On Tuesday, 15 September 1992, Nigel Mansell's fans, with the collaboration of several British newspapers, organise a protest march against Williams. Thousands of people are expected to go to Didcot in front of the team's headquarters to express their displeasure. The team has already received phone calls, faxes and offers of money to keep the World Champion. But in the meantime, Williams issued a communiqué specifying that, having found no British sponsors and not having the necessary means to be able to pay for the driver's engagement, they were forced to take another route. In the meantime, while there is still uncertainty about the future of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell himself, Sauber (a Swiss team backed by Mercedes that will make its debut in 1993) signs Finnish driver Jyrki Jarvis Lehto, better known as J.J. Lehto, currently at Scuderia Italia. Wednesday, 16 September 1992, Alain Prost, after a long period of silence, comes out of the closet. Involved several times by Senna and Mansell in the turbulent driver-market affair, the Frenchman expresses himself in a kind of press conference, during which he exposes all his truths. The most sensational news concerns the future of the former World Champion: the French driver says that he too could retire or, better, not re-enter Formula 1.
"There is a 60 to 70 percent chance that I will race in 1993. But, frankly, I don't know today whether I will drive a single-seater next year. I would have liked to start again in an optimal situation. At this moment, however, the conditions are not there yet".
The Frenchman makes it known that he is very bitter that he is believed to be the source of Mansell's problems:
"What has been said and written is false. Williams' idea was to put me with Nigel. It was Senna who put everything back into play with his statements. This story saddens me, also because I am being attributed a role that I never had. I was ready, if we were together again, to fight on an equal footing, with the same technical means. A drama has been made out of a very simple thing. The truth is that Williams actually has financial problems. And in any case if I switch to the British team I will earn much less than in the past. I also wanted to react when Senna made his move, offering himself for free to Williams, because that put Mansell in crisis. But since no contract has been signed yet, everyone has a free hand. Nobody has asked me who the drivers of the champion team should be next year. Frank will decide. And I will respond according to the proposals made to me. I am free. If I start racing again I will do it for two seasons".
Prost says that only passion motivates him to drive in Formula 1 again.
"To learn something new with active suspension, to accept a challenge by winning with a French engine".
So, he reveals:
"In recent months I have been approached by Ferrari. I could have also raced this season (a confirmation then - according to Alain's version - that it had been planned to leave Capelli out, ed). But it was not possible at my age to go back in to develop a new car".
"Ron Dennis called me at the beginning of the year. He still doesn't know what engine he will have in 1993. He advised me to wait. But, in any case, one cannot wait long. Next Wednesday, before the Portuguese Grand Prix, the decisions should be made. However, although I cannot exclude anyone by my side, I recognize that a cohabitation with Senna would be very difficult. It would be a war from day one…".
However, Prost is very close to Williams, although he is ready to give up if things do not turn out the way he wants.
The English fans who are determined to support Mansell, meanwhile, get organised and decide to postpone their protest against the team by one day. A sit-in is planned at the Didcot facilities with a siege at the World Champion team. To tell the truth, on Thursday 17 September 1992 only a few Williams fans are present at Didcot to protest Mansell's departure. Meanwhile at Silverstone, McLaren test with Senna (in vain, it seems) a new type of suspension that should convince him to stay. From Maranello, meanwhile, comes a dry retort to Alain Prost's words:
"We spoke with the Frenchman but only to resolve the issues concerning his dismissal".
While waiting to understand how the question of the drivers who will race for Williams will develop, Nigel Mansell passed from Formula One racing cars to the Indy series: the 39-year-old English driver, fresh from the world title, did not waste any time after the very recent announcement of his decision to leave Formula One, and on Friday 18th September 1992 he signed a contract with Newman Haas Racing, the racing company of which the actor Paul Newman is co-owner. He will take the place left by Michael Andretti, who has switched to Formula 1 with the McLaren team, and will team up with the legendary Mario Andretti, Michael's father, in a sort of motor racing nostalgia operation since the two raced together for Lotus in 1980. Mario Andretti won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1978.
"Racing in Formula Indy is a wonderful, new challenge for me. Indianapolis and other circuits of the same nature will offer me the opportunity for a new experience. Newman-Haas is one of the few teams in the world that I was willing to consider given their track record of success".
Formula Indy cars (improperly so called, taking their name from the most prestigious race, the Indy 500, but, it is the championship organised by one of the two main American federations, the CART) are single-seaters quite similar to Formula 1 cars, at least apparently. The technology, however, is less refined and the regulations are more restrictive. They are currently equipped with turbocharged 2650 cc engines (eight cylinders at the most), which reach powers close to 800 hp. However, they are heavier (700 kg versus 500 kg) and therefore less agile to drive. The races, which are made spectacular by frequent pit stops for tyre changes and refuelling, take place on different types of tracks, from fast oval tracks to permanent racetracks and city circuits such as those in Long Beach and Detroit. Many drivers from Formula 1 have tried their hand at this type of racing in the past but only three World Champions chose to participate in the full season, namely Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell. One of the main characteristics of Indy is the longevity of the racers: they compete up to the age of 50 as the famous Al Unser senior proved. In the course of history, two European stars have won the 500 Mile, namely Jim Clark and Graham Hill, but these were just sporadic appearances related only to the Indiana race. Mansell became part of one of the best teams. The Newman-Haas is one of the richest and most powerful teams and was able to offer the English champion a salary of $7.000.000 (the Williams offer he refused was $5.000.000) plus eventual prizes for placings, which are rather high in the United States. This is probably a record figure for Indy. Cari Haas (an avid cigar smoker who had also tried unsuccessfully to break into Formula 1 with the Loia-Beatrice stable) is a professional manager. Paul Newman, on the other hand, participates because he is driven by a great passion for motor racing and also a bit of business, diversifying his activities that also see him engaged as an industrialist in the food sector, with the production of sauces and condiments. The 60-plus year old, ice-eyed actor still races touring cars and has even been involved in a couple of risky accidents this year. He used to drive a Nissan, now he is linked to Ford. The choice of Mansell, who by the way has been living in Florida for the past two years, is not without dangers and uncertainties. The rules of racing are very different from those of Formula 1 and, especially on oval tracks, the probability of accidents is high as, unfortunately, Nelson Piquet, who fractured both legs this year in the Indy 500, demonstrated. A few days before the Portuguese Grand Prix, and exactly on Wednesday, 23 September 1992, it is announced that Alain Prost will test the Williams on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 September 1992 at the Estoril track.
The Frenchman will be engaged in a series of tests to regain contact with a Formula 1 car after a year of inactivity, and to make an initial judgement on the regulatory evolution that foresees for 1993 the use of narrower tyres. The news is not yet official, but a number of pieces of information suggest that the story that has held sway in the motor racing circus in recent months has finally come to an end. If Williams' long-awaited announcement on the name of the drivers who will drive its cars in 1993 has not arrived (Didcot's stable continues to maintain silence), it seems that Alain Prost has won the war with Senna who wanted to take away his coveted place in the World Champion team. Both from England and France come precise indications: the former Ferrari driver has had the clothes he will need for driving prepared. In addition, Mansell let some friends know that by now the situation should be settled in Prost's favour. For the other available car, the name of Martin Brundle is insistently being mentioned, although negotiations are still in progress with the American Al Unser jr. If things really go this way (it seems that Frank Williams tried to find another solution, but was blocked by his lawyers who warned him that he would have to pay too high a penalty to the Frenchman) Ayrton Senna will be forced to implement the program he has announced several times: wait until February to see if McLaren will offer him a competitive car. And if not, take a year off to return in 1994. Another possible alternative was to test the Barnard-designed Ferrari towards the end of the season.
Prost therefore managed, at least for now, unintentionally, to exclude his two main adversaries: Mansell, who will go racing in the United States with the Indy Formula, and Senna at home to be a pensioner. For Formula 1 this is not good: two less important characters in the show. But it must also be said that Alain Prost had the courage to come to an agreement in February, while the Englishman and the Brazilian dragged their feet for too long. Speed counts even when you are not on the track. As for Williams, the future will tell whether he has made the right choice. In a Formula One that barely conceals its crisis, not even the insiders talk about racing any more. No one seems to be interested in the Portuguese Grand Prix that kicks off on Friday, 25 September 1992, with the first qualifying round (so to speak, since with the withdrawal of Fondmetal, the cars entered are only 26 anymore and therefore all of them will take part in the race; the team boss, Gabriele Rumi, tried to engage Giuseppe Bugatti, willing to pay to alleviate the team's cash flow problems, but despite this, the money brought in would not be enough to allow the team to race at Estoril), as if it were just a formality. The only topic in the Circus concerns the drivers' market. And there are those who believe that the story that has Williams, Senna and Prost as protagonists could still reserve surprises, in spite of all the signs that indicate that the rumour that Alain will test the Anglo-French car on Tuesday is more than well-founded. In fact, on Thursday 24 September 1992 Ayrton Senna said:
"I cannot speak. This is a very delicate moment. The games are coming to an end in these hours".
Perhaps the Brazilian has the secret hope of being able to team up with the Frenchman, despite the incompatibility between the two. In any case, McLaren owner Ron Dennis is also doing everything he can to convince Senna to stay. It seems that on Thursday the British manager was in France to try to obtain from Renault the engines that might make Ayrton Senna change his mind, in order to keep him in the team even in 1993. A very intricate situation. Besides, the battle for a valid place also involves other teams. Scuderia Italia, for example, has received applications from nine drivers. In the running to drive one of Beppe Lucchini's team cars seems to be Michele Alboreto, who has shown this season that he is far from satisfied. The Milanese driver could team up with the young Treviso driver Luca Badoer, current Formula 3000 leader. But also in the hunt for a place are Ivan Capelli and Pierluigi Martini and it will have to be seen who the choice will fall on. For Alboreto, however, it would be a partial return to his roots: he will return to drive a Ferrari-engined car, if the negotiation, as seems very likely, goes through. Nigel Mansell is almost ignored: perhaps someone now considers him a deserter, after his decision to go to Formula Indy. But Emerson Fittipaldi, the two-time champion now third in the American series, and with a good chance of winning another title, issues a warning to Nigel:
"Don't think Indy is a game. It won't be a problem for him on normal circuits. But on high-speed ovals you need experience: the risks are huge, it's a different way of driving. You can't be aggressive because you end up against the walls, and they are very robust".
Friday, 25 September 1992, Nigel Mansell flies, as usual, Riccardo Patrese chases him, dreaming of the first victory of the season, and the others watch. The Formula 1 menu does not change even in Portugal. Only Ferrari takes a step backwards, but that's nothing new either: on an undulating track the F92A/T cars show all their limits, with Alesi in P10 position and Capelli plummeting to P21, or fifth to last, just take your pick. Never this year had Ferrari fared so badly on the first qualifying day of the season. The Maranello team appears to be in disarray, useless to insist on this car, better to think about the future. As Niki Lauda says:
"By now it is better to work for next year. We are preparing a modified single-seater with active suspension for the first three races of the championship, and then Barnard's creature will arrive in March, with which we hope to be competitive".
And Jean Alesi also appears resigned.
"This car does not have just one big defect. There are many, small ones, which if put together magnify the gap that separates us from the best. The Estoril track, moreover, is the least suitable for the current Ferrari: with its jumps and undulating asphalt, it puts the aerodynamics in crisis and does not allow the horsepower to be unloaded onto the ground. In short, maybe we can improve a little, but let's not expect miracles".
Jean Alesi does not say that he hopes for rain, but he would not mind a good rainstorm. It is known that water, at the very least, levels the values and he does quite well in the wet. While waiting for the Ferrari, and apart from the exploits of Mansell and Patrese, the focus remains on the drivers' market. And on Ayrton Senna (author of a spectacular and frightening exit from the track due to the collapse of the rear wing of his McLaren), who at this point has become the core of the situation. His statements (“I'll even go to Williams for free”) destabilised the situation, and in a way pushed Mansell to leave the World Champion team. Writing about this story is difficult, because it feels like being in front of the plot of a madman, who moves without subject, changing his mind every minute. So let us try to tell the sensations one feels, the rumours that circulate. The most probable hypothesis is that these formations are composed for 1993: Prost and Patrese at Williams, Senna and Andretti at McLaren with Renault engines. Benetton, giving up the Paduan driver it had just signed up, would bet on the American Al Unser Junior. The Italo-English team is lucky: Briatore seems to be a sort of King Midas, everything he touches turns into gold. He took Schumacher and many would be willing to pay millions to have him, he touched the old Patrese and now the Paduan has become a prized market piece again. In order to get the French 10-cylinder engines, Ron Dennis, McLaren's boss father, would be willing to supply Ligier with other engines at his own expense. For Renault it would be a fantastic move because it would have Senna and Prost in two different teams. The tobacco sponsors (Camel and Marlboro) would share the top drivers, and everyone could live happily ever after. Now it remains to be seen whether Patrese will agree to go back (but the proposal is valid as it is still a question of racing for the best team of the moment), and whether everyone can agree. On Friday there are numerous meetings in Frank Williams' living room. First Flavio Briatore arrives for Benetton, and then Ron Dennis, back from a trip to France. There are also those who venture different solutions. And, all things considered, also possible: with Prost sent back to McLaren and Senna to Williams. But it would still be a twist, as the Frenchman has had an agreement in principle for months and is ready to test the car that was Mansell's on Tuesday. At this point, everyone is hoping that the story will come to an end as soon as possible in order to think about racing. An announcement could come soon, closing all talks. While a beautiful dance of pairs is announced on the track with Mansell-Patrese, Senna-Berger and Schumacher-Brundle vying for victory, podium and points in the Portuguese Grand Prix, on Saturday 26 September 1992 Formula 1 continues to weave its webs.
This time it is Ayrton Senna who makes a surprising reversal. Mysteries of the psyche: the Brazilian finds in Alain Prost the motivation to continue racing. After the announcement at Silverstone, according to which Senna was prepared to quit if he did not have a winning car, the World Champion returns to the subject with quite different intentions:
"The more time passes, the more infuriated I become. The behaviour and attitudes of the Frenchman, who is selfish and a coward, have convinced me to seek more battle on the track with him, to defeat him. Even if we will not be on equal terms. Forget everything: with the possibility of McLaren having Renault engines, I'm back in contention. And then on the Williams door there is still a chink…".
Even if for now the interested parties speak little (but on Sunday morning there could be the announcement of the Prost-Williams marriage, and the Frenchman admits: “It's almost done, all that's missing is the signature, but with Senna it would be impossible”), the Brazilian champion indirectly confirms that the negotiations between his current team and Renault to get the engines are well under way. So, all that remains is to await events. The only one enjoying himself now is Nigel Mansell, happy to have chosen a new future. The Englishman takes his 12th pole position of the season (number 29 of his career, overtaking Fangio) and aims for another success:
"Between now and the end of the championship, I plan to always push hard".
The Williams, however, due to the track being a little dirty - because of the night rain - and the headwind, are unable to improve. The greatest progress of the day is recorded by Ayrton Senna, who takes back his usual third place ahead of poor Berger. Ayrton is capable of anything now to show that he is still the best, and a winding track like this one could also prove him right, if as soon as Mansell and Patrese have some problems. Watch out also for Schumacher and Brundle. Badly, instead, the Ferrari, which keeps Jean Alesi in tenth position and recovers five places with Ivan Capelli, from twenty-first to sixteenth. But Maranello's cars continue to be a disaster: since the beginning of the season, apart from marginal flashes, there has been no substantial progress: the engines continue to show inadequate power and the chassis are difficult to adjust. And there is also the impression that one is still groping in the dark. In the Grand Prix of Portugal, Alboreto (P8) and De Cesaris (P12) are expected to put in a brave performance. Gianni Morbidelli is also in the game, with the Minardi, despite a bump against a guardrail. The young man from Pesaro ends up on a kerb and flies backwards against the guardrail, miraculously remaining unhurt. But it takes the marshals 50 minutes to repair the damage to the circuit. These Formula 1 cars are really tough. Finally, as far as the drivers' market is concerned, it is worth mentioning that Luca Badoer, the 21-year-old Formula 3000 championship leader from Montebelluna, has signed an option for 1993 with Scuderia Italia and will test the car at Estoril next week. Alboreto is expected to move to Scuderia Italia, Warwick to Footwork, Ivan Capelli and Rubens Barrichello to Jordan. On Sunday, 27 September 1992, so much promise, so little delivery. In the morning, shortly after 10:00 a.m., the most awaited announcement of the year is issued:
"The Canon Williams-Renault team is delighted to announce that Alain Prost will drive one of our cars in the 1993 Formula 1 World Championship. The 37-year-old, three-time World Champion driver will test our FW14B for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday at Estoril, together with test driver Damon Hill. The name of the second driver will be announced at the end of next week".
And so the longest and most complicated soap opera of recent years comes to an end, without any twists and turns, because we all knew - after all - that Prost would have been driving Williams since last February. The Frenchman had stipulated an agreement for months and managed to carry it through, despite Senna's attempts to destabilise him.
"I am happy to have closed the discussion".
Frank Williams comments. Now the English manufacturer has only to work to try to get Patrese back from Benetton, but it seems that this will not be a problem. In return the Italian team could have Elf petrol for their cars. Senna does not take the blow well, although he was prepared. The Brazilian makes very harsh statements:
"It is not right for politics to win in our sport. It is not good, because there are those who play with rigged cards".
Ayrton does not pronounce Prost's name, as when the disagreements between the two were at their peak, but repeats some threats:
“Next year I will do everything to counter it, even with unequal arms. Everything will become more dangerous, like in 1989. However, it doesn't end here, I will wait until February. Renault did everything wrong to listen to the Frenchman".
Ayrton Senna makes it clear that in the chicanes and corners we could see more episodes of car-racing; a childish and unfair attitude, as Prost (44 victories and 3 world titles to his credit), all things considered, took his risks by negotiating when his rivals, Senna himself and Mansell, were hesitating to get the maximum advantage with the teams. Even after the race the Brazilian would talk for hours, almost with tears in his eyes, to support his thesis. And it must also be said that Prost, partly out of opportunism and partly out of cunning, does not reply to either the accusations or the polemics, although he does say to some friends:
"Ayrton is like one of those children who want to steal your favourite toy".
Then, officially, he adds:
"We had to wait and see what Mansell would do. Williams' intention was to form the Prost-Mansell pair. But Nigel took everyone by surprise by moving to Formula Indy. I don't want to start on day one replicating Senna. I am returning to Formula 1 for a new challenge, to win the World Championship with a team that is half British and half French. That is my goal. If Ayrton will have a competitive car, I will be happy, a nice challenge can develop for the benefit of Formula 1".
Speaking further about his return to the wheel, the transalpine says:
"These will be difficult days. I haven't driven for eight months, I'm in good shape, but it takes a period of adaptation. We have a lot of pressure on us. I will not be looking for times, but to learn a car that is completely new to me. I will be satisfied if I come out of these two days of testing with a good experience and confidence in Williams. Then we will do more testing next week. My contract is valid for two years. I don't know who my team-mate will be yet, but he will also be the first driver, exactly equal".
Senna complains about losing Williams, but perhaps the one who should be complaining is Ron Dennis, McLaren manager, together with his financiers, the Ojjeh Arab brothers, owners of Tag. To try to keep the Brazilian (with whom he quarrels), Dennis has to play a little game that will cost him a total of almost 50.000.000 lire. The operation: purchase of Ligier (or participation) to get the contract for the Renault engines, 23.000.000 lire; re-engagement of Senna 17.000.000 lire; search for a technician of the South American's liking, 10.000.000 lire. Renault pretends nothing happened. Patrick Faure, director of the French racing team, says:
"For us things remain as before. Williams is our partner, the other is a customer. In any case the engines will be almost the same. We would have liked to form a team with Prost and Senna, but honestly it would not have been manageable".
In between, before the start of the Portuguese Grand Prix, Schumacher's car struggles to get going; the German driver is forced to line up at the back of the pack. At the start Mansell and Patrese hold the first positions; the order remains unchanged until the Italian's pit-stop, which makes him lose several positions due to a technical problem. Patrese makes a comeback until he arrives behind Berger; but when the McLaren driver returns to the pits (without signalling), the Italian is surprised by his rival's manoeuvre, crashing into him violently. Patrese's car flies, ending its race against the pit lane wall. The Williams driver is unhurt, but the track is littered with debris, and this causes punctures for several drivers, including Schumacher. Mansell continues to lead undisturbed to the end, taking his ninth win of the season ahead of Berger, Senna (forced to make four pit stops due to handling problems with his McLaren), Brundle, Häkkinen and Alboreto. Nigel Mansell bids farewell to Europe with his 30th Formula 1 victory ahead of Berger and Senna. And he leaves for a holiday period before tackling, in the hunt for more records, the last two races in Japan and Australia: in 1993 he will race in the United States. His place inWilliams will be taken by Alain Prost, who will test on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 September 1992 at the track that hosted the Portuguese Grand Prix. The deal between the Frenchman and the British team is a done deal (two years) to the anger of Ayrton Senna, who threatens retaliation and controversy. The race, which confirmed Ferrari's painful crisis (new double retirement of Alesi and Capelli), experienced moments of fear for a spectacular, terrible accident between Berger's McLaren and Patrese's Williams. The Italian driver came out unscathed - only a contusion to his left knee - but what a risk for him and the people in the pit box. His single-seater, after flying through the air, crawled along the pit wall for a few hundred metres, losing two wheels. Had it ended up inside, a massacre would have occurred. The episode happened on lap 44: Patrese had lost time for a tyre change and was chasing Berger to regain second place (already agreed with Mansell, at that moment leader). The Austrian, entering the straight, suddenly slowed his pace to slip into the pit lane. The Italian, who was in his slipstream, tried to avoid the obstacle, but hit the McLaren's right rear tyre with his left front tyre, which completed the manoeuvre without damage.
"I flew, exploded like a bomb. I did very well, I can light a candle to Our Lady. I only saw the sky, then I fell back into the back and filed half the car against the concrete. Berger is a criminal, an arsehole, they should never let him drive again. For several laps he was going wide at the entrance to the corner and then squeezing to the right to lose my slipstream. I couldn't think that he would brake".
At the end of the race Williams lodges a complaint, then withdraws it. Berger apologises.
"We didn't understand each other, I was looking at the rear-view mirrors, I was fully engaged and I couldn't raise my hand to indicate the return to the pits".
The two are summoned to the race management. But the judgement is this:
"It was a misunderstanding".
That could have cost several people their lives. The sporting regulations state, Article 133, that a driver who wants to enter the pits must signal his intentions. And Berger, unfortunately, did not do so. Nigel Mansell hangs another trophy in his record room, winning the Portuguese Grand Prix and taking his ninth win of the season. No one had ever done it before, the record was held by Senna who had climbed the highest step of the podium eight times in 1988. It was an easy, if turbulent, success for the Englishman, who led the race from start to finish. A race that was witnessed by a few thousand spectators and that, apart from the terrible accident between Patrese and Berger, did not give many emotions on the track. In the end it was more the pit stops to change tyres that provided some reason for interest, at least behind Mansell.
A useless comeback by Schumacher, who started at the back of the pack because he had an engine problem on the grid, the fine performance of Michele Alboreto, sixth with a car that is as solid as it is mediocre, the ninth of De Cesaris, the eleventh of the almost rookie Naspetti, the placings in the rear of the young Fittipaldi, Modena and Morbidelli. For the rest Berger found himself in second place, emerging unscathed both from the collision with the Williams and from the leniency of the stewards who should have disqualified him. It should also be noted that because of the wreckage scattered on the track by Patrese's car, Martini (punctured tyre) and Lehto (a piece of transmission smashed through a radiator and the chassis!) were forced to retire with the two Dallara-Ferraris. In addition, it cost an umpteenth pit stop for Schumacher who ruined the nose of his Benetton. Senna, perhaps in the grip of his fury, felt that his McLaren was unbalanced and changed tyres four times and could go no further than third place, preceding Brundle, the very good Hakkinen and Alboreto. But Williams' domination relegated everyone to a secondary role: only Berger was not lapped by Mansell and the Englishman was still able to give at least a second's gap to all rivals every lap. Only tyre changes could have prevented the Lion from winning: in fact the Williams confirmed this one weak point. When Patrese stopped, he lost a lot of time because a jack broke and the car fell to the ground, so much so that a wing of the front wing of the Paduan's car was bent. However, the Brazilian of McLaren managed to climb to second place in the World Championship standings, reaching 50, three points ahead of Schumacher and four ahead of Patrese. The fight for the runner-up title will be one of the few points of interest in the last two World Championship races in Japan and Australia at the turn of October and November. In the ranking for the teams, behind the rainbow Williams, McLaren overtakes Benetton, while Ferrari, stuck on 16 points for some time, is now threatened by Lotus and risks becoming the fifth force in the World Championship. Better to think about the future. If it were a film, it could be called:
"Maranello, deep red".
A totally negative balance for Ferrari, who this year, out of 28 starts, only brought their cars to the finish line eight times. Even in Portugal two retirements, Alesi off the track on lap 13, Capelli's forfeit on lap 35, for an alleged drop in engine power. A worse result than at Monza, if you consider the disastrous qualifying and the positions in the race. The Frenchman was eighth at the time of the abandonment, the Milanese in P19: demoralising. And, in fact, Alesi, who cannot hold on, says:
"I'm down, I don't feel the team close to me, Ferrari doesn't help me".
Words dictated by discouragement, later transformed in official statements into an excuse to justify the mistake that led him into the sand:
"When you work hard and collect little, and you must drive on the limit to get something out of a non-competitive car, it happens that you are not calm and make a mistake. When braking, the car skidded, and I was unable to control it".
In the environment the Frenchman is said to be especially unhappy because he found out that next year Gerhard Berger will be first drive. Ivan Capelli has then been essentially denied by his team, because he talks about loss of power and Ferrari says:
"An examination of the telemetry and an initial check did not reveal any engine faults".
Perhaps something will be found in a more thorough test in Maranello. Harvey Postlethwaite, with his hands in his hair, recites the mea culpa:
"Very negative day. It's a difficult period: we must manage a non-competitive material and think about the future. We didn't bring the qualifying engines because it would have been a waste of time, we must concentrate our energies. Everyone is working on the 644 bis that will make the first three races next year. But we are not pulling the reins in the boat: in the last two races we will try to defend ourselves. We have the highest esteem for Alesi".
In recent days the active suspension was tested at Fiorano, on Tuesday at Estoril the Maranello team will test the new dual-pad brakes. These are some of the technical details that will be needed in 1993. Returning for a moment to the discourse that began in the morning, having heard the news of Alain Prost's signing by Williams, in the post-race press conference, a journalist asks Ayrton Senna what he thinks of the return of his rival, and of McLaren being in negotiations with Renault for the supply of engines for the season to come. The Brazilian replies:
"Prost is afraid to race with me in the same car. And it's not just me that loses out but the whole of Formula 1, because the show could be as exciting as it was in 1988 and 1989. It is not in Ecclestone's interest for that to prevail. In the world protectionism has disappeared, but Prost does not seem to know that. For months I have been negotiating with Williams, then I discovered that Prost had signed a contract full of absurd veto clauses. To get Prost Williams not only gave up on me, but also Mansell. We are talking about the World Drivers' Championship, if next year's is held under these conditions, it risks being a joke. Prost decides who his team-mate should be only to be joined by no competitive driver. He is a coward who wants to run the hundred metres in athletic shoes while his opponents have to wear lead shoes. Whoever helped Prost make this decision and imposed it on Williams made a big mistake. If a driver wants to be called champion, he should act cleanly. So instead, we know that in 1993 there will be no competition. Formula One should be a battle of men, not of cars or politics".
Mansell, sitting next to him, with a mocking chuckle and a pat on the back makes it clear that he is in complete agreement.
"Now I have forgotten. In fact, thinking about it, I'm happy. It went very well for me. When the car flew into the air and I saw the sky full, I thought I was going to die. Then came the anger at Berger's recklessness, I would have beaten him up. I wanted at least to disqualify him. But the stewards said it was just a misunderstanding... Never mind, luckily the cars are strong, and the drivers well trained physically. Of course, it was a big blow".
On Monday, 28 September 1992, Riccardo Patrese, before returning home, does not inflict further wrath on the McLaren Austrian, guilty of braking in front of his Williams without warning. Berger's action, however, is unanimously condemned in the environment. For all speaks Michele Alboreto, who in these cases has no inhibiting brakes:
"It was not only unfair but criminal behaviour. If it had happened to someone else, to a less supported driver, at the very least he would have been disqualified, he would not have raced the last two races. As far as I am concerned, Gerhard did not just do wrong. He knew very well that Patrese was following him by inches. So he has no excuse".
The mechanics of the accident are classic. When a front wheel hits the rear wheel of another car, it creates a reverse thrust that raises the following car. Villeneuve's fatal accident at Zolder and Pironi's subsequent accident at Hockenheim were caused by similar collisions. But since then (and it has been ten years) fortunately Formula 1 single-seaters have radically changed, the chassis are more robust and the fire-fighting fuel tanks work perfectly. In any case, it would be better if the drivers did not take too much advantage of these situations.
Seven months after his divorce from Ferrari, and a series of private tests with Ligier, three-time World Champion Alain Prost officially returns to the wheel of a Formula One single-seater. On Tuesday 29 September 1992 he will be at the wheel of Nigel Mansell's Williams, the same car that Ayrton Senna would also very much like to have for the 1993 World Championship. On Monday 28 September 1992, the 37-year-old French driver does the suit fitting: seat test, final suit measurement, helmet, gloves and steering wheel check.
"Of course, I'm excited. It's obvious to me. But, I repeat, I'm not looking for performance, I just want to see how this car goes. We'll talk about it at the end".
During the day Prost will try to get the feeling with the standard FW14B, then he will have to deal with the laboratory-car on which the technical changes for next year are foreseen, wanted by FISA to reduce the average speed on the lap and to try to make the races more spectacular: narrower wheels, maximum width of the car at 2 metres (against the present 2.15 metres), 5 cm lower wing. The tests of these days (threatened, moreover, by the arrival of hurricane Charlie), in which all the teams are taking part (Ferrari with Alesi), have been organised precisely with the aim of evaluating the modifications: the drivers will have to give their verdict and Goodyear will have to see if the smaller tyres (15 inches against 18 at the rear, 11 against 12.5 inches at the front) do not create problems. Ayrton Senna should not take part in the tests (Berger and Mark Blundell are summoned). The Brazilian lets it be known that he will come for a look. On Tuesday morning, he will then leave for a two-week holiday in Brazil. McLaren is trying to convince him to change his schedule, to do at least one day of testing. But there is the impression that some kind of cold war is going on between Ron Dennis and the driver after the tensions of recent days. The McLaren manager on Sunday morning brutally grabbed Ayrton by the shirt during an argument. And even after the race the two almost quarrelled, raising their voices in an hour-long conversation. It is clear that Dennis does not like certain statements by the driver and also damages his attempts to have Renault engines at his disposal. Senna still repeats his threats and protests against Prost, each time raising the tone:
"I am not giving up. I will wait until February, because I want that place at Williams. Renault did everything wrong to listen to that guy. He is a coward, a heartless man. He doesn't want to confront me because he knows he would lose".
A kind of madness, a worrying anguish. That the 32-year-old from São Paulo is going through one of the most difficult moments of his career is clear on Sunday night, when he shows up at the Coconuts disco in Cascais late at night, while the Miss Topless election is underway. In front of the entire Formula 1 Circus, heedless of the girls, the Brazilian driver drinks a half bottle of whisky. Later, distraught and babbling, he is practically carried away by some friends. And the next day he is in the grip of a terrible headache. A drunk Senna is not the image of the dedicated racing driver he always wanted to give of himself. Perhaps he is more human this way, but it is still a sign of crisis. On Tuesday, 29 September 1992, Professor Alain Prost returned to his classroom. Humble, ready to learn, 37-year-old Alain Prost starts his Formula 1 career again after a year of enforced rest. In his new dark blue suit full of writing “'I feel like a Christmas tree”), the Frenchman sits in the morning in his Williams, Nigel Mansell's spare car in the Portuguese Grand Prix. It is 9:17 a.m., and five minutes later Prost completes the first of 49 laps he has clocked up in an intense day's work. At the end of the opening lap, the French driver is unable to switch off the engine: he does not know how to do it. It is still raining, and the track is wet: the worst conditions for the three-time World Champion, who has never liked water on the asphalt. Then the circuit dries out and Prost sets the best time of the test with a time of 1'16"07 (Nigel Mansell had taken pole position with a time of 1'13"041). A small satisfaction, but it must be said that the chronometers don't count for much, because each car has a different configuration, as many drivers use single-seaters with reduced dimensions according to the regulations that will be adopted in 1993. In the evening, Alain, with a big smile on his lips, indulges the journalists.
"I am satisfied and happy. I was worried: so much time out, a completely different car, people expecting who knows what from me. But above all I saw this test as an examination for myself. And it went well, better than I could have dreamed. The most positive fact of the day? The team's welcome: we speak the same language, both with the English technicians and the French engine engineers. Impressions of the Williams? Super chassis, super engine. I only had one problem with the brakes, because the pedals are not yet adjusted for my measurements. We'll do that next week. I have a good feeling with this car: it drives easier than the Ferrari I left a year ago, it was much stiffer. The engine has changed compared to the one I tested in the Ligier. It is more progressive and has exceptional power".
Shortly before, Ayrton Senna, white trousers and dark glasses, also arrives at the circuit. The Brazilian driver talks to someone from McLaren, a few metres away from Prost's pit. Then, when the Williams slides under his nose, he gives a distracted look, as if he is not interested. The Brazilian, however, should have left to return to Sao Paulo, but decided to stay. It is not excluded that he will take to the track on Wednesday, it would be the first direct confrontation with Alain Prost. The latter in his long confession states:
"I was very curious and a little worried. When I finished the first lap, I said to myself: bravo Alain, you are better than I thought. It was as if I had already achieved a victory. Joking aside. It will be a month before I get to the limit. However, this day, after so many problems over the past few months, has given me complete satisfaction. And don't get me started on Senna: had I been in his place I would have gone to Maranello alongside John Barnard. The Italian team did very badly to let the English designer go, they just wasted a lot of time. For Ayrton it could be a very interesting challenge, even if the car will not be competitive straight away. This, however, is the first and last time I will mention his name. There is nothing more to say".
Some more thoughts on the Williams FW14B.
"The cockpit is very comfortable. There are many controls, in practice the driver can intervene to make even important adjustments. But I'm still not able to do that, although in a few hours I've understood more things than I thought. In fact, I made a few changes precisely to understand how the car responds to the set-up changes. It is extraordinary. I immediately understood that it is a special single-seater: the more you ask of it, the better it drives. Obviously, I didn't force it, I didn't take any risks and it was good that I didn't even spin. In truth, it's a very different car from the Formula 1 car I left behind".
And the teammate?
"I hope he is younger than me. No, the team will decide, I just hope we can speak the same language".
Prost will be back on track on Wednesday. With him most of the drivers will be testing on the narrower tyres. By the way, a piece of news that has something incredible about it: Jean Alesi, with Ferrari, is the fastest after Prost, but the first with a car updated to 1993 technical regulations. The Frenchman set a time of 1'16"920, just 0.1 seconds faster than he had achieved in qualifying for Sunday's race. What if Ferrari tried even narrower tyres?