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1991 Pre Season

2023-01-24 23:00

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#1991, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

1991 Pre Season

On Tuesday, January 15, 1991, Ferrari will return to the track in France, at Le Castellet, along with the major F1 teams, for a series of tests that w

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On Tuesday, January 15, 1991, Ferrari will return to the track in France, at Le Castellet, along with the major F1 teams, for a series of tests that will last four days. These are tests that basically open the 1991 season after winter work. The Maranello team will employ considerable forces: 40 technicians and mechanics, both drivers, Prost and Alesi, and three laboratory cars, since the final version of the single-seater for the World Championship is not expected to be released until Friday, Feb. 15, 1991. The presence of Paolo Massai, responsible for the powertrains, allows us to know a little more about Ferrari.

 

"We have worked hard, trying to increase the power of the engines and improve their reliability, two things that do not always go together. I think we have achieved the goals marked with an increase that can be estimated between 10 and 15 HP".

 

This pre-dates the 642, the Ferrari single-seater that will participate in the 1991 World Championship. The car, together with two old 641/2s in the aerodynamic configuration imposed by the new regulations, is driven by Jean Alesi (1'06"26), who says that he is very satisfied:

 

"It is more manoeuvrable and easier to drive".

 

The model seen at the French circuit has about 70-80% of the planned new features, including active suspension. Alain Prost devotes himself to testing a 641/2 (70 laps), trying a series of starts (turning in 1'06"05). Several small teams are also on the track, with Capelli (Leyton House-Ilmor) in evidence (1'07"07). On Wednesday, January 16, 1991, the new Ferrari 642, driven by Jean Alesi, sets the best time. The Frenchman runs 82 laps showing that the car is already going strong, although it still has problems. Alesi also tests the single-seater with active suspension, while Prost does engine tests with the 641. Thursday, Jan. 17, 1991, Alain Prost is very fast (best time of the three days of testing, 1'04"84) with the new Ferrari 642, while Jean Alesi is stuck with the old 641 due to the failure of two engines, probably experimental. The three-time World Champion says that he is satisfied, although comparative data with the top teams is lacking, as McLaren-Honda and Williams-Renault are absent, while Benetton-Ford is busy in South Africa with Pirelli. Jordan-Ford with Comas (1'05"40) is also in evidence, but the new Irish team has  not adapted their car to the new regulations yet. It is immediately clear that, at least for the moment, between Alain Prost, the protagonist on Saturday, February 2, 1991, of the day dedicated to the national motor racing team, and Jean Alesi, there is a good feeling, also because the boy of Sicilian origin, who has just arrived at Ferrari, willingly accepts the role of apprentice. Alain Prost first beats his young compatriot on skis, in an exciting and uncertain parallel slalom final. Then, carrying him on a snowmobile, he overturns him on the snow, also ending up on the ground after missing a turn. The presence at Sestriere of the two drivers of the Maranello team, together with the Rally drivers led by Biasion and Kankkunen (the latter a foregone winner among a thousand stunts in the snowmobile race, ahead of Dario Cerrato and Gianni Morbidelli), inevitably shifts the talk about the Formula 1 World Championship that will open on Sunday, March 10, 1991, in Phoenix, after the last scheduled tests at Estoril and the following ones at Mugello. The first question is for Alain Prost. Months of doubts, uncertainties, intentions of abandonment returned. How will he approach the season?

 

"As usual, I’m focused to the maximum on winning the world title. I want to make it clear that my problems were determined by a general situation that I did not like. A driver must be free to speak, to say what he thinks. I want to give an example: I fought for years to introduce anti-doping in motor racing. It was adopted once and then no one said anything anymore. Does that sound like the way to act? And so it was for so many other things. But let's leave the past aside, let's think about the future, about this 1991".

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How does Ferrari present itself for this new commitment?

 

"I believe well. I think the new car will be competitive. I am convinced that we will have a championship that is more open to some surprises as well, but I still see a Ferrari-McLaren duel, with possibilities for Williams and Benetton to enter, but one step further back. Our results in the winter tests were very good, but one should not rely on them too much because they often betray. The important thing is to have improved our car, modifying it as little as possible, trying to increase the gifts and erase the defects. In addition, I am convinced that we will be more reliable, whereas last year, especially at the beginning of the season, there were difficulties".

 

For Prost, the 1991 World Championship will still be a Ferrari-McLaren duel. What about Jean Alesi? As has been said, the 28-year-old from Avignon is keeping his distance, talking about apprenticeship, but without psychological subservience. Asked if he will possibly overtake his teammate in the race, he replies:

 

"It has never been easy, but if the opportunity arises, I will not back down. I will give my best effort. There is pressure around me, but I will go my own way. Rivals? Hard to judge: they haven't discovered themselves yet, especially McLaren".

 

A few words about the new rules, which the FIA World Council is expected to homologate on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 1991. Declares Cesare Fiorio, Scuderia Ferrari's sporting director, as the drivers nod:

 

"We are fine with both the 10 points for the winner and the possibility of assimilating fourteen results out of sixteen races. We were also among the promoters. However, we are not in favour of rewarding the pole position with one point. One thing is the race, another is the practice".

 

On Sunday, Feb. 3, 1991, Ferrari’s holiday ends. Beautiful, intense, though brief, unfortunately. On Sunday, there is still a thrilling performance on the icy Losetta Lake track, with the drivers busy putting on a show driving Lancia Delta Integrale 16v, at the school of Kankkunen, Biasion and Cerrato, then a last free skiing session, confused among the Sunday crowd, ready to sign autographs as soon as they are recognized. There followed a long talk with Piero Fusaro, president of Ferrari and the racing committee, then in the evening, the departure: Alain Prost and Jean Alesi go to Estoril (with the entire staff of technicians of the Maranello team), where from Monday another round of tests with Ferrari begins; Kankkunen and Biasion to Kenya to test the Safari Rally route; the Alfa Romeo men to work in the workshop for the final touches to the engine that will equip the Lola single-seater of the Patrick team that will be driven by American Danny Sullivan in the Indy championship. Visiting the Fiat Group drivers on Saturday evening was CEO Cesare Romiti. In great form, with his witty banter, also amused by the fact that he discovered that he had the same chequered socks that Alain Prost wore. The Italian manager, however, is also ready to talk about serious issues such as the situation of the car market, quality, the Japanese and the new management structure of Fiat. But also and especially about sports. An opinion on Jean Alesi?

 

"I already knew him. He's a nice guy, now you have to see him behind the wheel, right? The exchange with Mansell? I wouldn't make certain comparisons. Alesi is a young man of great potential. Having a professor like Prost next to him is the best for him. A recipe for avoiding difficulties in the team? I don't think there will be any problems with cohabitation: Alain is someone who has won a lot and still can win, Alesi a driver on the rise. I hope there will be that teamwork that was lacking last year. Some episodes and bad luck had damaged Alain, depriving him of a world title that all in all he would have well deserved".

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What will Ferrari have to do this year?

 

"Entertaining and winning".

 

But will Alain Prost also stay in 1992?

 

"Just ask Fiorio. We hope to keep him at Ferrari as long as possible".

 

On Monday, February 5, 1991, in Estoril, Portugal, rain interrupts Formula 1 testing in the afternoon. But that does not prevent Ferrari from improving on Monday's times in the morning, taking Jean Alesi, driving an updated old 641, to the limit of 1'14"93. The Frenchman precedes Gerhard Berger in the McLaren test car equipped with the 12-cylinder Honda engine, which runs in 1'16"10. On the British car, Michael Andretti, eldest son of the former World Champion, Mario, debuts as a test driver. Meanwhile, according to well-founded rumours, the new Lambo Formula 1 team set up by industrialist Carlo Patrucco, using Lamborghini engines on the car designed by Mauro Forghieri (driver Nicola Larini), has obtained the contribution of a Japanese financier, who among other things is one of the world's largest amusement park manufacturers. The sale of the company share would be 49 percent. Four days later, on Thursday, February 7, 1991, the F1 teams' tests are completed at the Estoril circuit. Alain Prost simulates a Grand Prix by running 70 laps, interrupted on lap 15 by an accident that happened to Jean Alesi. The second Ferrari driver's car suffers minor damage to the nose from a skid on the greasy asphalt. Prost sets the fastest time on lap 68, in 1'16"48. This is not the first time in its long history that Ferrari has introduced a new car outside the walls of Maranello. It had been Imola's turn three years earlier, at the racetrack named after the Modenese manufacturer's son. This time, the motivation is different, but perhaps even more significant: the most prestigious team in motorsport now has a new facility, the Mugello circuit. The track has been deeply renovated (investment about 25.000.000.000 lire) and, equipped with the most modern facilities, is projected into the future. It is destined, among other things, to become a structure for different uses ranging from single-seater testing to production car testing. It will also be able to be used by Ferrari customers and will host races, perhaps a MotoGP test, as early as this year. But let's come to current events. In the splendid building that bears Ferrari's traditional red and yellow colours, contrary to earlier speculation, on Monday, February 18, 1991, the new racing season kicks off in the morning. Alain Prost and Jean Alesi pose for the customary photos with the new 642, before beginning their work that will last four to six days ahead of the first race, in Phoenix. The usual festive atmosphere of curiosity is witnessed. The entire Ferrari staff is present, from president Piero Fusaro to deputy Piero Lardi Ferrari, sports director Cesare Fiorio to technical director Pier Guido Castelli. Alain Prost says:

 

"It is difficult to make predictions. We have been working a lot, we think we are competitive. But we still have no terms of comparison, especially with McLaren, which has not yet shown its new car. I think it will be a very tough season; we will have to work hard to improve further".

 

Ferrari, through the words of Piero Fusaro, lets it be known that Alain Prost has signed the contract for 1991 and that negotiations are already under way for 1992. The situation is not very clear (some always whisper about a for Senna) but Fiorio says he is calm. As for Jean Alesi and driver relations, the Maranello team's sporting director explains:

 

"They will start as equals, then it will depend on the results. It is clear that if at some point one of them is able to aim for the world championship, the other will have to help him. Alesi is young, he has an important opportunity to gain experience alongside an established champion, he is intelligent, I think he will not disappoint us".

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As for the car, it is an evolution of the previous model with the changes imposed by the new technical grandmas. But Ferrari, while paying attention to the present, is also preparing for the future, engaging with the collaboration of Magneti Marelli, in electronics, the field that lends itself to the greatest and fastest developments. In addition to active suspension, multiple innovations are being tested, ranging from an electronically controlled differential, to the ability to phase-shift the engine while running, to anti-skid systems to wheel anti-skid. However, no one is able at the moment to answer the question that is closest to the hearts of the fans: will Ferrari be able to win the World Championship?

 

"As always, we will have to wait for the first races. We will try our best".

 

A commitment involving the Maranello team and its technical sponsors. The Italian oil company Agip reiterates that the gasoline used in F1 is not more dangerous than regular commercial fuel, and Ferrari lets it be known that it has signed an agreement with Pioneer for telecommunications systems. This is the first time the Japanese (present en masse) have entered the Italian team. But this was inevitable. The 642 is all new, although its external appearance betrays a close kinship with the previous model. Dividing the car into the four main areas, (chassis, aerodynamics, engine and transmission), the external differences between new and old are easily noticed: in particular, shape and position of the front wing and nose, side air intakes and the one above the driver's head. Finally, the inclination of the rear chute, depending on the regulatory changes of the smaller wing. The major innovations concern the chassis part, redesigned with the use of new materials (structural fibres and binding resins). Since the engine and gearbox are an integral part of the chassis, these elements have also been strengthened, so that overall they offer a 15 percent increase in stiffness, benefiting suspension operation, also in view of experimentation with active systems. Also improved is the attachment of the engine to the chassis. The engine is the new version indicated by the abbreviation 291/1 of the 12- cylinder (291 ce is the unit displacement of one cylinder). The gearbox is still the longitudinal 7-speed with electronic control whose drive logic is continuously improved. Jean Alesi is ready for the challenge. The Frenchman, twenty-six years old, born in Avignon but originally from Alcamo in Sicily, who landed at Ferrari in place of Nigel Mansell, presents together with Alain Prost the car that will take part in the Formula 1 World Championship. A single-seater that only apparently looks very much like last year's. But behind the somewhat sleeker line, as mentioned, there are major aerodynamic, chassis and engine changes.

 

"For the uninitiated, it is difficult to see all the changes that have been made to the new 642. But I can assure you that its evolution has been profound. In winter testing, our engineers worked without doubles in every detail. The goal was to regain the performance lost due to the new regulations that impose smaller wing sizes. I think we have already achieved good results, although some questions remain because up to this moment our main opponents, see McLaren, Williams and Benetton, have not yet revealed their cards. But I am convinced that we will be competitive".

 

How is Alesi preparing for this new challenge with the most prestigious team in motor racing?

 

"I think you will see a different Alesi. Until last year with Tyrrell I was forced to sometimes go beyond the limits of the car to try to stay behind the best. Now, with the knowledge that I have a single-seater at the vortex, I will no longer have to make mistakes. However, I can assure that I will always be the usual aggressive driver in practice and in the race because these are my characteristics. Being alongside Prost will be challenging. From my teammate I will have much to learn, in the tuning of the car and in the tactics to be adopted in racing".

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Who will be the men to beat?

 

"In my opinion, still Senna and Prost. But watch out for Berger too, who will finally have a car suited to his physical measurements. Then the usual ones: Patrese,Mansell, Piquet, Ivan Capelli. The youngsters? I don't know, it will depend mostly on the cars they drive. I think the revelation of the season could be Stefano Modena with the Tyrrell equipped with a ten-cylinder Honda engine. The car was very good already last year and. if they did not make mistakes it will be even more so in this championship".

 

What are Jean Alesi’s goals?

 

"I said it: first, not to make mistakes, then, to take every opportunity that comes my way. Let's not forget that this will be the longest World Championship in that we will be able to add up all the results obtained, whereas until 1990 at most we were allowed to accumulate the placings. Finally, I would like to break through the hearts of Ferrari fans. I also came to Maranello for a sentimental reason. I hope not to disappoint anyone".

 

On Thursday, February 21, 1991, during Scuderia Ferrari's practice session at Mugello, Jean Alesi, on qualifying tires, sets a new circuit record of 1'24"03. Alain Prost's performance on race tires was also very good: 1'25"46. Meanwhile, at Silverstone, the new Williams-Renault that Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese will drive this year in the F1 World Championship is presented. The car, named FW14, is small and compact. During practice Nigel Mansell goes off the track, slipping on the slippery asphalt due to rain, but the car is not damaged. On Wednesday, February 27, 1991, the McLaren MP4/6, which will take part in the 1991 F1 World Championship, is also unveiled. Last to take to the track in its final version, finished for assembly during the morning at the Portuguese Estoril circuit, the Neal Oatley-designed single-seater makes its debut at 2:45 p.m., driven by Ayrton Senna. On a purely aesthetic level, the British car features a slightly sharper and apparently longer nose than that of the Ferrari 642, but the similarities are quite striking in the middle and rear, with a rounded shape, high bellies and a generously sized upper air intake. It is no mystery, after all, that the same technician, Frenchman Henri Buran, who left the Maranello team last year to join the one in Woking, designed the aerodynamics for both race cars (McLaren and Ferrari). The similarity is confirmed by Ayrton Senna himself, who said:

 

"If a person has certain concepts and is convinced of the validity of his or her ideas, it is normal for him or her to go down a certain path".

 

Then he lets loose in a joke:

 

"They wouldn't let me drive the Ferrari in 1991, so I had one made just like it".

 

Jokes and jibes aside, Senna cannot hide his satisfaction with this first half-day of practice.

 

"However, it is better to have arrived late, maybe too late with a car that seemed good right away, than to start two months earlier with the wrong chassis. I did about 15 laps without forcing, without looking for times, and it seems to me that the starting base is interesting. I have a pretty good feeling. Of course, we need to work on the set-up, on the suspension, which is completely different, but we have a few days before we leave for the United States. The important thing will be to get to Phoenix without any major problems".

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The Brazilian scores his best lap in 1'16"45 (in December, Alain Prost lapped in 1'12"58 with the old car, and then Alesi clocked a time of 1'14"93 with the one adapted to the new regulations), a more than remarkable time considering the debut and the dirty track. Ayrton however maintains that progress will still have to be made with the new Honda 12-cylinder engine.

 

"I hope that already at the start the Japanese have a more powerful one ready".

 

Among other things, Senna had broken an engine on Sunday, and on Wednesday he was forced to end practice prematurely, taking to the side of the track for a failure of the lubrication system that could have compromised the engine itself. In the end, the Brazilian driver appeared satisfied but concrete:

 

"A lot of work awaits me, this championship will be hard".

 

Wet bride - they say - lucky bride. But on Thursday, Feb. 28, 1991, the marriage between Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger and the new McLaren MP4/6 is in danger of foundering precisely because of the rain: the bad weather puts practice schedules and official photos of the British team into disarray. Then, in the afternoon, the sun comes out and the two drivers take to the track to do their work. There is then room for extensive debate, protagonists being manager Ron Dennis and Ayrton Senna. Gerhard Berger prefers to seek a comfortable driving position in the car (a problem that bothered him in 1990): as tall as he is, he has difficulty getting out of the cockpit. First of all, why did McLaren come to prominence late, making a car that looks like a copy of Ferrari? Says Ron Dennis:

 

"The change in aerodynamic regulations in November forced us to redo the single-seater. We are convinced that we made the right choice. Our goal is not to win the first race in ten days in Phoenix, but to aim for the title. As for certain similarities, there is nothing scandalous. In F1 there is a constant trickle of engineers: if you look at Williams, it looks like the 1990 Leyton House, because the designer who made it was on that team. Our aerodynamics manager, engineer Durand, came from Maranello. It is clear that some of his ideas followed a logical thread. However, we think that he himself was able, through his experience, to improve the functionality. But we are one step ahead of the others, namely Ferrari".

 

Senna, in recent days, was not satisfied with the Honda engine...

 

"It is clear that the powertrain was also not developed to the maximum. But with the Japanese we get along perfectly well. Our goals are common".

 

Called into question, the Brazilian driver points out:

 

"I reiterate that there were development programs that have not yet been completed. But this is not Honda's fault. The failures these days depend on the lubrication system, not the engine".

 

Dennis and Senna admit that the next championship will be tough, uncertain and hard-fought. The Brazilian driver says:

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"I am ready. Never have I prepared myself so well physically and psychologically as I did this year. In 1989 I had finished the season morally destroyed, even uncertain whether to continue the activity. Last season was even more difficult, but I have recovered, I feel as good as ever. Ferrari is our biggest opponent because they have worked hard in all areas, chassis, aerodynamics, engine and fuel. But there are also Williams-Renault with a completely new car, Benetton, which has changed tires as well, and a number of outsiders. It will take at least two or three races to figure it out".

 

There is no shortage, however, of controversy.

 

"The acquisition of sixteen scores out of sixteen races is not something we agree with. The FISA committee had proposed to accumulate 14 scores. Then the FIA World Council, in a coup, turned the tables. We will discuss this again in Phoenix. Ours is a sport that is based on drivers' desire for success, not on taxi-drivers for placing. In any case, our cars have always been reliable. About the 10 points awarded to the first, we are in favour: those in the back positions will do everything to win".

 

Senna does not comment on FISA's decisions, which include heavy punishments for drivers who are unfair in qualifying and races.

 

"Let's think about running, I'm eager to start".

 

This is Ron Dennis' harsh opinion of his former collaborator John Barnard, who had recently argued that costs in F1 have become prohibitive partly because of the specialty gasoline used:

 

"Barnard talks like that because he has an 8-cylinder. But everything is so expensive, starting with the drivers, who don't race for money, but they want a lot of it".

 

Senna smiles: with his $13.000.000 a year he is the highest paid driver. Many details of the new F1 cars remain a secret. After Ferrari's secrecy, McLaren's follows. From the notes distributed on the MP4/6 it is learned that the engine is the 3.5-liter Honda BA121E, 12-cylinder V engine with electronic fuel injection. Power output remains a mystery: over 700 HP is mentioned, but the figure is vague. The transmission is made by McLaren, with a 6-speed transverse gearbox. The suspension offers a now-classic scheme in F1 with the dampers in an almost horizontal position, above the chassis. The chassis is constructed of carbon fibre and honeycomb composite materials, and the cockpit is produced in one piece. A curiosity: there are two Italian suppliers. Brembo, which mounts the brake callipers on carbon discs, and Skf, a Swedish multinational company that studies and makes bearings for racing cars at a plant in Pinerolo. How much does this car cost? The material alone is worth 400-500 million lire for a single unit, the design tens of billions of liras. This year, Ferrari has already come first twice. In the preceding weeks, they won the race to present the new car for 1991 ahead of all other teams. And, on Friday, March 1, 1991, it let it be known that it had formed the team for next year, keeping Jean Alesi and even finding an understanding with Alain Prost, through the usual laconic communiqué of a few lines:

 

"Alain Prost will also be driving Ferrari together with Jean Alesi in the 1992 Formula 1 championship. The agreement to continue the cooperation also for 1992 was finalised today with Prost. According to the stability criterion prepared in Ferrari's sports programs, the 1992 option with Alesi has been exercised".

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A decision that had been practically preannounced at Mugello by Piero Fusaro, president of Ferrari. After having reorganised the racing department by completing in all areas the technical organisation chart, it was missing precisely to make serene the environment, troubled by the recent controversies (the rumours of contacts with Ayrton Senna and the tantrums of Alain Prost), a total clarification also on the plan of the drivers. No one specifies how the agreement was reached with Prost, who seemed to have so many doubts about the future. It is clear that the Frenchman must have had certain guarantees with regard to the development commitment of the cars (but this was out of the question given Ferrari's expressed desire in every way to aim to win the World Championship) and he was also satisfied in the economic field. There is talk of a sumptuous base salary, augmented by possible result-related bonuses. But this is perhaps the least important side of the story. It is not ruled out that Alain Prost has also obtained, at least for this year, a minimum assurance about the young teammate's disposition not to hinder him (as Mansell had done in 1990) and to help him in case of a chance to win his fourth world title. Alesi needs to gain experience and has time at his disposal to rise to the top. That said, however, it should be pointed out that, having found the theoretical solution to its problems, Ferrari could equally be faced with some surprises in the future. 

 

Contracts are now signed and broken very easily. And one cannot in any case force a driver to race if he no longer feels like it, for whatever reason. However, it is indisputable that Ferrari has done everything possible to get off on the right foot. The cars are in place, the racers motivated. And it is a general impression that it will be necessary to push hard right away in Phoenix, in the first race of the World Championship. The opponents are strong and fierce. The new McLaren-Honda, despite some youthful problems, is making a very good impression at Estoril, the Williams-Renault is going strong at Le Castellet. And the American race on a street circuit could also bring out dangerous outsiders, such as the Tyrrell-Honda and Benetton-Ford, both Pirelli tires. A circuit, that of the Arizona city, which also in the past has favoured those who can start at the front and which has allowed (just Alesi, second last year) drivers with means deemed inferior to fight on equal terms with the favourites. The internal pax within the Maranello team, however, is one more element to be confident about. A compact Ferrari, ready for the challenge, is what the fans are asking for at the moment, before the word passes to the track. And a super-motivated Alain Prost may be the right weapon to go on the attack: the Frenchman has the opportunity to win his fourth title.


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