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#505 1991 Canadian Grand Prix

2023-01-20 22:51

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#1991, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#505 1991 Canadian Grand Prix

Turning point at Ferrari. After four races of the Formula 1 World Championship that revealed a deep crisis, after so many rumours, after the strange s

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Turning point at Ferrari. After four races of the Formula 1 World Championship that revealed a deep crisis, after so many rumours, after the strange silence that followed the meeting of the Board of Directors on Tuesday, 14 May 1991, two days later, Thursday, 16 May 1991, at 4:00 p.m., a public announcement is issued from Maranello announcing radical changes. In a certain sense, it is a return to the past because, among other measures, Piero Ferrari, the son of the late manufacturer Enzo, who had worked in the team in his father's shadow for more than twenty years, is named at the head of the racing team. The manoeuvre, evidently approved - if not desired - by the top management of the Fiat Group, has a precise aim: to restore serenity to Ferrari itself, to rediscover cohesion, to set precise programmes for the present and the future, to put an end to an impasse. In short, a break with all the polemics of recent months, to try to overcome the crisis problems that were undoubtedly gripping the most prestigious team in the automotive world. The choices made - which will be discussed later - are in a certain sense technical and political. On the one hand they wanted, with Piero Ferrari, to recreate the family atmosphere that had been the basis of so many successes, and on the other to divide the many onerous tasks that a single manager, not even a manager of Cesare Fiorio's competence and ability, could take on alone in these times of ruthless competition. It is not the first time, moreover, that traumatic solutions have been taken at Ferrari. Sports directors, technicians and drivers have come and gone at a steady pace. We must remember among the best known, in the past, Tavoni and Chiti, and more recently Forghieri and Barnard. But here is the chronology of events in recent hours. Signed by the Press Office, this is the text on the decisions made: 

 

"The Board of Directors of Ferrari in its meeting of 14 May, on the proposal of the President, entrusted the Vice President Piero Ferrari with the responsibility of Sports Management with the relative powers. It appointed Claudio Lombardi as Director of Sport Management. It also entrusted the board member Marco Piccinini with the task of coordinating relations with the Sports Authority and International Organisations. Finally, the Board of Directors expressed its thanks to Dr. Cesare Fiorio for his activity as Head of Sports Management".

 

The public announcement was followed by a short statement from Ferrari president Piero Fusaro: 

 

"I express my particular appreciation for Cesare Fiorio's commitment during these two years at Ferrari. Now is the time when, in addition to improving the competitiveness of our cars for this championship, we have to set the plans for 1992. I therefore believe it is necessary to increase the technical weight of the team with the contribution of specific professionalism. This is the reason for the organisational choice of Claudio Lombardi and Piero Ferrari". 

 

Engaged in a series of tests at Magny-Cours, Alain Prost says: 

 

"I know very well who will replace Fiorio, but I don't have a lot to say about this change. If Fiorio no longer occupies that position there must be a reason. There has never been any personal conflict between Fiorio and myself. However, as I have already said, if he no longer occupies that post there must be a reason. Now we have to do our best to regain the serenity to work well and become competitive again at the highest level. I continue to believe in Ferrari's potential and I think we can get back to winning soon. However, it is clear that this is a difficult team for a driver to digest. There are too many external pressures. I know the men who will now be working alongside me well. And even if it will be difficult to give one hundred percent right away, we will at least go fifty-fifty". 

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The addition of Claudio Lombardi, a pure technician with considerable experience gained with Lancia in Rallying and with Alfa Romeo in Formula Indy, to the team management was intended to put an end to the diatribes between Alain Prost and the team and to the internal quarrels that had occurred. The competence of the engineer from Alessandria is above the parties. The skills of engineers such as Steve Nichols, who hitherto seemed to be an outsider, can thus be exploited to the full. For everyone involved, however, there is now a chance to make up ground. Alain Prost himself, if it is true that he has won his battle against Fiorio (to whom he has never forgiven, above all, the fact that he did not manage Mansell in the last championship in the disgraceful Grand Prix of Portugal when the Englishman, by winning, practically took away his chance to fight for the World Championship) will now have to roll up his sleeves. For him too, with the new management, there will be no more excuses. And miracles are not expected either. To return to winning ways, barring unpredictable reversals, it will be necessary to grit one's teeth. Everything needs time to grow and in Formula 1 nothing is invented in a short time. However, as it was serenity that was lacking at Maranello in particular, there is now a chance to make a fresh start. There are more than two weeks to go before the next Canadian Grand Prix to come up with new energy in the face of Ayrton Senna and his impregnable McLaren. It is the most difficult test to pass. On Friday, 17 May 1991, twenty-four hours later, the revolution at Maranello begins to look like an earthquake in which the damage and victims are counted. 

 

Piero finds himself once again at the head of a troika and risks getting his fingers burnt again. If it was easy to make Fiorio pay for all the faults (even those not his own), it is difficult now to envision the future of Ferrari after this earthquake. On Friday, Piero Ferrari holds his first summit, introducing engineer Lombardi to the whole technical staff, and those who know the man's character and gallantry are convinced that he will have used the right words with everyone. But the new commander of Ferrari knows very well that behind the smiles there still lurk many dissatisfactions and confusions. There are technicians who expected at least some gratification and who have instead been passed over. Others who have long been singled out as guilty of technical nefariousness. Still others are not sure what they do. And finally there are the strange games of a driver who also wants to be in charge and who has brought the team into disrepute. In the next few days, Enzo Ferrari's office, closed since 14 August 1988, the day of his death, is once again occupied. Behind the desk with the large wooden shelf, on which there is still the fountain pen with the purple ink that the constructor liked to use, is his son Piero, the new head of the racing team. But in the morning of Wednesday, 22 May 1991, Piero Ferrari leaves the office for a quick blitz at Imola, where Ferrari is engaged in a series of tests. Also in the pits is engineer Claudio Lombardi. What are the plans of the Maranello team's new managers? And, as far as Piero Ferrari is concerned, what does it mean to be in charge of the team again? 

 

"I am worried, but also happy. After twenty-three years of work, I have not been forgotten. It is clear that everything from now on will be different and difficult. When my father was here, we all followed his wishes. Now I and those with me will have to make decisions. I hope I can live up to the situation". 

 

What was wrong with Ferrari?

 

"It is a problem to answer this question. Until now I saw things from the outside, like you do. After three years, I think it is very important to know the people in the team. There are a lot of new people. Then decisions will be made. At the moment nothing will change. My role will be to follow all the management of the team, I will be President Fusaro's right-hand man while Lombardi will have operational responsibility. He comes from rallying, so he will need some help". 

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Is it true that you are also looking for a sports director? The name of Pier Paolo Gardella is mentioned, deputy in Piccinini's time... 

 

"He is one of the names that we’re considering. Fiorio used to hold a number of positions himself, but now some roles are uncovered. In Montreal, however, we will all be there. Let's hope we don't make any mistakes". 

 

Programmes? 

 

"Nothing will change in the short term. We will examine the situation, we will see if changes to the cars are necessary. The important thing is to have the right people in the right place. And I think the vast majority of them are already there. If there are problems, we will see how to solve them". 

 

Will Fiorio's departure end up giving Alain Prost more power? 

 

"I haven't spoken to him yet. However, I hope that any difficulties are behind us. We want a calm and peaceful Ferrari. Because the only thing that matters is to solve the technical problems, because at the end of the game you are either a winner or a loser if the cars are going faster or slower. Everything else matters little. My father kept the controversy under control thanks to his charisma. My commitment then is to resolve the disagreements, to get everyone rowing together. On paper the world championship is not over, although it will be difficult to stop Senna. We will at least try to win a few races". 

 

The challenging task does not seem to worry Engineer Lombardi much:

 

"It's obvious that I have to understand many things. But already at Lancia I was no longer purely a technician, I was thinking about leading the team. We have in engineer Castelli a responsible technical director, we will do everything possible to safeguard the autonomy of the specialists. As far as I'm concerned, I'm proud to have been called to Ferrari. Among other things, I think I know our rivals quite well, especially the Japanese. After all, in the various motorsport disciplines there are many similarities".

 

While the revolution is going on in Maranello, on Thursday, 30 May 1991, Formula 1 moves to Montréal for the Canadian Grand Prix, the fifth round of the World Championship, on the Notre-Dame Island track dedicated to Gilles Villeneuve. In the eye of the storm is again and always Ferrari, while the local newspapers are worried whether we will have to witness yet another Ayrton Senna solo. The Maranello team reappears after the traumatic divorce from Cesare Fiorio and with a new management set-up. Everyone is present, except the designer Steve Nichols, who has remained at Fiorano to finish the construction of the new car in forced stages. In the meantime, the Maranello team has hired Francesco Cattani Longanesi, former attaché to the Prince of Monaco and former FISA press officer: he will look after relations with drivers and sponsors and perhaps the press. The tasks have been defined, at least for this race: under the supervision of Piero Ferrari and Claudio Lombardi, the technical manager of the cars is the Frenchman Jean-Claude Migeot, while technical director Pier Guido Castelli will also be in charge of the sporting direction for decisions in the pits. And the drivers? Jean Alesi says interesting things, but without delving into the political sides of the latest events: 

 

"The track has been resurfaced and should be fine for our cars. We hope for a good result. For me, nothing has changed: I don't really know the men who have taken the reins of the team, but my commitment remains unchanged. If I've often been behind Prost it's only because he's gone faster. The only important thing is that the cars are competitive".

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Prost is silent. But in an exclusive interview published by the Rio newspaper O Jornal do Brasil, the French driver reportedly said that at Ferrari the problems are ten, a hundred times bigger and that Fiorio's exit from the scene has solved 50 percent of their problems: 

 

"He was one of our big problems. But it's not because he's gone that Ferrari will win on Sunday". 

 

Then Prost attacks the Italian journalists, calling their pressure on the Maranello team dishonest. At Ferrari, therefore, there is never peace. On Wednesday there is an accident in the pits, which fortunately ended with limited damage, but which could have had serious consequences. The faulty functioning of a cylinder valve causes a gas leak that ignites between petrol drums and combustible material. A mechanic, Bruno Romani, gets burns on his hands and is hospitalised. The quick reflexes and courage of team leader Benassi, who throws the piece into the nearby canal that serves as a dock for Olympic regattas, resolve the situation. Two novelties: Johansson replaces the injured Caffi at Footwork, Herbert returns to Lotus who sacked Bailey, while John Barnard leaves his position as technical director at Benetton and is replaced by Gordon Kimball. Friday, 31 May 1991, the Canadian Grand Prix weekend begins amidst a thousand troubles. During the night, a fire destroys the electrical and telephone exchange that connects Notre-Dame Island (where the Gilles Villeneuve circuit is located) to the city. Complete blackout in communications and timing services, which are put into operation with an emergency system. The morning's free practice started on time but was then interrupted for about 45 minutes due to a frightening accident involving Riccardo Patrese. The driver from Padova, who had already gone off the track in Monte-Carlo on the oil left on the asphalt by the Honda engine of the Tyrrell of Modena, this time ran into a similar mishap. His Williams slips on a patch of oil leaked either from the gearbox of Nelson Piquet's Benetton-Ford or from the Honda engine of Ayrton Senna's McLaren, after the two Brazilians stopped for these failures. Riccardo Patrese tries to control the car launched at over 200 km/h on one of the fastest sections of the track, but crashes violently into a small wall with the rear of the car. The Williams crumples, sustaining serious damage, while the driver fortunately exits the car in a mild state of shock. 

 

"There was oil and they didn't report it. It was impossible to avoid the impact, which was terrible, but I managed".

 

Shortly afterwards, Riccardo Patrese tries to get into the reserve car but is unable to return to the track, also because, in the meantime, light rain falls, so he prefers to go to the infirmary for a check-up. Meanwhile, other accidents and breakdowns occur. The Japanese Suzuki in the Larrousse is rear-ended by the Ligier of Comas, Tarquini is blocked twice by a gearbox failure. Ayrton Senna is also in trouble, forced to take the reserve car after a break in the gearbox oil circuit causes the engine to explode and a fire start. Modena is also forced to take Tyrrell's reserve car because of a water leak from a radiator. In short, a veritable whirlwind of failures that makes it possible to understand little or nothing about the tests. The best time was set by Roberto Moreno in the Benetton-Ford, who lapped in 1'21"793, ahead of Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost. At Ferrari, with the entire staff lined up, a lot of work is done on the set-up. But while Alain Prost laps a lot, stopping only for minor adjustments, Jean Alesi remains stationary for many minutes. A slightly modified front suspension was fitted to the young Ferrari driver's car, but it seems that the Maranello team has several solutions to try, one of which is new. It would be a system of valves on the engine exhausts to be used during qualifying that would electronically or mechanically block the throttle so as to have a quicker response. It would be motorcycle-derived. There are also rumours in the world about a device that would be used by McLaren to recover the oil that is expelled from the engine (prohibited according to the regulations). But the British team's technicians categorically deny it. In any case, these days, FISA will carry out thorough checks on all the cars and also on those taking part in pre-qualifying, as some claim that some teams would use irregular solutions. On Saturday, 1 June 1991, Riccardo Patrese took pole position ahead of his teammate Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Roberto Moreno, Gerhard Berger, Jean Alesi, Nelson Piquet, Stefano Modena and Emanuele Pirro.

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After so many negative weather reports, the Canadian Grand Prix kicked off on a sunny day on Sunday, 2 June 1991. On front row there will be Riccardo Patrese (who in the morning had not taken part in the half-hour warm-up due to a fault with his car and who later had to undergo a physical examination to ascertain his physical condition) and Nigel Mansell, in the Williams-Renault, then Ayrton Senna (McLaren-Honda), who missed out on pole position for the first time, and Alain Prost (Ferrari), then Roberto Moreno (Benetton-Ford) and Gerhard Berger (McLaren-Honda). Starting on fourth row were Jean Alesi and Nelson Piquet with the other Ferrari and Benetton-Ford. In Saturday's practice, Fabrizio Barbazza and Gabriele Tarquini (AGS) did not qualify, Mark Blundell (Brabham-Yamaha) and the returning Johnny Herbert (Lotus-Judd). At the start, Riccardo Patrese is surprised by Nigel Mansell, who takes the lead in the race. Behind them, when the group returns to the starting line for the first time, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost follow. Jean Alesi is already fifth, ahead of Nelson Piquet, Roberto Moreno, Gerhard Berger, Stefano Modena and Andrea De Cesaris. Last is Pierluigi Martini, who starts from the pits with the reserve car: his Minardi-Ferrari had experienced brake problems during the warm-up lap. For a few laps, Nigel Mansell, Riccardo Patrese, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Jean Alesi race on their own. The last three especially battle it out, with Alain Prost - whose Ferrari appears more correct in line than the McLaren-Honda - attempting to overtake Ayrton Senna. On lap 11, the former World Champion spins out and slips to sixth. Shortly before, on lap 4, Gerhard Berger - after a pit stop - retired due to a problem with his injection system. Leading the race remains Nigel Mansell, followed by Riccardo Patrese, Ayrton Senna, Jean Alesi, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost. So it goes, without any particular upsets, until lap 27, when Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost are forced to retire one after the other. The Brazilian slowed down on the pit straight, betrayed by an electrical failure of his McLaren-Honda. Ayrton Senna's slowdown is taken advantage of by Nelson Piquet, who passes the surprised Jean Alesi, immediately imitated by Alain Prost. But the latter, due to the failure of his Ferrari's gearbox, has to stop. In the meantime, Jean Alesi returns to the box to change tyres as planned. 

 

Meanwhile, Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese lead the race, followed by Nelson Piquet (32 seconds behind Riccardo Patrese) and Jean Alesi, who manages to keep fourth position. Fifth is Stefano Modena in the Tyrrell-Honda. It is halfway through the race. For Ferrari there is no peace: on lap 34, Jean Alesi also retires due to engine problems. For McLaren and Ferrari it is a completely negative day. Thus, Stefano Modena moves up to fourth place, followed by Ivan Capelli (Leyton House) and J.J. Lehto (Dallara). Riccardo Patrese's chase for first place was interrupted on lap 40. The Italian returns to the pit lane to replace his right rear tyre, which has a puncture. Thus, Nelson Piquet moves up to second place ahead of J.J. Lehto. When he re-enters the track, Riccardo Patrese is sixth. On lap 45, the Ilmor engine betrays Ivan Capelli, allowing Stefano Modena, Andrea De Cesaris, Riccardo Patrese, Bertrand Gachot and Pierluigi Martini to recover one position. But at the end of lap 55, Riccardo Patrese was third again, with Nigel Mansell firmly in command and Nelson Piquet following at a second's distance. On lap 50, J.J. Lehto also drops out, so Stefano Modena moves up to fourth, followed by Andrea De Cesaris, Bertrand Gachot and Pierluigi Martini. And so it comes down to the final, sensational twist. It was half a lap to the end of the Canadian Grand Prix when Nigel Mansell's Williams-Renault suffered a gearbox failure. The Englishman, already waving festively to the public, stops along the track two kilometres from the finish. Riccardo Patrese also slows down and is overtaken by Stefano Modena. Nelson Piquet has the green light, and thus wins the Canadian Grand Prix. On the podium, with the Brazilian former World Champion, were two Italians, Stefano Modena and Riccardo Patrese. Fourth is another Italian, Andrea De Cesaris, ahead of Bertrand Gachot and Nigel Mansell. The Formula One World Championship finally presents an alternative to McLaren. But on the day of the McLaren-Honda collapse, Ferrari did not emerge. On the contrary, for the Maranello team, which even in Canada seemed to have regained a certain competitiveness, it was a disappointing race, with Alain Prost and Jean Alesi retired due to mechanical problems, i.e. reliability. Rising to the fore, this time, was Williams-Renault. But unfortunately for the English manufacturer, its drivers, despite dominating, failed to win. 

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Success fell to Nelson Piquet, who with his shrewd tactics led the Benetton-Ford to triumph. A victory also for Pirelli tyres, which returned to the top after five years (the last time was with Gerhard Berger, again with Benetton, in 1986 in Mexico). A race with a surprise ending that Nigel Mansell lost with a suicidal tactic: although he had an abysmal lead, he continued to lap at full throttle (setting the record three laps beforethe end) breaking the gearbox. Had he been more lucid and calm, first place would not have eluded him. So on the podium, behind the incredulous Nelson Piquet finished Stefano Modena (with the Tyrrell-Honda) and the courageous Riccardo Patrese, author of a brave race, slowed down only by a puncture that made him lose contact with the first ones and made difficult by the pain in his neck from Friday's accident. McLaren-Honda, like Ferrari, did not bring a car to the finish line for the first time since the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix. Ayrton Senna's positive series was thus interrupted, betrayed by an electrical problem. His teammate Gerhard Berger almost did not start the race: the Honda engine gave way after only a few laps. Now the question is whether the McLaren-Honda has been definitively caught up and overtaken by Williams-Renault, which, even if it did not win, was clearly superior. It is clear that the British team has made enormous progress, but it cannot be ruled out that for Ayrton Senna's team this is just a setback. In any case, the Brazilian driver predicted this situation in the past days. 

 

"So far we had been doing very well, but we were also the only ones who had no insurmountable problems. The Williams had already shown their worth but had been slowed down by several troubles. That is why we have to work hard  to recover. And I can assure you that it will be neither easy nor simple, and perhaps it will take quite some time. However, in the championship I have a good lead, but I can't afford to leave too much space for my rivals. The season is long. You will see that there will be no shortage of surprises". 

 

In the meantime, Nigel Mansell justified his failed win, because if it is true that the transmission of his Williams had worked very well up to that point, it is just as certain that the Englishman forced the pace unnecessarily, taking too many risks.

 

"It is the biggest disappointment of my life, after the one I felt in Australia when I lost the World Championship. The gearbox locked up, right on the last lap, without having given any signs of failure beforehand. I am desperate". 

 

No danger, however, for Nelson Piquet who took victory number 23 of his career: 

 

"An unexpected success, because if Mansell hadn't stopped, I would never have been able to challenge him. In any case, first place is always a pleasure. And I am also satisfied because my Benetton is going strong and can still improve. John Barnard's work is excellent. And next year, as Ford announced on Saturday, we will have the new 12-cylinder engine. Then it will be trouble for everyone. In any case, if Williams was uncatchable, we were on a par with McLaren and Ferrari, which I was following without any problems". 

 

A statement that contrasts with that of Alain Prost, who says: 

 

"It was a shame, it was the best Ferrari I had driven this year. Unfortunately, while I was in fourth position I slipped on the crumbling asphalt and lost two places. Then I was forced to force it and that perhaps led to the gearbox breaking. However, this time I have no reason to complain". 

 

Jean Alesi also confirms positive feelings: 

 

"The new front wing aerodynamics brought an improvement in performance. And that is a positive thing. Of course we needed a different result, at least a placing in the points zone".

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The team managers, on the other hand, are more realistic. Scuderia Ferrari technical manager Claudio Lombardi says:

 

"We are disappointed, that is obvious. The only satisfaction is that we have slightly improved in terms of competitiveness".

 

But for Piero Ferrari it was not a day to remember: 

 

"The race and the result comment themselves. However, the Williams were uncatchable".

 

The incredible finale of the Canadian Grand Prix, with Nigel Mansell graciously handing victory to the astonished Nelson Piquet (who in the press conference managed to restrain himself from performing one of his jokes: 'The moment when, on the last lap, they told me over the radio that the Englishman had stopped, I had an orgasm in the car') is a reminder that motor racing in Italy has reached an almost historic milestone. Three of the Italian drivers were in the top four, five in the top ten: Modena second, Patrese third, De Cesaris fourth, Martini seventh, Pirro ninth. Riccardo Patrese, who despite everything finished the race in third place, says: 

 

"Nigel was strong at the start, I was in pain and couldn't push. Then at the end I also had problems with the gearbox and I couldn't resist coming back to Modena". 

 

While Stefano Modena celebrates an unhoped-for second place: 

 

"It was a fortunate result, my only merit was to get to the bottom". 

 

From one Brazilian to another, there is always samba dancing in Formula 1. With Ayrton Senna gone, after his four consecutive successes, here comes the thirty-nine year old Nelson Piquet, astride his Benetton-Ford, a car that is certainly competitive on the chassis level, but whose engine, being an eight-cylinder, cannot be considered as powerful as the multi-cylinder engines of McLaren, Ferrari and Williams. Yet the driver from Brasilia, as has happened to him on many occasions (two victories in the finale of the last championship) was able to take advantage of the retirements that occurred in front of him. But the fact of the day is not so much the victory of the Benetton-Ford, which also brought Pirelli tyres to success again, as the setback of McLaren-Honda and Ferrari. As far as the Italian team is concerned, unfortunately, this is nothing new. Already at Imola the two drivers of the Maranello team had been forced to retire, Alain Prost even before the start due to an off-track accident, followed by Jean Alesi on lap three. Here, on the track named after Gilles Villeneuve, the two put on more of a show; they were present until almost halfway through the race, before both were forced to retire, Prost for the gearbox and Alesi for the engine. A reliability problem, then, even if the competitiveness of the cars was slightly recovered. The fact remains that the result is totally negative and does not comfort anyone. As for McLaren-Honda, on the other hand, it is the first time in a long time that the Anglo-Japanese team has failed to get at least one of its cars in front of the chequered flag. Probably trivial problems, an electrical fault on Ayrton Senna's car, an electronic glitch that blocked the engine on Gerhard Berger's car, but it is still a sign of failure. Senna had said in recent days that the rivals were close, and he was right. At the end of the race, Ayrton Senna himself comments: 

 

"I'm almost glad this trouble happened. So McLaren and Honda will learn to try harder and not let me race in certain conditions".

 

But it must also be recognised that, for the moment, the leadership of the World Championship is still firmly in his hands: the São Paulo star has 40 points and a good 24 points ahead of his closest pursuer, Nelson Piquet. However, the Formula 1 season, at this point, on the eve of the Mexican Grand Prix, is at least more uncertain, hard-fought and therefore spectacular.

 


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