Gerhard Berger is a God-fearing young man. At least to some extent: he lies back enjoying the Australian sun and does not think about telling lies. Indeed, in his nine-year career as a driver, he has always been very honest. He prefers not to talk. So, if the 33-year-old Austrian says anything, it is worth believing. Thus, when in a relaxed moment he tells of his new adventure with Ferrari, of the future relationship with Alesi, McLaren and Senna, the discussion becomes interesting. Severe criticism, admissions, revelations, but no gratuitous polemics.
"I have already mentioned the reason that prompted me to return to driving Ferrari. A new challenge, some more motivation. Since my signing was announced at the end of August, a large part of the approximately 3,000 letters I receive a year have been from Ferrari fans. And a driver likes this".
But Ferrari at the moment is certainly not the most coveted team...
"As a name, it's always attractive. If we refer to the moment, it is really in trouble. On Sunday in Suzuka, I lapped Alesi's car. It seemed to be standing still. A disaster. Bad engine and even the chassis doesn't look that good. But I do have some confidence. I am convinced that Barnard will make a good single-seater and that Ferrari will be able to recover, even if 1993 will not be long enough to win again. I phoned Barnard, I'm going to see him in England soon. He has good plans and the whole team will be behind him".
But Berger is said to have returned to Ferrari also because there was too much money at stake, perhaps too much.
"Too many? No. A fair amount. A little more than what I would have earned at McLaren".
Speaking of McLaren, is it a failing team?
"I don’t know. Honda leaves because it failed with the 12-cylindre engine. It was powerful, but unreliable and in any case not always exploitable to the fullest. I don't think that Ron Dennis will be able to get Renault engines. Practical and political complications. Maybe he'll get those from Ford. Senna? Personally, I am convinced that he will be in stand-by for a year".
To come to Ferrari in 1994?
"It's not excluded. And that's why I signed a two-year contract for Ferrari as a first driver. I’m not stupid. We set up the new car, work like crazy and then the Brazilian comes and still owns it?"
So that's why Jean Alesi is furious. This justifies the rumours according to which the Frenchman tried to leave.
"It seems clear to me that there is a problem with Alesi. On the contrary, the situation within the team worries me a lot. The Frenchman asked me for an interview. We'll talk in Adelaide. But it seems useless to me for Jean to get upset ahead of time. Meanwhile, we won’t be immediately competitive and it’ll be even better to get along to try to progress together. Then we'll see".
Berger said that he wanted a minimum guarantee from the Maranello team to protect himself from the impending danger of finding himself with Senna as teammate-master, as it has already happened for three years at McLaren.
"Ayrton never really thought about coming to Ferrari right away. He will accept offers if he sees a competitive car. And at that point I want to have a certain position inside. After all, even if someone thinks that he did it only for money, I have accepted a challenge well knowing that in this period the Maranello team is on the ground and that in order to return to the top it will take not only commitment, effort and skill, but also luck. Let's say that I have focused on myself and a team that can't help but find itself again. And if Ferrari takes off, I will have my merits".
Even Ayrton Senna, before the final race of the Formula 1 World Championship in Australia, still has something to say. While confirming that it is probably only in the very end that he will decide whether to continue racing or whether to take a year off, the Brazilian expands his talks on Honda, McLaren, Williams and Ferrari.
"I've also heard that Honda could come back in 1994 with a car that is completely its own. If it's a good program, I'll be interested in it. After all, it's not to be excluded that I don't accept a challenge with Ferrari, if it presents itself well. But, at the moment, for 1993 my chances are with Williams and McLaren".
So, is an inclusion of Prost in the team conceivable?
"Yes. Anything is still possible, as far as I'm concerned".
And he says this with the air of expecting a reversal of the situation unfavourable to him.
"McLaren is in crisis. Not only the engine is missing, but a car, a designer. There is no point in continuing the discussions. If Ron Dennis presents me with a good project, I'll see what I can do. In any case, the team is in a declining phase and it will not be easy to bring it back to the top. Even though with the new regulations, something could change next year and take away Williams's dominance".
"For now, I said, I don't care. But I also believe that Maranello has hit rock bottom and needs to improve. It's just a matter of time. There has been a lot of patience for many years, just have a little more. Ron Dennis missed the train by not hiring John Barnard. Ferrari caught it instead, thus producing the first step towards regrowth. Barnard is a real genius. The Modena team had made a huge mistake not to continue the collaboration with him: today they would be winning".
How can Berger be inserted into Ferrari?
"Gerhard is a very good driver. In these three years with me at McLaren he has learned many things, he has improved. He is prepared to deal with the problem. He can do a good job if no one gets in his way. Alesi will also have to understand that it will be in his interest to collaborate, because only together will they move forward on the right path. I can't speak for the Frenchman, who I know little about, but I assure you that Berger has clear ideas and the right head and the possibilities to help the Maranello team. On a human and technical level, the Austrian can really be the right man to achieve his goals".
All this to prepare for the arrival of Senna?
"It will be interesting for them to recover, to be competitive again. The rest doesn't count, it's not important. It's a new phase. I don't think that Berger will develop a disastrous car to avoid my eventual landing in Maranello. And then we always got along very well. But perhaps the point is another".
"Ferrari must be able to find the full support of everyone. And I'm talking about Italians in general, the press, the media, the fans. Because Ferrari is something special: it is not a team with only one owner. It belongs to all Italians. And if the Scuderia does not go, it will not go, put a hand on your heart, because the fault will also be yours".
The Formula 1 World Championship is coming to an end. On Friday, November 6, 1992, the first qualifying round of the Australian Grand Prix, the last race of the season, will take place in a climate full of uncertainty and controversy. The crisis still grips the Circus of engines: even here, down under, storm is in the air. The local government, which had supported the race for years, has fallen. The politicians now in power want to see clear. The figures always kept secret by the organizers have been disclosed and it has been discovered that there is a huge financial deficit also due to the disproportionate salaries that some managers attributed to themselves. Australian journalists have gone wild and many are throwing mud on the race so as to credit the voices of a manoeuvre in place to try to cancel next year's race. The announcement of Nigel Mansell's departure for Formula Indy and the possible retirement of Ayrton Senna certainly do not help to smooth out the negative spirits. Thursday, November 5, 1992, the Brazilian driver, in a long press conference, reiterates once again that if it does not find a competitive car in 1993 will stop for a year. A real chaos. The only positive notes seem to be the newfound peace between Berger and Alesi and Schumacher's grit. Also on Thursday, November 5, 1992, Ferrari's press office specified that the two met, talked for a long time and left the racetrack together: therefore, no controversy, all quiet. As for the rising star of Formula 1, Schumacher proposes himself as the great protagonist of future championships. The German, who took his first victory in Belgium last summer, says that he feels ready to fight for the world title and that he will be able to make Senna forget if the Brazilian maintains his intention to temporarily abandon racing.
"After a year of experience. I think I can grow further. From now on I will try to fight at the top. Williams has been clearly superior so far. However, the new regulations could help us. The tyres and the narrower cars will probably change the situation".
It will still be difficult to beat Prost and Williams in the next championship.
"It's a very strong combination, but we also have some winning weapons. Active suspensions, automatic transmission, traction control system and ABS will be carried out by the technicians to make our car more competitive. It will be hard work that we will do in the winter. And I am convinced that with the insertion of such an experienced man like Patrese into the team, perhaps we will be able to achieve the goal of fighting for victory".
But won't all these sophisticated innovations waste time and above all and kill the talents of a brave and reckless driver such as Schumacher?
"I don’t think so. At my debut in Formula 1, I was actually convinced that it was only necessary to know how to use the throttle and the brakes well. Now I understand that, thanks to technological development, it will be possible to seek new limits".
"An example? Just look at what Mansell has done this season. The Englishman is the driver who has best known how to interpret a drive that must take into account the help of the most advanced electronics and engineering. I think that I can adapt to racing with this car, while other colleagues called to a different kind of control of their cars will have trouble finding a driving style suitable for the new situation".
Michael Schumacher, therefore, launches his challenge: he proposes himself as an element capable of making people forget about Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell. And precisely for this reason he will already try to surprise the favourites on Sunday, November 8, 1992. Between rivers of beer, because Australians take every event as if it were the Munich Oktoberfest, Formula 1 will bid farewell to the 1992 season. Mansell will look for the tenth triumph of the season, the victory that would allow him to leave for the United States, for his adventure in Formula Indy, with the halo of the hero, the record man. But the Englishman will have to deal with the die-hard Senna, with teammate Patrese who also wants to finish in beauty with Williams, with Schumacher and Berger.
"I want to win for the sheer pleasure of coming first. I don't feel like I'm living in a historic moment. On the contrary, I am bitter, sorry and disappointed about what happened. And if I leave, it is precisely because I intend to change atmosphere. In the last few days there has been nothing but talk about me possibly forfeiting America. I have given my word and I want to keep it. If anything, unexpected happens, I'll go fishing".
The World Champion evidently refers to the rumours that Williams is desperately trying to take him back:
"But they should have thought about it before, now it's too late. I'll have this new experience, then we'll see".
A promise of a return in 1994? There have also been rumours of Ferrari's interest in the English champion, who would gladly accept to race with a single-seater from Maranello and regret having signed the contract for the American Formula Indy. When asked about this, Ferrari simply confirms that the drivers for 1993 are those announced, namely Berger and Alesi. Jean has been the subject of conversation in recent weeks. There was talk of an escape from Ferrari, of early conflicts with Berger. But he, the Frenchman of Sicilian origin, denies everything. For Alesi, the Maranello team is like a first love. He did everything to get there and now he won't give up.
"I want to finish the season in the best possible way. I like the track, although you can go out at any corner. Of course, I can't fool myself into even having an attack race. I have to ride at eighty percent, hoping someone retires, up front. Only in this way will I be able to get on the podium".
How will your relationship with Berger be?
"I'm a driver, Berger too. I don't have problems. Next year my contract with Ferrari will expire. It will be very important to start well, to get positive results in the first races. So, I can figure out if I have a chance to stay or if I have to start looking around. I can't sign for another team right now".
Two years of Ferrari. What is your balance?
"I've seen so many people come and go. That wasn’t good. I have a good relationship with the people who have worked with us over the past six months and I would be sorry not to continue".
Jean Alesi seems very honest. From a human point of view, he is a boy with a heart of gold. But will Ferrari be able to make him grow again and please him? Even in Adelaide, the balance of the Ferrari season does not change: it was the worst of the last ten years. Only in 1980, in the season following the world championship victory with Jody Scheckter (the last of the series), Maranello's team was more disappointing. Because it was indeed a disappointment: at the debut of the new, and in some respects revolutionary car, the F92A, equipped with a double floor, was thought to be the overturning of a negative situation that had been dragging for a long time. But the results never came and the championship went on between crises, problems and controversy. Now Ferrari is trying to get competitive again. At least according to the will of the president Luca Montezemolo. Barnard was hired in order to create an indispensable technical-operational base in England, Postlethwaite took on a role as manager of the team with the opportunity to take a look, given his skills, also on design, Lauda has the role of advisor-ambassador. At the end of the season, then, a face-to-face with Postlethwaite and Lauda can be useful to understand what happened this year and what the future holds for the Maranello team. The two characters, within the limits of their position, seem sincere and ready to provide any explanation. Niki Lauda says:
"It's easy now to say why we didn't do well this year. We made our debut in South Africa with a very special car. And we immediately realized that there was no in between: either it went very fast or very slow. Unfortunately, it was the second solution that prevailed. In the meantime, the engine also gave us problems and the technicians worked hard to solve them. It was an oil oozing in the piston liners. This problem has slowed down all the development of the engine. And, to an already chaotic situation, was added the change in the type of fuel shortly after the middle of the season. We did a lot of work, but it was palliative".
A year wasted, then. It is desirable that at least you have thought about the future.
"Yes, at this point our program is outlined and precise, structured in detail. Barnard took on the charge of designing two cars in England. One, which we will call 644 bis, which will be an evolution, without double floor, of the current single-seater. And the 645, all new, which will debut in France in July. As for the engine, we are redesigning it in a forecast of three successive phases, in February for the last tests and first races, in April and June for the final version".
The reasons that led to the decision to entrust both cars to Barnard are quite simple. Harvey Postlethwaite explains:
"We wanted to avoid any kind of conflict and controversy, so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. In any case, we're not speaking of Ferrari's loss of identity. You have to find the technology and the experts where they are. If you want to make a plane that competes with the Jumbo you have to go to Seattle or Toulouse and not to Savignano sul Rubicone. But the team, the Ferrari spirit, stays in Maranello".
The first signs raise fears of a fierce rivalry between Alesi and Berger.
"No, we don't believe that. The two drivers will have the same material, a Ferrari each".
"To understand the situation, we want to tell you that Alesi had signed a contract two years ago and we stuck to that. Berger had a renewal proposal from McLaren. I had probed everyone's intentions. Senna and Mansell were unavailable, Schumacher and Prost were not free. So to snatch Gerhard from the English team we paid him quite dearly and we had to give him some priorities. If he breaks his car, he will be entitled to the reserve car, if there is something new, he will be the first to try it. We'll do everything we can to keep them even. And in some races, like Imola and Monza, we will make an effort and bring four cars to the track. I spoke to Jean and Gerhard, they seem happy. In addition, we wanted to reward the very talented Larini and we confirmed him as a test driver".
What will Ferrari look like in 1993?
"Miracles cannot be expected. For me, it could still be a year of transition, of growth. However, I am sure that next year's Ferrari will be much better than the current one. We must also take into account the fact that some teams are already late, such as McLaren, and that the technical regulations will change and therefore the cars. Williams are favourites, but I don't exclude surprises".
In the words of the two characters, one could have a positive impression on the future of Ferrari. However, to play devil's advocate, one cannot hide that many shadows still threaten the rebirth of the Maranello team. Postlethwaite has yet to revise and streamline the organization chart. It is not clear what the role of the French aerodynamicist Migeot, excluded from the project of the new car, and other technicians will be. But the biggest fears come from the engine: the 12-cylindre proved to be Ferrari's biggest problem. And since on paper it will be the same people to redesign the engine, all that remains is hope. Meanwhile, on Saturday, November 7, 1992, Nigel Mansell conquered his fourteenth pole position thanks to the time obtained on Friday, as the heat worsened the track conditions and no one was able to improve the performance on the lap. An absolute record: now the Englishman is alone on top of this special ranking, with one pole more than Senna. In the meantime, it looks like Frank Williams is trying to get Patrese back from Benetton. The negotiation will still be long. Just as the affair between McLaren and Renault has yet to end. It appears that the deal could be done. The French company could ask Ligier to pay for a disastrous season with its engines that won the world championship title. And that could be the key to passing them on to the British team. On Sunday, November 8, 1992, at the start of the Australian Grand Prix, Nicola Larini will start from the bottom of the grid. Shortly after the lights came on, a collision between the Olivier Grouillard's Tyrrell and Pierluigi Martini's Dallara eliminated both drivers during the first lap. The order of the first six at the end of the first lap sees Nigel Mansell in the lead, followed by Ayrton Senna, Riccardo Patrese, Gerhard Berger, Michael Schumacher and Jean Alesi.
In the first laps Nigel Mansell does not manage to take off, therefore Ayrton Senna, second, tries to overtake the Williams during lap 8, without succeeding. During the previous lap, Mauricio Gugelmin, for the second consecutive race, is the victim of a spin and is forced to retire. Shortly afterwards, Senna misses a corner and allows Mansell to stay ahead. The order of the first two remains unchanged until lap 18, when the two collide at the Mistral hairpin; Senna attempts to overtake Mansell, but crashes into the rear of the Williams, eliminating both drivers. This allows Riccardo Patrese to take the lead from lap 19 with the remaining Williams, but the Italian is under enormous pressure from Gerhard Berger, who is just a step away from second position. Berger, like Senna, tries to overtake the Williams on the outside of a corner but runs wide. Berger returns to the pits to mount new tyres during lap 35, as well as Michael Schumacher on his Benetton, five laps later; the German re-joins the race 4 seconds behind Berger. Meanwhile, Martin Brundle manages to pass Jean Alesi and takes third place during their respective pit stops. At the end of lap 50, Patrese has a 20-second lead over Berger, but the Renault engine suddenly breaks down. In this way, Gerhard Berger takes the lead and holds it for the remaining 31 laps, capturing the eighth win of his career in front of a fierce Michael Schumacher for less than a second. The order of the top six sees Berger win ahead of Michael Schumacher, Brundle, Alesi, Thierry Boutsen and Stefano Modena in his Jordan.
Jordan thus obtained their only point of the season with Stefano Modena, while Thierry Boutsen, who had won here in 1989, gained the only points of the 1992 season, as well as the last points of his career. Benetton's double podium finish guarantees the Anglo-Italian team points in every race, becoming the first team to score points in every race of a season after Lotus in 1963. But despite this, Benetton finished in third place in the Constructors' World Championship, preceded by McLaren and by World Champion Williams. The 1992 Formula 1 World Championship closes the curtain with the victory of Gerhard Berger's McLaren, future Ferrari driver, who beat Schumacher and Brundle's Benetton on the Adelaide circuit. A beautiful race, uncertain and full of emotions, with an interlude dedicated to the maxi brawl, verbal and remote, but violent, between Mansell and Senna. The two champions, who with the Australian Grand Prix could, for different reasons, abandon the Circus, were the protagonists of one of those episodes that will be remembered for a long time, as well as that of the crash between the Brazilian driver and Alain Prost in Japan in 1990. The incident occurred on lap 19. Mansell was in the lead from the start of the race with his Williams, while Senna was chasing him with his McLaren. The two rivals were about to tackle the hairpin bend that leads to the straight of the pits, when the South American's single-seater was seen to collide incredibly with the Briton's car. Both ended up off the track, clearing the way for Patrese, who could not conquer the second consecutive success because he was betrayed by a failure to the gas pump of his car.
"Mansell braked first".
Yells Ayrton Senna when he arrives in the pits, returning from the track.
"He was always slowing down because his Williams was not balanced. Many times, I have risked to crash into him. I had to move all the time. Then maybe I wasn't ready enough. But it's definitely not my fault. If anything, this was a normal racing incident".
Nigel Mansell is furious.
"Someone hit me behind my back".
He says without pronouncing the name of the rival.
"I crossed the track because otherwise I would have gotten into trouble. I wanted to throw some fists".
The Williams champion then runs to the commissioners to ask for justice.
"They replied that everything was normal. Incredible, I can't believe it. I had the race in my hands, I leave this Formula 1 even more disgusted".
An ending, therefore, always full of poison. But how long will Mansell and Senna be missed in 1993 at the pinnacle of motorsport? Of course, it's almost laughable: Professor Alain Prost, by signing his contract with Williams in advance, managed to eliminate the two main opponents in one blow, although the situation is still uncertain. However, there are some considerations to be made. A couple of positive notes on the future of Formula 1, even if the crisis is concrete and tangible. In the meantime, Schumacher, brilliantly second (the race ended in the final sprint between the German and Berger after an exciting chase of the Benetton driver, helped by fuel consumption issues on the Austrian's car), has definitively confirmed himself as the star of the immediate future.
A driver capable of inspiring, of putting on a show. Finally, Berger's victory. A nice boost of confidence for Ferrari, who chose the 33-year-old driver from Worgl to support Jean Alesi in the attempt of a great relaunch next year. If managed well, the Frenchman and the Austrian, with a competitive car, can really form a nice pair. Alesi finished his race in fourth place but above all he ran an intelligent and regular race, giving a sign of maturity. All of this, with Nicola Larini (P11) on the car with active suspension, after a start in last position due to clutch issues on the formation lap, may suggest the possibility of taking a few steps forward. Anyway, the 1992 World Championship was one of the worst in Ferrari's history. A truly dark period: in 34 races, in fact, the Maranello team has not brought one of its cars to the finish line. The negative record is 37: everyone hopes that it will not be beaten. Riccardo Patrese has achieved his goal. The Paduan finished the 1992 World Championship in second place, ahead of Michael Schumacher, who in turn overtook Ayrton Senna.
"Being on the podium in the championship standings fills me with joy. It's the best result of my career, even if on a sentimental level a driver prefers a victory in the race, compared to a mathematical consolation. But everyone sees things in their own way and I know how to be happy. After all, even though I was forced to retire while I was in the lead for a trivial failure, it went well for me. Imagine if Berger didn't win and if Schumacher had passed me. Now I get some rest and next year we'll have fun".
The Formula 1 World Championship ends as usual in Adelaide, and in the Hall of the Hilton hotel, Senna and Dennis say goodbye with the promise to hear from each other again during the winter, but back in Brazil, Ayrton states:
"If I can't have a competitive car, I can stop for a season waiting to get back to racing with a vehicle that allows me to fight for the win. I'm still young, I can afford it. This year I took huge risks to finish the races in third and fourth place. It's not worth it".
For the first time, Ayrton ends a championship without having a contract for the following year. For the first time it seems that he does not want to race in Formula 1 for a living. And for the first time in his life, he thinks he could enjoy all the benefits of the efforts made, such as enjoying the Rio Carnival from the exclusive stage of Brahma, surrounded by the most beautiful women of Brazilian cinema and television. A short period of relaxation also awaits Gerhard Berger, who is going on vacation to Florida. By the end of the month, he'll be in Maranello.
"I am delighted to have concluded my adventure with McLaren with a first-place finish. I think it's the best way to present myself in shape at the beginning of next season. It was a tough, tactical race that I think I won by changing tyres first. Then I was affected by the consumption of gasoline, otherwise Schumacher would not have been able to approach me. The incident between Mansell and Senna? Unintentional: this track challenges the brakes and I too risked hitting Patrese a couple of times".
Berger will most likely make his Ferrari debut in the last days of the year or the first days of January, when the new car will be ready: for Ferrari, since the return home of the technicians and mechanics, scheduled for tomorrow, a period of hard work will begin immediately. Further tests with narrow tires will be carried out at the Estoril track at the end of November. Jean Alesi states:
"There shouldn't be any big problems with the chassis. Here in Australia the car performed well throughout the race in terms of handling and grip. We have to work hard on the engine: I couldn't make a single pass on the straights, while in the slow part of the track I kept up the pace of the best ones".
Larini, who in Australia almost certainly ended his direct participation in Formula 1, also noticed that his car with active suspensions was competitive in the tight corners; next year he will only be test driver for Ferrari, while he will race in the German touring car championship (DTM) driving the Alfa Romeo 155. The Tuscan driver says:
"We are well on our way to developing this new system, which includes two subsequent updates to the 1993 car. I am happy with the trust that has been given to me: I hope in the future to be considered again for a return to Formula 1, which always remains the dream of a driver".
A dream that many drivers that are present this year may not be able to live anymore. Among the Italians, at the moment, only Patrese already has a signed contract. Alboreto (eliminated by an impact to his Footwork) should move to Scuderia Italia, while De Cesaris could be reconfirmed by Tyrrell. The others are all without cars: Martini, Morbidelli, Modena, Naspetti are looking around. The doubts do not concern their ability behind the wheel but above all the possibility of bringing sponsors to money-thirsty teams. Stefano Modena, who took his first point in three years with the Yamaha engine in Adelaide, comments bitterly:
"Senna is complaining that he can't drive a Williams and is threatening to retire. We are forced to make bad impressions with cars that are poorly made: yet we all want to continue, without throwing tantrums".
And speaking of McLaren, the love story between the British team and Renault is over before it even starts. Patrick Faure, president of the French company's sports division, says that in 1993 the 10-cylindre engines will be supplied to partner Williams and customer Ligier. Among the causes of the rejection was the lack of agreement between Elf (fuel supplier for Renault) and Shell, McLaren sponsor. For this reason, Dennis is in contact with other engine manufacturers to be able to develop an acceptable program. There are always voices about Ford which, however, would give McLaren second-choice engines compared to Benetton. But, with regard to the titled English team, a sensational rumour has also arisen in recent hours, according to which if Dennis fails to put together a valid technical package, McLaren could even stop for a year. With the current situation in Formula 1, anything is possible. As if that were not enough, malicious people suggest that Gerhard Berger wanted to win the Australian Grand Prix to ensure a win, since in the next two years with Ferrari he could remain without victories in Formula 1. A joke that is linked to the examination of the budget of the 1992 season. The main question is soon said: what did the World Championship lack? Why was the interest so low? The crisis of Formula 1 is not only linked to the general economic situation, but it also depends on a loss of identity of motorsport. On the one hand huge costs and on the other the inability to offer a proper show. Sunday's race in Adelaide cannot count, with 100.000 paying spectators and many twists and turns such as the Mansell-Senna clash.