherwise, the championship would remain open at least until Japan.
A flash of Berger in the first session on Friday in Barcelona allows the Austrian to snatch the first position on the grid from Mansell, who can still be satisfied with starting from the front row in front of Senna and Patrese, while in fifth position Michael Schumacher, who passed in Benetton immediately after his debut race with Jordan, trimmed a second to his teammate Nelson Piquet, tenth on the grid, and finished in front of the two Ferraris of Prost and Alesi, more than a second from pole.
Schumacher having what it takes is also seen in the first part of the race, conditioned by a damp track but lap after lap increasingly drier: great overtaking on a forbidden Mansell, too busy trying to recover the lost position to the advantage of Senna, and a great battle precisely with Ayrton, who manages to defend his second place.
With the stabilization of the conditions of the track, however, the true values on the field come out again, Mansell returns the favor to the German and sticks to Senna's exhaust pipes. The two become protagonists of an exciting wheel to wheel on the main straight, where they avoid contact by a matter of millimeters, and at the end of which Mansell is the winner.
In the stop at the same time, however, the Williams mechanics, perhaps with the error in Portugal still on their conscience, wrap themselves up in the tire change, unlike those of McLaren who, after having had some complications with Berger a few laps before, are perfect in the make of the pit stop to their top driver, who thus finds himself leader. A leadership that does not last long unfortunately for him. Ayrton is never able to get to know his car, so much so that he lets Berger, who had much more, pass in front of him, in order to avoid Mansell, in the recovery phase, passing both of them; a strategy that is not successful.
As evidence of his poor feeling, the spin at the last corner that relegates him to fifth position, from which he is no longer able to disengage. On lap twenty. Yes, because everything just told happened in just twenty laps - Mansell overtakes Berger through a frightening break, valid for the first position; the Briton passes the remaining forty-five laps in total tranquillity until the checkered flag decides him as the winner.
On the podium with him does not go Berger, who retires due to electrical problems, nor Schumacher, who, like Senna, also spun a spin just as he was putting pressure on the Austrian; celebrating on the podium is Prost, who on the sly, after a slow start, returns first to mount the dry tires (he would have liked to mount them from the start but the team opposed) and is then good and lucky to take advantage of the flaws of others, just like the third place Patrese. For Alain, the one in Barcelona is the last podium wearing the red tracksuit.
On the podium, the French does not celebrate; it is clear that in his head at the moment he has only the problem that concerns his decision for the future. Alain did not clarify anything directly, he will hardly remain in Ferrari in 1992, but the fact that Williams confirmed Mansell and Patrese closed the doors of another top team to him, consequently taking more and more share of the possibility of a sabbatical.
"When I came to Maranello I wanted to see Ferrari win. But to achieve this goal I think it would be necessary to change many more things. In any case this placement makes no difference: I don't take one direction or another just because a result is good or it is bad, that would be stupid. But it's better to give an example to understand the situation: if it weren't for the damn pressure inside and outside this team, I would have started on slick tires. And I could have won the race too".
After leaving a match point on the road, Senna is puzzled by tire wear:
"We made a mistake. A prudent choice was made which turned out to be bad. The car was undriveable. This was the most difficult race of the season for me. There are people who behave on the track like in a bumper car. Mansell was faster on the straight, but at the corner entry he approached my car threateningly. Alesi jumped in without scruples. He did it because he had nothing to lose. But he won't go on like this. Mansell has to say clearly if he wants to do regular races or if he is looking for hard play. In any case, with my advantage in the standings I still feel in a strong position".
Thus, for the fifth consecutive year, the World Championship is decided in Suzuka, with Senna still boasting a lead of sixteen points over his first rival. Now, to further postpone the final in Australia, Mansell must win and hope that Senna does no better than a third place finish. A double from the Williams drivers, for example, would therefore be enough.
To counter Williams' superiority in these last two races, McLaren produces a new nose, improving the car's aerodynamics and balance, but Shell and Honda also contribute to improving the car's performance: the Dutch bring a new fuel, which guarantees greater performance, and Honda tests a new engine with Pirro, a former test driver now on a permanent basis on the grid with the Scuderia Italia.
The Japanese technicians ask the Italian driver almost the impossible: to drive like Senna. That is, shifting gears five hundredths of a second before the engine's breaking point, which is crazy. But on the other hand Pirro is already used to testing and developing the Honda engine, re-tracing what was Senna's driving, such as the famous cornering telegraph, that is, the opening of the throttle in very fast jerks while traveling. This circumstance required a special mapping, different from teammates, including Prost.
Meanwhile, in Ferrari it is decided that Prost will get on the forklift at Suzuka that has been mounted with high exhausts, as Alesi already tested them in Barcelona, since this is the best solution that the engineers found to increase the car's grip and driveability, especially in difficult circuits such as the Japanese one.
If it weren't for October 15, 1991, when he got on the plane that would take him to Tokyo, Alain was sent an urgent message from his managers and consultants. The history with Ferrari has finally come to an end. A consensual separation that allows Prost and Ferrari to get out of this long and painful coexistence - at least for what concerns 1991 - without losing money.
The agreement provides for an immediate separation, to allow Ferrari to immediately test the driver destined to replace Prost in 1992, namely Ivan Capelli, who having already been on foot from Leyton House finds himself unemployed for these last two Grands Prix. But while everyone is on their way to Suzuka with these plans in mind, here in Maranello they change their mind for the umpteenth time: no consensual separation.
Everyone was ready to put an end to this short but intense marriage, when President Fusaro raised his arm and vetoed him, feeling very impressed by this affair. It was he who wanted Prost, it was he who defended him in difficult moments, it was he who sacrificed Fiorio's head to please Prost, it was he who justified even the most unfair accusations that the Frenchman occasionally threw. Now, however, even Turin has abandoned him:
"She hired him, now you can handle it".
Prost instead declares:
"Wait, what else should I do? It's Ferrari that has to talk".
On Saturday October 19, 1991, in front of an audience of 300.000 paying people, the fruits of a lot of work done by McLaren-Honda show themselves. In qualifying the front row is all McLaren, with Berger ahead of Senna by two tenths, but with Mansell, third, ready to slip in front, aware of his means for the race. Prost is fourth, but for a change there is an abyss between his performance and pole; a year later, Ferrari went from being the fastest car on the track to having to take two seconds off the poleman.
Given the favorable situation following qualifying, the whole Japanese audience now hopes to see their idol graduate as world champion for the third time on Sunday. The conditions to have fun are all there, especially when at the start Senna defends himself on Mansell with a certain decision. What happens on lap ten, however, fully reflects what was the season of Mansell and Williams: the British loses control of his car and gets stuck in the escape route of the first corner, making yet another of too many mistakes. committed by this combination throughout the championship.
Without having to make the slightest effort, Ayrton even allows himself the luxury of giving the victory to his teammate Berger on the last lap (first McLaren victory for him), and thanks to the twenty-one points advantage accumulated over Manselll, he thus celebrates his third world title, reaching Prost himself, who came fourth in his last race with Ferrari.
In the park fermè, Mansell is waiting for him, congratulating his rival with a good dose of sportiness, thus putting aside some tension that had been created previously, in particular in Barcelona during the briefing between drivers, and because of the recent controversy and accusations that the Brazilian repeated against his opponent the day before. Mansell finds no excuses after the race, and admits his mistake:
"Senna braked a bit earlier. I didn't expect it. I had to widen and in turn try to slow the car. I broke down and went off. Unfortunately the brakes never worked well this weekend. Ayrton thought of blocking me in order to make Berger escape. I had to try to overcome him immediately, otherwise I would never have reached Gerhard. It was a predictable tactic, but it was not a dirty game. I lost the world championship, but I am motivated because I realized that I can fight for the title and I'll try again in 1992".
Radiant and exhausted from the accumulated tension, Senna can finally let himself go to the celebrations on the podium, where he is showered with a bucket of water by Ron Dennis, and can vent all his frustration at the press conference, where he admits his own for the first time guilty about what happened the previous year in Suzuka with Prost:
"It was a wonderful victory, the best championship since I've been in Formula 1. A fight to the spasm, sporting and technical. I hit the target because at the beginning of the season, even if I didn't have the best means, I was able to win. four races taking advantage of the Williams' unreliability. Then I did well in Hungary and Spa, the two crucial moments. Berger and I pushed the team, Honda and Shell to work hard. It took some time to recover but here we gave the decisive blow. In the race we studied certain tactics".
"Mansell made things easier for us. When I saw him go on the sandtrap, I felt like I freed myself from a weight. I did the last few runs to save. So I let loose. I managed to catch up with Berger, overtake him. In the end I was waiting an order from the pits, via radio, but I heard only creaking. A lap passed, then another, and I didn't know what to do. I also had to think about the constructors' championship. Finally I realized that I owed Gerhard a victory, he did a lot for me, he's a friend and a stimulus. So I decided to let him pass. He deserved it".
"It was a memorable championship not just for me, but for Formula 1 in general. The last two seasons have been a disaster. In 1989 I was robbed of a win, and I will never forget it; the consequence of that was the final of 1990, when Balestre decided not to change the order of the starting grid anymore, making me start on the dirty side. He did it for a political reason that you all know. I won here in Suzuka after the accident with Prost, when he threw me off the track. They stopped me while I was on the podium to disqualify me. I had a hell of a winter. All in an intimidating atmosphere where I couldn't reveal what I thought otherwise my license would have been withdrawn. Instead we should be able to talk, to defend ourselves, like human beings. I could neither forgive nor forget".
"What happened here last year was a bad episode for everyone, including me. They tried to rip me off again. But what happened was the direct consequence of all the rip-offs I had to endure. It was a hell to take pole position, so I promised myself that even if I didn't get to the first corner I would still get out in front, whatever matters. Prost started well and I entered even at the cost of crashing. It was better that he didn't close my trajectory because then he would have not been able to finish it. I had to do it, because I was pursuing justice. I worked cleanly, we are professionals, sometimes we even risk our lives. I made it clear that the time to say was over. Always: yes thank you, it had to happen. It was certainly not my responsibility for what happened, even if I found myself forced to be involved. This year we changed the position at the start and it happened nothing".
"We are in a modern world and in Formula 1 there is a lot of money involved, but we cannot say what we think. If it happens, they punish us, we have to pay fines, we risk not racing. When in 1989 I said what I thought about it to the crap that had happened after the Japanese Grand Prix, and I supported the truth, I suffered so many injustices. I never apologized to Balestre, I never sent him any letter. It was Dennis and the Honda people who wrote it and initialed it. Nobody imagined what I had to go through in the winter of 1989 -'90. This story must serve as an example: drivers, journalists, team managers. We must try to improve the system, for the good of all. This year, apart from the slight tension of the last two races, everything was different, the race was correct and exciting. I hope it will be an example for everyone, myself included".
And while his rival celebrates his third world title, Alain, physically exhausted and with severe pain in his shoulder, in the paddock talks about his Ferrari impossible to drive due to the practically non-existent shock absorbers and incredibly hard steering, after that, due to of a contact, the column went crooked:
"The chassis was not in place, the steering was very hard, I turned the steering wheel to the left and the car turned to the right. I felt like I was a truck driver. The usual shock absorber problems. It's not fun to drive like that. Maybe in Australia it will be a little better. When such a season ends it cannot fail to please. As far as Senna is concerned, he deserved the title. But don't tell me that he is now taking his blame for last year's accident. I knew it very well, because I was on the spot. In any case, I had already one world championship stolen in 1983 when Brabham won thanks to an irregular gasoline. These are past stories, let's put a stone on it, because it is useless to rethink it. As for my future, you know what the situation is. I have announced that I will not drive the Ligier. Therefore, if I am still in business, I will do it on the car and for the team I am currently part of".
Ferrari is not of the same opinion, taking advantage of yet another opposite exclamation - the phrase of discord is: "it seemed to drive a truck, no pleasure" - which is immediately decontextualized, on October 22, 1991, decides to break all relations with Prost. In a statement with rather bright tones, Ferrari underlines how the conditions for continuing the collaboration relationship with the driver for the 1991 and 1992 seasons failed, therefore already in the next race in Adelaide driving the red number 27 there will be the test driver Gianni Morbidelli, until then a Minardi driver.
Prost even goes to Adelaide, convinced to resolve the matter in his favor, but this is not the case. Then he tries to call the lawyer Agnelli by telephone, who does not answer him, but declares to the press:
"I haven't lived through the dismissal decision and I know that Prost phoned me from Adelaide when I was in New York. I didn't answer him because I was leaving, and it would have been too late anyway".
Alain, therefore, watches the last race in Australia from the sofa, and observes Senna and McLaren, in what becomes the shortest race in history, which lasted fourteen laps due to torrential rain, also conquer the Constructors' Title, making yet another double, the fourth in a row. A race, that race in Adelaide under torrential rain, highly contested by the drivers. Roland De Bruynseraede, race director, after starting the race justifies the suspension after only fourteen laps not because of the rain, but:
"Because there was a car, Mansell's, against the wall with a driver inside. In such situations I always displayed the red flag. We took time to try to make another start, but the rain gave us no respite".
In fact, initially it is thought to restart the race, so much so that the commissioners show the signal of ten minutes from the start; however, after vehement protests by Senna and Patrese to the same commissioners, the race is permanently suspended. Senna is therefore declared the winner ahead of Mansell, Berger, Piquet, Patrese and Morbidelli. Unlike 1989, Ayrton is now also very upset about the obligation to participate in the Grand Prix despite adverse weather conditions:
"It was madness to participate in this race. I accepted only out of respect for the McLaren that was aiming for the constructors' title. On the straight it was impossible to go straight, I could not enter beyond third gear. When I stopped I would not have started again if it hadn't stopped raining. However, the fault is not only of the organizers. Even if there are enormous interests at stake, we must all be consistent: drivers, teams, stewards race".
Riccardo Patrese, who together with Ayrton prevented the restart, is also furious:
"They're crazy, I've never seen anything like that. At a certain point on the straight you had to zigzag to dodge cars, tow trucks, ambulances and pieces of all kinds. What were they waiting for to stop the race? In fact, you didn't even have to start".
And Mansell shares the same opinion:
"The race was supposed to be stopped first. I don't know what happened to my car, but suddenly I totally lost control. It wasn't aquaplaning, maybe I hit something and hit the wall. I got a bad blow to the left leg, now I have a swollen ankle and dizziness".
Thus ends, amidst the controversy, the 1991 championship and at the same time, also the extraordinary career of Nelson Piquet, who disputes his last race in Formula 1.
Nelson also survived a time when he saw so many colleagues fail or go into very serious accidents. He himself was a victim of it at Imola, in 1987. When he returns to the pits, Nelson stays inside the car for a long time, still wearing his helmet and staring into space. Minutes go by. Mechanics worry; they think Nelson is sick.
But then, the carioca asks Giorgio Ascanelli, his engineer, for permission to restart the engine and to take one last lap. But Giorgio very delicately points out to the Brazilian driver that it is not possible to return to the track, given that the safety cars circulate inside. For Nelson a love that lasted thirteen years has come to an end.
Davide Scotto di Vetta