The new 1993 championship begins with some regulatory changes, made necessary by previous year's superiority of Williams, and also Prost, that made the competitive activity very unattractive for Formula 1 fans.
For the new year, the main changes in the regulations concern the tires, as the maximum width of the complete wheel goes from eighteen to fifteen inches, with a reduction of 7.6 centimeters, while the width of the car goes from 2150 to 2000 millimeters, and the height is reduced by fifty millimeters. Furthermore, each single-seater will be able to have only seven sets of tires available for each practice session, and each team cannot use more than two cars for each day of testing; this means that reserve cars disappear from circulation.
Another novelty is the use of the Safety Car, therefore in the event of an accident a service car will enter the track that will force all the cars to line up without being able to overtake. Senna, still without a seat for the new season, seems to have decided to go and challenge Mansell in Indycar-CART:
"I have a weakness for those races. I would find a first line with Mansell and Fittipaldi very interesting".
Senna declares on January 12, 1993. But the truth is different. In fact, Formula 1 pays for Williams’ supremacy and the general fall of competition and uncertainty in the world championship. In addition, the anti-smoking legislation in Europe has brought down the proceeds of the world, and many sponsors have withdrawn. In France, for example, there was a long and intricate legal case, resolved only at the last minute with a compromise linked to the transmission of the races on television: at first the same television retransmission of the races seemed compromised due to the new anti-smoking regulations, however, renewing television contracts seemed difficult but not impossible.
Therefore, on January 13, 1993, in a London airport hotel, Bernie Ecclestone, together with many manufacturers, organizes a meeting to discuss some proposals to revitalize the interest on the part of the public for the next world championship which is announced with a final winner already decided at the start: Prost, at the wheel of his Williams Renault. A very valid argument, because at the end of 1992 italian television highlighted a drop of twenty million viewers in the entire championship won by Mansell. Furthermore, Mansell himself will race in America (he has already tested the cars of that formula, he was satisfied with it and nothing and no one will be able to bring him back to Formula 1), Senna risks taking a sabbatical, and Ferrari is still unable to start up the new car one month after the presentation.
The ideas proposed by Bernie Ecclestone to some of the manufacturers present at the meeting are the following:
- A Pace car to rebalance a decided race. The idea proposed by Ecclestone consists in the fact that, when the driver in the lead has an advantage of more than twelve seconds, the Pace car enters the track which slows down all the competitors in the same race positions occupied up to that moment. Once the gaps have been canceled, the Pace car leaves the scene and the race continues. The alteration of the sporting spectacle with the pace car intervention on the track would have been enhanced by the tire changes in this year's races, given that the already approved introduction of new narrower tires will lead to an average of two pit-stops this year; but these changes could not have taken place when the Pace car is on stage that slows everyone down. In this way, all the delicate strategies of each team to calculate the most appropriate time to change tires would blow away. For the spectators, the general confusion would have increased in an unacceptable way while for the stables there could have been genuine damage.
- Extend the tests on Fridays from an hour to an hour and a half, in which all participants would be admitted regardless of the number. At the end the unqualified players would be eliminated and the starting grid made up from the seventh to the last row. The top twelve finishers would then be admitted to the one-hour practice sessions on Saturday to compete for pole position and the first six rows of the grid. Once the free practice has been eliminated, the competitors would have no more time than the timed practice to carry out tests and tests of engines and materials. The minor teams would therefore be penalized, those who do not have the money to carry out private tests between one Grand Prix and another to fine-tune the cars and engines.
- A change related to the use of the reserve car. It could only be used during practice when the official car has an accident or breakdown and remains stationary on the track. Until the previous year, the drivers could use the official car and the reserve car at will and at their sole discretion, eventually choosing the one they considered the best for their driving style. The new rule would favor small teams that cannot afford to have one or two forklifts with the same engines and the same set-up as the official cars.
- What is surprising is that those present at the meeting almost all agree with Ecclestone, including Ferrari, which sees in them the possibility of re-entering the competition without having the technical means to win again. But Ron Dennis and Frank Williams does not agree, considering that they would have been the most affected by this changes, so these proposals are not implemented.
All this, however, leaves annoying grudges in the other teams, and threats of resignation, as well as of abandonment, rise in the paddock. The most angry of all is Ecclestone, who has become the bearer of these proposals developed together with Benetton, Ferrari and other teams.
In private, Frank Williams agreed in the previous days, but changed his mind during the meeting. And since in Formula 1 you cannot make any changes to the rules if there is a veto of only one member, Ecclestone decided to leave, after having launched some threats.
The first was that of the resignation from the constructors' presidency. And since he is not only president but also the man who finds sponsors and televisions, his retreat would put the whole circus in a crisis, not welcomed as it is already in difficulty due to a lack of great drivers and entertainment, while the second threat, which knows more than warning, was this:
"Anyway, if you keep it up, Ferrari and Benetton will leave too".
And the confirmation comes from Ferrari, where obviously there is a lot of disappointment due to the lack of approval of those changes that according to the directors of the sports section of Ferrari car manufacturer should revive Formula 1. Indeed, Ferrari counted on being able to present the renewal, which was taken for granted, as a success of its own.
"Of course, we don't like a Formula 1 like this, which risks being less interesting this year than in 1992, too. The idea of abandoning is not at all strange but it is not feasible immediately. First of all because we signed up for the 1993 championship and we will honor this commitment. Second, because Ferrari has not won for a long time and if they retire they would be accused of fleeing in the face of defeat. Indycar - the one where Mansell and perhaps Senna will race, is very interesting, but we'll see, further on. For now we must try to bring Ferrari back to victory".
We have not yet taken to the track, but the new championship is practically already in full swing. In fact, on January 21, 1993, it turns out that Mansell and Senna are missing from the list, as expected, but the most sensational thing is that even Prost is missing. Indeed, the entire Williams team is missing.
This is because on November 16, 1992, for a trivial bureaucratic mistake, Frank Williams makes a slight but unforgivable mistake: he sends the registration letter to the wrong address. Instead of sending it to the International Federation in Paris, he sent it to Bernie Ecclestone. A slight bureaucratic error, the deadline for registration is Sunday, while Williams' letter is duly filed only the following Monday. But anyhow, the bureaucratic error is there and the letter is officially delayed, therefore FISA cannot admit the team of Frank Williams and Prost in the 1993 World Cup.
At this point, to readmit Williams it would be enough for all the teams to unanimously turn a blind eye, and let it go. But no, some teams, such as Benetton and Minardi, vote against the admission of the British team to the World Championship. On January 22, 1993, from Paris, the president of FISA, Max Mosley, issued a statement commenting on the exclusion of Williams from the next world championship:
"Now it all depends on Frank Williams, I hope he can find a solution".
A strange phrase that immediately suggests possible blackmail plots. In fact, given that Williams is now out of the championship and therefore is not among the teams to be consulted to approve the new regulations, the remaining teams that were already in agreement on those changes (only Williams and McLaren opposed) , can now enact the changes, after which a bureaucratic way will be found to readmit Williams. But beware: in doing so Williams will be considered a new Formula 1 team, and as such will have to accept everything on the table without being able to say anything. For his part, Frank Williams announces his willingness to file a complaint, relying for now on a technicality as well. On January 23, 1993, Flavio Briatore confessed and explained the reason why, as Team Manager of the Benetton team, he decided against Williams' request for readmission:
"I have nothing against Frank Williams, whom I have known for many years and I appreciate for all he has been able to do in Formula 1. I do not have it with him, but I have no difficulty in admitting that I have voted against his entry to the next world championship. I was not the only one, but I speak for myself and I autonomously decided to vote against him".
"The substance of the problem is more complex. For many years, and perhaps fans do not know it or do not remember it, this rule is in force in Formula 1: in order to approve any change to the regulations, it takes the unanimity of all the manufacturers. This means that only one vote against is enough and nothing can be decided. This absurd system of government has been going on for a long time, when I arrived I found it already in use. It is a formula deriving from the famous Pacts of Concord signed in Paris, I think in the 70s, and then renewed. All this could have been fine then, when Formula 1 was an embryo that was developing: to avoid blows it was established that to change every situation all the manufacturers had to agree".
"It is not me who blackmails Williams, but it is Williams who with its veto bitters and blackmails all of us in the other teams. In the sense that with its veto he prevents any change in Formula 1, which still lives today on very old rules no longer suitable for, I will give you an example. A few years ago we wanted to ban active suspensions even before they were established, because we immediately understood that they would have entailed extremely high additional costs that today are in fact bringing many teams to their knees. One vote against was enough, and we did nothing about it".
"Ten days ago in London, we put on the table all the proposals for changes that had been around for some time. And Frank raised his hand at each topic and said no. Ten exhausting hours of useless discussion. And then I said enough, now I have the right to veto and I cling to every bureaucratic quibble so I will show you how absurd is the veto, leads to the bitter end and to always block everything. Williams sent the registration late? Well, the regulations are regulations, do you all always invoke to say no? And now I say no too. You sent your registration late, and I don't accept that you can still register for the championship. It's absurd, I know very well, but in this way at least we get to the true issue of Formula 1. I, or rather we, because we are a lot, we are tired of being governed with this system where only one is enough to blackmail us all with his veto. As in modern nations, as in companies, we want to govern ourselves by voting, not by veto We want govern us with the majorities".
"Of course, there were absurd proposals, such as slowing down those in the lead, but that was only one of a thousand proposals. It is fine to me if the majority fail, I don't care. But there were also many serious things not even surfaced in the newspapers and of which we have not even spoken in ten hours. Do you know how Formula 1 is governed today? The constructors meet and only approve some changes if they are all in agreement. Then that change is presented to the Federation which ratifies it, because it knows that everyone already agrees. It is a twisted way of governing this sport, which moves more than a billion dollars. It is an unnatural way of affecting the choices of companies as they are our stables which on average are worth forty or fifty billion [italian lire, not dollars, one dollar in 1993 was the equivalent of 1600 lire, translator's note] a year each".
"At the moment Williams is no longer a Formula 1 team, so it will be up to all the others to make a decision. If we all agree, we can finally change the governance system. We all regret that Williams is out of the championship and we are perfectly aware that a championship without Williams is halved, but there was no other way to bring everyone back to reasonableness, to remodel a system that no longer works. Formula 1 is old, it needs to be modernized, adapted to today's times, to the economic crisis that is gripping us all. Look at football, which was also a sport anchored to old and apparently unchangeable rules: it has changed some things and the show is back to being alive. We must do this too, and above all we must create a more agile governance system".
"The ridiculous proposals will never manage to coagulate majorities at the time of the vote. Today there are two urgent needs: to curb the excessive increase in costs and to offer the public, the press and television a more concentrated, more interesting show. All of you in 1992 often wrote: what a boring race".
Meanwhile, on January 25, 1993, on the Estoril circuit, Prost returns to test his Williams. The Professor starts well from the first day: twenty-five laps of patient work. After that, intercepted by journalists, Alain releases a statement in which he is not at all saddened by the absence of Mansell and potentially Senna from the 1993 championship:
"If there were, it would be better, but that's fine too. Nothing changes for me, I always have twenty-five other competitors to beat. In these months away from the circuits I have worked hard to prepare. I had succeeded: physically I am fine, I feel good. Psychologically I have tried to charge myself, to find motivations. And I have found many. The passion for racing does not you never forget it. If you have it, it stays inside you forever, and indeed when you return to the scene it is even more alive, more stimulating. When I got on the Williams for the first tests in December it seemed to me to go back over the years, when you try a car and you have to discover it piece by piece. What did I know about active suspension? Nothing. A magical discovery, meter by meter to see how the car reacts, how you have to behave on this spaceship. It was fantastic. With the old cars it was like driving a motorboat on rough seas. Then you get into the car with the active suspensions and it is as if the sea suddenly calmed down. Then, this blow of exclusion from the world championship. It was a bad blow not just for me, but for the whole team".
"Apart from the problem of re-admission to the championship, we also have some technical problems. We are working hard but it will not be easy to win as many races as last year. Benetton will be a very tough opponent and McLaren will do great things, I know those there. I know they always manage to overcome difficulties. Ferrari restarted a structure and an organization that may bother us, even if not immediately. And then this year with the new, tighter tires, the racing strategy will change races, we will change tires even three times and this means that the races will no longer be managed by the driver alone but by the whole team and so only those who manage to create a good team organization will be able to win".
In addition to the diatribe of the inscription, Prost also has another problem to solve: a few days earlier, Max Mosley has written a very harsh letter to Frank Williams to remind him, among his many sins (having a car that was too successful, having chased Mansell, English, having always said no to any proposal to modernize Formula 1), even that of having hired Prost, a driver who in previous years was blamed himself for pronouncing unhappy judgments on Formula 1, talking about bad organization and zero consultation. Here it is an excerpt from the letter:
"We have to seriously ask ourselves if the interests of Formula 1 and the FIA coincide with allowing such a person to participate in the championship. A person who believes that he has to control everything, who talks about topics he knows nothing about, and who talks about government organizations using offensive terms. He even accused Formula 1 of caring too much for money, when he himself enjoyed the highest salary, even higher than some FIA members, who earn nothing. I don't think you or your sponsors can control it. I'm sure you have clauses in the contract that can resolve certain situations, but they haven't had any effect. He will continue to poison the atmosphere right now, while we need to improve it".
The implicit message of Mosley's letter to Williams is that he does not want to superlicense Prost. A doubt that will remain alive until the first day of free practice scheduled at the Kyalami circuit, where in the end Prost will hit the track regularly.
Remaining on the subject, on January 28th, at Estoril, the drivers are exposed to the new conditions set by the FIA relating to super-license, which everyone needs in order to participate in the world championship, and among these there is moral rectitude. The deposit of the contract is used to know who the driver's card belongs to. A regulation that seems to be made ad hoc to harm Prost. Obviously the drivers do not accept this complaint which could suddenly deprive them of the legal instrument to race, so that same day they meet in a restaurant to talk about a possible action against the Federation.
Fortunately, the next day from Paris, FISA let the pilots know that there were only two new clauses that the pilots would have had to respect: the deposit of the contract and the commitment to participate in all the official press conferences.
One day later, following four days of testing in which he had happily covered more than a thousand kilometers with Williams, Prost is the protagonist of a bad accident just before the end of the last test session. Alain reports only a slight state of shock, from which he quickly recovers, so much so that he can leave the circuit driving his car. Williams team technicians later claim that something was broken in the rear, probably a suspension.
On the other hand, the balance of this first comparison of the new Ferrari with the other cars is disappointing, but this is not surprising. On average, the new F93/A remained six seconds behind Williams and Benetton. The new Ferrari has still encountered numerous active suspension failures, and apparently little benefit from the new air valve engine. Even the team of mechanics sent to Estoril is made up of young people who are still inexperienced in pit work.
In short, just over a month after leaving for South Africa, Ferrari seems very late, even if the most relevant tests will be those scheduled in the same location in mid-February and where the new McLaren will also bring to the track the 8-cylinder Ford engine that Senna should already test at Silverstone the following Tuesday.
After these tests Senna will dissolve his reserves, and it will become clear if he will still race with McLaren or if he will take a year off. The deadline for the final registration of the drivers to the next world championship is in fact set for February 14th. On February 12th, however, it will be known whether Williams' registration will be definitively rejected or accepted, through an extraordinary world council called by Max Mosley, where the decision will be taken by majority, and not by unanimity.
On February 10, 1993, four days before the deadline, McLaren officially enrolled drivers Michael Andretti and Mika Hakkinen in the next world championship, thus excluding Senna. The negotiations between the two sides had stopped a few days earlier on these figures: Ron Dennis offered fifteen million dollars, Senna wanted twenty.
Two days later, the Commission specially assembled in London grants Prost the superlicense with the unanimity of the votes. This, however, does not mean that the French driver's question is over. Prost will in fact be subjected to disciplinary proceedings by the FISA World Council, whose meeting has already been scheduled for some time on March 18th, that is four days after the first championship match. At that time, Alain could also be punished with one or two disqualifications:
"For denigrating Formula 1 and offending the authorities".
Good news also regarding Williams' re-entry into the championship, albeit in a stormy way. During the aforementioned extraordinary advice, Mosley bangs his fist on the table saying he has had enough of all these tantrums:
"FISA is the supreme body destined to govern this sport and I, as president of FISA, re-admit Williams. Otherwise we cannot go on. Formula 1 has already become not very serious and incomprehensible in the eyes of the general public".
Taking advantage of the meeting, the proposed changes to the season about to begin were also approved, including shortened tests, only two cars available to each team, seven sets of tires, and the new agreement on gasolines which, while leaving space for research, banned chemical fuels. This package of measures will now have to be submitted to the World Council for approval, but it will in practice be a pure and simple ratification.
On the other hand, a real revolution is announced for the 1994 season, as telemetry will be prohibited, the number of engines usable in a season will be halved and active electronics will be prohibited, that is, those that do not directly affect engine operation:
"For the next few years, new technical rules are already being studied to make Formula 1 less exasperated and more spectacular".
Max Mosley states. In the meantime, after the announcement of McLaren, which has entered Andretti and Hakkinen, Senna makes it known that he has also been registered, even if FISA does not confirm this news. The presence of Ayrton in the world championship is therefore still confused. We have to wait until March 3, 1993, to finally confirm that he is going to race.
At Silverstone, after four months away from Formula 1, Senna returns to the track to test the new McLaren with Ford engine. The test is positive. The three-time world champion from Brazil achieved his best time with a lap of 1'21"7 which is very promising considering that Prost scored a 1'21"2. Senna at the time didn't know this car and hasn't been on track for four months.
At the end of the tests, which took place with very low temperatures, Senna said he was enthusiastic about the new McLaren, however he did not clarify what his decision will be regarding his participation in the world championship, which begins the following week in South Africa. The Brazilian reached an economic agreement with the sponsors and the team, but reserves the right to make his decision known; theoretically he has time until 6:00 pm on Thursday March 11th, the eve of practice for the South African Grand Prix.
The news, however, comes before the dead-line: on March 8, 1993, Ron Dennis pays the fine of $10.000 for the change of name of the registration, and announces that Senna will race in South Africa for the inaugural Grand Prix of the championship, alongside by Michael Andretti, who already had the opportunity to put in line even before starting the collaboration: during the tests, suffering from a toothache and seized by neuralgia, Ayrton attends the tests of the new teammate, who, in the heat of learning everything there is to know in a whole new world for him, accelerates disproportionately creating a deafening noise every time he enters or exits the pits.
Seized by pain, and sitting bent over a table, upon the return of his teammate, Ayrton picks him up in an angry way. The Brazilian driver asks him to get closer, and in a rather unfriendly way he says:
"Hey, you have to make noise outside, not in here".
After this scolding, Michael is no longer able to repeat the times marked up to that moment, demonstrating that the Brazilian's peck stung him psychologically. However, the respect that the American driver has towards the Brazilian is very high, and is confirmed by himself years later:
"A man of great heart and sensitivity. The best teammate with my father, as well as the best driver I have ever met".
Therefore, the young and fast Finn Mika Hakkinen, also registered in the world championship, will remain for now as a third driver with the role of test driver and possible replacement for Senna or Andretti. In an interview with the Brazilian television network Globo, Senna states that he accepted, given the good results obtained in the tests, to race in South Africa, but:
"Then we'll talk about it and I'll make a final decision".
The turning point between Senna and Dennis is surreal: on the advice of Giancarlo Minardi, Ayrton proposes a token contract, to be signed at each match, with a balance of one million dollars each weekend run by the Brazilian, who on more than one occasion will have fun driving Dennis to exhaustion, signing only on the Thursday night before the start of the race weekend, and after calling his manager Jakobi in charge of checking that the million has been paid into his account.
On March 11th in Johannesburg, Formula 1 is back on track for the South African Grand Prix, to finally inaugurate the new championship, with Prost and Senna, back on track potentially to battle. Despite Alain's one year absence from the slopes, the two don't look at each other, don't talk to each other, and constantly ignore each other.
Both, however, the arrival in Africa loaded for the new season: Prost freed from the problems with Ferrari, enjoying life for a whole year, before diving back on the track; Senna has total control over his situation at McLaren, where at this point he seems to be able to do whatever he wants. As soon as he lands at the airport, Prost responds with short but concise sentences to reporters:
"Senna will never change".
Then, referring to the offenses he would have caused to the circus and for which he risks a disqualification, he adds:
"I'm honest and I've only said honest things".
Senna, on the other hand, does not drink, does not eat, does not play golf, does not expose himself: he will race in South Africa just to see how this car is doing, if it doesn't go as expected, he'll leave. Three and a half years after the last one, on the Paul Ricard circuit still driving for McLaren, Prost obtained the pole position, the number twenty of his career, beating Senna by just eighty-eight thousandths of a second. An excellent job by Ayrton, who had only one test on the new car just nine days earlier. The others are distant.
Schumacher is third but a second and a half later, the other FW15C with the number 0 - not being able to use the number 1 that would have been due to the World Champion Mansell - of Damon Hill is a second and eight tenths away. It all seems the same as before, like two or three years ago; Alain and Ayrton in front, humiliating all the others.
The start immediately offers emotions: The Professor's start is bad and the three who take advantage of it are the three behind him who promptly jump over him, but at the exit of turn 2, Hill loses control of his car, spins, and only thanks to reflexes Prost manages to avoid him, and the eventual crash that would have been a real disaster for Williams. The Brit returns to twelfth position, while in front Senna sets the pace, followed by Schumacher's Benetton and Prost.
Michael Andretti made a bad debut: he only managed to start pushed by the stewards, only to be framed a few laps later by the international director as he wandered around the track with a missing wheel, due to an accident. The American thus recorded the first of four consecutive retirements. Hill's race hasn't lasted long: on lap sixteen he was rammed by Alex Zanardi's Lotus, guilty of being a bit too optimistic in trying to overtake Williams. For both it results in a withdrawal.
Meanwhile, Senna appears to be able, at least in the early stages of the race, to manage the advantage over his rivals, until a problem with his McLaren's active suspension makes his driving hugely more complicated. By recording fast laps one another, Schumacher and Prost approach, forming a thrilling trio of leaders, led by Senna in the uncomfortable role of stopper. On lap thirteenth Alain exits the last corner with great traction, harnesses the power of his Renault engine, joins Schumacher on the main straight and completes a great overtaking outside the first corner.
The Professor wastes no time and immediately puts Senna in his sights, being careful not to be surprised by Schumacher, who still remains there, fighting. The difference that the first three make on the rest of the group is embarrassing: in the first quarter of the race they gained almost two seconds per lap on Alesi, fourth.
Alain studies for a few laps the trajectories used by his rival, until he breaks the delay and tries to attack the first corner, but unlike Schumacher, he throws himself inside. It seems done, but in the change of direction Senna manages to get back in front of Williams.
Prost does not give up, evidently he has more, the next lap he tries the same maneuver again and this time he manages to bring it to the conclusion, conquering the lead of the Grand Prix. In the same lap, Schumacher takes advantage of the tussle and a few corners later, he too slips a helpless Senna.
The overtaking of the German is immediately nullified at the time of the pit stop, which took place simultaneously at the end of the same lap. The McLaren mechanics clearly prevail; Senna is therefore in front again.
Following his tire change, Alain remains in the lead, and grinding fast laps, he leaves the duo who follows him in total solitude to battle for second place. On lap forty Schumacher attempts an overtake that is very reminiscent of the attack at Magny-Cours the previous season, and which gave rise to the world-wide lecture by Senna.
Michael tries the inside line without really having the margin to do so, Senna closes the door, and the contact, albeit light and wheel against wheel, is inevitable, but contrary to what happened in France, Benetton's driver pays the price and can no longer keep racing.
It is in fact the last real emotion that the Grand Prix offers, since, despite a drizzle in the last ten laps that intensifies, turning into a deluge on the very last lap, sending several riders off the track, Prost sails in total tranquillity towards the first victory of his second adventure in Formula 1, while Ayrton, second, crosses the finish line more than a minute behind:
"It maybe seems easy for those who were watching, but it wasn't at all. I got off to a bad start, and I had to fight and pass Michael and Ayrton, which was certainly not easy. In the end, with the arrival of the rain, I was ahead enough to manage the car and the advantage I had over Senna. How do I feel? I don't know, I feel like I've never stopped in sixteen months. I feel good, maybe even better than two years ago. They are in a fantastic team, in which I have full confidence, as well as they have full confidence in me, which makes everything easier".
For the third step of the podium instead it becomes a sort of elimination race, starting with Schumacher's retirement, which continues with the withdrawal of his new teammate Riccardo Patrese, who ended up in the gravel while he was third, and ends on the last lap with exclusions of Gerhard Berger and Derek Warwick on Footwork.
The first is betrayed by the Ferrari engine, the second goes into the wall, scratched by the wet track. In any case, both are classified respectively in sixth and seventh position, which also correspond to the last two positions, in a race that counts nineteen retirements. On the podium then, Mark Blundell's Ligier climbs, followed by Christian Fittipaldi's Minardi and JJ Lehto's rookie Sauber.
It is the forty-five career victory for Alain, who is back in Formula 1 and is ready to put everyone back on track, including Senna. Ayrton in the box responds badly to Jo Ramirez, when the latter asks him to shake hands with his rival before the press conference, drowsing their historic rivalry:
"What? Shake the little frog's hand? Never".
Victory or not, the question remains: will Alain continue to race or will he suffer a disqualification? On March 16, 1993, Prost found a strong ally in Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who opposed any provision against him, and in this regard he gave precise instructions to Harvey Potlethwaite that the next day, representing Ferrari, he will be one of the twenty-three supreme judges of the FISA World Council who will sentence Prost. The world council, which also includes Fabrizio Serena, president of the CSAI, will meet at 9:30 am at the Grand Hotel in Paris to hear Prost's defense. Four possible sanctions:
- The blame;
- The pecuniary fine;
- Exclusion from one or more grand prix;
- Disqualification from the activity.
Montezemolo's decision means that Ferrari is in favor of acquittal or in any case the first two sanctions, because they would allow Prost to continue racing regularly without upsetting the world championship sporting scenario. Mosley and Ecclestone had recommended exemplary punishment, however at this moment, once the championship has begun brilliantly, excluding Prost from one or more Grands Prix would mean throwing Formula 1 back into chaos.
Especially if every weekend there is also the unknown about the participation of Senna, who, having returned to Brazil, declares that he cannot decide yet whether he will race the next Grand Prix:
"It depends on factors unrelated to me".
The day of decision finally arrives. On March 18, 1993, in Paris, Prost was fully acquitted by the FISA World Council. The twenty-three judges, who voted unanimously, did not enter into the merits of the individual accusations made against Prost and did not even want to listen to the records that Prost brought to prove that he had been misinterpreted in the interview with a French weekly. The judges limited themselves to listening to him, who in his defense proved to be so passionate and convincing as to bring the members of the Council almost to the brink of emotion. Prost concluded his speech by apologizing to everyone:
"It was not my intention to offend anyone but I still want to apologize to everyone".
The presence of Prost's lawyer turned out to be completely useless, anyway he was ready to tell the court that any conviction of his client would be illegitimate because the famous sentences that were considered defamatory in any case uttered in a period in which he was not a member of FISA, and therefore the international sporting code could not be applied to him. In short, everything ended in the best way and Max Mosley, president of FISA, in his press conference says:
"I didn't know Prost well, but now that I have met him I realized that he is an intelligent and able man with whom I am sure you can have constructive relationships".
Relieved, Prost declares that he feels free from a nightmare and that now he can go back to talking only about sports:
"I would have been sorry to miss the Brazilian Grand Prix, because I have won six of its twelve editions in which I have participated".
Taking advantage of the circumstance, the council also approves all the changes to the 1994 regulations, which provide for the disappearance of all the electronics that do not concern the management of the engine, telemetry and active suspensions, even if it was feared, in this regard, some coup by Williams and McLaren who criticized these changes. Now it's official, the following year's Formula 1 will return to more humane and less expensive levels.
Less than a week later, on March 24, 1993, from Sao Paulo, to the delight of his audience, Ayrton Senna publicly declares that he will race with McLaren for the Interlagos Brazilian Grand Prix, scheduled for the following Sunday. The Brazilian champion, however, underlines that he signed a contract only for one Grand Prix, while negotiations continue to define a real contract valid for the whole championship. McLaren, on the other hand, with a statement confirms Senna's news.
The matter lies not in the competitiveness of the English car but in the salary asked by Ayrton Senna, approximately a little less than twenty millions dollars: in short, the driver would like to earn this year at least as in the previous season. However, what was thought should happen consequentially to his announcement, does not happen: there is no evidence of popular enthusiasm in São Paulo. Apparently, the locals have gotten a bit bored and can't understand why every time Senna decides to go for a run, he makes the announcement with a stern, emaciated face.
And the damage is visible in the circuit where so far they sold very few tickets, so much so that the Brazilians took it for granted that he would not race, given the supremacy of Prost's car. But despite the official announcement by Senna that he has decided he will race, the ticket offices are still empty, as the prices for the tickets published in the newspapers are discouraging and even scandalous: fifty dollars, in a Brazilian megacity where there are vast categories of workers who lead a meager daily existence with the equivalent of ninety dollars a month in wages.
Of course, at the end of these three days the miracle will be there as always, given that the citizens will climb over the walls and enter secretly, but this is the social reality of São Paulo. And the fear of being kidnapped is such that Senna even travels by helicopter between the circuit and his home in a suburb considered a refuge for the neoriches, surrounded by an army of bodyguards, some even capable of being divers to guard the beach of his villa by the sea.
There were one hundred and forty-six kidnappings in 1992, with Ayrton always in the crosshairs. So in this sporting and economic sadness that weighs on the city, the front pages seem to belong to newspapers from another world. Whole pages on the heirs to the throne of Brazil, with family feuds that thrill in a country where her majesty the Novela has always reigned.
Despite the sadness that hovers over São Paulo, the Grand Prix is actually promising, especially for Prost, whose car will find an ally in this fast-cornering circuit. On March 28, 1993, the Brazilian Grand Prix was held, and Ayrton Senna confirmed his presence driving for McLaren. You can find them to enter the circuit for free, surpassing any European fantasy:
"Truck with a view of the circuit".
A road sign says already a few kilometers before the official entrances. But then the truck sets off and manages to overcome, no one knows how, the various military lines prepared to stem the invasion. Small and big tricks of those who don't have the money to pay for the ticket.
But also small and big tricks of those who do not want to throw away money knowing that Senna can do little or nothing today against an unleashed fury named Prost. The Professor is so relaxed and confident that the previous night he even let himself be dragged by the photographers into the dressing rooms of some naked samba dancers. The championship is already beginning to take on a physiognomy. A big group in pursuit of Prost.
The overwhelming superiority of Williams can be realistically threatened by two factors combined with each other: a phenomenon as an opponent, and races that in automotive world call themselves crazy. The phenomenon exists, he drives a Ford-powered McLaren for a million dollars at the Grand Prix, and in the opening race he did everything possible to stem the power of the yellow-blue car, only to be held back by problems with the active suspension of his car.
Phenomenon or not, without significant support from his development team, and a bit of luck, needed to make the most of his virtues, speaking in Machiavellian terms, Senna can do little to annoy Prost, who shows up in Sao Paulo in Brazil over-loaded by the victory in South Africa.
In Ayrton's homeland, as well as in Donington for the European Grand Prix two weeks later, exactly what we were talking about takes shape: in circumstances favorable to him, Senna capitalizes on the situation to the fullest and is the protagonist of two performances (the one in Great Britain in particular) that are unlikely to be forgotten.
Senna, with the microphones on, says he does not wish for rain, because he has never driven this McLaren in the wet, but as soon as the microphones go out there is a slash off the record:
"If it rains, Prost can go back to Geneva forever".
Prost gets the second pole position in a row, adjusting his teammate Damon Hill, to whom he trims one second. Compared to the Kyalami, where there was hardly a tenth between Ayrton and Alain, in São Paulo Senna has a gap of one second and eight tenths, sharing the second row with Michael Schumacher's Benetton.
In the post-qualifying press conference, a handshake arrives between the two historical rivals for which the reason is the most suitable one, a bit like it already happened in the past in Monza in 1990; in short, just to please the mass media. There is still rust between the two, it is evident, all the more so after Prost blew the wheel of the Williams from Senna, and, still not happy, he vetoed his arrival at his side.
Race Sunday offers heavy clouds of rain looming over the track. Rain is exactly what McLaren needs to put a spanner in the works at Williams. Prost manages to sprint well, chasing away the ghosts of two weeks before when he has been anything but quick, but Ayrton does better than him, braking decisively and slipping into Hill's Williams, thus queuing up in third position.
In the field there is a contact between Michael Andretti and Gerhard Berger, caused by the American who suddenly changes the trajectory cutting the way to the Ferrari driver, who cannot avoid it. The two end up crashing heavily against the barriers, fortunately winthout reporting any serious consequences. For Andretti, however, another retirement took place after the one in South Africa; his Formula 1 adventure got off to a bad start.
On the other hand, the start of the only Ferrari left in the race, that of Jean Alesi, was extraordinary, able to climb from ninth to fourth position, ahead of Schumacher, whose pace is clearly better than the Frenchman, in fact he is not able to keep him behind for a long time. As a result, while Prost runs away undisturbed, an interesting trio of pursuers forms Senna, Hill and Schumacher, while behind Alesi he is also overtaken by Letho's amazing Sauber.
On the tenth lap Hill takes advantage of all the wake offered to him by Senna and makes the same overtaking he suffered on the first lap, thus regaining second place. Schumacher tries to do the same, but mindful of the bad experiences he had in the recent past with Senna, he is less reckless and stays a little more on his own.
The German climbs to third position when Ayrton receives a Stop&Go for passing a lapped car under yellow flags at the Junção corner. The home driver returns to fourth position, but lost contact from the top three, severely weakening his hopes for victory, if not even for the podium.
After about a quarter of the race, the rain comes to flood the track with water. From this moment, Ayrton gives a jolt to his race by appearing among those who first go to the pits to mount wet tires, while chaos breaks out on the track: first Ukyo Katayama on Tyrrell and then Aguri Suzuki on Footwork crash, having to retire. And since Suzuki's car remains on the track, for the first time in the history of the 1993 championship, the entry of the Safety Car is made necessary.
But that's not all, because the arrival of the rain also causes panic in Williams, and in this case in Prost, who remains on track for one lap more due to a misunderstanding with the garage. At the first corner Alain loses control of the car, just as the exact same thing happened in front of him to the Brazilian driver of Minardi, Christian Fittipaldi; Arriving, the Professor hits the Brazilian who remained stationary in the middle of the track in full, and abandons a race that five minutes before was firmly in his hands:
"I was on the opposite side of the circuit. From the team, via radio, they sent me a message, but I didn't understand, you couldn't hear anything. I later learned, when it was too late, that they wanted to warn me that it was too dangerous to continue and that there were some cars stuck along the course, indeed on the track. When I arrived on the straight, I saw that my teammate had stopped to change the tires. So I continued, deciding to proceed to the pit stop in the following lap. A few meters later I found Fittipaldi's car crossed over on the trajectory. I tried to brake, but it was useless, I hit it violently and the Williams nose flew. These are things that shouldn't happen. And this shows that when everything goes well something unexpected can always happen. For me there was a misunderstanding. Of course, throwing away ten points in a similar way is a crime".
A furious Frank Williams does not justify his driver for the mistake he made:
"Prost was called back to the pits but stayed out. In difficult conditions like these there shouldn't even be a need to tell him to come back".
Senna himself is not without risks, always making a slight excursion on the grass at the first corner; despite this, when the situation stabilizes he is second behind Hill, ahead of Schumacher, third because of a troubled pit stop, and Alesi.
Subsequently, both Schumacher and the Ferrari driver are punished with a Stop&Go for carriying out illegal overtaking under the yellow flag regime, or, in the case of Alesi, before having crossed the finish line during the out-lap of the Safety-Car.
As the rain stops, the track tends to dry out, to the point that around the fortieth lap the pit-stops are on again to refit dry tires. Senna tries an undercut on Hill, stopping a lap before the British, but the 32-year-old still manages to get back on track as a leader after his pit stop, although he has Ayrton close behind.
Having cold tires, the Londoner struggled to pick up the pace immediately, a factor capitalized to perfection by Senna, who slipped in the Williams number zero on the uphill braking of the Ferradura, making the Brazilian torcida scream from joy.
The tricky part for Senna comes immediately after overtaking, as Hill still has a faster car, and once his tires are brought up to temperature, Ayrton needs a real masterpiece to withstand any attacks. In the moment of greatest pressure, the Brazilian's driving is simply masterful, especially when he is able to free himself with perfect timing of the many drivers to lap.
In this case, talking about luck would be an understatement, first of all because the behavior of the lapped drivers on the track is difficult to manage, since they only lift their foot on the main straight, and secondly because the same drivers also meet Damon Hill, that by carrying out the same maneuvers definitively loses contact with Ayrton, so much so that he gives up the blow a few laps from the end. The final gap between the two, in fact, is about ten seconds, but for Damon the second place is all in all a satisfactory result, after he retired in South Africa.
On the third step of the podium there is Michael Schumacher, author of a furious comeback after the penalty that relegated him to ninth position, ended with a hard battle waged in the very last laps with Johnny Herbert, who with his Lotus just didn't want to leave the third place to the rival.
The joy of the Brazilian public for the thirty-seventh victory of their beloved driver, McLaren's number one hundred in Formula 1, is such as to invade the track and surround Ayrton's car, who can no longer continue towards the garage; to bring Senna to the podium it becomes necessary to use the Safety-Car.
To reward Ayrton among other things, there is the five times World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio, with whom he exchanges a nice hug after receiving the trophy. But Ayrton is not happy, despite having won in front of his fans; he feels he does not have the winning machine, and declares it openly:
"Like a divine providence, the rain came to save me. Otherwise I could have done nothing against Williams. When God wants something, no one can oppose it. In the end I was scared twice. First, when the engine oil warning light came on two laps from the end and I was afraid of being mocked. I slowed down and made it. Then, when my car stopped and the fans surrounded me. People thought they were showing their affection. I hit a lot of punches in the head. I was in the cockpit, huddled, waiting for someone to arrive. The cops saved me, otherwise it would end up with they killing me, suffocating me for love".
"This is the second time I get on the top step of the podium in Brazil. But that's not the way I like to win. Our car is not competitive compared to Williams. It was therefore a very special race in which a lot of things happened. In the end it went well and I was able to use my experience to contain Hill's attacks. I got ten points, I'm leading the World Championship, but it doesn't matter because I don't even know what my future will be".
Then he talks about the penalty:
"The penalty was absurd. Some people should be more careful about making certain decisions. I was rounding the car in front, I didn't pass it, but it was he who decelerated. In any case it is a great satisfaction to win such a race. My future? This is not the right time to talk about it".
Prost however, is sure Ayrton will be on track:
"He always cries, he likes to make comedy, or rather dramatize situations. You will see that in the end everything will be okay. But it is common interest that Senna is there. Good for Formula 1. Just as it was good that he won on Sunday. You are all happy, aren't you? The show is guaranteed. We made mistakes and we pay. It is destiny that I have to earn my satisfaction by fighting to the end. It's a joke, but I even heard someone saying that Grand Prix should have the obligatory rain to be more interesting".
A few days later, on April 1, 1993, Alain is busy in Nogaro, in the South of France, in a test session. Taking advantage of the stops, the Professor talks again about the mistake made during the Brazilian Grand Prix, giving a curious explanation of the misunderstanding:
"I made a stupid mistake, and I really gave Senna a big gift. We need to improve radio communications. In the past I was used to hearing key words not whole sentences. And when they told me to stop for a tire change, I actually understood that there were problems in the pits. But now, with a cool head, I realize that I would have had to stop anyway, even if it could cost me twenty or thirty seconds. In Brazil no one could beat me".
Almost eight years later, the European Grand Prix is back on the calendar, and takes place at Donington Park, a circuit on which Formula 1 has never competed before. In truth, it shouldn't even in 1993, since in the beginning the third round of the World Championship was scheduled on the Autopolis circuit, in Japan, for the Asian Grand Prix; it's a pity that due to lack of funds, the weekend was skipped, so it was decided to race on the Donington circuit for the first time.
Meanwhile, on April 5, 1993, as widely predicted by Prost, Ron Dennis announces that Senna will be there, although no confirmation is given from the Brazilian's offices in São Paulo. However, it seems unlikely that Senna will give up racing right now that he is, against all odds, at the top of the world drivers' standings.
In fact, now the problem is no longer related to the transfers that Dennis has to pay by the Thursday before the race weekend, but the fact that the Brazilian driver claims to have the same Ford Spec. 8 engines that Benetton uses.
The first qualifying session on Friday takes place on a wet track, Senna's heaven, in fact, not by chance, he sets the best time that earned him the provisional pole. During qualifying on Saturday the sun shines on the East Midlands and puts Williams in front of everyone, with Prost recording an exceptional lap in 1'10"458. Hill once again can do nothing against his teammate, same thing goes for Schumacher and Senna, as in Brazil confined to the second row at over a second and a half. Sauber's beautiful story continues in their first season in Formula 1, after the excellent results of the first outings: Karl Wendlinger is fifth, JJ Letho seventh.
What is surprising on Saturday is Schumacher's third place with the new Benetton, with a car that already made its debut on Friday but in the rain. With the sun and after an hour and a half of testing in the morning, the new car immediately proved to be good, even if Flavio Briatore clarifies immediately after qualifying:
"First of all, the car is new but so to speak. It is not that we sat down to draw what was going through our heads or to copy what we see around. The itinerary is different. We started with a car, that of last year, which was already good. We studied the modifications to improve it taking into account that, since this year the tires are tighter, it was necessary to adapt the aerodynamic shapes of the car to the new air flows created by the tires: these are small details that do not change the overall look of the car".
"And in fact, looking at it, it is difficult for a non-expert to notice the differences. However, they exist and they perform their function effectively. A third place on the grid means a lot for us. It means, in a nutshell, that the potential is there. It is, and now it is a question of making full use of it. We arrived here with water in our throats because originally this car was to debut at Imola, and anticipating by fifteen days in this field is not a simple thing. Some new parts are not yet there, we are making them. In short, we are still at the beginning and perhaps before the beginning. We will be able to do more".
"Beating Senna is not an easy thing. It's not like saying we beat McLaren. No, we could have beaten McLaren even earlier, the problem is beating Senna who always adds his own in the cars he drives. And if he failed to stay ahead of us it means that this Benetton is already very strong".
However, the question between the Benetton team and McLaren for Ford engines remains to be resolved, given that the best evolution of these engines is up to Benetton, which has a long-standing partnership with Ford, while Ron Dennis, who only recently arrived at choosing the use of Fords in the absence of alternatives, now demands the same treatment. In this regard, Briatore comments:
"I don't want to get the fame of the black man of Formula 1, and so I shut up and listen to these complaints, but I'm beginning to be pissed off. Because if Senna is given the right to complain and take away our engines, then we should also recognize Schumacher has the right to complain and ask for the same Renault engines as Williams. And why, then, shouldn't Alesi complain and also ask for the Sauber engine, I don't know, since the Saubers are in front of him?"
"These are absurdities as big as a house and yet I see that here every day we keep talking about these absurdities. Senna is a driver and he must think about racing with what he has. And the same goes for the others. These engines are ours and he who wants them will have them when we have better ones, more advanced ones. But stop standing outside the door to petulate and undermine the stuff of others".
On Easter Sunday April 11th, 1993, the sky of Donington Park, like Interlagos, is gray and threatening. In Brazil, however, the rain made spectators wait about twenty laps, in England, on the other hand, it begins to fall before the green flag waves. The race is logically declared wet.
That day, thirty thousand spectators watch the race live and witness one of the most daring races ever, but first of all, they witness an amazing, unprecedented start to the race, starring a single man.
When the traffic lights go out, Alain takes the lead followed by Hill, while Schumacher and Senna do not have an unforgettable shot; the Benetton driver closes on Ayrton and leaves a gap open for Wendlinger, who doesn't think twice and slips in, gaining third position.
Already exiting turn 1, Senna comes out very strong and alongside Schumacher, overcoming him definitively in the Craner Curves. Shortly after, at the Old Hairpin he also overtakes the Austrian's Sauber, and moves to third position behind Damon Hill, who in the meantime tries to put some pression on Prost. While everyone else drives in incessant rain, Ayrton appears to be driving on a dry track, totally oblivious to the fact that it is actually wet. Ayrton also surprises Hill at McLean's. He is second, behind Prost. At the penultimate corner of the first lap, the Melbourne Hairpin, Ayrton pulls a furious braking, surprising his rival, helpless in front of such speed.
Four overtakes in half a lap, two of which on the fastest cars of the field, in the rain, and complete with leadership of the race just obtained. Need anything else? In fact, yes, the race still has to be won, there are another seventy-five laps to go, and many other things must happen.
In the meantime, the young Rubens Barrichello, like his far more noble compatriot unquestionably at ease under the water, has gone from twelfth to fourth place, while Michael Andretti's other McLaren rams the unfortunate Wendlinger and plants himself in the sand together to the Austrian.
In the first laps Senna immediately increases the gap on his pursuers, while Prost must continue to keep calm against the pressure of an uprising Hill. However, the race is characterized by intermittent rain that creates great turmoil and countless pit stops like never before, as many as sixty-nine.
The first to try the dry tyres is Martin Brundle, even on lap six, an attempt that is unsuccessful as the British spun a few corners later, thus saying goodbye to mid-field. After the first pit stops, which took place around the fifteenth lap, the situation of the first three remains unchanged: Senna sets the pace, followed at a distance by Prost and Hill.
Barely ten laps pass and the rain returns, while Senna finds himself involved in a battle between lapped Fittipaldi and Blundell, but he manages to get by professionally and get out of it without consequences. On the other hand, whoever pays the most expensive price for the slightest mistake is Schumacher, who ends up in the gravel and can no longer get out. For him it is the second retirement out of three races.
Prost is the first to put wet tires back on his car, in an attempt to regain his position on Senna, who instead chooses to postpone his stop for a couple of laps; despite this he falls in front of the transalpine with an even greater gap than before, a sign that his timing in making the stop was way more appropriate. The situation becomes almost tragicomic, because the rain ends in no time and everyone has to get back on the slicks.
This time, however, things do not go as expected in the McLaren garage, given that on lap 34 Senna changes tires, but the rear right creates some headaches for the mechanics, so that the pit stop lasts twenty seconds, and the Brazilian returns to the track aware of the lead lost to Prost, who can even boast a seven-second advantage. But Ayrton did not give up, and immediately tried to recover with fast laps.
The moment that decides the outcome of the race comes to the umpteenth light rain that hits the track: Williams opts for a further stop for both drivers, in order to put on wet tires again, while almost everyone is still patient and decide to keep the dry compound.
A risky choice that of Williams that turns out to be wrong, as the rain immediately stops falling and both Prost and Hill have to refit slick tires. As if the immense amount of time wasted wasn't enough, Alain stopped the engine when leaving, and left another forty seconds on the road. Leaving the pit lane, he even finds himself lapped by Senna.
The disaster for Alain was consumed three laps later, forced to re-enter again due to a slow puncture occurred to his Williams. At the end of the race, his stops will amount to seven; it will be the only one to reach that statistics.
The confusion in the Williams pits leaves Senna in total tranquility to manage the numerous moments of rain-no rain and further tire changes (for him there will be four in total at the end of the race), and also leaves Rubens Barrichello free to dream and touch the dream of his first podium in Formula 1. The sports drama for Rubens ends with six laps to go, when Jordan's V10 Hart blows, as well as his dreams of glory.
On the other hand, the way in which Ayrton sets the fastest lap of the race is rather curious: back in the pits for yet another tire change, the Brazilian realizes that his mechanics are not yet ready and, aware of his advantage over Hill, decides to drive straight ahead aborting the stop. Considering the layout of the track, the pit lane turns into a sort of shortcut, therefore with a lap of 1'18"029, Ayrton records the fastest lap in the race, the nineteenth in his career.
At the waving of the checkered flag, the only one not to be lapped is Damon Hill, second and one minute and twenty-three seconds behind. Despite the vicissitudes, Alain manages to place himself on the podium, also thanks to the unfortunate retirement of Barrichello.
The points-giving positions are completed by Johnny Herbert, the only one to make a single stop in contrast to the comings and goings of the others, Riccardo Patrese and Fabrizio Barbazza with his Minardi, celebrating his first career points.
On the podium, the winner is awarded a very special trophy, linked to sponsor reasons (SEGA was the main sponsor of the Grand Prix), namely a statuette of Sonic the Hedgehog. The real trophy is only subsequently delivered to Ayrton, while Sonic is still in some remote corner of the McLaren museum.
To receive the team trophy Ron Dennis is radiant, enjoying as much as he can the positive side of having a driver like Senna in the team, whose demands are clearly directly proportional to his performance. Precisely, during the press conference, Ayrton does not take his presence for granted at the next appointment in Imola, unless the team gives guarantees of development:
"The only thing I could do was surprise the Williams before they realized they could go faster than me. So they did. So I kept pushing hard. The race was then so messed up that I couldn't even remember the race anymore. I even had a pit stop that lasted about twenty seconds because they couldn't tighten a wheel. In the end, when I had a lap of advantage, I pulled the oars into the boat. I'm going back to Brazil because my situation at McLaren hasn't cleared up yet. I might as well not come to Imola".
Now, as mentioned, the object of the discord between him and Dennis concerns exclusively the Ford engines, since Senna is requesting the same priority treatment that Benetton and Schumacher receive, in order to have the Spec eight. Alongside Ayrton and third at the finish line, in the press room, albeit surprisingly with a smile on his face, Alain complains about a difficult race full of complications:
"Today I had all kinds of problems: the clutch, the gearbox, the suspensions, the tires and even a puncture that forced me to stop again. In addition, during a pit stop my engine stopped and I lost more than a minute. Given the day I have to accept the final result for good".
Alain's complaints ended up boring Senna who sat next to him during the conference. To such an extent that the driver from São Paulo no longer held back, he grabbed the microphone and said:
"Why don't we change cars?"
Comment appreciated by the whole room, who bursts into a goliardic laugh, except Prost, of course. Two days later, on April 13, 1993, from London, Frank Williams issued a statement expressing his full support for the drivers:
"The solidarity between Williams and his drivers is a reality both in defeat and in victory".
In short, Prost and Williams get along in love and harmony despite the controversy over the European Grand Prix, aroused by Frank Williams himself who had once again criticized Prost for tire changes. Or so it seems. Alain chases Senna with twelve points of disadvantage, the championship is very long, but the two blows taken weigh like a boulder. But be careful: if Ayrton is the only one able to give spells like the ones just told, The Professor is the only one who can react strongly to such defeats against a rival of this caliber. And that's exactly what he will do.
On April 22, 1993, in Imola, home of the fourth Grand Prix of the year, for the fourth time all the fans of Formula 1 are faced with the usual question: will Senna be there? Not a small question, because from the first three seasonal releases it was possible to understand that he is the only who can fight Prost. The reason Ayrton doesn't want to race is simple: he wants the Ford Spec. 8 engine too, and he's not going to hit the track without first getting a guarantee that he can use it.
But Briatore disagrees, and thanks to his agreement with Ford he vetoes the concession of the engine to McLaren. The Italian fans are not thrilled by the idea of seeing Prost dominate: in Imola there are only 50.000 spectators in the stands. The weekend needs its rival. Ayrton, however, is not even in the paddock; it is not even found in Italy.
Indeed, at a certain moment in the afternoon, when the deadline for registration expires, his participation is still in doubt. Then, the arcane secret is revealed. Although he didn't get Ford Spec. 8 engines, Senna took the Alitalia flight from Sao Paulo when it was almost night in Italy. It was enough for Ayrton to know that there is a negotiation underway between McLaren and Ford to find an agreement:
"Until a few hours before, Ford did not want to agree to discuss to supply McLaren with the latest version of its engines. Then the American manufacturer sold and opened a negotiation that will also continue with Benetton, which boasts an exclusive contract for the more advanced eight cylinders".
Declares a spokesman for Ayrton, while Briatore jokingly replies:
"Michael Schumacher will not compete here in San Marino, our driver said he wants the engines of Prost's Williams, otherwise he will not compete".
Senna will arrive the next day in Fiumicino at 8:30 am but then the problem will arise on how to transfer him to the racetrack as soon as possible. One thing is certain, he will almost certainly miss free practice, but he will have time to sit in his McLaren for official practice. In the meantime, however, the usual case created around Senna caused some problems for the organizers of the Grand Prix. Without him and with a bad Ferrari, ticket sales have fallen to levels never reached in the history of this event. Ferrari, in fact, simply has an internal organization to be rebuilt from scratch. An example?
After a day of intense work, at 2:00 AM in the middle of the night, in Maranello the mechanics started the latest version of a super powerful engine, but this time not even the great love of Emilia Romagna for engines and for Ferrari helped them. The inhabitants of the neighborhood, annoyed by the noise, called the police and the tests ended immediately. As if that wasn't enough, Ferrari has already equaled the negative record of thirty-seven consecutive winless Grands Prix in Donington, and previously set in the disastrous years 1986-1987.
Breaking this record at Imola is the icing on the cake of a really dark moment in Maranello. But let's go back to Senna's question. Thursday April 21th: Ayrton is on his way to Rome, so Ron Dennis orders Jo Ramirez to pick up Senna and take him to Imola in the team's private plane, recommending the Mexican:
"Either you come back with Ayrton in time for rehearsal or don't show me your face again".
So, Jo takes off with the private plane in the direction of Fiumicino. However, when he arrives in the vicinity, the pilot of the plane discovers that in this airport private planes are not allowed, so he had to use the nearby military aerodrome, and then stop in a neighboring hotel awaiting the arrival of Ayrton, scheduled for the next morning.
Early on April 22th, Jo is found in Fiumicino, where Ayrton, with the plane still moving, is escorted out of the airport as a VIP. But when Jo and Ayrton arrive in the parking lot, the taxi driver who was held on purpose is no longer there.
"Forget it, let's take another taxi".
Ayrton exclaims, but Jo has in the taxi his briefcase with tickets, team documents, passports, diary, money; but Ayrton insists:
"Who cares about your briefcase, I have to go to Imola".
Despite a short wait, Ramirez finally yields to Senna's wishes, so they take another taxi and go to the military airfield where the team's private plane was parked, ready to take off. But the surprises are not over. The two travelers, having reached the plane and almost about to take off, see the taxi driver coming running, who breathlessly returns the briefcase to Ramirez, for his joy and for that of Ayrton, who was sorry for the behavior he had a few minutes before and apologizes.
Once in Bologna, they take a helicopter, which was already ready to welcome them to take them into the Imola circuit, and once they arrive, Senna gets on board a scooter that the team already prepared to allow them to arrive just two minutes in advance in the pits, to start qualifying.
Even the qualifications are conditioned by the strange situation that had just arisen. In fact, due to fatigue, anxiety, nervousness and jet lag, after a few laps Ayrton ends straight on the embankment of the Tosa. But despite this, he qualifies fourth. While Senna is meddling in the aforementioned issues, Alain is preparing his reaction following the two blows he suffered in Brazil and England, which relegated him to second place in the overall standings, twelve points behind his rival.
The superiority of the Williams in qualifying continues uninterrupted, and continues to be somewhat embarrassing for the competition: Prost and Hill, respectively first and second, but less than a tenth apart, dig a hole of almost two seconds on the third, Michael Schumacher.
On Sunday morning post-warm-up, Rai [Italian television, translator's note] correspondent Ezio Zermiani asks Senna why the agreement on the supply of Spec. 8 engines, which now seemed to have been done, has apparently been blown. Senna comments ironically:
"We don't need the engine now, what we have is already good enough. So that's fine, the car is fine, the engine is fine, there is no problem".
At that point Zermiani goes to Briatore to inform him of Senna's statements, to which Flavio reacts just as ironically:
"Ah, he doesn't want it anymore? Well, I don't know what happened but I'm glad he doesn't want it anymore, we have solved the Brazilian soap opera. If he's happy not to have it too, I think those are good news".
Meanwhile, Benetton's top driver, Schumacher, is involved in a story that has some funny implications. Disqualified from practice on Friday evening for using irregular tires, according to the commissioners, he was quietly readmitted to the standings on Saturday morning when the same commissioners turned around.
What is surprising is that no one complains about what happened. Nobody except Ferrari, which shouts, but does not forward any official protest to the Federation.
However not as funny as is the story involving Ron Dennis and Jo Ramirez in the back box: Ramirez tries to convince the Segafredo coffee company to sponsor McLaren, placing his own brand on the nose of the car and Ayrton's suit, in exchange for $1.5 million, but Dennis throws it all up with a lunch that drives investors away. Shocked and sorry for what happened, Jo apologizes to the company spokespersons.
During the 1993 season, Williams on pole is not the only constant in every Grand Prix (the only race where a Williams will not appear in front of everyone will only be the last in Adelaide, where Senna will set the best time), there is another, concerning Prost; in the triptych of seven races that turn the season in favor of Alain, that is from Imola to Hockenheim, the transalpine will fail as much as six starts, getting just one right, at Magny-Cours, where he is not even in Pole position. Despite this, The Professor always manages to put a piece in it, taking advantage of his immense talent and, of course, the racing car at his disposal.
In Imola, precisely, on a track slightly dampened by a shower of rain that arrived just before the start, Alain skates conspicuously at the start and is overtaken by his teammate and by Senna, author of an excellent shot.
Prost immediately tries to make up for it and begins to put a lot of pressure on Senna who is much slower with his McLaren while, in the meantime, after the first five laps, the leader of the race, Damon Hill, already has an eight seconds advantage on the duo.
Prost initially hesitates, but when he realizes that McLaren does not have excellent traction out of the Tosa, Alain joins Ayrton and is already in front of him before the next braking.
Nice overtaking but almost useless, because during the stops to mount slick tires, Senna quickly regains his position. Whoever has lost a huge amount, having waited too long to pit, is Damon Hill; consequently the leading trio is compacted and ready to fight, in the mid of bunched up cars to lap that make everything even more difficult for all three. As before, out of the Tosa, both Hill and Senna do not enjoy a good corner exit, unlike Prost who pulls hard and scrubs them both, regaining the leadership he had lost at the start through a great double overtaking.
Senna also manages to pass Hill at the same time, but all his hopes of annoying his rival ends on the forty-second lap, when a hydraulic problem puts him out of the race; the same goes for Hill, who already retired on lap twenty due to brake problems.
The double twist at the top allows Schumacher to climb to the second step of the podium, a breath of fresh air for him considering the two retirements in the first three races, while Martin Brundle will attend the podium ceremony by climbing on the third step with Ligier, also good at capitalizing on the large number of retirees, eighteen. Alain wins and goes to minus two from the head of the World Cup; for him it is the first of six victories out of a total of seven races:
"I'm happy. Not so much for the victory itself, but for having shown that even on a wet track I can go fast. After Donington I lived a very bad two weeks, with a lot of pressure on me, targeted by heavy and unpleasant criticism. Now I think the championship will be on the right path for me. I think I deserved this victory. The road held perfectly, both in the wet and on the dry track. At the start I had a problem with the clutch, I had to brake to avoid starting early and risking being penalized. I found myself third. I passed Senna for the first time at the exit of Tosa on lap 7. Then, when we changed the tires, I returned to third position. After two laps I slipped on Ayrton and Hill who was in the lead. Senna was behind Hill and was trying to overtake him. They both widened the corner and I was able to keep the ideal line so I was able to tackle the climb in first position".
With the first retirement of the season, Senna sees his already small advantage in the standings vanish:
"I was already happy with the second place I could get, but the active suspension hydraulics failed. Oil came out of the pipes and ended up on the wheels. I was also lucky not to have an accident. As you can see Williams Renault engine was too powerful for us. I fought as best I could".
Two wins for Prost, and two for Senna. All ready for the fifth round
Two weeks later, on May 8, 1993, in Barcelona, Senna's show about his presence on the circuit is not repeated, but the pole, needless to say, is always signed by the Professor, always in front of Hill. And as in Imola, the third classified, this time Senna and not Schumacher, who instead follows immediately behind, is two seconds away:
"Guys, there is little to do: Williams is unbeatable. I'll stay there, waiting for something strange to happen. Otherwise it will be just a matter between Prost and Hill".
Senna is quite eloquent at the end of qualifying. His prediction is flawless, and Prost only has to get his hands dirty to get rid of his teammate:
"It was tough because there are a lot of jumps on this track and it's hard to keep the car on the right line. But it must be admitted that Williams-Renault are fantastic: you always manage to push the limits you think you can't reach. The race? We can win it, but first we have to cover all the 308 kilometers that await us to reach the finish line of this Grand Prix without any problems".
A race that, in front of 30.000 spectators, does not offer many emotions. At departure, instead of the usual green light, a flashing orange light turns on curiously, which in any case signals the start of the race. Prost got off to a bad start, leaving Hill free to take the lead, but managing to resist Senna's attack. After a handful of laps Alain overtakes Hill, who tries in vain to re-overtake immediately, only to break the engine and retire for the second time in a row, leaving Prost in complete solitude until the checkered flag.
Behind, however, to the sound of fast laps Schumacher approaches Senna, but at the cliffanger he passes over a slick of oil left by Alex Zanardi's car, and is the author of an excursion that irremediably distances him from the Brazilian, who preserves without worries the second place.
To offer the only emotions, especially regarding it today, is the podium: Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, for the first and last time together on the same podium, an image to be framed and to make a picture.
At that historical moment there was talk of six World Titles divided equally between Alain and Ayrton, the young Kaiser was still at zero; looking at it now, there are fourteen. In short, a huge slice of the history of this sport is on the Catalan podium that season. Meanwhile, Prost has momentarily taken back the lead of the World Cup, two points over Ayrton, before leaving for the Principality of Monaco, where the circumstances seem ideal to break the dictatorship established by the Brazilian in recent years.
"It was perhaps the toughest race on a physical level of my career. A huge pressure".
Prost states after the race.
"At the start, the gearbox that has to engage automatically got stuck in first and I had to put the second manually. So Hill whipped me, when I was in front of him and later when he was behind. There are no team orders to respect. We are free. The only imposition: we cannot attack each other in the last ten laps so as not to compromise the team's work. Whoever is in the lead at that moment stays there. My car was perfect at the beginning. In short, I earned this success, even if in the last laps I limited myself to checking: no one threatened me closely. This is an important victory because it comes on the eve of Monte Carlo, where I believe that my rivals will be able to battle me with greater possibilities. Anyway I don't want to talk about rankings, it's too early".
Senna limited the damage with a second position, in the interviews of the day he takes it out with some of his colleagues, judged too reckless:
"I couldn't do more. In fact the second place is already better than I expected, because I would never have been able to reach Hill. In the next races if we are not able to make progress there will not be awarded many chances. For me it was terrible in the race when the engines of several cars exploded in front of me. I had the visor full of oil and I could not see anything. There are drivers, like Zanardi, who are reckless, who do not look at safety and regulations. The commissioners should punish them when they sprinkle the track with oil, remaining in the trajectory when it is useless".
Between the Spanish Grand Prix and that of Monte Carlo, on May 16, 1993, the French manager Jean Todt, who will leave Peugeot on June 30th to officially take on the role of Ferrari's new sporting director the day after, arrives in Maranello to be presented by president Montezemolo to technicians and managers. Immediately after, Todt visits all the offices, holding a one-to-one meeting with the managers of the various technical sections.
Jean Todt arrives in Maranello with the reputation of being a tough guy; his task will be to coordinate the work of Barnard, Lombardi and Postlethwaite, and to manage the team's budget wisely. He practically has an open highway, he will become Montezemolo's real right-hand man.
Three days later, Wednesday May 19th, when he arrived in Monte Carlo, Prost must see that it was still raining, almost as if there was a cloud chasing the movements of the circus. A situation that certainly does not make him spark joy, given that a wet asphalt, especially on a circuit like the Monegasque one, can mess up his plans:
"I have to hunt for pole position. Only by starting in front of everyone I will have the opportunity to make the most of the qualities of my Williams-Renault. On this circuit it has always been crucial to have the best time in practice. Also, once, to overtake you had to wait for a mistake from the one in front of you, and normally it was a mistake in changing gears. Now, with semi-automatic shifts, it is impossible to expect gifts. So the battle in qualifying becomes more important. I used to not pay much attention to these things. Lately I've been training hard".
Prost is therefore determined, but he will have to deal with an equally determined Senna, he who has established a real oligarchy here, winning the last four editions for a total of five successes.
To back up Alain's intention to win is the bad start of the weekend for Ayrton, who crashes twice, during Thursday's free practice at Sainte Devote, remedying a sore thumb, and subsequently, in Saturday's qualifying, this time without suffering physical consequences:
"I had a really bad time. Three terrible impacts, I could have broken both legs. It went well, also because my car is built in a fantastic way. I must have hit the asphalt with the bottom and I lost control, there was nothing to do. So in the afternoon I didn't want to force: I wasn't in the best physical and psychological conditions. Now I want to rest and tomorrow will be another day".
Nonetheless, Ayrton took home an excellent third position for the start of the race, behind Schumacher and in front of a Damon Hill rather in crisis among the narrow Monegasque streets, especially when compared to his team leader, who makes six poles out of six, and continues to give him driving lessons:
"I'm happy with the pole, the statistics show that starting first is a guarantee of victory. My car is strong, but it is difficult to drive and problems in such a circuit are always lurking".
And this despite Williams discovering that they mounted two cracked suspension triangles on the cars of Prost and Hill, having to subsequently replace them. It may be due to the extreme desire not to fall into the same mistake again, it may be due to an alleged problem with the clutch complained by himself after the race, but the fact is that in the race Alain clicks earlier than the lights go out, therefore the race direction punishes him with a ten-second Stop & Go, discounted on the twelfth lap.
At the moment of starting again, however, Alain definitively compromises his race, making the engine stop exactly in the middle of the pit lane as already done in Donington Park; when he gets back on track, he is twenty-second late and just in time not to be overtaken by Damon Hill.
In any case, Alain does not give up, and despite the penalty, at the end of the race we find him just by the podium, in fourth position; a comeback that acquires further depth, if we consider the track where we competed.
In the meantime, the new leader has become Michael Schumacher, who also has a nice gap on Senna, who seems to have the right race pace to undermine him. Everything is going great for Michael, until a plumbing problem causes a fire on his Benetton, and the German must forcibly park at the Loews to allow the commissioners to put out the blazing fire.
So, without having to do anything exceptional, Ayrton finds himself in the lead, and he just needs to manage the leadership with confidence until the end of the race, a task made even easier by the difficulties encountered throughout the weekend by Damon Hill, never at ease on the Montecarlo city track, so much so that Gerhard Berger on board his Ferrari even manages to reach him, but excessively pumped up by the opportunity to battle with a Williams, the Austrian exaggerates and tries to overtake the British at the hairpin, just as he had made shortly before on teammate Alesi, who had overtaken not without taking some risks.
The Austrian's Ferrari in this case hits the full Williams with the number zero, which turns and has to reverse a couple of maneuvers to restart regularly, while Gerhard can only get out of the car and retire, yielding the third step of the podium to his teammate; for Ferrari this is a weaki light in another mediocre season. Senna therefore wins for the sixth time in Monaco, the fifth in a row, beating Graham Hill's record:
"Monte Carlo has always been special for me, since 1984 with the Toleman-Hart, but even later with the Lotus I can boast some good memories here, like when I won in 1987, that was my first victory with the Honda engine, and the first active suspension in history. Then we won with the naturally aspirated ten-cylinder, and also with the twelve-cylinder, also from Honda. Today we also win with the Ford V8. Yes, it is truly magical for me, a reference point for my career. It has always been like that and it is like that today. I don't believe in luck but I believe in God".
Prost, on the other hand, does not understand the penalty imposed on him:
"I saw the videotape of the start again. I clicked when the red lights went out. Maybe I walked about ten centimeters forward. And out of the corner of my eye I realized that Schumacher's Benetton has already moved. In one race at least fifteen drivers do the same thing. I think I have been punished with excessive severity. It is difficult to accept this decision of the stewards. A hard work done in testing has been thwarted. Honestly, the season is still very long and there is a way to recover. What worries me, however, is the fact that every two races something strange happens to me, a hitch".
Three all: forty-two points to thirtyseven in favor of Senna: ladies and gentlemen, we have a World Cup. At least for now. Among the many soap operas of Formula 1, that of Senna at Ferrari is among those that never seem to end. Long-term projects, gossip, hypothesys that always clashed against a harsh and unexceptionable reality: Ferrari is bad, and a driver of Senna's caliber has no interest in racing with such a shaky car. But now things seem to have changed. With some statements made during the race weekend in Montreal, the Brazilian driver has officially applied for a spot on one of the two 1994 cars:
"I am ready to race for Ferrari as early as next year".
A Senna who until now has enjoyed a coin contract with McLaren, which is renewed at each race, but which at the same time is always on the verge of jumping away. So far Ayrton has participated in all the races, some, like Imola, with a decision taken at the last minute. He also did it because the circumstances were favorable to him, allowing him to get some victories in a season in which the choosen one to score victories is Prost.
Then Ayrton started claiming to have Ford Spec. 8 engines, and for a couple of months the controversy went on, leaving the door open to the hope that he too could get these brilliant American 8-cylinders. But even this story soon ended, as Ford continued to supply only Benetton with the best-performing engines.
This also explains why Senna decided to think about the next year right from the start, given that McLaren does not see a bright future. What may seem strange is why the Brazilian has decided to apply for Ferrari, which itself does not swim in calm waters. Ayrton himself explains it on Friday June 11, 1993:
"Ferrari is improving visibly and towards the end of the season you will see that it will go even faster. It may not be able to win yet, but it will be competitive again. I often talk to John Barnard on the phone and have visited him several times in England. He showed me everything he is preparing and I was positively surprised. There are some technical innovations that are so interesting that I am amazed that nobody knows anything about it. John is really a genius and moreover he has the advantage over the others to have started working on next year's car earlier. In other words, I want to say that the conditions of today's Ferrari are very different from those of the Ferrari I knew, and with which I had had a few meetings in the past".
In short, Senna suggests that his anxiety to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari is so strong that, if necessary, he would get there even before the end of the championship. Which is theoretically possible, given that for the moment he is a free driver, without a real contract. Although another key to understanding these words of his is that of wanting to send a very clear message to McLaren, something like: either you hurry up to find an optimal solution for the engines, or I am leaving. Such an optimal solution for McLaren would be to have the same Renault engines as Williams for the following year.
Negotiations are underway, also because Renault, in the new political management of France, would find it heavy and hardly justifiable to continue to give its prestigious engines to a team like Ligier, but the problem is that others are also in talks with them, such as for example, Benetton itself, which in order to have the French ten cylinders has already joined the French oil company Elf this year, which works in tandem with Renault. Meanwhile, on the artificial island of Notre-Dame, just arrived at the circuit, Alain, with one of his malicious smiles, speaks to the press referring to the penalty suffered in the last race:
"Write down that I'm a fool. Most people think so, but we'll see who laughs in the end".
Senna immediately replies, having arrived in Montreal, from Miami, tanned and in the company of his girlfriend Adriana, a prosperous girl whom someone, with a little malice, defines Senna's tranquilizer:
"Speak up, it's all to be verified, I'll play my cards".
Ayrton however, on the Canadian circuit seems to have very few cards to play: McLaren faces a weekend full of difficulties, to which Senna, at least in qualifying, is unable to put a piece, placing only eighth at over two seconds and seven tenths from Prost's pole position, a position that together with McLaren he had never experienced before. Worse is Michael Andretti, twelfth, whose performance during his Formula 1 apprenticeship continues to be rather poor. Alain, on the other hand, conquers yet another pole position, overcoming his teammate Damon Hill by half a second.
Friday June 11th, 1993, the race weekend in Montreal holds an unexpected surprise: from Paris Max Mosley has been elected to the presidency of the FIA in place of Balestre, who had not re-submitted his candidacy. It is the first act of a whole transformation of the FIA, which will no longer have two identities, the FIA and FISA, of which Mosley was already in charge. And one of the worries of the new FIA president are the so-called artificial aids, such as traction control or active suspension; aid that must be eliminated.
So here, as soon as the news of the change at the top of the FIA arrives, before the last practice session, the commissioners of the Canadian Grand Prix deliver a letter complete with signatures and stamps to all the teams. The content is very simple:
"FISA has informed us that the following teams contravene the sporting regulations. With regard to active suspension and automatic traction control".
Below is the list of irregular teams: all, except the two Lola Scuderia Italia of Alboreto and Badoer, which although are almost always last, could hypothetically find themselves winners of the 1993 World Championship at the end of the year, having all of a sudden the only single-seater in Rule.
The other cars are declared irregular since the active suspensions, electronically self-adjusting, involve a continuous variation of the car's aerodynamic set-up, while an article of the regulation establishes that the aerodynamics must be fixed and not mobile during the motion of the car. As for automatic traction control, precisely because it is autonomous, it removes part of the control of the car from the driver and this is also prohibited. What does this warning from Canadian commissioners mean?
"In our opinion these findings are well founded and involve the regularity of the entire championship. Consequently, we believe that the most appropriate thing is to send a report to this effect to the Federation, while allowing the indicated cars to be admitted to the tender".
Alright, but what happens next? Here comes the field of hypotheses. Here is the first: not being able to upset a project within twenty-four hours, the commissioners turn a blind eye to Canada, but starting from the next Grand Prix they will have to adapt, which is almost impossible for many teams. Ferrari, for example, cannot eliminate active suspensions, because the F93 was designed for them, and without it it would not be able to turn. Same goes for Williams and Benetton. Maybe only McLaren could readjust to the old suspension, but that's not so certain. There is therefore a risk that at the next French Grand Prix all these teams will be forced to withdraw from the world championship.
The second hypothesis is the most complicated, but at the same time also the most credible. In fact, it is to be believed that Mosley's move is a simple warning with a simple meaning: if any team intends to challenge the rule already approved for 1994, i.e. the elimination of active suspension, traction control and many other costly complications, it's mandatory to know that the risk is to be disqualified already this year. In fact, McLaren would want to oppose this rule, and therefore it is conceivable that to calm the boiling spirits the FIA has sent this threatening signal. In this maneuver, however, there is the risk that the championship will continue until November under heavy uncertainty, which would undermine that little interest that still remains.
The most suitable scenario, according to the Team Managers, is that the FIA World Council, the supreme governing body, organizes a vote to rule on this decision, which could give Alboreto the world title. Meanwhile, Frank Williams reacts to the FIA's technical indication by stating:
"We consider the document compiled by the stewards to be unbecoming and out of time. We sincerely believe that the world championships won last year with Mansell and with our cars are valid, and cannot be questioned by the decisions of the technical delegates. And since from the start in 1992 for twenty-two races we have always used the same active suspension system that no one has ever considered irregular, we do not understand the dispute".
Controversy or not, Sunday's race must go on. Yes, the Williams are always in front of everyone, and yes, Prost still misses the start, offering on a silver platter the momentary leadership to Hill, who then promptly fails to exploit it properly.
Luckily for Alain, the two Benettons starting from the second row start even worse than him, with Patrese and Schumacher sixth and eighth respectively at the end of the first lap. On the contrary, the sling starts of Senna continue, who after the very first stages of the race is already fifth, having passed the Benettons and Brundle, and then sucked behind him the two Ferraris, first Alesi exploiting the outside of the hairpin, and a lap later Berger, this time hsving a shot on the inside.
A curious situation that of Alain and Ayrton: in the past years Senna was the designated Poleman almost every weekend, while Prost was the one who often and willingly broke the eggs in his basket and made his rival's pole position useless; in 1994 the situation seems to be reversed, Prost nullifies pole (at least at the start), and Senna puts a patch on the difficulties he encounters on Saturday.
Although Williams did not have team orders, the way Prost, always at the hairpin, passes his teammate suggests exactly the opposite; the fact is that The Professor resumes the head of the race not to give it up anymore. Hill, on the other hand, following a prolonged stop, also lost positions in favor of Senna, and a Schumacher who recovered following the bad start of the race.
The German approaches Ayrton threateningly, everyone now anticipates an interesting duel with the youngster who on more than one occasion made the Brazilian champion turn up his nose.
As in Barcelona, however, something happens that makes the duel vanish: with seven laps to go, the McLaren alternator yields, and Ayrton must abandon the second position, and above all the leadership of the World Championship that he had momentarily regained in Monaco. A zero that weighs like a boulder for the fight for the title, with Prost walking towards victory that allows him to reach forty seven points, five more than his rival:
"Today the car was perfect, but I have to say it was tougher than I imagined. Both Benetton and McLaren were very close. Michael pushed a lot in the final, and I had to do the same to keep the gap. On the physical level it was tough, there are a lot of hard braking here, and after a while you almost lose feeling in your right foot. I'm very happy for me and for the team, it's nice to have won what for me is a kind of Grand Home prize, before going to compete for the real one".
Alain declares after his fourth success of the season, while an embittered Senna replies:
"A second place would have guaranteed me to maintain the leadership in the championship, and I really dreamed of it. But in Formula 1, even to be able to dream, you need to have the right equipment, and mine left me alone".
Two days later, on June 15, 1993, Formula 1 was shaken by the untimely death of James Hunt, World Champion in 1976 and BBC commentator following his retirement from racing at the young age of thirty-one. Hunt The Shunt dies at his home in London at the age of forty-five due to a heart attack.
He was known for his particularly bold demeanor both on and off the track, which earned him a reputation as a lover of alcohol and sex. Making a popular image thanks to Formula 1, Hunt became a real playboy of the time.
The championship continues in France, a stage that at the beginning of the year risked being canceled from the calendar, given that the court of Quimper had inflexible application of a tobacco law in France and sentenced Williams to pay thirty million francs for instigation to crime, since the English team exhibited the Camel cigarette brand on the car bodies, and the images of the Australian Grand Prix had been broadcast on French soil.
In response, the Federation, unable to guarantee freedom of movement to the teams without running the risk of being condemned by justice, questioned the Grand Prix to be run at Magny-Cours by threatening to cancel it from the calendar. But given the possible loss of a huge economic income and given the presence of strong pressure, the French Parliament approved a specific amendment to remedy the problem, allowing the smooth running of the tender.
On the eve of the Grand Prix, on June 30, 1993, it was announced by Maranello that Jean Alesi signed the renewal of his contract with Ferrari for the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
The new director of sports management, Jean Todt, dissolved all reservations, saying he is happy to have Alesi as a driver and, after the latest consultations, all the signatures reached the tables of the Swiss lawyers dealing with the matter. In 1994, therefore, Ferrari will race with the same drivers, while for 1995, the year in which according to the plans Ferrari should be ready to win the world championship, Berger's seat will be empty as his contract will expire at the end of 1994. And we will talk about Senna.
The next day, July 1, 1993, at Magny Cours, home to the French Grand Prix, Jean Todt officially becomes the new director of Ferrari Sports Management.
During his official presentation, he amazes everyone by always answering the questions asked in Italian, and only afterwards translates them into French for the benefit of the journalists of his country. The pronunciation is still a bit rhythmic, but behind it you can glimpse the iron will of a man used to taking up challenges and overcoming them. Losing, he does not like:
"I am always afraid of losing and for this I try to do all the things that must be done in order not to lose. But fear is always present".
Then he talks about his first intentions as the new leader of the Cavallino:
"I don't want to kick anyone out, on the contrary, I want to give everyone peace of mind. Ferrari needs it. But I know, I've known for a long time, that Ferrari is a great team, known and appreciated all over the world. It has technicians, managers. and mechanics of great value but they need to find safety and serenity. I do not yet know all the 350 people who work in sports management. And then? What does it mean to know each other? I have already said hello to many of them, I shook many hands, I've seen so many smiles. But does this mean really knowing each other? No. From today I want to get to know everyone, one by one, well, in depth".
There is the fear, since we began to talk about his arrival, that his presence in Maranello could transform Ferrari into a battalion of the Foreign Legion where the boss clicks to give any order, and the others execute. A reporter takes the microphone and asks him openly, but in order to sweeten the pill he uses somewhat tortuous words:
"Do you think the others are willing to trot?"
Todt doesn't even let it finish. He raises an intimidating finger, interrupting him:
"If trotting has the same meaning it has with us, don't use that word. I don't like it. Nobody has to trot by my side. We use the word collaborate. Here, the others, all the others are my coworkers".
With this direct answer, Todt immediately makes it clear what to expect from him: clarity. He won't tell lies, when he can't answer, he just doesn't.
"From today on I have full responsibility for everything that happens at Ferrari. Theoretically I could start giving orders right away. I have the right, but I'm not crazy. For now I'll be watching, so don't expect anything special value of Barnard, Postlethwaite, Lombardi and others is an honor for me. I answer only to the lawyer Montezemolo. In recent times there has been notable progress in the engine sector as in the other sectors. I do not know if there will be a need for reinforcements. I see myself more as a conductor than a general. And the orchestra is there, it is of international value, it is up to me to direct it well".
From this day, therefore, a new cycle begins for Ferrari, which promises to be full of satisfactions. Also at Magny-Cours the Williams are competing on their own to get the pole position is Damon Hill, finally beating the home idol, able for the first time this season to get the better of Prost in the flying lap. About thirteen years after the last time, with Pironi in Canada in 1980, Ligier managed to place its two standard bearers, Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell, in the second row, thanks to a more competitive car than it has ever been in season.
Fifth is Senna, more than a second and eight tenths from pole, ahead of Alesi, Schumacher and a surprising Barrichello, Comas and Alliot, while Berger and Andretti face great difficulties, being fourteenth and sixteenth respectively.
To condition the Professor's performance was the use of the anti-lock system of the wheels - the ABS brakes - which, failing to use them in the correct way, decided to have them disassembled. However, Alain does not hide, and in front of the best performance of his teammate, he declares:
"This shows that at Williams there are no team orders. I'm not worried. I started from pole seven times, but in four cases I was no longer in command at the first corner, so there is no problem. Damon, rather than another".
In the meantime, the Brazilian soap opera (as Briatore nicely called it) ends completely, as Senna decides to sign a contract until the end of the year with McLaren, giving up the token contract he enjoyed until the Canadian Grand Prix. The turning point came following the agreement reached between Ron Dennis and Ford: in fact, the same engine used by the Benetton drivers will also be fitted into Ayrton's car at Silverstone. The McLaren sporting director made it, but perhaps he concentrated too much energy on this aspect, forgetting that the MP4/8, although born well, needs improvements in other areas as well.
Race day is incredibly hot; there are those who get into the car as late as possible, or those who, like Rubens Barrichello, let an entire bottle of water be thrown over them while they are already in the passenger compartment.
Alain starts well, but not enough to undermine Hill's position, he joins the British and begins to be on top of him, even without making any risky moves, being aware of having all the time at his disposal.
The decisive moment comes during the pit stops: Hill stops first, Alain goes at full during the following laps, and thanks also to some traffic encountered in the pits by his teammate, he manages to obtain the first position on lap thirty, when he hits back the track after serving his stop. The wingman Damon tries to surprise Prost, still on cold tires, but the three-time world champion without too much difficulty regulates the attacks that are, in truth, not very convinced.
In the race of the others, Senna and Schumacher remain bottled behind the two Ligiers until Brundle loses his position during the second stop at the pits, while Blundell, due to a misunderstanding with the lapped de Cesaris, ends his race off the barriers. At the end of the race Brundle finished fifth at the checkered flag, but, given the qualifications, Ligier legitimately hoped for something better.
Senna's race, on the other hand, becomes complicated when his McLaren seems to be suffering from some mechanical problems; Schumacher passes it easily and gains several seconds in a few laps, while Andretti, usually two or three inches below his teammate, lapped, remains behind the Brazilian until the finish.
Ayrton's final fourth place at the finish line is an extra joy for Prost who, closely followed by Hill under the checkered flag, achieves his fifth success of the season, as well as his 100th career podium, a milestone never reached before from no one. Right in front of his fans, Alain writes another amazing page of his career. The Professor, however, does not want to diminish the value of his victory:
"It was a tough race, like all of them, and there was no shortage of risks. Try running for seventy-two laps with another car glued to your nose or following you like a shadow. I have never had a moment of rest. Among other things, I chose the reserve Williams at the last moment, because it seemed more balanced. It was perfect. But practically in three days I had never really tried it. How did I win? I entered the pits to make the first tire change, I forced the pace to gain a few hundred meters of advantage. It was the right move, because when I stopped, I hit back in front. In any case I decided that I would attack Damon after half-time. The championship? I'm in good shape".
Very different atmosphere compared to that perceived in Senna's garage, accused of having made a mistake in not making the second pit stop for the tires, even if the Brazilian does not attribute any blame to himself:
"I don't know if it would have helped, it would have been a lottery. Benetton was faster".
The reporters counter Ayrton's statement by reminding him that McLaren will have the new Ford engine, similar to that of Schumacher's team, at Silverstone:
"Yes, but there is another difference with Benetton. And a mess will come out, even if I can't talk about it".
Evidently Senna refers to the last case, about the Elf petrol which in recent days is said to be irregular along with other brands. But Senna's inference does not appeal to Flavio Briatore, who replies:
"We also have another difference from McLaren, the driver. Ours speaks little and pushes a lot on the accelerator. And we are happy, we finished ahead of Senna".
On the Monday following the race, local newspapers praise Emperor Prost, conquering a large amount of victories. Alain, although happy with his fifth success out of eight total races and firmly at the top of the World Championship, cannot sleep peacefully. In fact, a real storm looms over Formula 1 that could even upset the whole championship.
The story of the cars deemed illegal by the marshals of the last two races, Canada and France, must be resolved, to which the rumor has been added that after some checks, irregular petrol was discovered. The regulation states that the gasoline used must contain at least a percentage of components that are used or will be used on the market, but laboratory tests show that some products are unknown, even if the suppliers claim that they will be used in the future. The norm therefore lends itself to interpretations.
Regarding the elimination of electronic aids, the FIA announces that on July 14, 1993, after the British Grand Prix, the World Council of the Automobile Federation will meet and will decide on the matter. And if the FIA were to confirm the allegations, the World Championship could also be torn apart.
While the first tests of the new four-valve engine are underway at the Mugello circuit, which should allow a clear improvement in performance compared to the current five-valve, on July 13, 1993, the news arrives that Ferrari may be forced to give up the German Grand Prix. And probably at all the grands prix in August and September. A serious decision which, however, does not depend on Ferrari, but on the sentence that the FIA World Council will take following the trial that will take place on July 14th and 15, 1993, in Paris.
The subject of the dispute is known. Twenty-four of the twenty-six cars on the grid have been declared illegal in Canada, as they violate two articles of the sporting regulations regarding the car's limitations:
The first stipulates that the cars must be controlled entirely by the driver, while the active suspension and other systems developed by the engineers are now largely controlled by a computer.
The second establishes that the aerodynamic set-up cannot be changed when the car is in motion, which instead occurs punctually with active suspensions that give different settings following inputs from the usual computer.
The letter notified in Canada was then promptly reiterated in France and England. Now there will be the judgment of the World Council. If the active suspension is found to be irregular, the offending teams will not be able to race in Germany and for many subsequent Grands Prix, for the simple reason that the respective cars were designed and built around the active suspension.
Williams has already made it known that it needs at least two months to make a conventional car, therefore it could return to the track in the Japanese and Australian Grand Prix, which will close the 1993 world championship, while Ferrari is not unbalanced on the times, but it is easy to imagine that for Maranello these times will perhaps be longer, certainly not shorter than those of Williams. The situation is different for McLaren, which on the current car is able to remove the active suspensions and refit the old ones.
However, it is not easy to hypothesize the verdict, because technical and legal reasons collide, pressure from some teams on one side and from others with different interests from the other, and above all the shadow of sponsors who could also decide to leave the circus.
A complicated process which is accompanied by another, that of gasoline. Are they irregular or not? Everything is around a sentence of the regulation which states that all components must be found in marketable gasolines, but since, as stated by Agip, a company that collaborates with Ferrari:
"By marketable we mean gasolines which, due to their characteristics, are suitable to be put on the market for normal cars, this does not mean that these must already be on the market, because in this case they might as well go and buy them in any road distributor. In this case the FIA should have written commercial rather than marketable gasolines. We accepted this definition, because it allowed us to do research and identify new components valid for the gasoline of tomorrow. Without a dose of research we are not interested in remaining in Formula 1".
On July 15, 1993, the sentence arrives. The World Council of the International Automobile Federation, composed of twenty-three members including the Italian Marco Piccinini, declares seven cars irregular due to the use of active suspensions. These are Williams, McLaren, Benetton, Ferrari, Minardi, Lotus and Tyrrell. The World Council, fully approving the report of the technical commissioners, ruled that the active suspensions of the aforementioned teams allow the aerodynamic set-up of the cars to be modified in the race and that this is contrary to the provisions of art. 3.7 of the technical regulations:
"Therefore, starting from today they are prohibited. Cars that continue to be fitted with active suspension will not be admitted to the race".
Furthermore, after banning active suspension, which has been in use for a long time, the World Council also prohibits the use of another technical device, the electronic anti-skid system of the rear wheels, since it removes full control of the traction from the driver, and this does not complain to art. 1.3. The seven teams already mentioned and five others are guilty: Ligier, Footwork, Jordan, Larrousse and Sauber.
In practice, as expected, only the two Lola Scuderia Italia led by Michele Alboreto and Luca Badoer are excluded from this sentence, and they should theoretically find themselves alone on the track in the next races. Theoretically because against this sentence it is possible, by the following Thursday, to appeal to the FIA international court of appeal, and it is enough that a single team appeals to suspend the provision, allowing all teams to race the German Grand Prix even with the famous irregular devices.
The FIA president Max Mosley hinted at how long it will take for the Court of Appeal to issue a final sentence, referring to the Hungarian Grand Prix scheduled for mid-August. In short, in the space of a month, everything will be definitively clear, although it seems strange to think the Court of Appeal is going to rule against the FIA. Therefore, it is a formality to save one or at most two races from the abyss. And what will happen after?
A championship without Williams and without Prost would obviously be distorted, Mosley himself knows, adding however that, albeit with pain, the regulations must be respected. It could also become a championship without Ferrari, and this too, if not above all this, would harm the image of the entire Formula 1.
There remains therefore only one possibility to put an end to this farce that would send everything to hell, the one that all the teams, forgetting for a moment grudges and spite, bring to the FIA a document that unanimously asks to be able to run until the end of the year with the active suspensions, which will then be abolished on January 1, 1994.
The next day, July 16, 1993, in Paris, after having hit hard on the active suspension, the International Automobile Federation is instead lenient on the fuel used by Williams, Benetton and Ferrari. The World Council considered the gasoline used in the Grand Prix of San Marino, Spain, Monaco and Canada to be regular, but with the benefit of the doubt, as the laboratory tests carried out over the months were not considered certain and definitive, and therefore the results of the four races indicated are confirmed and no points will be removed.
However, each team will be required to submit in advance an exhaustive technical description as well as a sample of any new gasoline, and only after receiving a certificate of conformity from the FIA, these new gasolines can be used in the race. Those who use them before receiving this certificate will be deleted from the rankings.
Meanwhile, as regards the FIA ruling on active suspensions, it is announced that on the following Thursday, on the eve of the German Grand Prix, at the Hockenheim circuit a meeting of all the teams will be done and Bernie Ecclestone will try to convince everyone to sign a document asking the FIA to let the championship continue according to the technical modalities with which it began in South Africa, that is with the active suspensions present on the cars, postponing the prohibition of all contrary technologies to January 1st, 1994. In this regard, Mosley confirms:
"In this case the appeal of July 27, 1993 would be completely superfluous and we would be happy to accept such a request".
But news comes from England that McLaren would not be willing to sign such a document, and would instead be willing to appeal to a civil court. In view of Thursday July 22th, therefore, uncertainty reigns. Ten days before the fateful meeting, the cars took to the track for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Williams dominate qualifying once again. On Friday, a violent downpour, typical of the English summer, did not prevent the team that dominates the World Championship from reaching the top in the first qualifying round. Indeed, Prost proves that he is not so bad in the wet as someone suggested, as demonstrated by his teammate Damon Hill who records a gap of one second and eight tenths, an abyss.
"But no, it's nonsense, nonsense. The track conditions changed with every lap and it is not certain that I am the best ever. However, I am satisfied because my car is fine, even if the ABS system of electronic anti-lock braking of the wheels is not perfect yet and it will take a lot of work to tune it. Sunday Damon will have to pass over my body if he wants to win. I am in contention for the title and I am not willing to give anything away at the moment. I will go to win and each of us will play his cards".
It is therefore open war between the two Williams drivers, as evidenced by the qualifying held the following day. In fact, in the home Grand Prix, Hill seems to be able to take pole position, but Prost snatches it in the last minutes of the session.
The others are way behind; Schumacher, third, is more than a second behind Williams, Senna, fourth, almost three. The problem with the MP4/8 at Silverstone turns out to be a severe shortage of downforce; in fact, the head of the aerodynamics sector of McLaren, Henry Durand, during the course of the championship refuses to consider the problem, and even the new engine brought by Ford also for Senna does not serve to counter the excessive power of Williams. The Ferraris are also in great difficulty, with Alesi and Berger twelfth and thirteenth respectively more than four seconds behind the pole position. Embittered, Todt declares:
"Barnard will come to Maranello twice a month. We will go to England every two weeks to work together. In the meantime we will deepen the examination of the engine sector. If necessary, we will take reinforcements".
The two hundred and fifty Grands Prix disputed by Riccardo Patrese are also celebrated at Silverstone, who for the occasion is sprinkled with champagne by Briatore; at the party of the two hundred Grand Prix, it was Alboreto and Nannini who gave him a frozen surprise with a water balloon, three years earlier. Also present at the party, among others, Bernie Ecclestone, Prost and Senna, who speaking with Riccardo says:
"Two hundred and fifty. If I get to two hundred and fifty like you, I'm happy. Because I don't believe I get it like you".
Briatore, next to him, asks Ayrton:
"How many do you have?"
"I do not know".
Then they tell him that he could be a hundred and fifty, then Patrese jokes:
"Ah, okay, come on, it's only seven or eight years, what do you want it to be".
Ayrton turns to Briatore then says:
"With this profession, seven years is long".
The next day, at the start Hill takes the lead following another bad start from Prost; Senna also took off very well, jumping from fourth place on the starting grid to second position. Seven laps begin during which Senna tries in every way to defend his position. Prost tries everywhere: inside, outside, on the straight, in braking, in traction, but Senna is always there ready to close any gap. At the Abbey, during the sixth lap, Prost seems to have finally made it, but again Ayrton slams the door in his face. The next step is the good one: at Stowe braking immediately after the Hangar Straight, Alain closes the overtaking, and Ayrton, as if already exhausted by the fight, immediately loses the position also to Schumacher's advantage. With new spec or not, McLaren is not doing as it should, and Ayrton can only try to do his best.
During the battle for second place, Hill carved an eight-second groove on his first pursuer, that is Prost. The gap is gradually reduced to three seconds, until the Safety-Car enters the track, due to the accident of Luca Badoer, which eliminates all the gaps on lap thirty-seven.
Damon still seems to have the necessary race pace to stem Prost for once, but unfortunately for him, on lap forty-two, immediately after setting the fastest lap, his engine goes up in flames and the unfortunate Briton has to give up his dream of winning his first race in Formula 1 in front of his fans, who flocked to support him.
Prost thus took the lead ahead of Schumacher, Senna, Brundle and Patrese. With the exception of Brundle's retirement with six laps to go, the order remains unchanged until the last lap, when Senna has to deal with an unpleasant deja-vu, since just two years before, at Silverstone, he remained without gasoline in its tank; Riccardo Patrese then can celebrate his first podium with Benetton. Ayrton is also classified as fifth, having covered ninety percent of the duration of the race, a small consolation especially if in the meantime Prost goes to celebrate another victory.
After the hundredth podium obtained in France, at Silverstone, albeit in a fortunate way, Alain conquers the success number fifty in his career, commented in this way, with great fair-play towards his teammate, at the end of the race.
"I don't know if I could have stopped Hill. I had a bad start, I managed to hang him up but overtaking here is difficult, so overtaking it would have been complicated; I would have waited for the right opportunity but I don't know if I would have had one, Damon was driving very well, he deserved to win in front of his fans, and I would have preferred to win my fiftieth race in a different way. The best victory is always the last, even if I will never forget that of Adelaide, when I won my second World Championship in 1986. Let's not talk about the championship, it's still long. I want to win the next two races, Germany and Hungary, then we will discuss and face a more relaxed season finale".
There is also a small jab to the rival of all time, given that the journalist who asks him for explanations on the duel with Senna, Alain replies with a polemical vein:
"After the disqualification of Monte Carlo for the early start I have a psychological block, and at the start I let myself be surprised, but there are riders who can do what they want. Someone pushed me on the grass and he stopped me twice. We were really too close, at 300 km/h; and I, who think about winning my fourth world title, don't want to take too many risks".
Ayrton's response to Alain's words is calm:
"I enjoyed the first few laps by repelling the attacks of Prost who had a superior car. Then I didn't like the ending at all: the on-board computer told me that there was still petrol, instead...In any case there was nothing to be done, even against Benetton".
An admission that pleased Flavio Briatore, manager of the Italian team:
"We have shown that even with the same engine we are stronger than McLaren. Schumacher could have attacked at the end of the race, but he finished with only six liters of petrol in the tank and was forced to slow down".
When reporters turn to Schumacher to find out what he expects ahead of his home Grand Prix, Michael jokingly tries to bribe Prost, who is by his side:
"He won fifty races and is first in the World Championship, he could even let me win, but maybe we'll talk about it later in private".
In his joke, Michael forgot that the other Williams would also have been bribed, but given the zero that rages not only on the nose, but also in the win box, he hardly would have accepted any type of offer. On Friday July 23, 1993, after the meeting between the teams, the FIA makes official the registration for the race of all twenty-six cars participating in the Formula 1 World Championship.
However, after having reached an agreement at the last minute between the teams to avoid eliminating the active suspensions immediately, new criticisms have been raised with a cold mind, and it is not certain that the discussions are really over. Bernie Ecclestone's press conference throws away the confusion:
"It was a very useful and positive meeting. Now we will present our proposal to the Federation, to keep the cars as they are from the beginning of the year until the end of the season. I'm sure the FIA will accept the program. Don't ask me about the regulations we studied for the future as we will not be able to make them public until they have been officially examined by the competent bodies".
Anyway, something begins to leak, and so it turns out that the active suspension will certainly be abolished from 1994, along with Abs and traction control, but the automatic transmission and telemetry will remain, while it will be possible to mount the power steering. In addition, there will most likely be mandatory racing refueling, and teams will not be able to use more than sixty-four engines during the season.
Jean Todt, after having introduced himself a few weeks ago in Maranello, immediately makes it clear that the behavior of a part of the Italian journalists can only put the sports sector of Ferrari in difficulty, which he is starting to fix with so much effort:
"Gentlemen, I have been at Ferrari for twenty-four days and I have already read many things that are not good. I have read that Ferrari buys engines from Honda: zero percent truth. I have read that Senna will come to Ferrari next year: zero percent truth. I read that now Ferrari buys active suspensions, the good ones, from Benetton: zero percent truth. This is not good, we must all work for the rebuilding of Ferrari. We must work together with respect for this country, for the forces that work in this country. Otherwise, if everyone goes on their own, nothing will be built".
To round off the day on Friday, the race marshals realize that the official length of the German circuit is not that indicated for years in all the official documents of the FIA, but it is shorter. Even at Hockenheim, regardless of the length of the track, the good Damon is subject to unspeakable misfortune which further delays his first career success.
Among the German forests Prost also makes the ninth pole position of the season in vain, letting Hill and Schumacher slip at the start, and after the first long straight he arrives at the braking of the first chicane paired with Senna, who tries hard to get the position at the outside, before losing control of the car and sliding to the back of the group.
The bad start of the World Championship leader, on the other hand, continues for the entire opening lap: at the braking of the Ostkurve, the second chicane, Martin Brundle completely loses control of the Ligier and becomes a crazy splinter that cuts everyone's way, Prost glimpses him in the mirror and decides to cut the S to avoid being centered in full by the English driver. It seems that a big danger has been escaped and that the thing is over there, Alain sets out on the hunt for the two who precede him and making the most of the combination of his V10 Renault and the long straights, once reached he gets rid of them with extreme ease.
The race direction, however, for some reason judges the Frenchman's corner cut to be incorrect, and punishes him with a Stop&Go; decision that infuriates Prost, who calls the penalty a joke. After serving the penalty on the tenth lap, he finds himself fifth, but takes little time to overcome Blundell and Patrese, and then put the other Benetton led by the German in his sights again.
While the comeback of Williams proceeds quickly, that of Senna suffers a setback when on his way he runs into Berger's Ferrari. One of the very few advantages of the F93A is its speed on the straights, so Senna struggles to get rid of his former teammate. Ayrton mounts fresh tires, and paired with Patrese he reaches Ferrari again, which, being on a different strategy, remained on the track and also engaged in an intense battle with Blundell, at the end of which Ligier managed to win. Once reunited with the Austrian, with much better performing tires, the overtaking both on the Italian's Benetton and on Gerhard succeeds immediately.
Senna is fifth, his comeback ends there, considering Blundell's excellent race pace, which the Brazilian never manages to get close to. Not stopping in the pits, unlike Schumacher, Prost took second place, but even for him Hill is too far away to think about going to take him back.
It now seems a formality for the 32-year-old Londoner, but for the second time in a row bad luck hits him, in this case even more cruel than at Silverstone: a lap and a half from the end, the rear left of his Williams gives way suddenly, Hill has to cover almost the entire track to be able to return to the pits, but right at the entrance to the pit lane he spins, and thus formalizes his fifth retirement of the season, although he is still classified in fifteenth position.
On the podium, therefore, there is Prost, who wins for the fifty-first time in his career, Schumacher, to say the least enthusiastic to get on the podium in front of his fans, and the excellent Ligier from Blundell, who precedes Senna by about ten seconds. Despite the success, the Professor after the competition is visibly enraged, and thunders:
"It's a joke. When they warned me on the radio that I had to stop in the pits for the penalty, I didn't know what to think. Did I start early like in Monte Carlo, or did I do something else wrong? It is clear that at that point I could only race for second or third place. But you tell me how I should have behaved. When I saw in the rearview mirrors that Brundle's Ligier could hit me, I did the only thing that could be decided in a split second. I went right".
"If there had been a collision it would have been a disaster. And then, do you remember that last year, to overtake Senna, Mansell voluntarily cut the chicane at full speed? And was the Englishman punished? I, by the way, having slowed down conspicuously, didn't even get an advantage from the maneuver, only to avoid the accident. We talked about the second chicane in the morning briefing. And I remembered that episode. It seems stupid to me what happened".
"The championship? I feel more relaxed, but I am also very tired. Now I take a couple of weeks off. If I win in Hungary too the story will be different. I'm sorry for Damon, but it's not my fault that he is persecuted".
And when asked what he intends to work on in the three weeks off before the next Grand Prix, Alain has no doubts:
"Definitely the starts".
In conclusion, having to answer the question inherent in the brief duel with Senna, the Professor limits himself to a couple of provocative jokes:
"That's Ayrton's style. But I wasn't willing to accept intimidation".
And Ayrton obviously doesn't think twice about answering his rival:
"It's easy to talk when you have a far superior car. When we got to the first chicane neither of us wanted to brake first. So we got to the exit of the variant paired and I, who was really on the limit, lost control of my McLaren. Then, setting off last after the spin, I enjoyed overtaking. But, honestly, I expected to finish at least third".
After the race, Roland Bruynseraede, with great honesty, goes to Martin Brundle and apologizes for having unfairly penalized him with the ten-second Stop&Go, after the Englishman had cut the chicane in the first lap:
"I didn't see Ligier spinning. I thought he did it on purpose, along with Prost".
Mr. Roland Bruynseraede is a Belgian gentleman in his forties who works as a racing director in Formula 1. In 1988 Bernie Ecclestone called him to put an end to a series of controversies that had invested various managers of the races, from the old starter Derek Ongaro, accused of sleeping at the starts, to Jackie Ickx, the former driver who in 1984 had been suspected of having favored Prost by blocking the Monaco Grand Prix when Senna was about to overtake him in the rain-flooded circuit.
Of course, errors can happen, Williams say in the pits, but at the same time, the team also claims that Sunday's punishment was a scandal. Not so much for the oversized evaluation, but because the measure left strong suspicions of match-fixing against their driver. Someone therefore begins to think that the Professor may be in the sights of the FIA for two reasons:
- The first concerns some of his heavy statements against the Federation, officially pardoned, but certainly remained in the minds of the FIA executives;
- The second is to be found in the superiority that the Frenchman is showing this year.
To improve the show and make the races more exciting, the fastest way could be to put a handicap on whoever dominates the championship. And after accepting the unfavorable regulations for 1994 following a strong retaliation by the FIA, Williams is starting to think that there may be a maneuver in place to make the races spectacular already in the current year.
During the summer of 1993, rumors of a McLaren-Lamborghini partnership for the supply of engines, replacing the disappointing Ford engines, began to be persistent after Mika Hakkinen tests engines designed by the Engineer Forghieri at the Silverstone circuit, and, despite a sudden explosion, Hakkinen turns a second and four tenths faster than the times recorded with the Ford V8:
"I clearly remember that test, it was exciting. The Ford engine was good overall, but we had high expectations and the Lamborghini could fulfill them. When you put your foot down, you are really fast. However there were a couple of problems. at first it was very long, and that didn't help the chassis that much. The fuel consumption was higher too, then it was a little heavier than the Ford and needed more cooling. But it was a really stimulating engine. I'll never forget what I felt there. It was amazing, the power was always greater. It was fantastic; we were like flying. But in Hangar Straight, on our way to Stowe, the engine exploded. I mean, it really exploded. A gigantic explosion never seen, perhaps the biggest I can remember. In those moments it was shocking. Pieces and pistons flying everywhere. You could see them from behind the helmet. A bang so loud it left a hole in the flat bottom. One of the most special moments of my Formula 1 career, incredible sound".
Giorgio Ascanelli, Senna's race engineer, also works on the project, and remembers all the nights spent inserting the twelve-cylinder Lamborghini in a single-seater designed for the use of the Ford V8:
"It took three months of hard work, mid-season; revised launch control and chassis, gearbox, ECU...a lot to do. Only a great team like McLaren could have done such a thing. And the result was something particularly special: a little longer and heavier than the car with the V8, but more stable and softer on the tires. Obviously more powerful, needless to say".
After a month spent on vacation to recharge their batteries, everyone is ready for the final rush, but most of all is Damon Hill, who slips the beauty of three consecutive victories in Hungary, Belgium and Italy, even climbing to second place in the standings passing Senna, who barely wins four points in the aforementioned races.
The first of the three successes of the Londoner is favored above all by the disastrous Hungarian Sunday of Prost, on August 15, 1993. On the Hungaroring circuit, Alain conquers his tenth pole position of the season, ahead of his teammate Hill, Schumacher, Senna, Patrese and Berger.
On Sunday, however, he was unable to start on the formation lap first, so he was forced to make a furious comeback from the last position, before a rear wing problem definitively compromised his race, which ended in last place with a seven-laps gap. A painless result for him, as even his direct pursuer, Senna, remains short of points, retiring due to problems with the accelerator. Hill's first is therefore a rather quiet victory, which ended with more than a minute ahead of Riccardo Patrese and Gerhard Berger, who completed the podium.
"It was a Christmas present in the middle of summer".
Damon exclaims at the end of the race. After yet another McLaren debacle on a day in which Senna could take advantage of Prost's problems and get closer in the standings, two days later, from Sao Paulo, Senna talks about Ferrari:
"Ferrari will be the great beneficiary of the new regulation. That's why I want to go there, to the team with the most supporters, the best known brand. It remains to be seen if it will have the means to hire a world champion driver".
Thus, on Thursday August 26, 1993, having landed in Belgium after Berger's third place in Hungary, Ferrari is always subject to continuous evaluations, and above all, it makes peolpe dream that there is still talk of an imminent arrival of Senna, and a possible comeback to the top for Ferrari. About this rumors, Jean Todt's reply was not long in coming:
"I read Senna's statement too and I have to be honest, he said some things that make me happy. It cannot fail to make us pleased to learn that a three-time world champion really wants to come to Ferrari and Ferrari would also like to have a driver like him. We are making significant steps forward, Senna has noticed, he says so publicly and we are proud of it because this means that we have not worked in vain in recent months. What I said is true but it does not at all mean that Senna is arriving at Maranello. And do you know why? For two reasons. First, Senna is saying these things to others but has never talked about it with me or with others about Ferrari, so there is no open discussion between us. Second, for 1994 Ferrari already has two drivers, Alesi and Berger, and would not know exactly where to place the third. It's all here and it's all very simple and clear".
Hill's second success, this time even more hard-fought, takes a back seat for two reasons: the first is the frightening accident that Alex Zanardi suffered during Friday's qualifying, which expelled the Italian from the championship for the rest of the season; the second is the mathematical victory of his team in the Constructors' World Championship, which took place with four races still to be disputed, thanks to an embarrassing gap on the second in the standings, Benetton, of sixty-nine points (129 points to 60). Let's start with Zanardi's crash.
During the practice session on Friday the Italian has a serious accident on the Eau Rouge-Radillon. The Lotus driver was tackling one of the most challenging sections of the circuit, that the single-seaters tame at very high speeds. Alex lost grip and headed straight for the guardrails on the left of the track. Great blow accompanied instantly by a blaze: two wheels away at the first impact, the others in the next. The body, now devoid of much of the bodywork, flown into the air, ended up on the other side of the road.
Immediately afterwards Andretti arrived and was forced to an heavy braking. Then Senna, who was swooping down on the spot of the accident and went off the track to avoid the obstacle. Ayrton was also cautioned by the stewards for not slowing down earlier. Zanardi remained unconscious for a long time inside the cockpit of the Lotus.
After that, he was first transported to the hospital in Verbier and then to the better equipped hospital in the university center of Liège. And here the doctors were surprised: apart from the state of shock and confusion, a bruise in the nose and a great pain in the neck, the Italian was almost unharmed. They subjected him to a CT scan which confirmed the first diagnoses: nothing serious.
Apart from the incident, the qualifications are dominated as usual by Prost, who also manages to get a good start, which very rare for him this season. But then he was overtaken in the pit stop by his teammate, due to a three-seconds-slower stop. Also, one lap after returning to the track, he is surprised by Schumacher at the end of the Kemmel; Alain tries to undermine him to recover his position, but a third place, ahead of Senna, is more than enough to manage the advantage and certify the victory of the constructors' championship. In the pits, after the race everyone is happy, Hill above all:
"It's nice to win a Grand Prix, but finishing first a second time is fantastic. I'm in seventh heaven. At first I really thought I couldn't beat Alain, I tried once to overtake him, but he replied. Then everything happened at the tire change. Luck continues to repay me for what it took away from me earlier. I am delighted to have won the constructors' championship. But now we have to think about Prost's title. In the next races the team will work above all to put him in the ideal conditions to hit the target".
Words by Frank Williams, always looking to the future. Prost, third at the finish line, is still satisfied and talks about the drivers' classification, which sees him getting closer to the Frenchman:
"I would like to win the world championship in Monza, so in the next three races, without worries, we can all have fun. The race? For once I got a good start...Then I had a lot of traffic [...] and some problem with the car. The suspensions were not working as they should. However, I am satisfied for the team and to have at least finished on the podium, even if on the lowest step that I like less than the others".
The first match point for Alain arrives at the Italian Grand Prix, in Monza, on September 12, 1993, in front of about 110.000 spectators, of which 90.000 paying, with an increase of 20.000 over the previous year.
There are many innovations prior to the Grand Prix: first of all, on Wednesday September 1st, Michael Schumacher confirms that he will be behind the wheel of Benetton also in the following season. The driver, confirming the renewal of the contract in Berlin, also announces a particular clause, that neither Senna nor Mansell can be his teammates:
"Every team must have a driver who respects the privileges of the number one if they want to become champions".
The German explains, adding that examples in the past of internal competition that did not carry positive results. Then the Camel brand formalizes the abandonment of F1 at the end of the season. Williams then signs a contract with Rothmans worth twenty-eight million dollars, while Benetton agrees with Mild Seven, which will pay approximatively forty-five million dollars in two years.
On the same day, Friday September 10th, in the first qualifying session, the fastest is Prost who records a lap in 1'22"163, just over a tenth ahead of his teammate Damon Hill. The protagonist of the day, however, is Alesi, which unleashes the enthusiasm of Ferrari fans after being at the top of the rankings for a few minutes in the final part of qualifying.
Even on Saturday the story is told: Prost records a 1'21"179 and places himself in the lead, with three tenths of an advantage over Hill, and eight on a satisfied Alesi. A result that also helps to distract attention from the gaffe he becomes protagonist of with his pal Berger, who due to a misunderstanding on the trajectory, on the back-to-pits lap passed to greet the fans in the stands, hits the Frenchman in full and ends up against the barriers at the Ascari.
In the collision, Berger suffered bruises to an arm and ankle, but still managed to take part in the race and even the car, although damaged, was repaired in time. The commissioners, however, punish his behavior, deemed dangerous, with an official warning.
Prost's match-point now seems to be ready to materialize when Senna, due to problems with the brakes of his McLaren, hits Martin Brundle's Ligier at the braking point of the Variante della Roggia, causing both of them to retire. A race that had already started badly for Ayrton, who at the start had rammed Hill heavily, going off-piste and returning together with the Englishman respectively in ninth and tenth position.
Everything's going in the direction of Alain's fourth career title, if not for the Renault engine going up in flames in the Curva Grande while only a few laps were yet to be done. After missing the victory at Hockenheim due to the sagging of a tire, just to the advantage of Prost, Hill, author of an excellent comeback following the contact with Senna, wins thanks to the bad luck that this time hits the Frenchman.
When he found himself behind the leader of the World Championship, the team forced him to stay there, and to avoid trying to attack; Hill may have been hoping for a favor from Alain in the Mansell-Patrese style the year before at Suzuka, but the breakdown of the transalpine's engine made everything easier.
On the second step of the podium there is a surprising Jean Alesi, overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the Ferrari fans who welcomed him as his favorite since his arrival in the paddock on Thursday. Frank Williams is only partially surprised by the performance of Ferrari, which he quickly liquidates:
"Let's see how they behave in Portugal".
It must have been another season as supporting actors, this is true, but compared to the atmosphere of the previous year (emblem of the Fans' banner that read "Red, yes, but by shame"), in Maranello they finally seem to be on the right path.
The third step of the podium is instead up to Michael Andretti, who paradoxically, after his best race of the season, returns to the States, and is replaced by the young Mika Hakkinen, who will be noticed immediately, also from Senna.
In the final race, just near the checkered flag, a spectacular accident between the two Minardi, with the grandson of the two times world champion Emerson Fittipaldi, Christian, who in an attempt to get the better of his teammate Pierluigi Martini, collides with the rear end of the latter and takes off at a speed of 300 km/h, making a three hundred and sixty degrees in the air, luckily concluded without any consequence, while on the contrary his Minardi comes out destroyed. At the end of the race, Prost doesn't talk about Hill or the future of the championship, but declares:
"I'm just sad for the bad luck that haunts me. Everything was fine, I had absolutely no problems, the engine gave out without warning. I can't give myself peace".
While Frank Williams indulges in a curious statement:
"I would have preferred Prost to have won the race and the title here".
Why are they in such a hurry? Well, Williams, also put under pressure by Renault, strongly wants Senna in the team, and has already started to court him since July, since the veto placed by the Professor in his two-year contract is valid for only one year. Just in July, at the height of the championship, when Prost has already started his solo ranking lead, a meeting took place between the Frenchman and the great boss, at the request of the latter.
There, Frank Williams informs Alain of Renault's desire to recompose the famous dream team he had in McLaren, but the Professor remains disappointed, reluctant at the idea of returning to team up with Senna, and it is precisely after this meeting that he takes his decision, still not disclosing it to anyone, including Frank Williams, to win the championship and retire:
"If you want to take Ayrton, you have to choose. I want to compete against him, but not on the same team. I want to fight him on the track. I want to be on your team and together we have the best chance of beating him on the track. I've been on the same team before and I know how he is".
As revealed by Alain himself a few years later, he said informing the team's top management of his intentions to leave the circus prematurely could have infected his chances of winning the fourth crown of his career. The right time to announce his farewell would only come at the same time as the certainty of having won the World Cup. And in fact, now that he is one step away from winning his fourth title, Prost talks to Renault's top management and tells him:
"Okay, you are pushing for Ayrton and this year you have exasperated me, I have a two-year contract, pay me the consideration for the second year and I'm leaving".
In the meantime, eight days after the Italian Grand Prix, on September 20, 1993, in Silversone, driving a McLaren stripped of sponsors, Senna carried out a test with the Lamborghini V12 engine and was immediately enchanted by it, to the point of making a rather curious proposal to the McLaren team principal:
"The engine overall is great, it needs a little more power, and it's not very sophisticated, but it would be a great deal for next season. Why don't we already fit it in Suzuka?"
Ron's answer is no: the season ends with the Ford engine. However, there is a handshake at the Frankfurt auto show in mid-September between Dennis, Chrysler president Bob Eaton and Lamborghini's head of sports, Daniele Audetto, who signs an agreement to supply Lamborghini engines to the McLaren for the 1994 vintage, although Ron doesn't want the deal to be put on paper right away:
"Among gentlemen, a handshake is worth more than a thousand-page contract".
On Friday September 24th, at the beginning of the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend, when there is only mathematical certainty to separate him from the title, Alain summons the journalists and announces his definitive retirement from Formula 1:
"At the end of the year I leave. It's a decision matured little by little. I talked about it with Williams, with the men of Renault. I confided in some friends. They understood and accepted. So I preferred to anticipate, let people know my intentions before being overwhelmed by the usual lies".
"I retire because I leave with my head held high, after a fantastic year, perhaps the best of my career, and then because I began to lack the motivation to take risks, train, concentrate. I believe I gave a lot to this sport and had everything from Formula 1. But something has cracked especially this year with the difficulties I had with the sporting authorities. The threat of not giving me the license, the unfair penalties, the number 0 they wanted to put me on the car, the attempt not to allow Williams to enter the championship. Then there was the excessive criticism from the press: I was accused of being a rabbit on the wet Donington track. It all became an unbearable burden. Now there are still three races to go, I'd like to win at least one. Then I'll rest. I won't stand still for long, it's not my temperament. However, I don't necessarily have to recycle myself in the automotive world. We'll see".
A forced retirement for him, tired of the press, always eager to criticize him, even in a season where he gets thirteen pole positions and seven wins, tired of the fact that Ayrton is portrayed as the 'poor' phenomenon who wins with inferior machines, while at the same time he is the driver who if he wins does anything extraordinary, because at the wheel of the best car; although still eager to race, Alain says enough, while a smiling and radiant Ayrton, half an hour before Prost called his press conference, declares:
"It's over with McLaren. I'll be on another team next year. I confirm everything. I understood that it was time for a change. We did a good job with McLaren. Now our paths diverge. And I'm happy to have left many open doors in front of me, I can choose. Frank Williams has been trying to have me in his team for nine years, it just never happens. And the same, more or less, happens with Ferrari. My future is uncertain for now. What is certain is that I will leave McLaren. next year and in a few days you will discover something very, very important about my future".
For the Professor, to be crowned Champion for the fourth time in his career, only mathematical certainty is enough, which seems pure formality given the situation, even if someone in the paddock cannot resist recalling the distant 1983, when Alain lost the title to Nelson's advantage. Piquet after having wasted a lead of fourteen points in the last three races. In this case the gap is twenty-three points on Hill, and twenty-eight on Senna; at the end of the race it will be enough for him to have at least twenty on both.
Meanwhile, with Michael Andretti back in Formula Indy, young Mika Hakkinen can finally make his McLaren driving debut. The promising Finn, on whom the British team has never hidden that they bet strongly, takes little time to confirm his great talent. Lap in 1'12"443, Hakkinen qualified in third position, about fifty thousandths of a second ahead of an incredulous Senna.
The relationship between Hakkinen and Senna never really took off, mainly due to Senna's distrust of the young man from Northern Europe, but right now it breaks down hopelessly when Ayrton asks the boy how he managed to keep up with him. Hakkinen's response astounds the Brazilian:
"Because I have more balls than you".
Helping himself also with an eloquent gesture of the hands aimed at reinforcing the meaning of his sentence. This infuriates Ayrton, who rails against him, shoves him and reminds him in no uncertain terms all the trophies and championships he has won, and then concludes with a:
"Don't ever try again".
The next morning, during the drivers' meeting, Gerhard Berger approaches Hakkinen, and congratulates him on beating Senna in qualifying, but also adds:
"Enjoy the moment, because as long as you live, you will never beat it in qualifying again".
When, after the race, Hakkinen realizes the speed of his teammate, he very humbly declares:
"I got Ayrton's message: he put me in my place. I was amazed to see how damn fast he can be at the start".
For the second time this season after France, Hill managed to snatch the pole position from his teammate for just two tenths of a second. On the other hand, Ferrari's excellent period continues, thanks to Alesi occupying the third row together with Schumacher's Benetton, demonstrating that Todt's arrival in Maranello was useful to stir up the atmosphere.
The race is scheduled on September 26th, 1993, where the poleman Hill is the only one who has real chances of postponing Prost's title victory for another month, who instead has the task of keeping the gap above twenty points.
Chances that drop near zero when Hill plants his car after having moved only a few centimeters from his starting grid, and failing to start again before the whole group pulls out in front of him, he finds himself forced to start from the back of the grid, called to an arduous comeback.
With his direct pursuer out of action for the win, nothing seems to be able to prevent Prost from traveling in complete tranquillity towards success, however Alain is keen to remain consistent with his seasonal standard, and at the start he lets himself be slipped by those who immediately sprinted behind him, so much so that after the first corner he is in fourth position. The two McLarens and Alesi took advantage of this. The Frenchman remains on the ideal trajectory while the others are too busy covering the inside, in doing so Jean pulls a great braking that allows him to pass everyone, and then lead the race.
It has been a long, long time that a Ferrari hasn't tasted the thrill of being in first position. At Parabolica Interior, Senna adjusts Hakkinen and immediately sticks to Alesi's exhausts, whose race pace is not hard to keep. Compared to the powerful V10 designed in Maranello, however, the weak Ford V8 available to Senna is not able to give the same performance, therefore a compact leading quintet is formed, led by Alesi, and closed by Schumacher, who is clearly visible in Prost's mirrors.
Damon Hill barely takes a quarter of the race to get rid of the slower cars in the middle of the group, and the fact that Alesi is capping his pursuers allows him to be less than twenty seconds away when he climbs into sixth position. On lap twenty Senna's Ford engine goes up in flames, and with it also Ayrton's last hopes ti win the World Championship.
The two-stop strategy adopted by Alesi and Hakkinen does not bring any benefit to them, they lost their positions to Prost and Schumacher. Also, on lap 33, trying to get rid of Alesi, Hakkinen exaggerates out of the last corner and ends up on the grass, consequently losing control of McLaren, which ends its race against the pit lane wall. For Mika the retirement is inevitable, but all in all, given the abstinence from competitions which lasted almost a year, he can be considered more than satisfied.
The next step after Hakkinen leaves the scene, there are moments of fear for Berger's other Ferrari, who as soon as he comes out of the pit lane is the victim of a suspension failure. The Ferrari skids all of a sudden and crosses the main straight horizontally, at the same moment in which Derek Warwick is passing with wide open gas, who for a matter of a few meters does not touch the tragedy. The Footwork driver also fails to avoid retiring, as he is subsequently hit by Riccardo Patrese.
Returning to the top areas of the standings, Prost excessively delays his pit stop, thus losing the leadership in favor of Schumacher, who also receives a lead of five seconds to manage. Thanks to the countless lapped cars that come their way, Prost manages to rejoin the German's Benetton; the contribution of JJ Letho is fundamental, who takes seven laps to let Schumacher pass (he even tried in vain to get noticed with showy hand gestures), having mistaken him for the other Benetton of Patrese, which instead has been dubbed shortly before.
For the Finn the penalty is fair, however this certainly does not help Schumacher in his task of stemming the attacks of the Professor's Williams, who in turn must try not to be enticed. Alain steps in, tries to induce Schumacher to make a mistake rather than attempting any risky maneuver, absolutely useless considering that Hill is far away, and no longer represents a threat. A second place is more than enough to be crowned Champion.
In the very last laps some other lappings makes the situation difficult, but Michael manages to keep calm, going to get a well-deserved victory, the second of his career, and the first of the season, which allows him to become the fourth different winner of the championship, together to Prost, Senna and Hill.
Having crossed the finish line, Alain can let himself go to the celebrations: he proudly waves the French flag during the honour lap, and on the podium he is showered with champagne by Schumacher and Hill, the right recognition for those who can officially claim to be a four-time World Champion:
"I'm really exhausted. Not just for the race, which itself was tough, but for the whole weekend, during which there was a lot of pressure. Yesterday I had an accident, and today some engine problems before the race. Also at the start, Hakkinen pushed me onto the grass and I finished fourth. For the World Championship I was still quite calm, as Damon was in the back. Michael made a great strategy, then with today's cars it is really difficult to overtake, so for me it was difficult to try an attack, but I must say that Michael was very good at not giving me any chance".
"Today I wanted to win, but I also had to think about the championship and I couldn't afford to do stupid things. I am very happy to be World Champion, I will go to Japan and Adelaide much more relaxed, with the aim of trying to win at least one race. I thought a lot before making this decision, there were many ups and downs for me: when you win races or the World Cup, everything seems to be going great, but you also have to evaluate the hardest moments I've had this year and throughout my career. So I think this is the wisest decision".
About two weeks later, on October 8, 1993, despite a test in Pembrey with McLaren and Lamborghini being planned, Ron Dennis called Audetto from Paris and informs him that he does not believe in the Lamborghini project, formalizing instead the agreement with Peugeot for the free supply of V10 engines for the 1994 season, and a sponsorship of twenty million dollars:
"The two companies reached a long-term and exclusive agreement under which Peugeot will supply a specially developed V10 engine to the McLaren team from 1994 onwards".
At the same time, despite an improvement in the power delivery at mid-range of the engine as requested by Senna is underway, and despite the fact that negotiations are underway with the Benetton team for a possible supply for 1994, from the United States, the president Eaton decides to definitively close the Lamborghini engineering project.
This, regardless of whether the day after the Portuguese Grand Prix, Senna had tested the Lamborghini-powered McLaren again. It matters little to Ayrton, given that on September 6, 1993 he signed the contract with Williams for the 1994 and 1995 season, and on October 11, 1993, in the press conference he announced while he was in Sao Paulo, in a very luxurious building in thirteenth floor where his office is located, he radiantly comments on his arrival at Sir Frank Williams' court for the 1994 season, replacing the four-time champion Prost:
"With the two-year agreement signed on September 6, a new cycle of my career opens. In Williams everything will be new: the cars, the engines, the environment. I will have to learn many things even if the experience of ten years of Formula 1 will help me. In this job you must always learn, this is the most continuous commitment. Driving a Williams has been a dream that I have been cultivating since 1983, since it was with a Williams that I did my first tests in Formula 1. I have already been very close to an agreement with Frank several times. We even signed a contract which, for reasons beyond my control, we were unable to put into practice. Now is the right time. In December I will start testing the car. With the new regulations and with the progress of Ferrari, Williams is no longer the absolute favorite for the title. In addition to Ferrari, I am sure that McLaren with the Peugeot engine will also give us a lot of trouble".
While Frank Williams, being diplomatic and grateful for Alain's work during the season, avoiding to delve into the subject, comments:
"I finally succeeded in my aim to have Senna, whom I had been chasing for ten years. When Prost announced his retirement from racing we were faced with a dilemma: how to keep the title of world champion. Alain Prost is a great talent that has given a lot to our team, not only when he is behind the wheel but also behind the scenes. It seemed to us that Senna was the only driver capable of replacing him. Our future with him promises to be exciting and I hope he can begin to to test our new machine already in December. As for Damon Hill, this year he has gone far beyond our wildest expectations and I think he has not finished surprising us yet".
Immediately after the announcement, speaking with Angelo Orsi, Ayrton exclaims:
"Did you see, do you like my choice?"
The photographer, a great friend of him for years, replies that perhaps he would have done better to go to Ferrari, but Ayrton replies as follows:
"No, I took the car away from Prost".
Suzuka and Adelaide. Two races without any meaning, with both championships already won, and only the fight for second place to be able to give a minimum of panache to everything. But only apparently. The last races of the era that saw Alain against Ayrton are held in Japan and Australia, a fact that before Estoril only Prost was aware, having hardly communicated to anyone his desire to retire.
Not only that, Japan and Australia are Magic's last two victories in Formula 1. In short, Formula 1 is about to close an era, it just doesn't know it yet. It can't know. The first of the two final rounds of the 1993 season is undoubtedly the one most loaded with meaning, both for Prost and for Senna, who in Suzuka experienced some of the most intense moments of their rivalry.
Although the titles have already been awarded, also in this edition, the Japanese Grand Prix is preparing to offer them further emotions before definitively projecting their eyes towards the future, which sees a life without Formula 1 for Alain, and a new adventure driving the most acclaimed car for Ayrton.
Furthermore, the interesting battle for the second position in the World Championship is still to be defined, involving the Brazilian, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher. But above all it is the penultimate opportunity for the two rivals of all time to confront each other. Prost wants at all costs to obtain the fifty-second win of his extraordinary career, despite the fifty-one already conquered certify him indisputably at the top of the ranking of the most winning drivers ever, while Senna feels compelled to conclude his experience in Woking in the best possible way. In short, whether the World Championship is closed or not, in Japan there is no shortage of motivations for the drivers.
From the qualifications, it can be understood that Williams' superiority on the historic track is not at all overwhelming: Prost manages to get the thirteenth pole position of the season, but alongside him in the front row there is Senna, who together with his teammate Hakkinen, third classified, stops just one tenth behind Alain.
Damon Hill was only sixth, stumbled on a troubled qualifying Saturday, during which he was also outqaulified by Schumacher and Berger. Setback for one of the men of the moment, Jean Alesi, back from two excellent performances in Monza and Estoril; the Frenchman has to deal with a rather complicated weekend, just like Hill, and on Sunday he has to line up in fourteenth position on the starting grid.
When the traffic lights go out, both Alain and Ayrton start well, but at the first corner it is Senna who leads the group, followed in order by Prost, Hakkinen, Berger, Schumacher, the rookie Eddie Irvine at the wheel of the Jordan, a great fan of Senna and coming from the Japanese Formula 3000, a factor that allows him to know the track inside out, and Hill.
Damon Hill immediately tries to free himself from an unfortunate seventh position, by passing Irvine first, and then approaching the duo formed by Berger and Schumacher, who in the meantime engaged a tough battle that does nothing but facilitate the arrival of the Williams behind them. Taking advantage of the power of the Renault engine, Hill also smoothly passes the German Benetton, whose Ford engine can't even remotely think of competing on the long main straight.
The situation is different with regard to the V12 of the F93A, which on the contrary manages to have its say in comparison with the powerful French engine. Therefore, Hill overtaking has to sweat it out.
After taking advantage of the entire slipstream of the Ferrari running to the 130R, he takes the outside the braking of the last chicane before the finish line; Berger closes the door, forcing Hill to brake sharply, while Schumacher, still attached to the two, tries to slip in to regain his position on the British, but unfortunately ends up hitting Williams.
The German damages the left front suspension, is unable to continue, and can only park his Benetton in the gravel. A serious blow to his hopes of finishing the season as vice-champion. Hopes that then vanish completely at the end of the race.
Up front, Ayrton manages at least initially to build a gap on Prost, but lap after lap he becomes more familiar with his car, and begins to reduce the gap of four seconds to just one. As the sky over Suzuka turns gray more and more, Magic makes the first of two planned pit stops, unlike Prost who opts for a single stop instead.
In doing so, Alain momentarily conquers the leadership, but behind him Senna begins to hammer fast laps one after the other, causing the gap that separates him from the Professor's Williams to drop dramatically.
Then the rain arrives, and the reunion happens faster than expected: Ayrton is far faster than Prost, and just during the lap that sees him return to the pits to mount wet tires, he ovetakes him without any effort at the Spoon. Prost also goes to the pits, certainly not helped by the rain, which thwarts his intentions to stop only once.
Moreover, in the wet, Senna becomes indisputable, to the point of gaining a second per lap over his rival, who, as at the beginning of the race, takes a few laps to adapt to the wet asphalt, to the point of having to look in the mirrors while the other McLaren of Hakkinen is ready to surprise him.
After twenty-seven laps, Senna has a good thirty seconds advantage over Prost, who is also the author of a slight excursion on the grass between turns 8 and 9. From bad to worse, however, Damon Hill loses a lot of time, having to go back to the pits to put on wet tires, after which he has to try his hand at a complicated comeback. In fact his team served the pit stop for dry tires right before rain started to fall on the track
He manages to do the comeback in style, concluding it with two daring overtakes on Warwick and Berger, after which he even finds himself fourth. Its vicissitudes, however, are not yet over.
Once the rain has stopped and the sun is shining again, the track slowly begins to dry, and Hill takes the risk of mounting slick tires first. A choice that does not turn out to be so good, since as soon as he returned to the track, the number 0 struggles even to stay on the trajectory, and only as the laps go by he gains speed. This happens just when the solitary leader of the race, Senna, appears behind him and prepares to lap him.
Both to safeguard his race, and perhaps to facilitate a reunion of Prost, Hill refuses to step aside, shamelessly shutting the door in Senna's face, who thus loses seconds upon seconds.
The situation becomes complicated when the very young Irvine also gets in the way, who in the meantime has risen with determination from tenth to fifth position. The Irishman surprises Senna and splits up, with the aim of undermining Hill's fourth position.
The two begin to fight each other, largely not caring about the fact that behind them there is the leader of the race, much faster than them and with the right to have the road clear.
The left rear of Brundle's Ligier, which hangs freely along the straight before the 130R, helps fuel the momentary chaos of Ayrton's race. Only a mistake by Irvine at turn 8 allowed the Brazilian to get rid of the Irishman again, and then immediately overtook Hill as well.
Moral of the story: Prost gained fifteen seconds, but he is still too far away to be a threat. This situation will infuriate Senna, who will have no brakes speaking openly after the race.
With the final drying of the track, everyone is wearing dry tires, and until the end of the race Senna has no problem managing the distance accumulated on Prost, who has to settle for second place, sandwiched between the two McLarens, which proved to be more competitive than usual on Japanese soil. Mika Hakkinen, third at the finish, can celebrate his first podium in Formula 1.
Hill finished fourth, while Barrichello and Irvine's Jordans in the points, adding some spice to the end of the race with his clumsy attempt to put pressure on Warwick for sixth position. At the last corner, the Irishman touches the rear of the opponent, who turns and ends up in the gravel. At the end of his first race in Formula 1, the young Eddie has got some moments, but luckily for him the stewards are quite benevolent towards him.
Thanks to his career victory number forty, Senna is back in the game for second place in the World Championship, now having only a two points deficit from Hill. McLaren, on the other hand, can celebrate victory number one hundred and three in its history, just like Ferrari, which also pays dearly for the long three-year fast in the statistics.
During the podium, Senna congratulated Hakkinen on his first career podium, raising his arm to the sky when the trophy was handed over to the Finn. A gesture that seems to have the aim of throwing water on the fire of the tensions experienced in Portugal, which at this point already seem old stuff.
Before the press conference, Prost invites Senna to make a symbolic gesture that can show the whole world that there is no longer any cold between the two, but Ayrton simply does not respond, completely ignoring the proposal. Nothing happens during the press conference, and Alain will later reveal that he also thought about an exchange of helmets with Ayrton immediately after the Australian Grand Prix, but that he abandoned the idea following the Brazilian's behavior on that specific occasion. In front of the media, a satisfied Senna appears, but at the same time angered by behavior of Irvine and Hill:
"It is a special victory for me, having arrived in a special place where we have won races and the World Cup. It was nice to see so many fans flocking to cheer us on, waving all those Brazilian flags. In such variable conditions it was very difficult to stay on track and also have a good race pace, but luckily I succeeded. I also escaped the insane maneuvers of two idiots, Irvine and Hill, who drove as if they were on go-karts. Irvine has yet to learn everything, he almost made me lose the race, he filled my visor with sand. Today there was no better way to repay the team with which I won three world titles. The one hundred and three wins is a great record, and I am very happy to have made my contribution to that. I'm also happy for Mika, for him it's a great way to start, but for me it's a great way to end".
Prost doesn't hide his disappointment:
"I would have liked to win, but today it was really difficult to beat Ayrton. Since qualifying we were all very close, and today the conditions were not easy at all. However I can't complain too much, Ayrton had a great start, and to retake the race position we wanted to try a one stop strategy, hoping he would do two. Then the rain came, so we can't know what was going to happen. I also had a bit of luck, when I went on a wildfire and I lost control, but I still managed to get back on track".
Senna's statement is immediately reported to the reprobate Irvine, who was celebrating. And the answer was not long in coming:
"If Senna didn't want to have problems he could go faster. I was doing my race. I didn't care about being lapped. When I'm on the track I just try to be as fast as possible. The rest doesn't interest me that much".
And then he continued with unrepeatable phrases. The Brazilian, having learned of the answer, goes to the presumptuous youngster in the Jordan motorhome, being accompanied by Norman Howell, McLaren's communications director, and Giorgio Ascanelli, his track engineer. Senna initially doesn't even recognize Irvine, who has to raise a hand to get noticed by the Brazilian:
Senna: "Who do you think you are? Don't you know that when someone is going to be lapped they have to step aside? What did you have in mind to do? They had to disqualify you. I was the leader of the race".
Irvine: "I was racing. I went to the commissioners and they didn't tell me anything. If you didn't want me to overtake you, you had to go faster. In fact, go slower again, so you don't get the sand on your visor".
Senna: "I passed you. While you were standing in front of me you went off the track three times in the same spot, where there was oil, like a fucking idiot. You threw gravel on me for three laps. When I reached Hill, which was in crisis with the tires, you should have stayed behind me! You risked making me retire".
Irvine: "Did I risk getting you retired? When? Did I touch you? Did I touch you at least once?"
Senna: "No, but you didn't take me by a matter of inches, and I was the leader of the race, I was the fucking leader of the race".
Irvine: "A miss, even if only for a short time, is still a miss".
Senna: "Listen to me, if you don't behave correctly next weekend, you might regret it, I guarantee it".
Irvine: "The stewards said everything was fine".
Senna: "Really? Wait until we go to Australia. The stewards will talk to you there, and let me know if they don't tell you the same thing I just told you".
Irvine: "Hey, I'm going out there for myself, to do the best I can".
Senna: "I know, I've been there too, and I understand you, but it's not professional at all, if you're going to be lapped...".
Irvine: "But I would have followed you if you passed Hill".
Senna: "You have to let the leader pass, and not do what you did today. Three times you risked hitting Hill, and if that had happened I could have gone too. It's not the right way to behave at all".
Irvine: "You talk, you talk, but you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, that's all. I was battling with Hill".
Senna: "You weren't racing. You were driving like a fucking idiot! You're not a driver, you're just a fucking idiot. Tell me one thing, who should take precedence, you, or the race leader who is about to lap you?"
Irvine: "The leader of the race, but you were too slow and I had to re-overtake you to attack Hill".
Senna: "How did I round you if I was slower?"
Irvine: "In the rain, on slicks you were faster than me, but in the wet you weren't".
Senna: "Really? So how did I reach you and pass you with wet tires?"
Irvine: "I don't know, to be honest I don't remember how the whole race went".
Senna: "Exactly, because you are not competent enough to remember the race. That's the way it goes, you know".
Irvine: "Hey, do whatever you want, it's your opinion".
Senna: "Be careful kid. If you behave like this you will have problems not only with me, but with many others, and also with the FIA".
Irvine: "Really? Good".
Senna: "Oh, really? Good to know".
Irvine: "Yeah, see you on the track".
At the end of the conversation, Ayrton first shoves the Irishman, who collapses backwards and then punches him in the face. Irvine tries to fight back, but the two are separated. And before being dragged away, Ayrton yells at Irvine:
"Learn to respect people, especially when you're wrong! It doesn't end like this. See you in Adelaide".
Once calmed down, Ayrton is very calmly told that he was wrong to attack Eddie:
"I know, but if I hadn't vented, I wouldn't have been able to sleep tonight".
Two weeks later, in Australia, the incident obviously holds court throughout the paddock, and in front of the reporters Senna proves that he has not disposed the anger towards Irvine and also Hill at all:
"We are talking about drivers who have recently raced in Formula 1, they do not know what they are doing and they think they are right. I lost fifteen to twenty seconds because of them, and I risked going off the track and retiring. Of course, nothing justifies my gesture, what I'm saying is certainly not to justify myself. I'm just telling you that what happened is absurd, from many points of view, and nobody did anything. Nobody even talked about it, during and after the race".
This story ends on December 9th, in Paris. The FIA World Council, on the basis of the videos and testimonies, found that Irvine had actually hindered Senna and that his attitude during the dispute was also provocative, but decides that Ayrton must be excluded from two Formula 1 Grand Prix to having punched the Irishman at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix; however, the Brazilian driver will still be at the start with Williams in the new season, given that the disqualification is with the conditional. Therefore the sanctions will not apply if the Brazilian does not become the protagonist of other incidents during a period of six months.
Quarrels aside, in Adelaide, Australia, Formula 1 is about to close the season, but the news about the next one is already overlapping. On November 3, 1993, confirmation came from Germany that a Mercedes will be back on track in 1994. Norbert Haug, head of sport of the German company, declares that Mercedes will be in Formula 1 with an engine developed with the English Ilmor and in 1995 it will also make its debut in Indycar (at the time still united with CART). Mercedes abandoned Formula 1 and Le Mans racing in 1955 after a very serious accident (eighty spectators dead) at the Le Mans circuit.
Meanwhile, in Adelaide, the last 1993 Grand Prix is prepared. Senna, accompanied by Adriane Galisteu, the beautiful model from Sao Paulo, her latest flirt, declares at a press conference:
"Without Prost, everything will be more difficult for me".
Ayrton underlines that the retirements first of Mansell, and then of Prost, will make him the only world champion still in circulation, therefore all the attention of the media will focus on his season, multiplying his commitments. While Alain, at his last Formula 1 driver conference, declares:
"There will be no second thoughts. This will be my final test, after thirteen seasons. They all ask me what I will do: maybe I will stay in this world, but it is not certain. I have about fifty proposals. Every day someone approaches me to offer me a job. I listen and memorize. I want to avoid bad choices. There is no rush".
Alain Prost, one of the fastest drivers of all time, is perhaps also one of the least loved. Why?
"Maybe because I always said what I thought in the hope of improving certain things, for myself and for others. They often misunderstood me. So I became unpleasant, disliked. And few believed me. Maybe it would have been better to be a liar".
Some of his truths actually cost him a lot. For example, the dismissal from Ferrari in 1991.
"The environment was negative and hostile since the beginning of the year. And a sentence of mine was exploited, moreover translated, which I had uttered to give an explanation. By saying that Ferrari was like a truck, I did not intend to denigrate, but simply to make understand that the car was heavy, difficult to drive. But the feeling with Maranello was broken at the end of the previous season, when Mansell, beating his word, won in Portugal and made Ferrari and me lose the title. It would have been different if we won that world title, if Senna had not voluntarily thrown me off the track in Japan. Here everyone plays saints, but Ayrton ended up destroying the McLaren that he is now leaving. And previously with his controversies he had also made Honda retire".
Is it always a fight with Senna?
"As far as I'm concerned, I'd also be willing to make peace. If he doesn't want it, so much the worse. I'm not going to cry for sure. The thing that hurts me, however, is something else. Everyone says I don't make a show, that mine are accountant's victories. But even Senna is no longer like Mansell or Alesi, he is getting closer and closer to my style and I think that will be the same for the emerging star Schumacher. To go on and continue to have the pleasure of driving, you also have to use your brain. Poor Gilles Villeneuve thought that nothing would ever happen to him, for example".
The Australian Grand Prix is also important for another reason: McLaren can outperform Ferrari in overall number of victories in Formula 1 history. Considering the great competitiveness shown in Japan, McLaren has a serious chance of succeeding in the enterprise, also helped by the fact that Maranello's team, despite the clear improvements, is far from being able to fight for the top step of the podium.
In qualifying Prost aims to match Nigel Mansell's record of fourteen poles of the previous year, and given the season's performance, for Alain getting the fourteenth start from the pole in the championship should be a formality.
Instead, right at the last race of the year, those who no longer expect to see him in front of everyone get in the way, and not for lack of ability on the flying lap (difficult to question that), but for the dating of his last Pole position: June 13, 1992, during the Canadian Grand Prix. A year and a half has passed since then, and due to the clear supremacy of Williams, even more evident on Saturday than Sunday, Ayrton, the best of all for the gap on the flying lap, had to deal with a long abstinence.
Pole number sixty-two of his career, in his very last race in McLaren, thanks to a sensational 1'13"371, four tenths of a second faster than Prost and Hill. Hakkinen, who in his first races alongside Senna had managed to keep up with him, proving to be even faster in Portugal, this time is fifth and seven tenths away, a figure that shows how Magic made difference on all the others.
Alain sees the Pole position in one season record vanish, but for him there is still the race to be able to close in style, perhaps beating his eternal rival. In the meantime, however, it may be the nervousness due to the bad outcome of the first tests (after setting the track record he was surpassed by the Brazilian, with the new record), or who knows what, the fact is that Prost is sulking again, and speaking of his relationship with Senna states:
"In Japan I was the one who held out my hand, but I don't think it helped much. Now I think it's too late".
Senna was not far behind, and even, to those who ask him for the name of a great champion destined to remain in his memories, he responds provocatively:
"I have to go back to 1978, 1979 and 1980, when I was karting. I loved racing with Fullerton, because he had a lot of experience, I thought him a fast and consistent driver, really complete. Pure driving, pure racing. There was no politics or money involved. It was real competition. And I have beautiful memories".
Then, only at the insistence of the interlocutors, Ayrton states that in Formula one he will have a great memory of Mansell and Prost, two great champions, but it seems almost a cliché, said with the usual indecipherable smile on his lips. In short, even if pulled by the hand by many who would like the Great Peace in the environment, Senna gave the impression that he did not want it so much. Or maybe the Great Peace depends on the result of the race.
Senna would like to end with a win, and then invites all McLaren mechanics to a great farewell dinner, and would like to steal the 1993 vice world champion title from Damon Hill, a result that was completely unthinkable for him at the start of the season. Prost, on the other hand, wants to end his career with one last success.
November 7, 1993 is a date that all fans of this wonderful rivalry could also circle with a pen on the calendar hanging on the home wall, because the race of that Australian Sunday is Alain's last race in Formula 1 and the last Alain's match against Ayrton; no one can even remotely imagine it, but it is also Ayrton Senna's last victory in Formula 1. It is a special day for the whole McLaren team.
Ron Dennis asks Ayrton to forget all recent discussions and to think only of the race; to finish his career with honor for the British team which allowed him to win three driver's titles. Ayrton, for his part, heartens Dennis, telling him that he is of the same idea. Then, shortly before departure, Ayrton calls Jo Ramirez to him and, unlike his usual way, asks the Mexican mechanic to tighten his seat belts:
"It's a strange feeling for me to do it for the last time in a McLaren".
Confide to Jo Ramirez. After that, Ayrton squeezes his arm tightly and lets himself go to a slight commotion. In this phase, Jo makes a sort of revelation that gives Ayrton extra motivation to end his adventure with McLaren in the best possible way:
"I can't tell you how much this race is really important for Alain".
Thus, for Ayrton, victory becomes a life mission, an appointment which must not be missed. It's the last fight, and he has to win it. The starting procedure must be done three times, due to the problems encountered first by Ukyo Katayama and then by Irvine, who remained stationary on the grid. The third, however, is the right time.
Everything remains almost unchanged, Senna maintains the leadership pursued by Prost, the only one to face some difficulty is Mika Hakkinen, who has slipped to seventh position behind Brundle and Berger, who, however, manages to overtake in a few laps.
As in Suzuka, the two in front compete with each other lap by lap, in doing so the gap constantly oscillates between two and three seconds. Behind them Hill must beware of an aggressive Michael Schumacher, who tries to become the destabilizing element of the leading group by much anticipating his first stop. Everything is made in vain by his Ford engine, which on the nineteenth lap goes up in flames. A bitter-sweet season finale for young Michael, winner in Estoril, but out of the game in Suzuka and also in Adelaide.
Having freed himself of the Schumacher's grit, Hill goes to the pits ahead of the leading duo, in an attempt to get close, and falls right in front of Hakkinen's McLaren. The two offer a good duel to the public, after the Finn uses the Williams tires not yet up to temperature to take the position, only to be passed again at the first corner by the British, a couple of laps later.
On lap 24, Ayrton makes his stop, while Prost tries an overcut on his opponent, trying to push for a few quick laps before returning to the pits. The Frenchman, however, was stuck behind some dubbing too many, especially Riccardo Patrese, which cost him several seconds; in addition, a seven-second stop, two seconds slower than Senna's, relegates him as before to second place, fifteen seconds away, and with the addition of Hill being much closer to him.
While his teammate retires with brake problems, Ayrton's race becomes a solitary walk through the Australian streets until the checkered flag is waved. Behind him, Alain must abandon any ambition to attack, to be able to defend himself from Hill, who becomes even more threatening following the second wave of pit stops.
A few laps from the end, Hill tries to attack at the braking following the Brabham Straight, but without even touching Prost's car, he loses the rear and spins. The enormous distance from the two Ferraris in fourth and fifth position allows him to restart in peace, without putting in danger his place on the podium.
At the end of the hostilities, Senna wins his forty-first race of his career with an eight-seconds advantage over Prost, who is unable to leave the circus with a victory he so much wanted. The fourth World Title, in any case, is certainly more than enough for The Professor.
Once in the pits, Ayrton embraces Ron Dennis for the last time, perhaps forgetting for a moment all the diatribes of recent months. Then, towards the road that leads to the podium, Senna stands in a totally different way from Suzuka, where indifference had peeped out, and in a joking tone he turns to Prost.
Senna: "What will you do after the retreat?"
Prost: "I have not the faintest idea".
Senna: "Will you binge to get fat?"
An exchange of few words, culminating in a joke and a shy smile from Ayrton, which leave Alain almost dumbfounded, who would never have expected such behavior from those who up to two weeks ago hardly looked him in the face.
During the podium ceremony, that gesture of thaw that Prost was talking about arrives. Alain reaches out his hand in the direction of Ayrton, who shakes it vigorously, and immediately afterwards pulls the Frenchman to the top step of the podium with him, raising that same hand towards the sky.
This time it is not like Monza in 1990, or like the numerous occasions in which the mass media or whoever else has tried to bring them closer. This time it's all genuine, the perfect ending for a rivalry full of hatred, which in the months following Alain's retirement from racing turns into friendship. Later, during the press conference, Senna spoke about his goodbye to McLaren after six years together, stating:
"The most important thing is to keep the good times we lived together, some of which are unforgettable: from the victories of the races to the World Cup, without forgetting all the records. I have great respect for the people I have worked with all this time. Winning the last race of a complicated season for us is the best way to say goodbye".
And then, when you least expect it, Ayrton talks about him, his long-time rival, Alain:
"Well, I think you all saw our attitude on the podium. It spoke for himself. It was what I felt at that moment. There is no need to say anything else. I think the facts matter more. I think it was a beautiful scene, an extraordinary podium, which reflected my and his thoughts".
And Alain, happy for the reconciliation, replies:
"We lived through some very beautiful moments together, Especially in 1988, when he won the World Championship and I finished second. I am convinced that it is better to finish by remembering what was positive and valid. In terms of sport we have given a show and as drivers we respect and esteem each other. This matters a lot".
Ayrton's emotional day is not over yet. During the concert that celebrates the end of the championship, held within the circuit by Tina Turner, Ayrton is invited on stage by the American singer to greet the entire audience, after which he grants an encore of Simply the best just to dedicate it to him.
In the evening, however, he goes to an Italian restaurant, La Trattoria, to celebrate McLaren's one hundred and four successes in Formula 1, complete with overtaking Ferrari and, of course, his farewell to the team, which greets the only driver capable of win three World Titles behind the wheel of their car.
The entire circus, on the other hand, bid farewell to the most successful driver of all time thanks to his fifty-one successes, topped off by thirty-three pole positions, forty-one fastest laps, one hundred and six podiums and obviously four Formula 1 championships.
A pat on the back and a handshake in the garages, then smiles and hugs on the podium.
So the story between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had a happy ending. The first ended his experience in McLaren well, the second leaves the circus as a World Champion. Apart from this, after having indelibly marked at least five years with their unrepeatable rivalry, they left themselves healing a relationship worn out over time by their mad desire to prevail over the other.
Perhaps the best question that has been asked to the two contenders in all these years of battles, on and off the track, is asked in Adelaide, at the end of the race, at the end of that reconciling podium. Will there also be friendship in the future?
"Life will tell. But it is obvious that nothing can be predicted".
Davide Scotto di Vetta