Sunday, March 11th 1990, in Phoenix, Arizona, with the Grand Prix of the USA, a long-awaited Formula 1 world championship gets underway, the forty-first in modern history: sixteen races to be disputed, until November 4th 1990, when the championship will close in Australia, at the antipodes. The theme of the season is the one of the last years, that is to beat the English team that dominated in the last years, winning five world titles (Lauda in 1984, Prost in 1985-'86-'89, and Senna in 1988) with the only parenthesis of 1987 when the astute Nelson Piquet with the Williams mocked all the pretenders, including the teammate Mansell.
The panorama at the top has also changed profoundly with respect to last season: Alain Prost has gone to Ferrari, Gerhard Berger has taken his place in McLaren. And this is already a reason of great interest. But above all it will be necessary to see the behavior of Ayrton Senna, after all the controversy of last year and the winter, after the bitter defeat suffered by the French champion. The results of the tests carried out in recent months promise a Ferrari in progress, with records set at Le Castellet and Estoril.
McLaren, on the other hand, is shrouded in mystery: the new car, the MP4/5B, was on track only two weeks ago and its actual potential is unknown. Even though there are significant data about it: Senna at Estoril completed the overall distance of a Grand Prix with a 1'30" lead over the time recorded last year on the same circuit by Berger who won with Ferrari. The test, however, was interrupted halfway through due to a broken gearbox, which remains the biggest problem for the English car. The strong point instead remains the Honda engine, which will certainly have an increase in competitiveness. McLaren has lost its chief designer Gordon Murray, transferred to the realization of a granturismo car and his deputy Steve Nichols, who has joined Ferrari. The technical management remains in the hands of Neal Oatley, who had modified the 1989 car and is in charge of the current one which should be improved.
As far as Ferrari is concerned, the arrival of Prost, Nichols and Scalabroni, the hard work done in these months, the completion of the staff, the remaking of the engine, should bring Maranello to be able to fight on equal terms with the English rival, putting Williams-Renault and Benetton-Ford in the role of first and second outsider. The first race, however, also because it takes place on a street circuit and because the reliability of the cars has not yet received the true baptism of the track in a race atmosphere, could also reserve some surprises. While waiting for the start, the discussions on the drivers' earnings are still going on: who has managed to get the best salary?
Ferrari, according to a reliable source, will spend over 25 billion lire this year for Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost: if this is not a record, we're close. Mansell's salary is indicated in nine and a half million dollars, with an increase of one million (always in dollars, of course) for the renunciation of the exclusive use of the mule. The Frenchman's salary is slightly lower: eight and a half million dollars. But even he has no reason to complain. Nigel Mansell has a new philosophy. Perhaps he has already been plagiarized by Alain Prost. However, for the first time we hear the Englishman talking about race tactics, placings, precious points, all speeches that even only a year ago he would not even dream of doing. I want to win, he said then in no uncertain terms. Now, however, the Isle of Man driver has become much more cautious:
"There are sixteen races, and I want to score points in at least thirteen, to collect the maximum according to the opportunities that will be offered to me. It's useless to go off the rails. If I can maintain this line of conduct I will have a good chance of finally getting to the title that has eluded me by a whisker on too many occasions. I am happy with the arrival of Prost at Ferrari. With him we will be able to better realize some ideas. He has enormous experience and above all he knows Honda's working methods and their projects very well. So we can progress quickly. I also realized that he has never been so motivated as in this period. I am convinced that it will be a good battle with the McLaren, very close. Without forgetting that in Imola Ferrari will have a new engine, even more powerful, close to 700 horsepower. And then we'll see some great things".
There is no shortage of news, such as Tyrrell's switch to Pirelli tires. Among all the teams Braham has already given up the first two tests (Phoenix and Sao Paulo, Brazil), and it's been put on sale after the known judicial events of the owner, the Swiss Luthi. Onyx, on the other hand, has found a buyer in the Japanese company Middelbridge. Johansson and Lehto will be in the race. In the Scuderia Italia the ill Emanuele Pirro will be replaced by Gianni Morbidelli, the driver-tester borrowed from Ferrari. At Arrows the injured Alex Caffi will be replaced by Stefano Modena, who is still with Brabham. From Friday, March 9th 1990, all on track with the first round of qualifying.
Apart from a few news in the local newspapers, brief and confused spots on television and a couple of gigantic billboards featuring the helmet of Emerson Fittipaldi, the Formula Indy champion, the inhabitants of Phoenix have not yet fully felt the presence of Formula 1, even though some streets in the city center are barred to make room for the city circuit. It will be an American custom, that of the disposable, of the most driven consumerism. Friday and Saturday, the two days of qualifying, and Sunday the race, who knows: 30,000 or 40,000 spectators, a pittance.
And yet it was said, last year, when the United States Grand Prix was held in the very hot month of June, that in March - the high season - it would be a different story, a full house. We will see. In this situation of uncertainty is well housed the current Formula 1, a popular sport but one that is showing signs of crisis. The television audience in 1989 was the worst in the last three years. Is it the fault of boring races and the McLaren domination? Or problems deriving from a management that limits itself to plugging the holes of the moment, instead of looking for radical solutions? Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
Racing has not always been exciting, and this wandering from one location to another with constant changes is certainly not a good sign of stability. It is no mystery that a power war is raging at the top of Formula 1. On one side there is the president of Fisa, Jean-Marie Balestre, who breaks the spears of justice on both sides, but has basically left all economic management to the astute Bernie Ecclestone and with it a good slice of political power. On the other side there is the emerging group, the one led by Ron Dennis, McLaren manager, strong in the results and the money earned, who would like to guarantee his share of the profits. In the middle there are big car manufacturers, real financiers, speculators, poor devils who try to take advantage of the river of dollars that flows through the Formula 1 circus.
Such a situation is unfortunately reflected also on the competitive side: only three or four teams (McLaren, Ferrari, Williams, Benetton) at the moment are able to keep up with the huge investments needed to remain at the top. All the others only aim to stay afloat, to try to be the first among the second ones. Maybe they should review the rules (the idea that all engine manufacturers should be obliged to supply at least two-three teams is not stupid), trying to balance the forces. In fact, the engines make the biggest differences: a thirty year old Cosworth with not even 600 horsepower has little chance to approach a ten cylinder Honda or a twelve cylinder Ferrari.
With these considerations made, we can talk about the championship that is about to begin. It's clear that if the expected and desirable McLaren-Ferrari duel will be uncertain and spectacular, everything else will take a back seat, especially if in the fight for stage victories, if not for the title, Williams, Benetton or someone else will be involved. The Maranello team has closed an almost disastrous decade, given the precedents and the prestige of the name. Since 1979 it has not won a title: it came close to it in the unfortunate 1982 with Villeneuve's death, in 1985 also with Alboreto, but then it has always had to be satisfied with some seasonal palliative to avoid closing the budget in negative.
Since last year, a total restructuring process has been underway. The commitment is considerable: 300 people work in the Maranello workshops and there are dozens of technicians. President Piero Fusaro has given a mandate to the head of the racing team, Cesare Fiorio, to find the best possible set-up for the team. The hiring of Alain Prost, of the designers Nichols and Scalabroni, the strengthening of the engine sector, the enlargement of the testing programs, should give good results. But there is still the unknown factor of McLaren, a team that has two very fast drivers such as Senna and Berger, with the power of Honda behind them, which does not spare men and means.
The temperature is crisp, the air clear and the sun shines high in the sky, with no clouds on the horizon. All around, the characteristic saguars, the giant cacti that are the symbol of Arizona, stand out. So once again the opening scenario of the Formula 1 World Championship changes. From Rio de Janeiro to an aseptic U.S. city, a place whose mild winter climate attracts the elderly, with golf courses, Hollywood villas, pharaonic hotels and endless campsites. It's not clear what Formula 1 does down here, since aside from a few posters at the airport and a few bars featuring special Grand Prix menus, people don't even seem to know what a McLaren is or who Alain Prost is. Only Ferrari is a known name, as is Rolls Royce, in the sense that they are badges of prestige and wealth. In this - at least apparent - general indifference, except for a few protests by the inhabitants of the city center where the 3800-meter circuit was completed, between concrete walls and metal nets, there is a contrast between the tension of the people in charge, that is, managers, technicians, mechanics and drivers who have been waiting for uncertain and spectacular races since the 1990 championship, the forty-first.
The drivers, all in all, despite the tense atmosphere of the eve of the race, are happy to have come to Phoenix. No one is pressing them closely, as could happen in Monza or Monte-Carlo, everyone is locked in his golden cage, enjoying the last hours of relaxation with golf or hot air ballooning. And the track is not one of those 300 km/h like Silverstone, where every moment is a thrill. Nonetheless, you can still feel the excitement of the new adventure, the game of hopes, revenge and rivalry. The most important novelties involve the human sphere. On a technical level, there are improvements, refinements, but nothing revolutionary.
On the other hand, the formations have changed a lot, especially at the top, in the two teams, McLaren and Ferrari, which, according to everyone, will carry the greatest weight in the world championship, and which will face each other in yet another direct clash in which, in recent years, the English team has had the better of things. Gerhard Berger alongside Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost with Mansell, in a sort of game of pairs. Who better than them can make predictions, say what will happen? Prost and Mansell have already spoken repeatedly, Senna is silent. All that remains is the Austrian, who is not the type to back down. He has always liked to say what he thinks. So, first question: who wins?
"The favorite one is McLaren, for several reasons. First because it is the champion team. Second because this is a team that has to win to survive. Ferrari has the name behind it, it can still live in glory. It is true that we did very little testing in the winter break. But I can assure you that the Japanese people from Honda worked hard in Suzuka, that the engine is even more powerful and competitive than last year. In any case it should still be a small step ahead of Ferrari".
Will it be harder, however, to beat Ferrari or teammate Senna?
"Here is the point. If Maranello has made such progress that it can win the duel, because at the moment I don't see who can fit in between us and them, I won't be my fault, I'll do my best anyway. My real rival, therefore, is Senna. Because he is the benchmark. Because he is considered the fastest man in the world. I have trained to beat him. But like this year, I've prepared myself physically for a very tough challenge. I weigh five kilos more and it's all muscle, biceps. I want to get to the bottom of the races with strength. That doesn't mean I don't hold Prost and Mansell in high regard. But they say the Frenchman is only dangerous at a distance and I've already beaten the Englishman many times in qualifying. In short, they don't scare me too much".
Senna enjoys many advantages, not least of which is a better knowledge of the engine, the car and the team.
"This is also something to put on the scales. But it doesn't scare me. With Ayrton, at the moment, there is a very good relationship, I have never spoken so much with a teammate. And I'm in no hurry, I've signed a three-year contract with McLaren. Before the term I want to win a world title. Then maybe I will retire. To be more free to concentrate on this goal I also sold my trucking company to my father. I am a full-time driver, to beat Ferrari and to try to surprise Senna, as a chivalrous rival I hope, not with words".
A polemical reference to Prost. But Berger doesn't insist:
"Ferrari. Too bad, my cycle with Maranello is over. But I know very well that in the Formula 1 environment they would like to see the red cars from Modena return to success, to the dominion of many years ago. I would also be happy if that were the case. But first I have to take away my World Championship".
Such is the naivety and lack of knowledge of Americans about Formula 1 that on Thursday, March 7th 1990 a local newspaper published an interview with Warwick in which Derek claims to be aiming to win a few races this year with his Lotus-Lamborghini and, if everything goes smoothly, to even think about the title. Now we all hope that Warwick can see his aspirations fulfilled, but the reality will be very different. No one at this point dares to make predictions about the championship that will start tomorrow morning with the first qualifying round.
Not even the real candidates for victory, who prefer to see the results of the first three races before discovering themselves. One of these is the most awaited protagonist of the year: Senna, who arrived in Arizona on Thursday, the last or almost the last of the racers to reach the venue of the first Grand Prix. Senna appears calm, serene, even if under his tan skin, his face and eyes send strange, contrasting signals. On the one hand, you can sense his usual determination, the certainty of someone who knows he is among the best, if not the best; on the other hand, a certain concern, a torment perhaps due to some doubt.
"In fact, I feel double. The Senna driver has no problems, he has confidence in his means, in the team, in the possibility of continuing to win. On the other hand, the Senna man is disappointed, he would like to change, to close this chapter of racing. There are other things in life".
So this kind of comedy continues; it seems as if Senna is still in Formula 1 only because he had contracts to fulfill, only because someone forced him to apologize to Balestre. A task to be fulfilled, despite himself.
"It's not certain that I won't stop racing sooner than people think".
Back to the present: rivals?
"The usual ones. Ferrari first, then Williams and Benetton. It could be a more balanced championship. But those who think they will find an unprepared McLaren are deluding themselves. Honda has worked hard and the new car has an exceptional ground effect. It will certainly be faster than the previous model, although perhaps not as far ahead as in the past. Better this way, there will be spectacular races".
Have the accusations, the controversies caused any trauma?
"A lot of sorrow. But I have not changed, I am still the same and I think I have been right in many cases. Now I hope to have in Berger a sincere companion. That's all I ask him, to collaborate in the set-up of the cars and then to play our chances on the track. The teammate is the most direct reference on the value of a driver, but this must not be used to try to destabilize the team, as in the past".
Is it possible to think that Ferrari has reached a level of competitiveness such as to aim for victories and the world championship?
"The Maranello team is not just an institution where each of us dreams of one day having our most exciting experience. It's a combative team with considerable resources. It has strengthened itself a lot, it has worked hard, it should reap the fruits. But don't ask me where it will be able to get to: we will know only at the end of the year, also because the first races will not be decisive in terms of indications on the true values. Many teams will present more competitive cars starting from Imola, in May. We have to wait, even if good results here and in San Paolo will be a remarkable starting point".
Senna goes no further. He turns to go lock himself in his room. On Friday he will jog, eight kilometers at a fast pace, diet properly, and go to bed early. In this he has not changed at all. On the contrary. Friday will see him on the track with his gaze fixed on a goal that he still intends to pass first.
In the meantime, the workers continue to work at night, in the cool weather, to assemble the guardrails, the concrete walls and the metal nets that delimit the streets of Down Town, the small center of this endless city composed of low houses, villas and the highest concentration of swimming pools, golf courses and tennis courts in the world. Above all the small teams are anxiously unpacking the cars, the extras as well as the generals of this colossal that on Friday, with rehearsals, takes its first shot of the year. Because it's easy to talk and write about McLaren and Ferrari, about Prost and Senna and the billions that go into their pockets. It is less easy to deal with the others who, in most cases, are content, when it goes well, to take the start while very often they are even kicked off the grid. Teams that miraculously managed to get their cars on the planes leaving for Phoenix a few days ago.
"Last Friday we mounted the Subaru engine on the car".
Enzo Coloni, a small but intrepid Umbrian constructor who threw himself into the fray of Formula 1, tells us.
"We started it up, it turned on, it even made a nice roar, then we packed everything up".
For Coloni, the Phoenix Grand Prix is an undiscovered experience; last year he skipped this race. In the other races he has rarely been able to enter the starting line-up and then he has only completed a few laps. Now from the small town of Tuoro on the lake Trasimeno he has succeeded in making the blow: he has become partner of the Subaru, a small but gritty Japanese house that wants to break through in the sport. But everything was born in a hurry, terribly in a hurry and so here he is at the debut with a 12-cylinder that so far will have completed no more than twenty kilometers on the track. How will it go? What other ordeals will the chronicle offer us? All to be discovered in this new championship.
Eyes full of curiosity and enthusiasm for the mechanics and managers of Life, which, despite its name, is a new racing team in the Modena area, one of the many motorsports activities that are springing up like mushrooms around the mighty trunk of Ferrari. New car, new engine, new driver, new people. The twelve-cylinder engine was designed by an ex-Ferrari engineer, Rocchi; the new but gloriously named driver was Gary Brabham, one of the three sons of the great champion of the past, Jack, who gave his name to the team. The engine has done thirty kilometers so far, the driver not even one.
We have just mentioned Brabham. What a bad end, in the hands of lawyers, with the last owner in jail and the cars seized. At the beginning of the 70's, Bernie Ecclestone took it over from old Jack and brought it back to moments of glory. In 1983 Piquet won the world championship with this single-seater, then the decline. Ecclestone sold it to Joachim Luthi, now in jail. But he kept that old fox Bernie for himself, renting to Luthi the sheds with the workshops that are still his. In trouble, for the sudden death of a rich wife, the not better defined Belgian entrepreneur Jean Pierre Van Rossem who had invented the Onyx stable. Now he has no money, his inheritance is blocked and he cannot run the team. Neither Brabham nor Onyx have withdrawn, on the contrary they are among the entries for this Grand Prix. Will they race? We'll know on Friday, but the rumor going around here in Phoenix is that Ecclestone wants to race with the Onyx cars and the team and technical equipment from his Brabham sheds.
Osella, present in Formula 1 for ten years, continues undaunted in its participation. Then there is AGS, a small French team born in a small village in the south of France; here too, ownership changes, filmmakers enter the scene and the results do not change. Eurobrun was born near Milan but is Italian-Swiss: condemned to the cross of the pre-qualifications, it has often ended up leaving the track before the race even began. Yet it allows itself the luxury of entering two cars, two drivers, and having twice as many spare parts and equipment available. And what about the French Ligier? They say it continues to race only because of the will of Mitterrand, a friend of Guy Ligier since the war. And the other French, the Larrousse? A handful of veterans and ex-Renault who has put on his own: sponsors many, rich and colorful, but for the rest ... But Ecclestone, the supreme manager of Formula 1, is magnanimous: as soon as one of the underdog threatens to leave the races, he rushes with a thousand aids and favors: stay, stay, please. Of course: if only McLaren and Ferrari remained, what would the world championship be?
Coming back to more important matters, after the winter tests, Ferrari was proclaimed queen of winter, thanks to the records obtained in tests at Le Castellet and Estoni and the apparent newfound reliability of the new car, the 641, many Formula 1 insiders have made predictions in favor of the Maranello team. Under the banner of the phrase "either this year or never again", a lot was bet on the possibilities of Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. At least until a fortnight ago, when the Senna case found a solution, bringing back the Brazilian champion who seemed destined for disqualification or voluntary retirement. And until the new McLaren MP4/5B went on track, which, even though it did not amaze, immediately made it clear that progress was being made in the English field, both in terms of the car in general and the Honda engine. Without forgetting that the Japanese are already preparing, if it will be necessary, to bring on track, towards the middle of the season, a new twelve-cylinder engine.
Now, therefore, the situation appears more uncertain, difficult to decipher. The majority of the protagonists is convinced that only after the first two races (Phoenix and Sao Paulo) and the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, on May 13th 1990, the values on the field will be better known. However, there are not only McLaren and Ferrari. The ambitions, the hopes, the objectives are not lacking also in the other teams, although at different levels. Listening to the opinions of those involved, that is, the majority of drivers, these thoughts emerge. Who will win the world championship? Who will be the emerging drivers and teams? Will there be surprises? Alain Prost answers:
"If the car is reliable we can aim for the title. I still see McLaren and Ferrari at the top, Williams and Benetton one step behind. I don't think there will be any important changes in the top ranking".
Nigel Mansell, on the other hand, admits:
"I did a year of apprenticeship at Ferrari, I am convinced that the right moment to win has arrived. Williams with the Renault engine could be the most dangerous outsider. Among the surprises I see Tyrrell well, especially with the young Alesi. The cars with Pirelli tyres could have a good chance of qualifying on certain circuits".
And finally Ayrton Senna:
"I race to win the title. Ferrari has certainly grown and could give us a hard time. Among the young drivers I bet on Alesi and Martini".
His teammate, Gerhard Berger, confesses:
"I am convinced that McLaren will maintain a certain supremacy. I have no reverential fears towards Senna, even if I recognize that he is very fast. Ferrari will still have some problems to solve. Williams and Benetton are right behind us and Maranello".
Moving on to the outsiders, Riccardo Patrese admits:
"As for me I want to do better than last year, when I placed third in the championship. We could take advantage of the McLaren-Ferrari duel, even though I think the English team is still the favorite".
And teammate Tierry Boutsen:
"I would like to win as many races as possible and also run for the title. I don't think we will be cut out of the fight, even if we give McLaren and Ferrari more chances. Also for me Alesi and Martini are the most likely protagonists among the young drivers".
The three times World Champion, Nelson Piquet, replies:
"The important thing for me is to be there. The rest doesn't interest me. We will have a new car at Imola. I don't want to make predictions, also because I've always got them wrong. Young drivers? That's up to them".
"It's hard not to think about McLaren and Ferrari. My heart says Maranello, reason and interest make me bet on our Benetton. The surprises will not have a decisive weight".
"We will try to win in the B series, that is, among the teams that do not have engines of the new generation. I think Ferrari has come very close to McLaren. Prost's departure has somewhat destabilized the English team, but we don't expect Senna and Berger to surrender. For the youngsters, a lot will depend on the cars and the tyres".
Italian Gabriele Tarquini:
"McLaren has tried little, I think Ferrari has come closer. We at AGS are only now starting with a real structure, we hope to come out on top in the long run".
Minardi driver Pierluigi Martini confesses:
"A lot depends on the psychological condition of Senna, who I consider the driver who can always give something more and therefore win the world championship. Ferrari will have a double weapon, Mansell in qualifying, Prost in the race, a nice combination. As far as young drivers are concerned, I'm counting on Larini and Alesi".
And Nicola Larini:
"Ferrari gives me confidence. As a final ranking I would do Prost, Senna and Mansell. Williams is an excellent outsider, Benetton still seems far away. We at Ligier have made progress, but we struggle in the second division. Our goal is to overtake our direct rivals and gain the right to have a competitive engine (the Renault, ed) next year".
"Open championship between Ferrari and McLaren. These two teams have taken such an advantage over everyone that it will take another year to see another team at their level. However, I am convinced that Senna will not have negative repercussions due to the well-known events that have involved him. On the contrary, he will be more determined".
The experienced Italian driver, Michele Alboreto, states:
"We should think about our Arrows that is recovering thanks to the arrival of a Japanese property with the necessary means to make the team grow. In any case I see Ferrari very well. Among the emerging drivers we should keep an eye on Alesi and Martini".
These are the opinions of some of the protagonists of the 1990 World Championship. There is not a total unbalance towards a single team. The prediction seems to be actually divided between McLaren and Ferrari, but only the track will give the truest indications. From Friday, therefore, with the first qualifying round.
The Ferrari pits in Phoenix look like an Agip service station. The sign of the glorious six-legged dog is missing, but everything else is there. From the commander in chief Cesare Fiorio down to the last mechanical apprentice, they all wear bright yellow shirts with the flashy letters of the powerful Italian petrol. For this championship, which promises to be full of successes, Ferrari has changed its look and its uniforms. Not only the battle uniforms, to be shown off in front of the cameras, but also those for free time. Since it has more than one sponsor to please, it has also invented the resting and traveling uniform. On the plane, everyone wears a blue jacket, a light blue shirt, gray pants and American loafers with a dollar glued to the leather.
Until Thursday evening, they wore red T-shirts with Marlboro and Marelli written on them, and from Friday to Sunday they wore gas station uniforms. And in a late surge of Maoism, even the rank has disappeared. Officers and troops dress in the same way. Until a few months ago, however, engineers and technicians were distinguished by their white shirts bearing only the horse logo. There is the risk that in their haste someone, swearing, might ask Fiorio for a wrench, and there is the risk that tomorrow they might even make Romiti dress the same way, but sponsors are sponsors and they demand a little attention.
Ten meters away, the Japanese people of Honda, who are working frantically at McLaren, have also changed their uniforms. And so the two great rivals that will animate this year's championship have arrived here with suitcases full of assorted and colorful clothing. A show of pistons, connecting rods and grease stains. After Pitti bimbo, here comes Pitti meccanico. Around these two supermodels there is much anticipation. Who will win? The numbers on the cars have changed and seem to be a good omen: 1 and 2 for Ferrari, which is not the World Champion but, having inherited from McLaren the good Alain Prost, has brought with it the golden numbers, 27 and 28 for Senna and Berger, a bad sign because never before has McLaren given the impression of being in crisis. Not even when Barnard left in 1986.
Now the air in the McLaren box is not at all cheerful. The team boss Ron Dennis has been angry with everyone for a few months, a real persecution mania. He has it in for Fiorio for the gesture the Maranello sporting director made to him in Portugal. He is angry with Balestre for the 100,000 dollar fine to Senna and for the farce of the super-license granted after the expiration of the terms. He has a grudge against Ecclestone for mismanaging Formula 1 money and wants to see the accounts until the last receipt. He is angry with Ferrari because they took away a technician of the caliber of Steve Nichols. Ron Dennis is nervous and takes it out on everyone. But he's also nervous about the team that worked day and night all winter and then put the new car on the track a week ago.
The chronometric times were disappointing compared to those of Ferrari, but the most lively concerns come from the changes made to the car and the gearbox. For five times Senna and Berger found themselves on the track with the car sideways at the 200 km/h mark. It seems that the gearbox and transmission have some defects, and so the two drivers are also a bit dark in the face. It must also be said that McLaren has never been the queen of winter. It has always arrived at the last moment with the new cars that once in the race did not fail a shot. Last year the first sign of failure was in Rio de Janeiro, where a Ferrari won. This year things seem worse and the nervousness is all too palpable. Good thing that between Ferrari and McLaren there is Williams, second in the 1989 world championship, otherwise fisticuffs would be the order of the day.
McLaren is technically impoverished both in terms of men and mechanical solutions. Berger himself makes no secret of this and regrets the automatic transmission of the Italian cars a lot. Ferrari, on the other hand, has strengthened its staff: 300 people work for these two red cars, three times more than the best teams. Ten billion liras is the investment on the electronics of these cars. Ninety engines are under construction in Maranello, as if to say that every Grand Prix Ferrari could use five of them. This year, for the first time, the men at Ferrari seemed to be the Japanese ones of Formula 1: cold, calm, efficient, focused. Moving our gaze towards the McLaren pit, on the other hand, we can witness a comical scene, worthy of a Ferrari of bygone days: an English mechanic shrieks and frets in search of a key which, it turns out, he already had in his pocket.
Small signals, perhaps insufficient to scrutinize an entire championship, but nonetheless signals. However, some things are certain: never before has Ferrari had so many technical and economic means at its disposal as this year; never before has it worked so hard during the winter, covering almost 5,000 kilometers of tests and trials; never before has morale been so high. No one can make predictions, but the conditions for victory are there. Or at least, it seems so.
Yes, because the Formula 1 circus immediately presents a new hero: Jean Alesi, 25 years old, native of Avignon, but of Sicilian origins. The French driver obtains the best time in the first free practice session of the United States Grand Prix that opens the season, lowering by about 1.4 seconds the track record that was held by Senna with 1'30"108. Alesi at the wheel of the Tyrrell with Cosworth engine, one of the less powerful, runs in 1'28"740 at an average speed of 154.700 km/h. The transalpine driver had been among the fastest during the tests with race tires, but when he mounted qualifying tyres he dropped about three seconds below his time. In a first day slowed down by numerous accidents, with only damage to the cars, we see the usual McLaren from the front row with Senna and Berger in the order behind Alesi. Prost obtains the fourth time with the Ferrari, but it is a tiring enterprise that of the Frenchman, made only at the last moment. The Maranello cars, in fact, register an unexpected problem with the gearbox oil pressure too low. And Prost, in order to achieve the result, had to get into the reserve car.
Nigel Mansell, in eleventh, had a slow test with some electrical problems and the gearbox lubrication was not perfect. At the end of the morning, waiting to enter the official qualifying session, delayed by more than an hour, the atmosphere at Ferrari does not seem the best. A good impression surprisingly arouses also the Benetton with Piquet sixth, while Nakajima gets even the fifth place with the second Tyrrell, designed by Posthethwaite, former Ferrari member. The accidents see as protagonists Martini who is victim of a spin during the fast lap, involving also the Osella of Grouilllard. Also Morbidelli ends up against the protections damaging his Dallara. Carambola also for Alliot and Larini with the Ligier.
The surprise was in the air, but no one would have imagined that the first qualifying round of the United States Grand Prix, which opens the Formula 1 World Championship, held in the afternoon of Friday, March 9th 1990, would have offered an authentic revolution. Gerhard Berger was at the top: at his first outing on the McLaren, he beat his teammate Senna (only fifth), taking the provisional pole position in 1'28"664, a new circuit record (the previous one was Senna's with 1'30"108). But the real novelties arrived with Martini second, only one tenth behind the Austrian, and De Cesaris third, a little bit behind. The debut of the Ferraris was not very brilliant: Prost saved himself with an honorable seventh place, Mansell did not go beyond a very difficult seventeenth position.
Martini's performance with the Minardi and De Cesaris's performance with the Dallara of the Scuderia Italia, highlight the progress of the two small Italian teams, but also confirm the competitiveness of Pirelli tyres in the qualifying phase. Also Alesi, with the Tyrrell, goes very fast (fourth), dominating the free practice of the morning, before touching a wall in the afternoon, bending a little the suspension. Of all relief the eighth place of Grouillard with the Osella. At the end of this first practice session, Alain Prost admits:
"The car is still to be balanced well, we will certainly improve. The engine brakes too much when downshifting, but we will find a remedy for this too".
Black in the face instead Mansell, who for the whole day is struggling with an automatic gearbox that doesn't work, maybe for the electronic control. Even on his fastest lap the Englishman found himself halfway down the track with a faulty transmission. Senna instead complains about the engine, which with the qualifying tires has lost power. In the morning, meanwhile, pre-qualifying took place from 8:00 to 9:00 and involved nine cars, including Brabham and Onyx.
The first impact with these tests qualifies four drivers for the official tests: in order Moreno (Eurobrun), Bernard (Larrousse), Grouillard (Osella) and Suzuki (Larrousse). So Tarquini (Ags), Dalmas (AGS), Langes (Eurobrun), Gary Brabham (Life) and Gachot (Coloni Subaru) were left out. For the latter the adventure in the United States is already over. Meanwhile the stewards decide to reduce the distance of the race from the planned 81 laps to 72, plus the one of the line-up. Last year, in fact, the race was interrupted, as per regulations, at the limit of two hours, when the entire route had not yet been completed.
In the Arizona desert it rains three times a year, on average. One of these days under water is on the Formula 1 Saturday, March 10th 1990. So, the first race of the 1990 world championship will start with the line-up composed on Friday in the first qualifying round, since no competitor can improve his time in the second, on the wet track. And Gerhard Berger, new to McLaren, starts in the best condition on a street circuit, ahead of everyone. It is the thirty-one year old Austrian's fifth pole position and also the most beautiful, since he immediately beats his teammate, Ayrton Senna, in fifth place.
Ferrari, on the other hand, starts uphill, forced to chase: Prost in the fourth row with the seventh time, Mansell very far away, in the group, seventeenth. Also last year at the debut in Brazil, the forecasts were not favorable, but the Englishman with a half miracle won the race clamorously. To hope for another reversal of the forecast of such magnitude seems a bit excessive. The themes of the race (the forecasts exclude rain) are many. The duel between Berger and Senna, Ferrari's attempts to recover, and the young Italians. But it must be said that with cars equipped with less powerful engines (Minardi, Dallara and even Alesi's English Tyrrell have old Ford Cosworth engines), Martini and De Cesaris have to rely on their skill, on the balance of their single-seaters and on the quality of the Pirelli tyres, which in the qualifying sessions proved to be much faster.
But we must also take into account the presence of Piquet, of the Williams of Patrese and Boutsen, who count on regularity and reliability. Then there are the outsiders: the incredible Osella with the sparkling Grouillard in eighth position, Modena rescued at the last moment with the Brabham that seems to have to fail before the start, the incredible Nakajima, able to hit the wall at the first corner or to make a wonderful race. In short, the uncertainty is not lacking, the show should be assured. Many drivers, such as Mansell, will have to work hard to catch up, on a track where the sharp corners and concrete walls loom like cleavers on the neck.
"I'm almost desperate, I couldn't start in a worse way. The intention would still be to attack, to try to overtake immediately to recover positions. But logic tells me that I'll have to wait for some self-elimination first, to clear the road a little bit. It's the opposite of my temperament, you have to put on a good face. At the end of the day I am an optimist and when you are serene you also happen to be lucky".
Alain Prost seems to be quite calm:
"I was and I am convinced that in this championship also the placings will be important. That's why I will aim at a tactical race to get some points. If there are a lot of points, I certainly won't be the one to back out. The important thing is that my Ferrari is reliable, allowing me to get to the finish line".
On Saturday morning, in a moment of pause, Cesare Fiorio explained the reasons that had created problems, especially on Mansell's car, in the first qualifying session.
"As you know, we have a new gearbox. The concept is always the same, that of electronic control, but some accessories have changed, some details. One of them is a small oil tank, which is under pressure in the circuit. The final design called for this container to be made of carbon fiber. We assembled it here for the first time and we realized, unfortunately only after having the inconvenience of insufficient pressure, that it had a leak. That's why we replaced it with the previous one in aluminum, waiting to modify the one we had planned".
Another problem, reported by Prost, concerned the engine-brake.
"Yes, in fact the driver was right. But it was a reverse trouble. Even if we released the throttle pedal, the engine continued to push for a few meters, with problems in braking and cornering. So we mounted a different throttle control that should eliminate the problem".
A prediction for the race?
"A Russian roulette, on a track like this that for us is the worst in the entire world championship. I have advised the riders to make a cautious start, within the limits of such a speech. This is an elimination test, racing with your brain can mean finishing on the podium".
Having to wait for Sunday's race without being able to run, Cesare Fiorio allows himself to journalists, telling about his first year in Ferrari. A year at Ferrari that counts for five. A year so hectic and nerve-wracking that a few white hairs begin to appear among the curls of Cesare Fiorio, a fifty-year-old man who looks 35. In the beginning, between one disaster and another at Ferrari, someone was suddenly struck by his beautiful tan that stood out in such a depressed and depressing environment. And so he was nicknamed Hollywood because of the aforementioned tan and the charm of the handsome man mastering the cameras and the set. Then things changed.
"It was a Friday, I think it was March 10th a year ago. I arrived in Maranello around two in the afternoon and found myself in the fray. The Ferrari had always been a dream but I had put it aside, engulfed as I was in the world of rallies. And in fact I was with the Lancia at the rally of Portugal in those days when I received a phone call from Turin: as soon as he came back we had to meet. I didn't know what to think but as soon as I came back I went to the appointment and I was told that I had to take the Ferrari in my hands. Let me think for a moment, I answered. Four days later I was already in Maranello and the following week the world championship began in Brazil. It was exciting stuff, even though I've been used to racing and emergencies for a long time. I slept at the Canal Grande in Modena that night and stayed there for twenty days, then I moved to Casinalbo, near Maranello. Before leaving for Brazil we had a meeting. I wanted to know how things were going, where we should put our hands. I can't say that Ferrari was a disaster. Let's just say that it seemed like a living desert to me. They told me what happened in the last practice session in Brazil: two laps and then a pit stop with some damage. Another two laps, another stop, another broken part. You could put your hands in your hair. I left for the Grand Prix a little disheartened, but instead there was that amazing victory by Mansell. It was a miraculous victory, not at all announced, but it gave us a boost, it cheered us up. When we returned, we set up everything from scratch. First of all, the way we worked. We needed to work as a team, all together, to exchange ideas, innovations and results. A way of working that no longer existed at Ferrari. And it didn't exist because of the English office in Guildford where Barnard worked. There was no interchange, there was little communication. We worked on a day-to-day basis. So we organized short- and medium-term programs, with precise deadlines. We knew that in the Grand Prix that followed we would not be able to repeat the miracle of Rio, so we set a deadline to do something good at the beginning of July at the French Grand Prix. And that deadline was the first to be met".
He then continues:
"Mansell was involved in Gugelmin's initial accident and then made an amazing comeback. In the meantime, we had already broken up with Barnard because he didn't want to work with us and we were even more convinced that we had to work together. We were also done with Berger, who a month earlier had told us that he would not renew his contract for this year. It was in the parking lot of Le Castellet that I had my first conversation with Prost. A few words. I asked him: are you interested in coming to see us? Can we talk about it? He answered with a yes and we said goodbye. Ten days later I met him again. In Sardinia on my boat. Luckily nobody saw us and everything remained secret. Prost, with great honesty, told me that he was interested in it, but first he wanted to see how the Ferrari would go. He gave me his definitive yes a month later in Budapest, in a very elegant and indirect way: immediately after Mansell's victory he sent the team, not me, a case of champagne. On the phone he set a condition: that nothing should leak out before Monza. He rightly feared that if the news had become public domain he would have played the world championship inside McLaren. Instead the news leaked out and created a lot of problems. Many have reproached me for having told and repeated lies on that occasion. But I had made a promise to Prost and I had to respect it at the cost of making bad figures".
Then he talks about the negotiations with Scalabroni:
"Even the first contacts with Scalabroni date back to June. I realized, however, that in order to strengthen the team we also needed a very experienced coach with charisma. I contacted Steve Nichols in June. He told me he was interested but then he disappeared. He showed up again in Australia and we concluded immediately. But even before putting these pieces in place, I realized that we had to restore confidence and motivation to the mechanics, to the team. The short- and medium-term work expanded into long-term work. We had to think about this year's car and a special team began to work on it before the summer. We slowly began to solve the trickle of broken parts. Endless tests and reliability returned. When things seemed to be getting better, the blow of Mansell's disqualification in Portugal at the end of September arrived. Also in that case a lot of controversy. Mansell certainly made a mistake in reversing into the pits, but he was leading the race and anxiety sometimes plays tricks on you. However, the punishment he received was too harsh. I cannot question Mansell's statement that he did not see the flags. As team manager, I have the duty to defend my drivers and I defended Mansell who was not acquitted by the federation, but neither was he condemned. We could have appealed, but in the end I have to say that our president Fusaro's common sense was right: let it go, let sport win. And it was better that way".
Finally, the new World Championship:
"Now another World Championship begins and everyone wants to know what Ferrari will do. This is how things stand: we have worked hard and well on several fronts, but we haven't had a direct confrontation with McLaren this winter, so it's too early to say whether they are ahead or behind us. I know that we have done more kilometers than them, that we have made great strides in reliability, that we are focusing a lot and definitively on the development of the automatic transmission. Last September we were still uncertain, so much so that we had resumed testing with the traditional transmission. The team is now working very well, the drivers are calm and motivated, they believe in what we have done together with them. And what's more, while we are facing the world championship we know that there is a team of technicians at home working on the 1991 car. I can't promise results, but I won't say I'm defeated either. I have the serenity that comes from knowing that we have all done a great and intense job together. We all want good results, us first of all, but only the track will give us the answer".
Sunday, March 11th 1990, in Phoenix, a city circuit of 3700 meters, all curves, the race takes place with a rather cloudy sky. At the start, Berger manages to keep his position against Martini, who starts at his side, but is overtaken by Alesi. The French driver, who had made his debut in the French Grand Prix the previous year, takes the lead, immediately moving away from his pursuers and accumulating an advantage of 2.4 seconds at the end of the first lap. In the meantime Senna begins to recover and, after having overtaken De Cesaris and moved up to third position, he approaches Berger, who loses about half a second per lap from Alesi.
The Brazilian has now reached his teammate when, during the ninth lap, the Austrian brakes on a hump in the road surface, spinning and damaging the rear wing of his car. Berger is then forced to return to the pits to replace the damaged wing; later on he will set the fastest lap in the race, but he will be forced to retire for a clutch problem, during the forty-fourth lap. At the moment of Berger's spin, Senna is 8.2 behind Alesi. Not knowing if the Tyrrell's Pirelli tyres would last until the end of the race, Senna is reluctant to push too hard in the early stages of the race; however, the durability of the Italian tyres will be proven when, after thirty laps, Alesi still holds the lead.
After patiently waiting for the best opportunity to pass his rival, Senna attacks Alesi for the first time during the 34th lap, passing him on the inside of the first curve of the circuit after the finish line, on the right, but the Frenchman tenaciously resists the McLaren driver's move, staying by his side on the gliding straight and passing him again on the next curve, where he had a favorable trajectory; he cannot however reply to the overtaking that the Brazilian inflicts on him one round later, in the same point in which the previous attempt was developed. After several attempts to regain the lead, Alesi decides to preserve the tyres and let Senna go. In the meantime, Piquet rises from the sixth position on the grid to the third place; however, problems with the brakes cause the flattening of his tyres, which forces him to make a pit stop on lap 28 to replace them. This inconvenience gives the green light to Thierry Boutsen, who will be able to maintain his third position until the finish line despite an engine problem.
Piquet had to settle for fourth place in his first Grand Prix for Benetton. Prost had slipped to ninth position at the start, as he had been unable to shift into third gear; he climbed to fourth place on the seventeenth lap, but was forced to retire four laps later, betrayed by the gearbox. Mansell's retirement, at the wheel of the other Ferrari, is more spectacular: during the forty-ninth lap, while the English driver is in fifth position, the clutch on his single-seater disintegrates right on the main straight, at a speed of about 260 km/h. The oil tank is punctured by some pieces of the clutch and the engine explodes, turning the car into a huge fireball. Mansell somehow manages to control the car and stop safely.
At the front of the race, Senna clearly extends his lead over Alesi, bringing his advantage over his rival to 28.5 seconds before having to slow down due to engine problems, which however do not prevent him from crossing the finish line in first position. Stefano Modena and Satoru Nakajima, respectively at the wheel of a Brabham and the second Tyrrell, finish fifth and sixth respectively.
Ayrton Senna is always a protagonist. The Brazilian of McLaren, after having kept the world of Formula 1 with bated breath until last week for the controversy with Jean Marie Balestre, president of the FIA, in the first Grand Prix of the 1990 season imposed the law of the strongest. He is the man to beat also this year. Senna led the McLaren with great intelligence. At the beginning he let the young French driver of Sicilian origin Alesi (who has shown to have authentic champion's qualities and surely, as soon as Tyrrell will put at his disposal a more competitive car, he will be able to insert himself among the great top drivers) and at the right moment he broke the delay. A great revenge against everything and everyone.
"Where are the Ferraris? Retired? Ah".
These were the first words of Ayrton Senna on the podium, where he carefully avoided any contact with Jean-Marie Balestre, the president of the Federation who had almost succeeded in making him leave Formula 1. The victory in Phoenix, the twenty-first in his career, was the best medicine to heal the ills of these months. The Brazilian driver has played an extraordinary race, intelligent and has come out of the tunnel of crisis and uncertainty.
"A difficult test. I could have made a mistake, started badly. Already in qualifying I had finished in fifth place after having been in the last years always at the top. Alesi committed me thoroughly, I had to put all my concentration into the duel with the Frenchman. We could have even had a collision. So I let him vent and I passed him for good only when I was sure not to risk too much".
Did Senna expect to return to success right away?
"No, it was a surprise. I had a car that had been tested very little, I was coming from three months of inactivity, we were on a city track where behind every curve there is a wall that threatens you. This statement gave me energy, like having engaged the turbo. It was not easy to overcome so many problems. Now we go to Brazil, on a real track, where I have never competed. But there I will be the same Senna as always".
He immediately asked about Ferrari, why?
"I didn't know anything about what happened. I only saw Berger's accident and then I had to fight with Alesi. I didn't have time to think about Prost and Mansell. My question had only one precise reason:, I consider Ferrari, with Williams and of course with my Austrian teammate, who is very fast, the rivals for the world championship. This was an atypical race. We will only see the real values at Imola. I found all the motivation again, an important stimulus to continue racing. When I arrived in Phoenix I felt like a stranger, I could only forget the past by driving. Coming back to Ferrari, considering the result, I expected something more because I knew that it had been very strong in the winter tests. A negative day doesn't mean anything".
McLaren meanwhile picked up the 81st win in its history.
"It went very well for the team as well. I feel sorry for Berger, but at this point I am convinced that we will both be able to bring the number 1 back to our team. After Brazil we will carry out a series of tests in Imola to develop the car. Even though the new MP4/5B made its winning debut, it's still not perfect. We will have to work hard".
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this single-seater?
"I had to save the brakes, not exploit the gearbox too much and also the engine that had given me some problems on Friday. I would say that basically it is still a very good car, with better road holding than last year. The strong point is the ten-cylinder Honda engine".
Senna's contained happiness contrasts with Gerhard Berger's disappointment.
"I was on pole position and I could have won. I made an unforgivable mistake: I lost control of the car, slipping my foot between the brake and the accelerator and I ended up against the protective tyres. The damage was not serious but the race was lost. I went back to the pits to replace the damaged rear wing and then launched into a futile chase. The clutch knocked me out. But I had two satisfactions: the fastest lap and the confirmation, also thanks to Senna, of having arrived in a winning team, where aiming at the world title, if you show you have the aptitude, is not just a dream".
He had ended the Championship amidst controversy, and was away from racing for three months, undecided whether to quit or continue. Then he resumed the activity a couple of weeks ago and started the new Championship with a resounding victory. The best response to his great enemy Prost, forced to retire like his teammate Mansell, Ayrton Senna gave it in the American street circuit, in a difficult race for him. An incredible battle with the surprising Jean Alesi, a full success that brings him heavy points, seeing that along with the Ferrari that was blocked, Gerhard Berger, his potential rival in McLaren, did not arrive at the finish line, first betrayed by an exit and then by the failure of the clutch.
For Ferrari the American expedition, after the winter enthusiasm, has been disastrous, beyond the most negative forecasts, already matured in the tests, after that Prost and Mansell had been able to conquer only the seventh and the seventeenth position in the starting grid. Under accusation the electronically controlled gearbox that has always given problems. Among other things, this year the Modena team experienced exactly the opposite of what happened last season. In 1989 the winter tests were an ordeal, the new car could not run five or six laps in a row and the world championship started with a surprising success of Mansell in Brazil. This time, after a series of positive tests, of records, of thousands of kilometers run without troubles, the result has been worse than we could expect, because on the performance level the Italian cars could also aspire to a placement in the points zone.
"A very black day, you saw, there are no excuses. It is useless to speculate on what results we could have achieved if we had arrived at the end. We thought we had achieved a certain level of reliability, but the race proved us wrong. Let's start all over again".
Thus Cesare Fiorio, at the end of the race, expresses himself on the debacle of the Ferrari. Dark in the face, but calm, the sporting director of the Maranello team takes stock of the situation:
"On Prost's car the gearbox oil tank must have failed. On Mansell's car we still don't know exactly what happened, because we haven't been able to get the data from the telemetry, data that until the lap before the retirement were perfect. But it seems certain that it was the engine".
The hypothesis will be confirmed by Mansell, who arrived at the pits on foot and then left almost immediately:
"The engine exploded. I felt the car stop suddenly and I got another scare. Anyway, it went quite well, within the limits of what happened. However, my Ferrari was not perfect, it was going just so-so".
Alain Prost was among the first, among the expected protagonists, to return to the pits. While the Ferrari mechanics were scrambling around the car, which had been smoking practically since the beginning of the race, the Frenchman unbuckled his seat belt and got out of the cockpit.
"I knew right away that it wasn't going to last long. As soon as I got the start, which was quite difficult because I lost a couple of positions in the initial tussle to avoid an accident, I noticed that the gearbox oil pressure had dropped. Shortly afterwards I felt a gap between fourth and fifth gear and I realized that it would be very difficult to continue. In fact, around lap 20 I had to slow down and re-enter. It's a shame because the car's performance was more than decent".
The bookmakers gave Ferrari at least placed for the debut in the 1990 Championship. And so the disappointment was even greater. Thousands of kilometers in the winter tests, the chronometric performances, the strengthening of the staff, the work in depth were not useful to avoid the double withdrawal greeted by worrying smoke (for Prost's car) and by a spectacular blaze (Mansell). Ferrari's sporting director, Cesare Fiorio, even the day after the Grand Prix did not look for excuses.
"Everything went wrong and it is useless to climb on the glass thinking about which placings we could have obtained arriving at the end. We really didn't see the finish line. Prost was blocked by a broken gearbox lubrication system. There is an aluminum oil tank that has been tested over the past few months without breaking for thousands of kilometers. On Friday we had fitted a carbon fibre one, which had shown some defects, so we went back to the original version that should have given us safety. Instead, a hole opened up and the pressure of the liquid that was coming out dropped to the point of blocking the gearbox".
"We all thought about engine failure after what we saw. But when we disassembled the car, we realized that the clutch had exploded. The discs and flywheel overheated and blew up like a bomb, damaging the front of the engine. This has never happened before".
What will be done now?
"The cars are transported directly to Brazil. We return to Maranello with the incriminated findings. We will try to study the origins of the failures and resolve them. There is not much time but we will try. We have always tried on real tracks and it could be that this city track with its bumpy roads has caused vibrations and consequent breakages".
Is this a Ferrari already in crisis?
"No. An unfavorable result cannot and must not make us lose hope. We are convinced that we are on the right track and you will see that in the next races the cars will be more competitive".
A judgment shared in principle by Prost, forced to retire while fourth.
"I could not have won, also because I had started too far back. But the car is going well, it has a good potential, I think it can fight with the McLaren. Let's cancel Phoenix and move on".
Mansell is less optimistic:
"Apart from the fear, I didn't like the behavior of my Ferrari. I really thought to start better, instead we start with the handicap of a race thrown away".
Senna won and it was a surprise in reverse. In the sense that if the Brazilian had not won the first race of the Formula 1 Championship, the suspicion would corroborate immediately: driver finished, with the morale on the ground, unmotivated. Instead, the former World Champion immediately put things right. He brought the new McLaren MP4/5B to success, he made his teammate Berger look bad (he went off the track because of his own mistake, with his foot slipped from the brake to the accelerator), he found consensus and stimulus to aim for a new title. Among other things, he drove intelligently, without overdoing it, without taking unnecessary risks, which shows that he has reached maturity and that certain lessons can also be useful.
But the authentic revelation of the Grand Prix of the United States that marked an unpredictable and immediate stop of the Ferrari, with the withdrawal of Prost and Mansell for breakdowns, was the Tyrrell, protagonist in the qualifications and in race with the young Jean Alesi brilliant second, without forgetting the sixth place of his teammate Nakajima for the best team result. Which are the secrets of this Tyrrell, noble team fallen and suddenly found again? They are not few. First, the team has entered the sphere of influence of McLaren, with an economic agreement to find backers. But the impression is that there is something more: the powerful Ron Dennis' stable seems to have prepared a B formation, a training center for young people. It would not be surprising, for example, if in a couple of seasons Alesi were to find himself in the place of Senna or Berger.
On a technical level, the car seems to be very interesting. Very effective, perfect aerodynamics, innovative solutions in suspensions and shock absorbers. Suffice it to say that Tyrrell signed a contract with Pirelli to use Italian tyres just a few days before the start of the Championship and had not even tried them. Normally, passing from one tyre to another requires a period of study and adaptation, but the combination worked immediately, both for the excellent quality of Pirelli tires, both for the adaptability of the car. The men of the Milanese company, in fact, take note of the fact that if they had dared a little more, using softer tires (the new 88) with a pit stop, perhaps Alesi would have been more committed to Senna and could have even aimed for victory.
The placings, however, have given an immense joy not only to the old Ken Tyrrell, but also and above all to his technicians, that is Harvey Postlethvaite (designer) and Jean Migeot (responsible for aerodynamics). A nice revenge for them who were forced in practice by the despotic management of John Barnard to leave Ferrari two years ago. In the whole affair, there is in the Formula 1 environment even a well-founded suspicion. In 1988 they talked about a clandestine project of Maranello, about a car studied in secret by Postlethvaite and Migeot. The same car that today has become a Tyrrell, thought, designed and then built after having drawn on the resources of Ferrari. These things happen. Now it is up to the Maranello team to give an immediate answer on March 25th 1990 in Brazil. The potential is there, the Phoenix track, the city circuit that levels the values, did not tell the whole truth. The Ferrari 641 is yet to be discovered. Last year Mansell won the first race against all odds in Brazil. This time the debut was disappointing but there is an immediate opportunity to re-establish the distances. Or at least, hopefully.