Unpredictable Senna. He did not want and was not supposed to do tests, but on Wednesday, 30 September 1992, he went on track driving the McLaren, wearing Berger's racing suit who, because of a sudden, mysterious illness, had to forfeit. The Brazilian does not push hard, driving the car with narrow tyres.
"They're good but there is still a lot of work to do to tune the tyres".
Then, he speaks about his night out at the disco, when he had gotten drunk in Lisbon:
"It's been a private madness. I came in, Berger was already a little tipsy, I followed him and went along…".
Ayrton does not want to talk about Prost anymore:
"I don't comment, it is not worth it to pass judgement. As for myself, my decision is still far away. I'm waiting for the new McLaren which doesn't exist yet. The situation isn't stable, neither for me, nor for Ron Dennis who – he has revealed – is negotiating with Renault, Ford and Lamborghini".
Meanwhile, during the second day of testing, a significant number of spins occur. Even Prost is not spared: in the morning he runs into a series of spins, without consequences. The Frenchman sets the best time with 1'15"38 (at 2.2 seconds from Mansell's pole position). Ferrari works a lot on the new tyres and Alesi sets the second-best time between the cars under 1993 setup, in 1'17"11, behind Damon Hill (1'16"31 with the narrow Williams). Derek Warwick (fourth best time), who could take Alboreto's place, makes his debut in the Footwork, in predicate for the Scuderia Italia. Meanwhile, from Maranello comes news of Barnard visiting the factory: perhaps the English technician wants to see how the active suspension, that Larini has tested (64 laps, the best time in 1'04"0) with good results in Fiorano, work. The following day, the tests come to an end with Prost being faster and faster, thanks to a time of 1'14"81. Alesi sets a time of 1'16"73, better lap time than the one done in qualifying during the Portuguese Grand Prix. And while the tests come to an end on Thursday, the following day, another news comes from Maranello: Ivan Capelli is out, Nicola Larini is in. On Friday, 2 October 1992, Ferrari makes changes for the last two races of the season. The Tuscan driver (from Pietrasanta), 28 years old, receives a beautiful present as an advance for the Italian title of Superturismo which he will have the opportunity to win in Varano de' Melegari, driving an Alfa Romeo GTA: he will work alongside Jean Alesi in Japan and in Australia, on 25 October and 8 November 1992.
The news does not come like a bolt from the blue, but rather unexpected, at this point in the World Championship: in a statement, Scuderia Ferrari announces that they have reach a mutual agreement to put an end to their cooperation with Ivan Capelli and that they have signed – for the remaining races to go – Larini, who already plays a role of development driver for the team. The bitter experience of the 29-year-old Milanese racer, who had been wanted by Ferrari in the fall 1991, ends like this. The recruitment of Capelli had been considered as a revival of the Italian school in the most prestigious team of the world. But after the first races, the relationship had deteriorated, so much so that already in Imola word had circulated of a torpedoing of the driver. Ivan, who, in the fourteen races held, has secured a fifth position in Brazil and a sixth position in Hungary and who, in qualifying, has always been behind Alesi, except at the Spanish Grand Prix, has evidently paid for Ferrari's bad year. Also, his inability to push the limits of an uncompetitive car, as his French teammate has often tried to do. The reason for the definitive contract termination is most likely to be found in the events of the Portuguese Grand Prix. As you may remember, Capelli retired claiming a drop in engine while he was running around the twentieth position. The Ferrari technicians, however, have made it known that no anomalies were apparent in the power unit. And when the car arrived in Fiorano, it was found that there was no problem. Lack of motivation, then, and poor performance are the charges made against the Milanese, who cannot be found to have at least his own interpretation of the facts.
Certainly, this affair does not benefit the image of Ivan Capelli, who will struggle to find another valuable seat in Formula 1. Regarding Nicola Larini, it is a term premium. The Tuscan (who had raced in the past for Coloni, Osella, Ligier and Lambo) has already signed a contract to race with Alfa Romeo in the 1993 German Supertouring Championship.
"I'm delighted and surprised, because I wasn't aware of any of that. I'm sorry for Capelli, but our world is a cruel world. I, for that matter, have no hope of returning anytime soon to Formula 1. The teams want drivers who bring millions of dollars. And this is certainly not my case. I just hope I can make a good impression. I will do my best, as always".
A few years later, Ivan Capelli recounts:
"In 1991, Leyton House has various economic problems, I understand that it's going towards the end of its cycle, Akagi is explicit and warns me about the difficulties that he's facing in Japan, it's time to move on. I agree with Dallara Scuderia Italia, for the 1992 season the car was motorized with the Ferrari 12-cylinder engine and my teammate should have been J.J. Letho. I try the measurements of the Dallara's cockpit, they measure me for the seat, the contracts are made, when an executive of the Scuderia Italia forewarns me that I would receive a phone call from Maranello. One morning, I receive the phone call from engineer Claudio Lombardi, then technical director of Ferrari, he was immediately very explicit: we are thinking of recruiting you as a Ferrari driver for next season. I replied that I already had an agreement with the Scuderia Italia, but Lombardi said that it certainly wasn't a problem, he immediately wanted an answer on my availability for the 1992 season, he immediately wanted a yes or a no. Ferrari was the dream of every driver, especially as an Italian, of course I accepted, without having seen the car, the technical organization, the situation in Maranello. I immediately signed the contract with the Swiss lawyer who was following the Scuderia Italia and I was exchanged for a better supply of engines at Dallara, and the seat was taken by Pierluigi Martini. From the morning to the evening, I ended up teamed up with Jean Alesi. However, it was a frustrating adventure with the team from Maranello, it was one of the worst years for Ferrari, nothing worked. The team from Maranello was in crisis, it was in need of a major reorganization, both sporting and technical. Prost and Fiorio had just left, a cycle of technical and internal balance had ended. The F92A was designed by Jean Claude Migeot and Steve Nichols but it was terrible from a technical point of view. It had this strange shape, with the double floor that wasn't working, the sidepods with the fighter aircraft-type air intakes, which worked only in the wind tunnel, basically created vortices that aerodynamically slowed down the car. The Ferrari V12 had become unreliable, the evolutions theoretically allowed them to run at 12,400 rpm, but immediately broke down and the engine speed was reduced with a substantial decrease in power".
"There was also oil leakage from the pistons, they had to mount an extra tank to finish the races, nothing was turning right. The F92A was designed with a transverse gearbox, but the new transmission was also completely unreliable, it was constantly breaking down. The spare gearboxes were for Alesi, while I had to race with the longitudinal gearbox and the whole rear axle of the 1991 single-seater. I did the first seven races in this setup, with a single-seater completely unbalanced. We basically had two different cars and it was difficult to do any kind of development and technical comparison. The mono-shock front suspension does not work and must be locked to make the front axle rigid, but it jumps at every slightest bump, losing aerodynamic efficiency resulting in understeer in every corner. We had to fight against Williams with the active suspension that gave us an average of 1.5 seconds per lap. The situation was really problematic and in total technical disarray. When I saw the F92A for the first time, I thought that it would be a fantastic car, it seemed to be a fighter. But during the first test at the Estoril circuit, Williams was developing the electronic suspension. We immediately realized that we had a huge problem. In that test, Jean had the F92A, and I had the old car. I had to always drive with 150 litres of fuel to keep the car slow. At the same time, Jean was saying that the car was fantastic, that we would win races. On the last day, I was allowed to drive the car in the afternoon. I realized that Jean was driving with a different setup than the one with which I was feeling at ease, so I tried to change it. The car had many problems; the mono-shock system didn't work well; the car was bouncing a lot and I didn't feel the downforce you would expect from a double floor. Thus, one driver says he will win, the other says the car sucks. I said we had to work hard to put together a car that would allow me to compete with others. They said, no; they had to follow Jean. From the very beginning, I was outside the team. I felt that everyone, except my mechanics and my engineer, were trying to take me down. They were so quick to pass judgments".
The story ends with a brutal dismissal, unlike what was found in Ferrari's press release:
"After Estoril, the third to last race of the season, I got a phone call from the secretary of Luca di Montezemolo, who was calling me to Maranello. I went there but, instead of going into the chairman's office, I was led to a room where the team manager, Sante Ghedini, the press office manager and Harvey Postlethwaite were there. Three chairs on one side of the table, another one for me on the other side. The tabletop was empty, except for one sheet, placed face down. They said that it was the press release that would be released within half an hour to announce that our relationship had concluded. That's all. We will give you what you are due in terms of your contract, but because we want to develop the suspension for next year with Nicola Larini, you are out of the team. I didn't have a manager, so I asked if I could make a phone call. I went in another office, and I called my father to tell him that they had given me half an hour. He told me: don't worry. We don't need any of this anymore. Say good-bye - he used other words - and come back home. It was like a dream turning into a nightmare, each day worse than the last. I was sharing my life with the woman who would become my wife in 1993, and I remember getting a rash from anxiety. She almost had to tie my hands to stop me from scratching myself to death over a situation where, even though everyone knew the car was no good, it was Capelli's fault".
And yet, the story with Ferrari had sprung up differently.
"In Italy, there is a huge difference between the two Ferrari drivers and anyone else on the grid. When I was with Leyton House, I could go to the pizzeria near my house with friends. I was saying: there are four of us. And I was told: there is a 20-minute wait. When I became a Ferrari driver, same place, same friends, they would throw people out to give me a table. I said that I would have preferred to wait, but they would insist. When I went from Milan to Maranello to sign the contract, I stopped to refuel on the highway near Piacenza. It was around 7 am. I paid and continued. Later, the press release from Maranello said that Ivan Capelli had become a Ferrari driver for the 1992 season. In the evening, I stopped at the same gas station, opposite lane. I stayed there for about 20 minutes, because people were taking pictures, asking me for autographs. In twelve hours, my life had completely changed".
While in Maranello the divorce between Ivan Capelli and Scuderia Ferrari unfolds, in France, Alain Prost says of Ayrton Senna:
"He is a madman who cut the branch he was sitting on, and I am persuaded that he is less intelligent than the whole world believes".
This is Prost's opinion of Senna, and it constitutes the answer to the war declarations made by the Brazilian after Williams made official the recruitment of the Frenchman as their number one driver for the next Formula One World Championship. Prost makes it clear that even recently there was an opportunity for a transfer of Senna to Williams, but he adds:
"You'd have to be insane, masochistic and sick to imagine ourselves together. How could I get along with a guy who voluntarily threw me off track? I couldn't even look him in the face. He is nothing but an opportunist, a spoiled and capricious child who always tries to get the best at every opportunity".
On Sunday, 4 October 1992, Nicola Larini gets out of his Alfa 155 GTA with a strange smile on his face.
"That idiot didn't give me room. He's going too fast, he's in over his head. So, we both lost".
And down comes a good laugh. The guy in question is Alessandro Nannini. In Varano, in the penultimate test of the Italian Superturismo Championship, both Tuscan drivers battle in the lead of the race. And Nicola, in an attempt to overtake the Sienese driver, throws him off track. The win goes to Roberto Ravaglia with his BMW M3. Larini is still the leader of the standing and on Sunday, 18 October 1992, the title against the experienced Giorgio Francia will be played, behind the wheel of another Alfa 155, the one of the Jolly Club.
"These are good races, uncertain and hard-fought. People have fun and so do we. Who knows if the future of motorsport may lie in just this kind of testing, with cars derived from the series".
A declaration at the very least puzzling for a driver who, two days earlier, has been called by Ferrari to take the place of Ivan Capelli for the last two Grand Prix of the season. But this Formula 1, isn't that the dream of every driver?
"Obviously. But I am under no illusion. I am well aware that my commitment is determined. Two races and that's it. Then, I'm going back to limbo. I've already signed a contract with Alfa Romeo to take part in the German championship next year, a difficult and challenging series. Widely followed by the general public. Formula 1 has become a strange world. Until recently, winning in the junior categories was enough to get there, perhaps having a great personal sponsor. Now, a suitcase full of dollars is needed to get there, and not even for the best teams. The Lammers and Warwick types arrive, people that were out for years. One million is not enough, they want two or three million. There's a queue of boys outside the motorhomes of the managers and many will end up remaining unemployed".
But Ferrari trusted Nicola Larini.
“Nobody made me promises. I'm well aware of what will be my job. There will be a laboratory car for me in Japan and in Australia. I will basically do tests on the field for 1993. It is a message from Maranello of their desire to try to catch up, to be great again. I can't say now if they'll make it, but they're trying to. The active suspension that I've tested during the last two weeks worked well, but it's only a first step. There's still a long way to go”.
Ferrari continues to go through a crisis, but this is not a favorable moment either for the Italian drivers, who have won everything or almost everything in Formula 3, Formula 3000, in the World Endurance series, in rallies, but Formula 1 remains a taboo, with the last World Championship won by Alberto Ascari in the distant 1953. Since then, nothing. Is there a logical explanation to this negative phenomenon?
"I think that we never made it in the right place at the right time. In order to race, it has been accepted to go with mid-level teams. Maybe it has also been our fault, but how many careers have been ruined. Take Patrese. He is great and fast. This year, he had the best single-seater: Williams. But it was and it had to be Nigel Mansell's year. A bit of misfortune and perhaps also the fact of not having been able to plan for the future. They were always right the champions like Fangio, Lauda, Prost and Senna who have jumped on the most competitive cars at the right time".
Even Capelli made a mistake?
"Let's say that Ivan, it wasn't his fault, he found himself in the worst year for Ferrari. He is a driver who obviously needs a good car, to experience a more favorable situation to demonstrate his skills. He is not the only one to have found himself in difficulty. Look at myself: I raced in Formula 1 for four teams from 1987 until 1991. I never had the opportunity to score points. I came out of it almost destroyed. I had to start all over again".
"I'm delighted, they gave me a treat. I hope I'll be able to repay the trust. Who knows, it could be the opportunity of a lifetime. But I repeat, I stand with my feet firmly on the ground. Better to be a protagonist in Superturismo than an extra in Formula 1. Anyway, I will be able to tell my grandchildren that in the red cars from Maranello, there was also myself. And it's already a great satisfaction".
While Larini and Nannini race in Italia, Denny Hulme, ex World Champion of Formula 1, New Zealander, 56 years old, dies on the circuit of Bathurst in Australia, during a race, almost certainly because of a cardiac arrest. The old driver goes off track with his BMW on lap 33 of the 161 laps scheduled of the Toohey race (a long competition of 1,000 kms). He had told the team at the pits just before that he was not feeling okay, it is not known whether it was because of the rain or because of an illness. When the emergency workers arrived, two minutes later, Hulme had already passed out. The rush to the hospital is in vain. From the first checks, it is established that the driver, who had won the world championship title of Formula 1 behind the wheel of a Brabham Repco in 1967, passed away almost instantly. Denny Hulme, who was nicknamed Neddy Bear, because for ten minutes after a race he was unmanageable, had started his career with excellent results in his neighborhood and had landed in Europe in the 60s, going from Formula 3 to Formula 2 until getting to Formula 1 in 1965 with Brabham-Climax. In 1968, after having won the World Championship, he switched over to McLaren and remained there until 1974. In total, he had disputed 112 Grand Prix and had won eight of them. He had subsequently continued to race for fun, in the whole world. The last race was fatal for him. In the following days, the opportunities of Williams to take Riccardo Patrese back from Benetton are getting smaller and smaller. According to the last information, Frank Williams has still not done concrete offers to the Italian team, and, at this moment, it seems that the English team could combine Alain Prost with the young Damon Hill or the experienced Martin Brundle. Provided that Ayrton Senna fails to spice up the market with some of his surprise moves. Meanwhile, in the weekend, Alessandro Nannini will go to Ferrari to prepare the seat for himself ahead of the test on the Formula 1 single-seater at Fiorano. The Sienese driver is very emotional at the thought of going back at the wheel of a Formula 1 race car, but he is under no illusion about the future. The team from Maranello will also get Jean Alesi out on track for a series of tests, while Nicola Larini, on Thursday 8 October and Friday 9 October 1992, will train on the Mugello circuit for the next races in Japan and in Australia with the laboratory car equipped with the active suspension. On Wednesday, 7 October 1992, it is a very busy day for motorsport. Max Mosley (without a rival) is confirmed as president of the FISA for another four years. And immediately after, it is announced that the Sportscar World Championship is canceled because of a lack of competitors. A true failure. In the context of the Motor Show that is opening in the French capital, there is also much talk about Ferrari. Niki Lauda, on a visit to the stand which presents the queen of the exhibition, that is to say the Ferrari 456 GT, the last car born in Maranello, shows to be worried about the future of Formula 1:
"Because you let Mansell, the reigning World Champion, run away, and maybe even Senna. Obviously, there will be a crisis, less sponsors and reduced audiences at the circuits".
About Ferrari, the Austrian says:
"We are working for the future; in the last two races we will race with laboratory car equipped with the active suspension".
Concepts that are then reaffirmed by chairman Luca di Montezemolo, who adds:
"Even if this year is not good for Ferrari, let's not go too far in talking bad about it. It takes patience: the team and Barnard are preparing the car which will mark the revival for the next years, starting from the second half of the 1993 season. The concept of the active suspension with Magneti Marelli has started recently and it seems that we are on the right track. Capelli? We wanted a motivated driver. That's why we no longer needed him".
Meanwhile, in London, Frank Williams makes it known that he is not interested in Senna anymore and that he will have to choose between Damon Hill and Martin Brundle, to put the best teammate possible with Alain Prost, and aim to win the World Championship again. Regarding the Brazilian, from São Paulo, the driver reveals that Ferrari had offered him 30,000,000 dollars per year, twice as much as he gets from McLaren, with a multiyear contract. Ferrari answers that the numbers are true, but that they refer to Senna's request and not the offer done at the time:
"In any case, our drivers are paid by the sponsors".
Also, on Friday, 9 October 1992, Ferrari makes it known that they are not negotiating with Nigel Mansell.
"In connection with what has been published in some English newspapers, Ferrari gets back to make it clear that they have never negotiated the recruitment of Mansell for 1993. Our drivers will be Alesi and Berger".
On Thursday, 15 October 1992, while Jean Alesi tests the new Ferrari at Imola, incurring two spins without damage and also breaking the gearbox, Frank Williams makes it known that Martin Brundle will not drive for Williams with Alain Prost next year. The owner of the team - explains the English driver - would have categorically told him that, for him, there is no offer in sight. So now Brundle, who interrupted any other contract in the meantime, finds himself without a car. That news seems to confirm the rumors of a reconciliation between the World Champion team and Nigel Mansell. The day before, at Fiorano, the eyes of Alessandro Nannini are the ones of a child struggling with a wonderful toy, but a forbidden one. He knows that they would have taken it away soon, maybe forever, so he has to take advantage of it: like a beautiful dream to be enjoyed to the fullest before it fades away. Alessandro Nannini's toy is a Ferrari F92A/T with a transverse gearbox, precisely the one brought to the track by Alesi and Capelli in the last Portuguese Grand Prix: all his, for a whole afternoon, on the track of Fiorano. Without any opponent to beat. Without any audience. Nannini's only actual opponent is that forearm that the blade of his new helicopter ripped from the rest of his body two years ago and was then reattached in a miracle operation that lasted nearly ten hours. Would he be able to drive a Formula 1 car again or would he be a fool to try? For him, it is like a whim to take off. To himself, not to demonstrate something to the others. And he succeeds. Thirty-eight laps, only a couple of spins, best lap time 1'06"63: roughly 4 seconds more than Alesi, who does tests before him. To better hold the wheel, he gets the cast of his right hand done by a dentist from Siena and he gets the semi-automatic gearbox control put completely on the left side to be able to get out and in only using the other hand. Yet he is afraid that he will make some disaster, or that someone will laugh at him.
"I thought: at the first corner, I smash everything. I had said it to Ferrari: give me an old car because I will probably shorten it for you. Better to give advance notice, in order to avoid misunderstanding. My wife had me take out life insurance, of course she was the beneficiary. In short, I was surrounded by a great deal of trust".
The regular Nannini: who seems unwilling to take anything seriously. He was considered as the brat of Formula 1 and those two years have not changed him: for him everything is a game, when he was in the hospital, he organized duels in the corridors with the wheelchair and he also won them. He always has the ironic sense of bragging. As if life slipped on his skin without leaving any trail. But maybe it only is a way of defending himself.
"I signed a contract with Ferrari for five years".
Obviously, it is not true. Then, he makes an effort to be serious and adds:
"In Formula 1, the teams that have smaller budgets have 20.000.000 or 25.000.000 dollars per year: who would entrust me a car? Only a fool. Of course, if that happens, I would get into crisis... I don't dare to think about it".
But then, how meaningful that testing at Fiorano was? A journey back in time, for then going back immediately to the present and forget about it? Nannini smiles. With his crooked nose and his hair more rebellious than usual.
"Let's say that it was just a game. I did some tests, I had fun. End of story. If I insist, they would all take me for a madman. And then, the second time, it wouldn't be a game anymore, even for me. I would start to believe it. And then I would suffer. I'm going back to the Superturismo Championship. Miracles don't happen over and over again. I have already been miraculously saved once: I would have never believed, two years ago, that I would be able to go back to racing again. My left harm has regained sensitivity, but not complete mobility. For now, I'm satisfied. No, I don't have any illusions".
Who came up with the idea of that testing?
"Luca di Montezemolo. He called me last December and told me: if you want to, you can come. We're waiting for you with open arms. Tell me when you're ready. I thank him. Now, he will breathe a sigh of relief. I didn't even smash the car. I will come back to Formula 1 only if and when I will be able to give the maximum: either all or nothing. For now, nothing".
He says that he felt more emotions one year ago, when he drove a Ford Sierra Cosworth at Mugello and broke the record of the circuit for the cars of the Group N:
“That day, my legs were shaking. I didn't know if I could go back to racing. I was afraid. I was excited in the Ferrari, but I knew it was a game. I've always liked to play, you know”.
When the accident happened, Nannini was in his fifth year in Formula 1: 77 Grand Prix, one win at Suzuka (because of the disqualification of Senna), two second-place finishes and six third-place finishes. A champion, although not an actual champion. Either all or nothing, he says now. But in his heart, he has not resigned himself to nothing. It would not be Nannini. While we wait to know who will be the second driver for Williams in 1993, on Thursday, 22 October 1992, Ron Dennis continues the meetings with Renault desperately looking for an agreement. The negotiations last for a month and their outcome depends, in particular, on the fate of Senna for the next season and, in general, on the interest of the 1993 World Championship. But the negotiation is difficult, since McLaren has relations with the gas company Shell, while Renault has relations with Elf, a problem that has already occurred in the past and led to the end of the negotiations. And then, there is the right by Williams to forbid the French manufacturer to enter in relations with its most direct competitors, although on this last point, unsolvable, the same Ecclestone will probably intervene, worried about the drop in audience of Formula 1 during the last months, and eager to create a Prost-Senna duel which can keep the title fight alive. But in the meantime, on Sunday, 25 October 1992, the Japanese Grand prix will be held at Suzuka, penultimate race of the Formula One World Championship. The world championships titles given to Nigel Mansell and to Williams, the season finale may live on marginal interests, but not for this the race will be less exciting. In fact, abandon all tactics, the drivers and teams will seek some payback, while some challenges that have their own validity remain under discussion. Apart from the debut of Nicola Larini in place of Ivan Capelli with Ferrari (who will bring a car with active suspension), for the Italian colors the most awaited man is Riccardo Patrese.
The Paduan racer is not only still looking for his first win in this World Championship but has also the stated aim of climbing to second place in the World Championship standing, behind his English teammate. In order to hit the target, Riccardo Patrese will have to score important points over Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, who precede him by four and a length respectively. After Estoril's fearful flight, caused by Berger's careless return to the pits, Patrese finds himself fighting against everyone, even against Mansell who has dominated him so far. The Italian driver's attempt should also be seen with particular attention by Renault, which, after having made Williams dominate the season with its own engines, wants to take another great satisfaction, beating McLaren-Honda right on the Japanese home track. Let's not forget, however, that Mansell, about to bid farewell to Formula 1, intends to continue the hunt for records, aiming for the tenth win of the year. In the meantime, Formula 1 does not want to lose its jewel: right on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix, a race that - for many reasons - Ayrton Senna cares so much about, prepares a trap for the Brazilian driver. In these days, Ecclestone, chief executive of FOCA and vice-president of Jean-Marie Balestre at the FIA, draws up a plan to prevent the Brazilian to suspend his activity for a year if he does not find a competitive car by the beginning of the next World Championship. The trick is simple, but it could also be successful: Ecclestone will try to get the Formula 1 World Council to approve a new rule under which those who do not race for a full season will not get the Super Licence needed to participate in the next one. In theory, if Ayrton Senna were not to be registered for the 1993 World Championship, if he wanted to resume in 1994, he would be obliged to commit to a junior category (Formula 3 or Formula 3000) and obtain valid results to win the right to the Formula 1 licence.
This trick, moreover, could be part of a global program to try to reduce the salaries of drivers, to diminish their claims, which according to the constructors have become excessive. The story of Nigel Mansell, who had to emigrate to Formula Indy because Williams did not agree to double his salary, is in tune. But Senna doesn't seem to worry a lot about the maneuvers that concern him:
"That sounds like a ridiculous proposal. And it would come at the wrong time. Didn't Prost sit still for the whole of 1992 and got a seat in Williams, with no one having anything to say? Why do they want to change the rules of the game now? I'm not going to accept such blackmail. I'll go on my way, and I'll take the best decisions for my future. We'll see who will have the courage to accept a similar imposition. In all sports, for different reasons and situations, the champions can leave and come back when they want to. This seems to me like an insanity, the last straw that breaks the camel's back. It means that those in charge of Formula 1 are in difficulty".
Ayrton does not want to make predictions on the future:
"I don't know what I will do. Don't ask me anything anymore: I can't answer. If I find a good team I'll be there, otherwise you'll do without me. Then, we'll see".
But Senna is not as clueless as one might think. To excite the minds, on Thursday morning he appeared on the track in the first round of tests with the Japanese flag drawn on his yellow helmet:
"I have more fans here than in Brazil and I've had a great relation with Honda for many years. The minimum I could do was this little recognition".
A smart attitude from the racer of São Paulo who always seeks alliances. But will he manage to beat a powerful opponent like Bernie Ecclestone? The fight is on. Less uncertain instead the fight for this penultimate race that still sees Williams as the big favorite. Nigel Mansell, who wants to increase his season record of successes (aiming for the tenth win), and Patrese, seeking the first achievement. It is difficult to beat them, even if the weather forecast (rain) may bring surprises. But it would take a hurricane to shuffle the cards so much that the team that has dominated the season, and which is still in Ayrton Senna's dreams, would miss the first place. As for Ferrari, on Thursday, 22 October 1992, they managed to obtain their first victory of the season in Formula 1, winning the Grand Prix of the change of tyres. It's not much, but the mechanics of the team from Maranello prove to be the best in this challenge with all the other teams. In the final with Lotus, the Italians perform in a perfect operation in 4.31 seconds, something of a record. The last two races of the season do not seem to offer huge opportunities for Ferrari as well. For the Japanese Grand Prix, the team from Maranello is in resigned form. Honestly, it is not even possible to see Alesi or Larini fighting for a position in the points. Gaps are still huge and there is a complete lack of top speed, a defect that on a circuit like this one of nearly 220 km/h on average for a lap is decisive. And the achievement of the rookie Tuscan driver who, on Friday, 23 October 1992, sets the tenth fastest time, infuriating Alesi relegated in P15, is not even enough. The Frenchman stumbles into a couple of mishaps and it is enough to scream at the miracle for the performance of Larini who drives the experimental car with active suspension. The only positive note comes from the fact that the system, in its early stages, proves to be quite reliable and allows Nicola Larini to drive with less issues regarding roadholding, with the single-seater more composed on uneven sections. It is therefore right that Ferrari thinks more of the future than the present and prepares for 1993. But without illusion: it may seem obvious to say that it will be a tough challenge to return to the top. It is the plain truth, though. The men of the team from Maranello, as well as the drivers, admit it. The Englishman Harvey Postlethwaite, who is at the head of the team, after the recruitment of John Barnard, who returned to being the technical director, explains:
"Now, we take this active suspension and send it to England. We are at the first step; we will need to do two other steps to make it really intelligent. And Barnard will take care of this. We will be ready for the beginning of the season with a modified car, derived from the current one that the technician Rayton is preparing in Maranello. The new one designed and built by Barnard himself will only arrive later. I'm convinced that it will be a competitive car, but the others will also make progress in the meantime".
The biggest problem, however, concerns the engine. In qualifying, Alesi signs the worst top speed (275 km/h vs 293 km/h for Mansell) and the penultimate one at the finish line (262 km/h vs 279 km/h, still for the Englishman). Admitting that there is less downforce on the Williams, the difference is still huge and for sure also depends on the power unit. In this respect, Postlethwaite is cautious, the manager is the engineer Lombardi, together with Paolo Massai. It is known that Ferrari is working in different directions, that the pneumatic valves will probably be introduced among other things, that they will try to produce a flexible and powerful power unit. This in theory, given that Ferrari is obviously still looking for specialists to achieve this result, because the current potential is not enough. Another problem concerns the drivers. Berger makes it clear that he is back in Maranello because he is tired of being overwhelmed by Senna at McLaren. It also took a disproportionate effort to convince him. And of course, the Austrian will not adapt to being Alesi's second. On the other hand, the Frenchman, of whom it has been said in recent months that he has tried to leave, is definitely not the type to accept to be the number two driver. A character that triggers him like lighting a match to every opposition could cause huge problems. In short, everyone is hoping that Ferrari will soon be able to emerge from the tunnel of the crisis, but few believe it. He is hard, ruthless, even with himself. He always demands the best, he acts with extreme rigor. Sitting in a wheelchair, paraplegic for six years following a car accident (he barely moves his arms, and if he wants to drink coffee, he needs to have his cup with a straw), Frank Williams continues to head his own Formula 1 team with an iron fist. He is fifty years old, a wife still beautiful and two sons approaching adulthood. He started from scratch, he built himself a fortune. In 1967, at twenty-five years old, he arrived in Italy with a Formula 3 team. And he already had clear ideas. At the end of a race at Vallelunga, during a dinner at a restaurant in Campagnano, he said to those present who were looking at him a little stunned:
"One day, I'll be like Enzo Ferrari".
The analogy may sound disproportionate, Frank Williams still has a long way to go before becoming a myth. However the fact remains that, in seventeen seasons of Formula 1, the Englishman has won 60 races with his cars, securing five Constructors' World Championship titles and three Drivers' World Championship titles (with Jones, Rosberg and Piquet), throwing away other possible statements a bit thanks to stubborness (like when he did not support Reutemann) and a bit thanks to bad luck (when the tyres blew out on Mansell's car in 1986 and the Suzuka crash of the same English driver in 1987).
"This success doesn't surprise me, even if I can sound arrogant. When I was young, I had tried to race both in car and on foot. I was mediocre as a driver and as a marathon runner. At that moment I understood that my path was the one of team manager. Now I know that I can be better than Ron Dennis and Bernie Ecclestone in managing a team: I can get results with far inferior means".
So, what is behind Williams' strength?
"The group is the winning factor. We always want to be competitive, and we do it together. An excellent family. This year, we also have to thank Mansell who was extraordinary".
But Mansell himself will be forced to move to the United States…
"It's not our fault. I've always said that the drivers are employees. And my company is not able to spend as much as some drivers would like. We must invest in our cars to always be the best. And when we have the fastest car, it's not a problem to have great drivers".
Right now, you have Prost.
"Alain is very enthusiastic. He has a different way of driving than Mansell's one and, therefore, we have to adapt the car. However, the 1993 single-seaters will be new. For the second driver, I'm in no rush, I may decide at the end of the year".
It is said that Williams, besides keeping ready the young Damon Hill, for reasons of sponsors, is interested again in Al Unser jr, the American driver who was champion of Formula Indy. The emerging Finnish Mika Häkkinen, who is blocked - but not too much - by Lotus, would also be in their sights. But his potential recruitment should not, however, weigh too much on the team's budget. Frank Williams insists that a few months ago he sent his eldest son to work in Australia to learn what life is like, giving him 1,000 pounds as his sole privilege:
"They have to accept what we offer. Because we want to stand by our word. We have to cut costs. And we don't want to do like Ferrari which, to have Berger, has allegedly paid a fortune. We talk a lot about crisis in Formula 1. But it's not only our problem, it's a problem of global economy. We've all become too greedy, it's time to slow down. At the same time, though, I'm not willing to accept fake restrictions of the regulations. The day they impose the limits we hear about, I won't participate anymore. I have no intentions to make my cars race in a championship which is only a fair copy of Formula 3000".
In the meantime, on Saturday, 24 October 1992, during the press conference following the scoring of his pole position number 30, the thirteenth of the season, with which he equalled the record achieved twice by Senna (1988-89), Nigel Mansell performs in one of his favorite plays, hanging between the serious and the facetious:
"Williams, thanks to Patrese and me, has prepared a car so much better than the others, so technologically advanced, that you will be bored by next year. In the single-seater of next year, there will also be a system to avoid blocking the brakes which will take away each thrill while braking, you won't ever see the tyres smoking again. Even Alain Prost could win all sixteen races scheduled. In fact, I think that even a dummy behind the wheel of this car could win everything".
And he concludes:
"You press representatives help Williams, please, put a decent driver in the other car next to Prost. As far as I know, I think Damon Hill can be recruited because as a development driver he's shown to be good and fast, maybe even faster than Prost! Unfortunately, that can't happen to me anymore. Many would like to see two world champions fight on equal terms. Someone thinks that Ayrton Senna should have the place. The Brazilian and the Frenchman would have a very exciting year ahead! Thank you everyone".
The day ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix is also marked by a sudden attack from Bernie Ecclestone on Niki Lauda, and, indirectly, Ferrari. Interviewed on TV before the race, the English businessman says in short:
"I don't understand why a team like Ferrari has entrusted a figure of the caliber of Niki. He's an ex-driver who shows up when it suits him to promote his business and his airline company. He truly doesn't care about anything else. And he's even paid to do this. It would be better for everyone if he stayed at his house".
On Sunday, 25 October 1992, at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell is the author of a fast start and at the end of the first lap, he is ahead of Riccardo Patrese by 3 seconds at the finish line. Senna keeps his third position before retiring for the first time on the third lap because of an engine failure. In the meantime, the car of Nicola Larini remains stationary on the grid. The Italian driver goes off again in the last position, while the gearbox of Thierry Boutsen's Ligier breaks during lap 3. On lap 7, Olivier Grouillard, in the second Tyrrell, is the victim of a spin and crashes at the Spoon corner. Shortly after, Gerhard Berger makes an early stop at the pits and rejoins the race in P6, behind Michael Schumacher and the two Lotuses of Mika Häkkinen and Johnny Herbert. During lap 13, Michael Schumacher retires for a gearbox failure, his only mechanical DNF of the year; the gearbox of Johnny Herbert's Lotus also breaks two laps later and forces the British driver to retire. After the stops at the pits to change the tyres halfway through the race, Nigel Mansell keeps a comfortable lead on Patrese, while Gerhard Berger is ahead of Mika Häkkinen in third position and Martin Brundle, who had only qualified in P13 with the second Benetton, moves up to P5, ahead of Comas and De Cesaris. Also, Maurício Gugelmin, with the second Jordan, goes off track and crashes at the 130R corner, leaving debris on the track during lap 23. On lap 36, Nigel Mansell slows down and Riccardo Patrese takes the lead. During the following lap, Comas retires for an engine failure. On lap 39, both Venturi Larrousses driven by Bertrand Gachot and Ukyo Katayama clash at the chicane: the Belgian driver hits his teammate and ends up in the gravel, while the Japanese driver manages to continue and to go back to the pits to put new tyres on (despite the contact).
During lap 44, both Nigel Mansell's and Mika Häkkinen's cars are forced to retire because of an engine failure, letting Gerhard Berger and Martin Brundle pass in second and third position, respectively. Riccardo Patrese achieves his sixth Grand Prix win, ending the race with a 13-second lead on Gerhard Berger and Martin Brundle a minute away; the standing of the top six is completed by Andrea De Cesaris with his Tyrrell-Ilmor, Jean Alesi with his Ferrari and Christian Fittipaldi, who scores his first point in Formula 1 and the first point of the season for the Minardi team. In the Japanese Grand Prix, penultimate race of the Formula One World Championship, Riccardo Patrese, 38 years old, has finally managed to succeed. The Italian driver, with his Williams-Renault, has beaten Berger (McLaren) and Brundle (Benetton). Another slap in the face for Honda, who was racing at home. The Japanese company, however, has confirmed that they want to withdraw from the races. All the other drivers have been lapped. De Cesaris, with Tyrrell, finished P4 and Alesi, with Ferrari, P5. For Larini, with his car equipped with the active suspension, it is P12 following an uncertainty at the start. The Frenchman and the Italian have disputed a lonely race and Alesi, at the end, has asked Luca Montezemolo to urge the team to have a new and more competitive engine as soon as possible. For Patrese, it is his first win in 1992 and the sixth one of his long career. The Paduan, who is now behind the great Alberto Ascari regarding the number of Formula 1 claims won by Italian drivers, is back in second place in the World Championship standing, taking advantage of the DNFs of Senna's McLaren-Honda (engine) and Schumacher's Benetton-Ford (gearbox). The help from Nigel Mansell has been decisive for Patrese at the Suzuka circuit. The Englishman, starting in P1, has given way to his teammate after 35 laps, when he had a 20-second lead. Later, the new World Champion was forced to retire for an engine failure and a subsequent small fire of his Williams.
"Nigel had assured me his support to get past Senna and Schumacher in the World Championship".
In the end-of-season sales, but in front of 150.000 paying spectators, Formula 1 has finally honored Riccardo Patrese. The Italian driver, after so many attempts that have gone wrong, has won the Japanese Grand Prix. First 1992 success for the veteran of this touring circus, tenth claim out of fifteen races for Williams-Renault, which has nearly clinched all objectives, after the Drivers' and Constructors' World Championships, beating Honda at home. Some oxygen for the Italian engines: fourth place of the ever-combative Andrea De Cesaris; a less negative result than usual for Ferrari (Alesi P5 and Larini P12); first point of this year for Minardi, P6 with the young Brazilian Christian Fittipaldi, last offspring of a noble family of Formula 1. For the thirty-eight-year-old Patrese, it is a well-deserved triumph and rightly enjoyed. A prize for his commitment, for his determination and for his combativeness, for the loyalty he always showed towards his teammates and for the various teams he has raced for in his long career. It is also a small rematch with regard to the bad luck that haunts him and that has caused him to miss a couple of races already won this year. A great satisfaction, but everyone would certainly like to see Riccardo win in another way. If it is true that Patrese would have imposed himself anyway because Mansell - as it has been said - was betrayed by the failure of the power unit of his car, it is indisputable that the Englishman decided at some point in the race, while he was largely in the lead, to return all the favors received during the championship and to let pass his teammate, opening him the door to the win. In short, the Lion repeated the maneuver that had failed at Monza because Patrese had encountered problems with the active suspension.
"There wasn't a precise agreement between us before the start, and we didn't have team orders. Also, because at that moment, considering the situation, Williams is not likely to impose anything, given that we're both leaving at the end of the year. Nigel, however, had assured me that, if he could, he would help me to score the necessary points to get past Senna and Schumacher in the World Championship. If we had been second and third, for example, not being interested in a ranking, he would have stepped aside. I have to say, by the way, that when Mansell turned up again, I gritted my teeth, and I was ready to defend myself".
Mansell at first, in the TV interviews, doesn't talk about the win. Later, in the post-race, he clarifies, at least from his point of view, what happened:
"I had no issues. Then, I arrived at the point where Gugelmin had went off track and I hit the timing transponder that had broken off from his Jordan with a sidepod of my car. At that moment, I thought about the situation in the championship, I had a radio discussion with my engineer about the standing of Riccardo and Senna and, coming out of the chicane, I slowed down a lot, voluntarily taking me to second position. Why take the risk?"
Nigel Mansell has reduced his pace, then he has also lost his second position because of an engine failure (but before that, he had done a series of record laps behind Riccardo Patrese, giving also the impression that he wanted to attack). In the end, the two drivers hug and almost kiss. And away joyful and happy, ready to go to Heaven for the good deeds accomplished, towards each other. Even a ruthless and selfish sport like Formula 1 occasionally brings out the human sides and weaknesses. However, the exciting wins are something else. And we are convinced that the same Patrese, deep down, would have preferred to reach that finish line differently. It was the race of seconds. In quick succession, the dismayed Ayrton Senna (blown up engine, the third in three days, poor Honda) then Michael Schumacher, left without gearbox and so Nigel Mansell have disappeared. The Englishman, who has never won in Japan, stopped at the pits with a small fire coming out of his Williams' power unit because of the oil, probably overly solicited. Thus, Patrese, Berger and Brundle had their own day of glory. Among the drivers who have won a total of six Grand Prix like Riccardo Patrese there are World Champions (Rindt and Surtees), but among the ones who have crossed the finish line first less times than the Paduan driver, some have managed to win the world championship title, like Keke Rosberg and Giuseppe Farina. Those numbers give an idea of how difficult it is to race as protagonists in Formula 1, how a single success can also be worth a career. For sixteen years, with an absolute record of 239 Grand Prix disputed, the 38-year-old Paduan driver pursues his own path, always trying to get the most out of the cars provided. Exciting moments, such as the first laps in the lead with Arrows and the rocky win of Monte-Carlo in 1983, and harsh periods. As when he was summarily put on trial because he was held responsible for the crash that caused the death of Ronnie Peterson in 1978 in Monza but was later cleared. But Riccardo Patrese has always been able to move forward, showing beyond what are his driving skills, that is to say ability and courage, a huge determination that is the basis of his success as a man and a champion of the wheel. In all these years Patrese has only one real regret: that of never having been able to really fight for the title. Not even in this season, despite driving the best car, dominant of the World Championship, the Italian had concretely this opportunity, closed as it was by the presence of teammate Nigel Mansell, Englishman in a team that is as English as it can be. It must be acknowledged, however, that Riccardo also has the courage to admit that his partner was the strongest.
"There's little to do, Nigel was the best this year. Nobody could have beaten him. I had my opportunities to do so, sometimes I got it wrong, in others maybe I even wasted some. But there has never been a true fight for the title. The most beautiful thing is that we have established a beautiful relationship between us two drivers of friendship, of esteem, of loyalty that I believe has no comparison in other teams. In fact, the tensions experienced in our own team have even more tied us. Even if then, our sport being an individual one, each pursues its own path and there can be misunderstandings and delicate phases. What's important is understanding and explaining, what we have always done with more than good results".
But isn't it humiliating for a driver to win a race like this Japanese Grand Prix because another driver has let him past? To this question, Riccardo goes on a rampage:
"For what reason? Because I personally never have helped Mansell in other occasions? Because I didn't have the order to let him win in Portugal, how was it then? He had promised me the race in Monza, we had really made an agreement, but the plan has failed because we both had encountered mechanical issues. Here we didn't explicitly plan something, except that him, if possible, would put me in a position to score the biggest number of points for my standing. Apart from the fact that Nigel then had his car's engine broken, who says that he didn't have a problem when I overtook him? In any case, I didn't know anything. When I took the lead and he started to push hard again, I was ready to defend that first place, to fight. I don't see anything scandalous about this, I don't know why I should be ashamed. I won and that's all. I thanked him, as he has done a lot of times with me".
On Sunday evening, Patrese celebrates his sixth achievement with his wife Susanna and a few friends. Some laughter, no wine for him because he's an athlete.
"Now I enjoy this first place in Japan and a few days off. I have to say that my morale was low before Sunday, because it had gone wrong too many times. I took a little revenge. I've had a couple of difficult months, since Mansell said he wouldn't be racing in Formula 1 anymore: for many reasons, because of the uncertainties that there were regarding the future. But now I'm cool, happy. I can even say that I'll arrive in Adelaide next week with the intention to repeat the job, if the opportunity shows up. Crossing the finish line first, for a driver, is the best cure, it is an elixir for longevity. Then, I'll think of the future: I signed a 2-year contract with Benetton. This means, if you know me well, that I'm not quitting, I don’t feel fulfilled at all, that I will also continue to fight along with the emerging phenomenon Schumacher. I know that it will be hard, but this has never scared me. Actually, right now, I feel like a young man, almost like a rookie, ready to start all over again".
Williams confirmed an even excessive superiority, so it is true that only the first three completed the race at full speed, while all the others were lapped. At the start Mansell had no regard for Patrese, squeezing him to the right, and began a solo escape. Thirty-five laps led for the Englishman, then, with more than a 20-second lead, the sudden slowdown that has given the lead to the Paduan. A few moments of uncertainty for the stops at the pits in the tyre changes, a beautiful overtaking of De Cesaris on Gachot on the outside, the crashes of Gugelmin and Gachot himself who had the good idea to get on the car of teammate Katayama. Otherwise, boredom. Patrese, Berger and Brundle showed up on the finish line at regular intervals, well-spaced between them and then the group ruled by the good De Cesaris who was ahead of Alesi and his Ferrari, Christian Fittipaldi and his Minardi in the points. It seems that the Japanese fans enjoyed it anyway and that many of them understood very little of what happened. It is hoped, however, that in Australia for the last act of the season the show will be more exciting. Max Mosley, the president of FISA, has promised that a special commission will be set up to reduce costs, increase entertainment and increase security. For the moment, among the decisions taken it brings a smile to think of having assigned for 1993 to Williams, after the retirement of Mansell embarking on the American races (but will it be true?) the numbers 0 and 2, eliminating the 1 assigned to the World Champion. Who will drive the number 0 car? It would be a humiliation for Prost. It is perhaps better to hand it over to the second driver. A fine is also introduced for the teams which will not have communicated the names of the drivers chosen for the following year by November 15, 1992. A huge amount: 1 dollar.
As if to say: open market until the last moment. It can be said that the Ferrari trip to the Land of the Rising Sun has ended with little lights and large shadows. On the one hand, in the positive note of the report, Alesi's fifth place, the debut without too much mechanical or electrical trouble of the active suspension on the laboratory car driven by Larini and the recovered reliability. On the other hand, in the negative note, sadly, figures, data, findings that demonstrate the current level of the complete non-competitiveness of the single-seaters of Maranello. The Frenchman ended the race lapped, at 2'24"0 behind the winner. An average gap of over 2.5 seconds during each of the 53 laps done. In his fastest lap, Alesi set a time of 1'45"455, at 4.8 seconds from the best lap overall (of Patrese). During their race, the two drivers of the team from Maranello had to think more about defending themselves than attacking. Jean could not do a single overtake (actually he had to struggle to resist the return of Fittipaldi with his Minardi offering greater acceleration, after having managed to overtake him only during the pit stop for the tyre change). And his position is more the result of the DNF of those who were ahead of him than of the performances of the car he drove. Larini overtook four rivals, but just at the back of the grid, since, among other things, he had started last in the line-up. Alesi, very frankly, declares at the end of the race:
"How can I be satisfied with a fifth place achieved that way? Those races are not the ones I like. We made progress with the chassis, but I have to take advantage of this opportunity to ask chairman Montezemolo to get us a better engine for 1993".
Indeed, at the moment, the power unit is the true ball and chain of Ferrari. Larini, however, seems disappointed to have missed the start:
"I was surprised by the active suspension which has raised the car when I put the gear in neutral on the grid. It's a normal behavior, but in the tension of the race, it distracted me. And I wasn't able to keep the engine running. It was my mistake and I'm sorry, because, given the result, I could have finished in the points, ahead of or behind Alesi. I'm convinced that in Australia, this active suspension will give us some more satisfaction".
A bit of optimism does not hurt, even if Ferrari is really going through one of its most difficult moments of the last years. The same Larini (together with Prost with his Williams and Schumacher with his Benetton) will be on track at Imola for a series of tests, from Wednesday, 28 October, until Friday, 30 October 1992, with a car partially modified in line with the regulations that will become effective in 1993. But the most important work will have to be done in the Fiorano workshops by the men directed by engineer Claudio Lombardi, engaged in the difficult attempt to close the gap which separates the current Ferrari engine from the best of the lot.