On Monday 13 April 1992, behind closed doors, Ferrari began the series of tests in view of the forthcoming Spanish and San Marino Grands Prix, at the Imola racetrack. Different solutions were tested on three F92As on two types of new engines, on the chassis and on the tyres. Practice continues without problems until 6:15 p.m. when Alesi crashes, at the Acque Minerali, damaging the nose and the suspension of the front left wheel. Alesi sets an excellent time of 1'24"26, lower than the official race time set in the 1991 San Marino Grand Prix. No consequences for the driver. The program includes tests on Tuesday, Wednesday and perhaps Thursday, in case bad weather hinders the tests. On the second day of tests, some solutions were tested, which, on the part of the technicians, should be kept confidential. Alesi stops, out of petrol, along the route just as he puts his energy into setting a good time. Thursday, 15 April 1992, the last day of testing for Ferrari takes place at the Imola racetrack. Alesi, Capelli and Larini carry on with the experimentation work on the new engine. The Frenchman positively supports the simulation of a Grand Prix: 61 laps in an hour and a half. The F92A responded well, finishing with the best time in 1'25"526. Alesi ran out of fuel at Rivazza but, apart from this, the only drawback was a collision with a curb on lap 54. It was the first time that the new engine holds up for an entire Grand Prix. In the morning, Capelli completes 22 laps and Larini 29 laps. Shortly before leaving the racetrack, Alesi spoke to journalists and said it was very important to have completed the simulation of a Grand Prix with the new engine.
"I got the best results from the engine, while I encountered some difficulties with the chassis. In any case, the car has reached an acceptable standard in terms of driveability”.
In the late afternoon, the president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo, pays a brief visit to the garage, following some laps of Capelli and Larini.
"I came to understand the situation and to review the racetrack after so many years of absence. I have nothing to say about the cars".
Ferrari's sporting director, Sante Ghedini, confirmed that the next tests (Wednesday 22-Friday 24 April 1992) will also take place behind closed doors. Meanwhile, during his visit to the Auto Show, the lawyer Gianni Agnelli also speaks briefly about Ferrari. To a precise question about the allegations reported in recent days by some newspapers, according to which the Maranello team could have also interrupted or abandoned the sporting activity, the Fiat president replied:
"Between winning and leaving there is a middle ground".
The sentence immediately unleashes a jumble of assumptions, between the extreme negative and the positive, in consideration of the fact, above all, that in a certain sense Agnelli does not deny the hypothesis of withdrawal. In any case, the middle ground, according to Agnelli, is to continue working to try to regain competitiveness. And it is precisely with this aim in mind that from Wednesday, 22 April 1992, until Friday, 24 April 1992, Ferrari will take to the track at Imola, with two cars driven by Alesi and Capelli, for some tests regarding the modifications made to the F92A. Important tests, because it will also be possible to make comparisons with the times of Williams and McLaren (with the new MP4/7), present, together with the other main teams. Ferrari, Williams, McLaren, Scuderia Italia, Jordan and Minardi are present on the first day of testing on the Imola circuit. The Faenza team presents its new car, the M192, equipped with a 12-cylinder Lamborghini engine. The first day also reserves some unexpected troubles, even if these tests are used to test new solutions and therefore are at risk: Patrese concludes his work around 3:30 p.m. due to Williams engine failure. Another problem occurs to Gerhard Berger with the McLaren MP4-7, which will also be driven by Senna on Thursday. The Austrian is forced to stop at Tosa due to a flame in the engine. No damage to the driver. Fair results for Ferrari which carries out different programs with Capelli and Alesi.
The Milanese simulates a race, interrupting it twice: first to close the track due to Patrese breaking, then to replace the fire extinguisher. Quite a satisfactory outcome. Alesi, author of 48 laps, sets the best time in 1'23"964. The following day, Patrese's Williams flies. The Italian driver is the fastest, lapping on race tires in 1'22"908 (at an average of 218.844 km/h), just one second off the track record achieved last year by Ayrton Senna with the McLaren equipped with Even Ferrari (which concludes its tests) makes progress: Alesi drops to 1'23"405, while Capelli remains at 1'24"694. During the morning, councillor Niki Lauda also arrives after a meeting with Montezemolo, Lombardi and Postlethwaite The Austrian manager says:
“The drivers are doing their duty, for now the problem is always the new F92A. As long as Williams continues at this pace, it will be difficult to approach her. The new Ferrari organisation works because everyone takes responsibility, but it will take months to get results".
Troubles continue to torment McLaren who complete a few laps and leave Ayrton Senna at the hotel: his car is not ready. In Rome, meanwhile, in Palazzo Madama, Gianni Agnelli, meeting the new Senator Luciano Benetton, makes another joke:
"It is not possible that Benetton is better than us in Formula 1. It would be as if we made better shirts than yours".
On Friday 24 April 1992 Riccardo Patrese holds the best time (1'22"908) of the tests carried out in these days at the Imola circuit. The Paduan laps with Williams in 1'23" 052. Lehto sets a time of 1'24"605. Ayrton Senna appears very disappointed as he does not go beyond the limit of 1'25"783 with the new McLaren Mp4-7. The Brazilian says that the car is lacking in aerodynamics, mechanics and engine, that is in all sectors.
"We have to work a lot, but I think this will be our worst year".
Ferrari and McLaren will be at Imola on Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 April 1992. In the meantime, the Andrea Moda team announces that it has hired the driver Perry McCarthy. The Englishman had already been rejected by FISA because he did not have the superlicense which now appears to have been granted. On Monday 27 April 1992, at Imola, Ayrton Senna simulates a Grand Prix: having started at 3:15 p.m., the Brazilian driver laps at an average of 1'28"129. About halfway through the race, the Brazilian is forced to return to the pits to a problem with the brakes, which later forced him to make two more stops.Later Alesi arrives, who gets on an F92A, the fifth in the series, equipped with a transverse gearbox.The adoption of this system, according to what the team men explain of Maranello, involves a different weight distribution and some modifications to the rear suspension, to the slide at the wing and also to the bodywork. The innovations had been tested at Fiorano. Alesi takes to the track at 5:43 p.m. but does very few laps. The interruptions, due to a gear that does not engage, do not allow continuity to the driver's action. The Frenchman will continue testing on Tuesday, while for McLaren the work is to be considered concluded. Tuesday, 28 April 1992, Jean Alesi takes care of testing one of the three cars that will be involved on Sunday, 3 May 1992, in Barcelona. A special qualifying engine is tested with good results. Alesi (who sets the best time in 1'25"22) says that the car is now better balanced, with shock absorbers that allow for good adjustment. Qualifying will be done with that engine, while for the race we will see which engine to use. Is there room for women in Formula 1? The answer seems to be affirmative. Giovanna Amati in fact risks losing her place at Brabham. Someone says that as early as Friday, at the start of practice for the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, the Roman girl could be left standing. In any case, exclusion would be certain, it's only a matter of time. Giovanna is quite calm, and on the eve of the Spanish Grand Prix she takes stock of the situation:
"For the moment I only know that Brabham have fired my teammate Erik Van De Poele. The reason? Ask them. There has been talk of hiring Damon Hill, Graham's son, who is currently involved in Formula 3000. It may be that he will have to replace Van de Poele himself. It wouldn't fit in my car, the cockpit is too narrow. And then no one warned me that I could not run. I was only told that in Barcelona I will not have an engineer available. The one following me is gone. I'll have to do everything by myself. But I'm used to it".
Of course, it's no mystery, Brabham's situation is dire. A team with a prestigious name that has passed through many hands in recent years. Among a thousand difficulties, obviously economic. The people who work there try their best, but without means everything becomes more difficult.
"It is clear that if there had been results, everything would have been easier. My sponsors would have been satisfied and in all likelihood we would have found others. So instead it becomes hard to find who supports you. And after all, in such a situation I will not mind abandoning. For the moment. Because I have no intention of passively giving up. I like Formula 1. The experience, despite everything, has been positive. I will look for another team, which will give me the opportunity to express myself to the fullest of my possibilities. I am convinced that I can be at least in the middle of the group".
Two months with the champions of the steering wheel. Let's take stock.
"Honestly, I haven't had the time to familiarise myself with people. Some drivers were nice, others ignored me, someone criticised me. But that leaves me indifferent. That's not what matters. I was under such pressure that there was not even time to breathe. Circuits never seen before, a car that was a wreck engines that broke on the first lap. I am convinced that not even Ayrton Senna could have done much more in this situation. What hurt me was the behaviour of a certain segment of the mass media. After the initial interest and curiosity, they started laughing at me or not considering me. So the audience didn't know anything about what I had to face, about my problems. Many are convinced that I am a total bluff as a driver, that I arrived in Formula 1 only because I am an enterprising girl or because I paid to race".
So will the separation be less painful?
"As I have already said, I am convinced that I am present in Barcelona. As usual I won't be able to qualify, but that's another story. We will see. After all, if they leave me at home in the next races, they'll do me a favour. I would not have had the courage to make the decision to leave, because passion is greater than all problems. So I will be able to work well to look for a different accommodation. And that's not to say you won't see me on the track soon. I hope, when the time comes, that I don't have to say farewell, but goodbye. In any case, when Brabham wants to put someone else in my place, it will only do so in a desperate attempt to find fresh money to get by. It is the harsh law of this sport and it applies to almost everyone. But whoever arrives to replace me will certainly not make a better impression".
Arrived in Barcelona, Nigel Mansell walks in the middle of the runway. And every once in a while, he rolls his eyes. As if he was waiting for a divine message. After all, it has already happened to his rival Ayrton Senna. Nigel Mansell inspects, on foot, the circuit which from Friday 1 May 1992 will host practice sessions for the Spanish Grand Prix, the fourth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, scheduled for Sunday, 3 May 1992. The English driver appears happy, calm but also concentrated.
"This will be a difficult race. After three pole positions and three consecutive victories, everyone expects me to make some missteps. Normal, right? Instead, this is precisely where they are wrong: I want another first place, to make the break, the detachment from whoever is chasing me. It could be the decisive period of the season, even if the championship is long and anything could happen".
Last year this circuit offered one of the most spectacular images of the season: a wheel-to-wheel duel between the cars of Mansell and Senna, with the Williams holding on at the end of the straight to stay in the lead. Is it a memory that will have any influence?
"No. A driver must be cold and decisive, forget everything immediately. And then it seems to me that the current situation is different, even if McLaren and Senna are always formidable. At the moment, in theory, I should only be afraid of my teammate Patrese. But I'll do everything to win the fourth race since the beginning of the season".
For him, a thirty-nine-year-old driver who wanted to leave racing two years ago, it is truly a magical moment. And to think that, after Mansell's transfer from the Isle of Man to Florida, some wit, considering him an eternal second, had nicknamed him Miami-vice-champion. Whose credit is it, Mansell or Williams-Renault?
"We all did a lot, worked hard. But, as far as I'm concerned, while I'm ready to sign a five-year contract with this team, I have above all to thank my wife Rosanne. It is thanks to her that I have reached this point. If she now told me to leave her, I would do it right away".
However, Williams is making the maximum effort to take full advantage of its current superiority: in Catalonia it brings four cars. Each of the two drivers will have one available with a new Renault engine (more powerful, of course) for qualifying and one for practice and the race with the already tested engine. And Patrese half-jokingly says:
"This time I’ll win".
And here is the fresh news of the day. Ferrari: the use of a more powerful qualifying engine with new Agip petrol has been confirmed. On the cars, only trim modifications and different adjustments. Claudio Lombardi expects some satisfaction after the amount of work done. Jean Alesi seems to be quite optimistic, Ivan Capelli doesn't comment, he only says that he spends the nights behind the America's Cup sailing. Brabham: for a debt of 60 million dollars the cars had been seized in France. One remained hostage, two should be led by Van De Poele and Damon Hill, who chose the worst way to debut at 31 years old. Giovanna Amati preferred to let herself be stranded. Andrea Moda: runs with two cars, confirmed Moreno, hired Perry Carthy, Irishman born in London, 29 years old. Finally, Alain Prost: for the first time since his dismissal by Ferrari he will return to Formula 1. He should arrive on Thursday and perhaps he will comment for the French television Tf1. Maybe it's due to the fact that he has to sign a contract, maybe there's a money problem. A leopard can’t change his spots. For the first time in many years, the majority of the drivers taking part in the Spanish Grand Prix are rooting for the rain. Officially, everyone says that a dry track is always better. But on this occasion (apart from Nigel Mansell), not a few are hoping for a tailspin from the storm that renders the second day of qualifying useless on Saturday. With water the values flatten out and a surprise could even come out. Ayrton Senna, for example, doesn't hide that he would like water. The Brazilian thus hopes to be able to use a little of his talent as a tightrope walker on slippery asphalt to win and undermine Nigel Mansell's morale a bit. In any case, the Spanish Grand Prix offers a rather unique line-up at the start. Next to the usual Mansell (fourth consecutive pole position, the number 21 of his career) Michael Schumacher slips in with the new and very fast Benetton. The German precedes Senna, recovering slightly, Patrese, always in the grip of small problems, and the first of the Ferraris, that of Ivan Capelli. The Italian conquers, with the fifth fastest time, the best placing since he has been in Maranello. Jean Alesi is in P8 (also because he was slowed down by a defective tire and an oil leak), behind Brundle and Berger. The result of Friday's tests sounds at least strange, difficult to interpret. Mansell, with a time of 1'20"190, remains far from the circuit record (Berger 1'18"751 last year), while the other drivers achieve times closer than they had recorded in previous races: slightly more by a second Schumacher and Senna, 2.2 seconds Capelli for Ferrari.
But this absolutely does not mean that Williams has been caught up: perhaps only circumstances have prevented the usual heavy gaps from occurring. The fact remains that for the moment the rivals are a little less distant and the rain could do the rest. Of course, everyone is waiting to see what will happen at the green light between Mansell and Schumacher. The aggressive Michael on Friday destroyed a Benetton against a low wall and in the second practice session he performed another pair of spins with a thrilling final touch. While waiting to know the outcome of this fourth round of the World Championship, Formula 1 records two illustrious comebacks. Pastoral visit from Luca Montezemolo, president of Ferrari (he hadn't been in the pits for four years and was on his first outing as Maranello's big boss) and the arrival of Alain Prost who hadn't been seen since his dismissal. The two meet and shake hands. The Frenchman, who will comment on the match for Tf1, in a journalistic version, is being funny:
"Ferrari? Is it still there?"
Then he says:
"My story with Maranello is still long to define, it will take years. I'm getting ready to get back on track and drive, but I'll only do it if I have a car to aim for the title".
Montezemolo, accompanied by Giovannino Agnelli, son of Umberto, instead attends the show of Jean Alesi who, under the downpour, sets the best time of the day both in free practice and in timed ones. The president then congratulated Jean and Capelli for fifth place in the grid.
"We started from scratch, rebuilding the team, and we're not done yet. The recipe for winning requires the ability to work well, luck and that others don't push too far. We must have faith because it will still take some time".
There's a tidal wave in Formula 1: while Montezemolo meets the top sporting authorities (Balestre, Ecclestone, Mosley) to talk about the future, FISA announces some regulatory changes that will be adopted by the next British Grand Prix, above all to have more balance and therefore more show at the races. They would like to reduce the electronic devices that cause excessive differences between small and large teams and plan to introduce the Safety car as in Formula Indy, a car that freezes positions in the event of an accident. But on this point opinions are divided and it will not be easy to reach an agreement: Williams suspects that it is a ploy to take away its supremacy. After the 1990 experiment at Le Castellet, meanwhile, the anti-doping test is back: Mansell, Alesi, Morbidelli and Schumacher are forced to undergo the checks required by the regulation on Friday. The pre-qualifying session on Friday morning was similar to the previous one in Brazil. The Andrea Moda cars lagged far behind the performance of the other session participants, who all pre-qualified easily. Perry McCarthy obtained the Superlicense and was able to take part in the tests for the team, together with Roberto Moreno. Team boss Andrea Sassetti had been contacted by Enrico Bertaggia, whom Sassetti had fired after the Mexican Grand Prix, but who now wanted to return to the team by bringing $1 million in sponsorship. Sassetti wanted to fire McCarthy and rehire Bertaggia, but was told that the team had already reached its maximum number of driver changes for the season, so he was forced to keep McCarthy. In the session itself, Bertrand Gachot was again fastest for Larrousse, less than a tenth of a second behind Michele Alboreto on the Footwork. Third was Gachot's teammate, Ukyo Katayama, 1.4 seconds ahead of the last pre-qualifier, Andrea Chiesa with the Fondmetal. McCarthy took to the track in the Andrea Moda, but his engine stalled just four metres after the pit lane exit line. Moreno managed three laps in his car before it too suffered an engine failure. McCarthy's car was brought back for Moreno to use, but the Brazilian failed to qualify.
On Sunday 3 May 1992, at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, in damp conditions, Riccardo Patrese overtook Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna. Ferrari driver Jean Alesi made a good start, moving from eighth on the grid to third in the first corner of the opening lap, forcing the other drivers to take defensive measures and drop back. Senna drops from third position to seventh, but during the first lap he recovers two positions up to fifth. The order of the classification sees Nigel Mansell, Riccardo Patrese, Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and Capelli. Andrea de Cesaris was the first to retire on lap 3 due to an engine problem on his Tyrrell. The Italian driver returns to the pits. Meanwhile, Martin Brundle spins on the main straight and retires with a clutch problem on lap 5. During lap 7, Michael Schumacher attacks and passes Jean Alesi. Gerhard Berger tries to do the same, but pushes Jean Alesi to make a mistake and spin: the Frenchman slips behind Ayrton Senna and Ivan Capelli. At this point the rain intensified and Patrese was the victim of a spin on lap 20, while he tried to pass a lapped driver. Nigel Mansell thus precedes Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger, Ivan Capelli and Jean Alesi. During lap 25 Maurício Gugelmin spun against the pit wall. Halfway through the race, and exactly on lap 34, Jean Alesi made a pit stop and put on fresh tires, after which he began to climb back up as the rain intensified, even though he came into contact with Gerhard Berger in the McLaren and Mika Häkkinen in the Lotus, forcing the Finn to go off the track as he tried to pass him. The Lotus driver retired on lap 56 due to a spin. Berger moved into fourth position and began to rapidly approach Senna and Schumacher. With two laps to go, Senna spun and went into a wall while trying to overtake Pierluigi Martini, even though he was still classified in P9; the Brazilian had already been the victim of a spin and had recovered a few laps earlier. At the same time, Ivan Capelli is also the victim of a spin (the Italian will still be classified in P10). Meanwhile, in the supporting positions, Alboreto, thanks also to the retirements of those who preceded him, leads a long comeback that takes him up to seventh place, followed by Tarquini on Fondmetal. The latter was in battle with J.J. Lehto and Pierluigi Martini and, in an attempt to get the better of them, he ended up off the track due to aquaplaning.
Nigel Mansell continues regularly to the finish line and wins the Spanish Grand Prix, ahead of Michael Schumacher, Jean Alesi, Gerhard Berger, Michele Alboreto and Pierluigi Martini, but for the first time this season his Williams team does not get a 1-2 at the finish. Rain or wind, the Formula 1 convent passes the usual victory of Nigel Mansell and Williams-Renault as the first course. In the very wet Catalunya circuit, the Englishman conquered his fourth consecutive success, consolidating his position as leader of the World Championship. But this time the rain (a few drops at the start of the race, almost a deluge at the end) changed - fortunately - the rest of the menu, offering a sensational Jean Alesi: the French driver took Ferrari to the podium, in third place (Capelli was forced to retire due to going off the track while he was sixth), behind another protagonist, Michael Schumacher. The German took another step forward, placing himself in second position with the new Benetton. If Mansell, therefore, confirmed his magical moment, which coincided with an imprudent spin (and consequent withdrawal due to hitting a protective wall) by his teammate Riccardo Patrese, the only one who could give him any trouble ranked; if this Schumacher (22 years old) has definitely made it clear that he is the emerging talent of Formula 1; if Ayrton Senna, the king of the rain, went off the track with his McLaren three laps from the end to resist the attack that Alesi was bringing him, the hero of the day was the Ferrari driver. A courageous, impetuous Alesi with quick reflexes and - it must be said - even reckless on occasion. Certainly people, Ferrari fans who don't forget the audacity of Gilles Villeneuve, like a driver like this more, a generous heart, rather than a concrete driver. Alesi has also been able to exploit the qualities of a Ferrari which is not yet competitive under normal conditions, but which has at least been able to defend itself with honour in the wet. And it was clearly seen in the first laps, until the track flooded: Jean took off like lightning at the start, taking advantage of the indecisions of Senna and Schumacher, moving from eighth to third place, while Patrese jumped from fourth to second. But inexorably, on the straights, the car #27 was sucked back, overtaken first by Schumacher, then by Senna. And, to oppose Berger's overtaking, Alesi has started his own show. A wheel-to-wheel contact, a spin, two lost positions. Then he did about twenty laps at a slow pace because the Ferrari had flattened rear tyres.
So a courageous decision: return to the pits, change of tires (7.98 seconds for the stop) and restart for a reckless chase that spiced up the race. With the rain increasing in intensity, the Frenchman achieved an unthinkable recovery, despite a second spin in overtaking the lapped Hakkinen. At this juncture, among other things, Alesi also touched the Lotus, slightly bending the front right suspension arm. And with his wheel being a bit crooked, he made up about forty seconds on Berger, coming to press Ayrton Senna, who ended up going off the track. So hurricane Alesi and the rain enlivened a Spanish Grand Prix that probably would have had no history. Including Senna and Capelli, classified despite going off the track in the final stages, twelve cars were eliminated by spinning and skidding, plus De Cesaris's Tyrrell, stopped due to engine failure after the Roman had slipped in a meadow and had taken a stone in a radiator. There was some excitement when Schumacher got within about five seconds of Mansell (leading from start to finish), but as soon as the Englishman realised the danger and pushed on the accelerator, all hostilities ceased. Behind in the peloton, amidst a thousand clouds of water, the performance of Michele Alboreto, fifth with the Footwork after sixth place in Brazil, and Pierluigi Martini, who led the Dallara Ferrari of Bms Scuderia Italia to earn the first point of the season. Better luck also deserved Gabriele Tarquini with the Fondmetal, given that the Abruzzo driver climbed up to seventh place, before slipping on the water in an embankment.
"When I realised that I could get into the points, I got excited and I never saw anything again".
In reality, it was difficult for everyone to bring the race to the end, considering that even Senna, the wizard of the wet, ended his race against a wall after a desperate and useless counter-steer. The San Marino Grand Prix will take place in Imola in two weeks. Make no mistake: Williams is unassailable and the rain may not be willing to shuffle the cards again to spice up the show.
"I'm happy for myself and for the team".
Says Jean Alesi, immediately after the conclusion of the Grand Prix.
"But above all, I think this result is a good incentive for the future and for the fans who await us at Imola. It would have been sad to arrive empty handed. I hope they have understood that we are all doing everything possible to recover and perhaps even more".
The return to the podium was not particularly celebrated. Ferrari are well aware that third place came thanks to the commitment of the French driver and the difficult environmental conditions. In a normal situation it would have been unlikely to achieve the same goal. Moreover, at the end of the race, Ferrari were worried: there was a rumour that the stewards were examining the film of the start and that Alesi ran the risk of being penalised for an early start. In reality, only one complaint had been made against Footwork of Alboreto, guilty of having changed the tires after the five minutes required by the regulation before the start (fine of 5.000 dollars).
"I've been shooting regularly, and had the advantage of being under a catwalk that crosses the track. The rear tires of my car were on dry asphalt and so I was able to push hard when I saw that the others were starting slowly. Later Berger pushed me off the track, but I don't blame the Austrian, the visibility was bad. And I had to change the tires. On lap 41 I collided with Hakkinen's Lotus: maybe even the Finn didn't realise that I was coming much faster than him. In the accident I spun and slightly bent the right front suspension. But the car continued to go well and I was able to achieve my goal of catching Berger, while Senna went off the track while I was preparing to overtake him".
There is also a little technical secret in Jean Alesi's fantastic race: Ferrari performed so efficiently in the wet because it has an advanced anti-spin system. It is a completely electronic device developed with Magneti Marelli.
How does it work? Some sensors monitor the speed of the wheel revolutions. When there are differences between the front and rear, or between right and left, the computer immediately removes power from the engine by reducing the flow of petrol. And this is definitely an advantage, as seen, when someone takes risks on the slippery track. However, the device did not save Ivan Capelli. The Milanese driver ran into a puddle that caused him to lose control of his car. A real pity for Capelli, who had conducted a very regular race up to that moment and who could have finished sixth. From this weekend, Ferrari, in addition to the trophy conquered on the podium by Alesi, also brings many useful data for the development of the modifications already envisaged to the chassis and aerodynamics and a return to reliability which could be the first starting point for an authentic recovery. But they shouldn’t get their hopes up: the journey will still be very long and difficult.
"The credit does not go to Ferrari, but to Jean Alesi".
The recognition, immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix, comes from Claudio Lombardi himself, manager of the Maranello team. And the Iberian newspapers, reporting on the race, speak of a coup by the French driver. Indeed, the third place conquered by the twenty-seven-year-old from Avignon in the fourth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, behind Mansell and Schumacher, has the flavour of a real success. A masterpiece of a race conducted by an authentic protagonist, from start to finish. Jean Alesi explains again:
"Unfortunately, you need a competitive car right at the start of the season to be believed. And this is not the case with the 1992 Ferrari. I feel a little lonely. Before, I had two points of reference: a friend, Nelson Piquet, and a professor, Alain Prost. Two extraordinary characters very different from each other from which there was everything to learn. My hope, having been orphaned, is to be able to grow up, not to lose my aggressiveness, becoming a little wiser. I'm not very young, but so far I've only run 43 races in Formula 1 and that's really not much, even if there are those who have had a quicker and more fortunate start".
But Alesi already knows how to be realistic. He realises that the spectacular third place in Barcelona was partly the result of circumstances and partly his commitment. The French driver invites the fans to Imola on Sunday, 17 May 1992, for the San Marino Grand Prix. But he does not want to create illusions:
"We're still far away, there's a lot to work on".
And that's exactly how things are. The F92A also showed great limits in terms of speed and cornering grip in Spain when the asphalt was dry. And there is no time to make radical changes, barring miracles. So, the driver's commitment should be acknowledged. As President Montezemolo says:
"You have to have faith".
But beating the rivals requires perfect engine, chassis and aerodynamics. Then Alesi will be able to do his part with his teammate Capelli. And, in the meantime, from Wednesday 6 to Friday 8 May 1992, Ferrari - together with the major teams - will work on the track in the FOCA tests scheduled in the Imola circuit. The obvious purpose: to improve your own cars. Mansell, author of an exceptional poker of victories with first place in Spain, is equal to Senna in the ranking of the drivers who obtained the most consecutive victories. The Williams leader will be looking for a fifth victory in the San Marino Grand Prix that could kill interest in the World Championship.
But if all of his rivals (including teammate Riccardo Patrese) show the same determination that Alesi showed in Barcelona, the task will be more difficult for the old English lion. And, at least, the show will be safe. Nigel Mansell, very tired, in a small voice that is barely audible, says the ride has been very tough.
"Only when I saw Schumacher approaching did I realise I had to risk more and push on the accelerator. I succeeded, but what an effort. My Williams wasn't perfect in certain corners and there were enormous dangers in lapping. Anyway, it went well".
But when an American journalist tries to get him to say that at this point the championship is firmly in his hands, the Englishman becomes furious.
"If this question is serious, it is also stupid. Otherwise you are either on drugs or have to go to the psychiatrist".
A bit exaggerated, Mansell, given that in reality with the McLaren and Senna in disarmament, with Patrese off the track and all the others already very far in the standings (he has 22 points ahead of his teammate and 23 over Schumacher) his way to the title seems to be right downhill. But after so many second places perhaps Nigel, out of superstition, doesn't want to talk about the world championship victory until he has mathematically conquered it. It remains to be said that the English driver obtained his 25th victory, catching Clark and Lauda, after having pulled away from Fangio. Now he has only Stewart (27), Senna (33) and Prost (44) ahead. However, the anger of the British lion is matched by the silence of Patrese, who realises that he has lost contact and that for him the situation at Williams will be even more difficult from now on: only in an official written statement from the team the Italian explains that the off-track exit was caused by finding a slower car in a bend. This forced him to slow down with consequent loss of grip and control of the car. More detailed, however, the analysis of Ayrton Senna, who makes no excuses.
"It was my fault, I had already risked too many times and in the end I was no longer able to keep my McLaren. At the start, Alesi ran into me and we touched with the wheels. Luckily nothing serious happened. But he really risked a lot, because it could have ended badly for both of us. But that's not my problem at the moment. And the gap with Mansell in the world rankings doesn't worry me much. The gap we have with Williams is more serious, which has also demonstrated exceptional reliability. On the wet track, the differences were less evident: we improved a little with the new MP4/7, but we're still not competitive. And it will be hard to recover in a short time".
Finally, great happiness for Michael Schumacher, who has already arrived at the step closest to that of victory.
"I thought Mansell was having problems when I approached him. But he immediately responded to my attack. But I won't disarm, I'll try another time".