On Friday 19 July 1991 Ayrton Senna risked death in a frightful accident at Hockenheim on the last day of private practice ahead of the German Grand Prix. The Brazilian, due to a tyre blowout, goes off the track, capsizing several times with his McLaren-Honda: fortunately he only suffers some contusions and a cervical trauma, and is hospitalised in Mannheim. This is the second time this year that Senna has been involved in a frightening accident. In Mexico City, during qualifying, the Brazilian driver had been unhurt after crashing his McLaren into a crash barrier: Ayrton had slipped out of the overturned car. What happened at Hockenheim? At 5:00 p.m. Senna decides to go out onto the track: most of the teams (including Ferrari) have already finished practice, the circuit is clear. The Brazilian completes a couple of laps at medium speed, then launches. And here comes the unexpected. The McLaren is on the verge of 300 km/h, when - just before the chicane that cuts the long straight after the finish line in half - the left rear tyre gives out. Senna himself tells this to Mauricio Gugelmin, his colleague and great friend:
"500 meters from the chicane, Ayrton felt that the tire was losing air. And then it exploded with a loud bang. The car bent backwards and the brakes stopped working. He put the McLaren sideways to avoid hitting the wall head-on, but he hit the curbs and flew into the air. He only remembers hitting the asphalt several times with his helmet".
After the carambola, the half-destroyed McLaren comes to a stop on its wheels and the Brazilian goes down, traveling a few meters and then collapsing semi-conscious. The first to rescue him are his personal masseur and circuit doctors. Senna is first transported to the racetrack infirmary, half an hour later he is taken by ambulance (given his condition, a helicopter was not necessary) to the hospital in Mannheim (the same one where Niki Lauda was admitted after the frightening accident at the Nurburgring). The doctors' initial diagnoses are optimistic: the driver reports numerous contusions (most likely caused by the pulling of the seat belts) and a severe neck injury. It is very likely that Senna himself will ask to be discharged so that he can return home. As for his participation in the German Grand Prix, any decision is postponed: everything will depend on the severity of the contusions and the ability to reabsorb the cervical trauma, one of the points of the body most stressed in an F1 driver. The accident to Senna overshadowed the other teams' tests. The new circuit record, set Thursday by Alesi's Ferrari 643 (1'39"53) lasts only twenty-four hours. Later in the afternoon Nigel Mansell, in the Williams-Renault, lowers it further, turning in 1'38"96. Ferrari uses only an old 642 on which the qualifying engine is mounted: unremarkable times. After 25 laps, the power-plant gives out and the Maranello team engineers decide to end practice by returning home.
"Ayrton is fine. He's resting now, excuse me, but after what he's been through I don't have the courage to wake him up".
Since Saturday morning the phone at Senna's home, in an elegant apartment building on the Monte-Carlo waterfront, has been ringing nonstop, and he, Milton Senna, father of the Brazilian driver, has been answering and reassuring everyone. Twenty-four hours after the terrible accident on the Hockenheim track during private practice ahead of the German Grand Prix, Senna's health condition has definitely improved. Doctors at the Mannheim hospital late Friday evening allowed the driver to return home and Ayrton, in his personal plane, reached Monte-Carlo. He is still suffering from blows received in his shoulders and neck, but with the help of the masseur these troubles should soon disappear. Milton Senna explains:
"These are things that happen to people who race in Formula 1. They are the uncertainties of the job, although it would be better if they didn't happen. Drivers take a lot of risks during races; it's not fair they have to suffer even during practice to fine-tune the cars. One fact is certain, however: two accidents in one month is a bit too many".
Senna flew off the track at 300 km/h when a tire blew.
"And this is more trouble. In addition to the physical risk there is also damage on the psychological level, the most difficult to cure. The important thing is that Ayrton quickly forgets this bad adventure".
About Senna's participation in the German Grand Prix, there should be no doubt: Ayrton will definitely be there, determined to give battle to the Williams-Renaults of Riccardo Patrese and Nigel Mansell and the Ferraris of Prost and Alesi. From the altars to the dust. On Thursday, July 25, 1991, coming on the eve of the German Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna, after an exciting start to the season - four races, as many victories - experiences one of the worst moments of his racing career, at least since he became a Formula 1 star. A terrible accident in qualifying in Mexico, then the dramatic crash at 300 km/h in practice held on this same track in Hockenheim.
"And I have to say I was lucky, because this time I really almost killed myself. It was the worst adventure since I've been practicing motor racing, and it's already several years. In 1987, just in Hockenheim, a tire had blown out on my car, a Lotus, in the straight, but I had managed to control it. Last Friday at 5:15 p.m., however, I realised that I was going straight into the guards and that I would not have a chance. Even though the left rear tire was sagging, I tried to set the corner anyway. But I caught the curb, which is too high, and my McLaren flew up turning several times, like a spinning star".
Ayrton quickly forgets what happened, unfortunately, however, the consequences of the collision are there and become evident when, for example, he comes out of his marquee and says:
"Now I talk to the Brazilian journalists then to the others".
So the Brazilian journalists enter the tent, but Senna does the opposite of what he just said and goes out to talk to the other journalists. People wonder what Senna will be like from now on. The same driver of the thrill rides?
"Nothing will change. When I pass in the spot where I went out, I will probably remember the accident, but it won't be serious. The important thing is to program your brain before entering the cockpit, remove any psychological obstacles. We are professionals, danger is our job, although I don't feel immortal. No, I will not be afraid. In that part of the circuit you pass so fast that there is no time to meditate. In any case, risk is normal in F1".
There is, however, a security problem.
"Of course. I saved myself because my single-seater is strong, well built. But there are things to change. There should be even more space in the tracks, just to cope better with unforeseen events. And the curbs should be made differently. The hazards cannot be eliminated completely, but we try to minimise them".
Is it a combative Senna who has been preparing for the German Grand Prix since Friday?
"As always. I'm fine, my biggest concern is to fix the car that is not competitive. We have some mechanical innovations to try. Let's hope so. However, I am convinced that with Williams there will be nothing to do. Even Ferrari will give us a hard time; they are faster here. This is not a good time".
The World Champion does not add more. He does not talk about his option with McLaren that expires at the end of the month. He only lets it be known that he has not yet contacted anyone but that someone has been looking for him. There are whispers in the environment that among the tempting devils is still Ferrari. A team, the one in Maranello, that is far from quiet. If on the technical level the situation seems to be under control, on the human level there is tension. On the one hand, there are the broadsides of those who take every opportunity to try to destabilise the team internally and externally, and on the other, the stylings of Alain Prost, with objectives that are unclear at the moment. The Frenchman, after various complaints in recent races, most recently at Silverstone against the gasoline supplied by Agip to Ferrari, is struggling with various problems. On Thursday, executives from the Italian oil company arrive in Germany to make their voices heard. Engineer Luciano Nicastro, who is responsible for research, makes it clear that Agip does not feel inferior to its competitors; on the contrary, it paves the way for today's super-special fuels, maintaining a certain superiority. In a TV interview aired later in the evening, Prost reiterates his protests to some Italian journalists and the various controversies triggered in recent times. He adds that he will speak on Friday to elaborate on the issues.
"I want to clarify everything, explain the reasons that push me to speak making me sometimes disliked, answer my detractors who are many and also high ranking".
While waiting to make these revelations, however, the three-time World Champion should have realised that the best way to avoid all talk would be to return to being that outclass-man who, at the beginning of his career, allowed him to pull the brakes on anyone in corners, without reverential fear for his already established colleagues. This is what those who no longer have much faith in Prost claim.
"I think I have accumulated good experience in Formula 1. And I know very well when it is Prost's case to force a situation. When you have an inferior car in your hands it's useless to resist, because sooner or later they pass you and maybe even make you risk the unnecessary accident. Take Mansell. Last year he was a practically finished driver. Ferrari had won six races, of which I won five and he won one, half stolen. Now he has become a phenomenon, just as Patrese is having an outstanding season, though unlucky as always. Have they become better at it, after a fifteen-year career? Certainly not: they have only one single-seater, the Williams, which is currently a step ahead of all rivals. The best example comes from Senna himself. With the McLaren that is not competitive he is forced to fight for third place. Give me a Ferrari capable of winning and you'll see…".
But will the German Grand Prix be able to revive Ferrari?
"It will be difficult, because Williams is going so strong. At most we can stay ahead of McLaren and that will already be a satisfaction, barring any last-minute surprises. I will, however, try my best to aim for the best possible result".
More optimistic is his teammate, Jean Alesi, who is convinced that the Maranello cars have made enough progress to aim for first place.
"I don't know why, but I feel we have reached the top. We have had good indications in recent tests at this circuit and we can improve again with the 643, which is a better car than the previous model without a shadow of a doubt. The biggest problem is to continue the tuning work regularly without long interruptions. Then you will see that Ferrari, me or Prost, will be able to seize the result everyone is waiting for. It's just a matter of hitting the right race, not making mistakes. The Hockenheim track should lend itself well to achieving the goal of getting a Ferrari driver on the top step of the podium. If this should then be a certain Alesi, all the better. I haven't won a race yet and this could be my moment".
At the same time, Riccardo Patrese, prompted by questions, also declares:
"I will never be Nigel Mansell's wingman".
Just to say of the atmosphere at Williams-Renault. Clouds are also gathering over the Grand Prix due to threats from hardcore environmentalists, who would like F1 single-seaters immediately with catalytic converters. And they are not ruling out a resounding protest. Finally, 38-year-old Tyrrell driver Satoru Nakajima announces his retirement at the end of the year. So far he has accumulated only major accidents.
"I can leave the seat vacant even tonight or at the end of the year".
These are the words expressed by Alain Prost on Friday, July 26, 1991, very harsh in his tirade: a lightning bolt that added to those that rattled the skies of Hockenheim, at the end of the first practice of the German Grand Prix. F1 by now had accustomed everyone to a climate of continuous, extreme tension. Allegations, spying and indiscretions are the order of the day. One no longer knows who the friends are. One does not know where one wants to go with this. And at the centre of the controversy, of a blizzard from institutional years, even in the days of Enzo Ferrari, there is always the Maranello team, because it is the most prestigious team or because others matter little. Behind the affair, the immanent shadow of Senna. The most tangled problems, for some time now, always pop up at the moment when the Brazilian has to renew his contract, decide whether or not to stay at McLaren. There are rumours in the circles that the World Champion could move to Williams or end up right at Ferrari. And a well-founded suspicion arises that Senna himself is stirring up the controversy. In this exasperated climate Alain Prost does not remain inactive. Struck by much criticism often justified but not always fair, the Frenchman defends himself in his own way, overwhelming his opponents with words, which in this case he identifies in the Italian press. In the days leading up to the Grand Prix, Ferrari president Piero Fusaro had accused him of using the wrong words, and later, through an interview given by Dr. Umberto Agnelli, in calm but firm tones, the Fiat vice-president had said-basically-that Prost is a great champion but, in his opinion, currently not very motivated, while Senna is very good. This prompted the French driver to call a press conference that ended up taking on the appearance of a hellish meeting, with people crammed under a tent, under the raging thunder and lightning storm. In short, the controversy with journalists. Prost claims that his statements are often misrepresented, that he is the subject of a massive smear campaign, that he tries his best, that he cannot change his mentality, that he has never seen fit to throw away results to make a spectacle of overtaking. As for Dr. Agnelli, Alain (who in the morning reportedly received an esteemed phone call from Giovanni Agnelli) explains that he is mostly bitter:
"What Umberto Agnelli said hurts me very much. He is an influential and important person. To do a good job in a team you have to have the trust of the team, the press that counts a lot in Italy and the fans who applaud us. I am very down because it seems to me that the hostility toward me from some people is increasing. The newspapers want Senna, even Umberto Agnelli wants him. I never asked for anything, not even to be the first driver with Alesi, who is a young man. So if no one agrees, if Umberto Agnelli does not agree If they want another one, I can leave at the end of the championship, doing my best until I leave Ferrari, or even right away".
He then goes on to accuse journalists of misrepresenting his statements at will, of being the target of a massive smear campaign, but of still trying his best, without having the need to change his mentality, having never seen fit to throw away results to make a spectacle of overtaking:
"I'm sick of opening the newspapers and seeing them always calling me a clever. Why do you always call me smart?"
Inveighs Prost against a journalist, who replies:
"But you see, clever is not an offence...".
Making Alain even angrier:
"Oh no? Then clever and shit press are the same thing. If Ferrari, the press, the fans don't want me any more, I'm ready to vacate the seat tonight. All they have to do is tell me".
But Ferrari, of course, confirms its confidence in Prost through the statements of president Piero Fusaro:
"Alain together with Alesi will be our driver also for 1992. I believe he has always shown great professionalism, he has been committed to us. We are happy for the 6 points he earned us in France, making the most of the potential of the car he had at his disposal. I think Dr Agnelli's statements are those of a fan who is waiting for results. For us this is an extra incentive, since it comes from a person who is at the top of the company. Besides, Ferrari itself is not satisfied with the results achieved so far: we have to work even harder to give the fans and Umberto Agnelli the satisfaction they expect and deserve".
Some clarifications have come. But it is true: for Ferrari, the only concrete thing is to look for results. It is not possible at the moment to know whether Prost will apply his intentions to the letter, whether he is satisfied with what has been said. The only thing that is certain is that a victory would be the only thing that would dispel the crisis. However, it seems that Williams-Renault always has the wind in its sails. While the adversaries (see Ferrari) are also tearing each other apart in useless and harmful polemics, Mansell seems to fly towards another pole position, Patrese permitting, and towards a third possible consecutive victory. On Friday 26 July 1991 the Englishman set the best time in the first qualifying session, lapping a 1'37"467, at an average speed of 251.236 km/h, one of the highest recorded in F1, at the same time setting a new circuit record, which last year was over 1'40"0: three seconds of improvement, an abyss. Suffice it to say that both the Englishman and his team-mate reach a top speed of 338 km/h at the end of the straight, enough to make a military jet take off. Always higher speeds and therefore also great risks for the drivers.
But fortunately the cars are robust. Young Mika Hakkinen knows something about this, crashing his Lotus (much, much less fast than the Williams) into the slow part of the track, destroying it. Apart from this, however, the most relevant data of the day concerns the McLaren-Honda, which seems to have partly recovered the gap from the Williams-Renault. Only 0.479 seconds gap for Gerhard Berger, who set the second fastest time, ahead of Riccardo Patrese and Ayrton Senna. All it took was a few small changes to the suspension and a tweak to the Honda engine to make a leap forward, so much so that there was some uncertainty for the race. As for Ferrari, Jean Alesi was fifth, Alain Prost sixth, almost 2 seconds behind. Not quite there: if the Maranello team thought it was close after free practice, now it is far away. Some engine problems, not yet optimal set-ups. Prost also loses a set of qualifying tyres because of the rain that came in the last ten minutes (but Senna also doesn't use them well because of the same problem). Saturday promises some changes in the setting of the thrusters. Normally on the second day the Ferrari goes better.
"I am not too worried. It's true that every race makes history. But we are going through a moment of great feeling, of absolute confidence that puts us ahead of everyone. Maybe Senna will resist, but that doesn't bother me, in fact it's normal. I just hope to take a few points from him, to nibble away at something in the standings to reduce the Brazilian's current 18-point gap to me. Williams is capable of fending off all attacks, we still have plenty of chances, we don't think we have reached the limit. And even if that were the case, if we had to race with equal means I wouldn't have any doubts or fears: should the drivers make the difference, I will be able to have my say because I am going through an excellent period of form. And I won't look any opponent in the face if I can beat them as I intend to do. I like the circuit a lot: it is one of those where a driver of my temperament comes out fighting".
Mansell therefore launches his challenge. But will it be enough to stop an enraged Senna and a Berger still looking for his first success after two years at McLaren? The Brazilian, while not giving up the challenge, is quite perplexed:
"We have made some small progress, however I don't think it will be enough to overtake Williams. We are missing something, we have to work to catch up with the cars available to the Englishman and Riccardo Patrese. On the contrary, I am convinced that Ferrari will have a say, at least in the fight for placings. It will not be easy for us".
It is difficult to know how sincere the Brazilian's conviction is. By putting possible changes on the table, Senna forces McLaren to make the maximum effort to please him, distracts Williams and puts pressure on Ferrari because of Prost's troubles. In short, the fight for the world title takes place on many fronts, the competitive and the human. And the winner in the end will be the one who has proved to be the strongest not only in the race, but also and above all in the complicated and Machiavellian duels of words. If this is the Brazilian driver's intention, it must be said that it does not work properly, or at least not for now, since on Saturday 27 July 1991, taking advantage of the favourable moment, Nigel Mansell scores the third consecutive pole position in the German Grand Prix. And he hopes, with another success, to diminish the disadvantage towards Ayrton Senna, leader of the World Championship standings. His Williams is travelling like the wind amidst the usual thousands of sparks and it is hard to see, for now, who can stand in his way. The moustachioed racer from Upon on Severn set a new circuit record with a lap, all sprints and corrections, completed in 1'37"087 bringing the average to 252.219 km/h. And in the morning, in free practice, he had even done better (1'36"998, averaging 252.451 km/h). Behind Mansell follow in order Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger with the two McLarens, his team mate Riccardo Patrese (slowed down by gearbox problems, but in the race he could be the only really dangerous opponent) and then the two Ferraris, with Alain Prost ahead of Hean Alesi by 0.008 seconds. The Brazilian pulls away by just under 0.2 seconds, one of the smallest margins in recent times, a sign that Ron Dennis' team is catching up. But Senna is not optimistic about the race:
"With a full tank of petrol we are far away. The truth is that our engine is not at the level of the Renault one. It is frustrating not to be competitive and unfortunately this situation has been going on for a few months. If the others overtake you you lose credibility".
As if to say that champions are never happy, they always want to win and have the best material at their disposal. Senna, on the level of complaints, is as good as Prost or Mansell himself and does not spare the Honda criticism, which bows respectfully even as it underlines the improvements achieved. Ayrton will aim to contain any haemorrhaging of points, always ready to take advantage in the event of défaillance by rivals. An accountant's tactic that does not suit him, which he is forced to make his own, throwing water on the sacred fires that push him to always give his best. The discourse of and for Senna is also valid, albeit with subtle differences, for Ferrari, very disappointing on this occasion. Not so much for the qualifying placing as for the gap, very close to two seconds, an enormity at these levels. Under accuse this time, explicitly, the engines, the sector generally most unassailable at Maranello. The drivers have said it, the team manager, engineer Claudio Lombardi, confirms it. Prost doesn't mince words:
"I don't understand what's going on. There is a general lack of horsepower, but after a few laps there is a further drop in power. And if you don't push hard it is also difficult to interpret the behaviour of the aerodynamics and chassis. We reduced the ailerons and that's not enough. This is a track where there are straights and chicanes, so acceleration and big braking. If you don't come out well there's nothing you can do. Unfortunately, there are currently A, B and C teams. And we are in the cadet league".
Speech echoed by Jean Alesi, who ruled out any form of optimism (the previous week he had claimed that we could even win here) and confidence:
"If no one stops and we get to the bottom, at best we can make fifth and sixth place. Our speed is about ten kilometres per hour slower and that pays off handsomely. The chassis is not bad, however it seems insufficient to fight at the top. Alain and I are waiting for something better".
For Lombardi, the drivers' analysis is more or less right.
"It is true that we are below expectations with regard to the engines. We had brought modified 12-cylinder engines here, they did not work as we wanted and we have to go back to the previous less powerful configurations. We are committed to progress, but it is not easy. I wouldn't be so pessimistic about the race: the margins are tighter and if we get the set-up right we could even be close to our rivals".
Alain Prost, despite the technical difficulties of these days, is happy. In his own way, he has once again managed to clarify his position within Ferrari, to gain confidence and confirmation and to tell Italian journalists what he thinks of certain behaviour. After also delivering another blow to personal enemy Cesare Fiorio, saying:
"Because of. him we lost the world championship last year. If Lombardi had been there I would have won the title".
The French driver feels calmer. He makes it clear to everyone that he is not willing to risk too much, let alone change his mentality as a non-aggressive driver, that he will continue to drive as he likes to get the best out of things without doing anything crazy. But there is some backstory to be revealed about Prost's own statement and his readiness to leave the Ferrari job immediately if anyone at or around Maranello is not happy with his behaviour. On the contrary, Alain had uttered a sibylline phrase somewhat under his breath, not picked up by all the journalists:
"If they pay me what they owe me, I am ready to leave".
In fact, according to reports, Alain has a very peculiar contract with Ferrari. While he was in a difficult family situation (a year ago it seemed that he would have to divorce his wife Annemarie, now the problem seems to have been solved), to avoid having to pay an enormous amount of alimony (half of a dozen billion lire) to his wife, he had asked for some deferred payments. Basically, with an agreement in hand for two years (1991 and 1992), he would have preferred to receive a smaller amount this season in order to obtain a larger settlement at the next due date, so as to avoid, once his personal matter was resolved, paying the sum that the law would have required him to share with his wife. Now the situation has normalised, but Alain is still clamouring for what was agreed and this may also be a reason why he wanted to get the reconfirmations these days. Although, by the way, rumours are still circulating about the formation of a group to form an all-French super team of which Prost would be the animator, driver first and manager later. A Ligier team, with associates from some of the major industrial groups Renault, Michelin, Dassault, Matra, Elf. The designer would be John Barnard, the car to be prepared by 1993. Knowing the English technician, always very long in his work, we doubt that the deadline can be met. Therefore Prost may still have some time to think about it. However, the day is characterised, during free practice, by a terrible accident that happens to the young Frenchman Erik Comas, who crashes several times with his Ligier after going off the track at full speed. The car also caught fire and the driver was taken to hospital for checks. Fortunately, the driver was OK and even managed to qualify. When he returned to the track he also obstructed Mansell causing him to lose a very fast lap and then said to the Englishman:
"You did the same thing yesterday, I returned the favour".
Comas, however, is not the only driver to have made the wrong braking point, as Gerhard Berger, Mauricio Gugelmin and Gianni Morbidelli also had similar incidents, fortunately without serious consequences. In the drivers' briefing with FISA, which takes place as usual a few hours before the start of the race, chaired by Jean-Marie Balestre and race director Roland Bruynseraede, it is of course Ayrton Senna who exposes the doubts regarding the safety of the chicanes. The Brazilian driver points out to Balestre how in his opinion the use of tyres as barriers and above all as chicanes is not safe at all. According to the McLaren driver's point of view, any contact with the tyres can easily cause one or more overturns of the single-seater, exactly as happened to him in the Mexican Grand Prix, so it would be better to rely on the use of cones instead of tyres. But Balestre's response leaves everyone astonished:
"For today's race there is nothing we can do".
The tone of voices immediately begins to change, particularly that of Jean-Marie Balestre, who rarely allows Ayrton Senna to express himself in full without interrupting him. The FISA president is intransigent; he demands that the drivers restart from the same point from where they may have left the track, as the entire mileage of the race must be respected. The debate between Ayrton Senna and the FISA president continues until the Brazilian driver points out to Balestre that there is a paragraph in the regulations distributed to the teams in favour of his idea. Ayrton incites Balestre by trying to make him understand that the best decision is to insert the cones, but the FISA president replies negatively to the hypothesis exposed by the Brazilian, until, surprisingly, after realising the presence of the note in the document, he says:
"The best decision is my decision, always".
A statement that leaves the crowd of drivers and team managers in the room stunned and even a little embarrassed.
"I propose a democratic vote. Let us put Mr Senna's idea to a vote by a show of hands".
After that, the FISA president witnesses an indisputable unanimity of votes in favour of the use of cones, just as Ayrton Senna suggested, who on this occasion mocks Balestre by raising both arms even when asked who is against and who abstains. On Sunday, 28 July 1991, at the German Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell makes a good start and keeps the lead; behind him Gerhard Berger overtakes his team-mate Ayrton Senna, who precedes Alain Prost, Riccardo Patrese and Jean Alesi. At the back of the pack Mark Blundell collides with Nicola Larini, who is forced to retire. Gerhard Berger slips to tenth position after a problematic pit stop, while Alain Prost begins to press Ayrton Senna. At the front of the race Nigel Mansell creates a good lead over his pursuers; when he enters the pits for the tyre change he returns to the track behind Jean Alesi, who overtakes him after two laps, taking back the lead. Behind the two a great duel breaks out between Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Riccardo Patrese for third position; at the end the Italian gets the better of them, who begins to recover on Jean Alesi, while the other two continue to contend for fourth place. On lap 37 Alain Prost attempts an attack on the outside at the first chicane, but Ayrton Senna resists, sending his rival off the track and forcing him to retire. Nigel Mansell continued to lead the race to the end, crossing the finish line ahead of Riccardo Patrese, Jean Alesi, Gerhard Berger, Andrea De Cesaris and Bertrand Gachot; Ayrton Senna was placed seventh, after running out of petrol on the last lap, as had already happened to him in the previous race, while he was in fourth position. At the end of the German Grand Prix a question arises: who can stop Nigel Mansell? The English driver is on his third consecutive victory, on a day that also marks the second en-plein for Williams-Renault and another retirement of Ayrton Senna with half a lap to go. Now life becomes tough for the Brazilian: at Hockenheim he does not score any points and his British rival is just eight points behind in the standings. Theoretically, in the next race, in Hungary, the overtaking could even occur. For Ferrari, however, a precious third place for Jean Alesi.
The spoils for the Maranello team could even have been more conspicuous if Alain Prost had not ended up off the track while trying to overtake Senna: an attempt to overtake Mansell, on the outside, a little naïve, which put the South American in a position to lengthen the braking, move slightly to the left and accompany him into the escape route where the Frenchman remained to meditate on his misfortunes, without despairing too much to restart. The Ferrari did, however, at least prove to be more competitive in the race than in qualifying. If Williams is always far behind, McLaren remains more or less on the same level, indeed the 643 was slightly faster overall in the race than the British cars. It must also be said that for the first time after four years of absolute domination McLaren was overtaken in the Constructors' World Championship standings by Williams. An important result for the European industry with Renault beating Honda, with a little help from Ferrari, which at least took points away from Senna and Berger with its placings. For the second time in a row the blameless Ayrton retired after running out of fuel: a sign that the Japanese 12-cylinder engine, while not having exceptional performance, runs with prohibitive consumption, at the limit of possibility. Behind Mansell and Patrese's return to the top of the team there is all the will of a team that has taken from its owner, Frank Williams, confined to a wheelchair, determination and courage. Technical stability, chief designer Patrick Head dominating the scene for twelve years, the support of Renault and even Elf for petrol (now as decisive as tyres) did the rest. The race, honestly, if it were not for Riccardo Patrese, could be described as quite boring. Ready, go and Mansell ran away to the finish line. The Englishman, who has left aside certain of his aggressive attitudes, ran like a Swiss watch, with chronometric precision, never a smear. He forced at the start to make the break, gaining the necessary seconds to have peace of mind, then continued calmly, thanks to his moment of great form and the competitiveness of the car. The victory was also down to the tyres, but basically everyone was more or less in the same condition: only Alesi had made a different choice. Everyone had to stop in the pits at least once and so it was, without too many hiccups. After all, the only one who paid for the pit-stop was poor Gerhard Berger.
For once he had started in front of his team-mate, he was called off first and - strangely enough - the tyre change took well over 16 seconds and the Austrian lost his second position, only to fall back to sixth, then forced into a long chase to eventually finish fourth. Berger, however, if Senna had not stopped a couple of kilometres from the finish, would have finished fifth, because he would not have been allowed to overtake his team-mate. Quite a frustration for a driver who was considered among the most promising and who was now forced to be a full-time wingman. In the game of pit stops. Alesi even took the lead on lap 19 and lap 20. But his lead was short-lived, as he could not resist Mansell's attacks. Like Prost and Senna, first the Frenchman and then the Brazilian were unable to contain the return of a great Patrese, who was forced to chase after a bad start that took him to sixth place. Then, when Prost arrived to undermine the World Champion's McLaren, the worst happened: Alain on the outside of Ayrton could do nothing but go straight to the chicane. Senna's joy at regaining fourth place lasted very little: halfway through the last lap he in turn had to step aside, out of petrol. A symbolic epilogue that also has the meaning of a possible, close handover at the top of the World Championship. At the end of the race, everything happens on the podium. And the one to pay the price is Jean Marie Balestre, FISA president, who is showered with champagne from head to toe by Mansell, Patrese and Alesi, tired and overjoyed, happy to be able to relieve the tension of a race that had proved very physically demanding for all the drivers. Says Nigel Mansell, looking for a word other than the usual fantastic job:
"I am ecstatic. It is truly a magical moment, I hope not to wake up one day from a dream that is too beautiful. But let's still wait to talk about the world title, even though I am now really! close to Senna and above all in high spirits. The Williams is fantastic, exceptional chassis and engine performance. But it wasn't an easy victory. I had quite a few problems, the most serious being with the brake. I had the pedal with too much travel and I struggled a lot. Otherwise everything was fine, I saved the tyres a bit at the start, the gearbox was perfect, and I didn't have too many difficulties in the lapping".
Although he has yet to collect but one win against his team-mate's three, Patrese accepts the verdict with serenity and spirit:
"I have to organise, or rather participate in, a special course to learn how to do starts. This year not one of them is going well for me. Maybe it's a psychological problem. The fact is, however, that I started sixth and had to run a chase race. Luckily this Williams is extraordinary and allowed me to recover quickly, although with my slow start I lost the chance to fight for first place".
The only other team, apart from Williams, to record a one-two is the young Jordan, with fifth place of a now very reliable Andrea De Cesaris and sixth place of Bertrand Gachot. The Irish team is imposing itself as the fifth force in the championship, ahead of Tyrrell-Honda which is instead the disappointment of the season. Says Andrea De Cesaris:
"I am happy for this umpteenth placing. It is a shame though that we can never at least fight for the podium. This is an engine circuit and we don't have the most powerful engines. Let's hope Ford will put its hand on its conscience and give us the eight-cylinder engines it only supplies to Benetton".
And speaking of Benetton: the climate is a bit tense because of the results that are not coming. And Nelson Piquet is spanking his team-mate, Roberto Moreno, because the latter pulled the brakes to overtake him.
"We are in a boat, all we need is one guy who also tries to sink me".
Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger (the Austrian also ran out of petrol on his way to the pits after picking up Ivan Capelli along the circuit) now wish they had a reserve tank, like on production cars. A nightmare especially for the Brazilian, who had lost a place in the standings at Silverstone and who did not score any points here, losing a fourth position by then.
"I am too bitter to make a comment. You do the maths. Now we are really going uphill. In the next races, if there are no new facts, I will not be able to defend myself against Mansell's attacks. I will have to hope for help from Patrese, Prost and Alesi, hoping they can snatch a few victories from the Englishman. An unfortunate situation to say the least".
Speaking of Prost:
"It's useless to talk about this subject too: the Frenchman is always complaining: about the overtaking he does and suffers, about the car, the engine, the team, the rivals. What does he want, that we leave the door open for him? Don't make him laugh. Think rather about driving the Ferrari, look what a great race Alesi had".
At McLaren, however, the Brazilian was not the only one to experience a black day. Gerhard Berger could not call himself happy either:
"The long pit stop to change the tyres cost me third place".
An indictment of the team. Ron Dennis justifies himself by explaining that it was the fault of a wheel nut that screwed badly. But he also admits that it was a race to forget. No apology instead from the Japanese Honda:
"We had the same problem we had in England, we ran out of petrol while the dashboard display showed there was still some left. We have to find a solution, we have to look for more power for the engine".
Alain Prost with a hard, dark face, Jean Alesi halfway between joy and a sense of impotence, a Ferrari not dissatisfied but still hungry, looking for better results: this was the sense of the Maranello team's race. Alain, arriving in the pits grumbling (not at journalists, this time) attacks in no uncertain terms:
"Senna threw me out. I had been trying to overtake him for a long time. He zig-zagged in the straights and when he took the bends to get me into trouble he braked sharply in advance, forcing me to lift my foot. At a certain point, seeing that fifth place didn't suit me, I tried to pass him on the outside at the first chicane. He went wide, closing the road to me and to avoid the accident I was forced to go straight into the escape route. I put the gear in neutral and the car never restarted because of a clutch problem. The Brazilian is always unfair. It's not the first time. He has a way of interpreting racing that I do not share, using the strong way to the limit of all risk and recklessness. He is not the only one, but he exaggerates. At this point I will be forced to take drastic decisions. Since I am no longer able to fight for the title, it will mean that every time I find myself next to Senna I will do everything I can to knock him off the track. I will turn into a relentless opponent willing to give Mansell, Williams and Renault a hand".
Prost's intentions are frightening. But there is a long-standing hatred between the two champions. With no other driver on the track Senna behaves as he does with the Frenchman, ready not to give him the slightest space, to try everything not to be overtaken. What will happen now?
"It's simple. If I had managed to get on the podium, in third position, I would still have had a glimmer of hope for the world championship. Now every calculation is useless. At the next opportunity I will get inside Senna's car and I will be the one to send him off the track. It's the only thing he deserves, given his behaviour".
Half an hour later Jean Alesi celebrates his second podium with Ferrari. But a little because of the tiredness that makes him look dazed, a little because he cannot hide a substantial disappointment, Jean Alesi - who has accomplished a great feat, at the wheel of a car that in the end was unrideable due to instability - wants above all to spur on his team:
"Alain and I are waiting for competitive single-seaters. I had to make a technical choice that I knew would put me in difficulty because I had little hope of winning. I opted for harder tyres and a higher aerodynamic load because I didn't want to stop to change tyres and have an advantage. It wasn't enough. And in the last half-hour it was an ordeal. Anyway, I'm pleased with myself".
Pacified and clear as usual is the analysis of the Maranello team manager, Claudio Lombardi:
"Williams is always on another planet. But we were faster than the McLarens. So much so that Prost went off in an attempt to overtake Senna. Alain had to attack, a racing accident. I didn't see the manoeuvre well because we had a TV screen against the light. However, if Senna was unfair, it would certainly not be the first time".
However, there is no doubt that Alain Prost is going through a particularly difficult and negative period. The French driver, among other things, dictating the article that appears every week in a specialised weekly, returns to the controversy of the previous days, to the statements he considered not too flattering made by Umberto Agnelli to an Italian newspaper.
"An interview that in my opinion was overblown and that hurt me a lot, also because I had the impression that the whole affair was somehow being carried out, perhaps only by journalists, to hurt me and Ferrari. On Saturday morning I received a personal phone call from the lawyer Gianni Agnelli reaffirming his confidence in me. That made me more serene. I am always ready to win for the Maranello team, but it will be necessary for all the interference to end. Otherwise, if the situation becomes untenable, I will be forced to give my place at Ferrari to the driver who will be considered more valid than me. To achieve success, to fight with a chance of success for the world championship, it's not enough to go fast, but you have to travel all together, drivers, technicians, the team and also those around you".