#507 1991 French Grand Prix

2023-01-17 23:00

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#1991, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Susanna Fortolan,

#507 1991 French Grand Prix

Thursday 18 June 1991 Alain Prost and Jean Alesi, back from Mexico, they hoped to find ready the new Ferrari 643 to test it during the test of Silvers


Thursday 18 June 1991 Alain Prost and Jean Alesi, back from Mexico, they hoped to find ready the new Ferrari 643 to test it during the test of Silverstone from Monday 24 to Wednesday 26 June 1991. But the jobs are still in progress and the car will be able to get on track later first in Fiorano, then in a circuit of their choice between Imola, Mugello and Monza. The hope is that, however, it is possible to see it deployed at the French Grand Prix of the 7 July 1991, and especially that the new single-seater is more competitive than the old one. News, in the while, from the Modena Team. Given the lacklustre results and the organizational difficulties encountered, he is looking for a partner to reinforce himself also on the technical level. There are contacts for a fusion with the Larousse (almost failed) and discussions go on with the Brabham and the Reynard. A decision that seems upcoming. Few days later, Sunday 23 June 1991, David R. Jones with one (lucky) shot shoves the 17 holes, a par three and puts in his pocket the keys to a flaming Lancia Delta. John Bland, South-African not so young and with a little belly, conquered at the end of four laps on the court of the Golf Club Padova, the third Martini International Trophy. Riccardo Patrese presents the ball on the starting tee and splints clamorously. But no one dares even smile. Indeed, the looks of his team-mates, Zoppas, Mazzuccato and the trader Ugo Scafa, are of pure understanding. To a Formula 1 driver you can also forgive a mistake. Then the driver of Padova is working hard, as always: he left by motorboat early in the morning at the Lido of Venezia, he continued with the helicopter to partecipate at the Pro-Am Saima and with the same helicopter he flew to Linate where the plane was waiting for him to go in England, since from Monday 24 June 1991, in Silverstone, are scheduled three days of practice. Patrese, a magic moment, after the victory in Mexico?


"No, not really. There’s no secret or off the charts. I think that I just collected the result of my job. I finally happened at the right moment with the right car".


But, after so many years, after 214 races, it took so long to get to the top?


"It’s not easy in F1. It goes on in cycles, which concern the drivers and the team. If you don’t enter in the wheel with the right pitch, you risk stumbling. I have tried many times, but it is clear that I had managed so far a few times".


After the last victory and the second place in the World Championship ranking behind Senna, what is the dream of Patrese?


"There’s little to sleep. Other than dreams, here you have to stand with your feet firmly planted on the ground. I’m going to try in Silverstone to test new engine and aerodynamics of Williams. In our sport if you stay still one day to enjoy the glory, you are screwed. Let’s say I took a nice satisfaction right now".


No thought about the World Championship?


"I already said it: I live the day. Some say that i’m an unlucky driver. Unlike i’m happy, i’m happy of what i’ve done. I’m 37 years old, I’m physically fine, I’m motivated, I still have fun. A recurring speech".


Better young drivers or old drivers? 


"No kidding. In Formula 1 before the thirty years old, except in sensational cases, very little is combined. Experience counts for a lot, perhaps more than anything else. Look Senna: he has 33 years old, 37 Mansell, like Prost, 39 Piquet. They are the best".


Yet there are of those who have said, in the past, that Patrese was too old to go in Ferrari…


"Apart from the fact that I’m perfectly fine where I am right now, you can see for yourself how things are going. They had a hell for this Jean Alesi. Maybe is strong, maybe he will become World Champion. But in three years, when he will no longer be in Maranello".


But there was a love-story between Ferrari and Patrese? 


"In 1978 I had a letter of intent signed by Enzo Ferrari. Then because they preferred not to change formation. And I went my own way. In the last two years there was a reconciliation. For political reasons, I believe, nothing has happened. I don’t know what Ferrari will do in the future and at this point I confess that I don’t even care much. I have enough to do to keep my team in line. If Nelson Piquet said that our is not a true job, I answer to him that for me I consider it a full-time profession".


Back to the drivers. Why the Italians, that are just many, they can’t break through in F1?


"Why our teams, and in particular Ferrari, have often preferred to aim abroad. But it is also a matter of opportunity, not only of skill. Look at me: i’m driving for fourteen years and they gave me finished. Now I have a competitive car and I became a phenomenon. I’m always the same. A guy that loves the races and wants to win".


No gull wing. And no stretch. The new Ferrari 643, apparently, was born well, but there’s no revolutionary concept: we must wait, again, to know if the team of Maranello will send it to the track in the next race, the French Grand Prix. That is what arises after the first day of practice, Friday 28 June 1991, on the circuit of Imola and two words with technicians and drivers. The car had already made nine laps, a test, Wednesday evening in Fiorano, but on Friday Jean Alesi push it to the limit, as befits a rookie. The 643, even if presents no innovations and it follows the current trends (the Tyrrell of of last year and of Williams, Jordan and few other cars), it’s greatly different of the last one. In fac, the technicians have kept from the car of the start of the season only the chassis, with the group engine and gearbox and the tank of oil. The noise is longer abd raised, the type of bird-beaked, even if the front wing is very similar to the old one, simple and linear, without folds and swelling. The body is a single-body, more enveloping, with shorter sidepods. Modified suspensions (but it has the same pattern already used). It's a car radically revised and made in only three months, since when - from the start of the championship - the Ferrari understood that he had misjudged the possibilities of the 642 towards of the McLaren and of the Williams that  showed models totally new. The technical director of the team, Claudio Lombardi, say:


"It was a hard work. A work who engaged all. This is not a Ferrari of someone, does not take names, but the result is the effort of our équipe. Under the technical management of Pier Guido Castelli, they used Massai for the engines, Migeot for the aerodynamics, Nichols for the chassis, Ciampolini for the electronics, Silvestri for the gearboxes, everyone with the collaboration of a big group of young people of Scuderia Ferrari".


What are you expecting from this car? 


"It’s clear that we look forward to the improvements, of the progress, we hope to fil the second and a half that separate us, at this moment from the Williams. But we don’t want, at the same time, to be optimistic. We have plans and we respect them. The car will lap again on Saturday, maybe Monday morning. In the meanwhile, we will continue to try the engine on the 642 until Thursday. And we will decide if to compete or no with the new car in the next two races, France and England. It all depends on what the drivers will give us, from the practical and theory results, from the possibility that we will have to prepare in these days the necessary spare pats. If the answer is positive, we will be in Magny-Cours with two single-seaters of the new type and one old as backup". 


At the launch of the new Ferrari there are also Alain Prost, that will try the car on Saturday and the general manager of the team, Piero Ferrari. Alesi makes 21 laps with the 642 (best lap with 1'21"49) and 24 with the 643 (1'25"46). The timing is not really important (1'21"877 the pole position of Senna for the San Marino Grand Prix), since all the adjustments were still to be made and have not been used yet qualification tires. Alesi is moderately satisfied:


"The seems good because is working better with the front suspension. There are no more of those annoying jumps that put us in crisis. The position of the cockpit is slightly different, but there are no problems and moreover the lateral visibility is improved. It's soon to draw any conclusion. We could make it when we will try the two cars with a full tank of gas. For the 642 it was the configuration more valid".


So we have to wait. As Enzo Ferrari said, a car is beautiful when it wins. That's why the 643 will be great only when will beat Williams and McLaren. For the record also the Minardi were turning (Martini, 1'28"43) and the Lamborghini (Van de Poele, 1'29"36). But the usual rumor it runs on the paddock: Ayrton Senna may also get rid by the McLaren. It would be interested the Williams and the Ferrari (but after the statements of the Lawyer Giovanni Agnelli the door for the Brazilian will stay close). On Saturday 29 June 1991 Alain Prost makes 51 laps with the new Ferrari 643 (best lap in 1'24"86) and 46 with the old 642. The French, before he interrupts the work in the evening for a predictable drop of the clutch, he talks about the single-seater modified:


"I already feel better of the previous car, has a greater support in the curve and it’s more precise. But it’s too soon to decide if we are gonna use this one on Friday for the French Grand Prix. We need to control, again, the reliability".


The decision will be taken on Thursday 2 July 1991, after other two days of test in Imola. The program of the team of Maranello go on with tests on the engine, unless they will decide to take it again on track, on Monday, the 643. They are also run: Martini (Minardi, 1'27"33) and Van De Poele (Lamborghini, 1'28"81). After six consecutive years of races in the beautiful and functional circuit of Le Castellet, in Provence, the World Championship of Formula 1 is located on a new track. The French Grand Prix will take place in Magny-Cours. No one has nothing against this change, because an innovation is always inspiring. But there’s some fact that they can’t hide a certain concern. And for many reasons. First of all the choice: has been abandoned a track that was defined, for years, exemplar for another one that for the moment has the credito for being near the operating area of Guy Ligier, patron of the homonymous team, known for being friend of the president of the French Republic, François Mitterand. And Magny-Cours is located in the area of Nevers, in the middle of the France, in the beautiful region of the Loira with their castles and sweet landscapes. But the streets to get into are tight, long lines are expected.


Also the situation of the hotels is not the best and it is also added the impression that someone has speculated about the event before it was assigned, buying reservations to play on prices. It's a million dollar business. About the track, already tested two times by most of the teams, there are united praise on the road surface, defined smooth and perfect. About the track the judgements are discordant. Low are the one of the French drivers, for obvious reasons. Many drivers define the design interesting, very technical, funny, challenging. But there’s someone that does not spare fierce criticism. One of this is Ayrton Senna:


"You can only overtake on a couple of points, risking a lot. Two turns are very dangerous because you can’t see anything past the walls, I don’t really like the entrance and the exit of the box and on average the track is quite narrow".


Usually on tracks like this the races are quite uncertain. Groups are formed in the lead and the gaps are very low. If you want to give show with thrilling overtake, the success could also be ensured. But it’s clear that in any case a political choice and if any accident happens means that someone has to take their responsibilities. Right Senna comes in France targeted by competitors. The Brazilian is first in the World Championship ranking, has four victories and 24 points of advantage on the nearest of the pursuers, Riccardo Patrese. But in the last two races the McLaren-Honda has given signs of weakness, by being overcome, in terms of competitiveness by the Williams Renault. One of the main aspects uof the race, the seventh of the season, it’s this one: the attempt of the Williams to unseat definitively he McLaren from the top and the eventual answer of the team of Ron Dennis supported by the men of the Honda for the engine. If Patrese and Mansell are confirmed the fastest, for Senna the climb to the World Championship will be hard, as the races are close there’s no much time to fix trouble: after only seven days will take place the British Grand Prix in Silverstone. For the duel at the top could fit also the Ferrari, because they will race the seventh race of the World Championship of F1 with the new 643. Who announced it it was the engineer Claudio Lombardi, sports manager, during the last day of tests.


"We consulted and we concluded for the use of the new car. Because no major mechanical problems have come out. In Maranello they kept working to complete the second car and to prepare the spare parts needed to face the French commitment. We present ourselves at the race conscious to take a risk. On the other hand, if we want to improve quickly it is better to race with the new one".


Thursday 2 July 1991, in Imola, Jean Alesi makes twenty consecutive laps without finding problems of temperature of the engine. The only trouble that the new car has is that the air that get into the cockpit in greater.


"We are making up for it with a new windshield".


The French driver says before leaving for Avignone, to treat an annoying toothache. In the afternoon, in Fiorano, Prost tests the second 643 and the 642. Right after the French race the two cars will go in England where, on Sunday 14 July 1991, it will take place the eighth race of the World Championship. For the race in Hockenheim on Sunday 28 July 1991 it will be available a third car of the new model. From Friday 5 July 1991 also the Formula 1 will have his Palace. The circuit that hosts the French Grand Prix is a memorial to the bureaucracy, at the grandeur, the futility, at the politics, at the business. Nothing but the sport. A huge system, cost 60.000.000 dollars (half divided between the state and the region), a bad showcase of the worst exhibition. In Magny-Cours stands an impressive building for offices (even those for bags) and boxes, reminiscent of the futuristic Pompidou center in Paris, a series of fences for VIP, guests and professionals very similar to those for barnyard animals, modern grandstands, scattered around.


Shame that the track (apart from the really perfect asphalt) is dangerous, narrow and with many blind curves. But so it is: until when Jean-Marie Balestre and the inexpressible Bernie Ecclestone will have a free hand and will be supported in good and evil (and among the guilty also the Italian CSAI and the constructors in block) we will continue to see Formula 1 sacrificed to private interests and transformed into a real circus of acrobats. With all the respect for these honest workers. A small detail, few funny episodes that pay off to who believes in technical and sporting values of the car. As the one which stars Jean-Marie Balestre. The president of the FIA, seeing a gorgeous and luxurious room, with panoramic windows on the most beautiful part of the track, asks:


"And this of whom is?"


He was told:


"Of the President".


And Jean-Marie replies:


"So, it’s mine".


But the answer is dry:


"No, by the President of the Republic".


It seems that Mitterand come here on Sunday (on his office, with Balestre maybe confined on the near room, the one of the photocopies) to watch the race, to gave luster at the inauguration of the circuit the himself wanted for the friendship with Guy Ligier. And because the land, bought cheaply, they were - as far as they say - of a friend of him. We can only hope that on Friday, for the first day of qualification, everything it’s good. Not everyone thinks the same, obviously. And others who, for obvious reason, can’t say the truth and who, instead, is forced to put a good face on it. This is the case of Jean Alesi, whom, about the new circuit says:


"It is a beautiful track, the safety is great, except for the turns at the exit of the box".


Thierry Boutsen, a driver that drives for the Ligier, the team that has the headquarter right here in Magny-Cours, by this judgment:


"A complete circuit, that requires a lot in terms of road holding. There's only a part where you can take a breath. You need to drive always keeping a high pace".


For Nigel Mansell, instead, there’s no half measures:


"It is a track where it is forbidden to try to overtake and even more forbidden to off the road".


But most of all, usually, is Nelson Piquet to tell the absolute truth:


"It’s terrible. They redid a circuit as the Hungaroring in Budapest where the overtakes are impossible, with the difference that here you may risk a bad accident in few points".


The wait for the race is vivid. We are waiting for another bump from the Williams-Renault to shake, further, the McLaren-Honda, but especially there’s a lot of curiosity to see, during the race, the new Ferrari 643. So, while, the engineer Claudio Lombardi says:


"I have nothing more to add to what I already informed in Imola, we can only wait for the results of the practices and of the races. We worked a lot, we hope to reap the benefits".


The drivers are speculating a little more. Jean Alesi says:


"It was useless to delay it. It's true that we take some risk with loads of new material, but we squeezed the 642 the maximum. This one is better, is more handy, we hope to be the pain in the ass of the situation".


In the meantime Alain Prost release a long interview to his favourite newspaper, L’Equipe. After he said he want to win, once again, a World Championship ("With Ferrari, if it’s possible") and he would like to handle, personally, a team that is all French (but without risking money, with the one of the Peugeot or of the Renault...), the Professor make it known that the team of Maranello is in progress:


"Now the car is more agile, more easy to drive. And for this the engine should help us that, thanks to the different rules, is more progressive. But I don’t want to make predictions: there’s still the Williams that is the great favorite, without forgetting the McLaren and any outsider that on this track, so tight, that can jump out, thanks to the tires or rules particularly well-aimed. Only one thing is certain: we need to start in front, since the overtakes are prohibitive. As far as we are concerned, I do not want to make predictions, it’s better to wait until Sunday night. In any case I’d rather a race as a lion, to battle with the best, risking with the reliability, and not a waiting race, hoping that it will go bad to others. If the car will be competitive, soon we will arrive at the victory, maybe soon of what you think".


Friday 5 July 1991 Ayrton Senna and the McLaren rebelled against the supremacy of the Williams-Renault, but the Ferrari scares again. That's what arises from the first day of practices of the French Grand Prix that inaugurates the Pharaonic circuit of Magny-Cours. If the Brazilian in a tropical climate (46 °C on track) give the impression to have become the protagonist of one of its efforts to have driven a better car than the others, team of Maranello shows real progress. The third time of Jean Alesi and the fourth of Alain Prost (in second position there’s Nigel Mansell) they say they’re hanging up at the top. The hopes born from the launch of the 643 are strengthened, therefore, and precisely on the occasion of a happy anniversary that is celebrated this year. Celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the triumph of Giancarlo Baghetti, that in 1961 he won with the Reims (where then they raced the French Grand Prix), setting a new unusual record. The Italian driver won his first F1 race but this one was also the last (and only) victory on 21 race held. Baghetti, here as journalist, is living the day on the Ferrari box (even if it was inited by the Benetton…), admiring the current commitment of the team. Lot of work to adjust the new 643 (the old car, here as stock, not even touched) but also confidence and serenity. Says Jean Alesi:


"My car was perfect. It’s all about finding the right solutions".


Alain Prost is also quite confident, concentrated as in the best days:


"I stayed in the lead for a long time during the qualify and I thinked I thought I’d get under the 1’16”5 with the second set of tires, about the time recorded by Senna. Sadly I had to overtake two cars and the tires were not as good as the previous. In any case I'm satisfied, we are on the good way".


Impressions confirmed, with the usual peace, by the engineer Claudio Lombardi:


"Until now no insurmountable problems have arisen. It's clear there are still things to discover, but i think that the conditions are interesting. We know that the 643 is better than the previous car, but we have yet to see if it will be enough to beat our opponents".


Also Senna highlights the performances of the Italian team:


"I invented a fast lap, but we are not at the same level of Williams and Ferrari. We will have, deeply modified, a car and an engine from the Germany, on Sunday 28 July. For now we defend ourselves. Maybe Maranello has solved its technical problems, the McLaren not yet".


There's an explanation also for the exploit with which the Brazilian (1'16"557, with an average of 200.837 km/h) pass the Williams-Renault: Nigel Mansell makes a couple of mistakes, while on the engine of Riccardo Patrese (P5) there is drawback with the tires system that manages the engine valves. The Italian says he never found the right lap. On Saturday should (rain permitting, since the weather announce storms) start again the battle for the starting grid. A place, more or less, mans a lot, because the overtakes are prohibitive. Ayrton Senna says:


"Starting ahead here could be crucial. A good advantage, since the point where you can overtake are only a couple and however they are always an unknown. The race can be won at the start or with a cautious tactic, hoping that the rivals have problems it will be important to try to save the tires, since after few laps the cars will became almost undriveable due to the asphalt too smooth. But i think it will be very difficult, for my McLaren, to beat the Williams and the Ferrari. At this moment they are superior, i have to try to minimize the damage".


The Brazilian is got enough leverage about his rivals, but maybe is pre-tactical. I know him well; Ayrton is not the type that quit easily. As Mansell and Patrese are not intimated, that says:


"The important thing is not to have trouble during the race".


The role of the outsider  it’s up to Alain Prost and Jean Alesi with the Ferrari. The first feedback with the 643 were positive, but quite rightly the manager for the team of Maranello, the engineer Claudio Lombardi, highlights the doubts still existing:


"The new car is far the best of the old one. But we don’t know again if just to beat Williams and McLaren".


But the drivers seem quite confident. Prost that won five times the French Grand Prix (including the last three, two with the McLaren and one with the Ferrari, last year, while Ayrton Senna need won this race) barely conceals a certain optimism:


"The single-seater it’s very good, it seems to have regained competitiveness of the end of the next season. Now it’s about having the confirm, to see if also the problems of reliability that blocked us in Canada and in Mexico has been resolved. If so during the race of tomorrow we could say something to try the recovery. It's a delicate time and could be important to gain a victory, to permanently delete the past and to rethink to the future".


But the show is guaranteed: 53.000 tickets already sold, at least 20.000 people attended for Sunday, when François Mitterand will arrive, the president of Republic with the ministers. The famous people will see paired flags wave on the stands: the French tricolor and the red drapes of the Ferrari. Here the fans, unable to point on the national teams, for the moment they hang on Alain Prost, Jean Alesi and the team of Maranello. Not to mention that so many Italians are there. The stewards have already done a prank in Magny-Cours: 20.000 dollars of fine because the rescue services have delayed an hour the start of the qualify since the organizers forgot to provide food and drink. Behind the big business always hides the little tricks. And a mechanic of the Lotus, Peter Vale, it was hit by glancing by a Minardi, with a broken left ankle. On Saturday 6 July 1991 an insatiable Riccardo Patrese, that now is racing with a big smile under the helmet, manages to get the pole position on the French Grand Prix. It’s the third consecutive time that an Italian driver manages to put the wheels of his Williams-Renault ahead of the one of the rival cars, the sixth of his career. And we need to say that on this track, where the overtakes are prohibitive, is a good advantage, half race is won. 


But will not be a easy task to win the race: at least four drivers can win it, thanks to the minimum detachments highlighted by the qualify. If Patrese confirms to live a magic moment, the opponents do not raise white flag. Even double the effort not to be beaten. So also Alain Prost exalted by the rediscovered Ferrari on the first row and Ayrton Senna in the second row next to Nigel Mansell, forced yet to meditate a revenge against the team-mate that has always overtook him from the start on the timed laps. So there’s a great Italy on the motorsport that is recognized among the best. On one side, on the human level, a driver like Riccardo, already recognized among the best; on the other side, the technical one, a Ferrari that apparently regains vitality and point, making fans dream, to a recovery of their values at highest level. In fact the result on the qualify of the team of Maranello is the best of the year (Alesi is sixth) not only for the positions - that are the same of the debut in Phoenix - but of the limited margin of detachment to only 0.2 seconds from the Williams-Renault. Alain Prost says:


"I’m happy for many reasons. Because we have a competitive car, because we are working on the right way, because the perspective is favourable. But i don’t want to create easy illusions. We prepared well the practices, but for the race there still have questions to be answered. Anything can happen".


Someone replies him, playing on the words, that when it’s about to make the stopper (for his height...), he is great. Alain answer: 


"This is about to make all the right moves, from the choice of the tires, to the settings of the car, to the race strategy. It will be difficult".


Alain Prost looks peaceful, ready to joke with Jean Alesi, when (before the last round of qualify) tells him that it’s already old and that should make way for the young. Alain answer trowing itself laughing on Florence, the blonde girlfriend of his team-mate, with a scream:


"I’ll show you if I'm a pensioner".


The happiness of Jean disappears at the end of the last timed session when, from the third place that had on Friday, falls behind Alain Prost, in the third row.


"During the morning I had problem with the gearbox, i made only seven laps, I didn’t get the right set up of the car, there was the understeer".


But we need to highlight that Alesi is conditioned by an impulsive character: his drive even if is spectacular and aggressive, is not yet mature and often leads him to make mistakes, with at least irregular trajectory, as if it’s the car to decide where to go and not the driver. For the engineer Lombardi, however, the Ferrari has hit a first small goal, the first row. 


"We need to discover again the 643 during the race and we haven’t even had the time to try the car with a full tank of gas. We don’t hide the ambition to want to win and we hope to make further progress".


A race with a considerable tension, as already prove the practices, because Ayrton Senna makes a spin just after the finish line during his second attempt, putting in sideway his McLaren-Honda after risking two times to get out of the track for few oil spots. Gerhard Berger at the box takes it under, with a wheel, a Japanese photographer, pushed and unbalanced by other people, fortunately without causing fractures. Everyone can be nerve-wracking, for someone to look for the result against rivals, or against their team-mates. The only one who doesn’t care too much is the federal President Jean-Marie Balestre that performs at the box with a beautiful Brazilian miss. On Sunday he will host the President of the Republic Mitterrand, half government and a vast crowd, that is already a success. Thanks also to Alain Prost and to the Ferrari that warm up the spirits and to Riccardo Patrese that has become the symbol of the Williams powered by the Renault. Two more reasons of spare, which adds at the battle to Senna and the long-awaited freak show of Nigel Mansell.


On Sunday 7 July 1991, at the start of the French Grand Prix, Riccardo Patrese remains stuck, betrayed by the gearbox in neutral when the Italian driver shifts into second gear. Riccardo slides down in ninth position and then, despite a good chase that takes him to the fifth place, he never worry the first, always for problems of the trasmission system. During the first lap Bertrand Gachot retires, because of a spin. Then during the sixth lap it breaks the Honda engine of the car of Gerhard Berger that was in fourth position. It could a coincidence, but since the Italian Journal  Autosprint that indicated the use by the Honda of a tank and an oil recovery system that are out of order and the faults have already occurred, so the McLaren-Honda has become beatable. Alain Prost, with a great start, gave the impression to be able to detach Nigel Mansell slowly and progressively, unleashed to the hunt of the Ferrari of the French driver. At the firsts lapping - coincidentally - the English approaches him and the lap 22, taking advantage of an uncertainty of the French during the lap of De Cesaris, overtook him at the inside before the turn. Followed by Ayrton Senna and Jean Alesi. When you get to the phase of the pit-stops, the mechanics of the Ferrari prove to be more skilled then those of the Williams and Prost back in charge. But during the lap 54 Nigel Mansell, this time is an halfways between the mistakes and the ehroic gesture, it goes outside and he won the French Grand Prix. A big help Riccardo Patrese given him that, lapped, let him pass without problems  and he made a fast lap holdind behind Alain Prost. With a minimal gap, but unfillable - five seconds - the French had to give up, even if he had a chance to win, not to ruin the day to the Ferrari. Ayrton Senna ends the race in third position, followed by Jean Alesi, Riccardo Patrese and Andrea De Cesaris. After Patrese, here is Mansell. But it’s always the Williams-Renault to win. In seven races until now held, four victories for Ayrton Senna, one of Nelson Piquet and now the consecutive two of the Italian driver and of the English driver. Elementary, would have said Watson, in fact the English team who use the Renault engine it was the favourite for the French Grand Prix. But the victory of the extravagant driver of the Isle of Man that was opposed, until the end, by the Ferrari of Alain Prost. A tight race, tense until the end. 


Even if stay of the opinion (and almost every driver agreed), the a circuit like this that is so narrow maybe guarantees the show but it alters the playing field. Alain Prost not for his fault, seems he lost, a possible, first place. The talent and the bravery of Nigel Mansell, but this , maybe, would not have happened on a different track. A race that has not had moments of pause, no  failure of interest. The battle was beautiful and exciting in the lead and in the last positions and even in different situations the protagonists were the same, we can’t point out the great performance of Andrea De Cesaris (another Italian driver, as Riccardo Patrese, which maturity does well and is a second youth) finishing in sixth place with the Jordan-Ford, a competitive car but is certainly lower by the engine. The driver of Rome, forced to a spinn to avoid Pierluigi Martini. Started his race by the P23. Maybe the Minardi could have achieved a good result. Gianni Morbidelli, feverish because of the flu, but got himself pulled out by Nelson Piquet with a detached at least careless while Pierluigi Martini that had problems with the breaks and he engaged, in an unnecessary, personal duel with Stefano Modena (they have touched a couple of time, are things to avoid) and he had to step down in ninth position. Modena, by the way, during all the weekend it was below the expections. It's clear that it does not depend on his commitment: the Tyrrell-Honda in a short time they lost two designers who had realized the car, Migeot and Postlethwaite. The news of a track, that before was used only for tests, caused problems to the Pirelli, that failed to prepare valid tires for this race. The eight place of Nelson Piquet, by the way with a Benetton-Ford that was not in top condition (also for a technician started, John Barnard...) is a symptom of a discomfort. Even if the Brazilian was the last to pit. In terms of news, not less episodes to remember. Sensitive and delicate as it is, Nigel Mansell cry on the podium. Stiffly, in front of the French president François Mitterand, maybe the Williams driver think about his life, to his family that he love, to his career, to the joy and to the pain, crying heavily while on the speakers is spreading the anthem: God Save the Queen.


"It was a difficult victory. The first of the season. I think to have earned it. The car was fantastic, it was so good that, especially during the end, i had problems with the breaks, the pedal had a very long run. But earlier I risked a lot for this problem. So it is true that when he overtook Prost on the inside at the lap 22, I didn’t want to. I was forced because otherwise I would have gone off track". 


The victory of Mansell doesn’t worry Patrese too much, who helped a lot his team-mate, when it was lapped by the English and by Prost.  


"Nigel was lucky, came after me in the most favorable moment to pass. But i continued to make my trajectory and Prost stayed behind. At the start I put the second gear but I stayed in neutral and that’s why I lost the pole passing in ninth position at the first lap. Then everything went well and I was recovering. The pit-stop was particularly brilliant and I found myself, again, detached by Alesi that i was reaching him. Since that moment, the gearbox began to have problems, alternately running well or bad.  shame. But i already said it: I live the day. No drama".


Not even Ayrton Senna complains so much: 


"I haven’t earned positions at the start, as I had intended. So, knowing tha with Williams and Ferrari there was nothing to do, I tried to limit the damage. A third place is ok for the ranking. It's a breath of fresh air while we are waiting that our technicians and the one of the Honda, they solve the problems and take us back to the top of the performance".


In fact, the McLaren is working for the future. But Ron Dennis denies rumors by which for Sunday 28 July 1991, at Hockenheim, would be ready a new car:


"We made only few changes". 


But the Honda will take in Silverstone a new evolution of the 12 cylinders engine, the third in few months. And now, poor Ayrton Senna? The World Champion has only 25 points of advantage on Mansell, 26 points on Patrese and 31 points on Prost... seriously, the Brazilian is in crisis. After the four victories at the start that had brought him to an incredible poker. The driver of the McLaren must watch. During the French Grand Prix he conquered a third place that did not suit him, behind the winner, Nigel Mansell and also behind his eternal enemy, Alain Prost, the men of the Ferrari. It could not be a disastrous result, for someone else. But for Senna is kind of a debacle, a confirmation of its current state of impotence against rivals. 


"On the ranking I have a fair margin of advantage, but the season is very long. I don’t want to be satisfied only with placements. Especially what is making me angry is that the car of the others are much stronger. In Canada and in Mexico were only the Williams, now also the Ferrari. I can’t stand it. The men of the McLaren and of the Honda have to work. The work is not so much, there are news ready on the garage, I hope that they will arrive soon and put me in a position to beat me on equal terms". 


But what makes the champion of San Paolo angry is that without a winning car he must make an appearance. In Magny-Cours Senna was  always on third position and at the end he also had to repel the attacks of the unleashed Jean Alesi. Instead in front of him Mansell and Prost were the masters. The team of Maranello is back and now it can be a problem. But Alain Prost say:


"I don’t really care about Ayrton; what matter is to see the Ferrari again at the top. We did wrong since the start, we are now at the sixth race with a condition of absolute inferiority. In only one race we greatly recovered with the 643. Now we have to proceed on the same road and to arrive, if not in England the next Sunday, at least in Germany at the end of July, in the real conditions and also specific to get the first place. Yesterday I was already in the lead for more than 40 laps but this is not enough. It takes much more to put under the Williams".


As regard the team Williams is obvious that by now they especially point to the Constructors’ World Championship, without being too much interest to the drivers, Patrese and Mansell. In fact, with a victory for both, in Mexico and in France, they divided between them the points, so they favored Senna that instead to find an opponent very close on the points, he finds two enough far. In any case Ayrton has no doubt: 


"The battle for the title is still open, I think that in the title race, beyond me obviously, there are also Mansell, Patrese and Prost".


This is one of the few times that the Brazilian pronounce the name of the French. That's the sign that all this defeats that begin to boder him and they remind him of the duels of the last years. But there’s no party, for the placements obtained. on the Ferrari box. The joy is limited, the faces are quiet, the statements are cautions. Despite this, the second place of Prost and the fourth of Alesi have repaid the work done and the effort of the last few days you can clearly see it on the red eyes of Lombardi, Castelli, of the other technicians and of the mechanics. Also the drivers seems to be happy, as they get rid of a burden. Especially Alain Prost that, like or not, with his polemics, with his criticism has provoked the well-known mess at the top of the team of Maranello and maybe this has accelerated the rival of the new car, the 643. About this, just Alain Prost, during the press conference, says:


"In fact I’m very happy of this second place. I want to thanks to Ferrari, because this time they gave me a good car. In few weeks the situation has been reserved and this is already a result. I can’t claim the everything is perferct. I can’t say that everything is perfect. The setting of the car was not so good. But it’s understandable. On the fast corners Mansell gained so much on me. Also the engine needs an additional fine tuning. But we are almost there. It was an hard race, especially for the overtakes, a couple of times a risked to goes off track. The important is that, for the first time since the start of the season, I fought to win, for the first place".


Someone is asking for an opinion of the track.


“No comment. We can talk about the difference between the 642 and 643. The new car is much better. The aerodynamics is more stable, the front suspension is working well. The championship? I don’t think about it and I don’t believe that I can battle for the title. The difference of points from Senna is big. I hope to win some races. So anyway I have the urge to fight. Unfortunately we lost time at the start of the season when we never deserved to beat the McLaren and Williams. Now we continue to work on the engine and on the gearbox". 


Two overtakes from Mansell. Why? 


"He was stronger. The first time I couldn’t resist. The second time I wanted to avoid it, but we would have risked the collision. And the Ferrari needed, as me, of results and to test the car for an entire race. I repeat it, the placement was positive".


For Jean Alesi, surrounded by the Sicilian clan, that is family and friends, plus the girlfriend Laurence, a fourth place is a good prize:


"I tried to overtake, on the last few laps, Senna. But i wasn’t possible. He was correct, as always, in my regards. The car? Unfortunately i had some trouble in the last days, I didn’t adjusted it well. But I think that in Silverstone I can make a different race, a offensive race. We need to work for few days, even if now we are forced to go immediately in Silverstone. Maybe in this days we, still, will find valid solutions. During the race I had some problem for a drop of the engine. I don’t care, however I’m satisfied".


After the drivers, the engineer Lombardi, that allegedly had just ha a telephone interview with Piero Ferrari and with the engineer Fusaro, president of Ferrari, with his  appearance a bit scared and the usual book of note on the hand, where he marks everything, even the smallest details with precision, he start to talk with a little report, also forgetting that Prost during the morning made, during the warm-up, the best time, a thing that it hadn’t happened for a long time.


"A positive weekend, because we have regained competitiveness and during the race the cars were efficient. Prost it was great for 10-15 laps. He gave the impression to being able to detach the Williams. Then things have changed and we settled".


The review of Lombardi become even more precise:


"There are three problems yet to be solved and this didn’t let us win. The first was about the whole gearbox-engine. In the passage of gear there is always a little empty that reduces the power. The second one: the driving with the laps that go trough was getting worse cause of the wear of the tires and this is what we need to avoid, with a better set-up. The third one: maybe the probable readiness of the breaks of the car of Prost was below of the one of the Williams of Mansell. Another problem that we need to solve it".


And now?


"We go in Silverstone, where we are gonna have available the two 643 and one 642 as a reserve. Cause to a limited time, from Thursday the technicians and the mechanics will be at work in England to find other improvements. I believe that in England the Williams will still be the cars to beat. We don’t have to face big trouble but the work we need to do is still a lot".


One of the most valuable comments to the Ferrari is the one of Senna that affirms, paraphrasing the speech of Prost:


"I want to thank the McLaren and the Honda... seriously, you all see it. We are lower, we need to recover. Now also the Ferrari overtook us".


Now all the teams of the Formula 1 are gonna leave to the England, since on Sunday 14 July 1991, on the circuit of Silverstone, a total different track than Magny-Cours, very fast and stringy, they will arise at the eighth race of the season. There will still be the Williams-Renault the absolute protagonist, or the Ferrari will try to make them, right in their house, a trip? That is the question that the fans pf the team of Maranello are arising, already delighted by the sudden return to the top of the cars driven by Alain Prost and Jean Alesi.


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