#550 1994 Pacific Grand Prix

2021-04-13 01:00

Array() no author 82025

#1994, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Giulia Montemurro,

#550 1994 Pacific Grand Prix

Starting on the Monday following the Brazilian Grand Prix, Williams held three days of testing at Jerez, to test the car on a very undulating circuit.


Starting on the Monday following the Brazilian Grand Prix, Williams held three days of testing at Jerez, to test the car on a very undulating circuit. Chassis tests are therefore carried out with the reserve car (the others were already on their way to Aida), flanked by an FW15D for comparison purposes, to identify causes and remedies for the FW16's ills. On Monday 28 March 1994, Damon Hill and David Coulthard started work, then on Tuesday it was the turn of Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill, while on Wednesday 30 March 1994 only the Brazilian driver took to the track with both cars. At the end of the tests, Damon Hill declares that the FW16 is much more drivable in the slow sections than at Interlagos, where both he and Senna had problems with understeer. Despite this, in the Jerez tests the FW15D was faster than the FW16. At the same time at Silverstone, after the accident that forced him to a long rehabilitation, J.J. Letho returns to drive the Benetton, while on Tuesday 29 March 1994 the first day of Ferrari tests at Mugello begins with Nicola Larini. On Wednesday it is Jean Alesi who continues the tests. Larini works with the 412T1 doing 30 laps divided into several fractions. Wednesday the 31st of March 1994, at the Mugello circuit, Jean Alesi, while driving at about 250 km/h through the Arrabbiata 2 corner on board his Ferrari, forcefully climbs the kerb, loses grip and therefore control of the car, which spins out, apparently due to oversteer, lifts off and crashes with the rear of the car against the wall. The car hits the inside wall twice. Immediately rescued, Alesi, unconscious, is taken to the circuit's medical centre where he recovers almost immediately. Checks ascertain that the French driver has only a few bruises and a blow to the neck due to the whiplash effect he suffered when leaving the track. This will result in a few days' rest. At the time of the accident, the driver had covered about twenty laps and was pushing hard to evaluate some modifications, in particular solutions adopted for the car's front wing to overcome the aerodynamic instability between slow and fast corners. Alesi admits he was scared: 


"It's the first time I've ever fainted in a car. In the ambulance I felt a tingling sensation down one arm and I feared I had hurt myself. But it all lasted only an instant. I'm fine now". 


The Frenchman left shortly afterwards to go to Ravenna with Ferrari's masseur to undergo a specific treatment. However, from the careful analysis that follows the one carried out at Mugello, the doctors discover that the French driver has crushed intervertebral discs (the fibrous rings interposed between the vertebrae) of the spinal column: also for him, as had previously happened to J.J. Letho, a long stop is foreseen. It really takes a lot of imagination to bring Formula 1 to Aida, on a circuit that nobody knows and where only a few Formula 3 races have been held. The track, 3073 metres, fourteen bends, six on the left and eight on the right, is in the middle of a forest of hills: 800 kilometres south of Tokyo, in Okayama prefecture, two tiny roads to get there. So much so that private traffic will be banned and spectators will be taken by bus. The Tanaka International Circuit, inaugurated in 1990, is a racetrack built in an unknown, rural area of Japan that can only be reached by bus. In the preceding months, Hajime Tanaka, a Japanese businessman with a passion for cars, succeeded in convincing Bernie Ecclestone that Japan can be raced twice in one year. The history of this facility is curious: in 1986 Tanaka had travelled to France to watch the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The spectacle was so overwhelming for Tanaka that it made him want to build his own circuit. Roland Ratzenberger, newly acquired by Simtek, had already raced there with the Japanese Formula 3 car, and considered it a Grand Prix track in the middle of nowhere. In fact, the circuit, a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in terms of safety facilities, contrasts with the surroundings, with only one hotel in the surrounding area and different places for the different categories of work: drivers, mechanics and the press are in fact located in different places. Meanwhile Eddie Jordan, who had hired the Englishman Burt to replace the disqualified Irvine, opts for the Japanese Aguri Suzuki under local pressure. The drivers find the track interesting. And Ferrari? Many modifications on the cars (different front wing, retouched aerodynamics, slightly revised suspensions) but Gerhard Berger maintains that there is a lot of work to be done: and from Tuesday 19 April until Friday 22 April 1994 Ferrari will be at Monza to test in view of Imola and the San Marino Grand Prix (1 May). Jean Alesi's fate is still uncertain. 


The French driver no longer has neck pain and tomorrow he will undergo an examination with Professor Saillant in Paris. A final decision will be made next week, after a further medical examination. Meanwhile the #27 is in the good hands of Nicola Larini.


"I would like to score points. I tested the 412 T1 at Fiorano and I think it made good progress. And then I made a bet with my friend Nannini. If I lose it, I'll have to invite him and his wife to dinner for a month in the restaurants they want. I will try to overtake Berger, but, of course, without nastiness". 


After the Brazilian Grand Prix, a cartoon published in a French weekly depicts Ayrton Senna, just off the track in his Williams, as he telephones Flavio Briatore, Benetton team manager, from a booth. 


"Get a car ready for me now".


Shouts the three-time World Champion who would always like to drive the best single-seater. Well, who knows what Ayrton Senna is thinking on Thursday 14 April 1994, when he realises that Michael Schumacher is over a second behind him in the extraordinary free practice session of the Pacific Grand Prix. The setting was the Aida circuit in Japan. In fact, the German - winner of the first race of the Formula One World Championship - is the only one to sing the triumphal march on the Aida circuit. A track that shows the great talents of Benetton and the limits of its rivals. Those, all things considered, fairly contained of Williams and the macroscopic flaws of Ferrari. Gerhard Berger and Nicola Larini, even with all their good will, cannot find a decent set-up. The Maranello cars skid when coming out of corners. Nor can the powerful 12-cylinder engine do much on a short track with tight radius corners. Gerhard Berger admits, dejectedly:


"We have tried all the latest modifications. But the problems remain, indeed they are accentuated by this type of track. There is no traction, there is no grip. And so we wear the tyres too much. The trouble is that there is no prospect of a solution for the immediate future. Here in qualifying we could do from fourth to tenth place, it will depend on luck. Anything can happen in the race, but don't expect a brilliant result. There is something wrong with the rear of the car. The aerodynamics, the suspension, we don't know. We will work on it next week at Monza. Everything else, what we have tried so far, is just palliative". 


Even if it uses one of the most powerful engines (which, however, providing the horsepower at high revs, cannot be advantageous here), Ferrari for now seems to be powerless. John Barnard's design, according to many, is flawed by a basic flaw that can only be eliminated by radical changes. There is little cause for illusion. And the same applies, albeit on a different level, to Williams. Ayrton Senna explains:


"This circuit is exactly the opposite of what we would like for our car. Maybe we can recover something in the last tests. But the drawbacks remain. And we will only be able to do something better at Imola in a fortnight' time. I realised that I can't push to the maximum because I always risk going off the road". 


A situation that makes Michael Schumacher happy, who pays tribute to the work of his team: 


"I am fully satisfied. My car was practically perfect, if we consider that we didn't know the track. I think I can still improve. The only doubts concern the type of track, which is very similar to Magny-Cours. The asphalt is slippery and it is practically impossible to overtake, even if you are much faster than the person in front of you. So there is the risk of not being able, especially in time trials, to express yourself as the car deserves. That's why it will also be important to study good tactics for qualifying. For everything else, I am quite confident". 


And how could he not be, given that Michael Schumacher beats Ayrton Senna by 1.265 seconds and Damon Hill by 1.294 seconds. The others catch heavy gaps: Mika Hakkinen with the McLaren-Peugeot (excellent as far as the chassis is concerned, but the engine gets too hot) remains 1.862 seconds behind, Jos Verstappen with the second Benetton at 2.396 seconds, the young Christian Fittipaldi driving the still surprising Footwork at 2.420 seconds. And Gerhard Berger? He is at 2.466 seconds, while Nicola Larini ('At certain points mine looked like a rally car') is at 3.036 seconds, also preceded by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Éric Comas and Karl Wendlinger. At Aida, thanks in part to the time difference, the dawn wake-up calls and the presence on the circuit of Mr Tanaka when it was still basically dark, both journalists and drivers found themselves at the racetrack still sleepy. Here, informally, Ayrton Senna confides in the journalists present and talks about his car, which is new and difficult to tune, but adds, confidently:


"Give me time to tame that beast, and you'll see".


To make up for the missing load, at Aida Williams fitted two small fins on either side of the nose, very inclined, with the function of generating vortices to improve load at the front, and a double advanced profile to the rear wing. In addition to this, the British team modifies the geometry of the front suspension and the springing system, while Renault brings an engine with smoother power delivery at low revs. However, even at Aida the Williams suffers, especially in the slow corners, where it has difficulties both on entry and exit. In the slow sections of the circuit the chassis flaws are evident, while in the fast section, where the risks the driver knows how to take also count, the Williams still looks like the car as fast as appreciated in previous years. But apart from the lack of load and stability, Ayrton Senna complains above all about the brakes. The Brazilian driver insists a lot on having the same Brembos fitted by McLaren and Ferrari, but the Williams engineers remain faithful to the APs, with which the Brazilian is not at ease, as the pedal under braking stretches, and not always in the same way and in the same curve. For a punctilious driver like him, who takes great care of every detail, this is unacceptable. They have called it the Grand Prix of the Pacific, but there is every indication that the race will be anything but uneventful: on Sunday 17 April 1994 Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher will face each other. Or rather against. Not only the victory in the second race of the World Championship is up for grabs, but also the prestige of two drivers whose direct confrontation is inevitable every time. On the one hand, the Brazilian who conquered the audiences in past years in his battles with Prost; a 34-year-old driver, in full maturity, who has already won three world titles. On the other the young up-and-comer, a cold 25-year-old German, ruthless on the track, without fear. Senna wants to stay on the throne. He wanted Williams to have the best car, he aims at another success. For him, defeat would be very heavy, a stain on his glittering career, so difficult to digest that he might even consider quitting early. Schumacher, on the other hand, wants to burn out. He knows very well that he must take advantage of the opportunity. His Benetton at the moment has a small advantage that could be trimmed in the coming races. But above all there is the great rivalry between two stars who by character and temperament cannot bear to share fame and money with anyone. There is esteem between them, but you can already see the first gestures of annoyance, the impatience, that can't stand each other that is typical when a territory is too narrow for two similar characters. Senna, moreover, is absolutely alone in his struggle: he cannot expect any help from his team-mate Damon Hill, who is eager to prove that he is not just a wingman. So Ayrton, in the first qualifying session, which takes place on Friday the 15th of April 1994, is forced to give his best to put his wheels in front of those of his opponent. The Brazilian runs at full throttle, even going onto the grass, off the track, risking everything. Just to make it clear that he is the strongest. But for the race it is all to play for:


"It's going to be very difficult, with the refuelling and tyre changes. My car is still not perfect. And there's no overtaking here. In short, a real lottery". 


Although the grid will change in the second timed practice session, the dominant motives will be the same. Replied, with a hint of presumption, by Michael Schumacher:


"I am confident. I can win again". 


In the confrontation for the first place, except for clamorous and unpredictable reversals, it doesn't seem to be possible for Ferrari that will be forced to do without Jean Alesi not only in Japan but also for the San Marino Grand Prix, scheduled on Sunday 1st May 1994, at Imola. The Frenchman's condition is much improved but Professor Saillant, who visits him in Paris, expressly asks him not to race at Imola to avoid complications. Meanwhile, at Aida, Gerhard Berger takes P5 and Nicola Larini P7. The Maranello cars continue to show limits when exiting corners, with the rear end seeming to slip, compromising road holding and traction. The evil is so obscure that even the opinions in the team differ. Berger talks about the suspension and something mechanical not working properly. Larini and Todt think instead of inefficient aerodynamics. The Ferraris are very fast on the straight (the Tuscan records a top speed of 297.500 km/h, against Michael Schumacher's 279.100 km/h) but get lost when it comes to turning the steering wheel. Jean Todt states:


"Berger made a small mistake, he could have been 0.5 seconds faster. Larini was very good, he went beyond expectations. However, that doesn't change our problems. Apparently we have solved the valve seals, but there is still a lot of work to do. It was a very difficult race for us. If I could sign earlier, I would be happy with third place and two cars in the points". 


Gerhard Berger replies:


"I would also like these placings. But you have to deal with a lot of people". 


The Austrian, however, does not lose his good humour. By now he even speaks Italian discretely. 


"I will be perfect next year. I just hope I'm still at Ferrari…". 


On Saturday 16 April 1994, Scuderia Ferrari ends up in the sights of the English teams. A blizzard of controversy and accusations suddenly erupts in the hours before the Pacific Grand Prix. We are just at the second race of the World Championship and the environment is poisoned by suspicions, political games and discussions. The Italian team is under heavy attack on several fronts. On the one hand, Ken Tyrrell harshly reproaches Jean Todt (whom he also calls a cheat) for having broken the regulations by carrying out a series of tests on the Imola track. On the other hand, with more or less veiled manoeuvres, suspicions are being raised against Ferrari itself of having used, during free practice, a traction control system prohibited by the 1994 regulations. In the first case, the starting point is an agreement between the teams, ratified by the Federation, according to which each team has the right to test at only one of the national circuits hosting World Championship races. According to the British, who are advocating if not the suspension of Ferrari from the Imola race then at least a hefty fine ($200.000), the Maranello team chose Monza and would not have had the right to test at the Romagna circuit two weeks earlier. But this is nothing compared to the rumours circulating in the pits that Ferrari had fitted at least one of its cars (Larini's) with a traction control system. The British teams go so far as to send a person, incognito, to check the Maranello team's stand to see if any strange devices were being used. And, indeed, the atmosphere becomes incandescent when Larini's car, heading towards the track, emits strange noises, actually quite similar to those that were detected the year before, when the single-seaters were fitted with the anti-spin. 


The same signals are then also noticed on the track, raising doubts. In reality, no one makes a complaint or lodges an official protest about this detection. Not least because there are other teams suspected of using prohibited systems. But above all because with electronics it is not easy to discover any deception. There are some teams (like Benetton) that would like to change the 1995 technical regulations. Regulations that provide for a substantial modification of the flat bottom of the cars, with the insertion of a step that would limit the action of the ground effect, reducing speed in corners. But to do so would require a complete redesign of the cars. So, in order to reduce expenses, it was thought to give up innovation. Ferrari, like McLaren, having already begun the design of the new car, for the moment opposes this. Getting it into trouble could be an attempt to get it to change its position. Pacified but firm is Jean Todt's reaction: 


"The Imola story is specious. On 12 April, after practice, we were asked by Ecclestone to choose, while we were in possession of a letter from the FIA according to which the problem did not arise. Anyway we opted for Monza and we will go there next week. There are loose rules, it is up to the sporting authorities to clarify. As for the rules for 1995, everything can be discussed. But we will only do it if there is a request from the Federation and a unanimous agreement". 


On the accusations of using traction control, too, comes a dry reply from the French manager: 


"We have technical solutions that I don't want to talk about, just as other teams do about theirs. However, I can say that Ferrari has adapted perfectly to the '94 rules and fully respects the decisions of the FIA".


In the meantime, the tension within the Williams box grows and rises throughout the weekend, until it reaches its highest level on Saturday evening, when Ayrton Senna quarrels violently with the technician in charge of his car. Towards sunset, the Brazilian driver complains about the position chosen by the team for the pit-stop, which is too far back and close to the entry bottleneck, forcing him to slow down too early and almost manoeuvre to stop, losing time. Something that had already happened in Brazil, which he had already complained about. Ayrton is stunned when he sees the same mistake being made again: when he hears the reply that it is OK, he explodes in a fit of rage. Senna is also visibly nervous because during the previous day he had complained about the pole position, which in his opinion should be reversed, but on Saturday the situation remained unchanged and another request of his to the FIA delegate was to no avail. Yet, when questioned about what is happening inside the pit box, Frank Williams hides the reality and states publicly:


"The atmosphere in our team is very healthy".


A few hours before Ayrton's rant inside the pit box, Patrick Head and the FIA's technical delegate, Charlie Whiting, discuss for a long time in front of a fax machine, from which sheets of paper issued by Adrian Newey from Didcot are printed out, highlighting the details of the front of the revised version of the FW16. Curiously, the meeting between Head and Whiting takes place under the small house used as the McLaren men's technical office, who obviously do not miss any details of the discussion. Later questioned by journalists, who witnessed the scene, Williams technical director Patrick Head talks about technical novelties ahead of the Imola race:


"There will be changes to the suspension, especially the front suspension, and to the aerodynamics. If the new FW16 had gone well straight away everything would have gone quiet and we would have continued the development without tears, but not being competitive straight away is something Williams cannot afford".


On Sunday 17 April 1994, with a completely new and experimental solution, the reconnaissance lap is run behind the safety car, a Porsche 911 made available by the race organisers. The drivers did not like this novelty, which obliged them to carry out the lap at a decidedly lower speed than normal, with consequent problems of engine overheating and difficulty in getting the tyres up to temperature and optimum pressure: In particular, poleman Ayrton Senna repeatedly flanked the lead car in an attempt to spur it on to go faster and, when the latter returned to the pits, he accelerated violently, traversing his Williams in an attempt to warm up the tyres and, at the same time, put more air into the radiators to allow the engine to breathe. After the race several drivers, including Ayrton Senna, who pointed out that the presence of the Safety car had considerably lowered the tyre temperatures, and therefore the pressure, with the consequent lowering of the car, did not fail to publicly express their disappointment, so that the experiment was no longer repeated, except in the presence of particularly adverse weather conditions. At the green light and then at the start of the Pacific Grand Prix, which was given anyway despite the switch-off of Olivier Panis's Ligier, who immediately signalled the problem by waving his arms (the Frenchman was then pushed off again), Ayrton Senna, taken from pole position, was immediately overtaken by Michael Schumacher, only to be bumped by Mika Häkkinen, who pushed him off the track; Nicola Larini in turn goes off the track and crashes into the Brazilian's car, while Mark Blundell spins out and stops in the middle of the track. So Senna, Larini and Blundell are forced to retire. After just 200 metres, Ayrton Senna is also forced to retire from the second race of the season. Returning to the pits flanked by Nicola Larini, Ayrton, dark in the face, realises that the sound of the Benetton's engine is peculiar, different from that of his other colleagues. Therefore, taking advantage of the retirement, the Brazilian driver sits on a little wall at the edge of the track and observes the behaviour of Michael Schumacher's car. Hearing the difference in sound between the engine of the German driver's car and that of his team-mate Jos Verstappen, who drove an identical Benetton B194, Ayrton became convinced that Schumacher's car had an anti-spin system on the rear wheels. 


In the hours following the end of the race, Williams did not lodge a complaint, but Michael Schumacher's Benetton was analysed in every single detail by the FIA technicians, who found nothing to suggest that the German driver's car had a system that, by cutting engine power, could help him out of corners. Meanwhile, on Lap 3 Damon Hill spun in an attempt to overtake Mika Häkkinen, but he managed to get away and climbed up to P2. Sixteen laps later, Hakkinen himself has to retire with a gearbox problem. A transmission failure also put Damon Hill's car out of action on lap 49. With 15 laps to go Martin Brundle also retires, occupying third position. So Michael Schumacher wins without any problems, ahead of Gerhard Berger and Rubens Barrichello, the latter on the podium for the first time in his career. They are followed by the Brazilian driver of the Footwork-Ford, Christian Fittipaldi, the German Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Sauber-Mercedes, and the Frenchman Éric Comas in the Larousse-Ford. The triumphant march of Benetton and Michael Schumacher continued. Even in Japan, as had happened at Interlagos, the German driver dominated. Second consecutive victory, 20 full points in the Formula One World Championship standings with Ayrton Senna still watching. The Brazilian of Williams was left high and dry: in the opening race he had left the track with 14 laps to go. At Aida his race lasted a few hundred metres. Bumped from behind by Mika Hakkinen's McLaren, the Brazilian driver spun. His car turned into an obstacle on the left side of the track, a wall onto which Nicola Larini's Ferrari slammed. The Tuscan had no chance of escape and so in a matter of seconds his dreams of glory vanished. But for the Maranello team, in the end, the result came all the same with Gerhard Berger, who climbed onto the second step of the podium, a little higher than Jean Alesi had done in Brazil. Yet another consolation prize for Ferrari, for their hard work and dedication. But we are still a long way from seeing Maranello's cars truly competitive. The placing is in fact due to the great determination of the driver and the skill of the mechanics who, as always, were impeccable during the two pit stops. The rest came courtesy of an elimination race that saw a number of possible pretenders disappear. Despite the narrow and winding circuit, the race was not gripping. 


There were two decisive moments: the start and the mistake made by Damon Hill who spun on lap four, dropping from third to ninth place. The Englishman, who perhaps with the Williams could have given Michael Schumacher some thought in the long run, was forced into a long chase. So he had to put his single-seater to the test and eventually retired due to a broken transmission. Basically, Michael Schumacher won at the start. He got off to a perfect start and passed Senna. At the first corner on the right, Ayrton desperately tried to tuck the Benetton on the inside. But he probably miscalculated the distance. The manoeuvre failed him and he slowed down. Mika Hakkinen was taken by surprise and touched the nose of his McLaren to the right rear tyre of the Williams, which immediately went sideways. In the chaos, with oncoming drivers moving from side to side, Nicoola Larini and also Mark Blundell in the Tyrrell lost out. Senna's mistake, his second in two races. The Brazilian champion got off to an uphill start in the season in which he thought he had it easy after knocking Prost out of Williams. Ayrton lashes out at Hakkinen, who apologises to him. In reality the Brazilian driver is more to blame. So Schumacher was always in the lead without ever taking risks, controlling the situation with ease. Gerhard Berger ran well between second and fourth place depending on the pit-stops to mount new tyres and refuel. McLaren could have achieved good placings. Hakkinen and Brundle, as long as they were in the race, showed remarkable performances. However, they still lacked reliability. The first was betrayed by a problem with the gearbox hydraulic circuit, the other by engine overheating. But they will soon be protagonists, because the car is excellent and the Peugeot engine is progressing. At the end on the podium, together with Schumacher and Berger, also climbed the twenty-one year old Rubens Barrichello, Brazilian with a family originally from Treviso. Great race his with the Jordan-Hart. We will hear more about the young man. For the moment, however, he is second in the World Championship with 7 points (the leader obviously has 20). It could also have been a good day for little Italy. A few laps from the end Gianni Morbidelli was fifth, Michele Alboreto ninth and Pierluigi Martini tenth. Within minutes the Footwork driver from Romagna broke his engine and Pierluigi went off the track without brakes. But the unluckiest of all was Alboreto, who was literally thrown out by Wendlinger when he was reaching sixth position. They will try to make up for it at Imola. 


"Hakkinen is reckless. You don't drive like that at the first corner. He came at me like dead weight. Young drivers have no restraint. They ruin a race without thinking. So my World Championship is already uphill. Plus the Williams is certainly not perfect. When I found myself sideways in front of the oncoming group and saw Larini running into me right at cockpit height, I was frankly afraid he was going to hurt me".


Ayrton Senna blames the Finnish driver for the accident. Perhaps he no longer remembers, the Brazilian, how many caroms he caused when trying to emerge. Anyway, he went to protest to the race direction but nobody listened to him. For Senna it is a difficult moment: even within the team his relations are strained and on Saturday the driver quarrelled violently with the technician in charge of his car. Moreover, as if that were not enough, in the aftermath of the race, both Bernard Dudot and Patrick Head make it known that although Ayrton Senna was bumped at the start, the initial mistake, the second in two races, was made by him at the traffic lights, causing the wheels to skid. Renault officials speak freely to the French press, and they are certainly not soft on the Brazilian. One Renault representative even goes so far as to state:


"Benetton has the fastest car and the fastest driver".


Quite different is the situation of Michael Schumacher, who is adored by the team. The German has no problems with team-mate Jos Verstappen (who went off the track due to inexperience) and everyone works for him. 


"I am happy. With the victory I gained another 10 points. That doesn't mean anything, but the start is more than promising. I wanted to push hard straight away and when I saw that Senna was out I knew I would not have so many problems. The team is working hard, I hope to do well at Imola as well. We still can't get pole positions, but it doesn't matter: it's better to start second and finish first. To be honest this race at Aida was not a very hard race. I pushed 90% of my potential for two-thirds of the race and then pulled the reins in the boat at the end, so as not to take any risks".


Simple but effective philosophy. To see the picture of joy, however, you had to look at Rubens Barrichello, aka Rubinho, celebrated by the clan of Brazilians. The boy, who lives a few hundred metres from the Interlagos track, could not hold back his tears. 


"It's my first time on the podium, and it's an incredible emotion. I am very happy with myself and Jordan. I really don't think we could have done more. I feel like I'm dreaming. Fourth in Sao Paulo, third in Japan. We don't have great ambitions for now. We live for the day, but that's a good way to live". 


Resigned and annoyed, instead, Michele Alboreto:


"I was just a few laps away from an important placing for the team. My car was much faster than Wendlinger's Sauber, which clearly had problems. Maybe the Austrian didn't see me and slowed down at the last moment. I tried to avoid him, he tightened the corner and closed in on me: the impact became inevitable. I also did quite a bit of flying in the air. A pity, but I see that we are growing well and in Spain we will have the new Minardi. Hopefully we will have other opportunities". 


After the bitterness of Jean Alesi's forfeit, the controversy (still not over) of these days and the accident at the start that put Nicola Larini out of the race, the Maranello team consoles itself with the second place of Gerhard Berger. A placing that Ferrari had not achieved since last year's Italian Grand Prix. Victory, however, is always missing, the last one being in Spain in 1990. If we then look at the result in absolute terms, we must always take into account the fact that the Austrian came almost a lap behind Michael Schumacher. Who, goodness me, in order not to take unnecessary risks, did not even attempt the overtaking move that would have led him to lap all the remaining competitors. Aware of this, Ferrari did not make a big fuss. Only the chef, mistaking Verstappen's Benetton's run off the road for the German's on the video, let out a little jump of happiness. The others limited themselves to simple hugs. Says Gerhard Berger realistically:


"Even this second place is extra motivation for the team. Difficult race for me: the car continues to have the same problems. From tomorrow afternoon we will be in Monza until Friday. There are new solutions to try for suspension, aerodynamics and engine. We hope to find what we need, to arrive at Imola more competitive. I ask the fans to come in droves to push us". 


Nicola Larini, on the other hand, is bitterly disappointed, haunted by bad luck: 


"I should go to Lourdes. I had made a very good start, even overtaking Berger. I was in the right trajectory when Senna spun. I tried to pass on the left, but the Williams came back and I hit it. Seeing how things went, I could also have finished on the podium. Now I'm off to Hockenheim where I have to race with Alfa Romeo. I hope to be able to do some laps at Fiorano before Imola, I could use it". 


Jean Todt's cold analysis. 


"We were still less fast than the best. We have to work a lot. At Monza we hope to solve at least some of the remaining problems. The positive fact of this weekend is that we have found reliability. Nothing broke. The negative is that we always take too big a gap on the lap. But we have the desire and the human and technical potential to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, which is to return to winning. When? I am not a fortuneteller, but that day will come".


A little optimism doesn't hurt. However, for Ferrari the troubles never end. After the race, the FIA issues a statement saying that it has asked the Maranello team for explanations about the system used by the #27 and #28 cars (Larini and Berger) in Saturday's free practice. The technical commissioners say they have heard of traction control, which is prohibited. So they asked Ferrari to avoid using it in the race and to provide data on the system itself and the programme that manages it. An affair that will be discussed again, even if Jean Todt makes it known that it is a regular technical solution. Meanwhile, when Michael Schumacher, winner of the Pacific Grand Prix, leaves the circuit with a smile on his face, Frank Williams and Ayrton Senna are already far away. Both with funeral faces. It had never happened, in eleven seasons of an honourable career, that the Brazilian star had failed, after the first two championship races, to win at least one point. Even on his debut in Formula One, in 1984, with Toleman-Hart, he had finished sixth in the second race in South Africa, albeit three laps behind the leader, who at the time was Niki Lauda. A difficult moment, therefore, for Senna, who, after the embarrassment he suffered with the spin at Interlagos, in front of his astonished fans, certainly did no better in Japan. The accident at the start could have been avoided if he had not already been in trouble and had not wanted at all costs to recover the first position that Schumacher, with a textbook start, had cleverly taken from him. The German Benetton driver is wont to say, with almost sadistic pleasure:


"Senna is a guy who cannot stand another driver being in front of him. He loses his temper. And so he risks making a mistake". 


And it seems he has indeed found his rival's flaw. Indeed, Ayrton is now in the grip of a form of allergy towards young Michael. Just as he had never been able to stand Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost when they got in his way. But the Brazilian driver's problem is not only his opponent in the fight for the World Championship. Senna also has a difficult relationship with his own team. He wanted to switch to Williams at all costs, he came overbearingly, imposing a contract that left no room for anyone. Especially the sponsors. Renault and Rothmans, the team's main supporters, have no rights over him, they cannot use him in any way. Ayrton appears in plain clothes at press conferences, where all the other drivers are in their official uniforms; at most he wears a cap advertising one of his personal sponsors. A strained relationship, therefore, made worse by the attitudes of a boy who has always been capricious. Ayrton Senna affirms, justifying himself:


"I race to win. And I give the best of myself. The rest doesn't count. If Williams had prepared a first place car for me, I am sure I would not have failed. For now it hasn't been like that. And I was forced to take risks. I knew that if Schumacher took the lead it would be difficult to overtake him on that twisty circuit. So I had to try. It's not my fault that Hakkinen crashed into me". 


So what's next? 


"The first thing we have to do is to fine-tune the single-seater. The chassis has problems, we have to solve them. It is necessary to work and I am available. I'm not saying that the championship is already compromised, but it won't be easy to recover. The first thing we have to do is to tune the single-seater. The chassis has problems, we have to solve them. It is necessary to work and I am available. I am not saying that the championship is already compromised, but it will not be easy to recover".


Indeed, with zero points in the classification, the driver who has characterised the last decade is off to an uphill start. Theoretically, making the hypothesis that Senna wins the next series and Schumacher finishes second, Ayrton would have to win five consecutive races to get even. A difficult task, even for a phenomenon like him. 


"Did you see that? You didn't want to believe me when I said that between the new rules and the growth of the others the levelling between the teams would be more pronounced in this championship. But that is not the problem. The problem is that I would like to start my championship by finishing a few races as soon as possible. In Sao Paulo it was my mistake, here I could do very little. Someone else thought it best to put an end to my race at the first corner".


If he is not able to do that, however, the 34-year-old from São Paulo will be risking big: the biggest disappointment of his life. Such a defeat, especially from a psychological point of view, could make Schumacher the driver who made the great Senna stop racing. After the Pacific Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna travelled to England to have a meeting with Frank Williams and the team's technical department. On this occasion, Adrian Newey promises that he would design a new car, the FW16B, but warns that this cannot be ready before the Canadian Grand Prix. So, by mutual agreement, the team decides to return to the track to test the FW16 to find the basic set-up that has not yet been achieved. After this meeting, Senna is calmer and emphasises that the fans' concerns about the boredom that Schumacher's victories might bring are unfounded:


"Nobody will get bored. I still have to start my championship. I will do so from Imola where, I am convinced, the Ferraris will also be protagonists. I saw Berger's race. He has an exceptional engine and on the Imola circuit they will be able to make the most of it. I don't think there is any danger of that".


Reassured by Adrian Newey's promise to speed up the design of the FW16B, on Wednesday 20 April 1994, Ayrton Senna goes to the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris to watch the friendly football match between the Brazilian national team and Paris Saint Germain. Shortly before the whistle blows, Ayrton is invited to the midfield; at first the Brazilian driver is reluctant to enter the field because he fears being booed by the Parisian public, given his historical rivalry with Alain Prost, but when he plucks up courage and enters, he is amazed that the public gives him a warm welcome by applauding and cheering him, so much so that the match starts late. When he leaves the field, Ayrton is serene. In his mind, the championship and the chase after Schumacher starts at Imola. Just a few days before the start of the San Marino Grand Prix weekend, which will be held at Imola, Williams goes to the bumpy Nogaro circuit to carry out another test, after the one at Jerez that took place before the Grand Prix run at Aida. The Williams FW16, despite being a very fast car, has set-up deficiencies that were evident even on a smooth and even track like Aida. At Nogaro, Adrian Newey observes his car at the trackside and realises the mistakes made during the design phase. The designer assumes that there must be something wrong with the ground effect, given the poor stability of the aerodynamics. The focus is on two things: the front wing and the bottom of the car, to work out which of the two is stalling.Damon Hill, who tests the car, says.


"It jumps too violently, I can't see".


Newey looks at the car, and notices that at about 180 km/h the front wheels almost come off the ground. 


"Watching Damon turn, I knew immediately that the sides were wrong. Too long. This way, the aerodynamics didn't work, especially on bumpy circuits like Nogaro, or even Imola".


Back in the wind tunnel, Newey and his technicians take the model of the car to the minimum front height from the ground, simulating the possibility of stall and flow separation, and use the flow vis to control the effect. But they find nothing irregular. Therefore, Newey moves under the car, uses the flow vis again, and this time finds the flow separation under the leading edge of the sides. The separation is such that the diffuser almost completely stalls. In practice, with longer sidewalls you have more bottom surface area, and if you can achieve the same level of suction towards the ground for the extra length, you get a higher load.  But greater length also means greater proximity of the front of the sides to the ground. The resulting narrowing of the section between the bottom and the ground results in high local flow velocities, followed by sudden decelerations, generating a strongly opposing pressure gradient that causes separation, resulting in a violent stall of the extractor. At Nogaro, the bumps had created an inclination of the car that made the aerodynamics unstable. By designing shorter sides, the front of the car would not have come so close to the ground, the extractor would not have stalled and the car would have become competitive again. But, in the meantime, no little concern arose at Williams, in view of the San Marino Grand Prix to be held at Imola on Sunday 1 May 1994, as the asphalt was very bumpy at several points on the track. Yet, Alain Prost, spokesman for Renault (but not for Formula 1) dismisses the idea that Ayrton Senna might be in trouble, and indeed declares:


"As far as I know, Williams will field a modified single-seater at the front in the coming races, to make the rear end work better. My favourite for the championship remains Senna. I said that some time ago and I'm not easily changing my mind".


Third in Brazil with Alesi, second with Berger at Aida. If mathematical progression were also applicable as an exact science to Formula 1, Ferrari should win on Sunday 1 May 1994, at Imola, in the San Marino Grand Prix. But, honestly, it would be better not to delude oneself. Gerhard Berger preaches calm after the tests at Monza on Tuesday 19 April 1994. 


"There has been some small improvement. But from here to say that we can aim directly for first place, there is a long way to go. The others should help us. For example, a few good retirements at the top of the classification". 


An appeal to luck, then, that helps the bold. In practice, however, the Maranello cars will have to reckon with Benetton and Williams, who are still too strong to be beaten by force. In Ferrari's favour are the small retouches studied in these days (different shock absorbers, a slightly modified front suspension, some changes in the bodywork) and a track, that of Imola, which could favour the power of the engines and offer meagre problems for a chassis that does not work properly, given that the circuit is among the medium-fast ones and the slow corners are just a couple. But Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna do not seem to be willing to concede anything. Not even to the fans of the Maranello team who will go to Imola with the secret hope of seeing the cars fight for success. The German absolutely must take advantage of the favourable moment. The Brazilian makes it clear that he does not feel defeated yet, that his World Championship starts at Imola, that he will aim for the title with a handicap, that is, with fourteen races to exploit this season, instead of sixteen. Ferrari among other things will still have to do without the injured Jean Alesi, a driver who with his courage and spirit of self-denial could have at least increased chances and spectacle. He will be replaced by the talented Nicola Larini, who, however, having in theory only one more opportunity to exploit, will only be able to act as a wingman to bring home a positive result. In addition there will be the return of Andrea de Cesaris who will replace the disqualified Eddie Irvine in the Jordan-Hart, alongside Rubens Barrichello. These are the expectations. 


If then Ferrari will have another jolt forward and will be able to deny an unfavourable prognostication, so much the better. The first two championship races, despite the car not working to perfection in the chassis and aerodynamic parts, have shown a growing trend that should continue. And this was enough to raise a small fever of fans, with a higher demand for tickets than in the more recent past. With two days to go before the start of the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola (the first practice starts on Friday 29 April 1994), Jean Alesi's heart is beating faster and faster. A little out of anger, a lot out of the regret of not being there. He tries to forget, the 29-year-old Ferrari driver. In the days preceding the San Marino Grand Prix the French driver is on holiday, but he won't be able to stay away: and probably on Saturday 30 April 1994 he will be at the Romagna circuit.


"I think everyone has realised that I am my own kind of guy. I need support, I need to feel surrounded by affection. That's also why I wanted to race for Ferrari at all costs. Because it has a big fan base, because people love us, unconditionally. We haven't scored for years and yet around us I feel a warmth, an unequalled trust. Think what would happen to a football club in a similar situation". 


But with what feelings will he be able to watch a match as a spectator? 


"At the moment I don't know yet. I only fear with my presence that I will disturb the team, the drivers. That's why I will try not to be too conspicuous. Otherwise I will be very exciting. I have tried to watch the races on television, but I feel like I am watching recordings. I can't feel the chills". 


A third place in Brazil, then Berger's second in Japan. Ferrari has not been sensational, but it has started the season well enough... 


"It is true that the performances are still not what we would all like. But the results are there and in racing that also counts. If we consider the problems that there have been, we can consider ourselves quite satisfied". 


What could happen at Imola? 


"If I had been able to race I would have gone out on a limb, as I am used to doing, taking risks myself. Being forced to watch, I can only predict a further step forward in competitiveness. The characteristics of the circuit, which is faster than its predecessors, and the modifications made to the cars should guarantee progress".


What will Jean Alesi say to Gerhard Berger and Nicola Larini, his replacement? 


"Push hard boys. Although I already know that both of them will do their best. Here, I wish I could give a little of myself to each of them, instil confidence and enthusiasm. But that won't be necessary". 


Schumacher and Senna, Benetton and Williams. Are they still unbeatable?


"The two drivers are very strong, that much is clear to me. The German's car has a slight advantage over the Brazilian's. But you'll see that Williams won't take long to catch up. However, I don't think they are invincible. We still lack something, we have to work on the chassis. However I am convinced, now as I was before the start of the season, that we at Ferrari will win a few races by the end of the championship". 


How is your health? 


"Personally I feel fine. But on Friday I will have to go through an official examination to find out exactly what the situation is. I'm praying that Professor Saillant can give me the go-ahead for Monte-Carlo on 15 May. But first I will have to do some training. It will be a very delicate period. I'll have to restrain myself so as not to overdo it. Imola, Monte-Carlo and Monza are the three tracks where I feel I can give more. Where I can overtake myself... By now the San Marino Grand Prix will just be a spectator race for me. I can't think of not even going to the race in the Principality. Ferrari is waiting for me and I cannot betray them". 


Alesi concludes: 


"In the pits on Sunday there will be an extra fan, one who will shout Forza Ferrari even while keeping quiet so as not to disturb. It will be me, Jean Alesi, the first Maranello fan on this occasion". 


Jean Alesi was injured on Wednesday 30 March 1994 when he went off the track during practice at 250 km/h at Mugello. He suffered the crushing of three vertebrae. Only on Friday 29 April 1994, after the doctors' examination, will he know whether he will be able to race in Monte-Carlo. In the meantime, the Circus moves to Imola, for the San Marino Grand Prix.


©​ 2023 Osservatore Sportivo


Contact us


Create Website with | Free and Easy Website Builder