After the 1993 championship, Ayrton returns to Brazil. He got what he wanted, Williams and, unexpectedly, the retirement of Alain Prost. Which, to tell the truth, it's not that he’s particularly happy about. Speaking with a friend, in fact, Ayrton does not hide that the Frenchman's absence from the World Championship will take away from him that particular taste for victories, but he also knows that new protagonists will make his life difficult.
After spending his first week in Brazil coordinating business ahead of the 1994 championship, Ayrton moves to Angra do Reis. However, there is something that worries him, as he continues to call London and Ron Dennis for permission to try Williams before the end of the year. Ron Dennis denies himself, also because he is totally involved in the negotiations with Peugeot and in trying to convince Prost to try, and if he ever wants to, to return to racing for his team.
The news arrives fragmented and magnified in Brazil, and Ayrton begins to get nervous. Returning for a few days to Sao Paulo, one evening, at the exit of a cinema where he had gone with his girlfriend Adriane, he punches a Brazilian photographer-journalist who tormented him for days. In the following days, Ayrton continues to call McLaren, to which he informs that around December 20, 1993, he could have the opportunity to test his new car and thus get to know the team he will work with in 1994.
On December 15, 1993, with a fax, he officially requests McLaren to authorize him to use the new colors from December 18, 1993, when he will participate in the Kart race organized by the former Formula 1 driver Philippe Streiff, for charitable purposes.
From now on, if authorized, Ayrton could also test the Williams FW15.
But according to the contract and the specific request of the McLaren owner, Ayrton was supposed to race in the Bercy event with the colors of the McLaren sponsor. So an Ayrton collaborator comes into contact, at first, with Philip Morris, the owner of the Marlboro brand. Then, however, Ayrton himself talks to the managers of Lausanne and discovers that the tobacco multinational, by virtue of the many years of success together with the Brazilian driver, would have no problem in authorizing him to anticipate the tests with his new team.
Only now and only in this way, Senna discovers that denying him the concession to try Williams before the end of the year, came from Ron Dennis' orders. Angry and disappointed, Senna gets in touch with his former team manager. The phone call is a concentrate of fury. But that's not all.
In fact, given that Ayrton did not have the chance to try Williams before the end of his contract with McLaren on the evening of December 18, 1993, the Brazilian driver would serve his revenge against Ron Dennis. In the Bercy kart track, Philipp Streiff introduces his guests. The twenty-five thousand spectators present, after paying an ovation to their favorite, Alain Prost, are waiting to see Ayrton Senna. And Ayrton introduces himself.
But instead of having his red suit with McLaren sponsors, he shows up in a white suit with personal sponsors on.
The rest is a spectacle that makes the many Parisians who have flocked to witness the last clash between Prost and Senna, although it is off a Formula 1 track. Both Ayrton and Alain trained for the race and were accompanied by the mechanics they had at the beginning of their careers.
In the early stages of the race, it is obviously they who entertain the public with a good battle with no holds barred, which ended with Senna's retirement due to problems with the engine of his kart, after which Alain no longer has rivals at his height and wins the event.
Following him in the last laps is the imperturbable gaze of the retired Ayrton, who does not take his eyes off the television screen even for a second. What did Ayrton have thought at that moment?
We can only deduce it from his look of admiration, for the one who pushed him race after race to the limit of his abilities. Admiration mixed with what is already considered nostalgia, because now those times are gone. Prost did enough, and Ayrton was alone.
Over the next few days, Ayrton seems cheerful and enjoying himself; he spends his evenings with friends and Adriane in the most beautiful clubs in Paris. Yet something doesn't make him completely calm.
During the winter that separates the drivers from the new season, Ayrton simply cannot leave Alain behind, he cannot conceive of the idea that at the first race in Brazil, he will not be there.
So, taking advantage of an appointment that Ayrton would have had in Paris, he manages to get Alain's phone number from a French journalist, calls him and invites him to lunch; the Professor gladly accepts the invitation.
Alain and Ayrton talk all evening as if there has never been anything bad; the past was simply removed, ignored, they do not evoke it even for a moment, especially the crime of Suzuka 1990, which they will never talk about even later. From that moment on, the two begin to talk by phone, two or three times a week, and it is almost always Ayrton who calls Alain.
It is during these hours of chat on the phone that the Brazilian driver expresses his mood and shows Alain a person that the latter had never been able to know before, because previously there was a wall to divide them, that of competition, which did not allow any kind of friendship, where weaknesses could not be shown.
The two long-time rivals talk about life and motoring and discover they have many ideas in common. There, Alain realizes that for Ayrton the fact that he had decided to quit as a pilot meant the end of any personal hostility, being no longer his opponent, he is no longer his enemy. Until in one of these conversations Ayrton tells him:
"Please, Alain, get back to Formula 1".
A request, that of Ayrton, due to the lack of motivation, which not even the eventual achieving a fourth World title, which would have been worth a draw in the comparison of the drivers' titles, can provide. Much less young people advance, there are Schumacher on Benetton, or Hakkinen in McLaren, or Hill himself, albeit not very young, confirmed as his teammate in Williams. Senna needs him, he needs Alain. Prost answers him ironically:
"Yes, I will drive a slow car, so you can stay in front of me".
Senna acts as if he hasn't heard, and insists:
"Yes, but come back. I need you".
In fact, there was really a chance to welcome Alain back into Formula 1, and appeared immediately after the announcement of his retirement during the weekend of the Portuguese Grand Prix, raced in Estoril.
Ron Dennis showed up at Alain on the same evening of the day he made his announcement, offering him the chance to return to racing for him in 1994. Alain, despite having formalized the retirement, felt within himself the desire to continue racing; his pilot spirit was still alive and well.
Thus the French driver accepts a three-day test contract with the Peugeot-powered McLaren, to be held during the winter of 1994, and in case he liked the new car, he could have signed a contract for the following season, despite having a contract that tied him to Williams until the end of 1994. This is because, by retiring, Alain also received the 1994 salary in exchange for the promise not to race for any other team.
Yet, during the winter situations arise that all conspire in his favor. Marlboro, McLaren's main sponsor, has lost its great world testimonial, namely Senna, who has moved to Williams, not Marlboro sponsored.
McLaren debuts with the new Peugeot engine which is said to be very good but which, like all new engines, will need a certain period of development before starting the climb to the top. McLaren also has only one driver for now, the Finnish Mika Hakkinen, good but still unexperienced. For the other car, he absolutely must try to hire a top driver, otherwise it risks having minor contributions from Marlboro itself. And who better than Prost?
Peugeot also has an interest in hiring Alain because he is French, he is famous, he would free him from any ties with Renault, but above all the Professor has his greatest merit in the ability to know how to develop new cars and engines, and therefore, would allow to speed up the development process needed to win. The cost of releasing him from the Williams contract, however, is high: twenty million dollars.
Certainly not a small figure even for large companies, given that Marlboro has committed much more than in the past with Ferrari, while Peugeot, by supplying engines for free to McLaren, is heavily engaged on an economic as well as a technical level. Furthermore, we should convince Frank Williams, who in recent months has been loudly declaring:
"Prost has a contract with me and therefore cannot race for anyone else. If he wants to, he can test with other teams, but he cannot participate in the World Championship with other teams".
And that's exactly what it does. On February 17, 1994, Alain returned to the track and tested the Peugeot-powered McLaren. On the Estoril circuit, Alain completes one hundred and fifty-one laps and sets a time of 1'13"70, a bit slower than Mika Hakkinen (1'13"43), but it doesn't matter. Jean Pierre Jabouille, who has become sports manager of Peugeot Sport, comments:
"Alain liked driving the MP4/9. He certainly did not seem like a retired driver. We know that he has some contractual problems to solve. However, it was essential that he test our car and start working with us in order to arrive at an eventual contract signature".
And Alain adds:
"In these days here on the Estoril circuit there are still a lot of people following my tests, and I have felt a considerable pressure that is generated when there is a lot of attention from the press. Now I will have to reflect and make a final decision. Although I cannot deny that McLaren have done a truly magnificent job so far".
To tell the truth, it took him a day and a half of work for Alain to kindly decline Ron Dennis's offer. This McLaren will need a lot of time and exhausting work to get back to winning, not surprisingly, after the 104th success obtained by Senna in Australia in 1993, for the 105th McLaren will have to wait until 1997, with David Coulthard, again in Australia, but on the Melbourne street circuit, and not in Adelaide. On March 20, 1994, live on television during the news of the French television network TF1, Alain declares that he will not be at the start of the new World Championship:
"Well, I'm not going to race because I'm not motivated enough. I did some tests and realized that if the pleasure of piloting and working is intact, the pressure and certain other aspects would surely have poisoned my life in the space of three, four Grand Prix. I am sure that many would not have understood that I would have returned for the sole pleasure of piloting without the ambitions of winning or world championships. And then the risk factor remains. It was decisive in the decision to quit and I really believe that it will not decrease with the new norms and the return to supplies".
"To complete the job in a serious and correct manner, a two-year commitment would have been necessary on my part. A real complication: it would have been really not honest to communicate to the team, maybe after only a few races, a possible rethink. Nor do it at the end of the season, without reaping the fruits of one's work, it could have been better. I preferred to stop, indeed to maintain my position, rather than run the risk of regretting having continued. I have no nostalgia, however, absolutely none. I probably would have had it if I hadn't tried the McLaren. I would inevitably have some doubts left. So, instead, I was able to decide calmly, with all the elements in hand. I think at the moment it is premature to talk about Prost in the race. It is a situation in which there is not much clarity and I prefer not to talk about it. If Alain should reconsider it will only do good for my bank account".
This is the thought of Ayrton Senna exposed shortly before the 1994 Formula 1 World Championship began, as he is sure that the choice to change teams and migrate to Williams, after many years in McLaren, is a winner.
It will take little to transform the certainty of owning an unbeatable racing car in your hands into frustration, since the reality is another. Formula 1, as we know, evolves quickly, and the events of the 1994 championship prove it. But let's go in order.
After the goodbye of John Barnard, who returned to Ferrari, Tom Walkinshaw and Flavio Briatore restructured the technical department of Benetton Formula, dividing it into various sectors, strongly empowering the heads of the structure and giving them a certain autonomy, so as to allow interventions on individual components easily and without altering the whole project.
At the same time, taking into account the new regulations, the South African designer Rory Byrne and the technical director Ross Brawn choose to design the new single-seater, the B194, optimizing it for the driving style of the top driver Michael Schumacher.
At the presentation of the car, during the second week of January, an extremely rational and efficient car from an aerodynamic point of view is shown, with a high nose, voluminous side bellies and equipped with large flow deflector fins in front of the intake vents. Enthusiastic, Flavio Briatore comments:
"With Williams we are the team to beat. Frank will arrive with the new car after us this year and this is undeniably an advantage. McLaren seems like a UFO to me, an unidentified object in short. With the completely new engine to bring in. track I foresee, for Dennis and his team, a difficult year with an uphill start; in fact it will not be easy to fine-tune and make the Peugeot V10 competitive. Ferrari will certainly be more competitive than last season, but let's say that those from Maranello are judging ufo in half. But if you allow, my team is not afraid of anyone. I think I really have the best group in Formula 1".
At the same time, Cosworth, urged by Flavio Briatore, has seen fit to behave like a motor manufacturer and no longer as an engine dealer, supplying the Ford Zytek engine. The enthusiasm of the Benetton environment is counterbalanced by the situation of the Williams team, which is late with the presentation of the new FW16 and which therefore decided to continue testing with the FW15D, the model used by Prost in the 1993 championship, to which however, the active suspensions have been removed, replacing them with passive ones, as required by the technical regulations for the 1994 season.
Damon Hill had already started testing during the last months of 1993, while Ayrton had to give up getting familiar with the new car due to Ron Dennis' desire not to allow him to join the Williams team prematurely. On Tuesday January 18, 1994, on the Estoril circuit, Senna's adventure officially begins within the Sir Frank Williams team.
In the cold Portuguese afternoon, characterized by the warm rays of the sun, both the men of the British team and the French Renault team pose together with the tanned new signer in front of the international press.
The importance of the event is such that Rothmans, the official sponsor of the Williams team, invites about two hundred and fifty journalists from all over the world, including the Middle East, at her expense. At the end of the ceremony, Ayrton, very serenely expresses his joy at having finally arrived at Williams, and enthusiastically confides to the journalists present at the event:
"Ten years after my first test with Williams I was finally able to race with Frank. Technically the advantage of the team was such that perhaps my arrival at Williams should have taken place in 1992 instead of this season. In this respect it will not be easy to win because conditions and regulations have changed. The opponents are stronger and Williams is, perhaps, a little less. But inside of me I have an urge to do well and this is important to keep running, so I accepted a challenge of this kind".
"It's the biggest change I could grasp: making new friends, understanding a new car that has already won titles with other drivers. For sure this is the biggest change of my career. I want to work with Williams, with everyone the technicians and with Renault. After ten years of Formula 1 and three world titles, now I have the opportunity to continue learning and improving myself. Accepting the Williams challenge was the only thing that could keep me in Formula 1 at a high level. I really want to collaborate with the team and with all the men in the racing department".
At his debut with the FW15D, Ayrton laps in 1'12"44 (the record in practice was held by Hill with 1'11"294) and at the end of the first day of testing he declares:
"I have not had the opportunity to understand the car and its reactions, although after the first tests my impressions are very positive both on the chassis and on the engine. I also had problems with the seat, and I also had the position and the type of steering wheel. Only after everything is in place, I will be able to go to the maximum, and this could happen in the next tests. I only understood a few things about the FW15D, but on an intuitive level, not to the point of being able to make comparisons with McLaren. We are perhaps less competitive than last year, maybe there will be more difficulties, but the new rules changed the way we understand racing. Now, thanks to refueling in the race, it will be more important to study a new strategy. Now, perhaps, we at Williams have the advantage, but I foresee that very soon, if not in the first race, the fight will be reserved for the usual four teams: us, McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton".
"In this moment it is difficult to say how much risk there is in this new regulation. Only time will tell and if by chance it will not be important to introduce changes to make it less dangerous. Perhaps some teams and some mechanics will face errors and some mechanics. misunderstandings during the refueling phases. The system is not one hundred percent safe for all those who work in the pit lane, but only time will tell if the pit stop will be dangerous or if it will be the most spectacular moment of a race. Certainly the spectacle will change: in television and for the public will be more fun and interesting; it will also force all teams to change their racing tactics".
Ayrton knows that everyone expects an easy championship victory from him, however he is aware of the unknowns that the incoming championship can reserve:
"I am one of the few lucky guys who won the world title and I know what difficulties it entails. I'm not so sure I'll win again, just because I'm racing with Williams. We have a lot of work to do both Damon and me and at Williams I know they will do. everything possible to win the world championship again. But as long as I don't become familiar with the car, I don't put my signature on anything. Many things have also changed, starting with the rules, which have favored rivals like Ferrari and Benetton, not to mention McLaren. At the moment this team it is still a question, but the question is only about how long it will take to become competitive because they will make it this year, no matter the type of engine they use".
In the days to come, after filming on Tuesday and Wednesday, Damon Hill returns to England and leaves room for Ayrton and test driver David Coulthard, who continue testing with the FW15D.
Using the days used to carry out commercials, Ayrton continues the learning path with the test team led by Brian Lambert. And despite the short time available, it completes a total of 155 laps and manages to give many indications, starting with the electronics and the software that controls the semi-automatic gearbox, passing through the two Renault engine evolutions, the RS5 and the RS6, of which he makes it clear that he is not totally satisfied with the linearity of the torque curve.
More specifically, the Brazilian driver has suffered a specific request: he wants a larger steering wheel to reduce driving effort. In fact, in the tests of Estoril, Ayrton was the protagonist of an off the track, caused by the impossibility of movement to which the driving position and the steering wheel forced him:
"If I could change something immediately, I would change the driving position on the Williams. This is also why we are working to define it according to the FW16".
On Friday January 21, 1994, in fact, due to the non-ideal driving position, Ayrton is involved in an accident in turn 3, where he loses control of the car at a speed of about 240 km/h, spins and hits the guard-rails without reporting consequences.
The same problem occurs two days later, again due to a less than optimal driving position. However, in these first days of testing, Ayrton is pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere of teamwork that prevails in Williams, but he immediately makes it clear with the sponsors that he is available, but that he does not have much time to waste. It is also curious the episode involving Betise Assunçao, Ayrton's press officer, who arrived in Estoril looking for her client and for this she turns to Frank Williams, telling him:
"I'm looking for Senna".
But nicely Frank replies:
"Are you looking for who?"
And here Frank, in a very calm way, concludes this nice exchange by saying:
"There's no Senna here. We work seriously here, but we don't take ourselves too seriously. So I'm Frank, Head is Patrick and Senna is Ayrton. We all have our first names".
Just to make it clear that inside the garage, despite Ayrton's driving problems, his indications at the limit of perfection in Alain style, and the delay related to the presentation of the new and revolutionary FW16, there is a serene air.
The same cannot be said - and it seems absurd - for Benetton, given that at Silverstone, Friday January 21, 1994, the Finnish driver JJ Letho is involved in an accident that will force him to undergo a surgical operation, due to a fracture on the fifth cervical vertebra.
On a slimy circuit, while taking the Stowe corner at a speed of over 250 km/h with his Benetton B193B, the modified 1993 model, due to a dip in the track, Letho loses control of his car and hits the wall of delimitation of the curve with the rear part of the car, moving the protections by almost twenty centimeters, before also impacting the front of the car. In the collision the engine breaks through the body and Letho immediately loses consciousness.
Then, once the rescue arrives at the scene of the accident, and the pilot's state of health has been verified, the latter is immediately taken to the hospital, where he undergoes an emergency intervention by Dr. John O'Brien. Immediately the worst is feared for the Finnish driver, but luckily, since he is not lacking in tenacity, he gets back on his feet very quickly, and promises to be back on track soon.
The spirit is certainly not lacking in Letho, given that, despite being supported by his girlfriend also present at the London Clinic, inside room 606, the Finn spends his days in hospital bothering the nurses and wandering around the facility. Reached by reporters, he will say about the incident:
"The only thing I remember with precision is that I accelerated on the slippery asphalt, coming out of the corners, and that I heard the rear end starting".
Then he starts joking and says:
"Are you going to Silverstone? Tell the boys that I will be there for sure in Brazil, that they must have my car ready. I have already had an equally serious accident, at the time of Scuderia Italia. This time they have taken bone splinters from my pelvis and my neck is stronger than before. The only thing we regretted was hearing that the team didn't help me. Just say it's not true, that they were close to me from the first moment. They made me hospitalize in this clinic that looks like a hotel to me. There is even room service, telephones and they bring you what you want, even beer and wine".
Back to the Estoril tests, when these are finished, Ayrton returns to Brazil, where he deals with some business, and subsequently moves to Bermuda, where his airline is based (a company that actually operates only his own aircraft, a Citation Galaxy), and then for a few more days in Portugal at his villa in the Algarve. Ayrton remains in constant contact with Adrian Newey, Patrick Head and Frank Williams, to collaborate to give further advice on how to build the new car.
After the many insistence to try already at the end of 1993, now the Brazilian driver refuses to get on the old FW15D again, because he is convinced that the single-seater adapted to the new rules, modified and cut, absolutely cannot give him the idea of the final car for the 1994 season. So, in the meantime, in Barcelona it is Damon Hill who continues to test with the FW15D, while Schumacher is busy with his new Benetton B194.
And although it is normal that not much can be expected from the Williams hybrid car, the Spanish tests immediately suggest that the B194 is an absolutely winning car. In fact, when Schumacher also gets on the B193B, tested by his colleague Jos Verstappen, he immediately notices the enormous difference between the two projects, and is pleasantly surprised.
To counterbalance the satisfaction of the Benetton team are the problems of Williams. In fact, on Wednesday February 9th, Damon Hill loses control of the car at the end of the circuit straight and crashes into the outer wall.
After the car has been recovered, at the Williams home they begin to investigate the causes of the accident and it is concluded that this was caused by the semi-automatic gearbox that prevented the driver from climbing.
Williams therefore continues to conduct both aerodynamic and set-up tests, but is unable to confirm the presentation date of the FW16 which is expected by the end of the month. The delay is due to Ayrton's need for a larger steering wheel, as he had at McLaren, to reduce the effort required by driving.
For this reason, Adrian Newey and Patrick Head try to find a solution to modify the upper part of the car adapting it to this need. But at the same time they are starting to get impatient, as Ayrton has no plans to get back on track before the FW16 is ready. This factor certainly does not help the research of the two engineers, who are committed to finding a way to satisfy his requests.
Finally, after a long wait and a lot of work, on a very cold February 24th 1994, at the Silverstone circuit, Williams presents the long awaited FW16. At the presentation of the new car, however, to the great surprise, there are very few people.
Ayrton, who arrived early at the circuit, accompanied by his press agent Betise Assunçao, is very tanned and the contrast with the top, white, of the suit, accentuates his dark complexion even more. Shortly before the presentation, Ayrton finds time to laugh at the anti-cold dance of a reporter present, to whom he says:
"Of course we are a really nice pair of idiots. I was in Angra do Reis, you in Rome and now we are here instead dying by cold".
Finally, after a long wait, the new car comes covered with a cloth, which is finally shown to those present inside the garage. The new FW16 is, as expected, very innovative, as it adopts new solutions regarding the wing and the trapezoidal rear suspension:
- The first is an inverted V, the same solution as the wings of military aircraft;
- The latter are even more surprising, given that, in particular, instead of the traditional pair of arms, a single carbon upper arm has been placed, the section of which re-proposes the concepts of lift used in the design of aircraft wings.
This shaft also completely hulls the drive shaft. However, what is immediately assumed with regard to this solution is that such suspensions could be judged to be irregular, given that moving parts with aerodynamic functions are expressly prohibited by the regulation. But Patrick Head rejects this kind of possibility, and indeed points out:
"Yes, our car is different in the back. The upper part of the suspension is obviously lower but I don't want to inform the competitors too much. Not so soon at least. This is a solution completely geared towards improving aerodynamic efficiency. After all, the whole car is. The aerodynamic research has been preponderant, but I don't feel like attributing the merits of the design of this new car to anyone, nor the idea of this new suspension, neither to Adrian nor to me collegial work that required the contribution of all our technical staff, but also of many external technicians from various suppliers as regards the construction. The basic idea of this new car, however, is ours alone".
Adrian Newey also underlines the aerodynamic differences compared to the previous FW15, stating:
"Unlike the FW15, which was very similar to the FW14B, the FW16 is a completely new single-seater. For aerodynamics, the result of an interesting discovery in the wind tunnel, but also for all the mechanical elements. suspension, which has returned to the passive system, but also from the gearbox, engine and many accessories. The body is much narrower as is the tank cell. All volumes have been reduced".
The FW16 is also talked about for other reasons. For example, the confusion in the application of regulations means that all teams are busy seeking regulatory interpretations in the construction and development of mechanisms that at the moment no one knows whether they are lawful or not. In this regard, Adrian Newey, for example, has decided to equip the car with a fly-by-wire accelerator despite being expressly prohibited by the regulation. Patrick Head justifies the presence of this system by stating:
"We do not want to find ourselves unprepared, fly-by-wire is a very useful device and since it is not clear at the moment whether it can be used or not, we have experimented and developed it. This machine will try it as it is now, but we can return to the traditional mechanism without any problem".
Radiant with the solutions presented, Frank Williams is already ready for battle:
"I'll be very clear: we will always push ourselves to the limit, while remaining within the rules. Our technical objective is to progress, not to retreat. There are still areas of the regulation that are not well defined: one of these concerns the fly by wire, or electronic accelerator. But the absurdity is that this system is banned because it helps the pilot, while the organizations that control us fear that the device hides traction control".
After the pleasantries, Ayrton takes to the track to test the FW16, and after completing about twenty laps he gets out of the car and talks to the journalists, to whom he confides:
"Of course it is too early to draw conclusions about the new car. I can only say that it was worth it to freeze a bit and I am quite satisfied. We only covered about twenty laps but they served to verify that everything was in order for the tests at Paul Ricard. I only did six consecutive laps, preferring to work with the pit crews with repeated stops. I absolutely cannot point out anything that it doesn't go wrong on my car. At the moment, however, it requires a lot of work and many attempts before finding a perfect set-up".
"Today it was too cold and it was not possible to work on development. I can only say that the engine does not heat up: the temperatures are optimal so that the cooling circuit works properly. Given the track conditions I'm happy with how things went. At least we know what to do for the massive work we will have to face at Paul Ricard. However, even after those tests, we will know how competitive we are. Only in Imola, where we will be on the track with the others, we will be able to make a precise assessment of our potential".
Ultimately, Ayrton is satisfied with his new car.
However, the journalists present at Silverstone note that the car has a reduced section steering wheel and therefore the Brazilian driver's request was not met. And even if to reduce the effort a different type of steering reduction has been developed that increases the required rotation of the steering wheel, regarding this last point Ayrton replies:
"It's true, I want to keep the steering wheel I've always used. We will have to work a little to get to the right position in the cockpit, but I'm sure we will find a solution to every difficulty".
The Williams FW16 has been reduced in size and previously the shock absorbers that had been used up to that time, the Ohlins, replaced with those of the American company Penske have been changed. In addition, Williams is the only car to have lower front suspension mounts inside the chassis, to maximize aerodynamic flows.
At the end of the presentation, as the Williams car transporter heads for the Paul Ricard circuit, Ayrton spends a lot of his time in Didcot; in London he still has deals and contracts to finalize, but as a custom he wants to understand, from the inside, how his new car is born. On March 1, 1994, on the Paul Ricard circuit, it begins. Ayrton takes to the track to seriously test his new Williams FW16.
But, after the first laps, following an examination of the car, we immediately discover the presence of a worrying crack in the carbon triangle of the rear suspension, in the part closest to the gearbox. The tests then terminate immediately.
Adrian Newey, who does not exclude that he may have made errors in the calculations of the loads acting on the piece, remedies the problem encountered by strengthening the piece with metal sheet. And while Newey gives orders to carry out other small mechanical and aerodynamic interventions as well as to improve the driver's position, Ayrton confides to reporters:
"I didn't notice anything while driving. The car works. But for safety reasons it was decided to change certain things and some details will arrive only in the evening from England".
Wednesday March 2, 1994, 10:20 am. Ayrton begins a series of three rounds. The first lap leads him at a low pace, to warm up the tires, then increases the pace but on the second lap, at the end of the Mistral straight, before the Signes corner, when the car reaches a speed of 318 km/h, it raises the foot:
"It's not easy. To pass Signes full-gas at that speed, you need to have a perfectly good car. Mine wasn't quite so, I had to be very careful".
He will say later. The third lap is the good one, and Senna sets a time of 1'03"40, two tenths from the best performance of a Formula 1 car with ailerons and narrow tires. At the end of the tests, one hundred and fifty-three laps will be covered. After the tests, Ayrton tells the Italian press:
"After carrying out the necessary repairs, there were no more problems. The front end also gave us some headaches, with a strange operation that triggered bad jerks both when entering and exiting the corners. But now we know why. We will have to work both in terms of aerodynamics and mechanics, and perhaps not everything will be ready for the tests at Imola, but the essential thing is to know where to put your hands".
"We worked hard to eliminate the air turbulence that shakes my helmet excessively at high speed by changing different windshields, even trying a new Bell helmet, like the one used by Fittipaldi in Indianapolis. This test, however, did not give the desired results because the The wing that this helmet has under the chin generates too much load and crushes my head. I also have problems reading some instruments and the attachments of the belts hurt me".
"We made continuous adjustments to the seat as well, but at the same time the performance improved and the body was stressed more, so the position problems returned. We still have to keep working, because finding an ideal driving position is essential".
The journalists, putting attention to everything, ask if at Paul Ricard, during the tests, Ayrton had traveled with the load of fuel on board (it will be discovered that he had over fifty liters of fuel in the tank), working essentially on the roughing of the car. He confirms the intuition, and admits:
"It's true, I never looked for absolute performance and only driving, probably, I could have filed a second with a certain ease. But, even if the desire was not lacking, it would not have helped much. Our car was not yet perfect and it was certainly more useful to continue the fine-tuning work, trying in particular to make it constant in terms of performance in race conditions. And at Imola next week you can be sure that I will try. I am convinced that the potential is there, but there is it is also a lot of work still to be done".
When asked about the delay in the presentation of the FW16, Ayrton is not very worried, and indeed even jokes about it:
"At McLaren I was used to cars ready only at the last moment and often winning. In this sense, this car is ready even too soon. Joking aside, what matters is that the car is well conceived and well built, so much for reasons of performance as well as safety. Because otherwise we lose even more time to remedy the mistakes. Before going to Brazil we will try again in Imola and then in Barcelona: hopefully it should be enough. But the Interlagos Grand Prix will be a little unknown for everyone because no one has had the opportunity to try in the same hot conditions and with a bumpy track as the Brazilian one is now".
"Every year the best engineers present new solutions designed to improve performance. Some are obvious, others, while radical, go unnoticed except by the other engineers who are able to guess their presence and effect. This year, with the comeback the passive suspensions tried to optimize their functioning and particular attention was paid to the aerodynamics. But not only at Williams, it was like this for everyone. I have not yet seen the Ferrari live, but for what I have been able to observe thanks to the photographs published by specialized magazines, there are many details that are certainly interesting. And Benetton has some too".
"I certainly can't compare with an active Williams, which I've never driven. On the other hand, I know the difference between the active and passive versions of the McLaren. Driving is certainly less comfortable and the car is more difficult to control especially on the humpbacks. We all, pilots and engineers, have to start learning to work again without that technological aid".
And in conclusion, after talking about his current team, Ayrton also returns to talk about McLaren, with which he won three world championships:
"Leaving McLaren after six years was an essential change in my life. In addition to working on the car, now I also have to learn to work with the team. It's something you learn little by little, but for now the contact is great with all the members of the team. They are all competent and hardworking, like at McLaren. Little by little the friendship that already exists with Frank will be established. Of course, it would certainly have been better to be able to carry out the tests at the end of the year as well. But I don't want to think about it anymore, all this is part of the past now".
From March 8th to 11th, other tests are planned in Imola, a real test bench where all the teams will bring their cars to verify the goodness of their projects. And as expected, the tests give excellent food for thought, given that at the end of the three days of testing it is clear that Williams has excellent potential, although there are many things still to be fixed: in fact, both Senna and Hill run in times of absolute importance, so much so that the Brazilian driver even manages to beat Mansell's old record.
However, it is not the time of Ayrton and his FW16 that best recorded during the three days of testing, but that of Schumacher and his Benetton B194, which did better than 166 tenths of a second. Ayrton is cautiously calm and justifies the fact by giving team orders:
"Frank forced me to always run with at least seventy liters of petrol in the tank, telling me to be careful not to overdo it. He didn't want to draw the attention of the Federation to Williams: if we prove we are too strong, who knows what they could invent to make us slow down".
"I am very satisfied with how the tests went, because every day we showed a clear progress compared to the previous day. You will only see Williams' true potential in Brazil: there I will demonstrate how fast I am. In the meantime I accept bets on the tests of the Grand Prix of Imola: other than Schumacher's 1'21"078, I am convinced that the real pole will be below 1'20"00".
Ayrton is energized and eager to prove himself and Williams' worth.
"I'm so calm because I'm finally working with a competitive team and when you work well, I'm relaxed. Other than holidays: it's the work that makes me happy. It's always nice when you can stick to a program and see the results of each modification. Of course we worked a lot on the set-up, because with the mechanical suspension it is not so easy to find the right solutions. You have to progress little by little, understand where and how to intervene. It is not easy for the driver and not even for the engineers".
"In Imola it is difficult to adjust the car, because we use the wing to be fast on the straight and there are both fast and slow corners. In some respects it is very similar to Interlagos, but in Brazil the parameters for the engine change because we are at a height of about eight hundred meters and there is a more wavy track. Maybe the tires will be different, as well as the temperature that will be higher. The conditions will not be like those of Imola, but here it was enough to understand how to adjust the car, the engine and the aerodynamics. I was pleased to receive a lot of applause after each record performance, but I was also happy because at each test I improve the feeling with the car and I feel I can push a little more".
Senna, however, complains of the very bumpy asphalt at the Tamburello curve, and of the fact that the passive suspension certainly does not help the passage in this section of the circuit:
"Certainly with the passive suspension you feel the roughness of the ground more and the driving is more tiring. But in Imola the asphalt has worsened, especially at the Tamburello corner, the fastest ever on the track. There are three or four of them steps that put a strain on road holding, must absolutely be resurfaced".
And he goes back to underline that on the new FW16 it is precisely the suspensions that must be developed properly, given that these represent the biggest problem of the new Williams:
"Undoubtedly the suspensions are the main problem, the whole group, springs and shock absorbers included. They deserve the utmost attention and must be understood as well as possible. Then, since the FW16 is a new car, there are many other small details to fix but it is a small thing".
In this regard, in Imola, Adrian Newey explains his philosophies of construction of the FW16, of which he is calm about the goodness of his creation:
"In this FW16 there are very few compromises. In 1995 completely different single-seaters will be needed due to the profound change in the regulations, with the introduction of the step under the sides. In any case, we will have to start all over again, and that is why we opted for it for a 1994 single-seater that made the most of every component. Aerodynamic research was the guiding principle of the whole project".
"With the active suspension it was possible to create single-seaters with a very strong aerodynamics, but at the same time difficult to control. With the passive suspension, on the other hand, it is necessary to have a car that is not affected by the variation in height from the ground and that has a center of very stable pressure. Like Barnard, I concentrated on the efficiency of the rear axle, to try to reduce turbulence and increase the downforce. The front axle serves, above all, to balance the car, but the more or less good efficiency of the car is determined from the rear".
"This is why I studied a complex rear wing that should make it possible to use less incidence in the upper part, which has remained almost traditional. Above all, I took to the extreme a concept already conceived last year, that of trying to lower the entire rear part as much as possible the idea of the suspension was born, therefore of the new gearbox, which has very reduced height dimensions. When you try to optimize as much as possible, you inevitably arrive at solutions that do not allow many modifications".
"It is difficult to adjust the geometry of the rear suspension, but this has always been a characteristic of the Williams, even if before building the rear triangle we did a lot of experiments on the FW15D to lock the optimal anti-squat value with this solution. The method too construction of the frame has entailed an important constraint in the shape and position of the entrance to the air intakes of the sides".
And to the very accurate and detailed description of Adrian Newey, a week later is added also that of Patrick Head, who confesses to the specialized press that these suspensions, considered not in order, were actually approved by Charlie Withing several months before their presentation:
"When Adrian told me about the results in the wind tunnel with the model of the FW16 equipped with a very low rear end and the upper suspension triangles become a single piece with the drive shaft inside, we notified Charlie Withing. We delivered the drawings and a dossier on the occasion of the French Grand Prix. It was early July. We explained that every element of a suspension necessarily has a certain - negative - influence on aerodynamics. Furthermore, every element of a triangle has an elliptical shape studied in a wind tunnel instead of having three small airfoils, we had only one with a major chord, with an absolutely symmetrical profile so that it did not generate additional downforce".
"Each element of the suspension is in contact with the air and is not rigidly attached to the suspended mass as it must be for the wing appendages. It is a problem of the legislators to put a limit beyond which it cannot go. Our request was considered legal, because to all intents and purposes the single piece in carbon replaced one hundred percent the triangle in tubes and had no incidence with respect to the air flow as could be the case of the normal tube arms designed with a shape such as to create downforce anyway we received a fax of approval from the FIA on August 27, 1993. I started the study of the FW16 quietly, especially because at the time the relations with the FIA and Williams were not such as to suggest that they somehow wanted to grant us some concessions".
"Adrian Newey focused on the study and precisely on the search for maximum aerodynamic stability. His main goal was to have a rear as low as possible. Making the upper suspension arm with the drive shaft inside was not like building a normal carbon fiber rear wing. There is hard design work behind it, with complex structural calculations and a considerable number of bench tests of the individual elements. But bringing the two suspension triangles together in this way created stability problems for the wheels".
"This also involved a complete redesign of the hub carrier which has to withstand greater structural stress. During the winter we did a lot of experiments with the FW15D to find the right values of the correct anti-squat - anti-sinking of the rear axle that can be obtained by varying the points of attack of the triangles in order to give them more or less inclination - because in the FW16, with the wing profile arm, it cannot be modified except with a different fusion of the gearbox. Similarly, always during the winter tests, on the FW15D we tested different weight distributions and all the various set-up possibilities in order to block the new project on optimal values".
"It must be emphasized that some set-up variables were not mechanically interesting with active suspension and now they become so again. For example, the anti-sinking corrections both in front and behind were managed by the electronics, now instead they have to be studied at level of attacks and suspension kinematics. The only concern is reliability: we are really close to the season with this new car and obviously I would be calmer if we had accumulated a few thousand more kilometers of testing before the race in Brazil".
Finally, speaking of the opponents, Patrick Head confesses:
"Among the rivals, I fear Benetton, which is the one that has grinded the most kilometers with the new car, even if the jump of almost 1000 rpm in the new Ford engine, now at 14.500, can lead to some fears for its effective duration over the distance. Same goes for McLaren, struggling with an engine on its Formula 1 debut. As for the new Ferrari so far it hasn't impressed me, but I think it needs development. The engine should be reliable as it comes from last year's unit, then with refueling the disadvantage of the extra petrol is divided into two or three sections of the race and therefore is practically canceled".
When there are a few days left to the start of the championship, everyone is betting for absolute domination by Senna, the best rider on the grid in the World Champion team, who seems to only have to worry about any complaints raised by the opposing teams regarding the innovative rear suspension.
On the other hand, following the tests carried out during the winter, quite positive feelings have developed around the Williams, even if there is a lot of work to be done to fix a car that is still complex to understand and operate. Yet the potential seems to be there, you can see it.
But the world of Formula 1 is constantly evolving, and everything can change overnight. On March 27, 1994, the Brazilian Grand Prix, the opening race of the 1994 Formula 1 world championship, was held at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo. It is a strange, very strange weekend, that awaits Senna in Sao Paulo.
First of all, after so many years, Prost has seriously decided not to race: he tried the McLaren, but he preferred not to embark on a project that would take too long to become a winner, and rather than leave it halfway, he decided not to take this type of commitment. Thus, Ayrton Senna remains the only rider on the grid to have already won the world championship in his career. The predictions are all on his side.
Although he went very fast in the winter tests with his Benetton, no one is betting on Michael Schumacher, of whom it is thought that he can win some races and that he can be a good outsider, but for the world championship the absolute domination of Senna and of his Williams, despite the elimination of active suspension, a technological innovation that has allowed the British team to easily triumph in the last two championships.
Yet, despite the public awaiting a boring and monotonous championship, Ayrton arrives in Sao Paulo with more than a few doubts gripping him, and with the conviction that Benetton can prove to be a worthy opponent. This is mainly for two reasons.
Unlike in the past, Senna is now forced to devote part of his time to promotional requests from new partners, and for this he often has to interrupt his technical discussions with Patrick Head and Adrian Newey to fulfill obligations already undertaken.
Rothmans claims it, the Renault Sport which with its president Patrick Faure wants to present it to the press and to the many customers of its car manufacturer; in the same press conference Ayrton presents the Sennina publishing project, the comic strip that will represent him among the children of his tormented country; a positive hero, full of hope and certainties. All this can only annoy him beyond the excess, given that, secondly, during the winter tests, quite a few problems of adaptation emerged inside his Williams.
For this reason, even during the first race weekend Ayrton seeks together with his technicians’ minimum solutions that can satisfy him:
"The cockpit is too narrow, the driving position is not valid, it is tiring. I cannot drive this car as I would like and how I could. It is too rigid and sensitive to any slight undulation of the post or change in height".
In addition to this, Senna also complains about the pit entrance pitch and the asphalt of the circuit which is very bumpy: on a humped circuit like São Paulo, the Williams FW16, precisely because it is so exasperated, must be trimmed with the springs of the shock absorbers almost blocked, to nail the suspension in this way, transforming the car into a kind of go-kart powered by 790 horsepower.
Mauricio Gugelmin, Brazilian driver who abandoned Formula 1 in 1992 to race in the IRL championship, present in Sao Paulo to attend the tests and the Grand Prix, comments as a spectator the difference in the behavior of the cars of Senna and Schumacher:
"Schumacher's Benetton was much more in place on this type of circuit. Especially in the slow corners, in the mixed, Schumacher had the advantage. It's a matter of set-up. The Williams was visibly stiffer, the Benetton softer, less exasperated. Me. I know Adrian well, I raced with his single-seaters at Leyton House. His ideas in aerodynamics are brilliant, but they only work with certain parameters. On a wavy track like Interlagos, without the active ones, you had to practically lock the springs. There is another problem for Ayrton, we all know that he complained about the steering wheel. When you drive in the race, as the laps accumulate, the position of the hands tends to change. wrist rotates forward, knuckles swell and rub against the instrument panel. Especially if the cockpit is as custom-made as the Williams one looks like. After six years in McLaren, it's tough".
Despite everything, in qualifying Ayrton manages to precede Schumacher, albeit by only three tenths, and to conquer the pole position:
"I am moderately satisfied and optimistic and for several reasons. First because I did not have the slightest mechanical problem. Secondly because my car is not yet perfect in the chassis adjustment. I have worked hard, but I have not been forced to risk any further. The limits. So I can improve. I was not surprised by Benetton's recovery, but I think he could have problems in the race. As for Ferrari, he could only grow. We'll see. Of course this year the battle will be tighter and we will play a lot on the reliability of the cars, on the tactics in the race and on the physical endurance of the drivers. If it rains, there will be some good ones. These cars are difficult to drive: getting off the track like fools is a matter of seconds".
Despite the pole position, Senna continues to remind everyone that the FW16 still has many problems to solve. It is no coincidence that Damon Hill almost went crazy trying to understand the car, which has enormous understeer problems. Ayrton, for his part, knows very well that the extremely tight set-up in practice will force him to take serious risks in the race, regardless of whether he is in the lead or that he has to chase his opponents. In one of the discussions between pilots, Senna asks Hill:
"Is it normal for the car to behave like this?"
Hill's reply is far from reassuring:
"Well, I'm relatively new here too. I was hoping you were able to tell me".
Sunday March 27, 1994, at the start of the race Ayrton keeps the lead. Schumacher, on the other hand, is overtaken by Alesi, who, however, must return the position to the German the next lap. After overtaking, Schumacher begins his pursuit of Senna, who has already put four seconds between him and his first pursuer after a few hundred meters.
Shortly before the pit-stop carousel begins, however, Schumacher has reduced the gap to just one second, and on lap twenty-one, the pit-stop takes place simultaneously: although the strategy of the two teams was almost identical, and therefore the fuel present in the tank were the same, the Benetton mechanics are much faster, and allow Schumacher to take the lead.
The German has an excellent race pace and creates a ten second gap over Senna when the second pit stop was also made for both. At this point Ayrton tries to get closer, gains five seconds and together with the double tread also the other Williams of Hill, third in the race. After that, Senna loses control at the Junçao car and has to retire, making it an easy task for Schumacher, who wins in complete tranquillity with a lap ahead of Hill and Alesi, who complete the podium.
Despite going off the track, certainly caused by driving problems and physical fatigue that arose over the course of the laps, Ayrton appears calm after the race, does not create controversy and does not seek excuses. Back in the pits, he speaks with extreme attention, and confesses:
"There are no excuses. I was driving to the limit to try to recover but it was not possible, I was less fast. My car at that moment was at the limit and to recover under Schumacher I had to take risks. I should have been satisfied, but me second place doesn't matter. I went off the track on lap 56 due to my mistake. Then I couldn't find the right gear, the engine stopped and I was left on the lawn. A really uphill start and I think that it will be difficult to recover".
However, a little later, Ayrton himself, who admitted his mistake to the press, violently confronts the technicians, to whom he explains that after an hour of racing the steering wheel handle tends to change due to fatigue. In practice, just as Gugelmin also said, the hands tend to cling more and more to the steering wheel, thus also changing the position of the arms, which do not find space in the very narrow cockpit of the FW16; then, the wrists rotate forward and the knuckles swell, going to rub against the instrument panel. Ayrton wants a remedy to be found as soon as possible and while not looking for a clash with Adrian Newey, invites him to modify the car.
At the same time, Schumacher smiles, despite having feared for a couple of hours a possible disqualification following Eddie Jordan's complaint against his Benetton:
"I was certain that they could not disqualify me for the side bulkheads of the car not connected to the flat bottom. They had been checked and found to be regular. This story will not stop me from enjoying a success that I did not expect. I knew we were strong but I did not know the exact Williams' value. Now I know we can beat them. We have the advantage of having tried more than anyone in the winter".
"How nice to get out of the pits after the first refueling and see Senna in the rear view mirrors. Even better to see that he was losing ground. At the start I made a mistake. Luckily I remedied. And we intend to improve, even if it is clear that Senna's team will do everything to recover and that other teams will be able to grow. Thinking about the world title costs nothing but it seems ridiculous to me, it is too early, there are fifteen races to go until the end of the championship. Let's say I started well and the prospects are good".
"Our declared goal is to fight for the final victory. But it will be tough, just as it won't be easy for Senna or anyone who wants to try. With the new technical rules, with the abolition of the most sophisticated electronics, every race will make history to himself and every chance must be played without making a mistake. There will also be third troubles. Alesi showed at the beginning of the race that Ferrari can be an obstacle, and if it improves, everything will become more difficult for everyone. for the next Pacific Grand Prix. Better take advantage of our advantage now".
This is echoed by Flavio Briatore, who at the beginning of the year had announced that they would be the favorites at the start of the championship:
"Michael has a remarkable ability to concentrate, courage, a pinch of recklessness, a dose of selfishness that does not hurt for the profession of driver, enormous self-confidence, sensitivity in setting up the car, learning speed, driving skills. The pleasure of earning a lot, but never at the expense of the best choices".
Starting on the Monday following the Brazilian Grand Prix, Williams held three days of testing in Jerez to test the car on a very undulating circuit. Chassis tests are therefore carried out with the reserve car (the others were already leaving for Aida), flanked by a FW15D for comparative purposes, to identify causes and remedies for the problems of the FW16.
On Monday March 28th, Hill and Coulthard start work, then on Tuesday it is Ayrton and Hill's turn, while on Wednesday March 30, 1994, only Ayrton is on the track with both cars.
At the end of the tests, Damon declares that the FW16 is much more driveable in the slow sections than Interlagos, where both he and Senna had problems with understeer. Despite this, in the tests carried out in Jerez the FW15D was found to be faster than the FW16.
At the same time, at Silverstone, after the accident that forced him to a long rehabilitation, JJ Letho returns to drive for Benetton, while the following day, March 31, 1994, on the Mugello circuit, Jean Alesi, while driving the Arrabbiata curve in his Ferrari, climbs hard on the curb, loses grip and therefore the control of the car, which rises and crashes with the rear part of the car against the wall.
It seems an accident like any other, and instead Alesi remains stationary inside the cockpit: extracted and taken to the hospital, the doctors find that the French driver has the intervertebral discs (the fibrous rings interposed between the vertebrae) of the spinal column crushed. Also due to he, as previously happened to Letho, promises a long stop. Ferrari therefore decided to bring the Italian test driver and driver Nicola Larini to Aida and Imola.
About two weeks later, on April 17, 1994, the second race of the championship took place at the Aida circuit in Japan. The Okayama International Circuit, inaugurated in 1990, is a racetrack built in an unknown and rural area of Japan, accessible only by bus. In the previous months, Hajime Tanaka, a Japanese businessman with a passion for cars, managed to convince Bernie Ecclestone that in Japan you can race twice in a year.
The history of this facility is curious: in 1986 Tanaka went to France to attend the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The show was so overwhelming for Tanaka that it made him want to build his own circuit.
Roland Ratzenberger, Simtek's new acquisition, has already raced there with Japanese Formula 3, and considers it a Grand Prix track in the middle of nowhere. This is how the Pacific Grand Prix was born.
The circuit, a brand new and state-of-the-art facility as regards safety facilities, contrasts with the surrounding area, with only one hotel in the district and different places for the different categories of work: drivers, mechanics and press in fact placed in different points.
In Aida, thanks also to the time zone, the alarms at dawn and the presence on the circuit of Mr. Tanaka when it is still dark, both journalists and drivers find themselves still sleepy at the circuit. In this circumstance, in an informal way, Senna confides in the journalists present and talks about his car, which is new and difficult to develop, but he adds confidently.
"Give me time to tame that beast and you'll see".
To compensate for the missing load, the Williams Aida is fitted with two small fins on the sides of the very inclined nose, with the function of generating vortices to improve the load at the front, and a double advanced profile at the rear wing. In addition to this, the British team modifies the geometry of the front suspension and the suspension system, while the Renault brings an engine with greater softness in the delivery of power at low revs.
However, Williams also suffers in Aida, especially in the slow corners, where the car has difficulties both in insertion and in exit. In the slow sections of the circuit, the defects of the chassis are evident, while in the fast section, where the risks that the driver can take also count, the Williams still seems the car as fast as it was appreciated in previous years.
But in addition to the lack of load and stability, Ayrton complains several times about the brakes. The Brazilian driver insists a lot on having the same Brembo fitted by McLaren and Ferrari, but the Williams technicians remain loyal to the AP, with whom Ayrton is not confident, since the pedal is lengthened under braking, and not always in the same way and in the same turn. For a fussy driver like him, who takes care of every detail beyond belief, this is inadmissible.
Yet, even at Aida Senna obtained the best time during practice in the Friday session, while on Saturday, since the track is in very bad conditions due to bad weather, few drivers manage to improve the timed times, consequently Ayrton keeps the advantage on Schumacher, who stopped the clock two tenths of a second from pole. However, in anticipation of the race the poleman is not so optimistic:
"It will be very difficult, with petrol refueling and tire changes. My car is not yet perfect. And here you can't overtake. In short, it will be a real lottery".
On the other hand, Michael Schumacher is calm and bold, and at the end of the two practice sessions questions the qualities of his opponent, thus commenting on the pole he obtained:
"Is Senna superior to me in qualifying? Well, before talking about superiority, I would like to remind you that he uses a special version of the Renault in practice, and we can't with the Ford. And in any case, qualifying is one thing and the race is another. I am confident. I can win again".
In Aida there is the clear feeling that Benetton is the new team to beat, while the reigning world champion team does not seem to rise to the occasion at the moment, given that within the Williams garage, relations are already starting to be tense: already since Thursday evening more or less veiled accusations have begun to filter out against Senna, who is accused by some members of the team of not pushing hard enough, despite the two poles won.
And to this is added the fact that Renault and Rothmans, the main supporters of the team, have no right to him, they cannot use him in any way; therefore Ayrton shows up in plain clothes at the press conferences, in which all the other drivers are in official uniform, and at most he wears a cap advertising his personal sponsor. This obviously does not please and indeed fuels the tensions between suppliers and the team.
Furthermore, although they have contributed to finance the creation of the Renault engine, and are not only sponsors but also quality technical partners, some Elf managers present in Japan no longer hide the fact that they feel excluded, at least not taken into proper account by the team. and accuse Renault, guilty of not knowing them or not wanting to defend them.
Finally, as if that were not enough, Ayrton discovers that Benetton-Ford is about to buy Ligier, a French textile manufacturer that controls the homonymous Formula 1 team. The aim is clear: by purchasing the French material, Benetton would also be able to have the powerful V10 Renault engine for the 1995 season.
The tension inside the Williams garage grows and rises throughout the weekend, until it reaches the maximum level on Saturday night, when Senna violently quarrels with the technician who takes care of his car.
Towards sunset, Ayrton complains about the position chosen by the team for the pit stop, too backward and close to the entrance bottleneck, which forces him to slow down too early and almost maneuver to stop, wasting time. Something that had already happened in Brazil, about which he had already complained.
Ayrton is shocked when he sees that the same mistake is made again: when he hears the answer that it's okay, he explodes in a fit of anger. Senna is visibly nervous also because during the previous day he had complained about the position of the pole position, which in his opinion must be reversed, but on Saturday the situation remained unchanged and another request from his to the FIA delegate was useless. Yet, when asked about what is happening inside the box, Frank Williams hides the reality and publicly declares:
"The atmosphere in our team is very healthy".
A few hours before Ayrton's outburst inside the garage, Patrick Head and the FIA technical delegate, Charlie Withing, discuss for a long time in front of a fax, from which sheets of paper issued by Adrian Newey from Didcot are printed, in which details of the front of the revised version of the FW16 are highlighted.
Curiously, the meeting between Head and Withing takes place under the small house used as the technical office of the McLaren men, who obviously do not miss any detail of the discussion. Subsequently questioned by the journalists, who had witnessed the scene, the technical director of Williams, Patrick Head, talks about technical innovations in view of the Imola race:
"There will be changes to the suspension, especially the front one and aerodynamics. If the new FW16 had gone well immediately everything would have passed over in silence and we would have continued the development without jerks, but not being immediately competitive is something that Willaims cannot afford".
Also on Saturday, the suspicion arises in Charlie Withing's mind that Ferrari may be using a device that simulates the anti-skid system of the rear wheels, because during qualifying the sound of the cut-off engine can be heard coming out of corners. Therefore, through an FIA press release, it is publicly disclosed that Charlie Withing:
"He was not convinced that the device was fully compliant with the technical and sporting regulations and therefore Ferrari was told not to use it".
For its part, Ferrari underlines that it will send the required documentation to the FIA within the following week on the new device linked to the engine used during free practice for the Pacific Grand Prix, and will adopt the decisions that the International Automobile Federation will decide to take. In a press release issued on Saturday evening, the Maranello manufacturer states however that in its opinion this device is totally in agreement with the 1994 technical regulation.
After the turbulent day on Saturday, the following day Senna, for the 64th time in his career, starts from pole position with the intention of redeeming himself after the mistake he made in Brazil.
Yet even on this occasion, something is wrong. The deployment procedure is too slow due to the pace-car adoption to regroup the competitors; an FIA innovation that sends Ayrton into a rage. Then when the go-ahead starts, the fastest to start are the drivers lined up on the dirty side: Schumacher and Häkkinen.
Ayrton is overtaken by Schumacher, but in an attempt to recover his position the Brazilian driver delays braking and is hit by Häkkinen, who pushes him off the track; Nicola Larini in turn goes off the road and falls on Williams, while Mark Blundell also spun and stopped in the middle of the track. After just two hundred meters, Senna must retire from the second race of the season.
Returning to the pits flanked by Nicola Larini, Ayrton, dark-faced, realizes that the sound of the Benetton's engine is particular, different from that of the other teams. Therefore, taking advantage of the retirement, Ayrton sits on a wall on the side of the track and observes the behavior of Schumacher's car.
Hearing the difference in sound between the engine of the German driver's car and that of his teammate Jos Verstappen, who drives an identical Benetton B194, Ayrton is convinced that Schumacher's car has an anti-skid system on the rear wheels and back in the pits he talks about it with Frank Williams, who he asks to file a complaint with the FIA.
In the hours following the end of the race, Williams does not make a complaint, however Schumacher's Benetton is analyzed in every single detail by the FIA technicians, who find nothing that suggests that the German driver's car has a system that, cutting the engine power, can help him out of corners. But Ayrton doesn't fit. He is convinced that Schumacher's Benetton is irregular, and in the following hours he also talks about it with Gerhard Berger.
Meanwhile, the German also took home the second race of the season, winning ahead of Berger, more than a minute away, and Rubens Barrichello, third on the podium but lapped. After the race, both Bernard Dudot and Patrick Head let it be known that although Ayrton was hit at the start, the initial mistake, the second in two races, was made by him right at the traffic light, making the wheels skid. Renault managers speak freely with the French press, and are certainly not kind to the Brazilian. A Renault representative even goes so far as to declare:
"Benetton has the fastest car and the fastest driver".
Ayrton remains practically isolated; to defend himself, he passes the blame for the accident to his former teammate Mika Häkkinen, of whom he says that:
"He's unconscious. You don't drive like this in the first corner. It hit me like a dead weight. The young drivers have no restraint. They ruin a race without thinking about it. So my World Championship is already uphill. Plus Williams is certainly not perfect. When I found myself sideways in front of the oncoming group and saw Larini crash into me right in the cockpit, I was frankly afraid he would hurt me".
And to respond to the criticisms that came right from inside his box, that is from Head and Dudot, Ayrton exclaims:
"I race to win. And I give my best. The rest doesn't matter. If Williams prepared me a first place car, I'm sure I wouldn't have failed. For now it hasn't happened. And I was forced to take it. I knew that if Schumacher took the lead it would be difficult to overtake him on this winding circuit. So I had to try. It's not my fault that Häkkinen hit me. The first thing we have to do is fine-tune the car. The chassis has some problems, we need to solve them. Work needs to be done and I'm available. I'm not saying that the championship is already compromised, but it won't be easy to recover".
Six points in the world championship after the second race for a team that on paper was the absolute favorite, despite the penalties suffered with the new rules, are very few:
"Did you see? You didn't want to believe me when I said that between the new rules and the growth of the others, the leveling between the teams would be more marked in this championship".
Then Ayrton concludes by saying:
"But this is not the problem. The problem is that I would like to start my championship as soon as possible by finishing a few races. In Sao Paulo it was my mistake, here I could do very little. Someone else has seen fit to put an end to my race at the first corner".
The situation of Schumacher, adored by his team, is quite different. The German has no problems with team mate Verstappen and everyone inside Benetton works for him. Thus, when interviewed about what happened at the start of Ayrton, the German driver comments:
"Senna is a guy who can't stand another rider standing in front of him. He loses his temper. And so he risks making a mistake".
Then he talks about his race:
"To be honest this was not a tough race for Aida. I pushed 90% of my possibilities for two thirds of the race and then pulled the oars into the boat in the final so as not to take any risks. I'm happy with the win. I pocketed another ten heavy points. This does not mean anything, but the start is more than promising. I wanted to push to the maximum immediately and when I saw that Senna was out I realized that I would not have had many problems. The team is working hard, I hope to do a good result also in Imola. We are not yet able to conquer pole positions, but it does not matter: it is better to start second and finish first".
To admire an authentic display of joy just look at Rubens Barrichello, celebrated by the Brazilian clan. The boy, who lives a few hundred meters from the Interlagos track, cannot hold back tears, as he confesses to reporters:
"It is the first time I get on the podium and it is an incredible emotion. I am very happy with myself and with Jordan. I really don't think more could be done. I seem to dream. Fourth in Sao Paulo, third in Japan. We do not have great ambitions for now. We live for the day, but in this way we live well".
After the Pacific Grand Prix, raced in Aida, Ayrton goes to England for a meeting with Frank Williams and the team's technical department. In this circumstance, Adrian Newey promises that he would design a new car, the FW16B, but warns that this will not be ready before the Canadian Grand Prix. Then, by mutual agreement, the team decides to go back to test the FW16 on the track to find the basic set-up that has not yet been achieved. After this meeting, Senna is calmer and points out that the concerns of fans about the boredom that Schumacher's victories could cause, are not founded:
"Nobody will get bored. I have yet to start my championship. I will do it from Imola where, I am convinced, the Ferraris will also be protagonists. I saw Berger's race. It has an exceptional engine and on the Imola circuit they will be able to make the most of it. I really don't think there is this danger".
Reassured by Adrian Newey's promise to speed up the design of the FW16B, on April 20, 1994, Senna went to the Prince’s Park stadium in Paris to watch the friendly football match between the Brazilian national team and Paris Saint Germain. Shortly before the kick-off, Ayrton is invited to midfield; at first, he is reluctant to enter the field because he is afraid of being booed by the Parisian public, given the historic rivalry with Prost, but when he takes courage and enters, he is amazed that the audience reserves him a warm welcome by applauding and cheering him, so much so that the game starts late. When he leaves the field, Ayrton is serene.
In his mind, the championship and the run-up to Schumacher starts from Imola. Just a few days before the Imola weekend, as expected, Williams goes to the bumpy Nogaro circuit to carry out a further test, after the Jerez one held before the Grand Prix raced in Aida. The Williams FW16, despite being a very fast car, has some set-up shortcomings that were evident even on a smooth and regular track like Aida. In Nogaro, Adrian Newey observes his car on the track, and on this occasion he realizes the mistakes made in the design phase:
"Watching Damon turn, I immediately realized that the sides were wrong. Too long. In this way, the aerodynamics didn't work, especially on bumpy tracks like Nogaro, or even Imola".
Therefore, no little concern arises in Williams, in view of the Grand Prix that will be held in Imola on May 1, 1994, given that the asphalt is very bumpy in various points of the track. Yet, Prost, spokesman for Renault (but not for the Formula 1 sector), throws water on the fire, denies the idea that Ayrton may be in trouble, and indeed declares:
"As far as I know, Williams will field a modified car in the front in the next races, to make the rear work better. My favorite for the championship remains Senna. I said it a while ago and I don't easily change my mind".
Davide Scotto di Vetta