On Wednesday, 6 May 1992, the tests ahead of the San Marino Grand Prix, fifth round of the World Championship to be held on Sunday 17 May 1992, start on the circuit of Imola. Twelve teams, for a total of seventeen cars, run in the morning and in the afternoon; the day is marked by the crash that happened to Berger's McLaren. Just after 3:00 p.m. the Austrian, at the exit of the Variante Alta chicane of the circuit, crashes against the wall. The driver is uninjured, but the car is damaged: the side and the front axle are broken and the front right wheel comes off. The tests are suspended for almost an hour. Other suspensions, shorter, are caused by a spin from the Finnish driver Letho and by the stop on track of Boutsen's Ligier (engine trouble). The best performance is done by Nigel Mansell which completes 21 laps: the fastest one in 1'24"47. Problems for Ayrton Senna, once again, blocked at the Tosa corner by the gearbox (because of the failure of the left drive shaft cover). Comforting news from the Ferrari pit. Alesi and Capelli string together laps after laps taking turns behind the wheel of the car equipped with the transverse gearbox, about which Ivan Capelli says:
"We have advantages on some sections of the track".
Alesi sets a good lap time of 1'24"748 ahead of Patrese (1'24"901). At 7:00 p.m., the Frenchman makes a spin without consequences. The tests will continue until Friday. When it is likely that a qualifying engine will be mounted on Alesi's Ferrari which may be used then in the official sessions of the Grand Prix. On Thursday, the Frenchman will test a car on which new aerodynamic solutions will be experimented. On the following day, Mansell's Williams is flying. The Englishman covers far more kilometers than those required to do a race, using the Renault RS4 engine, the more powerful one which will be used only if the rivals get too close. Mansell sets, without looking for qualifying performances, the best time of all the tests done up to now on this track with a lap time of 1'22"236. Senna with McLaren is very close, he stopped at 1'22"272, in progress therefore. Then Alboreto (Footwork) with a 1'24"630, Lehto (Dallara) 1'25"425 and Alesi 1'25"482. The Ferrari driver tests a car with a modified flat floor to make the notch visible on the F92A disappear. But for the moment, the results are not interesting. Capelli tests the transverse gearbox. On Friday, 8 May 1992, the Formula 1 tests end with the best lap time set, once again, by Nigel Mansell (Williams) in 1'22"798. Alesi with his Ferrari equipped with the transverse gearbox improves the results of the last days (1'23"018), but breaks a drive shaft, while Capelli loses the bodywork while doing a race simulation. The countdown starts for the San Marino Grand Prix, starting on Friday, 15 May 1992, with the pre-qualifying scheduled from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 a.m., while the race will be held on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.. On Tuesday, 12 May 1992, Ferrari works intensely in Fiorano again: four cars are being prepared, three standards and one with the new transverse gearbox. On Wednesday, the special qualifying engine should be tested with a different Agip fuel which, according to some rumors, should reach 740 horsepower. In the meantime, in Maranello, another meeting of the Board of Directors described as a routine is happening, with the presence of Mr. Romiti. On Wednesday, at lunchtime, the chairman Luca Montezemolo will receive Ron Dennis, McLaren manager (to talk about the future of Formula 1) while, on Friday, Frank Williams will send to pick up the single-seater (a 641 designed by Barnard) promised as a present after the transfer of the contract of Jean Alesi. Meanwhile, the French sports newspaper L'Equipe, publishing a little inquiry on the San Marino Grand Prix, writes:
"Italy waits for the Messiah".
An analysis quite ruthless of the patrol (perhaps it is fair to say the brigade, even if their numbers have dropped: they were thirteen last year, they are currently eight) of the Italian drivers engaged in Formula 1. In short, the French journalists give zero hope to the Italian drivers in the fight for world title. On the contrary, it is said that none of them, between the present and the aspirants, show skills capable of foreseeing a possible future world champion. By pointing out that France in this field also, besides Alain Prost, has not played a leading role from 1950 to the present, it must be acknowledged that the situation in Italy is quite negative. Italy features five teams (Ferrari, Scuderia Italia, Minardi, Fondmetal and Andrea Moda), numerous sponsors in the Grand Prix world, huge interest, but the Italian nation does not manage to break through anywhere anymore, neither in the Drivers' World Championship nor in the Constructors'. The only one who had some chance in recent years - besides the Maranello team with Prost in 1990 - has been Riccardo Patrese. And perhaps the Paduan has still some glimmers of hope, given that he's still second in the standing, 22 points behind his teammate Mansell. Patrese has won at Imola in 1990: is there a slight chance of repeating and relaunching the World Championship?
"If I hadn't at least a possibility of finishing first, I would stop racing. Having a winning car with Williams-Renault, I would feel embarrassed if I would only think of not being able to bring it to the finish line ahead of everybody else".
However, Mansell has clinched four victories so far.
"He did well and was also lucky. He's going through a magical moment, he's in good shape, everything is fine for him. I hope to open a breach in his armor. Sooner or later, he'll stop winning…".
Will it be a private matter at Williams, even at Imola?
"For qualifying, we could also have some surprises. In the race I don't think so, we are still superior. McLaren has made progress and Ferrari, by the looks of it, has also improved. We'll see. We, at Williams, are ready for the challenge".
The lap time achieved during the tests of the past weeks, on the Santerno circuit, show very close gaps: Mansell 1'22"236, Senna 1'22"272, Patrese 1'22"355 and Alesi 1'23"018. Are those results indicative?
"I don't think that someone has lifted up his foot to hole up. And neither some who have looked for sensational performances. Those were the numbers of the past days. It may be that improvements will come in the coming days, and it is also possible that it will become difficult to repeat. A lot depends on the conditions of the track and on the weather".
In any case, following the serious crash of last Friday, which Patrese will we see in the San Marino Grand Prix?
"I'm good, besides some bruises. I think that it will be the usual Patrese ready to attack as always. I still can't get over the off-track in Barcelona, my fault, and I would like to make up in the best possible way".
A message for the fans?
Speaking of the fans, and more precisely the tifosi, on Wednesday, 13 May 1992, Alessandro Nannini, fresh from his double win with Alfa Romeo at Mugello, is on a friendly visit at Ferrari. And from Friday he will be on track to support his great friend Riccardo Patrese. Six billion lire already safe, but it could become a dozen. The receipt of the San Marino Grand Prix (the central grandstands cost 350,000 lire, but are said to be sold out) is the most glaring news on the fifth round of the Formula One World Championship. However, this is an important and significant signal: sold out or almost sold out, makes it clear that at this level the sport of engines is not in crisis (thanks also to the system, which presents the races bit by bit, divided into many countries, only Italy organizes two rounds) and above all that, for better or worse, Ferrari continues to be the pole of attraction, the center of cheers. And do not let them try to tell us that the 100,000 or so spectators that will crowd to the Santerno circuit will be here for Mansell or for Williams. The Englishman certainly has his fans, as has Senna, but the two champions could at most bring to the Emilian racetrack a few thousand fans. The others are all here to see the cars from Maranello, with the hope that some miracle will lead them to win, but they would also settle for a podium finish. Unfortunately, the predictions are not so favorable: perhaps the show will be more alive, the fight probably a bit more uncertain, with Williams to beat and McLaren less distant to chase after them, Ferrari and Benetton as disturbing players. Ivan Capelli admits:
"We've been telling you for a while that we're not able to fight at the top. We've made progress, but the gap between us and the strongest is still significant".
So, how does an Italian driver feel, knowing he comes in front of an audience who would like to see the cars from Maranello teach a lesson to their rivals and instead he will have to try to push to the limits, probably for a seventh position?
"You feel sorry but your conscience is clear. I did everything I could. Maybe for someone I was disappointing but I had no opportunity up to now to race as everyone would like to, I for one. Until now, I only blame myself for one mistake: the off-track in Spain in very difficult conditions".
How can you explain that Alesi went faster?
"He did well and was perhaps also a bit more lucky. He probably has a different way of attacking the track. In any case, we have also often done different tests: in Imola I tested engines and fuels, he was thinking about the cars' set-ups. That explains some differences in the past. However, I don't want to make excuses: the true Capelli has yet to be seen. I hope to be able to do something on Sunday".
Ferrari brings four single-seaters in Imola, the spare one for Alesi is equipped with the transverse gearbox, which cannot be used for the race. On Thursday, Steve Nichols comes back again, the technician who has gone to Sauber, considered as one of the culprits for the non-performance of the F92A.
"I designed the chassis and a part of the suspension. It is a very complicated car which needs a long development. I would have liked to stay at Ferrari, but my role was not compatible with Postlethwaite's one".
Ferrari, meanwhile, via its chief press officer, Baccini, denies that amidst the arguments surrounding the meeting in Maranello between the team principal of McLaren, Ron Dennis, and Ferrari's chairman, Luca Montezemolo, there would be a union of the two teams or the possible recruitment of Senna.
"The news is completely unfounded".
In Imola, on the banks of the Santerno, on Friday, 16 May 1992, only Nigel Mansell is delighted and laughs. All the others have some reasons to complain, even those who have made small progress, like Ayrton Senna, climbing quietly to the second place, and Ferrari, sixth and seventh with Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli. So at the pits, visited in the first round of free practice of the San Marino Grand Prix by some sporting VIPs (from Alberto Tomba to Arrigo Sacchi), mumbling is in the air. The Englishman for Williams, who beautifully manages his magic moment, sets the best lap time in 1'21"842 (new track record, prior 1'21"877 by Senna) and is ahead of his rivals by at least 1.2 seconds. Mansell, who is one of the few to improve the results of the recent private tests, says:
"I'm happy with my performance. I did a very good lap. The team has done a fantastic job. And Patrese was brilliant".
The flip side of the coin is quite different. Patrese finished (fifth) with one minute left, having left the pits when four were remaining. The Paduan, while Mansell strings together laps after laps and tests two cars, remained stationary as his mechanics were changing the engine of his car. When they realized they would not do it in time, they started preparing the spare single-seater, exclusive to the Englishman. Patrese put on a brave face and instead of throwing the lightning bolts he had inside, visibly angry, he merely says:
"These things happen sometimes".
However, Senna's argument is flat-out:
"The car has improved, but horsepower, the power, is missing: and you can't do much more".
A lash to Honda. In any case, McLaren was able to develop the MP4/7, which - as even Niki Lauda explains, on specific demand - is a new car, but daughter of the previous model and not completely different as the Ferrari F91A is compared to the old 643. Indeed, it took a few adjustments (springs, shock absorbers, tweaks, stiffening of the floor) to progress. More difficult, apparently, to improve the Japanese power unit. Exactly the opposite of what is happening in the team from Maranello, which has improved its engine, but does not manage to fix the problems with the chassis and the aerodynamics. It must be acknowledged that the Ferraris have improved a little: in theory, if Alesi had not run into a fight on the track, he could have been in third place, very close to Senna. The Frenchman was driving with a gap of 1.3 seconds behind Mansell and had almost completed his lap, after a dramatic spin, when he fought with Brundle, throwing away the result. Jean Alesi says:
"He anticipated the breaking at the Rivazza and he blocked me. Then, I overtook him, he tried to overtake me and we touched".
Whereas the Englishman for Benetton replies:
"He's crazy. I didn't realize I had slowed him down, but he kicked me out. I can't believe it".
Alesi used qualifying engine and fuel. Capelli did the same, however he did not have the new transverse gearbox. The system offers some advantage compared to the longitudinal one, because (another explanation from Lauda) it better distributes the weights of the car. The engines of the cars from Maranello have to be well equipped with horsepower because acceptable top speeds are being revised. The Milanese driver, however, could not even exploit the second set of tyres available, victim of an excursion in the grass and of the busy traffic on track. Michael Schumacher is also unsatisfied (he too at the origin of a crash) as the new Benetton suffers from understeer and sliding. In the end - except Mansell - the only one to rejoice is Michele Alboreto, eighth with his Footwork, best position in qualifying for the last two years. But the Milanese also sheds a tear:
"A water leak from the radiator, it made me lost about ten minutes, otherwise I would have cut off some tenths".
Gabriele Tarquini also sets a great lap time. Except that he does it on foot: the engine of his Fondmetal had broken and, to get out from the track, he has climbed over a grid. He found himself in the garden of a villa and a dog of an unidentified breed (but a big one) chased him to bite him. The driver of Abruzzo has covered hundred meters in a little more than ten seconds and hung himself on a gate, miraculously saving himself. On Saturday, in the second round of qualifying, everyone will have the opportunity to make up. Brabham did not participate in the free practice of the morning, because the engine provider Judd, not having seen the bills paid, picked up the electronic control units of the cars. Then things were fixed but Damon Hill was disqualified: underweight car. In the Friday morning pre-qualifying session, Michele Alboreto was fastest for the first time this season with his Footwork. The Italian driver was ahead by 0.5 seconds of Bertrand Gachot's Venturi Larrousse, for his part faster by a couple of tenths of seconds compared to his teammate Ukyo Katayama. The fourth pre-qualified was again Andrea Chiesa with a nearly 1-second gap in his Fondmetal. Like in Spain, the two cars that did not qualify were the Andrea Moda of Roberto Moreno and Perry McCarthy.
Moreno had done tests with the team here in Imola, improving the car ahead of Grand Prix weekend, but still this stops the chronometers just 0.463 seconds away from Chiesa. McCarthy did his first seven laps with the car deprived of a windshield and with an unfit seat, and set a lap time of almost 8.6 seconds slower than Moreno before stopping for an issue at the differential gear. After finishing his qualifying with an abysmal gap from Mansell, Ayrton Senna - before leaving the circuit - let himself go to a rare witticism:
"You'll have fun watching the race. For the fight for the third place, obviously".
The journalists will have fun, so to speak, a few hours later. In the evening, in fact, an official Honda dinner takes place, of those that enliven the so-called worldliness of the Grand Prix, and Ayrton is announced among the guests. But he only comes for a few minutes, in the patio of aperitifs and tarts. On the other hand, the hotel where journalists dine is the same one where he sleeps: the Castello in Castel San Pietro. He just has to get out of the room, flash two smiles, say the usual things, like, we hope to go faster tomorrow, say hello to the company and leave for his own business. At 11:00 p.m. the journalists get up from the table and Senna is out there greeting them again before leaving. The music is over, the friends are leaving. It's not late and the journalists do not have to drive the following day. There is still time to discover, in the center of Imola, that a local band of blues had started too early to keep up with harmonics until midnight. And here, shortly after 1:00 a.m., the phones start ringing in the rooms of the reporters because a terrifying news spreads coming from Argentina: Senna was caught by a heart attack and was hospitalized. Maybe he is even already dead. And yet the journalists had seen him a few minutes before. The Castello Hotel is ten minutes away from the center of Imola, so it is just a few steps away to get into the lobby, at about 2:00 a.m.. And the scene that comes up is kind of comical. At the hotel, in fact, an employee is busy denying the news and trying to calm everyone by saying:
"I certainly can't bother Mr. Senna who's sleeping".
In the meantime, the gangly pilot of the Brazilian driver's private plane, who went down to get mineral water, chuckles and asks journalists, in English:
"You mean that maybe I'd lose my job?"
The next day Ayrton Senna, with two dense purple circles under his eyes, a conspicuous anger stretched on his lips and a lot of desire to sleep, will be forced to tell, with annoyance, the living dead night:
"It was a very bad joke and the blow almost didn't come to my father, who didn't know where to find me. We heard at 3:00 a.m., I reassured them. I was sleeping very well, and then I had some problems. And now, if you'll allow me, I'll go and rest".
So, to lighten the mood, an Italian journalist tells the Brazilian driver:
"Courage Ayrton, these things lengthen life".
And Ayrton, perhaps wanting to finally catch him laughing too, replies:
"I don't know your superstition, I know the years go by for everyone and I don't think about it. A friend of mine told me about another superstition; every picture they get takes a piece of your life away".
On Saturday, 16 May 1992, at the end of the sessions, the San Marino Grand Prix appears to be a dance of couples: on the starting grid the two Williams will start from the front row, then the two McLarens, the two Benettons and the two Ferraris. But while Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese move to the rhythm of rock, that is to say very fast, the others, and Ferrari in particular, seem to prefer a slow. No one expected miracles from the Maranello team. But the result of qualifying was even less than the most pessimistic prediction: Alesi P7, Capelli P8 after over a month of tests on that circuit. This confirms that Ferrari is still far from having solved their problems. The team had bet on the single-seater equipped with the new transverse gearbox to at least give an isolated lap time exploit to Jean Alesi. But the Frenchman, who is starting to lose patience, could not do a single lap because of an engine failure. And it was of no use then to go in the other standard car to perform in numbers from high stunt in a desperate attempt, in the midst of a traffic of summer highway exodus, to progress. Nothing: last year on this circuit, Alain Prost with the 643 had qualified at the third position with a lap time of 1'22"195 vs 1'23"970 for Alesi. In the meantime, Mansell is bidding for his fifth win in a row this season: as it has always happened since the beginning of this championship he will start from the pole position, number 22 of his career. Even if, in the second round of qualifying, the Englishman did not manage to improve the lap time record (1'21"842) established on Friday. A bit because of the hot weather which has almost melted the track, a bit because he ended up on a curb and in the grass damaging the floor of his car after a lock-up of his tyres. But the first position is not in immediate danger: Patrese, who had not actually did tests the day before, only managed to move up to second position, overtaking Senna and Berger. Likewise, Martin Brundle overtook both Ferraris with his Benetton. These positions at the top of the grid, with the cars of the same team paired, show that the drivers are limited by the cars, that the human element has little room for maneuver against the mechanics, although in the end the result can be determined by a compromise between luck, possible misfortunes of others and the tactical abilities of the drivers. The tyres are another reason for the uncertainty: here, the temperature is very high. Of course, if no one manage to stop Mansell, the World Championship will become totally devoid of interest: with less than a third from the end of his journey, there is already a candidate for the title with many points and no worthy rivals on the horizon.
The FIA is even studying measures to change the rules of the game: they would like to introduce Safety cars (cars to be put on track in case of a crash to slow down the race so as to bring competitors closer together as is done in the Formula Indy) and other rules to revive the show. But at this point, it would not be fair, nor would it be sporting. And, in fact, the numerous teams do not agree with which measures to be taken and it will go on, at least for this year, in the same way. There was also hope for Ayrton Senna and McLaren. But the Brazilian makes it clear that the limits of his car are too big of a disadvantage to be overcome with a bit of talent. After six pole positions in a row on the Imola circuit, Senna had to stop his series and give the throne of king of speed to Mansell. Is the myth of Ayrton Senna, phenomenon of the past few years, scrapped? Obviously no: a few bad results are not enough to cancel the reputation of a driver who, since he showed up in the Formula 1 Circus, has established new benchmarks. Three reasons have brought the Brazilian to crisis. The first one depends on the McLaren, who to take cover after the leap forward from Williams had to anticipate the debut of the MP4/7, sending on track an entirely new car, difficult to develop. The second negative factor is linked to the tyres. The suppression of the qualifying tyres from Goodyear has hurt Ayrton more than his rivals: Senna was the prophet of the perfect lap at the last moment. Now, with the race tyres, the situation has changed. Finally, in no time, the world champion had to move to an automatic transmission and an electronic throttle. Modifications that would have disturbed anyone. Either way, Ayrton Senna remains the champion he was, with an enviable experience on top of that. And surely he will be the most valuable piece of the drivers market if he decides - as it could happen at the end of the championship - to divorce McLaren after five seasons and three world titles. In any case, while waiting for time to mature, the Brazilian will certainly know to show that his worth is intact. In the meantime, after what happened on Friday, Alesi and Brundle find the way to confront themselves and clarify. But when a confrontation ends, the Frenchman immediately starts another, confirming that you should never settle for the choice of enemies. This time in fact Alesi aims high, very high: at Ferrari. And on the very day during which Cesare Romiti, visiting the Ferrari pits, spreads a message of patience:
"The road is very long, but the method is right. Ferrari will make hearts quiver again".
Beautiful words. Encouraging. However, Jean Alesi says, before leaving the circuit:
"I left right away because on the first day I had found myself in full traffic. After a lap, I stopped to change the electronic control unit. I went out again and my engine blown up, thus I went in the other car, the one with the longitudinal gearbox. But the set-up wasn't right, I immediately understood that there was no hope for an improvement. Here we begin to pass judgments on the drivers, while the reality is that without a car, we can't go forward".
A coded message for those who would like to organize everything by recruiting Senna or Schumacher. Under the tent the Scuderia Ferrari men begin to gasp and not because of the torrid heat, the unbreathable air, the sticky shirts of sweat. It is just that nobody at Ferrari would feel able to deal with other situations like the one seen with Alain Prost. Alesi, instead, goes down this road right in Imola.
"The result in Barcelona was done by myself, and not by a car which had no grip in the straights in sixth gear. I offered a hope to those who work with me and who could get depressed by never seeing the podium. But everything ended there. We did four weeks of tests to still be behind the most competitive rivals. For me it is a great, great, great disappointment".
Listening to the engineer Lombardi, it is also the case for the others. And neither Capelli finds the expressions of the better days.
"I arrived at Ferrari convinced that they would allow me to always fight for the first positions, instead something has changed and the car is always becoming more important than the driver. You just need to look at the grid of today, it is based on the teams, not on the men. We always race uphill. We hope that the descent will soon begin for us too".
Just before, in a burst of optimism, Alesi had established the French Grand Prix, the first Sunday of July, as the day of the rescue. Two other months without a podium. The long road of Romiti is likely to wear down the impatients. Jean Alesi adds:
"What am I expecting for the race? Starting on the fourth row on this circuit is not great. There is a dangerous first corner. My only hope is to go well along it".
Which is not the best, thinking about Ferrari's ambitions and the profuse investment in Maranello to make the team competitive again. But Romiti clarifies:
"But we were never under no illusions because we started from such a point that it would not have justified them. The fact to be in Imola is not enough to change the situation. The work matters. The rest is nonsense which is not even worth denying, like the rumor that Ferrari will sell its engines to other teams. It's as if we were to decide to loan Agnelli to Ford. Ridiculous".
Even Fiat's leaders do not believe in the stroke of luck. Some rain like in Barcelona?
"It doesn't seem to me that these are the right conditions. And then it's better to bet on the method, which is right, rather than on the weather".
That may be true. But to the tifosi crowding at the Rivazza a rain dance seemed like a good idea. The best one. On Sunday, 17 May 1992, the first start is interrupted by Karl Wendlinger's March stalling, who will start the race from the back of the grid. Stefano Modena starts from the pit lane with his Jordan. At the start of the San Marino Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell keeps the lead of the race ahead of his teammate Riccardo Patrese, the positions almost remain unchanged until the pit stops, when Alesi moves up in third position, having decided to not stop for a tyre change. Earlier, Ivan Capelli, with the second Ferrari, is the victim of a spin; the car ends up in the gravel and the Italian driver ends his race on lap 12. Just after, Michael Schumacher retires for the first time of the season on lap 21, while together with his teammate Brundle they are under pressure from Gerhard Berger. The German driver is also victim of a spin which brings the car against the tyre wall, damaging the left suspension. Schumacher, back in the pits, despite the problem to the front part of his car being solved, does not manage to continue because of the damage to the rear part of the car, which turn out to be too serious, and retires in the pits only one lap later. On lap 40, Senna overtakes Jean Alesi at the Villeneuve corner; Berger tries to do the same thing at the Tosa, but Alesi blocks his trajectory and crashes into Berger's car. The Frenchman loses control and crashes again into Berger's car, damaging the rear right suspension of the McLaren and destroying the front wing of the Ferrari, forcing both drivers to retire. The race ends with the win of Nigel Mansell, followed by Riccardo Patrese and by Ayrton Senna. Martin Brundle finishes fourth and secures his first points of 1992. Michele Alboreto finishes fifth and Pierluigi Martini sixth, gaining one point for the Dallara team in Formula 1. And now call him champion: Nigel Mansell has not won the World Championship yet, but he is on the good path. The official title that established him among the greats of Formula 1, though, Nigel Mansell won it in the San Marino Grand Prix. Fifth win in a row since the beginning of the season: only Alberto Ascari in the distant 1952-1953 championships had done better than him, winning the last six races of 1952 and the first three of the following year. Another era, today it is more difficult, given that then less teams and drivers were racing.
In the standings, the English driver has passed Rindt, Fangio and Senna and has reached Jack Brabham and Jim Clark, who had done a poker in 1960 and in 1965 respectively. And in both situations, the Australian and the Scotsman had won the title. A wish for Mansell? Of course. But also a cold fact: who can stop him? McLaren and Ferrari are going through a crisis, Benetton is going well but it is difficult to imagine it even further up. After all, the only valid competitor would be Nigel's teammate, that is to say Riccardo Patrese. But the Paduan, apart from all the other considerations, is already far away in the standing. Against the five wins of Mansell, the Italian has only four second-places finishes, too little, even if the season is long. The announced triumph of Mansell, the 1-2 of Williams-Renault (the fourth one after South Africa, Brazil and Mexico) have obviously taken out the suspense of the race. But it cannot even be said that the day for the 80.000 persons in Imola and the ones who followed the race on TV has been completely boring. If Ferrari has immediately lost 50% of its forces because of the off-track of Ivan Capelli on lap 12, it must be said that Jean Alesi, on the dry track, gave a show, at least until he bumped into Berger's McLaren (lap 40). And valid was the show of the Italian drivers who have fought without sparing themselves and in the end (apart from Patrese's podium) they have clinched the fifth place with Michele Alboreto and the sixth one thanks to Pierluigi Martini, behind the wheel of his Dallara motorized by Ferrari for Scuderia Italia. There were also a double start (the engine of Wendlinger's March had turned off), off-tracks, spins and some (a few) thrilling overtakes, like the one of Senna on Alesi again and Berger's one. The Austrian, right after the start, with a flicker, passed Brundle who had overtaken him at the green lights. The post-race was also animated. While the crowd invades the circuit, there is a moment of apprehension for Ayrton Senna: after having crossed the finish line taking the third place, the Brazilian is victim of a little fatigue collapse. In the parked McLaren on the trackside, the Brazilian driver, 32 years old, is bowed down on his wheel. The doctors intervene, give him a drip of salts and sugars, but Senna remains stuck for about twenty minutes in the car. Then, he gets up with no energy and stays for another hour lying in his team's motorhome. Nothing serious ultimately, but Senna suffers a lot.
"I was full of cramps and pain, because each time the car was bumping around, the seat belt squeezed my chest. And the heat certainly didn't help".
Thus, the World Champion does not go on the podium either, where Mansell and Patrese share the cheers. Later, the Englishman says that the race, seemingly easy, was very hard.
"I had some problems with the tyres and I was also afraid to puncture a tyre on car pieces that occasionally were on track. It went well. I am very happy, it feels like a dream".
Nigel did not want to speak of the next race in Monte-Carlo, of the new record to break which is waiting for him and even less mention his extraordinary position in the standing. The Englishman, who is 36 points clear of Patrese, more than once, out of pure superstition, avoids the subject. A little more talkative Patrese, who clearly says that he is delighted for the team but unsatisfied with the second place.
"In these conditions, one always sets off to win. But during the weekend, my car has never been perfect. I had balance problems which were reduced only after the tyre change. I tried to force the pace to try to reach Nigel but it wasn't possible. I only gave myself a little reward by doing the fastest lap".
Riccardo's frustration is collected by Bernard Dudot, the designer of the Renault engines:
"We saw that Patrese's single-seater was not a hundred percent. And we hope that in the next races, Patrese will be able to win, because he deserves it. We will do everything to help him. It would be a benefit for all the team and, in the end, even for the World Championship".
In Imola, Martin Brundle mustered up his courage, forcing his teammate Michael Schumacher to risk it all to overtake him. And, in the end, the German went off track. Radio Box says that the Englishman is tense, that Benetton is testing him before deciding whether to replace him or not. And, regarding this, a rumor is circulating. It is said that the Anglo-Italian team was about to recall Nelson Piquet, left behind last year. The Brazilian, victim of a terrible crash in Indianapolis (could cost him a foot disability), had to go to London to sign a contract in the next days, after Indy 500. A double blow of misfortune for Piquet. Happiness is also the fact of taking points. As Alberto and Martini have done, fifth and sixth. The Milanese with his Footwork is now used to good positions: it has been three races that he has gotten close to the tail of the best, so to speak, given that in Imola he was a lap behind. But for a car like the Footwork although equipped with a Mugen engine (ex-Honda of ten cylinders), it is a huge achievement. Michele however, from his 35-year experience, 158 races under his belt, 12 seasons of Formula 1, is under no illusions. To those who ask him if he intends to get back on a big round, his answer is caustic as always:
"I'm not a dreamer, these performances are of no use to me. I feel like Alboreto is outdated. I'm just satisfied, bringing this team back to a certain level. For the rest, I live in the moment".
Will it be true? In any case, when it comes to making analyses, the driver that was once at Ferrari can be ruthless:
"Based on what I can understand, two years will be needed before seeing the cars from Maranello back at the top. The other teams have worked quietly, at Ferrari there have been too many changes in the last seasons".
Big celebration at Scuderia Italia for Martini and his second sixth-place finish in a row:
"It was very hard, also because of a malfunction of the water bottle that we have in the cockpit I couldn't drink. I felt like I was a camel in the desert. I attacked Alboreto but he was going away at full throttle. We fought for a long time, so much that in the end I felt like I had done a round of qualifying laps of an hour and a half non-stop".
Ferrari-disaster or Ferrari-recovery? Even in the pits, this not small doubt about the adventure of Maranello's cars in Imola, where they will return Wednesday and Thursday for a series of tests behind closed doors, remains. In the end, nobody feels like throwing a standing into drama that the off-track of Capelli and Alesi would make fail. What would have happened if there had not been the crash of the Frenchman? And the men of the Maranello team answer that a good finish would have definitely come. Sante Ghedini, the team manager, says:
"It wasn't a wonderful Grand Prix, but it was decent".
The impression is that after Saturday's tests, and Alesi's words, no one expected so much. Engineer Lombardi states:
"Jean's car before the crash had a good performance and also the type of tyres had been spot on. Alesi told me that he wouldn't stop to change them and I have to think that a good finish would come, perhaps in the top four".
So you hold it up a little bit, after you've been at the edge of the cliff. With the off-track of Capelli, after twelve laps, Ferrari were resigned to the pins and the slaps.
"Ivan had issues with the rear brakes. Unfortunately, this is the toughest track for the brakes and there has been no opportunity to fix it".
Capelli, meanwhile, is now far away. Increasingly impressed by this absurd experience, five Grand Prix and four DNFs.
"It's not a lucky moment".
These are difficult days for the Italian driver. Soon, probably, an ex and that's enough for Ferrari. But Capelli is like those footballers who are called to rejuvenate a team and who instead are overwhelmed by it. Ferrari's men are glossing, though. Better think about the future. Lombardi says:
"Now we focus on Monte-Carlo, it would be useful to obtain a result that would make our technical improvements tangible. Apart from Williams, the others ahead of us have also made progress, but we are always optimistic. In a not immediate perspective, of course".
There are still hints of the time that has to pass. It is the leitmotif of a season so far very poor, with a car that struggles to chase the competition.
"And yet, when we were at the level of study and processing data on the computer, this looked like a car that was going to be strong".
Argued engineer Castelli, one of the fathers of the F92A, purged in the reshuffle of chairman Montezemolo, before the race. Castelli returned to racing for the first time after returning to Fiat. He saw the beast, he wasn't thrilled:
"On the track it seems to me another thing, but with a good development it can become competitive".
Everyone at Ferrari is defending their work. Those of today are complaining about the mistakes of the past, those of yesterday are highlighting that it wasn't so bad. Cesare Fiorio, the ex-manager of Maranello, states:
"Ferrari is said to have started from scratch, but in early 1991 I don't think we were in disaster. The old car was competitive, started from the front rows and took pole position and finished in second place at Phoenix. I don't know if it would have won, but the Grand Prix was glued up to the last in the tail of the first one".
In the meantime, from the grandstand at the Tosa corner is thrown a stone, which lands half a meter from Berger's feet. Then one empty Coke can and another stone. In a few seconds, the people of Ferrari decided that Gerhard should be stoned like the harlots in Ancient Rome. And it gets busy. So much so that to reach the paddock of the drivers Berger has to put on his helmet and walk faster. The day does not end in a fight, as one might have expected, given the character of Alesi, who was thrown out of the race by the impetuosity of the Austrian. But it is curious that just Enzo Ferrari's latest sporting fall has shot down the hope of making the day of the tifosi of Ferrari in Imola. Berger is guilty, this is the truth of the tifosi, who whistle and punish him for his maneuver: an overtake on the inside of the corner after the Frenchman had already been overtaken by Senna. It was on lap 40, two thirds of the race. Alesi took it hard. He waited a few minutes before leaving the track, then a police car arrived to pick him up and bring him to the pits. People recognized him on the back seat, a girl gave him a Ferrari cap. He came out as a hero.
"Berger is naive if he thought I would have let him past. I saw him arrive but I couldn't let him overtake me. Patience for Senna, but two in the same point would have been too much and he shouldn't have insisted. Leaving the trajectory, I would have risked to find the dirty track and to go off like a fool".
So instead, the Frenchman shared the damage.
"I'm bitter for the people. I did everything for a good race, the car at that moment was responding greatly and I could have finish in a good position. Then what happened happened. Goddammit, have you seen it on TV?"
Of course, everyone saw it and Ferrari saw it again, where the scale of judgments is rich in many steps. There are those like Postlethwaite who are blunt:
"It's Berger's fault".
Those, like Lombardi, who use a softer tone:
"Jean was ahead of Berger, who could wait for the next corner to overtake him".
And those, like Ghedini, who share the blame fifty percent:
"When such gritty pilots find themselves close together, anything can happen. In Formula 1, these accidents happen".
In short, the top of Maranello's team does not dramatize. Maybe not to charge Alesi with other tensions. Or maybe because that accident with the Frenchman kept the doubt about what could have happened. Without limits. And Berger, once the storm had passed, doesn't clash with a clan he'd like to be part of. And to which he has already caused a lot of damage, so much so that in Maranello they have nicknamed him Sterminator. The only jab is at Alesi.
"It is pointless to try to seek responsibility in such things. These are the races, when there's even the slightest window to get through you have to try and get in. I did like this, I had a little hope of making it, but Alesi's car skidded after the first contact and bumped into me. I'm just sorry I hit a Ferrari".
In fact, if he had hit Nigel Mansell, as he did two years ago in Hungary, no one would have thrown stones at him. The problem is getting him, Mansell. In this regard, Formula 1 raises the question. There is concern. Nigel Mansell's flurry wins are just one of the problems of the Circus, which is in an identity crisis. With obvious consequences: boring races, drop in interest, spectators who leave in the middle of the race, disappointed and betrayed. Nothing can be reproached to Williams for making a car that is killing the World Championship. At most, there remains the strong suspicion that the English team somehow favors Mansell, the home driver, to the detriment of Riccardo Patrese, also removing the minimum interest that a duel in the family could offer in a period of lack of show and competitiveness. There has been much talk regarding the current gap between the leading teams of the championship and the other teams. And it has emphasized the delicate situation in which the teams (McLaren, Ferrari, Benetton) are debating, which should be deputized to make the races more uncertain and closer. These teams are equipped with means which, however, for various reasons, seem to have missed the train towards Williams itself. But the real crux of the problem is something else. And it involves all the motorsport. Just see what happened to the Sportscar World Championship, once more followed and even popular than Formula 1. In Monza for the first race, the prestigious Trofeo Caracciolo, there were twelve cars and a thousand people in the grandstands. And let's get to the point: motorsport is also the spearhead of technology research. It is not always the case that what is being tested on racing cars is then applied to normal production, and in many cases the reverse is also the case. Formula 1, for example, was very inspired by the aeronautics and also to the production cars, see the intelligent suspension, already adopted for some time by different models available to the everyday driver. However, the relentless search for performance-enhancing systems, due in particular and especially to the advances in electronics, has caused a number of disadvantages which are at the root of the current difficulties. Huge increase in the costs of managing a team; smaller and smaller margins for recovery in short time; cancelation of human values, that is, of the driving skills and courage of drivers. It is the car that wins, the technology that asserts itself. Just think that two years ago Mansell himself, despite being undoubtedly a fast driver, was considered a retired and now has become a phenomenon and that Ayrton Senna, the champion of the 90s, with a car a little less competitive, wears down. The Brazilian, among other things, was the first to sound the alarm:
"With all these contraptions, driving is almost a formality, the car does everything by itself".
Active suspension, semi-automatic gearbox, wireless throttle, electronic differential gear, fuels that make gain or lose 50 horsepower to an engine, anti-skidding systems, telemetry, a whole plot to reduce the role of man to that of simple performer. But, at the same time, how can we think of stopping progress, in a sport that by definition is a symbol of technology? The teams argue, but since unanimity is required by statute, it came to nothing. For the rest, it would be unfair to ask Williams to set aside her magical active suspension in order to find a solution. Thus, there is only one solution, change the sports regulations. The FIA will have to do everything to obtain rules that will allow a compromise to be reached. The introduction of Safety cars has been discussed; as well as the compulsory refueling, with smaller tanks being adopted; even penalties to be imposed on the one who won the previous race. Only one thing is certain. Teams and authorities must, in some way, take cover. Otherwise, there is a risk of collapse.