#524 1992 French Grand Prix

2022-12-26 23:00

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#1992, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#524 1992 French Grand Prix

Even Niki Lauda, commenting on the result of the Canadian Grand Prix, rejects the F92A, the car that Ferrari brought to the track this year. Says the


Even Niki Lauda, commenting on the result of the Canadian Grand Prix, rejects the F92A, the car that Ferrari brought to the track this year. The former Austrian champion, an increasingly involved Maranello consultant, says:


"Third place is the consequence of two factors: the commitment of Alesi, who raced perfectly, with caution, and a bit of luck. But our car is not competitive. On the contrary, we have now realised that it has reached the limit, as it is designed now".


A ruthless, but lucid, analysis: it makes it clear that the Maranello team will be forced to quickly design another single-seater. In the seven races so far, the F92A's performance has been disappointing in all respects: road holding, acceleration, top speed. Only in Spain, on the wet track, thanks also to the anti-skid system on the wheels, had Alesi managed to get to the top. But the environmental conditions were too abnormal to make a statement. For the rest, not even the various modifications made gave results, except that, appreciable but not sufficient, of having regained a certain reliability. The aerodynamic retouches tried at Imola and the transverse gearbox showed no progress. There are many inevitable questions that, at this point, impose themselves: how come McLaren, in crisis at the start of the season, managed in a relatively short time to recover almost the entire gap from Williams, while Ferrari made no progress? Why are the cars of Senna and Berger now close behind those of Mansell and Patrese when Alesi and Capelli are now constantly being overtaken by the Benettons and threatened by Lotus? Even Wendlinger's March, in last Sunday's race, attacked Alesi's position. The explanation is quite simple. Ron Dennis's team was forced to speed up. The debut of the new single-seater was planned for around mid-season. But the improvements of the Williams equipped with active suspension forced the British team to debut the car in Brazil, when it was not yet up to speed (the Honda engine lacked the necessary development) and was ahead of the tests of the intelligent suspension system (which Senna was testing at Silverstone just now). In a short time, however, the engineers led by designer Neal Oatley were able to work on a traditional car. The flat bottom of the car, which was bending, was reinforced, minor aerodynamic modifications were made, and the results were immediately visible. But it has to be said that the biggest boost came from the Japanese at Honda, who made a quantum leap in quality to their 12-cylinder engine, at the same time achieving enormous power (around 750 hp) and remarkable elasticity. So much so that Mansell said on Sunday morning, worriedly: 


"A McLaren accelerated in front of my nose. It was the most impressive thing I have seen in my career".


Ferrari, on the contrary, focused on a single-seater with a revolutionary line. And it was a choice that turned out to be disastrous. The data obtained in the wind tunnel promised aerodynamic designer Migeot exceptional results with the double flat bottom. But the chassis and suspension built by Steve Nichols did not match the rest of the car. In addition, the engine showed quite a few shortcomings in terms of power. So much so, in fact, that engineer Lombardi is personally involved in trying to improve it, while directing work on a new power unit. One still wonders what Ferrari will be able to do. The objectives are twofold: to run the F92A with minimum effort (new chassis and suspension will arrive at the end of July, or early August) and to make a different car as soon as possible, perhaps by the end of the season, to prepare for the next one. Certainly not an exciting prospect, but one that is entirely up to date. While the F92A project is being discussed at Maranello, on Saturday 20 June 1992 Jean Alesi is taking his Laurence to the altar (and they will celebrate near Avignon, in a place called Villeneuve). In the basilica of Saint Michel de Frigolet, near Avignon, Ferrari champion Jean Alesi marries Laurence. A princely ceremony: Jean arrives at the church in a Ferrari, the bride in a 1960s Rolls Royce. Numerous relatives of the French driver arrived from Sicily. Some sports champions were also present, from Alain Prost and Patrick Tambay to footballers Lombardo and Mannini. The honeymoon will last very little. From Wednesday, 24 June 1992, in fact, Jean Alesi will already be on the track, at Silverstone, for a series of tests with the Ferrari F92A. Just as he is carrying out these tests, on Friday 26 June 1992 Jean Alesi is the protagonist of a spectacular accident during a practice session at the English circuit of Silverstone.


The French driver leaves the track in his Ferrari after a spin, but fortunately only comes out of the car with a few bruises. Alesi will be able to race in the French Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, 5 July 1992. Meanwhile, once again, within the space of a year, Brazilian Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna mistakes the M-25 motorway for the Silverstone circuit, and is caught by the highway patrol racing at crazy speed in his Porsche. On Saturday, 27 June 1992, the police patrol was forced to chase the Brazilian driver for five kilometres, from Heathrow Airport into the city, before they managed to stop him. The officers ascertained that Senna was travelling at a speed of 193 km/h: not bad for an offence in a country where the speed limit on motorways is just over 112 km/h. The fact is even more sensational considering that Senna is no stranger to shenanigans of this kind. Already last year he was stopped for the same offence by a police patrol, and the news caused a sensation because of the curious scene that followed the driver's arrest. The chase had also lasted a long time in that case, and when the officers had finally managed to stop him, a policeman, getting out of the car in a rage, had hurled himself at the Brazilian, shouting at him: 


"Who do you think you are, Ayrton Senna?"


And all that was left for the champion to do was to reply with a timid: 


"Yes, that's me".


The admission (and the fact of being in front of a great sports personality), however, had not caused the angry policeman the slightest emotion and, taking out his notebook, he had proceeded to fine the madman who allowed himself to disregard the laws of the United Kingdom. According to agency reports, which seem to be a copy of what happened a year ago, another tasty little scene took place. Not even this time did the officer recognise the man behind the wheel. 


"Who does he think he is, Mansell?"


The policeman would have asked. 


"No, I am Senna".


That was the reply, followed by a moment of embarrassment. Then, as a year ago, the procedure was repeated: generalities were ascertained, the licence plate number taken, and finally the fine given. The new fact is that Ayrton Senna could not pay the price for his mad lust for speed on the spot. British justice requires that the person responsible for traffic offences appears in court. And this time Senna is risking a lot: apart from the fact that he is a repeat offender (and for this reason the judge may take more serious measures), the fine for speeding in England is paid by a proportional method: one so much per kilometre over the permitted limit. The trouble, however, certainly does not stop here in England, because in the meantime, in France, drivers are up against drivers, and trucks against single-seaters: the French Grand Prix, the eighth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, is in danger of being played behind closed doors. The protest of the heavy transport workers is creating chaos in the country and could affect the race: 200 trucks are blocking the surroundings of the racetrack, another 150 are on the way. How come? The international scope of the event, the fact that the region is one of those particularly linked to President Mitterrand, and the presence of Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy, mayor of Nevers, the nearest city, are said to have stimulated the protesters. The organisers play down, saying that it will all end very briefly. 


But in the meantime, late in the evening on Thursday 2 July 1992, it was decided to cancel the pre-qualifications planned for Friday morning, and the police began to surround the area and divert the large vehicles onto other roads. The situation is uncertain: some of the teams' vans arrive late because of the roadblocks, and Ferrari itself runs the risk of running out of petrol until Thursday evening because the Agip tanker has been stopped on the road. Those in charge of the race and the security services are very nervous and the tension is palpable. The protest could keep the majority of the 100.000 spectators expected on Sunday away. The problems outside, however, do not seem to have affected the drivers who do not feel sympathetic to the truck drivers, at least in terms of salary. Nigel Mansell is worried, but for quite different reasons. And to unwind he goes golfing. But first the Englishman says: 


"Last year I won here. So it could be a favourable test. But I don't trust it. Everything is at stake in qualifying, because it counts starting at the front, as overtaking is almost impossible even if they have changed the track a bit. I come from two unlucky races, and I don't rule out that the difficult period will continue. But rest assured, from the next race, in a week's time at Silverstone, it will be different. For the rest I am calm: I am discussing a two-year contract renewal with Williams. And that makes it clear that I am not worried about who will be at my side in 1993. The important thing is to finish the season well".


An alternating current Mansell, therefore, capable of repeating the blunders of Montreal, when he went off the track on lap ten to attempt an impossible overtaking on Senna, or to be content with a second place should the Brazilian win. The truth is that the Englishman's lead in the standings is so heavy that it allows him not to make precise plans and to invent on the spot. In any case, Williams will allow him to fight for his sixth win of the season. Few hopes, on the other hand, for Ferrari, who have not changed much on the car and cannot have progressed. There is a lowered front suspension on the reserve car, but it cannot be the weapon of great redemption. Alesi, after the Silverstone accident, has recovered and says that he is in top form. 


"The track suits my characteristics, and I must also admit that the Ferrari is not bad in terms of grip. However, we lack power, and this is a difficult problem to solve. I think Lombardi himself is dealing with this issue".


Ivan Capelli spends the afternoon fine-tuning the seat and cockpit. The Milanese driver knows that as time goes by he has to do something to lift his stock, and that is why he is concentrating on it. In the meantime, Guy Ligier, owner of the team of the same name, issues a cry of alarm: 


"Next year I will close everything down. There is no money to fight on an equal footing with Williams, McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton supported by Renault, Honda, Fiat and Ford. Formula 1 will run with only four teams".


In the siege at Formula 1's Fort Apache on Friday, 3 July 1992, the rioting truck drivers change tactics and decide to let the spectators through, while keeping the roads blocked. Apparently, they want to fill the circuit to prevent those inside from leaving. One hopes that Mitterrand does not decide to send in his redcoats, because the situation could become even more serious. In any case, the problem does not concern pilots and VIPs, who have helicopters for escape. Only the infantry, i.e. the public, mechanics and journalists, will eventually be left in the trap. In the meantime, Nigel Mansell perfectly tames the horses of his Williams, setting the best time. A 1'15"047 lap at an average speed of 203.872 km/h (not a record, but the track has changed slightly, so this is the new limit). The moustachioed Englishman inflicts a 0.5 second gap on team-mate Patrese, 1.8 seconds on Senna and Berger, almost 2 seconds on Schumacher. Always far away are the Ferraris: Alesi eighth at 2.6 seconds, Capelli ninth at 3.1 seconds. Ahead also the Ligier of Comas and the second Benetton of Brundle. 


Apart from Williams' dominance (more pronounced than expected), the highlights of the day concerned a heated controversy between Senna and Mansell and Ferrari's usual torments. While McLaren admits to having made several mistakes and Honda's Japanese take the blame for having tuned the engines wrongly, the Brazilian responds in harsh tones to the Englishman who in recent days had called him a cheat, going back to the incident of the Montreal accident. 


"The photos made it clear that Nigel made a mistake. And mistakes he continues to make. He stirs up controversy and unnecessary accusations, he complains to Ron Dennis, he goes after the stewards. But what does he want? He has the best car, he has the World Championship in his hands. He can only lose it if he keeps making mistakes. In short, it's the same old Nigel, we all know him. I've won three titles, he's left a few on the road. He likes to make movies, so he shouldn't have moved to Florida but to Hollywood".


And Ferrari? Engineer Claudio Lombardi says something like this: 


"It is a pity that we were not able to make proper use of the thrusters, which, as the top speed record shows, were on a par with those of our rivals today".


He had previously expressed an opinion to put the king of obviousness, Monsieur De La Palisse, to shame: 


"Performance depends on the engine, the car and the drivers".


There are two cases: either it was an attempt at humour, or an attack on Alesi and Capelli. We all know that to achieve great speeds (and the Ferrari really did record a top speed of 296.150 km/h) all you have to do is unload the aerodynamics. But if we then look at the acceleration data, we see that after exiting the bend preceding the pit straight, on the finish line, Alesi takes a 10 km/h gap from Patrese's Williams and even 1 km/h from Andrea Chiesa's Fondmetal-Ford. But what matters most to make it clear that the power of the engines is not yet what is desired, are the 2.6-second gap on the lap and the 2 seconds more than last year. Alesi tries to do everything he can, performing spectacular intraverses (which means the car doesn't have much grip), Capelli tries to brush the track to get his best. But this F92A does not offer great margins. Harvey Postlethwaite, Ferrari's technical manager, taking stock of the current and future situation, says: 


"At the end of August there will be an evolved model, with modified aerodynamics, new suspension and transverse gearbox. In the meantime, we are continuing to work on this car and on the project for 1993, based on the regulations that have just been passed, but which have not yet been decided with regard to tyre sizes".


The British engineer hints that if the approved regulations are confirmed (narrower cars, fewer wings, smaller tyres) there could be more advantages for those with good active suspension and smaller engines. This seems to be the identikit of Williams. Unless Ferrari has some rabbit to pull out some surprises. During practice, Gerhard Berger (McLaren) is violently hit by Comas and the Frenchman's Ligier literally flies over the Austrian's car. Fortunately, the drivers are uninjured. At Magny-Cours there are also accidents and spectacular off-track incidents for Alboreto, Modena and Martini.


"We have the situation in hand".


The organisers and the prefect of Nièvre continued to say this on Saturday 4 July 1992. But there is the impression that this is a statement intended not to exacerbate an otherwise uncertain situation. The siege of the truck drivers continues. And the threat not to let anyone leave the circuit is not so vague, if the trade unions and the French authorities do not find a way to settle the dispute that is upsetting France. On Saturday, after several meetings, it is decided to form a column in the evening with the Formula 1 vans and motorhomes (which must reach England by Tuesday, 7 July 1992, for the race at Silverstone). The column will be escorted by the police and various alternative routes are prepared. The union affair is not the only one troubling the motor racing circus. A ruling by the court in Quimper, following a complaint by the powerful Anti-Smoking League, almost brought about the cancellation of the race. The judges ruled that the TF1 network, which broadcasts images of the Formula 1 World Championship in France, would have to pay a fine of 10.000 francs for each image with cigarette brands. A quick calculation (there were 1250 such images in Canada) establishes that TF1 would have had to pay something like 27.000.000 lire in fines. So the managers of the (private) broadcaster announced that they would not broadcast the race. On the contrary, they threaten not even to send the signal for the European system to which all the other networks interested in broadcasting are connected. In this case FOCA, the owner of the television rights, would have prevented the race from taking place. Then, after countless discussions, it was decided to erase the inscriptions on the overalls of the drivers and team personnel. A loophole, but by now the dispute is open: the problem will come up again in all its gravity, as motor sports live mainly on the sponsorship of tobacco manufacturers. In this Formula 1 full of torment, even Nigel Mansell, who on Sunday 5 July 1992 will start for the seventh time since the beginning of the season ahead of everyone else, always has problems. In fact, pole position number 24 of his career, which allows him to hook up with Lauda and Piquet in the special classification of super-fast drivers, is not enough to wrest an optimistic forecast from the moody English driver: 


"The race is always difficult. And then I don't know which one to choose between the two Williams at my disposal".


Although stressed by this Hamletic doubt, Nigel Mansell recorded, with disarming ease, the best time, taking the circuit limit to 1'13"864, lapping at an average speed of 207.137 km/h. Lap after lap, Nigel steadily improved, leaving his team-mate Patrese, who is becoming the eternal second, at about 0.5 seconds, Ayrton Senna at 1.3 seconds, followed at compressed intervals by Berger, Schumacher, Alesi, Brundle and Capelli. So the discourse repeats itself: two Williams, two McLarens, then the Benettons and Ferraris alternating between them. The Maranello team makes small steps forward, both in the positions at the start and in the reduction of the gaps. But these are not consistent improvements. In the race, only luck or some special effect could bring one of the Maranello cars onto the podium. And there is always tension within the team. Engineer Claudio Lombardi insists on blaming the drivers. 


"The engine has improved, the chassis has made some progress, but the drivers still have to try to interpret the car more effectively. The result is below the possibilities of the car".


With the data obtained from telemetry, the engineers can see the mistakes of the driver. But President Montezemolo's special advisor, Niki Lauda, disagrees: 


"This F92A has reached the peak of its development, it would need a new chassis. Not even Senna could drive it to victory. The superiority of the Williams even over the McLaren is impressive".


Called into question, Jean Alesi. author of a spin and then forced to stop on the track because he realised that the rear bodywork was coming off, does not accept the brawl: 


"I don't feel affected by Engineer Lombardi's statements, I always give my all".


The Frenchman makes it clear that after the blow he took at Silverstone last week, when he went off the track at 250 km/h due to a similar mishap, it was not the case to risk anymore. For the race, however, he is very clear: 


"I will push hard. There is talk of rain, but the wet track can give advantages and disadvantages: there is the danger of finishing outside in a moment or of making a great run, if all goes well. Better to race in regular conditions anyway".


Ayrton Senna also makes a merciless analysis of the situation: 


"We are inferior. Williams is on another planet. At the end of practice, I didn't even go on the track: it was windy and you could get hurt unnecessarily. So I stayed in the pits and watched the Williams. The race? If everything is normal, there will be no history. The variations could be the start, the tyre changes or a thunderstorm".


The Brazilian's wisdom did not enlighten a couple of up-and-coming youngsters: in fact, Christian Fittipaldi went off the track in the morning and suffered a fracture of the fifth cervical vertebra. He will have to remain inactive for about two months. So, now Giancarlo Minardi is looking for a driver to replace him: the name of Roberto Moreno is mentioned. Less hard hit for Karl Wendlinger, who crashed into the guards with his March. The Austrian suffered a severe neck contusion, but tests at the hospital ruled out serious complications. He will race on Sunday.


On Sunday, 5 July 1992, the French Grand Prix started on a damp asphalt. At the start, Patrese takes the lead, while at the Adelaide corner a small group forms, occupying the whole track, and Michael Schumacher, also in the heat of overdoing it, rams Ayrton Senna. Amidst braking and cars swerving to avoid the snag, Olivier Grouillard crashes into Andrea Chiesa, who in turn touches Mauricio Gugelmin, while Bertrand Gachot ends up in the middle of everyone: result, four eliminated before completing the first lap. Meanwhile Riccardo Patrese leads ahead of Mansell, Berger, Brundle, Alesi, Häkkinen and Boutsen. On lap 6, Gabriele Tarquini retires with an accelerator problem, while Gerhard Berger retires on lap 10 with a broken engine. Shortly afterwards, with 20 cars still in the race, it starts to rain. The rain increases in intensity and the race is red-flagged after 18 laps. By regulation, the race is stopped and shortened by three laps. During the race stoppage, Ayrton Senna, already in street clothes, joins Michael Schumacher on the grid, pointing out to him his annoying and regrettable accusations regarding his relations with the press and the other drivers, as well as the unfair move at the Adelaide corner; Senna argues with Schumacher, under the worried eyes of Flavio Briatore, Benetton's team principal, reminding him that this is the second time he has been widely criticised by the German driver, after the events that took place in Brazil exactly three months earlier. A brave journalist tries to slip a microphone between the two drivers, promptly pushed away by the irritated Brazilian driver. Amongst the contents of the conversation is Senna's view of the incriminating manoeuvre, since in his opinion Michael Schumacher could easily have waited for the right moment before attempting such a dastardly overtaking manoeuvre, as the whole race was still ahead of him:


"You made a mistake, but maybe it was a technical glitch. I came to ask you for an explanation, but mainly because I want you to understand that this is how we behave between professionals. You accused me in Brazil of braking on purpose so that I wouldn't let you pass, but I wasn't playing, it was the engine that was dying. Let this be a lesson to you".


Senna's is a real style lesson, as he does not fail to point out to the German that unlike him, he has come to talk to him in person, sparing himself complaints in front of the media as Schumacher had done in Brazil. 


When the conversation is over, Ayrton Senna says to Jo Ramirez, McLaren's sports director:


"Well, I caught him before he left, and I hope I scared him a little...".


When it stopped raining the race resumed, with Patrese still in the lead ahead of Mansell, Brundle, Häkkinen and Alesi; the Italian driver tried to resist his teammate but had to let him pass.  At the second start Schumacher, negative protagonist of the day, flies on Modena's Jordan, while Mansell overtakes Patrese. However, the driver from Padova manages to get back in the lead, but then he is forced to leave the first position to his team-mate. In the meantime Jean Alesi battles first with Hakkinen, then overtakes Brundle too and takes third place. A further downpour prompts all the drivers to return to the pits to change their tyres, minus the French Ferrari driver. Alesi juggles in a miracle of balancing acts, until a very long spin, the return to the pits to change tyres (dramatised by the engine being switched off and then back on) and then the final retirement. Except for Alesi's retirement, the rain did not change the leading positions, so Nigel Mansell got his sixth win of the season, preceding Patrese, Brundle (at the first podium in his career), Häkkinen, Comas and Herbert at the finish line. When the drivers arrived at the pits, the team vans were already ready to leave for England, as the race was to be held at Silverstone on Sunday 12 July 1992. The convoy will be escorted by the police, on an alternative route to avoid blockades by protesting French truck drivers. There is no history: this is Nigel Mansell's year. The British Lion also won the French Grand Prix, his sixth win of the season, an abyss of points leads in the World Championship, enough to allow him to stay calm until the end of the season. The Englishman can now think of records. And it must be said that after an abundant five years of disappointments, his roll of honour is becoming impressively richer. This, in fact, was his achievement number 27. He has caught up with the legendary Jackie Stewart in the special ranking of great winners and is now behind Prost (44) and Senna (34). In short, he is already third all-time. Nigel Mansell is certainly a brave, fast driver. But his exploits are slightly tarnished by a shadow of suspicion. After finishing the race, in a press conference, for the first time the very fair-minded Riccardo Patrese, while not making direct accusations, makes it clear that he had to stay behind, due to team orders. 


Now the facts are twofold: probably if the same thing happened at Ferrari, for example, all the journalists would write that an Italian team has the right and the duty to favour an Italian driver. Since, instead, this happens at an English team, the Italian journalists speak of a lack of sportsmanship. But back to the race, which was a bit of a rollercoaster, with an accident at the start, an interruption due to rain, a second start and a final rainstorm that once again threw the cars into crisis. During this minefield, which eventually put 15 of the 26 competitors out of the race, the Williams marched with impressive confidence, never running the slightest risk except for a collision between Mansell and Patrese, who battled it out in the early laps, thrilling the crowd. But the real fight was only behind the first two. And after various vicissitudes Martin Brundle in the Benetton took third place, ahead of Finn Hakkinen in the Lotus, Comas in the Ligier and Herbert in the second Lotus. Three British drivers in the top six, two on the podium. Things of other times. Backward step compared to Canada, instead, for Ferrari. Alesi could even have finished third, but on lap 62 the Frenchman was forced to abandon due to engine failure. Capelli, on the other hand, had already exited the scene on lap 38, due to an electronic problem that caused his engine to fail. However, the performance was not bad and above all there is the doubt that Alesi's enthusiasm ended up causing the trouble. Driving at Villeneuve, in the rain on dry tyres (while everyone else had replaced them), in the mad hope of surprising his adversaries in the event of another weather change, Jean Alesi certainly subjected the engine to excessive stress. And this shows that he is a very fast and courageous driver, but one who still lacks experience and lets himself be carried away too much by his attacking temperament. It's a nice little theatre, the one put on by Mansell and Patrese after the race. The Englishman speaks first, in his usual emphatic way, when things are going well: 


"Fantastic job, I thank the team, it was a tough race, despite appearances. At one point my heart went into my throat when a car spun right in front of my Williams. I thought that all the work I had done could become pointless. Then the sudden obstacle stepped aside, and I passed by a hair's breadth. The world championship? Let's not talk about it yet, we are only halfway there".


The fun comes when Patrese is asked why, after leading in the first part of the Grand Prix until the break, in the second his car no longer seemed competitive: 


"No comment".


The Paduan responds dryly, abandoning for the first time the mask of someone who is wronged without reacting. Not a true and direct criticism towards the Englishman and the team, but a way of making it known that something strange must have happened. And then we learn that Patrick Head, designer and co-owner of Williams, before the second start approached the Paduan and told him: 


"Be patient Riccardo, but you have to let Mansell pass and he has to win".


Frank Williams himself later admitted the indiscretion: 


"It is logical that in such a situation you have to be a team player. Too many times I let myself be fooled by the sporting sense that has always motivated me. Now the championship is not yet won, but we are very close. Patrese will have time to take his revenge".


But Riccardo wanted to take some small satisfaction. When asked if he was happy with second place, he replied: 


"Fantastic job, I am happy for the team, for Mansell, for myself".


A mockery of the Englishman. And Mansell took the hint and finally admitted: 


"I have to thank Riccardo for letting me pass without too much trouble. It would have been stupid to throw each other out".


But he is not prepared to make immediate concessions: on Sunday, the next race will be held at Silverstone, on the track where Nigel considers himself (rightly) unbeatable, and Patrese will have to wait. Ayrton Senna makes no dramas about his sudden elimination on the first lap. The Brazilian appears almost resigned, however calm. Until the race was interrupted, he remained at the scene of the accident, like a disinterested spectator. The not too bright moment of his McLaren evidently offers him the right to avoid suffering too much in such cases. Had he been in contention for the World Championship, certainly his attitude would have been different.


"You all saw. Schumacher smashed into the side of my car on the right, on the inside, where it was not possible to overtake. He bent the suspension, but in any case, I wouldn't have made it back. This is not a happy period, because everything is going badly. In the past few days, the Honda technicians had set the engines wrong. In the morning during the warm-up, on the wet track, the same thing had happened. In addition, the car is always difficult to drive. And there is no hope of recovering in the short term either. If we can get close to Williams, it will certainly not be in the next three or four races. We can only wait for some mistakes by those in front of us. But for now, the bad luck is mainly against us".


Shortly afterwards, however, Ayrton went to the second starting grid, put his hand on Schumacher's shoulder and for five minutes catechized him properly: 


"These things are not done. You accused me of braking in the corners. It seems to me that if anyone is incorrect it is you. You should not have overtaken at that point".


And so on, in a firm voice, occasionally raising his finger in a threatening manner. But the Benetton driver, at the re-start, literally jumped on Stefano Modena's Jordan, breaking the suspension of his car. A few laps later, the blameless Italian driver was also forced to retire because of the accident. When he walked back to the pits, very pale, his eyes glazed over, Schumacher would not comment on what had happened. He is a very fast racer, a sure talent, but like all young people he makes too many mistakes. If the damage were only his, nobody would have anything to say about it. But, driving like that, he also causes enormous risks to the other competitors. Returning to McLaren, he hasn't had much luck. Apart from the collision that put Senna out of the race immediately, Berger was forced to retire before completing lap 11.


"I had problems with the gearbox, but it was the engine that blocked me".


There is still a crisis between Ferrari and its drivers. Right now, it would be better if certain polemics, certain misunderstandings, on both sides, were left aside. But who knows, maybe the Maranello team is like one of those families that, in the event of adversity, instead of putting up a united front chooses the path of continuous quarrelling. Engineer Lombardi could not hide a gesture of annoyance when Alesi, stubbornly ignoring the signs displayed by the pits advising him to go back in to change the tyres, ended up spinning out. The French driver eventually left muttering, dark in the face, as if after his efforts in the race the retirement had been deliberately provoked by his team. During the storm, only poor Ivan Capelli, at the umpteenth retirement, did not lose his cool and uttered a few soothing jokes, even trying to be witty: 


"It wasn't going badly. After the break we had made a small aerodynamic modification that allowed me to make the most of the car's qualities. At a certain point, suddenly, while I was in seventh gear, the engine started to lose steam and I had to slow down to a stop. The only thing I can do now is go to Lourdes to bathe in holy water, in the hope that it will remove the evil eye".


Claudio Lombardi, however, also found some small positive notes this weekend: 


"It was a very bad result, but we also had some decent signs, especially regarding the engines. Before it started raining, our cars were behaving well, and the drivers were making up positions. As for Alesi, we didn't make him stay on the track with slicks on the wet track. We showed him the tyres sign for three laps, which is used to give the driver an indication of the situation at the time. Then it was decided to let him back in with the pit board. Unfortunately, he lost a position and then got stuck".


The Ferrari racing team director does not want to rub it in. But it is clear that Alesi's insistence on staying on the track did not please him, he considered it a kind of pointless insubordination. In fact, with the gap he had, Jean would have done better to act prudently in order to preserve third place and save the car's mechanical organs and, in particular, the engine, already stressed to the max on several occasions. Alesi, however, is not the type that can be tackled head-on. He has an explosive temperament and can react violently in hot weather. And in fact, the French driver leaves the circuit with quick steps, in the rain. The journalists are forced to chase him through a thousand sprays of water to get a statement from him. First, he won't talk, then he says: 


"I am deeply disappointed, very disappointed. The car was going very well when the engine broke down".


It was just another way of passing the buck, after engineer Lombardi had thrown a dig at the drivers last Saturday, saying that they should have known better how to adapt to the car's characteristics, as the engines had improved. 


"Why didn't I stop to change the tyres? For the simple reason that I felt I could lap on the same times as the drivers who had stopped to change them. It seemed like an unnecessary move to me".


Alesi felt he was on the right side, he took risks. But this time he would have done better to listen to the team's advice. After the umpteenth disappointment in the French Grand Prix, President Luca Montezemolo entered the field directly for Ferrari. The dominance of Williams, after all, is forcing all the teams to speed up their preparations for a redemption. These are decisive days, during which important decisions will be taken. Rumour has it that McLaren is looking for designer John Barnard to have a chance of retaining Ayrton Senna, who is very uneasy about the technical situation of his current team. Barnard, by the way, was in Japan last week to cancel a commitment he would have made with Toyota. For Ferrari, too, the time has come to define programmes. Montezemolo (who will be at Silverstone and for the first time will follow the team for all three days of racing) has had six months to look around, to get to know people, to study a plan. The reports from advisor Niki Lauda will carry weight, but it will also be necessary to move within the framework of concrete possibilities. There could be two directions to take: a short-term one (to be more competitive in 1993), and a long-term one to be successful from 1994. The first solution would be to reinforce the current technical structures by bringing in designers capable of helping engineer Lombardi and Postlethwaite to make a better car than the current one. As for the drivers, since Alesi has a contract for next year as well, they will try to flank the Frenchman with an experienced racer. A name? One could look at Riccardo Patrese (who should divorce from Williams) or Michele Alboreto. As for the future, everything is possible: one could reopen the difficult discourse with John Barnard (thus also finding Senna), or as far as runners are concerned with Nigel Mansell, should the latter not like living with Alain Prost at Williams. With the world title and a lot of money earned, the Englishman might even decide to accept an offer.


Montezemolo's task is far from easy, also for objective reasons, because one decision could preclude another. Ferrari cannot go on like this. A new revolution would perhaps be too much, but a shuffling of the cards is necessary. On Monday, 6 July 1992, meanwhile, the Formula 1 caravan reached England unscathed. Guided and escorted by discreet police vehicles, the vans carrying the cars embark at Le Havre, averting the danger of being blocked by striking French truck drivers. On Tuesday, 7 July 1992, the Motor Circus reached Silverstone, where the ninth round of the World Championship was to be held on Sunday, 12 July 1992. A race that could deliver if not mathematically, at least virtually the title to Nigel Mansell. With seven wins to his credit out of nine races run, the Williams driver would have to find an opponent capable of winning all the remaining seven Grands Prix to lose. A role that no one at the moment, not even Ayrton Senna, is capable of assuming. This does not mean that everyone has given up: in this sport there are always those who hope to find a miraculous technical solution or a stroke of luck. Like Jean Alesi, who at the end of the French Grand Prix took unnecessary risks and perhaps even threw away a probable third place with the crazy idea of being able to catch Mansell and Patrese by surprise if the rain-soaked track had suddenly dried out. A confirmation of the genius (because of his skillful driving in difficult situations) and intemperance (because of his impulsive character) of the Ferrari driver. However, it must be acknowledged that Jean Alesi was in good faith: he did everything he could to seek an impossible victory. And the first disappointment was himself. When he left the circuit together with his wife Lulu, he cried hot tears, like a child.


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