#532 1992 Australian Grand Prix

2022-12-19 00:00

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#SecondPart, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#532 1992 Australian Grand Prix

Gerhard Berger is a God-fearing young man. At least to some extent: he lies back enjoying the Australian sun and does not think about telling lies. In

The curiosity of an audience living at the end of the world and the particular characteristics of a city track that allowed McLaren to undermine Williams's supremacy for the first time are random elements. On the other hand, the semi-deserted grandstands of Monza, the empty circuits of Estoril and Budapest remain in the memory. And here we return to Ferrari, the most noble and beloved team. Unfortunately, the cars of Maranello this year have not had a single spark. A World Championship so disappointing that it led to the dismissal of Ivan Capelli and the decision to make Nicola Larini race the last two races with a laboratory car for the future. Only on three other occasions (1969, 1973 and 1980) had Ferrari done worse. But never in its history had Ferrari been without a win in two whole years (1991-1992). Ferrari's negative year contributed to causing disinterest and disaffection. But not all of this is Maranello's team's fault. Serious responsibilities also went to season-dominant Williams-Renault and McLaren. The first for not having stimulated any challenge between Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese. Mansell was supposed to win the title and Mansell crushed Patrese. Not just because he was objectively the strongest or because he adapted better to the car with active suspension, but because that is how it had to be. Let us not forget that in the last ten years the championship had also lived on duels between teammates: from Prost vs Lauda to Prost vs Senna in McLaren, through Prost vs Mansell in Ferrari. With the two exceptions of the fierce Senna vs Prost competition in 1990 and again Senna vs Mansell in 1991. McLaren, for their part, have not been able to recover, despite reaching few highs, and above all gives concerns for the future. Exasperated technology has ended up tearing down human values. Today, unfortunately (as has also happened in Rally and in the Sportscar World Championship), there is only one winning car and the drivers fight to drive it. So true that Senna, unable to get a Williams, threatens to retire. Are we therefore at a negative and irreversible turning point? Is there a medicine to cure the big sick?


These questions involve many factors. Let us say that, in theory, albeit in a clumsy and inaccurate way, the FIA is trying to give a tug at the rudder, fighting between its own interests and those of the teams to which, for so many reasons, it cannot impose drastic solutions. In 1993, the technical regulations will change, the manufacturers will have to make narrower cars with smaller tyres. From the first tests carried out, it seems that the speed on the lap has not decreased but that in this way (with less stability in corners) the drivers' bravery and skill are enhanced. Even if the diffusion of active suspensions, traction control, braking systems with ABS electronic system could frustrate the attempt to recover human values and therefore not lead to that certain type of realignment between the various cars, which should give uncertainty and put on a show. Coming back and concluding with Ferrari, all that remains is hope. On paper the intentions are good, the programs are precise, the choices are right. The problem will be to assemble everything and find the pieces to complete the puzzle. A very difficult task for President Montezemolo. Even for Ferrari, the moment is not the easiest. The car crisis, which affected important markets such as the United States, and the Italian economic situation were also felt in Maranello. But it is precisely in these circumstances that we must react and explore new initiatives to stimulate the public. Owning a Ferrari remains an ambitious goal and driving a Ferrari - within speed limits - is a special pleasure, which can be agreed upon or not, but which is absurd to ignore. In addition, as if the aforementioned issues were not enough to create a climate of distrust towards Formula 1, the fight between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost continues, even at a distance. On Tuesday, November 17, 1992, the fans of the Brazilian champion also mobilized: it had never happened in Formula 1 that the enmity between two drivers got to this extent. Senna's supporters gather in Milan on Tuesday to celebrate the first anniversary of the Italian Senna fans club, and announce that they will send a delegation to the circuits carrying mourning banners and anti-Prost writings. Not only that: many of these die-hards also have a Ferrari Club membership card in their pockets. And they dream impatiently that Ayrton Senna can get on the Maranello cars. And Senna, from Brazil, seems to open a window: in a press conference, the driver says: 


"I am much closer to Ferrari than I was twelve months ago. Ferrari continues to be the dream of all drivers and mine too. I'm not willing to accept a place where I don't have a chance to compete at the highest level. But that doesn't mean I'm no longer willing to work hard on the track to make the car competitive".


Meanwhile, it was confirmed that Moscow could also have a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1993. In fact, the Organizing Committee announces the possible 3860-metre city route of the future race. The cars should cross Lubyanka Square, Manezhnaya Square and will race in front of the Kremlin and the Bolshoi. A race track will later be built on the outskirts of the city. In the organizing committee there are also two Italians: Enrico Nai, vice president and general manager, and the lawyer Sergio Forelli, advisor. Maranello's team may like that Senna announces that he is close to Ferrari, but between thought and action come Alesi and Berger. This is substantially the comment of the Italian car manufacturer following the statements of the Brazilian driver, who claims to be closer to Ferrari than twelve months ago. 


"Maybe Senna is referring to 1994, but for this year the drivers are Alesi and Berger". 


The latter, only the other day, was at lunch in Maranello with President Luca di Montezemolo. About the new car, on which Barnard is working, we learn that it will be ready in the middle of the next championship, while before Christmas the Ferrari 644/bis will go on track, that is the evolution of the old car, usable for the first part of 1993. A few days later we learn that, from Sunday 22 to Tuesday 24 November 1992, Mansell's racing car, the #5 car of the multi-winning team, will arrive in Sanremo. The prize list is impressive: fifteen pole positions out of sixteen races disputed, and ten victories. Rarely has a car been the protagonist of such a performance: the stuff of legend, even in the world of Formula One. During the 1992 World Championship, Williams-Renault won both the Constructors' World Championship and the Drivers' World Championship with the Englishman Nigel Mansell. What are then the boundaries between the undisputed merits of the car, a successful mix between the mechanics of the French Renault and the chassis of the English Williams, the skill of the drivers (Mansell and Patrese, misunderstood in Italy but highly appreciated abroad, who were definitely up to the situation) and the demerits of the opponents, is a topic to be discussed. Of course, 1992 was unquestionably Williams-Renault's golden year. A very clear domain. The British car can be seen closely in the Sanremo headquarters of Giancarlo Fogliarmi's Renault dealership, where everyone will have the opportunity to admire it, in the three days of exhibition, in the morning from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., and in the afternoon from 3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.. The visit to Sanremo by the absolute dominant car of the Formula 1 World Championship is obviously no coincidence. It is part of a promotional initiative of the French manufacturer, which, logically, tries to make the most of the myth of Mansell's car to enhance its production. But the arrival of Williams-Renault is still a small event, but very significant for all fans. 


Sanremo, after the roaring 1940s when it brought its champions and its cars to its streets and Ospedaletti for the annual Grand Prix, now lives far from the increasingly grandiose atmosphere of the World Championship races even if after all, fortunately for the fans, Monte-Carlo and its Grand Prix are only a few dozen kilometres away. Williams-Renault's presence in Sanremo will allow fans to see up close a car that they have seen compete (and very often win) in television images from all over the world. Mansell's car is a little technical prodigy. The engine - in technical terms the V10 Rso3 - built by Renault Sport in the centre of Viry Châtillon, adapted perfectly to the chassis of the English car assembled in the Williams laboratories in Didcot, Great Britain. It was there that the miracle of a multi-winning car was born, but it was already old because a new one was being designed, which was certainly still superior to the competitors. After all, Williams-Renault had expressed his dominance right since the beginning of the season when, in the opening Grands Prix of South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, the French-English cars had qualified three consecutive times to the first two places on the podium. An accomplishment that is difficult to imitate. And the wins were also the result of meticulous preparation, if we consider that in the winter period, the one preceding the racing season, the cars, to achieve the highest level of reliability and competitiveness, had undergone 21,000 kilometres of testing, especially to develop the most sophisticated technical solutions, first of all the active suspensions and automatic clutch. A car that had no rivals. And therefore, it must be admired even if the sport (and the sponsors) has their own laws, which can sometimes seem to go against all logic. Mansell, World Champion, has even been questioned and, except for clamorous surprises, will no longer drive the Williams-Renault. 


The transalpine house, for nationalistic reasons, now prefers to focus on Alain Prost, another great champion, and in addition with a French passport. Things that happen in the grand circus of Formula 1, a world often surrounded by an aura of legend. And a little glimpse of that world will be showcased in Sanremo where Williams is counting on a small, but enthusiastic, handful of fans. It seems impossible, in Ferrari's homeland, but victories are the most effective fuel to ignite enthusiasm. Meanwhile, on Friday, November 20, 1992 in Maranello, one wonders: what happened to Gerhard Berger? Yesterday he was supposed to participate in the first informal meeting as a Ferrari driver together with Jean Alesi, but the Austrian does not show up for the appointment, and there is no news of him, not even a telegram of apologies. After the recent cryptic messages from Ayrton Senna from Brazil, in which the three-time world champion said he was closer to the Maranello team, Berger's disappearance could have fuelled other doubts and suspicions. Instead, apparently, nothing strange has happened: the Worgl driver will make his official debut at the end of the year, perhaps before Christmas, when the 644 bis that will race in the first part of next season will be launched. Luca Montezemolo himself, president of Ferrari, explains the misunderstanding: 


"Gerhard was thought to be free, but he still has commitments with his sponsors". 


The absence of the driver and the presence of Montezemolo then change - albeit at the last moment - the day schedule, which becomes a summary of the current situation. 


"I confirm in the most absolute way that our drivers in 1993 will be Berger and Alesi. We had contacted Senna before signing the Austrian. I also exclude that the Brazilian, who I consider to be the absolute best driver in Formula 1, can play any role at Ferrari in the next championship. Not even that of a luxury tester. For the future, however, time will tell. When we will be competitive...". 


Montezemolo also denies Ferrari's interest in re-employing Cesare Fiorio as sporting director, after the rumours published in a sports newspaper:


"Cesare is a friend, a man of great experience, capable, but I think he was in Turin just to talk about some eventual employment, which does not concern us". 


Then he repeats the speeches on the difficulties of the moment also linked to the general economic crisis, the re-organization of the team continues, which will reduce the workforce by 70 elements, he says that Ferrari is working in all directions (chassis, engine, electronics), that he does not promise anything, in the sense that you should not expect victories in the short term, but that he is convinced that Ferrari will be able to reverse the negative trend of these years. For Montezemolo, the great favourite of the 1993 World Championship will still be Williams. In the afternoon it is also possible to watch some Alesi test laps on the renovated Fiorano track. In the morning, the Frenchman had set the new track record (1'02"18) with the car equipped with active suspension and with the narrow tyres that will be used next year. The visit is also useful to obtain some information from the Ferrari electronic technical team, directed by engineer Francia. The Maranello team is also testing, in addition to intelligent suspension, other systems related to traction control and anti-skidding, and perhaps also an ABS braking system. Starting from mid-1993, a new real-time telemetry system will also be used, with which the technicians from the pits will be able to give orders to the car while running (which will be equipped with a black box, similar to the one that records all the moves on board on aeroplanes). Ferrari will be engaged in a series of tests in Estoril later this month. Meanwhile, news arrives that the Asian Grand Prix of Autopolis has been replaced by a European Grand Prix to be held in Donington (Great Britain), on Sunday, April 11, 1993. The first race of the World Championship in South Africa was moved from February 28 to March 14, 1993. 


On Monday, November 23, 1992, while - as mentioned - Nigel Mansell's car was on display in Sanremo, a clamorous rumour upsets Formula 1: the next World Championship could not see the team that dominated in every Grand Prix this year at the start, that is Williams. The rumour comes from Italy, according to which Max Mosley, president of the FISA, would have informed Frank Williams that the application for registration, arrived at the FIA almost a week late, would have been rejected. In the past, it has never happened that FISA has taken such an uncompromising position. At the basis of this drastic decision, the well-informed would see the tug of war between the FIA to change the regulations to rebalance the values in the field, and the British manufacturer who instead opposes any innovation. Not forgetting that Elf, one of Williams' main sponsors, has sued the FIA for around 3 billion lire in compensation for tweaking rules concerning the use of fuel. This move would therefore serve FISA to make Williams more malleable, asking in return to settle all pending issues. Frank Williams, when asked, denies any delay: 


"We have done everything according to the rules and will be regularly at the start in March". 


But from unofficial sources it is known that the problem currently exists, although it will surely be solved in time, because Formula 1, after losing Nigel Mansell and with the risk of not even having Ayrton Senna at the start, cannot afford to leave Williams and Alain Prost at home. While Formula 1 is still wondering about its future full of unknowns (who will support Prost at Williams, will Senna race, what engine will McLaren have, will the French Grand Prix be cancelled due to problems with tobacco advertising?), on Monday, November 30, 1992, many teams hit the track in Portugal for a series of tests. Five days of testing will be carried out on the Estoril circuit to test some of the modifications that will be imposed by the regulation in 1993 and to check the validity of sophisticated systems under study. Ferrari will be present with a car driven by Jean Alesi, equipped with the latest version of traction control, active suspension, narrow tyres and lower wings. Benetton, on the other hand, should try a new ABS system for the braking system of Patrese and Schumacher's single-seaters. In the first day of testing, Alain Prost with Williams is the fastest, followed by just 0.14 seconds by teammate Damon Hill, who in turn precedes Michael Schumacher (Benetton), Karl Wendlinger (Sauber) and Jean Alesi, who tests two different Ferrari models. While on Tuesday, December 1, 1992 Alain Prost continues to fly with Williams in the Estoril tests (scoring a time of 1'13"77, very close to the record, while Alesi with Ferrari scores a time of 1'16"12), another negative update for Formula 1 comes from Italy. Fondmetal announces its definitive withdrawal, having found no sponsors for 1993. Williams's interest in Mika Hakkinen, free from commitments with Lotus, is confirmed.


"It's not important to be the first or second drive: what really matters is getting out of the tunnel, fighting again for the World Championship. Only when Ferrari returns to being Ferrari will it be possible to discuss hierarchies. For now, Alesi and I are on the same level, and we both have to row in the same way, so that this become a winning boat". 


These are the words said on Sunday, December 6, 1992 by Gerhard Berger, after meeting Jean Alesi at the Motor Show in Bologna, Italy. The two of them only need half an hour to understand each other. A handshake. A smile: that does not seem like gritted teeth, even if someone says and repeats that the French driver does not like the Austrian's great return to Maranello very much. A return that could overshadow him. 


"When I first came to Ferrari, it was the best for me. I was young, I had my whole career ahead of me, I didn't feel crushed by pressure. I mean, I was happy. But at McLaren I've never been happy. I return to Maranello with the enthusiasm of then, to find the same sensations. Money? It only matters if you don't have any". 


What did not work with McLaren? 


"Senna. In fact, it worked too much. I mean, he's a perfectionist, he works on the details with incredible scruples. I felt like a student in front of the teacher. I thought: Gerhard, you have to learn and you have to do it quickly. But the best car was always given to him, never to me. I was considered almost like a spare wheel". 


Do you still consider him the strongest driver in the world? 


"You can't say, in Formula 1, who is really the best. It could also be a driver racing for a small team: an Osella, or a Minardi. But he can't prove it, because the car won't let him". 


Do you think that Senna will continue to race, or will he really dedicate himself to Formula Indy? 


"Senna can't bear to lose. The idea that someone can beat him makes him furious. He'll try the new McLaren and then decide. If he realizes that he can't become World Champion, with that car, he will say goodbye to Formula 1". 


Do you think that Ferrari will return soon to being Ferrari? 


"I certainly hope so. His name is always magical, on the track and on the road, but his image has faded a bit after the death of Enzo Ferrari. Waiting for the 645 to be ready next summer, I will try the 644 bis in January. I look forward to that moment, it will be the moment of truth". 


From Berger to Alesi, who put on a show at the Motor Show on the Ferrari 348 in the Challenge version, identical to those that will compete in the one-make championship in 1993. The first question is mandatory. Alesi: Were you really against Berger's return? 


"I was neither against nor in favour. I knew little of him. We talked for a long time, for the first time, in Australia. I understood that, from a human point of view, I shouldn't have any problems with him. He told me right away: If you want, I'll show you my contract. I said: No, thank you, I don't care how much you make. Rather: I read that you consider yourself the first drive. Is it true? And he: I asked for priority in case there's a change to the car, that's all. And I also asked to have the spare car always available".


So what? 


"Then I looked for explanations from Luca Montezemolo. The president assured me that, if I had to be stranded during practice due to a breakdown or an accident, I could easily use the spare car. That's enough for me". 


Alesi took three third places in 1991 and two in 1992. Not much, as a balance. 


"As a driver, I don't consider myself inferior to anyone. I'm not saying I'm the best, but I'm in the group of the best. However, when a driver knows he does not have a competitive car, he must try to give more. More and more. I pushed like crazy, I came close to the limit, to the real risk. And when you run like this, sooner or later you make some mistakes. I couldn't wait for this championship to end. I was thinking: Jean, if you're going to push to death, you're going to take a flight. It didn't happen, thank goodness". 


Have you ever thought about leaving Ferrari? 


"Never. Ferrari here (in Italy) is loved as the Italian national football team. I love it too, I'm a bit Italian. When I came, I had a contract already signed with Williams. Another would have regrets: if I stood where I was, maybe now I would be World Champion. Yet I have none. I'll do it again, I swear".


On Tuesday, December 8, 1992, Nigel Mansell arrives in Bologna from Florida, pale, with a grey Prince of Wales double-breasted jacket, walking with the help of crutches, due to the plastered left foot, a little tired for the trip. The British driver is regenerated only when on the stage of the Teatro Medica, in the historic centre of Bologna, he receives the Casco d 'Oro awarded by Autosprint magazine as the best driver of the year and the crowd starts a very long applause. And then the Formula 1 World Champion returns to his usual quirky and funny character, surrounded by fans and other winners. Previously, Mansell had improvised a short press conference at the Hotel Baglioni. Half an hour of back-and-forth, during which the Englishman dumped much poison on Prost, Senna and Williams. Substantially, Mansell reiterated his intention to race in 1993 for Formula Indy, but he did not rule out either, on specific demand that, if certain favourable conditions were to reappear, he could have a second thought. Even if by now it is practically certain that he will be an emigrant in the United States for a year. 


"I'm testing the car for the first time that I will be driving for Carl Haas and Paul Newman's team in January, probably on the short oval circuit in Phoenix. I took advantage of the stop to have my toe operated on, which I had broken at the end of 1991 in Australia. It bothered me, but I couldn't certainly stop during the World Championship. This will cause me to delay testing with my new team, but at least I will show up in perfect physical condition". 


Is it true that someone is trying to get you back into Formula 1 right now? 


"I personally don't know anything about it. Nobody told me about it. So as far as I'm concerned, there was no change from what I said after the last race in Australia. Anyway, I know that someone talked to my new team. I don't want to comment on this situation. At the moment I'm ready to drive in Formula Indy, also because in life you'll never know what will happen in the future. I've never heard so many lies like the ones that were told this year. This is absurd".


How does Mansell see a Formula 1 without himself and perhaps without Ayrton Senna? 


"The drivers are just employees. Important people have explained that Mansell and Senna are not necessary. For these people, apparently, only Prost is important. Someone who was in Ferrari and was fired. Who was a commentator for a French television station and that he practically chased out Mansell and Senna. I'm just an aged driver, not a politician. I hope someone treats me with respect because I have always been correct and told the truth no matter what. Perhaps to have a good place in Formula 1 you need a lot of money, an engine factory behind you, the support of a petrol corporation and the backing of a government. I didn't have all this". 


So, are you glad that you made certain decisions? 


"Last season Senna made his speeches, Prost made his statements. It's funny, I have to say that these are my two best friends - fortunately they blamed each other and never involved me. They were kind. No, jokes aside. I am very motivated for this new challenge". 


And adds:


"The American team wanted me without the help of Renault, Elf, Frank Williams, the French government. The passenger compartment of the car is a bit small, but I will adapt. My goals? Be competitive from the first race. Learn immediately and try to win as soon as possible. After all, if I had stayed in Formula 1, I would never have had so much motivation. Can you imagine the Indy 500?"


They say that Senna could also come... 


"The door is open; it would be good for the United States and bad for Formula 1".


A Formula 1 that wants to change the regulations and insert a new norm, penalizing the winning cars with a ballast. Half a kilo of lead for each point won. What do you think? 


"Maybe that's why Williams wanted a small, lightweight driver like Prost". 


Among the many attractions to note, the presence in Bologna of numerous Formula 1 champions, engaged in some tests that excite spectators who, regardless of the weather, crowd the stands of the Motor Show. The English Johnny Herbert with Lotus gets the win, which in the end overtakes the Finnish Jarvy Lehto (Dallara), winner of the first round. For the third and fourth place the two Minardi fought each other: Christian Fittipaldi wins for the sum of the times. Alboreto is unlucky, eliminated in the opening by a spin. The following day, the Formula 3 cars involved in the fifth edition of the Asso trophy will be on stage. The winners of the previous editions were Nino Fama, Patrick Lazare, Luigi De Luca and Jacques Villeneuve. On Monday, December 14, 1992, Alain Prost can be described as happy, given that there will be neither Senna nor Mansell on the Williams, nor even one expert driver among the others available. The English team, in fact, clarifies any doubt about the line-up for 1993, announcing the signing of Damon Hill, who until now had played the role of test driver for the same team, in addition to competing with alternating luck for six years in Formula 3000 and having competed a few races last season with Brabham. Damon Hill, thirty years old, married, father of two, son of the famous Graham, World Champion in 1962 and 1968, is considered a fast and aggressive driver, he gained a great amount experience at Williams by completing thousands of kilometres in testing. But he certainly cannot aspire, at his first real season in Formula 1, to oppose, especially politically, a character like Alain Prost, who will therefore have the green light and the absolute dominance of the team to aim for his fourth world title. 


According to the technical director of Williams, Patrick Head, it would be said that he is an ordinary guy: stocky, wide face and heavy hands, similar to those of a person used to working in the fields. However, Patrick Head has the farmer's fine brains: in these years, Williams have dominated the scene. The English engineer (born June 6, 1946) wanted to be a sailor as a child, but he lasted only three months in the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. So, he began to attend various engineering courses, until he obtained a degree with excellent grades. In 1970, at the age of 24, he was already working at Lola, the largest racing car factory in the world. In 1978, he designed his first Williams.  Since then, the pairing Frank Williams-Patrick Head has not dissolved (the designer owns the team at 30%) and has experienced many victories, although he has gone through difficult times, for various reasons. On Wednesday, December 16, 1992, the most esteemed designer in Formula 1 was present in Italy to collect an important award, the Oz Racing Wheels, which has been awarded for six years to the most representative characters in the world of engines. A lunch at Giannino's ("If there's one reason that could lead me to work in Italy, it's the food, I love it"), the applause and then the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart talk - it doesn't always happen - with one of the most reserved men in Formula 1. So, first question, will Williams go around all the rivals in 1993 too?


"Apart from the fact that in the last two races McLaren was very close to us, you can never tell. Teams work in the winter; someone might make the right car. And then the regulations changed".


Yes, but who do you see as an opponent of the same rank for next year? 


"I would say Benetton. They did great things last season. In that team there is continuity, now they are working on active suspensions, they could still make progress. As a surprise of the year, I see Sauber. Ferrari and McLaren? They have changed and are changing too much; it will take some time for them. I prefer small steps". 


But you too have replaced both drivers... 


"It's not very important. Patrese is a fighter, Mansell was a big-hearted driver. Now we have Prost and Damon Hill, who have to get busy to prove something. But in the end, it's the results that matter. Someone argues that Alain is a great troublemaker. He seemed to me a very attentive and thoughtful young man. He does the tests, then he calls me with about twenty technical proposals to check. I like him. However, it is clear that Prost and Mansell have a very different driving style. In the end, however, it seems to me that the Frenchman is equally fast. The stopwatch is their judge. For example, I don't think that Patrese is any slower than Mansell. But maybe Nigel had different motivations to win the title, and he probably interpreted the car with the active suspensions better. It's a matter of feeling, you have to keep the throttle down even when you don't know what the car's grip will be like 50 metres ahead. For this reason - we checked it with telemetry - Riccardo was less fast in the fast corners". 


Adrian Newey will confirm, in his autobiography:


"Both reported that the system was not very communicative and did not provide particular feedback during corner entry. They almost had to trust the presence of grip, rather than being aware of it. Mansell had incredible confidence in his ability to control the car and could claim the fact that it flicked out slightly at the corner entry before the system responded to the change in steering input, because he knew that there was grip. He simply had to ignore what he called the ’funny feelings' that the system gave him and trust that the higher the speed he carried around the corner, the greater the downforce and grip was. In the end, very quickly actually, Nigel was able to develop confidence in the car and in his ability to control it".


What does Patrick Head think about Ferrari having its car designed in England? 


"I think there are very good engineers in Italy. The problem lies in the organization, in politics, in the fact that they have grown too much in number and in skills. So, you have to turn to a British technician, to bite the bullet. And if Barnard wants to work in London, that's the only solution. John is good, but I'm amazed that one of his cars is ready. It takes time...".


In the first days of the fourth week of December, a new Ferrari will be born. Not one of the beautiful and gritty standard GTs like the 456 GT, recently presented at the Brussels Motor Show, but a racing car. It will be called 644 bis and will be the single-seater with which Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger will face the 1993 Formula 1 World Championship that will kick off on March 14, 1993 in South Africa. A lot has already been said about this car: it will be more conventional than the previous model, the F92A, which gave so many disappointments last season.


That is, it will not have anything revolutionary, such as the flat double floor that has proved in practice too sophisticated to give benefits in terms of performance. Waiting to see in June another Ferrari, the one designed by the magician of the designers, the Englishman John Barnard. An indiscretion is known about this 644 bis. Compared to the past, the livery will change: instead of total red, in the central part of the car there will be a large white stripe, in which a tricolour stripe will also be inserted. Ferrari does not officially disclose the reason for this decision. Some people talk about the needs of sponsors, others instead support a more romantic or rather superstitious thesis: since the cars produced in Maranello won in the 1970s, when a white band already appeared on the sides, they wanted to return to the old look. At that time, Luca Montezemolo was sports director, now he is the president. Lauda was the champion of the moment and is now the advisor of the Scuderia Ferrari, which also took over an Austrian driver, Gerhard Berger, in fact. A middle ground between the remake and the revival, with the hope of achieving the same results. The news of this renewal also in the colours of Ferrari arouses a certain feeling among the insiders and among the fans. However, this is not an absolute novelty. Quite the opposite. Enzo Ferrari had already used other colours directly or indirectly on his racing cars. In 1961, in an epic race for the Maranello team, the Belgian Grand Prix, on the Spa track, which ended with four cars in the first four places, the driver who came fourth (behind Phil Hill, Wolfgang Von Trips and Richie Ginther), Olivier Gendebien, drove an all-yellow Ferrari, registered by the local Ecurie Francorchamps. It should not be forgotten that the canary yellow is part of the official colours of the Emilian car company, as it represents the city of Modena. The 1964 episode was more sensational, when Enzo Ferrari, in protest against the CSAI, the Italian Automobile Sports Federation, had the single-seaters of Surtees and Bandini painted white and blue in the last two races at Watkins Glen and Mexico City, which were the Nart colours, the team of the American dealer Luigi Chinetti. More recently, in 1968, two yellow stripes appeared on the car of Jacky Ickx, to distinguish it from that of teammate Chris Amon. And legend has it that the Belgian driver won a race in Rouen, France, in a rain so heavy that they recognized him only for those coloured bands... White made his appearance on Ferraris also in the era of turbo cars, from 1971 to 1980, led by champions such as Regazzoni, Andretti, Lauda, Reutemann, up to Scheckter and Villeneuve. 


But it was not a solution dictated by practical reasons. The volcanic engineer Mauro Forghieri, technical manager of Scuderia Ferrari, also had a vivid imagination and liked to deal not only with frames, bodies and engines. Thus, he also established himself as an artist and drew various motifs along the cars, using white as a base with green inserts so as to form the colours of the Italian national flag as a whole. So, is so scandalous that Ferrari is no longer all red? It seems not. As the old saying goes, a beard does not make a philosopher. Actually, defusing a story that has taken on exaggerated dimensions, an important character within the racing team makes it known that he is happy with the choice of white because if the stripes had been yellow, he would have resigned, being a fan of Lazio and therefore totally against the colours of Roma, red and yellow. For the fans, the change is irrelevant. Love, or better faith towards Ferrari is unassailable. They will continue to groan for the red cars of Maranello, even if they were to become dotted. After all, in these last long years full of failures and disappointments, they have endured everything. And they are always waiting for a win. As usual, there is much anticipation for the first appearance of the new Ferrari's Formula 1 car. This could run a few laps in Fiorano in the late afternoon of Monday, December 21, 1992, but if it is not ready, the debut will be postponed to the following day, with its launch on Wednesday. Apart from the changed look with the white stripe on the red body, the 644 bis - probably so named to give continuity to the work done at the time by John Barnard, since this is the result of the pencil of George Rayton, one of the main collaborators of the English designer - will have an important new feature. That is the active suspensions, now in the second version, permanently mounted. Other than that, the car appears to be very light and traditional, with a raised nose. Ferrari would focus first of all on simplicity to regain competitiveness, at least for the first part of the season, waiting for the real Barnard car, which should come out in June. Meanwhile, the tests of eight teams on the French track of Le Castellet continue. On the third day of testing, the best times are still set by Williams. The fastest is Damon Hill, down to 1'03"65, ahead of teammate Prost (1'04"20). The rookie Sauber is still under the headlights, with Wendlinger closing the lap in 1'04"46 and Letho in 1'04"65. 


Alliot makes a discreet return with the Larrousse-Lamborghini, 1’05"0, in front of the two McLarens of Blundell and Andretti, both at 1'05"27. Good times also for Benetton with Schumacher in 1'05"12 and Patrese, P13, in 1'06"48. But this is free practice and the results are not always very significant. Meanwhile, last week, since his golden retreat in the Bay of Kings on the Brazilian coast, Ayrton Senna had let it be known that he is preparing to spend a year on vacation. But on Monday, December 21, 1992, the Brazilian, while still excluding his transition to Formula Indy, tried for the first time in his career one of the American cars of the Cart championship. The test is carried out on the mini-oval in Phoenix, Arizona, with a 1992 Chevrolet from Team Penske. The three-times World Champion, guest of his compatriot Emerson Fittipaldi, said at the end of the day that he was very happy and amused, above all for having found that the car has an exceptional grip, much better than that of the Formula 1 racing cars that he normally drives. Senna makes several laps at the Firebird Motorsports Park, where one of the Indy races will take place. A Penske spokesman assures that there are no negotiations in progress and that Ayrton Senna was only curious to test such a different single-seater. So, both sides denied a real interest in American racing, but it is clear that the Phoenix blitz is also intended to light the fuses under the chair of Ron Dennis and anyone who may be interested in having the Brazilian in the team in Formula 1 next year. Senna makes it clear, in short, that if he wanted, he could find a job elsewhere, also because the main sponsor of Penske (i.e. Marlboro) is the same as McLaren. Emerson Fittipaldi will tell afterwards:


"I had asked Ayrton to try my car, because the following year he could race in Indianapolis, as Nigel was also preparing to participate and I said: imagine the Indy with Mansell and Senna? That would be incredible! Ayrton later gave me his availability. I called Roger Penske and told him that Ayrton had accepted and so we organized a test on a street circuit. We tried the little-used Phoenix track. I stayed with Ayrton all week, and it was a fantastic experience, it went very fast. He wanted to race in Indianapolis because he knew my story".


Nigel Beresford, track engineer who follows the single-seater driven by Senna in this session, will later say:


"We had planned to test the new Penske for three days. Senna came almost alone and accompanied by John Hogan from Marlboro. It was cold and the track was slippery. Emerson run around to warm up the tires, but eventually found the car quite balanced, although obviously the grip was quite precarious. Once we got back, we replaced the tyres, adjusted the brake balance a little more on the rear. He then completed a 12-lap run and a 13-lap run, scoring twice the fastest time in 47.9 seconds".


Of course, Formula 1 drivers are able to quickly find the pace, but Ayrton started with very slow laps and this was certainly a surprise. That car had a sequential gearbox and Ayrton had to get used to it for a moment, to still be able to handle a traditional lever. Back in the pits, Ayrton told me that the engine was very driveable, but that he found the car very heavy and not as agile as a Formula 1, which is usually lighter. Then he added that he did not know at how many rpm he was pushing, because the engine looked very different to him. Senna felt the weight of the car and did not want to push to the limit. It was neither the place nor the time to do so. His intention was to understand the sensitivity of the car, so we fitted softer springs to the rear, detached the rear anti-roll bar and added another 20 litres of methanol. Senna was surprisingly quick. Emerson's best lap was 49.7 seconds, Senna's 49.09 seconds. At the end of the day Fittipaldi set a time of 48.5 seconds behind the wheel of the new Penske, just 0.6 seconds faster than Senna.


"Very good feedback if we consider that Ayrton was driving a car older than a year and with used tyres. For me, this showed how extraordinary he was in adapting quickly and being able to set really competitive times".


As expected, Ferrari is forced to postpone the debut of the new 644 bis in Fiorano. When the car is taken to the pits, on Tuesday, December 22, 1992, the technicians discover an oil leak from the system radiator that hydraulically controls the active suspensions. 


Thus, the beginning is postponed to the next day. Disappointment for the fans (few compared to tradition), who wait in vain around the circuit all day. Disappointment also for technicians, mechanics and for Jean Alesi who, under the severe eyes of John Barnard, were waiting to hear the first roars of the car after the setup carried out in forced stages. The issue that causes the delay - according to the first recognitions - was caused by the cold. Until a few hours earlier, for quite some time, the system had been tested on a simulator in the workshop, on data obtained on a track lap in Estoril. Obviously, from theory to practice, something did not work. However, these are not the problems: given the hurry with which the 644 bis was built, some setbacks could be expected. The important thing is that the Ferrari that will have to compete in the races of the first half of next season will prove competitive in the three months before the beginning of the 1993 World Championship. At Le Castellet, meanwhile, Prost's Williams-Renault is still the fastest car even in the last practice session. The three-times World Champion manages to do better than his teammate, Damon Hill, who was faster in the first few days. A baptism always brings happiness and tenderness. Even when it comes to Formula 1 single-seaters. That of Ferrari is however a Spartan ceremony, in tune with the austerity of the moment, a few pizzas and some cream puffs, no sparkling wines - which on Wednesday, December 23, 1992, greets the debut, on the Fiorano track, of the new Ferrari. The climate is the usual one of every eve for many years: a mixture of curiosity and hope. Optimism at all costs is rightly lacking in the presentation aperitif, because the latest experiences suggest a lot of caution. Jean Alesi, one of the two drivers designated to race in the 1993 World Championship, says:


"What do you want me to say? That this car is beautiful? I don't know. If it's fast, I'll find it magnificent. For my part, I can only promise maximum effort, as always". 


The F93A (as the car is officially called, and not 644Bis as it seemed at first) has nothing extraordinary or revolutionary about it. A classic, simple dress. Again, there is only the livery which, as anticipated, is red with a wide white stripe. The bottle shape, the raised and pointed nose, the traditional air intakes with discreetly low sidepods. If anything, the novelties are under the dress, with the active suspensions that someone also calls intelligent, and an engine, still 12-cylindre, which has already been revised compared to that of a year ago and that should undergo profound changes. Substantially, Ferrari did not want to take any risks. In 1992 they presented the unprecedented double floor, which proved to be a disaster in practice even if in theory it could have brought many advantages. This time, having the absolute need to get back on top, the Maranello team preferred to travel on normal tracks. Also, because the solution of the suspensions already involves countless problems. Although, being a path already opened by others, their solution could be faster, unlike what happened with the automatic transmission that required years of tuning before becoming truly reliable. President Luca Montezemolo, the only one in a jacket despite the cold day, and also the only one capable of cracking a few jokes, explains:


"We wanted to speed up the time. Just because we want to devote two full months to tests and trials. The more it breaks down now, I hope, the less trouble it will have when it is time to take it seriously. On Monday, when a radiator blew up that prevented us from running, it looked like we had lost the World Championship. But I don't mind that: it means that there's still a lot of interest around Ferrari". 


Montezemolo also rejects the criticisms of those who do not appreciate the look of the car. 


"We had thought about doing something different, going back to the past, when Ferrari had even wider white spots. If this then made Marlboro happy, which has been our biggest sponsor for 12 years, all the better. Today it is difficult to self-finance and no one will have something to say if someone helps us". 


The technicians look at the F93A with a fatherly eye, while the photographers fire thousands of flashes.  


Postlethwaite, team manager, George Rayton, the man who designed the car on the basis of what was in the factory, John Barnard, the magician who has provided his advice for now, Claudio Lombardi, engaged in the very hard task of improving engines. Harvey Postlethwaite makes it known:


"I don't want to make any claims but a record has already been broken. Fifteen days ago, there wasn't even a piece of this car. It was the fastest assembly I've ever seen". 


But the records that count are those made on the track, during the races. In the meantime, however, the genius has returned to Maranello. Hard to say, though, if John Barnard has changed. However, the designer that Ferrari has recalled to regain the taste of victory appears calm, serene, available. His words are clear, without a doubt. 


"This car is not mine. This was done by the group present in Maranello on Postlethwaite's projects. They showed me the program, I liked it, I gave some advice. I'm interested in the F93A going well: if it's competitive, I'll have more time to work on the single-seater that I'm preparing for the future. There is still a lot to be done here: on active suspensions that require severe testing, on the bottom that can be improved and on the engine". 


What will Barnard's Ferrari look like? 


"A very innovative, revolutionary car, I hope, precisely in terms of the concept, of the chassis. Now second-generation active suspensions are used, which still work, in a way, on springs. The next one will have to be much more sophisticated, but also better. But don't think we'll be mounting gadgets on that car. You have to cut to the chase, because otherwise the costs become excessive and you only waste time".


Why did you return to Ferrari after a stormy divorce? 


"Because it was the only team that offered me a serious long-term programme. I came back to win the World Championship. I regretted having left the other time. I did not understand well, I have regrets because if I had stayed already in 1990, I could get the world championship title. We will try again as soon as possible". 


You found two drivers at Ferrari. How do you judge them? 


"I already know Berger, there are no problems. I think that Jean Alesi is very fast. Maybe it's too impetuous, but he can help. The drivers, however, do not constitute an obstacle at the moment, Ferrari must think about providing them with a competitive car, then there will always be time to use throttle and brake". 


Jean Alesi is not of the same opinion, but obviously he doesn't make a fuss. 


"I don't worry about that. In any case, a driver also plays a role in giving information to the technicians". 


But it will also take a good engine. Engineer Lombardi explains:


"We are working. What's on the car is already profoundly changed. And we will go on all year, reviewing every detail". 


During the afternoon, Alesi completes 11 laps, interspersed with long stops. The Frenchman of Sicilian origin will return to work in Fiorano on Tuesday 29 and Thursday 30 December 1992. Good intentions are not lacking. At least these should be the initial intentions, given that on Thursday the Scuderia Ferrari decides to postpone to Friday morning the start of the second series of tests of the all-new F93A car, which completes the first laps on Wednesday, and with which the Maranello team hopes to start the pursuit of Williams. 


"No problem with this schedule shift. The change has been decided to allow the assembly of some parts that have arrived now. Instead of wasting time tomorrow (Friday, December 31, 1992, ed.), it was preferred to carry out the work in the afternoon and delay the practice by one day". 


Ferrari closes 1992 with a record: a meagre consolation, also because these winter records almost always make no difference. However, the new limit is not established by the new F93A. The peak was reached by Jean Alesi driving an old F92A, equipped however with an already modified engine, which cancels, with a time of 1'00"77, the record set by Alain Prost, which was 1'01''47. Long awaited on the track, the new car remains on the test bench, where it is subjected to the stress of a simulated Grand Prix. In the workshop, in fact, work continues, both on the engine that will still be reviewed and on other systems to be tested, such as active suspensions. The laboratory tests will be extended and so the tests have been postponed to the first week of 1993, even if the day remains yet to be determined.


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