The competition continues. This year more than ever, in an environment tainted not only by controversies and doubts but also by hatred between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, obvious at this point, the F1 World Championship postponed the solution to the fight for the world title to the last two races of the season. On a purely competitive level, this would be the most beautiful and awaited ending, even though the monotony of the fight between the two McLaren drivers ended up overheating the environment and creating tensions which go beyond the sport. If there had been a third party, the championship would have had an exciting ending. And especially it wouldn’t have allowed some team plays which, essentially, disturbed a lot of races. The Spanish Grand Prix, won by the Brazilian champion thanks to his class and nature, was the perfect example of this unpleasant situation. A race which could have been very promising became a slow competition, not to say manipulated. While Senna, who absolutely had to win, came in first, Gerhard Berger in second place with Ferrari looked less aggressive than usual, almost fearful (at least in the first part of the race, from the start until the thirtieth lap when he necessarily had to slow the pace down due to a dangerous oil leak). This doesn’t mean pointing fingers at the Austrian driver. On a psychological level, how could Berger risk it all after what happened in Estoril a week before with the unbelievable crash between Mansell and Senna? Another crash would have looked premeditated because it would have given the world title to Prost. Berger had already set out his concerns, in an honest way, at the race eve:
"Senna will be my teammate next year. I don’t want to risk taking him out at the first turn".
And in this way, at the start he was quite cautious, he followed the McLaren and waited for the right moment for an overtake which never arrived, also because of the technical problems which then occurred. Prost, for his part, said he brought his taxi to the finish line, in third place. This definition is enough to understand that the French driver believes that he didn’t have a car capable of fighting against his teammate’s. Of course the driver market, which held the stage since the second half of the season and ended with an exchange at the top (Berger in McLaren and Prost in Ferrari for 1990), heavily conditioned the last races. But we don’t have to believe that the championship - overall - has been completely falsified by some events, as some claim. Not even by the crash between Senna and Mansell. Actually, the Brazilian driver was the best and the fastest, but he fell behind in the central part of the championship when, a bit out of bad luck (the damages), and maybe a bit because of his desire to triumph, he hasn’t crossed the finish line for four races. And Prost - who acknowledges Ayrton’s superiority in qualifying - made the most out of it with his experience and his brain, by collecting always the best results possible and not always in a condition of absolute equity (according to his understanding), until gaining the current advantage on track. Now Ferrari joined this heated finale as well, this could tip the scale in favor of the French driver. Not to help him, but for the innate need to win a few races. Maybe a forced coalition, but appreciated, since Alain Prost next year will drive for the team from Maranello. And the verdict that the FIA Court of Appeal will give, on Thursday 5th October 1989 in Paris, on the dispensation placed by the British driver and Ferrari on the procedures used to suspend him in Spain could be influential as well. The possibilities that the judges support Mansell are really minimal, if not null. But if there is a favorable judgement, the race held in Jerez could be ineffective and, in this case, Prost would be World Champion beforehand. This wouldn’t be the perfect solution, however it would be already a progress even if it confirmed the results obtained, this Court at least criticized the action of the FISA which was chaotic, to say the least. Lately, the human side of Formula 1 (controversies, fights, crashes, etcetera) took over the technical one. In this way, some elements that characterized especially the second part of the season, during which some important changes came to the fore, went unnoticed. Before the last two races which will end the season in Suzuka (Japan, Sunday 22nd October 1989) and in Adelaide (Australia, Sunday 5th November 1989) we can review the situation, a sort of prospective analysis, which in some cases can be considered positive, in others negative.
There have been some disappointments (March: the car was too elaborate and the Judd engine was weak; Benetton: the Ford engine was excellent, but the car was too difficult to develop; Williams: a success in Montreal with its new Renault V10 engine but then it declined; Lotus: a total disaster; Scuderia Italiana: at the beginning it was promising but then it took some steps backwards) and some surprises, like Minardi, a medium-sized team, which are making progresses and who collected important results in the last races with an efficient car and with the crucial help of the Pirelli tires, just like the newcomer Onyx. McLaren still got the lion’s share, obtaining ten victories and seven second places. After all, nobody expected the British team to cave in which, among other things, have Honda’s support, which is of first order. The internal crisis, the battle between Prost and Senna, didn’t prevent Ron Dennis’ team and their Japanese partners from keeping moving forward, recovering every time the others were trying to close the technological gap, just like with the adoption of the transversal gearbox which allowed the implementation of cleaner aerodynamic shapes and the reduction of the weight, which was better distributed. And here we can talk about Ferrari. After the unexpected and almost unbelievable victory in Brazil with Mansell, the team from Maranello paid the consequences of the advanced technology adopted for five races in a row, especially the 7-speed semi-automatic gearbox with electronic control which was responsible, occasionally, for the set-up of the new V-12 3500 cc engine. But it’s exactly in this area that Ferrari lately have shown a considerable development reaching goals which seemed to be very distant. First of all, the reduction of the weight: at the beginning of the season the 640 designed by John Barnard was a fat and a bit awkward duck. As time went by it became slimmer, so much so that during one of the last checks of the technical directors it almost got disqualified, resulting just a few kilos over the legal limit, motor oil included. In Fiorano, the team led by the engineer Paolo Massai (with the designers Marchetti, Quattrini and Renzetti and the experimenter Govoni) explored in depth all the possibilities of the engine, which at the beginning of the season was considered the weak spot of the car by Mansell and Berger.
The same choice of the V-12 engine (a V-angle of 65 degrees) was criticized by many, due to its dimension and weight, also in the light of the fact that Honda and Renault chose a 10-cylinder engine, believed to be the best compromise. There have been objections also for the 5 valves for each cylinder (a total of 60), considered difficult to use. Instead - and here lies the cleverness of this project - their position seems to have allowed the optimal filling capacity of the chambers. Starting from the base of an estimated power of 620 HP (compared to Honda’s 640 HP) at the beginning of the championship, the technicians from Maranello seem to have increased considerably these values, working on everything, from the bore to the race, from the crankshaft to the chambers, from the electronics (in collaboration with Magneti Marelli Weber, but also strengthening the area from the inside) to the use of always regulatory but special fuels (role assigned to Agip). Therefore, Ferrari went from having a disadvantage of almost 2 seconds per lap in the very first races to almost reaching a situation of equality, if not of superiority, in the last races while always keeping in mind that, during qualifying, Honda still has advantage (also including Senna’s huge talent) thanks to the unique systems, which would be nice to know. Now - as acknowledged by Berger himself - the situation has changed: Ferrari’s V-12 engine became an additional weapon to fight against McLaren, even though the team from Maranello won’t be able to stand still in order not to risk being passed again. Increasingly high engine speed, but also a wider use (it sounds like a contradiction, but this is the equation that needs to be solved), the use of new materials, studies on fluid dynamics, etcetera. Quite a challenge. On Thursday 5th October 1989 Nigel Mansell’s and Ferrari’s appeal filed for the disqualification from the Spanish Grand Prix will be discussed in the FIA Court of appeal. Mansell and Fiorio will be representing Ferrari along with their lawyer, the Swiss Henry Peter, and the President of the Italian Federation, Fabrizio Serena. Ferrari have little chances of winning the appeal: in case of victory, the team from Maranello won’t request the annulment of the race. Ayrton Senna, who had to carry out the McLaren tests in Imola, instead went back to Brazil to get his sciatic nerve, which was aching after the race in Jerez, treated.
"The Honda engine has some small problems which prevent us from increasing the power. I don’t fear Prost nor Mansell, for the next two races, even though Ferrari now are competitive. As for Prost, it’s been a long time since I lost respect for him. His accusations of favoritisms from Honda and McLaren towards me are ridiculous. Two companies that spend millions of dollars don’t act like this".
Unexpectedly, the FIA Court in Paris postpones all decisions on the appeal filed by Nigel Mansell, due to mistrial (the inability to defend oneself), against the decision of the FIA World Motor Sport Council of suspending him for one race after the events of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Therefore, the sentence, already served by the Ferrari driver in Spain, isn’t final yet. The judges believed they had to wait for the result of another appeal, supported by the driver himself and by Scuderia Ferrari, to the Portuguese National Court. When the result will be known, the FIA Court will gather again on Friday 27th October 1989 to bring this situation to a close. Basically, the FIA didn’t have the courage to distance itself from the FISA and, especially, stalled before judging which could also, at most, influence the result of the Formula 1 World Championship. Obviously if, on Sunday the 22nd October 1989 in Suzuka during the Japanese Grand Prix, the fight for the world title were to be decided in Prost’s favor, everything would become easier. At the same time, the fact that the appeal hasn’t been immediately denied is a small win for Mansell and Ferrari. The postponement is an implicit admission of the fact that not everything has been carried out in accordance with the law. The statement on Mansell’s case is read at 8.20 p.m. by Jacques Sarrut, FIA general manager. During the whole afternoon (the hearing lasts until 1.00 p.m.) the three delegate judges (the Greek Manos Remvikos, who’s President, the Dutch Van Rosemalen and the French Hubert Boquis) discussed the accusations and the defenses. The document which stigmatizes Mansell’s behavior, it’s almost impossible that he didn’t see the black flags, reprimands and threatens Ferrari to be more careful with the management of both the box and the drivers, but at the same time it admits that the legal action deserves to be examined in depth in the interests of the proper administration of justice. The day starts at 9.15 a.m. when Nigel Mansell arrives in Place de la Concorde, where the FIA headquarters are. Wearing a double-breasted pinstripe suit, a blue loden coat, accompanied by his manager Mike Francis and a friend, who’s a consultant, the driver settles in the headquarters of the court, the Salle des Commissiers, on the first floor. In the courtroom there are three judges chosen by the FIA (the regulation establishes that the institution itself has to convene the court attorneys, a minimum of three in a list of fifteen members, but it seems that Balestre himself was the one to draw the names from the deck), Cesare Fiorio and Henry Peter, respectively Ferrari’s sporting director and lawyer, Yvon Leon, FISA’s secretary who acted as public prosecutor, Fabrizio Serena representing CSAI (the Italian federation) and Needham, RAC’s secretary, the latter as official spokespeople for Mansell and the Scuderia Ferrari with the court. With an unusual procedure, during the trial (behind closed doors) are heard the indicted first, that is Mansell, the witnesses and then the prosecution, leaving the final conclusions to the lawyer Peter. Leon abstains.
"I didn’t see the black flag, I swear. I’m a father, I have three children, I don’t understand why I would have kept racing, taking some risks, as in fact it was, knowing I would have been disqualified. This shows my good faith. Furthermore, in the Isle of Man, where I live, I am a policeman in the reserve as well and I have my code of honor".
So the hearing begins, during which the lawyer Henry Peters, professor at the University of Geneva and with a studio in Lugano, supports the driver’s and Ferrari’s thesis. Starting from the assumption that Mansell didn’t see the flag, there wouldn’t be any negligence. This means, there is no case to answer. Moreover, they challenge the procedure with which the FIA World Council had imposed one race of suspension to the driver, using two different criteria to pronounce the sentence and to discuss the filed appeal. Ferrari also make Giacomo Modugno, professor of ophthalmology at the Sapienza University of Rome and collaborator of the sports Medicine center, read a report according to which the visual field at 280 km/h (Mansell’s speed at the time) narrows tremendously. The lawyer Peters also talks about precedents and, at this point, catches the prosecution red-handed, using as an example an event where the Brazilian driver Gugelmin (March) was involved during the race in Phoenix in June: he was shown the black flag and he didn’t stop. The judges say that they didn’t have any report regarding that event and from the pockets of the Swiss lawyer, just like Perry Mason, comes out a copy of the official report wrote on that occasion by the American sport commissioners.
But the panel of judges ignores him. The defense also brings to the record one of Mansell’s precedents, one concerning a fine imposed on him in Detroit in 1984 for causing a collision at the start which involved Piquet and Alboreto as well. At the time the driver was proposed for the conditional suspension of the license. But then, after being heard by the judges of the court of appeal, the suspension was cancelled. The race director of the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Belgian Roland Bruyseraede, and the secretary Leon lash out against the accused. Then, Peter’s conclusions against them follow. And after four hours of debate the judges withdraw for the judgment. The next day the president of FISA, Jean Marie Balestre, makes a statement on the court case relating to Scuderia Ferrari:
“Against Mansell’s suspension, Ferrari simultaneously appealed to both the Portuguese and the International court. But the law wants to complete the trial at national level first, and then on international level. Therefore the other night, the International court couldn’t make any decision because it had to wait for the Portuguese verdict which will be issued on 16th October. Ferrari had judged as late the date of 5th October for the international verdict: actually, it was premature. In conclusion, for Ferrari last night’s lack of a verdict isn’t half a victory but half a defeat”.
Jean Marie Balestre’s furious reaction is not long in coming. Betrayed, disowned by the FIA Court of appeal, who postponed Mansell’s case to the Portuguese sport commissioners decisions on the appeal filed by the British driver and Ferrari for the suspension from the Spanish Grand Prix, the FIA President shouts from Paris against the reprobates, attacking Mansell, the Scuderia Ferrari and the judges, responsible for an overindulgent verdict. But Balestre does even more. In a public statement, released after the FISA World Council meeting (approved by 21 out of the 22 members, with Italy abstaining), he claims, among other things, to have ordered to the official doctors to refuse the start in the next Grand Prix to the drivers whose vision were to be considered insufficient and to proceed with anti-doping tests. This decision will be notified to the commissioners of the next Japanese Grand Prix. Balestre has been thinking for a while about the intention of introducing anti-doping in Formula 1. It has been discussed for many years about drivers who are supposedly taking drugs, using prohibited substances. So far, there is nothing to object. There is no reason why, unlike other sports, there shouldn’t be tests, even though in reality the drivers’ physical performances aren’t that important to affect the result (contrary to what could happen in athletics, for example, any type of drug is useless if the car isn’t competitive). Villeneuve used to drive like a maniac and yet he never drank a beer, Niki Lauda, who’s a three time World Champion, is the complete opposite of the athlete. However, it is possible that some drivers take stimulants in order to be more responsive during the race. But, apart from the fact that not even Balestre can change the regulations abruptly (there is the Concorde Agreement signed by both the constructors and the federation, according to which the decisions have to be made unanimously), assuming that in this case he can invoke the security issue, there is no reason why, in such a short time (drivers will race in Japan on the 22nd October) we can organize an anti-doping system. Which are the prohibited substances? We’re dealing with a plan difficult to implement, also because we can expect a chain reaction. What will the team managers and the drivers do in Japan when faced with such an order? The race could be cancelled and, in this case, Balestre would have destroyed that World Championship which he claims he wants to defend. However, the FIA President doesn’t just talk about doping. After deploring the Court of appeal who, acknowledging the ongoing procedures, should have purely and simply postponed this issue to a further hearing, without publishing confusing preambles which induced interpretations which are false and detrimental for the FIA, Balestre lashed out on Mansell and Ferrari.
"The FISA doesn’t intend to put in question the result of the Spanish Grand Prix under no circumstances. There is no threat conditioning the current World Championship".
Then the director shows a letter written by Ferrari’s lawyer, Henry Peter, sent to the Portuguese Automobile Club to request a postponement of the hearing scheduled for 18th October 1989, since Cesare Fiorio, Mansell and the witness Mike Francis will be in Japan already.
"I received confirmation that the hearing hasn’t been postponed, and I interpreted the lawyer’s move as an attempt to postpone the conclusion of this story as much as possible".
In this way, Balestre wants to punish the British driver and the Italian team for the problems they created by getting them in trouble to take part in the next race. There is no possibility for the Spanish Grand Prix to be repeated, whichever will be the Court of appeal’s decision. Once again, Jean Marie Balestre, in Paris on Tuesday 10th October 1989 during a press conference, explains the decision of the FISA World Council (which has been meeting since Monday) on Mansell’s case. The results of the Spanish Grand Prix held without Mansell, who was disqualified, will not be put in question. Therefore, the Formula 1 World Championship won’t have any unscheduled addition and will end with the Japanese and Australian Grand Prix. Balestre keeps arguing with Ferrari’s lawyers and with the FIA International Court of appeal who, from his point of view, made a mistake which led to interpretations which are detrimental for FISA’s dignity. Jean Marie Balestre doesn’t surprise anymore the world of motor sport, which is used to the sudden decisions of the FIA president. So, the decision of imposing the anti-doping tests on the drivers doesn’t upset the world of Rally. This topic has been discussed for a long time and already in the past there have been some attempts to regulate this important issue.
"We all agree on the need to establish some sort of system to discover the possible use of prohibited substances. But Balestre’s move looks demagogical to us, especially aimed at damaging those who, at this moment, criticize his methods of managing power".
Therefore, the case which involved Mansell and Ferrari is brought up. Balestre’s declarations and his public statement in Paris feel like a revenge, a threat, addressed in such terms to border on defamation. It’s unlikely that the request of medical exams made by Balestre will be carried out in Suzuka. At the FISA there is a file of over 400 pages on the studies carried out on this topic and there wouldn’t be enough time to suitably inform the interested parties on what would be legitimate and what is prohibited. Cesare Fiorio, managing director of the team, answers very calmly from Maranello.
"The public statement, of which the teams have been informed only through the press, speaks for itself. Basically we support the application of the anti-doping testing as well. If anything, we’re discussing about the manners and the timing to come up with the solution. At the beginning of the season, Ferrari had their drivers go to a sports medicine center for a complete checkup. And doctor Bartoletti takes care of their physical condition, their general health, the recovery from fatigue, exactly to avoid any kind of abuse".
Apart from the antidoping announced by Balestre for the Japanese Grand Prix and the eye examination, for Mansell there is also the problem of having to appear in the Portuguese court of appeal on Wednesday 18th October 1989.
"Nigel won’t be able to go to Lisbon, since he will have to be on track in Suzuka on 20th October. The long journey and arriving in Japan at the last moment would compromise his performance, he would risk going on track in a not ideal condition. Moreover, we don’t see how Balestre could bring the decisions of the Portuguese court forward, to which we requested a postponement of the date, without any purpose. We never asked to invalidate the result of the Portuguese Grand Prix or to change the ranking of the Championship either. However, in the next few days our President, Piero Fusaro, will make a decision".
Now Ferrari sport management department doesn’t intend to handle a situation that blew up abnormally.
"We want to focus on racing matters in order to compete to the maximum of our possibilities in the last two races of the World Championship. We must go strong".
And exactly on Wednesday 11th October 1989 in Fiorano, Mansell, who’s busy testing the three cars which will be sent to Suzuka, establishes a fantastic record. The British driver, very excited and not at all disturbed by the court cases, in the morning drives in 1'03"49 and in the afternoon the time lowers to 1'02"60. Considering that the track’s record (which belongs to Berger) was at 1'04"19, we can deduce that the 640 car is still progressing and could worry McLaren in the last two races of the 1989 World Championship. A few days later, on Friday 13th October 1989, from Maranello comes the news that Ferrari give up on every appeal on Mansell’s case. Therefore, the objection against the sport justice authorities won’t follow.
“Even though Ferrari are aware of the validity of their arguments of fact and law, they don’t agree on the proportion of the consequences which are amounting to internationally. What at the beginning was a simple case of sport behavior which was being verified by sport justice, at this point, is turning out to be an almost institutional clash. Ferrari consider it their duty to remove any disruption from Formula 1".
Once this episode concerning Nigel Mansell and his possible disqualification has ended, the other driver involved in this matter, the Brazilian Ayrton Senna, on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix confesses.
“On a human and psychological level I’m alone, I have to play without any alliance. And, after all, I wouldn’t even like to look for help. Our sport is individual, not a team sport. We have the evidence. You try to make a friend, to have a relationship based on respect. And then one day you realize that, actually, you have found an enemy. It’s a pity".
Ayrton Senna, who had to carry out the McLaren tests in Imola on Saturday 4th October 1989, instead went back to Brazil to get his sciatic nerve, which was aching after the race in Jerez, treated. He said:
“The Honda engine has some small problems which prevent us from increasing the power. I don’t fear Prost nor Mansell, for the next two races, even though the Ferrari are now competitive. As for Prost, it’s been a long time since I lost respect for him. His accusations of favoritisms from Honda and McLaren towards me are ridiculous. Two companies that spend millions of dollars don’t act like this".
This is a horribly tense moment for a driver who absolutely has to win, not only here in Suzuka, but also in the next and last race, in Australia. Only by doing so he could steal the World title to Alain Prost, partner and enemy in McLaren-Honda.
"I’m calm because I have nothing to lose. I’ve already done my part. If everything went properly, we wouldn’t be here talking about the challenge and the World title. Unfortunately, what happened has happened, an incredible series of damages and now I have to fight against him".
Senna doesn’t mention Prost, who is a few meters away in the small, prefabricated house where the McLaren office is. The whole team worked hard to put the two rivals on a level of absolute equality, bringing for the first time four cars, two each, so that there wouldn’t be any suspected favoritism. Shipping the fourth car costed 30.000 dollars, but they didn’t care about the expenses to flaunt this image of fairness.
"If everything goes well, I won’t have any problem. He was slower during the whole championship. If anything, Ferrari could get me in trouble. The Italian team have made great progress since mid-season. Now I cannot make any mistake, on any occasion: during free practices, qualifying, during the race. If I leave a gap open they, meaning Mansell and Berger, could open it wide which would lead me to a misfortune. It’s a strange situation especially for my team: we won the Constructors World Championship, the driver’s one will be ours anyway and we’re here, not shaking, but fearing a defeat".
But did Senna make any mistake this year?
"1988 has been way more difficult, because we were both competitive, him and I. And the fight for the title was balanced. But not this time: I was stronger, every time I reached the finish line, I’ve always beaten him. Yet I can lose, in fact it will be very easy to lose. Unbelievable. But I’m calm, I’ve done my job. If you look to the past with hindsight, you know you could have done something better or differently. But you can’t fix it. And I reject the accusations of those who claim that I risked too much in some races, ending up paying with some mechanical failures. You have to be in the car and in the mind of the driver to know, to understand. I don’t regret anything in this regard".
Last year some rain drops gave Senna a race that could have been unfavorable.
“What can I say? I don’t like the rain too much, but it’s clear that it puts those who are incompetent in a difficult position".
Therefore the Brazilian driver is ready to fight in the last challenge, determined to win, but also fatalist. Between the changes there is the substitution of Pierluigi Martini in Minardi. The small man from Romagna still suffers from the rib fracture, which is the reason why Paolo Barilla, a beginner who has an extensive experience in all the categories (he won a 24 hours of Le Mans race) and he knows this track really well, since he raced here in the Japanese races of Formula 3000, will take his place. Barilla is one of the three sons of the Emilian pasta industrialist. He prefers to be a driver rather than an entrepreneur. The employment of the Finn Jyrki Jarvi Lehto, Ferrari test driver, at Onyx also for next year, Michele Alboreto’s transition (already announced) to Arrows and the comeback in Formula 1 of the Belgian driver Gachot, who invested 100.000 dollars to take part in the last two races with Rial, a car which never qualifies, next to the French driver Pierre Raphanel still have to be registered. Bertrand Gachot left Onyx, being fired with the excuse of having criticized his own team. In reality, the team accused him of having attracted the purchase of the team by the sponsor Moneytron, who took advantage of the financial mishaps of the previous owners. This event ended up in court and the judges supported the driver, who received a reimbursement with which he bought another seat. Gachot will drive the German car replacing the Swiss driver Gregor Foitek who had left Eurobrun (where the Argentinian driver Oscar Larrauri arrived) to replace Christian Danner. This year more than ever, the drivers’ dance has been so resounding, joined by many teams. Once, there was a rule in Formula 1 according to which the drivers could be replaced only in case of force majeure. But, for a couple of seasons, this rule has passed over and some teams took this opportunity. With the excuse of underperformance, layoffs and hirings followed one another at an impressive rate. And, apart from a few episodes for which professional assessments and internal quarrels mattered (such as Alboreto’s case, who left Tyrell to go to Lola, after the British team accepted a sponsor which was unwanted by the Milanese driver), it was always about money. Those who have lots of money (on average you have to pay 50.000 dollars for each race) can secure a seat, even though in most cases we’re talking about uncompetitive cars which normally don’t qualify.
Therefore, also during the last two races of the season there will be some changes. Finally, Pirelli threatens to stop supplying tires to the teams Coloni and Eurobrun, to which they have a credit of 150.000 dollars. On Thursday 19th October 1989 it rains in Suzuka, where on Sunday 22nd October 1989 will be held the Japanese Grand Prix, which is defined by the journalists as the crucial race for appointment of the world title. We don’t really understand if these newspapers fell into a Freudian slip or are aware of some mysterious scheming. If Senna wins the Japanese Grand Prix, the World Championship will not be concluded at all: in fact, the Brazilian driver will have to win the last race as well, in Australia, in order to pass the score of his teammate, Alain Prost. In case Prost or Mansell, or any driver who’s not Senna, wins, the World Championship will really finish in Prost’s favor, who will win his third title. In conclusion, the race in Suzuka only has a fifty-fifty chance to be crucial and, therefore, we don’t understand where the Japanese newspaper get such certainty. Either they’re bragging about credit, or they have very good information. Such as those which are circulating in the paddock to inform that the Japanese already made a decision: the World Championship will end in Suzuka and Prost, whom by continuing to complain saying that the Japanese boycotted him and favored Senna, ended up damaging Honda’s image which, even though they denied it, now looks like they sordidly manipulated a sport which everyone thought to be exempt from hidden scheming, will win. According to the recurring rumors, from here the decision of letting Prost win. But, on the other hand, it’s difficult to believe that Honda is willing to give up the number one on the McLaren so easily, since Prost will drive for Ferrari next year. However, the answer provided is truly evil: next year Honda would like to use, for its own advertising, the image of Prost wearing the Ferrari racing suit with a very singular writing:
"This man became World Champion, but thanks to us".
Rumors, and only rumors, that are circulating in the paddock in Suzuka. Instead, he who is truly awaited until late afternoon is Nigel Mansell, who arrives at the last moment. In a hurry, the British driver briefly glances at the shining cars, parked in the garage, pats the mechanics on the back and says:
"I want to go to sleep immediately, I want to recover from the fatigue of the journey and from the difference in time zone. I don’t really want to talk about Mansell case. It’s done, let’s think about the races".
The British driver, who landed in Nagoya at 3.00 p.m. with Cesare Fiorio, prefers to bolt without commenting on Ferrari’s decision of withdrawing the appeals to the courts in Paris and Lisbon and to end the episode which involved him in the Portuguese Grand Prix. It’s clear that, at this point, Mansell just wishes to forget and, especially, make people forget everything, by doing a good race in the place he considers to be Honda’s lion’s den. On Sunday 22nd October 1989 Ayrton Senna will know if his dream of winning the second consecutive world title can still exist; or if he will have to surrender to his hated teammate Prost, who could also quietly lean against the pit wall and see if his rival could win and postpone the final challenge to the Australian Grand Prix. To be honest the French driver doesn’t seem to be willing to leave some space to his rival, not taking his chances to take away the victory, just like he’s done for four times since the beginning of the World Championship. The two contenders fight already on Friday 20th October 1989, during the first round of qualifying, and they will do the same on Saturday morning. McLaren have done every effort to put Senna and Prost on the same level. The mechanics of the British team and Honda were put under strain to work on the four cars available in order to put them exactly on the same level.
It must be stressed that nobody knows what lies under those hoods, which engine has Alain and which Ayrton, which are announced by Honda itself as two different types of set up. However, both of them will be able to fully take their chances, also on the psychological level. Maybe it’s just an impression but it looks like the alliances, provided that it’s possible to help each other during the race, are established already and are a bit unorthodox. Senna was seen talking for a long time with Berger, who will be his teammate next year, while Mansell and Prost show mutual respect. What will happen during the race? We’re just hoping that everything happens correctly. Nigel Mansell makes his official comeback during the first round of qualifying. If Ayrton Senna records the best time and the track’s record, with 1'39"193 and an average of 211.999 km/h, the previous one was Berger’s with Ferrari (1'40"04 in 1987), Mansell slips behind him. The British driver looks calm, after the well-known mishaps, and ready to fight. What’s new on the car that makes it go so fast?
“There is me, obviously. Jokes aside, I really want to race. We’re not far from McLaren and they had the advantage of always testing here during the season and especially last week for three days. I like Japan, but I would like to deal quickly with the formalities. It’ll be a race played on the car’s preparation: tires, fuel consumption, balance. I hope to do well, mistakes aren’t allowed. And, by the way, I want to thank all the fans through the newspapers. I received hundreds, maybe a thousand letters, they moved me, I used them as a stimulus to forget what happened. I start from zero with new excitement".
In the meantime Ayrton Senna doesn’t make any prediction, while Prost (third time) says he can go faster, and Berger acknowledges that his Ferrari looks quite competitive. It’s a subtle and complicated game, any part could be crucial for this race for the world title. Anything can still happen. The only one who remains imperturbable is Jean Marie Balestre, FISA President, confirmed for another four years at the FIA. At this point he doesn’t talk about the World Championship, the anti-doping, the threats of eye examinations anymore. He’s satisfied with his reelection and he doesn’t contradict himself. During the first day of practice he storms in the narrow press room and terrorizes the Japanese organizers:
"If by next June there won’t be a place worthy to be called such, there won’t be a Japanese Grand Prix anymore, at the risk of kicking out all the sponsor as well. I’m telling you that. My strength lies in the law and from the law I draw strength".
These are declarations that seem to have been heard somewhere else already. However, Balestre doesn’t hesitate to let everybody know he made peace with Ferrari. The President issues a statement publishing the letter received by Piero Fusaro, president of Ferrari, and then he adds his response where he confirms this was the second good news he received on the day of his reelection, thanking for the decision of withdrawing the court appeals to let the sport speak. In the chasing group there are many Italian drivers led by Riccardo Patrese, who during the first round of practices gives his best to bring his Williams, which is very unstable, in fifth place. Then Nannini with Benetton and Modena in ninth place, Larini in tenth place, the best placing ever for Osella and especially for the Tuscan driver. Further back in the line-up all the other Italians: Caffi P15, De Cesaris P16, Capelli P17, Barilla P19, Pirro P22. All of them will have to play a waiting game, hoping to cross the finish line and to collect a few important points. What happened during this season, is a strange situation. Alain Prost is leading the championship, while Ayrton Senna is chasing, betrayed by a series of mechanical failures and now forced to win every race in order to make up for a lying ranking. So much so that if the Brazilian driver wins today he still has to wait for the final race in Adelaide, in fifteen days. On Saturday 21st October 1989 there’s no comparison on track: Ayrton Senna is amazing again, uncatchable, the Brazilian inflicts the heaviest gaps of the season to all his rivals; 1.7 seconds to the despised teammate Prost, 2.1 seconds to Berger future friend (or maybe opponent), 2.4 seconds to Mansell, involved in the recent incidents and in the past controversies.
Lap time of 1'38"241, with an average speed of 215 km/h, the new track record. Forty-first pole position, twelfth of the season, numbers that speak for themselves, even though we believe that Honda must have arranged an extraordinary engine for Ayrton. With a hollow and ashen face, Alain Prost admits his inferiority:
"There are no excuses, it’s an uncatchable time".
But then he has a surge of pride:
"I don’t give up. In fact, at this point, since we’re both in the first row, side by side, I don’t even ask for Ferrari’s help. I’ll deal with it on my own. The World Championship for him it’s a matter of life, I have other interests as well. This is a sport, all in all, not a confrontation between gladiators. I will try to win, but I’m not pushing myself beyond".
Probably Prost is remembering, on the other side, the days, the hours that in the past years Niki Lauda had to endure because of him when, at last, after learning everything from the Austrian champion, he defeated him inexorably. And he was paid back in kind by Senna, who arrived in McLaren with his great talent, and in such a short time he learned everything he needed to know from his teacher, the last secrets which made him almost invincible. The Brazilian driver appears to be very calm, looking like an ascetic, like a speed missionary. He talks for an hour and a half, explaining how he prepares his car, how every detail is important, how nothing is left to chance. How important will be the tires pressure, the tire choice, the set-up regulation, the aerodynamic tuning. In conclusion, an obsessive attention which is also the secret to his success.
"I have to win, there’s no other option. But luckily this doesn’t change anything, because I’ve always raced to win. I’m not interested in the second place. Maybe, ideally, it could be even better that the situation were always like this: to be forced to win, the sublimation of the pleasure of being a driver".
Once the qualifying end, the two rivals have dinner in two different restaurants, but go to sleep early in two neighboring rooms, number 2709 and 2710, of the same hotel within the circuit. One eight meters away from the other, as if they were already lined up on the grid. On Sunday 22nd October 1989 the Japanese sky is darkened by grey clouds but which, according to the weather forecasts, are not carrying rain; unlike 1988, it will be a dry race. In the morning, Ron Dennis talks to both of them:
"Guys, fight for the World title, but remember that you drive for McLaren as well".
At the start Alain Prost begins very fast surprising his teammate, who is in pole position. Berger tries to resist but, with his action, he moves on Mansell’s trajectory, who has to give up a position to Patrese, who’s doing really well. Minardi are immediately out: the beginner Barilla due to the clutch failure, and Sala hit by the Japanese driver Nakajima. Alain Prost chose some specific technical solutions for the race: front tires with a lower pressure for better grip in slow turns and lower aerodynamic pressure to be faster than his teammate in the straights. These options allow him to pick up the pace, while Senna is struggling with a hard and slow gearbox. The two McLaren leading then Berger, outdistanced almost immediately, Nannini, Patrese, Mansell and Bousten, all the other drivers are far away. The British Ferrari driver manages to close the gap on the Paduan driver, but this is the only sign of vitality, before the gradual decline, which ended with smoke with 9 laps to go. Prost begins to reduce tenths by tenths, until reaching a gap of 4.8 seconds with eight laps to go. But from this moment, Senna catches his breath, alternating minimal recoveries to infinitesimal losses, in an exciting push and pull. The two drivers continuously swap the records, until the pit stop and the following lapping.
However, the first to pit is Mansell, followed by Nannini and Prost. Senna takes the lead on turn 21 and later hands it over after three laps, when it’s his turn to pit. Basically the gaps remain unvaried, but with the new tires the Brazilian driver begins his attack phase, catching up. Berger is out (lap 34), Mansell is far, the two McLaren drivers don’t spare themselves until when, after overtaking with difficulty some slower drivers, who were unwilling to leave space, at lap 40 Senna has a gap of 0.4 seconds, he’s basically very close to his teammate’s car. The two drivers continue racing with these imperceptible gaps until lap 47 on the 53 scheduled. And the inevitable happens punctually. It’s lap 46: Ayrton exits from the 130R closer than the previous laps. The last chicane before the main straight is the right moment. The cars are racing at the speed of almost 300 km/h, thereafter they have to brake and turn right. Alain is a bit disordered and widens imperceptibly his trajectory. And the McLaren #1 squeezes on the right, extending the braking point, after passing over the yellow lines which delimits the lane that brings to the box. Prost is not believing his eyes and closes his trajectory. But Ayrton goes on the grass rather than stopping. At this point Alain tightens his trajectory even more.
"This time I won’t leave him space".
Prost promised that and he kept his promise. The two McLaren go straight into the escape route (a way opened due to safety reasons) stuck on each other stopping a few meters later. The right suspension of the McLaren #2 is irreparably bended. The French driver makes an annoyed gesture but doesn’t even look angry. Both are out of the race and he’s the World Champion. The French driver doesn’t waste any time, leaves the gear on to make the removal of his car difficult and immediately exits the car. Then he walks away, certain of being the World Champion at this point ("My suspension was bent"). But Senna doesn’t give up and he asks the marshals for help by waving. It’s forbidden, shout the journalists, but Jean Marie Balestre gets angry:
"No, that’s not true, they can do that".
Senna pits to change the damaged spoiler and, when he’s back in the race officially, he’s in second place behind Alessandro Nannini, who had a gap of almost a minute from the leading drivers before the crash between the two McLaren. The leadership of the Italian driver lasts just about five laps, the time it took to be reached and easily overtaken by Senna, who crosses the finish line in first position and now is only 7 points away from Prost. But, in the meantime, the French driver, seeing the teammate being able to restart and close the gap with Nannini, goes to Balestre. Prost, furious, points out that Senna cut the chicane to go back on track and, as a result, he didn’t complete the number of kilometers scheduled for the Grand Prix. A stroke of genius of the French driver. Last year, according to the rules, he lost the title won on points only because of outdated regulations. Now, for that same reason, according to the rules, he asks the FISA the revenge on his rival. In the meantime, Nannini, Patrese, Boutsen, Piquet, Brundle and Warwick cross the finish line, separated, behind Ayrton Senna believing to be placed from the second to seventh position. But the fact that the race director makes everyone wait for the podium ceremony suggests that something unexpected is about to happen. Prost and Senna are convened by the marshals and Balestre to discuss what happened. At 2.55 p.m., twenty minutes after the end of the race, the official statement is issued by the sport commissioners announcing Senna’s disqualification caused by missing the chicane, when going back on track after crashing with Prost, and receiving help of the marshals; these are actions categorically forbidden by the regulation, under articles 56 and 63. In the past they turned a blind eye on similar episodes, but this time the FISA (President Balestre is present on track) is paying attention. Theoretically, Senna should have turned towards the chicane, wait for the ok of a marshal for safety reasons, but instead he took the shortcut. Nannini, who wins for the first time in his career, Patrese and Boutsen are now on the podium. McLaren file an appeal against the disqualification. It should be discussed by the Japanese National Court but, by request of the British Royal Automobile Club (representing McLaren) this episode could end up in the FIA Court. Meanwhile, Ayrton Senna shuts himself away for three hours before speaking again:
"The only thing I’ve done was to put the car in a safe position, as the regulation says. Regarding the accident, I saw enough space to overtake. I behaved as expected. It’s Prost who closed the trajectory. After that I tried to get out of the way as quickly as possible for safety reasons. Anyway, the result of this race is temporary and it doesn’t represent what happened on track. We appealed and we want to fight with all our strength. Now the issue is out of my control. It would have been a fantastic celebration with my fans. I can only say that, regarding that overtake, any other driver wouldn’t have closed on me like that".
Meanwhile, Prost is denied a handshake by Senna and Ron Dennis while the technicians and the mechanics celebrate him as the new World Champion:
“I dedicate this title to my son Nicolas. I didn’t like winning the world title in this way, but I believe I did a beautiful race. He intentionally entered in a way in which he couldn’t pass. I absolutely don’t care about the reasons. I admit that Ayrton has been extremely unlucky this year. But I had my problems too and some differences in our cars’ performance are still inexplicable. I can tell you something I’ve never told anyone: one day Ron Dennis called me and made me understand that the only way I had to not have problems with McLaren to win my third title was to sign with them for two more years. So I had to fight on my own, against the team as well. This success is much less rewarding than the one I obtained in 1986, but maybe I will appreciate it more in the future. Regarding this race, already before the start I was sure that I would have had an easy victory or that we would have crashed. I wasn’t wrong. He thought that I would have given him space, just like I did in other situations. But he was wrong. I don’t think there’s any doubt on whose fault it is. Now I’ll go to Australia to relax and celebrate. But don’t expect me to give up in the last race".
In the post-race, during the usual press conference, a journalist says to Prost:
"Alain, you say that it was a normal trajectory but, from the aerial shooting, it looks like you began to turn too early".
But Alain Prost, after letting a smirk out for the question asked, he replied:
"I’ve won 39 Grand Prix and now, three world titles. Do you think I would do something like that on purpose? I had already begun to turn, maybe a little early if you want, but that was my trajectory".
Shortly after, Ayrton Senna has dinner with his friend and photographer Angelo Orsi to whom he says, interrupted by endless moments of silence, talking about Alain Prost:
"He’s going to pay for this. I’m going to make him pay for this".
Senna won and lost at the same time, Prost is World Champion but doesn’t have the title yet, Nannini won the Japanese Grand Prix without being sure if he will remain first, Honda was defeated by Ford in the home Grand Prix, however it’s not official yet. This is the confusing result of the penultimate race of the Formula 1 World Championship, at the end of which the only certain aspect is Ferrari’s disappointing performance due to Berger’s and Mansell’s withdrawal. A race with a baffling ending, with a beautiful fight between Prost and his bitter enemy Senna first, and then an unbelievable crash between the two McLaren and an exciting victory of the Brazilian driver, who was later disqualified because he intentionally cut a chicane. Among this bedlam, there is an Italian half victory with Alessandro Nannini driving for Benetton, who won by forfeit ahead of the other Italian driver Patrese and the Belgian driver Boutsen. But the whole result is sub-judice. Senna’s disqualification has been approved by the Japanese sport commissioners, but McLaren filed an appeal which blocks the result until the FIA Court judges on it (probably during this week). If the decision will be confirmed, Alain Prost will have his third world title and Nannini his first victory in Formula 1.
Otherwise, we’ll have to wait for the race in Adelaide, on Sunday 5th November 1989, to know who’s going to be the World Champion. Unfortunately for the second time in a month, after some calm years, Formula 1 goes back to court, to stamped paper. The last important similar episodes date back to 1976, when Hunt was disqualified in Jarama because of an irregular spoiler and was then rehabilitated; he was disqualified in Brands Hatch because he used the spare car irregularly. But, maybe, it couldn’t end otherwise: there was such a pressure on Prost and Senna that a different ending, the winning overtake, the nice sporting gesture, were inconceivable. After having argued for a year, Senna and Prost could hardly give up to a bad impression because there’s not only a title in the running, but the personal prestige as well. The French and the Brazilian drivers preferred to fight. And now the judges will take the floor: will the Australian Grand Prix be a platonic race or the reproduction of a head to head battle?
"I’m handsome and available".
Alessandro Nannini says, smiling and paraphrasing the title of a song of his famous rockstar sister. Alessandro Nannini, 30 years old, was a bakery delivery boy in the past (his dad is the owner of a sweets factory) during the race number 62 in Formula 1 he obtained his first victory, after almost obtaining it for at least a couple times. After heavily spraying champagne on the podium with Patrese, who came in second, the Tuscan (from Siena) showed up in the press room for the usual post-race press conference with journalists from all over the world. He dismissed them after two minutes with his macaronic English, then he burst:
“Let’s speak Italian because my brain is burning. It’s clear that I would have preferred winning in a different way. But that’s fine, even though I feel sorry for Senna. For me the race has been very difficult. In the past days we couldn’t find a good set-up for my Benetton. But when I went on track, I fought with Berger and Mansell, pushing to the limit. Towards the end, since I had a gap of more than a minute from the two McLaren, I was already third, I slowed down. I suddenly found myself in first position, with Senna behind me".
Wasn’t it possible to resist to the comeback of the Brazilian driver?
"Honestly no. His car was significantly faster. He overtook me in the braking point of the chicane, but he could have done it in the straight of the garages as well. He took a risk because he had to win. What was I supposed to do? I’m not fighting for the world title and if I had caused a crash they would have told me I’m stupid. I knew he would have overtaken me in that point so I moved out of the way by braking. Instead, they disqualified him and I won".
Nannini is the first Italian driver to win again after four years. The last one was Michele Alboreto with Ferrari on the new Nurburgring, August 1985. But the Sienese driver also brought Ford, which didn’t win anymore since the turbo engines, back to success. Actually, this victory on the Japanese track (and fate is truly amazing) is the first success of the new 8 cylinder engine produced by the company from Detroit, as well as in 1987 on this same track the team from Maranello won after a very long time. Soichiro Honda is furious. He prepared everything carefully: victory, or better first and second place, in the Japanese Grand Prix. Then on Wednesday 25th October 1989 at the Tokyo Motor Show, the presentation of the brand new 12-cylinder engine, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost as ambassadors. But the two drivers thwarted his plans. The French driver, after the crash, immediately left to go to Australia and play golf to forget everything. The Brazilian driver probably could show up to the Motor Show for just a few hours, as he then will have to leave for Paris - unless there is a countermand - where on Friday, he will try to defend himself in the FIA Court of Appeal to get the disqualification, which he obtained during the most important race of the season, cancelled. Before the race on Sunday morning, Ron Dennis said:
"Guys, fight for the World title, but remember that you drive for McLaren as well".
But the two drivers had other plans, as involved as they are by their relationship of pure hatred. And, in this way, they crashed taking each other out of the race. With the final result of leaving the possibility to win to Nannini’s Benetton, who brought the new eight cylinder engine of the American company to the first success during the Japanese home race. And Honda, who prepared some t-shirts with written in latin Veni, vidi, vici, had to swallow the affront as well as, for other reasons, in 1987 with Ferrari being suddenly uncontrollable. But this would be nothing. The truth is that Senna and Prost ruffled the World Championship. The Brazilian driver by being disqualified at the end of a race which he could have won to put the title back into play in Australia, the French driver by being forced to wait to know if his third World title will be valid. Ayrton Senna in a certain way (or even more blatantly) behaved like Mansell at the Estoril. After having blamed the English driver for his impetuosity accusing him of foul play, he did the same thing, taking the other teammate out. The two episodes (Mansell’s and Senna’s) have something in common, even though they were completely different after all. The Ferrari driver was involved in the crash after being disqualified for the irregular maneuver at the box, the McLaren driver got disqualified for a forbidden maneuver after causing a crash with Prost. Once again, the sporting commissioners weren’t up to the task: they disqualified Senna with an inaccurate reason, after the marshals on track made a mistake by pushing the McLaren, which had stopped, to start the engine, instead of just moving it to the side and away from the dangerous area of the escape route taken by the car. Anyway, Senna made this mistake. Once the engine started he should have turned the car to take the chicane (after receiving a clear signal from the marshals) which he directly missed to go back on track a couple hundred meters ahead. The penalty is regular. But now we’re wondering if justice will prevail or if there will be a political solution. On Sunday night Ron Dennis and Senna had a long talk with Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, the former lawyer of the constructors’ association. They must have organized an irrefutable defensive line. Now it’s the judges’ turn to speak.
The possible solutions are two obviously: if the disqualification is confirmed, Nannini will be the winner of the Japanese Grand Prix and Prost can take part in the last race in Adelaide, on Sunday 5th November 1989, with his third world title confirmed. Otherwise, Ayrton Senna will be reinstated in first place in the race held in Suzuka and will fight for the victory of the World Championship in yet another thrilling duel. However, who loses in this battle of stamped paper is Formula 1, even though apparently people love the show itself and maybe have more fun seeing two cars crashing than seeing a display of skills on track. Bumper cars are better than the excitement of an artfully overtake completed at 300 km/h. This is a violent motor sport which involves many risks. Up until now everything went well, but unfortunately if something bad happens, then we’ll be shocked and we’ll discover that this is a dangerous game. And, at this point, the FISA would be right to use the iron fist, with disqualifications and hefty fines. Also for Ayrton Senna, who always kicks up a fuss but never wants to play the guilty part, ending up being, in the end, the driver involved in most incidents in these past years. A month ago, in Portugal, Senna and Mansell crashed ending with the disqualification of the British driver. Now, Prost and Senna crashed ending with the disqualification of the Brazilian driver. Today, as in the past, there are harsh words, cases, appeals, legal counter-appeals. It’s the triumph of regulations, legal battles, subtle distinctions. We would recommend reading these regulations if they weren’t hundreds of pages conceived by a contorted mind. Every article says anything and everything. The authorities and the mechanisms that should apply them exist only on paper because who controls everything, actually, is only one person, the President of FIA Jean Marie Balestre, who considers himself the boss of a country of 70.000.000 of registered drivers. A sort of republic whose leader loves being praised and obeyed above all else. Mr. President, you’re looking good, a famous Milanese journalist told him last Sunday while he was watching the race on the television in the press room.
"Yes, Moncher, the little Japanese masseurs rebuilt me".
The old man replies pleased, while Senna and Prost are doing the best race of the year. The two drivers, at a certain point, crash while turning and almost kill each other. Balestre, who already had three heart surgeries, swallows cardiotonic medicines. The marshals start Senna’s car again. It’s forbidden, shout the journalists, but Balestre gets angry:
"No, that’s not true, they can do it".
Then he goes away and five minutes later he disqualifies Senna. This is the man who has power over the world motor racing. Now McLaren filed an appeal as Ferrari did a month ago. At the time nothing was solved, we’ll see now that a world title is at stake. We’ll see if in this Federation an autonomous and independent justice really exists. We’ll see if strictness will turn into a constant rule because there are many drivers who were never penalized for their foul plays. It’s difficult to delude ourselves in a sport where who gives orders is the one who asserts his authority. Where journalists every day are pushed away by the drivers, technicians and teams because the less they see and learn, the better. Where you can’t make criticisms because the President doesn’t like it. Where everything is created and destroyed every day based on the interests of one person only. A bad day for Ferrari that went back to the hard times of unreliability. Berger withdrew due to gearbox problems and Mansell was forced to quit the race because of engine failure, after being troubled by the malfunction of the electronically controlled transmission system. The oil system which controls the actuators of the gears, is still on trial. Nigel Mansell sadly says:
"Unfortunately already at the start I couldn’t put the first gear in. Then I always struggled with the gears. It’s a pity, I’m sure we could have fought with the two McLaren".
Berger doesn’t say much:
"The fourth gear wasn’t working, there was nothing I could do".
Cesare Fiorio, very disappointed, was expecting way more from this race:
"We were two seconds slower than our theoretical possibilities".
Prost is both a driver and an actor. A talented one. Not in cinemas or theaters: he’s more humble, he’s happy with doing commercials for the French television. Well paid by Midas, a company that produces car mufflers and shock absorbers. Prost is a simple and fun man, who gives a sense of trust. And Jean-Luc Voulfow, commercial director, counted on these qualities to advertise Midas’ products through the king of Formula 1, who acts very naturally. Prost, smiling, says while pulling the strips of the diaper:
"If I suggested that you buy these diapers, you would have the right to not believe me".
And the diaper breaks. Then, in the bathtub, he calmly says:
"If I suggested that you buy this soap you might not believe me".
And the soap slips away. Third scene, recorded last year: Alain dealing with a sophisticated vegetables blender which, needless to say, immediately stops working. But at the end of each catastrophic scenario, Prost appears smiling next to a car. And at that moment all the doubts disappear:
"You can trust me on this, it’s my job. If I suggest Midas for your car, believe me".
An undoubtedly effective commercial, which is showed repeatedly during race weekends. The effects on sales are still unknow, but the actor Prost is increasingly popular. His acting skills improved after the first appearances on television, in 1986, when he praised the quality of the tires of an American company. Next year in Ferrari Prost could be tempted by Italian companies. The plans are still unknown but it looks like there have been a few contacts already. And Nicolas, his 7 year-old son who already announced he wants to follow his father’s footsteps, might join the commercials too. But Alain does everything to dissuade him. He who once said:
"I’ve never finished reading a book, but it wasn’t necessary to drive a Formula 1".
He’s determined to make Nicolas finish his studies. Alain Prost, while waiting for the next Grand Prix in Australia, on Monday 23rd October 1989 catches a flight and leaves for Australia. The French driver is seated next to Jo Ramirez, McLaren team coordinator, who tells him:
"Yesterday I saw you making the two biggest mistakes of your career".
Prost is astonished and asks him which mistakes he’s made.
"At that speed Ayrton couldn’t enter in that turn therefore you’ve made a mistake by closing on him".
Alain is disappointed. But he replies:
"I understand what you’re saying, but it couldn’t end otherwise. This season, this constant fight between Ayrton and I, has been exhausting".
Then, Ramirez asks Alain Prost why he got out of the car: if the marshals had pushed both drivers, perhaps the authorities wouldn’t have penalized anyone. And the car of the French driver was perfectly intact. The new World Champion turns towards the Mexican manager and laughs.
"My right wheel was stuck and I thought that the car suspension was broken. I should have looked the left wheel… probably it was stuck on the right too".
Prost leaves and once he arrives in Australia he relaxes. The French driver wears white trousers and a light blue t-shirt, uses his putter and puts the ball in. The perfect shot is followed by Patrese, Larini, Tarquini, Dalmas and Nannini, all of them very interested. Nannini, smiling like a musketeer who just stabbed one of Richelieu’s guards with his foil, bursts:
"Easy, isn’t it? I never miss these shots too".
Did the winner of Suzuka get a big head? Does he already think he’s like the World Champion now?
"I was joking, by all means, even though I improved considerably at golf. I really like this sport, it soothes the nerves".
The group of Formula 1 drivers rests waiting for next race, in Adelaide, on Sunday 5th November 1989. Considering the nine-hour time difference, resting is uncertain. Therefore, they race from the early morning until evening, in this sort of artificial paradise where you can’t swim in the sea because of some small deadly jellyfish with a burning and sometimes deadly touch and the sharks swimming offshore, waiting for some innocent preys. It's the moment to relax anyway. The appeal trial of the FIA court to Ayrton Senna is very far away (scheduled for Thursday 26th October or more likely on Friday 27th October 1989), whose result could make some castles fall down, like Prost’s third world title and Nannini’s first victory, if the judges were to support the Brazilian driver. But here, in the paddock, nobody believes that Senna’s disqualification and the result of the race can be overturned.
"In the meantime, I enjoy this success which is good for my health. It’s like getting out of a nightmare, breaking through a state of impasse. This is the most immediate meaning of last Sunday’s success".
What does entering the Grand Prix winners’ club mean?
"I thought that over there in Siena, in my dad’s bar, on Monday we increased the earnings of 10.000.000 liras. But no: Mr. Nannini, that is my dad, thought to offer everyone a drink. A damage of 3.500.000 liras".
This expression is very typical of Nannini, capable of discrediting also the most serious moment with his naïve spirit. But you can also talk in a serious way. Is a victory the end point or the starting point?
"I hope it’s the second one. It gave me a special energy. Our sport is a constant competition with yourself and the others. For this reason, often you’re consumed by doubts and fears, especially of making mistakes. While this is an injection of self-esteem. Now I have the motivations to make a qualitative leap: from an aggressive driver, a bit discontinuous, not always highly focused, I want to become methodical, I want to have a work system. I always lacked something: for example, when testing the car set-up often I’m exhausted after ten minutes, I ignore it, I settle for it. Not anymore, I wish to become like Senna and Prost, elaborate even in the smallest detail".
Nannini realizes that next year he will be part of a top team, a team with great ambitions, ready to fight on equal terms with McLaren and Ferrari.
"This is the point: now I want to begin to win some races and then, maybe, win a world title. Now we have a technician like John Barnard who will try to fix the current car and will prepare a completely new one for 1991. The great designer, Ford that will add more staff and materials, our engine is good already, it will improve even more and probably there will be a 12 cylinder engine as well, which is already under development. We’re developing the active suspensions with a new laser-controlled system, maybe an automatic transmission. And a champion like Nelson Piquet will be my teammate. I believe that at this point I’m close to being right at the top and a few good suggestions from the Brazilian could put me on the right track, even though this is an individual sport where everyone minds their own business. But I have a joyous personality, I never argue with anyone, and I won’t have any problem with Barnard nor Piquet. And maybe we’ll hear more about Alessandro Nannini. They always told me I’m too nice, I’m too Tuscan. I’ll try to be like my sister Gianna who made her way through music by being very stubborn and determined".
In the next days, Prost makes the matter against his rival worse, by saying during a television interview that Ayrton was sure he could drive risking his life repeatedly, only because he believed in God. Ayrton Senna was deeply touched by this declaration and he too replies through the television:
"Only because I believe in God and I have faith in Him it doesn’t mean I’m immortal, or that I’m immune to danger, as someone said. I’m afraid of getting hurt just like everyone else, especially in Formula 1, where there’s constant danger".
And while waiting for the verdict of the appeal, he says:
"There is an appeal underway and therefore I believe, at the moment, it’s better to not comment. It’s not me who has to decide. Anyway, the ranking doesn’t affect the result of the race. So much so that they added an appeal. The decisions taken aren’t the result of the declarations of the local marshals. But I have to highlight that they pushed me, moving me out of a place of real danger and when the engine started, I exited from the less dangerous area of the chicane. I will go to Adelaide highly focused. With the same composure and determination with which I took part to the other races. Anyway, I know I have to wait for the verdict. In Japan, Prost started better than I did. Then I was troubled by some gearbox problems which blocked me from putting the gears in at the necessary speed. There was no possibility of overtaking Prost if not at the braking point of the chicane before the box, since at the previous turn I had a greater speed. I tried to overtake him there for a few laps, locking my tires as well. When I saw the space to overtake, I didn’t hesitate, also because I knew that that was my only possibility and to still try to win the world championship I had to try and force myself in the race. If another driver tried to enter in that space, and not me, I believe that Prost would have let him go. With regards to what happened immediately after I don’t want to comment, there’s the television…".
Now Ayrton Senna will have to show up in the court in Paris, as Nigel Mansell did fifteen days before. In fact, the Brazilian driver will have to testify in front of the judges of the FIA, embarking on a journey of over 20.000 kilometers, to defend himself from the accusation of breaking the rules in the Japanese Grand Prix. The issue is not the legal-agonistic-sporting problem, but human behavior. McLaren had to file an appeal in favor of its own driver (Senna) against its other driver (Prost) who, if the result decided by the commissioners will be validated, will be World Champion. This shows how the French driver is now unwelcome by his own team. If not by everyone, at least by who controls it (Ron Dennis). The relationship between the two is very tense and Alain Prost disclosed a baffling episode, a sort of extortion to which he was subjected in the past months:
"If I didn’t want to have problems, Ron Dennis told me, I should have signed a contract to drive two more years for McLaren".
But in Suzuka, Prost had exactly the same car as Senna: the two cars were practically identical in terms of engine power, even though they had different technical solutions which differentiated the performances. The Brazilian driver’s car had a better grip, while the French driver’s car was faster in the straight. Just a couple more words on the race: Nannini’s victory (the first one of the Tuscan driver) and Patrese’s second place, among other things, filled the Italian fans with joy. Also, to partially mitigate the disappointment caused by Ferrari who, despite having good chances, didn’t collect anything due to Berger’s withdrawal (broken gearbox) and Mansell’s quitting (engine failure). In addition to all, after many problems, if also this positive result were to be cancelled by a verdict it would be the ultimate joke.