#528 1992 Belgian Grand Prix

2022-12-23 00:00

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#1992, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#528 1992 Belgian Grand Prix

If he does not race for Williams-Renault in the next Formula One season Nigel Mansell, 38, will retire from racing. This was declared by the newly cro


If Nigel Mansell, 38, does not race for Williams-Renault in the next Formula One season, he will retire from racing. This was declared by the newly crowned World Champion during a meeting with the press in Douglas, Isle of Man, on Tuesday, 18 August 1992. On the island, the English driver is spending a few days' holiday with his family. Mansell won the Formula One World Championship title on Sunday by finishing second in the Hungarian Grand Prix behind Ayrton Senna and his McLaren-Honda.


"I should sign the contract with Williams within the next 48-72 hours. I feel that my heart belongs to my country, I know Williams and its mechanics well. I don't want to leave what I have contributed over the years to the team and start again in another one".


Mansell is adamant in specifying his thoughts on his future in Formula 1.


"I stay with Frank Williams or I stop racing. Besides, I feel calm now, I have finally won the world championship and I don't have to prove anything any more".


Already in 1990 the English driver had decided to retire: it was in July at Silverstone, when he raced for Ferrari. But it was, then, a strategic move aimed at sanctioning the divorce with the Maranello team (which, by the way, would have been interested in having him back in the team next season). Mansell continues:


"Tomorrow (Wednesday, 19 August 1992) I have a scheduled meeting with the management of Williams, a team with which I want to continue racing and winning. We have done wonderful things together this year and we could do the same in the future. I am convinced that we will arrive at a good solution for them and for me".


The driver claims that the rumours of a possible arrival in the team of Senna or the Frenchman Alain Prost are nothing more than that:


"Journalistic suppositions, particularly by former World Champion James Hunt, who is now a TV commentator. However, Senna and Prost refused to race for Williams at the time. It was easy to turn up now, after Patrese and I had worked hard. With Ferrari, 1989 was a beautiful year, then someone came along and ruined the situation. You know how it ended".


The reference to Prost is obvious. On the part of Renault, Williams' partner, to whom it supplies the engines, for the moment only confirmation has arrived that the French company will remain in Formula 1 for at least another two years, and that within a few days it will be decided who will be entrusted with the Williams cars in the 1993 season. The president of Renault Sport, Patrick Faure, in an interview with the newspaper La Tribune de l'expansion even described the choice of Alain Prost as plausible. According to Renault sources, Prost, as anticipated by several parties, should flank the new World Champion, replacing Riccardo Patrese. Says Faure:


"We are negotiating and this time we hold the cards because all the greatest drivers want to come to us, and we are in full agreement with Frank Williams".


The Anglo-French team is now aiming to win the Constructors' World Championship and the Japanese Grand Prix, to be held on Sunday 25 October 1992 at Suzuka. Faure concludes:


"Beating Honda at home, on their circuit in Honda City, would not be bad for France's image in Japan".


In the meantime, from Wednesday 19 to Friday 21 August 1992, several Formula 1 teams will be at Monza to carry out free practice ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, which will take place on Sunday 13 September 1992. Arrows, Jordan, Benetton and the Scuderia Italia will have only one car which will be driven, in turn, by the official drivers while for Williams there will only be the test driver Damon Hill. Ferrari will test the new single-seater F92A/T, evolution of the current car: transverse gearbox and modified suspension. At the wheel there will be Jean Alesi. Ivan Capelli is also summoned for Thursday, who should have the F92A. For McLaren, with Senna and Berger, it will be the debut of the MP4/7 with active suspension. On the first day, nine teams (Williams, Ferrari, Dallara, Ligier, Venturi, McLaren, Footwork, Minardi and Jordan) show up at Monza: Mark Blundell, test driver for the McLaren equipped with active suspension, sets the fastest time of 1'25"58, at an average of 243.933 km/h. He is followed by Damon Hill (Williams), 1'25"96, and Alesi (Ferrari), 1'26"18. Meanwhile, Niki Lauda makes a last - desperate - attempt to bring Ayrton Senna to Maranello. No way: negative answer. Forty minutes of talks in a half-day stolen by the former Austrian champion from his airline, then he leaves for Seattle to pick up a new Boeing 767. The McLaren driver says:


"I am sorry, I am not interested in Ferrari at the moment".


And so Lauda erases a name from his notebook:


"As an old racer I understand that. Ayrton does not want to risk another year after this year's disappointment. He wants to race to win and we cannot delude him, we think that in the next championship we will be growing, but at the same time still in transition. And we have to think in these terms".


And now what is left for Ferrari?


"A piece of Mansell and one of Berger. Unfortunately the situation is difficult and complicated. Nigel wants to stay at Williams and he's right too, but there are still some small problems. He has made it known that he is willing to retire. We'll see. But we're at the end of our tether, and within a few days everything will be clear. We also know that Berger was in London just yesterday to talk to Dennis. If McLaren realises they are about to lose Senna, they could block him. And Ferrari is left without him".


In that case who would drive the second car alongside Alesi?




Niki Lauda replied, laughing. A joke, just to calm the spirits. Then a few more details:


"Senna spoke very well of Berger. He said that in the last three years he has matured, he has gained a lot of experience, in testing and in setting up the single-seaters. I am personally convinced that by getting rid of Ayrton's psychological pressure, Gerhard can only work well, with great commitment. He wants a two-season contract".


For the Ferrari drivers, therefore, the games are practically done, barring any last-minute surprises or second thoughts. Two questions, then. What could the top-team line-ups be in 1993 and what else is in the Maranello team's future?


"First, I see Mansell-Prost as the most likely pair at Williams. In that case Senna either stays at McLaren or takes a year off. Or Senna-Prost, and Mansell stays at home. Or he goes back on what he has said in recent days and comes to us, or goes to McLaren. A Senna-Mansell type solution is more difficult, but the last word has not been said".


And Ferrari?


"In theory we have settled the chassis-car business with Barnard and the structure in England. Now we're thinking about the engine. Some insertion of technicians at various levels is not excluded. After all, the driver question is the last one. When we have a competitive car, they will come looking for us. It has always happened like that".


In the evening, Senna, present at Monza to test a McLaren equipped with active suspension, also intervenes on the market issue.


"I don't respond to Mansell's provocations, who accused me of being an opportunist, because I don't want to stir up unnecessary controversy. The situation is complex and delicate. It is not just the driver who decides, but the team, the motorists, the sponsors. I am very tired, and as soon as these tests are over I am going to my home in Portugal to rest until the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix, which takes place next week".


With his long beard, his eyes reddened, Senna appears almost distraught. But before returning to his hotel, he repeats, if there is still a need, to the Brazilian journalists that this is not yet the right time to go to Ferrari. At Monza, meanwhile, there is an important technical innovation: the Scuderia Italia uses a huge satellite dish that sends data on the chassis to engineer Dallara in Parma, and on the Ferrari engines to Maranello, via satellite phone lines. In the future, many engineers will be able to work from home. On Thursday, 20 August 1992, Gerhard Berger, when questioned about his probable return to Maranello for 1993, replied that there was no chance. Strange, because the Austrian had said he was willing to take over driving the Maranello cars again after three years. Someone interprets the sentence uttered in the afternoon as a joke, but previously Berger, in an interview with a German-speaking Swiss journalist had said, verbatim:


"My heart beats for Ferrari, but my brain wants McLaren".


What happened to suddenly change the situation? The previous day Niki Lauda, talking about the driver market, had also mentioned the remote possibility that his compatriot could be blocked by Ron Dennis. So it cannot be ruled out that, in the conversation he had on Monday, 17 August 1992, the McLaren manager had precisely offered Berger to remain, with a good contract, on an equal footing with his future team-mate. A move that would mean McLaren saying goodbye to Senna. It is probable that the British team is looking for a second driver (Al Unser Jr or Michael Andretti) because the Brazilian has reiterated his intentions: either he moves to Williams or stops for a year. If Berger's declarations are sincere, Ferrari has no choice but to bet on another racer. Meanwhile, even without the new World Champion Nigel Mansell (absent because he is resting) and Riccardo Patrese (under treatment for a nagging back pain), Williams continues to go strong. On the second day of testing at the National Circuit it was Damon Hill, son of the famous Graham Hill, test driver for Didcot's team, who was the fastest of all (1'24"26), upsetting Berger (1'25"63) and Senna (1'26"28) with the McLarens equipped with active suspension. The times on these occasions are not always significant, partly because many teams try various types of petrol, looking for the best under the new regulations imposed by the FIA. But the fact remains that Williams remains for the moment unbeatable in any conditions and with any driver in the cockpit. As for Ferrari, Alesi lapped (1'26"45) with the modified car fitted with a transverse gearbox, and Capelli with the standard car (1'26"73). We will have to wait until the end of the tests to give an opinion on the F92A/T. 


For the moment Alesi is still doubtful:


"Right now, personally, I don't know if I would feel like taking it to the race at Spa. We will see".


Practice ended, as planned, on Friday, 21 August 1992: the appointment to see Formula 1 cars on the track again was set for Friday, 28 August 1992, when qualifying started at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix. But, in the meantime, Formula 1 will experience feverish days: the drivers' market is still boiling. Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger continue to clarify their positions. The former, who in the morning is the protagonist of an accident that could have had serious consequences, but which fortunately resolves itself without damage, explains in detail the reasons for his reluctance to switch to Ferrari.


"I am interested, because I have always wanted to race with Maranello cars. Sooner or later I will come, not in 1993, maybe the following year. Barnard's car won't be ready before May-June, so I would lose another year. So I bet on Williams, which is competitive. You know, I race to win".


Senna will probably go to Frank Williams. And that is why any decision by the British team is postponed for a few days. Berger (fined by the police at Vedano al Lambro for driving the wrong way round) makes no direct statements about his move to Maranello, but makes it clear that his doubts stem from the fact that he does not want (by staying at McLaren or returning to Ferrari) to find Senna as a team-mate again, despite the strong friendship between them. Nor does he want to develop a car and then deliver it ready in the hands of Ayrton Senna. As for Senna, as mentioned, he ran into a mishap: the active suspension system of his McLaren broke down while travelling at full speed on the straight.


"The oil from the hydraulic system splashed onto my visor, preventing me from seeing. I raised it but the boiling liquid got on my face, on my eyes. I managed to brake miraculously and jumped out of the cockpit, lying on the ground. The doctors cleaned my face, I got away with some redness, but I was scared".


The best time of the test was set by Damon Hill in the Williams in 1'24"16, ahead of Senna (1'25"00). Ferrari, who had to give up the new F92A/T due to obvious problems with the transverse gearbox set-up, had Capelli simulate a two-part race, with no apparent difficulties. The Milanese driver says that the Maranello team has not yet informed him about his future, and that he has negotiations with other teams. Maranello's new team manager, Harvey Postlethwaite, talks about plans, explaining that he has no envy for Barnard and that they will work together to bring Ferrari back to the top. The British manager also states that the team's workforce will be reduced from 400 to around 320, totally separating the racing team and engine divisions: this will make the work easier.


"Ferrari does not have a Formula 1 mentality. Its evil today is bureaucracy. I'm streamlining the structure: from 400 employees we'll go down to 320 and only half of these will work in race management. The engine and project departments will be two separate entities. I will decide which engines and projects will be used. Barnard is working fast, the 1993 car should be ready for the Imola Grand Prix. It will be called the 645, it will have a transverse gearbox and active suspension. The first four Grand Prix will be run with a further evolution of the current F92A/T. And then, within six months, the new English facility at Barnard will be ready, in which 40 people will work and which will take care of the prototype cars and aerodynamic tests".


For the Belgian Grand Prix, Jean Alesi will have at his disposal two new Ferrari F92A/Ts, equipped with transverse gearboxes. 


For Ivan Capelli, the debut on this type of single-seater will take place at Monza on 13 September 1992. The Italian driver will be able to test the car for the first time in tests planned at the Lombardy circuit in the week before the Italian Grand Prix. In the meantime, on Friday 21 August 1992 Ron Dennis announces his countermove to try to keep Senna in the team: in fact, it seems that Honda would be willing to extend its relationship with McLaren by one year, supplying Ron Dennis' team with a new engine, a brand new version of the 10-cylinder whose evolution was taken care of by Mugen, under the direct control of the Japanese manufacturer. And should the bench tests prove positive, the 10-cylinder will immediately go into production and be ready for the start of the 1993 World Championship. However, the situation around the Brazilian champion remains very tense, to the point that Senna himself declares:


"I'm so nervous that I can't even stand myself".


Diluting the atmosphere of tension and stress is teammate Gerhard Berger, who as usual plays one of his tricks on Ayrton Senna. In fact, having arrived at Monza by helicopter, Gerhard has the nice idea of throwing his team-mate's briefcase out of the window. A few moments later, a gentleman nearby brings the dented briefcase back to Ayrton, who angrily shouts to his friend-colleague that it had cost him the sum of $1.000. The Austrian colleague retorts by saying:


"You did wrong, you should buy a $50 one like I did! And you were lucky, because I tried to open it before I threw it away, but one of its locks was locked".


After much talk, on Monday 24 August 1992, it seems that the official announcement of Gerhard Berger's engagement by Ferrari may be imminent. Any day now, within the week at the latest. The Austrian had insinuated doubts about his move to Maranello. Then he had not wanted to talk any more. Perhaps to comply with precise orders. Berger's sentences had created some confusion, because radio-box had given the passage as already done. But perhaps Gerhard had only voiced aloud his fears and unconsciously also his fear of seeing himself paired again with Ayrton Senna, should the Brazilian one day arrive at the Italian team. The Austrian driver had already been warned in the preceding months by his own teammate that Honda intended to abandon the Circus, and knowing that, unlike him who desperately sought the best car to win, good Gerhard had no such need, Ayrton had advised him to leave McLaren, given that the drivers' salaries, to a large extent, were always paid by the Japanese, and therefore in the event he stayed, he would have risked a fine cut in his salary. Senna, on the other hand, is on two possible paths for the moment: either he goes to Williams, or stays at home for a year, for a forced rest. His coupling with Nigel Mansell's team, however, has created no small stir. Prost, until some time ago sure to end up in the most competitive team of the moment, is now in the grip of enormous difficulties. 


The negotiation has become much more complicated for him (as his lawyer admitted to Patrick Faure, president of Renault Sport) because not only does the newly crowned World Champion not want him, but also because someone is trying to convince Frank Williams not to take the French driver. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that we will have to wait longer than expected to know what will be the final solution in the drivers' market. In the case of a rejection by Williams, the Frenchman could bet on the McLaren orphaned by Senna. And, to keep Alain company, Riccardo Patrese could arrive. McLaren manager Ron Dennis has never hidden his sympathy for serious, experienced and reliable drivers. Certainly, these days, few would want to be in the shoes of Frank Williams who has the best cars: whatever decision he wants to make, he will end up displeasing someone and making enemies. Senna would also like a one-year contract and the British manufacturer would demand two years' salary plus an option for a third. In any case, the affair will cost him dearly. Two days later, on Wednesday, 26 August 1992, at lunchtime, Ferrari begins to reach an agreement with Gerhard Berger:


"Ferrari has reached a cooperation agreement with driver Gerhard Berger. In the 1993 Formula 1 World Championship, Berger will work alongside driver Jean Alesi. Ferrari thanks Ivan Capelli, whose contract will expire at the end of the season, for his contribution during the 1992 World Championship".


Three pieces of news, then, in one fell swoop. The engagement of the Austrian, the confirmation (by now taken for granted) of Jean Alesi and the detachment from Ivan Capelli, who, moreover, does not even have the satisfaction of seeing himself defined as a driver, unlike his two colleagues. A subtle difference that makes it clear that the relationship between the Maranello team and the Milanese driver has now deteriorated, closed by mutual disappointment. All the inferences of recent times have fallen. Now the masters of the market will be Williams and McLaren. The first team engaged in the choice between Mansell, Prost and Senna, the second in the reconstruction of a tattered line-up. And it is not excluded that decisions will be delayed, although Williams could announce its plans on Sunday, after the Belgian Grand Prix, when it will also have mathematically conquered the Constructors' World Championship. After Montezemolo, Barnard, Gherlini and Niki Lauda, here is another excellent return for Ferrari. Gerhard Berger had raced with Ferrari for three seasons, from 1987 to 1989, taking four victories and as many pole positions in that period, proving to be a fast and reliable racer. Then he moved to McLaren where, in truth, he was crushed by the talent of Ayrton Senna. But let us try to understand the reasons behind the choice of the Tyrolean driver from Worgl (who will be 33 years old on Thursday 27 August 1992). Many would argue that a team like Ferrari should focus on the likes of Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell or Alain Prost. A few attempts have been made to grab one of the three Formula 1 big names. The Brazilian, however, expressed doubts, and even Nigel Mansell preferred to bet on a possible renewal with Williams. And then, if Enzo Ferrari's theories are to be believed, the Englishman could be in the grip of champion's syndrome next year, i.e. being too fulfilled to give more than the car at his disposal could offer. Besides, Nigel lives in Florida and his total commitment to developing the new single-seater would be a problem anyway.And Alain Prost? Well, Maranello would have to forget the past to get the Frenchman back after what happened with the divorce at the end of 1991.


Staying on the concrete, then, Gerhard Berger is certainly a very quick driver, both in qualifying and in the race. He has considerable experience, without being too old. He is a model racer who always gives his all. And he obeys the team's orders without question. The downsides concern his height (he is about 1.85 metres tall, and this is a problem in Formula 1, as the cars are narrow and compact); he sometimes complains of a physical or nervous decline at the end of races; he had a bad accident at Imola on 23 April 1989 with Ferrari, after which he struggled to recover and no longer kept the great promises he had made earlier, on his debut. Apparently, however, Berger is held in the highest regard by John Barnard, who also considers him to be an excellent test driver, very sensitive and capable of pointing out any faults in the cars he tests. Gerhard, by the way, is theoretically more or less on the same level as Jean Alesi, and the direct confrontation could give both drivers a boost. The Austrian's contract, although not specified in the press release, will be valid for two years, i.e. up to and including 1994, plus an option for another season, from Ferrari. As is customary, the value of the operation is not revealed. There is talk in the trade of around $10 million per year. It is a relatively high price (in any case paid by the sponsor Marlboro), in line with market prices. Senna, Mansell and Prost travel on figures in excess of 20 million dollars a year, which is why the Austrian, being among the top five to six drivers in the world, got a salary commensurate with his theoretical value. What will the Alesi-Berger pair be worth on a racing level next year? It is difficult to answer: much will depend on the competitiveness of the car that Ferrari will manage to put on the track, in a season considered by the Maranello team itself to be one of transition. As for Ivan Capelli, only one consideration can be made at the moment. He was very unlucky. The following day, on a table in the pit box at Spa, a cream cake was placed, topped with a red car in almond paste, with the number 33. And, at the tables, a hundred journalists and photographers: this is how, on Thursday 27 August 1992, Gerhard Berger celebrates his birthday at the Ardennes circuit and his first day as a rediscovered Ferrari driver. 


An hour of conversation to explain the past, present and future. How is it that under the tan you can recognise the signs of obvious fatigue?


"I am actually very tired. It's been a tough few days: meetings, phone calls, commitments and thoughts. I slept very little. But I am happy to have made the decision to go to Ferrari. At the same time I prefer to talk now, right now, because there are five races left with McLaren and I want to commit myself to the maximum".


When did the decision to accept Ferrari's offer mature?


"It's a long story. Already at the first race, at Kyalami, I started looking around. I spoke to several team managers. In Canada the intention to change became more concrete, although at that point I realised that there were two possibilities for me: to stay at McLaren or go back to Ferrari. I had a lot of discussions with Ron Dennis. There was always something that wasn't right either for me or for him. I accepted the proposals from Maranello because he presented me with the most interesting package. In fact I can say that I was amazed: the first time, in 1987, I was carried away by enthusiasm. But the programmes were a bit nebulous. This time Lauda and Montezemolo were very clear. It felt like a really new Ferrari, I was impressed".


Niki's role is said to have been decisive:


"I don't want to hear about the Austrian mafia at Ferrari. I've known Lauda for a long time, and well, but I've never done business with him. He described the situation to me accurately and truthfully, informing me that they were dealing with Senna and me. And I liked that. I forgot that Niki worked one hundred per cent in the team of which he is now a councillor. He played a very clean game. And then I understood that Luca Montezemolo is also determined, that his only real interest is to see Ferrari return to the top".


But Ferrari is not competitive at the moment:


"It is a problem I know well. I have analysed the situation and I believe we can solve it positively. Regarding the car, chassis and aerodynamics, I have enormous confidence in John Barnard. He has never made a mistake. I am sure he will make a very good single-seater. As for the engine, I know there are difficulties. But I also know from my experience with Honda that the drivers can make a big contribution to the development of a new engine. I am ready".


In Formula 1, relationships between teammates always cause trouble:


"That's normal. The important thing is that the drivers work together in setting up the cars. Often you do different tests. It is basic that they then put things together. In the race, everyone plays their own cards. So racing with Alesi or Schumacher is the same thing. You can never rest easy".


But Senna?


"He is a phenomenon. He always gives 100%. When I arrived at McLaren, his position was already established. He was fighting for the World Championship and had the best means. I often had to try new things for Ayrton. A team cannot but give maximum support to someone like him. To have number 1, you have to beat him. However, I have learnt a lot in the last three years".


What if the Brazilian were to arrive at Ferrari when you have developed a competitive car?


"We will have to go faster than him".


When will Ferrari be competitive?


"Impossible answer. Maybe in the middle of the season. But we drivers never start with the contrition of having to wait".


What advice could be given to Mansell?


"He is in a very difficult position. He is fast, he is the World Champion. He should get what he wants. But Senna and Prost are trying to get into Williams. He will have to accept one of them. That's why I moved first, I didn't want to wait. I only asked Ferrari for one thing: I don't want to be anybody's second anymore. But to prevent someone from stealing our place in the future at Maranello, Alesi and I only have one chance: to win races".


The goal of Ivan Capelli, who had a long meeting with Luca Montezemolo on Wednesday, is instead to get some good results before the end of the season, with the hope of finding a good team next year.


"And I think Ferrari will give me a hand if I need it".


But also on this occasion Ivan Capelli will have to watch Jean Alesi, who will debut with the modified Ferrari with the transverse gearbox. He will make do with the old model. The drivers' market also holds sway on the eve of the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix, which starts on Friday 28 August 1992 at Spa-Francorchamps with the first practice sessions (pre-qualifying was cancelled because Brabham, in crisis due to economic problems, did not show up at the circuit). The latest radio-box rumours speak of a drop in Ayrton Senna's shares at Williams. The Brazilian would have a 90% chance of staying put for a year and 10% chance of still racing for McLaren. But it seems that Alain Prost, now enticed by the proposals of Ron Dennis' team, still has doubts. It seems now done, instead, for Riccardo Patrese at Benetton, as Martin Brundle was told last week to look for a place. On Friday, meanwhile, Emanuele Naspetti, 24, from the Marche region, makes his March debut in the car that had once belonged to Paul Belmondo. His steering wheel at Team Forti, in Formula 3000, is taken by Andrea Montermini, who leaves the Barone Rampante team. Fireworks in Formula 1: Friday, 28 August 1992, Nigel Mansell makes them on the track, obtaining a great time in the first practice of the Belgian Grand Prix: more than 2 seconds ahead of Ayrton Senna. The Brazilian, however, lights fuses for pyrotechnic explosions in the pits.


"The negotiations with Williams failed. I came two or three times close to signing, I thought I could do it, but now the situation has changed, in a few hours the answer was negative. I can remain at McLaren's disposal, although I don't think I will be able to recover in 1993. I can wait until February: if the new car is good, I will be ready. But in my current team many things will have to change. I will also be able to drive for free, because there are sponsors who are able to pay for me. McLaren, however, is free to look for two drivers".


First furious, then almost resigned, for the first time Senna came out of the closet, even stirring up a fierce controversy against his adversary-enemy Alain Prost, which will certainly provoke repetitions and aftermath in the future (the Frenchman is silent for the moment).


"Nowadays in Formula 1, drivers are chosen politically and out of pure nationalism. Mr Prost had signed for Williams several months ago. And he cannot live in a team next to me, because I push too hard. He loves the easy life and that is a disgrace".


An angry reaction, Senna's. There is the impression that the Brazilian driver felt not only betrayed but also mocked, in his talks with Williams, which were completely useless if it is true that Prost's engagement had already been decided long ago. Among other things, Ayrton learned that in the Frenchman's contract there was a special clause against him: Alain would have expressly asked for Senna to be excluded from the team. Earlier, McLaren team manager Ron Dennis had also entered the story, when the Brazilian had not yet made any statement. Pale and slimmed down, nevertheless trying to show a confident demeanour, Dennis had said:


"I understand Senna. He wants to win and he is faced with a very difficult choice. If he stays with us, he will have to be patient, work hard and try to bring our cars up to the level of Williams. In any case we have been the team that has had the most support from sponsors in recent years. But I seem to be feeling the signs of a heavy economic crisis in Europe for our sport. There is a turnaround and we should reduce costs. We are no longer willing to pay stratospheric salaries to drivers. We dominated with and without Senna, with and without Honda".


Someone tries to poke at the British manager, insinuating that over the years Ferrari has taken several technicians from him and now Berger as well. But the British boss doesn't take the bait:


"If I wanted to, I could have kept them because I had options. It is clear that a team like Ferrari, in the position it is in now, has to invest a lot to recover. I had offered Berger certain solutions, but we didn't reach an agreement. Patience".


The Austrian should be replaced by Schumacher. But it seems that at this point in the troubled Formula 1, there are many who have to recite a mea culpa. Senna would like to jump from one winning team to another, over everyone's body, to imitate Fangio and win five or six world titles. At the same time he has always pulled on the payroll by playing up, talking right and left, without so far ever having serious intentions of leaving McLaren. It should not be forgotten that for two years he had deluded Williams. Ron Dennis plays the moralist, but he was the first to overpay drivers, inflating the market: in 1991, to retain Senna, he had already paid out a sum quite close to 20.000.000 dollars. And not to leave anyone out, we must also talk about Alain Prost. Ayrton Senna attacked him and Nigel Mansell did not want him either. The British Lion is still doing everything he can to drive the Frenchman's shadow out of his path. After sowing controversy everywhere, the transalpine runs the risk, also because he is imposed, of finding an ugly welcome at Williams. In short, to quote Lauda, it's all a big mess. In conclusion, the day records a frightening crash by Érik Comas (at 300 km/h against the guardrails with the Ligier: on Saturday it will be decided whether he will be able to race), a spin by Patrese and, as mentioned, Mansell's fastest lap. Érik Comas lost control of his single-seater, crashing rather violently into the barriers just before Turn 16 at Blanchimont and ending up in the middle of the track. As a result of the impact, the driver collapsed, and his head settled into an unnatural position, leaving the single-seater's engine running. The real danger arose from the possibility of the engine overheating and the resulting explosion. Arriving at the scene of the accident, Ayrton Senna immediately realises that something is wrong and does not hesitate to stop his McLaren to help the Frenchman. Although the risk of being run over is high, he runs to the Ligier to switch off the engine and put Comas' head in a more correct position. A decisive intervention that avoids much more serious problems. Comas will say in the future:


"I had the bad luck to come first on that curve, from that moment I do not remember anything because I crashed directly into the barriers. I have no memories of that moment, there are images that I saw later". 


And adds:


"My memory stopped a few seconds before my crash, and the front left wheel of the car smashed through my head on the right side. It knocked me out like a K.O. in boxing, and the car meanwhile went back to the middle of the track, but I kept, unconsciously, accelerating".


I was unconscious in the car accelerating like crazy. Ayrton arrived and directly heard the crazy sound produced by the engine, the motor was screaming at 7,000 to 8,000 rpm or something around. He stopped his car, he ejected himself from it and at his own risk came to my car and stopped the engine. Even with the yellow flags, the circuit was still very dangerous. He searched for the circuit breaker and stopped the motor preventing it from burning or even exploding.


"After the impact it seems that there were some leaks of fuels so the risk was high. In a few seconds it could have exploded, yes, probably, so Ayrton Senna saved my life, yes".


On Sunday, 30 August 1992, they looked each other in the eye for a moment, lining up in the front row at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Then the challenge. Nigel Mansell to show that his world title is worth confirmation at Williams for next year and a fabulous salary. Ayrton Senna in an attempt to make it clear that if Didcot's team really does without him they will be very wrong. Mansell started in a favourable position: on Saturday, 29 August 1992, on the track flooded with water from a long rainstorm, the British driver set the fastest time, leaving the closest of the pursuers (De Cesaris) more than 3.5 seconds behind. And, with Friday's result, the Briton takes pole position number 27, his tenth of the season. His Williams, which also performs a spectacular spin, gives the impression of flying, while the others slide all over the place. So much so that there is no shortage of accidents. Frightening were the off-track exits, on the descent to Eau Rouge, before the Raidillon climb, of Gerhard Berger and Pierluigi Martini. The Austrian's McLaren and the Italian's Dallara were literally destroyed after a strong impact against the guardrail. Fortunately, the drivers emerged unharmed from their single-seaters - miracles of the robustness of today's cars - with a big scare (crashing at 240 km/h into a guardrail is certainly not pleasant...), a state of shock, a few bruises and half an hour spent in the emergency room for the usual medical checks. The tests are mainly used to prepare the set-up of the cars in case it rains. But, as is now customary, it is afterwards, in the pits, that the series of the year, that of the assault on the two places available to Williams in 1993, presents another episode. Senna performs yet another externality, providing other details of the affair, again from his point of view. The Brazilian is a great expert in the use of the mass media.


"I spoke with Prost. He confirmed to me that he does not want to fight with me in the same team. It is sad, immoral, unsportsmanlike. My negotiation, I repeat, has failed because in a contract signed months ago, imposed on Frank Williams by the Frenchman and Renault, there is a clause forbidding me to race with him".


Senna says that if there have been problems with Alain in the past, they are over, that they are different but could live together, that Mansell will have a viper in the team just as he had when they were together at Ferrari.


"It is a shame that there cannot be a Prost-Senna couple at Williams. I would have liked to race with him but I understand that he doesn't want to, because I am too fast for his taste".


A statement to which Prost reacts as follows:


"I don't answer. Because if I were to start talking, I would have to say everything. Then I prefer to keep silent...".


What are the chances, now, of Senna staying at McLaren?


"Very few, I don't see what I could stay and do at McLaren. I'm out of the Formula One world today. In February I will start looking around".


Ron Dennis himself, a few hours before Senna made these revelations, had sadly admitted:


"Ayrton asks for what he is worth, but I am in no condition to give it to him".


Ayrton Senna's only news concerns the ending of this story, while repeating that if he does not have a competitive car to fight at the top, he will retire for a year:


"We are still many months away from the start of the 1993 World Championship. Before then anything can happen, even big surprises can arrive".


What does this mean? That Senna is still hoping for a reversal of the situation. However, it must be emphasised that in this complicated affair no one remembers Nigel Mansell, as the Brazilian and Prost (who is at Francorchamps, but does not speak) are competing for the position. Nigel declares:


"I don't know anything, go and ask Frank Williams".


And the manufacturer responds with the usual no comment. In short, we will still have to wait a long time. And Ferrari? Sunday will be an absolute unknown. Alesi starts in fifth position and, if the new transverse gearbox does not break down, he might even get a decent result in dry track conditions. With rain every surprise is possible. The driver-market is also interested in Schumacher. While Briatore denies a possible sale, rumours are growing of McLaren's interest in the German, in a deal that should also involve Ford to give the Woking team engines. Weber, Schumacher's manager, says:


"Nobody has let me know anything, but it is clear that we might like McLaren, a team that has won eight World Championships in ten years".


While the drivers' market is being discussed in the pits, a legal case breaks out: Andrea Sassetti, 32 years old, owner of the Andrea Moda team and of shoe factories in Macerata, is arrested by the Belgian police and taken away from the circuit in handcuffs. Formula 1-related problems or something else? Sunday 30 August 1992, at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix Senna takes the lead ahead of Mansell and Patrese, while Berger remains stationary on the grid due to a clutch problem, wreaking havoc in the pack. The two Williams drivers soon get the better of Senna, but after a few laps it starts to rain; most of the drivers immediately return to the pits to mount wet weather tyres, while Senna remains on the track until lap 10, hoping that the rain will quickly stop falling. The gamble does not pay off and the Brazilian also has to stop in the pits, returning to the track far behind. Mansell is then in the lead ahead of Patrese, Schumacher, Brundle and Häkkinen; the track begins to dry and Schumacher is one of the first to mount slicks, while the two Williams drivers hesitate, losing a lot of time. When Mansell finally decides to make the tyre change it is now too late: Schumacher has taken the lead. 


The English driver quickly caught up with his rival, but then he was slowed down by problems with an exhaust manifold and had to slow down, settling for second place. Schumacher therefore won for the first time in his career on the circuit where he had made his debut the previous year, preceding Mansell, Patrese, Brundle, Senna and Häkkinen at the finish line. In the morning, at 11:00 a.m., he celebrated his first year in Formula 1 with a cocoa cake. A few hours later he stood on the top step of the podium of the Belgian Grand Prix. While a star, Ayrton Senna, threatened to leave the Circus, a new star was born: Michael Schumacher, 23, a German from Kerpen, a village near Cologne, a hundred kilometres away from the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. A surprise result, which took some of the lustre off Williams-Renault, which with Nigel Mansell's second place and Riccardo Patrese's third also won the Constructors' World Championship after the Drivers' one awarded to the Englishman. So Benetton, a team with an Italian matrix, even if with English headquarters (the factory is in Witney, east of Oxford, but just these days it is moving to Enstone, further north, to a brand new site) has overtaken McLaren in the Constructors' World Championship classification. A small consolation in a day that, once again, was stingy for the Italian colours, if one does not settle for the P3 of Patrese, the P7 of Lehto with the Dallara-Ferrari, the P8 of De Cesaris and the good result of rookie Naspetti (P12 with the March). For the eighth time since the start of the World Championship, Ferrari collected nothing. Jean Alesi was the victim of a ramming by Mansell, Ivan Capelli of engine failure. At the time of the accident, the Frenchman was in second position, the Italian in sixth when he retired. No luck for the Maranello team, which continued to show its limits. There has been some small progress thanks to the new suspension and the transverse gearbox. But it must also be said that reliability is always precarious and that we are talking about a fight in the back positions and not at the top. It was a tormented and confusing race, but also a spectacular and uncertain one, complicated by the rain that began to fall a minute before the start and then, in the final stages, gradually reduced in intensity until the track dried out. This situation forced the drivers to change tyres twice. And it was in the game of pit stops that Schumacher beat, partly by luck, partly by skill, all his opponents. 


And he went on to win his first race, 17 years after the last success by a German driver, namely the one Jochen Mass had achieved in Spain in the now distant 1975. At the start, a driver immediately retired: Gerhard Berger was left out with a broken transmission. Quite a remarkable weekend for the future Ferrari driver: a terrible crash in practice and no race. Senna surprised everyone as the first drops began to fall. The Brazilian led for a lap, then was literally swallowed up by the Williams of Mansell and Patrese. And on the third lap the pit stops began to mount the rain tyres. The first were Mansell and Alesi, while Riccardo remained in the lead and led the dance in the water. At Ferrari they did very well: Alesi, who had entered after Mansell, came out of the pits ahead of the Englishman. And perhaps that was his great misfortune. While both were recovering, the Frenchman wanted to resist the attacks of Nigel, who was faster in the Williams. At the Source corner, Mansell attempted an impossible overtake on the outside. Jean tried to make him understand that he would not give in and moved a little to the left: but he was rear-ended. With the right front wheel the English car hit the left rear of the Ferrari. The Williams remained unscathed, while the tyre of Alesi's single-seater was torn and a suspension arm slightly bent. Poor Alesi, furious (and rightly so) had no choice but to abandon the race. Heedless of the wet asphalt, Senna, amidst a thousand balancing acts and displays of great skill, returned to first place. But his escape lasted until the tenth lap when in quick succession Mansell, Patrese, Schumacher, Brundle and even Hakkinen overtook him. Ayrton had gambled: if the rain had ended earlier, he could have won a race that was beyond the reach of his McLaren. Instead, the driver from Sao Paulo came into the pits on lap 14, when he was already seventh, and emerged in P14, and then performed a beautiful comeback that led him to take the two points of fifth place, ahead of Hakkinen. It seemed that everything was now decided, with the usual parade of Williams. But in the final the asphalt actually dried out. Schumacher very quickly returned to the pits to put the slick tyres back on. Mansell and Patrese, on the contrary, victims of a sensational misunderstanding in the radio transmissions from the pits, waited two more passes. Just enough for the German to gain ten precious seconds and sprint to his first victory. They say Schumacher is a cold, sometimes icy guy. But at Spa he cried with happiness, in the grip of irrepressible joy, raising his arms to the sky. Then he, Mansell and Patrese shower Flavio Briatore, the Benetton team manager, with champagne. 


Still moved, Michael Schumacher says:


"It's madness. It's hard to describe what I'm feeling. I don't know why, but I felt I could win this time, I was thinking it even just before the start. I am happy because it was a good success that rewarded my efforts and those of the team, in a very difficult race situation. True, I was also lucky, but Lady Luck rewards the bold. I built the victory on a small mistake: I made a wrong trajectory and ended up straight. At that moment Brundle had overtaken me. And, from behind, I saw that the tyres on Martini's car had blisters. So I changed mine immediately. It was the right move".


Losing, on the other hand, was Williams' strategy, which at the same time, due to an incredible misunderstanding, kept both its drivers on the track. Riccardo Patrese explains:


"They told me to stay out because Mansell was in it. So I didn't understand any more. I didn't know Schumacher was in the lead, I saw the sign pointing to third when it was too late".


The same from Nigel Mansell:


"They told me it was Patrese, and out of respect for my team-mate who deserves some satisfaction I waited. We made a huge mistake. I could perhaps have recovered, but an exhaust broke and maybe burnt some wires in the electric circuit. The engine was losing steam and I resigned myself to second place, happy to finish".


Nigel Mansell cannot refrain from also talking about his future. But he makes no revelations.


"There are too many rumours going around, you probably know more than me. The only thing that pains me at the moment is the possibility of no longer being able to race together with Patrese. Riccardo has done a great job for Williams".


And Ayrton Senna? These are his explanations:


"It was raining, I was looking at the sky and it felt like it had to stop. That's why I didn't stop. When I got back into P14 I wanted to quit. But I am a professional, I tried to score points for the team. They say now that I am a spoiled child. I have been racing for years, I have won many races not only because of my car. I have beaten very fast teammates. That's why I'm in no hurry, I'll wait for the right opportunity to return to the top of Formula 1".


Renault simultaneously celebrated its 200th Grand Prix and its first victory in the World Constructors' Championship, in association with Williams. After fifteen years in Formula 1, the goal has finally been achieved, bringing the title back to Europe after five years of Japanese dominance, through carmaker Honda. This is also a boost for Ferrari, which is struggling to catch up. But for the Maranello team, the Belgian Grand Prix also proved to be a bitter disappointment. Says team manager Harvey Postlethwaite with typical English humour:


"We did not make a wrong move, however the result was negative. In two days we will be at Monza to refine the F92AT. We hope to be able to work well ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, where we would like to make a good impression".


A minimum of optimism also transpires from Alesi's statements. The Frenchman, who after the accident with Mansell is not even too angry, says:


"I had changed the tyres at the right time and the car was fine. I didn't think Nigel would have tried to overtake on the outside in a corner where there is only one trajectory, after I had made him understand that I would not give way there. I'm sure that without that incident I would have ended up on the podium, given the way things went".


Some French journalists claim that Alesi has gone back on the driver market, with an ambiguous statement on television. However, Jean Alesi replies:


"They are crazy, I am very fine at Ferrari and I would be stupid to try to leave just when we are on the way to becoming strong again".


Ivan Capelli, on the other hand, being now out of the team, merely makes a cold analysis of his race:


"The engine gave out suddenly, without warning. The car was decent in the fast parts of the track, much less so in the slow ones. When it started to rain harder, its behaviour was greatly affected by the amount of water on the asphalt".


In sport, as in life, you need luck. But Michael Schumacher is not just a boy kissed by Lady Luck. His success did not come by chance. In exactly one year in Formula 1, he had already reached the threshold of the highest step of the podium many times, indicated by all as the potential heir to Ayrton Senna. The Benetton driver's career was meteoric and led him to be, after New Zealander Bruce McLaren, and together with former wonderkid Jackie Ickx, the youngest winner in the top motor racing category. Irritating and gifted, intelligent and courageous, Schumacher, after the classic youthful trafila (first karting, then Formula 3, national champion in 1990), had made his international debut with Mercedes last year, driving - paired with Austrian Wendlinger - in the prototypes. It was Eddie Jordan who had to replace Bertrand Gachot, who had ended up in jail in London for an argument with a taxi driver, who had made his Formula 1 debut. A lightning debut with veteran results. So much so that when he arrived at Monza, taking advantage of the fact that he had not signed a contract with the British team, Flavio Briatore, with great flair, had included him in the team, leaving Roberto Moreno stranded. Since then it has been a succession of placings and extraordinary races. Indeed, Michael Schumacher has everything to become a star of the first magnitude. Apart from the technical qualities of a driver and test driver, a temperament and character that usually characterise true champions. Until last year, the only woman in his life had been Sandy, a little Yorkshire terrier dog. Now he lives - not least because it makes for a more peaceful life as a stray - with a beautiful blonde called Corinna. Whom he allegedly snatched from the arms of a young pilot friend of his (Heinz-Harald Frentzen). Total dedication to racing, aloofness, naughtiness, no reverential fear of already established colleagues, a bit of healthy presumption. And indeed, he argued several times with Senna and Mansell.


"Don't compare me to people from the past, to Caracciola or Rosemeyer. I am Schumacher".


A harsh attitude, which has already led him into a head-on clash with the German media, who have not even forgiven him for taking up residence in Monte-Carlo.


"Not because of taxes, but because of my privacy. I cannot devote 75% of my time to fans or public relations".


And the driver's manager, Willi Weber, says:


"In Germany there is no middle ground. They want absolute perfection. Look how they destroyed Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. When Michael made mistakes, they came out with titles like Crash-drive and Stupid-pilot. This cannot be accepted".


Willi Weber is now facing a delicate problem. Many teams would like to sign Michael Schumacher, including McLaren. For this year, the German driver will earn about 220.000.000 lire, plus $5.000 per point won (he has accumulated another 230.000.000 lire in bonuses so far). His manager admits:


"We cannot be insensitive to certain demands. The situation has to be reviewed".


Not least because on the market the German is now worth at least as much as a Berger, i.e. ten million dollars. A hot potato for Flavio Briatore, the man in charge of Benetton in Formula 1. Who is already in Paris on Monday to look for new sponsors.


"Schumacher's victory filled us with joy. But I can assure you that it was planned. We are growing according to a precise programme. There are 175 people working at Benetton, plus 15 for marketing, plus the dozen or so Ford technicians for the engines. In mid-October the new headquarters in Enstone will be ready, a marvel. There Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne will prepare the car for 1993. The year in which we will aim for the World Championship with Schumacher. Because the driver is ours and we are keeping him, having a contract in our hands until 1995".


However, there are those who say that the battle for the young German driver is being fought over billions. Who offers more? In the meantime, in Liège the investigation is taking place into the affair that on Saturday had led to a blatant arrest at the circuit of Andrea Sassetti, owner of the Andrea Moda racing stable. The charge was forgery and use of false documents in relation to the documents that the Macerata entrepreneur had shown when some Belgian bailiffs had turned up at the pits to try to seize technical equipment from the team, under an injunction from some alleged creditors. The hearing lasted almost the whole day and the magistrate eventually considered that there was not enough evidence to detain Sassetti any longer.


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