On Wednesday, May 20, 1992,Ferrari had good results in tests at the Imola circuit with Alesi, despite the rain. The Frenchman does about thirty laps, the fastest being a 1'35"0, testing an evolution of the anti-skid system, and makes a few starts ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix. The following day, Ferrari concludes testing at Imola with test driver Gianni Morbidelli, since Alesi has left for the Mille Miglia re-enactment and Capelli is on vacation. The F92A sets a 1'24"92 lap. The Maranello team works on improving aerodynamics (by experimenting with a partial flat bottom) and the anti-skid control device. New air intakes at the rear brakes are also tested. Towards the end of testing, a gearbox failure causes an engine flare-up. Beyond the technical solutions, the question arises in Maranello as to whether Ferrari is at the dawn of a new revolution: on Saturday, May 23, 1992, the daily newspaper La Gazzetta di Modena publishes a front-page story mentioning Ivan Capelli’s possible departure, despite having been just hired this season. Rumours, which are said to have come from the racing department, state that the managers of the Maranello-based team are not satisfied with the performances provided by the Milanese driver so far. This thesis is supported by the sudden full-time employment of test driver Gianni Morbidelli, who currently races for Minardi. The young man from Pesaro, who has a contract with Ferrari to conduct tests, had never driven the new car, the F92A. Instead, he has been put under pressure for the past few days: he tested in Imola and then Fiorano, and is expected to take to the track at the team's private circuit even on Sunday, May 24, 1992, a non-working day. This forced practice suggests a hard training session ahead of Morbidelli possibly racing as early as Sunday in Monte Carlo. Ferrari, through its press office, obviously denies that there is any intention to replace Capelli with Morbidelli; President Luca Montezemolo, who is approached in the afternoon while following the historic Mille Miglia, says:
"It is one of the usual four news stories a day about Ferrari that is not worth discussing".
In recent days, the usual radio-box had already alerted insiders. While rumours about Capelli allegedly disappointing expectations (both in terms of car tuning and behaviour in qualifying and in the race) began to circulate, someone had even spoken of a return of interest in Alain Prost. Ferrari is therefore always at the centre of attention. What remains to be seen, however, are Ferrari's real intentions: last year, an internal current would have wanted to do away with Alesi, now it would be Capelli's turn, who was hired with the heavy burden of ensuring that Prost is forgotten. But there is always a question of logic: what would be the point of sacrificing a driver without a car capable of delivering results? So, who knows, maybe these rumours only hide the current malaise in the team, and there will be no change of drivers until the new season. And speaking of drivers from the past, on Monday, May 25, 1992, the war between Alain Prost and Ferrari ends after the French driver and the Maranello team reach an amicable agreement on the termination of the contract that would have bound them until the end of 1992. The news is revealed by the Geneva law firm on which the former World Champion had relied for arbitration following his dismissal on October 28, 1991, on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix, where he was replaced by the young Gianni Morbidelli from Pesaro. The statement, signed by lawyer Dominique Warluzel, points out that Prost met with the managers of the Maranello company. The parties, assisted by their respective lawyers, settled their differences to their full and common satisfaction. The document ends by stating that, happy with this conclusion, Alain Prost and Ferrari are keen to let it be known that their relations are again friendly and serene. Ferrari makes no statement but confirms the successful conclusion of the affair. No details are made available, but it seems certain that the driver, having been formally wrong, has waived some of his economic claims. It is curious that the agreement came at the very time when there was talk of a crisis between Ivan Capelli and the team. Although - at this point - one cannot rule out that the rumours that have come out in recent days (about a possible departure of the driver from Milan to make way for Morbidelli or Prost) arose precisely because of some misinterpretation about the meetings between Ferrari and Prost representatives.
Prost, however, is now free to conduct his own negotiations for a competitive return to Formula 1 in the coming year. And, knowing him, he can always gain some advantage by making it known that Ferrari wishes to take him back. One cannot even exclude that the rumours that have circulated in recent weeks, according to which the Ferrari would be in contact with Ayrton Senna, while Alain Prost would possibly be interested in McLaren, would then end up being confirmed. Meanwhile, at Fiorano, Ivan Capelli regularly tests his car (Alesi tests two cars), before the departure for Monte-Carlo, where from Thursday, May 28, 1992, qualifying for Sunday's race will begin. Once the bad moment has passed, Ivan will try to assert himself on the Monaco street circuit, hoping that the latest changes have improved the F92A's performance. In the world of Formula 1, the Monaco Grand Prix is not just another race: it is the race par excellence. After 50 years, it has not lost its appeal, and this can already be verified in the days leading up to the race, on the eve of the 1992 edition of this prestigious competition. The grandstands are ready to accommodate fans as early as Thursday, during practice. The atmosphere of the major event is palpable on the Principality’s streets, the excitement of preparations for the race can be felt. The flag will be lowered on Sunday, at 3:30 p.m. The Grand Prix is preceded by a packed program, which will begin with pre-qualifying practice.
The organisation, as always, is impeccable and the program is followed to a T, everything goes as planned. The grandstands are sturdy, able to withstand all eventualities: safety is indispensable in the Principality. Hotel operators are happy: everything is now sold out. In Monaco, the invasion has begun and the faith for Ferrari can be felt on every street. For many, the hunt for a ticket for Sunday has started; it is a very difficult task at the box office, and some luck may be had only with scalpers, who may ask as much as triple the normal price. The best vantage point is on the Albert 1st pier, facing the harbour. But on the day of the Grand Prix any place will do: casino square, in the Chicane, coming out of Loews, on the stages around the pool and in the numerous grandstands clambering in every unlikely corner. There is also no shortage of people who have rented balconies and even entire apartments overlooking the circuit. This year, for the four days of the Grand Prix, prices were close to 50 million lire, a figure generally paid by companies that intend to favour their customers with these operations. An eight-metre-long balcony yields 500.000 to 1 million lire for each of the twenty-four people it can accommodate. Meals are included in the figure. Then there are those who choose to sublet instead of going to a hotel, and so three nights in a studio apartment costs an average of 1 million lire. On the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix there is continued talk of Ferrari, which would seem to be going through a tense mood, amid denials, pointing fingers and jokes. Ivan Capelli in particular is expected to talk about his (alleged) crisis with the Maranello team. The Milanese driver says:
"I am outraged and amused by what happened. On certain occasions the Italian press is funny. I do not understand where and how the news about me could have come out".
The driver from Lombardy is especially irritated by certain inferences about his health. Some indiscretions say that Ivan did not offer adequate behaviour behind the wheel due to a serious illness, namely Mediterranean anaemia. Or perhaps because of eyesight problems, as he wears contact lenses during races.
"I am fine, I did all the necessary examinations before going to Maranello and the results did not indicate anything abnormal. So these days I have been sleeping peacefully, with a clear conscience. It is clear that I am not happy with the results obtained: I cannot adapt to a car that is not easy. But I have always given my best and will continue to do so".
Capelli is asked if he asked for a rest period during these days, since the tests were carried on by Morbidelli. And the answer is sarcastic:
"No, I was put on vacation for a week. I said thank you and left for Viareggio to get used to the Mediterranean climate".
After Capelli, here are Ferrari itself and Paolo Cantarella, CEO of Fiat Auto, putting out two releases to address some press reports that have appeared in recent days, including that of the Maranello team withdrawing from the business, or downsizing as an engine supplier, perhaps under the Fiat brand. Ferrari:
"In the face of an alarming succession of pseudo-journalistic reports that call into question the working relationship of driver Ivan Capelli, offer gratuitous interpretations on the conclusion of the relationship with driver Alain Prost and advance curious inferences on the continuation of the technical and racing activities of the sports management, Ferrari considers it superfluous to chase with denials such fanciful inventions, which have no foundation and do not deserve any response. Ferrari merely deplores this nonchalant way of doing things, which it considers destabilising and unfair, especially on the eve of an important event such as the Monaco Grand Prix, towards its collaborators engaged in a work of recovery of competitiveness, which appears long and difficult and would instead require their total serenity".
And Paolo Cantarella adds:
"Fiat Auto carries out with the Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands an intense and very profitable motor sports activity. Ferrari enjoys management autonomy in both the industrial and sporting fields. Of the Maranello team, as I have repeatedly said, I can therefore speak only as a fan to whom the red Ferraris are very close to my heart and I cannot think for a moment that I will never see them racing again".
The fans of the Maranello team, who are present in large numbers at the Monaco Grand Prix, also think so, even though Nigel Mansell, driving the Williams-Renault, remains the favourite. But faith in the Maranello team never wanes. And perhaps the fans still have Gilles Villeneuve’s 1981 triumph - the last in Monte-Carlo - in their eyes. It took this narrow and difficult circuit to provide some thrills in Formula 1. The first day of practice for the Monaco Grand Prix revives hopes of seeing a close race on Sunday. Nigel Mansell, with his Williams, is still at the top of the board, but Senna is closer and McLaren seem to be catching up. Meanwhile, on Thursday, May 28, 1992, Ferrari equals its best performance this year (in South Africa) with Jean Alesi's fifth place. Nothing transcendental, Ivan Capelli is only tenth; however, at this time, any positive result is welcome. The cars put on a show in the narrow streets of Monte Carlo, a show that a huge crowd (for a Thursday) follows with attention and real emotions: seeing the single-seaters whizz by at 300 km/h, and that's not a figure of speech. The actual speed reached after the tunnel takes the breath away even from those who are used to certain follies. One wonders, with the continuous technical advances achieved in Formula 1, how long these cars will be able to run on a track made mostly for Rolls Royces. Not to mention risks and accidents. Here we look mainly at Nigel Mansell. The Englishman, who has never won at Monte Carlo, comes in on the wave of five consecutive big wins, in the role of World Championship leader. Mansell is beginning to come under intense pressure. So much so that this second time by Senna (0.7 seconds away) was enough to alarm the moustachioed Briton, who says:
"Maybe Honda has caught up, by now McLaren's engines are very close if not superior to the Renaults".
In short, danger is at the door. Among other things, Mansell, to test the limits of his car, spins spectacularly at the pool chicane. And it was only by a miracle that he did not slam into the guardrails, later explaining that he felt a great fear. The day is full of events. Alboreto, Alesi, Grouillard, Wendlinger and Schumacher (twice) also end up spinning. Indeed, the Benetton German is the victim of an accident in the morning, later replicated in qualifying by Berger. The Austrian ends up against a barrier, possibly due to the failure of a McLaren suspension. Berger says he was hit hard:
"I almost got hurt".
There are rear-end collisions (Suzuki on Hakkinen), excursions into the escape routes and a few fights. Like the one that sees De Cesaris, who sets an excellent seventh time, threatens Stefano Modena, guilty of impeding him twice. What about Ferrari? The traction control system works well; after some tests, the electronic differential used for the first time in official tests is shelved for now. The data obtained must be evaluated and the device must be developed for future use. As far as pure results go, there is no consistent progress because Alesi, with his 1'22"942, marks a 2.2 second gap from Mansell and a one second delay from 1991 (Prost had lapped in 1'21"4). This is a sign that the improvements are only relative to the performance of this disappointing new F92A. The Maranello team’s drivers appear to be quite calm. Alesi says that he has always been lucky (using an Italian term meaning back end) in Monte Carlo and that he hopes to repeat himself, though it is too early to talk. The Frenchman scolds the press – it is now a habit – because some of his statements after Imola seemed harsher than he intended. Ivan Capelli talks about practice, saying he could have done a bit better had he not found so much traffic, and that the work continues. Finally, Claudio Lombardi explains that the cars react to the adjustments and that this is quite positive. This Ferrari continues to make its fans suffer; the road to recovery is always a long one. However, anything can happen in this race, so there’s always hope. In the afternoon Luca Montezemolo is expected to take stock of the situation. Friday, as is customary in Monte Carlo, is a rest day for Formula 1 (most drivers will be engaged in a golf competition), Saturday's program is filled with the second round of qualifying and the Formula 3 race. In short, nothing new, if you don't count the first qualification of the small and troubled Andrea Moda team with the talented Roberto Moreno. Pre-qualifying took place at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday in sunny weather conditions. Michele Alboreto achieved the best time, stopping the chronometer at 1'25"413 and beating Bertrand Gachot by more than 0.5 seconds. Roberto Moreno's Andrea Moda Formula manages to enter qualifying for the first time, followed by Swiss Fondmetal driver Andrea Chiesa. Roberto Moreno will say:
"I did a lap around the track with my motorbike at midnight, and I stopped at every corner. I took my helmet off, sat on the ground and imagined myself getting the best out of each corner, like I was sitting on the race car, and thought about every single detail. Then I did a few laps with a motorbike thinking about everything I had gone through. Those were my last thoughts before I went to bed - I had to be up at 5:30 a.m. with pre-qualifying at 7:00 a.m., there was no Free Practice. The thing I remember most was sitting in the car, and nobody could talk to me, no-one could distract me. I was on my lap in my head, thinking about what I had to do and everything I thought about that night before - we pulled it off somehow. I will remember going out to pre-qualify the Andrea Moda in Monaco forever. The tyres in those days would do their best laps around the fifth or sixth laps. For us, after the fourth lap, the engine would overheat, because we didn’t have enough cooling. We could never run that long. The engine would overheat, and the oil would be too hot. I had to stop on lap 4, to not blow the engine up. So I had given it my max in pre-qualifying before I even got the best use of the tyres. I got to qualifying, and I went out early in the session. In Monaco you always get the best times in the final laps, but I put the car 11th in the first 20 minutes, that was all the laps I could do. Coming into the pits, every team was out in the pits clapping at me, and that will stay in my memory forever. It was an incredible sensation which, if I think about it, makes me emotional now. It was a feeling so unique it will stay in my mind forever. The engine only had 40 kilometres left on it. Basically we had to find an extra piece of cooling equipment that I think I got from my friends at either Ferrari or Benetton. Charlie Whiting came down to check we’d fitted this extra bit of radiator correctly, to make sure it didn’t fall off into the road. I set my lap, which put me about 12th or 13th, then I came into the pits because the exhaust cracked with about 15 minutes left. I actually had to give a mechanic my gloves so they wouldn’t burn their hands on it. We put on the second set of tires, but the front left wheel wouldn’t come off. I said: Forget it, let’s just go out with three new tires. We went to start the car with the primer pump - The Bomb - as we called, but then that failed. I sat there watching my time fall down the order, but we made it - I was in the last place on the grid".
The funny thing is that the Italian team had cancelled their hotel reservation, believing they would never get through pre-qualifying, and instead find themselves having to look for a place to stay overnight to participate in the Monaco Grand Prix. Ukyo Katayama failed to make it into qualifying: during the final minutes of the session, he slips on an oil slick at Tabac, crashing into a low wall. Finally, Perry McCarthy completes just two laps at the beginning of the session which, however, are insufficient to set a time, as the Andrea Moda team wanted to use the second car as a backup single-seater for Moreno, should it be needed. On the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix, which on Friday, May 29, 1992, offers the world audience the spectacle of the last day of qualifying with Senna engaged in a difficult hunt for Mansell, Ferrari bares itself. And it does so with its president, Luca Montezemolo, who for the first time since he took office (about six months ago), speaks about past, present and future. A speech – first a monologue, then a Q&A with the international press – in which the head director of the Maranello team wants to condense clarifications, intentions and programs, analysing the current situation and the prospects for a revival at the top of Formula 1. Some statements are also bitter, realistic and the hope of succeeding in the not-too-distant deadline goals. Montezemolo begins:
"I know very well that if halfway through the season Ferrari has not yet achieved positive results, the tussle begins. But in recent weeks there has been a bit too much invention. So the first thing I am pleased to say is that Ferrari will continue to race in Formula 1. I agree with lawyer Agnelli when he says that there is a middle ground between winning and retiring: making a good impression".
Problems with drivers.
"We continue with Alesi and Capelli, who is healthy and not sick as some claim. I am glad to have solved the problems with Prost and I can assure you that the Frenchman will not drive a Ferrari in our drivers’ place. I admit that we could also have used a champion of his calibre to fix the troubles of our cars. But this kind of solution is not conceivable for so many reasons. In any case, we are not worried about drivers. It is not the problem at the moment. Ferrari is always able to choose and put the best available drivers under contract. We would like to limit prices as well, but personally I think it is not possible. In all sports, top athletes charge a lot, and motor racing is no exception, on the contrary".
The disappointing F92A.
"We are behind, far behind, we are lacking competitiveness. The new single-seater is lacking in engine, chassis and aerodynamics. We have made some small progress, especially for the powertrain, but we should not expect revolutions. There will be some changes - important ones, too - before the end of the season, such as the adoption of the transverse gearbox, which has given us interesting data for the balance of the car. At the same time, we are already working on a new car for 1993, the project is set up and being advanced. And at the same time an innovative engine is being set up".
"In principle the lineup is confirmed with Lombardi as the head of the technical department, Postlethwaite, Migeot and all the young engineers we have. But it is clear that others may be brought in, because at the moment we do not have the structure we need to grow. We intend to keep the stability of the workforce as much as possible, because I believe that the many changes in recent years, at all levels, are one of the reasons why we have lost our way. In any case, for a dynamic company, some kind of turn-over cannot be ruled out".
"We are setting up a department that will deal solely with electronics with Magneti Marelli. We didn’t seize the moment, for example, as far as active suspension is concerned, we have to try to catch up. As for aerodynamics, in a few days engineer Migeot will be able to work on a new wind tunnel tailored to the new requirements. In short, we are doing everything we can. It is hard work, but we will put our best effort and all our resources into it".
"Ferrari is also working in this direction. Formula 1 is in crisis, we need to find certain dimensions in terms of costs and a minimum of balance. On Thursday there will be a meeting of all the constructors in Maranello. We will talk about this and try to make our will weigh in. I am against regulations that require absolute unanimity to change the rules. The world does not work that way".
"Don't ask me if the recovery will happen in three, six months or next year. Winning is always difficult. The only commitment I can make is that with method and planning we will try to get there in the shortest time possible; Ferrari is struggling".
The countdown is almost over, and for Formula 1’s great challenge, the moment when the flag will be lowered is approaching. Anticipation for the race is growing throughout Monte Carlo, and the faith for Ferrari is the most heartfelt. On Sunday, May 31, 1992, Grand Prix number 50 is scheduled. Everything is ready: the grandstands, which have already been tested at practice, will be extremely popular on race day. There’s no chance for those who are still hoping to find a ticket to sit in the central grandstands on the harbour, in the strategic curves, and in Casino Square: the hunt for a stub at the ticket office is practically over. They may perhaps find a few valuable stubs from the (mostly Italian) scalpers, who are preparing to strike golden deals again this time. Those who don't want to miss the eagerly awaited appointment with the racing cars should remember that circulation on the streets of Monte Carlo, already difficult on normal days, is practically impossible for the Grand Prix. The ideal is to reach the Principality by train and prepare for a walk through the crowds. Those who can’t give up their car, to avoid getting caught in traffic and being forced to make long, empty laps in search of parking, must pay close attention to the signs placed on the access roads to the Principality. The tension is very high. At the ripe old age of 50, the Grand Prix keeps its myth intact. Passion, cheering, social side dish, the Italians' anxiety and hope for Ferrari's redemption.
It's all there in the Principality, which awaits its traditional rendezvous with the bolides. A circuit unlike any other in the grand circus of Formula 1. Here the race winds through houses, with its famous corners such as Rascasse and the Old Station. It is estimated that the Grand Prix will bring about 100.000 people to the Principality. Security is ensured by the work of officers, policemen and firemen who are on duty 24 hours a day on Grand Prix days, with double, triple shifts. There is no shortage of onlookers who follow the mechanics at work around the racing cars that will speed through the course. On practice days, the atmosphere next to the Quai Antoine 1st is still relatively quiet. A few enthusiasts who have been lucky enough to gain access to the pits wander around with camera in hand and observe the rigorous work of the mechanics. People’s attention is captured by the stacks of the wide tires that will devour the Monegasque asphalt grazing the protective barriers, in search of the perfect trajectory, the one that ensures the gain of a few hundredths of a second. Never wake the sleeping lion. Saturday, May 30, 1992, traffic on the track, a less-perfect-than-usual Williams, and a thousand thoughts in his head make Nigel Mansell go on a rampage. And so, the Englishman shows his mastery behind the steering wheel. The result?
He will start on pole position in the Monaco Grand Prix, the sixth consecutive time since the beginning of 1992. Nothing new on the horizon, you might say. This time, however, there is a difference, although the odds are always in favour of the moustachioed British driver. The gaps are small, the opponents unrestrained. Starting with Riccardo Patrese, who sets the second fastest time; to Ayrton Senna who, between one McLaren incident and another, limits the damage; to Alesi who, to Ferrari fans’ glee, conquers P4, showing the first concrete progress of 1992 for the Maranello team. The result is also comforted by Ivan Capelli's seventh place. At the end of practice, Nigel Mansell states as follows:
"It was tough, because we had never changed so many things on my car this year. I have a love-hate relationship with this circuit. Here the driver counts a lot and I have never won in the Principality. So I dream of a win, but my heart beats, I have so many fears, anything can happen, right from the start".
The start will be the crucial moment of the race. There is a threat of rain, and bad weather could significantly complicate the situation. The drivers declare that they will be wise, that they will avoid risks, but it would be foolish to believe them: these are lies. Those who take the lead have high chances of winning; this is certainly true on dry asphalt and perhaps even more so in the wet. Jean Alesi expresses himself in measured tones:
"I will be cautious, the race is long, I don't want to ruin my chances at the first corner. If it doesn't rain I want to aim for the podium, if not, you can also win. The car is going well, even with a full tank of gas and in race trim. We finally managed to find the right adjustments, at least for this particular track. Don't make me say whether it is thanks to the car or the driver, because someone might misunderstand me. It's just important that Ferrari has grown a little bit. A confidence boost like that was needed".
The French driver was among the protagonists of the most uncertain and spectacular second qualifying round of all Grands Prix seen in the 1992 World Championship. And for the first time, his F92A was faster than the old single-seater (by 0.5 seconds). Alesi and Senna battled for third place. And Ayrton had to resort to all his ability to get the upper hand, risking a lot, to the point that he badly skid and hit a guardrail, subsequently losing his rear wing under the tunnel. His teammate, Gerhard Berger, also ended up against a barrier. A sign of commitment beyond limits. On the other hand, it was the lapped drivers who angered Mansell (he was twice blocked by young Fittipaldi, who was discovering a track that was practically new to him) and Patrese, who dared overtake him several times. Nigel Mansell set a 1'20"369; Riccardo’s lap is a 1'20"368, just one thousandth faster. In the end, the Lion snapped: after racking up a dozen heart-pounding laps, he closed the deal with an extraordinary 1'19"495, marking a new track record (the previous was set by Senna in 1991, with a time of 1'20"344). In his hunt for records, Nigel Mansell also broke the 150 km/h limit (exactly 150.711 km/h) on the narrow streets of the Principality: a thrilling average speed. Patrese, who felt he had a chance to take pole position, to perhaps give the World Championship a small turn, tried to make up for it. In his attempt, however, he found Gachot, whom he was slowed down by several times. And for once the Italian lost his cool. Riccardo confronted the Belgian, who was still in the cockpit of his Venturi, in the pits, lifted his helmet visor and landed three strong punches between his eyes and nose. Gachot was stunned and Patrese, having let off steam, walked away saying:
"He almost killed me, I should have punched him".
Hopefully, however, this climate will not involve other drivers today. As mentioned, the fourth place obtained by Jean Alesi, who will start the Monaco Grand Prix almost on Senna’s line, in turn preceded by Patrese and Mansell, is taken by Ferrari and the Ferrari fans as - all together - a breath of fresh air. Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo says:
"I am happy for Ferrari, its team and its people who came here. There is proof that we are working well, that we are not stupid, there is the performance of a driver who did not just find the miracle of a lap, but fought throughout qualifying against a very busy Senna and Berger, right up to the spin. Nothing more, let's be clear, let's not celebrate too much. But in the meantime this is good, maybe Benetton was expected and instead here we are".
It is Ferrari's best test result since this unfortunate 1992 began. It is Alesi's confirmation for next year. Montezemolo goes on:
"There is a contract that continues, and our desire to keep the driver. Capelli? There is a contract that is ending, we will see".
And then concludes:
"Ferrari keeps its place inside its people. Yes, maybe compared to the past Monaco Grand Prix there are a little less Italian boats in the harbour, but there are the same people of ours on the hill, and they are the people we love".
And this could almost become rebirth poetry, which would frankly be a bit much. One mustn't forget that, toward the end of the decisive session, Mansell was ahead of Patrese by 0.8 seconds, causing Lauda to say:
"Great practice, we had fun, then Nigel got angry....".
Nor should one overlook the possibility that in the race, with the threat of rain, everything could be undone in an instant. More than 100.000 people are expected in Monaco for the 50th edition of the Grand Prix. The anticipation that accompanies the important race each year has now reached a climax: in the pits, among the streets, in the luxurious hotels of Monte Carlo and among the restaurant tables, people talk about Mansell, Patrese, Senna and Alesi and hazard their predictions. Only one topic seems to overcome interest in the Grand Prix: the news of Princess Stephanie's pregnancy. Meanwhile, the difficult hunt for the last tickets to attend the race continues; at the box office, however, it is impossible. A few chances can be had today with scalpers, but at prices that, for the best seats, are close to a million. A very eclectic crowd is expected on the grandstands and in the venues overlooking the circuit today. Enthusiasts, the rich, VIPs, ordinary people. There is just about everyone on Grand Prix days. But Italy, undoubtedly, returns to the Principality with the largest and warmest representation. This is also why the authorities in the Principality are prepared and vigilantly watching to make sure that everything runs smoothly. To get an idea of the flood of people arriving in Monaco on race day, one only has to follow the movements at the border: most of the cars crossing the border are large luxury cars arriving from all over Italy. Motorists are advised to arrive via the highway, and then to reach the centre by scrupulously following the directions of the signs placed on the access roads to the Principality. Monegasque authorities, in view of the exceptional turnout, have designated the sides of roads where it is normally forbidden to park as parking areas. It is likely that the underground parking lots located in Monaco's central area on boulevard Moulin, Casino Square, and the seaside area on avenue Princesse Grace will be full. Roads in the vicinity of the runway will be closed to traffic. On Sunday, May 31, 1992, during the half-hour warm-up, Riccardo Patrese sets the best sector times, putting himself behind his fellow countryman Alboreto. Nigel Mansell does not go beyond fifth place. During the session, Aguri Suzuki is the protagonist of a bad accident at Tabac, so much so that, to be on the safe side, he undergoes medical examinations at the hospital. However, the doctors give their approval for the Japanese to participate in the race. Gianni Morbidelli's car is missing at the start: he is forced to start from the pit lane since he was unable to line up for the formation lap due to gearbox problems. At the start, Mansell maintains the lead, while Senna manages to overtake Patrese immediately, as does Schumacher with Berger. Martini, meanwhile, runs into his second accident of the weekend and is forced to retire.
At the end of the first lap, Mansell leads the race ahead of Senna, Patrese, Alesi, Schumacher and Berger. Later, with a few laps’ delay, Gianni Morbidelli enters the track and is almost immediately forced to retire, once again due to gearbox problems. Meanwhile, Nigel Mansell begins to pull away from his opponents, while Patrese tries to attack Ayrton Senna several times, though without any success. Later, however, the Italian driver is forced to slow his pace due to problems with his car's gearbox. On lap 11, Roberto Moreno, who had climbed up to P19 with his Andrea Moda Formula thanks to various retirements, is also forced to retire due to engine problems. On the following lap, Alesi and Schumacher, who are fighting for fourth position, come into contact: the German attempts an attack at Loews, but the Frenchman tries to hold his position and the two touch. Although both manage to continue, with Schumacher losing fourth place, Alesi's car receives a bump that damages the electronic control unit and forces him to retire a few laps later. Meanwhile, Brundle tries to catch up with Berger, who is ahead of him, but damages his car due to a mistake, and is forced to return to the pits to make repairs. The race proceeds without further change, except for Berger's retirement due to gearbox problems, which occurs on lap 32. The situation, which sees Mansell in the lead, followed by Senna, Patrese, Schumacher, Capelli and Alboreto does not see any further changes in the standings until lap 58, when Brundle, making a comeback, crashes into Alboreto, causing him to lose a couple of positions. Two laps later the Italian makes a mistake as he is about to be lapped by Senna, and risks involving his opponent in a collision. The Brazilian, in an attempt to avoid him, loses almost ten seconds to Mansell. The following lap, Ivan Capelli is the victim of a spin and damages his car’s steering arm. A few metres later, at the Piscine, the car’s damage prevents him from continuing. On lap 71, Nigel Mansell returns to the pits thinking that he has suffered a puncture. In fact, a wheel nut has come loose, which in turn has damaged the rim. Senna thus takes the lead, but the Williams driver makes a frantic comeback, a 5-second gap from the Brazilian; during the last four laps, Mansell tries to overtake his rival in every way possible, but he resists. Senna thus gets his first victory of the season.
This is undoubtedly the Formula 1 that people like: the McLaren driver's incredible victory in the Monaco Grand Prix revives, if not the World Championship, at least the show. An extraordinary finale in the narrow streets of the Principality, a dose of excitement for all. After five races and three quarters of diluted chamomile tea, suddenly there are some champagne bubbles, a jolt to a championship that had become not only boring, but soporific. Chance, or luck, provided the Brazilian driver with an opportunity to finally place a win. Senna, however, also had the merit of finding himself, particularly thanks to a lightning-fast start, behind the unleashed Mansell at the crucial moment of crisis (caused by a wheel). A Villeneuve-like defence but without exaggeration, mixing class, intelligence and courage. Of course, had it been a race on a normal track - and not on this circuit where overtaking is impossible - Senna wouldn’t have had a chance: the Englishman could have retaken the lead, when braking or accelerating. Instead, here, Ayrton found the ideal terrain to accomplish what can be called a feat: to finish first despite being the weakest. And at the same time the World Champion wrote another important page for his career: Ayrton equaled Graham Hill, winning the most famous Grand Prix in Formula 1 for the fifth time. Mansell, Senna, the dashing Schumacher and chance are the only actors who can liven up the motor show in this period. The others, through helplessness or inability, fail to become protagonists. A mystery persists: that of Patrese, who loses a second a lap to his teammate and is content (or must be content; the answer can only be given by Williams, because the Paduan does not make polemics) with fending off the attacks of those behind him. And nothing can be expected, alas, from Ferrari. In addition to constantly lacking competitiveness, it finds itself having two drivers who make mistakes, perhaps under the pressure of achieving results at any cost. Jean Alesi started well, then naively went wide at the Hotel Loews corner to defend against the surging Schumacher. The mistake allowed the German to stick his Benetton’s nose between the edge of the road and the Ferrari. Thus the Frenchman was forced to make a desperate manoeuvre that led to a slight collision between the two cars. The attempt is questionable, but not formally incorrect.
The collision cost Ferrari more because its side was hit, a radiator was bent and the ECU suffered from the recoil, which in turn put the electronics and the gearbox in crisis; this is why Alesi was forced to retire. Later Schumacher tried to attack Patrese but found a tougher bone, partly because, at one point, the Benetton’s first gear failed; good Michael had to give up. Ivan Capelli, who is going through a difficult time, could have seized a good fifth place. Instead, he touched a guardrail with his right front wheel at Rascasse, bending a steering tie rod. And on the next lap, his single-seater becoming uncontrollable and he flew sideways over the barriers, in a somewhat peculiar position. The champion's comeback: after long months without victories, Ayrton Senna, who had not finished first since last year's closing race in Australia, regained his place on the top step of the podium. With one stroke, perhaps with a touch of luck, the Brazilian reopened Nigel Mansell's match, interrupting the Englishman's resounding positive streak of five consecutive first place finishes since the start of the season. And at the same time, with the McLaren, he gave respite to the championship and dusted off his book of records: this is victory number 34 in his career (he is now ten lengths behind Prost); the fifth in the Principality, like Graham Hill; the fourth consecutive in a very difficult track, a feat never achieved by anyone. It all happened in ten minutes, during which the 100.000 spectators enjoyed themselves, suffered and finally tasted uncertainty again. Just when we had resigned ourselves to the usual script, there came the twist. In terms of the standings, not much changed, because Mansell - who still took second place - has twice as many points as Patrese (56, as opposed to the Italian's 28) and can always count on the Williams, a car that is superior to its rivals. Before the mishap that slowed him down, the Englishman had already lapped all but three competitors. The Brazilian driver himself had explicit gestures of happiness during the race when he was told over the radio that he could win. And he even searched with his eyes for the giant screen on the Casino climb, witnesses swear. With four laps to go then a prodigy happened. Nigel Mansell says in a press conference:
"Senna's car was too wide, there was no room to pass between it and the edge of the road, neither left nor right".
But he said it laughing, obviously under his moustache. There was great chivalry between the two, who acted out a fine lesson in sportsmanship while also making people laugh. This is because Mansell, after getting out of the car, collapsed to the ground, fainting because of the fatigue and tension, then got up limping. But when he got off the podium Senna sprayed him with champagne (the drivers were asked not to shoot too many jets from the podium, after they doused Prince Rainier last year), Nigel forgot to limp and reacted, running at the enemy. Mansell must be supremely sure of winning the World Championship, and Senna explicitly said he was supremely sure he could never win again: this explains why the two have turned to comedy, and also explains those four laps without any misconduct, since Senna did what any driver in the lead can do, and Mansell never sought the suicidal attack, one that could lead to a collision. Mansell himself seems to accept those cheering against him. Senna, moreover, gratifies him with full esteem:
"I won because, by chance, things went wrong for Mansell or, rather, for his Williams. I won the lottery".
But then he explains how many tickets he had bought:
"Yes, I did everything to be ready to seize any gift of fate. I made the most of the start, risking a lot, to take second place from Patrese right away. I held Patrese off without ruining the tires, without stressing the engine. I paid my tax to bad luck when, on lap 66, a spin by Alboreto caused me to lose almost ten seconds. Finally I think I drove well for those four laps when Mansell was right behind me, well despite the slick tires and tired engine. Clearly in some corners I didn't follow the most orthodox line, but it's self-defence, Mansell understood that".
And Nigel Mansell did understand very well:
"Senna's car became huge in the last laps. Nothing to do about it, let's say it was the best second place of my life. I had won by then, even Senna knows that. Then on lap 71 it seemed to me that I had punctured a tire, the rear left: I had little braking, little stability. I took a chance to get to the pits without losing too much time. But then I was stopped about thirty seconds".
There is confusion on this point: Mansell speaks of a sagging tire, though the tires appear to be in order. The same cannot be said about a rim, marked by a bump, probably against a guardrail. And some time was lost as well: a wheel gun got jammed.
"I went out with Senna in front by five seconds, I did everything, broke the lap record twice, was right behind him... That's all I could do".
He says this with the pride of a wealthy citizen who pays all his taxes and something more, and thus feels the poor man’s chills, that feeling of being crushed by fate, which for once does not use its teeth just to smile at him. The race therefore had two quite different phases. The first, until lap 71, consisting of the duels behind Mansell, who had to stop, however, to replace a tyre; the second, seven laps long, with a close head-to-head between the McLaren, which took advantage of the Briton's stop by going into the lead, and the Lion's Williams, which rabidly wanted to regain its place at the top. And there was Senna’s personal triumph, the man who - for once - prevailed over the car. Mansell, however, played his role less well than usual. He got off to a perfect start and set the pace he wanted, gaining a lead that should have allowed him to win easily. With a 20-second margin over Senna in the finale, he could have rested on his laurels. But the British driver wanted to overdo it. He continued to push at a record pace, and perhaps this cost him the win. He didn't realise it (at least that's what he says, because he thought he had punctured a tire) but came back to the pits to change tires with a scratched rim, perhaps after stroking one of the track's deadly guardrails. And with this, everything is back on the table: Senna had also lost additional seconds by finding Alboreto's Footwork spun due to the pileup with Brundle in the corner before the tunnel, but was then given wings. When Mansell returned to the track, he was right behind the McLaren. But Senna, the tightrope walker, did not allow him to go any further. The Englishman would have had to cause an accident to pass. The rest of the story is mostly worth reporting for Schumacher's prowess, supported by his good Benetton. He crosses the finish line in fourth place, behind Senna, Mansell and the Italian driver. Other drivers in the points are Brunelle, author of a great chase after various misadventures, and Bertrand Gachot, who, after spending some time in jail last year on charges of assaulting a taxi driver in London, won the first point of his career. Back in the pits, Jean Alesi says nothing: the Frenchman gets into the Ferrari van, leaves after ten minutes, puts on his helmet, lowers his visor and drives away on a Vespa 50 (for which helmets are not mandatory in Italy, but are in Monaco). Through press officer Faccini, journalists learn that:
"Schumacher bumped him, trying an absurd overtake, and ruined the gearbox control unit so Jean retired because of transmission problems".
While the reporters are still confused by Alesi's escape, they see Capelli’s accident: his car climbs the guardrail. Since the accident occurred only a few metres from where the journalists are, they think the hunt for Capelli would be easier. Indeed, Ivan quickly appears in the pits, but does not speak right away either. The Italian driver talks to those in charge while the other competitors finish the race. Then he talks to reporters:
"I made a small mistake, it cost me fifth place. I hit the guardrail, a steering arm was damaged, the car became ungovernable".
Engineer Lombardi makes the drivers' versions official, and adds:
"Up until his retirement, Alesi was setting times similar to Schumacher's. The German is responsible for foul play, when the race had just started and was not heated enough to justify such animosity. Could Alesi have been more shrewd and avoided the collision? Hard question for a driver who is asked to outdo himself at every opportunity. However, we are working well, we are closer to the best cars, as the tests said and as, without bad luck, the race would have said".
Then a nice printed sheet arrives at the press room, bearing the prancing horse symbol at the top. Alesi speaks for seven lines, in which the Frenchman adds news regarding a drop in engine power due to probable damage to the injection system:
"That's why Schumacher had taken fourth place away from me".
The fault fixed itself (strategy recovery), but the gearbox stopped responding to the commands. Compared to Saturday, anxiety, anger, embarrassment, and communication difficulties have returned. In twenty-seven hours, everything has changed – that is, everything returned to the way it was. Yet there are still so many people waving (not metaphorically) the Ferrari flag. What a bad day for the Italians: Patrese third, that is, a step lower than usual, and Alboreto seventh (but the Milanese could have finished fifth, had he not been the victim of a pileup by Brundle) constitute a meagre haul. Otherwise, the only consolation for the Italians came from Minardi, whose young Christian Fittipaldi finished the race in P8. The remaining balance sheet is something of a war bulletin, a collection of horrors and breakdowns. Gianni Morbidelli was forced to start from the pits (he had struggled to qualify twelfth and was happy with the result) because of a starter motor blockage and did just two laps due to a gearbox failure. Poor Martini's Dallara planted itself against the guards at the Portier corner midway through the first lap, pushed behind the Jordan of a careless Stefano Modena. The latter then abandoned the race a few minutes later, ending up off the road in the Casino square, possibly - he says - because of a brake problem. The blameless Tarquini (engine) and De Cesaris (gearbox) also left the scene immediately. The same fate befell Brazilian Roberto Moreno, who was driving the rookie car of the Andrea Moda team from Marche. A black single-seater, with the owner all dressed in black.
"I'm almost happy. And I wasn't bored this time anyway. I was tired of finishing second, so I placed third".
Riccardo Patrese puts on a good face. The Paduan, always very fair to his team, makes no controversy. He doesn't publicly ask why Mansell once again was, on average, a second and a half per lap from him, a gap which is a little too high not to be suspicious, given that last year the Italian driver was almost always if not in front, at least very close, to the Englishman.
"I must admit that I was quite surprised when I saw Senna passing me in the Sainte Devote corner. But what could I have done? If I had kept him close we could have caused a dangerous accident. I was convinced that I would be able to regain the position anyway and then maybe see if it was possible to attack Nigel. But I quickly realised that I was not going to be able to do that. The car was difficult to drive and even got worse as time went on. So I fought back, using all my experience to not let Schumacher overtake me as well".
The German welcomes fourth place with great happiness, partly because he was racing on these roads for the first time. He makes no polemics about Alesi, perhaps because the result pleases him and the accident still saw him come out almost unscathed, if you exclude his Benetton’s slightly bent front wing:
"It was tough, but also great. Maybe I was even faster than Patrese, but it's really impossible to overtake here. I think that in the next races, especially the two we will face in Montreal and Magny-Cours, I can also return to the podium".
From Monday, most of the drivers will be on track at the new circuit where the French Grand Prix will be held on Sunday, July 5, 1992. Fondmetal is expected to test the newly finished car, designed by Argentine Sergio Rinland. Ferrari has scheduled two or three days of testing, during which Alesi and Capelli will carry on the work of fine-tuning the transverse gearbox, along with some minor mechanical and aerodynamic innovations. In short, Formula 1 allows no room for rest. And the Maranello team must find some solutions to get out of the situation it finds itself in. Finally, just to give an idea of the philosophy that animates the British, here is the sentence uttered by Ron Dennis, McLaren's manager-master to comment on the victory:
"The team finished second, but Ayrton won the race for us".
The words of Nigel Mansell, defeated with honours of war and with a mixture of luck and skill by his Brazilian rival, express feelings and situations for a race with a double face.
"For Senna this circuit is like Silverstone for me. He has won here five times, I never have. It is a great race, in which anything can happen. You have seen it. Sometimes drivers behave correctly, on other occasions they don’t. In my case, I did everything I could to be fair, and Ayrton was fair to me. Fortunately, there is only one Monaco Grand Prix a year. Otherwise I could stay at home".
On the one hand a track that often offers excitement, spectacle and uncertainty, on the other an impossible track, where overtaking is prohibitive, where circumstances can give success even to a driver with a less competitive car. A contrast that has always characterised this track made of concrete and steel, designed in the Principality, which has helped make the Monaco Grand Prix the most famous race in the world. We witness a contradiction in terms every year: the Monte Carlo circuit is absurd, because it is crazy to race at 300 km/h on everyday roads. But at the same time this pseudo-track is considered one of the safest, as the average speed isn’t high and the organisers are some of the best prepared. Drivers have a love-hate relationship with the Monaco Grand Prix. They are attracted and flattered, because driving skills still count here, and terribly opposed, because there is no margin for error, it is not possible to express oneself to the fullest, and the track is too narrow and crowded (26 cars at the start are really too many here). Ayrton Senna explains to reporters:
"Basically, I won the race with a ruse at the start. I convinced myself not to brake at the right spot, in the Sainte Devote corner, so that the Williams people wouldn't know what my intentions were. So Patrese saw me pass in front of him like a thunderbolt, unable to do anything. And afterwards, I also had to almost nail my McLaren so as not to rear-end Mansell, because the road did not allow me to overtake the Englishman. Getting second place at the start allowed me to hope. To hope that Nigel was the victim of some kind of problem. As he was. When he restarted from the pits I knew he would catch up with me immediately. The car was tired, with slick tires, I almost waited for him. I could see in the mirrors that the Englishman was driving like a fury, he looked like he was in a four-wheel drive car. But I was sure that if I didn't make any mistakes, he couldn't overtake me without causing an accident. He was fair, I thank him. Winning is the only thing I care about".
Since 1929, in fifty editions of the race, truly everything has happened. In the past the cars were narrower and slower: the problems were different, but overtaking was not impossible. There were Grand Prix with abysmal gaps and others with sprint finishes. In 1931 Chiron (Bugatti) inflicted more than 4 minutes on Fagioli (Maserati). The following year Tazio Nuvolari arrived first at the finish line, just 2 seconds ahead of German driver Caracciola; both were driving Alfa Romeo 8Cs. In more recent times, with the advent of modern Formula 1, the public has been able to witness gripping trials, sometimes even dramatic.
In 1950 Fangio, still in an Alfa Romeo, left Alberto Ascari a lap behind after the race had been stopped on the first lap due to a collision that eliminated nine cars at the Tabac corner. The same happened in 1955. Fangio suffered several fractures by driving his Mercedes into a railing, and Ascari even flew into the sea. The blackest day was in 1967, with Lorenzo Bandini's burning Ferrari, which ended up off the track at the chicane while the physically exhausted Italian was chasing Hulme's Brabham. We still recall a sprint win by Scheckter (Wolf) over Lauda (Ferrari) in 1977. Another race won by the same South African driver (who had moved to Ferrari) in 1979 over Regazzoni (Williams) by 0.044 seconds. An incredible success by Patrese in 1982, with his rivals retiring in the last laps. And if it rains, the difficulties increase. Beltoise, who led from start to finish in 1972 in the Matra, a victory by Prost (McLaren) in 1984 over rookie Senna (Toleman). That day, race director Jacky Ickx stopped the race before the end: the Brazilian was catching up to the Frenchman. In 1990 Senna was able to resist the attacks of a rookie, a certain Jean Alesi driving the Tyrrell. The track evidently lends itself to the talents of the Brazilian, who equaled Graham Hill's record of successes (five) here. A question remains, however. The spectacle may be guaranteed (as in other tight circuits, for example, Budapest, and old Jarama). But is it fair, is it sportsmanlike? If you don't pass, the weaker one, the one who gets lucky, can win. The only real skill is not to make mistakes. There, perhaps that is the only secret of Monaco. A circuit that rewards intelligence rather than pure courage. Moving on to other topics, the latest reports indicate that Honda would remain in Formula 1 for next year as well. This decision would solve all the problems of McLaren, the team most affected by the hypothesised abandonment of the Japanese constructors. Ayrton Senna himself could stay with Ron Dennis's team, provided that offers from Ferrari and Williams are not so tempting as to convince him to leave McLaren.