Ferrari turns the page again. It does so with an investment that will globally involve several tens of millions of dollars (a sign of the will to move forward) and will commit all its human resources, with the aim of propitiating that return to the top of Formula 1 that everyone has been expecting for many years. Luca Montezemolo, who took the reins of Ferrari on November 20, 1991, worked eight months to understand, know, investigate, look around, contact and decide. This was the statement issued on Wednesday, July 29, 1992, in the early afternoon:
"The technical competitive activity of Ferrari Automobili will be organised in three sectors, which will respond to the president Luca Montezemolo: Scuderia Ferrari and Maranello plant; Design, development and research cars; Design, development and search engines. The Scuderia Ferrari and the construction of the cars in Maranello will be entrusted to Harvey Postlethwaite who, from the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix, will be responsible for the sporting activities of the Formula 1 World Championship. The project sector, development and research cars that Ferrari has decided to locate in England, will be entrusted to John Barnard, who has signed a five-year contract of collaboration. The English headquarters will design the single-seaters to be built in Maranello and build the prototypes. The staff will include Italian staff. The design, development and search engine sector, based in Maranello, will be entrusted to Claudio Lombardi, assisted by Paolo Massai".
John Barnard, therefore, returns to Ferrari as he had already guessed. The English technician is fussy, difficult. But the Maranello team also wants to explore all aspects of this reconciliation. The designer had already been on the team from 1986 to 1989. The same Enzo Ferrari had wanted it, who had understood that with what he had available in Italy in such a specialised sector (that of chassis for single-seater cars) he could not compete. Barnard had total freedom and that was probably the mistake that led to the failure of the union. In this sense, Montezemolo, while taking risks (because Barnard is a particular man, also had problems of cohabitation with McLaren, Benetton and recently with Toyota, a company with which he had started a collaboration immediately aborted). He seems to have made the right move. Barnard will not be the head of Ferrari, but an important consultant, in charge of research in a field he knows very well and also to train those technicians who will have to ensure the future of Ferrari. He will work in England and will be seen in Maranello as little as possible. All the pieces of the puzzle were found thanks to the mediation of Montezemolo (recommended by Lauda) who could, on paper at least, divide the tasks so as not to create internal contrasts, articulating in three parts the racing team, that had become difficult to manage with 400 people. The new role of Postlethwaite, who will be the team manager of the team in the workshop and on the track, should not create conflicts of skills. Finally, the engineer Lombardi understood that his contribution would be more important and decisive in a directly technical sector such as engine design.
Will the new Ferrari work? Of course it’s too early to tell. The most positive and concrete note seems to be that concerning the duration of Barnard’s contract: five years. It is such a commitment on both sides that it should rule out bluffing. At this point a failure would become an irreparable disaster. In the environment they call him Genius. He knows it and sometimes he takes advantage of it, acting like one of those mad scientists who quarrel with everyone. He is fussy, chauvinistic, sometimes very unpleasant and even rude. But he knows how to make Formula 1 cars perhaps better than any other, in any case in the last decade, with Patrick Head (Williams) he is the best. And he is not even an engineer, but a simple graduate. John Barnard was born in Wembley, near London, and he is 46. His first job was at a light bulb factory, designing bulbs. But his real passion was for mechanics. At seventeen, he had already developed an Austin, then replaced the engine of an Aston Martin. He immediately got a job at Lola, where he designed cars of different categories, including a Can-Am used by Jackie Stewart. In 1972 he was called by McLaren where he participated in several projects. Three years later he left for the United States. In America for Parnelli he made several successful models, up to conceive a revolutionary ground-effect car, the Chaparral 2K. But a series of prevarications by the team owner forced him to return to London.
Ron Dennis called him to form the famous Project Four, the group that gradually gave birth to a team almost invincible, leading to the world title Lauda and Prost and then also Senna with a car conceptually still linked to the ideas of Barnard. But he left in 1986 to Ferrari (his car in 1989 and 1990 won nine races and brought Prost one step closer to winning the World Championship). Misunderstandings and quarrels continued, and Barnard switched to Benetton, creating the single-seater that still today with some aerodynamic changes allows the team of Schumacher and Brunelle to be second in the championship. Away also from the Italian-English team in a stormy way, a year spent carrying out a study for Toyota and another divorce. And here it is again at Ferrari with this vast program. Barnard will work in a branch near London and will have a dozen technicians to arrive within a year and a half or two to manage about forty people. Within ten days he will be in Maranello to collect data on the car for 1993 already processed, which he will pair to those in his possession, since - apparently - he has clear ideas on the car he will have to design according to the new regulations. Normally it is not very fast, but this time it will have to work wonders. Barnard’s points of reference will be Montezemolo and Postlethwaite. Between the two Englishmen in the past there was not a good relationship (Harvey went to Tyrrell) but now there should be no incompatibilities.
Maybe John will ask Lombardi, engine manager, to make a ten-cylinder. But it will not be a solution for the immediate: the Piedmontese technician will first have to improve the current engine and then think about the much modified one scheduled for 1993. Ferrari has not yet announced the names of the technicians who will work with Barnard. It is clear that the English designer will call some of his most loyal collaborators. Particular attention will be paid to electronics (with Magneti Marelli) and, of course, to the intelligent suspension, now necessary if one wants to win. In addition, the various anti-slipping control systems, wireless accelerator and automatic transmission will be developed. Having completed the structure (the track engineers in 1993 will have to know more about computers than mechanics), Montezemolo will now have to close the discussion on drivers. Confirmed Jean Alesi, many names at stake: Senna, Mansell and, it is said, even with a minimum percentage of probability Prost. Berger and Wendlinger reserves. Schumacher is also mentioned. However, after the next Hungarian Grand Prix, all doubts should be resolved. Saturday 1 August 1992 Ferrari closes the plant for the holidays. And President Montezemolo takes advantage of this to deal with the racing team full time. A few days earlier he had met Gerhard Berger, one of the drivers on track to replace Ivan Capelli in 1993. Niki Lauda was also present at the interview. The meeting was discovered by a diligent reporter and obviously the story made us think about the return of the Austrian. But Ferrari, through the press office, let it be known that there is still nothing definitive:
"From Senna down, negotiations are still open. Other drivers will talk to Montezemolo".
Even if Berger is in the front line and is considered the most probable solution, it is clear that Ferrari waits before giving answers, if Senna, Mansell or Prost are freed. Meanwhile, starting from Monday, August 3, 1992 the team will face three days of testing in the Imola circuit. In the first two days Alesi will try, Wednesday will also return Ivan Capelli. The program includes important engine tests on the evolutions studied by the team directed by engineer Claudio Lombardi. If time remains, the team will also test other details. The results for the first day of Ferrari’s tests at the Imola circuit are immediately good. After a little trouble in the morning (a broken gearbox on lap 11, perhaps due to a lack of material) Jean Alesi forces his car, testing the engine with some modifications and different arrangements, in the presence of two technicians Postlethwaite and Migeot. In the afternoon the Frenchman makes, with several stops for the adjustments, about fifty laps, the fastest of which in 1'24"16, a time more than discreet if you consider that the car is in race conditions, it has hard tires and that the heat rages in the circuit all day. Wednesday, August 5, 1992, Ivan Capelli no longer knows whether to consider himself lucky or unlucky. For almost two months the Italian driver had been excluded from Ferrari’s private tests. The driver from Milan is back on track for a series of tests and crashes into the protections after a series of spin, severely damaging the car before the Tosa curve of the Imola circuit, while travelling at over 300 km/h.
The single-seater resists the impact and the driver comes out unscathed from the cockpit with his own means, although a little shocked and bruised. The incident occurs at 4:17 p.m., when the driver completes the fifth lap of a race simulation. The dynamics of what happened is explained by Capelli himself:
"I made it to the Villeneuve corner regularly as I had done in the previous laps when the car skidded and slipped to the right. It ended up against the guardrail a first time, turned on itself, beating twice more, turning again, then stopping against the outer barrier. They tore the rear and front left suspension. A day started badly and ended worse. I did not make a mistake and I do not seem to have experienced mechanical failure".
At the Canadian Grand Prix, the Ferrari driver was involved in a similar accident. This is the third time that the Maranello team has tried in Imola, without succeeding, to try a race: Wednesday, July 22, 1992 Alesi had arrived on lap 28, and on Tuesday he stopped after 14 laps. Capelli has only made 5. Next Tuesday the material will leave for Budapest where the Hungarian Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. From 19 to 21 August 1992 will be held in Monza the FOCA tests for the Italian Grand Prix of 13 September 1992. Meanwhile, in Formula 1 it seems that a very serious case is about to break out, which could even undermine the regularity of the World Championship. After the various committees had decided to continue with the special petrol until the end of 1993 and then adopt the one on the market since 1994, with a circular signed by Max Mosley, the FIA invites all manufacturers to use normal fuel from the next race, the Hungarian Grand Prix scheduled in Budapest from Friday 14 to Sunday 16 August 1992. A bolt out of the blue, because the motorists are forced in no time to change all the adjustments of the engines, because - among other things - the current gasoline has a much higher calorific value and allows you to find even 50 horses ahead of the standard fuel. At Ferrari, engineer Lombardi immediately gets to work. Generally speaking, the Maranello team agrees to use petrol from petrol stations, but the sudden change of directives creates many problems. The news makes Frank Williams furious, who hoped to finish next Sunday the run-up of Mansell to the world title. It is obvious that there are now many unknowns to face. Frank Williams says:
"We adapt, and will bring to Budapest the two types of gasoline and the necessary engines. But we put the matter in the hands of our lawyers, because we believe that the regulation has not been respected".
Why did FISA want to impose this decision, and with what power does it force teams to accept it? It seems that it has been established that during the season someone used prohibited elements in fuels. Hence the threat of disqualifications that could upset the championship. In any case, checks will be made in Hungary to all teams. This is a great difficulty, which risks throwing the World Championship into complete chaos. As if that were not enough, Friday, August 7, 1992, in France, the turmoil is unleashed following an interview with Alain Prost published by an Italian newspaper, according to which the French driver admits he has already signed for Williams and makes very heavy statements about Ferrari, Senna and Mansell, Lauda. The driver, by the way, would have answered:
"I spoke on the phone on Tuesday with someone, but I never dreamed of pronouncing at this moment the sentences that were attributed to me".
Two important events are due for Ferrari in the coming weeks. The first, a celebration, is just around the corner: on Sunday in Hungary, the Scuderia Ferrari will be holding its 500th Grand Prix. It is a record of participation, no team boasts a similar continuity in the Formula 1 World Championship, the closest is the Lotus that will perform in the same occasion 454 races.
In Budapest the celebration will gather many champions and characters of the past and present, as well as the most beautiful cars made in almost half a century of life by the Italian team, which will also parade on the track. The second commemoration is less happy. Wednesday 30 September 1992 will be exactly two years since Ferrari won their last Grand Prix. His last success was in the Spanish Grand Prix with Alain Prost in 1990. Since then, for many reasons, not only have the cars of Maranello no longer been at the top, but they have lost further polish, so much so that at this time the cars of Alesi and Capelli constitute the fourth force of the championship, after Williams, Benetton and McLaren. The two events, in stark contrast to each other, however, have a common denominator that is positive and takes on a precise meaning in the will of Ferrari to continue searching for that role as leader that has eluded her, except short and all in all fruitless periods, for over a decade. The history of the most prestigious and beloved racing team in the world is full of ups and downs. From the dazzling debut with the first success in 1951 at Silverstone with the single-seater driven by Froilan Gonzalez, to the two titles won with Alberto Ascari in 1952 and 1953. Then alternated titles with Fangio (Lancia-Ferrari), Hawthorn, Phil Hill, Surtees. The Scuderia then led by Enzo Ferrari built its myth in those years, also because it engaged in a total way, in Formula 1 and in the world prototypes and even in uphill races. Then came the difficult years: from 1965 engaged in an unequal fight against the English teams, numerous and fierce, the team of Maranello seemed to be dormant in his problems. It was in 1974 that, thanks to the arrival of two new characters and the contribution of an exuberant and courageous driver like Clay Regazzoni, the Maranello team returned to win. The young Luca Montezemolo called to the sporting direction and the almost unknown Niki Lauda, in a short time managed to beat all the opponents.
Two world titles, in 1975 and 1977, one missed by a point as the Austrian driver was the victim of a terrible accident at the Nurburgring and refused to race in Japan in the pouring rain, favouring the final success of James Hunt. The 1979 World Cup was won by Jody Scheckter. A triumph that could have been repeated in 1982, when Ferrari was clearly superior but it was knocked down by the adverse fate with the death of Gilles Villeneuve in Belgium and the catastrophic accident of Didier Pironi shortly after in Germany. Nevertheless, that year Ferrari won the Constructors' World Championship and it was repeated in the following season. Since then the wave has gone up and down, culminating in 1990 with the failure of Prost determined by the hostility of Mansell (the victory of the Englishman in Portugal...) and the decision of Senna, able to throw off track the Frenchman in Suzuka. Then these last two years of disintegration, of continuous changes, of uncertainties. It is difficult for Ferrari (despite making a modified car debut in Belgium at the end of the month) to interrupt the negative series in the short term. However, there are all the reasons to be optimistic, if not optimistic: at the party of his 500th edition of the Grand Prix, Ferrari presents itself with a new set-up. Montezemolo called the designer John Barnard who is already working for the car 1993, you look for a driver of calibre, the team is taking a different face. And the challenge is open. Waiting for the Hungarian Grand Prix that from Friday will open the hostilities in Formula 1, two topics on the agenda: the gasoline problem and the drivers market. The teams are adapting to the demands of the FISA: Tuesday, August 11, 1992, the Ferrari test in Imola with Alesi an engine modified in electronic settings to use normal fuel. On the drivers' side, it seems that if Mansell wins the World Championship on Sunday, Williams will be able to announce the signing of Alain Prost as the Briton would have accepted the cohabitation with his rival. The destination of Ayrton Senna, which is always of interest to Ferrari, is still uncertain, but has not yet made a decision. Says Boccini, spokesman for Scuderia Ferrari:
"In any case we would be happy to take the Brazilian. But he can not think of winning the world championship immediately. And this is a risk for us".
Nigel Mansell is ready to face a quiet weekend of fear. Quiet because the English driver seems, at least in appearance, serene and confident. The fear instead comes from the unknowns: in addition to the normal ones of car races, the chaos erupted in Formula 1 with the imposition by the FISA to use normal gasoline, that of distributors. Leone knows very well that the World Championship is now in his hands, that only one formality is missing, but he does not forget the misadventures of the past, when twice, a burst of a tire in Adelaide in 1986 and a trip to Suzuka the following year, lost the title at the last minute, out of pure misfortune.
Also this time, on the eve of the Hungarian Grand Prix that should crown him, this grain of fuel came out to complicate things, to bring some uncertainty. Mansell also knows that a victory on Sunday would not only bring him the helmet (indeed, mathematically enough to finish 4 points more than Patrese to become World Champion) but would allow him to solve problems for the future or at least to have clarification on his relationship with Williams. In the scorching heat of the Hungaroring, Nigel says:
"I’m as calm as a driver can be to try to qualify with the best possible position to hope to win on a circuit where overtaking is prohibitive. So I have stronger motivations than ever".
Can this test be the crowning achievement of a career?
"Just this season. From the first race in Kyalami our rivals realised that the Williams-Renault combination was the strongest. I had everything to aim for success: the material, the environment, the determination. I now know I am at the decisive moment".
As if the season was scheduled...
"When a racer has the best car, he can only win".
Now there’s the gas deal.
"Before the intervention of FISA we had the best fuel, I hope that this superiority continues. The only thing I’m sure of is that we never cheated".
It has been said in recent days that the problem of the signing for 1993 was also solved, that Mansell would accept a cohabitation with Prost.
"I haven’t signed anything yet. In any case I will decide. At this moment I have no precise confirmation from Frank Williams".
Do you know there’s a lot of pressure on Williams?
"Sure. When I returned to this team in 1990 it was a gamble, and I have since won thirteen Grand Prix. And now I see Prost and Senna on the door. That’s all. I heard that an Italian newspaper would publish an announcement by Alain that he would sign for my team. That’s not true. And he knows it (Prost denied the rumour, ed.). In any case, if Williams will accept all my requests, I will stay. Otherwise...".
If the agreement is not made, what alternatives are there?
"I really like the Ferrari-Barnard pair. With the arrival of John, Ferrari will be able to win races in 1993 and aim for the World Championship in 1994. And I can look around".
It’s a good story, this one, that will probably be clarified next week, if Mansell wins the title early. Meanwhile, Riccardo Patrese confesses embittered.
"We were a great couple, I worked a lot to develop the car. And now I have to look for a place, because some gentlemen come forward".
For Riccardo maybe there is a chance to race at Benetton, but it is also not excluded that he accepts the proposals of Sauber, the Swiss team that will enter Formula 1 (technicians Nichols and Mazzola, both former Ferrari). As for the petrol issue, there is a meeting of producers on Thursday. At the moment they seem to have had to accept the imposition of FISA. But clamorous forms of protest are not excluded and the Elf may even decide to leave the field. Meanwhile, the Brixia Motors Sport, better known as Bms Dallara, goes against the tide. Or rather, while addressing the British to solve the problem of frames that has always been troubling Italian technicians, he decided to bring British designers to Brescia, Italy. Thursday, August 13, 1992, an agreement was announced with Lola Cars Ltd, a prestigious company specialised in the construction of chassis for racing cars. Between the two companies there is also a merger with 51% for Bms and the rest for Lola. The first car will be built in England for 1993, given the short time, then an Italian production unit will be created. For Beppe Lucchini, owner of the team, who next year will still have Ferrari engines, a step in the attempt to grow further. Mathematics says that by varying the order of factors the product does not change. Well, the rule applies in a way also for Formula 1: it is not enough to replace the special petrol with the commercial one to change the values on the track. Friday, August 14, 1992 Williams is always the strongest team, McLaren continues to chase, Benetton is the third wheel, Ferrari is struggling as from the beginning of the season. The only revolution, if anything, at least for the first qualifying day of the Hungarian Grand Prix takes place inside Williams, as Riccardo Patrese leads Nigel Mansell, scoring the best time and taking the provisional pole position. It is not much, but enough to increase the expectation of a World Championship otherwise one-way. The Italian driver ran 1'15"476, at an average speed of 189.263 km/h, the new limit of the circuit. There is no record because the track has been completely redone and the track has been slightly modified.
However, it is always a sensation to see that while decreasing the power of the engines (with the fuel sold to distributors) the cars continue to improve performance, since last year Senna had scored a time of 1’16"147. The new coating - say the drivers - has better grip, but if you get out of the trajectories there is trouble, because the track becomes very slippery. In the first round of rehearsals is a spin festival, in which Senna, Mansell, Berger, Brundle and others also participate. On a technical level, Renault has the latest version of its 10-cylinder engines on the Williams, the Rs4, while Ligier has the Rs3c, with which Boutsen sixth and Comas eighth place. Tarquini, twelfth with Fondmetal, was also excellent, even if the small Italian team is tormented by a death of Ford engines. For Ferrari, which in the course of the evening will celebrate the participation in their 500th Grand Prix, still a difficult day, with Capelli finally ahead of Alesi. Maranello’s cars, however, have shown enormous problems of grip, top speed and jumping. All that remains is to wait for the modified version, with a transverse gearbox and a different rear suspension, which from Wednesday, August 19, 1992, in Monza, will take its first steps by undergoing a series of tests lasting three days. Returning instead to the question of gasoline, after endless meetings the producers have accepted - as said - the imposition of the FISA to use that on the market. But the story is not finished yet, because the Federation has made a mistake, claiming that the good fuel is the one produced on the basis of the regulations issued in 1978. Current petrol has changed (less octane and lead-free) so the standards will still have to be revised. In short, there is still a lot of confusion and for the moment it is not well known what the various suppliers use and who has an advantage. Perhaps the gap has narrowed a bit (less than a second between Williams and McLaren, while the Ferrari gap remains 3.8 seconds), but not much has changed. However, Elf has made it clear that if suspicions continue to be raised about her, she is ready to call in a legion of lawyers. At the level of the drivers market, there is to be recorded a statement by Senna:
"We haven’t concluded anything yet. Ferrari was right to take Barnard, as I suggested to Montezemolo. But this is not enough to make me make decisions. I’m still waiting to see what happens".
Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost get back together. But it is not a news of market-drivers: the Brazilian and the Frenchman, teammates in the past at McLaren, this time they make a common front only to defend themselves from what they call a heavy slander. Surprisingly, the two drivers issue a joint statement entitled:
"Reaction to an interview attributed to Alain Prost and published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica of 7 August".
In fact, the article appeared with great evidence in the supplement of the Italian newspaper, by Francesca Alliata Brommer. The disputed portion of the service is evidently that in which Prost accuses Senna of being homosexual. The transalpine claims that he immediately contacted his colleague after learning of the content of the article, to have expressed to the South American all his disappointment about what happened and to have offered to Senna his support in any action against the publisher of the weekly. Senna and Prost explain that they deplore this type of sensational journalism and that they have written to the Italian newspaper to inform them that they have sent their lawyers to study the case to pursue a legal action, that is, a libel suit. In the environment it is said that the two drivers have the intention of asking for a correction and a considerable sum for the damages brought to their image. The following day, as usual, the two Williams-Renault cars monopolised the front row; in Hungary it was Patrese who took pole position ahead of team-mate Mansell. Third is Senna, followed by Schumacher, Berger, Brundle, Alboreto and Boutsen; Alesi and Capelli close the top ten. At the bottom of the grid Hill qualifies for the second time in the season his Brabham; for the historic British team it is the last participation in a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Both Minardi miss the qualification to the race; it had not happened since the 1988 Belgian Grand Prix. Previously, at the end of the pre-qualifying session the race judges had stigmatised the bad behaviour of the team Andrea Moda held against his second drive, Perry McCarthy, who had been put on the track with only 45 seconds left before the end of pre-qualifying, threatened them with disqualification if they would again behave in a similar way.
On Sunday, August 16, 1992, at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Riccardo Patrese keeps the lead of the race, while Mansell is overtaken by Senna and Berger. In the rear, the two Ligiers collide: Boutsen crashes into the barriers while Comas returns to the track to hit Herbert. Tarquini is forced into the sand and crashes. All four drivers involved are forced to retire. Van De Poele, the victim of a spin, also left the scene shortly after. During lap 7 Nigel Mansell got the better of Berger, but he got stuck behind Senna. Shortly after, in two separate accidents, Modena, Wendlinger and Grouillard disappear, then Suzuki and Gachot, all on lap 13. A couple of cars remain in a dangerous position and the race director reports the Safety-car entering the track. It seems that the race needs to be slowed down, but nobody finds the car announced (in fact never match) and there is a lot of confusion. During lap 15, Jean Alesi, in seventh position, ends in a spin and in the attempt to restart breaks the transmission. Patrese meanwhile gains about 1.5 seconds per lap and travels undisturbed with a large margin in the lead. On lap 31, Nigel Mansell left the track in an attempt to overtake Ayrton Senna, losing again the position to Berger, after being blocked by Pierluigi Martini, who was now rounded. The Dallara driver was penalised during lap 27. Ivan Capelli is the victim of a mistake but remains in eighth place. After quickly passing Gerhard Berger, Nigel Mansell goes after Senna again, but on lap 30 he has an uncertainty and is overtaken again by Gerhard Berger. Meanwhile Martin Brundle overtakes Michael Schumacher and after three laps Nigel Mansell returns to overtake Gerhard Berger, while Ayrton Senna tries to conquer space. At this point it just takes second place for Mansell to mathematically conquer the first world title of his career. The Englishman is forced to make an extra stop due to a technical problem, but he has no problem to go back to second position, also taking advantage of the retirement of Schumacher and the difficulties of Brundle, struggling with gearbox problems. Shortly after the Englishman stops pressing Ayrton Senna, also because, during lap 39, his teammate Riccardo Patrese - with a 22-second advantage - is the victim of a spin; The driver from Padua is struggling to restart and returns to the race in seventh position with 26 seconds behind Senna, risen to the lead.
Patrese will retire a little later with a broken engine (lap 55). During lap 42, Nigel Mansell attacked McLaren’s Ayrton Senna, but failed to finish the overtaking and lost ground. Five laps later, Mansell was called back to the pits for a suspected puncture. He resumes the track in P6, without the points needed to become World Champion. But with the new tires (while Schumacher is hit by Brundle and then flies out without wing, in the course of lap 63) he gets very fast on the small group that chases Ayrton Senna, and fits in second place. In the final stages of the race Häkkinen is highlighted, who after passing Brundle tries to undermine Berger’s third position, but the overtaking attempt fails. Senna won his second win of the season, number 35 in his career, while Mansell graduated World Champion with five races in advance from the conclusion of the World Championship thanks to the second place; third is Berger, followed in the last few laps by Häkkinen, Brundle and Capelli. Nigel Mansell, at last. At the age of 38, the Williams-Renault driver won the 1992 Formula 1 World Championship. He did so by finishing second in the Hungarian Grand Prix: he beat Ayrton Senna, who gave the baton to his great opponent. A script that left no doubts or surprises: too obvious was the superiority of Mansell and, above all, of his car in this championship. So much so that the Englishman got the title with five races ahead of schedule. A record that rewards a long career, woven with sacrifices and bitter moments, a World Championship that comes after fourteen years of racing around the world. Nigel Mansell’s dream, the great play-actor, the Englishman with a Latin heart, has come true. But the second place that allowed him to finally conquer the world helmet and to be the runner who won the title with the widest advance, was perhaps the most suffered of his tormented history as a driver. A daring race, the Hungarian Grand Prix, during which Ayrton Senna, to pass the baton into the hands of his rival, demanded a full and unequivocal success. Indeed, the Brazilian gave the impression, just on the day he gave up the sceptre of Formula 1 to Mansell, of wanting to issue a warning: remember, I am there too. Nigel, despite running into a bad day, could not miss the appointment. It would have been more difficult to lose than not achieve the goal. In fact, he only needed four more points to become champion.
And when the unfortunate Italian left the scene, it was enough for the Englishman to exploit the superiority of his car to recover the necessary positions to become unreachable. But Nigel Mansell perhaps had to fight against other opponents, occult, in an arm wrestle that sees him committed to the future. And perhaps his race was more tormented and difficult than he seemed on track. It is not possible to understand, in fact, what strange combination, after ten races dominated in qualifying and race against the team-mate, on this occasion the Leone’s car showed limits. Patrese in fact had conquered Saturday, unexpectedly, the pole position on a track where it is very important to stay ahead for the prohibitive overtaking. And then in the race he could travel at a much higher pace, about a 1.5 second faster than the best pursuers, launching himself towards an affirmation missed first for a spin and then for an engine failure. It seems that Mansell, in order to stay at Williams next year in the company of Prost, has asked for 23 million dollars. And then, perhaps, they wanted him to understand that the team is in charge, that he is good but that the car counts more than the man. Obviously this is just a guess, but the coincidences sound strange. After all, nobody could take the title from him anymore. And certain games have the power to soften claims. Frank Williams cannot accept the fact that he has to overpay drivers, when many of them would pay a lot of money to drive one of his cars. In any case, the best and fittest driver of the moment won the World Championship. Mansell and Williams killed the championship from the start: eight wins in eleven races is a statistic that needs no particular comments. Two factors were added in the 1992 season: on the one hand the efficiency and competitiveness of the British driver and team, on the other the decline of McLaren - not even Senna can do miracles - and the collapse of Ferrari. The result? A championship without great emotions, without real challenges, without suspense, that made Formula 1 fans fall asleep in front of the screens and that caused a significant fall in the public interest. But do not say, please, that it was the fault of the Mansell-Williams duo: if anything, of those who failed to field equally competitive cars on the track. From Ferrari, in particular, came only disappointments. Even in Hungary, in their 500th Grand Prix the cars of Maranello did not offer any sharp: Jean Alesi out for a spin, Ivan Capelli sixth, both rightly ignored by television.
Looking to the future, the Scuderia Ferrari has been reorganised, John Barnard is back. Will it be enough to rekindle the love for Formula 1, which with all its problems remains a showcase for motoring, for the made in Italy, that even from racing can receive an important promotional support? These are the questions we ask ourselves, while on the podium Senna, Mansell and Berger water themselves with sparkling wine. The Englishman sheds some tears of joy, while the crowd of his fans sing:
"God save the Queen and the Lion".
The Brazilian also seems to cry, it is not well known if for the happiness due to victory, or for the anger of a World Championship definitely escaped. On the podium, congratulating the new World Champion, Ayrton Senna says:
"Good job Nigel, what a good feeling is that? Now you see why I’m such a son of a bitch on the track. Because I don’t like being without that feeling, and I wouldn’t want anyone to know".
The three drivers are all broken, destroyed by fatigue, so much so that Nigel stumbles and must be raised by Ron Dennis, McLaren manager. The trio then appears for the traditional press conference.
"You who won first".
"No, you’re the World Champion".
Ayrton Senna answers. And Nigel begins with the thanks, with his wife Rosanne next to him, also on stage:
"Fantastic job, all thanks to the team, the sponsors, the family, Patrese".
Mansell also sends a greeting to his daughter Cloe, who stayed home with Leo and Greg:
"Today is your birthday, I hope I have given you the best gift of your life".
Then he gets excited:
"The race was not decided before. Ayrton won because he practised the best tactic. I had several problems, the car did not go to the maximum. I was called back to the pits because a sensor indicated that a tire was gradually deflating. I hadn’t noticed. But maybe the stop was a panacea, because then I could safely recover. Honestly it was enough to take the points to win the title, I never thought to get first".
What are the feelings of a World Champion?
"I don’t know, I still can’t see it, I can’t believe it. How much effort, how many times I came close and then I woke up abruptly in the grip of the bitterest disappointment. I think that reaching such a goal could be the most beautiful thing that could happen to anyone. There are still five races to race, we can all have fun now, no problem. I do not think that Riccardo and I will have great difficulty giving Williams and Renault the constructors’ world title as well, very few points are missing".
But the future looms...
"The future is tomorrow, today I am the happiest man in the world. I proved that those who did not believe in me were wrong".
Mansell does not want to talk about the new torment that involves him, the renewal of the contract with the team that led him to the title. There is at the door the shadow of Prost, the great enemy; there are many uncertainties. Nigel has asked for many dollars in exchange for the presence of the French driver, but he doesn’t know that the man next to him is ready to betray him. Ayrton Senna, in fact, interviewed live on television by James Hunt, for the BBC, opens:
"I am ready to save 23 million dollars to Frank Williams (the figure that Mansell asked the manufacturer, ed). I don’t understand why someone doesn’t want a Brazilian driver on the team. I think I am a winning man and I want to race a competitive car, not like I did this year, without a chance".
In a single blow Ayrton Senna puts Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell in crisis, he throws McLaren-Honda into a panic and Ron Dennis, flattering Williams, makes Ferrari understand that he is not objectively interested in the Maranello team. A public and dramatic gesture, but certainly studied. It is offered for free only in words, but creates a total mess in all the already complicated negotiations of these days. Machiavelli was an amateur by comparison. Impression confirmed, moreover, by the sentences he utters answering those who ask him if he understands what Mansell feels in these first hours as a champion:
"We are two drivers and two different people. We know what risks and sacrifices you have to make to win the number 1 on the car. I know what you feel because I’ve already tried it three times".
Like saying: he is always inferior to me, because he still has a long way to go before he reaches me. In the pits, it is not just Williams for the title and McLaren for the victory. The men of Renault are also radiant, which on the second assault brought to the title the English team and Mansell with their engine VI 0, ruler of the season.
"It is a European victory".
They support the French, with clear references to the Japanese. But around there are dark faces. The first is that of Riccardo Patrese:
"It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t a mistake. The track was dirty and I slipped out, it could happen to everyone. Then in the chase, the engine gave out. It could and should have been my day, but… In Italy, with the mid-August in the middle that did not publish the newspapers, perhaps few have known that I was in pole position. What bad luck".
A little further on, under the Ferrari tents, Alesi escapes, furious, as happens when things go wrong, that is almost always this year:
"The car with a full tank of gasoline touched below. Downhill, with the Lotus of Hakkinen pressing me, I arrived long in a curve and at the exit, when I reopened the gas, I spun from oversteer and I ended up in the ground. Then in an attempt to get out of the uncomfortable position something broke in the transmission".
Not even Ivan Capelli seems to be very satisfied with his sixth place:
"I had scored points in Brazil and I hadn’t finished in a long time. So this result is also welcome. But how many problems. Understeer made my life impossible, I ruined the tires with a couple of rights and the driving became an ordeal. This is certainly not the Ferrari that we all dream of. It was not the best way to celebrate the 500th anniversary. Grand Prix".
Team manager Harvey Postlethwaite congratulates Mansell and Williams. So he says, laconic:
"There is little to say about our race. The current level of competitiveness of the cars is rather low and this track is also among the least favourable for the characteristics of the F92A".
From Wednesday, August 19, 1992, in the FOCA tests scheduled in Monza you can see the Maranello car abundantly modified, but there is not much to expect. Meanwhile, the controversy over the imposition of commercial petrol by the Federation continues. Elf and Shell have issued statements in which they essentially call for more clarity in the regulations. Agip has made a couple of justifiable notes: the controls of the technical commissioners are superficial, and above all the Italian manufacturer does not like the fact that the results of the analysis of fuels taken from all the teams will be announced only after a month. What happens if - for example, fuel from a Williams or McLaren is uneven? Will you invalidate the championship? Even motoring has its danger-doping. As for the Italian colours, to be recorded, out of eleven cars at the finish, the sixth place of Capelli, the seventh of Alboreto and the eighth of De Cesaris. Drivers who certainly expressed themselves to the maximum of their possibilities, such as Mansell and Senna, but with much less satisfaction. March reports that the young Paul Belmondo, son of the famous French actor, has run out of money to pay for the gig and therefore is left out, albeit with much regret. From the next race he will be replaced by the driver from Marche Emanuele Naspetti, Italian Formula 3 champion in 1988, currently second in the standings in Formula 3000. Sixteen years after James Hunt, the blond man who walked barefoot and always spoke badly of Italians (and continues to do so, as a television commentator in Britain), another Englishman has risen to the throne of world motoring, winning the crown of Formula 1 World Champion. It is a tradition that is renewed: it began with Mike Hawthorn in 1958, followed by Graham Hill (2), Jim Clark (2), John Surtees and Jackie Stewart (3). Nigel Mansell’s statement, however, has different characteristics from the previous ones, both for the character who accomplished the feat and for the peremptory way in which he triumphed. If James Hunt had won with McLaren in 1976 beating a sprint, for a point, a Niki Lauda who had given up - not yet in place for the Nurburgring accident - to participate for fear at the last race in Japan, on the track flooded with rain, his countryman has largely dominated the scene from the beginning to the end of the World Championship. Mansell has amassed a number of impressive successes, beating one record after another. Some might argue that the Briton had at his disposal the Williams, the most competitive car, clearly superior to rivals. In fact, this is true: there was no comparison with an opponent worthy of being called such. Not even Senna could bother the new World Champion. And Patrese, Mansell’s teammate, was probably put in a position not to harm. However, Nigel Mansell has been able - and here is his greatest merit - to interpret in the best way the single-seater he had available, using active suspensions and automatic transmission (is the driver with the most experience in the field of these transmissions, having driven in 1989 and 1990 the Ferrari).
Nigel Mansell is, in a sense, the posthumous legacy of the great Colin Chapman, who died of a heart attack in the winter of 1982. It was the builder of Lotus, who was also a talent scout, who first believed in the moustachioed driver. He called him to the team in 1980, as a test driver, alongside De Angelis and Andretti: his debut in the same year with the Austrian Grand Prix. Since then, Mansell has spent five seasons with the same team, joining Williams in 1985. He took his first victory in 1986 at Brands Hatch, European Grand Prix. Mansell’s automotive career began almost by accident, and relatively late, in 1977, when he was already 23 years old.
"I started going to the races with my friends. Some of them started racing and I followed them".
The rest of the story is now known: some Formula Ford championship, Formula 3, not too many victories, but a constancy of performance and a total application. At the limit of the sacrifice: when it was the case to make the qualitative leap, he did not hesitate, with the precious support of his wife, to abandon his job as a technician (he has a degree in engineering) at Lucas Aerospace and sell his house. Then, slowly, the steps forward, the first results. From gregarious, considered only a talent but with little tactical intelligence, to the maturation, through episodes that would have morally nicked a less tenacious driver. As happened at the end of 1984, when relations with Lotus had deteriorated: Mansell in Portugal was able to fight for the victory, but was eliminated by the car’s poor competitiveness. A few months later, a mechanic confessed that he had been forced by the team’s managers to mount brakes that would not last until the end of the race. Quiet in life (he loves fishing and golf), all home and family (he married very young with Rosanne and has three children, Leo, Cloe and Greg), on the track turns. He is combative, courageous, certainly this year the fastest ever. Also technically prepared, so much so that already in 1980 Honda chose him in the Formula 2 team of Ron Tauranac for the first tests of the turbo six-cylinder engine that equips Williams, Lotus and McLaren. A complete racer, therefore, who honours, in every sense, the world title. Mansell didn’t steal anything, in fact he was able to grow by aligning with the best and then beat them. When, on the eve of the 1989 World Championship, Ferrari announced the signing of Nigel Mansell, Italian public opinion split into two factions. To many the choice of the Maranello team, which was about to divorce Michele Alboreto, seemed rash.
"He is a fast driver but very instinctive, unable to reason in the race".
Others cheered because they saw in the Englishman a driver able to repeat the feats of Gilles Villeneuve, who had mythologized the #27 car. However, Mansell was able to win the hearts of all the fans, becoming an idol, the man of desperate races, of the fulminating departures. It is one of those champions from which you can expect everything, even in the most difficult conditions, so good to compensate, in some cases, for the deficiencies of the car. He, who just turned 38 years old (he was born in Upton-upon-Severn on 8 August 1954), refuses any label.
"I’m Nigel Mansell. I don’t like being compared to other drivers. I have my strengths and my flaws. And I have a personality that I intend to enforce".
A line of conduct that has led him to be one of the great protagonists of Formula 1 of the last decade, to become a veteran with 176 races to the credit, 29 victories, 26 pole positions, 28 fastest laps, 453 points: a resume that even those who have won more than one World Championship can boast. His career has been studded with disconcerting episodes, so much so that the English press itself has repeatedly harshly criticised him.
Not for nothing, the relationship with fellow countrymen has always been very difficult and only this year, faced with the repeated triumphs of the driver, the fans began to love him en masse. In any case, Mansell has always withdrawn from the people: to escape from the circuits he uses every possible means and for years has always lived (even for tax reasons) in inaccessible places. First in the Isle of Man, Fort Erin, and now Florida, Clearwater. But it must be said that the champion has never had an easy life, (two world titles missed by a hair, for the explosion of a tire in Adelaide, Australia, in 1986 and the serious accident in Suzuka, Japan, in 1987) and the controversy. As happened again in 1986, when with an incredible turnaround the British champion, after signing a contract with Enzo Ferrari himself, changed his mind to remain at Williams. But there is the suspicion that on that occasion Nigel had let himself be trapped by promises (never kept) and by subtle forms of blackmail, so much so that then it was the same builder from Modena, in one of his last wheelies, to call him back to Maranello. Someone also had doubts about the physical integrity of Mansell, protagonist and victim of sensational barrels against walls and guardrails. It was feared that his performance would not be continuous. Inferences without foundation: Nigel is a driver who suffers in the race, also because he always expresses himself one hundred percent of his possibilities. Perhaps in the past he lacked the tactical sense, that is, not one of those drivers who know how to seize favourable opportunities, sparing themselves at the right time. And he made, also for his excessive enthusiasm, many gross errors. Like the one that made him the protagonist in the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix, with Ferrari, of a controversy with the FIA. An infringement in the pits in the change of tires, a black flag not seen and a regrettable accident with the McLaren of Senna. He paid with the exclusion from the next test in Spain. Nigel is however a generous sportsman:
"It is not in my temperament to play accountant races, although I understand the needs of a team".
This is a statement that highlights another of Mansell’s characteristics that is also subject to get depressed or to get exalted for a while: to ingratiate oneself someone is capable of being sneaky, not sincere. After all, there is no driver who has not proved sometimes selfless and ours is no exception. But once in the car, the music changes: the Lion roars. And being always hungry (for victories) does not hesitate to attack. As he did this year to win his first world title. Monday, August 17, 1992 Nigel Mansell arrives in Port Irwin from Budapest. In the capital of the island of Man he owns a beautiful villa in which he lived for 12 years before moving with his family to Florida. Here, the British driver is greeted by the small community as a hero and by a message from John Major, the British Prime Minister:
"Congratulations on winning the World Championship, his performance in 1992 was excellent, characterised by great determination. I am happy that his skill has finally been rewarded by this deserved success".
The Williams driver is tired, smiling, happy and also appears carefree.
"Now I take a few days off with my parents, it’s about time".
The title certainly satisfied him, it was the culmination of a dream and also the end of a nightmare. Because Leo has been too close to hitting a target that he always missed at the last moment. But above all, it must have been an interview with Frank Williams before leaving the Hungaroring.
"We talked. We are close to an agreement. I asked him to stay for another two years, to defend the title".
For the first time, then, the Englishman is unbalanced and says something about his future. What will have accelerated the negotiations? Williams' money and promises, or Senna’s unexpected public statement that he offered to Didcot’s team? And who will be his teammate?
Patrese claims that nothing has been specified yet, the environment claims that Prost already has the contract in his pocket. And now the Brazilian comes forward. Uh nice puzzle. The game is complicated not only because of the huge interests involved, but also because of the difficult composition of the stables. After all, none of the three Formula 1 champions would like to be the teammate of one of the other two. And each of them has good reasons to avoid direct confrontation. Beyond personal values, Prost is afraid for his ties with Renault and Elf, Mansell for being an Englishman who works at home, Senna for his ruthless determination. The three would prefer to have a squire, a Berger or a Patrese, in short, drivers who in some way have to make the gregarious Comparisons are always difficult in Formula 1: now the cars make the difference between the drivers. Mansell probably wouldn’t have become champion if he didn’t have such a competitive Williams; Prost wouldn’t have won three titles if he didn’t have been able to fine-tune his car better than the others; and Senna, with three World Championships won, This year with a slightly lower McLaren, he only managed to exploit the defaillances of others to win two races (in Monte-Carlo and Budapest). It is also difficult to say who is the best among three champions who have dominated the scene in the last ten years, excluding Nelson Piquet who unfortunately is out of play after the serious accident in Indianapolis. Senna is the driver who has won more in less time, Prost the one who has won the most races, Mansell is the most combative, but he is also the less titled driver. They are men with different characteristics that can be summarised in a few words: Senna talent and intelligence, Prost method and reliability, Mansell courage and action. All three, at this point, would like to race with Williams. But the places available, eventually, are only two. Will the English manufacturer make the final decision or will the drivers force Williams' hand? And where will it go or where will the excluded go? These are the unanswered questions that haunt the Formula 1 market for now. Since Mansell seems to have found a solution to his problems, he will pair up with Prost or Senna. That’s probably what McLaren manager Ron Dennis wants to know. Who seems to have made some offers also to Patrese, just to have safety. And Ferrari? The Maranello team is watching. They are not in a position to make the first choice right now. They have to wait for answers and hope that somehow the market will be in their favour.
But, above all, Ferrari must build a competitive car to become the object of desire, as it once was. Won the World Drivers' Championship too early, five races from the end (it had never happened), Formula 1 now lives on the market, waiting for Williams - just 6 points - also wins the title reserved for manufacturers, and the preparation of the cars for 1993. In a period of upheaval, perhaps Mansell’s feat could also have a negative impact on a sport that is now suffering from gigantism. Too many expenses, many teams in difficulty and reduced show, almost always discounted. It is not the best method to increase the audience, in circuits and on television. Commentators are wondering on Sunday night in Budapest what they can talk about until the Australian Grand Prix in November. In Italy the situation is almost disastrous: Ferrari is not able to recover; Dallara has fallen down (and had to make an agreement with the English Lola to seek new momentum); Minardi goes on with difficulty, even if with great dignity and with the desire to recover. The small Fondmetal, which in these days has shown signs of considerable progress (otherwise frustrated in the race by the collision of which Tarquini was the victim in the first lap by Ligier of Comas). They may close and not show up for the next race in Belgium if they don't come to an agreement with a multinational company that should help them survive economically. The situation is not good even for the big teams. Ligier struggles, McLaren for the first time in many years is in trouble. Ron Dennis not only risks losing Senna, but also Honda engines. In any case, the Japanese will close with Formula 1 in 1993 and the team that has won the most in recent years does not know how to find an equally competitive engine. The situation is no better at the level of races and spectators. In Hungary, the organisers were rescued at the last moment by Philip Morris who largely sponsored a race that was about to be cancelled. Anyway, there weren’t more than 30.000 people at the Hungaroring on Sunday, mostly foreigners. Because a grandstand ticket cost 350.000 lire for three days and a worker earns just over 200.000 lire a month. Bernie Ecclestone is looking for alternatives, but he’s already fouled up. He proposed next year a Asian Grand Prix in Autopolis, Japan. But the circuit has failed with over 200 billion lire of debt, and the prospects are bleak. And one wonders what the organisers of the upcoming races at Spa, Monza, Estoril, Suzuka and Adelaide are thinking about the attendance of fans and the box office.
In Monza, however, from Wednesday, August 19, 1992, three days of free practice ahead of the Italian Grand Prix of 13 September are scheduled. An unprecedented McLaren for Senna and Berger, a modified Ferrari for Capelli and Alesi, while Williams will keep Mansell and Patrese at rest (who must be treated for an annoying back pain). Only if McLaren and Ferrari give some signs of recovery, can a minimum of interest be rekindled. Otherwise Formula 1 will risk relying on controversy to draw attention, since the petrol problem has not yet found a solution. But it would be like committing suicide, because revolutions are not popular.