Alain Prost won at Paul Ricard, on the track that had seen him take his first steps and conquer his first victories by raising that big nose that signals the ancient Armenian origins, his success number 37 in Formula 1. Long gone are the days when he hunted down the record of Jackie Stewart, an unforgettable champion who, accumulated three world titles and 27 successes, retired after the death of his friend François Cevert, while continuing to raise millions of dollars with many activities and a lot of sympathy. Now the Frenchman is aiming at 40, a limit that is within his reach this year, even before leaving - as he announced - McLaren at the end of the season. Alain Prost, who is not a fool, is not only aiming for this prestigious record. His real goal stated for now half, is to get his hands on the third World Championship helmet. And for several reasons. It is a matter of pride, for example, and then because such an undertaking would definitively pave the way for his future. Whether he wanted to continue a competitive career, or whether he started out as a car builder on his own or as a team manager for some important racing team, Prost would have no problems. To hit the mark, the Frenchman does not hesitate to ask for help. And he does so also and above all with Ferrari.
"Aside from Senna, Mansell was the one who scared me the most. Luckily he started last from the pits, otherwise I would have had to work harder to win. I think Ferrari has got very close to McLaren. Williams, Benetton, and March have also grown up".
What does this speech mean?
"Is simple. In 1988 the title fight was a private matter between me and Senna. And Ayrton finally prevailed not because of the high score but because of the higher number of successes. I had to discard some placings. Now, out of seven races, two have already escaped us. One went precisely to Mansell, the other to Boutsen. If we end to end the season with this average, maybe even the second places would have weight. And at that point, I would have some advantages".
But getting on the podium many times won't be enough.
"That's for sure. For my part, I'll have to do my best to win more races, at least two or three. The challenge is hard but not impossible. And I believe that Nigel Mansell could be the right man to put a spoke in Senna’s wheel, if Ferrari will give him a competitive vehicle. In any case, for me, it will be better a challenge with the participation of more competitors than another head-to-head with the Brazilian".
Afraid of Senna?
"He is a champion, one who is very strong, who has learned a lot and quickly. But I would not talk about fear. Ever since I complained about the Honda engines in Mexico, I've tied for two consecutive pole positions. Is it a coincidence? Did he have bad luck? I do not know. The only certain thing I know for sure is that I beat him, even if by a little. And confidence has returned to accompany me, I feel I can play a great championship, more motivated than ever".
An accident in Rio de Janeiro, the electronics in Phoenix, the engine in Montreal, the gearbox in Le Castellet: Senna's route this year is full of troubles. But it must be recognized that all his problems were while he was in the lead.
"There's no need to repeat it, he's very fast. However, not all evils could be due only to bad luck. He is someone who asks the car for the maximum. He does not spare it. So, the engine may have yielded in Canada because scrambled beyond measure by Ayrton in the pursuit in which had been the protagonist. In France, the gearbox gave in at the second start, after that in the first one Senna had blown away like a lightning bolt, without any savings. By the way, I had taken it very well. I couldn't understand how he had managed to be in front. For me, he must have stolen a bit, anticipating the green light by a fraction of a second. In any case, he uses the gears like a madman. He may have caused some of the breakup. At Silverstone, on Sunday we will have the new transverse gearbox. We will see what happens".
Meanwhile, it is official divorce between Ferrari and Gerhard Berger. This was announced by Scuderia Ferrari in the late afternoon of Wednesday, July 12, 1989:
"Gerhard Berger will not be at the wheel of Ferrari in the 1990 Formula 1 World Championship. The team reiterates its appreciation of what the driver has achieved over the last three years and what he will still be able to give in the continuation of the current season. For some time now, Ferrari has been in contact with other drivers, the outcome of which will be communicated at the time of the formalization of the agreement".
It is not a surprise, indeed it would have been the opposite case, namely the reconfirmation of the Austrian. The farewell was in the air, news of those announced. Berger will go to McLaren in place of Alain Prost. The Frenchman, presumably, will switch to Williams-Renault, unless he decides to go into business with John Barnard as a designer and some car manufacturer's behind. Ferrari, for its part, seems to be heading towards an Italian driver, from Larini to Capelli, passing through the Patrese hypotheses and also Nannini. And Berger? The marriage lasted two and a half years between ups and downs. When he arrived in Maranello, a new Niki Lauda was thought of. There was a feeling between the driver and the team, almost love. Two victories at the end of the 1987 season, one last year at Monza. Then something broke and Imola’s accident did the rest. Gerhard began to have claims (even absurd) as if he wanted to end the relationship at all costs. He kept saying that he wants to win the World Championship, that he will run for another three years, that he doesn't have time to wait. And so he goes to McLaren where the difficult confrontation with Ayrton Senna awaits him. It may be that the non-renewal of John Barnard's engagement at Ferrari caused the final decision. But it is not excluded that Berger has also pulled the rope a little, so much so that before being able to announce the end of the collaboration with Maranello, we had to wait a long time. As if McLaren's response had been difficult, it is troubled by the onerous demands of the driver. Certainly, the English team didn't do Senna any favours. The Brazilian was hoping for a calm teammate after Prost, but instead he found Gerhard Berger. However, next year will be a great challenge, if the situation remains unchanged with McLaren still at the top. The Italian fans, the many who believed in Berger, at this point hope that the Austrian will be forced to regret the choice.
"I wanted new motivations, different stimuli. I received a lot from Ferrari, I became famous, I was lucky enough to know Enzo Ferrari. Beautiful, unforgettable moments. And I'm sure that the Maranello team will return to the top. But it will take some time: a year, probably two. I am in a hurry. I want to win the World Championship, I signed for the team that has had the most success in recent years. This is beyond everything, money, sympathy, and also the presence in my future Senna’s team, today the strongest driver".
Thus, Gerhard Berger, after the official announcement issued by McLaren, explains his passage in England. And he adds:
"A bit of bad luck deprived me of good results. But I will leave as a friend, I hope, without slamming the door. And I can assure you that until the end of the championship I will be a Ferrari driver and I will try to win with Ferrari".
Ferrari, however, has already beaten McLaren 1-0, at least in the press war. Ferrari had announced on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. that Berger would be leaving the team at the end of the year. Thursday morning at 11:00 a.m. comes the reply from the English team:
"Honda Marlboro McLaren announces that Austrian driver Gerhard Berger will partner reigning World Champion Ayrton Senna in the 1990 season".
An official confirmation of what was known. Then Ron Dennis, McLaren CEO, adds:
"We are delighted that Gerhard has joined our team. His presence strengthens our strategy of always having two riders able to win the World Championship. Honda and McLaren clearly wish to continue with the policy of providing both riders with the same material and technical support".
Berger's hiring must have cost a lot, in every sense, even if it is true that McLaren has always focused on top drivers, such as Ayrton Senna. How did the Brazilian accept such an uncomfortable teammate? Serene and somewhat fatalistic, Senna says:
"Berger? One is as good as the other. In Formula 1 everyone wants to win. Better a good driver than a car wrecker. Gerhard and I are more or less the same age and the same character. In any case, he is different from Prost".
And he adds nothing else. Perhaps he meant that one worse than French could not come. Berger's move to McLaren did not excite the Formula 1 environment. On the other hand, there are those who envy the Austrian: he seems to have managed to get an engagement of 7.000.000 dollars a year for three years, and numerous bonuses. Surely Berger, a good driver, indeed excellent, has been able to conquer the hearts of the Japanese. Nigel Mansell says bluntly, not at all worried:
"If they have taken him, it means that they like him, that they like him and that at least at the beginning they won't make a difference between him and Senna. I preferred to stay at Ferrari and I hope I made the right choice".
And on Friday, July 14, 1989, we took to the track for practice for the British Grand Prix. Mansell looks wild. McLaren will mount the new transverse gearbox and the Frenchman Jean Alesi will again be on the Tyrrell. Alboreto, once again, is left without a car. Dalmas, on the second AGS, will replace Winkelhock, fired by the team. The Silverstone track, very fast, with averages close to 250 km/h, should not fit badly to the cars from Maranello, which, among other things, just last year here conquered the pole position with Berger and obtained the second-fastest time with Michele Alboreto (still left by Tyrrell who will run for the second time the French Alesi). Nigel Mansell is very confident about this. Indeed, after the second place in Le Castellet, the Englishman seems almost frantic. On Thursday the British driver spent a lot of time around the circuit, checking that everything was ready.
"Here we should strike immediately, in the first qualifying round. The weather is always unstable and Saturday it could even rain and be too late to recover. Our cars seem to me to have grown. We will be able to use the lighter and more powerful engines, the rear suspension with anti-roll bar which offers us better road holding and also the Penske shock absorbers, which have been adopted for some time with valid results. In short, there are all the prerogatives to have a good race, to which I incidentally, playing at home, I care a lot".
Mansell is convinced of what he says, based on what happened at Le Castellet.
"I drove a car that was not mine, adapted at the last minute after being prepared for Berger. I started from the pits, I had to make countless overtaking using bad tyres. And with that, I finished second. I think that this time I will be even closer to McLaren, even if I think that other teams could be dangerous, like March, Williams, and Benetton. But if the race is uncertain, so much to gain: we will all have fun".
For the second consecutive Grand Prix, Bertrand Gachot's Onyx is the fastest car in the timetable of the pre-qualifying session held on Friday morning. For Gachot this is the second success in pre-qualifying. Then, with 0.2 seconds behind, in second place, Nicola Larini with Osella, who qualifies for the third time this season. The other two to move on to the main qualifying sessions are Stefano Modena and Martin Brundle. Stefan Johansson narrowly missed fifth place with the second Onyx, marking his personal fourth failure this season. Alex Caffi is sixth with Dallara. Gregor Foitek is seventh with the only EuroBrun, followed by Piercarlo Ghinzani, eighth with the second Osella. Ninth Yannick Dalmas, who replaces Joachim Winkelhock at AGS. Zakspeed drivers Bernd Schneider and Aguri Suzuki are in P10 and P12 respectively. In between, Pierre-Henri Raphanel qualifies with the Coloni. Volker Weidler's Rial is at the bottom of the timetables, with his eighth consecutive pre-qualification failure. Friday, July 14, 1989, Ayrton Senna saves McLaren from a direct attack by Ferrari. The Brazilian, with a textbook lap in the fast Silverstone circuit, tracks the attempts of Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger (second and third) to immediately grab the pole position in the first qualifying round of the British Grand Prix.
"And I lifted my foot a little at Woodcote Corner because there were yellow flags to signal that Alesi's Tyrrell had spun".
Says the Brazilian driver, author of yet another super-performance (1'09"124, at an average of 248.931 km/h). As if to justify having inflicted a gap of just 0.364 seconds on the cars of Maranello. Senna gets the best time on his first lap using the car equipped with the new transverse gearbox. His teammate Alain Prost only achieved P5, just because the second and third gears engage badly, they are very hard to insert. Actually, in the free practice of the morning, both the South American and the French had suffered other problems related to technical innovation (it seems that an oil tank, placed in another position, did not work properly), giving the impression of being beatable. But then, as said, Ayrton Senna turned the tables. Now McLaren will have to decide whether to bring the transverse gearbox in the race (and Saturday in the last tests). The modification offers some aerodynamic advantages, with the bottom and the terminal part of the car cleaner, but there is the unknown factor of reliability. However, Ron Dennis' team could afford the risk, given the advantage they have in the standings. Ferrari confirms recent progress. No reliability problems, and increasingly reduced gaps from McLaren. For the first time, at least for the moment, a Ferrari, that of Mansell, is in the front row, even if there is still a qualifying session to go. The Englishman says he has driven at the limit, but the balance of his car could be improved. The Austrian, however, admits that he made a mistake at the chicane and explains that he was slowed down by De Cesaris in one of his best laps. Berger, now protected by the new McLaren contract, is not soft on Mansell. The Englishman said he was confident for the race.
"Ferrari can win".
Mansell had proclaimed. But Gerhard Berger replies:
"Nigel has been saying these things all season, but he is deluding himself. There is only one truth: nobody wins here if McLaren doesn't stop".
Behind the Ferrari, very close to Berger (0.01 seconds) is Patrese with Williams, then the aforementioned, Prost, followed by Gugelmin, Boutsen, Capelli and Nannini. The surprise comes from Pierluigi Martini with Minardi. The Italian driver, with a bandaged foot (for a slight sprain caused by diving into the pool in Monte-Carlo), recorded the tenth-fastest time, in front of Piquet's Lotus. Larini (P14) also did well, Brabham of Modena was also good, Scuderia Italia was in trouble and could not pre-qualify Caffi and found itself with De Cesaris forced to recover in order not to finish out of the race. Outside the rehearsals, two topics for the day. More mystery about the driver who will replace Berger (the usual names are mentioned, with Larini as a possible substitute) and a rather crazy idea from the old James Hunt.
The 1976 World Champion expresses caustic judgments on his colleagues in the Autosport magazine. It's fun to report some of them. Piquet: He never became an adult, he'd better quit. Senna: He's very focused, but he can make mistakes under pressure. A strange individual. Nannini: He smiles a lot, uses his brain little and has a limited future. De Cesaris: He's an embarrassment for this sport. Arnoux: A pest on the track. And so on. We now await the polemic answers, while Michele Alboreto divorces from Tyrrell. The manufacturer communicates:
"It is official, I can't say why as I want to remain friends with Michele. For this race I will still let drive Jean Alesi, then we’ll see".
The Italian speaks of requests not accepted. And so, Formula 1 arrives at the halfway point of the Championship. Sunday, July 16, 1989, with the British Grand Prix, the eighth round of the World Championship, closes the first part of the season. A season that has already reserved some surprises, because McLaren's domination has been interrupted twice: in Brazil by the surprise victory of Mansell's Ferrari and in Canada, with the affirmation of Boutsen at the wheel of the Williams-Renault. The standings were also unexpected at this point: the reigning World Champion, Ayrton Senna, found himself chasing his teammate Alain Prost, eleven points behind. The Brazilian, who stopped three times in the last three races, wants to interrupt the negative streak. The French must remedy the bad situation. It is Nigel Mansell, of course, the most awaited protagonist. Any success, among other things, would also boost him in the title race, and above all confirm the recovery of the Maranello team.
"I'm quite confident because we're stronger in the race than in qualifying. We probably consume fewer tyres than other cars and might even fight for victory. For me, it would be a triumph, since I'm in front of my fans, who are waiting for great feats".
Mansell's opinion, as mentioned, is not shared by Berger who is much more cautious:
"We've been saying all year that we're ready to win, but in reality we can only achieve the goal if McLaren is stopped. The truth is that we still have to work, that we need to get to the same level as the cars of Senna and Prost in order to talk like Nigel does. And, in my opinion, we are still quite far away. It's clear that I will try my best to get the best result, but I'm not as optimistic as my teammate".
Cesare Fiorio, Scuderia Ferrari’s Sporting Director, is content to highlight the improvements achieved:
"In terms of reliability, we managed to make good progress, at least in practice. And for the first time since the start of the season we were able to get on the front row next to Senna. It seems to me that it is a remarkable result, even if what we lack now is to arrive well at the goal, to reap the fruits of the work done".
A subtle work, addressed to all sectors, from the technical ones to the most striking aspect which is that of the drivers. Mansell confirmed, Berger lost, Ferrari is now betting on some new names. But the problem will not be to find a valid racer. If the cars will be competitive there will be only the difficulty of choice. Saturday, July 15, 1989, reversing the order of factors, the product does not change. From Prost-Senna to Senna-Prost: after two poles for the Frenchman, here is the Brazilian. But it is still and always McLaren. The British Grand Prix presents the usual refrain, with the British team leading the way and the others chasing. At the head of the hunters Ferrari, in the second row with Mansell and Berger, then Patrese, Gugelmin, Boutsen, Capelli, Nannini and Piquet. Senna (pole number 35, thanks to Saturday's time of 1'09"099, at an average speed of 249.021 km/h) and Prost give a nasty blow to Ferrari's aspirations, which hoped to make the big score, to snatch for once the best time to McLaren: but while the Brazilian and the Frenchman improve on Friday's results, Mansell and Berger remain firm in performance. McLaren, among other things, proves it has seven lives.
In the morning Prost had set the best time during free practice, but only in extremis, in a troubled session. So much so that Senna had obtained P18, after having broken an engine in two laps and having sprinkled the track with oil. At Silverstone, McLaren brings the much-talked-about transverse gearbox, with the oil tank incorporated into the casting. But the lubrication system does not work properly: blue smoke comes out of the exhaust intermittently, and the engine shows signs of an oil shortage. During the morning, McLaren had run repairs trying to run another car at Newbury but did not fix the problem. The result is disastrous for the morale of the team, as Senna stops with a broken engine, and furiously argues with Dennis, accusing him of favouritism and of having given Alain Prost a better tank. After this quarrel, McLaren still manages to solve the problem (after numerous attempts) and provide both drivers with two reliable cars. Therefore, the McLaren technicians will continue along the new road, and in the race will use the transverse gearbox, but pre-tactical or last-minute rethinking is not excluded. Unlike Senna and Prost, miraculous in qualifying, Ferrari is unable to quantify the work done. Berger had had an issue with a postponement of the gearbox in the morning, but essentially there had been no signs of worsening. A slower track was thought of (only sixteen riders improved) but that is not enough to explain the step back. In his fastest laps, Mansell made a couple of mistakes and found traffic, while Berger thought he has gone faster, but in reality, he remains above Friday's levels. The same goes for Patrese, whose Williams is doing very well. But even the Paduan is unable to touch up his tempo. McLaren is a bit like a mirage: every now and then it appears, someone tries to grab it and is left empty-handed. Every time you approach it, the shy English lady wanders away. And disappointment cannot be avoided, and it can be seen on the faces of the men of Ferrari (but also of Williams) beyond the declarations and explanations. The most disenchanted is Berger, who can now afford to be more sincere or more sarcastic:
"Can we fight for victory? With McLaren no, with Williams yes".
The Austrian admits, who then has a long conversation with Senna.
"The track was slower, but they still improved because it's clear that they didn't fire all their cartridges on Friday. My car was fine, but it's clear that it still has some limits".
Not even Mansell feels like playing a Gascon this time:
"I made a few small mistakes at Beckett Corner, where the car has problems. I could also improve, maybe take second place. But with the first set of tyres, I found a lot of traffic on the track and with the second one I ended up with two wheels on the grass due to an overtaking. The race? We talk about it at 5:00 p.m., after the conclusion".
Cesare Fiorio tries to keep his morale high, finding also positive sides:
"These are the best starting positions of the season. We'll see for the race on Sunday morning, after the warm-up. We have lighter engines, each race we make some small progress".
The Maranello team manager also talks about the future:
“With the new regulations there won’t be much need to change the car next year. We can also study a traditional transmission but honestly, we don't want to abandon the electronically controlled gearbox which has cost us a lot, in terms of investments, study and results".
Cesare Fiorio, who was nicknamed Hollywood by the Ferrari mechanics, for his dazzling look and the confidence with which he maneuvers on set, despite the not excellent results he traces the path that, in his opinion, must pursue the Maranello team, and declares:
"Next year Ferrari will be racing with this car and the automatic gearbox again. The changes to the regulations are not such as to justify a new car. We will therefore continue with the development of the current car. As for the automatic gearbox, it has made us accumulate such valuable experience that it would really be a shame to put it aside just next year when it will be reliable and profitable".
Ferrari's men are hammered daily to find out who will be the second driver. Competitions, investigations, votes are held: the names of Larini, Modena, Caffi come out, some also bet on an unlikely return of interest for Prost, admitted and not granted that the Frenchman has not already signed for Williams. The only thing likely is that the official announcement, whatever the decision, will arrive very late, at the end of the season. The question doesn't worry Senna much, who already knows that next year he will have to deal with Berger. The Brazilian is instead a bit tense about this Grand Prix, as he has not yet come out of a negative series that has lasted for three races:
"The car is competitive when it goes, but we had a lot of problems, all related to the engine oil circuit. I hope that this time everything goes well, otherwise, I would begin to suspect that I am the object of an evil macumba".
Obviously, it's a joke, but knowing the drivers, almost all of whom are superstitious, who knows if the Brazilian isn’t really thinking of an invoice. To conclude the story, indeed the storyline of Alboreto. The Milanese will try the Lola-Lamborghini Thursday 20 and Friday, July 21, 1989, in Hockenheim. With the possibility to drive the French car in place of Bernard in the next races. Repeating problems instead for March (Judd engines broken in the morning), for Benetton (precarious road holding and structures out of place). Maybe it will be something else in the race. The British round, exactly halfway through the World Championship, also has a particular meaning for the drivers in the rear: it decides the condemned to the pre-qualifications on Friday morning for the second part of the season. Zakspeed, Eurobrun and AGS are already in this special ranking (Tarquini, with a car that doesn't want to do a clean lap, remains excluded), the others hovering are Coloni, Lola, Minardi, Osella and Onyx. The patrol is led by Martini, P11 with Minardi, first with a Pirelli rubberized car. Larini was also struggling with Osella, despite the consistent progress of Volpiano's car. No danger for the Scuderia Italia, though De Cesaris had to perform a miracle to qualify, driving the reserve car after breaking the clutch on his racing one. Tension on the track and tension in the pits. A Brabham mechanic, in a hurry to pull the car into the garage, caught his foot under a wheel and had to be taken to hospital with a suspected fracture. On the track, a fight quarrel between Bousten and the usual Arnoux that would have hindered him improperly: the Belgian would have responded by braking in front when René was launched into the fastest lap, in a failed attempt to qualify. Meanwhile, in the press room Balestre, president of the FIA, explains to those who attack him in the newspapers, the reason he sold his Ferrari F40:
“I paid for it 900.000 francs discounted five months ago. I didn't feel like driving it and I sent it to an auction where they offered me 6.300.000 francs. How to refuse?”
Sunday, July 16, 1989, at the start of the British Grand Prix, Prost leads Senna to the finish line, but the Brazilian brakes later and takes the lead of the race again at the Copse Corner. Nigel Mansell’s and Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari to follow. At the end of the fourth lap, Berger pits for electrical problems, resuming the race a few laps later. On lap 5, the race order sees Ayrton Senna in the lead, followed by Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, the two Williams-Renault drivers, Thierry Boutsen and Riccardo Patrese, and Alessandro Nannini with Benetton. On lap 12, Senna spins off the Becketts for gearbox selection problems, handing Prost the lead. During lap 20 Riccardo Patrese, after overtaking his teammate Boutsen and taking third place, is the victim of a serious accident as a radiator of his car explodes and sprays the water contained inside onto the rear wheels, causing ending the car to spin into the tyre barrier at the Club Corner. With Prost and Mansell on the run, Nelson Piquet moves into third position with his Lotus on lap 23, ahead of Boutsen, Philippe Alliot with Larrousse-Lola and Jean Alesi with Tyrrell. Boutsen retires with a rear puncture, while Alesi spins at the Club Corner during lap 29; at this point Prost leads Mansell by 3.2 seconds, followed by Piquet, Nannini, Gugelmin and Alliot, who retires due to engine failure on lap 40. During lap 42, Mansell punctures the front right tyre; the British driver is forced to return to the pits to change the tyres. Shortly after Alain Prost is delayed during his pit stop to fit new tyres, but maintains a good lead over Mansell. During lap 55 Mauricio Gugelmin, in fifth position, retires due to a gearbox failure, before Alessandro Nannini is able to pass Nelson Piquet and conquer the third position during lap 56, breaking him in the closing laps. As the checkered flag lowers, Alain Prost is 19 seconds ahead of Mansell, with Nannini at 29 seconds behind and Piquet at full laps. The Minardi of Pierluigi Martini and Luis Pérez-Sala finish in fifth and sixth place, obtaining three points which prevent the team from relegation in the pre-qualifying sessions for the second half of 1989. An immense crowd, estimated at 110.000 people, greets yet another victory for Alain Prost and McLaren.
The French driver slips another pearl into his prestigious series of successes, triumphing in the British Grand Prix, the eighth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, ahead of Nigel Mansell's Ferrari and Alessandro Nannini's Benetton, this year for the second time on the podium. A spectacular outing of Ayrton Senna, who retired for the fourth time in a row, a frightening accident to Riccardo Patrese (unharmed) and yet another retirement of Gerhard Berger took away interest in the race, which gave a beautiful final to Minardi. The young Italian team, fifth with Pierluigi Martini and sixth with Luis Sala, avoided the hell of future pre-qualifications. The fast track of Silverstone has therefore scored another point in favour of McLaren and Prost, but the turning point of the World Championship has also confirmed Ferrari's progress, which is ever closer to the British team. If Prost with victory number 38 of his career (number 29 with this team) has lengthened his pace over his rival Senna, bringing his lead in the standings to 20 points, the Maranello team has almost closed the technological gap. Mansell would have also been able to fight for first place if he had not run into a puncture on lap 43: Prost took the opportunity to easily control the end of the race. To the British driver and his car remains the satisfaction of the fastest lap, conquered after a bitter battle to the sound of records. If it were not for Ferrari, McLaren would keep strolling. However, to the credit: Woking’s team won on the day they put on track for the first time a new transverse gearbox. And it is also true that Prost, after having eliminated his Brazilian teammate, played a bit, lengthening overtaking thanks to the greater acceleration his car has. An important affirmation for the Frenchman, also on a personal level: 20 points ahead of Senna, three victories, three second places and a fifth place allow him to look at the World Title with greater serenity. However, Prost would do well to beware of the possible angry return of the South American champion. If we want to draw up a balance sheet for the first half of the season, it should be emphasized that McLaren, unlike what happened last year, lost a few shots: six times the red and white cars did not reach the finish line. Is it a sign of crisis? Well, there’s no real turnaround.
Rather, we have to talk about the fact that McLaren cannot afford to be quiet, but at the same time, it is still a little further, as shown by the six victories achieved in eight races, with two defeats that have not been suffered on the field for part of a stronger rival but determined by mechanical failures. As for Ferrari, reliability was also achieved at only fifty percent. While Mansell has finished in second place twice in a row, Berger has not had the joy of finishing a race this year. First the electronic control unit, then that sadly famous collector of the hydraulic system that makes the gearbox work, they removed the Austrian also at Silverstone. However, Ferrari has a plan, always based on the policy of small steps, to progress further. In the next race modified engines will be used in qualifying, while the more powerful ones that have passed the timed tests in England will be brought to the race. In short, a real relay race that should allow the Maranello team to compete in an even more brilliant second part of the Championship. Because Ferrari fans are not satisfied with the placings but want to see the Maranello cars return to victory. Not lucky or fortuitous successes, but clear affirmations, overtaking opponents in full shape and not stopped at the edge of the track. The race, which was characterized by an impressive number of retirements and accidents (twelve cars classified, four full laps, namely Prost, Mansell, Nannini and Piquet and fourteen eliminated), immediately picked up an impressive pace. Senna and Prost tried to shake off Mansell's shadow without succeeding. The Brazilian tried to pull away, but his run-up didn't last very long: on lap 12 the #1 car was seen sliding slowly to the side, then ending out of sight and then turning, motionless with the wheels sinking into the sand. What could have been a four-way battle has therefore become a head-to-head challenge.
After 29 laps Mansell was still 3 seconds behind Prost, but the carousel of overtaking widened the gap between McLaren and Ferrari. Taking advantage of the greater acceleration of his car, the Frenchman led his attack, reaching a margin of 9 seconds on lap 42. However, in the following lap, Mansell found himself on three wheels as his right front tyre deflated. A slowdown in the pits, 20 seconds lost, as many to get out and get back into gear, and the game was done: on lap 46 Prost had a 54 seconds advantage that would then allow him to control the race. The Frenchman also preferred to replace the four tyres on lap 48. An action in which, despite losing time for a hitch from the mechanics, Prost maintained a lead of about a dozen seconds, enough not to be bothered any more. Easy victory then in the final, while battling with Mansell to the sound of records. Behind the two duelists, first Williams disappeared, after Patrese had overtaken his teammate Boutsen. The Paduan hit hard, coming out at the Club Corner. Shortly after an exploding tyre practically eliminated Boutsen, who then returned to the track but with no hope of finishing among the leaders. With great regularity, Piquet slipped into third place but then had to give up on the return of Alessandro Nannini driving a car, the Benetton, certainly superior. A good chase of Gugelmin, who started from the pits for a failure in the warm-up lap, up to fifth place, ended with nothing done due to the failure of March’s transmission, the same problem that had previously eliminated Ivan Capelli. Outside the various Modena and Brundle due to engines to pieces, both Tyrrells off the track (with Alesi once again in evidence), Minardi has reaped the fruits of the work done in recent times. On the podium, the Prince of Kent, president of the British Royal Automobile Club, hands Prost a gold cup worth about £30,000. But the great protagonist of the final party is Nigel Mansell, applauded for the beautiful race without saving and for the second place. The Englishman sprays his fans with champagne, then waits for the Frenchman and Nannini to leave before going back to the stage and getting to the top step of the podium. A kind of promise:
"Next time I'll win".
Mansell, then, is more cautious:
"At the World Championship, now, it's useless to think about it. Our year will be 1990. This season I’d like to win some races. We still lack power in the engine. I noticed it when there were overtaking: Prost passed where and when he wanted, I was forced to take risks. And on some occasions, I've been behind some cars for quite a while. But overall I'm not sorry. If I hadn't punctured a tyre, perhaps it would have been different".
Cesare Fiorio adds:
"It is incredible. The front tire gave way, which should never have caused any problems. We didn't have any stops planned. And it seems to me that we also demonstrated that we didn't have any complexes towards McLaren. We are on a positive trend. Among other things, I think I understood that Prost was more to the limit than Mansell with the tyres, puncture apart. And this could be an advantage to be exploited in the next races".
Gerhard Berger, on the contrary, now in the shoes of someone who says what he thinks and even more, does not express words of comfort.
"Apart from the fact that I still have a broken linkage in the hydraulic system of the gearbox, the Italians are deluding themselves if they think that McLaren and Ferrari are close. They are always light years apart. Mansell could never reach Prost".
Calm and serene as always, the technical manager Pier Guido Castelli says:
"We are working a lot on engines. This week we’re going to Hockenheim to try a still lighter version of our 12-cylinders. And the engines used only in practice in England will compete in the German Grand Prix. But these are not the only innovations planned. There is a whole package of improvements that we will gradually try to bring forward".
After the race, even Ferrari’s men were involved in the typically Romagna uproar staged by Minardi’s men to celebrate Martini's fifth place and Luis Perez-Sala's sixth. Apart from the fact that the point obtained by the Barcelona driver is the first ever scored by a Spaniard in the modern Formula 1 World Championship, the placings allow the small Italian team to get out of the nightmare of crashing in pre-qualifying. Giancarlo Minardi says, moved, overwhelmed by the hugs:
"It is not a coincidence, nor was it just luck, but the result of hard work. And I hope this is also the first step towards a period full of satisfaction. Martini had an extraordinary race, after stopping in the pits because the visor that another driver had thrown away had entered a hood scoop. He's a golden boy, but even Sala has made an outstanding run resisting the attacks of Ligier Grouillard. Today we are really happy".
It doesn't take much even in the difficult Formula 1 to touch the sky with a finger. And this is the most beautiful side of a sport that is sometimes cruel and ruthless: there are no traps, everyone just wants to win or at least achieve the goals they set for themselves. He was destined to be a car dealer. Instead, he became a Formula 1 constructor. Giancarlo Minardi, born in 1947, accountant, born in Faenza with a large heart from Romagna, married, with a 14-year-old daughter, was the real hero of the British Grand Prix. Not only for the result but because the small and partial success has allowed us to understand how much this young Italian team is loved and esteemed. Everyone congratulates Giancarlo Minardi, from Bernie Ecclestone to the last Zakspeed mechanic.
"I don't know how to thank everyone any more. I embrace the men of Pirelli to whom a part of the merit of our modest enterprise goes and I am overwhelmed by others. We’re drunk without having drunk. And we couldn't even celebrate properly because there is a charter waiting for us to go home immediately, as we have to get back to work. In any case, we know that here there is always the opportunity to have a plate of tagliatelle, a piece of cheese and a glass of wine".
However, let's not confuse the image of hospitality and friendliness of the Romagna team with its professionalism. Minardi comes from the ranks and has done things right. The family, Fiat dealers for sixty years, has always had a passion for engines. His father participated in a few Mille Miglia and also built a Junior car with a 750cc in-line 6-cylinder engine.
"I, on the other hand, am a missed driver: karts, 500 group 2, 850 and I stopped. It wasn't my job".
And so, he made the others run. Debut in 1972 in Formula 3, then Formula 2, with good results, first with other people's chassis and then designed on their own. In 1976, he was also one of the few to have a Formula 1, privately entrusted to him by Enzo Ferrari to compete in the Grand Prix of Champions at Brands Hatch. The driver was Giancarlo Martini, who retired on the first lap.
"We’ve come a long way since then. In 1985, we made our debut in Formula 1. Ours was a difficult life, always looking for money to make ends meet. Now we have 52 people working for us, plus 12 outsiders who are exclusively dealing with composite materials. From artisans to small industrialists. The budget is 9.000.000.000 lire and it is never enough. We had found an extraordinary technical solution, testing a 1:1 scale car in a special pool for aerodynamic flows. But it cost 6.000.000 lire an hour and we had to abandon".
The main feature of the Minardi is its almost total Italian character, except for the engine (Cosworth), a driver, Sala, taken mainly because of the sponsors and the aerodynamicist Nigel Coperwaithen. Technical director Aldo Costa, track manager Tommaso Carletti (former Ferrari), car preparation Gabriele Tardozi.
"The goal for this year is to enter the top ten teams in the World Championship. Then we will see".
Not far away, in a thread of voice, but with bright eyes of joy, Alain Prost celebrates his victory number 38 in Formula 1.
"It was very important to win here. We got through a weekend full of troubles. The mechanics and technicians had finished, for two evenings, at two in the morning, continuously modifying the car. That's why I started with some doubts, but everything went well. McLaren is an exceptional team, they know how to react impressively to all adversities. And this is, perhaps, its strength".
How was the departure?
"Senna and I were very close. At the first corner, he passed. Ask Mansell what happened, he was behind. Do you want to know what I felt when I saw the Brazilian spin and stop in the sand? Well, a great happiness, indeed a beautiful feeling. For me, he is a teammate but also the biggest rival for the World Championship".
What happens now in the Championship?
"I've never had, in my entire career, when I was in the running for the title, a 20-point margin. I think it's a great advantage, I'll try to manage it well. Of course, now I have a great charge: three victories, three second places, a fifth, always at the top. I got even with Senna who also had three victories, but the Brazilian has no favourable placement. Now he is forced to attack, to risks and I can counter well".
Ayrton Senna, once again eliminated, once again without gestures of evident annoyance. But it is clear that the World Champion within himself feels the weight of these eliminations. And then, this time, it was a sensational outing, that someone imputes to his driving error:
"Who, me? Not even in a dream. It is the gearbox that betrayed me. From the start of the race, I had difficulty inserting third gear in the climbs. Four or five laps before the spin I was about to go off the track in the same spot. It was at Becketts Corner where I couldn't get into third. I couldn't take the corner in neutral, so the car rear-ended and I ended up out. Those are things that happen".
A great scare also for Patrese, who went off the track at about 250 km/h:
"I can't explain what happened. Something got stuck in the car. Impossible to control the car which ended up with incredible violence against the protections. Luckily these cars are robust and I didn't hurt myself".
The same goes for Boutsen, in terms of results. The Belgian had a clutch problem since lap 4. At a certain point, his left rear tyre exploded and Boutsen was very good at not crashing and managed to get back to the pits where he changed tyres. But for him, the race was now over. Alessandro Nannini, for the second time on the podium, the first success, albeit partial of Benetton with the new Ford engine:
"Why am I so happy? Just because in England the prizes for the best are high. Seriously, it was a difficult race as we had to strengthen the rear suspension after the crash of Le Castellet and the car was particularly stiff. I also had to stop and change the tyres as they were worn out. This result is truly extraordinary for me as it confirms the quality of the car that will only grow. And then in the final stages, I also broke an exhaust, but the power of the engine was not affected".
In short, Alain Prost greets and thanks. He didn't think he'd come out of the battle with nine points either. And above all, he didn't think his teammate Ayrton Senna would come out of the eighth round of the World Championship without having collected even a single point.
"Actually I had some uncertainties. We were racing for the first time with the new transverse gearbox fitted to our McLaren. The team leaders had decided that. We had postponed the debut too many times and it was time to take the risk, as this way our cars will be even more competitive and with improved aerodynamics. However, when you bring something different to the debut, in our sport there is always the doubt that something unexpected will come up. And for the whole race, I remained tense, ready for a possible, sudden withdrawal. But no, it went well, indeed very well".
What he thought when he saw the Brazilian slip off the road and leave.
"A great feeling, and a great happiness. Senna is difficult to beat and not having him in the race is always a big advantage. However, in the beginning, it seemed to me that I was a bit faster than him. Except that on this track being too close to another car is very dangerous because you risk skidding as soon as the aerodynamic set-up changes in the slipstreams. However, I had already realized that Ayrton must have had problems because, on at least a couple of occasions, he had shifted badly".
What about the title fight now?
"It is still a little early to talk about it because there are still eight races left. In theory, Senna could win them all and in this case, there would be no hope. But since he retired five times in the first eight races, just for a statistical reason, I’m quite optimistic. Now in terms of the number of successes we are equal, three to three. And I still hope that Mansell and Berger will take away some points from him in the next races".
Speaking of Mansell and Berger, Ferrari continues its recovery phase with the second place of the Englishman, unleashed to the limit of his car's possibilities. But the Maranello team still lacks something to be able to fight on the same level as the British team. The reaction times are still different. Just think that McLaren in a few hours has solved a serious problem with the oil tank and will now be able to calmly think about the finishing touches for the modified single-seater which in bad races could become faster, if possible. During the week, Thursday and Friday, important tests are scheduled in Hockenheim where the German Grand Prix will be held in two weeks. All teams will be there. Another chance of comparison before starting the second part of the season. Second part in which the dominant themes will be the pursuit of Ayrton Senna against Alain Prost, and that of Ferrari on McLaren. Without forgetting that some progress should also be made by the Williams-Renault of Patrese and Boutsen, disappointing at Silverstone, accidents aside, and Benetton of Alessandro Nannini that instead has confirmed itself as a competitive car and with the possibility of further developments both in the chassis and in the engine, both still in the first steps. Sunday, leaving the circuit when the first shadows of the evening are already falling, the insiders note the presence of a boy placing pebbles orderly on the asphalt of the track. A curiously meticulous work that an adult looks at with a smile. The boy writes, literally, in English:
"Where were you, damn Alboreto?"
The boy is gloomy and does not utter a single word. On the other hand, his companion gives an explanation:
"He is a fan of the Milanese driver. He came from far away to see him. What a disappointment for him".
An episode perhaps small, but that inspires a consideration: these Formula 1 drivers really know how to sometimes arouse deep feelings, that exceed simple sympathy or admiration to encroach on fanaticism. The story of the divorce between Alboreto and Tyrrell causes some aftermath. While the Milanese driver will almost certainly try, as mentioned, at Hockenheim the Lola-Lamborghini that he could drive in the next German Grand Prix in place of Eric Bernard, his replacement Jean Alesi is in distress. The young Frenchman of Sicilian origin has been offered - take it or leave it - after the fourth place at Le Castellet and the beautiful and unfortunate test in England - a three-year contract from Ken Tyrrell. But the French driver doesn't accept.
"How can I make such a leap into the void without knowing anything, without precise plans. I was both flattered and scared at the same time, but I didn't feel like signing".
Tyrrell, a great talent discoverer, is also a skilled merchant: a young classy driver can be worth millions of dollars and save the budget of a team that is still in crisis from an economic point of view. Only an action of this kind doesn't really taste like a good piece of work. It seems rather, to use a not-too-demanding term, an imposition at a very delicate moment in the career of a promising rider. The fact of being successful in proposing a three-year contract to a certain Jackie Stewart a few years ago does not justify the means. And at the same time, the passion for these characters of modern sports has a second hidden aspect, a love-hate relationship. There are those who forgive everything and those who immediately feel betrayed. This is to say that it was enough for Ayrton Senna, the legendary, inimitable titleholder, to make a mistake in the British Grand Prix on Sunday to unleash a disparaging campaign against him. In just one day the Brazilian, king of pole positions, the fastest of all, goes from the altar to the dust.
"It is the beginning of the parable of the champion".
Someone says, paraphrasing a famous phrase by Enzo Ferrari.
"It's a bluff".
They repeat others, who say they have heard that.
"Senna is tired, he can't stand the pressure he's now under".
In fact, the McLaren driver (apart from three beautiful victories…) has had some unforeseen setbacks since the beginning of the year. Five retirements out of eight races, of which the last two (a broken gearbox at the second start in France and going off the track at Silverstone, again due to the gearbox) smell suspicious. The question is: did the car give up or did Ayrton make a mistake? Is the anxiety to make a gap behind, to demonstrate that there is an abysmal difference between him and the others, betraying the South American racer? Of course, the man is very nervous, he is wondering what is the curse that has been haunting him for four races. But from here to say that he is already in the waning phase, that he has suddenly become a driver no longer able to run, seems really exaggerated. Eight rounds of the World Championship remain to be contested and Senna will no longer be able to discard anything. Each withdrawal will cost him one score less (the maximum is eleven useful results) to be calculated in the standings. And Alain Prost, who reiterated his hope for Ferrari’s help in the upcoming races, begins to smile.