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#470 1989 San Marino Grand Prix

2021-10-19 00:00

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#1989,

#470 1989 San Marino Grand Prix

Non c'è stato l’effetto sbornia per la Ferrari. Dopo la vittoria a sorpresa di Mansell, qualche bel mal di testa per postumi da festeggiamento sarebbe

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No hangover effects for Ferrari. After the surprising Mansell win, a headache due to the hangover could be justified. But no: right back to work because the success of the Brazilian Grand Prix is not an end point, but a starting point. Everyone is lively and ready, as if they had been treated themselves with a restorative care which has given immediate and brilliant effects. On Thursday, March 30, 1989, John Barnard will be at the factory, while the new guy Jarvi Letho will begin his test with a modified 639 car (meanwhile a fourth 640 is setting up for Monte Carlo). Berger and Mansell will be on the Fiorano track next week. Cesare Fiorio seems to be even younger and in a great shape, which has always characterized him in his work. Since the Ferrari’s team manager has taken over, he seems invested in every direction. Meetings, projects and strategies to develop for the next races. He is very satisfied with what happened, but also very careful.

 

"We don’t have to rest on our laurels and think that we have solved or eliminated our problems. On the contrary, now the effort has to increase. We have three weeks before Imola. In the next few days, step by step, we have to analyze the situation and reach the best reliability we can, given that in motorsport we can’t ever be one hundred percent sure".

 

Just one race, but a positive one. Can we draw some conclusions?

 

"Of course, given that it was a surprising win but not thanks to luck. Races are like this. A lot of the time whoever makes fewer mistakes wins. Two things are interesting. First of all: we’ve confirmed on track that the car is competitive. Second: the engine is not as vulnerable as someone thought. Properly set up, it was able to finish the race in extreme conditions with an ambient temperature of 40 °C, which was not at all easy. It was a really close fight which ended with the first cars all within seventeen seconds".

 

However, the engine is not at its best either.

 

"This is clear. It is a completely new twelve-cylinder with an advanced electronic management system which has to be developed. It is a reliability system which plans to drive kilometers and kilometers".

 

There is the impression that some teams, like McLaren and Williams, so Honda and Renault, have already got more powerful qualifying engines.

 

"At the moment it doesn’t bother us. If we had the time to work on that, it would surely be an interesting field to explore. But now we have other problems to solve. We’ll think about it as soon as possible".

 

Ferrari’s win was also the affirmation of John Barnard. At a precise question, he answered that he hasn’t decided anything yet for his future about the contract that links him with your team until the end of the season.

 

"We’ll do anything to keep Barnard. But this is a topic that I don’t want to talk about with him directly. I’d rather involve him, make him understand by himself that with us he could be working well, without problems. It is clear that a lot of this depends on his requests, in every sense. We can’t grant everything".

 

How was the impact with the drivers?

 

"A simple and friendly relationship. I had the impression that Berger and Mansell have liked the direction in which Ferrari is heading. It is important that they have faith in the team. As regards their behaviour on a technical and human level, they both seem self-sufficient. Which is fine for me. This is an individual sport. Going by your teammate crying and asking how he’s setting up the car is useless. We think about passing information".

 

A few words about the rivals.

 

"They’re many and all aggressive. Not only McLaren, Williams, March and Benetton. Arrows seems strong, too. And their cars will be more competitive with development. I think we’ll see some good races".

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On Monday, April 10, the two rival teams are back together: on one side, the British team who is on its sixth private test day and on the other side the Maranello team, after the work done on track and at the factory in Fiorano. Nigel Mansell’s win in Brazil seems to have cheered up Ferrari’s tifosi. But the situation isn’t much in favour of Ferrari: first of all because McLaren has always been a strong competitor and then for the fact that there are also other teams such as Williams, Arrows, March and Benetton. So, it is better to be careful.

 

During their test day there are some positive and negative factors for McLaren: very good lap times, but obtained with the laboratory car, so with the old shell adapted to the aspirated engine. However, the new car with the transverse gearbox doesn’t give promising signs, maybe due to a failure, but that’s not been confirmed. Anyway, the longitudinal gearbox is fitted again and it will certainly be used in the race in thirteen days’ time. Prost and Senna work all morning: the French driver does thirty-six laps with his old car and the Brazilian driver fifty-six with the new MP4/5. Senna’s lap times are exceptional, better than the record made by the World Champion in charge on Saturday, which was 1'28"010. In fact, Prost, at his nineteenth lap, has done a lap time of 1'27"772, Senna of 1'27"946. Ayrton confesses:

 

"It is necessary to drive for many other kilometers. The only positive sign is that the gearbox hasn’t broken down yet while, regarding its functioning, there are still some stiffness problems in shifting the gears".

 

After the break, the Brazilian driver is back on track with his MP4/5 and starts the Grand Prix simulation, constantly doing lap times around 1’31"0, gaining - in twenty-five laps - 48.07 seconds compared to what he had done during his glorious 1988 San Marino Grand Prix. However, the overall test is negative because during his forty-fifth lap he has a brake failure. Senna, until that moment (there were fifteen laps left to finish the race), would have had 78.1 seconds advantage compared to last year’s race, when he was driving the turbo McLaren. In the afternoon, Ayrton does a total number of fifty-four laps, the last of which in 1'29"329. Prost, instead, does fifteen laps, finishing with a lap time of 1'28"874. With over one hundred and ten laps, Senna reaches his teammate Alain Prost with 272 lap times completed in six days.

 

Meanwhile, there are some new vans in the paddock: the Williams’ one and two of Ferrari’s. Both teams start their test in the morning, together with McLaren; so it will be interesting to see the confrontation between them even if, probably, their programs and tests will not be similar. The arrival of the new Lola (with a Lamborghini engine) and Brabham are expected. Ferrari is in Imola with the 640, the car that won in Rio. Twenty technicians and mechanics immediately start to set up the car. Gerhard Berger begins the tests that will continue until Tuesday, while on Wednesday and Thursday is Mansell’s turn to drive. In the next few days, John Barnard and team manager Cesare Fiorio will arrive too. The new record of 1'04"88, obtained by Berger in Fiorano, gives hope that the performance is up to expectations. To see the test of their favourite car, Ferrari’s tifosi can get inside the track for free, while from Tuesday they will have to pay 10,000 lire.

 

After having won the first round of the championship against McLaren in Brazil, Ferrari prefers to be defensive. So, on Tuesday, April 11, 1989, the team of Maranello doesn’t accept any provocation from the British team going to Imola where on April 23, 1989, the second race of the World Championship of Formula 1 will be held. In front of a very strong rival (on the seventh day of tests), the Italian team limits itself to studying the situation and doing their tests without looking inside the box where Prost and Senna are ready for the psychological blow. While McLaren are doing laps one faster than the other until the French driver does a lap time of 1'25"614, with an average of 211.928 km/h, new unofficial record for a car with an aspirated engine, Ferrari starts a difficult and laborious set up, interrupted several times due to various problems.

 

Spectators are a bit puzzled, maybe confused. People in the grandstands boo Senna because they think that he pushed Berger off the track in Rio de Janeiro, but then they applaud a very quick Prost and boo Ferrari again for the various pits. But, as Cesare Fiorio explains - always keeping an eye on McLaren’s lap times - , they can’t expect exceptional results from the cars of Maranello:

 

"We have been here for a few hours, we can’t be at the same level as the teams that are on track for a week. We’ll be searching for results too at the end of tests, on Friday. Of course, they are very quick. We have just done our usual routine work. In the morning we had an electrical problem, while in the afternoon there were other problems due to a potentiometer that sends impulses to the gearbox actuator. Today, or tomorrow at the latest, new modified components should arrive and, with them, we hope to improve".

 

Fiorio explains that they are acting in different directions and that, at the moment, electronics and reliability are still a problem: unluckily, the technical time to find the right solutions is very long.

 

"It is about finding all the problems and eliminating them. These are two difficult tasks, especially the second one because we depend, in part, on our suppliers".

 

So, a confirmation that there are some problems. This does not mean that Ferrari is not conducting several programs, like the one concerning the use of a smaller rear spoiler, without forgetting to study the fuel consumptions.

 

"The car is competitive. I would like to win here in Imola, but there is the reliability problem left. Prost and Senna are still the ones to beat and I think that Boutsen too will be a hard rival".

 

Even Gerhard Berger is certain. He feels that the car is strong, when it doesn’t break down, and he even claims that, from mid-season onwards, it will be a world title car. But he also notices that Barnard talks only with Mansell, that spectators are more willing to cheer for Mansell, that applauses burst even when the one who greets the crowd isn’t the one who has become like the Lion of England for Italians, but his manager Mike Francis. Basically, Berger doesn’t want to be the next Alboreto and, in this regard, he makes a bitter joke that explains his feelings. Someone asks him if this Ferrari could be on the record times of McLaren and he answers:

 

"Oh yes, when it will be Mansell driving it".

 

In the meantime, Prost - who has done the record of the day - is clear:

 

"We’re improving, hour after hour. Since Monday we’ve made great progress just with the set up. And we’re expecting some important changes for next week, we hope to have them before the San Marino Grand Prix. The car is very quick, but it is still difficult to drive. The front slides, we still have to improve".

 

The fact that these McLarens are still not perfect is shown by Senna, who goes wider at the pits’ straight. A slip, without causing any damage. At the end of the day, the two McLaren drivers try expressly to do the record. Prost’s record with the aspirated engine is broken, but Senna’s official one remains (1'25"050 obtained two years ago with the turbo engine) and same for Berger’s unofficial one during practices with Ferrari in August 1987, which is still the absolute record of 1'25"001. On Wednesday, the last day of tests for McLaren, Senna and Prost will be trying again. Pre-tactics work even in Formula 1: it is better to frighten your rivals.

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So, on Wednesday, April 12, 1989, McLaren goes away from Imola leaving its rivals dismayed and worried. The British team’s cars that in Rio had raised some concerns, now leave the circuit under the admiring gaze of the other teams, as if in eight days of tests they had been treated with a restorative care. In addition, Prost and Senna are satisfied and much more confident than before.

 

Actually, McLaren’s results in these tests are impressive. Apart from the fact that the MP4/5 and the laboratory car doesn’t show any serious problem, it has to be pointed out that, these days, the two drivers - with many pit stops to set up the car properly - did 907 laps, which means 4571 kilometers in total. But that’s not all: the record obtained by Prost on Tuesday, a lap time of 1'25"614, was beaten in the afternoon by Ayrton Senna with 1’25"333. It is not the absolute record of the track (in 1987 Berger did a lap time of 1'25"01), but it is still an impressive lap time for many reasons, the fact that was obtained with soft race tyres among them.

 

"I’m much more optimistic, also because we’ve done an excellent job. We arrived there with a car that had some problems, but now we’re leaving with a very quick and reliable car. I don’t think that it is at its best yet, but we are heading in the right direction. There are things to improve in the chassis and this could be done before the race on Sunday".

 

A few meters away, Gerhard Berger, who is ready to leave too (on Thursday Mansell will drive for Ferrari), looks enviously at his rivals, even if then the Austrian driver reaffirms his confidence in the 640 designed by Barnard. Overall, his two days of testing weren’t positive, as Cesare Fiorio explains with clarity and disappointment:

 

"It doesn’t work. We’re at the same point as before and we’ve wasted a day of work. The problem is that we don’t know how to solve it. We can’t find what the problem is. I’m not much worried about McLaren’s results, but for the fact that we’re stuck. However, the race is in eleven days and we will give our best to turn the tables".

 

Berger, between one pit stop and another, does only thirty-five laps. In the meantime, the new potentiometers arrive, but in the afternoon the solenoid valve that controls the gearbox breaks down. So, the situation is the same: the electronically controlled transmission solution is very advanced, so much so that for some details Ferrari had to contact the manufacturers of the military equipment. For example, solenoid valves come from Germany.

 

"I’ve not driven enough to judge. However, on this track the engine power is crucial and I think that Honda has an advantage because it keeps improving also thanks to its reliability. We’ll certainly take a step forward at mid-season when the modified engine will arrive. I’d be happy if I could drive without problems with what we have now".

 

On Thursday Berger will be in Genoa to undergo some medical examinations that Mansell has already done. Cesare Fiorio wants these examinations to control the physical preparation level of the two drivers that during the winter have not driven much. Meanwhile, always on Thursday, Ferrari will have a special guest: around midday, Carl Lewis should arrive in the box. The famous American athlete has to go to Maranello to pick a Testarossa. On April 13, 1989, during the day there are other problems for Ferrari, which starts to think about extending their tests in Imola. Mansell is waiting for another miracle:

 

"McLaren is more reliable than us but we’re quicker".

 

Bad weather and some electrical failures limit Ferrari’s program; in addition, Mansell would have wanted to meet Carl Lewis, who was expected to arrive in Imola. On the contrary, the American sprinter is in Maranello admiring the Ferrari Testarossa that he bought. He was already late, so he went immediately back to Milan, where there was a Tag executive jet that would have carried him to Basilea. There, on Friday, he will be meeting Ayrton Senna in a clock exhibition for a sort of partnership between two of the quickest men in the world. Meanwhile, this is what Cesare Fiorio says:

 

"We aren’t satisfied because, due to rain, we haven’t completed our program. However, there were some improvements, meaning that there weren’t mechanical failures. The potentiometers are working. We also succeed in avoiding solenoid valve problems. This morning, two of our technicians will go to Germany to meet our suppliers and ask them for the changes that we’ve studied. Now we have to drive because we’re still lacking the set up of the car on the basis of the track characteristics. If all goes well, at the end we could put the qualifying tyres on to see our lap times. But, at the moment, we are ignoring McLaren. If there will be some problems, we could decide to extend our tests further".

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In the meantime, on Thursday, April 13, 1989, Nannini and Larini crashes almost in the same way. The first seriously damages the new Benetton with the debut eight-cylinder Ford engine while the second one completely destroyes the new Osella. Nicola Larini, a young rookie, crashes against the wall on the fastest part of the track at 220 km/h:

 

"I heard a crash on the rear right part. I lost control of the car. I was lucky to have spun three times before the impact".

 

Blown off suspensions, twisted chassis, as Enzo Osella explains:

 

"The car is irreparably damaged. Luckily we have a reserve chassis at the factory. That crash was really bad".

 

However, the driver doesn’t have to be blamed. He explains that a tyre has deflated, but that could be due to a tyre circle failure. Instead, Alessandro Nannini is certain that the rear left rim, which would open, caused him to go off track at the Tosa:

 

"What a crash. I’ve hit everywhere. If there weren’t the tyres as protection, I would have gone off the circuit and through the fencing wall".

 

The Italian driver has some spirit. As regards his wonderful Benetton, there are many bruises but nothing irreparable. He should be on track on Friday. The car is very interesting and was designed by the South African technician Rory Byrne. Byrne admits to have designed it after having studied, for the first time, the scale models of the strongest competitors in the wind tunnel. Somebody says that it is similar to Barnard’s Ferrari. Byrne, instead, affirms that it is different, even better than the Ferrari.

 

The car is beautiful and built very well. The engine is small and very low. There are many curious people around it. They want to see the result of two pillars of Formula 1, together for the first time. Gerard Ducarouge and Mauro Forghieri have worked on the Lola of the Larrousse-Camels team, driven by Philippe Alliot and Yannick Dalmas. The French technician was as quick as ever: in a few months, he designed and built the new chassis together with Lola’s technicians. The Modena-based technician, who played an important role at Ferrari, designed in record time a 80° V-shaped twelve-cylinder, which is light and compact.

 

"It has been an intense but fascinating job. We’re still at the beginning, in a development stage. However, we’re already quite happy".

 

As a matter of fact, the drivers speak about the new engine enthusiastically. Alliot affirms:

 

"It is exceptional, when we’ll have it we’ll be very competitive".

 

Behind Lamborghini that this year makes its debut in Formula 1, there is Chrysler, the American brand headed by Lee Iacocca. The means available aren’t very much, but the new adventure is followed with attention. Daniele Audetto, the general director of the Lamborghini Engineering, talks about a great boost:

 

"We’re in a recovery phase. We need Formula 1 as an image and experimentation. But programs are way larger for the future".

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The countdown for the San Marino Grand Prix is almost over: on Friday, April 21, 1989, at 8:00 a.m., the second race of the Formula 1 World Championship will start with pre-qualifying. During pre-qualifying, four cars out of fourteen will make it to the next round, so to the proper qualifying, that will be held in the afternoon, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.. While everyone is counting the hours to the awaited event, the excitement for the race increases enormously. The organisers think that they will break all the attendance records - 192,000 paying spectators in 1989, a successful year for Patrick Tambay with the Ferrari turbo. The request for tickets is massive, in fact all the numbered seats have sold out long ago; the only tickets available are those for the not-numbered grandstands, from a minimum of 20,000 Italian lire to a maximum of 90,000 Italian lire. The best seats, those in the Fiat tribune for the race on Sunday, cost 200,000 lire and are being negotiated for over half a million lire, enriching the scalpers.

 

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, April 18, 1989, Ferrari is back in Fiorano to continue the setting up of the cars. The third driver Dario Benuzzi goes on track driving a modified 639. On Wednesday will be Berger’s turn to drive two of the three cars that will be sent to Imola, while the third will undergo some tests on Thursday morning. On the cars of Maranello the new famous solenoid valves - that have caused so many problems with the electronically controlled gearbox functioning - will be fitted. The Rexroth valves come from Germany and are produced by Mannesmann. Benuzzi does around sixty laps without any serious problem.

 

As regards Ferrari, there is a little mystery: some days before, the team’s technicians, after the Imola tests, said that the maximum speed at the end of the straight was around 285-290 km/h. However, this information is partially contradicted by an unaware Mansell, who states that, on the straight, Ferrari is quicker than McLaren. A detection made by Williams in that part of the track shows that Ferrari reaches 312 km/h. What is the truth? Are Ferrari doing a bit of sandbagging? Is Ferrari’s performance better than what we thought? We will be answered to all questions on Friday.

 

McLaren and Ferrari are the big favourites. According to the latest news, London’s bookmakers are continuing to accept reasonable bets for the English team, as well as for the Italian team. And that makes sense, after what we’ve seen in the first race in Brazil. Also the bets on Williams are not too high, while for other teams, Benetton and March included, are very high. These are clear signals: it is rare that English experts make wrong predictions and, in the end, are the players themselves that make quotations fluctuate.

 

Bets aside, the San Marino Grand Prix, which will start with the first qualifying round, provides the challenge between McLaren and Ferrari. To be honest - and not only for the lap times that Prost and Senna set last week on track - the very strong British team powered by Honda seems to be the favourite. It is useless to create illusions: the Maranello team has competitive cars, but they lack reliability.

 

As planned, on Wednesday, April 19, 1989, Gerhard Berger drives in Fiorano the three 640 model cars that will be carried in Imola in the evening. All cars are fitted with the new modified solenoid valves, a key element for the functioning of the electronically controlled gearbox. There aren’t any problems. The Austrian driver does around fifteen laps with each car without going too fast, just to test all the mechanical components’ functioning. At the end of the test, Ferrari is quite optimistic and more confident. But they need the counterproof in the race. Without forgetting that Ferrari will have to deal with setups and a better aerodynamic configuration, which couldn’t deepen further during the tests of the previous days.

 

However, there is a question to be asked about the awaited race that is expected to bring 200,000 spectators to Imola: are just McLaren and Ferrari the teams that can aim to win the race? In Formula 1, a technical sport, surprises are always possible. Chances for Riccardo Patrese and Thierry Boutsen’s Williams-Renault are very high, as well as Ivan Capelli and Mauricio Gugelmin’s March and Alessandro Nannini and the rising star Johnny Herbert’s Benetton, even if these last two teams don’t have their new cars yet. What about the others? Rumours said that this would have been a balanced and unknown championship, open to every result. And, actually, on paper there are a few teams that deep down dream to succeed. One of them is Brabham with Martin Brundle and Stefano Modena and the other one is Arrows with Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever. Brabham was designed by the young technician Sergio Rinland, who is Argentine with British origins and is a concrete design engineer who created a beautiful, simple and, apparently, very quick car.

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The British team, instead, is more mysterious. It was bought by the Swiss entrepreneur Walter Brun and suddenly sold to another Swiss financier, Luthi. Rumours say that behind this there is Bernie Ecclestone once again, who owned Brabham until two years ago, before it fell apart. Brabham has Pirelli tyres: having different tyres than all the other strong teams (McLaren, Ferrari and Williams use Goodyears) could be a double-edged sword that could make them win or not. This will be seen during the race, also considering the characteristics of the track and the asphalt which in Imola is much less abrasive. It is believed that there will be no pit stops to change tyres and this could be a crucial point of the race on Sunday. However, Ferrari’s loyal tifosi expect to see Mansell and Berger successful again, when they went crazy for Pironi and Tambay.

 

In addition, there is a Japanese team in Formula 1. Beyond Honda and Toyota, engine suppliers for McLaren and Zakspeed, there is also Leyton House, March’s sponsor and owner. The purchase of March Racing Limited by Akagi made it possible for the team to build another factory that, in two months, will have a department for composite materials. The Japanese team has already prepared another car, the CG891, that will debut at the Monaco Grand Prix. The car has an unprecedented Judd engine, which is more powerful, and an original-designed gearbox. It is a very interesting car that should allow Capelli and Gugelmin to be even more competitive in the next races. Ivan Capelli admits:

 

"My aim is to win at least one race before the end of the season".

 

The initials that distinguish the car are particular and have an affectionate meaning: the letters CG are the initials of Cesare Gariboldi, Capelli’s manager, who recently passed away due to a car accident. Dedicating the car to him, March, the technicians and the drivers wanted to tribute an unforgettable and very passionate character who, with his skills and work, has massively contributed to the team’s progress.

 

What follows is an attempt to report what is happening around and inside Ferrari during these days in Imola, premising that every reference to the past, sport-related or else, is rounded down. There is no stereotype of cheering, passion and contribution. On April 21, 1989, waiting for the first round of practices of the San Marino Grand Prix, the tribunes of the autodrome of Imola are full, except for the people that have the Vip seats, who arrive on the last day. Even the places of the not-numbered tickets are full because spectators have been here for some time to get the best view. There are signs, banners, cheering for Berger and Mansell, mediumistic evocations of Villeneuve. In short: oral and written evocations. There is a feeling of immense love.

 

It can be said that in Italy there is not, or it should not - or better, it cannot - exist a bigger, total, noble and absolute passion as the one for Ferrari. So, here is the question: and if on Sunday an Italian car - not a Ferrari and driven by an Italian - will win the Imola Grand Prix and then the World Championship, how will the Italian motorsport fans react? The answer is: this car, with this driver, will be booed because its name is not Ferrari.

 

Shortly after dawn at the autodrome, Ferrari’s drivers are cheered by a crowd of people. Inside the motorhome where the drivers are relaxing and eating a slice of bread with mortadella, there are comings and goings of photographs, begging, cheering and hysteria. A hundred journalists are asking for some statement and are hated by the ones that cannot do this. A red glimpse and the crowd cheers: applauses for Ferrari and Gerhard Berger, when the Austrian driver, in the last lap does the best lap time of the first day of practice for the San Marino Grand Prix. Berger overtakes Ayrton Senna, who was first until now. Another surprise in the Formula 1 championship: what if this Ferrari is more miraculous than fortunate?

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On a rainy day, that could explain a lot of things itself, Ferrari is under the spotlight. But the most important thing is that Ferrari seems to have found good reliability. After a round of free practice and another round of qualifying there is no electronic or mechanical failure. This situation puts a smile on John Barnard’s face and makes Piero Fusaro - Ferrari’s president and CEO - happy. Rain partially affects the results. In this condition, the drivers and the cars that have the Pirelli tyres stand out. As the track become drier, the engine power is more and more important, kicking off the awaited fight between McLaren and Ferrari (with Goodyears’ tyres). Senna leads until a few minutes away from the end, always followed by Berger. Then Berger makes the decisive overtake in extremis. At the end of practices, Berger is more concrete:

 

"I’ve finally driven without any problem. I’ve done the best lap time, all went well. I don’t think that we will be able to stay first on a dry track. But I’m happy anyway, the car is good".

 

Cesare Fiorio, who is now fully committed to his new role, with young enthusiasm and thirty years of experience behind, affirms:

 

"Having seen the environmental conditions, we’ve put more fuel on Berger’s car and told him to drive without stopping because the track was becoming drier. Mansell, instead, wasn’t able to set up his car at its best and it was undrivable. Anyway, the results are positive because the solenoid valves and all the other modifications have worked. We are at a good reliability level, even if it’s still early to be sure of it. However, now we should also think about the performance".

 

And Mansell confirms:

 

"We’ll have to work on the setup of my car".

 

Senna, instead, is more disappointed, but states that:

 

"In this situation, whoever does the lap time in the right moment wins. Berger was good. But if the weather is good, everything will change".

 

Prost, who went off at Tosa because a tyre was stuck in braking, is more bitter and polemic:

 

"The track is slippery because someone’s car leaked some oil on it. However, what a man Berger is: he has the bad habit of cutting the chicane. I’ve seen him doing it two times".

 

The wet track points out Cheever’s skills, who is fourth with Arrows, ahead of Nannini. He takes Brabham - which seems to be a great car - to the highest positions, also with Martin Brundle, who is sixth. Stefano Modena, after being among the best for the most part, at the end leave many positions to the others because the setup of his car is not exceptional. Minardi does a great practice overall, with Sala in eighth place and Martini in ninth. The two cars from Faenza - which are racing at the home circuit - are greeted triumphantly outside and inside the box. Osella proved itself too (with Larini twelvth), failing to reach an even more exciting result for a small team just because, at the end, the engine has a little problem.

 

"I would have had a lot of fun, but that’s fine too".

 

A not-so-bright day for Williams-Renault, with Patrese and Boutsen struggling because of some aerodynamic choices not suitable for low-speed tracks. A totally negative day for March, which cars were undrivable, with Capelli and Gugelmin doing everything to keep up among the first twenty-six drivers. The Brazilian driver also goes off track, but these types of things are common between the drivers. There are some spectacular spins (Moreno, Nannini, Alboreto, Prost, Senna and Mansell among them) and a bad crash by the rookie Johnny Herbert who, with his Benetton, crushes against a wall, remaining luckily unhurt.

 

On Saturday, April 22, 1989, - the day before the San Marino Grand Prix - Ayrton Senna wins the pole position, restoring some values that during the Brazilian Grand Prix, with its final results, were debated - not to say reversed. Senna’s performance (and also Prost’s, who is second) damp enthusiasm in Ferrari. They understand that Berger's best lap time on Friday, with a wet track, was just a result due to a particular situation or a temporary supremacy condition. In normal conditions, McLaren is still at the top. Ayrton Senna, who runs in 1'26"010, leaving Prost just behind (0.225 seconds), creates an important chronometric gap to Mansell, who is third with Ferrari with a gap of 1.642 seconds. The others are even more behind: Patrese, Berger, Boutsen, Nannini, between two to three seconds.

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Now, there are two currents of thought: the first one, in which McLaren does the same thing as last year and takes a one-lap advantage from anyone else; the second one, in which McLaren is always unbeatable during practices (even in Rio was dominant, but not this much, although the track’s characteristics are different) but overtakable in the race, especially when the strategy and the set up of the car are good. Ferrari does its best. Everyone knew that the speed performances could not have been better. For the race, the tyre choice and the fuel saving will be crucial. Ferrari should have a lot of fuel inside its tanks because they are bigger and filled with frozen fuel that takes up less space.

 

Will it be a winning move? There is the impression that this McLaren - which is better than its debut in Rio - needs a lot of aerodynamic pressure to have a good road holding. For this reason, it should stress tyres more and maybe have to pit. Everything can happen. It could also happen that Prost tries to deceive Senna. The rivalry between the two teammates increases: the Brazilian and the French driver are fighting for the best lap time. In Ferrari there is the same situation.

 

The two Ferrari drivers go on track over and over again, overtaking each other in the lap times classification. At the end, Mansell prevails, ending the Austrian driver supremacy that for twenty-five races (Germany 1987) hasn’t started behind him. Berger, in the extreme attempt to overtake the British driver, crashes against the guardrail, damaging the suspension and the left tyres. At the end of qualifying, Ayrton Senna - the World Champion in charge - declares:

 

"This one of Imola is my fifth pole position, the fifth in five races. I think that this is already an important result. I did my best lap time almost at once and without special tyres. When I put on those tyres there was too much traffic. We can improve more, but speaking of improvements: I’ve just realized that I shouldn’t have been satisfied with my lap time so early. I’ve wasted almost thirty minutes of practice, without insisting with the maximum determination. A true driver doesn’t relax. My car is better than it was in Rio. But I could have won in Rio, if that accident with Berger hadn’t happened. Here I can win by doing the entire race in the lead".

 

He is undoubtedly a true driver. The world title gave him a lot of wrinkles, his face is older. He seems determined, even if there is someone that continues to make up stories about him. With thirty-one pole positions, he menaces the record of Clark, who has thirty-three. Ayrton also had to change a suspension tie rod:

 

"During a pit stop, tyres were too hot, the car was glued to the asphalt and to lift it up they had to force. This is the reason for that problem".

 

Meanwhile, the sun is out. Senna hates it, especially if it is too hot. Prost does his best lap time with normal tyres, too:

 

"With a full tank I think I could fight with Senna, so starting on the same level, even if today he has been slightly better than me. I’ve been able to do only two and a half laps without any traffic. I was driving at my best when there was the red flag for Sala, who went off the track. I think that, in the race, I will never pit to change tyres".

 

The two of them seem so confident to put up an internal fight, even though Prost has some health issues:

 

"I’ve stomach ache, I think I’ve eaten too much fruit. I’ve already taken some medication, it should stop tonight".

 

But Mansell does not give up and, at the end of practices, declares:

 

"If I feel that the car is going fast, I swear that I will not slow down".

 

However, these are not the only points of interest of the day. Cesare Romiti - CEO of Fiat - has arrived in Imola and follows practices with, according to some observers, a great involvement or an amused attention. Romiti, at the end of practices, makes some declarations:

 

"I was full of trepidation as a fan when I was watching the Brazilian Grand Prix from home. But in the last few days, when there were always new problems, because work - as big as it is - is part of our code of behaviour, I wasn’t in trepidation. I’m happy with our drivers: both like to attack and I prefer them to the more rational ones".

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After practices, Romiti goes away from Imola. John Barnard himself seems to have adapted with the team of Maranello. The greater professionalism of the new member of the team and Cesare Fiorio’s attempts to involve him have brought about a change. This doesn’t mean that Barnard has already decided to remain in Maranello (his contract expires at the end of the season): a big part of this decision depends on the results of the next races and on the choices that he will have to face. Anyway, the atmosphere is more relaxed and Barnard is more helpful. Of course, he is always asked technical questions and those should be made at the right moment, so after some wins (as in Rio de Janeiro) and during some short breaks. In these moments, the design engineer makes predictions:

 

"McLaren will go very fast here because they have worked a lot during the past weeks. There are no more secrets for them on aerodynamic regulations, assets and engine use. We, instead, had to solve other problems and are still searching for more power which is not ideal".

 

So, what does Barnard expect from the race?

 

"I don’t expect to win. We’ve worked hard and I do my job as best as I can".

 

Are you satisfied so far?

 

"I am satisfied when a driver gets out of the car, is happy and says it".

 

Another question: what is so good about McLaren?

 

"I’ve only seen it from afar. The only thing that immediately stands out is that they use big rear wings. This is not bad because it means that the car has a lot of horsepower. But this is just a theory: maybe both McLarens have an aerodynamic configuration that allows them to search for more support at the rear".

 

One of Ferrari's biggest problems concerns fuel consumption.

 

"Yes. It’s for this reason that we’ve bigger tanks. Ours is inside the chassis, so we couldn’t do too much. We’ve used the frozen fuel that spare us some other litre. However, this is not the problem. Regulations allow you to put how much fuel you want to. So, the problem is not the consumption but the weight. Starting with less fuel is an advantage".

 

McLaren and Ferrari aside, Imola’s qualifying marks the progress of the small Italian teams. After Nannini, seventh with his Benetton, there are Caffi, ninth with his Dallara of Scuderia Italia, Martini, eleventh with his Minardi, and Larini, fourteenth with his Osella. It had never happened. The three teams have progressively grown and the drivers deserve some satisfaction during the race. However, despite the confidence of the McLaren drivers, Saturday ends with a turn of events: Senna risks being disqualified after some technical checks.

 

The spoiler of his McLaren has slightly moved to one side of a couple of millimeters. But stewards are magnanimous, saying that the tool for measuring is old and maybe the spoiler moved due to a hit or because it was wrongly set. Actually, if that had happened to another team, maybe the stewards would have disqualified them because, in these cases, regulations are strict. However, it should be considered that Senna, if he was disqualified, would have made the race meaningless, leaving some suspicions on another driver’s win, especially if that driver had been from Ferrari. It is better this way.

 

On Sunday there will be the excitement of the start: Senna and Prost side by side, followed by Mansell and Patrese. Three of them - voluntarily or not - are the protagonists of the crash in Rio de Janeiro. Will they have learnt the lesson? On Sunday, April 23, 1989, during the San Marino Grand Prix, McLaren will try to beat Ferrari in Imola, on the track that could be an home track for the team of Maranello. But more than the team, it is Ayrton Senna who wants redemption, especially since another mistake would put him in trouble against his teammate Prost and would threaten his world title.

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At the start Ayrton Senna goes away well but behind him Alain Prost finds himself just ahead of Nigel Mansell's Ferrari but the Englishman could not find his way around Prost's McLaren. Mansell falls off a little after that and finds himself battling with Riccardo Patrese while on the second lap Ivan Capelli has a nasty accident in his March. On lap four, fifth-placed Gerhard Berger's Ferrari spears off the track at the fast Tamburello corner due to a mechanical failure. Berger hits the wall at an estimated 180 mph and when his car comes to a rest it is covered in fuel and it immediately bursts into flames. Three fire marshalls (Bruno Miniati, Paolo Verdi and Gabriele Violi) arrive on foot sixteen seconds after impact and the fire is put out ten seconds later; the fuel has also burned up in the inferno. The race is red-flagged and Berger escapes with broken ribs and second-degree burns.

 

What happens inside an autodrome when 200,000 spectators, who are there for a certain driver in a certain car, understand that something tragic has just happened to their favourite driver? This highly-emotional experimentation is carried out in Imola, at 2:40 p.m., inside Dino and Enzo Ferrari’s track. The beloved Ferrari with Berger, who is more appreciated from the tifosi than the new driver Mansell, crashed against a wall and then to another wall at Tamburello, where two years ago Piquet broke different parts of his body. And he caught fire. The spectators inside the autodrome - 120,000 tickets, maybe 80,000 illegals - receive the information in four different ways: those who see the scene with their own eyes; those who are following the race on a television and see the scene through the camera; those who are following the race by radio and can only imagine the scene; those who hear the news, muffled, from the circuit’s speaker.

 

Somebody cries. The people, who received the news in different ways, are embalmed, terrified. An important sign that extends stillness comes almost immediately, to the spectators which are seated in the tribune on the main straight and to the ones who have non-numbered tickets where, with binoculars, can be seen the work of the mechanics and timekeepers, but also the rush of the headers of the teams. From Ferrari’s box  people dressed in yellow and black come out, some of them run to cover the half kilometer that there is between the starting line and Tamburello, others run towards the hospital wing that is waiting for Berger. When a good amount of people are out of Ferrari’s box, someone shutters it almost completely. Is this a sign of mourning? Or the will to cry without any interference? Or it was made simply to discourage the ones who want to create a bit of emotional mess?

 

It is just after a while that people resume talking. A strange noise, a buzz at first, and then some peaks: those who are screaming and asking for information to some marshall that is walking on track and maybe knows a little more; those who are asking for news to the ones who are watching on television, as if they are privileged to know the pain first. And finally the ones who are swearing to have seen - or to have a friend who saw - that Berger, placed on the stretcher, has made a gesture with his head as to reassure everyone. Meanwhile, between the workers, there are different reactions.

 

The cars, with the race interrupted, go back to the pits and everyone starts working. Ferrari is the only one who can do something else, maybe negletting Mansell. But the Englishman runs immediately towards the hospital wing, one hundred metres before Ferrari’s hangar, where he knows that Berger would be carried. His worry is anxious. He is the friend that goes to discover how his friend is going on. Meanwhile, in the half-dark of the box,  it can be catched a glimpse of mechanics with the heads in their hands, men that comfort other men, people that lean over something, maybe a car. However, it is not clear why Ferrari’s box is half closed. The terrible crash of Berger surprised Ferrari’s men, who were working as usual. Cesare Fiorio is the first one to recover from the shock and proceeds to give instructions to the team:

 

"I’ll follow developments, you have to worry about the rest".

 

Ferrari’s team manager goes to the crash site. The news is fragmentary and the wait is frantic.

 

"Is he dead?"

 

Somebody asks. Luckily, some comforting news is spread by radio. Mansell is pale. Thierry Boutsen makes an important declaration, the only one which is reliable. The Belgian driver of Williams was following Berger’s Ferrari a few metres away.

 

"I’ve clearly seen the front spoiler come off. I think that this could be the reason for the crash".

 

Are you sure? Many people ask him.

 

"I’m absolutely certain".

 

Did the entire front spoiler come off or just a part of it?

 

"I couldn’t stop to check".

 

At least there is an explanation even if, at the moment, nobody knows if the detachment of the wing was caused by a hit at the start or during the first three laps. Patrese, who was ahead of the Ferrari, is asked:

 

"Did he hit you?"

 

The answer is:

 

"I don’t think so, or I didn’t feel it".

 

Meanwhile, Berger is carried to the hospital wing with Doctor Ben Bartoletti and Cesare Fiorio. The first accompanies him by helicopter in Bologna, the second one gets on a motorbike and leaves towards the hospital. Inside the box of Ferrari remains John Barnard, more pale than usual. It went well, as Ayrton Senna will point out:

 

"Gerhard was very lucky in misfortune because he had an accident on this track, where the organization and doctors are among the best in the world".

 

After thirty minutes, the race resumes. Rumours were saying that Mansell wouldn’t have resumed the race, but the Englishman restarts it regularly, although he is pale and shocked. Those flames reminded him of other accidents. The race restarts after half an hour and runs a further 55 laps on aggregate timing. This time Prost goes away much better and gets past Senna while behind them Mansell makes a poor start and falls behind Patrese and Alessandro Nannini. On the run-down to the Tosa hairpin Senna gets alongside Prost into Villeneuve and out-brakes him into Tosa. The McLarens proceed to pull away from the competition while behind them there is more drama as Stefano Modena puts his Brabham into the wall rather violently, escaping unhurt. Olivier Grouillard is disqualified on Lap 5 for his car being illegally worked on by his team during the one-hour delay.

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As the McLarens pull away Mansell, Patrese, and Nannini are busy fighting over third place. It is settled in the space of three laps as Patrese retires with a timing belt failure and Mansell follows him shortly afterwards with a gearbox problem. This leaves Nannini in third while up front Senna cruises home to victory from Prost who, in his pursuit of Senna, has suffered a spin on lap 42 at Variante Bassa. Nannini leads home Thierry Boutsen, Derek Warwick in the Arrows and Jonathan Palmer in the Tyrrell. Olivier Grouillard is disqualified because Ligier illegally repaired his car on the grid before the second start.

 

Thierry Boutsen and Alex Caffi are initially disqualified after a protest from Ligier because they changed tyres in the pitlane before the second start, but are reinstated following an appeal. The Prost/Senna war begins to build up speed after the Frenchman says that McLaren has a pre-race agreement that whoever leads into the first turn should stay there, which is ironically suggested by Senna. In Prost's view, Senna has broken this agreement by passing him partway round the first lap after the restart.

 

Ayrton Senna wins his fifteenth Grand Prix, but the real news is Alain Prost running away after the race because he doesn’t want to talk to anybody. What people didn’t know - and by suggestion of Senna - is that the two of them agreed on not overtaking each other in the first laps, to keep from compromising their chances in the championship. Senna, despite the agreement, doesn’t think that overtaking Prost at the second restart is wrong. Prost, instead, is really angry and feels somehow betrayed. Later on, he will say to Senna that he isn’t honest. Basically, Prost - having checked Senna and Mansell positions through the mirrors - wasn't worried about a possible overtake from the Brazilian driver who, instead, against their agreement, at the braking point at Tosa got past his teammate.

 

Shortly, the masks have fallen in this personal relationship to whom very few believed in an evolution. In the paddock, rivals have seen this situation as an opportunity, hoping that the tension between them could open a flaw through the apparently impenetrable armour of Honda Marlboro McLaren and certain that this event would have created an interesting scene for Monaco. After the race, Alain Prost refuses to take part at the press conference, but the FIA gives him a 5.000 dollars fine.

 

"I won’t talk today. I won’t get on the podium and I won’t take part at the usual press conference. Team orders have not been respected".

 

After a while, the Frenchman dictates an official statement on the race to the Honda press officer declaring:

 

"The car was perfect. Unfortunately a bubble formed in my front left tyre and caused some problems, like the spin in front of the box where I lost every opportunity to get Senna".

 

Later, Prost confides to a friend, with whom he can’t help himself:

 

"They didn’t respect team orders".

 

Ayrton, instead, enjoys his first success of the season and comments the event calmly:

 

"What did they expect me to do? We were side to side, I should’ve taken my foot off the accelerator to stay behind him, we weren't at the braking point yet. And I’m a driver. I’m happy because everyone said that I had finished my career. At the first start I didn’t have any problem, but at the second one Alain overtook me and I was able to get my position back. The car was well-balanced. However, I had some little problems with the brakes and with the second gear that came out. Everything else was fine, apart from the fact that Prost’s car had a better top speed. It was a hard and close race, even if we had some true advantages. At Monte Carlo, which is the next race, I’m expecting a great fight, too. I have to say that our car improved massively in just a few days".

 

Ron Dennis, McLaren’s manager and maybe the only one who still smiles in the team, declares:

 

"Both drivers pushed to the limits from start to end. This can be confirmed by the fastest laps set. As usual, they didn’t receive team orders. It is clear that I’m very happy to leave Imola with fifteen points more".

 

It should have been a great sporting day for the 200.000 spectators in Imola. On the contrary, the race was almost a tragedy. Ferrari was out pretty early, given that Mansell had to retire too and it was a massive disappointment. Without taking anything away from McLaren that has reminded everyone of the past. The only two drivers who fought for first place were Ayrton Senna, the winner, and Alain Prost. McLaren has not only taken its revenge on Ferrari, but has also shown an impressive supremacy. At the end of the race, every driver was lapped and Senna and Prost controlled the situation with extreme ease. Now everyone is asking themselves: the cars of the British team, have or have not raced in Rio? Or have the improvements made during free practices in the previous weeks been really useful? The fact remains that McLaren showed to be the strongest team in terms of engine, aerodynamics and fuel consumption.

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However, the most important thing is that miracles happen in motorsport and Imola is the proof. Maybe it isn’t that kind of miracle that Ferrari’s tifosi were expecting after seeing McLaren-Honda lap times during winter tests and qualifying but, after all, it still is an authentic miracle. Not many years ago, we would have talked about Gerhard Berger differently, crying for the loss of another driver that never knew when the right moment for retirement was. Instead, we can still smile for the strength and the relentless of an athlete which can hit the cement wall at Tamburello at an high speed, survive to the fire - still stuck in his own car - for 23.51 seconds and, as this was not enough - be released from the Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna the following day to go to the Austrian clinic of Willi Dungl.

 

Firemen arrived on the crash site in just a few seconds - fourteen after the car caught fire, to be precise - and within nine seconds the fire was extinguished. Even two marshalls with fire extinguishers came running. Berger was extracted from the burned carcass of the car by the firemen and then doctors - who were immediately on the crash site - took action. Doctors who work on track for the drivers are thirty, helped by forty-five paramedics, a normal ambulance (that carries Berger away), twelve special ambulances - for emergencies - , a quick and special vehicle for exceptional transport and a helicopter.

 

Their rush and effort for the human first aid was the perfect ending of a technical first aid to Berger’s car made by Cea’s men, a private industry that subcontracts track safety against fire. The head of Cea is Ermete Amadesi and this industry collaborates with the organizers for a price that nobody wanted to say but that - after Berger’s case - is never too high, with an impressive deployment of means. Amadesi leads 130 workers, scattered across the track which are given 260 fire extinguishers, 75 transport trucks, 14 special vehicles, 4 off-road vehicles to take action on the grass, 20 cranes and 12 tow trucks.

 

Basically, given that the autodrome measures 5,040 metres, they cover all the circuit, both the track and the paddock. In addition, the medical service and the technical rescue service have 11 cameras and 22 radios for continuous communications. To extinguish the fire from Berger’s car was used an extinguisher called Flobrene which is produced by Montedison. Cea has been working in autodromes for a long time: its men, for example, took action in 1978 in Monza, when just after the start of the race the Swedish driver Peterson’s car caught fire, even if the driver passed away due to some complications. Yesterday they were quick and brave. Amadesi declares:

 

"They’ve done their job".

 

And he refuses to give the doctor’s names, saying:

 

"They were the closest to the crash site and, in fact, they were the first to arrive there. But every other man that works for me would have done the same".

 

Anyway, the surnames of those who extinguished the fire and extracted Berger from the burning carcass are Velli, Mignatti, Pifferi, Tugnoli, Verdi and Vivoli. Lauda gifted a clock to his colleague Merzario who, risking serious burns, got him out of the car where he was stuck for over a minute into the flames. What will Berger do? Surely, he can thank Ferrari, which has built a car that is capable of resisting the impact, and the speed of intervention of the Italian rescue services because they have literally saved his life. How he survived the crash and the fire and escaped with nothing more serious than a cracked shoulder blade, a broken rib and sternum and some burns over the chest and on his hand, is still a complete but positive mystery.

 

The factors that saved Berger concern the active and passive safety measures implemented in the car and in the circuit. Formula 1 cars are built in carbon fiber and Honeycomb with stiffening ribs and a deformable structure at the front. The new regulations, which obliged design engineers to dispose of command pedals behind the rear tyres axis, has given a positive result. As regards the track, the fact that at the exit of Tamburello there is a wall and not a guardrail made sure that the Ferrari, which wasn’t under control, didn’t get stuck anywhere.

 

A 90° trajectory would have caused another type of accident. The car, instead, hit glancily and didn’t stop all of a sudden. The five-point seat belts, which were anchored to the chassis, have resisted. If the driver had been thrown out, it would have been difficult for him to be saved. The cars have a fire extinguisher system, but the driver couldn’t use it due to the speed at which he got off the track. The suit, produced by Omp, a company from Genoa, has three layers of Nomex (a tissue patented by the American Dupont) and has resisted the fire. An important factor that rescued the driver from the flames were the rescue services. If they had not intervened immediately, consequences could have been tragic.

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Around the fifth minute of the Formula 1 San Marino Grand Prix and at the beginning of the fourth lap of the track - which has been dedicated also to Enzo Ferrari, in addition to Dino who is the son of the builder - , the Austrian Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger makes a frightening crash even on a visual point of view. It is hard to imagine a more enormous and emblematic incident than this one. At the first turn, called Tamburello, which is half a kilometer after the finish line, Berger goes straight instead of turning left and goes off the track at 280 km/h. Same place where two years ago Piquet crashed during practices and to whom doctors denied the race. There are many hypotheses: the failure of a suspension, a brake, the chassis, the steering wheel, or the gearbox stuck in neutral. The most credible one comes from Thierry Boutsen, who was chasing the Austrian driver on his Williams and claims to have seen a spoiler detachment.

 

Safety in Formula 1 is one of the main topics of the start of this season. Many drivers, having seen the new cars and having done the seat fit with some difficulty in getting into the cockpit, have complained significantly. Alboreto’s arm was bleeding in Rio while he was driving his Tyrrell, while Cheever passed out after the race due to cramps. It is not the narrowness of the cockpit to be under attack, but the extreme dimensions of the cars, which are too much sharpened at the front following the new aerodynamic regulations. Actually, the International Automobile Federation has immediately understood the protest and in the last few days has made a statement that suggested some solution for the future. According to experts, in this cases the cars that are driven at high speed lose the aerodynamic pressure. Concerning the specific case, an hypothesis has been made on around 300 kilograms, that explains why tyres rise from the asphalt making it impossible, even turning the steering wheel, to give a certain direction to the car, that is out of control.

 

Unfortunately, in the past wings have caused serious crashes. One of the last is the one that cost Elio De Angelis his life during free practices at Le Castellet. The fact was never officially proved, but rumours say that the rear spoiler of the Brabham detached and the car literally flew over the guardrail to hit the ground upside-down and caught fire. The safety measures on the cars have been looked at carefully for a long time. According to regulations, it has been two years since frames have to pass a crash test controlled by the FISA. Roll-bars have a minimum dimension and have to be installed in precise positions. Seatbelts have five attachment points and have to be attached to the chassis. Everything possible is done, even if something more could be studied without problems.

 

Speed is always a risk factor: it is already exemplary that Gerhard Berger has escaped with less injuries to that crash. A very important role that has reduced the consequences was played by the rescue team that was quick, trained and professional. When a fire breaks out, it is fundamental to act quickly and to extract the driver from the car. The doctors that have rescued Berger knew exactly what they had to do to not worsen the situation. Unlike what happened in Rio de Janeiro during free practices before the Brazilian Grand Prix, when Philippe Streiff with his AGS went off the track.

 

In Ferrari’s history there are beautiful and terrible moments. Races reserve magical moments, like Nigel Mansell’s win in Rio, dramatic moments, like those of Gerhard Berger and Didier Pironi which happened in Imola today, or tragedies, like the accident of Gilles Villeneuve in Zolder during the practices of the Belgium Grand Prix. But the scary crash of Berger at Tamburello has reminded an very distant day at Nurburgring and another Austrian driver to Ferrari’s tifosi: Niki Lauda. Those flames on Berger’s car, leaving dismayed spectators at the track and those watching on television, provoke other flames and other moments of fear and pain. Nurburgring, Germany, August 1, 1976: a lap of the German Grand Prix, drivers get in the pits to change tyres and then go back on track. Lauda changes his tyres, too. After a few kilometers, Niki gets off the track, the car hits an embankment and gets hitted by other cars. The Ferrari catches fire, the Austrian driver is motionless inside the cockpit. Other drivers come: Ertl, Edwards, Lunger, Reutemann, Merzario. There is only a marshall with a fire extinguisher who doesn’t know what to do. The drivers extract Lauda from the car and lay him on the grass. Finally the first doctors arrive and for Lauda begins his long calvary.

 

The diagnosis is a concussion, some burns but there is also the danger of toxic gases inhaled by the driver inside the cockpit. These are tense days then there is a gradual recovery until the return to the track in Monza, after nearly two months. The end of a nightmare even if, today, the Austrian - who is the manager and owner of an airline company - still bears the scars on the face of those long minutes into the flames. Years have passed and safety has reached positive results, even if more progress can and should be made. Berger is much luckier than his compatriot.

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Back to Ferrari, there is only one controversy about the car designed by John Barnard. It is claimed that the fuel tank position, placed at the back of the chassis, isn’t safe. The fuel container, approved as a material, occupies also the two external bulkheads and could be too vulnerable in case of violent crashes but this has to be checked. Moreover, after that impact and with a crashed car, the fuel spread around because it was leaking from broken tubes and the tank that apparently was punctured by a piece of metal of a radiator. Engineer Gabriele Cadringher, technical manager of the FIA, declares:

 

"This accident helped us understand some things. From now on, we will do crash tests with the chassis completed and the tank full of water to see what happens. We must acknowledge that, having seen the violence of the impact, Ferrari’s chassis resisted very well, as it has done with the heat of the flames".

 

Miracles do happen in motorsport. However, the miracle that the tifosi were hoping for was different. They were desperately hoping to repeat that surprising success in Rio, when Nigel Mansell was glorified by taking John Barnard’s F1/89 Ferrari to victory. A year ago, no Italian would have bet anything on Mansell. Now, instead, they appreciate in him what British fans have loved for so long: his fights, his strength, his speed but, above all, his courage. He needs that more than any other thing when in Imola the race restarts after being red-flagged at the fourth lap because of Berger’s accident. So, after half an hour, the race resumes. There is the hypothesis that Mansell would not have restarted the race, but the Englishman does it regularly. Pale and in shock. Everyone tries to breathe again regularly. Those flames reminded them of other accidents and dramas.

 

Bernie Ecclestone himself doesn’t want Mansell to race and thinks that the Englishman should retire from the race. Cesare Fiorio and the organisers are facing a dilemma: what would the tifosi do if the second car of Maranello was out? Of course, it was nothing compared to Mansell’s dilemma. In the end, Nigel does the two things everyone wanted him to do: goes back into the car and races hard until the car doesn’t break. At the restart, Mansell is overtaken by Alessandro Nannini and Riccardo Patrese, who insert themselves between him and the two McLarens that Mansell has unnecessarily chased at the beginning of the race. He doesn’t slow down but shows off all his talent. Some British dailies accuse him of racing with the handbrake on. Evidently, they don’t see him in action while the others pay him more attention. He does his best but, in the end, it isn’t enough - as everyone suspected. However, it is the car that is missing to Ferrari, not the driver.

 

With his thirty-first pole position of his career, Senna gets close to the record of thirty-three by Jim Clark. In the first restart, he manages to stay ahead of Prost easily. At the second restart, Alain gets an advantage over him and leads the group towards Tosa. There, despite the agreement between the drivers and the team, Senna overtakes him on the left side, just as he did when Martin Brundle overtook him out of the track line in the first races of Formula 3 in 1983. Without consequences and with great expertise, the Brazilian driver starts with energy but then Prost keeps his head down and speeds up.

 

If the Frenchman lacked something during qualifying, his record on the fastest lap is impressive. It is with a series of fastest laps that he gets close to his teammate. At the ninth lap of the restart is 1.48 seconds behind, but at the thirteenth he gets closer and is 0.65 seconds behind him. In a race in which the result depends on aggregated times, Senna still has a little bit of advantage on the first fastest lap, but Prost seems to have a better race setup, as had happened the year before for the Iberian races, and Ayrton starts to feel the pressure.

 

If Imola is a boring race, that is surely the best moment, since the two McLaren drivers are setting fastest laps after fastest laps. Senna is more aggressive in the traffic and starts to get away from his teammate, but then Prost gets stuck behind Thierry Boutsen. The Belgian driver maintains a good pace and doesn’t want to make it easy for anyone. When Prost gets stuck behind Boutsen, Senna regains his confidence.

 

Later on, during his forty-third lap, the Frenchman releases the brake pedal a fraction of time later, goes into the last corner by the pit entrance and manages to turn with great skill. He keeps the speed while his McLaren gets on the grass and keeps his Honda V10 running. In fact, this mistake doesn’t cause him to lose much time and doesn’t even disturb his pace too much, but still marks the end of any fight. Goodyear’s front left tyre has picked up a bit of blister caused by that initial problem. Meanwhile, after that slow start, Mansell follows Patrese with every possible effort, but his former teammate of 1988 is full of energy this season and is showing to be a tough rival.

 

Winter tests have shown that Williams FW12C should have been able to race at a pace similar to those of McLaren, but the race proves that it is not true. However, Ferrari and Williams are more or less on the same level. Everything Nigel tries to do, Riccardo seems to be able to stop it, even if they are literally a few meters away from each other. It is only a matter of time before the Englishman finds a way to overtake him and, when he finally gets past him, he does it with an avoidance maneuver.

 

All of a sudden, heading down towards Rivazza, Patrese’s engine loses power emitting an oil smoke. Mansell, who is just behind him, gets closer while Patrese slows down. Six years before, Riccardo Patrese was being jeered by his countrymen while he was slowing down and handing the win of the San Marino Grand Prix to a French driver; but Patrick Tambay was driving a Ferrari, so what did national honour matter as far as the driver was concerned? This time, cheers burst for him, while an Englishman in a Ferrari takes third place. At least, this time spectators have the courtesy to applaud him while he is going back to the box. He says very few words:

 

"A lot of bad luck, a retirement in Rio de Janeiro, another retirement - even more straightforward - in Imola. Unfortunately, there was an engine failure. The engine is our strength and I wasn’t able to contain Mansell's attacks very well. Anyway, it would have been impossible to reach McLaren, we were fighting for third place".

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If the tifosi think that Mansell could do something more now that Patrese’s Williams is not racing anymore, they are wrong. The gap with the car ahead barely fluctuates but, two laps later, Ferrari has some problems and its gearbox electronics have another failure. In normal circumstances, Boutsen should have taken advantage of these retirements. For the second race of the season he has started disadvantaged compared to his teammate, but he’s still started from fourth place, alongside Berger. However, he is following Ferrari when the latter crashes and he has a puncture on the same lap, maybe caused by some debris.

 

While the cars are on the grid for the restart, Roland Brunseyrade - FISA’s director - orders Williams to push its car into the pits if it wanted to replace the punctured tyre, refusing to let it do so on the grid. Team manager Michael Cane argues that the team should be allowed to change the tyre on the grid on safety grounds, without a penalty of the car and having to restart from the pitlane, but Brunseyrade is adamant. The FW12C is pushed away as instructed. Meanwhile, in the paddock, Frank Williams is screaming into his radio. He knows very well the rules to such matters but his radio set was not working at that moment. So, Boutsen starts from the pitlane, drives as an angry man and finishes the race with a solid fourth place, only a place lower than he was likely to have finished without that puncture.

 

After that difficult championship back in 1988, the Ligier team has bounced back very well with impressive newcomer Olivier Grouillard, who qualified tenth in his new JS33. At the start, he shares row five with Alex Caffi and they race very closely until the red flag. In the ensuing melee, Caffi spins with his Scuderia Italia Dallara and makes contact with Grouillard’s car. The Ligier sustains damage to its undertray and rear wing. The Dallara, like the Williams, has a puncture at a tyre and Scuderia Italia team manager Patricia Cantu finds herself in the same situation as Cane. Meanwhile, out on the grid, the Ligier team prepares to change Grouillard’s punctured tyre, but has to remove the rear wheels to do so. That too, according to the regulations, is illegal and, after completing four laps of the restart, he is shown the black flag.

 

Ligier protests on the basis that it is unfair to let them continue while they have been excluded from the race. Boutsen is thus deprived of his hard-won fourth place, while Caffi loses an excellent seventh place, that was the best finish of his and Beppe Lucchini’s team’s careers. Both Williams and Scuderia Italia lodge appeals, and interestingly, in Monaco, FISA will clarify the rule relating to safety tyre changes during restarts, to allow their changes on the grid. In addition, there are rumours that the Imola race director will be fined for insisting they had to go to the pits.

 

As Benetton and March struggle to find grip in qualifying because of Goodyear’s tyres, Pierluigi Martini surges to eleventh place with his Minardi. Even Enzo Osella’s little team is in action, as Nicola Larini has taken his to fourteenth place on the grid. Martini doesn’t last long in eleventh place before his gearbox brakes, but Larini, instead, is in brilliant form as he takes sixth place with his FA1M/89 during lap forty-two. Unluckily, though, a tendency to bounce at the front, probably as the dampers wear, becomes more pronounced and loses him time and places when, in the end, the brake pedal begins to have problems.

 

"I thought there was air in the system, but it turned out to be the left rear wheel bearing breaking up".

 

When it breaks up completely, the car is pitched into the wall and every effort is useless.

 

"In the second half of the race, first the tyres and then the brakes began to cause problems until at the fifty-fourth lap the stress of the brakes caused me to crash violently against the wall to the left of the track".

 

It seems that a brake disc has completely broken before the impact because of the stress. Gabriele Tarquini is also competitive in his first race as Philippe Streiff’s replacement in the AGS team. Hampered by poor aerodynamics and only a five-speed gearbox on a circuit where six are essential, Gabriele stays close to the other Italian Alex Caffi in the closing laps of the race, fighting a glorious battle and getting sixth place when Caffi and Boutsen are excluded.

 

"I didn’t expect this result because it is the first race for me driving for AGS. After a lot of bad luck and a start of the championship almost dramatic to me because of the First’s leaving, everything brightened up. To think that after twenty laps I didn’t have any clutch! I fought with a knife between my teeths and it paid off".

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So what happened to Benetton and March, the heroes of Rio? In qualifying Alessandro Nannini reasserts himself over his new teammate Johnny Herbert, who makes a little mistake on Friday morning, but neither of them like the feel of their B188s. Nannini, in the second race of the season, finds a good pace that could match that of Mansell and Patrese. He thus begins to apply subtle pressure on them and, when they both retire, gets a great third place. At the end of the race, Alessandro Nannini is so tired that he couldn’t even open the champagne. Few celebrations on the podium but much happiness for the Tuscan driver, who didn’t expect to finish third.

 

"My car was good but the others were stronger. And we are waiting for the new Benetton with a Ford engine, which is completely different to the current one. All things considered, the race was perfect, at least for me. I made two good starts and I soon understood that Williams and Ferraris weren’t much faster than me. So I decided to speed up a little bit and found a good pace. I had very few problems with the car. During the last ten laps there was a small vibration that I honestly couldn’t find out where it came from. At some point, Boutsen was recovering because I was slowed down by the traffic and the overtakings. I’m very happy with the result".

 

Imola, instead, doesn’t bring Johnny the same glory as Rio. He decides to race with less downforce than Nannini during free practices on Friday and thereafter he is never satisfied with his B188. In the race he works up to eighth, thanks to others’ misfortunes, but then he spins at Tosa. It is a while before he manages to rejoin because of traffic, and when he tries to turn he goes into the sand on the opposite side of the track. By the time he gets going again, cursing himself for the mistake, he is fourteenth. By the end of the race, he makes up positions and finishes eleventh. Like Nannini, Ivan Capelli works at his March and gets it into good enough shape to qualify thirteenth alongside Larini. However, after making a strong start and leading Nannini for one lap, he slides off on oil at the Rivazza and crashes heavily.

 

"I slid on an oil spot while I was chasing Nannini. He avoided the danger and I found myself with an unbalanced car, I lost control and I got off the track. A bad crash. I would have finished easily among the first six, into the points".

 

His teammate Mauricio Gugelmin can’t do better than nineteenth place on the grid and losts a lot of ground because of a puncture. He’d already lost his clutch at the start and the maltreatment necessary to engage a gear after his stop certainly didn’t help the transmission, which brakes after a few laps. By contrast to March, Arrows keeps its good form which had already shown in Rio, at least with Derek Warwick. The Englishman is in an ebullient mood as he battles with Nelson Piquet.

 

Just as they did back in Formula 3 in 1978 when they ran wheel to wheel. Then, Piquet’s Judd engine breaks during the thirty-first lap and Derek takes fifth place first and a great fourth later when Boutsen’s disqualification is announced. During the last laps, Warwick too reduces his pace, probably because of the fact that the Arrows uses a lot of oil until the finish line. That Jonathan Palmer winds up fifth in the new Tyrrell 018 is amazing, and it is just the slice of luck that Ken Tyrrell deserves after that appalling 1988 season. Palmer, however, should not have been driving the new car. It was originally slated for Michele Alboreto, because of his nationality, since there was only one ready and, in any case, Palmer fits better in the 017B.

 

However, that plan is revised when Alboreto misses qualifying because of the inevitable new-car problems. As Palmer qualified with the 017B, the teammates swap their cars. According to regulations, it is permissible to interchange car models, provided the driver has qualified. The Englishman chooses to use the 018 set-up. Plus, during the first laps of the race, the car designed by Harvey Postlethwaite oversteers so much that it spins at Tosa and, just before the second restart, has a problem with the set-up. Despite this, Jonathan is happy because he gets a position.

 

Another protagonist of this race is Eddie Cheever, whose fortune looks up during qualifying when, in Friday’s wet, he gets fourth place. Thereafter, his usual mechanical troubles drop him to twenty-first in the starting grid. Eddie gives it everything in the race, and works as high as sixth before a cracked exhaust - similar to Warwick’s problem - drops him back to ninth by the finish. Herbie Blush, during this weekend, makes a welcome reappearance on the racing, as opposed to the administrative side of the sport, as team director at Brabham, after his sabbatical year with FISA.

 

Sergio Rinland’s BT58s pre-qualified again, only to go slower as qualifying progressed, and Modena’s 1’27”350 from Friday morning is the team’s best lap time all weekend. Both drivers are frustrated by this situation. In the race, Stefano Modena spins into the wall at the approach to Rivazza while coping with a long brake pedal which required an intervention by the mechanics early in the race. While Brundle battles with poor handling due to a diffuser problem and, later on, retires when the fuel pressure drops. Stefano Modena hasn’t commented the event as always and only says:

 

"Maybe it was some brake problems, it’s a shame".

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Satoru Nakajima once again failed to impress anyone: during the race, in fourteenth place slows down for many laps due to an electrical problem, while Andrea de Cesaris obliges Luis Sala to become trapped in the gravel at Acque Minerali as he occupies all the track himself. The newly-renamed Equipe Larrousse has an unfortunate debut for its new Lola LC89s, mainly because Magneti Marelli’s objection to its experiments with Bosch electronics forces a decision to opt for the German product and thus left little time to sort it fully to suit the Chrysler Lamborghini engine. Lastly, Dalmas’ car doesn’t fire up for the first start and is denied the restart. Alliot, instead, comes into the pits at the end of lap one and isn’t classified.

 

At 8:40 p.m., Gerhard Berger leaves from Guglielmo Marconi airport of Bologna to Innsbruck hospital by air ambulance. The Austrian driver clearly asks if he can leave the hospital and signs the discharge document, despite the doctors’ contrary opinion. At the exit from the intensive care unit with Berger there are his father Hans, some friends and a doctor who arrived by air ambulance from the Austrian city. Doctor on duty Francesco Cancellieri declares:

 

"According to us, immediate air travel is a risk that was not worth taking. Besides, his parents and friends had agreed on his hospitalisation for observation tonight in Bologna. They also phoned Innsbruck to stop the departure of the plane, but from Austria decided on their own. I would like to point out that there were no radical differences, even if we don’t release this type of patients in such a short time, but they remain for observation at least twenty-four hours. Especially since we confirm that Berger was unconscious for fifteen minutes. However, the driver wanted to come back home as soon as possible saying that he felt quite well. He complained about the pain to his right shoulder, where he has scapula and first rib fractures, probably because of the seatbelt. When he came here he was in a state of post stress and was trembling, but then he recovered well".

 

To whom asks him how long will it take for Berger to recover, Doctor Cancellieri answers:

 

"The main problem is hand burns. The prognosis is twenty days, if there aren’t any complications, which unfortunately are very common. The infection could even double or triple. Berger’s recovery in the intensive care unit was due to these burns that require isolation in a sterile environment".

 

A hellish day for Scuderia Ferrari ends like this. Berger is surprisingly well. His father takes him back to Innsbruck. Meanwhile, Cesare Fiorio confesses to the press:

 

"I talked to him at the Bologna hospital. I’m happy. Gerhard wants to come back to the track soon. We prepare his car for Monte Carlo, but I think that he won’t be able to race until the end of May, in Mexico. What saved him were the carbonium survival frame, which resisted the impact, and the intervention of the rescue team. The safety measures adopted these last few years, the obligation of crash tests included, as it is done for normal cars, have given the drivers more chances of surviving. Of course, the fire risk could not be completely eliminated".

 

Back in Austria, Gerhard Berger shakes his bandaged hands under the blanket. A day has passed and he already wants to come back racing. After the consultation of the chief physician, he confides with Heinz Lechner, his handyman friend that became a nurse:

 

"Maybe I will recover for the Mexican Grand Prix".

 

Berger is doing well and is in a good mood:

 

"Io avere pelle dura e grande sedere". [I have thick skin and I am very lucky, N.d.T.]

 

He jokes in Italian. He slept well, despite a bad dream:

 

"The bad dream of what happened on Sunday, even if I don’t remember anything about the accident".

 

All good now?

 

"Yes. The rib and the right scapula hurt a bit. I’m feeling more pain in my hands and it is likely that I will have to undergo a surgery today. The right hand is the worst one, where there is a third-degree burn at a finger that I don’t even know which one is. But it’s all good now".

 

What do you remember?

 

"It was impossible to turn the car: this is the last and only memory I have of the accident. The causes? A failure of the front right suspension or the spoiler or the steering wheel. I don’t know".

 

Sixth floor of the Universitatsklinikum, inside the plastic surgery unit, room 8, the one near the bathroom. It is a normal room for a normal Austrian citizen, except for the sign at the door:

 

"Journalists’ visits are allowed every day from 2:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.".

 

Berger, despite bandages and drips, wants to tell and to know what happened.

 

"Is it true that I was into the fire for more than twenty seconds?"

 

Telegrams, flowers and even some Italian fan on holiday arrives, but nobody from Ferrari:

 

"I asked them not to come, there’s no need to. They’ve been perfect".

 

What do you remember after the accident, when your car crashed against the Enichem billboard?

 

"I don’t remember how much time passed between the crash and the fire. I confusingly remember many people around the car. They were talking. Actually, from what I remember of their gestures, they were screaming. Then they pulled me out of the car".

 

The people with a red suit and a golden helmet have saved your life. They are called angels.

 

"Imola’s rescue team is excellent. I don’t want to think about what could have happened in other tracks, but I want to say that in Imola they’ve worked really well".

 

Berger has not read Italian or Austrian newspapers yet. He knows very little about the first hypotheses. Thierry Boutsen, his Williams colleague, says that a spoiler detached from the car.

 

"He could be right: I was unaware. Those moments were the worst ones. Shortest and more intense than what I could have imagined. When I was going against the wall I screamed. I have just been able to take my hands off the wheel and press them against my chest. So I avoided breaking my arms".

 

Clay Regazzoni, during his commentary on the Italian television, explained that after those moments there is the lack of knowledge, the void.

 

"It’s true, it’s exactly like this".

 

At this point, Berger looks down at the blanket and his hands:

 

"Do you know that I wanted a safe race for once, without any risk? I just wanted to take some points for the championship".

 

Did the car give any problem before the start and the accident?

 

"Absolutely not, all was fine. I could have overtaken Patrese at the start of the second lap, but I chose to stay cautious. For me, at that moment, the race was still long".

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The great fright has passed. Berger, who escaped from death and from his burning Ferrari on the Imola track, is almost unhurt. Now he is hospitalized inside a clinic in Innsbruck, where he wanted to be carried away by his private plane in the evening. The following day, on Monday morning, Berger gives his first interview to an Austrian radio station. The driver will be at the clinic for some days, inside the plastic surgery unit; then he will be transferred to a physical rehabilitation centre, where he will complete his recovery.

 

"Mr Berger, I won’t operate on you because the right hand burn is less serious than expected. It’s not as deep as it seemed to be".

 

Hans Anderl - head of the plastic surgery unit - says to him at 8:00 a.m. in the morning.

 

"When can I come back driving?"

 

Berger asks.

 

"I think that you will be able to drive within fifteen days".

 

Too late for the Monaco Grand Prix, which will take place on May 7, 1989; but before the Mexican Grand Prix on May 28, 1989.

 

"Oh, so I will make it".

 

Celebrates the miraculous Gerhard Berger, who won another bet with himself. The chief doctor goes away and another one comes in, the traumatologist.

 

"Mr. Berger, you’ve been very lucky, but you have a slight fracture at the right scapula. I won’t put a cast on it, but you have to know that it will hurt for at least four weeks".

 

Berger asks: but can I come back driving?

 

"As regards his hands, there’s no problem. Instead, going inside the cockpit could be painful for the shoulder".

 

Berger answers:

 

"I understand, everything depends on the fracture. If they had operated on my hand, the recovery time would have been shorter. Never mind. I can’t ask for more, can I?"

 

From Wednesday morning (April 26, 1989) Berger is in Vienna, inside a clinic.

 

"I’m starting the rehabilitation for my right hand".

 

He doesn’t say it, nor does he answer when asked this, but hand burns worries him. After the fright he asks himself - and even Ferrari asks itself - the reason for those burns. Why, after what happened, with the chassis that resisted perfectly, Imola’s excellent rescue team, the medical staff that saved him, the suit that rescued him from the flames, did the gloves melt inside? Berger, who is a gentleman, doesn’t say the answer because it could be harsh for the people that produce them. He decides to say it when the controversy will eventually burst out. He is speaking with Austrian television, which on Monday dedicates two minutes of the TV news to him. While he’s watching himself, he seems like an anguished child that sees a monster at the cinema: scared, surprised, incredulous.

 

"Nooo. Did it happen like that? It’s terrible".

 

He looks at his hands, then smiles and laughs. Luckily, on Wednesday he will be able to leave the university clinic. From the moment he gets his phone, he doesn’t filter the incoming calls. With a bandaged left hand, four fingers on one side and the thumb on the other, he answers every call, starting from Bernie Ecclestone to the hotel manager Nanni Adriano - Hotel Clipper’s director in Riccione. He is nice with everyone, but when he ends the calls is annoyed:

 

"I don’t even have time to read some telegrams or the notes attached to the flowers".

 

If he were to be hospitalised in Bologna, outside his room, unit and hospital there would have been plenty of fans and the police. Here, there is nothing similar. Nurses accompany the people - selected by Hans - who want to meet him. In the end, Berger is surprised:

 

"I didn’t think I was so famous and welcomed. I’ve received telegrams from all around the world, I’ve discovered many friends".

 

On Wednesday there will be his idol, Niki Lauda, who comes from Australia. He has already sent a telegram to Berger saying:

 

"You have to come back driving. As soon as possible".

 

Berger awaits him in Vienna:

 

"I will make him happy in Mexico".

 

Meanwhile, Ermete Amadesi - head of the fire-fighting services of the circuit of Imola - and the first doctors who went to rescue Gerhard Berger will receive a civil value honour. This is written in a telegram that Palazzo Chigi, on behalf of Prime Minister De Mita, sent to Amadesi in which are paised the readiness, the courage and the efficiency of the firefighters of Imola who took action immediately after Berger’s dramatic accident. In a few seconds, on Sunday Amadesi’s firefighters, who are responsible for the safety of the San Marino Grand Prix, extinguished the fire from the burning Ferrari, rescuing the Austrian driver.

 

The firefighters visit Berger at the hospital and ask him for a favour: a new public assistance ambulance for their town, Borgo San Lorenzo (Florence). Gabriele Vivoli, 35 years old, metalworker, Paolo Verdi, 41 years old, ceramist, and Bruno Miniati, 46 years old, employee of Manifattura Tabacchi: these are the men that saved Berger’s life on Sunday. The three friends, who are smiling and excited, don’t understand all the clamour following their intervention:

 

"It was normal to us. For years, we have been spending our free time doing this. Anyway, we’re happy to see that everything went well. On Sunday we didn’t notice the beginning of the accident, but we clearly saw the car when it crashed against the wall. We were fifty metres away when the car caught fire and we were already running towards it".

 

They ran together, with portable fire extinguishers from six kilos each.

 

"At first we didn’t even notice that it was a Ferrari. We directed the foam at the fire, Berger wasn’t moving, we feared that it was too late. When we extinguished the flames, we removed the steering wheel and the seatbelts. Now it seems quite impossible that it ended this well. We didn’t realize how little time it took for us to do all this. It’s a joy for us".

 

Meanwhile, the remains of Berger’s car are being examined by Ferrari’s technical staff. Cesare Fiorio, John Barnard and their collaborators are trying to figure out the causes of the accident but for now they don’t know the reasons why Berger went off track. Franco Gozzi, head of press office of Ferrari, explains:

 

"The chassis was split into two sections by the rescue team to extract the driver from the car and avoid other inconveniences. The other parts were damaged by the impact and it was impossible to find a possible and concrete explanation".

 

The investigation continues. The filmed clip of the car that crashes against the wall at Tamburello was seen endless times in slow-motion. But the images are blank for two or three seconds, just before the car starts going right. In the following days, the race will be re-examined from the start on a big screen to try and figure out something more and to see if at the start there was some hit with other drivers which could justify the front spoiler detachment, supposing that Thierry Boutsen was right. The available materials too will be x-rayed. The most likely theories concerning the spoiler detachment, the failure of a suspension or of the steering wheel, as Berger himself said in an interview at the clinic of Innsbruck, where he was hospitalised. However, Ferrari is also thinking about the future.

 

There is hope that Gerhard will recover in time, that he could be allowed to race in Mexico within a month, on May 28, 1989. Moreover, Ferrari will prepare the car for him even for the Monaco Grand Prix. Regulations state that for once a team can line up just one car. Then, the team should get back Berger or find a temporary replacement. This driver could be Roberto Moreno, who before the start of the championship had tried the car and knows how the electronically controlled gearbox works. The Brazilian drives for Coloni but, in case of need, a solution with the little Umbrian team could be found.

 

On Monday, there is a technical meeting in which are discussed some problems linked to the quite bad performances of Imola (it is also confirmed that on Mansell’s car the gearshift fork was broken, a mechanical failure). On Thursday, there will be another meeting to draw up a program. The tyre tests that should have been held on Tuesday at Monthlery are cancelled, but on Friday and Saturday Mansell will be doing some tests in Fiorano. Concerning Mansell, Fiorio replies to the discussion started by Niki Lauda, who saw Berger’s accident from Sydney. The Austrian said that he should not have taken part in the second part of the race for precautionary reasons:

 

"We respect Lauda’s opinion who has plenty of experience. However, we don't think Nigel took more risks on Sunday than he faces in all the races he takes part in. Anyway, when we went to the hospital wing to see Berger, I personally asked Mansell if he felt like driving. He answered: no problem".

 

Berger’s accident, apart from his human side, caused many worries and problems to the team from Modena which was in a recovery phase. Ferrari, that has to defend itself with just Mansell in Monte Carlo and leave more space to McLaren and its rivals, has also to find that competitiveness which there was in Rio de Janeiro but not in Imola. It must be remembered that after twenty-three laps Senna was 29 seconds ahead of Mansell.

 

The characteristics of the Imola track pointed out some weaknesses which will not be solved easily: lack of power and too much fuel consumption. Maybe a step forward has been made concerning reliability because there were less failures than in the last few weeks, but more work has to be made. Moreover, McLaren has extended its lead and now Prost is first in the drivers championship. But, more importantly, the day after Imola’s incident, Ayrton Senna phones Gerhard Berger to know how he is doing. The Austrian driver, who is still shocked, confides to his Brazilian colleague:

 

"We have to eliminate that fucking wall, it’s too dangerous".

 

But, as Berger will tell later on, when the two will go back in Imola to do some tests:

 

"Ayrton looked behind the wall and saw a river. He said to me ‘we can’t move it, there’s a river behind’. We looked at each other and agreed. Then, I said to Ayrton: We can’t do anything but someone will end up dead at this turn...".

 

Arianna Mezzanotte

 

Translated by Monica Bessi

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