On Wednesday, 2 September 1992, Formula 1 cars are back on track, for 3 days of tests for the Italian Grand Prix of September 13. Only 3 teams confirm their presence: Williams, Ferrari and McLaren. Maranello's team will start with Alesi driving the F92A/T, while on Thursday Capelli will also be present with the standard car with longitudinal gearbox, and a revised engine in many particulars. On Friday, the driver from Milan is left with the modified car. For Williams there are Patrese and Hill, on the McLaren at turn, Senna, Berger and Blundell. The Formula 1 summer drama has not ended yet. On Wednesday, after the tests on track, Ayrton Senna speaks again. About an hour of answers rather than questions. The Brazilian driver opens a door on a possible change to Williams.
"There is some news but I cannot tell now".
Then he repeats that Prost is not sportsmanlike, he would have gone to Ferrari if he had a competitive car, that his insistence on changing team is only because of the fact that he wants to win, but especially because the engines's circus has to offer a more uncertain and valid spectacle. In the environment there are some who say that in this moment Senna could be exploited for convincing Mansell to sign for Williams. Plot twists are not excluded. Meanwhile, Patrese (best time in 1'23"87) is closer to Benetton. Alesi with the Ferrari F92A/T goes off track without too much damage. The following day, Alesi goes off track with 10 laps to go and he damages the car. The French immediately hits back the track, but a suspension is folded. Patrese instead is forced to face some engine's problems. Problems also for McLaren of Senna and Berger. Best time for Patrese in 1'22"11, followed by Senna (1'24"91), Berger (1'25"02), Alesi (Ferrari F92A/T, 1'25"08) and Capelli (Ferrari F92A, 1'25"08): on Friday the driver from Milan will drive the car with the transverse gearbox.
"The Italians think about us as jealous, they think we are a British team. And we don't like this: the company is more than Italian, even if we talk about a corporation. If we opened a workshop in Oxford, it is only because of practical reasons and opportunism. Down there, there is the Silicon Valley of motorsport. If you need a piece, there are dozens of small companies that can work for you. And among other things even with low prices".
Flavio Briatore, boss of Carnei Benetton Ford, complains about a situation considered absurd. And maybe, also in order to solve this problem, on Thursday, 3 September 1992, his team officially announces the engagement of Riccardo Patrese for the next two seasons. The usual statement confirmed, during the ongoing test in Monza, the voices that arose for a long time. Patrese, seeing the market's situation, became a really highly requested one: if certain joints were closed, he could have stayed with Williams. As an alternative, Mclaren, Benetton and Ligier wanted him.
"Only Ferrari never showed up. And this embitters me. But I don't know if I would have accepted the offers of Maranello: unlikely it will be competitive in the short term. And in two seasons I will be 40. Even if I feel young and full of energy".
So, Patrese decides to accept Benetton's offer, that meanwhile thanks Martin Brundle, making him free (and with a certain sorrow, since the Englishman after a lacklustre start of the season, is doing well. Riccardo will be paired with Michael Schumacher, another fast driver.
"We will be equal. Do you want to know how much I will earn? The right amount for my value. I don't drive for free just like someone who offered himself, and I don't ask for astronomical numbers like others do".
It is said that Riccardo will gain about 6 million dollars each year: a great sum.
"I'm leaving Williams with a bit of sorrow. Since we worked hard in these years to achieve success. I had some problems, but after all I understand Frank Williams, he had to side with Mansell because it was the best way to obtain the results that everyone was expecting. I accepted Benetton, because it's the team that in these years has made the best progress. I think that, with the Ford engine and the active suspension, in 1993 we will be competitive. The team is really motivated and it has two technicians, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, of first order. I signed for two seasons because it is necessary to have a minimum of continuity".
Patrese, who was born in Padova on April 17 1954, is the absolute veteran of Formula 1. Not for his age, given that he is 38 (Mansell is already 39), but for the number of races held: he has already reached 236. He debuted with the Shadow in 1977, then he went to Arrows, Brabham, Alfa Romeo and then again Brabham before arriving in Williams at the end of 1987.
"Despite everything, this was my best season, even if in the last few years I won five races. I aim for second place in the world championship and I want to win a race before leaving this team, maybe on Sunday 13 at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix. Schumacher? For now I want to beat him, seeing that he got one point away. Then we'll see".
Riccardo, without noticing, reveals some secret information. He looked for Ron Dennis to communicate his intention. But he gets to know that McLaren's manager is in the USA. To do what? He was trying to hire Michael Andretti, since Senna is leaving him. Speaking of which: the Brazilian keeps hoping but it looks like Mansell is going to accept Prost. And indeed, while on Monday, September 7 1992, McLaren announces the expected engagement of Michael Andretti for the 1993 season. Ferrari is forced, in spite of itself, into another controversy. As it happened during the first year of the collaboration with the technician Barnard, an english journal - the same as before, the Sunday Times - publishes, the previous day, an interview with Harvey Postlethwaite, current manager of Maranello's racing team. And, like on the last occasion, the report presents a terrible image of the Scuderia Ferrari. Mixing Postlethwaite's declarations, considerations and indiscretions of the author of the article, the London paper lets its readers know, by the way, that Ferrari's future cars of Formula 1 will be designed and built entirely in England. Engine included. The power unit - according to Sunday Times - would have been entrusted to Brain Hart, a specialised Englishman who has already worked in the field. Previously he has produced a turbocharged four-cylinder (provided to Toleman, Lola Haas, Ram and Spirit, from 1981 to 1986) and he also elaborated Ford engines. Hart is supposed to have a 10-cylinder V-shaped ready that Ferrari, always for the English journal, is going to use on the advice of John Barnard. From Maranello, a statement is obviously issued, which denies the allegations:
"Ferrari never took into account the possibility of mounting an engine not designed, built and developed in Maranello from the field directed by the engineer Claudio Lombardi".
Such a categorical statement excludes any hypothesis in this field. Further Harvey Postlethwaite sends a letter to the Sunday Times in which he complains about the tone in the article and about the fact that sentences he never pronounced are attributed to him. So the case should be closed. Going back to Michael Andretti, with this engagement McLaren wanted to renew and probably expand their market in the USA, waiting to know what Ayrton Senna was going to do. The American driver is not a rookie: he is turning 30 on October 15 and is champion of Formula Indy where he has won, since 1986, 26 races and he conquered 24 pole positions. Michael is the first-born son of Mario Andretti who was Formula 1 World Champion in 1978 with Lotus, holding his last races in 1982 with Ferrari. As anticipated, the Formula 1 series carries on. The three protagonists step into the shoes of the three wise monkeys. Alain Prost does not speak (but he acts as a great strategist), Ayrton Senna does not listen (to McLaren's reminders), Mansell does not see or better, pretends to be blind.
But, after the Brazilian's utterances, which a few times come out of the closet, on Wednesday, September 9, 1992, it is the English's turn, fresh World Champion, to have his say. He does that at Monza, where he is busy with a golf tournament with other drivers and celebrities. In the mood for revelations, which apparently have the aim of sending messages, the 39-year old driver makes it clear that he is going through a difficult moment.
"It's true, at this moment my relationship with Williams and Formula 1 is not that good. I could either keep racing or quitting. I will make a decision in the short term, in the next few days, after the Italian Grand Prix, which I intend to dispute as a great race, because there is a particular atmosphere here, breathtaking, unique in the world".
Mansell, who appears calm, wants to let others know the way things are, from his perspectives:
"I signed with Williams a contract for two years, and an option for a third one. In Hungary an agreement was reached, with my wife Rosanne and another witness present. In the following days everything changed. Only in Belgium I understood that the team had hired Prost. Frank Williams didn't tell me about this. And also about the possibility of losing Senna. The last time we got in touch, he told me: there isn't a place for you in our team anymore. I'm here waiting for an offer. In the meantime, I had contacts with other people".
It is true, though, even if Mansell claims that it is not about an economic matter ("My only interest is to be able to race for the World Championship, with the same technical guarantees I had this year. I don't care who drives the other car"), that money has a crucial importance in this story. The moustachioed driver has asked for 12 million pounds for next year. At first he had been told that he had to settle for 6 million pounds, then 3 million pounds. Like saying: we don't want you. For this reason, maybe, the English champion also let himself go, discovering one of the cards Williams is playing in the 1993 World Championship.
"The team is preparing a new car with arrangements that will allow them to gain one second per lap. By now, computers are the electronic system that decides the races. And Williams is also fine-tuning a sort of ABS to adjust braking, that will bring further benefits, considering that the tighter car will have less road grip, they will be quicker and will have to be slowed down in the best way possible".
This indiscretion makes clear how Mansell is on bad terms with his team. What happens now? The English driver could go to McLaren (even if Ron Dennis never hid his esteem for the driver, but he can be attracted by his experience and by the chance to have the number 1 on one of his cars). So the scenario could change with the pair Prost-Senna in WIlliams and the World Champion obliged to accept going to another team or retire. Also because talking about the assumption of racing in Formula Indy, Mansell says:
"It's a good idea... But no jokes".
The next instalment, perhaps the final one, in a few days. The Lotus team, on the other hand, has no doubts. After confirming Herbert, they also renewed the contract with Finn Mika Hakkinen. Nigel Mansell also reveals a curious episode that happened a few days earlier, when a big headline appeared in a Spanish newspaper, Mansell driving under the influence:
"I went to read the article and discovered that it was about my namesake, but younger than me at 26, who had actually been stopped by the police while behind the wheel drunk. But reading that headline makes you feel bad, don't you think?"
After winning the Drivers' World Championship in advance with Nigel Mansell and immediately afterwards the Constructors' World Championship, Williams has two goals to pursue: the pursuit of records and the preparation for the next World Championship, the latter activity in which all the teams are already engaged, since with the 1993 regulations, in theory, they will start from scratch with cars different from the current ones. Mansell himself, despite the difficulties he is going through these days with his team, will be able to beat a record that he shares with Senna in the Italian Grand Prix, starting with the first qualifying round. In fact, both have reached the goal of eight wins in one season and the Englishman with four races to go can take it much higher. Nigel, forgetting for a moment the problems, says:
"Our car fears no rivals at the moment. And next year it should be even more competitive. The secret of this superiority? There is not just one. It is a combination of factors: from reliability, to the Renault engine, to active suspension, to robustness. But it is above all the team that is winning, a homogeneous whole where everyone plays their own role, without interference".
Mansell knows very well that he will have to deal with teammate Patrese and will have to counter Schumacher's attack. And then there are the usual unknowns, represented by McLaren and Senna in particular who, before leaving the circuit, sends a sibylline message:
"Tomorrow there will be news".
On Thursday, 10 September 1992, the Autodromo (which is celebrating its 70th anniversary and which on Tuesday, 15 September 1992, should know its future as the Milan and Monza city councils will have to decide whether to renew the convention for the use of the track) is practically flooded with rain. In short, a minimum of ingredients to guarantee the show exists, even if for the moment ticket pre-sales are 20% lower than last year, with a loss of 800 million lire in takings. It is useless, however, to expect a competitive Ferrari, since at best it can aspire to small advances. Some detail changes in the Maranello cars. For the first time, Alesi and Capelli will have two cars and a reserve car with the new transverse gearbox and the Italian driver will finally be able to compete on an equal footing with the Frenchman. But Ferrari's sights are above all set on the future, in an attempt to challenge Williams. The plans are outlined by Postlethwaite, head of the racing team. The manager says he is sorry for the interview with The Sunday Times in which he was attributed very heavy judgments about Ferrari.
"I never said that Ferrari would use a Brian Hart engine. I have faith in the team that we are completely restructuring these days, with a reduction in staff that will lead us to retain only the best elements. Next week we will run a laboratory car with active suspension at Fiorano. In December we will have ready a single-seater that is the offspring of the current one, because we don't want to waste funds and time, but radically modified to compete in the first races of 1993. The car designed by Barnard should make its debut at Imola next year. Obviously we are not only working on the active suspension but also on Abs, electronic throttle, anti-skid and other electronic systems in one package and on the engines, with different options. I am convinced that Ferrari will return to the top".
After months of rumours, of indiscretions, of half-confirmations and denials, on Friday, 11 September 1992, Honda officially announced its decision to leave Formula One and therefore McLaren, to whom it supplied engines on an exclusive basis, at the end of the season. It was a bad blow for the Circus, which lost one of its most prestigious protagonists, a clear sign of a crisis that was affecting everyone, even those who appeared to be in good health. The Japanese company had made its debut with a car of its own design in the 1964 German Grand Prix, obtaining two victories in 1965 in Mexico, and in 1967 at Monza with John Surtees. He then abandoned the following year, only to return in 1983 by mounting a turbo engine in the car of a small team, Spirit.
Since then he has worked with Lotus, Williams and McLaren, setting records that are hard to equal: 67 victories in nine seasons (out of 147 races held so far), five consecutive Drivers' World Championships (from 1987 to 1991 with Piquet, Prost and three times with Senna). The real reasons for Honda's withdrawal are not officially disclosed by Nobuhiko Kawamoto, president of the world's eighth largest car manufacturer, who in his announcement from Tokyo states:
"At Honda we have decided to suspend our Formula 1 activities at the end of this season. It has been ten years since we returned to racing, during which time we have managed to win at the highest level, where technology is at its most exasperating. We have won the Constructors' World Championship six years in a row. During these years we have been able to train essential employees to develop our products. And as we have achieved our goals, we have decided to stop. For us the spirit of battle is fundamental: now we have to go back to our roots and think how to maintain this spirit".
Behind these words, however, is a not inconsiderable sales and economic crisis. The hundred plus billions invested in racing will probably have to serve other industrial and commercial purposes. But it cannot be ruled out that, in the short term, Honda will not make a comeback in other areas such as Formula Indy, where it could enter with a McLaren-designed car. Ayrton Senna, in one of his statements, thanked Honda for their successes together.
"The Japanese have taught everyone certain working methods that only they have been able to practise so far. Seriousness, commitment, responsiveness. I have worked very well over these years with what I consider to be perfect partners. I knew a long time ago that they would leave, but I couldn't say it publicly".
The withdrawal of Honda (which should nevertheless remain present in Formula 1 with the Honda-Mugen engines entrusted to the Footwork stable) was almost certainly the main reason that prompted the Brazilian champion to try to change teams, trying to climb a place at Williams. But just in the last few hours, it seems that his candidature has taken a downturn. It seems that the sponsors who were supposed to somehow pay his salary (which is why he said he would go to Williams for free) have backed out. So now the match for 1993, in the champion team, would only concern Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. The Frenchman is, by all accounts, untouchable. The Englishman, on the other hand, has hinted that the conclusion of the affair could come within a few hours, perhaps on Sunday. As for McLaren, manager Ron Dennis, who spoke at length, made no revelations.
"I have heard all the possible engine suppliers, but I haven't made a decision yet. I can still wait until December. My team has the capacity to build three new cars in two months, by February. In any case, we could also have a transitional engine next year. Andretti has been warned and Senna knows it too. Ayrton will have to tell us something definitive, but there is no hurry".
In the meantime, a chill shakes from total apathy the few thousand spectators (the organisers say 20.000, but it seems too many) who stain here and there the grandstands and lawns of the national circuit. It happens when Jean Alesi, entering the track in his #27 Ferrari, about half an hour after the start of the first qualifying session of the Italian Grand Prix, installs himself in second place on the provisional grid, behind the usual Nigel Mansell. People crinkle their eyes, some speak of a miracle. And, on the contrary, it is really true: it may be the air at home, it may be that after so much work something has finally moved, but the Maranello cars give the first real sign of life since the beginning of this terrible racing season. Not so much for the placing, later downgraded by a feat by Ayrton Senna five minutes from the end to third place, as for the performance in itself: first Mansell in 1'22"586 (at an average of 252.827 km/h), second Senna, 1'22"822, third Alesi, 1'22"976. That is only 0.390 seconds from the leader.
Accustomed to detachments calculable even with the hourglass, on the order of 3-4 seconds per lap, the Frenchman's time left everyone open-mouthed, especially as last week the same driver in free practice, on soft tyres (forbidden in official qualifying) had never managed to drop below 1'23"0. Miracle indeed, like in Enzo Ferrari's time? Jean Alesi replies:
"No. This is just the result of the work done over the last few days. It is the sum of the improvements made with the transverse gearbox, small retouches in the suspension and aerodynamics, and the progress of the engine. I am happy for the fans, I hope a growing Ferrari will draw a big crowd tomorrow. I had fun for the first time since the start of the year. And I could even have done better, maybe even provisional pole position, if I hadn't encountered a Dallara that slowed me down slightly and the yellow flags displayed for a car that had gone off the track. Let's not get excited though, let's just hope we can repeat today at the same level. The race will then be something else again. But let's enjoy this moment of serenity and joy".
Indeed, if Ferrari is going stronger than usual, it must also be said that Williams is going slower than expected. Mansell has some engine problems, imitated by Patrese who also has to face some difficulties with the road holding. It is not excluded that on Saturday the distances will be re-established, even if it is to be expected that the measurements will be reduced compared to previous tests. Even Senna, after all, is impressed to be so close to Mansell. The usual malignants, of course, immediately speak of tricks of the trade, of oversized engines by Ferrari for the occasion. Smiling Paolo Massai, chief designer of the engines produced in Maranello, replies:
"For once we had done a bit of practice and had not brought in last week's tests here at Monza the latest innovations that we have played around with now. A few modifications allowed us to take a small step forward. But there is still a long way to go".
The secret should be in the higher engine speed. Santo starts again with Alesi looking for confirmation, with Capelli hoping to climb up from eighth position with a little more experience in the transverse gearbox car. With Mansell looking for his pole position number 28, the tenth of the season. There will be no Andrea Moda team, as had already been established by FISA. In the morning, the team from the Marche showed up at the gates with an injunction from the magistrate of Monza stating that they should be allowed to enter the pits. And the police enforce the injunction. But FISA does not intend to let the black Italian cars race and appeals to a new judgement. And the magistrate, this time, declares himself incompetent; consequently, the decision rests with the sporting authorities. They had already decided to expel Andrea for unworthiness after the arrest of Andrea Sassetti, the team owner, in Belgium. Although the latter was immediately released. If it weren't for the fact that in Formula 1 the drivers' market has become more exciting than the races, and that people desert the circuits (the World Championship has already given its verdicts and the economic crisis is creeping in: not many people at Monza), fans are still urged to follow the Italian Grand Prix carefully. Because this race risks becoming uncertain and entertaining, perhaps for the first time since the start of the season. Nigel Mansell still starts in pole position, the eleventh since the beginning of the year, number 28 of his career as Juan Manuel Fangio, behind only Senna and Clark) but at Monza the rivals are really closer. Although on Saturday, 12 September 1992, he further improved his lap performance (1'22"221, at an average speed of 253.950 km/h), the Englishman ended up inflicting a mere 0.6 second gap on Senna's McLaren and just over 0.7 seconds on Jean Alesi's Ferrari, which managed to maintain the third fastest time. A minimal margin that will allow the pursuers to seek surprise with technical solutions perhaps a little on the limit, but capable of giving them some chance of victory. It is clear that Williams always retains its power. However, considering Mansell's psychological situation, stressed by contract renewal negotiations and the desire to prove that he is the best, and Ayrton Senna's grit (by the way, the Brazilian has an engine problem, otherwise he might have been able to grab first place on the grid), a fierce challenge is to be expected. The role of Ferrari, which allows Ivan Capelli to move up to seventh position, is that of an outsider.
One should have no illusions: it is only a small step forward compared to the recent past. Even if Jean Alesi, driven by his generous youthfulness, indulges in over-optimistic predictions. Above all, it will be a question of finding car settings that are a perfect compromise between the not-so-high power of the V12 engine produced in Maranello, and the need to be fast on the straights, which is crucial here at Monza, a circuit with an average speed of over 250 km/h. By unloading the aerodynamic pressure, the Frenchman will obviously have to perform miracles of balancing so as not to run off the track and end up in some kind of trap. In fact, Jean Alesi, in the course of the morning is the victim of two accidents, first colliding with Katayama's Venturi and then Morbidelli's Minardi, as the car is obviously difficult to control at speed. Williams, McLaren (which for the time being renounces to active suspension), Ferrari and then almost a vacuum. But Schumacher's will to win with Benetton, however detached in the times, will have to be taken into account. The others will play for placings, to try to end the season in the best possible way: the drivers still looking for engagements in view of 1993, the teams with the aim of encouraging sponsors. As usual in the commentator's booth of TF1, the French television, there will also be Alain Prost. The three-time World Champion, although the repository of many secrets (and right now many people would like to know them), is probably enjoying himself. He has a contract with Williams, McLaren is courting him and might even give him more money to change his mind. Senna is threatening retirement, Mansell is in the same situation. It would be a real laugh if in the end the diabolical transalpine managed to get rid of both rivals with a move made at the table. It is clear that this is a fanciful hypothesis, bordering on reality. And, knowing the protagonists, one has to believe that in the end they will all find a place, because one does not give up a handful of millions of dollars so easily, even when one's bank account is already nice. We shall see, anything can happen.
The fans' greatest hope, however, is to admire some friendly faces on the podium: Patrese's smiling face returned to victory, or Alesi's slightly bewildered but happy one, after having been able to bring Ferrari back to a high level. In the meantime, during practice, news arrives: the news is that Nigel Mansell has been left free by Williams: the announcement on a handwritten fax is delivered to the British driver while, with qualifying underway, he stops at the box. In reality, we later learn, it was a piece of paper from McLaren boss Ron Dennis. Mansell read it, folded it up, slipped it under his overalls, over his heart, and immediately went - just a few metres to fill - to Dennis, evidently to talk about the forthcoming engagement. Dennis said shortly afterwards that he had offered him a good package. Mansell adds something about his affair during the ritual meeting of journalists with the author of the best time, namely him, immediately after the end of practice, as well as during other informal contacts. In the little theatre at Monza, the Englishman holds the attention of the spectators. The spectators? Well, it is limiting to call them that. The monks and nuns - here are the right names - of the Monza convent were all, that is, a few, at the autodrome, and who knows if on Sunday, for the Italian Grand Prix, they will be more. Because indeed this Formula 1 seems to have become for Italian fans a conventual affair, or parochial to be more precise. A faith, a religion, a few commandments, a few dogmas, the sense of a sorrowful yet elected brotherhood, with the Ferrari cilice to suffer well. Not a shred of VIPs, three beautiful women, three in number, in the whole paddock. Few people in the grandstands, in the meadows. From the press box, scanning the horizon well, one can see a Ferrari flag in all: no wind or movement of arms to make it waving. Anti-Prost placards, accused of being the great puppet master of Formula One, the one who stood aside in 1992 and subjected 1993 to himself, threatening Mansell or Senna or both with unemployment.
"Libera nos a Prost".
Recites a banner, which means deliver us from Prost. Prost is announced everywhere but nobody can see him, except when he takes the same helicopter as Dennis, to go to Villa D'Este (Como). The tests, the times, always Mansell, always Senna, finally Alesi, confirmed third. Ferrari had not started so well for so long, but no applause erupted, and in front of the Ferrari motorhome there was no crowd. And Alesi interrupts the press conference after three minutes, in the absence of questions, or even simple feedback to his finally, with frills like:
"The engine was different from the day before, it still responded well. Important to start at the front, this is a fast race of illustrious trails".
Look for concrete signs of the decadence of interest: sausages instead of salmon in the restaurants of the stables, always Italian sparkling wine, healthy but poor grills; not the usual crowd, at the paddock entrances, of people who want to see who is going to see the champions up close. And great attention to Nigel Mansell's theatrics, the only really interesting act. Like when he almost lays down on a table, taking his head in his hands, when faced with the question of whether he could see himself in a Ferrari in 1994.
"My God, but if I don't even know what car I'll be in in 1993...".
Do you feel badly treated?
"I feel I'm the object of injustice, but they won't be able to take away my peace of mind. And anyway I will only speak when the picture is complete. I still don't know what I will do in 1993, maybe I will only drive a car to go fishing or play golf".
Do you have negotiations?
"I have many meetings, some done and some to do".
"Well, you've all seen that we've spoken".
Does he see Ferrari doing well with Alesi and Berger?
"Foreword: Ferrari has been a love for me, and it remains in my heart. Its drivers in 1993 are excellent, Berger in McLaren had problems, in Ferrari he will be treated very well, Alesi is a fast, fighting driver. Ferrari is still magic, but its fans are no longer: because they have no patience. In Formula 1 everything can change suddenly, but sometimes it takes a whole season for a small improvement".
"Let's meet in half an hour, maybe I have something to tell you".
Half an hour later:
"I have to tell you that I still don't know anything. I'm going to take a shower now, then I'm going to look for a gig for 1993, maybe I'll see you in two hours, maybe not, maybe I'll see you in 1994, because I may even do a year's fishing".
The calm of the strong, of the Englishman. Two hours later he returns, holed up with Williams in the team motorhome. Finally the two talk to each other. Nobody says anything: if the case is closed, that is the end of Mansell at Williams, as already foreseen, or if it is reopened, with the blessing of Alain Prost. In the meantime, Mansell races on Sunday. Excited about his 11th pole-position and record?
"I do racing, not statistics".
On Sunday, 13 September 1992, before the Italian Grand Prix can even start, Gerhard Berger's McLaren is the victim of an electrical problem on the grid, and he is forced to start the race from the pit lane with the reserve car. At the start Mansell takes the lead ahead of Senna, who manages to stay ahead of Alesi, Patrese and Capelli. Schumacher gets off to a bad start, getting into the wrong gear and hitting a Ligier from behind at the first chicane. At the end of the first lap the German driver is forced to return to the pits to replace the nose and front wing. Meanwhile Riccardo Patrese manages to overtake Alesi at the start of the second lap. The first laps see Berger and Schumacher recover many positions from the back of the grid and overtake several slower cars. In the lead, Mansell makes his way through with Senna unable to keep up his pace. The positions see Nigel Mansell leading the race, followed by Senna with Patrese closing in on the Brazilian, and then the two Ferraris of Alesi and Capelli. Martin Brundle then manages to pass Capelli and moves into fifth place. Lap 13 proves disastrous for the Ferrari team: both cars retire, Alesi, who was fourth, due to a mechanical problem and Capelli spins out at the Parabolica due to electronic problems. On lap 14 Patrese overtakes Senna and moves into second position. Meanwhile, Berger returns to the pits to fit new tyres and drops back again. On lap 17, the classification order sees Mansell in first position, followed 10 seconds behind by Patrese, with Senna 2 seconds further back. Fourth is Brundle, around 28 seconds behind Mansell, then Boutsen and Herbert over 40 seconds behind Mansell. On lap 18, Johnny Herbert, in sixth, retires with an engine problem. On lap 20, Riccardo Patrese suddenly appears in the lead as Nigel Mansell lets his team-mate pass him. The order now sees Patrese in the lead, closely followed by Mansell, and Senna in third. Meanwhile Michael Schumacher overtakes Boutsen and moves up to fifth.
On lap 27, the top positions see Patrese, Mansell, Senna, Brundle, Schumacher and Boutsen. While the leading trio overtook the slower cars of Berger and Comas, Mansell continued to stay very close to Patrese and Senna did his best not to lose contact with the two Williams; in fact, the Brazilian driver momentarily approached Mansell when the Williams driver was forced to take evasive action by passing Comas at the Roggia. On lap 41, Mansell slows down at the Ascari corner and returns to the pits for a gearbox failure due to loss of hydraulic pressure, and is forced to retire.The standings on lap 44 consisted of Patrese, Senna, Brundle, Schumacher, then Berger and de Cesaris, both one lap down. Patrese leads comfortably until six laps from the end, when a hydraulic problem forces him to slow down and cede the lead to Ayrton Senna. In the closing stages of the race, Senna allows his teammate Berger to take the lead. Patrese continues to slow his pace until the end of the race, slipping to fifth place. Ayrton Senna wins the Italian Grand Prix, preceding at the finish line the two Benettons of Martin Brundle and Michael Schumacher. Gerhard Berger finished fourth, Riccardo Patrese fifth, and Andrea de Cesaris sixth, with Tyrrell-Ilmor. A day full of twists and turns. Mansell retired twice, before the race when he clamorously announced his decision to abandon Formula 1, then in the race, forced to return to the pits for a gearbox failure of his Williams. Then the usual, very unfortunate Patrese, betrayed by the car five laps from the end while he was launched towards victory, firmly in the lead. So the Italian Grand Prix ended in favour of the very good Ayrton Senna, at his third win of the season with a McLaren that certainly could not compete on equal terms with the Williams. Fortune favours the bold, they say. And the Brazilian is so brave that he deserves this help from good luck. But victory number 36 for the driver from São Paulo (who is now eight lengths behind the all-time championship leader, Alain Prost, at 44) does not clarify his future.
"I sympathise in a way with Mansell, even if there were inaccuracies in his explanations. He too is a victim of a wrong system. There are blockades, friendships, in this Formula 1, which sooner or later will have to be eliminated".
Senna, therefore, despite the fact that a place has opened up at Williams, is not certain of being able to move to the best team of the moment as Alain Prost, with a contract signed last February, has blocked his way.
The games are not yet done, someone or something could convince the Frenchman to run with McLaren next year, but everything will depend on his will. Otherwise we will have two illustrious unemployed in Formula 1 in 1993. An absurd situation. Returning to the twists and turns, we must also speak - negatively - of Ferrari. After the good premises of the qualifying and a decent start in the race, Alesi prematurely ended his race due to a failure of the petrol pump and Capelli left the track due to a problem under braking. The Maranello team took on board the belief of those who think that 13 is an unlucky number: on 13 September 1992, in the 13th round of the World Championship, on lap 13 the two drivers were already out of the race. Jokes aside, Ferrari's difficult period shows no sign of stopping. Among other things, the Maranello team lost a record it had held practically forever. It has been overtaken by McLaren in the ranking of the teams that have won the most points since the 1950 World Championship: with the 13 points won, the English team rises to 1755.5 while the Italian team remains stationary at 1744.5. And after the race, a large banner appeared on the pit straight with the inscription:
"Reds, yes, but with shame".
Indeed, one cannot understand how, with the means at its disposal, even though it started the season with a completely wrong car, Ferrari could not at least remedy a disastrous technical situation. The mistakes of the past cost more than could have been foreseen. At this point, Barnard and possibly other foreign specialists are welcome to try to straighten things out. Hopefully this will be the right time. The race offered various emotions, even though it was actually dominated by Williams. It should be noted, however, that ever since Mansell and Patrese's team mounted the new Renault Rs4 engines in Belgium and since the special petrol was banned, they have not been able to win. In addition, the cause of Mansell's retirement and Patrese's slowdown stemmed from a failure of the hydraulic system pump that ensures the active suspension and gearbox work together. Mansell started in the lead, followed by Senna and Patrese, while Berger was forced to change cars and come out of the pits due to an engine failure on the grid and Schumacher, author of a collision on Boutsen's Ligier, had to stop to change the nose of his Benetton. The German and the Austrian, thanks to a great pursuit, then placed third and fourth respectively behind Senna and Brunelle, ahead of Patrese, the combative De Cesaris, Alboreto and Martini, the only Italian consolations of the day. On lap 20, Leone Nigel let his teammate pass with a blatant gesture (agreed before the start), waving to the crowd from the cockpit. On lap 42 Nigel Mansell then had to abandon while playing behind Patrese. Patrese seemed launched towards his first win of the season, but he too had to give way, finishing fifth.
And, to make matters worse, he was overtaken in the standings by the emerging star of Formula 1, that Michael Schumacher (now second only to Mansell) who perhaps in 1993 will have the heavy task of making Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna themselves forget. From 11:10 a.m. to 4:10 p.m., at Monza, World Champion British driver Nigel Mansell personally made relatives, friends, fans and maybe even drivers have some important life experiences. The British driver began by announcing his retirement in 1993 from Formula 1, and ended by admitting the gift he gave Patrese in the race to win in front of the Italian public. As he said this, adding that he hoped Riccardo would make it to the end and win the race, Patrese himself was overtaken by Senna and Brundle. Mansell had begun to take up a lot of space in the morning, when he appeared, in his tracksuit after the warm-up, in the press room while nice young ladies were handing out a letter from him, on the letterhead of Ballaman House, his home in Port Erin on the Isle of Man (but he now lives in Florida, he has escaped from the rain on the island of tailless cats). The letter, with a handwritten signature dated (Nigel Mansell 1992), says in essence that at the Hungarian Grand Prix Frank Williams, the owner of his team, had a conversation with him and that in principle, in front of witnesses, an agreement had been reached for 1993. But three days later, when he was already World Champion, Williams had one of his managers call him on the phone to tell him that Senna had offered himself for free (for nothing) and that therefore he, Nigel, had to, although World Champion, renounce for 1993 not only his claims for an increase, but also a considerable part of the remuneration he was already receiving (about $9.000.000). Summarising the two full pages of the letter, we read:
"I said they should go ahead with the negotiations with Senna, but not because of the money issue: the fact is that I was shaken by the end of the feeling between me and the Williams bosses. I care a lot about these things: the lack of a good human relationship is a bad, decisive thing. I was faced with a lack of information, with Senna in the meantime announcing in Belgium that he wanted to race for Williams, and sudden changes of mind. I no longer found in the team, at least at management level, a response to my enthusiasm, to my sacrifices. Things had changed, and it was now clear that Prost had signed for Williams 1993. So I leave a world with which I am no longer in tune. I am thankful for what Williams did for me, that I gave it my all. I am not ready to leave racing altogether, I love competition too much, I think I will try, if they want me, in Formula Indy".
In writing, Nigel Mansell also let it be known that he would not return to the subject. His retirement is the second announced, the other had been proclaimed two years earlier, at Silverstone, due to problems with Prost within Ferrari: at that time Mansell had made it known that he wanted to leave racing altogether, only to go back on the decision at the end of the season and accept offers from Williams. Then came the Italian Grand Prix. Mansell led from the start until lap 20 of the 53 scheduled. At that point he passed Patrese, remaining second. Twelve laps from the end his gearbox locked in sixth gear:
"A failure of the electronic system that regulates the gearbox and suspension, something very rare, never happened before".
He announced while Patrese was still in the lead. And also:
"I told Riccardo before the start that I would help him win the Grand Prix, the least I could do for him after what he has done for me all season and what he will certainly do in the three races that still remain. He just had to stay in second place until the right moment".
Meanwhile, Patrese retired with a similar fault to his own. Mansell leaves amidst cheering crowds. Even the journalists clap their hands at him. He has the usual face between indifferent and mocking, however an honest face, where mockery dwells as a sign of cheerfulness or permanent irony. The British driver wears Bermuda shorts, hastily put on in the motorhome, and looks ready for a game of golf. Meanwhile, on the day marked by controversy, Ferrari let it be known, with the Grand Prix still in progress, that it would appear in the press room with a communiqué, which is not an exciting read. It says that the two drivers, Alesi and Capelli, left the race on the same lap, lap 12 (mistake, it was lap 13). He does not specify Capelli's problem, and of Alesi's he says that there was a drop in fuel pressure, resulting in a stoppage. Then Postlethwaite is quoted, like this:
"We are bitterly disappointed not to have once again been able to give our fans the satisfaction they deserve. The progress we made in qualifying was not reflected in the race. This is the first time we have had a fuel pump problem like the one that stopped Jean".
Alesi is also quoted, Capelli too: the former says of an engine that started coughing before shutting down completely, and speaks of a car that was excellent up to that point, the latter says that something got stuck at the back, and he could no longer control the car. But there are those who manage to contact the two drivers before they run off. And one of the two does not speak as in the communiqué. Alesi, in fact, says:
"Yes, the petrol was no longer flowing, that's why I stopped. But one thing must be clear: that this car allows at most one exploit every now and then, and a passenger. No point wasting too much time on it. You have to start from scratch".
"I feel like crying, but apparently it's not professional. So you get on with the work".
And Capelli says, echoing himself in the official statement:
"I was trying to adjust the braking distribution, front and rear, when a rear wheel locked".
The impression of many, however, is that special, convoluted troubles always happen to him, and that he made a mistake. His exits from the track were almost a ritual, during the course of the championship: a difficult car to drive, a complex psychological situation, but also a fragility that, when he was fired, led him to bury his career as a Ferrari driver in the sand of the parabolic curve, on a day when banners were asking Montezemolo to hire Tarquini and Alboreto. Now, heading towards the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril, scheduled in a fortnight's time, Ferrari's real future begins: on Monday 21 September 1992, at Fiorano, Nicola Larini, as a test driver, will drive a test car with active suspension. Riccardo Patrese will also have only one pleasant memory of the 63rd Italian Grand Prix: the applause that a small crowd of fans gave him when he came out of the Williams motorhome while, dark in the face, he was preparing to reach the helicopter that would take him to his hotel. Apart from that a lot of anger. First expressed with his wife Susanna, then publicly with a single sentence:
"Suspension problems, gearbox stuck in fourth gear, nothing else to say".
Then he ran off. And to those who had the constancy to chase him, he added:
"It went badly. But that's not what makes me furious: it's Nigel's story, the climate that has been created in a team that has won everything. It seems clear to me at this point that there are management difficulties".
A criticism that the Riccardo Patrese of a few days ago would perhaps not have made. But Patrese was evidently annoyed not only by what has happened in the last few hours. It seems that, after Mansell's retirement, Frank Williams asked him if he would be willing to stay. The Paduan, however, is a man and a driver of honour: he has signed and given his word to Benetton and does not want to go back, even if the temptation would be strong. Now it remains to be seen what will happen at Williams. The British manufacturer has announced a press conference at the factory in Didcot. Well-informed people claim that - apart from the truth about the Mansell affair (who was formally thanked in a statement) - the signing of Alain Prost will be made official. Alongside the Frenchman could arrive the young Damon Hill or the experienced Martin Brundle. After the Italian Grand Prix, Frank Williams announced the definitive break with Nigel Mansell:
"In our plans Mansell was included as the leading driver of the team for next year. We made him numerous offers which he always refused, even going so far as to announce his retirement last Sunday. I feel sorry for his fans, but we are a great British team which has not been able to find British sponsors to support the technical and financial programme which will be very demanding in 1993. I have a responsibility to think about the future of the team and the 200 people who work there. From the beginning of the season Nigel had told me that he wanted to retire if he won the world championship title. I didn't believe it and instead that is exactly what he did. Evidently his motivations must have been well determined. I thank him and wish him and his family a good future".
Formula 1 came out of Monza Sunday devalued. Crisis of audience and identity. And, at this point, also of credibility. A World Championship without history, except for marginal episodes, and without spectacle, champions announcing or confirming a possible retirement (Mansell and Senna), prestigious companies leaving the sporting sector, such as Honda, teams with famous names forced to abandon (Brabham), others gasping. Even McLaren, who reigned for a decade, is in the grip of more serious problems than one might think. A Great Depression climate on which a global downturn obviously has an influence. A personage from Formula 1 tried to do the maths in Bernie Ecclestone's pocket. This person, who remained anonymous, says that from 1980 to the present day, between direct and indirect business, Ecclestone is said to have earned $400.000.000. And herein lies one of the sore points of the situation: Formula One has been regarded for too long as a reservoir of money, without thinking about the rest. On the one hand a few have spent and invested, on the other many have taken advantage of the situation. Some managers got rich by buying jets, helicopters, castles, yachts and now complain when drivers like Senna and Mansell shoot off demands for fees that are unmatched in any other sector of the sport. How to get out of this difficult and complex moment? The remedies are not easy to find, especially not in the short term, but let us identify the sore points with their solutions. Firstly, Formula One would need to be revised on a technical, regulatory and organisational level in order to regain its quota. The knots to untie: cost containment and realignment not of rates but of values, i.e. a better balance between the cars on the track. Today it takes around $20.000.000 to run a mid-level team, with no chance of success.To win you have to exceed $100,000,000 and sometimes that is not enough. It is clear that when the figures are high the gains are greater for everyone. But there are also those who do not survive.
There is now a ruthless hunt for sponsors: but only the big multinationals can step in at certain levels. Finding multi-million dollar funding is barely enough to run a couple of races (transfers and spares). The case of Fondmetal is exemplary (but the same applies to Minardi). A very healthy company, very profitable in relation to turnover. Its owner, Gabriele Rumi, seized by insane passion, threw himself into the adventure. He did things seriously and with good results. But now he is forced to give up. If he cannot find funding or buyers the next race, the Portuguese Grand Prix, will be his last. Furthermore, to change the future scenario, something has to be done on the technical level. In 1993, completely different cars will have to be built. The regulations impose narrower cars and tyres. This should enhance the driver's skill. But if there are active suspensions, electronic accelerators and gearboxes, ABS and anti-skid systems, the designers who have more means and ideas at their disposal will prevail. A thought must therefore be made: would it not be worthwhile, perhaps sacrificing research, to impose some restrictions on the use of certain contraptions? As long as it is a question of refining aerodynamics or producing better brakes and more powerful engines, we remain within the law and within the philosophy of racing. Going further, one ends up in robotisation, in racing with radio-controlled machines. In this sense, a fair reduction in current costs could also be achieved. Finally, another area on which action could be taken is that of the distribution of the proceeds of racing, in the form of prizes. At present, those who win (and they are already the richest) collect a lot and those at the back collect almost nothing. In this sense, the FIA, the national federations and the big companies present in Formula 1 have an enormous responsibility: power cannot be left in the hands of pure businessmen, as has happened until now. It is time to turn the situation around. More competitive cars, more uncertainty, more spectacle. If it can come to that, Formula One will probably be relaunched. With more valid places available young drivers will have space and those who exaggerate in their demands will have to step aside.