There is an almost Grand Prix-like atmosphere in the Formula 1 tests held at the Monza National Circuit on Thursday, August 16th, 1990: about 30.000 spectators and full teams. Ayrton Senna in a McLaren sets the best lap time, covering the circuit in 1'25"74, but it will be necessary to wait until Friday, the last day (permits were not granted to extend the tests to Saturday), when chronometric feedback will be sought with the soft tires, used for now only by Williams. At the center of attention, as usual, still is the driver's market. Mansell, who arrived from Spain in good condition, avoids talking about his situation, while Cesare Fiorio confirms a vague interest in Ivan Capelli ("As a hypothesis") and the Italian driver shows himself flattered by the rumors that accompany him in these days, admitting, however, that there has not been, for the moment, any concrete contact. Mansell, meanwhile, tested the Ferrari 641/2 (1'26"57, also preceded by Boutsen's 1'26"46 and Patrese's 1'26"51) with the standard engine, as the engineers wanted to do comparative aerodynamic tests and tested a new, very unloaded rear wing. The Englishman stopped because of clutch failure, a trouble like what had happened to him in Phoenix. Meanwhile, the McLaren-laboratory driven by Jonathan Palmer, equipped with the unreleased 12-cylinder Honda engine that will be used next year, also continues to run. The car, while not recording any major lap times, is so far the one that has achieved the highest top speed, exceeding 313 km/h, a sign that the power is considerable. Among the day's highlights was the debut of young Andrea Montermini in the Scuderia Italia Dallara. The driver, who currently competes in Formula 3000 in the team partially bought by Mansell (with whom he had a long talk), could be hired as a test driver to develop the single-seater with a ten-cylinder Judd engine, for which Beppe Lucchini's team has obtained exclusivity for next year.
"Which one is Prost? You can recognize him even when he wears a helmet, he has a crooked nose".
Summer soccer, after the World Football Championship ends, may still be boring. So, fans who normally frequent stadiums move to the autodrome, on the hunt for autograph drivers. And it goes without saying that many bring to Formula 1 their boisterous and vulgar way of supporting their teams: there are 10.000 people in the stands booing and shouting improper words against Senna, Berger, and McLaren (but there is no shortage of Brazilian flags against the tide), while for Ferrari, Prost, and Mansell there is only applause and shouts of encouragement. Partisanship becomes embittered after the Budapest car crash, although the drivers have already made peace (cordial meeting between Senna and Nannini, only Berger and Mansell remain on their positions), so much so that even Cesare Fiorio exclaims:
"You don't boo champions like that".
In this derby atmosphere, an almost historic fact for Formula 1 passes under the radar: Berger almost manages to finish a Grand Prix simulation with the new Honda 12-cylinder, the Japanese weapon for next year. Almost, because the Austrian is forced to stop after 49 of the planned 54 laps. The throttle sticks and the Austrian goes straight into the chicane.
"The engine is great; I didn't have the slightest problem. They will have to make a different car to make the most of it, but we are on the right track".
It should be noted that Berger at the time of the break is only 8 seconds slower, in total, on equal mileage, then Senna did in a similar attempt the day before with the 10-cylinder, and he was also 6 seconds ahead in the first part of the race simulation. The McLaren team leaves Monza satisfied, although it appears that contract negotiations for the Brazilian, who leaves on vacation in Sardinia with Gerhard Berger, have not yet been concluded.
"Fifty percent I stay, 50 percent I can go to Williams. I will decide within a few days".
A signal to McLaren boss Ron Dennis to hurry up and give him what he is asking for? It is highly likely. However, on Senna's decisions the whole market depends. Remaining with Senna, one must also register in the typically Brazilian soap opera that has featured Ayrton Senna himself and his compatriot Nelson Piquet as protagonists for years, a spicy bet in favor of the McLaren driver. Nelson had accused him - jokingly - of being homosexual. In the South American edition of Playboy, which came out in South America, in an 11-page interview, the São Paulo boy talks about everything, his divine visions and the fairer sex. And he openly says he has known as a woman, though not in love, Catherine, Piquet's current partner.
"In love no, I met her. Known her as a woman".
Senna had never said such a thing, Piquet might resent…
"But at least he will no longer be able to claim that I don't like women".
"He is a champion without value, without victory, without achievement. Last year he did not even have the courage to celebrate his third title. He discredited everything".
Returning to serious topics, if Ayrton Senna sets the best time in 1'24"74, Nigel Mansell, with a time of 1'25"57, precedes Thierry Boutsen (Williams, 1'26"89), Martini (Minardi, 1'26"89) and Prost (1'27"70), while Berger completes his fastest lap in 1'27"93, 0.01 seconds better than Nannini in the Benetton. Nigel Mansell performs aerodynamic tests, Alain Prost tire tests:
"I prefer to do them myself and not entrust this task to other teams".
Regarding the possibility of winning the World Championship, the Frenchman said:
"It is always open because we are tied with Senna in terms of wins, although it has become tougher as there are only six races to go, and the Brazilian has a 10-point lead. It will be necessary not to lose as in Germany and Hungary".
There are whispers that Prost has not renewed his contract with Ferrari either…
"There is still time. I did not do it at the time of the three consecutive wins because when everything is going well at best you can only ask for more money. And not all drivers aim for money".
Work continued for Ferrari and Alain Prost on Monday, August 20th, 1990, at Fiorano, where the Frenchman tested the three cars later shipped to Belgium. In the afternoon, Prost also goes to the new Mugello racetrack (owned by Ferrari, it will be inaugurated in mid-September and has the most sophisticated control and data-tracking systems), where he completes four laps, about 20 kilometers. The circuit bears some vague resemblance to the one at Spa. The test also refers to a test of the road surface. On Thursday, August 23rd, 1990, the first bandole in the tangled skein of the driver-market suddenly pops up on the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix:
"Alain Prost will be at the wheel of Ferrari again in the 1991 season. The agreement with the French driver, who declared enthusiasm and willingness to continue the collaboration, was yesterday renewed under the option agreed upon at the time".
This is the text of a Scuderia Ferrari communiqué, distributed in the early afternoon. And it is not a massive surprise: it was known that the World Champion would sign. To have done so, he received all the guarantees he had asked for, the same money, at least, that he took this year (there was talk of about $7.000.000) and that both parties are satisfied with the relationship. But Prost's confirmation also has other indirect meanings. First, one could say that Nigel Mansell at this point is virtually cut off from the Maranello team. For many reasons. First, the Englishman would no longer be liked by either the team or his current teammate. Balkan behavior, the announcement of his retirement at the end of the season, his excessively individualistic spirit, or rather, his unwillingness to cooperate in Prost's ongoing attempt to win the title, must have overshadowed the qualities of the driver, fast and courageous, but overall unprofitable for the team. And it also became clear why certain attitudes were taken: after hearing negative responses to his requests to be considered the first driver, Nigel Mansell learned that Senna was having problems renewing with McLaren, and offers were even made to him. However, since Ferrari had, indeed has, an option on him that expires at the end of September, he tried to play smart. If he had asked the Maranello team to be let go, Mansell would have been told that the intention was to reappoint him. Thus, to disengage he would have been forced to stay put for a year. The retirement announcement then would have been an attempt at contrivance: Ferrari caught by surprise would have had to run for cover and hire another driver, automatically leaving Nigel in his own destiny. But Cesare Fiorio, who is certainly no slouch, goes on to say that there is no hurry in choosing a second driver. So, Mansell was taken aback and was forced to send a fax to say that he had reconsidered, that his fans begged him to continue. But now the game is over or at any rate exposed. Prost remains, and next to the Frenchman will be someone else, an Italian. Much still depends on what Senna will decide just these days. If the Brazilian stays at McLaren, travel will be limited. If, on the other hand, he moves to Williams, then the fits will be several. In the latter case Mansell could move right to McLaren, and Alesi end up at Ferrari. In this regard, Cesare Fiorio confirms:
"The Alesi hypothesis has not yet dropped. For the rest we have a shortlist of names, but we will play all the best possible opportunities".
And here are popping up the candidacies of Ivan Capelli, Stefano Modena and so on, ending even with Thierry Boutsen, who would be pleasing to Prost. It may well be that the Belgian driver, winner of the last race in Budapest, has not yet had contact with the Italian team, but it is never too late:
"I am available, Williams has not told me anything yet. I have several contacts, of course Ferrari would be a wonderful hypothesis, in fact the dream of my life".
While waiting to find out how the situation will evolve, on Friday, August 24th, 1990, they will take to the track. Thierry Boutsen, at the circuit that some have called his backyard, thinks he does not have much of a chance to win the race:
"I see the usual McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton. But it is clear that at a time like this I will do everything I can to put myself in the spotlight, to make it clear that among so many established or emerging drivers there are also some who do not make headlines but can go fast".
Instead, in this regard, Ferrari practices another injection of confidence in Alain Prost. No means are spared to help the Frenchman in his challenge for the world title against arch-enemy Ayrton Senna. First the engagement of trusted designer Steve Nichols with whom he had worked for so many years, then the accelerated development of the new 037 engine, and now confirmation for next year. So, the tough little transalpine will be able to face a decisive race like the one scheduled for Sunday, the Belgian Grand Prix, the eleventh round of the championship, with a clear mind, without psychological problems, focused on what must be his goal: winning.
Not surprisingly, the Maranello team wanted to make known the renewal of the contract for one season with Prost. This race is not the last hope, but it has special importance. After two results, one not too brilliant (the fourth place in Germany) and one negative (the withdrawal due to a mechanical problem with the gearbox) in Budapest, Alain cannot allow his rival to accumulate any more points in the rainbow standings beyond the 10 he already has. Alain Prost admits:
"In fact, if the McLaren driver wins, and I don't finish in the top six, it would be a disaster. On a mathematical level nothing would be compromised because there would be five races left to run, but in practice I would be engaged in an impossible chase. This track, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, should not be very unfavorable to our cars, which is why it will be necessary to get the best possible finish. I only hope that the weather will be clement, that they will roll up their sleeves to provide me with a vehicle up to the task. This is a track that I really like. And it would be important to give another blow to Ferrari to then present ourselves in Monza with some peace of mind in the standings. In short, the moment is particularly delicate, and I really hope to take advantage of a favorable situation".
Here Williams should not be as dangerous as in Budapest, although it remains the Benetton to create doubts after the recent progress and the splendid race run by Nannini in Hungary, when the Tuscan could have won if he had not been thrown off the track by Senna himself. Thoughts of the top touch the aforementioned teams. But each team tries in some way to strengthen itself, to improve. This is the case of Osella, which is already thinking about the future. Yesterday the Volpiano-based team announced that it is launching a technical and human enhancement plan. Among other things, there is the possibility of launching a second car next year. For this reason, an option was signed with the young French driver Paul Belmondo, son of the famous film actor. The boy after a hard apprenticeship in the minor formulas is working his way up. Lately in Formula 3000 he has been getting decent results and now he is thinking of taking the big leap into Formula 1. He is not a Prost or a Senna, but for Osella the mere fact of attempting to field two cars in the next championship is already a sign of vitality and the desire to return to those values that at the beginning of this world adventure had already given some small satisfaction. Friday, Aug. 24th, 1990, Gerhard Berger scores--with McLaren-Honda--the best time in the first practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, and Prost with Ferrari responds in a big way, but the man of the day is Ayrton Senna, third on the day's grid and first in the pit chatter. After months of rumors, the time seems to have come for the big decision. And McLaren is in danger of losing the Brazilian star. It is a story of money, interest, spite, jealousy, mistakes.
While the Formula 1 tour is shaken (and also amused) by the interview given by the 30-year-old Paulist to the Brazilian edition of Playboy magazine, 11 pages of confessions ranging from his first erotic experience-at the age of thirteen-with a fat 20-year-old mulatto, to the defense of his image as a genuine male, to his relations with Prost (pathetic the defense on the occasion of the episode in which he cried in front of Ron Dennis and his French rival: "I got tears in my eyes from the pity he gave me"), to his religious conversion, to his relationship with God. The Brazilian even recounts that at Monte-Carlo he was enveloped by a kind of cloud of light and came out of his own body, levitating while in the cockpit of the car that was not going well, and that later his McLaren became perfect so that he won the race. But this is yet another matter that illustrates, if possible, the figure of a character in every case extraordinary, different, complex. The affair with McLaren, on the other hand, shows us a determined, businesslike Senna, whom Ron Dennis, manager of the team, does not hesitate to call diabolical. The situation concisely is this: Ayrton is unhappy, criticizes the team's policy, accuses the technicians of not being able to fine-tune the chassis. Indeed, McLaren, strong on results and with a certain presumption, in recent years has lost men like John Barnard and Steve Nichols, set aside Gordon Murray to carry out the ambitious program of a granturismo car. And so, Senna asks for money, starts at $8:000.000 initial request to renew the contract, and goes up to $12.000.000. Dennis niches, stalling, afraid of getting into a dead-end ride. Meanwhile, Williams enters the race, driven by a desire to have the champion and a sponsor, Camel, who would spare no expense to take the star out of Marlboro. The raises are continuous, and it is as high as $15.000.000.
A war. Senna is still asking for guarantees, McLaren is suffering, knows it could lose Honda engines if the Brazilian leaves. On the other side is Renault, which supplies its engines to Williams and would like the Brazilian. Ayrton continues to complain, to friends he confesses that he feels he does not have the same material available to him as teammate Berger. Ron Dennis, tries to bluff and summons the Italian journalists, to whom he says:
"In two months, I got white hair. Ayrton is a tremendous businessman, but now we are closer".
Honda itself stepped in, offering to help bridge any differences. The driver, on the other hand (after having a long talk with Frank Williams, who swooped into the Nice airport in his new Falcon jet) lets it be known that 50% will go and 50% will stay. In between then are the waiting positions of Alesi, Mansell, Boutsen, the most desirable men on the market. In short, as has been said, a soap opera to put Dallas and Dinasty together to shame. The only thing certain is that a decision will be made soon, certainly by the weekend. McLaren or Williams? Or a resounding turnaround, a year of forced rest, waiting to aim in 1992 at Ferrari? One awaits the next installment.
"Tomorrow I can play a good part in the world title".
Alain Prost has no doubts, the Belgian Grand Prix will assume considerable importance in his roster toward a hypothetical fourth world helmet, and the same, of course, applies to Ferrari. The Frenchman realized that he could seize a favorable moment as Senna and McLaren are unnerved by the long ongoing contract negotiations for next year. Whichever way the affair ends (and the Brazilian has said directly that he will not leave Spa until he has placed a signature, either if he stays with his current team or should he switch to Williams) the stress accumulated over months of discussions may take its toll. Admits Alain Prost:
"It is precisely for this reason that I preferred to speed up the time to come to an agreement with the team in Maranello. The drivers' market has become such a tussle that it is better to get rid of certain thoughts. And, I have been happy with Ferrari. The plans for the future are attractive, the conditions they set for me are favorable. Now my mind is completely clear, and that will be an advantage. I will be able to concentrate on driving, trying to make the most of the gifts of a car, my 641/2, which is certainly among the best in race conditions. However, it is useless to prepare tactics or plans. I like the track very much; it will be necessary to attack so as not to take too many risks. The only real doubt that plagues me concerns the weather: rain is always lurking here and water on the asphalt would be a real bummer. But that will be true for everyone".
A determined, well-charged Prost, although he does not believe the task will be made easy for him:
"It is true that the Brazilian could suffer, on a psychological level, from a difficult situation for him, however, I think above all it will be decisive to fine-tune the car, to prepare everything down to the smallest detail".
It is not excluded that Ferrari will try to play a surprise card. After what was seen in Hungary (where Prost and Mansell faced considerable problems during overtaking), the Maranello team has fine-tuned a new rear wing.
"We were supposed to use it at Monza, but we may also fit it on this track if the latest tests give positive results. It is a wing without the center pylon, which allows you to get to a higher top speed without compromising the road holding of the single seater".
Only Senna the man to beat?
"Well, the Brazilian is always the most dangerous opponent. But I will also have to consider the ambitions of Berger, who has yet to win a race this year, compared with his teammate's four wins, and Mansell's desire to aim for a success that he has so far lacked. Unfortunately, from the Englishman I cannot expect much help. And overall, I understand him. Ours is a sport of individualists; there is no one willing to sacrifice himself if he does not have to. I only hope that there will be no repetition of episodes similar to what happened in Budapest when Senna and Berger knocked Nannini and Mansell off the track respectively".
In this regard, it must be said that the Fisa stewards on Thursday afternoon summoned Ron Dennis, McLaren's manager, telling him to warn his drivers that no more episodes of violence, of road hooliganism, will be tolerated. Saturday, August 25th, 1990, Ayrton Senna breaks free from the nightmare and flies to win pole position number 48 of his career. The Brazilian of McLaren will start ahead of everyone in the Belgian Grand Prix. A race that could allow him to take another substantial lead over Alain Prost. And he will do so with the satisfaction of having renewed his contract with McLaren. In fact, the Brazilian, 30, at 8:00 a.m. signs the contract that also binds him for 1991 and 1992 to Ron Dennis' British team. The Brazilian driver will earn $14.000.000 in 1991, and another $15.000.000 in 1992. In this way, Ayrton Senna becomes the world's highest-paid sportsman in terms of salary. There is no footballer, basketball player, golfer or tennis player who reaches such figures. It was a painful negotiation in which Senna managed to get the most. It is hard to believe that ever the South American really thought of leaving McLaren for Williams, the real victim of the affair. Everything matured in a matter of hours. On Friday night Frank Williams and Renault thought they had the situation under control. But the intervention of Honda and Marlboro, who contributed concretely to the payment, was decisive. In addition, Senna got not only the money he wanted but also, a success in the regulatory part. McLaren, in a brief statement, lets it be known that the contract is valid for next year with an option for 1992. Ron Dennis, showing his pants pockets turned inside out and empty, says:
"It cost us dearly, but we are happy. And we got what we wanted, which is the possibility of a renewal".
Senna, however, makes it clear that the situation is different:
"A driver - these days - must always have a second chance. Sooner or later there could be Ferrari in my future".
"The discussion was happening on two different tables; on one side were the technical talks and on the other side were the commercial talks. I was asking for extremely specific programs because I want the car to remain successful in the coming years. Then there were the commercial aspects that are never easy to solve. Do not ask me how much I make, beyond a certain amount it is just numbers and that is it. However, it was a good struggle. My goal is to develop McLaren a winning car. If it takes two years, I will also stay two years, otherwise we will see".
And in this way, he confirms his interest in coming to Maranello in two years. Now the drivers' market is open, but it will not be easy to arrange the various pawns. Williams, orphaned of the Brazilian, will do everything to get Jean Alesi, enforcing the contract that the Frenchman would have signed. But Alesi does not want to go to the British team and dreams of Ferrari.
The matter will certainly end up in the hands of the lawyers. The only thing that is certain is that the Maranello team has definitively given up on Nigel Mansell. That is why it will continue to focus on the young Frenchman and, alternatively, on the names that have come out in recent months: Capelli, Modena, even Boutsen, still a talent to be considered. This driver-market has become absurd, in a certain sense bleak, both in terms of the figures reached and the outside intervention of intermediaries. It never ceases to amaze. At Spa there is even a rumor concerning Prost, whom Ferrari recently reconfirmed. It is rumored that the Frenchman has not yet physically signed the contract. But an agreement has been reached, only the details are missing. There should be no surprises. In the meantime, with a perfect lap, the kind that leaves everyone amazed, Ayrton Senna reclaimed his role as the fastest driver in Formula 1. Record time for the beautiful Belgian circuit, 1'50"365, averaging 226.376 km/h. Yet many were trying to get behind the Brazilian, starting with his teammate Berger, who succeeded only in taking Alain Prost and Ferrari off the front row. The Frenchman, while improving by about 0.8 seconds, is forced to settle for P3, just a whisker behind the Austrian. Nevertheless, Alain Prost is untroubled:
"Now that I have signed the new contract, my mind is completely clear, and that will be an advantage. I will be able to concentrate on driving, trying to make the most of the gifts of a car, my 641/2, which is certainly among the best in race conditions. However, it is useless to prepare tactics or plans. I like the track very much; it will be necessary to attack so as not to take too many risks. My only real doubt is about the weather: rain is always lurking here and water on the asphalt would be a real bummer. But that will be true for everyone. It will be crucial to fine-tune the car, to prepare everything down to the smallest detail. Senna is always the most dangerous opponent. But I will also have to consider Berger's ambitions and Mansell's desire to aim for a success that he has so far lacked. Unfortunately, from Mansell I cannot expect much help. And overall, I understand him. Ours is a sport of individualists; there is no one willing to sacrifice himself if he does not have to. I just hope there will be no repeat of episodes similar to what happened in Budapest when Senna and Berger knocked Nannini and Mansell off the track, respectively".
Once again, the Maranello team complains about the inconsistent performance of the qualifying tires. Indeed, Prost, in the morning, had been the fastest, clocking a time of 1'51"116, and hoped to drop in the afternoon session. Instead, progress was minimal. Instead, he takes a good step forward Thierry Boutsen in the Williams. In front of his home crowd, the Belgian won a fourth position by risking the maximum, attacking like a madman, overtaking an abulic Mansell, a bit out of his mind, struggling with his existential problems, still uncertain between leaving racing and staying in Formula 1, but in another team. Well, however, the usual Alessandro Nannini, P6, ahead of Riccardo Patrese, Nelson Piquet and Jean Alesi. The Paduan, however, cannot defend himself as a detached suspension (without impact and therefore broken due to a defect) deprives him in the morning of his racing car. Also, accident victims are Nelson Piquet, due to tire deterioration at the last corner (a big hit on the pit entrance divider, but limited damage) and Pierluigi Martini, who ends up in a dirty part of the asphalt. The race thus replays a McLaren-Ferrari duel (which in race conditions should be competitive), with little chance of victory for the outsiders, unless of course there are resounding reversals of the values on the field. On Sunday, August 26th, 1990, a peculiar affair arose in the pits before the race, involving Ferrari. The Maranello team had been testing Goodyear race tires in recent days, which it had in stock at Fiorano. No regulations prevent them from being used, but there is an agreement on the word that the teams should mount the tires brought by the American company for the race at the time. And so, the managers of the various teams begin to protest. Eventually, Scuderia Ferrari's sporting director, Cesare Fiorio, says:
"Aside from the fact that we don't have enough of them and not even the type required for this track, we only did some comparative testing. These are tires with a different construction that had been produced until the British Grand Prix. Our drivers were convinced that they were more suitable for our cars. That is why we asked Goodyear to remake them, and they will be brought to Monza, but for all the teams".
In addition, Jean Marie Balestre, president of the FIA, after witnessing the Budapest car crash on television at his villa in Opio, Provence, acted. During the Belgian Grand Prix briefing he first warns drivers that from now on the sporting authorities will be much stricter, then announces immediate action.
"Since the most dangerous point on this circuit is at the Source corner, just after the start, we have put eight judges on site to monitor the situation and two additional cameras in addition to those installed for broadcasting. In case of an accident, should the race be stopped, an investigation will be ordered, should it even cost us a couple of hours of delay. If, after checking footage and testimonies, liability is established, the stewards will be able to apply the appropriate penalties immediately".
But let's come to the race, which has its most intense moments at the start, that is, in the three starts that will have been necessary to set the final tone. The first start counts two accidents. In the first one Nelson Piquet is the protagonist, whose Benetton pushes Nigel Mansell's Ferrari 641 off the track. In the second accident, Satoru Nakajima's Tyrrell collides with Stefano Modena's Brabham, causing the race to be stopped. In the second start Ayrton Senna takes the lead of the race, with Thierry Boutsen's Williams climbing from P4 to P2, while rival Alain Prost drops to P4 after starting in P3. However, another incident on the first lap, involving Paolo Barilla's Minardi, which went off the track at Eau Rouge, leaving debris all over the track in that area, caused the second interruption of the race. The third start, however, turned out to be cleaner, as Senna maintained the lead ahead of teammate Gerhard Berger, Alain Prost, Thierry Boutsen, Riccardo Patrese and Alessandro Nannini. Nigel Mansell, in the second Ferrari, pits on lap 11 with handling problems. The Briton manages to rejoin the race but retires eight laps later. Meanwhile, back at the front, Prost takes P2 ahead of Berger, but then pits to change tires. The margin between Senna and Prost is only 2 seconds when the two make their second pit stop to mount new tires. Both Williams of Patrese and Boutsen are, however, forced to retire with gearbox problems on lap 22. The pit stops of Senna and Prost allow Alessandro Nannini (who once again runs the entire race distance without making any pit stops) to take second place. Prost manages to overtake Nannini, and Berger tries to do the same thing but fails to overtake the Italian driver before lap 41, when the Benetton driver misses his braking point and goes wide at La Source, allowing Berger to take the P3 from the Italian.
Ayrton Senna takes his fifth win of the season, crossing the finish line 3.5 seconds ahead of Prost, while Gerhard Berger, Alessandro Nannini and Nelson Piquet in the second Benetton, and Mauricio Gugelmin in his Leyton House complete the list of the top six drivers at the finish line. The Brazilian torcida, disappointed by the football World Cup, partied at the Spa circuit in Belgium. In fact, the 11th round of the Formula 1 World Championship ended to the rhythm of samba beaten by drums, with hundreds of fans and flags on the track to sing the glories of Ayrton Senna, who reached victory number 25. It was not a beautiful race, although there was no shortage of excitement as three starts were required, due to an interminable series of accidents (all fortunately without consequences) that delayed the final start by an hour. Senna raced his way, in the lead from start to finish, without a smear, like the champion he is. Behind him, Alain Prost in a Ferrari fought like a lion. The French driver, however, had to settle for second place, ahead of Berger (McLaren) and Nannini (Benetton), authors of a duel like the one that took place years ago between Villeneuve and Arnoux, with repeated overtaking. The final result allows Senna to gain another 3 points (but also and above all to move ahead in the comparison of the first places, five to four) over his rival in the World Championship. We are now at 63 points against 50. Thirteen lengths of lead are not a gulf, not least because Ayrton has accumulated an extra score and will eventually have to discard first. However, the challenge becomes tougher for Prost and Ferrari: McLaren has regained not only competitiveness but also cohesion and serenity with the conclusion of the long matter of Senna's own contract renewal. Indeed, it could be said that the Brazilian now had everything at his disposal, even the services of Berger, who in the three starts (especially at the second) acted as his shield, sheltering him from opposing attacks.
And even during the race the Austrian gave the impression more of protecting his teammate than seeking a personal result. Prost, on the other hand, was alone: the team supported him with great commitment, but the same could not be said of Mansell, who, after being forced to change his car bumped by Piquet's Benetton, retired because he did not like the road holding (the single seater was the Frenchman's spare). The Maranello team, at such a delicate moment, cannot rely much on the contribution of the English driver. No teamwork, if he wants to fight for the title, Prost will have to do it - at least on the track - alone. And so, the Formula One World Championship does not start again from the beginning, as Prost and Ferrari hoped. In fact, it is right uphill now, with a wild Senna, morale soaring, ready to spite in two weeks' time even at Monza, where he has some revenge to take. The Brazilian and McLaren have proven that they are always the pair to beat. One must smile when one considers that the driver from São Paulo has done nothing but complain about his car's chassis since the start of the season. What would he do if it was really good? By contrast, the Maranello team did not emerge completely defeated from the beautiful and dangerous Ardennes circuit. Prost's second place may be of use. There are considerations to be made to understand the reasons for Senna's victory. But first let's analyze some figures: the two rivals each lowered the lap record exactly seventeen times, but the Frenchman was the fastest overall, on lap 38, accomplished in 1'55"087 (against 1'55"132 of his rival). Equal performance. But then why did Prost lose? The answer is simple. Examining the time analysis prepared by Olivetti, we see that the Frenchman left 4.7 seconds in the first thirteen laps behind Berger.
Then he lost another 3 seconds at the tire change because at the pit exit Piquet inserted himself between him and Senna. And 4 seconds he wasted on lap 32 to lap Alboreto. At that point, the Brazilian forced hard, improving from lap to lap, and made it clear that he was now unassailable. So, it was the overtaking that made the difference between Senna and Prost. Now the question must be asked: is it because McLaren still has more to spend, especially at certain junctures, such as when impressive acceleration or higher top speed is needed? Or is Ayrton too good at these maneuvers, brave just that much more to take risks when ordinary mortals dare not? The answer lies in the totality of things. In order for Prost to win again, Ferrari will have to put him in a position to have the minimum amount of superiority necessary for the Frenchman to challenge the Brazilian. In short, Ferrari returns to the podium but does not satisfy its hunger for points. Prost's second place only partially satisfies the need for results to counter Senna's march, not least because the Brazilian has made an overpowering return to victory. However, the problems seem to be overlapping; there is the impression that there is not the necessary calm. The Nigel Mansell affair, his announced and then retracted retirement, has brought some nervousness to a time when maximum concentration would be needed. This does not mean that the Maranello team is not producing maximum effort, but if next to Prost at such a delicate moment there was a happy and consistent driver, it would be much better. To this must be added rumors from the Ferrari environment itself. There are whispers that the Englishman could be shelved before the end of the season, and replaced at short notice, even before Monza. Indeed, Mansell, after retiring in Belgium, officially states:
"The team was very good at modifying the spare car I was forced to take after the accident with Piquet, since it was adjusted for Prost. But I had terrible oversteer that also caused me considerable pain in my right shoulder to hold the steering wheel. I couldn't drive that way".
Then, to some friends, he confesses:
"I can't understand it. I think I was faster than Prost at least in qualifying. But instead of helping me stay ahead of the McLarens I am given second-rate material. And in this way, I can't be useful to anyone".
The fracture therefore is now complete. So much so that after Mansell returned to the pit box, engineer Castelli, the technical manager, had to accompany him to the motorhome to calm him down. The Englishman appears very agitated and infuriated. Cesare Fiorio explains:
"The backup car was going so well for Prost that he was uncertain whether to use it in the race. We do not know what happened, something went out of place. In any case Mansell is perhaps not calm, not serene".
Shortly thereafter Prost expresses a revealing half-sentence:
"I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the future. The possibility of fighting for the title is always there, but it will be necessary to work even harder, without stopping. However, I believe that something will change in the team before the end of the season".
These last words suggest that the hypothesis of Nigel Mansell's early departure from performance is not so fanciful. But who could be the replacement? Perhaps the young test driver Gianni Morbidelli, more available to work for Prost and the team? Or will it be possible to get a racer like Stefano Modena, who given the circumstances might also be free from Brabham? There is a whole series of questions that are difficult to answer. The only thing that is certain is that there is no shortage of difficulties, including the newfound, total competitiveness of McLaren, which has now become even more threatening. At the end of the race, Ayrton Senna looked like a bride on her honeymoon. He inhales, in the post-race press conference, an almost mocking smile. He is seen in a long white suit, with two groomsmen holding his train: Alain Prost and Gerhard Berger. The former for three consecutive years has finished second in Belgium, behind him, precisely supporting the tail. The second acts as his squire, putting himself at his disposal. Perhaps the Austrian has realized that if he wants to win a race before the end of the season he will have to wait until the Brazilian has the title in his pocket and then, in a magnanimous gesture, allow him to pass. A dazed Berger, the one seen at Spa, capable above all of slipping behind his teammate's car in the three starts made. And not always in a correct manner, so much so that in the interval between the second and third start Cesare Fiorio could not refrain from going to say a few fiery words to Ron Dennis, McLaren's manager. Meanwhile, he explains Ayrton Senna:
"It was a difficult race, because the repeated starts made me fear that I had compromised transmission or clutch Instead, everything went well. At the beginning I also suffered from the tires, as Berger forced me to pull harder than expected. After the tire change, however, things went better, and I did not have too many problems on a track where overtaking is not prohibitive. The world championship? It's still very long, although I feel good in my position".
It must be said that Senna receives indirect compliments from Prost. Commenting on the day, the Frenchman, speaking the enemy's name for the first time in a long time, says:
"Ayrton did well, he had a good race".
Berger, tired, murmurs a few words.
"I had tire problems. With Nannini it was a tough fight. I tried to pass him at the chicane, but he resisted. Then I waited a few laps and finally managed to get into third position".
More caustic Alessandro Nannini, who has no qualms about self-criticism.
"Berger took advantage of the fact that I was lapping Alex Caffi and slipped in. But I was not willing to repeat the Budapest scene and got busy. We exchanged a couple of rotations and I also ended up on a curb. Then I made a mistake. The car was fine, but I was on the limit with the tires that we did not change. The car boarded, I had to put it in the lower gear losing more than 50 km/h and he drove off. Too bad, I could still get on the podium".
Nannini, however, received compliments from Barnard for his gritty driving and skill. The Italian driver is maturing from race to race and is certainly the fittest at the moment. Capelli was unable to get beyond P7 because his Leyton House was not on the road. Jean Alesi's Tyrrell allowed the Tyrrell to be brilliant only in the finale, when it ran out of gas. On Sunday, August 26th, 1990, Nigel Mansell returned home, that is, on vacation, to play golf, even before the end of the race. Ferrari, on the other hand, leaves in a hurry after the end of the Belgian Grand Prix, to arrive at Monza, Tuesday, August 28th, 1990, where three days of testing begin, with all teams present, in preparation for the appointment on Sunday, September 9th, 1990, for the Italian Grand Prix. Divergent paths, then, for the English driver and the Maranello team: the image of a relationship that is cracking, the love-story that began last year is already over. Precisely for this reason, on Tuesday, August 28th, 1990, Nigel Mansell is urgently summoned to Maranello. During the course of the evening, the English driver meets with Cesare Fiorio, Ferrari's sporting director. The two held talks to clarify the driver's intentions, to make the team's position known after accusations of mediocre performance at Spa. Something should be known shortly about the racer's future. In the meantime, the car that the Englishman used in the Belgian Grand Prix before retiring, describing it as unreliable, arrives at the Fiorano workshops for a check to see if there was indeed such a problem. The assumptions being made are twofold: either Mansell guarantees maximum commitment for the next races or-if not-Ferrari will be forced to call on a replacement. The choice could fall on Gianni Morbidelli, or on Finn Juha Jarvi Lehto, who had the role of test driver for the Modena team last year. It is, however, a difficult decision. Mansell's contribution could be decisive if he agrees to help Prost in the world challenge, putting aside ill feelings and tantrums. Not least because Morbidelli and Lehto, as good and fast as they are, do not boast about his experience. Meanwhile, in practice at Monza, the fastest was Alain Prost, who completed 49 laps, the best in 1'25"19, just 0.035 seconds off the time Senna had achieved ten days earlier. The Frenchman, asked about the affair involving his teammate, said:
"I read the newspapers, I didn't know anything about it and don't ask me what's going on because I'm not in the know. I think about racing. The World Championship has not been lost yet. It would take some luck here in Monza and then in the next four races Ferrari should be extremely competitive. We have new things to try, the 037 engine has proven to be good and will improve again".
Also present at the track is Ayrton Senna, who is greeted by the usual unwarranted barrage of booing from fans who hoist Senna-Berger type signs: Saddam Hussein, or Senna, may your engine break. The curses-for those who believe in them-go well: at Ascari corner the Brazilian touches a curb, breaking a radiator, and the Honda engine is replaced. In the afternoon, Gianni Morbidelli also arrives at Monza, completing five laps. Novelty and surprises are never lacking in Formula 1. And while we wrestle with current problems, we also must think about the future. Minardi, for example, which in 1991 will try to make a quantum leap by adopting Ferrari's 12-cylinder engines. The Faenza-based team is looking to expand its workforce, and important names are being mentioned, such as those of Enrique Scalabroni and Harvey Postlethwaite. But Giancarlo Minardi, while waiting for another designer, is not sleeping, and is preparing wide-ranging action plans. In fact, the Romagna-based manufacturer is preparing an agreement with Embraer, a major Brazilian aircraft manufacturer that produces several models, some of them for military training. Taking advantage of the support of two technicians from the South American country who work with him, Minardi would get to use the facilities located a hundred kilometers from São Paulo to develop the new single seater. One of the most sophisticated wind tunnels, cutting-edge materials, engineers at his disposal, all for a careful study of the aerodynamic and mechanical solutions chosen or to be chosen. But that's not enough. From next February there will also be track tests at Interlagos. And to carry out the necessary tests Rubens Barrichello would be approached. Who is he, many will ask. He is a Brazilian driver who is considered his country's greatest emerging talent, a mixture of Piquet and Senna, the champion of the future. Barrichello, an 18-year-old Italian grandfather, also emigrated to England after dominating in karts (he regularly beat Christian Fittipaldi, grandson of Emerson, another guy who is trying to make his way in Formula 3) and in the minor formulas. Now he is one of the stars of the European Formula Opel, and he also won the last race just at Spa last Sunday. They say of him that he has class, he is determined, almost manic, that he learns everything on the fly, that when he goes to race at a circuit, he doesn't know he only needs three laps to understand its secrets. In Brazil he has already been nicknamed Rubinho. It is difficult for Rubens Barrichello to be signed to Formula 1 as early as 1991, because he still must gain experience and probably at least a year in Formula 3000 would do him good. But an option for the following season, given the current times, if the tests give positive results, would not be bad for Minardi in the logic of a strategy that should bring it among the top teams.