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1992 Pre Season

2023-01-03 23:00

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#1992, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

1992 Pre Season

In less than two months, on Sunday 1 March 1992, the Formula 1 World Championship will begin in South Africa (if there are no security problems, as th

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In less than two months, on Sunday, 1st March 1992, the Formula 1 World Championship will begin in South Africa (if there are no security problems, as the situation in the country is still not very calm). A particularly short stop, then, for the motor racing Circus, forced to work overtime to be ready for the new spectacle. If reigning champion McLaren will still be the team to beat, while Williams will act as public enemy number one, the spotlight will always be on Ferrari. A Ferrari that for the umpteenth time presents itself renewed, in search of its lost image and identity. If it is true, in fact, that the Maranello team has been missing the consecration of a world title for twelve years now, it must be acknowledged that - for better or worse - even in this long period it has often been at the top in terms of competitive and technical performance. Just think of 1982 when the Maranello cars won and there were the terrible accidents of Villeneuve and Pironi; of 1985 when Alboreto came very close to a success thwarted by a disastrous and mysterious end to the season. And finally 1990, the year when Prost was deliberately put out of action by Senna (it was the Brazilian himself who confessed that the Suzuka accident was voluntary) at a time when he could still fight for the World Championship with a minimum of chance. Last year, however, was also disastrous in terms of results. One disappointment after another. All this was accompanied by the perennial and irreverent controversy with Prost and the traumatic ending that led to a break between team and driver, the effects of which are perhaps not yet even well delineated. A blow that ended up taking oxygen away from the Scuderia Ferrari. It was therefore necessary to start afresh, to clear all outstanding accounts. The cut was made by entrusting the presidency of the company to Luca Montezemolo. It was also a very demanding task for the dynamic manager who led such a difficult operation as the football World Cup. Because it is an all-round commitment that also concerns the company of which the racing department is just the emerging tip of an iceberg. Montezemolo, who - as far as we can tell - will deliberately keep a fairly low-profile public role, will have to be decisive, quick, ruthless and also act as a lightning rod in case of need. The first measures taken (the hiring of Capelli, the return of Postlethwaite, the appointment of Sante Ghedini as sporting director) were certainly dictated by the need to regain certain group values and the futility of wasting time. It is clear that the new president is also looking to the future. In the workshop, on the other hand, the plans focus mainly on the immediate. Says team manager, engineer Claudio Lombardi:

 

"Ferrari will try to get ahead of the curve, to arrive at the first race already with the new car, hoping to surprise the rivals. But we have no illusions, because the road to recovery is still long. The others were ahead and will continue to make progress, which is why those chasing are always underdogs. The goal is to close the gap, then we will see". 

 

Lombardi has every interest in preaching calm, not least because he is aware that only positive results will ease the pressure on Ferrari. The new car should be almost ready. Some speak of a revolutionary single-seater. The first to start this hypothesis is Jean Alesi himself. The Frenchman, confessing to cyclist Claudio Chiappucci, described the 1992 Ferrari as a very innovative car. It remains to be seen whether it is different from previous Ferraris or whether it is different from rival single-seaters. There are also those who say they have seen models of what is provisionally called the 644. Around Fiorano (but is it possible that all secrets down there are always destined to be discovered before their time?) there are tales of a nose that would be somewhere between that of the Tyrrell, gull-winged, and the Williams, anteater-shaped. The most interesting and unusual part of the bodywork would concern the sides, which would be partly oblique to obtain a better ground effect and therefore greater stability. Ferrari will be on track at Imola in mid-January and will presumably unveil the new car (designed by American Steve Nichols, with the collaboration of aerodynamicist Jean-Claude Migeot and now revised under the supervision of Englishman Harvey Postlethwaite) sometime between January and February. All that remains is to wait, not least to see how Alesi and Capelli will fare in this reconstruction phase in which there is a need for very responsible behaviour from the drivers as well. While waiting for further developments, on Sunday, 5 January 1992, a news item taken from an Argentine newspaper (the Clarin) gives for certain the engagement of Alain Prost by Benetton. A real surprise, sensational news. And since, according to the information coming from South America, it was Luciano Benetton himself who let it be known that he had put the driver left by Ferrari under contract, one might even believe it. Then, however, the unbelievable passage was gradually dismantled. 

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Gilberto Benetton, another prominent member of the family of industrialists from Treviso says: 

 

"It is absolutely false". 

 

Subsequently Prost's lawyer denied it, and a statement also arrived from Ligier claiming to have spoken to Alain in the afternoon, who called the information baseless. The future of Alain Prost thus became the central topic of this beginning of the year. After the news, denied, of a passage of the Frenchman to Benetton (the following day the team's general manager, Flavio Briatore, says through a spokesman: "I know nothing about it, they are rumours") a new inference rebounds. According to the transalpine newspaper Le Parisien, McLaren would offer $2.000.000 to sign Prost for the 1993 Formula 1 season. However, Prost - who some say would already have a signed contract with Ligier - would have to take a year off. The information seems inaccurate to say the least: the driver could take the sum mentioned just to stay put, then in 1993 it will be discussed. And will Senna go to Ferrari next year? Doubtful questions. What is not in doubt, however, is the fact that the crisis in Formula 1 is there and can be seen, even touched. Many Formula 1 teams have cut their budgets for 1992 (it seems that even Honda, McLaren's engine supplier, is having some difficulties), some are in danger of closing down. Problems of growth, indeed of ever-increasing expenditure. And reflections of a world car market suffering from the repercussions of a less than prosperous economic situation. Many companies prefer to invest in the product, avoiding a commitment to the sport that does not always reciprocate with the hoped-for results (see for example the great Mercedes and the prestigious Porsche, the former withdrawn from the endurance world championship, the latter from the very brawl of the Grand Prix Circus). The probable reduction in the number of teams involved in the 1992 World Championship and the arrival of new names (the Japanese Katayama and Nakaya at Larrousse and Brabham respectively, the Brazilian Christian Fittipaldi at Minardi, the Italian-Swiss Andrea Chiesa at Fondmetal) also threw the gilded world of drivers into disarray. 

 

A long list of unemployed drivers in search of a steering wheel leads to fears that many racers will have to turn elsewhere (to sports prototype racing, assuming they make it, to touring cars) or quit in the current year. The list is opened by two very prominent figures, but for them it is a different matter. The problem for Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet is not having a car to drive, but the quality of the team to commit to and the prospective revenue possibilities. Both have three world titles behind them and an almost unparalleled badge of honour: the Frenchman holds the record for Formula 1 victories (44) and the Brazilian has always been an absolute protagonist in the last decade, achieving at least one success per season, with the exception of 1988 and 1989. The situation for the two is not simple. Prost is not only very expensive but also wants a single-seater to aim for the world title, as at 36 years of age he no longer has much time to spend. Piquet would like almost 6.000.000 lire, but at this point he would perhaps also be willing to lower his demands so as not to be left stranded or have to choose a lesser team. In terms of performance, the Frenchman and the Brazilian are equivalent. With a competitive car both can make the result, but one cannot expect miracles if there is too much to risk. Moreover, Nelson's image has been somewhat tarnished with the advent of a phenomenon called Michael Schumacher at his side. Everything, however, depends on Prost's decisions. If Alain decides to race for Ligier (he is due to test the car with the 10-cylinder Renault engine on 15 January 1992 at Le Castellet), perhaps Piquet will have to accept more modest proposals or give up. Should the transalpine driver opt for a managerial role at Ligier or opt for a year off, then Piquet could still make his mark on the French team. And the other drivers? By now there is a kind of sleazy auction going on among them all: whoever manages to bring the most money (in the form of sponsors) to the desired team will get the job. Suitcases of dollars of course, to pick up a few crumbs. Only Senna, Berger, Patrese, Mansell, Alesi and Capelli (i.e. the champions of McLaren, Williams and Ferrari) are certain as of today. But even for some of them, tomorrow could be uphill. The placement list is now always open. In the following days, the insinuations continue around the figure of Alain Prost, of whom Alesi says on Thursday 9 January 1992:

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"The situation without Prost is calmer. Alain has left and I will be freer. Without him, I will lack the model that allowed me to have a real point of reference in results. I learnt a lot from him indirectly, watching him work and striving to have the same spirit of concentration that he had during our briefings. So for me he was not a professor, but a perfect example".

 

On Friday, 10 January 1992, the French newspaper Le Parisien wrote that the Frenchman had received an offer of 10.000.000 francs from two different racing teams for him to give up racing in 1992: according to the French newspaper, McLaren-Honda and Williams-Renault had made this proposal to Prost in order to prevent him from signing for the rival manufacturer. The duel between British constructors Frank Williams and Ron Dennis (McLaren), parallel to that between Renault and Honda, would - according to the French newspaper - therefore come to this. Prost is however expected at the Paul Ricard circuit to test Ligier's new JS37, after which he will decide his future. Also from the world of Formula 1 comes the news that Gianni Morbidelli has been confirmed by Minardi for 1992. The Italian team will also start the testing season at Paul Ricard in a few days. First the signing of Alain Prost at Benetton, then the retirement of Nelson Piquet. The South American media take a swipe at the future of the two former Formula One World Champions. On Tuesday, 14 January 1992, a private TV station in Brasilia bites on a phrase said by Nelson Piquet and starts a carousel of misinformation about his retirement. Obviously the scoop goes around the world and arrives, by agency, in the afternoon in Italy as well. A short dispatch from ANSA reads:

 

"Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet announced in Brasilia his retirement from competition. Formula 1 world champion in 1981-1983-1987, Piquet said, in an emotional voice, that since he does not have a suitable car, he prefers to retire and devote himself to his new business of selling Pirelli tyres". 

 

And then it was off to the biographies, to the praise of a career studded with successes. Knowing Piquet and his unstoppable desire to joke, the Italian journalists track him down by phone in Goiania, where he is on business. 

 

"Retire myself? I have no intention of doing so. They had invited me to a party, there were some journalists there, we talked about more and less. I may have made a few jokes. But the truth is that the situation has been the same since the championship ended. I'm looking for a team that can offer me a competitive car, at least to fight for the podium. There is still some chance. I've also had contacts with the new Venturi-Larrousse, but honestly I'm not very interested. It's clear that if by 31 January, the deadline set by the Federation for entries to the 1992 World Championship, I haven't found anything I'll be forced to stay at home. However, at 39 years old, I still feel capable of winning races, so at the moment I continue to hope".

 

As if to say: try it and you won't regret it. Team managers looking for an experienced and still motivated driver are warned. The following day, Wednesday 15 January 1992, Ferrari starts a series of tests with Capelli to improve the new 644. In the meantime, being the first to present the new car for the 1992 World Championship does not take the caution away from the men of the Scuderia Italia. Nor does the availability of the 12-cylinder Ferrari unbalance them in their predictions. Feet planted firmly on the ground, according to the best Brescian tradition. With Kay Sandwick, dressed in red, the company colours, in the role of godmother, here is the queen of the meeting, the Bms Dallara Ferrari 192. The single-seater does not offer a revolutionary shape: very high beak, according to current dictates, rounded air intakes, a somewhat massive appearance. 

 

"But underneath the dress, i.e. the bodywork, it is nice and lean". 

 

Says Gian Paolo Dallara, design engineer, a shy man from Parma who prefers hermitage in his Varano studio to the showcase of the racetracks.

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"In a few words, the concepts that inspired us: simplicity for easy action, balance, chassis rigidity. We still have to study well the aerodynamics of the front wing, the most innovative part. We will get there step by step". 

 

Dallara and its specialists are part of the team that Beppe Lucchini, managing director of several companies in the industrial group of the same name, has created since 1988. At 39 years of age, he is the youngest patron in Formula 1. But he is neither a billionaire's whim nor an adventure trip. Lucchini explains:

 

"The matrix is certainly a passion for cars and racing. I have a nice collection of Ferraris, bought when they cost a few tens of millions and not certain hyperbolic figures, so it was a good investment. As a young man, I promoted Brixia Motor Sport, participating in endurance world championships, rally championships and touring car races. However, since I see the team as a business, I felt it was inevitable to move forward, to progress". 

 

How much will you spend? 

 

"The budget is 22.000.000 lire. We hope it will be enough. We have managed to confirm the sponsors we had and we are negotiating with others to complete our expenses. Our goal is to achieve self-financing. If I realise that this will not be possible, I will consider it a defeat". 

 

The price of the Ferrari engines? 

 

"I cannot say. However, it is a rental. In fact the contract is per number of revisions". 

 

What do you think about Formula 1? 

 

"Obviously I like it. But I don't like the environment, bluffs and dubious situations. Too many teams in recent years have flaunted enormous capital. And we have seen what happened to them. Unfair competition. And I believe that at the end of next season there will be another skim. There will be less of us". 

 

Will the collaboration with the Maranello team be conditional? 

 

"We are aware of the responsibility we have taken on. Unfortunately, having Ferrari engines does not automatically mean winning. I would already be happy to place the team among the outsiders, to get on the podium a couple of times. We measure ourselves against teams with far superior means. Someone even asked me if we will beat Ferrari. It could only happen by chance. I hope with our experience I can be useful and reciprocate Maranello's trust". 

 

Why did you choose Pierluigi Martini and Lehto as drivers? 

 

"We think that the Finn has very good untapped potential. Then you all know that we had a contract with Ivan Capelli. We sold him to Ferrari and took one of the drivers who was in orbit. I think Martini, apart from knowing Ferrari engines, is very fast and determined. If you make an exception for McLaren, which has Senna, we are not inferior to anyone". 

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Brescia calcio may be going to Serie A. What will Brescia Motori do? 

 

'We are already there, but from here to winning the championship… In any case, football doesn't amuse me. Ours is a company, not a hobby, and we have to go straight, failure would mean closure. Not bankruptcy, but liquidation".

 

Saturday 18 January 1992 the Bms Dallara is at Imola. Friday 17 January 1992, fog reigns over Imola and Ferrari leaves the circuit in the early afternoon. Seventeen laps for Jean Alesi (best in 1'28"37) and only eight for Ivan Capelli (1'38"62) who was supposed to simulate a Grand Prix. The only thrill was Alesi's going off the track at Piratella: little damage to the front of the car, which was immediately repaired. Friday will continue. In the meantime there is time for an interesting chat with engineer Harvey Postlethwaite, 47, an Englishman, who is back with Ferrari, with which he had spent seven years, and which he had left in 1988 due to disagreements with Barnard management. What does the return mean? 

 

"First and foremost a great pleasure and also opening a door to a new future with Ferrari". 

 

Why did he leave? 

 

"I left Ferrari for several reasons. The family was growing, and I hadn't yet decided whether to settle permanently in Italy. Then I didn't get on well with the management at the time, but with the others there was a wonderful feeling". 

 

What changed in his absence at Maranello? 

 

"Many things. I found a different Ferrari, with positive and negative aspects. Unfortunately, the results of 1991 have affected morale. I see a Ferrari weakened mainly in the chassis sector, which needs to be modernised". 

 

The positive points? 

 

"I saw a Ferrari with very modern equipment, especially in the field of electronics and computers. And it is the most up-to-date in Formula 1 in the field of machine tools. Another strong point is that Ferrari can count on a large number of engineers with a high academic technical culture. And Ferrari also has very smart management. I am referring to Luca Montezemolo. But it's a Ferrari that has to work hard to become a leader again". 

 

And are the men he has found different since then? 

 

"On a human level Ferrari has maintained its special environment, what I would call the Maranello environment". 

 

What will the new 644 be like? 

 

"It is very interesting, with some new concepts at the aerodynamic level. It's an avant-garde car in certain areas, but this will also bring us problems: in Formula 1, those who make entirely new projects always have contingencies. It's easy to copy a car but it's difficult to make a new one, and the 644 is not a standard car". 

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Will it be revolutionary? 

 

"Yes, in a way. I'm working to create a team, a racing department with more technical structure". 

 

And you found Migeot again... 

 

"Of course. I must say that to be fair we never talked about the project he was working on. But there are many other people at Maranello who are as capable as Migeot". 

 

Ferrari no longer has Prost. A serious loss? 

 

"No, I am sure. I think we often overestimate the possibilities of the drivers: they first need a good car. Of course, some have something more and are able to exploit their car better". 

 

Could Senna bring Ferrari back to victory? 

 

"It's not the drivers who design the car. By that I don't mean that I wouldn't like to have him on our team". 

 

Which is the strongest team? 

 

"McLaren, then Williams. They are the cars to beat".

 

Ferrari sold the Gto at Guilford: a mistake? 

 

"No, the Gto was at the end and would have brought no substantial advantage. The single-seaters have to be made in Maranello". 

 

At what point did he leave the Mercedes project?

 

"Mercedes hadn't made racing cars for about thirty years. Sure, in Group C and in Touring Cars it was back on track but not in Formula 1. I had been asked to quickly make a project or rather a thorough study of the possibility of a return. Mercedes wanted to return to Formula 1 but also to win immediately. Perhaps they had underestimated the effort that is required to achieve this today. Believe me, you can't expect to come in and rout the field". 

 

On Saturday, 18 January 1992, Ron Dennis travelled to Madonna di Campiglio, arriving in the middle of the night after a kind of air-road odyssey across Europe. McLaren team principal Ron Dennis finds a dinner of mushrooms and truffles and a patrol of Italian journalists waiting for him under the Brenta Dolomites. The team principal of the World Champion team accepts the dialogue about his team that has won seven titles in the last eight years. How is McLaren preparing for the new season? 

 

"This is a time of hard work for Formula 1 teams and McLaren is no exception. We are preparing the MP 4/7 which will make its first laps in the third week of February. But I still don't know when it will make its debut. By not running it in the first three races the engineers would have two more months to develop it, and that could prove to be an advantage for the future. Whichever car we start with, we can fit both the MP4/6 and the MP 4/7 with the semi-automatic transmission".

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What does the new McLaren look like? 

 

"The MP4/7 will be unveiled, in some details, on 29 January 1992. The car uses new construction technology and will obviously have the latest aerodynamics, semi-automatic transmission and so on. We are also working on the active suspension, which test driver Palmer has taken to a good degree. The Honda VI 2 engine will also be thoroughly revamped. The McLaren team is a united group". 

 

What is the secret? 

 

"Every year I try to communicate a message to my staff. The watchword for 1992 is to be better, not only on the track but also individually. We have set an intensive testing programme as never before. We have also created a parallel structure to repair chassis that will be damaged during the season. In 1991 we built eleven chassis, I don't know who was able to do that". 

 

Is it true that you made a financial offer to Prost? 

 

"No, I didn't offer him money not to race him in 1992. It's true that I cared about his health and his future. We were both sorry to break off the working relationship. I would like to help him to calm down, now I recognise that he is very tense. I think he has been and still is one of the greatest champions of the car". 

 

What suggestion would you make to Montezemolo? 

 

"The suggestion is simple: it takes time to change course, but he has enough experience and power to control the situation. He must not be influenced from outside. I think one of Ferrari's biggest problems is the negative influence of the media, newspapers and television. One of the ways to keep the men in a team focused is discipline. I realised that this year when we hired a director of operations from British Aerospace and an aeronautical engineer who worked on the Tornados. They are from the military and I have seen that they bring a good example of discipline". 

 

What is your opinion of the Balestre-Mosley succession at the top of FISA? 

 

"Balestre was a genuine enthusiast. But he also made many decisions on emotional drive. He was a good talker and a bad listener. I think Mosley is much more capable in that respect: he has the ability to do a very good job if he can remain neutral". 

 

What would McLaren have been without Senna? 

 

"We would have won fewer races. But we would still have won World Championships. He contributed to our victories but he knows that the team helped him to achieve so many successes". 

 

How do you consider the Italian drivers? 

 

"It's absolutely not true that I don't appreciate them. Nationality doesn't count for being hired in Formula 1. If there was a really successful Italian I would take him straight away. There are many Italians in Formula 1 because Marlboro Italy is the most active in the support policy. Alex Zanardi seems very good to me". 

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In the meantime, for more than three hours on Saturday afternoon, Alain Prost remained locked in the Ligier motorhome, talking with technicians and in the presence of the team's two current drivers, Boutsen and Comas (in reality, it turned out that, wearing Érik Comas's helmet, Prost had a test session at Le Castellet, completing a total of 49 laps; when the car stopped at the side of the track due to a technical problem and the driver's silhouette emerged from the cockpit, it was hard not to recognise him). Outside, dozens of journalists are waiting to hear the decisions of the team and the former Ferrari driver. Only late in the day, with a communiqué, does Ligier surprisingly announce that the transalpine would be out on track to test the new JS 37. And on Sunday morning, right on time, Prost completed a series of tests on the Le Castellet circuit. The three-time World Champion, who had been preparing in the French team's pit box with the shutters down, once again evading the curiosity of journalists, went out onto the track shortly after 11:00 a.m., just as two Williams-Renaults and a Minardi were returning. This first contact with the JS37 does not, however, ensure his next move to the French team. Guy Ligier, in fact, specifies that he only asked Prost for the favour of testing the car, taking the driver's opinion very much into account. Tuesday 21 January 1992, Ferrari's first day of testing at the Barcelona circuit also does not go as planned. Jean Alesi's attempt to simulate a Grand Prix ends with a spectacular smoke, resulting from the failure of the power unit. On lap 50, and with 15 to go, right in front of the Ferrari pits the 12-cylinder explodes, flooding the track with oil. Up to this point the results had been good: on the previous lap Alesi had achieved an interesting time, 1'23"04. The French driver, at the end of practice, says:

 

"I am a little tired but satisfied. On this track, last year, we had problems with the tyres, which deteriorated quickly. Now, on the other hand, the tyres have not deteriorated". 

 

Since the chassis is the same as last season, is the progress attributable to the engine?

 

"Yes, the work of the mechanics is certainly worthwhile". 

 

Having improved performance, there is the reliability to be checked. 

 

"This is the time when engines can break down without any big trouble. The technicians have time to find out what's wrong and to take action". 

 

Is it the unleaded petrol imposed by the new regulations that is causing problems? 

 

"We have also experimented with different mappings, precisely because of the new fuels. It seems to me, however, that we are on the right track". 

 

At work on the Barcelona track, in addition to Ferrari, are the new Jordan-Yamaha and Dallara-Ferrari. Modena and Lehto work to eliminate the youthful defects of their single-seaters. Electrical problems for the English team, while the Brescia team is suffering gearbox failure. On Wednesday the tests will continue with Capelli taking over from Alesi and Martini replacing Lehto at the wheel of the Dallara. In the last gasps of the Formula 1 drivers' market, before the World Championship officially starts, a small surprise could be hidden. It is not excluded, in fact, that a woman, an Italian competitor, will take part in the championship that will start in South Africa. Giovanna Amati, 29 years old, from Rome, an almost professional driver, is in fact in the running to win a driver's seat at Brabham, a noble but lapsed team. It will be known, however, whether the Italian girl's dream will have a good chance of coming true. The English team, in fact, awaits the outcome of the emergency appeal presented to the FIA, which did not grant a super-licence to the Japanese racer Nakaya, who should have competed precisely for Brabham.

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In fact, Nakaya would not have the necessary requirements, i.e. results in the minor formulae, to move up a category. Should the outcome of the appeal turn out to be negative, Giovanna Amati could continue her negotiations and probably crown the dream of every driver's life. 

 

"Of course I hope so. I had contact with Minardi, but it took too much money to race. Now the demand is a bit more moderate and, if there is a place, I might even make it". 

 

Giovanna Amati had made her debut in 1981, racing for two seasons with good placings in Formula Fiat Abarth. Then she moved on to Formula 3, winning two national women's titles. Since 1987 she has been involved in Formula 3000, and her best results came last year with a seventh place at Le Mans and a ninth at Hockenheim driving a Reynard-Cosworth of the Motorsport team. Colleagues say of her that she is pretty and very professional. In qualifying she often manages to shine, but having never had a sufficiently competitive car at her disposal, it is still difficult to judge her. Grit, experience and passion (essential qualities to emerge in this business), however, she does not lack. How did the first contact with Brabham come about? 

 

"They were the ones who made the first step. In simple terms they told me: Look, we have problems with the super-licence to our Nakaya, maybe we can make a deal with you. Let's talk about it".

 

And your response? 

 

"I said: let's see, if an agreement is found with my sponsors everything is fine with me. Of course the timeframe is very tight, but I shouldn't have any problems with the super-licence". 

 

Brabham, a fallen nobleman, is said to be in difficulty and is willing to supply the car to anyone who brings in money. Doesn't that worry you? 

 

"That's talk I don't understand. However, let it be clear that, with very few exceptions, and everyone knows them well, all the teams demand that the driver brings sponsors. And I certainly don't have any more than the others. In Formula 3000 and Formula 3, I have always raced with a very small budget". 

 

How do you plan to convince Brabham? 

 

"There is no need to convince anyone, as they were the ones who sought me out. If the contacts go well, I will race my first Grand Prix in South Africa in a month's time. I don't know the Kyalami circuit, but at Brabham they have told me that we will have an extra day of testing and that can only please me. It will help us get to know the car better". 

 

How do you perform on the track? 

 

"I'm aggressive, very aggressive. When the car allows me to be". 

 

And the relationships with the drivers? Is it an advantage to be a woman? 

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"With me they are much meaner. Out of a sense of revenge. Just like in life, the weaker one is, the more the others lash out. And because I'm a woman, they think I'm weak. Whereas women are more resilient. And nobody can stand being behind a woman. On the track especially". 

 

Her private life is borderline cloistered. Gym three hours a day five days a week. Then home. And she usually stays there, preferring to invite friends over to watch a good film together. Otherwise she is always busy between telephone and fax. She has a manager:

 

"But there are things I have to take care of myself".

 

Giovanna confesses to one fault: 

 

"I get angry easily if the car doesn't run. This year I had three fights with the mechanics because they had not checked the suspension sufficiently. But it was difficult to work with such a tight budget. We had no computer. So far I have always raced in winter. Formula 1 instead chases the sun. Then I can't stand half-measures. Either I load myself up with commitments or I cancel everything". 

 

But you are waiting for Formula 1. And what other gift would he like? 

 

"A podium". 

 

Two more? 

 

"A podium, a podium".

 

Giovanna Amati is not new to the chronicles: on 12 February 1978, the daughter of the king of Roman cinemas was kidnapped in front of the family villa. Negotiations went on for a long time, but on 27 April 1978 she returned to freedom thanks to the 800.000.000 lire paid by her parents. Hers was one of the most controversial kidnappings, due to rumours that the girl had fallen in love with one of the kidnappers (Jean Daniel Nieto, 31 years old, from Marseilles, a robber who had already escaped from a French prison) arrested by the police in Via Veneto a few days after her release. Leaving these speeches aside, Wednesday, 29 January 1992, was a positive day for Ferrari, in the tests held at the Barcelona circuit. Ivan Capelli, after some problems with the assembly of a new engine, completes 62 laps (the fastest of which is a 1'22"44), and on Thursday he simulates a race. Another of the Maranello team's engines, however, exploded on Martini's Dallara, a clear sign that the various tests underway on material, electronics and petrol are experimental for now. Meanwhile, Niki Lauda says yes to Ferrari. The former Austrian driver himself confided this to some friends and the news immediately reached Italy, spreading in the course of the evening. What role could the three-time World Champion have in the Maranello team? In all likelihood it will be a consultancy position, as an advisor, a great expert in the world of racing. It had been known for some time - and Lauda himself had ended up admitting it publicly - that Luca Montezemolo, Ferrari's president, was eager to employ the professionalism and sympathy aroused by the Salzburg star to help boost Ferrari's image after so many bitter disappointments and defeats in the Formula 1 World Championship. At first Lauda, busy as head of his airline company (Air Lauda employs several hundred people) had responded negatively. Then, in the last few days, the pressure became more insistent and the former driver (who already came to racing last year as a luxury contributor to the commentator Heinz Pruller) accepted the proposals. It is clear that Lauda will not have an executive position within the team, at least for the time being. His availability will most likely be reduced to Saturdays and Sundays, and perhaps not in all championship races. 

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It is therefore logical to guess for him a position of support to the managers who will lead the team, i.e. engineer Claudio Lombardi and English coach Harvey Postlethwaite. Better, however, to wait for an official communication from Ferrari itself in the next few days, perhaps when on Thursday, 6 February 1992, the new car for the World Championship will be presented in Maranello.

 

"Herr Lauda is not here, he will only return to Europe on Monday". 

 

So answers a polite voice from the Vienna office of Lauda Air, owned by the former Austrian driver, on Thursday 30 January 1992. The phone rings insistently from early morning, after the anticipation that the three-time Formula One World Champion will have a consultant role at Ferrari. And the hunt for the wanted man begins. Where is he? In the Arabian Peninsula, the Far East, the Caribbean? Niki Lauda is on a beach near Bridgetown, capital of Barbados. He is resting after flying one of his jets, waiting to find another load of tourists to bring back. 

 

"You find me everywhere. Yes: I am going to Montezemolo and Lombardi on Thursday (coincidentally, the very day of the presentation of the new Ferrari 644, ed). I haven't signed anything yet. I've spoken to Luca in general. I don't know what they're offering me, but I know what I'd like to do". 

 

What? That's the question that comes naturally. 

 

"We'll talk about it later. It is clear that I will continue with the airline. I will only be able to be an external collaborator, but if there is an agreement I will go to all the World Championship races. I think my experience of so many years as a pilot and then as manager of Lauda Air will be useful". 

 

But is there also some enthusiasm in her to return to the world of racing? 

 

"The prospect appeals to me. I'm a guy who gets bored easily doing the same things over and over again. However, I believe that Ferrari is starting from scratch, that it is being rebuilt. Let's have no illusions, it will take a long time to get back to the top. McLaren and Williams on the other hand are at the top. Anyway, I haven't signed yet".

 

A kind of refrain, repeated several times, not to admit that the decision has already been taken, that by now Niki Lauda, after more than fourteen years, is about to return to Ferrari. In any case, the anticipation that Niki Lauda will take on an advisory role in the racing team is not denied by the Maranello team. On the contrary, Ferrari, in a way, confirms that the negotiations with the three-time World Champion are practically concluded, even if there is still a small margin of uncertainty. If there are no unforeseeable hitches, the collaboration between Lauda and the Maranello team will be made official on 6 February (i.e. Thursday) at Fiorano, on the occasion of the presentation of the single-seater that will take part in the 1992 World Championship. The Scuderia Ferrari press office states:

 

"Lauda will not, however, become part of the in-house team, but will probably have a role as advisor and image-man".

 

The Austrian's return to Ferrari will make it possible to recreate part of the team of the 1970s, when Montezemolo was sporting director and Sante Ghedini was in charge of the Fiorano private track. And on closer inspection, the atmosphere of those times is already back. Just on Thursday, 30 January 1992, Ghedini in Barcelona, where tests were being held, preached calm: 

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"We confirm nothing".

 

He says, surrounded by journalists (including a Mexican television crew) in the most traditional style learned from Franco Gozzi. But then, being bound by deep affection for Lauda and a common passion for everything that flies through the skies, he blurts out: 

 

"But it would be wonderful if he came. He would bring his winning pilot mentality and uncommon technical skills as a test driver. The ideal man to regain competitiveness". 

 

Rather surprised, on the other hand, is Ivan Capelli who, for various reasons, is unable to carry out the planned one Grand Prix test (65 laps), even though the Maranello team's technicians later declare themselves satisfied with the results. 

 

"I am happy".

 

This is the laconic comment of the Milanese driver, who evidently does not know what else to say. Not least because, when Lauda was racing, he was a child. And then he only saw him in some of Niki's appearances on Formula One World Championship circuits. On Friday, 31 January 1992, Ferrari's tests at the Barcelona circuit ended with an excellent time set by Ivan Capelli. Using the old 643 and the same engine in the 1992 version with which he had covered about 450 kilometres the previous day, and fitting race tyres, Capelli sets a significant time of 1'21"01, 1.8 seconds slower than the best time set in the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix by Riccardo Patrese. Ferrari's sporting director, Sante Ghedini, says at the end of practice:

 

"The results and the indications gathered are very significant". 

 

In the meantime, work is underway in Maranello to complete the construction of the first unit of the single-seater that will compete in the next Formula 1 World Championship. On Lauda's arrival as advisor, Lombardi declares: 

 

"I have spoken often with Lauda to agree on a work programme; I would be very pleased to be able to take advantage of his advice". 

 

A few days later, on Monday 3 February 1992 to be exact, during the Formula 1 tests in progress at the Portuguese track, Nigel Mansell set the best time in the Williams-Renault, while Boutsen went off the road, ruining the front end of his new Ligier-Renault. The Belgian driver was rumoured to be losing his place in the team to make way for Prost, should the Frenchman decide to race in the next World Championship. The deadline for teams to register drivers for the Formula One World Championship ends on Wednesday, 5 February 1992. But the rule does not apply to Alain Prost. The Frenchman, who is still testing the new Ligier, will be able to decide even a few days before the start of the World Championship (i.e. at the end of the month), as the regulations allow two substitutions per team during a season. In fact, the situation between Prost and Ligier is very tense: the driver does not just want to drive but intends to take over the team and Guy Ligier is resisting. So Alain, although besieged by journalists waiting to hear his decisions, is not talking and neither is the manufacturer. If Prost comes to an agreement, Comas will be sold to Tyrrell. But even Piquet still has some hope. In the tests on Tuesday, meanwhile, Mansell continued to be very fast with the Williams: the British driver lapped in 1'13"21, very close to the Portuguese track record, while Alain Prost set his best time of 1'15"09. The first formal act of the Formula 1 World Championship takes place on Wednesday, 5 February 1992, in Paris, with the closing of the entry lists for the drivers. And on Thursday there will be the second one with the presentation at Fiorano of the Ferrari 644, the car that the Maranello team will use during the season. 

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An event that is as always highly anticipated, thanks to the fascination that Ferrari continues to have and the passion with which the fans follow its fortunes, for better or worse. Much has already been said and written about the new single-seater: it seems that some innovative (some say revolutionary) aerodynamic concepts have been adopted. The project is by American Steve Nichols, who has long since settled in Italy. A project, probably, reworked by Ferrari's technical staff in all its sectors and perhaps also susceptible to some modifications as soon as the tests preceding the debut at the end of the month in the first race in South Africa are completed. In Formula 1 there is nothing stable and definitive anymore and evolution is continuous. Progress (and regression) is recorded from one week to the next. At Fiorano there will be no Niki Lauda. The Austrian will only turn up at Maranello on Friday, 7 February 1992. However, his position as collaborator-consultant for the World Championship should be made official. In the field of entries, the latest news concerns Giovanna Amati, who signed a contract to drive a Brabham alongside Eric van de Poele. The 29-year-old Italian says, delighted, from London: 

 

"I think I am up to the task. Ever since I was a child, my dream was to race in this category". 

 

Not an easy task, that of Amati, because Brabham does not have a competitive car and above all does not seem to possess the financial means necessary for a thorough job. Still, it is a good opportunity for the girl and all that remains is to wish her all the best. The last woman in the Formula 1 Circus was another Italian, Lella Lombardi, who drove twelve races between 1975 and 1976. The driver market, however, remains active because the teams have the possibility to change their decisions up to the eve of the first practice - and perhaps even afterwards - with various ploys. Teams can change two drivers during the season and invoke force majeure in any case. As expected, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet are missing. The Frenchman and the Brazilian are still on the placement lists, along with a dozen colleagues. Prost is now engaged in a special dialogue with Guy Ligier: he wants to become not only a driver of the team, but also co-owner. In the meantime, however, the manufacturer has signed up Boutsen and Comas, letting it be known that there will be time for possible replacements. Also linked to the French driver's fate is Piquet, who could find a place (at Ligier, but some also speak of a return of interest from Benetton, and an interest in the new Venturi-Larrousse) should the situation evolve and advise Prost himself to take a leap year. On Thursday, 6 February 1992, a humble but combative Ferrari appeared before the journalists. 

 

Transparent and at the same time secretive. All that remains of the old is the red colour. For the rest, almost everything has changed: the car is completely new and the team partially rebuilt. The aim is to climb back up the slope after the bitterness of 1991, hoping to win a few races and challenge the institutional opponents, namely McLaren and Williams. From the fog that shrouds the Fiorano circuit, muffling the noises, the car is presented, which at Kyalami, in South Africa, should allow Alesi and Capelli to fight above all with Senna and Berger, as well as with Mansell and Patrese. It is not called the 644, as was believed. Even in the name, Ferrari wanted to start from scratch: F92A is the name of this single-seater that breaks away from those of past years, definitively ending with John Barnard and the evolutions of his design philosophy. But if on a technical level Ferrari is trying to make progress, on a human level it is trying to recover those values that in so many years of success had been its backbone, amalgamating passion and commitment. Intentions that Luca Montezemolo, the company's president, summarises in a short speech, in line with the philosophy of the moment. 

 

"Ferrari continues to follow the world of sport with great attention and determination in parallel with the series production that will lead us to present three new models this year. However, no one has a magic wand anymore, it will take time, luck and a lot of work to achieve the results we intend to pursue. We look forward to the end of the season, when we will take stock. We know that Prost has sent us good wishes, which we heartily return. We have chosen two young drivers who have not yet won and who we are sure will work hard to do so as soon as possible". 

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Claudio Lombardi, general manager of the racing team, adds: 

 

"There have been significant changes. I have been at Maranello for seven months, now we have achieved clarity and avoid overlapping roles. There are three main areas into which we have divided the team. The chassis and aerodynamics part is entrusted to Harvey Postlethwaite and the engine part to Paolo Massai. The sports management is in the hands of Sante Gherlini. In addition I can confirm that we have signed Lauda. Niki will be my collaborator and personal advisor, with the task of being the privileged interlocutor with the drivers, because he speaks their language".

 

The Austrian, contrary to popular belief, arrived at Maranello on Wednesday evening for an initial contact. From Vienna, before leaving, he had declared: 

 

"At Ferrari I have a job waiting for me that I can do without any problems together with my commitment at the top of the company". 

 

Alesi and Capelli are full of joy, for different reasons. The Frenchman, who does not hide the fact that he was disappointed with last year, wants to try again to climb to the top: 

 

"I was impressed by how Ferrari is reacting. And I have a lot of confidence. I found two technicians who had already worked very well with me at Tyrrell, namely Postlethwaite and Migeot, the aerodynamics man. Theirs is the most difficult task. For us drivers, if the car is competitive, pole positions and victories are within reach". 

 

Capelli still gets emotional thinking about being at Ferrari:

 

"It is my big chance, I will try to make the most of it, the car looks fantastic to me. For me it is like wearing the jersey of the national football team, I feel like I am the spearhead of a line-up of Italian drivers who would have hoped to have the same luck. I really hope to be able to return the trust". 

 

Alongside the two drivers, Larini and Morbidelli will operate as test drivers. In the racing team and the one that will follow the tests will work, under the supervision of Postlethwaite and engineer Lombardi, many young technicians starting with Urbinelli and Fantuzzi. The two will be the track managers of Alesi and Capelli's cars. Indeed, Ferrari, with the championship about to start, intends to carry out a three-year programme - possibly also anchored to the stability of the technicians - with the aim of recreating a chassis and aerodynamics school aimed at complete independence. But the secret of it all will be linked above all to the results of the new F92A, which will have to be the weapon to find its way back to the title that has been missing for 13 years (1979, Jody Scheckter). The nose is bird's beak-shaped, raised, very sharp and reminiscent of that of a jet, with a low, flashy front wing similar to that of a hammerhead fish. The most original part of the new Ferrari F92A is the bodywork. Two oval air intakes detached from the bodywork and, above all, an unprecedented bottom characterise the single-seater created by the Maranello team's technical staff on an idea by Steve Nichols and with the interpretation of aerodynamics specialist Migeot. Above the flat bottom, there is a kind of plinth or lower step, which creates a deep slit. The aim: to produce a significant ground effect. All while trying to achieve the greatest aerodynamic pressure with the least air resistance. Ferrari does not provide data on the wheelbase of the single-seater, i.e. the distance between the axles of the front and rear wheels. Perhaps because with special spacers the car will be able to change length depending on the circuit. The novelties also concern the longitudinal semi-automatic gearbox: it has been changed back to six gears (the seven-speed one offered no obvious advantages).

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The engine has been completely revised. According to engineer Massai, it is the most compact and lightest 12-cylinder in Formula 1. The electronics and engine management have been modified: the new regulations require the use of a green petrol, with different octane number, different density and unleaded. These are the most important characteristics: 12-cylinder 65° V-cylinder engine, 60 valves, 3497.96 cc, Weber-Marelli digital electronic injection, Agip petrol; chassis in honeycomb composite material with carbon fibre; track widths front 1810 mm, rear 1678 mm, length 4350 mm, width 2135 mm, height 978 mm, weight with water and oil 505 kg. The team's personnel includes general manager Claudio Lombardi, technical director Harvey Postlethwaite, engine manager Paolo Massai, sports director Sante Gherlini, track engineers Vito Susca, Raimondo Raimondi, Luca Baldisseri, Luigi Urbinelli and Gianfranco Fantuzzi. And then Niki Lauda. The Austrian driver had left, slamming the door, on a hot, late summer's day, 29 August 1977. He returned on a cold winter morning, making his entrance to sports management in a grey Alfa 164. The ever-present cap on his head, still bearing the name of the sponsor who had convinced him fifteen years ago to leave Ferrari (after four successful seasons, two world titles and a long streak of controversy fuelled by a love-hate relationship with the team and the fans), a red jumper and jacket. On Friday, 7 February 1992, Niki Lauda officially accepted the position of advisor offered to him by Luca Montezemolo. Lauda has not changed. Ready intelligence and an important gift, the ability to synthesise, to express himself in a few clear words. 

 

"This is the first time I have seen these places again. And I must admit that everything has changed. Even the racing team is practically a small industry that lives within the Fiorano track, with great means at its disposal". 

 

One question comes to mind. You had said several times that his commitments with his airline would not allow him to have any distractions in the world of racing. Why did you change his mind? 

 

"Simple, I was offered a deal that would not disturb my work. Luca called me a couple of months ago. New team, different organisation, starting almost from scratch. For me it was like accepting a challenge. And there is also a reason of the heart. I couldn't forget Ferrari, beyond all considerations. If all these coincidences hadn't happened, I wouldn't have come. I would not have worked with Williams and McLaren, where everything seems to be going well and there is no need for my collaboration". 

 

What will your task be? 

 

"To watch, to observe our team and the others. Talk to the drivers, try to get a sense of which direction they want to go in their choices. I will form opinions and report them to my only interlocutor, Engineer Lombardi. I won't have - nor would I want - any decision-making power and therefore no responsibility". 

 

How do you see this Ferrari being relaunched? 

 

"I think it will be very hard to return to the top. Formula 1 is much more difficult than it was ten years ago. I think McLaren with the Japanese from Honda and Williams with Renault have achieved a great balance and have very advanced technology. Maranello used to have a better chance than everyone. Now we start at least on an equal footing. My role will be precisely to try to save time in making choices with some good advice. I have a fair amount of experience as a former driver and as a manager". 

 

Will you go to all the races? 

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"It depends. For now I'll be watching the tests at Fiorano (only two laps with Alesi on Friday, ed.) and I'll be present at the tests from Wednesday to Friday at Estoril. I will also definitely go to South Africa for the first race of the World Championship''. 

 

Will you test the cars? 

 

"I don't even think about it. There are young drivers who go much faster than me. However, the new F92A single-seater seems very interesting to me, especially for the aerodynamic solutions". 

 

In the last few hours you have met the Ferrari men. What impressions did you get? 

 

"I had only seen the drivers a few times on the track. I never watched them working on the set-up of the cars. As far as engineer Lombardi is concerned, I think he is a man who understands things, who goes straight ahead and who is going to prioritise results. No politics. I like that". 

 

How long will the contract last? 

 

"It is not set, we are on our word. We have not even talked about money, we will see at the end of the season. For now I am being paid for hotels and travel. First we win and then we think about money. I have no such problems with Lauda Air, which makes 180.000.000 lire in turnover". 

 

But why did you come to Italy, to gain visibility? 

 

"Two years ago I created Lauda Italia to occupy a space. According to the law, I needed two partners. I asked Montezemolo and Bulgari. But at the moment the company is not operational, even though my planes leave three times a week from Malpensa. No, it's not a question of money. It is a challenge".

 

Fifteen laps on the track and great enthusiasm: the new Ferrari F92A, with Jean Alesi at the wheel, makes its first real test run on the Fiorano track on Friday 7 February 1992. More than 3,000 fans line the circuit to see the new single-seater. The tests are then suspended on lap 15 because a bodywork support breaks. Practice continues on Saturday, without incidents. Jean Alesi completes 29 laps. The new Ferrari leaves later in the evening for the Portuguese circuit of Estoril, where it will test over the next few days. From Wednesday 12 February until Friday 14 February 1992 Ferrari tests the new F92A, with which Alesi and Capelli will race in the next World Championship, in front of Niki Lauda. The two drivers arrive in the afternoon at Estoril and Capelli also makes an inspection of the circuit just outside Lisbon. The driver from Lombardy still appears shaken by the robbery he suffered a few days ago, when some bandits forced him at gunpoint into his villa to rob it. Ferrari took the place of Williams, who ran with Hill a series of tests on Renault engines: on Tuesday the English driver completed about twenty laps before stopping for gearbox troubles. Williams, however, confirms to be fearsome: in practice Mansell laps 2 seconds under the time obtained in the qualifying of the last Grand Prix of Portugal. Wednesday, 12 February 1992, for eight hours the only machine to start during the first day of Ferrari's practice at Estoril is the coffee machine, which the mechanics brought from Maranello along with tortellini and lambrusco. Maranello's latest jewel, the F92A, on the other hand, remains in the pit covered from the rain, admired for that line that for lack of a better one has drawn comparisons with missiles, torpedoes and bird beaks. 

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A splendid but inexorably still profile. Then, around 5:00 p.m., a clearing allows Jean Alesi to go out for a sighting lap while waiting for the weather to improve on Thursday. The big day for the new Ferrari is thus consumed in less than two minutes. The rest is spent in chatter, eyes hanging on the grey stormy sky. A day lost for a team that is fighting against the weather, without even having the certainty of beating it. The programme, from today until Sunday, 1 March 1992, with the world debut at Kyalami, is played out on the edge of seconds. Engineer Claudio Lombardi explains:

 

"If we lose another day of testing, the situation becomes critical, not least because this is the first and only possible test before transferring the cars to South Africa".

 

So all that remains is to hope for the Atlantic wind to sweep away the clouds. Ferrari, after all, has no alternative. Testing the new single-seater in the wet would not bring useful indications, with the risk of exposing it to an accident like the one that on Wednesday morning forced Damon Hill's Williams to end practice early, after hitting a guardrail at 200 km/h. 

 

"The difference is that Williams has spare chassis ready, while we are working with just one body and will be working overtime to complete the other two in time for South Africa. If we ruin this one we're finished".

 

The wait in the pits serves to get a good look at the new Ferrari jewel, but a few secrets remain. Postlethwaite, for example, hints at a new petrol pumping system necessary because of the unconventional shape of the tanks. But these are details. Says Lombardi:

 

"We keep the rest out in the open. We know they will copy us. But our skill will have to be to maintain the starting advantage by working out the improvements faster than the others".

 

The idea that the competition will have to copy Ferrari, without knowing whether it is already a winning car, is becoming a catchphrase. Alesi also talks about it: 

 

"They will follow us down this road, but they will have to lose at least a year".

 

At Maranello they are either incurable optimists, or the wind tunnel tests and the 20 laps at Fiorano have provided extraordinary indications. 

 

"Let's say interesting".

 

Corrects Postlethwaite, who also harbours some doubts about the chassis developed by Steve Nichols before his arrival. 

 

"I would have done it differently; I'm not saying it's wrong, but I would have seen it another way".

 

Says Postlethwaite referring to the American engineer, who leaves with no regrets. Admits Lombardi:

 

"The relationship with Nichols had deteriorated. Even learning of his contacts with others could create a form of mistrust towards him".

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The doubt, in short, is that if he is not removed quickly, Nichols could transfer his Ferrari experiences to another team. And then there is the desire to break with an unwieldy past. The last year is still a nightmare for the engineers and drivers. 

 

"I don't want to talk about it".

 

Jean Alesi replies harshly when asked if he already sees a difference between the new management and the Prost era. It will take time to forget. Thursday 13 February 1992, the F92A finally takes to the track. Alesi completes two practice sessions at Estoril for a total of forty laps. Many pit stops. The Frenchman does about ten laps in the morning, doing most of the work in the late afternoon when the temperature drops. Best time 1'14"6, 2.5 seconds faster than the record. Capelli instead runs with the old 643 and tests the engine with some problems. On Friday, if the weather is good, the last day of testing will take place, otherwise it will continue on Saturday. Meanwhile, from Maranello, news arrives of a meeting between Montezemolo and Cesare Fiorio, although for the moment a return of the former sporting director to Maranello is unlikely. Finally, the signing of Andrea De Cesaris by Tyrrell is official. 

 

"Do you know how many times I've asked myself why, with all the good things Ferrari has at its disposal, it doesn't win anything anymore. And I was sorry, you know? Because you remain a bit of a Ferrari fan even when you've gone and, as happened to Niki and me, there was something to complain about". 

 

In the lounge of the red motorhome that is the travelling home of the Maranello team, Sante Ghedini takes a moment to pause. He takes off his intercom headphones, takes off his jacket. Through the burnished glass you can see the cook as he takes the pasta pot to the pits and the yellow mechanics' jackets. Lunch suspends practice at Estoril for a couple of hours, but does not interrupt the obsession of Ferrari's new men: you have to do fast and do well. Above all, they have to get out of the losing spiral that has taken the team out of the headlines and consigned it to Formula 1 jokes. 

 

"Ferrari is Ferrari".

 

Says Ghedini, who has been back in Maranello as sports director for a couple of months now. And it would be a self-evident statement if he did not add that the Circus needs to find a strong Ferrari, otherwise it will never be the same again. Which is probably true. But back to the opening question: why has the world's most famous team not won a title since 1979? In the answer lies the first key to the possible revival. 

 

"Too many power centres".

 

The sports director maintains, with the sincerity of one who has stayed out of the fray. Ghedini left Maranello with Lauda, in 1978, to go to Brabham. And Ferrari accused them of betrayal. Now they are back. And with them, or rather above them, Montezemolo has returned to reassemble the group that eighteen years earlier built the miracle of Niki Lauda's two World Championships. Only Forghieri, who was the technical director, is missing. 

 

"He's launching himself into politics, he's running for Parliament in the drivers' party: they asked him and with his drive he can do it, why not? But you can't propose the equation: that group leads to those victories. Too simple. For a start, everything has changed since our time".

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Or almost everything. Lauda, who hangs around the circuit where he won his last title with McLaren, for example, has changed very little. His hair has greased under his cap, but the scars of the Nurburgring are the same as they were then, as is his desire to hide his thoughts. The only Ferrari he talks about is the Testarossa. 

 

"After fifteen years I found it much softer".

 

Confides the Austrian, even if nobody cares about those who have been enduring the torment of testing for two days to understand whether this car has a future or not. On the rest, Niki drops the curtain of silence agreed upon when he accepted the offer as Montezemolo's personal advisor. Officially, Lauda will not get involved in technical matters. This responsibility will also not hang on Lombardi and Postlethwaite, because one does not want the nightmare of many power centres to be repeated. In short, an attempt is being made to build a compact and harmonious group in which each person speaks for his or her own competence. And do so as little as possible. This is imposed by Montezemolo, who every morning wakes up his collaborators at Estoril to ask for an explanation for any polemical hint that he picks up in the newspapers. Out with Prost, out with Nichols and all the assumptions of a possible break-up, the idea for the moment is to go back to building a family. Sante Ghedini recalls:

 

"As it was in our time, with the Commendatore. He was the beauty of Ferrari. Of course, the Old Man with his charisma was missed, someone who didn't go through the personnel office to tell you for better or worse what he thought of you. Everything revolved around him. It was never the same after that. Today I see something of his management in Montezemolo: certainly Ferrari has changed like all the other teams and one man cannot command a department that in twenty years has gone from 70-80 employees to 400. But that's the line. The important thing is to recreate the big family where there is no envy, no secrets, no reticence in tackling problems because you don't know who to trust". 

 

An example of normalisation, albeit a small one, comes from Capelli, who does not feel diminished by the preference enjoyed by Alesi. 

 

"I don't mind that he uses the new car while I still have to use the old one because they haven't completed another one. That seems fair to me. He has more experience than me". 

 

If it is not fiction, gone are the days of standing in the pits waiting for a fight to break out. The real restoration seems to be reflected in human relations and appears even more complex and fascinating than others that have punctuated the last few years of the Fiat universe. After all, Ferrari is returning to an old formula but is launching a revolutionary vehicle, with all the unknowns that can be imagined: in fact, the new F92A could immediately turn out to be the star of the year, as the 312T was for the first Lauda, but it could also be a racing wreck. So one moves among the anxieties that displays of optimism always fail to mask: it will be so until Ferrari have understood what they really have on their hands. Small and, for the moment, innocent signs of this can be seen, from the outburst of nerves that betrays Alesi in front of a camera, to Postlethwaite's refusal to be filmed on a tyre of the new car because it would attract bad luck. A trouble that is not remedied even by wind tunnel testing. On his first outing with Ferrari Ivan Capelli bumps up against a problem of measurements, those of his handmade seat, anatomical, enveloping, technological, but inexorably unstable and uncomfortable. After the first laps and the first bruises, tossed around in the cockpit, Alboreto's heir decides that it is better to put his jeans and cloth jacket back on so as not to risk any more.

 

"Unfortunately the measurements were taken on a dummy. Only Alesi was able to adapt it, I for my physical conformation could not. Now I'm waiting for them to make me a new one". 

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The mishap (not unusual at the beginning of the season, however surprising in a sport accustomed to dealing with millimetres) forced Capelli to stop in practice on the afternoon of Friday, 14 February 1992, still giving space to Alesi who had his suitcase ready. But even the Frenchman is forced to face difficulties: three laps and a stop. One more lap and another stop. So it goes into the Portuguese sunset with the feeling that something is not working according to initial expectations: the breaks are too long and the roar of the engine on the track too short, so much so that the professional onlookers appear disappointed. Then Alesi lifts the morale of the Ferrari fans with a final series of 39 laps, almost a Grand Prix practice, including the tyre change. The closure of the facility prevents them from going any further, but at least some concrete conclusions are drawn on the account of this wonderful unknown that is the F92A. Between the very brief Fiorano test and the two days in Portugal, Ferrari has not made it to a thousand kilometres, and the race debut in South Africa is just two weeks away. Says engineer Lombardi, at the end of the tests:

 

"The thing that interests us less is the time, although Alesi's 1'17"45 with a full tank is on average 2 seconds slower than the car in last year's Grand Prix".

 

The underlying impression is that at Ferrari they are fairly satisfied with the car's handling, but have no illusions about a winning future. Lombardi is crystal clear: 

 

"Our rivals continue to stay ahead of us, we will still have to work hard to get a competitive vehicle: the road is very long". 

 

Yes, but how long is it? Nobody knows. From certain expressions it is doubtful that only the next generation will see Maranello cars leading a World Championship. Lombardi, in fact, explains that certain differences are not made up over months, but rather over years. But it is normal that when faced with a new project one exceeds caution (Alesi's result is on a par with those obtained a week ago by Williams). The two drivers seem more optimistic. Alesi repeats that there is no comparison with the old 643. 

 

"I am satisfied, I was able to maintain a consistent performance".

 

Says the Frenchman, extolling the qualities of the new missile on fast bends. Capelli, who with tears and bruises still completes about forty laps, on the other hand, defines the car with the term sincere, because you know that for a driver the vehicle is like a person. And just to proceed in the personification of four wheels, the concept of reliability also emerges. 

 

"We are really happy about that. Even the cooling system that gives us a lot of concern, thinking about the conditions in South Africa, has proved better than expected".

 

Says Claudio Lombardi, who does not, however, mention a problem that arose in the morning, when the radiators were replaced in the garage. In short, Ferrari will not yet keep up with the front runners, but it can already go all the way. Time will do the rest. And the men. Speaking of which, it seems that Prost has asked Paris for a visa for South Africa and Mexico, the sites of the first Grands Prix. Officially, Alain Prost is still unemployed: could it be that he just wants to do some touring? We will soon find out. Meanwhile, on Wednesday 19 February 1992 Jean Alesi tests the F92A on the Fiorano track. The Frenchman only does three laps to check that everything is in order after the modifications of the past few days. On Thursday, Ivan Capelli tests his car. And, above all, Nelson Piquet decides to switch to Formula Indy, signing a contract with the Menard team, which will put a Lola at his disposal. Piquet's debut is scheduled for 24 May 1992. 

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Guarded and heralded by three mammoth chimneys, in the open countryside near Oxford, Frank Williams, having reached an agreement with Renault, which in turn is linked with Ligier, designs and breeds his carbon-fibre steeds. The new Williams is called FW14B: on Sunday, 23 February 1992, they reach Kyalami to be driven by Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese. The factory is neat on the outside and sophisticated on the inside. The journalist, if not invited, becomes a potential spy. The camera, a tool of the devil. 175 people work at Didcot. The cars are created away from prying eyes, amidst models (the naked ones hanging on the walls: the only contemplative and practicable alternative to the obsession of beating McLaren), in the belly of two cyclopean ovens that bake the bodies at 125 °C-175 °C, inside a wind tunnel that cost £4.500.000. A huge tube capable of housing 1:2 scale models, and shaking them at up to 240 km/h. New, and so far unique, the Williams has one thing above all. Active suspension. Already tried and tested at Estoril, where Mansell, Patrese and Damon Hill outdistanced Alesi's Ferrari by almost three seconds, they will be reintroduced from 1 March 1992, in South Africa. Williams (281 Grands Prix run, 51 won) is at the forefront of aerodynamics. But also very jealous and touchy. The weight of the car has been lightened by some 20 kilos. Renault has also taken a little off its modified 10-cylinder engine. Says Frank Williams:

 

"We will run the first races with the old car equipped, however, with active suspension. Later, perhaps starting with the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, we will launch the new one". 

 

Which, of course, is top-secret. Little evolution in the gearbox and little light on the clutch: pedal or automatic? Patrick Head's smile does not illuminate. If anything, it intrigues: 

 

"Every car will have three pedals, you name it". 

 

Confidence is deep in substance, and very soft on the surface. McLaren remains the number one opponent: 

 

"Also because I don't know what the hell they are up to. They're being mysterious, more so than us".

 

And Ferrari? He searches for words, the Williams owner, and punctuates them one by one: 

 

"The times at Estoril are undoubtedly poor, but I understand that the new engine is light". 

 

And after throwing a dig at Ron Dennis:

 

"We are not used to stealing other people's engines...".

 

Which McLaren did with Honda, when it was fitted to the Williams, the owner confirms the existence of a fleeting contact, in December, with Alain Prost: 

 

"Renault had asked me to sound him out. No problem, however, for Mansell and Patrese. It was a purely demonstrative approach". 

 

About Renault, which also supplies Ligier, Frank Williams says: 

 

"Our contract expires in 1993. Clear pacts, we are the first. But I am honest: with Prost at Ligier, I will feel less comfortable". 

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Frank Williams is always there waiting for the gift of a Ferrari. He was promised it during the dark days of Alesi's theft: 

 

"They will give it to me in March 1993". 

 

Patrick Head would recount a few years later, talking about the FW14B:

 

"The big difference between 1991 and 1992 was the introduction of active suspension. Williams had been studying this solution since 1985, thanks to collaboration with AP. When we were able to develop the digital active suspension, the electronic control system became more and more sophisticated, which allowed us to make adjustments whenever the driver complained of understeer or oversteer problems. Small adjustments were enough to solve the problem. Furthermore, the suspension was perfectly integrated into the geometry of the car. The active suspension was so innovative that the drivers' driving sensations also changed completely. When entering corners, there was a very small margin where the car could not guarantee grip. But once those hundredths of a second had passed, the car became perfectly stable again in the corners. Mansell was able to adapt immediately to this style, while Patrese had to work harder to increase his feeling for the single-seater". 

 

For this reason, Renault would have preferred Prost instead of Mansell at Williams, but the Frenchman's complicated contractual situation did not help the choice. The British still preferred Mansell. Adrian Newey, designer of the FW14B, had started work on the design of the car for 1991 well in advance. In his short career in Formula One, the English designer designed cars that were decidedly innovative from an aerodynamic point of view, so much so that they were far too extreme and very difficult to tune. The scarce economic resources of March, however, never had an adequate development, revealing itself to be one of the reasons for the poor results obtained by March, and then Leyton House, between 1989 and 1990, but the budget made available by Williams and the collaboration with one of the best technical directors ever, such as Patrick Head, allowed Adrian Newey to concretely develop his ideas to the full, realising at the same time a futuristic car that was nevertheless easy to set up and drive. Equipped with suspensions controlled by a three-dimensional programme that Automotive Products had developed for production cars, these are composed of software that detects the car's ground clearance and, by means of a hydraulic system, constantly adjusts the suspension travel, hence the car's set-up, to ensure the best road holding. Of course, active suspension aids aerodynamic study; in fact, Adrian Newey discovered in the wind tunnel that lowering the rear of the car and raising the nose would cause the diffuser to stall, significantly reducing the car's aerodynamic resistance. 

 

So, the British designer inserted a button on the steering wheel, which the drivers would have to press in a straight line to lower the rear of the car and raise the nose, gaining about 10 km/h in top speed. However, the car has one major flaw: its dynamics are very limited. In addition, the car has no power steering, so the loads on the steering wheel are very high due to the enormous downforce. This is why the car is so perfect on a technological level, but also difficult to drive, because when entering a bend you have to keep the throttle open, and the car would automatically adjust its ground clearance by itself, guaranteeing stability and balance in all conditions. On Monday 24 February 1992 the Circus reassembled. At the renovated and polished Kyalami racetrack, tents, caravans and enormous vans offer the usual, somewhat frenetic spectacle of the days before the race, when everything is to be discovered. New cars, shuffled teams: curiosity reigns supreme for the Formula 1 World Championship that is getting underway. Such is the interest that makes even the free practice scheduled for Thursday important, just to drive a few kilometres around the circuit whose layout has been partly redesigned. There is talk of Senna and McLaren, of Williams and their ambitions. With the Brazilian wanting a fourth title and his rivals thinking they can beat him. But, as always, the main topic is about Ferrari. It is a recurring situation by now, people are wondering (and not only the fans, but also the insiders) how competitive the Maranello team's single-seaters will be. 

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It has to be said straight away that the men of the Italian team are all very cautious in their predictions. Never as this year, for so many reasons, has the watchword been so categorical: maximum caution, let's not get ahead of ourselves. However, this is a Ferrari committed to the maximum, revised and corrected with respect to the recent past. For the first time in a long time, the racing team has only one true commander. The general manager is engineer Claudio Lombardi. The latter talks with President Montezemolo, but on the technical and sporting level he is free to make the choices he considers appropriate. This means at the same time having maximum freedom and also taking full responsibility, i.e. possible merits and possible faults. For the technical side, the leading role is played by Harvey Postlethwaite. Reporting to him for the various sectors are Migeot in aerodynamics, Massai with the engines, Ciampolini for electronics. Each car (normally there are three on the track) will have a team with mechanics, an engine engineer, an electronics engineer and a tuning manager who has direct contact with the drivers. The environment seems to have cleared up with the departure of Steve Nichols, but it is still going through a period of adjustment because there are many young people. Just in the last few days, engineer Susca (engines) has asked and been granted to stop racing and to stay in the workshop. And it cannot be ruled out that there will be other small changes. Ivan Capelli makes his debut, while Jean Alesi, after a year of experience, can benefit from having freed himself from psychological subjection to Prost. It must be admitted that on paper the McLaren (with Senna and Berger) and Williams (Mansell and Patrese) are more solid in terms of drivers. And precisely for this reason the Milanese and the Sicilian-born Frenchman are called upon to prove their maturity. The task of former Austrian champion Niki Lauda will be more important than it might seem. Since the early days of his collaboration with Ferrari, Niki has magnetised both Capelli and Alesi with his charisma. If he can translate the two drivers' impressions into a language that the engineers can understand, Lauda will have the chance to positively influence the development of the car and Ivan and Jean's behaviour in practice and in the race.

 

The F92A has the advantage of being completely new and the disadvantage of still being an unknown as the tests carried out so far have been fairly superficial, for reasons of time. Starting with the old single-seaters, in theory, McLaren and Williams will be more tested and have fewer surprises. Apparently the biggest problems for Ferrari will be in qualifying, partly because of the adoption of green, i.e. unleaded petrol, which has changed many parameters. All the major teams have engines and fuel for time trials. The Maranello team, however, has not yet been able to test them thoroughly. Many doubts, therefore, with only one certainty: Ferrari now has the lightest and smallest 12-cylinder engine in Formula 1. A small advantage, but will it be enough to get off on the right foot? While these questions are being asked at Kyalami, in the course of the afternoon they are still in Paris, around a table, presumably surrounded by lawyers and swamped with papers, on one side Alain Prost, on the other Guy Ligier. And no good news. It will probably have to wait until Thursday morning to find out whether the French driver will participate in the World Championship with a car from the French team. The affair, however, has become a farce. Apparently two communiqués are ready, one positive and the other negative. But from the Ligier workshops at Magny-Cours, it is reported that the environment is demoralised. Only if an agreement is found will an official announcement be made. Otherwise it will not be necessary, because the drivers entered in the World Championship are Boutsen and Comas. Even in this negotiation Alain Prost proved to be a difficult, Machiavellian character. At first it seems he was just waiting to see if the new car would be competitive. Once it was ascertained that the Ligier JS37 was not competitive, but neither was it too slow, the driver tried to take advantage of the situation to take over the team, supported by the sponsors backing him to create an all-French team. At the beginning Guy Ligier had agreed to give up a share in the company, 15-20%. Then he realised that the driver wanted to take over the majority of the shares. With the obvious intention of ousting him from leading the team. At this point there are several possible solutions to the story: the manufacturer gives in, abandons and Prost becomes driver-driver; the racer realises that he could lose the game and accepts a fair amount of money to drive without any aspirations of victory. Third hypothesis: Prost takes a year off to return in 1993 at the wheel of Williams or McLaren.


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