Starting Wednesday, August 28, 1991, Ferrari will test in Monza (together with McLaren, Williams, Benetton, Ligier, Larrousse, Leyton House and Fondmetal) for two days ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. For the team of Maranello there are two objectives to be achieved: the development of various novelties on the 643, from the engine to the chassis, and the attempt to know the whole truth by Alain Prost on his intentions for 1992, after the revelations of Belgium, according to which the Frenchman is negotiating with Ligier, despite having signed a contract to stay in Italy. The driver will have a clarification meeting with the engineer Claudio Lombardi.
"In 1992 I will race for Ferrari. I have a signed contract and I intend to respect it. In these days I have said things about my future, but I was misunderstood: I will go to Ligier or I will look for another type of accommodation only the following year. The most obvious proof that what I say is true, you have from the fact that I am here to try solutions that will serve in the next championship".
Quiet, Alain Prost after an interview with the managers of Ferrari, denies the rumors of his immediate passage to the French team in preparation, voices fueled by some of his statements sibilline.
"I fully endorse the current policy of the Maranello team. Since we do not have much more to say in this world championship, it is better to take risks with new things in order to prepare well for 1992. It would be foolish not to do so, even if we suffer the consequences".
In any case, Ferrari thinks both to find the reliability to try to win at least one race, and to the most advanced projects. In Monza new slides and higher exhaust are tested on the cars, and on Thursday a modified version of the engine. Jean Alesi is the protagonist of an exit without consequences. Patrese with Williams breaks two experimental Renault engines type 3B, Senna remains on track for a mechanical problem. Also on Thursday will be the official presentation of the Scuderia Italia agreement for the supply of engines. At the pits there is also talk of a possible divorce between Pirelli and Benetton. Thursday, August 29, 1991 Ayrton Senna silences everyone in the second day of testing ahead of the Italian F1 Grand Prix. The Brazilian, just off the track, set a time of 1'21"62, circuit record, almost a second lower than last year’s pole. The Brazilian driver says he is very confident for the race, that his McLaren is improving a lot. For Ferrari, Alesi marks the second time by turning in 1'22"83, trying qualifying setups, while Alain Prost is dedicated to long work simulating a race (1'25"58) also testing new shock absorbers. There was also the appointment of Hiro Taramoto, a new engineer specialized in setting shock absorbers from Benetton, recommended by Alain Prost and hired to solve set-up problems. Routine instead for the other drivers, with Williams that seems to have solved the problems with the brakes had in recent races. There is also an incident of Grouillard, who practically destroys his Fondmetal. On Wednesday, September 4, 1991, on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix, Benetton fired Roberto Moreno. In place of the Brazilian, Michael Schumacher, the German driver who was the revelation of the Belgian Grand Prix, will race with Jordan. The latter was supposed to drive for the Irish team, but it seems that Benetton and Mercedes (the German company has signed the driver, currently engaged in the world sports-prototypes, until 1995) have agreed otherwise. As far as we know, Mercedes would pay over 300.000.000 lire per race to ensure employment to its pupil. Apart from the fact that he is sorry for the departure of Roberto Moreno who - poor thing - did his part well this year alongside Nelson Piquet, it is clear that this move can be interpreted in various ways. It is said that Tom Walkinshaw, the new manager of Benetton, wants to form a team next year with the Englishman Martin Brundle and Michael Schumacher, also kicking out Nelson Piquet. This hypothesis is difficult to understand because the same Walkinshaw is linked to Ford, unless there is an abrupt turnaround in favor of Mercedes. In short, there is confusion.
All the more so since Eddie Jordan with Bertrand Gachot still imprisoned in England - is now without a pilot. It seems that he contacted Stefan Johansson, but it is not excluded that he uses one of the many contracts that he has available in the minor formulas. A few days after the Belgian Grand Prix, in fact, Flavio Briatore had called Willi Weber, Michael Schumacher’s manager, and invited him to his apartment in London. After the usual pleasantries, Briatore says to Weber:
"Let’s talk business. What about Jordan?"
Willi Weber answers:
"He’s not the problem, Flavio. We had an agreement for a race. He was respected. Michael ran, Eddie received his money. That’s all, there’s nothing else to say".
Satisfied, Briatore counters:
"Well, then forget Jordan, Mr. Weber. I want Michael to run for us. I need someone who has talent and who grows with us".
But there is a problem: Roberto Moreno. But the Italian manager has the solution:
"A fortnight ago I told Roberto that he has no future at Benetton. I told him: next year you will leave anyway. I’ll pay you the rest of the year, plus a nice bonus. I’ll try to convince him to turn a blind eye to the contract for the remaining races of the season".
The appointment in Monza, therefore, offers new and traditional ideas. While they continue to protest, in a demagogic and not very constructive way, some environmentalists, the organizers hope to attract many spectators in the three days of practice and race, always making and anyway taken on the Ferrari call. Meanwhile, in Fiorano, the young Jean Alesi tested the three 643, equipped with the latest evolution engine (type 4). The Frenchman says he is satisfied and confident, but it is always so on the eve. Of course, given how things went in Belgium, where his car led for 9 laps, it is right that Alesi, like the fans, continues to believe in the present and the future. And here we are at the Italian Grand Prix, the appointment that by tradition and calendar date, in many cases, was decisive for the Formula 1 World Championship. A race that could award the title to Ayrton Senna. With a victory for the Brazilian the game would be done, even if to have the mathematical confirmation, eventually, the McLaren driver will have to wait for the next test in Portugal. But Ayrton does not make mysteries and knows very well that the decisive blow could be struck in the national autodrome.
"I might even settle for not winning. I just need to get ahead of Mansell. It’s clear that I aim for first place, because I like to give my best. I’m like a stranger to the window who looks at others and can intervene when and how he wants. I repeat that I would even like a nice statement from Ferrari. It would still be a help for me and would make happy the fans of Maranello who are dry mouth since last year".
A Seine that becomes almost selfless, even if from his words you understand that there is a little sarcasm. Knowing him, it is understandable that if he can do without it he will not leave room for the opponents and not even - if the opportunity presents itself - to the team-mate, Gerhard Berger, always looking for the first victory with McLaren. However, neither Ferrari nor Williams have any illusions. Prost and Alesi say in unison:
"There is no reason to be optimistic. We saw in practice last week that Senna is lightning and that even the two Williams are struggling to keep up. We have not made any progress since the last race in Belgium, we would already be satisfied to have obtained with some changes the reliability of the cars. If we end up with a brilliant result, so much to gain".
Mansell and Patrese are also convinced that Senna will not be easy to beat. Says the Italian driver:
"I have nothing to lose now. I can attack, if my Williams will let me. Winning in Monza could be the reward for an exciting season and at the same time disappointing with regard to certain results. Of course I will leave no stone unturned, but let’s not forget that my teammate is still in the running for the title and if a certain situation should occur I will be the first to leave the pace".
Reply the Englishman:
"At this point, I’m a day person. From the psychological point of view this can be an advantage because you can avoid the pressures that stifle those who fight for the world. But it is also an unpleasant situation because you can lose focus. We’ll see, for sure I will not be the one to open the door to Senna".
In pre-qualifying, meanwhile, pass Blundell (Brabham), Brundle (Brabham), Grouillard (Fondmetal) and Alboreto (Footwork) while Barbazza, Tarquini and Caffi are excluded. In the meantime, the case of Michael Schumacher, entered in the race by two teams, is resolved. During the night between Thursday and Friday, the lawyers agreed: Michael Schumacher will race with Benetton and Roberto Moreno with Jordan. Benetton will pay $500.000 to the Brazilian as a penalty for terminating the contract. The day before, however, the infirm is unleashed. Between seals imposed by the court of Monza and placed in front of the pits of Benetton, and meetings at Villa d'Este, the passage of Michael Schumacher to the court of Flavio Briatore is anything but simple. To avoid Michael Schumacher’s transfer to Benetton, in fact, Eddie Jordan asks for an emergency measure against the Anglo-Italian team on behalf of Roberto Moreno, both in Great Britain and in Italy. But in the dispute between Eddie Jordan and Flavio Briatore also fits Bernie Ecclestone, who understands that a possible passage of Schumacher to Benetton would rekindle Germany’s interest in Formula 1, increasing the revenue from the sale of television rights. When Michael Schumacher and Willi Weber show up at Villa d'Este, they find Eddie Jordan, Roberto Moreno and Bernie Ecclestone talking. Then at 9:30 p.m. Flavio Briatore and his entourage arrived. The English manager, making a jump from one sofa to another, well whatever is alcoholic, while Flavio Briatore enjoys a refined Italian wine. And when he comes to a standstill in the discussion, Bernie Ecclestone tells Eddie Jordan, who in the meantime is trying to defend Roberto Moreno, to whom he says he does not accept any compromise:
"You’re playing with fire, Eddie. If you don’t make a deal by qualifying, I’m cutting Benetton out of the championship. And then your Moreno will remain empty-handed, because he will have neither race nor money".
Of course, Bernie Ecclestone, despite being the vice-president of the FIA, doesn’t have that power of decision. But he still intimidates Eddie Jordan. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher tells his manager:
"Willi, you know what? I’m going to go to sleep now. Get it together somehow, please".
Some years later Flavio Briatore will tell:
"Schumacher was one of the three or four drivers I had on my list. There was Wendlinger, there was Frentzen, and there was Schumacher. Michael’s surname fascinated me, I’m a football fan, and Schumacher was the goalkeeper of Germany. I found myself at some point with Gachot with the taxi accident in London, Eddie Jordan needed a driver. I told him that Schumacher was the driver for them. He said, No, he’s too young. He’s from different cars. At that time the average age of pilots was about 30. In the end he took it and at Spa Michael went very well in qualifying, while in the race he stopped after a couple of laps. I immediately called Willy Weber, we met in London and we closed the deal. It was a great drama for Eddie Jordan, because he thought he had a contract with Schumacher, and he was very greedy. The first time he rode with us was in Monza. I proposed to Roberto Moreno to pay him for the whole season, so at the end of the year he would be out of the team, with a bonus to leave the seat to Michael. But he didn’t agree, and that was a problem. First with Piquet, with whom I had a big argument, because he didn’t want Moreno fired. And I was also close to sending Piquet away to pick up Zanardi, our test driver at the time. We managed to get Michael in the car, because he didn’t have a contract, and he was immediately incredibly fast. The engineers came to me and said, Boss, you were right, this guy is great. I thought: But like, I’ve been here for three years, these people have been there for twenty years...".
And it goes on:
"In the newspapers there was much talk in those days of the controversy about Schumacher, and Senna was also against me, always because Moreno was Brazilian. I told Luciano Benetton that having him on the team was the only way for us to win a championship, with a talent that would grow with us. Michael was able to motivate everyone, he was immediately faster than Nelson. We realized we had an exceptional driver in the team. I asked the designers to make an honest car, and then Michael would take 3-4 tenths of a second to make a difference. So we started building the team and winning the races. He never gave up. I remember he was the first with excellent physical training. For this reason I decided to build a gym for him in the factory. He would never give up, if the car had a problem, he would think about how to fix it. Other drivers would say, The car is shit. He talked to the engineers for hours, putting pressure on them but in a positive way. My relationship with him was super. I fought for him. The night before Monza we were at Villa d'Este, with Eddie Jordan and Bernie Ecclestone. It was the first time I saw Bernie drunk, jumping from my couch to Eddie’s to try to figure it out. This was Formula 1. Bernie had no idea who Michael Schumacher was. No one was convinced of Michael’s choice, they told me he was too young, too young, too young. I was very determined, everyone was doubtful".
On Friday, September 6, 1991, Ayrton Senna has only one way to present himself to his rivals, that of standing in front of them, even at the risk of overdoing it. It is a stronger stimulus than he is. The Brazilian never manages to blend in, to hide in the group, to do pretattica. The McLaren driver even invents an incredible record to put a brake on the ambitions (for the moment of pole position) of Nigel Mansell. Just off the track, on the first lap, he scored a time of 1'21"114, turning the average of 257.415 km/h. It is the second overall speed ever recorded in the history of Formula 1, after the 259.002 km/h average recorded by Keke Rosberg at Silverstone in 1985 with the Williams-Honda turbo, when the HP were countless. Considering then that the English circuit has been modified and is slower, that of Senna is now the new limit to beat. But Ayrton is not the type who knows how to enjoy these feats, who lies on his laurels.
"I have the impression that we will have to work hard to maintain the position. We have to improve the performance of the chassis, indeed a bit everything".
Perfectionist and fussy as always. But he is not wrong: his opponent in the title challenge, Nigel Mansell, is not far away: the Englishman is second, 0.214 seconds away. And with an obstacle test:
"I could not use the new Renault 3B engine, more powerful, and in the chicane my Lola engine from Suzuki blew up in my face. A cloud of smoke and oil. I didn’t see anything anymore, I looked at the curbs to stay on the track. Senna is within our reach".
In fact it is an open fight between McLaren-Honda and Williams-Renault, since the two teams occupy the first four places, alternating also Gerhard Berger and Riccardo Patrese. Ferrari, according to the forecasts of Claudio Lombardi, occupies the third row. But perhaps with a slightly better chronometric result than expected: Jean Alesi (who is ahead of Alain Prost) is only 0.8 seconds away from Senna. The mood inside the Ferrari box, however, is mixed. Alesi, who should have been pleased, preaches calmly:
"There is nothing new compared to Belgium, my engine also dropped power in the final".
Alain Prost is more optimistic:
"The chassis is better, we have to refine the set-up to have greater agility in the chicanes and improve the acceleration of the engine, our real current problem. Anyway the sixth place is tight, I have to go further".
On Sunday, then, there will be another battle. But not only at the top. Debutant Michael Schumacher, in fact, creates havoc in the rear, placing seventh with Benetton-Ford, as he had done with Jordan-Ford at Spa. A good case for the German driver. All night on Thursday, lawyers and team managers had to argue with Bernie Ecclestone as referee to resolve the dispute between Benetton and Jordan. In the end, Schumacher stayed next to Piquet, while Moreno had the opportunity to drive the Jordan, at least for this race. Then we will see. In any case if the young German is very fast, the Brazilian expert does not stand by. With a car he did not know, he managed to overtake his new teammate, Andrea De Cesaris (who in the meantime renewed his contract with Jordan for 1992). Michael Schumacher (the German translation of the pronunciation of his name is manufacturer of shoes) spoils the party to poor Nelson Piquet, who on Friday celebrates his Grand Prix number 200, greeted by Riccardo Patrese and Jean Alesi. Strange people these drivers. On the track they battle, outside sometimes they toast together. Guess who was at the ceremony? Nigel Mansell.
His lifelong enemy, the man the Brazilian has repeatedly ridiculed with nothing short of stinging statements. Great absentee Ayrton Senna, who has no relationship whatsoever with Nelson Piquet. In fact, there is also a national-parochial hatred between the two. It is therefore not excluded that Nigel Mansell with his magnanimous gesture, wanted in some way to seek allies for the great challenge for the world title. If his rival Senna talks about a possible help from Ferrari, if the drivers of the Maranello team were in a position to win (quite unlikely, but not impossible), the Englishman could seek indirect support to beat the opponent. Of course Nelson Piquet doesn’t think he can do a wrong to the McLaren driver, taking two opportunities in one fell swoop. That of making Senna lose the chance to win the world helmet immediately reaching three world titles and that of putting Ayrton in difficulty in front of Brazilian fans, always divided between their two champions. However, even if the contenders of the challenge at the top of the Formula 1 World Championship try to throw obstacles on each other’s streets (this is also a psychological battle), the race that will start Sunday at 3:00:00 p.m., will be above all a challenge head to head. It is the first time that the Williams driver and the South American find themselves engaged in a similar confrontation. Mansell had previously struggled with Piquet and Prost; Ayrton Senna with his former teammate Alain Prost. Nigel and Ayrton have a personal respect. They have several times externalized both on track and on the podium and in subsequent press conferences. But, since they had never been engaged in a personal duel, the situation could also develop unexpectedly. Fair play could turn into a no holds barred battle. Everyone saw how it ended in 1990 between the same Senna and Prost: with a resounding collision in Suzuka that gave the title to the São Paulo driver. And it is also necessary to point out that a withdrawal of Mansell would only benefit his rival who has 22 points ahead in the general standings, with five races still to be played. In short, the risk of a thrilling race, not only for the braking at the limit and for the risky overtakings, is real and concrete. Unless Ayrton Senna really doesn’t settle for a finish ahead of Nigel Mansell, leaving room for team-mate Gerhard Berger if the opportunity arises. Or anyone who could get in his head. And this could be the great opportunity for Ferrari that in qualifying is never too competitive, but that in the race can also find the right solutions to emerge.
After all, this is what the diehard fans of the Maranello team and also Alain Prost and Jean Alesi hope. It must be said that if the Italian Grand Prix will be like the tests held on Saturday, September 7, 1991, it will happen all or the opposite of everything, that is nothing. One thing is certain: everyone here wants to fight. At the end of the second day of practice Ayrton Senna confirmed in pole position, but in less than a second, that is in 55 meters (data processed by Olivetti), followed by Nigel Mansell, Gerhard Berger, Riccardo Patrese, Alain Prost and Jean Alesi. Five torpedoes against one battleship. The ingredients are the usual: the heat (or rain if anything will come after so many threats), the engines (in two days they burst at least fifteen), the brakes, the choice and any changes (or not changes) of the tires. And even the sophisticated oil alchemy with the opportunity to try different gases, some of which - some are convinced - could send a rocket to the moon. It would be the last straw if the McLaren driver, so close to the title, had to stop on the last lap without fuel. A cocktail to which must be added the tension of the particular situation, the possibility to close the championship speech. It seems that, except for reliability problems, the Williams-Renault team is in an excellent situation: the cars of Mansell and Patrese seem to have returned those very fast mid-season lightning, when they were sparking in all senses, including those left on the asphalt. The Englishman touches the finish line at 328 km/h. Speed that should allow him to pass without problems. Just Mansell in the second round of timed practice from a demonstration of what was said, in a qualifying session during which - as mentioned - nothing happened while everything could have happened. Senna, in fact, maintains pole position with the time obtained on Friday. No improvement then, but the World Champion starts for the seventh time in front of everyone since the beginning of the championship. And that’s always a plus. Behind him, however, the gaps are shortened, even if the positions do not change, except that of Prost who at the last minute overtakes his teammate Alesi, bringing himself from sixth to fifth place. Mansell is 0.133 seconds, Berger 0.232 seconds, Patrese 0.258 seconds, Prost 0.711 seconds, Alesi 0.776 seconds. The most tangible sign of the balance achieved by the three best teams.
Almost all of them have traffic problems and could have made some progress. Senna set the fastest time of the day, turning 1'21"245, while Mansell was second at 0.002 seconds. For over 50 minutes it seems that the dirtiest track, the wind that changes direction and intensity, the humidity or some other devilry can slow everyone, except the drivers with Pirelli rubber cars and who was too late. But finally Mansell performs in a crazy lap, completely wrong (in a chicane he risks hitting the McLaren-Honda of Berger), then he repeats himself in the next with four impossible overtakings that take away a probable pole position. And in the grand finale a sarabanda of passages, all spectacular, but useless. Meanwhile, engineer Claudio Lombardi explains that on Sunday morning the last set-up tests will be decisive, while Alain Prost does not hide his hope:
"I think Senna and Mansell will have to and will want to fight. Deep down. And run into danger. We’re pretty close. And in the race the performance could be even more balanced. There is the unknown reliability, but this is always true".
Behind, in the order follow Michael Schumacher, Nelson Piquet and Roberto Moreno. A little more detached Andrea De Cesaris. Two Benetton and two Jordan. With captains determined to defend themselves against the onslaught of the surrendered gregarious. Once again, on the Monza circuit there is a huge crowd of people. But you absolutely do not understand what you expect: Ferrari should not win, Senna that should just win is almost always a cold dislike, Mansell still loved by the Italian people does dirty things to go strong, and can’t get the pole off the Brazilian. The theater now sees fashion plays, like that of Senna, who talked about the rights of drivers more than McLaren.
"We drivers don’t make groups, so they have us at will. Who can defend us? Me, Mansell, Prost, Alesi, Piquet, let’s say two others. Then they are all at the whims of the payer. That’s not good, that’s bad. No, I didn’t say I was disgusted, but sorry. In the past, I had to deal with power, too, for the famous license money. And I felt very lonely. That’s why I’m with Moreno now. But what can we do, in a few?".
Barely moved on to topics concerning the competition, Senna says that:
"The race will be very technical, will win those who make the least mistake. I have not yet decided whether to change tires or not".
He’s sorry about Berger:
"He could stand in the front row with me, he had no luck. Too much traffic on the track. I could improve the weather on Friday, but I lost two tenths of a second to pass Mansell, even if he left me the trajectory".
And about his future he says:
"Let’s say I have more than 50% chance of staying at McLaren. I’m not afraid of being left without a contract".
Meanwhile, there are fewer people than usual around the Ferrari motorhome. One case? a sign? Alesi is silent, annoyed: Prost has passed him once again at the last moment.
"I improved by one place at the start, but above all it matters that the car went better than yesterday. We are the ones who have progressed the most. Difficult race, to evaluate which tires to use, which gasoline to use. Decision to the last. I would like not to change the tires, but starting from behind it wears more. I hope in a duel Senna-Mansell, to get in and take advantage".
Prost seems to have found calm, serenity, education. At Ferrari has been waiting all day for Giovanni Agnelli, but in vain. The atmosphere in the Ferrari area is tense. Good, bad or not good, there is that people seem to have understood that the way is that of work, not magic formulas. Fans are also more civil, less aggressive than usual. You love Mansell who left and Senna who does not arrive, because they are good drivers. The guilt of not being a Ferrari driver is no longer infamous. Nigel Mansell himself defines his second lap in qualifying:
"My most exciting essay of the last ten years".
But he also defines his first lap as wonderful, to the experts it seemed horrible. Many newspapers send to the Grand Prix industry people shows, screen vip specialists, telescreen, limelight, etc. In Monza, however, very few celebrities appear. The real big extra-race character, but not extra Formula 1, at least if you keep hopes on his return, is Alessandro Nannini. From Erba, where he was staying in a friend’s house, the Italian pilot gets on the helicopter for the first time after the accident of the previous year. Fear?
"No fear, I’m insured".
But then he says to his friends,
"My legs were shaking, my heart was beating".
Is everything as planned?
"It doesn’t go as planned, no, it takes longer than I thought, it’s hard".
Nannini answers by talking about recovery. Indeed, it is very hard: an elastic band around the hand helps the difficult movements of the extracted and transplanted arm.
"An autograph? I can’t, I should have my special pen here".
Then, talking about the current Formula 1, the Italian driver says:
"It’s just what I imagined, what I had in mind before coming here".
Juan Manuel Fangio, meeting in Monza with other drivers of his time, including Sanesi and Brooks, De Graffenried and Phil Hill, turns on the circuit aboard the glorious Alfa, and says:
"You are missing for a year and Formula 1 has already changed, cars, faces, ways. But then you get into it one day, and you discover so many anti that things, which are just painted by the modern. As for cars, I still believe that, beyond the show they produce with their very special, sophisticated engines, they are useful for the progress of common cars, from every day".
Sunday 8 September 1991, at the start of the Italian Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna sprints well, keeping the lead of the race ahead of Nigel Mansell, Gerhard Berger, Riccardo Patrese and Jean Alesi. Roberto Moreno already retired after two laps following an exit of the track. At the head of the race, Riccardo Patrese began to recover, overtaking Gerhard Berger and Nigel Mansell, thus bringing himself behind Ayrton Senna, who overtook Ascari on lap 26, winning the lead of the race. However, the Italian is forced to retire after only one lap, betrayed by the change of his Williams-Renault. Meanwhile, Nigel Mansell approached Ayrton Senna, beginning to press him; he overtook him on lap 34, taking the lead of the race. Ayrton Senna then entered the pits to make a change of tires and returned to the track in fifth place, then passing in sequence Michael Schumacher, Gerhard Berger and Alain Prost, returning to second place. The Brazilian driver, however, can not undermine Nigel Mansell, who won the Italian Grand Prix by preseeding at the finish line Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger, Michael Schumacher and Nelson Piquet. Nigel Mansell, ten (points) and praise: he had to win and won his challenge head to head with Ayrton Senna. But the Brazilian battleship was not sunk only by the British torpedo. A good part of the result is due to Riccardo Patrese who brought the McLaren driver to the limit, so that his teammate could take advantage of it. Now the Formula 1 World Championship is a little more open in theory, although the passage of time and races in any case favors the leader. Especially when he manages to limit the damage, coming in second, in a race that also brought Ferrari on the podium, with Prost in third place, just to give a happy ending to the people devoted to the Maranello team. For the public, however, it is a day of celebration: the 150.000 fans crowded along the circuit see one of their idols, Nigel Mansell, win. And they can see the great Ayrton Senna in a strong defense. Now Ayrton Senna has 18 points ahead. Four races still to be disputed. In theory, if Mansell always wins and the South American always comes second, for Ayrton there would still be the title. But they are premature speeches because, being allowed from this year to sum up all the results, it would be enough to withdraw from one side or the other to determine new situations.
As was almost obvious, the race, beautiful for tension and suspense, has lived only on the men of McLaren, Williams and Ferrari. Indeed out of five, because the impetuous young Jean Alesi paid once again the price of his aggression: after passing at the start team-mate Alain Prost, Jean Alesi pulled a break to Riccardo Patrese in the second lap at the first chicane, arrived long and ended up riding a curb, ruining especially the tires. Immediate stop, long and exciting chase until the twelfth place after starting very last and with over a lap behind, and engine explosion on lap 30. Maybe the engine was destined to end up like that: of course Alesi did nothing to spare him. In the lead it was immediately understood that the Williams-Renault would have worried the McLaren-Honda drivers, which in turn have caused some more problems to Alain Prost, causing him to lose ground and the possibility of reaching the first. After trying in vain to grab the fugitive Senna, Mansell must have thought: let Patrese try. So the usual Riccardo attacked the Brazilian. A dance of fake and zigzag, then on lap 25 the final lunge, before the Ascari curve, the most favorable point for overtaking. Successful maneuver, Williams enthusiasm. But only for one lap: just in the lead, in the same area, Riccardo went off the track, blaming the change in kneading in the marches. So Nigel Mansell came out, behind Senna. Another overtaking, always at the Ascari corner. This time to win. But Senna may have made a fatal mistake: he wanted to resist the attacks, made too much braking and flattened the tires. He had to stop to change them and lost that twenty seconds that did not allow him even an attempt at recovery. Although, fifth on the track, the Brazilian driver was able to overcome Michael Schumacher, Gerhard Berger and Alain Prost, unwilling to resist beyond measure after the peace signed in Hungary, winning the place of honor. The main theme of the after-race in Monza, managed by Nigel Mansell who is without a doubt the top actor on the podium, better than Ayrton Senna and Prost, is the Japanese Grand Prix. And that is: will there be a race this year in Japan, the penultimate of the calendar, decisive for the title and full of unsportsmanlike episodes? Men ready to throw themselves off the track at 300 km/h, that is Mansell, Senna and Prost, joke about this hypothesis. Ayrton Senna says:
"I hope to win again soon and to become world champion without having to wait for Japan that usually poses me problems".
Alain Prost adds:
"It’s Senna and Mansell’s business".
And then Nigel Mansell concludes:
"Instead I hope to get to Japan and then also to Australia with the fight still alive, because this will mean my remaining chance to become World Champion. I want to win at Suzuka".
Everyone laughs at the press conference, and Mansell applauds those who laugh, managing their own joy, that of the other two, that of journalists, that of the people who beyond a window hosed him and gratify him, as with that sign that says:
"Mansell in the heart, Senna in the a...".
Anyway, it’s Nigel Mansell’s first win at Monza.
"It’s great, I feel like I don’t have to ask for more from life. The world title? Four races, eighteen points, who knows. Why did I signal Patrese to come by? He was doing well, I had a set-up problem, he wanted to attack Senna, I knew that if he attacked Senna, and maybe passed him, Ayrton reacted by pushing the car and tires as hard as he could. And it was so, until Patrese, at the helm, broke the gearbox".
Was that a plan?
"But what plan? How do you do in Monza, where the race takes you to the throat already in the tests? It was an idea born so, born by chance. When I saw that behind McLaren my car had problems, I thought: let Riccardo pass, so he will put Senna in trouble until I can take advantage of it".
And so it was. Patrese attacked forcing Ayrton to consume more tires than expected and Mansell could go to the lead to win. Twenty laps in the lead. Someone expected a mistake, a fatal exaggeration. Instead, Mansell was perfect: fast laps to detach the opponent, then the minimum necessary to maintain the gap won. The car used sparingly, the brain as a weapon, leaving the heart and foot only control tasks. What is the secret of this change?
"Nothing special. Last year I wanted to retire because I was demoralized. Now I feel good, supported. I have a car, the Williams, which is very good. Renault works very hard on the engine. Patrese is a perfect teammate. When I get on the track I feel like a kid, with a great desire to drive. In short, it is the ideal situation for a driver like me who also considers himself a sportsman. I fight with a different spirit".
Now the pronouncements of the two opponents are more or less similar.
"It’s hard but I try, I’ll always have to win".
Meanwhile, Mansell quickly changes his hat from blue to red. Before, on the podium, Mansell had managed the great party of the victorious trio, overlooking a huge crowd, assatanata, on which Alain Prost threw a cup, he hats, all in a champagne bath. The crowd, who had passed a barrier of law enforcement, had tried, in part succeeding, to strip the Ferrari of Alain Prost who had not returned to the pits in time, and had scraped the paint with his nails, to bring home some red hope, always and only hope. Ferrari leaves the Monza circuit, which saw many triumphs of the Maranello cars, with honor. Alain Prost’s third place was the best one could hope for. Only chance, or some unforeseen event, could have determined a better result. After all, the ranking of the first three reflects the current values of the cars on track: first Williams-Renault, second McLaren-Honda and third, in fact, the single-seater produced in Maranello. And it is for this reason that Alain Prost, perfectly aware of certain limits, appears calm and moderately satisfied at the end of the race.
"My car was very fast at the beginning and I felt I could keep up with the best without too many problems. In fact, during the warm-up of the morning I was the fastest ever and I started with a certain amount of optimism".
And then what happened?
"I just happened to be in the wrong place. Immediately after the start Alesi, who had passed me, went straight into the chicane and filled me with sand. Later when I was behind Berger - Gerhard did all kinds of things. It went out a couple of times and my car became like a garbage can, I picked up anything. The radiator grilles partially clogged and the engine temperature, already suffocated by the heat, rose by another 15 º C. So I could not force much".
But would you have had a chance to fight Senna and Mansell?
"I don’t think so. We were doing well. But we’re still not up to our rivals. During the race there is always a worsening: the engine drops a little, while something worsens in the balance, with the fuel tank emptying. The car hops. Plus the tires in the finish degraded. Senna had new tires and trying to resist it would have meant risking to throw away the placement. I’m happy with the third place. A little oxygen for me and the team, then we’ll see. The characteristics of the Estoril circuit, where we will race next, could well mask the shortcomings of our low speed engine and make us more competitive. In addition, it is not excluded that in the meantime it is not possible to make some progress".
The desire to work is not lacking at Ferrari, even with all the problems that exist. Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 September 1991 a team will go to the Mugello track (with Jean Alesi) to test a new version of the engine, which could be called evolution 5, even if it has not yet had an official signature. Admits the engineer Claudio Lombardi:
"Yes, we are committed to short, medium and long term. I am quite satisfied with this result. There are small steps forward. But we are still the third team in the ranking. The others are faster and we need to improve. Where? Engine and chassis, of course. We are close, every race now we make some progress. Still small steps and we will be there. We can win at least one race before the end of the season. It’s just a matter of optimizing some chassis and engine solutions. Yesterday I would have been faster if the radiators had not become dirty and the temperatures had not risen in a worrying way. A good opportunity could come in two weeks' time in Portugal. The circuit of Estoril is winding, but it is fast and without violent braking. A path that could also mask one of our problems, that of acceleration. In short, just pessimistic are not, you can also partially save the budget of a championship that did not go well".
But then it’s already time to think about next season. Formula 1 in practice does not allow breaks.
"For the future we will see. The premises are not evil. Of course, we must not delude ourselves in the winter trials as we did this time. We must continue on the path taken in recent months: it could be the right one".
And now we come to the painful notes that have a name and a surname. Jean Alesi. Retired to the thirtieth lap for the engine failure. An exit on the second lap, then a good recovery ended badly. The Frenchman is sincere:
"My mistake at the chicane. I braked too late and ended up in the ground. I think I was pretty good at getting out of it, dosing the accelerator every time I went down. But I still compromised the ride".
No one accuses him, indeed does not even raise the suspicion that Jean in his attempt to recover has taken too much advantage of the rev limiter for what could be the cause of the failure of the engine. However, one thing is certain: for Ferrari, the young driver, taken last year with a thousand balances, torn from Tyrrell and Williams with not indifferent costs, is a disappointment. Out of twelve qualifications he was behind Prost ten times (and Alain in this sense is not considered one of the best). In the race he often had a lower performance than expected. It would therefore not be surprising if his position in Maranello were questioned. It is true that Alesi has a contract for 1992, but it is also true that the contracts can be amended. Whispers coming from the pits say that it could open the way for an Italian driver. He looks like an experienced driver. Riccardo Patrese, finally? Who knows. Meanwhile, Ayrton Senna becomes a great speaker. Generally it is difficult to talk to the Brazilian driver during the weekend, except after qualifying, when he normally has to answer the mandatory and ritual interviews. But after the race he talks, explains, goes into details, answers, winks, sends messages. A complete repertoire, in short, that leaves almost no room for questions, so much so that in the end if someone still comes up with some questions, these are trivial and unimportant issues.
"I’m fine with second place. It’s clear that I wanted to win. But I have to be satisfied. The set-up of my car was not perfect. And that made the tires wear out more than expected. I lost grip. The left front tire started to vibrate. Then the wheel got stuck while braking before the chicane. That’s why I decided to stop, also because Mansell had overtaken me. If I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have gotten to second place. It was a tough race. And I had a hard time with the Williams".
A fair fight?
"You saw it all. Nigel had to win and he did. The championship is open. However, every passing race works in my favor. The pressure on my rivals is getting stronger and stronger. For Mansell everything will become more difficult: he cannot afford a mistake, a withdrawal. And then there will be circuits where we will be more competitive than we were at Monza this time".
Is McLaren in trouble?
"Everything is going pretty well on the engine now. The flaws at the moment are in the chassis. We definitely need to improve. There’s no doubt about that. It’s our weakness. Better times are coming. Anyway, I’m pretty cool. I still have plenty of room".
McLaren has increased the lead (15 points) over Williams in the constructors' championship. And that made the pill less bitter for Ron Dennis, manager of the Brazilian team. Even Gerhard Berger, who is now the shadow of the brilliant driver he met a few years ago, contributed to bringing some points. The Austrian got a lucky fourth place, because he was never in contention for the victory:
"The reason is simple. My car was very difficult to drive. I thought something broke in the back, maybe a shock. I went off the track three times. The engine was running perfectly. But three laps from the end the music changed and lost power".
In fact it was not about music, but about noise: the engine was breaking. And just past the finish line the #2 car stopped with the 12-cylinder engine out of action. Returning to Senna, the Brazilian driver confesses to a friend who, beyond all, intends to close the issue of winning the title as soon as possible, perhaps with the seventh victory of the season, in Portugal. Meanwhile, the name Michael Schumacher is still written, in big letters, on Jordan’s truck. But the German driver, the shoe manufacturer, won his first points with Benetton-Ford. At the second race in Formula 1, at the first finish. An exceptional result, the fifth place, for the driver who was at the center of the controversy of the week, contested by two teams. He showed the coolness of a veteran with the aggression of the neophyte. A race conducted with the brain, however, to get to the end, without overdoing it: proof of it is that he also tried to attack Alain Prost, he understood that it was not possible and was satisfied.
"I am happy and surprised. For many reasons. The most beautiful gift? The compliments of Nelson Piquet".
It should be noted that Schumacher was one of the few to not change the tyres among the pursuers and contributed to the small success of Pirelli that brought two cars - with Piquet sixth - in the points. The engagement of the 22-year-old German by the Anglo-Italian team was therefore a great blow. Beyond the ethical question, the dismissal of the poor Roberto Moreno, for the team led by Flavio Briatore open wide horizons. And certainly also the safe, since the sponsors will arrive in droves, with a renewed enthusiasm for Formula 1. But - there is always a but - the Schumacher case has a backstory. That is not the one regarding any sinkholes that brought the German rider to the new team. Throughout the story there is also the problem of a beloved and celebrated champion like Nelson Piquet. The Brazilian would have risked not racing in Monza. And if the situation does not change, it could also break with Benetton in the short term, while the divorce is almost certain by the end of the season. There was a break in relations that will hardly be settled. Something happened in Monza on the eve of the race. It seems that Nelson Piquet, furious at the conduct of the matter with Roberto Moreno, has threatened to leave. . Benetton boxes on Thursday were like a chest. He was even prevented from entering by Turchetti, head of Pirelli, who had to make the tyre plan. Why? It’s simple: not only had Moreno’s car been prepared for Schumacher, but Piquet’s car would have been set up for the young Alessandro Zanardi, the current leader of Formula 3000, ready to intervene in the event of Nelson’s resignation. Then obviously things settled down, and the night brought advice. But the fundamental differences between driver and team remain. Says Flavio Briatore:
"Piquet gave an interview that he is deciding whether to leave or stay with us. Wrong. He is an employee. We decide. And then we are not willing to spend so much money...".
It seems that the Brazilian asks a lot: at least 5.000.000 dollars. This is revealed by Guy Ligier with whom he had a negotiation. Who’s gonna pay Piquet that? Changing the subject, Riccardo Patrese was again unlucky, having been forced to abandon when he had just passed the command.
"The gearbox had already given me some problems. When I tried to force the pace to get away from Senna, some gear entered the Ascari variant and made me lock the rear wheels. I tried to return, but by now the transmission was destroyed. Too bad, rather than anger. Victory was within my reach. And in Monza an Italian hasn’t been first in almost a century...".
For Andrea De Cesaris, seventh at the finish line, overtaken by Nelson Piquet on the last lap while having tyre problems, it was not an exciting Grand Prix. And also the other Italian drivers could not rejoice: Ivan Capelli finished the race in ninth place, with a Leyton House-Ilmor increasingly less competitive; the young Gianni Morbidelli is ninth, with his Minardi-Ferrari; Emanuele Pirro closes in tenth position, but at least he finished the race, as well as Nicola Larini, sixteenth with the Lambo. Stefano Modena did not reach the finish line, due to the engine failure. But at least he had a reason to go home quickly: the next day, in Rome, at 9:05 a.m. his wife Sveva gives birth, a little earlier than expected, a beautiful boy, Ascanio. At the end of the Italian Grand Prix it can be said that the leadership of the World Championship is firmly in favor of Ayrton Senna. His friend-rival Nigel Mansell is forced to live on the day, to hope even in the misfortunes of others. And he will be forced to win at least three of the four races that remain to be played, to recover the large gap (18 points) that separates him from the Brazilian. An almost impossible task. But the new Nigel Mansell seen this season, protagonist of a very intelligent race in Monza, could also accomplish the miracle. The Italian Grand Prix presents a true, mature and complete champion.
"I have no illusions. But I will try. It would also take a stroke of luck, what I have always missed so far: first place for me and withdrawal for Ayrton, I ten points he zero. I know it’s not very sporting to think so. And I’m a little ashamed. But his current advantage, 18 points, is too much, allows him to run to the savings, with the dropper, aiming even just to the placings. While I will always have to risk. Either first or defeat".
But Ayrton Senna warns his opponent:
"I’m not the type to run for a place, I’m in the top positions. In Monza I was good at second place. Because it was absolutely unthinkable to do better. But you mustn’t believe, Nigel, that I only occupy my brain with the calculations of the scores necessary to win the championship. At every opportunity I leave to win. And so I will in the next races. All, without exclusion".
It is a test, this, that shows how a heated rivalry, fortunately, is always lurking. Should the Englishman recover enough ground to scare the Seine, the idyll may even break. Of the four tracks still to be covered, only the one of Suzuka could be clearly favorable to Williams-Renault, because it was quite racy. In Portugal, McLaren-Honda will defend itself better than at Monza. The new circuit of Barcelona is a total unknown, while the street circuit of Adelaide could also be congenial to Nigel Mansell. In any case - as has been said - Senna will need a victory to close the conversation. The situation in the Constructors' World Championship is different: McLaren is on the run (15 points) and Frank Williams is desperate. And, in the fight for the third position, Ferrari must defend itself from the arrival of Benetton-Ford. While now aiming for the future, the Maranello team must at least try to defend this placement. Then, probably Alain Prost will announce that in 1992 he will race with Ferrari, as established for some time, and that in 1993 he will join Guy Ligier, who has in mind to create a super team. Unless Prost prefers to give up the new venture and focus on other horizons.