#519 1992 Brazilian Grand Prix

2023-01-01 00:00

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#1992, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#519 1992 Brazilian Grand Prix

The meeting on Tuesday 24 March 1992 in Maranello certainly did not solve Ferrari's problems. But, at the very least, it allows Luca Montezemolo to se


The meeting on Tuesday 24 March 1992 in Maranello certainly did not solve Ferrari's problems. But, at the very least, it allowed Luca Montezemolo to set up a plan to attempt a recovery of competitiveness in the shortest possible time. If it is true that before the start of the season the president and his collaborators had expressed themselves very cautiously, saying that the work to approach Williams and McLaren would be long and difficult, the reality of the facts has shown that the task will be even harder than expected. But that is not why - it seems - the Ferrari men are giving up. And they will be missed. Having made the mistake of sending the F92A to the track too early, Maranello has prepared an organic plan to revise the offending parts (how shall we say all of them) and perhaps even to put a new single-seater in the pipeline, which, however, will not be ready before the end of the championship. Niki Lauda, Scuderia Ferrari consultant, says:


"Ferrari will do everything they can to get back on track. We do not expect much for the Brazilian Grand Prix on 5 April, but in Barcelona, Spain, on 3 May we should already see improvements. Although I personally think it will be difficult for the F92A to reach the levels of its most qualified rivals".


The Austrian gives no further explanation. However, it is clear that Lauda is referring to the impossibility of incorporating on the car in question those sophisticated electronic systems that are the strength of Williams and that will also be adopted by the new McLaren MP4/7. Let's see how and when the head of Sports Management, Claudio Lombardi, and the technical director, Harvey Postlethwaite, intend to intervene. The broken engines in Mexico have undergone a kind of autopsy. They will see why the lubrication circuit is failing and whether it will be possible to modify it to eliminate the problem. If it can be done in time, after the tests in the new set of benches, they will be sent to Brazil with the necessary innovations. If this is not possible, it is not excluded that for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix it will be decided to mount the 1991 12-cylinder engines, which would not be incompatible with the new car. In any case, the engine is considered, even by the drivers, to be less powerful than McLaren's Honda one and Williams' Renault one. That is why the head of the sector, Paolo Massai, will have his work cut out for him to develop the engine in this respect. It is not enough to have the most compact and lightest V12 in Formula 1 - as was proudly stated at the presentation - to win races. The chassis built by Steve Nichols (who, along with Mazzola, who was responsible for Prost's car, moved to Sauber, which is building a Formula 1 car, unofficially on behalf of Mercedes) is considered one of the F92A's weakest points. In particular, the rear suspension, judged to be three years old. And the single-shock front suspension is difficult to adjust. This will be a task for specialist Harvey Postlethwaite. In addition, it seems that the tapered shape, similar to that of a fighter plane, not only did not yield the results expected in theory, but also caused problems for the arrangement of accessories and engine cooling.


Some work is therefore planned to be carried out by specialist Migeot. An important speed test will be carried out by Alesi at Nardò on Saturday 28 or Sunday 29 March 1992. Certainly, the double bottom solution for the search of the best ground effect is fascinating: the problem is to make it work on the track. At the end of the meeting, Ferrari sets an intense testing calendar: Larini will continue active suspension testing on a 643 laboratory car at Fiorano. After the trip to Nardò and Brazil, the Maranello cars will undergo three rounds of testing at Imola in April, before returning after the race in Spain and before the one in San Marino. Forty-five days of fire to make up for the mistakes made so far and to restore hope to the fans. Whose fans are showing commendable resilience, given that the Mexican race, in spite of everything, set a television audience record. And one cannot believe that people sat in front of the screen to anticipate a Mansell walk. As planned, on Friday 27 March 1992 Nicola Larini concludes the testing of the fourth Ferrari F92A at Fiorano. On Saturday the car, driven by Alesi, undergoes a series of speed tests (four and a half hours) on the Nardo track, directed by technician Visconti and aerodynamicist Migeot. The Frenchman tests eight different set-ups. Ferrari's tests continue on Sunday on the Apulian high-speed track. With the F92A Jean Alesi runs 18 laps reaching 322 km/h, without experiencing any mechanical problems. The tests involve two slightly different engines. However, the possibility of being able to modify the cars for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday, 5 April 1992 is ruled out. 


In the Maranello team the atmosphere appeared more confident, although doubts remain as to the short-term solution of the faults found so far. The Brazilian Grand Prix is the race of worries. And not only for Ferrari. Nigel Mansell, leader of the standings and winner of the first two World Championship races, fears the McLaren counter-attack. Ayrton Senna is nervous and still has doubts about being able to use the new car prepared by his team. Ferrari, with its mind occupied by other thoughts, lives in the uncertainty of having or not having solved its immediate problems. This is how the Brazilian Grand Prix presents itself, which on Friday 3 April 1992 kicks off with the first qualifying session, a day that promises to be tense, as if the events of the entire championship could be played out in these hours. It has to be said straight away that McLaren has produced an enormous effort. The previous negative results, the fact of having Senna playing at home, have led the English team to force the timing of the MP4/7's debut. There are six cars in the pits (over 50 mechanics, plus about 15 Honda technicians), three new and three from the previous model. The Brazilian will have four at his disposal, two race cars and two reserve cars. A considerable commitment for the team and for the driver who will have to jump from one single-seater to another to choose the best one for Sunday's race. Senna, fully recovered from his accident in Mexico, appears euphoric. On the one hand he feels the need to race with the sci-fi car that has been prepared for him to counter the overwhelming power shown by Williams, on the other he rejects the idea of becoming more and more a robot driver, almost remote-controlled from the pits: 


"With the inclusion of more and more sophisticated electronic systems, the feeling with the car is lost".


Indeed, the three-time World Champion has a point. Apart from the active suspension (which for the moment is only fitted to the Williams) the new McLaren seems to be a sort of ultra-modern road appliance: differential, accelerator, gearbox, engine are controlled and monitored by an on-board computer. And there is a growing certainty that technicians from the pits can intervene on the car via radio to change many settings, including those of the suspension. The dashboard is that of a spaceship, and there are apparently 150 sensors on the car that send data to the control units. Pushing an accelerator pedal that doesn't push anything but sends impulses directly to the power unit, turning a steering wheel that doesn't turn the wheels directly (there is even talk of a futuristic electronic steering wheel), must be a horrible feeling for those used to otherwise. Perhaps in a few years the races will be held on a screen, like video games, and the winner will be the one who has the quickest reflexes to press the buttons, like kids do nowadays with their pocket star wars. Alesi, for example, is not so much afraid of these innovations as he is confident of the fact that it is mainly the others, the rivals, who will be able to use them: 


"If we fall behind, we are screwed, the gap will get bigger and bigger and there will be only one team capable of winning".


For the time being, Ferrari (even if several novelties are being studied at Maranello) is moving forward in small steps. Small handcrafted modifications on the engines while waiting for the definitive ones, with the prospect of perhaps having to mount the engines of the previous series, some more precise ideas on the tuning of the still unexplored F92A. In the meantime, on the new McLaren MP4/7, Honda is fitting the RA 122E/B engine (lighter, more powerful and sparing with petrol) with semi-automatic gearbox and computer-controlled throttle, a system already used in aeronautics called fly-by-wire. A genuine revolution. The Brazilian Grand Prix therefore offers many points of interest. Attention is obviously focused on the Mansell-Senna duel. On the one hand one waits to see if the Englishman winner of the first two races will be able to repeat himself, on the other if the Brazilian champion, thanks to the new McLaren MP4/7 will be able to break the superiority so far shown by Williams. This is the main theme of the motorsport weekend. But on the sidelines there is no shortage of other valid points, linked above all to our colours. One concerns Ferrari, which has done nothing but suffer humiliation since the start of the season. One does not expect a full recovery, a climb back to the top, but at least it would already be a satisfaction to find a minimum of reliability, just enough to finish the race in the points zone or not far away. That is what Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli are hoping for, even if, within the team, there is no hiding the concern that they will be faced with the usual troubles or others. 


And they rely on the care of the passing of time, aiming to make some progress when they return to Europe, when, after three practice sessions at Imola, they go racing in Spain on Sunday, 3 May 1992. Those who would instead like to immediately have a yardstick by which to measure their chances definitively are Riccardo Patrese, who, despite being in a winning team has so far had to be content with playing second fiddle, i.e. Nigel Mansell's squire. Yet another win for his team-mate would put an end to the Paduan's ambition to fight for the title in 1992. Indeed, how can Williams be asked to bet on a driver who is already heavily behind in the standings? 


"The situation is very delicate. In South Africa I had been a long way behind Mansell. In Mexico I had closed in on him in qualifying, bringing me within sixteen hundredths of a second of the Englishman. And in the race I had been able to push until tyre wear forced me to give up the chase for Nigel. On paper everything is still possible. But in reality if I stay behind again I will be forced to submit to the team orders in the next races. In short, I need to aim for success to free myself from this danger".


Patrese does not want to talk about certain topics, but it is clear that a big help can come to him from his team rival, Ayrton Senna. If the Brazilian is able to undermine Mansell's position, then the Italian will probably also be free to play his cards. Two against one is always better even for a team like Williams, which has often shown that it makes precise choices between its two drivers. 


"A climate of open competition could favour me. I like the track a lot: here last year I started on the front row and finished second behind Senna. Only because my car was acting up at the start while the Brazilian was slowed down at the end by a gearbox problem. We have already arrived at a decisive moment in the championship and I don't intend to miss the opportunity to stay in the running".


Patrese wants to be free to play all his chances, without having to help Mansell: but he will hardly be allowed to. On Friday 3 April 1992, a gap of over three seconds separated Nigel Mansell from his nearest rival. An abyss. The Williams team laughs, looks down on their colleagues from McLaren, who have brought six cars, three old and three new, to São Paulo, incurring an additional expense very close to one billion lire. And, so far, without appreciable results. The chronometric differences found in South Africa and Mexico, were punctually repeated, indeed the gap widened. Mansell on the first practice day of the Brazilian Grand Prix set his fastest lap time of 1'15"703, 0.6 seconds less than the time that had awarded pole position to Ayrton Senna last year. The Brazilian driver is nervous, grappling with a car, the MP4/7, all new, all to be discovered, but for the moment still a long way from the car of his English rival. Struggling with all the electronic devices of his single-seater, the Brazilian driver, who also performed a half-spin, appeared clumsy, like a novice. In the midst of this battle, which is not psychological, but above all technical, there is a small step forward by Ferrari, which seems to have regained a minimum of competitiveness and also the top speed that had been lacking in the opening races of the World Championship. Nothing extraordinary, there are still many doubts, even if the men from the Maranello team let it be known that they used the latest version of the engines, the ones handcrafted in the Fiorano workshops. The fact remains that the sixth place of Alesi (author among other things of a resounding spin) is a small injection of confidence, while for Capelli the improvement was more modest with thirteenth position. And it should also be noted that apparently the engine of the Italian driver's single-seater was more powerful (or perhaps the aerodynamic configurations of the two cars were different), because he recorded the highest speeds, quite close to Williams' best ever, over 300 km/h. However, it must be said that behind the dominators Mansell and Patrese, behind the usual Schumacher in the Benetton, there was a Ferrari engine, but it was the one mounted on the Dallara of the Scuderia Italia, driven by a brilliant Pierluigi Martini. In the end, preceded also by team-mate Berger (fifth), Senna did not go further than ninth place, about 3.6 seconds behind Mansell, who at the end of practice did not even try his best, so much so that it was not necessary. McLaren, of course, have plenty of room for progress, because, as manager Ron Dennis says:


"The development work is just beginning".


And already on Saturday there could be some changes. To add, however, that for the moment both Senna and Berger complained about the engine claiming that it pushes less than the one they used on the old car. For the Italian colours good performances also for De Cesaris with the Tyrrell, Modena with the Jordan and Alboreto at the wheel of the Footwork, respectively seventh, eighth and eleventh. A bad day instead for Minardi, who broke one of the new Lamborghini engines mounted on Fittipaldi's car and then in qualifying had a car heavily damaged by an off-track of Morbidelli, who was risking a lot to move up a few positions on the grid. On Saturday the race weekend resumes, although it is unthinkable that the Williams will be able to get much closer. By now this first phase of the season accustomed the fans to races with two different categories: on one side the cars of Mansell and Patrese, on the other all the adversaries, among whom at least Ferrari has risen a little as partial consolation for what has happened so far. In the morning, in pre-qualifying, contested by five cars (four places were up for grabs) the Andrea Moda team, formerly Coloni, had made its debut. Disqualified at Kyalami, not ready with the cars in Mexico, abandoned by the drivers Caffi and Bertaggia, disappointed by a depressing situation, the small Italian team had recovered Roberto Moreno and the unknown Englishman Perry McCarty, former test driver for Reynard in Formula 3. The latter had paid 700 dollars to have the compulsory super-licence in Formula 1 and had received it on arrival in Brazil. Then, on Thursday evening, the permit was withdrawn from him, as McCarty did not qualify for it. A carelessness on the part of the driver and the team, but also improvisation on the part of the FIA, which first granted the visa and then cancelled it. It is always a power game. For the record, Moreno, driving the black single-seater Andrea Moda did only two laps, the fastest of which was 15 seconds faster than the worst of his rivals, and was eliminated. So much fuss over nothing. Just as they leave the circuit in perfect silence, without drums and samba rhythms, the fans of Ayrton Senna (not many in truth, because the price of tickets is prohibitive for the popular torcida), who were expecting a high note from their idol and instead were disappointed. But perhaps the most bitter is him, the Brazilian champion. Senna does not like to improvise, everything has to be perfect, planned and predictable. But Williams forced McLaren to move up a gear, to debut the new MP4/7 earlier than expected. 


To try to make amends after the two disappointments in South Africa and Mexico. Now to say that the revolutionary McLaren is a dud would be an exaggeration, even if at first glance the detachments from Williams, more than 3 seconds, are an enormity. The fact is that when you completely change course, you have to face the unknown. Until now McLaren had been the team of small steps. It had started with the cars designed by John Barnard and had continued along the same lines, with small modifications, work on details. So much so that last year the MP4/6 on its debut had won the first four races of the season, consecutively, practically handing Senna his third world title. In the rush to chase Williams, however, recovery has become difficult this year. But we have to wait: maybe in the Brazilian Grand Prix McLaren will be forced to play the role of extra and Senna obliged to look for a few points, just to limit the damage. The crucial moment will then come at the fourth round of the World Championship, on Sunday 3 May, in Barcelona, in the Spanish Grand Prix. A discourse that also applies to Ferrari. In comparison, the Maranello team started the championship even more disastrously. If McLaren still appeared late with the tuning, the F92A produced in Maranello even seems to be discarded as a project, as some of the usual pundits suggest. In fact, the Maranello team's new single-seater needs, above all, extensive modifications before deciding whether it is actually the result of a design error or just a rushed product thrown onto the track prematurely. In the first qualifying session, the modifications made to the engine in a handcrafted manner, as there was no material time for more in-depth work, yielded some positive results. Nothing extraordinary. However, Alesi's sixth place and Capelli's thirteenth is a tangible sign of a small improvement, waiting to see, as Lauda says, if definitive solutions will be found for Barcelona. Having said that, Sunday's race, barring any unforeseen technical hitches, breakages, or accidents, will still be a walk in the park for Mansell. The Englishman will only have to contend with his teammate Patrese, assuming that Williams puts the Paduan in a position to fight on equal terms. For all the others, all that remains is to try to collect the points available from third to sixth place. 


On Saturday, 4 March 1992, for the third consecutive time since the start of the season, Nigel Mansell starts on pole position. In Brazil, too, the Englishman robs Ayrton Senna, the idol of the house, of the pleasure of being ahead of everyone. His Williams is too strong, even if the Brazilian's McLaren, despite a thousand problems, shows some progress. A race similar to the previous ones is therefore to be expected: Mansell in the lead from the start - barring any mistakes at the start - with team-mate Patrese. And the others disputing the placings. A Formula 1 without emotions, even if during the second practice session, unintentionally, Mansell and Senna almost clashed on equal terms. Just in the last minutes of practice, the Englishman tried to pass the Brazilian on the outside, while he was launching into one of his fast laps: he spun and crashed against a wall. Senna took his normal trajectory and Mansell, as he sometimes does, took an unnecessary risk. The Englishman semi-crashed his Williams with active suspension and also suffered a slight contusion to his right leg. After a medical examination that found no serious damage, as a precautionary measure his Superlicence was withdrawn, which will be returned to him this morning if, as is practically certain, he is found fit for a new check-up. Mansell, with a two-second lead, could have avoided overtaking, unless he wanted to remove some doubts for the race: will Williams be able to get the single-seater back in the same pristine condition as on Saturday? But, according to theory, only unforeseen troubles, for example in the tyre changes, or mechanical failures, always lurking for everyone, could muddle the cards and provide the surprise. 


The McLaren allowed Senna in the second qualifying session to climb from ninth to third place, thanks to considerable progress in the car's set-up. But in the morning, in free practice, three Honda engines literally exploded, two on the new cars (one each for the Brazilian and Berger) and one on the old single-seater that the Austrian, in his role as squire, was forced to take. At the end of the one-hour's practice, in any case, Ayrton reduced his gap to a couple of seconds, also because Mansell could not improve on the time he set on Friday. Ferrari also made some progress. Alesi remained in sixth place, but improved his performance by about 0.7 seconds, while Ivan Capelli went from thirteenth to eleventh. It is not much, but given the moment one has to be content. If anything, the biggest problem at the moment concerns reliability. Finishing a race and picking up a point after the lack of results obtained so far would already be a fair injection of confidence. Even if the shadows on the future of this F92A have not been dispelled, and indeed many doubts remain about the new car's development possibilities. On the sunny grid of the Carlos Pace racetrack, a very beautiful and demanding track, a first row occupied by Williams, the second by McLaren, then the usual Schumacher who precedes Alesi and Brundle. For Scuderia Italia, which had shone on the first day with Martini's fourth place, there was an abrupt return to reality: the driver from Romagna slipped to eighth position. At the end of practice, Ayrton Senna said, referring to Nigel Mansell's going off the track:


"I didn't see it at all".


But the Brazilian confided in his friends shortly afterwards: 


"Mansell did the usual stupid thing".


An hour later the Englishman, dejected, appears in the press room. 


"It was a normal incident, no one wanted to harm the other. Maybe there was just a misunderstanding. I thought the Brazilian would step aside. Instead, to avoid a collision damaging to both of us, I ended up against the wall. The problem now is the car: hopefully it can be repaired. How do I feel? A bit shaky, but it passes. The seatbelts compressed my chest and I got out of breath. Then a bump on my leg, but nothing to worry about. The race? We'll see: everything should be ok".


At Ferrari, Ivan Capelli, talking about the rehearsals, says: 


"It was a very troubled practice; we have a lot of work to do".


And Jean Alesi concludes: 


"I pushed as hard as I could, but at this moment the car does not concede more".


For the Maranello team, the main problem remains the choice of engines: is it better to use the old or the new ones in the race? Maybe a mixed solution, different for the two drivers. On Sunday 5 March 1992 overcast skies and a lot of humidity await the drivers at the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix. Berger and Alesi prefer to start with the reserve car, while Patrese is the most disappointed: the reserve car was due to him but because of Saturday's accident to Mansell, Frank Williams gave orders to reserve the car for the Englishman. On the warm-up lap there is the first surprise: the engine of Berger's McLaren does not start. A frantic work of the mechanics follows, but the Austrian is forced to start from the pit lane. At the start, Patrese starts well and takes the lead, followed by Mansell, Senna, Schumacher, Alesi and Brundle. For Berger, the odyssey continues: he starts late even from the pits, completes four laps and is forced to retire, due to the engine overheating. The two Williams, meanwhile, continue in their impressive show: in the first ten laps they gain an average of 2 seconds per lap on all the rivals. During the course of lap 12, Senna's McLaren, third at about twenty seconds from the Williams, also slows down: the engine tends to cut out. Senna, slowed down by electrical problems with his engine, which loses power at high revs, is forced to drive very slowly when taking curves, and Schumacher, who is right behind him but unaware of the problems his opponent is facing, interprets Senna's driving as an attempt to slow him down. The Brazilian is overtaken first by Schumacher (lap 13) and then by Alesi and Brundle. Senna tries to change the carburettor, hoping to overcome the problem, but shortly afterwards he is forced to give up his position to Brundle and Alesi as well before retiring on lap 17, simply because he considers it pointless to continue. On the way back to the pit lane Ayrton holds the accelerator down, trying to break the Honda engine, but failing to do so, before getting out of the car, squeezing into the pit lane and disappearing from the circuit. In the excitement, a Brazilian journalist asks Jo Ramirez what has happened, and the McLaren sporting director, overawed, replies:


"Nothing is broken. The car was not fast enough and he chose to stop".


In the meantime, Senna, after a briefing with the engineers, is already outside the circuit and he hears Jo Ramirez's words live on the radio, so shortly afterwards he telephones and angrily tells him:


"Jo, how dare you say those things?"


But Jo answers him:


"You didn't tell me anything, so you can't complain".


Shortly afterwards, Ron Dennis, who witnesses the scene, tells Jo:


"Well, he deserved it. The way he raged... like a spoiled child. We all thought the same thing, but you're the only one who said it".


In the meantime, in the race, it's back to the normal routine: in front the two Williams race by themselves, behind them, all the others for a place on the podium. The laps pass and Patrese and Mansell lengthen the pace to their liking. The tyre change is the only way to see the race come alive again. Ferrari, at least in this, is in the lead: Alesi and Capelli change tyres in under 7 seconds, Mansell in 8.54 seconds and Patrese in 9.11 seconds. Too long, and the Italian ended up back in the race behind the Englishman who was in the lead, on lap 32, with a 5-second advantage over his teammate. Regular is Schumacher in third, followed by Alesi, Capelli and Alboreto. Immediately afterwards, Alesi spins out after a collision with Brundle. The Englishman gets the worst of it and is forced to retire (lap 30) while the Frenchman continues. Nothing happens for about ten laps, until the two Ligiers of Boutsen and Comas take out each other, touching and also sending Herbert's Lotus into the sand (lap 36). By lap 53 of the planned 71, the Brazilian Grand Prix was practically over: Mansell's Williams also overtook the penultimate full-lap car, Schumacher's Benetton (in third place), and triumphantly concluded the third round. Williams-Renault is killing the Formula One World Championship. Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese also dominated the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo: for the third consecutive time the two drivers of the British team left no chance to their opponents, finishing the race in first and second place. Third Schumacher with the Benetton, fourth and fifth Alesi and Capelli with the Ferraris, sixth Alboreto with the Footwork. 


The challenge between Mansell, back from Saturday's spectacular accident in practice, and Patrese, was resolved in the pits. The Italian, who had got off to a better start than his team-mate, lost a couple of seconds during the pit-stop tyre change and the Englishman - faster - took advantage of it to take the lead. It was towards the middle of the race and the situation did not change again. It was a disastrous day for McLaren, particularly disappointing for Ayrton Senna, who was racing at home. After Gerhard Berger was eliminated after a few laps due to engine overheating (and the Austrian, who started late from the box, was already out of the race), the Brazilian surrendered after 17 laps due to problems - he too - with the Honda engine, which tended to shut down. For Ferrari, finally, a positive Grand Prix. Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli gave the Maranello team their first points in this World Championship, which began bitterly with retirements in South Africa and Mexico. The cars are still a long way from the Williams, but, this time, the two cars at least managed to finish. The next race is scheduled for Sunday, 3 May 1992 in Barcelona, at the Spanish Grand Prix. Certainly, if the superiority of Williams, which draws an incredible advantage from the electronic systems adopted on its single-seaters and has in the high competitiveness of the Renault engine a strong point, continues, the 1992 World Championship risks to be suffocated by boredom. Mansell already has 30 points and Patrese 18: the closest of the other team drivers is Schumacher on 11. Berger has 5 points and Senna 4; Alesi 3. An abyss. 


"Let’s be honest. We are happy with the result because it is the first positive one. But in absolute terms I am not happy. The car was not going well, it did not allow me to attack. I could barely defend fourth place". 


Jean Alesi thus begins his race analysis. Shortly before, the Frenchman had gone to the race direction, called about the incident with Martin Brundle's Benetton. The Englishman had protested that the Ferrari driver had swerved in front of him to avoid being overtaken. But the stewards reiterated that it was a normal racing episode. 


"For three laps, Brundle had been trying to overtake me. I, of course, was making the best trajectories to avoid him. He touched me behind. I spun and the engine died. Fortunately, there was a slight descent and I was able to get back on. But apart from that, there is still a lot of work to be done. To be lapped on lap 41 of a race that counts 71 is not a pleasant feeling. Therein lies the whole problem".


Ivan Capelli, who perhaps already at the start doubted whether he would get into the points zone and perhaps finish the race, is a little more diplomatic: 


"I collided at the beginning with Boutsen and dented the nose of the car. But that didn't give me too many problems. My Ferrari wasn't going badly, even though it wasn't very fast. The biggest difficulty for me was the seat. My back was hurting, a real pain. Fifth place? A small recognition for the effort I put in. On a personal level, of course; I am delighted. It's the first points with the Maranello team. Hopefully we have opened a window for the future. But we are still a long way off. Now there is a month, the hope is to arrive competitive in Barcelona". 


The technical manager of the Maranello team, Harvey Postlethwaite, explains the choice of using the 1991 engine, which is more reliable (although the lubrication system had to be modified, otherwise it would not have adapted to the new car): 


"We knew that the risk of not finishing the race would be great. And we needed to break the negative series. So we were cautious. But don't think that I am happy with these placings. No, I'm not happy, it's not what we expected. Racing for fourth place is not really what we want". 


In short, there is no air of celebration in the Maranello team, although all in all the five points won are better than nothing, after two disastrous races. Engineer Claudio Lombardi concludes:


"I am moderately satisfied, even if it is clear that for Ferrari these are not the goals. But to break a negative series, even a result like this is good. It is clear that ours was an opportunistic choice to get to the end of the race. It's no consolation, but you can see that even McLaren with an all-new car had its problems. We now have a series of intense tests planned at Imola with three consecutive sessions, in which we hope to test all the material that is being prepared in the Fiorano workshops in forced stages these days. Now, however, we will be able to work with a little more peace of mind".


The Brazilian Grand Prix highlighted a serious lack of competitiveness. In the absence of McLaren, which can only be judged as the season progresses, Ferrari suffered - figures in hand - an enormous gap not only from Williams (the Maranello cars were lapped shortly after the halfway point of the race, Alesi at the finish line 2'10"641 behind Mansell, and Capelli at 2'40"552), but were much slower than the Benettons. Moreover, in fast laps in the race the Ferrari was also overtaken by Tarquini's Fondmetal and Wendlinger's March. And in the morning warm-up the Dallara cars powered by Ferrari engines had reached better top speeds. In this bleak panorama, the only positive detail was the information the engineers were able to gather in order to plan the recovery. Claudio Lombardi, general manager of Scuderia Ferrari, says:


"Obviously the interventions will cover all areas. Engines, aerodynamics and chassis. Priority will be given to the engine. The problems that emerged were latent and broke out in the coupling of the 12-cylinder with the new F92A, with the crankcase gases that put the lubrication in crisis. At the same time we will work on the internal and external aerodynamic shapes to find a better balance of the single-seater. Finally, the suspension: we will review both the front and rear suspension".


The spontaneous question that arises is: how long will it take? 


"It is difficult to give a precise answer because not everything depends on us but also on the suppliers. We will eventually move from provisional changes to definitive solutions, just to gain precious days. At Maranello we are already working on this and on Monday, in the usual after-race meeting, we will make precise plans".


A confirmation, therefore, that the F92A needs to be almost completely overhauled. This is why Ferrari will go to Imola for three series of tests from Monday 13 to Wednesday 15 April 1992, then from Wednesday 22 to Friday 24 April 1992, and finally from Sunday 26 to Tuesday 28 April 1992. Lombardi is also asked if it is true that he has been contacted by Toyota: the Japanese manufacturer would have made him a considerable offer to head the Rally department. 


"Even if it were true, I couldn't say it. In any case, I'm very happy at Ferrari, I like this challenge and I'm counting on it".


In the meantime, Nigel Mansell, after doing a lap of the track with a paired British and Brazilian flag, begins his usual tirade. 


"Fantastic job, great deal, thank you all, what a good job Patrese".


Then, however, the Englishman recalls that last year Senna had won four consecutive races and subsequently still risked losing the World Championship. 


"This is not the time to lower our guard, we must not live on our laurels. Three victories are important, but the championship is still long. And let's not forget that McLaren has the technical and human potential to return to the top. We can thank Renault and Elf who have done a great job. But now I will have to go to Patrese for the starts. He was a lightning bolt".


Called into question, the Paduan, with the air of one who is not too satisfied (he is left without a spare car), says: 


"I did everything I could. I got away very well and was able to control my team-mate's attack, even if I tried my best. But the race was decided by the tyre change. He had chosen to stop on lap 29, I could have opted for lap 27 or lap 31. I decided for the second one because I thought I could take advantage. Everything went well, the stop times were more or less the same. But when I returned to the track I was five seconds behind. I can't understand: maybe I lost time in those two laps before the pit-stop because of some lapping. Afterwards I tried to catch up with Nigel, but it was not possible. Down? No, I have three second places under my belt and there are still thirteen races to go. My time will come too".


From the winners to the vanquished. Ayrton Senna, before leaving the circuit, says: 


"The engine died, it felt like my McLaren was braking. I signalled for them to pass me, then I stopped".


Ayrton in the pits immediately asked for a summit with the McLaren and Honda men. He did not want to race with the new car, they forced him to do it. Maybe he was right, with the other one he would have taken some points. In the meantime, young Michael Schumacher, third at the finish, unleashes an irreverent controversy against the Brazilian: 


"I was faster than Senna, but I couldn't pass him. After about ten laps he started to play: he was braking on the straights and in the slow corners. You would never expect this attitude from a three-time World Champion".


Sport has become merciless. It creates and destroys myths in a very short time. Let's take motor racing: Fangio, Clark, Nuvolari, Ascari, were regarded as untouchable characters. Now, however, it is exactly the opposite. One day on the altar, the next in the dust. 


And here are two typical cases. Nigel Mansell. He was considered finished. He had left Ferrari and announced his retirement. Then Frank Williams convinced him to stay, promised him a car to win the title. Last year the regrowth, now the triumph, a victory behind Nigel Mansell in action in Brazil: with Williams the Englishman has begun a second career. In a team where the climate is purely British, it is difficult for an Italian to try to impose himself. Second version. Ayrton Senna: invincible, unbeatable, the king of pole-positions, the man who should have erased all the champions of the past. All it took was for McLaren to stop giving him a car superior to the others and the Brazilian (even though he was racing, by the way, at home), even gave the impression of giving up without a fight. His single-seater was slowed down by the engine and Ayrton preferred to return to the pits rather than place himself out of the points. For him, it was a very hard blow. In this championship all the points obtained in the sixteen races are added up. A retirement in Mexico, another in Brazil: the climb to the fourth world title becomes much more difficult, it goes uphill. Even here in Brazil, where Senna is considered an authentic idol, some people began to have doubts, perhaps stirred up by the Paulist boy's lifelong rivals. If he didn't have such fast cars, would he have been able to fight as he has so far? A really useless question, because Ayrton has shown from the beginning of his career that he is very good. When he was racing with Toleman, everyone noticed him as a rising star. But the story is always the same: for one star that falls, another grows. Apart from the fact that Senna is far from finished, there are other drivers emerging. One of these is Schumacher: just turned 23, nine Formula 1 races under his belt. Ferrari always manages to remain competitive, despite everything. They are a motor racing legend.


Two modest placings, the fourth and fifth places of Capelli and Alesi, were enough to raise hopes and enthusiasm. But it is just the beginning: for the Maranello team the road to rebirth is still a long one. Revolutions do not pay in Formula 1. It is the policy of small steps, of stability, of long term programmes that gives the best fruits. The example comes from Williams, which despite going through moments of crisis in the past has managed to never change its philosophy. Among the top teams, Ferrari is the one that has suffered the greatest travails by changing its set-up too many times: and the results have been seen. Now Williams has also managed to put McLaren in difficulty. The superiority demonstrated by the cars of Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese forced Ron Dennis's team to accelerate their programmes, to send a single-seater, the MP4/7, onto the track without adequate preparation. In previous years McLaren itself had debuted with new cars, achieving immediate success (see 1991, four consecutive victories and then victory in the World Championship). But these were single-seaters that represented the logical and reasoned evolution of the previous model. This time with a truly different car (engine, chassis, aerodynamics and above all packed with electronics) the first impact was negative. And it is not even certain that the MP4/7 will be able to bridge the differences. Not least because Williams, starting from afar (active suspension tests date back almost five years), has other surprises in store. In short, a long-term plan that should allow Frank Williams' team to dominate the field, going from one statement to the next. For the moment, with three double wins to his credit, he has already sent all his rivals into crisis. But Nigel Mansell continues to say, out of superstition and also not to admit that if he continues like this by mid-season the World Championship will be over:


"Let's not rest on our laurels. McLaren has the means and the will to come back and bother us. You cannot underestimate someone like Senna".


The Englishman, however, knows that the Brazilian is experiencing one of the worst periods since he has been at McLaren, because the repeated defeats have created a climate of tension within the team. On one side Ron Dennis, the manager-master, who wants to impose his own ideas, on the other the Brazilian driver who has his own. So much so that after Sunday's retirement he called the British and Japanese engineers to report, protesting vociferously. And it should not be forgotten that it is precisely Honda, if the difficulties continue, that could withdraw from competition or decide to sell only the engines to those who want to buy them. A very delicate situation. A disappointing championship could induce Ayrton to move to another team, perhaps even Williams. And, in the meantime, within the championship-killing stable the roles seem to have been definitively clarified. 


Patrese says - he is perhaps convinced - that Williams does not play favourites. For the moment, however, Mansell has three victories to his credit and the Paduan three second places, even though he has shown in both Mexico and Brazil that he is equal to his team-mate. Riccardo argues that the season is still long, that anything can happen, that all it would take is a failure on Nigel's car to call into question even the classification. All this is true, but in the environment there is a well-founded conviction that Williams is aiming, in an ideal situation (that of domination), at the Englishman. Just observe some details: the Italian would have preferred to race on Sunday with the spare car, which seemed to him more balanced than his own. He was denied the choice. It is also true that Mansell at this magic moment is going so fast that he might not be beatable. But to try, one would still have to race on equal terms. The truth is that Patrese senses the situation, but because he is a fair person he does not complain publicly, he does not accept the role of victim. And he suffers in silence, always working hard. So, once again, with Ferrari far from giving the satisfaction that the fans expect, with the best Italian drivers hired by teams that have no chance of winning, not even Patrese - barring unforeseeable events - will be able to aim for that title that he has been chasing since the beginning of his career and that the Italian motor racing world has been dreaming of since the days of Ascari. It was since 1984, the year of his debut in Formula 1 with the rickety Toleman Hart turbo, that Ayrton Senna had not fallen so low. Eight years ago the Brazilian had scored two sixth places in the first three races (which had launched him as a rising star) and consequently two points in the World Championship standings. Now, after as many races since the start of the season, he is on 4 points, thanks to a third place in South Africa. 


Otherwise, from that debut to where he is today, he had always done better: an all-time low in 1987 with 6 points, a record in 1991 with 30 points. Is this the sign of the decline of a champion? Definitely not. Senna is always the best, he is probably stronger even than the current Mansell and, with the same cars, he would almost certainly end up beating the Englishman, especially thanks to his character, which is stronger, and his psychological abilities. What happened then? The truth is that the great Enzo Ferrari was right, who held the theory that the car counts much more than the driver. There has always been a debate on this subject: there are those who maintain that the values balance out, fifty-fifty, and those who are for slightly different percentages. Our opinion is that in today's Formula 1. the value of the driver influences just 10%. A figure understood in two senses. First: to give a measure of the difference between a very good driver and an average one. Second: to calculate the possibility a driver has of getting results depending on the car he has. To give an example (without going into extremes), let's say that between one racer and another from the same team there can be at most a difference of 1 second per lap. And Senna, therefore, having disappeared from the classification, does not escape this rule. On the contrary, from now on, even the performance of a champion like him will be increasingly conditioned by the medium and, in particular, by electronics, which has even taken over aerodynamics, mechanics and automotive technology proper. Suspension, gearbox, differential, steering, engine, dashboard, petrol consumption: everything is regulated by on-board computers which, by means of sensors (some cars are said to have up to 150), adjust everything. Ayrton Senna says:


"True, our McLaren MP4/7 represents a revolution compared to the previous model. Before, the evolution was based on previous experience. Now the changes are radical. You get into the single-seater, press a button and all you think about is moving the steering wheel; in fact, you will soon drive it knowing that it is a fiction: in reality it will be electronic impulses that make the wheels turn. It already happens with the accelerator".


Does this mean a levelling down of drivers? 


"Before there was a feeling with the brakes, the gearbox, the engine. Now you have to be a perfect robot. You remain a human being behind the wheel, but with little room to invent, to play with your imagination. Courage, heart, even recklessness become optional. In some cases negative. And then from the pits they control you: if you make a mistake, they try to make up for it with orders sent by radio".


The world moves on, it cannot be stopped. Even among manufacturers, some try to put a brake on the technological revolution, to put limits beyond which one should not go. But that would be nonsense. Senna will probably return to the top because he will dominate his electronic McLaren. But the young drivers of the future may have to take an astronaut course to race in Formula 1.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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