Wednesday, September 13th, 1989, is a positive day for Ferrari: Gerhard Berger sets the best time of the year on the Imola track. The Austrian driver completes 81 laps overall, the last one with a time of 1'26"71 (the record was 1'27"63).
"The engine and the gearbox performed well in spite of the huge amount of work. I think this is the best day ever since I work for Ferrari".
In the meantime, Patrese has had his debut in Silverstone with the new Williams FW 13, but he only manages to complete five laps because of the rain. The following day, Ferrari completes the tests in Imola. At the end of the three days of tests, Berger declares that he is satisfied with the work that was done, even though there has been a problem during the last day. The Austrian driver completes 52 laps: 32 of them have been a sort of simulation of a half of a Grand Prix. 157 laps overall, for a total amount of 791 kilometres. It is unlikely that the new changes and improvements will be used during the next race in Portugal. Capelli is on track as well with his March (41 laps completed): he will drive Coloni, together with Moreno. Nigel Mansell, Ferrari's test driver, is testing the three cars for the Estoril Grand Prix. While waiting for the Portuguese Grand Prix, on Tuesday, September 19th, 1989, Ford informs that they will be providing their 8-cylinder engine to Benetton for exclusive use in 1990 and 1991, with an option for renewal for 1992. A new model of the engine will be installed on Nannini and Piquet's cars in Phoenix, during the opening of the 1990 World Championship. On Thursday, September 21st, 1989, a bright blue sky and a hot temperature (over 32 °C in Lisbon) welcome the Formula One group in Portugal.
It is difficult to say whether the race on Sunday will be inflamed by the temperature or by the competition. There are other elements that enter the already heated competition between Prost and Senna for the Word Championship, and all of them are important. First, Prost and Senna are now sworn enemies, after the clash in Monza. Then there's the conflict between McLaren's manager, Ron Dennis, and Prost. Honda seems not to have trust in Senna anymore, and this is the main change. The new Williams FW13 is debuting, and it could be a winning car. Last, the Estoril circuit shall suit well to Ferrari, which is constantly improving. Let's start with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. They were never friends, it seems. They don't hang out with each other and have got different interests. However, until recently, at least there was a confessed mutual professional esteem. The two drivers exchanged opinions and information during practice, there was at least a semblance of teamwork in the race. Now it is all over. Prost and Senna race against each other. That one, the other, are expressions for pointing at each other, like two betrayed lovers. And that is not enough. The Frenchman Prost, at least until recently, had a good relationship with McLaren. After his victory in the Italian Grand Prix, Alain gave the cup to a Ferrari fan, leaving Ron Dennis puzzled. There was a quarrel between the two and now the situation is precarious. It might seem that the team prefers Ayrton Senna, and that it will be easy for the Brazilian to beat Alain Prost. But that is not quite the case. During the Frankfurt Motor Show, a Honda executive made it known that there are difficulties with Ayrton Senna.
"First of all, there are some practical problems. We would have liked to invite our two drivers to welcome the guests at this event. But how could we invite Prost who publicly has already signed for another team? And if we had Senna come alone, we would have been criticised. Everyone would have thought that we prefer the Brazilian. But that's not the case: Senna has been giving us trouble lately. He is restless and disobedient. There was one race where he was second but was catching up. Our technicians had calculated that he could move up to first place in seven laps, driving at a certain pace. After two laps he was already first, risking a lot. He does his own thing".
Therefore, the situation is very confusing and even dangerous for McLaren, which is, in spite of everything, still the car to beat. But, as we said, other rivals are appearing on the horizon. First of all, Williams, that has released (finally) the latest creation of the designer Patrick Head, on track for the first time ten days ago, and immediately got brilliant results. Based on these data, Patrese and Boutsen, unless there are set-up or reliability problems, shall have a weapon in their hands and a chance for victory. And their entry into the fight could complicate the one between Senna and Prost. We have been waiting the new Williams FW 13 for a rather long time. It was supposed to be released at the start of the season, but the technician Patrick Head preferred to finish it off slowly: there are two cars for now, one for Patrese, the other one for Boutsen. It could seem a traditional car, but is very compact and flat. It has a large periscope air intake on the rear dome. However, as always, what you see seems normal, while the secrets lie beneath. Finally, there is Ferrari. The Maranello cars partially disappointed at Monza, despite Gerhard Berger's second place. But Nigel Mansell is optimistic:
"If I won by a good margin in Budapest, on a track that is quite similar to the one in Estoril, I should make a good claim again".
A speech that the Austrian driver endorses, as he adds:
"After twelve consecutive withdrawals, I rediscovered the joy of crossing the finish line and standing on the podium. Since I have always said that before I leave Ferrari I want to win at least once more, you do the maths".
Surprisingly, the day before the Portuguese Grand Prix, it is confirmed that the Finnish driver Letho, Ferrari's test driver, will race with Onyx, replacing the Belgian Gachot, who had openly criticised the team and was sacked. It was already announced, and confirmed, that it will be the Argentinean Larrauri, and not Fotek, who will drive Eurobrun. During the pre-qualifying in the morning, Onyx takes the lead again, with Stefan Johansson being 0.5 seconds faster than Philippe Alliot (in P2 with Larrousse-Lola). Michele Alboreto qualifies in P4. Roberto Moreno (Coloni) gets P3 in the pre-qualifying, so he is the other driver to advance to the main qualifying session. On his debut in Formula One, J.J. Lehto almost gest the qualifying, but doesn't manage to, due to a suspension failure during the session. The Finn driver finishes in P5. Yannick Dalmas had initially pre-qualified in P3 with his AGS but was excluded from the session and his times were deleted after he mistakenly used the wrong tyres. Nicola Larini (Osella) is also excluded because he missed a weight check, even though he had already failed pre-qualifying, finishing in P9. Other drivers who did not access to qualifying are Piercarlo Ghinzani (Osella, in P6) and Oscar Larrauri (EuroBrun P7). Gabriele Tarquini (AGS) finishes in P8, ahead of Aguri Suzuki and Bernd Schneider (both on Zakspeed). The slowest car, by almost four seconds, was the other Coloni driven by Enrico Bertaggia, for the third time in a row at the bottom of the time classification. When Ayrton Senna goes on track at 1:10 p.m. on Friday, September 22nd, 1989, and immediately sets the best time, a blackout occurs at the circuit. Without electricity, practice is stopped for about ten minutes. But there are also those who interpret the episode as a divine sign, joking of course. After the Brazilian driver enters the track, it starts raining in torrents. Everyone is silent and still, almost in prayer in front of the marvellous driver. Actually, Senna will do even better than that, his last lap being 1'15"496, the record of the circuit, at an average speed of 207.428 km/h. The former record, no need to say it, belonged to him (1'16"698). He set it in 1986 with the turbocharged free-pressure Lotus-Renault, with an allegedly almost 1.200 hp engine. The religious reference, however, is not accidental, since Ayrton Senna is going through a period of deep attachment to the Catholic faith:
"I owe my recovery to God. It is the faith that gives me strength. Winning or not, it is not important, it is a passing moment in life. Reading the Bible convinced me of that. Nothing can hurt you if you have faith".
The fact remains, however, that this driver with his extraordinary sensitivity is very fast and very good. At the end of the first day of practice, Ayrton Senna is 1.3 seconds ahead of Berger, the first of the Ferraris, and 1.4 seconds ahead of Pier Luigi Martini (Minardi). And he is almost two seconds ahead of Prost and Mansell. The latter was involved in a terrible accident that fortunately ended without any serious damage, apart from a bruised shoulder. On the technical side, there are two points to note: McLaren has improved further, and the performance of the Pirelli tyres is rather remarkable. Indeed, the Italian company has done a huge amount of work during the winter tests on this track. Also thanks also to the tyre performance, in the top twelve positions we find Luis Pérez-Sala (Minardi), Martin Brundle (Brabham) and even Roberto Moreno (Coloni). Pierluigi Martini's performance was outstanding, and his Minardi is very competitive. As for McLaren, apart from Ayrton Senna's exceptional skill, the secret of this new step forward is the following: almost a week of testing in Budapest, where the car was completely revolutionized in its aerodynamics and front suspensions. Honda had requested these tests for two reasons. First, in Hungary they had lost to Ferrari, and second, the Hungary track is very similar to the Portuguese one. And here we come to Ferrari. Quite a good performance, but not excellent. After the practice, Fiorio claims that he will be making a lot of changes to the set-up of the cars on Saturday. Scuderia Ferrari's sporting director also denies having already renewed John Barnard's contract.
"We will meet on Tuesday in Maranello, we will talk about our and his requests. Afterwards, shall we reach an agreement, we will also talk about the economic aspect".
On his best lap, Berger could do even better, but his brakes unfortunately jam on a turn. Mansell is miraculously safe from a dangerous collision. In fact, while he is driving at reduced speed out of the trajectory, the Englishman is hit by Danner's Rial, at 240 km/h approximately. The Ferrari car ends up with a bent suspension, the German car is destroyed, but both drivers are fortunately safe. Apparently, the collision was caused by a failure on the Rial when overtaking. Mansell was of course very scared, but went thorough with only a bruised shoulder. After a couple of hours, however, the accident is already forgotten. The Englishman is already studying how to improve the set-up of his car to try to find a better position than P6 for the starting grid of the race, given that, with the spare car, he couldn't do much. A positive debut for the new Williams FW13: Patrese in P4 and Boutsen in P7. The potential is there, it's just a matter of finding the right set-up solutions: there is still some problem with the suspension balance. Finally, there's the Prost affair, who reveals that he has had a phone call with Mr. Agnelli in his negotiations to move to Ferrari. After the statements about the engines in Monza, Honda wanted to let the Frenchman go before the end of the season. In the days following the Italian Grand Prix, Ron Dennis tried many times to phone Alain Prost, but he did not answer. So, the team principal called Jo Ramirez at his office, telling him that, shall Alain not even answer him and apologise for what he had said, he would put another driver in his place. On Friday, September 15th, 1989, Jo Ramirez spent the whole evening trying to phone Alain Prost, and when he finally managed to speak to him, he begged him to come to Woking urgently. At lunchtime on Saturday, September 16th, 1989, Alain Prost arrives at Gatwick with his son, Nicholas, on his private plane. Jo Ramirez takes them both to Woking, and here, while the sports director brings Nicholas to see his father's cars, Alain Prost and Ron Dennis write a letter of apology to Honda and a statement to the press. So, the affair is solved, but Alain Prost has signed a document in which he agrees not to damage the image of the Japanese company anymore. This is the end of a relationship that had been beautiful in the early years, a partnership that seemed successful. When Alain Prost will go to Ferrari at the end of the season, he will do so leaving some resentment behind him. Speaking of which, in Portugal both McLaren drivers will give up their prudent tactics and words suited to the occasion. Senna wants to win, Prost wants the same, although the Frenchman would also be fine with a defeat of his rival, a Ferrari or a Williams victory.
"Shall Senna withdraw, it is virtually over. He would be obliged to win all the three races left, in Spain, Japan and Australia. A slightly difficult challenge, considering the tension, the fatigue, the risks, and the desire of the other teams to finish the season in a good way. Fair enough, he has also another ally in heaven now, since he has become pious and religious, but it will not be so easy to win this world title".
A understandable doubt: will it only be a duel between Senna and Prost in Portugal? It is quite hard to answer to this question, even though logic would say yes. However, there is always hope for an open and thrilling race, perhaps for once in favour of the Italians and not just Ferrari, but also other teams and above all the Italian drivers. It is hard to say at present whether Pierluigi Martini will be able to keep his third position (second row) with his Minardi. But the predictions for the race are positive: the Pirelli tyres, unless there are any surprises, should allow to race without any pit stops. There are high expectations for Ferrari. They are still far behind McLaren in qualifying, but could catch up well in the race, assuming that this circuit is similar to Budapest: Mansell's performance was outstanding, he got the strategy right and obviously the car's competitiveness also helped him. Berger is starting P2, on the front row next to Senna, which is a very good position. But the Austrian driver will also have to pay attention to the ones behind him, in particular to Prost who wants to catch up. Uncertainty is still the dominant feature of the thirteenth round of the Formula One World Championship, provided that McLaren does not turn off the enthusiasm once again. Saturday September 23rd, 1989, Ayrton Senna arrives at the box half an hour after the start of the practice session, when the other drivers have already battled a lot on the track. On the contrary, he is fresh, rested and perhaps has just finished his spiritual retreat with some fervent prayers. His gaze fixed, his face pale, Senna gets into his red and white car, starts the engine and enters the circuit solemnly, welcomed by the frenzied acclamation of a handful of fans.
A slow lap to warm up the tyres, another one to figure the circuit out ("I had a problem with the fourth gear, because of the gear selector", he states). Then he gets an almost perfect lap, through the eleven turns of the track, and a new record lap: 1'15"468, at an average speed of 207.468 km/h. So, Ayrton Senna will start from pole position: it is the ninth this season, and the 39th in his still short career. But it is not certain that the Brazilian McLaren driver will have an easy time in the Portuguese Grand Prix. Ferrari has also improved a lot: Berger took the second place on the starting grid and Mansell, who was sixth, moved up to third. Senna improves his own record (by only 0.028 seconds). However, Berger improves by more than 0.7 seconds and Mansell by 1.2 seconds. Senna and Berger are on the front row: they will be teammates next year. Mansell and Prost, who are both driving for the Maranello team in 1990, will be just behind them, in second raw. But nobody will do any favours: in Formula One, everyone wants to win, at least in the early part of the race. Achieving a good position at the beginning, especially on a track like this, which is narrow and twisty, can be decisive. Theoretically speaking, Ferrari could repeat the performance we saw in Budapest, when Mansell completely dominated the race and finally won it. A lot will depend on the tyres choice, which is tricky and crucial at the same time. The temperature will also be vital: it is expected to be hot, as it has been in the past days. However, the emotions and the tensions could also be a major factor in the challenge. Whoever manages to keep calm will probably win in the end. The fact is that all the protagonists seem to have confidence in a positive outcome for them. Even those who have been complaining for many reasons lately, such as Prost and Berger. The Frenchman declares at the end of the practice:
"I made a little mistake with the first set of tyres. With the second one, I could have been almost as fast as my teammate, but I had a little trouble with the gearbox. However, my car is well balanced overall".
The Austrian driver replies:
"If Prost, unintentionally, had not slowed me down, I could have done 1'15"5. This Ferrari is performing very well, even if I have the impression that Senna continues to have a huge advantage".
However, this feeling is not confirmed by sporting director Cesare Fiorio, who is more optimistic and even a little calmer than on Friday:
"Senna did not improve much and we got closer. We are expected to be competitive in the race as well. We hope it will be a good race, and that Ferrari will be the protagonist of it".
We will see who will be right. But today’s test raises other questions. For instance, will the Pirelli tyres perform well? Even though the Pirelli-equipped drivers failed to hold their positions of the first qualifying round, five drivers are in the top eleven of the starting grid. Martini P5, Caffi P7, Sala P9, Brundle P10, just in front of Modena. It looks like the Italian provider has released a new kind of race tyres of excellent quality. This could complicate things in the top positions of the championship. Minardi could not achieve the second raw of the starting grid, but still their performance was brilliant. This small young team achieves P5 with Martini and P9 with Sala. Both are helped by very good tyres, but still, they managed to start ahead of important teams such as Williams, Brabham, March, Lotus, and Tyrrell. At the end of the practice Giancarlo Minardi is moved, and when he sees Pierluigi Martini coming into the box, he hugs him. It is the best qualifying result ever for the team from Romagna, and it gives hope for today's race and for the future. Even though the enthusiasm ends up betraying Martini a bit: he ends up spinning out on his fastest lap, in an attempt to overtake Modena, which was ahead of him. Giancarlo Minardi, 43 years old, born in Ravenna and owner of the team, declares:
"For us, this result is absolutely extraordinary. We have to consider that our budget is limited. We have nine billion liras to invest this year, but that is a small amount, given that we have 600 people working with us. We hope that these results will make people realise that they can also bet on us".
Minardi hopes that Subaru will equip them in Formula One. The Japanese company has a 12-cylinder boxer engine designed by Motori Moderni. They are currently working on another narrow V-engine, more suitable for racing cars.
"The issue is getting a big car company involved. If you don't have a big company to support you, that can arrange the research activity and bear certain expenses, you can't stand out. Yet we have good ideas, a strong will, and a lot of determination".
Meanwhile, today, Minardi starts just behind the McLarens and the Ferrari, with a car designed in an almost autonomous way, by a small number of technicians, equipped with an old, but well-prepared Cosworth engine. And with some hope, although a podium finish would be celebrated as a victory. There is also a lot of curiosity and expectation for Patrese (P6), on the debuting Williams FW13, together with his teammate Boutsen (P8). During the second session of free practice, the two drivers have to overcome many problems. In the morning, the Belgian driver has also lost the car's nose by pulling it under the wheels, an accident quite similar to the one that had supposedly caused Berger to go off the track in Imola. But the accident has happened at low speed this time, so the Belgian got off without difficulty. However, Williams technicians prefer to stop the practice in order to reinforce the part of the car that had failed. Another accident, more serious, involves Roberto Moreno and Eddie Cheever. The Brazilian driver is going flat out, but he finds Cheever's Arrows in his path and is unable to avoid the impact. And he has the worst of it: his car flies through the air, then it crashes head-on against the guardrail, ending up destroyed. Too bad for Coloni: the car was competitive this time and would have deserved a better position.
On Sunday September 24th, 1989, at the start of the Portuguese Grand Prix, Gerhard Berger gets an excellent start and manages to overtake Ayrton Senna. Nigel Mansell is third, followed by Alain Prost, Pierluigi Martini and Riccardo Patrese. Berger quickly takes the lead, while Senna tries to keep Mansell behind. Then Mansell finally manages to overtake Senna and now goes after Berger. When the two Ferraris catch up with the slower cars and start lapping them, Nigel Mansell manages to pass Gerhard Berger. By lap 24, Mansell is P6, followed by Berger, Senna, and Prost. Prost is the first of the front-drivers to return to the box to change tyres, followed shortly after by Berger on lap 35, and then by Senna. At this point, a crucial moment of the race comes. Mansell enters the box a bit too quickly, blocks the tyres and misses the pit lane by a few metres. So, Mansell engages the reverse and drives backwards until he reaches the right spot, despite the fact that his mechanics have moved down the pit lane to try to change the tyres where he had stopped, and that they had told him not to reverse the car. After the front drivers all return to the box to change tyres, Pierluigi Martini (Minardi) takes the lead for a lap. After his chaotic pit-stop, Nigel Mansell drops from first to fourth position. But him, Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna quickly manage to overtake Pierluigi Martini. However, Mansell is disqualified (black flag), because driving a car in reverse in the pit lane is strictly forbidden, even though it is permitted for the technicians to push the car backwards. At the start of lap 48, Mansell has received the black flag for three times. But when he is approaching turn 1, and the black flag is waving again, the British driver attempts to overtake Ayrton Senna; the two cars collide and both drivers end up off the circuit. This makes more difficult for Ayrton Senna to win the title, especially as his rival Alain Prost takes advantage of the double withdrawal and moves up to second place. Gerhard Berger wins the race, followed by Alain Prost and Stefan Johansson (Onyx), who achieves an incredible third place. The Swedish driver manages to get this important position because he has not made any pit stop during the race and was initially fighting for fifth place. Then, both the Williams-Renaults cars withdraw due to overheating problems. Both drivers, Patrese and Boutsen, withdrew on lap 60.
Alessandro Nannini (Benetton-Ford) finishes P4, followed by Pierluigi Martini (Minardi-Cosworth) and Jonathan Palmer (Tyrrell-Cosworth). A great victory, still, ruined by some controversies. Ferrari returns to victory in Portugal, with Gerhard Berger on the top step of the podium for the first time this season. But Nigel Mansell's irresponsible behaviour somewhat ruined the Maranello team victory. The Englishman has made a mistake when he returned to the box to change tyres. Driving beyond his team's pit stand, he engages the reverse to get back into the right position. This is strictly forbidden by Article 133 of the Formula One regulation. Hence, when Mansell has got back on track, after a consult, the race commissioners have given him the black flag, which means disqualification from the race. The British driver should have immediately abandoned the race. In the meantime, he had also been warned by Ferrari's sporting management with a sign from the box. Instead, he has continued for three laps, despite the warnings, and caught up with Senna, who was ahead of him (the Brazilian was in P2, just behind Berger). In the turn right after the pit straight, the Ferrari and McLaren came into collision and both drivers got out of the race. Luckily, they are both fine, although they were in great danger, because the accident happened at least at 200 km/h. These are the facts. To analyse this episode, a little introduction shall be made. The accident was very serious, Mansell made an inexcusable mistake, but he has not the total responsibility of it. Much blame lies with the FIA: they have often left very irresponsible conduct unpunished in the race, and then they act when it is too late. Ferrari, on its side, was not quick or inflexible enough to stop the driver, even though all the tensions of that moment are to be considered. In any case, it must be recalled that Mansell has often been criticised for excessive agonism, a behaviour that on several occasions has ended up damaging him. However, it seems clear that the physical and mental effort that these races require must be so great that the driver loses some of his awareness. Certainly, once the adrenalin rush was over, Nigel Mansell would have remembered that it is forbidden to engage the reverse gear. Senna himself, by his own admission, had seen the black flag shown to his rival and, although he knew he was disqualified, he resisted the attack beyond measure.
Had he thought about it for a moment, he would have realised that he could have let him pass with no problem. Senna's elimination can be considered the central episode of the race and it will certainly be crucial for the fight for the World Championship, that now turns in favour of Alain Prost. McLaren cannot allege that the victory was stolen. The two Maranello cars could have taken an excellent first and second place, but unfortunately Mansell's car had some problems. Berger (who, however, got off to a slightly early start) took the lead immediately. There are very few smiles at the end of the race. Alain Prost should be happy, since he has virtually already won the World Championship, but instead he hardly speaks.
“In this job, you also need a bit of luck and this time I had some".
He has also been fined $10.000 for not showing up at the press conference after the race. The same happened to Martin Brundle (Brabham): he returned to the box during the formation lap, but he drove too fast past Balestre, who was rather annoyed. Not even Gerhard Berger really manages to enjoy the moment, despite the fact that he has been dreaming of a victory for a long time.
"This is a success that very few people will remember after what happened. However, I am satisfied with my race and with Ferrari, which was truly superior to McLaren. But this statement does not change my situation at all. I am convinced that leaving Ferrari at the end of the season is the right choice. I need new challenges, and I am convinced that McLaren will still be competitive".
At the end of the day, one the few drivers who is happy is Pierluigi Martini, very enthusiasts with his fifth place:
"It was exciting to race just behind Ferrari and McLaren. I had no difficulty keeping Patrese (Williams) behind and I did not lose a lot of positions when I stopped to change the tyres. In the end of the race, I did not push much because it was useless to take risks".
Such a result could condemn Ligier to pass through pre-qualifying next year. Obviously, there is a total rupture between Ferrari and McLaren after the accident involving Mansell and Senna. The leaders of the two teams exchange fierce accusations. All in all, the drivers are the calmest, while in the boxes the situation is going out of control. Ron Dennis had gone to the Ferrari box twice, protesting because Mansell did not stop despite the black flag. The English manager was furious. Cesare Fiorio told him to leave, moving a hand. Dennis got back to the box again, because one of his mechanics had told him that the sporting director of the Maranello team had also addressed him an obscene gesture. It was a real quarrel, with strong words. Apart from this episode, certainly not an exemplary conduct, it is better to hear the explanations from the people who were actually involved, which is, the pilots. Starting with Ayrton Senna:
"Mansell's manoeuvre was suicidal. If he wants to risk his own life, it's his business, but this time he has put mine at risk. He should be punished harshly for this, not for the rest. I had seen the black flag. All of you have seen what happened, the TV cameras were also recording. He was out of the race, but he deliberately pushed me out of the track. I don't think there is anything more to add and there is nothing to say about the fight for the World Championship".
At the end of the race, Nigel Mansell is fined $50.000 by the race commission. They also require to FISA the disqualification of the Englishman for one of the coming races. Ferrari appeals: the case will be discussed at the meeting of the executive council in Paris from Monday 9 to Wednesday 11 October 1989. For this reason, as the appeal suspends the sentence, Mansell will be racing on Sunday in Spain but could miss Japan. Ferrari, however, is allowed to race with a second car with another driver, as the disqualification concerns Mansell and not the team. Meanwhile, the English driver says:
"Which flag? I didn't see anything. Based on what I learned afterwards, I am sorry for what happened. But I swear on the Bible that I did not see anything. I was engaging a fight with Senna. I was so close to his car that if I had been distracted even for a tenth of a second, I would have lost the duel. As for the entrance to the box, there was a lot of confusion. I saw our mechanics when it was too late. I waited for them to pull me back, but nobody was coming, so I engaged the reverse gear".
Cesare Fiorio adds:
"I terribly sorry for Senna. I hope no one thinks that there was the slightest intention to influence the battle for the Word Championship. These are accidents that unfortunately can happen in the races. Ferrari has often had the worst of it in similar circumstances. In my opinion, Mansell made only one mistake, which is, engaging the reverse gear. As for the rest, he did an exciting race, and also Berger was very good".
The director of the Maranello team still wants to clarify the details about what happened in the box:
"The McLaren mechanics somehow hindered Mansell as he returned to the box, covering the view. The English driver thus arrived too fast. When the race direction informed us of the disqualification, we immediately displayed the sign with the order to abandon the race. We also tried to do it via team radio, but it was hard to understand, there were interferences".
Ron Dennis replies, resentful:
"Fiorio lies, he is not a sportsman. He allowed Mansell to race for three laps. And he was also rude, because he made an obscene gesture towards me. If something like this were to happen again, I don't know how it would end. Ferrari and us also have a common sponsor and I think it's better for the Italian team to name another sports director".
The president of FISA, Jean-Marie Balestre, also releases a statement on the episode:
"I refused to give the cup to the winner of this race. I am sorry for Berger, who is a friend, but I was too tense. I met with Mansell, we saw the replay of the accident five times and we noticed that the black flag had been displayed. The English driver apologized, then he said that he had not noticed anything because he was behind Senna. But on the ordinary road in the traffic, if a driver does not see a red light or causes an accident, he gets a fine".
A big heart, but little attention. Nigel Mansell threw away a great opportunity (for him and for Ferrari) to beat McLaren. It could have been the first disappointment for the English team after years of domination, and an almost historic one-two for Ferrari. Instead, the British driver was disqualified for driving a few meters in reverse when he entered in the box to change the tires. Then he continued a mad race, until he collided with Senna's car which was ahead of him. Perhaps the Brazilian is partly to blame for the accident, as he had kept his trajectory too wide and finished on the right. However, the fact is that, with his crazy conduct, Mansell even made the success of his teammate Gerhard Berger pass under tone. It is not enjoyable at all to watch this Formula One: there are controversial situations, and the drivers transfer market has ruined the environment all year round. Alain Prost is fighting for the world championship with his teammate Ayrton Senna arguing, almost brawling. Then Gerhard Berger announces his move to McLaren and Prost will take his place in Maranello. The four drivers who are fighting for the pole position are now side by side at the race start: the two future McLaren drivers (Senna and Berger) on the front row, those of Ferrari (Mansell and Prost) on the second raw. As if that were not enough, Mansell throws Senna out of the track in that way, when he had already been excluded from the race. This episode clearly favours Prost: now he could only lose the championship if Senna won all three races still to be held. Certainly, no one suspects any conspiracies. At this level, the drivers just want to win. Besides, it makes absolutely no sense to risk your own life voluntarily to throw a rival out of the race. The tension is incredibly hight. It seems absurd that a professional driver forgets the basic rules, such as that it is not permitted to use reverse in the pits.
On the other hand, it is also understandable that in certain situations, everyone can make mistakes, and perhaps even go through a moment of total confusion. At the end of the day, Mansell will presumably pay for his rashness. The Englishman could miss the Japanese Grand Prix on October 22, 1989. Ferrari will still be able to race with a second driver, possibly Larini or Letho, if it deems it appropriate. On a purely technical level, the race provided a lot of information. First: it is now sure that Ferrari in certain circuits is currently at McLaren's level, if not more competitive. Second: Berger and Mansell have driven faster and more reliable cars. Third: the Maranello team's weakness is still qualifying. They will have to work hard in this sense to completely close the gap with their rivals. Fourth: the season finale could have other pleasant surprises in store, perhaps as early as next Sunday at Jerez for the Spanish Grand Prix. Waiting to see what happens next, at the end of the Portuguese Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell escapes on a pick-up truck with his wife, while Ayrton Senna leaves in a four-wheel drive Porsche Carrera. The former flies to Menorca, where he is having a few days' holiday, while the latter disappears into some friend's house. Thus, the only thing remaining is a few words said on the spur of the moment, concerning the accident that ruined the Portuguese Grand Prix and took away from Senna the 99% of chance of winning the World Championship. To win the title, he would have to win the three remaining races. Alain Prost could win his third title right from Sunday in Jerez, Spain. Stewart, Lauda, and Piquet also won three tiles. On Monday September 25th, 1989, in the afternoon, after a night's rest, Senna finally opens the doors of the luxurious villa where he is staying. Still pale, but calm, the Brazilian driver tells his truth about what happened in Portugal, at the start of lap 49, when the collision between the McLaren and the Ferrari occurred.
"I have calmed down. Since a year and a half, I have realised that in these cases incredible things immediately happen in your heart and head. The right way to avoid losing your mind is to walk around a bit and get your head right again".
So, let's talk about the accident.
"It was absurd. First of all, Mansell had been disqualified from the race, so he could have not attempted to overtake, not even think of doing so. I had seen the black flag, but I knew it was not for me, because otherwise my team would have told me via team radio from the box. As soon as Dennis send a message trying to explain to me what was going on, I felt the collision".
But wasn't Senna worried after seeing such a serious signal as a black flag is?
"All the signals had been placed together within a few metres. I had difficulty even distinguishing between those intended for me and those intended for Prost".
How had the race gone up to that point?
"I was determined not to get into a fight so as not to damage the car. The first time Mansell overtook me by taking the slipstream. The second time he overtook me on the braking at the end of the straight. I thought he had only come out to put some pressure on me. He could not have done it on the inside, because he would have gone straight into the corner. Such a behaviour is absolutely unacceptable. I watched the episode again on TV: what happened is very clear. He was disqualified for a mistake he made in the box, but he should have been punished for the danger he caused in the accident. If he wants to risk his life, it's his business, but Mansell put my life at risk. We were driving very fast. Luckily, there was approximately 200 metres of space: had there been a barrier, I could have died. All things considered, the ban for a race which has been proposed is very far from being a just punishment. Among other things, that manoeuvre was also a kind of suicide".
Do you think he did it on purpose?
"I won't say a thing. Mansell has made two mistakes: he drove too fast, therefore stopped too late at the box when changing his tyres and he used reverse gear. And that's where he ruined his race. The Ferrari chassis performed better than ours, and also their engine performed slightly better. The two Ferrari drivers were confident and very hard to beat. I realised that Berger had pushed too hard at the start of the race, in fact I got closer to him afterwards. At the tyre change, the lapped drivers slowed me down, but there were still many laps to go. I might have kept a good pace until the end. I don't know about the others".
So, the result was distorted?
"I watched the whole race on television: Berger deserved to win, he had a very good race".
And what about the race on Sunday in Jerez?
"Maybe it will be very similar to the race in Estoril. The Spanish circuit is very similar to the one in Budapest, where I have had some tests recently and went very fast".
Has this episode also distorted the championship?
"The current situation does not reflect the real skills of the drivers on the track. To win the World Championship, I have to win the three remaining races. I will try".
Do you know that Emerson Fittipaldi won in Indy on Sunday and is just one point away from the title?
"At least he is...".
The Formula One rules are very clear. Article 133 prohibits the use of reverse gear in the box, for safety reasons. However, the driver is allowed to use it during the race: after a collision or a spin, the car could end up in a dangerous place and the driver must try to move it quickly. Mansell is a professional driver and should know it very well. Someone from his team should have stopped him immediately, at all costs. Another important point is the black flag. In this respect, too, the regulation is very clear: as soon as the race commissioner waves the black flag, with the number of the car it is addressed to, the driver must return to the box immediately. Ferrari alleges that they had also sent a message to Mansell via team radio, but he did not hear it. It is possible that a driver, who is racing at more than 300 km/h and going after another driver, did not see the black flag and the number on it the first time, but this happened three times. And the flag was waved in very noticeable way. Does Mansell have a poor eyesight? And what about the hearing? Maybe his radio did not work, which will be very negative. In any case, from the next race there will be a larger black panel. Usually the driver in front, in this case Ayrton Senna, has the right to choose the ideal trajectory. However, here there may be some room for doubt in favour of Mansell, even though he should have already been at the box. The regulation states that, in the case of an overtake, the driver which is on the trajectory has the right to maintain it. In Portugal, Senna had gone wide on the left of the turn, leaving a gap open for Mansell.
Looking closely at the TV replay, it was the Brazilian who collided with the Ferrari, closing too much in the turn. Ayrton was technically still ahead, and he hit the Ferrari's front left wheel with his right rear wheel. On Tuesday, October 26, 1989, Mansell gets disqualified. So, for the Spanish Grand Prix, even though there are four rooms booked at the Royal Sherry Park Hotel in the name of Nigel Mansell and his guests, these will most likely be used by someone else. Jean Marie Balestre, President of FISA, took the decision after a reunion with the representatives of the Executive Committee via telex. The question was put to the vote: 20 out of 22 presents, 18 in favour, 1 abstaining, 1 against. This leads to the immediate disqualification for Mansell for what happened in Estoril. According to some unofficial statements by Balestre himself, such a decision was taken in Paris between Monday 9th and Wednesday 11th October 1989, coinciding with the Executive meeting. Such a move is also allowed by the regulation, nevertheless, Balestre took everyone by surprise, including Ferrari. They had appealed, hoping that they had suspended the disqualification, possibly postponing it to the next race, the Japanese Grand Prix on October 22nd, 1989. Instead, Mansell, will be disqualified on Sunday: he will miss a race that, among other things, takes place on a circuit that should be favourable to Ferrari. The opinions in the Formula One word are quite sharp and generally agree with the decision taken by Balestre.
"An exemplary measure was necessary, and this was the right circumstance".
Of course, McLaren manager Ron Dennis does not miss this opportunity to attack Ferrari's sporting director Cesare Fiorio again.
"Disqualification is a very serious measure for a driver in a World Championship race. However, the greatest responsibility lies with the Ferrari sporting management, which was not able to stop him when the black flag was shown".
FISA also clarifies that the reason of this measure against Nigel Mansell was not the accident with Senna. It was precisely and only the fact that he did not stop after the race director's warnings for three laps, after he engaged the reverse gear during his pit stop to change tyres, and by doing so he committed an offence. This action is prohibited by Article 133 of the Formula One regulation: it is sanctioned precisely with the exclusion of the driver from the competition. What more can be said? Nigel Mansell will certainly clarify his point of view, either directly or through his manager, Mike Francis, in Jerez where a press conference is scheduled for Wednesday, September 27, 1989. But most likely it will all be in vain. According to the last news from Maranello, Ferrari is appealing against the FISA executive, but at the moment it is not known when the complaint will be examined. However, it is easy to predict that the judges will not modify this decision, unless Ferrari brings some unknown documents that demonstrate the innocence of the English driver, but which ones? In any case, for the Spanish Grand Prix, Ferrari should race only with Gerhard Berger. There were several other options, such as racing with Nicola Larini (Osella), or the Finnish test driver Juha Jarvi Letho (Onyx), but this is not possible for a few reasons. First of all, it would be difficult to train one of the two drivers and to prepare the car well. And before that, their respective teams have to consent to let them race for Ferrari. However, there's the hope that this can be the beginning of a new era in Formula One, with no exceptions to the regulations, something which has happened several times in the past. Hopefully, FISA will now take the other measures announced, and not only some unnecessary fines of thousands of dollars, which are almost always paid by the teams. For example, using a larger, more visible flag, displayed at car height and not on a bridge against the light as it was in Portugal. In the last two races, there should be also a special team of stewards with large white flags with a red arrow at the most crucial points of the circuit. These flags will warn the drivers that if they are lapped, they shall let the other drivers pass, or they will be disqualified. But such a solution could also lead to some unpleasant misunderstandings. In the age of electronics, when millions of dollars are spent on a Formula One race, would it not be easier to install light panels for signalling?