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#517 1992 South African Grand Prix

2023-01-02 23:00

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#1992, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#517 1992 South African Grand Prix

Pending further developments, Formula 1, which starts on Sunday 1 March 1992 in Kyalami, South Africa, the 43rd edition of the World Championship, is

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Pending further developments, Formula 1, as on Sunday, 1 March 1992, in Kyalami, South Africa, the 43rd edition of the World Championship starts, is a sporting expression full of absolute and relative mysteries. Let us try to list some of them, certain however that there are some forgotten ones and some that have not been grasped, but in the meantime they are all around us, all over us. An absolute mystery is that of a sport in which technology and science take pride of place, without taking anything away from man, on the contrary enhancing him. The more you perfect the machine, the more you work on thousandths of a second, the more there is a fascination with man, with character. It would be as if, of a rocket sent to Mars, we were more interested in the man than in the engine: whereas we know, as the Moon teaches us, that it is exactly the opposite (counterproof: say who Armstrong's companions were on Apollo 11 that went to the Moon, say who Lauda's teammates were on Ferrari). The second mystery is that of Ferrari. There is no sporting entity in the world so beloved and, in the last twelve years, so stingy with results. The mystery is absolute, i.e. worldwide, and also relative, i.e. Italian. In the sense that any Italian success in the world championship by a team not named Ferrari would risk being unwelcome to many motor racing fans, the majority, and even if achieved by an Italian driver. For it is true that he must win the World Championship, but with a Ferrari. A particular mystery is that of danger. It is a sport with imminent death, yet it is a sport in which there are very few really serious accidents, fortunately (and we feel sorry for TV horror fans). Champions probably risk more going to get cigarettes in a car on a street than running on a circuit, but the feeling of risk is constant, and functions as a justifying glaze for their every behavioural absurdity, even and especially in everyday life.

 

A global mystery is, if you like, the purest passion for a sport full of secrets, perhaps of tricks, certainly of bargains and games, with strange contracts, where everyone can do everything and nothing, where the driver is king and scoundrel. There is no sport, perhaps, that lends itself to less osmosis with the general public: and perhaps that is the secret of a great love. This is Formula 1, about which you may not understand anything but which you love so much. It is the occasion, among other things, this dear tremendous Formula 1, of the constitution, in Italy and a little bit everywhere, of a great transversal party: men and women, old and young, nostalgic and progressive, experts and enthusiasts, generous and intransigent, devout and blasphemous. With the prospect, remote but not excluded, of a national top of enthusiasm - Ferrari's world championship victory with an Italian driver is theoretically possible - perhaps never achieved before in any other sport. The weather at Kyalami is the usual one: hot, dry, good. The circuit, although still looking like half a building site, is new. This is how South Africa welcomes the return of Formula 1: a country still burdened with enormous problems, but also determined to get back into the mainstream of great sport, at all levels. A matter of image and also a necessity, to forget the dark years of isolation. And it also revives an old tradition that wanted the World Championship to start or end on this very track. The last time was in 1985, when Nigel Mansell won the race with Williams and Prost won the World Championship with McLaren. It was the year when Alboreto and Ferrari could have won the title, but from mid-season onwards the Maranello cars were modified and the dream faded. That was the time when Ayrton Senna's star also began to shine. After a one-year's apprenticeship at Toleman, the Brazilian confirmed his talent for the future by battling on an equal footing, driving the Lotus, with a driver of the value of the unforgettable Elio De Angelis. Since then, in seven seasons, the boy from Sao Paulo has come a long way: he has become World Champion three times, achieving a record 60 pole positions. Says Ayrton Senna, who only arrived in Johannesburg on Wednesday evening, as if he wanted to stay out of the tension until the last moment:

 

"It seems like a century ago. I was a fiery young man and I still made a lot of mistakes. Now I think I have matured, that I have reached the peak of my ability to express myself in practice and in the race. Although I am convinced that it is necessary to continue to work hard, to understand and learn. Here it's a bit like being perpetually at university: if you miss a lesson, you end up not understanding anything any more". 

 

The McLaren driver, however, was one of those who worked the least during the winter season, having left his suit hanging on the coat rack from 4 November 1991 to 18 February 1992. Isn't that risky? 

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"Certainly not. Our activity as pilots has three components: driving, physical preparation and psychological preparation. In about three months you don't forget how to drive a racing car. I have spent this time scrupulously taking care of my form with a series of exercises ranging from jogging to the gym. And I have totally relieved myself of the stress of racing. In short, I think I can start again refreshed". 

 

With what goals? 

 

"For a driver who is at McLaren, there is only one acceptable solution: to try to win the World Championship. That is the team's goal and obviously mine too. But as always it won't be easy. I think for the first three or four races the men to beat will be Mansell and Patrese. Williams has worked a lot in recent months and has refined last year's car, which was already competitive. They have an automatic gearbox and active suspension, so they have an advantage. But I think things will balance out soon because we should be able to run the new McLaren with semi-automatic transmission from the third race, which is in Brazil. In addition we should use a completely revised Honda twelve-cylinder, which is lighter and more compact. For the moment I am a little worried about the chassis of our car which, in the tests at Silverstone, after some modifications, did not satisfy me". 

 

The usual never-satisfied and somewhat grumpy Senna, who always points to his rivals as the favourites. But what does he think of Ferrari? 

 

"What can I say? Once again the team from Maranello comes up with a different car and a different team. So it is difficult to interpret. In any case, I think it's not far-fetched to claim that, sooner or later, Ferrari will arrive at the top to annoy those who want to win". 

 

A championship that starts without two great protagonists: Prost and Piquet are missing. 

 

"It is a negative fact that drivers of established value remain outside. But it is a law of the market and of life. Sooner or later it could happen to me. However, I hope that day is still a long way off". 

 

There are two reasons why Ayrton Senna, the stickler, the absolute, the most programmed racer of this half-century, intends to remain on the grid for some time yet. Even if he does not openly admit it, he would like to beat the record of five world titles held by Juan Manuel Fangio. And for that, if anything, he still needs three more seasons. The other record the Brazilian wants to break is the one of 44 victories belonging to his enemy Alain Prost. Senna is already at 33 wins, and in theory he could succeed in the feat within the year. And that is why the Brazilian will aim to get off to a good start by crossing the finish line first on Sunday at the Kyalami circuit. Formula 1 has an extra touch of the mundane this year. Not too recently there had been for one season the inclusion (and as a driver he was not too bad either) of Slim Borgudd, drummer of the Swedish musical group Abba. Now the colourful note is represented by Giovanna Amati, who although a professional driver is also a jet-set personality, and Paul Belmondo Jr, son of the well-known French actor of Italian origin. Giovanna Amati, however, disputes the fact that she is considered above all a curiosity. And on the eve of the South African Grand Prix she says:

 

"I am happy that people are interested in me, in my problems, in the difficulties I am certainly facing. Among other things, this has aroused the enthusiasm of my sponsors, because my arrival in Formula 1 has been talked about all over the world. Even the New York Times dedicated a beautiful article to me. And many magazines did their cover with a photo of me. But I don't want to be taken for a rare animal who has come to race just to get publicity. I want to be a pilot and I intend to measure myself against my colleagues". 

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Wednesday 26 February 1992 Giovanna Amati tries on the seat of her Brabham, the overalls ("Look how wide it fits here on my chest, because I have a small breast") and, prompted by some provocative questions, argues with Alesi. She was told that the Sicilian-born Frenchman expressed doubts about the possibility of a woman in the Grand Prix world, and Giovanna replied:

 

"Alesi is a classic exponent of retrograde machismo. Give me a competitive car and you will see that I will not make a bad impression on many of the men here". 

 

It has to be said that Brabham does not seem to be able to provide its drivers (the 29-year-old Roman and the Belgian Van De Poele) with very competitive means. Behind the prestigious name of the English team there have been almost irresolvable financial troubles for years. So much so that a couple of weeks before the start of the World Championship Brabham could only buy two engines. Now it seems to have six more, to guarantee a minimum of spare parts. A few less problems for the March reborn from the ashes of Leyton House. The new team bet on German Wendlinger, hoping to repeat the coup made by Benetton with Schumacher, and on twenty-eight-year-old Paul Belmondo, born in Paris and child of artists, married with a son. A man who divided his youth between his passion for cars and that for girls, the latter a somewhat induced passion because it was mainly young girls who sought him out, given his notoriety. Paul climbed all the steps of his sporting apprenticeship: karting, minor formulae. He did quite well in Formula 3 (a victory in the French championship) but did not impress in Formula 3000: in four years of alternating current he scored 3 points. So much so that he was about to abandon Europe and attempt the American road of Formula Indy where his name could attract interested sponsors. At the last moment Paul Belmondo instead found a place in Formula 1, where he will at least have the advantage of racing on circuits that ninety per cent of him already knows. 

 

"My father has nothing to do with it. He is passionate, but he didn't push for me to become a driver".

 

Hope, they say, is the last to die. And motoring Italy, it must be acknowledged, has been living for decades now in the expectation that an Italian driver will be able to revive the splendour of the roaring 1950s, when Farina and Ascari brought home world titles. The patrol of Italian drivers is still very large: there are eleven entered in the World Championship, plus Andrea Chiesa from Ticino, who has two passports but races with a Swiss licence. The list includes Patrese, Capelli, Alboreto, De Cesaris, Modena, Martini, Tarquini, Caffi, Bertaggia and Morbidelli to which Giovanna Amati is added. Needless to hide, looking at the teams' line-ups, that only two of these eagerly awaited protagonists will have a chance to fight at the top of the classification: Riccardo Patrese in the Williams, first of all, and then Ivan Capelli, assuming the Ferrari proves competitive. For the Paduan, the World Championship is probably the biggest opportunity ever to try to win the title. But it is also normal that everyone's eyes are on the Milanese driver who was lucky enough to land at Maranello. Ivan Capelli is the twenty-first Italian driver to have the chance to drive one of Maranello's red single-seaters in Formula 1. And the twenty-eight year old driver from Lombardy has already had the opportunity, in three months, to realise what it means to be at Ferrari: on the positive side in terms of popularity, the sympathy that can be aroused; on the negative side in terms of the pressure that one has to endure. Capelli wanted his clan around him, relatives and friends who have always followed him: his father, his sister, his personal doctor Riccardo Ceccarelli who also became Ferrari's doctor, the manager Vergani. Says Ivan Capelli, with great spontaneity:

 

"It felt right to let those who have always been close to me experience this special moment on the spot. I feel very serene and at the same time charged up. The only doubt concerns the car, I have tested it too little. But I'm confident, I hope to do well. But mum has stayed at home, because she feels calmer when she's away from the track". 

 

Any particular emotions, like the first days at Maranello? 

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"No, I must say by now that there is a very good relationship with the team, also of friendship. I think they soon got to know me, to absorb my jokes, to understand that I'm a little pest. But I do it to relieve tension. The truth is that we are all impatient to know what the car we have is worth. It's a very special single-seater with sophisticated aerodynamics that will have to be explored thoroughly before we can make the most of it. I am very curious to see what the first direct confrontation with the others will be like". 

 

However, there has been talk of months before maximum performance is reached. 

 

"Certainly in Formula 1 you don't invent anything from one day to the next. A lot of work will have to be done, as engineer Lombardi says, because the F92A is all to be discovered. It's the first time the mono-shock absorber has been used. In short, we have to look for data on which to base future development. But I'm not worried because I know that when I'm in the car I'll give one hundred and ten per cent of my ability. My conscience is clear".

 

How is the relationship with Jean Alesi? 

 

"I was with Mauricio Gugelmin for five years at Leyton House and we never had any personal problems. With Jean the situation is very normal, there are no difficulties. In any case between us at the moment there is the best possible collaboration because we have to grow together, team, car and drivers. It's normal that when you get on the track, the first confrontation will be with your team-mate. It is normal and inevitable". 

 

Has Ivan Capelli dreamt of his first race with Ferrari? In what position did he see himself? 

 

"I am convinced that all drivers dream of being in the lead, ahead of everyone. And that has happened to me too. But above all, you have to keep your feet on the ground".

 

What did President Montezemolo say to you before you left? 

 

'We spoke on the phone and obviously he wished me well. I promised him maximum commitment'.

 

Have you heard from the lawyer Agnelli? 

 

"No". 

 

Drivers or robots? Does the car or the driver count more in the results? These questions have always animated discussions on motor racing. Already in the days of Niki Lauda the question was controversial, and there were those who claimed that the Austrian champion was just a cold calculator, i.e. in practice an electronic brain mounted on the single-seater. Enzo Ferrari already claimed that without a good car no racer could shine. But now technology dominates unchallenged. Although it is clear that the steering wheel is always in the hands of the driver and that the driver can therefore make the difference, the extreme sophistication achieved in motor sport has reduced the driver's decision-making possibilities. Not only that: today's drivers can no longer hide anything. They used to go back to the pits and say: 

 

"The engine broke down". 

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Or: 

 

"My brakes failed". 

 

And again: 

 

"I didn't have enough power to overtake that rival". 

 

This is no longer possible. With telemetry checks, engineers dissect the cars' performance to such an extent that bluffs are no longer allowed. A number of sensors placed at strategic points on the racing cars collect the required data (engine revs, temperatures, fuel consumption, exhaust gas pressure...). This data is transmitted in real time via radio-laser systems to computers placed in the pits. Thus, the technicians can see if something is wrong and can warn the driver - again via radio - that he must, for example, thin the carburetion, harden the suspension bar and so on. As if that weren't enough, each single-seater has a kind of black box like that of a jet plane from which all the information recorded can be retrieved during stops. The systems are so precise that no errors are allowed. And the drivers of some racing teams, especially the British ones, are even punished when they make a mistake, perhaps by making an off-turn that can compromise an engine. Because money is at stake (for the overhaul of broken engines), there are teams that on certain occasions go so far as to disqualify their man, not allowing him to finish practice if he has made a glaring mistake. But the sophistication does not stop there. Electronically controlled automatic transmission systems, intelligent suspensions, anti-skid devices, global management of the engine according to the performance required at a given moment of the race: everything can be controlled by on-board computers. And there is also the suspicion that by now certain orders can also be sent from the pits, so as to override any decisions made by the driver. Williams, at the forefront in this field, renounced in South Africa the use of a new contraption that should guarantee perfect starts. Due to reliability issues the test has been postponed to the next races. According to what is known, it is a system that automatically changes speed ratios up to the first corner. The driver only has to press his foot down on the accelerator while the car asks the most of itself by optimising the insertion of the gears based also on the wheel spin. And at the first corner, the normal transmission module returns. 

 

It's almost science fiction. While McLaren and Williams think about their challenge in the World Championship, while Ferrari hopes to get into the fight, trying to grow quickly, life continues to be very hard for the small Formula 1 teams. If in the top teams there are almost no problems with the means at their disposal, there are those who struggle with a thousand difficulties and are also targeted. Ownership changes, bankruptcies, closures. Many teams have ended up from one hand to the other in recent times and many had to leave. However, there are always those who try to come forward, perhaps driven by passion, by the quest for fame, or even just in an attempt to make money, as has happened to so many constructors. Singular is the case of the new Italian team, Andrea Moda, which took over Coloni's business at the end of last season. Andrea Sassetti, a footwear entrepreneur from the Marche region, wanted to try to enter the world of Formula 1. Sassetti set up the workshop, signed up Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia and entered two cars in the World Championship. But trouble soon began. The majority of constructors asked Sassetti to eliminate one car because, if the number of participants in the Grands Prix had dropped to 31, it would have been possible to avoid Friday pre-qualifying. Such a round is provided for under the World Championship regulations when - precisely - there are 32 single-seaters in the race. Andrea Sassetti did not agree. And so on Wednesday, 26 February 1992, during scrutineering, someone is at pains to let it be known that the small Italian team's cars are not regular, as the chassis is a Coloni, while the rear suspension is a Dallara. The rules of the Formula One technical regulations stipulate that the manufacturer must provide the complete car, except for the engine. So, on Thursday 27 February 1992 at 6:00 p.m. the stewards will tell Caffi and Bertaggia whether they can take part in pre-qualifying. And in the meantime another controversy erupts, concerning petrol. 

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There were no sheds available on the circuit to shelter the fuel canisters, and with the temperature on the asphalt reaching 50 °C. Benetton, by the way, precisely because of a fire that occurred last week during a series of tests, has forced its mechanics to wear special flame-proof overalls. Elf, which supplies Renault engines to Williams and Ligier, has instead adopted a new safety system that allows petrol to be poured from the drums into the cars' tanks as if it were in a closed circuit, at constant pressure, without any dispersion into the air. If the problem of the Andrea Moda team is positively resolved, the other cars engaged on Friday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. in pre-qualifying will be two Venturi-Larrousse (Gachot and Katayama), one Fondmetal (Chiesa) and one Footwork (Suzuki). FISA meanwhile reinstated the right of appeal by the teams and drivers against the decisions of the stewards that had been abolished by Jean-Marie Balestre. On the other hand, the decision to bring in rescue cars to neutralise races in the event of an accident, as happens in races held in the USA, was postponed. Out goes poor Nelson Piquet, who has not found a competitive team and, above all, has been refused a salary request close to six million dollars. Alain Prost is out (for the time being), because as a good businessman he wants to take advantage of the situation and reduce that holy man Guy Ligier to bankruptcy, taking over the team of the same name that he had run with so many sacrifices. Prost will not even come to Kyalami, but will remain in Paris to continue negotiations with Ligier's sponsors, in the hope that an agreement can be reached by Monday 16 March 1992, before the second World Championship Grand Prix, scheduled for 22 March 1992 in Mexico. Here at Kyalami it will therefore be Erik Comas' turn to drive the second Ligier, even though the Frenchman has practically tested neither the car nor the seat. Formula 1 has at the moment deprived itself of two champions who are good and among the best paid, but this does not mean that team management expenses have been reduced. On the contrary. The Motorsport Circus is still an ogre that devours billions and from many quarters there are cries of alarm to try to limit costs. Not only the small teams, but also those at the top of the rankings will have to reduce their budgets in some way, as some of the world's biggest car manufacturers are also struggling. 

 

This situation has created a further rift between two distinct categories of drivers. Those who earn money and those who, on the other hand, have to pay in some way (generally by bringing sponsors to the teams). The two peaks are significant. On the basis of data elaborated (and published in the graph opposite) with some care and soundness in France, questioning team-managers, technical partners and various financiers (even if the exact figures are obviously covered by secrecy and by the meanders that pass through the banks of Monte Carlo, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg), it can be noted that between Ayrton Senna, first of the earners, and the Japanese Ukyo Katayama, first of the payers, there is a difference of 37.5 billion lire. In assessing the situation, however, distinctions must be made. The Brazilian's payments by McLaren probably only include the salary. Senna, however, has other income from personal sponsors and marketing operations. And also many expenses. Just the use (not to mention the purchase) of the personal jet constitutes a considerable outlay. Moreover, Ayrton, who is very attentive to his image, personally pays an office that, through a group of journalists based in London, produces a series of articles practically every day that are distributed free of charge to a large chain of South American newspapers, which cannot afford to follow the races directly. On the other hand, Mr. Katayama, wanting to get into Formula 1, had to take the suitcase with the dollars to Venturi-Larrousse, the team created from the merger of the existing racing team with the small factory of GT cars. He found 11.5 billion lire from Nippon Tobacco (which invests precisely in one of the two pilots from the Rising Sun) and with this money, plus that of Central Park (another Japanese company that deals with amusement parks), Gerard Larrousse can continue the activity, given that the other driver t hired, the Franco-Belgian Gachot (better known for having been in prison after an assault on a London taxi driver than for the results), has also paid another 4.6 million lire to some (mainly local) company that believes in him and in the advantages of sponsoring the home driver. As far as Ferrari is concerned, they are safe from any problems. By contract, the biggest sponsor of the Maranello team, Marlboro, pays the salaries of Alesi and Capelli. 

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In fact, the tobacco corporations are still the biggest supporters of motor sports: of all of them, considering the collateral expenses (sponsorship of individual races, hospitality, communication), they certainly shell out more than 300 million lire over the course of the season. As far as the drivers are concerned, those considered to be paying in reality hardly ever invest any personal money. On the contrary, the amount paid to the team by the sponsors almost always includes a percentage that constitutes the driver's earnings. However, there are also those who, having their own or family means, invest in themselves. Or those who pay their own wages by working as a test driver in other teams and racing in the minor formulas. Some will wonder why so many companies throw their money into Formula 1. The first reason is that today this remains an excellent advertising vehicle and that certain companies (see cigarette manufacturers) cannot launch their products in other ways due to legal restrictions. Then there are those who try to fit into a world of greats in order to grow, those who find ways to spend in order to pay less taxes, those (few) who like to be patrons. For the drivers, however, the ultimate goal is to one day become rich and famous. Like Senna, certainly one of the highest paid sports champions in the world. Thursday 27 February 1992 Williams starts the World Championship flying, McLaren has to chase, Ferrari tries to grow. 

 

These are the salient facts of the day of free practice that inaugurates the new circuit that on Sunday, 1 March 1992, will host the South African Grand Prix, the first round of the Formula 1 World Championship. Nothing new, one would say. But these values are still to be verified, even if it seems clear that Nigel Mansell's intention (the Englishman inflicted a 1.5 second gap on the first of the pursuers) is to aim straight for the title. The environment, however, was shaken above all by a controversy involving the new and small Italian team Andrea Moda, which after a long discussion was excluded from the race. According to the regulations, the decision of the stewards makes perfect sense. The Formula 1 statute in fact stipulates that only cars presented by genuine constructors. And indeed, the Marche-based team used last year's cars from Coloni (the team whose business had taken over) modified at the rear with some Dallara parts. But if the decision cannot be contested on a legal level, there is instead to object to the fact that double standards have been applied for similar cases. The English March, in fact, is in the same situation as Andrea Moda, in that it bought the single-seaters that until 1991 raced under the Leyton House name and built nothing of its own. The protection of the various British teams, however, allowed the irregularity not to be judged as such by the stewards. A real injustice. In essence, the excluded Italian team also paid for the fact that its elimination made it possible to abolish pre-qualifying, as with only 30 cars in the race they are not necessary. Andrea Sassetti, the young entrepreneur who spent 3.5 billion lire on this venture, says he will retire and will not take part in any other championship rounds, even if he were allowed to. 

 

"A self-protecting environment, which I can describe as mafia-like. But what hurt me the most was that the Italian sporting authorities voted against me, and the other teams in our country were ready to complain against us if FISA had forgiven us. I was also accused of still not having paid the $100,000 registration fee. And that is true, but the Federation had not yet confirmed it to me. Therefore, I had not paid the balance. The mere fact that he came here proves our good faith. But evidently that's not enough to remain in the world of Formula 1. I spent a total of 3.5 billion lire to set up this team and I find myself with a fistful of money". 

 

It's not a pretty story and it should warn those who believe that ascending to the Olympus of motorsport is an easy feat. From Friday, however, the timing, the starting grid positions, the technical and competitive aspects of the race should take over. At least one hopes. Ferrari begins its journey in the World Championship with caution. As indeed was expected. In the two extraordinary free practice sessions of the South African Grand Prix, dominated by Nigel Mansell in the Williams, Jean Alesi gets P5, Ivan Capelli P7. Significant gaps only by the unbridled Nigel Mansell, who has the habit of pushing hard right from the first laps. But he was also the driver who took the most risks, not only in his driving: at the end of the two hours of practice he was left on the track without petrol while simulating a qualifying lap. In the Ferrari pits one sensed - and this is perhaps the least positive note - an excessive tension, as if everything was already at stake. The only one to remain calm was Niki Lauda who observed, attended meetings and acted as if he had never left racing.

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Some nervousness is understandable at Ferrari, as this was the first real debut of the revamped team. The drivers said they were satisfied with the tests. Jean Ales says:

 

"With only a few kilometres behind us, this was the first opportunity for direct comparison with the other competitors. The most positive feedback was on the stability of the car, which seemed much better than the previous model. The track, which was very dirty, changed constantly and did not allow us to make precise assessments. But I am satisfied". 

 

Ivan Capelli drove two of the available F92As, also taking care of the spare one, which had just been finished. 

 

"We worked well and there were no functional problems. However, it is still difficult to make judgments, as on a new circuit all the references are missing, especially for us driving a new car. Mansell's time is obviously exceptional, but we are used to his exploits. We hope to be able to adapt as soon as possible too". 

 

The day saw the debut of five drivers, including Giovanna Amati. The best and fastest was Christian Fittipaldi (P16) in the Minardi-Lamborghini. For the Roman girl there are not a few problems. First the engine wouldn't start, then Giovanna finally managed to get on track but immediately ran into a spin.

 

"I had difficulty with the gearbox, putting the gears in".

 

She certainly didn't make a good impression, but it wasn't all her fault, as Brabham hadn't given her a practice lap. First accident of the season, without consequences, for Pierluigi Martini. The Italian, however, does not take responsibility for the off-track accident: 

 

"The car started suddenly and I found myself against the barriers". 

 

First broken engine for Tarquini in the Fondmetal, while Andrea Moda managed to complete just one lap with Caffi. And it will be the only one of the season because FISA decided to exclude the small Italian team, as they did not build the cars they brought to the track. One wonders why the same procedure was not adopted against March, which sent last year's Leyton House cars to the track and did not even change the colours of the cars. The exclusion of Andrea Moda has however made at least five drivers happy because pre-qualifying has now been abolished. However, as of Friday 28 February 1992, Formula 1 will unveil its cards. And the aces seem to be in the hands of Williams, who places Nigel Mansell ahead of everyone in timed laps, so distant that he looks like a Martian. It hadn't been years since Senna took more than a second off the pace, if he hadn't had a problem. And this time the Brazilian put his foot down and also says that his McLaren is fine. 

 

"It’s only one year old".

 

In the race, however, if there are no upheavals, Mansell and Patrese (who as usual in the first practice session is the victim of a series of mishaps, including a failure of the electronic control system of the gearbox that causes him to end up in a spin) will be able to run undisturbed, hoping that the adversaries, given the African location of the race, do not turn into lions. An incognita instead remains the Ferrari, which in the first practice session does not go beyond the sixth place of Alesi and the ninth of Capelli. Honestly one cannot expect much, even if on the reliability level the Maranello cars should not betray and in the end they might even get in the points zone. 

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The Sicilian-born Frenchman squeezed himself to the maximum, working miracles of balance to try and get something more. He took risks, drove to the limit, and then made up almost three seconds off the pace. It is too early to blame the men of the Maranello team, but this debut, for the moment, was not promising. Niki Lauda wisely explains:

 

"The trouble is that the car is still at sixty per cent of its potential. But above all it was conceived and built by technicians who are no longer there, so the current ones are forced to work miracles to understand something. It will take a lot of work and some time before they find the right way. Also because the single-seaters of today are no longer like those of my day when a driver's sensitivity was all in the... butt. Now it's mostly a matter of engineers, of electronics professors. In short, it's difficult, even if the commitment is total". 

 

The Austrian's words therefore do not leave much hope for the race. But Alesi says that in race configuration, with a full tank of petrol, things could also change. It is a story that has been heard before. Rather the Italian colours, at least in terms of drivers, could be defended well by Patrese, who is always very concrete when he races a Grand Prix, and by the rediscovered Andrea De Cesaris, who brings, to the general surprise, the Tyrrell in P7. The Roman almost couldn't find a place in Formula 1 this year, after doing well at Dallara and especially last year at Jordan. 

 

"It pisses me off that they write that I pay to race. I have never taken out a penny personally. And I have no fault, in fact I think it is a merit, if there is someone who still bets on my old talent. If the sponsors support me, it's because they think they can still get something in return. In this environment nobody ever gives gifts". 

 

While the new Ligiers driven by Thierry Boutsen and Erik Comas race in the middle of the pack, Alain Prost returns to his home in Switzerland, where he continues to think about the future. In Formula 1 circles, after the communiqué announcing the French driver's decision not to come to South Africa and the continuation of negotiations with the blue team, there is now a widespread belief that the agreement between the two parties, team and racer, will not go ahead and that Prost will take a year off, in order to relaunch himself in the World Championship for the 1993 season. It seems that Prost is irritated with everyone. With Guy Ligier for making a statement in his name when he would not have wanted to appear. With the eventual partners in the venture because they do not make decisions. With politicians for their interference. In fact, the Ligier-Prost deal had started on the basis of the support of Mitterrand's socialists and therefore parastatal companies. The driver, who is now on hold, made very precise demands: at least 140 million lire per year would be needed to set up a winning car, with a medium-term schedule. But with regional elections just around the corner and possible government overturns, Renault, Elf, Loto and Gitanes are in trouble as they cannot commit to huge sums and then be criticised by whoever comes to power. In addition, while Elf is pushing for Ligier, Renault would prefer to wait until next year to see Prost at Williams alongside Patrese. In short, it is very difficult to keep such a complicated discourse going, which is why Prost's fans will have to wait another twelve months to see him at the wheel again. That is, if in the meantime the French driver is not convinced to quit.

 

"Pole position? Today you have to go at least two seconds faster to get it. Of course we travel fast, but we are not unbeatable. However, I must admit that the McLarens have disappointed me a little". 

 

Nigel Mansell, when things are going well, is not one to mince words. And, given that in the first qualifying round of the South African Grand Prix, the Englishman was more than a second ahead of Berger, 1.2 seconds ahead of Senna, 1.9 seconds ahead of Patrese, 2.6 seconds ahead of Schumacher and 2.8 seconds ahead of Alesi, it would have taken a muzzle to stop him. 

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"And don't think it's all so easy for Williams because they have the intelligent suspension. It is a system that has been studied for years and made us sweat blood. When we stop in the pits it takes an electronics professor to adjust it".

 

It may be the intelligent suspension, it may be that Williams is - by all accounts - the best prepared team, the fact is that this World Championship seems to be starting under the banner of Nigel Mansell. A supremacy also underlined by Ayrton Senna, who - as usual - begins the series of whimpers typical of when he is not in front of everyone: 

 

"Everything went well, no mishaps. The only problem is that we have an old single-seater and engine and they have everything new, another generation. So we just have to wait for the 1992 McLaren that will debut in Brazil or Spain. For the rest we will try to do our best".

 

Ferrari are also trying to do their best, but for the moment they are not succeeding. Having Schumacher's Benetton in front is not a scandal, knowing the German's speed skills. The men of the Maranello team entrench themselves behind the fact that the F92A is a completely new car, all to be discovered. Let us remember, however, that last year McLaren debuted the MP4/6 at Phoenix, after only a few test laps in England, and Senna immediately took pole position, going on to win four consecutive races. Alesi and Capelli say that the car is progressing every lap, that the balance is good especially in fast corners (and at Kyalami there are quite a few quite slow ones...). But at the moment of passing under the timing photocells the times do not come and the gaps are very heavy. The Frenchman lets slip a phrase, uttered with a compatriot journalist, in which he mentions certain engine limits. But it does not seem to be a question - at least for the moment - of power or elasticity, but rather of a related problem to the altitude of the circuit (Kyalami is about 1800 metres high) and to the petrol. It seems clear that Williams' suppliers have made progress with the mandatory green fuel from this year, and with the mixtures used in qualifying. This is also evident in the top speeds, the accelerations. And some mistakes have also been made. On Alesi's car, special qualifying brakes were fitted (those of last year, when two laps were run), which overheated after the many laps now allowed by the less soft tyres. Capelli, on the other hand, had a gearbox problem due to the electronic control system overheating due to the high ambient temperature. In short, not a happy day. On Saturday, however, there is room to make up for it, although perhaps the race will provide more satisfaction than the challenge for the starting grid. 

 

Meanwhile, Giovanna Amati's apprenticeship continues: one spin in the morning, two or three in the afternoon. But above all, no respect from her team-mate Van De Poele, who insults her on the track. Sunday, 1 March 1992, sees the start of the Formula 1 World Championship, with only one favourite for victory in the South African Grand Prix, which is expected to see President Frederick W. De Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Zulu Prime Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the stands. The favourite is called Nigel Mansell, he is 38 years old and is the most spectacular and eclectic driver seen in recent years. The Englishman has placed second in the championship three times, this could be the time to win that title he has always been chasing, since childhood when he dreamed of becoming Stirling Moss' heir and since 1980 when Colin Chapman called him to Lotus. The moustachioed, whimsical, likeable, vulnerable, unpredictable champion born in Upton-on-Severn has always failed in his goal. Partly through bad luck, partly through his temperament that makes him go from exaltation to depression in an instant. We are in Africa and it would be easy to remember the names of the noble animals of this beautiful land: lions, panthers and gazelles. But an old European adage seems to lend itself better today, the one that goes: mice dance when the cat sleeps. Putting Mansell in the role of the feline and his rivals in that of the rodent. That is, if the Englishman has no problems, Senna and the other drivers can hardly catch up with him. Nigel Mansell starts in pole position, number 18 of his career, after having slightly improved (1'15"486, at an average speed of 203.211 km/h) Friday's time and after having performed a good run off the track, in the sand. The others tried in vain to approach him. But Senna only managed to overtake Berger (a result not to be underestimated in terms of the race), while Patrese, after a desperate series of laps, took P4 with 10 seconds to go. 

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For 0.2 seconds the Paduan robbed Jean Alesi and Ferrari of the pleasure and advantage of the second row. A position that the Sicilian-born Frenchman had earned little by little in one of the best qualifying sessions of his life: four times he took to the track and on as many occasions was able to improve, squeezing everything out of the car at his disposal. Alesi has taken the new F92A to the limit of its current possibilities, even putting a little something of his own into it. And, in fact, it is thanks to Alesi that Ferrari has reduced the chronometric gap to Williams (1.7 seconds) and McLaren (1 second). Still heavy margins, but more acceptable than those seen on Friday. The same could not be done by Ivan Capelli, who obtained P9, preceded by the always aggressive Schumacher (Benetton) and the great revelation of these tests, the not yet 24-year-old Karl Wendlinger, seventh with the March, ex Leyton House, at his third experience in Formula 1. The Milanese driver - and he didn't hide it - still hasn't found the right feeling with the car and, what's more, he also had a few problems with the engine's power supply, which wasn't working properly at the end of practice. A predictable leitmotif of the race? Mansell's escape and Senna's chase. For the others, it will be mostly a matter of hoping for some trouble from the Nigel-Ayrton rival cup or going in search of some consolation points, as is the case with Ferrari, barring any surprises. Also in the game are Schumacher, Wendlinger, Brunelle, Capelli and the unfortunate De Cesaris, who lost at least a couple of positions because his Tyrrell did not work properly. Also to be seen was an energetic Tarquini with Fondmetal (P15) and Alboreto (P17 with Footwork). Morbidelli and emblazoned rookie Christian Fittipaldi are also in the spotlight. There is instead little to expect from the Bms Dallara-Ferrari of Martini and Lehto: unfortunately there is something in the set-up that does not work and the cars are unrideable. Better to be in the race with little hope or watch from the sidelines? Paul Belmondo, Andrea Chiesa, Stefano Modena and Giovanna Amati would rather have qualified. The Emilian driver was the victim of a Yamaha engine failure, the Roman - and we don't say this out of chivalry - was all too good at progressing as she did, given that she had never driven a Formula 1 car. Next time maybe she can make it.

 

"I won't make predictions. There are 72 laps to go, it's hot and anything can happen. I will be cautious".

 

Nigel Mansell tries to give himself an image of a cautious driver. However, he can't resist and lets loose: 

 

"The order of the day is to attempt a great start and go straight into the lead. I am very optimistic and I am grateful to my team for the efforts they made last winter to give me such a competitive car. But it will not be an easy task: the altitude, the high temperatures, a demanding circuit. We will see". 

 

Feelings at odds with each other, Mansell is torn between wanting to smash it all up and not exposing himself to any possible bad impression. But if Nigel hides a little, it is Ayrton Senna himself (don't forget to watch the start carefully, the two are side by side) who does not give himself much of a chance. 

 

"In the race there is a second per lap difference between us and the Williams. What can I do? Try my best as usual and wait".

 

A certain euphoria instead at Ferrari, at least on the part of Jean Alesi.

 

"The podium is within our reach. And it would be a great start for us, given the difficulties of these days. I feel in good shape, I hope I can have a brilliant race". 

 

Ivan Capelli appears more cautious, not so much disappointed as perplexed. Perhaps the Milanese was convinced that he would perform better here. But he has not yet found the right feeling with this Ferrari. 

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From an Italian point of view, even if he was not up to his teammate's standards in practice, let's not forget Riccardo Patrese. The driver from Padova kept his cool, but on a closer look it seemed that his car did not have the same settings as Mansell's. So much so that only in the end Patrese managed to recover positions. 

 

"It doesn't matter, if there is no trouble, Mansell and I should be running in the lead with our Williams. However, this race is very long and it will also be tiring. Only at the end will it come together for everyone".


 

Sunday, 1st March 1992, at the start Nigel Mansell maintains the lead; Patrese takes the lead behind his team-mate, ahead of Senna, Alesi, Schumacher and Berger. The race proceeds linearly, with no overtaking in the first positions; the only changes are given by the retirement of the two Ferraris of Alesi on lap 40, due to engine failure, and of Capelli on lap 28, again due to engine problems. The race is fairly quiet and Nigel Mansell leads from the green light until the chequered flag, finishing almost 25 seconds ahead of Riccardo Patrese. Martin Brundle spins out on the first lap, but manages to continue until his clutch fails on the first lap and he is forced to retire. Ayrton Senna drives steadily and secures third place in a 1991 car, as does Michael Schumacher, who finishes the race in fourth place, after Jean Alesi, who was behind Senna and ahead of the German driver, retires. Gerhard Berger finished the race in fifth place, almost 40 seconds behind his team-mate. Johnny Herbert finishes sixth and earns a point for Lotus, after Andrea de Cesaris' Tyrrell, like Alesi, retires due to the failure of the Ilmor engine on lap 42. Interestingly, all of the top six drivers drive cars that represent evolutions (or direct carry-overs) of cars designed for previous seasons. Who has seen them? Mansell and Patrese disappeared at the start and nobody was able to find out where they had gone. They were found, however, after just over an hour and a half, on the podium. Mansell and Patrese, authors of an escape that brought Williams the en-plein in the South African Grand Prix, were too fast for their rivals. Senna tried to chase the Italian driver, but could only glimpse the rear of his car, for a few moments. So Nigel Mansell started the season with a victory, indeed a triumph. An overwhelming superiority, to tell the truth even over his teammate. This is thanks to an exceptional form, of the current state of euphoria (when he is in the mood he seems unbeatable) and of a car, the Williams, that at this moment can almost give everyone a run for their money. 

 

Well away from the Englishman, the Ferrari drivers also tried to pick up an acceptable result, but for the Maranello team it was a difficult day: the drubbing came precisely in the area where there was some confidence, namely in reliability. Capelli retired on lap 29 while in P7, Alesi on lap 41 when he was in P4. For both cars, engine failure due to a faulty lubrication system. What can we say? No need for drama. Certainly the start, between practice and race, despite small progress, is not encouraging. The F92As are new, they can be improved, but the problems are so numerous as to suggest that the caution shown by the men of the Maranello team before the start of the championship was more than justified. And that it will take a long time to turn things around, when by turnaround one means winning and not placing. In the aftermath of the race, the rumour spreads that Lauda, who left on Saturday afternoon, did not leave as he had agreed, but also as a result of disagreements with the team. The rumour was immediately denied by Ferrari. As long as it was there, however, Ferrari at least animated the fight in the group, while Mansell ran away and Senna tried in vain to hook up with Patrese. The latter among other things was the author of an extraordinary start: the Paduan slipped in between the two McLarens, striking past both the Brazilian and Berger, the slowest of all at this juncture. In fact, Alesi and Schumacher also brutally overtook him. While Capelli was quick to pass Wendlinger and Brundle. The Englishman soon afterwards triggered a double spin which left De Cesaris a victim. The Roman, in order to avoid colliding with the Englishman's Benetton, ended up on the grass and lost a good ten positions in one lap. The mishap forced poor Andrea to push hard to recover. And perhaps (even if the TV viewers didn't see it) De Cesaris' one was the only real show of the day, with thrilling overtaking and unimaginable trajectories. Unfortunately for him the engine of his Tyrrell gave out when he was already in P9. 

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Too bad. For the rest, the race did not offer any great emotion, so much so that the chronicle is empty until Mansell crossed the finish line waving his arm. Extra credit goes to Michael Schumacher, who confirmed himself as aggressive and precise, to Johnny Herbert, who brought the Lotus back to the points zone, to Michele Alboreto, P10 in the standings and second of the Italians. A curiosity: Mansell took part in the race with the reserve car. The reason? The race car's on-board computer (which regulates the engine, suspension, gearbox and instruments on the dashboard) had a problem. Strange signs appeared on the display. 

 

"I am happy. I thank everyone, the team did a fantastic job".


 

Nigel Mansell, rejuvenated by at least three years (since he won the first race of the season in 1989, with Ferrari) gave the usual post-race show, the established ritual according to which, in the event of victory, he gratifies the team, sponsors and friends. 

 

"It was a tough race, even though I started in the lead and had no more problems. I pushed hard at the start to create a safety space for myself, then I made sure everything worked well. Every now and then I would give a heavier tap on the accelerator to make it clear that it was useless to try to catch me. Then I just had to concentrate on not making mistakes, to avoid risks".

 

Riccardo Patrese's race was more battling, and he had to fend off Senna's attacks until almost the end of the race. 

 

"In fact I had to commit myself. But I was never in danger, I could accelerate when I wanted to". 

 

Someone asks Patrese why Mansell was faster. 

 

"The reason is simple. He has been going fast since Friday. I had some problems tuning the electronics and so I had less confidence with the car. It was only at the end of the race that I was really on the pace and you could see that from the times. Anyway, Nigel deserved to finish first. The start? I let off the throttle and hit the gas. Joking aside, I don't think I'm one to make many mistakes at the start. Last year I had some difficulties at the start, then I solved them". 

 

Laconic was the comment of Frank Williams, who was nevertheless very moved by the one-two of his two drivers: 

 

"The championship is still very long". 

 

More or less the speech made by Ayrton Senna: 

 

"In these conditions I can only be satisfied with third place. Williams is clearly superior. We have to wait for the new McLaren, which will be tested tomorrow at Silverstone by test driver McNish and which should make its debut in Brazil or Spain. Until then we will have to act defensively. I did my race, trying to save car and tyres. Then I tried to get close to Patrese in the final, but it was impossible, so I settled for that. When we have different means I will try to catch them".

 

The victory of the Williams equipped with intelligent suspension is not the first in Formula 1. Already in previous years a Lotus equipped with a more rudimentary but similar system won two races, at Monte-Carlo and Detroit. 

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It was 1987, then this technical solution was abandoned because it was considered unreliable overall. In order to achieve the double result of Kyalami, Williams-Renault spared no expense: after several tests that began in 1988 when it fitted Judd engines, the English team completed 11.000 kilometres of testing in the interval between the end of the last championship and the beginning of the current one. At Estoril, a fortnight ago, Mansell and Patrese had simulated five and a half Grand Prix just to test the suspension. But what are the advantages? Riccardo Patrese explains:

 

"First of all the car is always perfectly balanced, then it also offers more comfort to the driver. Automatic transmission and intelligent suspension: there is very little work left for us drivers to do except hold the steering wheel".


 

It must be acknowledged that if Ferrari is unable to strike at this time, at least it has good skills to cash in. The men of the Maranello team were able to hide well the great disappointment caused by the first round of the World Championship. And they reacted in what is usually considered the best way in such cases, namely by attacking. Drivers and technicians willing to give explanations, faces pulled but not undone. In short, a disappointing debut taken with philosophy. The first to leave the Kyalami circuit was Jean Alesi, not before making a joke: 

 

"The engine gave up on me at the very best, just when I was starting to enjoy myself. At the beginning, when the petrol tank was full, the car was not very balanced and I was struggling to hold it. Then it got lighter and it was fine. I was about to pull away from Schumacher and the mess happened. But I'm confident, we can recover, even if I would have liked to start with some points in the classification". 

 

Ivan Capelli, on the other hand, said that he had set out with no clear objectives other than to try to do his best: 

 

"And that was a pity because I realised that the car was going much better than in the test. I even tried to overtake Berger a couple of times. But I never found the right place and the right time, on a circuit where overtaking is difficult. So I decided to wait for something to happen up front. Unfortunately trouble came at me. I realised that the engine was losing power and I switched it off before it broke down completely". 

 

But why this unforeseen trouble? The scientific explanation is given by engineer Claudio Lombardi, general manager of the Maranello team's racing department: 

 

"We know exactly what happened. We had already had some warnings in the past and in recent days. It is the lubrication system. When you go round a certain type of curve, because of the various accelerations, when you go over four Gs, the oil thrust becomes insufficient to spray the engine. In this case, breakdowns are inevitable. At Estoril there were tests: at that time we still had the old car and the problem did not recur". 

 

What will happen now? 

 

"At the end of the week we will be at Imola to find the right solutions to remedy the problem. We should be able to do it. We go home with a negative balance, because we did not bring our single-seaters to the end of the race, but we also have a wealth of important information that only qualifying and the race could give us. There are many small changes in the programme. We are in apnea because now the races will come one after the other. As soon as we can get our heads above water, we will have some satisfaction". 

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In terms of performance, where does Ferrari stand? 

 

"It seems to me that in the race we were more or less on the same times as the McLarens. Alesi was sure he could pull away from Schumacher's Benetton". 

 

A fairly optimistic consideration, if you look at the best lap times of the various drivers in the race. Without looking at Mansell, who in progression improved fourteen times to a record 1'17"578, ahead of Alesi were Senna, Patrese, Berger, Schumacher and even Herbert in the revitalised Lotus. But, honestly, one has to take into account that they were all faster towards the end of the race when the Ferraris were no longer there. While Ferrari is doing badly, it is even worse for the Italians. 

 

With eleven drivers and four teams, the Italian expedition in the first round of the Formula One World Championship came out badly. Ferrari, barely acceptable in practice, did not finish the race: engines out for Capelli and Alesi. Scuderia Italia, disastrous in qualifying, was eliminated due to a clutch failure on Martini's single-seater and gearbox failure on Lehto's. The Minardi, discreet in the first two days, and forced to abandon due to an alternator problem with Fittipaldi and engine failure on the car of Morbidelli. Fondmetal did not make it to the finish, after Chiesa's elimination in practice, because Tarquini was also left out because of an engine explosion. Same for De Cesaris in the Tyrrell. Giovanna Amati and Stefano Modena did not even qualify. Nor can it be said that Patrese (P2) and Alboreto (P10), although doing their best, saved the decidedly negative balance. The Paduan suffered the overwhelming superiority of his team-mate Mansell, an authentic star of the South African Grand Prix. The Milanese stoically trudged through the race with Footwork driving at the end without third and fourth gear. It could not have gone worse. In what someone called the Formula Williams, only Ayrton Senna, thanks to his intelligent race conduct, driving with the explicit intention of saving what could be saved, did his part with dignity. 

 

"When you cannot aim for success, it is much better to put your heart at rest and think about the future. My future is called McLaren MP4/7. Only with the new car, which will make its debut on the Silverstone track on Tuesday (3 March 1992) under the care of our talented young driver-tester Allan McNish, will we be able to attempt to catch up with Williams. At least we hope so. But we will still have to wait until the Brazilian Grand Prix on 5 April or the Spanish Grand Prix on 3 May. In Mexico, in the second race of the World Championship, I will be forced to defend myself again, aiming to win a few points". 

 

Last year, in the season opener of the Formula One World Championship in Phoenix, Arizona, Ferrari immediately made it clear that it would be quite difficult to win that season. Yet on that very occasion, Prost finished second behind Senna, and Alesi set the fastest lap. Then we all know how that turned out. Now, in perspective, the poor debut in South Africa could point to a disastrous championship. Barely passable qualifying and the retirement of both drivers in the race due to engine failure: a cause always considered serious, it goes without saying, in this sport. And then a whole other series of mishaps to resolve. It is needless for the Ferrari team to say: We were pulling away from Schumacher, in the fight for fourth and fifth position, when then the German replies:

 

"The Ferrari was shooting oil on my visor: but I could have easily passed because it was less fast". 

 

And just as pointlessly he argues: 

 

"We are on a par with McLaren in terms of lap times". 

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All considerations that may well have their justification, but which do not go to the heart of the problems at all. One wonders why Ferrari has failed in this first attempt to get back on track. The answer is quite simple: when everything is new or almost new, it is difficult to get the mechanisms moving in sync. Unfortunately it will take time: on Monday morning Claudio Lombardi is already in Maranello analysing the troubles, looking for solutions. But this is not enough. The inexperience of some of the young technicians, of the revamped mechanics' teams, of the drivers themselves, has certainly influenced the set-up of the F92A, a car that in turn is all to be discovered and perhaps not even without its faults (see the oil tank that under certain conditions does not send enough lubricant towards the engine). But it is natural to wonder why Williams and McLaren do not suffer from the same ills. The two British racing teams have also gone through more or less long periods of crisis. But they have maintained one decisive constant: stability. On the one hand, the courageous Frank Williams, who steadfastly runs his team; on the other, the fussy Ron Dennis, a man who plans and sees for the long haul, so much so that he has shown he can do without even the designer John Barnard, considered the main architect of McLaren's successes in recent years. Ferrari, on the other hand, has taken too many detours for more than a decade now to regain balance in a few days. It is necessary to know how to wait, as long as the remedies arrive in an acceptable time frame. The new car, in spite of everything, showed something good: it reacted well to adjustments and did not show any insurmountable obstacles, as the previous 643 had done. However, it is clear that if the engines break down, if the races are not finished, if the tests are disrupted by a thousand mishaps (see the mistake of fitting the old qualifying brakes on Alesi's single-seater on Friday), everything becomes more difficult. 

 

Even the fact of having competed at Kyalami on a particular circuit, at an altitude of 1800 metres, on a track without straights and with particular curves, may have had its negative weight. But it must be admitted that in many areas Ferrari was, if not unprepared, at least not in the vanguard. The stunt by Elf, Williams' supplier (who prepared a closed circuit to put petrol in the tanks, thus avoiding the dispersion of precious elements defined as volatile into the air) says a lot for example about the type of preparation carried out for the race. And then also the fact that they (again Williams) managed to fine-tune the active suspension, making it not only effective but also reliable, made all the difference. Now Ferrari has less than three weeks to go (the next race is scheduled for Sunday, 22 March 1992, at the Mexican Grand Prix) to put ideas in order. At Imola the modified oil tanks will be tested and perhaps there will also be other small novelties. The objective is to be able to guarantee Alesi and Capelli two cars capable, if not of fighting on an equal footing with the Williams, at least of staying close to the McLarens and not having to suffer with Benetton and Lotus, two teams with older cars and less powerful engines. This is the first fundamental objective to be achieved. Meanwhile, the man of a thousand lives has returned to success. Without hiding anything: he wants victory in the World Championship, the only pearl he lacks in a necklace of successes (22 victories, 18 pole positions) that has already taken him to the top of the charts of the best drivers of all time. Nigel Mansell, 38 years old, married and father of three, a gypsy life after living for years on the Isle of Man, lives in Florida a retirement announced and then denied behind his back, and proposes himself as the one, true, inimitable anti-Senna: 

 

"I can defeat him if you give me the right car. I'm not afraid of him. He is good, but not unbeatable". 

 

But perhaps it is to the Brazilian champion that the moustachioed Englishman owes part of his rebirth, of this second youth. From Ayrton he certainly understood that one has to work meticulously, that every detail has its importance. So Mansell this year took four months off (like Senna) before returning to driving and decided to lose weight, going on a strict diet. Frank Williams explains:

 

"Nigel has become an ascetic. He oversees his diet as he would an infant's. He used to devour one Mars bar after another, now he eats salad and apples". 

 

Weight loss is one of the many subtle weapons of drivers: the lighter you are, the fewer unnecessary kilos you carry around in your car; the thinner you are, the more comfortable you are in the cockpit. When the drivers' weight ceremony took place before the start of the South African Grand Prix, Riccardo Patrese (who had sacrificed all winter between gymnastics, weights, skiing and tennis) almost had a stroke: for the first time in history his teammate Mansell was lighter than him. Now it will be a race within a race, whoever eats the least, hoping they don't become anorexic... A Mansell who used to hate testing and now drives until nightfall. A Mansell who tests ten thousand starts, a Mansell who leaves nothing to chance. Some time ago at Estoril he was just simulating a start when he broke an axle shaft. Once he would have been sitting under a marquee playing with his son or reading a comic book. Instead, he borrowed a bike and started pedalling like a desperate man, getting timed on the lap: 11 minutes to cover 4350 m with many climbs. As a character he remains the same: a bit of a blowhard, capable of atrocious pranks, selfish, a bit weak in character, easy prey to depression as well as exaltation. But in any case - however things turn out - he is certainly one of those drivers who have already left their mark on the racing world.

 


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