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#436 1986 Australian Grand Prix

2022-03-28 17:18

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#436 1986 Australian Grand Prix

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Alain Prost tries to defend his title on Sunday 26th October 1986 at Adelaide. Going into the final race of the season, Nigel Mansell leads the championship with 70 points. The Frenchman has 64 points and Nelson Piquet 63. Prost has been one of the main protagonists in Formula 1 for several years. However, he cannot be considered a veteran just yet, even if he is always fighting for the top positions in the standings after having an impressive rookie season.

 

"I’m already used to the battle and the tension. It’s not possible to become completely accustomed to these kinds of situations because our sport is also made of personal risks as well. I was able to evaluate my situation after the Mexican Gran Prix and I can say that I am not dissatisfied. I know that I can still win the championship mathematically. I can race knowing that I have nothing to lose".

 

The McLaren driver is in contention with the two Williams drivers, Piquet and Mansell, for the championship. He does not express particular sympathy for his rivals but merely says:

 

"The Englishman has the upper hand. Piquet and I must win whilst he only needs to finish 3rd. Yet, it will be as easy as he might think".

 

Someone considers Prost’s recovery as a miracle. According to him though, you cannot speak about miracles, let alone luck.

 

"The 2nd place finish in Mexico was the result of meticulous work and many sacrifices. Don’t forget that McLaren no longer has a technician of Barnard’s value for a while now. Furthermore, my teammate Rosberg did not help me much during the season".

 

Let’s now talk about Sunday’s race which is decisive for the championship. Prost explains:

 

"We will race on a particular track which is full of unknowns. Most cars become competitive at the end of the season. Williams and McLaren, as well as Lotus, Benetton and Ferrari, can win the championship. Many problems need to be tackled that do not concern the fuel consumption and the reliability of the turbo. We will see how my race will go without reflecting too much. I think that I have already demonstrated to be a fast and consistent driver".

 

How do you see the final challenge?

 

"It’ll certainly be a tense and spectacular race that will increase people’s interest for this championship. Let’s be honest though, it can easily go in Mansell’s favour. However, Piquet and I will not give up until the last meter".

 

The final and decisive challenge for the Formula 1 title begins today with the first free practice session of the Australian Grand Prix. There is an interlocking of many side reasons that will made Sunday’s battle even more tense and uncertain. All should play out in favour of Mansell in theory. He only needs a 3rd place finish in order to beat his rivals Piquet and Prost. They instead need to win and hope that they can overturn the situation. Thus, the most difficult task goes to the Williams and McLaren drivers. Mansell must deal not only with his direct opponent but also with his involuntary collaborators. All drivers aim to finish the season on a high with a win, in particular Ayrton Senna. In 1985, the Lotus driver scored his first pole position here. He appears to be the man to beat on a track that does not penalize the cars that have high fuel consumption. Furthermore, Senna will use the Renault engine for the last time, since the manufacturer will abandon Formula 1 at the end of the year. Both the South African driver and the French manufacturers want to end the season on a high note. They are not the only ones though who want to do the same thing.  Berger, who will drive for Ferrari for the 1987 season, came out on top at the end of Mexico City race.

 

"My Benetton will also go well here at Adelaide. I will also have the advantage of using the Pirelli tyres.  During the first Australian race, the cars that had the Goodyear tyres were forced to pit three times. I, on the other hand, pitted only once even if I was hoping to not do any stops whatsoever. I obviously will not go easy on anyone: winning is just too good".

 

Rosberg thinks the same. The Finnish driver will retire at the end of the Australian Grand Prix, if he does not change his mind at the last second.

 

"I would like to help my teammate Prost but will it be possible? Who will have the courage to ask me to sacrifice my race if I have one last opportunity to win in my career? I could also favour Mansell by slowing down as well".

 

The same goes for Alan Jones. His situation is not very clear. The Australian ex-champion criticized the Lola team throughout the year. The thing is that the team wants to retain him despite his less than brilliant results. Arnoux and Alliot’s Ligier cars will also be in the mix for the win. This is a play that, as said before, may pave way to Nigel Mansell. He is nonetheless worthy of conquering the title. It will be interesting to see how Piquet and Prost will annul each other if they do not find a compromise to battle hard with Mansell for the championship until the very last second. Ferrari’s role seems a secondary one in this whole affair. Alboreto and Johansson are only asked to do an honest race in order to slightly improve a negative season so far. The Adelaide track should not favour the Maranello cars since they are better in high-speed tracks. However, there might be some a positive surprise coming our way. A low-speed track might level the performance of the cars and enhance the value of the drivers.

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Furthermore, the Italian driver needs to get a move on: otherwise, he will leave too much space for the new Ferrari driver, Berger. In the meantime, Johannsson has one last chance to demonstrate why he deserves to drive alongside Prost at McLaren next year. Ferrari and Stefan Johansson, in fact, will split up after the Australian Grand Prix. It’s not a consensual separation. It’s a brutal divorce between the two parties. The relationship between the Maranello team and the Swedish driver deteriorated in recent times. Johansson now risks of not having a seat for next season, even if Enzo Ferrari said some nice things about him during the last press conference. This situation unnerves him. It also seems that Ron Dennis, who should have already hired Johansson for the 1987 season, is trying to convince Keke Rosberg to remain in Formula 1 and to drive for McLaren for one more year. Johansson is thus in a crisis. He previously accepted Ferrari’s decisions with absolute humility. He challenges those now instead. The tension escalated in one obnoxious episode. A couple of days before the Australian Grand Prix, Agip (Ferrari sponsor) opened a new headquarter in Sydney. Alboreto and Johansson were invited to the event. The Italian arrived in time whilst the Swede was nowhere to be seen. In addition, the latter almost punched the Tyrell driver Streiff after putting him in the wall during the first practice session on Friday morning.

 

At the same time, though, Philippe irregularly closed the door on Johansson twice. This is certainly not the best way to end the near 2-year relationship with Scuderia Ferrari. This episode shows that the team needs a technical director that takes care of the track team. Marco Piccinini is not here and the team is entrusted to young Gardella. Barring any sensational surprises, this weekend is destined to be the mirror of an overall disastrous season. Rain, hailstones and an almost polar cold are hitting the Australian continent on Friday 24th October 1986. These cold conditions do not chill the ardour of the three contenders for the Formula 1 title, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet. The trio top the first practice session here at Adelaide. Mansell is 1st with 70 points. Prost is 2nd with 64 (one of whom will probably be discarded) whilst the Brazilian is 3rd with 63. It is a psychological on and off-track battle and the chronometer will decide who is the champion. The three candidates assume an extremely prudent behaviour, almost as if this championship affair does not concern them. Yet they know that the stakes are really high. This is all topped off by the fact that they will race on a very insidious track. The smallest of errors will be paid dearly. The tyres’ choice and performance will be very crucial and the brakes will be put under incredible stress. Nigel Mansell says:

 

"I don’t think about my rivals. My aim is to start the race in the best possible position. Then we will see. My Williams is perfect. I only fear the bad weather but the forecast seems favourable".

 

The British driver immediately makes his intentions clear. He establishes a new record by lapping in 1'19"255, at an average speed of 171.654 km/h. The track though was slightly modified compared to last year. The slippery surface of the track is bordered by thick cement wall. It might play tricks on the drivers. The two Ferrari drivers are the main victims of this circuit so far. In fact, they destroy the two scarlet cars during the first practice session on Friday morning. The risk is that one of the two drivers might be forced to watch the race from the garage. The team fortunately has one spare chassis if something does happen during the second free practice session. The first to damage the car is Michele Alboreto. It seems like he slightly made touch with the barriers at first. Instead, it is discovered that the front suspension bended after the contact and destroyed the chassis.

 

"I had to change my racing line in order to avoid a Williams that was going very slowly and I ended up in the water. I couldn’t control the car. The engine is ok, we had to make some changes to the turbo. The set-up needs to be fixed though".

 

The free practice session starts in dry condition. 33 minutes into the session, a terrible downpour hits the track. Stephan Johansson is suddenly inside a water river. The Ferrari car loses a lot of speed by sliding in the grass. He then ends up against the barrier with the entire sidepod. The rear tyre comes off the disk. The front one has a subsequent flow and deviates into the cockpit. The suspensions penetrate inside the car. The chassis softens the violent blow from the incident, although Johansson suffers a heavy hit on the left ankle. The Swede gets out of the cockpit limping. He then undergoes a medical examination that excludes any sort of fracture. Other cars are badly damaged during the afternoon session. Mansell, Senna (who is only 6th fastest in FP2) and Tambay crash in FP2. The latter has a similar accident to Johansson. The French driver is unscathed. The rear of the Lola car is damaged after the heavy hit against the barrier. This is not the end though. René Arnoux then collides with Brundle’s Tyrrell whilst Patrese and Berger’s engines blow up. The spins are countless. Warwick ends up in the gravel and his Brabham is lifted by a crane at a height of about 10 meters. The marshals do not allow him to get out of the car. Mansell, Prost or Piquet? It’s pointless to make predictions at this stage of the weekend. Tactics and the luck will decide who, out of the three contenders, will win the Formula 1 crown. The only certain is that Nigel Mansell, current leader of the standings, is fighting on his own. Nigel Mansell is a 32-years old driver who managed to make his way into the top of the rankings. He makes an interview on how it is difficult to arrive, mature and win in Formula 1.

 

"It wasn’t easy at all. This year reserved many satisfactions yet it also created a terrible situation. Rosberg, for example, became World Champions by winning one singles race and scoring 42 points only. I have 70 points and I’m not sure that I can win the title despite the fact that I won five races. I entered the Guinness Book of Records by winning the Brands Hatch race twice on a row. I now share this record with Jim Clark. I now ask myself: could I have done more? I cannot answer it though".

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How did you transform yourself from a simple 2nd driver to a main championship contender?

 

"Do you want to know the truth? I lost a friend this year, Elio De Angelis. I drove alongside him at Lotus for six years. I saw him lifeless from a few meters away at Le Castellet. After an experience like this you ask yourself: why I am continuing to do this job? Is the risk worth taking? I then said to myself: I need to be successful in order to continue. I promised myself that I would only continue if I could prove myself at the top. My life changed after that day at Le Castellet. Something changed inside me. This is the truth".

 

What about Piquet: is he a rival, a friend or a teammate?

 

"It’s fantastic for the team to have a driver like Nelson. Working with him is fruitful for everything. It seems logical that I want to beat him on track. He already won two championships and earns four times than I do for doing the exact same things. If I am unable to win it, then I honestly prefer Piquet to win the title rather than Prost. Yet I do know whether he feels the same way".

 

Poor Mansell. He feels uncertain about his future from a physiological perspective. Despite this, he does not have any doubt on the race track though. During the qualifying session, the British driver sets the new track record in l'18"403. Piquet is close to his time but no cigar. In the meantime, Senna overtakes Prost and relegates him to 4th position. Whilst this is going on, there are some news and a curiosity that needs to be told. The first is about Boutsen. The 29-years old Belgian driver will drive alongside Teo Fabi at Benetton next year, replacing Berger. It is a good move. The second piece of news is about Keke Rosberg. He confirms his retirement at the end of the year whilst he is with the South-Australian Prime Minister John Bannon. Furthermore, an impossible challenge is attempted between Patrese’s Brabham and a very fast Westland helicopter of the Australian Marine. The two vehicles should have done one lap in order to see who arrived first at the chequered flag. However, the aircraft was disqualified for cutting the first corner. Let’s go back racing in Australia. It is important to get enough air into the turbo compressor and to play with the suspension and aerodynamic settings in order to maintain the car on the floor on a bumpy track. Tyre wear is a big problem for the Goodyear teams. The Pirelli-supplied teams seem relatively safe, in particular Benetton. On Saturday 25th October 1986, Nigel Mansell throws the gauntlet and is ready to attack the race track at the end of the second qualifying session. The English driver will start on pole position, after setting a 1’18"403 lap time which becomes the new track record. He will start ahead of his rival and teammate Nelson Piquet at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. Senna and Prost, the other candidate for the title, will start 3rd and 4th respectively. The Williams English driver now has a big chance to win the title after qualifying. Going into this race, he has a 7-point advantage over Prost. Furthermore, he can have a great getaway at the start from pole position. The Adelaide track, though, is one of the difficult circuits in the entire Formula 1 calendar. There was chaos last year. Rosberg was able to won the race by taking huge risks in avoiding an incredible series of incidents. It was a very hard 2-hours race. Anything can happen and this is what Piquet and Prost are aiming for. The Brazilian in fact admits:

 

"We cannot just stand by and watch given that everything depends on Mansell. He only needs a 3rd place finish even if I win the race. We need to stay cautious and race with ease. Rest assured that I will not let go of the chance to win a third title".

 

Even Prost is on the same wavelength. The McLaren French driver hasn’t got any choice other than watch Mansell’s race. What about the others though? A piece of glory is possible and someone might emerge as the referee of the championship situation. Everything is in favour of the 32-years old English driver especially if Senna, Arnoux, Berger and Rosberg are able to fight for the win. This might play in favour of the British driver because he can either finish the race in the points or retire and still be able to win the title. Hence, Piquet and Prost have got to win the race. The other drivers are free to do their own race and obtain the best result possible. It is time to decide the future fate of the drivers and the teams. In the meantime, Benetton signs the 27-years old Belgian driver Thierry Boutsen for the following year. He takes Berger’s place in the team alongside Teo Fabi. The Austrian will go to Ferrari for the 1987 season. There are other free seats available and everyone wants to make a good impression. This is the case for Andrea De Cesaris. The Roma driver races for Minardi but is at risk of not having a seat next year. De Cesaris takes an expected 11th place at the end of the qualifying session. This is Minardi’s best ever result since joining the Formula 1 grid two years ago. De Cesaris is a great specialistic of this type of low-speed circuits. He already showed his speed at Long Beach and he surely wants to be among the main protagonists of the race. The same cannot be said, at least in theory, for Ferrari. Alboreto and Johansson are the only drivers, out of the 26 that are out on track, that do not improve their qualifying lap times. The Italian driver slips from 7th to 9th position whilst the Swede drops from 8th to 12th. The two remaining Ferraris (given that the other two cars were completely destroyed on Friday) are really slow. Alboreto and Johansson aim to wait half an hour before hitting the track. The hope is that the asphalt grip improves. This plan does not work though. The two drivers try to do a fast lap just as the situation suddenly deteriorates. The cause of it might be either sunshine or spilled oil. Michele Alboreto declares:

 

"Our cars did not go well at the start of the season. We closed the session without resolving the traction issues. There is probably an issue with the weight distribution at the root of it all. This is why the F.l-86 cars are not competitive".

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Do you still have confidence in Ferrari?

 

"I’ve lots of confidence. I’m convinced that we will bounce back in 1987 and have one of the best cars on the grid".

 

What will you do in order to improve the situation?

 

"We will do everything we can in order to improve the situation. Our team sought out the best that the F1 market had to in all fields. It is well known by now that you can no longer do everything by hand. It is necessary to lean on to the best specialists".

 

The English designer will assume the role of technical director from Saturday 1st November 1986. Someone already whispers that he will not design next year’s car since there is not enough time to do it. Alboreto says:

 

"Do you think that Ferrari hired Barnard to have another person build the car? We’ll probably have a different car for winter testing and the first couple of races. However, I’m sure that we will have the Barnard-designed Ferrari car in a short amount of time".

 

In 1987, you will have a new teammate: Gerhard Berger. Is he a tough competitor for you?

 

"Berger is a good and very fast driver. He’s an educated and funny guy with whom I have a good relationship with. Rivalry is inevitable in Formula 1, especially between teammates who are driving the same car. I’ll do my best as usual".

 

During the first minutes of Sunday morning’s warm-up, Teo Fabi smashes the Benetton car on cold tyres. The car loses grip in the corner and slams the car head-on against the barrier. The speed is not elevated though. The car has a broken front wing and suspension. The front and rear tyre are damaged as well. The driver is unscathed but will be forced to drive with the spare car. On Sunday 26th October 1986, the prospective of a three-way battle for the drivers’ title attracts a crowd of 150.000 spectators at the Adelaide circuit. The emotional rampage starts immediately when Michele Alboreto is sandwiched by two Ligier cars. The Ferrari driver tries to dodge his ex-teammate Arnoux by driving into the middle of the track. Philippe Alliot, in the other Liger car, does the same thing as well. There is no space to go three-wide going into turn 1. The Maranello cars flips in the air and a furious Alboreto is forced to retire. In the meantime, the spectators are seeing the signs of a relentless race-long battle at turn 1. Ayrton Senna shoots into the lead of the race but is immediately joined by a wild Piquet, who slips past teammate Mansell on the inside without hesitation. The latter then gets ahead of Senna for the lead of the race. On lap 6, the Lotus Brazilian driver relents his position to an incredible Keke Rosberg, who is certainly the best at understanding this type of street circuits. After all, he won here last year. On lap 7, the Finnish driver is leading the race. In the meantime, the mechanics are speculating on what might happen next. Drivers and teams will probably adopt a variety of race strategies. Mansell only needs a 3rd place finish and he is not forced to push to the limits. In the meantime, McLaren is onto a winning strategy. By letting Rosberg get into the lead of the race, the Woking team is forcing the championship leader to accept the battle in order to not be left behind.

 

At the same time, the squad is trying to capitalize on the rivalry between Mansell and Piquet. Senna is almost immediately out of the battle due to a rumbling engine. The Brazilian will be forced to retire from 5th position on lap 43. A quartet of drivers are now fighting for the race lead. Piquet is trying to overtake Rosberg whilst he is being tailed by a blazing Prost, who previously overtook a reflexive Mansell. On lap 22, the Williams Brazilian driver then makes a mistake by breaking violently into the corner. The front tyre locks up and he is sent into a spin. Piquet re-joins in 4th position behind Rosberg, Prost and Mansell. Prost is in 2nd place and gives the impression that he can keep up with his McLaren teammate. The team will probably order Rosberg to slow down and let the Frenchman by at the end of the race. The race has a sudden twist: the Finnish driver collides with Berger’s Benetton whilst trying to lap him. The Austrian was struggling with a loss of engine power and a malfunctioning gearbox at that point. At the start of the 33rd lap, Prost is forced to do an unscheduled stop due to a puncture on the front tyre The Frenchman re-joins the track in 4th position. He will need to start his chase once again on a fresh set of tyres. On lap 40, Piquet overtakes Mansell for a second time. The always prudent Englishman (if you could use this term in Formula 1) is now under threat from Prost. In the meantime, Rosberg is leading the race out front by over 20 seconds. Everything can still happen though. During the 60th lap, the race is turned upside down. The Finn is forced to park the Williams car against the wall because a piece of tread has detached from the rear right tyre. What caused this retirement? Goodyear, in order to contrast Pirelli’s competitiveness after Berger’s win in Mexico on a non-stop strategy, brought in Australia new tyres that should have lasted for the entire race.

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The wear of the tyre is perfect but the construction of it failed. The Williams team does not recognize the possible danger in time. Nevertheless, Mansell’s title is secured since Johansson’s Ferrari is one lap behind at the moment. The technicians then tell Nigel Mansell via radio to dive into the pits to change the tyres as a precaution. The British driver has already passed the start/finish line and will need to complete at least one more lap. Prost gets ahead of Mansell on the longest straight of the circuit. Then something incredible occurs on lap 63. The left rear tyre literally explodes on Mansell’s car whilst the floor touches the asphalt in a whirlwind of sparks. Mansell is miraculously able to bring the car into the escape road. Mansell is out of the race and Piquet leads the race. At the end of the 63rd lap, the Williams teams make the debatable yet serious choice to change the tyres on Piquet’s car once again. The English squad is probably thinking that Prost could also have the same issue. The Brazilian loses 1st place to Prost. The Frenchman goes on to win the race and the world championship, by slowing down at the end to save fuel. Alain Prost is the surprising winner of the Australian Grand Prix that assigns the Formula world championship. It was a race full of twist and turns. In the end, the McLaren-Porsche driver, one of the main contenders for the title, finishes ahead of Nelson Piquet (Williams-Honda) and Stephan Johansson. The Swede finishes on the podium on his final race with Ferrari. The championship leader, Nigel Mansell, loses the title at the last hurdle. The left rear tyre of his Williams-Honda is completely worn out and explodes at 300 km/h. It is a dramatic scene. Mansell is able to tame the crazy car and avoid a nasty incident. This is a devastating blow for him. Prost therefore wins the title for a second consecutive time. He equals Alberto Ascari and Jack Brabham, who dominated in 1952-1953 and in 1959-1960 respectively.

 

Manuel Fangio’s record of four consecutive championships is still far away. The Argentina driver dominated the series from 1954 to 1957. It must also be said that Prost thoroughly deserved the championship. His consistency during the season and his determination to gain the title were key to success. Many other factors contributed to it. The 31-years old St-Etienne driver and Michel Platini’s big fan demonstrated courage, talent and accumulated experience. First of all, Mansell and Piquet accumulated 141 points together. One of the two Williams driver could have won the championship if there was a different point scoring system this year. It has to be said that the McLaren team had a very good car. The English team uses the Tag-Porsche engine and never lost sight of the main goal. In the end, compared to the Williams drivers, the Frenchman never lost points to his teammate Rosberg. McLaren wins a third consecutive Drivers’ title, first with Niki Lauda and then twice with Prost. No other team was able to do this in Formula 1 beforehand. Prost’s victory matures in a climate of great uncertainty, in front of over 100.000 spectators. It has certainly been one of the most beautiful and spectacular races in recent years. The highlights of the race were Keke Rosberg’s solo escape, the battle between Piquet, Prost and Mansell, Piquet’s incredible spin with an immediate acrobatic recovery in the middle of the track and Rosberg’s retirement on lap 60 out of 82 from the lead of the race due to a tyre failure. It is a bitter pill to swallow for Mansell since he was forced to retire when he was technically the championship. Prior to the DNF, he only needed to finish in 3rd position. After the pit-stop, Piquet tries to catch up to Prost in vain. The Frenchman crosses the line with his arm raised. He is fully of joy and somehow in disbelief for the outcome of the race. The Frenchman declares:

 

"I’m extremely happy. I wanted to win even though I knew that it was not going to be easy. I am sorry for Mansell: I love him. I felt the same disappointment in 1983 and 1984 and I also know how does it feel to lose the championship on the last race".

 

The tyres played a key role in deciding the outcome of the race in favour of Prost. His luck coexisted with a puncture.

 

"A slight collision with Berger caused the deflation of the right left tyre. I then had to pit on lap 32 to change the entire set. This was probably the factor that determined my race for the better. I didn’t have any more issues afterwards even if had to manage the fuel until the end of the race. Halfway through the race, the car computer warned me that I burned 5 litres of fuel more than expected. I then said to myself: I need to win; I cannot slow down. I therefore ignored the computer; 2nd place would have been of no use to me".

 

The driver beats the electric systems this time out. Old Europe leaves the Japanese people in the lurch, who came in a mass to celebrate an almost secured victory for the Williams-Honda team. At the end of the race, Soichiro Honda, supreme advisor of the nipponic car manufacturer, cancels all celebrations.

 

"We’ll win the drivers’ title next year".

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Alain Prost is on par with Niki Lauda and Jim Clark with 25 victories in Formula 1. The French driver is not yet satisfied. Whilst Jackie Stewart interviews him via television, Alain Prost says to the Scotsman that the next goal is to overtake his record of 27 wins.

 

"The championship is important but it is also nice to win races. Be careful because I’ll take away your record next year".

 

This is the end of the Australian Grand Prix, the race that awards a second consecutive title to Alain Prost. A superb race and a wild aftermath end the 1986 Formula 1 World Championship. Alain Prost has just won the Australian Grand Prix. He thus becomes the new champion by mocking Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. Thousands of excited spectators, who are full of beers, are in Adelaide City centre and are clashing against the police. Cars are turned around and there are violent fights. This has never happened in the history of motorsport. 123 people are arrested, some are injured and there are millions worth of damages. The majority of the drivers do not watch the incident. Almost all of them depart immediately from Australia. Some of them will go on a holiday (this is case for Berger, who wants to face the first meeting with Ferrari fully relaxed). Others continue to work instead. Piquet and Mansell, for example, are busy in an advertising tour in Japan. Alain Prost, double world championship, is nowhere to be found. He either went back to France to savour his triumph or is holed up in his Swiss shelter at St. Croix, near Ginevra. He recognizes that he is the first one to be surprised by the victory itself despite the joy that almost overwhelms the McLaren driver.

 

"It's not that I didn't think about it, I did all I could to hit the target of becoming world championship in fact. The win came when I started to believe that Mansell was no longer vulnerable. The race turned on its head after Rosberg and Mansell’s retirements. Piquet then had to pit to change tyres and I thus found the road paved for the win".

 

Prost honestly admitted that luck was on his side in Australia although he gained the title through his consistency during the course of the season. Out of 16 races, he won 4 times and finished 2nd in four occasions. He then finished 3rd thrice. The two 6th place finishes had been discarded, given that he could only add up 11 results. He started 105 races in his seven years in Formula 1 and won 25 times. Only Stewart did better than him, with 27 wins out of 99 races. However, Prost did not learn the art of driving from the Scott champion since he already retired when Alain debuted in Formula l. The latter showed his natural talent, aggressiveness and determination when he became Go-Kart world championship and later emerged as one of the best Formula 3 drivers. Niki Lauda was Alain’s Prost master in the two years that they were teammates. Those seasons, full of terrible tensions, disappointment and satisfaction, transformed the Frenchman and enriched him with useful experience. Alain Prost explains:

 

"I don’t think that I look like Lauda at all, based on temperament and on technical-competitiveness. Niki taught me a lot on how to suffer, clench teethes and to leave nothing to chance. I do not want to not sound immodest but I can be considered as his heir. I still am Prost though".

 

This is the famous parabola of the championship according to Enzo Ferrari. He said that it is that fulfilment that should take away the stimulus and determination from someone who has won a lot during his career. This does not seem to fit Prost though. He is a man that was born to drive a Formula 1 car. His height of 1.65 meters also helps in this regard. The Frenchman is still hungry for victories. He wants to beat Stewart’s record and achieve yet another title in order to go down in Formula 1 history. Other activities, such as advertisement activities, a golf course and a Formula 1 team, are waiting for him in the future. Who knows, maybe one day a young driver will win at the wheel of a Prost car, like Alain did with McLaren and Piquet with Brabham. It is an option that is part of the yet-to-be-realized dream of the 1986 world champion. Alain Prost concludes by saying:

 

"I now need to think about the immediate future. A winter full of commitments, flights and tests awaits me. Yeah, this is the best and the worst thing about Formula 1 and motorsport in general. I’ll need to immediately prepare for yet another exciting battle by the time I finish to savour this victory. Every year we start afresh".

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What a shame for Nigel Mansell. His illusion of becoming world championship lasted four months, ever since he won the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch and became the new championship leader. From that moment on, the British driver never publicly thought about the title. Deep inside, though, he was convinced that he could do it. He demonstrated of having surprising confidence and skills during the last races of the season. Everything went crushing down in the last race. Mansell is distressed. He wants to cry and is forced to watch Prost’s triumph from the Williams garage at the end of the race. He is almost cyanotic, congested, barely holding tears and continuously calls for his wife to be near him.

 

"I wished that I wasn’t there when the tyre exploded at the speed of around 300 km/h. The car was sliding around like crazy. A scary incident could’ve occurred if there was a car that was either ahead or behind me. The consequences would have been terrible".

 

What are your thoughts after the championship defeat?

 

"I’m happy for Alain Prost. He is a very good driver and deserves the championship. I feel sorry for myself, England, the team and for Frank Williams. We all did a good job, unfortunately it did not go our way. The team is not at fault. Goodyear assured us that the tyres would last until the end of the race. The technicians did not immediately understand what happened when they saw Rosberg pull over to the left-hand side of the track. I already crossed the start/finish line by the time they told me via radio to change tyres. That extra lap was fatal".

 

How was the race?

 

"It was desperate. You cannot underestimate the fact that I was attacked by three world champions at the same time. Piquet passed me in the first corner. Prost was pressing me to keep with Rosberg, who was ahead of me and was uncatchable".

 

How disappointed are you?

 

"I had to give up everything in order to win this championship: my friends and my kids whom I miss so much. I will now try to have a reflection period. I want to console myself with the family. Then we will start over even if it won’t be easy".

 

Did the Williams team make some mistakes during the race?

 

"I don’t think so. The team did everything they could. It was the right decision to call Piquet into the pits in order to avoid any more risks. Nelson could have won the championship if there were more laps left given that Prost was almost out of fuel".

 

The other big loser of the day is Nelson Piquet. The Brazilian does not accept the defeat easily. He has an impenetrable expression under his face that hides an excruciating defeat.

 

"McLaren was faster than us today. I didn’t make any mistake at the start of the race. I spun because I locked up the left front brake. Then there was some uncertainty going on when I changed tyres. The engineer warned me via radio and I had to wait one more lap before pitting. Meantime, I felt some vibrations at the rears due to the degradation. I decided to pit, thinking that Prost would have had the same issue. Unfortunately, it was not the case".

 

Two championships won and one lost.

 

"It’s not nice to lose a title like it. Despite this, it was a very nice and competitive season. We win and we lose together. I always been at the top but I’m happy that the championship is over. It was a long and exhausting season".

 

Piquet also fuelled a small controversy with his team.

 

"I don’t understand why they called in the pits to change tyres. Upon further inspection, it was noted that the tyres were in good conditions. It was probably for precaution. As said before, I noticed that something was not working perfectly".

 

Did you something think that you couldn’t win the championship throughout the season?

 

"In the races where I didn’t score points. I surely still had the best car since we won 9 times out of 16. The Honda technicians were very good in supplying the engines. We only missed the final target. I’ve been one of the top drivers in Formula 1 for seven years. I wasn’t able to fight for the championship for only one season. I therefore cannot complain".

 

Would you have preferred a Mansell victory over a Prost one?

 

"Prost no longer had to prove anything. He was already World Championship. Nigel made many costly mistakes during the season. It is hard to work for a team where you work for two in the car set-up. You can something hide some small adjustments. In the end, though, everything is similar to your teammate. This is probably the reason why we were not able to win the championship. We could have celebrated victory if only of us was fighting for the title".

 

Goodyear is now at the centre of controversy due to the tyres’ failure on Rosberg and Mansell’s cars. However, Barry Griffith, spokesperson of the American manufacturer, rejects the dispute by declaring:


"We prepared new tyres a week before the Mexican Grand Prix. Most of our cars had to pit several pits during the Mexico race. The experience at Mexico City pushed us to accelerate the times given the situation in the standings".

 

Asked if the tyres were tested for a long time before supplying them to the teams, Griffith answers:

 

"We did all the necessary testing. We will examine Rosberg and Mansell’s tyres in our labs in order to understand exactly what happened".

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John Barnard will assume the role of Ferrari technical directory on Saturday 1st November 1986. It is not yet known whether the investiture will happen at Maranello or somewhere else. The only thing that is certain is that the English designer will have total freedom from that day onwards. He will thus set up the work by utilizing the many available men and means at disposal. The man who designed the McLaren MP4 car, who won three consecutive titles in a row, should be a winning technician in theory. He might be the man that is capable of giving Ferrari that competitiveness that was lost in these years. Barnard’s job is to push the Maranello team. Furthermore, the English designer must offer his experience to the chassis and aerodynamic department where Ferrari has lost competitiveness in. Refined mechanics and engine power are not enough to compete in today’s Formula 1. Barnard’s job will neither be easy nor simple. It cannot be said that he will never make a mistake. For example, Gordon Murray was considered a genius but recently got fired by the Brabham team before constructing the disappointing BT59 car. Barnard also needs to fit into an already difficult environment and know the people. Scuderia Ferrari Sport Director Marco Piccinini says that the idea of realizing a technological antenna between Maranello and England, by opening an office for Barnard near London, could either be a really good one or a very bad one. It will depend on many factors. The English designer will immediately be called to do a very intense job. He will need to develop next year’s car that is already in an advanced stage of production. At the same time, he needs to develop the 1988 car which should have a 3,5 aspirated litres engine, according to the regulations that aimed at eliminating the turbo. There are mixed opinions regarding the Barnard-Ferrari partnership. According to Ron Dennis, it will be an impossible relationship. The English technician worked closely with McLaren manager for so many years before joining Ferrari.

 

"They have two completely different mentalities. They will have trouble communicating".

 

Someone like Michele Alboreto is optimistic though. He probably is driven by the desire to change something. Some drivers are convinced that it is better to have Barnard on your side rather than against you. This is also a nice challenge for Barnard. His work methodologies are not the only new features at Ferrari. Someone will probably ask if it was the right decision to drop Johansson (who finished 3rd in Australia and 5th in the championship standings ahead of Rosberg, Berger, Laffite and Alboreto) for Berger. The Swede could not accomplish more with the cars that Ferrari gave him. the Maranello technicians accumulate very interesting and valid data regarding next year’s car. Berger is one of the revelations this season. Ferrari expects great things from the Austrian driver. The Maranello squad wants to forget the fact that they have not been able to hire Ayrton Senna, a true champion without the crown just yet. Michele Alboreto closes the 1986 season with yet another retirement at Adelaide. He does not want to talk about it and leaves the race track soon after. He is very angry and curses the bad luck that haunts him since the beginning of the season. Stefan Johansson instead steps on the podium with a 3rd place finish. It is a brilliant result for the Swedish driver and for the Maranello squad. In the end, he finishes in 5th place in the drivers’ standing behind Prost, Mansell, Piquet and Senna, Johansson is a very nice driver but paid the bad momentum of the team with  a layoff.

 

"It wasn’t easy this time out as well. The car was understeering and undrivable in corner exit. I was close to the barriers many times whilst Michele Alboreto rode the kerb with the tyres off the ground. It was a satisfying result despite all this".

 

The 3rd place finish is Australia is a ticket for a good recruitment next year.

 

"I didn’t sign with anyone just yet. I have more than one offer, I will decide during the week. It is sure that I will retire if I am unable to drive for a competitive team".

 

It seems that Johansson has an agreement to go to McLaren. Where were the reasons behind Ferrari’s negative season?

 

"I think that my ex-team was unable to have clear ideas on how to solve the shortcomings of the Fl-86. We emphasized some issues with the aerodynamics and the chassis since the first free practice session in Brazil. The technicians did not understand that a profound work was necessary in order to solve those issues. The first couple of races could have used as testing. We instead adopted some solutions that never solved anything".

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A new era starts for Scuderia Ferrari on Tuesday 11th November 1986. The top management presents the new signings for the team that will tackle the 1987 season. The English designer John Barnard has the technical responsibility of the Formula 1 squad whilst Austrian driver Gerhard Berger will drive alongside Michele Alboreto. Barnard is at work for a couple of days now whilst Berger drives a Maranello car at Fiorano in the morning. Barnard has the technical future of Scuderia Ferrari in his hands after receiving complete freedom from Enzo Ferrari. There is some trepidation regarding his first interview as a Ferrari designer. He is immediately asked about his thoughts about Ferrari after the first couple of days.

 

"I think that we have a lot of work to do. I will analyse the situation in every single department".

 

How will Ferrari work in the 90s?

 

"We will have an office in England, maybe at Guilford, Surrey, in London South. We did not find the location just yet. 10 to 20 people will work with me, maybe someone from Italy as well. There will be direct communication between the Cad-Cam system computers (a sophisticate help to transform the designs into real pieces). We will take of the car project by constructing a variety of prototypes. We are thinking about the present and the future. The team at Maranello will do all the rest, from the construction of the cars, engines and gearboxes".

 

Do you think that is advantage to do everything in house for a team like Ferrari?

 

"It is a great advantage. I will act as a bridge between Italy and England. I will follow winter testing to get to know people before making decisions. I will still be present in every Grand Prix".

 

Do you know how the new Ferrari cars will look like?

 

"Of course. The 1987 car is already designed. The model of it is ready to go in the wind tunnel. We will then start designing the aspirated-engine car in the first half of the season when I will have some free time. The new car will not be similar to the one with which McLaren won the last three Drivers’ Championship. That’s a car that is close to its cycle. This car is different than last year’s one that was used by Alboreto and Johansson".

 

The English designer, due to his skill, does not rule out a collaboration with the production car department. He then says that he had an exclusive contract with Ferrari. He will not be able to work for others. Why did you decide to leave a winning team such as McLaren to go to a team that struggled in the last two years?

 

"It gets boring to do the same things over and over again. I needed motivation and a new challenge".

 

Gehard Berger has completely different motivations for joining the team. He is a bit tired, after interrupting a very short holiday, but is happy and motivated. What’s your impression about the Ferrari environment?

 

"It was an amazing day but don’t ask me to judge the people and the cars. The car that I tried at Fiorano is very different to the Benetton one: understeer, chassis, 6-cylinders engine and Goodyear tyres. It’s impossible to say anything, I do not even know the track. The engine had nothing to envy again BMW in terms of power. However, the latter is more elastic than the Ferrari one".

 

Are you worried about being judged for your attitude?

 

"No. I hope to bring good results. I do not fear the internal pressure of the Ferrari environment".

 

Why Ferrari?

 

"I had many offers from McLaren, Benetton, Ford and Brabham. My heart beats for Ferrari. I also think that we can have good cars with Barnard. We have the means at our disposal, we have a private track where I hope to test, learn and improve a lot. I am convinced that you are a true Formula 1 driver if you are at Maranello".

 

Berger has no illusions and does not make any sort of claim.

 

"I hope to be competitive from the get-go even if I cannot obviously know that. There are many strong teams to beat next season including Lotus, Williams and McLaren. My hope is to fight against them. There are many difficult drivers to overtake: a fantastic and perfect Prost, Piquet, Mansell, Senna, Alboreto. I previously told that like my teammate, I get along with him".

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The new technician John Barnard will design the cars between Guilford (England) and Maranello. The use of the computer and the robots for the car construction is old news. In fact, the industry in this field is able to develop very advanced systems like the one with which the Fiat produces the Fire engine at Termoli. Formula 1 is exiting the tunnel of the pure craftsmanship and is adjusting to today’s times. The wind tunnel and the electronic brain are an important base to the study of the Formula 1 cars for several years. The progress is continuous though. There is surprising yet unthinkable development. Ferrari is now leading this field thanks to the hiring of the designer John Barnard and an already imposed work programme, by using cutting edge technology The 40-years old technician decided to go to Maranello after a brilliant stint with McLaren. He is an authenticate specialistic of this field in the use of the computer for the designs’ realization and the use of the wind tunnel with the difficult interpretation of the aerodynamic data. Barnard is implementing the technological antenna at Guilford, in the south of London. Tens of engineers and designers will work there. There will be a direct connection between the Ferrari racing team workshop and the installed computers in England. A Cad-Cam system will allow the team to design and create stamps or car pieces in a very short amount of time. It will still not be possible to push a button on one side and then have the practical realization from 2000 kilometres away. All processing times will be drastically reduced though. In other words, Barnard or his collaborators will transmit the designs and programs directly to Maranello. Another specialized group of people will insert cards and disks within the numeric control robots or in the automatic utensil machines for the construction of car parts.

 

This process will be enacted in the chassis department that includes the body suspensions, aerodynamics and wings. The mechanical side of things, such as the engine, gearbox and accessories that has been the true strength of the Maranello team, will be fabricated at the Fiorano establishment. John Barnard will not limit his presence in the study office. The charismatic technician will also direct the garage operations next season. He will be a necessary presence to catalyse the forces, understand the needs and issues of the team and to control what the rivals are doing. Whilst Ferrari is accepting this new challenge, the other teams are not sitting still. McLaren renews the engine deal with Porsche and hired Gordon Murray as well as a troop of engineers from Brabham. Lotus enters the Honda orbit and will have the technical support of the powerful Japanese manufacturer. Furthermore, they hired Gerard Ducarouge. Williams still remains a very powerful team. All teams are therefore working and investing resources towards the 1987 season. In the meantime, Goodyear decides to leave Formula 1 on Thursday 3rd November 1986. This is a sudden retirement given that the American manufacturer was supposed to supply the tyres to all teams for the 1987 season. The timing of this announcement, that follows the Pirelli one, is not very clear. Goodyear might have warned the Foca and Fisa about his own decision to retire. The teams knew the situation although they were not officially informed just yet. Ferrari, for example, was not informed about this despite the fact that Goodyear is his major technical collaborator. An official announcement, issued at Akron in Ohio, appeared in English and French newspapers. Financial issues, linked to the French-English billionaire James Goldsmith's attempt to seize the tyre giant by raking in its shares, force Goodyear to retire from Formula 1 and probably Formula Indy as well.

 

The company needs to limit the expenses and strengthen his own economic position. The racing department, that was operating in Wolverhampton, in England, will be dismantled. It has to be said that the Akron company is available in supplying one type of tyre for the 1987 season to all teams if they pay a fee. This is because the already signed contracts needs to be respected. The expensive tyres were freely supplied to the teams since that moment. However, Goodyear paid millions of dollars to the most prestigious team to let them adopt those tyres. The supplier did not consider the advertisement from the circuits. At the same time, though, there are rumours that the retirement announcement is a bit pretentious. The goal is to force the teams to pay the tyres since Goodyear is operating in a monopoly regime. There is no competition from other tyre suppliers. It is an overall justified attitude since you would normally pay money in order to have a service. What will happen next? The tyres are an important element for racing. You might throw away a race by choosing the wrong tyre even if you work for a year in order to gain 10 engine horsepower. The possibilities are not much. You can improve tyres that are able to hold 1200 horsepower or let Michelin take over. The latter has vast motorsport experience whilst Pirelli does not have any second thoughts about his decision. The French supplier had recently resumed snooping in the Grand Prix world, with an interest on coming back. Formula 1 might not have a tyre supplier next season. A solution will probably be found though since it is unthinkable that the highest level of motorsport stays put.

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It should have been only a big motorsport party. The Autosprint newspaper traditionally delivers some helmets at Madonna di Campiglio. On Tuesday 3rd December 1986, the meeting between drivers and managers becomes a carousel of news.  One resounding news is about Ayrton Senna, the most courted driver in Formula 1. It was believed that the Brazilian might have stayed put at Lotus-Honda for the 1987 season. However, there is a rumour that Senna might go to McLaren and drive alongside World Champion Alain Prost. It is also whispered that Lotus might have some economic issues and that the South-American driver is trying to get out of his already signed contract. Ron Dennis, McLaren manager, does not confirm neither deny.

 

"We do not deal with drivers that are driving for other teams. We will certainly make a very good offer to Senna if he is available".

 

It can also be noted that the English squad has not yet signed a second driver to replace Rosberg. Dennis says that this matter will be closes within a couple of months. There is also huge interest in the upcoming Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Sunday 6th October 1987. The athletic championship, in Rome, and the cyclist championship will be on the same day. The Italian organizers asked to move the race on Sunday 13th October 1987. This will not coincide with Fisa and Ecclestone’s plans though. Negotiations continue. Two new teams, such as the all-Italian Coloni and a mixed one that has March cars, should debut at Monza. March. You hear nothing but futuristic programs and commitment in terms of young and old drivers. Most of the teams are still designing the new cars whilst Ferrari is keeping up with John Barnard’s new technical direction. Michele Alboreto and Gerhard Berger are invited to the awards on Tuesday 3rd December 1986. They arrive late to the event because they previously tested at Fiorano. The Milan driver did 45 laps whilst the Austrian 31. Franco Gozzi, chief press officer of the Maranello team, rules out the fact that the new turbo engine is already being tested. The team though is doing many tests on the engine, especially on its internal details and accessories, with great results. The new chassis should be ready in a month but it will take quite some time to see the finished car. The Casco D'oro goes to Prost, who is on holiday at Santo Domingo. Piquet and Mansell are also rewarded as well. Frank Williams arrives in Italy to receive the recognition for the constructors’ title. The courageous man cannot go to Madonna di Campiglio though. He instead participates at the event via a Milan television broadcast. Alessandro Nannini is being rewarded with the Casco Tricolore. That rounds up the Autosprint’s Caschi D’oro event. On Wednesday 3rd December 1986, inside the magnificent Hofer del Relais des Alpes Hall, there is an improvisation of a toto Formula 1 championship for the 1987 season. The majority of the votes is for Prost although many of them chants Michele Alboreto’s name. It is probably a good luck charm for the Italian driver and mainly Ferrari. The Milan driver has numerous admirers within the Formula 1 environment. Michele obviously believes in the championships otherwise he would not be in the business where everyone wants to win. He would not have stayed with the Maranello team, since he received very good offers from other important teams, if he did not believe in it.

 

"I always have great confidence in my means and in Ferrari. Three disappointing years did not scratch my determination. It will be difficult, as it was always has been, since our rivals are not messing around. This is also why I feels calm: I never liked easy things. I never found my way being paved".

 

Alboreto and teammate Gerhard Berger thought that they would have time to relax after a long season. The Italian driver especially though that the transition of technical leadership to John Barnard might have taken at least a couple of months to test it out. Instead, testing has been almost non-stop since the end of October. The Austrian was always the fastest out of the two and even smashed the new Fiorano lap record. Someone starts to says that Berger might be a winning weapon for Ferrari. The testing times are not indicative though. The two drivers are testing different cars. The mechanics are installs particular car parts that will then be inserted in the 1987 car. Next year’s car will only be ready in a couple of months if everything goes well.

 

"The times certainly do not worry me. The rivalry between me and Gehard Berger does not concern me. Let’s also says that he is a very fast driver. He is even faster than Stefan Johansson in my opinion. He certainly does not drive slowly, that’s for sure. The rivalry between teammate is inevitable in Formula 1. Our relationship is very good and we work together with great concentration. The Austrian is maybe looking a little scatter-brained. I assure you that he is very determined and wants to beat me".

 

It is not an easy situation in which Alboreto finds himself in. The Milan driver needs to drive faster than his teammate in 1987, assuming and not conceding that Ferrari is once again competitive. It is moment of truth that will require a lot of effort from him. His engineer will be Maurizio Nardon whilst Manfred Brunner will take care of Berger’s car. Brunner is a good and attentive engineer who certainly does not have the charisma of neither Nardon nor Barnard, who is Ferrari’s technical director.

 

"The start of the season will be important for me. I cannot make mistakes and use my abilities to the fullest. You become the n.1 driver by beating your teammate on track and that is what I intend to do".

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Ferrari is testing at the Le Castellet circuit in order to prepare for the next Formula 1 world championship. The team that will be present in the Monte-Carlo Rally are doing a couple of free-practice sessions on the racing track. A series of decision create confusion, chaos and polemics in all sectors on Thursday 18th December 1986. On one hand, 65-years old Jean-Marie Balestre resigns as Fisa president. Furthermore, the meetings of the Fisa Executive Committee led to a series of sensation measures. First of all, the 1986 Sanremo Rally no longer has validity and Alen’s victory is thus annulled. The Landa Finnish driver is no longer world championship since he is overtaken by compatriot Kankkunen. Fisa also issues the calendars of the Formula 1 and Rally championships. Speaking of the former, the Italian Grand Prix is set on Sunday 6th September 1987 at Monza. It collides with the athletic world championship in Rome and the cycling championship in Austria. This is why the manifestation risks of not having the television coverage since Rai might not able to guarantee the service. A very unexpected decision is to abolish all cars from the B Rally group It was previously decided that these cars should have participated in non-championship races. Around 300 cars go from a range of 50 to a 150-200 millions of dollars maximum. Marks such as Audi Quattro, Landa 037, Opel Ascona and Renault maxi-turbo will participate in this race. The team will need to sell them off since they are unusable. Let’s now speak about Jean-Marte Balestre’s resignation from the Fisa presidency. It could be a positive thing since it will change anything. The French executive will remain at the helm of the FIA organization within which Fisa is only an emanation. After an 8-years stint, Balestre announced that he presented his resignation on Wednesday after leaving the hospital, in which he was recovered at. Thirteen days before, he had been subjected to a delicate heart surgery. The Frenchman explained to his colleagues that his dismissal was not determined by health issues but to his desire to have much more freedom.

 

"I cannot accept to be the target of defamatory and lying campaigns anymore".

 

Says Balestre. He also remains as president of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile. Marco Piccini, Ferrari Sportive Director, and Prince of Monaco Albert II, were named as Balestre’s successors for the future. Balestre was an ex-journalist and editor. He is now a decisive character, a man of action who made lots of enemies throughout the years. The Frenchman is a sportsman that made debated initiatives within the automobile world He received political accusations due to his conduct between 1940 and 1945 during the Nazis occupation. He always retorted these sorts of accusations by saying to have made a double play in favour of the Resistance.

 

"Motorsport reflects my temperament. I am a passionate man; I was the race direction millions of times. I am President of a Federation that gathers 70.000.000 members and it is an even more important position than the minister one".

 

Balestre decides to annul the Sanremo Rally. The Fisa appeal court admitted the impossibility of taking a decision due to incomplete and haziness of the regulations without considering that the technical stewards of the Italian race and the FIA judges as irregular the protections that were under the le Peugeot 205 T16. Those are thus disqualified.

 

Simone Sabattini
 
Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno

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