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#515 1991 Japanese Grand Prix

2023-01-09 23:00

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#1991, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Alice Simonin,

#515 1991 Japanese Grand Prix

On Thursday, 3 October 1991, Nigel Mansell sets the fastest time (1'15"13) in the tests performed on the Estoril circuit, with the Williams equipped w

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On Thursday, 3 October 1991, Nigel Mansell sets the fastest time (1'15"13) in the tests performed on the Estoril circuit, with the Williams equipped with the active suspension, ahead of Patrese and development driver Damon Hill. Alain Prost sets the fourth fastest time (1'16"95) and completes numerous laps with his Ferrari. In the meantime, on the Portuguese circuit, declarations from Ayrton Senna (absent) arrive and sound like a threat: 

 

"Mansell takes too many risks because he has nothing to lose. In the next race, I'll also go back to the fearless driver of before".

 

On Friday, 4 October 1991, the Formula 1 tests ended with Willams (Martin Brundle and Damon Hill) and McLaren (Gerhard Berger and Emanuele Pirro) at the top of the timesheet. Ferrari works with Prost, who when asked about the future, answers:

 

"For 1992, I have a contract with Ferrari, talk with the mechanics".

 

To resist the Williams superiority in these last two races, McLaren produces a new nose, improving the aerodynamics and the balance of the car, but Shell and Honda also help improving the performance of the car: the Dutch bring a new fuel, which guarantees greater performances, and Honda tests a new engine with Emanuele Pirro, former development driver now present in Formula 1 with Scuderia Italia. The Japanese technicians asked the Italian driver to do the impossible: driving like Senna, that is to say changing gear 0.05 seconds before the breaking point of the engine, a crazy thing. But on the other hand, Pirro is already used to testing and developing the Honda engine, by tracing what is the manic drive of Senna, like for example the famous telegraph in corners, that is to say the opening of the throttle in very fast parts through the corners. This circumstance requires special mapping, different from his teammates. Meanwhile, at Ferrari, it is decided that Alain Prost will use the spare car in Suzuka, which has been mounted with high level exhausts, just like Alesi had already tested them in Barcelona, given that this is the best solution that the engineers have found to increase the grip and the handling of the car, especially in the tormented circuits like the Japanese one. Except that on Tuesday, 15 October 1991, at the moment when he boarded the plane that would take him to Tokyo, Alain was sent an urgent message from his managers and advisers. The story with Ferrari has finally come to an end. A consensual separation, which allows Alain Prost and Ferrari to get out of this long and painful coexistence - at least as far as 1991 is concerned - without any loss. The agreement provides for an immediate separation, to allow Ferrari to immediately test the driver intended to replace Alain Prost in 1992, that is to say Ivan Capelli, who having already been freed from the commitments with Leyton House finds himself without a seat for these last two Grand Prix. But while everyone is travelling to Suzuka with these programs, here in Maranello the Ferrari leaders change their minds for the umpteenth time: no consensual separation. They were all ready to end this short but intense marriage when chairman Fusaro's arm was raised to give his veto, feeling very impressed by this affair. It was him who wanted Alain Prost, it was him who defended him in difficult times, it was him who sacrificed Cesare Fiorio, it was him who justified even the most unfair accusations that the Frenchman occasionally launches through journalists. Now, however, even from Turin, and more specifically from Fiat, chairman Fusaro is left to his own choices:

 

"You hired him, now you deal with it".

 

However, Prost declares:

 

"Wait, what else do I have to do? It's Ferrari that has to speak".

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And so, on Wednesday, 16 October 1991, the convoy of Formula 1 arrives in Japan for what could be the final act of the World Championship, living hours of great tension, in the final stages towards the world championship title. Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell will face each other in the penultimate round of the championship, even if the advantage is almost all on the Brazilian's side: a 16-point lead would allow him to race while saving energy. After all, he only needs five points (in the two races that remain) to protect himself from any attack. Not to forget that his rival is forced to win in order to continue to hope. Any trouble and it is over for the Englishman. But the events of the last few races have deteriorated the relationship between the two contenders. Ayrton Senna accused Nigel Mansell of being very reckless, and Mansell did not wait to be begged to say that if there is a bad driver, it is the Brazilian. In short, the dispute is open. Reason why everything will be possible on the track, as the McLaren champion says that now he will be the usual driver again, aggressive and unwilling to undergo. Tempers are running high. And the Suzuka racetrack is suitable for certain prohibited games. In the past two years, the title has been claimed right here, amid a thousand controversies. Prost and Senna opened the self-confrontation festival. In 1989, the Frenchman kindly accompanied his teammate at the time on a run-off area, and won the title. During last season, the Brazilian returned the blow, flat-out, crashing into Alain Prost at the first corner right after the start and won the World Championship like that. What will happen this time? Mansell has no choice. He has to win, thus he will be forced to open his eyes well if he wants to extend the duel until the following race in Australia. Only the current Williams superiority works in his favour. Senna, however, has nothing to lose in case of a crash, except his credibility. Ferrari could also have an important role if it will reaffirm the small progresses noticed in Barcelona. Possible good position finishes for Prost and Alesi could work in favour of Mansell, taking away crucial points from Senna. A success, however, would give the title to the Brazilian driver.


"Don't ask me about the future. If you want, I can talk about the past and the race". 

 

Alain Prost presents himself in Suzuka, at the usual drivers' press conference ahead of each round of the Formula One World Championship, keeping the silence on the most awaited topics, that is, the status of the relationship with Ferrari. Someone qualifies it as the endless and undefinable story. But just before the official meeting, in a restaurant, in front of a curry rice dish, Prost lets himself go a little bit. A kind of heart-to-heart interview. To tell his own truths, obviously. Here they are. These days, there have been new allegations. An agreement with the Maranello team would have been reached to lead to consensual separation, without paying any penalty fee for the driver who is leaving and for the team. Is it true? In fact, the lawyers had found an agreement. 

 

"The decisions should have been communicated on Friday (October 11th), then on Monday (October 14th). At this point, I was calm. However, nothing: Ferrari changed their mind obviously. At a certain point, the hypothesis according to which I wouldn't even dispute the last two rounds was even mentioned. I heard it while I was going to get on the plane. But here I am, ready to do my duty". 

 

Why have you come to this point? 

 

"This is not the Ferrari I was dreaming about, the one I wanted. I think I'm useless for such a team, they can easily do without my contribution". 

 

What is not working? 

 

"I already explained it more than once. A single person with full authority is needed. A manager who must have a term of office during a reasonable time to then give an account to the owner. This doesn't exist. There are too many people in charge". 

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For example?

 

"Here it is. There is a technician of the value of Steve Nichols who should make the car for 1992. He works in Maranello and someone does the meetings without him, without first consulting him, as if he was a foreign element. There is an expert in aerodynamics whose name is Jean-Claude Migeot. They are using him as a race engineer, I don't think it's his job. And there are a thousand other problems that we all know about, that you know and that they know. Just to come back to something of the past, I want to make it clear that it wasn't me that asked for the dismissal of Cesare Fiorio, at least not in that way. Cesare paid for tensions within the team. But I would have kept him until the end of the season". 

 

Is there any chance, however, that Prost could stay at Ferrari? 

 

"In theory, nothing is left out. But it would be necessary to change many, perhaps too many things. I already said that with an engineer like Claudio Lombardi at the top, there would be positive solutions. However, I don't think it will come to that. Which is why…". 

 

So, a sharp divorce?

 

"Let's take it slow. I have a signed contract for 1992. I'm not the one who wants to retire, that's clear". 

 

In any case, what would be the possible solutions? 

 

"A lot has been said about Ligier. But it is not on my path at this time. If I had to look for a job interesting for me and it couldn't be found, I would be forced to take a break to reflect. However, this doesn't mean that I'd like to stop for a year, actually. But it is said that there are issues regarding money. Money is important for those who make a job like mine where, among other things, there are also some risks. But it's not everything. And for that matter, I think I'm still able to work out a decent deal no matter what". 

 

To end this conversation, are there any chances of seeing Prost next year still driving a car from Maranello? 

 

"I signed a contract. If they don't want me, they have to let me know clearly. An agreement can be found".

 

On Thursday, 17 October 1991, the rain pours down on Suzuka, threatening - if it continues - the unfolding of the Japanese Grand Prix, but tempers remain hot. The fight came to the final stages. And, precisely at the moment that could be decisive, Ayrton Senna finds, in full service, a very valuable ally. Here, in the duel between the Brazilian and his great rival Nigel Mansell, reappears Gerhard Berger, the trusty teammate who, in the past, had already greatly facilitated the plans of his most famous teammate. Indeed, on Friday, 18 October 1991, the Austrian sets the fastest time in the first round of qualifying of the Japanese Grand Prix. The Austrian sets a time of 1'36"458, at an average speed of 218.856 km/h, signing the new record of the circuit, even if the comparisons with the past are difficult because the track was slightly changed with a modification to the famous chicane (scene of the crash between Prost and Senna two years ago). But this is not the news that matters. In fact, Senna expects a lot from the help of Berger who could, even winning the race, exclude Mansell from the fight for the victory of the World Championship. And Berger does not have to be asked twice:

 

"Finally, I'm free to race at my best and I'm convinced to be able to win it. It would be a great satisfaction for me to manage to get a win, the first with McLaren after three years of races". 

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But by no means the British challenger gives up. With his Williams, the moustached Nigel will try everything to carry on the fight until the last race, in two weeks in Adelaide, in Australia. 

 

"I don't see why I should give up right now. I still have a good opportunity, that of winning the race hoping that Senna doesn't qualify himself at the second place, otherwise everything would be finished. It's true that Berger can help the South American, but it is equally true that Patrese will be able to help me out to try to take away crucial points from my rival". 

 

Regarding Ferrari, the first round of qualifying ended without glory and without infamy, as usual. Riccardo Patrese is in difficulty and gets into a crash without consequence, a basic spin but just at the moment during which he was trying to make the best of his soft tyres for qualifying, Alain Prost and Jean Alesi respectively qualify themselves in P4 and P5, about a one-second gap from the McLarens, preceded by the Williams of Mansell. Prost says he is mildly satisfied with the car, even if he does not see significant progress. At the end of the sessions, Alain Prost finally reveals something about his future, stating that he will not be racing for Ligier next year: 

 

"I can only tell you, a hundred percent, that I won't be in that team". 

 

But this does not exclude that he can decide to take a break for a year, doing the manager for then coming back behind the wheel of a racing car in 1993. In any case, we will see: now, without escape, his days at Ferrari seem to be counted. Jean Alesi, more optimistic, brings himself at only 0.2 seconds from his teammate and says that the car really pleases him at this moment and that he could do a good race. The Sicilian-born French driver is doing everything he can to show off and end the season in the best way possible, so as to earn the confirmation he had for next year in Maranello. Alesi has no doubt: 

 

"I've been told and told again that an exchange with a driver from Williams or from another team could be done. But I came to Ferrari for love, and I also lost tons of money. I intend to stay around for as long as possible. And you'll see that the results will come sooner or later".

 

Great performance from the young Bologna driverAlessandro Zanardi, in his second Formula 1 race, with Jordan, in P7, way ahead of his more experienced teammate De Cesaris, who qualified in P14. Saturday, however, could change everything, because on Friday there is sunshine and the track got cleaned up a lot. There are also crashes, very spectacular, and one sadly also serious: the protagonist is the twenty-seven-year-old Eric Bernard, from France, who goes off track with his Lola-Larrousse. The Frenchman finishes against the peak wall and stays inside the cockpit, from where he is extracted by the rescue men who quickly arrive on the scene. The driver is taken first to the infirmary and then to the hospital where, after thorough examinations, it is found that he has a bad fracture to the left ankle. For him obviously the season has come to an end, but his future is also in jeopardy because he was not one of the most wanted drivers. Crashes without consequences, instead, for Michael Schumacher, Pierluigi Martini and the rookie Karl Wendlinger. The drivers' market remains one of the major problems in Formula 1 and Max Mosley, the newly elected president of the FISA, says that he will try to also take care of this during his declaration of intent. And while he talks, nearby, after the crash against a wall of the twenty-seven-year-old French Eric Bernard giving him an open fracture to the left ankle and after his transfer to the hospital, there is already a mediator. The man presents himself to the manager of Lola-Larrousse, the team of the unfortunate Bernard, to ask if there is a free seat, given that he would have a young racer with a suitcase full of dollars. Among other things, there are several changes in the line-up of the drivers, the most notable being that of the Leyton House, which leaves Ivan Capelli free and replaces him with the young Austrian driver Karl Wendlinger. The AGS team, which ran out of money, did not make the trip to Japan, while Coloni recruited the local driver Naoki Hattori for the race. Finally, Johnny Herbert returns to the wheel of the Lotus after having missed a few races in the second half of the season, due to the commitments of the Japanese Formula 3000.

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On Saturday, 19 October 1991, there is no follow-up, for now, to Alain Prost's statements about Ferrari. They let it be known from Maranello that there would be no answer. A classic no comment, not to escalate the situation while the Japanese Grand Prix is being disputed. So here we are at the day of reckoning. On Sunday, 20 October 1991, Ayrton Senna, Brazilian, 31 years old, and Nigel Mansell, thirty-eight-year-old Englishman, faced each other on the track of Suzuka (53 laps amounting to 310.527 kilometres), with the World Championship title at stake. It is not a boxing match but it is the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix. A race, however, that looks like a match and that could end up not at the points (of the standings) but with some crashes. For the race, scheduled at 1:00 p.m., many people arrive in Suzuka already during the day of Saturday, and will spend the dark, composed and silent hours as it is in the habits of a population who dislikes the noise and adores the discipline. A huge crowd: the organisers allocated 300.000 tickets per draw for the three days of tests and race after having written requests for a million coupons. The type of rule imposed on the public is commendable: only cars with at least four passengers can access the facility, with the aim of not disturbing traffic. Facing the crowded grandstands, Ayrton Senna will have a better chance of winning the match, that is to say his third world champion helmet. The Brazilian has a favourable environment, given that the Brazilian is idolised from around here, has a competitive car and a teammate ready to help him in every way. On the practical level too, the driver from São Paulo has great and well-known advantages: in order to postpone the question of the title to the next race, the Australian one, Mansell will have to win hoping that Senna will not immediately finish behind him. A second place for the Englishman could be enough only if the Brazilian does not take any point. And who still believes that? Without forgetting about Berger, who will be able to have a double role of ally for Ayrton. 

 

"I'll try to win like this, we'll all be happy. Otherwise, I'll put myself aside to help my friend gain a position". 

 

Poor Nigel will have no choice but to throw himself into the mess, with the condition of not falling into some bad trap like going off the track or, even worse, in some undesirable game of self-confrontation. It should also be noted that McLaren and Honda have gone to great lengths to roll out a red velvet carpet on Ayrton Senna's path: the English team has unleashed aerodynamic and mechanical improvements, the Japanese company has provided revised and corrected engines for the umpteenth time, lighter and more powerful. Not to mention that Shell has even prepared a new fuel. All things kept carefully hidden to aim for the triumph, on the circuit that can be considered home. A revenge for the wins on this track of Benetton-Ford in the last two years and Ferrari in 1988. In Suzuka, in the hours preceding the Japanese Grand Prix, there is a lot of talk about Ferrari and its problems, as usual. No trial, just facts and considerations. On Saturday, Jean Alesi is furious. He blames Flavio Briatore, the Benetton manager, because he has fired his friend Nelson Piquet. But the Frenchman is above all angered because it has been speculated that he will move away from Ferrari to make way for the emerging Michael Schumacher. So Claudio Lombardi is forced to intervene, to reiterate that Alesi will be the driver of Ferrari in 1992, as per contract. Well, the fact remains that Alesi has not been able to express himself to the fullest this year, disappointing those who believed in him being a phenomenon: to make up, he will have to manage to contain himself. In the meantime, Alain Prost repeats what he had stated the previous day, adding that the story with the team from Maranello is not over yet. In essence, the question remains more or less in the same terms. He would like to leave, breaking the contract he signed with Ferrari, without paying fines. The Italian team, for its part, is tired of the statements of the three-time World Champion, sometimes even fair and justifiable but often manipulated. And they would be willing to end the talk on equal terms. But it will not be easy: the Frenchman does not want to risk a bad impression with Ligier and he has no other opportunities. Perhaps he still hopes for an exchange with Riccardo Patrese at Williams or for the retirement of Nigel Mansell. However, in practice, he still has two options: either taking a break for a year or staying where he is. In the second hypothesis, the management of the relationship, already deteriorated, will be really problematic. Moreover, there is no doubt that Ferrari has made a lot of mistakes this year. An old car, a continuous pursuit with terrible worries. And they never really got close to McLaren and Williams. Thus, they have to bet everything on next year, at least on the technical side. Lombardi explains:

 

"The new single-seater is at an advanced stage of designing. Nothing revolutionary, because in Formula 1 we must always start from concrete bases. But I can only tell you that this is not going to be an ordinary car. I can't say more. Steve Nichols, under the supervision of engineer Castelli who is the technical director, is carrying on the studies and we will soon move to the execution phase. The very fact that Nichols, with whom Migeot also collaborates for aerodynamics, is doing this work means that he has the intention to stay with us". 

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The very difficult task of engineer Claudio Lombardi is above all that of coordinating the forces of Ferrari, which are not few. But he has yet to find collaborators to relieve him of certain tasks that make him waste valuable time, and sometimes even peace of mind. Stress can explain certain attitudes. But in Formula 1, nothing is forgiven: when inquiries are made, it is pointless to take on the role of those who are entering a supermarket to see if there is any interesting news. Nor is there any point in denying the evidence. On Sunday, 20 October 1991, at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, Gerhard Berger takes the lead, while Ayrton Senna blocks Mansell, just as the Englishman had done in Portugal against the Brazilian driver. In the meantime, the race of Jean Alesi already ends during the first lap around a cloud of smoke, because of the explosion of the engine of his Ferrari. The Frenchman is betrayed by the overheating caused by a too long stop on the grid. At the end of the first lap, the order of the grid sees Gerhard Berger leading the race, followed by Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Riccardo Patrese and Alain Prost. On lap 2, a huge crash occurs when Andrea De Cesaris, squeezed by Morbidelli (who the Roman had already overtaken), is the victim of a spin with his Jordan, and the resulting accident unintentionally involves Karl Wendlinger, Emanuele Pirro and J.J. Lehto. In the following laps, Gerhard Berger continues his race at a fast pace, while Ayrton Senna keeps blocking Nigel Mansell. Both McLarens go on the run, with the Austrian in the role of the hare and Senna in the one of the stopper against Mansell. A situation that the Englishman cannot stand and that leads him to make a fatal mistake, at the beginning of lap 10, also complicating the defective operation of the brakes of the Williams. And from this moment there is no more chance for the rivals of the Brazilian driver, not only in the fight for the world title, since after 15 minutes of racing Ayrton Senna is already mathematically World Champion, but also for the single win of the Grand Prix. With Riccardo Patrese immediately off as his car is slower than his rivals' one; with the Ferrari far away and with Alain Prost busy driving a malfunctioning car, the race lives on only one uncertainty: would Senna leave the success to Gerhard Berger for once? With Nigel Mansell's off-track, Ayrton Senna starts setting lap records until he catches up the nearly 12-second gap from Berger and overtakes him on lap 18. But towards the end of the race, Ron Dennis reminds Ayrton Senna via radio that the final part of the daily program consists of the win of the Austrian driver, as a thank you for the help given throughout the whole season. But Ayrton answers saying he does not hear the radio messages well:

 

"Please, repeat, please, repeat".

 

The Brazilian, however, does not break the agreements and simply jokes with Ron Dennis. So much so that at 300 metres from the finish line, the McLaren driver answers:

 

"Yes, ok, ok".

 

And he lets Gerhard Berger past him, moving away from the ideal trajectory and voluntarily braking. Well, the great Ayrton has also a heart. He just slaughtered his teammate morally: he overtook him in the tyre changes, he pulled him, he ridiculed him, he teased him, he starved him while awaiting sentencing. And on the final lap, on the last kilometre, the king of Formula 1 gracefully stepped his foot off the throttle. In the post-race, Gerhard will be unhappy with this move, and the English team will be embarrassed, but the Brazilian, with his happiness, finally brings everyone together. Ayrton Senna is the World Champion for the third time. Only behind the great Juan Manuel Fangio, five-time World Champion. But in the company of mythical names of motorsport: Brabham, Stewart, Lauda, Piquet and Prost. And ahead of people like Ascari, Graham Hill, Clark and Fittipaldi. Ayrton Senna has achieved his goal, one race before the end of the season. In a circuit crowded to capacity, perhaps 300.000 people present, in Japan that considers him an idol, the Brazilian has done another of his masterpieces. He succeeded in achieving all the goals he had set himself. He took revenge for alleged injustices he had suffered on this track in recent years; he ridiculed contender Nigel Mansell; he destroyed the image of his enemy Balestre by attacking the French executive already defeated in recent elections for the presidency of the FISA; he made a magnanimous gesture, giving the win in the race to his teammate Berger; he dealt another serious blow to the pride of his great rival Prost, forced to run behind the group of the best in a Ferrari always in difficulty. Nice and ruthless. An angel that hides the soul of a devil. 

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His vocation is strange: to take away the energies of those who try to obstruct him in an attempt to become the best of all time. All this in a race that was basically boring, finished at the beginning of the tenth lap, just when Mansell, in an attempt to attack the McLaren #1, in that now famous corner that follows the straight of the pits, flew off the track, in the dust, between car fragments and insults of the English driver. A perfect tactic, however, orchestrated with wise direction. Nigel Mansell has once again lost the World Drivers' Championship, but he certainly wins the World Sportsmanship's Championship. The Englishman is actually the first to wait for Ayrton Senna in the parc fermé, to raise his arm, to congratulate him. All this to dismiss the recent controversies and accusations that the Brazilian had again repeated against him on Saturday. As far as the off-track was concerned, it was the result of a race behaviour that was sometimes too generous and therefore also naive. He had to win and tried his best. 

 

"It was a breeze. Senna braked a little bit before. I didn't see it coming. I had to widen and, in turn, try to slow down the car. I broke down and went off. Unfortunately, the brakes have never worked well during this weekend. The Brazilian was thinking of blocking me to scare Berger away. I had to try to immediately overtake him, otherwise I wouldn't have reached the Austrian. It was a predictable tactic, but it wasn't a dirty game. I lost the World Championship, but I am motivated because I've understood that I can fight for the title and I'll try again in 1992". 

 

Certainly, when you throw away certain results it is difficult to aim high with hopes of achieving the goal. And the Englishman has already thrown away too many opportunities in his career. Riccardo Patrese, who reached the eighth podium since the beginning of the championship, is more straightforward: 

 

"What can I say? This time there was little to do with McLaren. When Berger slowed down, I thought I could reach Senna. He went away like a splinter. They've improved a lot, perhaps we stayed stationary. In any case this season, though still punctuated by several strokes of bad luck, was my best season. And there's still a chance in Adelaide. The story of Ferrari, of the exchange with Prost? I repeat it, I don't know anything, I am a Williams driver. Maybe there are talks at the top, but nobody tells me anything". 

 

A denial, but also - for the first time - a half acknowledgement of a probable negotiation to bring him to Maranello. It is a very complicated operation and difficult to solve. But you never know. Another bitter day for Ferrari. Prost's fourth place one minute and twenty seconds from the winner, thus almost lapped, is not enough to save the day. Bad tests, bad race, abysmal, serious gaps. The technical director, engineer Lombardi, does not manage to hide, bitter, the delusion, after having considered the situation for a long time: 

 

"With Alesi, we could have done well, still better. His car had been competitive during the formation. Unfortunately, the engine collapsed. Prost probably had problems with the steering box. We were nowhere close". 

 

These explanations, although laconic, contain a clarification towards Jean Alesi, who does not hesitate to waive from any responsibility. 

 

"It's the fault of the race director who took too long to turn on the green light at the start. The temperature of my engine increased and then I drove a little over three corners. Let's hope the FISA is careful about these things: if the person in charge of the start is not good enough, you can always change. The season has now ended, we must work. I intend to work very hard this winter. No holiday. I'll do it in ten years when I stop racing". 

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Alain Prost, as usual, does not mince his words to talk about the race and what happened: 

 

"The chassis wasn't right, the steering was very hard, I was turning the wheel to the left and the car tended to go right. I felt like I was a truck driver. The usual problems of shock absorbers. It's no fun to drive like this. Perhaps it will be a bit better in Australia. When such a season ends, it can't help but please. Regarding Senna, he deserved the title. But don't tell me he's now taking his blame for last year's crash. I knew that very well, because I was on the spot. In any case, I've already been screwed during the 1983 World Championship, when Brabham won thanks to an illegal fuel. It belongs to the past, we forget all this, because it's useless to think about it again. Regarding my future, you know what the situation is. I announced that I won't drive for Ligier. Reason why if I'll still be in business I'll do it in the car and for the team of which I am currently a part of". 

 

At the end of the race, Ayrton Senna first went wild on the track, pulling a Brazilian flag out of the cockpit as soon as he passed the finish line. Then, on the podium, it was followed by the usual scenes of wild champagne. Afterwards, there is the dutiful visit to the widow of Soichiro Honda, the founder of the eponymous car company who passed away a few months ago, to whom the Brazilian gives the trophy won and says:

 

"Today, up in heaven, he will be happy". 

 

But in the middle of the celebration, Ayrton Senna performs an incredible monologue. A speech of unprecedented violence. An accusation against Jean-Marie Balestre and the Federation and, at the same time, a kind of liberating self-denunciation. All this among a thousand sighs, pauses and questions, with a drawn face, an inspired, almost ascetic act, as if it was not Senna the driver who was speaking, but a wise man charged with carrying out a mission. A series of pronouncements that could also cause him serious trouble, from a heavy fine to the suspension of his driver's licence, up to the lawsuit. In essence, Ayrton Senna once again attacked Jean-Marie Balestre, pointing him out as the architect of his defeat in 1989 and as the indirect responsible of the following year's crash, when the McLaren driver hit Prost's Ferrari, winning his second title. And for the first time, after denying the hypothesis for a whole year, he spectacularly admits of having deliberately provoked the impact that allowed him to eliminate his rival. Perhaps Senna thinks he is above the parties, unassailable and immune, a pure man who fights for Justice. But let's take things in order. 

 

"It was an amazing win, the most beautiful championship since I'm in Formula 1. A fight to the utmost, sportive and technical. I achieved the goal because at the beginning of the season, despite not having the best car, I was able to win four races because of Williams' unreliability. Then, I did a good job in Hungary and at Spa, the two crucial moments. Berger and I pushed the team, Honda and Shell to do their best. It took some time to recover, but here we gave the decisive blow. During the race, we had studied a certain tactic. But Mansell made things easier for us. When I saw him ending up off track, I felt as though a weight was lifted from me. I had done the last races saving energy. So I went wild. I managed to reach Berger and to overtake him. In the final stages, I was expecting an order from the pits, via radio. But I only heard creaks. A lap went by, then another, and I didn't know what to do. I also had to think about the Constructors' World Championship. In the end, I understood that I owed Gerhard a win, he has done a lot for me, he's a friend and a motivation. Thus, I decided to let him pass. He deserved it".

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Then, tightening his voice, Ayrton Senna continues:

 

"Just like I had to win the title in 1989. Instead, they stole it from me. It was Balestre, for a political reason that you all know. I had won here in Suzuka after the crash with Prost, when he had forced me off track. They stopped me, while I was going on the podium, to disqualify me. I had a hellish winter. But I never apologised to Balestre. McLaren and Honda did it. I could neither forgive nor forget. The following year, still in Japan, they tried to screw me over again. I've been through hell to take the pole position. It was known that the author of the best time had to start from the right part of the track, the clean one. Instead, Balestre forced me to stand on the other side, where the asphalt is dirty. And I thought to myself, no one on the first corner will stand in front of me, because it's immoral. Prost was quick at the start and I hit him. Mine was only a small contribution but the responsible was not Ayrton Senna. I had to do it, because I was pursuing justice. I had neatly worked, we are professionals, sometimes we also risk our lives. I made it clear that the time was over to say: yes thanks, it had to happen".

 

Maybe he even has a point. But what must Ferrari and Alain Prost say now? We have to wait because now everyone is going on vacation for a few days. Good and bad, promoted and rejected. Looking forward to the last race, the one of Sunday, 3 November 1991, in Australia, where they will race with less psychological pressure (even if McLaren and Williams are still fighting for the Constructors' World Championship), the drivers spread across the vast archipelago of islands between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Ayrton Senna will spend his time on some beaches soaking up the sun, without forgetting a thorough physical preparation which is also at the base of his consistent race performance. The Brazilian leaves Suzuka with his third world title claimed in four seasons, asserting himself at the age of thirty-one as the youngest driver to have reached three world championships. But above all, the champion liberated himself from all the burdens he used to carry with him. He strongly accused Jean-Marie Balestre of having robbed him of a success in 1989 and admitted a little too candidly that he went kamikaze last year when he forced the Ferrari of Prost off the track in Suzuka. His words are very violent, which may also have serious repercussions and make his life difficult. Even if it is true that Balestre is no longer president of the FISA, having been replaced by Max Mosley, he is still the top executive of the FIA. Senna probably forgot caution in his argument against injustice (seen from one side only). What would happen now if Balestre himself were to ask for some disciplinary action against the South American driver, such as a fine or, even worse, a suspension of his licence? Will the sports authorities have the courage to attack the World Champion? It is possible that the controversy surrounding the affair triggered the first serious conflict between the FIA and the FISA (which is the sports emanation of the Federation itself). Ayrton Senna with his accusations, criticism, and admission of having voluntarily committed misconduct certainly violated the regulations. Perhaps he did so on purpose, seeking a reaction, to put Balestre in more trouble than he is right now after his failed re-election to direct management of the sport activity. A way like others to try to get him definitively out of the way, to complete his revenge. Among other things, since it was the Japanese federation that led the revolt in favour of Max Mosley, it is likely that in the conspiracy against Jean-Marie Balestre there was the push of Ayrton Senna, who enjoys a great deal of credit in Tokyo. From the tracks, thus, we move on to the corridors of the FISA headquarters in Place de la Concorde in Paris, perhaps in the offices of the lawyers and perhaps even in court. And Ayrton Senna risks having to somehow pay for what he arguably considered an act of courage and justice, which does not see him entirely on the side of reason.


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