1994 Pre Season

2021-04-15 00:00

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#1994, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

1994 Pre Season

The Lion begins to roar. For now it does so quietly, with its fangs covered. But it has ambitions to make a mouthful of its rivals soon. In its sights


The Lion begins to roar. For now it does so quietly, with its fangs covered. But it has ambitions to make a mouthful of its rivals soon. In its sights are Renault, dominator of the last two Formula 1 World Championships, and Ferrari, the most prestigious team, despite everything. The Lion is the symbol of Peugeot, a brand with great sporting traditions, since the dawn of motor racing. After making its mark in recent years in the endurance championship, the French company makes its debut in Formula 1. On Monday, 20 December, 1993, the 10-cylinder engine that would be supplied to McLaren (exclusively for three years) made its first laps on the dyno. An all-new engine, nothing to do with the one that used to equip the sports cars. It was designed by Jean-Pierre Boudy, a former Renault technician. So the challenge is open. Jean-Pierre Jabouille, a former Formula 1 driver and head of the racing department who has taken over from Jean Todt, who has moved to Ferrari, tells:


"We have 130 people working at Peugeot Sport on this programme. We will make 80 engines in the year, rising to 200 between overhauls and rebuilds. The budget is the same as in 1993. We have a 4-valve per cylinder solution and a 5-valve solution. We will evaluate the best one. For the moment we have had very positive results in terms of reliability and a little less in terms of power, compared to the targets we set ourselves. But just in the last week something very interesting has been discovered". 


Ron Dennis' McLaren would like to pair the French engine with the engagement of Alain Prost. But the French driver does not seem to want to accept the proposals. At least for the time being. 


"We too would be happy to have Prost. But we are convinced that Alain will not change his mind. We would also like to have another French driver. However, decisions in this field are up to the British team, which already has a contract with Mika Hakkinen".


Some say Jabouille is a strict man, very busy. Not least because he replaced Jean Todt. The fact of losing the architect of so many successes probably stings at Peugeot. And that is also why the adventure in Formula 1 is considered strategic. Beating its cousin Renault is a matter of pride, blocking Ferrari's comeback attempt can be considered a nice revenge. Not forgetting Benetton, who on Wednesday, 12 January, 1994, announced that Finnish driver J.J. Lehto would be the second driver and would flank Michael Schumacher. The 27-year-old Finnish driver was preferred to Michele Alboreto after a comparative test. After the departure of John Barnard, who returned to Ferrari, Tom Walkinshaw and Flavio Briatore restructured the technical department of Benetton Formula, dividing it into various departments, giving the heads of structure a great deal of responsibility and giving them a certain amount of autonomy, so that they could easily carry out interventions on individual components without altering the project as a whole. At the same time, taking into account the new regulations, the South African designer Rory Byrne and technical director Ross Brawn chose to set the design of the new single-seater, the B194, optimising it for the driving style of top driver Michael Schumacher. At the presentation of the car, during the second week of January, an extremely rational and aerodynamically effective car was thus shown, with a high nose, voluminous side pods and large flow deflector fins in front of the intake ports. Enthusiastic, Flavio Briatore comments:


"With Williams we are the team to beat. Frank will arrive this year with the new single-seater after us and that is undeniably an advantage. McLaren looks like a UFO to me, an unidentified object in short. With the completely new engine to bring to the track, I foresee a difficult year for Dennis and his team with an uphill start; in fact, it will not be easy to fine-tune the Peugeot V10 and make it competitive. Ferrari will certainly be more competitive than last season, but let's just say that those in Maranello I judge to be half-assed UFOs. But if you please, my line-up is not afraid of anyone. I think I really have the most beautiful group in Formula 1".


At the same time, Cosworth, urged on by Flavio Briatore, also decided to behave like a motor manufacturer and no longer like an engine dealer, supplying the Ford Zetec engine. The enthusiasm of the Benetton environment was contrasted by the situation of the Williams team, which was late with the presentation of the new FW16 and therefore decided to continue testing with the FW15D, the model used by Prost in the 1993 World Championship, from which, however, the active suspension had been removed, replacing it with passive suspension, as required by the technical regulations for the 1994 season. Meanwhile, on Thursday, 13 January 1994, Ferrari held its first contact with the international press at the Marlboro Press Meeting. Jean Todt, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger talk about programmes and hopes. Todt reiterates tasks and roles: Lombardi at the engines. Bianchi technical direction, Barnard single-seater study and development for the future. Nicola Larini tests at Fiorano, while on Monday 17 January 1994 Gerhard Berger will be at Imola with a workshop car and the new box gearbox. Prediction: to beat the Williams-Renault-Senna trio. Away with Nigel Mansell last year, away with Alain Prost this year: for the second consecutive time the Formula 1 World Championship, which will start on Sunday 27 March 1994 in Brazil, will not have its champion at the starting line. But it will have a champion who seems to be in the uncomfortable position of having to win by force, Ayrton Senna: 41 successes, three world titles, the impetuosity of Villeneuve coupled with the intelligence of Lauda and now a great enemy less, the professor himself, who made him suffer a lot on the track and just as much off it. Perhaps he feels a little lonely, the Brazilian, if it is true that even hatred helps to live. He took Alain Prost's place, alongside Damon Hill, at Williams-Renault, now sponsored by Rothmans. The Brazilian is considered the strongest driver (not only in the wet) and has the car that was the best in 1993, and maybe still will be: trouble, in short, if he makes a mistake. Yet this could be the championship of surprises. Electronics has been banned: active suspension is gone, no more of those computerised devilries that allowed the driver to intervene on the on-board control units from the pits. The driver has never been a robot, even if one had the impression that it was mainly the engineers who won: but from now on his role will become more important. It's an old challenge, coming up again. Frank Williams says: 


"The retirement of Prost, who by the way is bound to us for this year and will not be able to race for other teams, including McLaren, has created a problem for us: Alain is an immensely talented driver and has contributed a lot to our growth. The only replacement, in order to defend the title we had just won, could only be Senna".


Forced to take a forced holiday by the intransigence of Ron Dennis, who kept him tied to McLaren until December 31, 1993, Ayrton Senna's adventure within Sir Frank Williams' team officially began on Tuesday, January 18, 1994, at the Estoril circuit. On a cold Portuguese afternoon, characterised by warm rays of sunshine, both the men of the British and French Renault teams pose with the tanned new signing in front of the international press. The scale of the event is such that Rothmans, the official sponsor of the Williams team, invites some 250 journalists from all over the world, including the Middle East, for the occasion at its own expense. At the end of the ceremony, Ayrton very calmly expresses his joy at having finally arrived at Williams, and to the journalists present at the event he enthusiastically confides:


"Ten years after my first test with Williams I was finally able to race with Frank. Technically the team's advantage was such that perhaps my arrival at Williams should have been in 1992 instead of this season. In this respect it won't be easy to win because the conditions and regulations have changed. The opponents are stronger and Williams is, perhaps, a little less so. But inside me I have an incentive to do well and that is important to continue racing, so I accepted such a challenge. It's the biggest one I could take on: making new friends, understanding a new car that has already won titles with other drivers. For sure it is the biggest change in my career. I want to work with Williams, with all the engineers and with Renault. After ten years in Formula 1 and three world titles I now have the opportunity to continue to learn and improve. Accepting the challenge of Williams was the only thing that could keep me in Formula 1 at a high level. I am looking forward to working with the team and everyone in the racing department".


Making his debut with the FW15D, Ayrton Senna lapped in 1'12"44 (the practice record was Hill's with 1'11"294) and at the end of the first day's practice he declared:


"I haven't had a chance to understand the car and its reactions, although after the first tests my impressions are very positive about both the chassis and the engine. I also had problems with the seat, and I also had the position and type of steering wheel modified. Only after I have everything in place will I be able to go full throttle, and that might happen in the next tests. I only understood a few things about the FW15D, but on an intuitive level, not to the point where I can make comparisons with the McLaren. We are perhaps less competitive than last year, maybe there will be more difficulties, but the new rules have changed the way we understand racing. Now, thanks to the race refuelling, it will be more important to study a new strategy. Now, perhaps, we in Williams have the advantage, but I predict that very soon, if not at the first race, the fight will be between the usual four teams: us, McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton. At the moment it is difficult to say how much risk there is in this new regulation. Only time will tell and whether it will not be important to introduce changes to make it less dangerous. Perhaps some teams and some mechanics will make mistakes and misunderstandings during refuelling. The system is not one hundred percent safe for everyone operating in the pit lane, but only time will tell whether the pit stop will be dangerous or whether it will be the most spectacular moment of a race. It will certainly change the show: on television and for the public it will be more entertaining and interesting; it will also force all the teams to change their race tactics".


You have big responsibilities on your shoulders, everyone here considers you the big favourite to win the World Championship. 


"Easy with the predictions. Without the help of electronics, it will be a more spectacular championship, more exciting and also much more balanced. With the race refuelling, the race strategy will also change. A whole new challenge: that's why I like it. After six years at McLaren it was difficult to find the right stimuli at every start of the season. But now I have a great desire to throw myself back into the fray. The enthusiasm is back: like before, more than before". 


What do you think of Alain Prost's retirement? 


"I don't know what to think: there has been a lot of speculation about his possible return. I'll just say one thing: I've always got on well with all the drivers, except one. That is him. And I don't think it was my fault". 


Will you also get along with Damon Hill? Damon wants to win, you also...


"We are building a good working and also human relationship between us. If there is any problem, we will talk about it frankly. We will be allies off the track and rivals on the track. He is good, Damon. Williams says he will get to the title one day: I think so too". 


Of this year's opponents, who do you fear most? 


"There will be four teams competing for the title: Williams, Ferrari, Schumacher's Benetton and McLaren with the new Peugeot engines. I fear above all the Maranello team: they spent too many years without winning, their time may have come, also because it was the team that had the biggest problems with active suspension. Barnard's new car will certainly be a gem: and the Berger-Alesi pairing is a safety. The technical gap between Williams and the rival single-seaters has also narrowed a lot. But a more competitive championship gives greater value and credibility to those who win it. My whole life has been a challenge and now winning will be more beautiful". 


In the days to come, after filming on Tuesday 18 and Wednesday 19 January 1994, Damon Hill returned to England and made way for Ayrton Senna and test driver David Coulthard, who continued testing with the FW15D. Taking advantage of the days used for filming commercials, the Brazilian driver continues his learning curve with the test team led by Brian Lambert. And despite the short time available, he completed a total of 155 laps and was able to give many indications, starting with the management electronics and the software that controls the semi-automatic gearbox, passing through the two Renault engine evolutions, the RS5 and the RS6, of which he makes it clear that he is not totally satisfied with the linearity of the torque curve. More specifically, the Brazilian driver has a specific request: he wants a larger steering wheel to reduce the driving effort. In practice at Estoril, in fact, Ayrton Senna was the protagonist of an off-track accident, caused by the impossibility of movement to which the driving position and steering wheel obliged him:


"If I could change something right away, on the Williams I would change the driving position. That is also why we are working on it, to define it according to the FW16".


In fact, on Friday January 21, 1994, due to the non-ideal driving position, Ayrton Senna is involved in an accident at Turn 3, where he loses control of the car at a speed of around 240 km/h, spins out and hits the guards without suffering any consequences. Two days later, on Sunday, 23 January, 1994, the same mishap occurs, again due to a sub-optimal driving position. However, in these first few days of testing, Ayrton is pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere of camaraderie that prevails in Williams, but he immediately makes it clear to the sponsors that he is indeed available, but that he does not have much time to spare. There is also a curious episode involving Betise Assunçao, Ayrton's press secretary, who, having arrived at Estoril, is looking for his assistant and so turns to Frank Williams, saying:


"I am looking for Senna".


But sympathetically Frank replies:


"You are looking for who?"


Betise replies:




And so Frank, very serenely, concludes this amusing exchange by saying:


"There is no Senna here. We work seriously here, but we don't take ourselves too seriously. So I am Frank, Head is Patrick and Senna is Ayrton. We all call each other by our first names".


Just to make it clear that inside the box, despite Ayrton Senna's driving problems, his bordering on perfection, and the delay regarding the presentation of the new and revolutionary FW16, there is a serene air. The same cannot be said - and it seems absurd - for Benetton, since at Silverstone, on Friday 21 January 1994, Finnish driver J.J. Lehto was involved in an accident that forced him to undergo surgery, due to a fractured fifth cervical vertebra. On the slippery circuit, while tackling the Stowe corner at a speed of over 250 km/h in his Benetton B193B, the modified 1993 model, due to a depression in the track, Lehto loses control of his car and hits the boundary wall of the corner with the rear of the single-seater, displacing the protections by almost twenty centimetres, before also impacting with the front of the car. 


In the impact, the engine broke through the bodywork and Lehto immediately lost consciousness. Help promptly arrived at the scene of the accident, and having verified the driver's state of health, the Finn was immediately taken to hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery by Dr John O'Brien. Immediately the worst was feared for the good Benetton driver, but fortunately, as tenacity is not lacking, he recovered very quickly, and promised to return to the track soon. Lehto's spirit is certainly not lacking, since, despite being supported by his fiancée who is also present at the London Clinic, inside room 606, the Finn spends his days in hospital pestering the nurses and wandering around the facility. Reached by reporters, he says about the incident:


"The only thing I remember accurately is accelerating on the slippery asphalt, coming out of a corner, and feeling the rear end start".


Then he starts joking and says:


"You're going to Silverstone? Tell the guys I'll be there in Brazil for sure, have my car ready. I've already had an equally serious accident, back in the Scuderia Italia days. This time they took bone chips from my pelvis and my neck is stronger than before. The only thing I regretted was hearing that the team didn't help me. Say it's not true, that they were there for me from the first moment. They put me in this clinic that feels like a hotel. There is even room service, you phone and they bring you what you want, even beer and wine". 


In the meantime, in Portugal, having completed his commitments with Williams, Ayrton returns to Brazil, where he negotiates some business deals, and then travels to Bermuda, where his air transport company is based (a company that actually only manages his plane, a Citation Galaxy), and then returns for a few more days to Portugal, to his villa in the Algarve. During this time, Ayrton Senna remains in constant contact with Adrian Newey, Patrick Head and Frank Williams, to collaborate and give further advice on how to build the new single-seater. After much insistence to try as early as the end of 1993, the Brazilian driver now refuses to get back into the old FW15D, because he is convinced that the single-seater adapted to the new rules, modified and trimmed, cannot give him any idea of the definitive car for the 1994 season. So, in the meantime, in Barcelona it is Damon Hill who continues to test with the FW15D, while Schumacher is busy with his new Benetton B194. And although it is normal that one cannot expect much from Williams' hybrid car, the Spanish tests immediately make it clear that the B194 is an absolutely winning car. In fact, when Michael Schumacher also climbs into the B193B, tested by Jos Verstappen, he immediately notices the huge difference between the two designs, and is pleasantly surprised. Meanwhile, the FIA published the list of drivers and cars entered in the 1994 World Championship. Fourteen teams have been accepted so far (debuts for Pacific-Ilmor and Simtek-Ford) and twenty-three drivers. 


In reality there will still be time to change many things until Thursday, 24 March, 1994, four days before the start of the season which will begin with the Brazilian Grand Prix in São Paulo on Sunday, 27 March, 1994. Two interesting facts emerge from this initial draft. First: Ayrton Senna agrees to start from 0 by taking the number Prost did not want last year on the Williams. A lesson in modesty, even if there is already controversy on the subject as Frank Williams for publicity reasons asked for #0 for Hill and #2 for the Brazilian. Secondly, it confirms that at the moment there is still no Italian driver sure to participate in the championship. Although it now seems certain that Pierluigi Martini and Michele Alboreto will race with Minardi, while Riccardo Patrese might be called up to McLaren. On Tuesday, 1 February, 1994, at Silverstone, Mika Hakkinen takes the McLaren-Peugeot to its christening, but there is already controversy over the English car's cable-free electronic throttle, which could be banned by the FIA. The following day, it is Scuderia Ferrari that presents its car, in Maranello. The new single-seater is completely red. Like the good old days. But under the classically coloured dress (adorned of course with the stickers of the technical and financial sponsors, without whom even Ferrari could no longer race) there are many novelties. 


It is called the 412 T1, an acronym where 4 stands for the number of valves per cylinder, 12 for the engine split and T1 for the first transverse gearbox box in Formula 1 history. The single-seater, which will face the World Championship for the Maranello team, is presented to applause. Applause from industry insiders, but also from the large crowd thronging the entrance to the Maranello Civic Centre. The people, the fans above all, celebrate everyone, from president Luca Montezemolo, to John Barnard and Jean Todt, to drivers Gerhard Berger, Jean Alesi and Nicola Larini, to technicians Bianchi and Lombardi. To encourage them: above all a sign of hope. Luca Montezemolo has managed to gather, through Todt, the most formidable multinational army ever seen in the motor racing circus. Practically the best in every sector. The basis for the relaunch, for what Ferrari's number one defines as a refoundation of the racing team. With this group, Ferrari should return to the top. We use the conditional because we have to wait for the track results and out of respect for the adversaries, who are by no means to be underestimated. It must not be forgotten that in the next championship big car companies will be involved, even if only for the supply of engines: Renault, Peugeot, Mercedes, Honda, Ford, Yamaha. A formidable line-up.Luca Montezemolo says:


"We can no longer face years of transition. We absolutely must return to winning. We have the ability and the duty to do so. Last season we saw a Ferrari leading in the first fifteen laps of a race. Now we hope to stay there in the last fifteen laps".


That is, at the finish line. But let us come to the details. The car. Designed by John Barnard, it has only one already seen detail. A nose similar to that of the Benetton of two years ago. Probably the English technician, in the uncertainty of the regulations when he started work, could not do otherwise. For the rest, the overall aerodynamics are new, rounder and at the same time sharper. The rear wing is completely changed. The gearbox and suspension are revolutionary. The former is very small, made from special welded sheet metal: it will allow continuous evolution. The latter is attached directly to the chassis. John Barnard explains:


"We tried to make a car as rigid as possible, for the best road holding".


Some people found it beautiful. Above all, it seems to have a lot of attention to detail. The twelve-cylinder engine has been revised almost from scratch. Says the manager, Claudio Lombardi:


"Two objectives. Rigidity as a structural component of the car linked to the engine and gearbox. The performance we tried to improve in the combustion efficiency, increasing the rotation speed and modifying the lubrication system, also to allow Barnard to design a very compact car at the rear. There is potential for further development, but I cannot hide the fact that we are also studying other configurations". 


Perhaps a narrower V and also a different number of cylinders. The drivers are optimistic, but cautious. Contrary to the usual, the one who is most outspoken is Gerhard Berger: 


"Lauda said that Williams and Senna will win a lot of races and the title. We have a lot to do, but we have the elements to try to win. Why not think about the World Championship?"


While Jean Alesi said:


"The rivals are many and strong. We have a chance".


Luca Montezemolo concludes:


"Ferrari has made a car that complies with the Fia regulations and their spirit. We will fight for that and we think the Federation will enforce them. Even those who have already started with solutions that in our opinion are not allowed (the McLaren's cordless throttle, for example, ed). And speaking of which, we do not interfere in the private affairs of other teams. However, we would like similar treatment". 


A response to McLaren itself, which had criticised the recruitment of Japanese driver Osamu Goto. The Ferrari 412 T1 will start testing on Monday, 7 February, 1994, at Fiorano. Then it will be taken to Mugello or Imola. The first direct confrontation with the rivals will take place at the end of the month, in the tests scheduled in Barcelona. The two drivers attend the presentation of the new car a little bruised, since the previous day, Monday 31 January 1994, Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi were testing at the Fiorano track, but during a break an accident involved them both. During the day, Gerhard Berger invites Jean Alesi to test the Lancia Y10 parked not far from the pits. While the two are on board the car, the Austrian driver - aware of his teammate's fiery temperament - begins to instigate the Frenchman to run faster, saying to him:


"You drive like a sissy". 


And shortly afterwards he starts to pull the handbrake in the corners, just to make the test more interesting. So, taking advantage of the acceleration given by Jean in the corners, Gerhard suddenly decides to pull the handbrake harder than expected, and the Lancia Y10 flips over. The security men are astonished: shortly afterwards, Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi are extracted from the car and the rescuers tell the two drivers:


"In twenty years of service we had never intervened".


Berger emerges from the accident virtually unharmed, while Jean Alesi is in pain, so he is taken to hospital for checks. It is only after the accident that Gerhard Berger learns that the Y10 belonged to Jean Todt, who in the meantime has been notified of the incident by telephone. The French manager goes to the hospital, but without knowing that his little car has been destroyed by his two drivers. On his arrival, Gerhard Berger anticipates what has happened to Jean Todt, telling him, with obvious consternation, that there are slight marks on the roof of his car. Todt remains incredulous at the explanation. And after ascertaining that his drivers are alright, he goes to the track, where he notices the damage done to his Lancia Y10. Beyond this unfortunate and peculiar incident, Gerhard Berger completes 22 laps at Fiorano on Monday, the 7th of February 1994, without pushing and still with some problems to solve. But the Austrian driver approves of the new Ferrari 412 T1: the car seems very balanced to him and the gearbox very quick. The following day Jean Alesi takes to the track, and on Thursday, 10 February, 1994 the team moves to Mugello. Meanwhile, during testing in Barcelona, on Tuesday, 8 February, 1994, Damon Hill loses control of the car at the end of the circuit's straight and crashes into the outer wall. After recovering the car, the British team begins to investigate the cause of the accident and comes to the conclusion that it was caused by the semi-automatic gearbox that prevented the driver from downshifting. Williams therefore continues to conduct both aerodynamic and set-up tests, but is unable to confirm the presentation date of the FW16, which is expected at the end of the month. The delay is due to Ayrton Senna's need for a larger steering wheel, as he had it at McLaren, to reduce the effort required for driving.


For this reason, Adrian Newey and Patrick Head are trying to find a solution to modify the upper part of the car to suit this requirement. But at the same time they are starting to get impatient, as the Brazilian driver has no intention of returning to the track until the FW16 is ready. A factor that certainly does not help the search for the two engineers, who are busy finding a way to satisfy his demands. In the meantime, Ferrari responds to the accusations made by Williams and Patrick Head, the British team's designer, who claim that the suspension of the new single-seater is not regular. In addition, the manufacturer accuses the Maranello team of having imposed refuelling in 1994 in order to be more competitive. In short, the controversy was already raging before the start of the season. On Wednesday, February 9, 1994, the Circus learns that Alain Prost will drive for McLaren by the end of the month, and could race for Ron Dennis' team in the next Formula One World Championship. After so many rumours, news is finally coming through. It is Ron Dennis, in a statement, who announced the testing of the French driver. 


"Prost has accepted the invitation to test the new McLaren MP4/9-Peugeot. This gives hope that Alain can be in our team this year. We have a long friendship of ten years, on and off the track. Let's not forget that he won three of his four titles with us. For now, however, he will test without any contract". 


Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Prost's friend and head of the Peugeot racing department, also confirms that the Frenchman will carry out the test. 


"The test will allow him to understand whether he should go ahead".


The test will presumably take place in Barcelona in the last week of February, when almost all the other Formula 1 teams will also be on track. But Prost could also do a few laps at Silverstone first. According to some confidants of the 38-year-old racer, the plan would be quite long-term: Prost could fine-tune the single-seater according to his wishes and return to racing after a few races, perhaps in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. The reasons that could lead Alain Prost to abandon his retirement intentions, announced last year in Portugal, are many. Meanwhile, a concurrence of interests. McLaren is courting him because, alongside Hakkinen, they need to engage a top driver in order not to lose important sponsors. Hence an offer that could bring about 20.000.000 dollars into Alain Prost's pockets. In addition, the driver seeks revenge on multiple fronts. Prost has not parted well with Williams and Renault. He blames the British team for taking Ayrton Senna despite his veto. In fact, the Brazilian's arrival practically forced him out of the team. So much so that Frank Williams - by his own admission - continues to pay him a salary (apparently $8.000.000) to stay put in 1994. At this point, if Alain Prost will race for McLaren, his former employer will save a pretty penny. As for Renault, the driver accuses it of deliberately leaving him to his own devices in his battle against Ayrton Senna. So giving Peugeot - Regie's constitutional rival - a helping hand would please him doubly. With Alain Prost, however, Formula One will gain in spectacle, on and off the track. With his personality and also his skill (albeit prudently administered) the Frenchman will put more interest in the championship that will open on Sunday, March 27, 1994, in São Paulo, Brazil. But it will be necessary to wait for the tests and, above all, to see whether the new McLaren will be competitive, in order to have a definitive answer. Contrary to what was initially thought, as early as Thursday, February 17, 1994, Alain Prost returned to the track and tested the Peugeot-powered McLaren. On the Estoril circuit, the French driver completes 151 laps and scores a time of 1'13"70, a little slower than Mika Hakkinen (1'13"43), but it matters little. Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who has become Peugeot Sport manager, comments:


"Alain enjoyed driving the MP4/9. He certainly didn't seem like a retired driver. We know that he has contractual problems to resolve. However, it was essential for him to test our single-seater and start working with us in order to be able to come to a possible contract signing".


Alain Prost adds:


"These days here at the Estoril circuit there are a lot of people following my tests, and I have felt the considerable pressure that is generated when there is a lot of press attention. Now I will have to reflect and make a final decision. Although I cannot deny that McLaren has done a magnificent job so far".


While waiting for an answer from Alain Prost, who could return to the track and take part in the World Championship, finally, after much waiting and much work, on a very cold Thursday 24 February 1994, at the Silverstone circuit, Williams presented the long-awaited FW16. At the presentation of the new car, however, to great surprise, there are very few people. Ayrton Senna, who arrived early at the circuit, accompanied by his press secretary Betise Assunçao, is very tanned and the contrast with the white upper part of his overalls accentuates his dark complexion even more. Shortly before the presentation, Ayrton finds time to laugh at the anti-cold dance of an Italian journalist present at Silverstone, to whom he says:


"Of course we are a nice pair of fools. I was in Angra do Reis, you were in Rome, and now we are here freezing to death".


Finally, after a long wait, the new car arrives, covered by a tarpaulin, and is finally shown to those present inside the garage. The new FW16 is, as expected, very innovative, as it adopts new solutions with regard to the wings and the trapezoidal rear suspension: the former is an inverted V, the same solution as military aircraft wings; the latter are even more surprising, since, in particular, instead of the traditional pair of arms, a single upper carbon arm has been placed, whose section echoes the lift concepts exploited in the design of aircraft wings. This shaft also completely hides the drive shaft. However, what is immediately speculated about this solution is that such suspensions could be judged irregular, since moving parts with aerodynamic functions are expressly forbidden by the regulations. But Patrick Head rejects this possibility, and indeed emphasises:


"Yes, our car is different at the back. The top of the suspension is obviously lower but I'm not keen on informing the competition that much. Not so soon at least. It is a solution that is completely focused on improving aerodynamic efficiency. The whole car, after all, is. The aerodynamic research was preponderant, but I don't feel like attributing the particular merits of the design of this new car, or even the idea of this new suspension, to Adrian or myself. It is still a collegial work that required the contribution of all our technical staff, but also of many external technicians from various suppliers for the realisation. The basic idea of this new car, however, is ours alone".


Adrian Newey also emphasises the differences at the aerodynamic level compared to the previous FW15, stating:


"Unlike the FW15, which was very similar to the FW14B, the FW16 is a completely new single-seater concept. For the aerodynamics, the result of an interesting discovery in the wind tunnel, but also for the mechanical elements as a whole. Starting with the suspension, which has reverted to the passive system, but also the gearbox, engine and many accessories. The body is much narrower, as is the tank cell. All the volumes have been reduced".


The FW16 is also talking about itself for other reasons. For example, the confusion in the application of regulations means that all teams are busy looking for regulatory interpretations in the construction and development of mechanisms that at the moment nobody knows whether they are lawful or not. 


In this regard, Adrian Newey, for example, decided to equip the car with the fly-by-wire throttle despite it being expressly forbidden by the regulations. Patrick Head justifies the presence of such a system by saying:


"We don't want to be unprepared, the fly-by-wire is a very useful device and as it is not clear at the moment whether it can be used or not, we have tested and developed it. This machine will be tested as it is now, but we can go back to the traditional mechanism without any problems".


Beaming at the solutions presented, Frank Williams already shows himself ready for battle:


"I will be very clear: we will always push the limits, while staying within the rules. Our technical objective is to progress, not to go backwards. There are still areas of the regulations that are not well defined: one of them concerns the fly-by-wire, or electronic throttle. But the absurd thing is that this system is banned because it helps the driver, while the organisations that control us fear that the device hides traction control".


Once the pleasantries are over, Ayrton Senna goes out onto the track to test the FW16, and after completing about twenty laps he gets out of the car and talks to journalists, to whom he confides:


"Of course it is too early to draw conclusions about the new car. All I can say is that it was worth freezing for a while and I am quite satisfied. We only did about twenty laps, but they were useful to check that everything was in order ahead of the tests at Paul Ricard. I only did six consecutive laps, preferring to work with the pit crew with repeated stops. I absolutely cannot point to anything going wrong with my car. It does, however, require a lot of work and a lot of trial and error before I can find a perfect set-up. Today it was too cold and it was not possible to work on development. All I can say is that the engine doesn't overheat: the temperatures are optimal, so the cooling system is working properly. Given the track conditions, I am happy with how things went. At least we know what to do for the massive work we will have to do at Paul Ricard. However, not even after those tests will we know how competitive we are. Only at Imola, where we will be on track with the others, will we be able to make an accurate assessment of our potential".


All in all, the Brazilian driver is satisfied with his new car. However, the journalists present at Silverstone note that there is a reduced steering wheel section on the car, so the Brazilian driver's request has not been met. And even though a different type of gearbox has been developed to reduce the effort, which increases the required rotation of the steering wheel, Ayrton replies on this last point:


"It's true, I want to keep the steering wheel I've always used. We will have to work a bit to get the cockpit position right, but I'm sure we will find a solution to any difficulties".


The Williams FW16 was reduced in size and the shock absorbers that had been used up to that point, the Ohlins, were replaced with those from the American manufacturer Penske. In addition, the Williams is the only car to have the lower front suspension mountings inside the chassis, to maximise aerodynamic flow. Once the presentation was over, while the Williams car transporter was on its way to the Paul Ricard circuit, Ayrton Senna spent a lot of time in Didcot; he still had business and contracts to finalise in London, but as was his custom, he wanted to understand well, from the inside, how his new car was born.


At the end of the month, on the Barcelona circuit, Gerhard Berger continues testing with Ferrari without much luck, amidst broken engines and rather mediocre times. On Sunday, 27 February 1994, the fourth day of testing on the rainbow track in the Catalan capital also confirms all Ferrari's problems just one month before the first round of the World Championship. After the two broken engines on the previous day, Gerhard Berger breaks the third engine, and slightly improves the previous day's time (1'20"302 against 1'20"67), running 34 laps before the trouble that stops him. With the exception of Todt and Montezemolo, the entire Maranello team staff is at work in Barcelona trying to improve the performance of the new single-seater, which continues to show understeer problems. For this reason Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi (whose debut is scheduled for Monday 29 February 1994) extend the Spanish test calendar until at least Tuesday 1 March 1994. But the situation does not change: there are still many problems for Ferrari. On Monday 28 February 1994 Jean Alesi only manages to complete four laps of the circuit due to the failure of two engines. One of the causes was a defective supply of pneumatic valve seals, the other was probably metal sand, a welding residue, which ended up in the oil filters. Alesi, at his first real contact with the new car, says he had a positive impression. More worried, however, is Jean Todt. Finally, on Tuesday 1 March 1994 Ferrari's day ends without technical problems. Rain, however, in the middle of the afternoon forces the team to interrupt testing. Jean Alesi still manages to rack up 50 laps without experiencing any engine problems. Meanwhile, again on Tuesday 1 March 1994, at the Paul Ricard circuit, Ayrton Senna takes to the track to test his new Williams FW16. But, having completed the first few laps, following an examination of the car, it is immediately discovered that there is a worrying crack in the carbon triangle of the rear suspension, in the part closest to the gearbox. Testing therefore ends immediately. Adrian Newey, who does not rule out the possibility that he may have made errors in the calculations of the loads acting on the part, remedies the problem by reinforcing the part with a metal plate. And while the British technician gives orders to carry out other small interventions, both mechanical and aerodynamic, and to improve the driver's position, Ayrton Senna confirms to the journalists:


"I didn't notice anything while driving. The car works. But for safety reasons it was decided to modify certain things and some details will only arrive from England in the evening".


On Wednesday, 2 March, 1994, at 10:20 a.m., Senna completes a series of three laps. The first lap he leads at a low pace, to warm up the tyres, after which he increases the pace but on the second lap, at the end of the Mistral straight, before the Signes curve, when the car reaches a speed of 318 km/h, he lifts his foot:


"It's not easy. To pass Signes thoroughly at that speed you have to have a perfectly good car. Mine wasn't quite there yet, I had to be very careful, be cautious".


The third lap is the good one, and Senna scores a time of 1'03"40, 0.2 seconds off the best performance of a Formula 1 car with wings and narrow tyres. At the end of testing, 153 laps will have been run. At the end of the tests, the Brazilian driver tells the Italian press:


"After making the necessary repairs, there were no more problems. The front end also gave us a bit of a headache, with a strange functioning that triggered bad jerks both when entering and exiting corners. But now we know why. There will be work to do on both the aerodynamics and the mechanics, and perhaps not everything will be ready for the Imola tests, but the main thing is to know where to put our hands. We have worked hard to eliminate the air turbulence that shakes my helmet excessively at high speed by changing different windshields, even trying a new Bell helmet, like the one used by Fittipaldi at Indianapolis. However, this test did not yield the desired results because the wing that this helmet has under the chin generates too much load and crushes the head. I also have problems reading some instruments and the belt attachments hurt. We made constant adjustments to the seat as well, but at the same time the performance improved and the more the body was stressed, then the position problems recurred. We still have to keep working, because finding an ideal riding position is crucial".


The journalists, attentive to everything, ask whether at Paul Ricard, during the tests, Ayrton Senna drove with a load of fuel on board (it turned out that he had more than 50 litres of fuel in his tank), essentially working on finding the ideal set-up for the car. The Brazilian driver confirms the hunch, and admits:


"It's true, I have never sought absolute performance, and driving alone, I could probably have easily shaved a second off my time. But, even if the desire wasn't lacking, it wouldn't have helped much. Our car was still not perfect and it was definitely more useful to continue the fine tuning work, trying in particular to make it consistent in race conditions. And at Imola next week, rest assured, I will try. I am convinced that the potential is there, but there is also a lot of work still to be done".


Asked about the delay in the presentation of the FW16, Ayrton is not too worried, and even jokes about it:


"At McLaren I was used to cars being ready only at the last moment and often winning. In that sense, this single-seater is ready even too early. Joking aside, what counts is that the car is well conceived and well built, both for performance and safety reasons. Because otherwise even more time is lost in making up for mistakes. Before going to Brazil we will try again at Imola and then Barcelona: if all goes well that should be enough. But the Interlagos Grand Prix will be a bit of an unknown for everyone because no one has had a chance to test in the same hot conditions and with a track as bumpy as the Brazilian one is now. Every year, the best engineers come up with new solutions designed to improve performance. Some are obvious, others, although radical, go unnoticed except by other engineers who can sense their presence and effect. This year, with the return to passive suspension, efforts have been made to optimise its operation and special attention has been paid to aerodynamics. But it wasn't just at Williams, it was like that for everyone. I have not yet seen the Ferrari live, but from what I have been able to observe thanks to the photographs published in the specialised magazines, there are many certainly interesting details. And the Benetton has some too. I certainly cannot compare it with an active Williams, which I have never driven. On the other hand, I am familiar with the difference between the active and passive versions of the McLaren. The ride is definitely less comfortable and the car is more difficult to control, especially on the bumps. We all, drivers and engineers, have to start learning how to work without that technological aid".


And in conclusion, after talking about his current team, the Brazilian driver returns to talk about McLaren, with whom he has won three World Championships:


"Leaving McLaren after six years was an essential change in my life. Besides working on the car, I now also have to learn how to work with the team. It is something you learn little by little, but for now the contact is very good with everyone in the team. They are all competent and great workers, just like at McLaren. Little by little, friendship will also develop, the one that already exists with Frank. Of course, it would certainly have been better if we could have done the end-of-year tests as well. But I don't want to think about it any more, all that is part of the past now".


The scent of Grand Prix is back in the air. The great manoeuvres of Formula 1, in view of the start of the World Championship, take place on two fronts. On Tuesday the 8th of March 1994, in Estoril, Portugal, McLaren-Peugeot, alone, let Alain Prost test its new single-seater. The French driver who had announced his retirement from racing last year seems to be tempted to come back. It seems that he has been sensitised by a tempting offer of a contract and also by the presumed competitiveness of the car, which in the first tests with Mika Hakkinen went immediately strong. 


There are also those who claim that McLaren will not wait until the deadline of 18 March, 1994, to announce the name of the second driver. They could announce the entry of Alain Prost within a short time. On the other front, at Imola, eight teams will give life from Tuesday, 8 March, 1994, to Friday, 11 March, 1994, to a kind of early race, in which Williams-Renault, Benetton-Ford, Ferrari, Sauber-Mercedes, Ligier-Renault, Footwork-Ford (which on Tuesday will announce the signing of Gianni Morbidelli, alongside Christian Fittipaldi) and the mysterious English team Simtek-Ford, which announces that it has signed, alongside David Brabham, the Austrian Roland Ratzenberger in place of the Frenchman Jean-Marc Gounon, who could not find the funds to race. For Ferrari this is the first direct test and Jean Alesi should start immediately, while Gerhard Berger will take to the track in the afternoon. On Monday, 7 March, 1994, meanwhile, the new Minardi-Scuderia Italia team, born from the merger of the two racing teams, is presented. Contingent reasons (economic and results crisis) convinced Giancarlo Minardi and Beppe Lucchini to enter into this alliance. Their budget: 30.000.000 lire. The structure remains that of Faenza, with the inclusion of managers from Brescia. Minardi remains 40%, Lucchini another 40%, and a remaining 20% to Palazzani, Gnutti and Marniga. Giancarlo Minardi says:


"It was not a sacrifice. It was the only way to move forward and grow. The objective for now is to score points". 


The Romagna manager calls for two Italian drivers. The only two so far entered in the World Championship, to be joined by Gianni Morbidelli. They are Michele Alboreto, 37 years old, from Milan, 178 Grands Prix to his credit and five victories, and Pierluigi Martini, 32 years old, in Formula 1 since 1985 with two interruptions, best placings two fourth places. They are the remnants of the tricolour team that has formed the backbone of the Formula 1 World Championship for fifteen years, racing fourteen drivers out of twenty-six. A disastrous situation for Italian motor racing. The result of improvisation, of the lack, in certain cases, of professionalism and above all because the Italian racers arrived with suitcases full of dollars or were supported by big sponsors. Now the funding is gone, it's famine. Michele Alboreto admits:


"It used to be too easy to get into a Formula 1 car. Now abroad they don't even consider us. I accepted this offer because I believe in Minardi and because I don't like leaving things badly done. I believe that there is a basis for us to take some satisfaction. To show that Italian motor racing is not over. I'm not paying to drive, I'll take an appropriate salary for the situation, with the possibility of something more if everything goes well. But that's not the point: I want to show that we still have something to say". 


Has Ferrari conditioned the growth of the Italian drivers in any way? Pierluigi Martini answers:


"The Maranello team is a magnificent reality of Formula 1. And it makes its choices. Capelli had an opportunity perhaps at the wrong time. If you can reproach Ferrari for something, it's for not trying more insistently with young Italians. But that's not my problem. I am at Minardi and I want to move forward with this team. I also receive a regular salary. But I can say that we Italian drivers have not been lucky. I am convinced that many, with a competitive team, would have achieved different results. We now hope to act as a link to the new generations".


On Tuesday, 8 March, 1994, Alain Prost returns to drive a Formula 1 car. The French driver drives in the morning for only a few laps (eight in all, interspersed with a pit stop to discuss a few tricks with the mechanics), with poor technical times. But the Frenchman returns in the afternoon and puts in a total of thirty laps, recording the best time of 1'15"1, 0.03 seconds slower than the Finn Mika Hakkinen. In a red suit, free of commercial inscriptions, Alain Prost then holds a brief press conference: 


"I will not make any decision before next week. Of course, I was excited at the beginning, I know everyone here". 


The Frenchman will continue testing on Wednesday 9 and Thursday 10 March, 1994. From Imola, meanwhile, Senna comments on the Frenchman's return in his own way: 


"It is up to Prost to make a final decision and we will only respect it. Whether he will be there or not is something that does not interest me".


At the same time, there are 200 journalists and photojournalists at Imola, the grandstands are packed and the cheering is on for a series of simple tests. Despite everything, Formula 1 continues to have a huge audience. After a day of testing on the track, interspersed with countless stops for single-seater adjustments, Ayrton Senna's Williams-Renault set the best lap time: 1'23"545, 0.5 seconds faster than that of team-mate Hill and about 3.5 seconds better than the Ferraris of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger and the Sauber-Mercedes of young German Heinz-Harald Frentzen. The times do not count for much because they were probably achieved with different car settings, but the fact that they are not far off is already positive for the Maranello team. Jean Alesi, will it be the right time after so many years of purgatory for Ferrari? 


"I believe so. I am very confident. We have everything to be competitive. I am not saying to win, because it is too early to make predictions. There is still a lot to work on. If something goes wrong, we cannot complain this time, we will have no excuses".


In the first tests there were a lot of problems and several breakdowns, especially with regard to the engines. 


"Normal. But it is important that the basic car is good. When you come out with something totally new, you have to find out the merits and flaws. I think the positives of the car are more than the negatives. As for the engine failure in Barcelona, it was caused by something that wasn't right. It would be worrying if an engine failed after 150 kilometres. When it blows right away, you're quicker to realise that it's not a structural failure". 


What are the Ferrari's qualities? 


"I can talk about first impressions. It is particularly fast on the straight. It doesn't skid and it's easy to drive. And it has remarkable traction. In the sense that it seems to discharge all its power to the ground. Those are two important factors. In addition, the boxed sequential gearbox allows you to engage the gears with incredible speed". 


Listening to his answers, you'd think it was perfect... 


"No, calm down. I repeat, it has great potential. But it is still to be developed. As far as I'm concerned, for example, the cockpit is too big. I used to rest my elbows on the walls. Now I have to have a special seat, with shims, to be able to do that. And then there is still all the development to be done. I think I realised that the cars designed by Barnard start with a very good design, but they have to be refined in detail afterwards. There are no big changes to prepare, but a lot of small refinement work".


Talking about John Barnard, he is always spoken of as a cerberus.


"Honestly, the relationship with English was one of my worries. I had the impression of being indigestible to him. It bothered me to be judged without being tried. In Barcelona we talked for a long time, I think I won his trust. For me it is one of the best victories. In this way I can do my best without having strange thoughts on my mind. However, it's not true that I was sidelined to make room for Berger. I have an extraordinary relationship with the team, I feel like a family".


And the others? Still Williams-Renault to beat?


"There will be no surprises. Williams with Senna starts from the top. The champion car with a champion. We could fit between the best team and Benetton. However, we have the advantage of starting from scratch. Unfortunately we are missing a month of testing, we should have a little more time to start immediately at full speed. But we will come. It will be decisive to be there, following Williams. We want, we have to be there".


Isn't there a risk that some teams will interpret the regulations in a strange way?


"The danger exists. And it could nullify all our efforts. The Federation will therefore have to be inflexible in enforcing the regulations".


As expected, the tests provide excellent food for thought, given that at the end of the three days of testing it is clear that the Williams has excellent potential, despite the fact that there are still many things to sort out: in fact, both Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill lap very fast, so much so that the Brazilian driver even manages to beat the old record set by Nigel Mansell. However, it is not the time of the Brazilian driver and his FW16 that is the best recorded at the end of the three days of testing, but that of Michael Schumacher and his Benetton B194, which does better than 0.166 seconds. Nonetheless, Ayrton Senna is cautiously calm and justifies the fact by citing team orders:


"Frank forced me to always run with at least seventy litres of petrol in the tank, telling me to be careful not to overdo it. He didn't want to draw the Federation's attention to Williams: if we prove to be too strong, who knows what they could invent to slow us down. I'm very satisfied with how practice went, because every day we showed clear progress compared to the previous day. You will only see Williams' true potential in Brazil: there I will demonstrate how fast I am. In the meantime, I'm accepting bets on practice at the Imola Grand Prix. Other than Schumacher's 1'21"078, I'm convinced that the real pole will be under 1'20"000".


Ayrton is enthusiastic and eager to demonstrate the value of him and Williams.


"I'm so calm because I'm finally working with a competitive team and when you work well, I'm relaxed. Forget about holidays: it's work that makes me happy. It's always nice when you manage to stick to a schedule and see the results of each. Naturally we worked a lot on the set-up, because with mechanical suspensions it's not so easy to find the right solutions. You have to progress little by little, understand where and how to intervene. It's not easy for the driver and not even for the engineers. it's difficult to set up the car, because you use the wing to be fast on a straight line and there are both fast and slow corners.In some respects it is very similar to Interlagos, but in Brazil the parameters for the engine change because we are one height of about eight hundred metres and there is a more undulating track. Perhaps the tires will also be different, in addition to the temperature which will be higher. The conditions will not be like those of Imola, but here it was enough to understand how to adjust the car. the engine and the aerodynamics. I was pleased to receive a lot of applause after each record performance, but I was also happy because with each test I improved the feeling with the car and I feel I can push a little harder".


Senna, however, complains about the very bumpy asphalt around the Tamburello curve, and about the fact that the passive suspension certainly does not help the transition in this section of the circuit:


"Certainly with passive suspension you feel the roughness of the ground more and driving is more tiring. But at Imola the asphalt really got worse, especially at the Tamburello bend, the fastest corner on the track. There are three or four steps that put road holding to the test, it is absolutely necessary to resurface".


Not surprisingly, the Brazilian driver asked the organisers to be able to level the lumps present at the Tamburello corner by resurfacing the circuit. But the organisers reply that it is impossible to carry out the work in time for the San Marino Grand Prix, but they are willing to level - and therefore lower - the humps. After that, Ayrton Senna once again underlined that on the new FW16 it is precisely the suspensions that need to be developed properly, given that these represent the biggest problem of the new Williams:


"Without a doubt the suspensions are the main problem, the whole unit, springs and shock absorbers included. They deserve the utmost attention and must be understood in the best possible way. Then, given that the FW16 is a new car, there are many other small details to fix, but it is little".


In this regard, in Imola, Adrian Newey explains his philosophies of construction of the FW16, of which he proves calm on the goodness of his creation:


"In this FW16 there are very few compromises. In '95 completely different single-seaters will be needed due to the profound change in the regulations, with the introduction of the step under the sides. In any case we will have to start over, and this is why we opted for a '94 single-seater that exploited each of its components to the maximum. Aerodynamic research was the inspiring principle of the whole project. With active suspensions, single-seaters could be created with very pushed aerodynamics, but at the same time difficult to control. With passive suspension, on the other hand, requires a car which is not affected by the variation in height from the ground and which has a very stable centre of pressure.I concentrated, like Barnard, on the efficiency of the rear axle, to try to reduce turbulence and increase the downforce.The front end serves above all to balance the single-seater, but the more or less good efficiency of the car is determined by the rear. This is why I studied a complex rear wing which should allow for the use of less incidence in the highest part, which has remained almost traditional. Above all, I took a concept already conceived last year to the extreme, that of trying to lower the entire rear end as much as possible. Hence the idea of the suspension, and therefore of the new gearbox, which has very reduced height dimensions. When you try to optimise to the maximum, you inevitably come up with solutions that don't allow for many changes. Rear suspension geometry is difficult to adjust, but this has always been a Williams characteristic, although before building the rear triangle we did a lot of experimenting on the FW15D to lock in the optimal anti-squat value with this solution. The construction method of the chassis also entailed an important constraint in the shape and position of the entrance to the side air intakes".


And to the very accurate and detailed description by Adrian Newey, a week later that of Patrick Head was added, who confessed to the specialised press that these suspensions, considered not in order, were actually deliberated by Charlie Whiting several months before their presentation:


"When Adrian told me about the results in the wind tunnel with the FW16 model featuring a very low rear end and the upper wishbones of the suspension becoming one piece with the drive shaft inside, we advised Charlie Whiting. We handed over the drawings and a dossier on the occasion of the French Grand Prix. It was early July. We explained that each element of a suspension inevitably has a certain (negative) influence on aerodynamics. Furthermore, each element of a triangle has an elliptical shape studied in the wind tunnel. We instead of having three small airfoils we had only one major chord one, with an absolutely symmetrical profile so that it did not generate additional downforce.Every element of the suspension is in contact with the air and is not rigidly attached to the suspended mass as it should be happen for the wing appendages. It is a problem for the legislators to set a limit beyond which one cannot go. Our request was considered legal, because to all intents and purposes the single carbon piece replaced 100% the triangle in tubes and not it had incidences with respect to the air flow as could be the case with normal tube arms designed with a shape such as to create downforce. In any case, we received a fax of approval from the FIA dated 27 August 1993".


And he continues:


"I started the study of the FW16 calmly, above all because at the time the relations with the FIA and Williams were not such as to suggest that they wanted to grant us any concessions in any way. Adrian Newey concentrated on the study and precisely on the search for the maximum aerodynamic stability. His main goal was to have the rear end as low as possible. Making the upper suspension arm with the drive shaft inside was not like building a normal carbon fibre spoiler. It takes hard work of design behind it, with complex structural calculations and a considerable number of bench tests of the individual elements. But having brought the two triangles of the suspension so close together created stability problems for the wheels. This also led to a complete redesign of the hub carrier which must support greater structural stress. During the winter we did a lot of experiments with the FW15D to find the right values of the correct anti-squat - anti-sinking of the rear which can be obtained by varying the attachment points of the triangles so as to give more or less inclination to the same - because in the FW16, with the wing profile arm, it cannot be modified except with a different casting of the gearbox. Similarly, again during the winter tests, we tried different weight distributions and all the various set-up possibilities on the FW15D in order to lock the new project into optimal values. It must be emphasised that some set-up variables were not mechanically interesting with active suspension and now they become so again. For example, the anti-dive correctors both front and rear used to be managed by electronics, but now they have to be studied in terms of attachments and suspension kinematics. The only concern is reliability: we are really close to the season with this new car and obviously I would be calmer if we had accumulated a few thousand more kilometres of practice before the race in Brazil".


Finally, speaking of the opponents, Patrick Head confesses:


"Among the opponents, I fear Benetton, which is the one that has covered the most kilometres with the new car, even if the jump of almost 1000 RPM in the new Ford engine, now at 14.500, may lead to some fears for its effective duration over the distance The same goes for McLaren, struggling with an engine making its debut in Formula 1. As for the new Ferrari, it hasn't impressed me so far, but I think it needs development. The engine should be reliable since it derives from last year's unit, then with refuelling the disadvantage of the extra petrol is divided into the two or three sections of the race and is therefore practically cancelled".


With just a few days left until the start of the World Championship, everyone is betting on absolute domination by Senna, the best driver on the grid in the World Champion team, who seems to only have to worry about any complaints made by the opposing teams regarding the innovative rear suspension. 


On the other hand, following the tests carried out during the winter, quite positive sensations have developed around the Williams, even if there is a lot of work to fix a car that is still complex to understand and operate. Yet the potential seems to be there, you can see it. But the world of Formula 1 is constantly evolving, and everything can change overnight. In fact, for example, in his Lens residence in Switzerland on Sunday 13 March 1994, Alain Prost should give an answer to Ron Dennis, owner of McLaren, within a few hours. To tell the truth, the English team has set the date of March 18 (Friday) as a limit. But it is not excluded that the decision will be announced soon. What will Prost do? According to some rumours he would be determined to resume racing. The signals come, for example, from his suppliers: the driver has ordered six or seven new helmets. Unless he wants to give them to some acquaintance, this would already be a positive indication of his intention to participate in the 1994 Formula 1 World Championship. Perhaps Alain does not really want to race (in fact, he never stopped, seeing that he retired at the end of last season and the new one has yet to begin). However, there is a lot of pressure on him: from McLaren, from Peugeot driven by Jean Pierre Jabouille and from his fans. Last but not least there is also the prospect of making a considerable profit. But then comes the answer:


"I wasn't motivated enough".


Thus Alain Prost, Tuesday 15 March, 1994, 8:00 p.m., announces that he will not race in Formula 1 with McLaren-Peugeot after having let believe in the great comeback. The Frenchman says he's not ready to relive a season like the past ones, on an extra-sports level. That is, he is afraid of being involved in certain controversies that have distressed him in recent years. The English team will therefore have its second car driven by Martin Brundle or Philippe Alliot. The latter is supported by Peugeot which supplies the engines. But what will Prost do? He has a contract with TF1 to comment on the races. And he remains in contact with Renault for a possible assignment in terms of advertising and image. After all, they are still paying him for this very reason. There was also a possibility that the 38-year-old driver could have a role at Ligier. But Alain Prost also denies this hypothesis:


"Well, I won't race because I'm not motivated enough. I did some tests and I realised that if the pleasure of driving and working is intact, the pressure and certain other aspects would surely have poisoned my life within three, four Grands Prix. I am sure that many would not have understood that I would have returned for the sole pleasure of driving without ambitions of victories or world championships. And then the risk factor remains. It was decisive in the decision to stop and I really believe that it will not diminish with the new regulations and the return to supplies. To complete the job in a serious and correct manner, a two-year commitment would have been necessary on my part. A real complication: it would have been really dishonest to communicate any change of mind to the team, perhaps after only a few races. Nor could it have been better to do it at the end of the season, without reaping the fruits of one's work.I preferred to quit, or rather maintain my position, rather than run the risk of later regretting having continued. I have no nostalgia though, absolutely none. I probably would have had if I hadn't tried McLaren. I would inevitably be left with doubts. So, instead, I was able to decide calmly, with all the elements available".


However, there is some background on the Prost affair. It is clear that something has gone wrong. Someone like Alain does not go to test the single-seater without having a clear desire to return. There was almost certainly no agreement on the economic front. McLaren is probably not yet as reliable as the driver would like. Meanwhile, Benetton announces that the Dutch driver Jos Verstappen will replace the injured JJ Lehto in the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday, 27 March, 1994. Six days to go: after much talk and less testing than usual, Formula 1 is back on track on Sunday, 27 March, 1994, with the Brazilian Grand Prix. The 45th World Championship in history will begin at the Interlagos circuit in São Paulo, right at the home of the great favourite: Ayrton Senna. A part of the title, if he manages to conquer it, the champion has already obtained before starting. Having kicked Alain Prost out of Williams, the South American - who turns 34 on Monday, 21 March, 1994 - achieved two goals. He eliminated his most unwelcome rival and got into the car that dominated the last two seasons.


The trinomial Senna-Williams-Renault could not have opponents capable of worrying him. But the FIA finally shuffled the cards, making all the teams start from scratch. With a change of regulations which in theory should restore some balance between the contenders. The abolition of certain sophisticated electronic elements (remember: active suspension, wireless accelerator, ABS, traction control, the possibility of regulating many functions from the pits via telemetry) should in theory also allow teams with smaller means to be more competitive. However, the conditional must be used because the top teams will always have an advantage and because many technicians have already studied solutions that bypass the rules. There is talk of hidden systems, hidden by computers, of planning at the limit of the permitted. This is the case of the Williams rear suspension fairing and also of the Ferrari suspension attachments, fixed directly to the body. Both teams had the green light from the Federation technicians. It remains to be seen whether there will be any complaints. Thursday, 24 March, 1994, during scrutineering, there could be surprises, even if the tendency is to start regularly and not among the controversies. There are also suspicions against other teams that - it seems - would have created a traction control that works in a particular way and that cannot be discovered. The important thing is that the marshals thoroughly examine the cars and act promptly with disqualifications if they discover illegal solutions. Going back to the agonistic reasons, if the favourite is Ayrton Senna, it must also be said that in the comparable tests the fastest was Michael Schumacher with the Benetton-Ford. Ayrton Senna seems momentarily in difficulty. And we come to Ferrari. After so many years, the Maranello team can no longer fail. Without thinking about the title, the team directed by Todt is asked to be at least competitive. To fight with the best. There have been countless changes. But the team is strong, it has some of the most valid specialists and, with Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi, the most homogeneous and complete group of drivers. Unfortunately, the new 412 T1 has shown in tests that it still has several limitations. In particular, the single-seater is not aerodynamically balanced. Probably John Barnard, forced to work on times that were too short for him, did not have the opportunity to study all the problems in depth.


And the results of the wind tunnel theory have been very different from the practice. Now the English designer is taking measures and has already prepared several small modifications for the São Paulo race. But it seems that the work needs to be much more thorough and the new solutions will only be ready for the second championship race, that is for the Pacific Grand Prix in Japan on Sunday 17 April 1994. Plus there will be unknowns about reliability. An uphill start, therefore, for Ferrari, even if it might not be exactly negative. One of the most important innovations of 1994 concerns the return of refuelling during the race, prohibited since 1987. Each team will be free to stop their cars when they deem it appropriate to add fuel to the tank. This rule will probably change the whole philosophy of the races. With little weight, performance will be much higher and in some circuits it will be convenient to stop even three or four times, obviously replacing the tires which, however, are limited in number. And the drivers will almost always be forced to drive to the limit, as in qualifying practice. However, the implications due to the supplies, wanted by Bernie Ecclestone to give more show, will be many and some not entirely positive. Meanwhile, the various pit stops could cause many problems. On average, nineteen men will be involved in the difficult operation of refuelling for each garage. Risk of errors, clutches that can go off, boiling engines. And a traffic that will not always be easy to control. Plus there's the safety issue. Each team will have a kind of tank from which the fuel will be discharged under pressure in about ten seconds into the cars. A nozzle of the type used by jets (costing $100.000) should ensure that not a single drop of gasoline will be spilled. However, the break-in will be difficult for everyone. In any case, petrol is already at the centre of many discussions. The rules governing the composition of fuels are not very clear. In theory it should be similar to that dispensed by normal distributors, but in reality it is not, even if it is always an ecological type product. At Agip they are worried and controversial towards the Federation. The Italian company officially supplies Ferraris and Minardis, carrying out very expensive research (about 9 billion lire a year: the results, however, are also poured over time into normal production) in its own centre managed by Euron in San Donato Milanese.


"We prepare a hundred different types of petrol a year for Formula 1. About twenty of these are generally used. These are fuels that are the result of long studies and accurate experiments with the most modern systems. In addition to the normal levies, the Federation required us to send 120 litres of our last petrol to England. All to have an outdated test done at a local lab. We are not willing to send the results of our research around the world".


The reasons for this protest, which can also be taken as an accusation, are obvious. The situation - it's not just a pun - is nothing short of explosive. Since even the French Elf, supplier among others of Williams and Benetton, is not at all satisfied with the situation, the whole thing could turn into a dangerous controversy. Also capable of disturbing a championship that apparently promises to be full of competitive motives. On Tuesday 22 March 1994, the drivers and teams arrive in São Paulo in Brazil to give life to the 45th World Championship, and Formula 1 is already plunged into controversy. There are two reasons for discussion: petrol and the French team Ligier. Ferrari and Agip are involved in the fuel case, albeit indirectly. The second case concerns Ligier, which risks bankruptcy and its future will be decided right now. The first bad news reached Agip on the afternoon of Monday 21 March 1994. The latest type of fuel studied and produced in the San Donato Milanese research centre was not homologated by the FIA. The regulation prescribes that the petrol used by the Formula 1 single-seater must be of a commercial type. That is, in theory, it should be able to be sold in ordinary gas stations. But this wording has already given rise to problems and difficulties in the past. There are at least two different interpretations of the standard: one would like the fuel to already be used regularly by users, the other instead favours the possibility of use in the event of a decision by the manufacturer. The Italian oil company had prepared the presentation of the product with great care. So much so that some time ago he had brought two Lancia Thema and two BMWs to cover 2,000 kilometres on normal roads to demonstrate that the new petrol (called F.10) is perfectly in order. All under the control of the commissioners of the CSAI, which is the Italian federation. The FIA, on the other hand, replied that the petrol presented did not comply with the spirit of the regulation. Now Agip presents its counter-deductions and awaits an answer. What the Agip executives cannot bear is that their interlocutor is called Charles Whiting, a former Brabham mechanic (therefore a loyalist of Bernie Ecclestone, grand patron of Formula 1) who became FIA technical manager for Formula 1, for unknown merits. A role that was previously held by Gabriele Cadringher, an aeronautical engineer with multiple experiences. They say to Agip:


"With all the respect we owe this gentleman, we who have 240 specialists preparing fuel feel disheartened at having to have this type of interlocutor. Unfortunately our hands are tied and we have to suffer. The Elf managers agree with us. We have had many meetings, but in the end it is not possible to reach an agreement that satisfies all the parties involved. So we go on with approximation and with lots of troubles".


Ferrari is close to its suppliers, but does not dramatise.


"Fortunately all the recent tests have been carried out with last year's last petrol, the F.9. So the non-homologation of the F.10 does not catch us unprepared. Of course, every new product can give some advantage, but in this case we have to accept the judgement. Waiting for developments, hopefully positive. Our current chances, yet to be discovered, for the first championship race remain unchanged".


As for Ligier, purchased sixteen months ago by the entrepreneur (film producer, financier) Cyril De Rouvre for about 90 billion lire, it is now on sale for 16.5 billion lire. The misadventures of the owner (who also ended up in prison) and the disappointing results despite the use of Renault engines (the same as the Williams ones), led to the collapse. For six weeks the salaries of the 200 employees who work at Magny-Cours have not been paid. And so the Ligier has been on sale for a few weeks now. The possible buyers are Benetton and a French consortium made up of ex-driver Philippe Streiff and constructor Gerard Larrousse (financially supported by the Italian cosmetic group Giraudi) who were joined at the last minute by Frank Williams. What is particularly interesting is the contract that Ligier signed with Renault for the engines. Benetton hopes to run them on its cars from 1995, Williams above all wants to block the operation to remain the only one to have French engines. In fact, Ligier runs serious dangers of transplantation: whoever wins the battle, Flavio Briatore for Benetton or Williams and his allies, the team born in 1975 by Guy Ligier and good protagonist of many championships, risks being transported to England within a short time to act as a branch of another team. 


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