January 1992. Ferrari replaces Prost, sacked the year before while the season was still in progress, Ivan Capelli, a driver from Milan, is hired and therefore joins Jean Alesi. All the faults of the previous management fell in any case on the Professor, but the 1992 season will show the world that in reality he was nothing more than a scapegoat for Ferrari's poor performance, where chaos will continue to reign. In Maranello, the extraordinary board of directors convened on the evening of November 14, 1991, decides to fire the president Piero Fusaro, placing in his place with full powers the lawyer Luca Cordero di Montezemolo:
"The board of directors of Ferrari Spa, which met today in Maranello, took note of Piero Fusaro's request to go back working in the Fiat group. The board of directors has decided to entrust Luca di Montezemolo with the presidency and managing director of Ferrari S.p.a., giving him all the powers of management".
"The company thanks Piero Fusaro for the activity carried out with competence and passion in years so demanding for the company that have seen the Ferrari brand further consolidate its success on all markets. Piero Fusaro will continue to make his contribution to the company as a board member".
The new president, reluctantly but firmly, immediately withdraws the four proxies that Fusaro distributed to decentralize responsibilities; two related to production and two to sports management, those that last May had been given to Piero Ferrari and Claudio Lombardi. The first is no longer responsible for the racing team and the second is no longer responsible for the first, but directly to the president. Piero Ferrari therefore remains in his position as vice president, but without specific assignments.
Secondly, Montezemolo makes it known that in 1992 he will go, at most, to five or six Grand Prix. He will be represented by a new figure, that of the Team Manager, for whom everyone assumes that it will not be enginer Lombardi, since Montezemolo is looking for a charismatic but faithful person, competent in engines and the environment, and finally representative. Once this character is found, it will be decided whether or not to support him with a sports director.
Finally, before leaving Maranello for the weekend, Montezemolo instructs his men to find an apartment in Modena, since from now on he wants to stay in the factory every day, from morning to evening. And with its volcanic rhythms, this is perhaps the right time that everyone at Ferrari will roll up their sleeves and stop doing politics. But the projects, before becoming successful, require a lot of time and a lot of dedication.
For the 1992 vintage, Ferrari presents a revolution in the car, named F92A, which incorporates various solutions used in aeronautics on military aircraft, essentially due to the contribution of the aeronautical engineer Jean Claude Migeot, who in those years created many innovative solutions on several Formula 1 single-seaters.
Specifically, taking up a solution introduced by Migeot himself at the time when he worked at Tyrrell and destined for great success, the F92A is the first Ferrari Formula 1 single-seater to feature a raised nose, connected to the front wing with two parallel pillars. Another peculiar feature are the air intakes on the sides, ovoid in shape and separated from the car body, imitating the design trends of military jets, in which the engine air intakes are always detached from the fuselage to avoid ingestion of the layer limit.
The major innovation, however, concerns the so-called false floor, with derives from an attempt to reproduce a Venturi effect comparable to that of the single-seaters of the early 1980s equipped with side skirts: above the normal flat floor, imposed by the technical regulations, it was created another, parallel to the first and forming with it a series of channels that should have generated a high ground effect. And finally, the Coca-Cola area is modified, that is the terminal part of the bodywork that converges towards the gearbox and the rear axle, which took on a more squared shape.
From an engine point of view, the F92A does not differ much from the previous creations of the house. The engine, always in a longitudinal central rear position, adopts the classic V12 architecture, with the bank angle corresponding to the canonical 65°; as per regulations, the displacement is 3500 cm³, the five valves per cylinder are maintained, always controlled by two overhead camshafts per bank, and the return to traditional springs instead of the pneumatic system used by the rival top teams.
This, however, will prevent improved performance in terms of maximum power by increasing the rotation speed, since the spring return, beyond a certain speed, becomes ineffective, because it is no longer able to guarantee contact with the cam, causing a valve closure delayed. This engine is combined with the classic semi-automatic gearbox, however, equipped with only six ratios plus reverse. On January 9, 1992, Alesi declares:
"The situation without Prost is more relaxed. Alain is gone and I will be free. Without him I will miss the model that allowed me to have a real reference point in the results. I learned a lot from him indirectly, watching him work and trying to have the same spirit of concentration that he had during our briefings. For me, therefore, he was not a professor, but a perfect example".
But the election of Mosley as president of FISA worries Alesi:
"I'm afraid that security issues are no longer a priority now".
The young Frenchman still does not know that the F92A will be remembered as the second least competitive single-seater, after the 312 T5 of 1980, never fielded by Scuderia Ferrari in the top engine category. And Prost? what happened to the Professor?
In early January, a rumor from Uruguay acknowledges the agreement between Benetton and the Frenchman, much to the surprise of the already taken Schumacher and Brundle. An indiscretion immediately denied, even if it is true that Prost had a chat with Flavio Briatore, but also with Frank Williams and other teams.
On January 19th, wearing Èrik Comas' helmet, Prost carried out a test session at the wheel of the Ligier at Le Castellet, completing a total of forty-nine laps. However, when the car stops on the track due to a technical problem and the driver's silhouette emerges out of the cockpit, it becomes difficult not to recognize him.
Negotiations to find a new team continue until a week before the inaugural race of the new season in South Africa, but in the end Prost does not sign any contract with Guy Ligier, not seeing the prospects to build a top team for which he did not want to be just a driver, but also have the power to decide. For Alain, 1992 officially becomes a sabbatical, during which to recharge physically and psychologically.
At the same time, approaching the new season, Williams decides to evolve the previous model, the FW14, defining a version B. The car will later be remembered for being one of the most successful and sophisticated cars in the entire history of Formula 1 thanks to its superiority over the opposing cars.
Adrian Newey started working on the project for 1991 well in advance. In his still short career in Formula 1, the British designer brought very innovative cars in aerodynamics, so much so that they were too extreme and very difficult to fine-tune.
The scarce economic resources of March, however, never had an adequate development, proving to be one of the reasons for the poor results obtained by March, and then Leyton House, between 1989 and 1990, but the budget made available by Williams and the collaboration with one of the best technical directors ever such as Patrick Head, allowed Adrian Newey to develop his ideas concretely and to the end, creating at the same time a futuristic car that is still easy to adjust and drive.
The FW14B had such a great success in 1992 so that its heir, the FW15C, ready to debut in the middle of the season, will never be used in 1992 but will even be postponed to the 1993 season. Equipped with suspensions controlled by a three-dimensional program that Automotive Products developed for production cars, these are composed of a software that detects the vehicle's height from the ground and, through a hydraulic system, constantly adjusts the suspension travel, then the car set-up, in order to guarantee the best stability.
Of course, the active suspension favors the aerodynamic study; Adrian Newey, in fact, in the wind tunnel discovers that by lowering the rear part of the car and raising the nose, the diffuser would stall, significantly reducing the aerodynamic drag of the car. Thus, the British designer inserts a button in the steering wheel, which the drivers would have to press on the straight to lower the rear of the car and raise the nose, gaining around 10 km/h in top speed. However, the car has one major flaw: vehicle dynamics are very limited.
In addition, the car does not have power steering, so the loads on the steering wheel are very high due to the enormous downforce. For this reason, the car is technologically perfect, but also difficult to drive, as you have to keep the accelerator open when entering a bend, and the car would have automatically adjusted the height from the ground by itself, ensuring stability and balance in any conditions. Patrick Head will tell a few years later:
"The big difference between 1991 and 1992 was the introduction of active suspension. Williams had been studying this solution since 1985, thanks to the collaboration with AP. When we were able to develop digital active suspension, the electronic control system became more and more sophisticated, which allowed us to make adjustments whenever the driver complained of understeer or oversteer problems. Small changes were enough to fix the problem. Furthermore, the suspension was perfectly integrated into the geometry of the car. The active suspension was so innovative that even the driving sensations of the drivers changed completely. At the entrance to the curves, there was a very small time margin in which the car could not guarantee grip. But once those hundredths of a second were over, the car was perfectly stable when cornering. Mansell was able to adapt immediately to this style, while Patrese had to work harder to increase the feeling with the car".
For this reason, Renault would have preferred Prost rather than Mansell in Williams, but the Frenchman's complicated contractual situation did not help the choice. The British still preferred Mansell. Williams starts again, therefore, from the Lion of England and from Patrese: an already experienced coexistence.
So, the 1992 Formula 1 World Championship starts, orphaned of Prost and Piquet, while Senna, the only World Champion left on the grid, asks to replace his track engineer James Robinson, with whom he was in conflict; so at McLaren comes the Italian engineer Giorgio Ascanelli from Benetton, supported by Gerhard Berger, with whom Ayrton will open a collaboration made of hate and love.
The first qualifications immediately give a picture of the situation and the forces on the field that won't change throughout the championship: Mansell flies to pole, followed by Ayrton at seven tenths. But even more worrying is the gap between Nigel and Berger, third: over a second. After qualifying, disconsolate, Ayrton admits:
"In the race there is a second per lap difference between us and Williams. What can I do? Give it all as usual and wait".
And in fact this is exactly what happens, even if Mansell in the race drives the forklift.
Nigel then wins the first race of the season, ahead of Patrese and Senna:
"A tough race, even though I started in the lead and had no more problems. I pushed hard at the beginning to create a safe space, then I made sure to make everything work well. Every now and then I gave a heavier tap on the accelerator to make it clear that it was useless to try to keep my pace. Then I just had to concentrate not to make mistakes, to avoid risks".
Mansell declared at the end of the race. On Friday, March 13, 1992, Prost's decision on whether or not to race for Ligier becomes public. Well, the Frenchman let the press know that he will not race in Mexico with Ligier the following week, he will almost certainly not enter the French team as a driver during the season and probably will not even do so in 1993. The partners, Renault and Elf, called to contribute to the formation of a great all-national team, did not accept the economic requests presented by the builder Guy Ligier and by Prost himself.
The two made it known the large amount of money needed to manage a competitive and winning team, with long-term planning. An overly onerous commitment that the two large industries did not feel like signing.
Also in Mexico Williams dominated qualifying, with Mansell in pole position and Patrese who completes the front-row lock, just sixteen thousandths behind his teammate, while the two Benettons of Schumacher and Brundle and the two McLarens of Berger and Senna followed with heavier gaps.
The Mexican weekend is linked to the terrible accident of Ayrton during Friday's qualifying. The blow taken by the Brazilian is one of the heavy ones, which make you fear the worst. The official tests were seventeen minutes in when the McLaren in the yellow helmet barely touched a curb. The car broke down but Ayrton checked it very well.
However, as the McLaren was backing off slightly to put it back on its proper trajectory, suddenly went into a violent spin, resulting in the car going out onto the lawn before hitting the fence which spun the car. What betrayed the Brazilian was a dip on the track's asphalt: one of the two front wheels actually got into the dip just as the car was already unbalanced, triggering the spin. When it finally stopped, Senna's pain mask was impressive. The accident immediately appeared very serious.
The doctors who rushed in a few moments, however, could not get the pilot out. In the collision, some part of the suspension must have entered the cockpit blocking the left leg. As a precaution, the doctors, while trying to extract it, applied an oxygen mask to Senna and a collar to support the head. It was feared that the whiplash taken during the subsequent spins could have injured some vital organ, but the x-rays made it possible to establish that it was only bruises on the left leg. Senna then returned to the hotel.
On Saturday morning, Ayrton shows himself in the pits limping, with a tired and tense face, almost immediately closes himself in his office, where he talks a lot with Ron Dennis as he sits on a sofa with his left leg stretched out on the cushions.
The night of rest was vanified. No sedatives, no good sleep, no serenity. Only worries, pains and anxieties. After the effect of the sedatives, the pains gripped him. On the other hand, doctors and nurses were close to him all night.
Before returning to the track, Ayrton undergoes massages again and even having bandages, he dressed and, leaning on some friendly shoulder, gets into the car. Then he gets out on the track, but realizes he is going slow, very slow. The rankings monitor presents at that moment a historical situation: last Ayrton Senna, penultimate Ivan Capelli, third last Giovanna Amati.
Ayrton gets out of the car and leans against a counter. In the frenetic comings and goings of mechanics, someone just steps on the foot of his damaged leg, but he barely avoids it. It seems Ayrton doesn't want to go out anymore. But then he exits, does only three laps and from the last place he climbs to fifth. Even accidents can't stop him.
And to say that Senna complained precisely about a double curve and the big bend that leads to the straight of the finish line. These are the two features completely rearranged after the criticisms of the past years.
However, Mexicans have always defended themselves by arguing that the blame lies with the forces of nature, as the racetrack stands on volcanic terrain that is constantly yielding and changing shape. Already one year before Senna has been the victim of another spectacular spin after which the McLaren overturned, but in that case the driver had left the cockpit alone without reporting anything but a scare:
"The Mexican circuit is too dangerous. Every year at least one serious accident occurred, and if there have been no tragedies we owe it to luck and to the fact that the cars are sturdy. I have been repeating for some time that you shouldn't race here, because the asphalt is too undulating, full of jumps and holes. It's not their fault: the asphalt settles down due to micro-earthquakes and even the work done on the Peraltada curve has not given positive results. Some drivers must die to make the sports authorities understand that it will be better to go and compete elsewhere?"
This year, under a monopoly regime, Goodyear has abolished soft qualifying tires to cut costs, and provides each team with two extra sets of race tires for timed practice. Thus all pilots can make a higher number of attempts. But this inevitably led to an increase in the risk of accidents on the track during qualifying and, obviously, Ayrton is against this initiative:
"It's a mistake, because these tires have a very precarious road holding and you risk going off the track easily. Plus, there is always a lot of traffic. When a driver makes a mistake, the car slips without being able to control, while with soft tires the grip was greater. The McLaren team will appeal to FISA and Goodyear to return to the previous solutions for safety reasons".
Anyway, as they say, the show must go on and the absolute protagonist is still Mansell, who wins smoothly in front of Patrese and Michael Schumacher, with Senna who is instead ousted from the race by transmission problems after a few laps.
Two hours after the end of the race, a Mediaset [italian television, translator's note] troupe, made up of two Mexican operators and the journalist Antonella Delprino, arrives in the scene of the accident to shoot a television report, recording all the details relating to the Senna accident, including the signs left on the wall by the Brazilian driver's car during Friday practice. This, however, is evidently not liked by two agents of the security service of Mr. Abed, who oversees the security of each circuit on behalf of Bernie Ecclestone.
Therefore, a couple of Mexican agents reach the television crew, and in a few moments a heated discussion begins, since the two operators were Mexican has paradoxically complicated the situation, as the two responded badly to the pressing invitations of the agents who intended to stop shooting. At that point the fight, in which the Italian journalist was also involved, turns into violent shoves and a few slaps, while the box where the images had already been recorded is trampled and destroyed by the two agents.
Whoever comes out worse is one of the two operators, who was treated in the emergency room of the circuit and had to remain under observation for hours. Fortunately, the Italian journalist did not report any consequences - apart from a few scratches - and a few hours later left for Italy with the entire Mediaset staff who handled the broadcast of the Grand Prix:
"We weren't doing anything illegal, it's an inexplicable behavior. But fortunately there were no major consequences".
Comment the Italian television company Mediaset. Even in Sao Paulo the story does not change: Mansell dominates the qualifying by conquering the pole position with more than a second ahead of his teammate Patrese, while Senna, driving the new McLaren MP4/7, can do nothing to counteract the English and is third, more than two seconds behind.
In the race Patrese tries to fight against his teammate, overtaking him at the start, but under the checkered flag it is still Mansell who celebrates his third victory in a row. Senna, slowed down by electrical problems with the engine, which at high revs loses power, is forced to drive very slowly while cornering, and Schumacher, who was right behind him but unaware of the problems he had to face, considers Senna's driving as a petty attempt to slow him down, declaring it openly to the press at the end of the Grand Prix:
"I was faster than Senna, but I couldn't pass him. After about ten laps he started playing: he braked on the straights and in the slow corners. You would never expect this attitude from a three-time World Champion".
However, Schumacher, already in the course of the thirteenth round, manages to pass Senna. The Brazilian tries to change the carburetion, hoping to solve the problem, but shortly after is forced to give his position also to Brundle and Alesi before retiring on lap seventeenth simply because he considers it useless to continue.
Upon returning to the garage, Ayrton kept the accelerator pressed, trying to break the Honda engine, but without succeeding, before getting out of the car, getting into the garage and disappearing from the circuit. In the excitement, a Brazilian journalist asks Jo Ramirez what happened, and the thoughtful McLaren manager replies:
"Nothing's wrong. The car wasn't fast enough and he chose to stop".
Meanwhile Senna is already out of the circuit and on the radio he hears the words of Jo Ramirez live, so shortly after he calls and furiously tells him:
"Jo, how dare you say those things?"
But Jo replies:
"You didn't tell me anything, so you can't complain".
Soon after, Ron Dennis, who witnesses the scene, tells Jo:
"Well, he deserved it. The way he got mad...like a spoiled child. We all thought the same thing, but you're the only one who said it".
With full points after three races, Mansell still invites his team not to let their guard down:
"We don't have to live on our crown. Three wins are important, but the championship is still long, without forgetting that McLaren has the technical and human potential to return to the top. We can thank Renault and Elf who did a great job. But now I'll have to go to Patrese's how-to-start class. It was lightning".
For the Spanish weekend in Barcelona, McLaren brings some small changes regarding the chassis and engine, but Senna himself says that these are only minimal changes and not enough for victory.
Over the weekend there is also a meeting between Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, Max Mosley and Jean-Marie Balestre in which the new Ferrari president expresses his reservations on the technical regulations, hoping for a drastic reduction of the electronics, accused of reducing the show in track, and complaining about the inapplicability of the solutions used in Formula 1 on road cars.
In this regard, FISA announces some regulatory changes that will be adopted by the next British Grand Prix, above all to have more balance, and therefore to increase the show. They would therefore like to reduce the electronic system, which causes too high differences between small and large teams, and we are thinking of introducing the pace car as in Formula Indy, that is to say a car that freezes the positions in the event of an accident. But on this point the opinions are divided and it will not be easy to find an agreement. All this, while the currently retired Prost takes on the unprecedented role of television commentator for TF1, a French television, and confides to Italian journalists:
"Ferrari? Is it still there?"
And after joking, he declares:
"The trial with Ferrari is there and continues. My judgments were constructive. And judging how things are going this year I was not wrong. I'm happy to be out of it. Now I don't give a damn about Ferrari".
And in conclusion he repeats that this is only a year of rest and not an abandonment:
"I'm preparing to get back on track and drive, but I'll only do it if I have a car to aim for the title".
Although there is rain to peep both on Saturday and Sunday, the script does not change: Mansell is superior, he still starts in pole and wins, but Patrese is not accompanying him on the podium: he retired for an off-track; instead there are the two young people with great prospects, Schumacher and Alesi. Senna did not reach the finish line for the third race in a row, this time he becomes the author of a spin a few laps from the end while he was in third position pressed by Alesi.
After four rather monotonous Grands Prix, given the ineluctable superiority of Williams, the story does not change even in Imola, given that the Lion of England wins full haul even in San Marino, preceding Patrese in qualifying by a second; followed by the two McLarens of Senna and Berger and the two Benettons of Schumacher and Brundle. After qualifying with an abysmal gap from Mansell, Senna lets himself go to a rare joke:
"You will have fun watching the race. For the third place fight, of course".
Journalists will have fun, if one can say so, a few hours later. In the evening, in fact, an official Honda dinner takes place, one of those that innervate the so-called worldliness of the Grand Prix, and Ayrton is announced among the guests. But it is allowed only for about ten minutes, in the patio of aperitifs and canapés. On the other hand, the hotel where the journalists dine is the same hotel where he sleeps: Il Castello in Castel San Pietro. He just needs to get out of the room, smile, say the usual things like let's hope to go faster tomorrow, say goodbye and mind his business.
At eleven o'clock the reporters get up from the table and Senna is there, out there, greeting them again, before retiring. The music is over, the friends are leaving. It is not late, and the next day journalists must not drive. There is still time to discover, in the center of Imola, that a local blues band attacked too early to hold up with the harmonics until midnight. And here, shortly after one o'clock, the telephones start ringing in the envoys' rooms, as chilling news spreads: Senna had a heart attack and was hospitalized. Perhaps he is already dead.
Yet the reporters had seen him as healthy as a fish a few minutes ago. The Castello hotel is ten minutes from the center of Imola, so a minute is enough to reach the hall, around two in the morning. And the scene that presents itself is somewhat comical. In fact, in the hotel, an employee is busy denying the news and trying to reassure everyone by saying:
"I certainly can't disturb Mr. Senna as he sleeps".
Meanwhile, the pilot of the Brazilian's private plane, who has come down to get a mineral, chuckles and asks, in English, to reporters:
"Do you mean that I would have lost my job?"
The next day Senna, with two dense purple dark circles, a conspicuous anger stretched on his lips and a lot of desire to sleep, had to tell, with annoyance, the night as a living dead:
"It was a joke in bad taste and almost the blow did not come to my father, who did not know where to find me. We spoke at three, I calmed them down. I was sleeping very well, after that I had some problems. And now, if you allow, I would go to rest".
So, to play down, a journalist tells the Brazilian driver:
"Come on Ayrton, these things lengthen your life".
And Ayrton, perhaps wanting to finally catch her laughing too, replies:
"I don't know your superstition, I know that the years go by for everyone and I don't think about it. A friend told me another one, about superstition; every photo they take of you takes away a piece of life".
It so happens that at the end of the San Marino race Senna is seized by an illness, which leads to the intervention of the doctors who give him a drip of mineral salts and sugars. After spending twenty minutes motionless in the cockpit, Ayrton got up on his own.
Last year Senna set a sensational new record of four championship opening wins; a record that has a very short duration, because Mansell, with an exemplary driving assisted by an extraterrestrial car, with that of Imola slips five wins in five races, equivalent to fifty points in the general classification. Patrese, his rival, second at the finish line completes the fourth double for Williams, confirming some dizzying numbers. Nothing and nobody seems to be able to stop this car.
"I feel like I'm dreaming".
Nigel exclaims, at the end of a race that he leads from the first to the last lap. The sixth round is on the Montecarlo circuit, but in the week before the Grand Prix there were rumors about the absence of Ivan Capelli, who would have been replaced for the occasion by Ferrari test driver Gianni Morbidelli, due to health problems. The Italian driver flatly denies the news, reserving a harsh attack on the press, accused of publishing untrue information:
"I am indignant and amused by what happened. The Italian press sometimes makes you laugh. I don't understand where and how the news reported about me could have come out. I'm fine, I made all the necessary visits before going to Maranello and the results did not report anything strange. So in these days I have been sleeping peacefully, with a clear conscience. It is clear that I am not happy with the results obtained: I am unable to adapt to a car that is not easy. But I have always given my best and I will continue to do so".
He therefore asks Capelli if it was he who asked for a rest period these days, given that the tests were carried out by Morbidelli, but Ivan's answer is dry:
"No, I was put on vacation for a week. I thanked them and went to Viareggio to get used to the Mediterranean climate".
After the first two races at the wheel of a mere evolution of the MP6/B of the previous year, even the new MP7/A, as already ascertained, is unfortunately not even remotely comparable to Williams, and Senna arrives in the Principality of Monaco with only eight points in the standings, and zero Poles conquered, a rather unusual figure for him.
When there is a driver, Mansell, who with his racing car turns through the Monegasque streets in 1'19"945, crumbling the track record held up to that moment by Ayrton himself, then the figure of zero poles of the Brazilian acquires a certain logic.
The pole conquered, however, does not reassure Nigel, who reveals a bit of nervousness in view of the race, since historically this circuit never gave him particular joy. At the sprint Ayrton, who started third, moved to the first corner Patrese, who was subsequently unable to keep up with McLaren due to gearbox problems. Mansell, on the other hand, walks in front dominating, while Senna loses further seconds when the lapped Alboreto spins right in front of him.
About eight laps from the checkered flag there is the twist: a nut problem causes damage to the rim of the Williams rear right, so Mansell has to go back to the pits to make what becomes a problematic tire change. The more than thirty seconds advantage accumulated up to that moment blows away, the Briton returns to the track seven seconds behind the new leader Senna. Three laps from the end the two are reunited, Mansell is much faster, and at every corner the pressure he exerts on Ayrton is unspeakable.
It's Monte Carlo, it's difficult to overtake, and other stuff like this, but Senna's defense and coldness in not making mistakes is amazing. Victory arrives, in the sprint, with only a two tenths advantage over Mansell, who on the podium is exhausted to the point of not being able to stand on his own legs. It is above all the fifth victory in Monte Carlo, the fourth in a row, which allows him to equal Graham Hill.
"I won because to Mansell, or rather to his Williams, things accidentally went wrong. I won the lottery. I did everything to be ready to seize a possible gift of fate. I made the most of the start, risking a lot, to immediately take second place from Patrese. I resisted Patrese himself without damaging the tires, without hanging the engine. I paid my tax unlucky when, on lap 66, an Alboreto spin made me lose almost ten seconds. I think I drove well for those four laps in which Mansell was right behind me, despite the smooth tyres and the tired engine. Of course, in some corners I didn't follow the most orthodox trajectory, but it's legitimate defense, Mansell understood that".
Mansell then speaks to the press:
"Senna's car became huge in the last few laps. So let's say it was the best second place of my life. I had won by now, Senna knows it too. Then on lap 71 I thought I had a flat tire, the rear left: I had little braking, little stability. I risked to get to the box without wasting too much time. But then I stopped for about thirty seconds. I went out with Senna five seconds in front, I shot everything, I broke the lap record twice, I hit him. I couldn't do more. I have to congratulate Ayrton. He was able to anticipate every move by doing it on a regular basis. He drove fantastic and that's why he won the race".
Despite Ayrton's victory in Monaco, television ratings are down. How will the governance of the Formula remedy? In the wake of the Monegasque success, two weeks later, in Canada, for the first time in the season Senna won pole position, thanks also to the new Honda engine, which has about thirty more horsepower, beating Patrese by just under a tenth. Mansell, fresh from six pole positions in a row, is third, ahead of Berger, Schumacher and the surprising Herbert, sixth in the new Lotus 107.
For the first time since the start of the championship, there is finally a bit of uncertainty, as even in Monte Carlo, only a problem that occurred to the world leader's Williams allowed Ayrton to fight for the victory. This is a condition that made television audience lose a lot of public. On this, in Montreal, the former president of the now defunct FOCA, Bernie Ecclestone complains:
"I hate stalemates, as is happening in the current championship. A Mansell who wins everything does not suit me. At least if there was a real fight with his teammate... In the past few years there were Senna and Prost to battle. Now it's a disaster for the show. Drivers like Prost and Piquet are missing".
"It is true, there are also economic problems due to the recession, and therefore it becomes difficult to find sponsors. There is the risk of losing at least part of the irreplaceable contribution of the cigarette manufacturers. But I am also convinced that they expenses could be cut in half, without impeding technical progress. The earnings of many drivers are indecent, when it comes to twenty-million a year for a Senna. And then there are those forced to pay to race. I would better see a restricted club of thirty drivers in Formula 1, with the right parameters and fair salaries for everyone".
"I would like to act more in depth, but I have to clash with multiple interests and stubborn people. They don't understand that to guarantee today they risk losing tomorrow. Another thorn in the side is Ferrari. We need to see them return to the top. They are also working on the political level. But it's tough".
In the meantime, the 1992 championship goes on, not without some small surprises, which corresponds to Mansell's first misstep. The retirement of the Briton is due to an attempted attack on Senna's McLaren, which however fails, and which seems to pave the way towards the second win in a row at Senna, before an electrical problem force him to abandon the race. After the race, old rusts resurface between the two, definitely in contrast with the fair play shown in Monte Carlo.
"He threw me out. His behavior is unworthy of a champion. Now I know how to deal with him".
Mansell roars following his first retirement of the season:
"He is an idiot, he wanted to try to overtake where it was impossible to do so".
Ayrton replies. With Patrese also out of the game, the victory is won by the surviving Berger, with Schumacher's Benetton, on the podium and with a fourth place in the championship, and Jean Alesi's Red to follow him.
If on the track, as emphasized by Ecclestone, there is no show, Formula 1 still manages to get people talk about. On Saturday June 27, 1992, in London, once again, Senna swaps the M-25 motorway for the Silverstone circuit and is caught by the patrols of British Police racing at insane speed with his Porsche. The police patrol had to chase him for five kilometers, from Heathrow airport to the city, before being able to stop him. The agents ascertained that Senna was traveling at a speed of 193 km/h: not bad as an infringement, in a country where the limit on the highway is seventy miles, just over 112 km/h.
The fact is even more sensational when you consider that Senna is not new to such stunts. The previous year he has already been stopped, for the same crime, by a police patrol and the news caused a sensation due to the curious scene following the arrest of the pilot. Even in that case, the chase had lasted a long time and when the agents finally managed to stop him, a policeman, who got out of the car in a rage, threw himself at the Brazilian shouting:
"But who do you think you are, Ayrton Senna?"
And the Brazilian had no choice but to reply with a shy:
"Yes I am".
The admission, and being in front of a great sportsman, however, had not caused the slightest emotion in the very angry policeman and, having extracted the notebook, he had fined the madman who allowed himself to ignore the laws of the United Kingdom. Well, even this time the agent would not have recognized the man behind the wheel:
"Who does he think he is, Mansell?"
The policeman would have asked.
"No, I'm Senna".
It was the answer. A moment of embarrassment, then, as a year before, the procedure was repeated: after checking the personal details, taking the license plate number, finally the fine. The new fact is that Senna was unable to pay the price for his mad desire for speed on the spot. British justice requires, in fact, that the person responsible for violations of the highway code appears in court. And this time Senna risks a lot: apart from the fact of being a repeat offender, and for this reason the judge could take more serious measures, the fine for speeding in England is paid with a proportional method: a so much per kilometer beyond the limit.
As if that were not enough, on Friday July 3th, in Magny Cours the controversy between Senna and Mansell ignites again, as Ayrton responds with harsh tones to the British, who in the previous days called him a cheater, taking up the story of the Montreal accident:
"The photos have made it clear that Nigel made a mistake. And he keeps making mistakes. He arouses controversy and useless accusations, he complains to Ron Dennis, chases the stewards. But what does he want? He has the best car, he has the World Championship in his hands. He can only lose it if he keeps making mistakes. In short, he's the usual Nigel, we all know him. I won three titles, he left some on the street. He likes to make movies: back then, he didn't have to move to Florida but to Hollywood".
At Magny-Cours, Williams re-establishes the hierarchy and scores once again. This time Patrese was on the verge of winning his first race of the season, but in the end he let Mansell pass in front, who instead was able to celebrate his twenty-seventh career success, thus reaching Jackie Stewart.
Nonetheless, Senna still dominates the front pages of newspapers on Mondays. And here's why: on the first lap of the Magny-Cours Grand Prix, at the Adelaide corner, Michael Schumacher attacks Senna's McLaren in a somewhat optimistic manner, causing a rear-end collision that puts the Brazilian out of the race.
When the race is momentarily interrupted by the deluge that hits the circuit, Ayrton shows up, already in civilian clothes, on the grid, to make a little speech to the irreverent boy, taking him by the arm to take him aside. A brave reporter tries to squeeze a microphone out of the way, promptly pushed away by an irritated Ayrton. Among the contents that you manage to steal from the conversation, there is first and foremost Senna's point of view on the offending maneuver, since, according to him, Michael could have easily waited for the right moment before attempting such a wicked overtaking, since there was still all the race ahead.
"You were wrong, but maybe it was the fault of a technical problem. I came to ask you for explanations, but above all because I want you to understand that this is how professionals behave. You in Brazil accused me of braking on purpose so as not to let you pass, but I wasn't playing, it was the engine that stopped. It will serve you as a lesson".
Senna's is a real style lesson to the future seven-times world champion with Benetton and Ferrari, as he does not fail to point out to the German that unlike him, he came to speak to him in person, saving himself from complaints in front of the media as Schumacher did in Brazil. After the conversation, Ayrton tells Jo Ramirez:
"Well, I took it before it started and I hope I scared him a little...".
With two more peremptory victories in Silverstone and Hockenheim, and forty-six points ahead of Patrese, who was declared number two of the team, Mansell now only needs mathematical certainty to celebrate his first world title. To do so, he will have to wait until mid-August, when the Hungarian Grand Prix will be held. However, after the success in Germany, Nigel still does not want to hear about the title already in his pocket, perhaps more for good luck than for anything else:
"The road is now shorter, but there is still some way to go".
And in the meantime he doesn't spare himself from throwing a few digs at Frank Williams on contractual issues:
"I could have signed in Mexico for another two years, but I didn't like some details of the contract. Now I am also willing to sell half the reserve car for 1993, but in exchange I want a counterpart that I cannot disclose. Anyway, everything will be decided next week".
At Hockenheim, during the warm-up preceding the race, home favorite Michael Schumacher delays braking and nearly collides with Senna at the entrance to the Motodrome. Between the two this time a dispute breaks out much less polotically correct than the last time.
Enraged by what happened, Senna tries to overtake the German, and in the long straights at over 300 km/h two collide wheel to wheel. Then when they both return to the pits, Senna slingshots into Schumacher's garage, grabs him by the shoulders and yells at him:
"Next time I assure you it will also be the last".
Meanwhile, Ferrari is always at the fore with regard to the market, and not only for that. On Thursday morning, the team, without the engineer Claudio Lombardi, who remained in Maranello to follow the development of the engines, experienced minutes of tension at the departure from Bologna: in fact, a phone call announces that there is a bomb on the plane. So the ninety-six people on board the charter (there is also the Minardi) must inevitably go down for a check. Fortunately, a false alarm, which however delays the arrival of Ferrari in Germany. True alarm, flaming red, for the Ivan Capelli affair. He, for the first time, spoke of his failure at Ferrari:
"With a car that was wrong, I was immediately put aside. The team was not able to provide all the innovations to both drivers. I will continue to do my duty to the end, but I understand that I will have to look for another team able to work equally for two drivers, because I want to continue racing. However, for now I have not had any contact with other teams".
With the risk of becoming monotonous, indeed they have become, Mansell and Patrese lock the front row in Hungary as well. It is Patrese this time to conquer the pole position; third is Senna, followed by Schumacher, Berger, Brundle, Alboreto and Boutsen. In Budapest there is the second of the three seasonal successes captured by Senna, which, however, like the one in Monza, goes under the radar for various reasons.
On the Hungaroring track all the attention is for the British Lion, who mathematically conquers the Drivers' World Championship. Ayrton wins by exploiting the problems of Patrese who has to retire, and the prudence of Mansell, to whom a second place would have been more than enough to be able to celebrate mathematical certainty. On the podium, congratulating the new world champion, Ayrton says:
"Good job Nigel, what a great feeling is that? Now you understand why I'm such a son of a bitch on the track. Because I don't like being without that feeling, and I didn't want others to know about it".
On the podium, the two, along with Berger, shower themselves with champagne. Mansell shed a few tears of joy, and Ayrton also seems to be moved, it is not clear whether for the happiness due to the victory, or for the badly restrained anger of a definitively gone World Championship. They are all heartbroken, destroyed by fatigue, as evidenced by the fact that after tripping, he must be forcibly lifted up by Ron Dennis.
The three finishers then appear for the traditional press conference:
"Before you who won".
Mansell says to Senna.
"No, you speak that you are World Champion".
Replies Ayrton. Then Mansell begins:
"Ayrton won because he practiced the best tactic. I had several problems, the car was not going to the maximum. They called me back to the pits because a sensor signaled that a tire was gradually deflating. I hadn't noticed it, but maybe the break was a cure-all, because then I was able to recover safely. Honestly, it was enough for me to take the points to win the title, I never thought of finishing first".
"I still can't realize that I'm world champion, I can't believe it. How much effort, how many times I got close to it and then I woke up abruptly in the grip of the most bitter disappointment. I think reaching such a goal could be the most important and beautiful thing that could happen to anyone. There are still five races to go, we can all have fun, now, without any problems. I don't think Riccardo and I will have great difficulty in giving Williams and Renault the constructors' title as well, very few points are missing. The future is tomorrow, today I am the happiest man in the world. I proved that those who did not believe in me were wrong".
The championship is in fact over. Not the twists and turns, like the one in Belgium: during free practice the French driver of Ligier, Érik Comas, is the protagonist of a violent accident at full speed at Blanchimont, to the point of momentarily losing consciousness on board his car half destroyed in the middle of the track. Senna is among the first to pass through the scene of the accident, and he is the only one to stop, unfasten his seat belt and immediately jump out of his car to run towards his colleague, not caring about the danger he himself was running in being in the middle of the trajectory where there were other cars speeding by, albeit under yellow flags.
Comas keeps his head leaning in an unnatural way, and his foot has remained pressed on the accelerator of his still running car; this entails the serious risk of engine explosion. Senna immediately turned off the engine to help the Frenchman, avoiding this eventuality, which could have had catastrophic consequences both on Érik Comas and on the commissioners who arrived. As Comas himself will say:
"That day Senna saved my life".
In addition to the scares, as mentioned, the twists are not over. On July 9, 1992, at Silverstone, in the new contract for 1993 that Frank Williams gave his top driver, Mansell to sign, there is a clause that made him go on a rampage: Nigel next year will not have anymore the exclusivity of the forklift. It seems like a no brainer, but it's not at all, because that clause means that a great driver is about to arrive at Williams who is not willing to leave Mansell privileges. Who will be?
Only two names can land in Williams: Prost, who on May 26th resolved the legal dispute with Ferrari, or Senna. The first is very strongly wanted by Renault, the second is just as strongly wanted by Frank Williams. Only one thing seems certain, neither of them can live with the new world champion in the same team.
On July 15, 1992, a bolt falls in London when world championship leader Mansell threatens to retire at the end of the season if Williams Renault engages Alain Prost. In an interview with the London newspaper The Sun, the 38-year-old British driver declares that he will not renew his contract if he joins the Frenchman as a teammate. With a clear reference to Prost, Mansell thus expresses his discomfort in racing with a driver who in his opinion always works hard to move the strings from behind the scenes:
"What Williams has achieved has been made possible by great teamwork, and it would be a shame to break the harmony of a winning team. If my conditions are met I will sign, but for the moment I have my doubts".
Intercepted by journalists, in an interview with the French newspaper L'èquipe, Prost replies to Nigel, declaring that by the end of the month he will announce the name of the team for which he will return to race the following year. In addition to Williams, Prost is in fact in talks with McLaren that could lose Senna, who seems about to reach an agreement with Ferrari these days.
In a single blow, however, Senna puts both Prost and Mansell in crisis, throws McLaren Honda and Ron Dennis into panic, flatters Williams, and makes Ferrari understand that he is not objectively interested in moving to Maranello, given that, interviewed on live television by James Hunt, for the BBC, says:
"I'm ready to save Frank Williams twenty-three million dollars - the amount Mansell asked the manufacturer - I don't understand why there is someone who doesn't want a Brazilian driver in the team. I think I'm a winning man, and I want to race with a competitive car, not how I did this year, with no chance".
In short, it is clear that everyone aspires to drive for Williams, and not just because of the top-level performance they achieved. The sudden departure of Ayrton from McLaren also depends on the fact that in the meantime it has become unofficial that Honda intends to abandon the sports program. In fact, on July 18, 1992 the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun launches this indiscretion and specifies that the formal announcement of the withdrawal will take place the following month:
"With sales declining in the United States and Japan, it is difficult for Honda to justify the annual $ 80 million investment in Formula 1 and the retention of 100 skilled technicians in the sport. Honda needs to concentrate money today and technical skills in the development of new high-performance engines for small cars considering the decline in demand for luxury cars".
The disappearance of the founder Soichiro Honda, the only man who firmly believed in the usefulness of racing, combined with the disastrous situation of McLaren which is no longer the dynamic team it once was, is pushing the Japanese house to withdraw its investments.
For McLaren, the retirement of Honda is a big problem, because without the Japanese engines, Senna can be considered free on the market. If he will take a year off or if he will immediately agree to go to Ferrari or if the negotiations in Williams will materialize, it is still difficult to say.
Ron Dennis is therefore now desperate for new engines. BMW replied to the British manager that a return to the circus is not expected, Peugeot should prepare an engine ad hoc, while Renault already supplies Williams. Finally, the most vague of hypotheses is that of a duo between McLaren and Lamborghini that Ron Dennis visited a few months earlier.
On July 25, 1992, at Hockenheim, Frank Williams made almost all doubts disappear and communicated that Alain Prost will most likely race with a Williams next year, thanks to the French driver's bond with Elf, in turn linked to Renault. In this case Mansell, as he already stated several times, would have to abandon the English team, perhaps joining Ferrari again, or even retiring. Seeing the obvious impossibility of reforming a couple with Alain, the question arises: where will Senna go? On July 29, 1992, the Brazilian driver himself gave the answer:
"Where Barnard goes, I'll go too".
Thus, the signing of Barnard could be the first step towards the Senna-Ferrari agreement, while the second should be the call of Berger in place of Capelli. In short, Ayrton would gladly go everywhere to avoid staying at McLaren. Ferrari, for its part, through its spokesman Giancarlo Baccini, on August 10th, declared:
"Senna is our number one goal, but only if he wants to work with us for at least a year. If, on the other hand, he wants to win the World Championship right away, we don't care because he represents a risk".
A week passes, and Senna makes it clear that, in addition to contacts with Ferrari, he would be equally interested in joining Williams, but it seems that a precise clause in Prost's contract prevents the Brazilian from arriving in Frank Williams' team. However, if McLaren continues to improve its performance, Ayrton may also decide to stay, as long as Honda does not retire from Formula 1. Meanwhile, Mansell comes back from London, declaring that if he does not renew his contract with Williams, then he will leave Formula 1:
"I can't imagine myself behind the wheel of another car. We have built something wonderful with Williams, a partnership that can last over time. I am 39 years old, I am World Champion: I really don't want to go and start from scratch again another team. For this reason, if I do not find an agreement with Frank Williams, I will leave Formula 1".
Patrick Faure, president of Renault Sport, in an interview with a French newspaper defines the rumors regarding a possible engagement of Prost in Williams as plausible, adding:
"We are negotiating and this time we have the cards in hand, because all the greatest drivers in the world want to come to us".
However, on August 19th, during the summer tests in preparation for the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Ayrton returns to send eloquent messages to Williams, jokingly reiterating:
"I would go to Williams for free, to Ferrari for a plate of spaghetti".
Statement that comes after talking for a whole hour with Niki Lauda. A busy conversation, on which neither the driver nor the Ferrari adviser wanted to shed light, while Mansell, who in an interview called Ayrton an opportunist, given his desire to move even for free to the world champion team, the Brazilian replies:
"My goal is to race for a team that guarantees me professionalism. It is the first thing I am looking for. I have contacts with some teams, but it is still too early to say where I will finish next year".
And he adds:
"Ferrari has always been my dream and I want to make it come true to end my career. I am always willing to invest in the choices I believe in and work hard to win, but for now in Maranello, winning is not possible. It is true that with Barnard Ferrari made a winning choice, but there is still a lot to do to get back on top".
But after having had an interview with Lauda, Ayrton is convinced that he will arrive in Maranello, but only in 1994, because the Ferrari capable of fighting for top positions will not be ready for the first races of the following season, as he also confirms Harvey Postlethwaite, English engineer who has been entrusted with the responsibility of sports management.
"Ferrari does not have a Formula 1 mentality. Its bad today is the bureaucracy. I am taking steps to streamline the structure: from three hundred and eighty employees we will go to three hundred and twenty and only half of these will work in racing management. The engine and project departments will form two separate entities. I will decide which engines and which projects will be usable".
"Barnard is working quickly, the car for 1993 should be ready for the Imola Grand Prix. It will be called 645, will have transverse gearbox and active suspension. We will race the first four Grand Prix with a further evolution of the current F92 AT. And then, within six months, the new British facility will be ready, in which forty people will work and which will take care of the prototypes of the cars and aerodynamic tests".
On August 21th, Ron Dennis announces his counter move to try to keep Senna on the team.
In fact, it seems that Honda would be willing to extend its relationship with McLaren by a year, providing Ron Dennis's team with a new engine, an unreleased version of the ten-cylinder whose evolution was handled by Mugen, under direct control of the Japanese house. And if the bench tests are successful, the ten-cylinder will immediately go into production and will be ready for the start of the 1993 World Championship. However, the situation around the Brazilian champion remains very tense, to the point that Senna himself declares:
"I'm so nervous that I can't even stand myself".
The sympathetic Gerhard Berger, who, as usual, plays one of his pranks on Ayrton, takes care of the atmosphere of tension and stress. In fact, having arrived in Monza by helicopter, Gerhard has the good idea of throwing his teammate's briefcase out of the window. A few moments later, a gentleman in the vicinity brings the dented briefcase back to Ayrton, who angrily shouts at his colleague-friend that it costed him a whopping $ 1.000. The Austrian colleague replies by saying:
"You did wrong, you should buy a fifty dollar one like I did. And you were lucky, because I tried to open it before throwing it, but one of its locks was closed".
A few days later, on August 27, 1992, in Spa, Berger announced that he decided to return to Ferrari after signing the contract the day before, despite the revolution taking place in Maranello:
"The meeting with Montezemolo was decisive. I did not know him and for me it was love at first sight. An extraordinary man, few speeches but always at the heart of things. No frills. One problem after another we examined everything, always agreeing. In the first three years I spent in Maranello I left the work halfway. I was unable to do everything I wanted, I did not achieve the goals we set for ourselves. But it was a different Ferrari from the one I will find at the end of the season. Then I talked, I talked, I talked, and every time it seemed that I was talking in the void. You never knew if the interlocutor was the right one. Now it is different: the interlocutor is there. Every problem finds a solution. They seem very well organized and on a promising path. Just what I was looking for. In a way, they need me and I need them".
With the signed contract, the long partnership between Senna and Berger also ends. The Austrian driver had already been warned in previous months by his teammate that Honda was planning to leave the circus, and knowing that, unlike him who is desperately looking for the best car to win, the good Gerhard has no such need, Ayrton advised him to abandon McLaren, since the salary of the drivers, in large part, has always been paid by Honda, and therefore if he had stayed, he risked a significative cut in the salary. Rarely have two teammates been so close friends, to the point of spending together even the few days of vacation that Formula 1 leaves available, one of the few things for which the good Gerhard obviously shows some regret when leaving McLaren:
"With Senna I have been and remain a great friend. Certain ties, certain relationships cannot be forgotten just because you change teams. I also remain on excellent terms with Ron Dennis. McLaren has a truly extraordinary structure and organization, which I will not forget. But in life you have to change your environment and motivations. For me the time has come. Ferrari seems to me to be projected towards a better or at least more interesting future".
And if on one hand Berger can declare himself happy to have found a seat for the 1993 championship, on the other, on August 28, 1992, Senna declares that he has no great alternatives:
"I'm not going to Williams anymore, I just closed the deal. We had a long discussion, but the conclusion was very bitter for me. I only found out now that someone in their contract wanted a clause that I cannot join that team. Someone who, as usual, wants to win his battles because he knows he is inferior on the track. It's a shame there can't be a Prost-Senna duo at Williams. I would have liked to race with him but I understand he doesn't want to, because I'm too fast for his liking".
A statement to which Prost, tracked down in France by a friend, reacts as follows.
"I don't answer. Because if I were to start talking, I would have to say everything. And then I prefer to keep quiet".
How likely is it now that Senna will stay at McLaren?
"Very few, I don't see what I could stay and do at McLaren. As of today, I'm out of the world of Formula 1. In February I'll start looking around".
Ron Dennis himself, a few hours before Senna made these revelations, had sadly admitted:
"Ayrton asks what he's worth, but I'm in no condition to give it to him".
Days go by, but nothing changes. Ayrton is more and more despondent, he doesn't even want to imagine that next year he won't have a competitive car to race with. Then on September 2nd, he warns the organizers of the championship, Mosley and Ecclestone, stating:
"If you don't want the world championship to lose interest, if we want a truly sporty championship, full of emotions, spectacular for the people, then the team that has the strongest cars must entrust them to two drivers who are openly confronted and willing to contend for the title. This team is Williams and I know that there is this availability, only that there is someone who does not want, who aims to have the road clear".
"If I wasn't a true professional I would have accepted Ferrari's money and the great affection of its fans. It would have been easy, but that's not the way I am. I talked with Ferrari to understand what they were doing, what the plans were. I said that the Barnard-Postlethwaite pairing was the right move to build a great future, but I realized that the times are long. No, Senna cannot go for a year in a team knowing it will not be competitive to have a sure victory, as many do, as Alain wants".
"I ask to work for a machine that needs all my commitment, but that is capable of being brought to victory, suffering, maybe even for a single hundredth of a second. I'm 32 years old, I made my apprenticeship by passing from Toleman at Lotus and then at McLaren. I won but I also worked a lot. And I have always lived far from my country, from my people. To do this I need great motivation, I have to have a car to believe in, to be able to give the best. At McLaren they understood my need and they knew they couldn't give me this chance this year or next. No, I haven't abandoned them".
Meanwhile, on September 3, 1992 it becomes official that the second Williams driver, Senna's coveted car, will not be driven by Riccardo Patrese. Flavio Briatore makes official the engagement of the 38-year-old driver from Padua, who already started negotiations a year ago. Williams, now as never before, is talking about itself. Prost blew out Senna and Mansell's spot in Williams, and now the other big out of the 1993 championship, September 9th, is also being interviewed while playing golf:
"No one in so many months ever talked to me about Prost's arrival. I only knew about it in Belgium, and frankly I was disappointed. Williams told me don't worry, and instead two days later everything had already changed and my presence in team was no longer safe. All I ask is to be able to have the same opportunities next year to defend my title as I had this year to win it. It is clear that I aim to stay at Williams, and for a very simple reason: next year this car will go even faster than now. It will gain another second per lap over all the others involved in the World Championship. So I don't know what I will do. I am considering other proposals. Next week, immediately after Monza, you will know the news. And there could also be something shocking".
The Lion of England then reveals a curious episode that occurred a few days earlier, when a great headline appeared in a Spanish newspaper, 'Mansell Drunk Driving':
"I go to read the article and I discover that it is a namesake of mine, but younger than me with his twenty-six years, who had actually been stopped by the police while he was drunk at the wheel. But reading that title one feels bad, don't you think?"
On Friday September 11th, in Monza, the first qualifying tests of the Italian Grand Prix will be held. But in the paddock, since the drivers' championship was now decided a month earlier, the main argument is this: Which engines will McLaren replace the Hondas with in 1993?
Well, having failed the Mugen program, Dennis candidly confesses that he has contacted all the motor companies involved in Formula 1, from Renault to Lamborghini, passing through Ford, Yamaha, Illmor and Judd, including Ferrari, but the negotiations with the latter have not continued because:
"Ferrari already has too many problems of its own to even think about ours".
After the Italian Grand Prix at Monza won by Senna, on September 14, 1992, Frank Williams announces the definitive break with Mansell:
"Mansell was included in our plans as the team's top driver for next year. We made him numerous offers that he always refused, even going so far as to announce his retirement last Sunday. I'm sorry for his fans, but we are a great English team that has not managed to find English sponsors to support the technical and financial program which will be very demanding in 1993. I have the responsibility to think about the future of the team and of the two hundred people who work there. From the beginning of the season Nigel told me he wanted to retire in case he won the title of world champion. I didn't believe it and instead that's exactly what he did. Evidently his motivations had to be well determined. Thank him and I wish you to a good future for him and his family".
Two days later, Mansell, through the Independent newspaper, tells his version of events, declaring that he was forced to announce the retirement because Frank Williams did not give him any alternative.
After these events, in Great Britain all the big newspapers are lining up in favor of the world champion, and against the team of Frank Williams. A fan march is even organized on Didcot, headquarters of Williams, while The Sun even publishes a detailed map to guide the march towards the protest sit-in.
Perhaps to avoid controversy, on the same day, Prost declares that he is not at all sure of driving a Williams in the next championship, and denies having demanded the removal of Mansell from the British team:
"The odds are down to sixty percent. When I started the negotiations with Frank Williams, the conditions were very different from what they are now. Frankly speaking, I'm not at all sure of even going back to racing. I took it for granted from the start that my partner would have been Mansell, with the same position as me. Today, even this situation no longer exists. Ron Dennis contacted me many months ago, but since we both knew he would be without engines, nothing came of it. Indeed, it was Dennis himself who advised me not to rush. Ferrari also wanted to recover but I said no, because Ferrari is always grappling with the problem of developing a car and at my age I no longer have the time to do these things".
But he adds:
"Everything changed when Senna started to make the statements he made. And on the other hand I can't imagine a Prost-Senna couple in Williams. It would be war from day one because each of us would try to impose himself immediately to the other".
At the same time it turns out that Frank Williams has tried to summarize Riccardo Patrese. This was revealed by the Paduan driver, claiming that on the evening of Sunday September 13th, after the unfortunate Monza race in which Patrese seemed to have the victory in hand until four laps from the end he was forced to slow down due to a hydraulic problem, similar to what happened to his teammate, Frank Williams asked him to terminate the contract signed for next year with Benetton and agree to race for another year with his team. But Patrese rejects the proposal. On September 27, 1992, in Estoril, Williams announced the arrival of Alain Prost.
Upon hearing the news, in the post-race press conference, won by Mansell ahead of Berger and Senna, a journalist asks Ayrton what he thinks of his rival's return, and of McLaren, which is in talks with Renault for the supply of engines for the season that is coming. Ayrton replies like this:
"Prost is afraid to race with me in the same car. And it's not just me but the whole of Formula 1, because the show could be as exciting as it was in the years 1988 and 1989. It is not in Ecclestone's interest that this prevails. In the world, protectionism has disappeared, but Prost does not seem to know it".
"For months I had been negotiating with Williams, then I discovered that Prost has signed a contract full of absurd veto clauses. To take Prost Williams not only gives up on me, but also on Mansell. We are talking about the drivers' world championship, if next year we will compete with these conditions, it risks being a joke. Prost decides who should be his teammate only not to be joined by any competitive driver".
"He is a coward who wants to run the hundred meters in athletic shoes while his opponents have to wear lead shoes. Whoever helped Prost make this decision and imposed it on Williams made a big mistake. If a driver wants to be called champion, he should act cleanly. So instead we know that in 1993 there will be no competition. Formula 1 should be a battle of men, not of cars or politics".
Mansell, sitting next to him, with a mocking chuckle and a pat on the back makes it clear that he is totally in agreement with him. However, Alain did not lose heart, and on the Monday following the Grand Prix he immediately joined Williams. The Professor, already at ten o'clock is on the circuit, ready to examine the computer printouts, making circles around some mysterious figures. For the first time, the new narrower tires and other regulatory changes that will go into effect in 1993 are tested.
The rear tires go from forty-five to thirty-eight centimeters in width, the front ones from thirty-three to twenty-eight. It seems like little stuff, but it will affect the performance of the cars. Faster on the straight, slower on the corners. After the first tests with Williams, Prost is radiant he didn't want to show off too much and instead set the best time of the day, 1'16"01, with which he would have started on Sunday in the third row.
"An incredible car, an exceptional engine. The comparison with last year's Ferrari is impossible, it does not exist. I have done fifty laps and I am very satisfied. After the first lap, I realized that I have already won something. I feel I can come back to win. I'm not in shape now, but in a month's time I will be. The active suspension is wonderful and to say that the car was set up as Mansell left it on Sunday. It's fantastic, I really don't know what else to say the technicians immediately established a good feeling and this is an excellent thing, because we will be able to do a great job".
Obviously, the journalists during the day could not help but ask why Alain did not want Senna as a teammate. The Professor diplomatically replies:
"But you see, the car is like a wife, you can't expect me to lend it to you".
But Senna...they ask him urgently, but Prost puts the plugs in his ears and, now less diplomatically, replies:
"How? I don't hear".
And while Prost spoke, Senna was half hidden watching. He saw how his enemy took corners, how he accelerates, how he brakes. Everyone thought he was missing, and instead Senna is there, on the track. He did not start, and indeed declares that he will also test the new tires before returning to Brazil. However, it does not take long before Alain indulges in a colorful statement against Ayrton, on October 4, 1992, from Paris, to the newspaper France Soir:
"Ayrton is a madman who cuts the branch he was sitting on and I am convinced that he is less intelligent than the whole world believes".
In addition, Prost responds to the rival who accused him of being a coward, and clarifies that the possibility of a change of Senna to Williams still existed recently:
"No eventuality had been ruled out until recently. But you would have to be crazy, masochistic and sick to imagine us together. How could I get along with a guy who voluntarily threw me off the track? I couldn't even look him in the face. He's just an opportunist, a spoiled and capricious kid who always tries to get the best on every occasion".
With the Williams and Ferrari options eliminated, Ayrton's experience with McLaren seems increasingly likely to continue. This is what Ron Dennis would hope, who on October 22, 1992, continued his meetings with Renault, desperate for an agreement.
The negotiations lasted for a month and their outcome depends, in particular, on Senna's fate for the following season, and, in general, on the interest of the 1993 World Championship. But the negotiation is laborious, given that McLaren has ties with Shell petrol, while Renault is linked to Elf, a problem that arose in the past and led to the termination of negotiations. And then there is the right of Williams to prohibit the French company from joining its closest competitors, although on this last point, which is unsolvable, Ecclestone himself will probably intervene, worried about the drop in the audience of Formula 1 in recent months, and eager to create a Prost-Senna duel that keeps the title fight alive.
The final decision, however, will arrive by November 1st, which is considered by the English team to be a deadline to prepare for the new season, but the Brazilian driver does not pronounce himself on the latest developments:
"I have no idea how it will end, but for now I want to shut up".
Ayrton knows well how it will end, in fact, the agreement between Dennis and Renault is not found, and therefore, having finished the championship and returning to Sao Paulo, he decides to launch an indiscretion by declaring that he is much closer to Ferrari than he was twelve months earlier. It is nothing more than a desperate attempt to find a seat for 1993, but from Maranello they let it be known that for the moment there is no room in Ferrari:
"Senna? For the moment no, thank you. We were pleased with the Brazilian driver's appreciation for our medium-long term plans, but we are convinced that we have the most competitive driver duo of the next Formula 1 World Championship of 1994".
In the meantime, the drivers' trouble at Williams seems to have no end. On December 9, 1992, in Bologna, Nigel Mansell presents himself to the public for the annual award ceremony of the Golden Helmets of the weekly Autosprint, and declares:
"A driver fired from Ferrari and turned into a television commentator, he did so much that he managed to get to Williams by eliminating both Senna and me in one fell swoop. Because to complete this maneuver, an engine supplier, a gasoline supplier and an entire government. I have never heard so many lies told as in the last championship. I am just a rider, an experienced driver, not a politician. I only ask to be respected as a professional and for the fact that I have always told the truth".
"Personally, I haven't talked to Williams since the last Grand Prix last season. No one has directly proposed me to go back to driving a Formula 1 single-seater. I feel like a Formula Cart driver, I have a contract for 1993 and I intend to respect it to the end. Carl Haas, the team manager of my new American team, has been contacted instead. And if Senna came too, we could have a lot of fun".
And to the question relating to his personal thoughts on the new rules proposed for the 1993 World Championship, Mansell replies jokingly and referring to Prost:
"I would apply a ballast to the drivers, the smaller they are the more kilos they have to carry in the car. Joking aside, anyone who understands something is good. One thing I can say with certainty: we drivers are employees, if there are those who have decided to do without Mansell and Senna, they will do without Mansell and Senna. But we cannot do without Prost, this is evident".
However, there remains the doubt as to who will drive the second car of the British team. Doubt that on December 14th Williams definitively removes stating that the test driver Damon Hill has been promoted to official driver. Three days later, from Sao Paulo, Senna comments on Frank Williams' decision:
"It was inevitable, Prost won once again. Hill's engagement could only receive his approval. My future? Nothing can be discarded, not even the Indycar".
At this point, Ayrton therefore thinks of taking a sabbatical from Formula 1, considering the hypothesis of racing in the IRL championship, after December 20, 1992, invited by Emerson Fittipaldi to participate in a test aboard the Penske, he proves satisfied:
"I asked Ayrton to test my car, because the following year he could race in Indianapolis, as Nigel was also preparing to participate and I said: Imagine the Indy with Mansell and Senna? That would be incredible. Subsequently Ayrton gave me his availability. I called Roger Penske and told him that Ayrton accepted and so we organized a test on a street circuit. We tested on the Phoenix track which was little used. I stayed all week with Ayrton, and it was a fantastic experience, it went very fast. He wanted to compete in Indianapolis because he knew my history".
Nigel Beresford, track engineer who follows the car driven by Senna in that session, will later say:
"We had planned to test the new Penske for three days. Senna arrived almost alone and accompanied by John Hogan of Marlboro. It was cold and the track was slippery. Emerson did some lap to warm the tires, but in the end he found the car quite balanced, too if obviously the grip was rather precarious".
"Once back we changed the tires, adjusted the braking distribution a little more on the rear. He then completed a run of twelve laps and one of thirteen, getting twice the best time in 47.9 seconds. Of course the drivers of Formula 1 are able to find the rhythm quickly, but Ayrton started doing very slow laps and this was certainly a surprise. That car had a sequential gearbox and Ayrton had to get used to it for a while to be able to still handle a traditional lever".
"Back in the pits, Ayrton told me that the engine was very drivable, but that he found the car very heavy and not as agile as a Formula 1, which is usually lighter. Then he added that he did not know what rpm it was pulling, because the engine seemed very different to him. Senna felt the weight of the car and did not want to push to the limit".
"It was neither the place nor the time to do it. His intention was to understand the sensitivity of the car, so we put softer springs in the rear, detached the anti-roll bar at the back and added another twenty liters of methanol. Senna was surprisingly fast. Emerson's best lap was 49.7 seconds, Senna's 49.09 seconds. At the end of the day Fittipaldi set a time of 48.5 seconds behind the wheel of the new Penske, just six tenths faster than Senna. A very good result if we consider that Ayrton was driving a car older than a year and on used tires. For me this indicated how extraordinary he was in adapting quickly and able to achieve really competitive times".
The Formula 1 championship ends as usual in Adelaide, and in the lobby of the Hilton hotel, Senna and Dennis greet each other with a promise to keep in touch during the winter, but back in Brazil, Ayrton declares:
"If I can't have a competitive car, I can stop for a season waiting to get back racing with a vehicle that allows me to fight for the win. I'm still young, I can afford it. This year I took enormous risks to finish some races in third and fourth place. It's not worth it".
For the first time, Ayrton finishes a championship without having a contract for the following year. For the first time it seems that he doesn't want to live on Formula 1 anymore.
And for the first time in his life, he thinks he could enjoy all the benefits of his efforts, such as enjoying the Rio Carnival from the exclusive Brahma stage, surrounded by the most beautiful women in Brazilian cinema and television. But on the other hand, how can Ayrton allow Prost to win the championship in 1993, without at least trying to fight it? No, he cannot allow it.
Davide Scotto di Vetta