"I will play for the World Championship in Australia".
Why this confidence? The South American driver was punished for cutting the chicane by restarting the race after being moved by the marshals to an inside area of the chicane itself.
"The marshals would have wanted me to go back and rejoin at the other end of the chicane and then drive through it. But then I would have had to re-enter the track at the entrance to the chicane, basically with my car on the wrong side. And I was afraid to do that. The danger would have been great".
It seems, moreover, that in drawing up the disqualification the board of stewards of the Japanese Grand Prix quoted the article of the regulations out of turn, mistaking it for another. There would, therefore, also be a formal error. The affair spoiled the party for Honda, who wanted to celebrate at home, at the motor show that represents the inventiveness and technology of the Japanese car, the conquest of the World Championship. Honda, thanks to that catwalk called Formula 1, has now achieved a winning image and cares a great deal about it. The Japanese have consoled themselves by presenting the 12-cylinder engine to replace the current 10-cylinder. Nabuhito Kavamoto, former Brabham mechanic turned Honda vice-president in charge of sports activities, said that adding two cylinders was easy. The new power unit has already been bench tested and should be on the track within a month. It is a 12-cylinder 60-degree V-cylinder, naturally aspirated, with a displacement of 3500 cc. As usual, maximum secrecy on power.
"It only weighs a few kilos more than the other one".
Claims Kavamoto, deliberately remaining vague. Then he adds:
'If it was much heavier, the people at McLaren would have lightened the structure of their car. A risk: we care about safety and we don't want it to be said that Formula One cars are dangerous because they are light".
When image is at stake, safety also becomes an important topic. Finally, Honda has announced that Japanese driver Soichiro Nakajima, national pride despite his low class, will move from Lotus to Tyrrell next year. And Tyrrell will receive as a dowry, starting with the 1991 season, the current 10-cylinder Honda engines suitably developed. Meanwhile, Alain Prost grits his teeth. It is not too serene a holiday for the French driver, in these days spent also waiting for the Paris ruling on Senna's appeal against the disqualification suffered at Suzuka, a disqualification that in practice handed Alain his third world title. However, the McLaren driver is convinced that the judges can only confirm the actions of the stewards at the Japanese Grand Prix. Prost explains that he is well-informed on the subject and shows an in-depth knowledge of the matter:
"There is a precedent and it is the one concerning the Englishman Brian Henton, who for having cut a chicane at Pergusa was disqualified and lost the European Formula 2 title, as his appeal was rejected by the appeal commission. This makes me quite confident because I don't believe that double standards can be used in applying the laws. I think the title should not elude me, although I still have the opportunity to play for it at Adelaide on 5 November. All this apart from the manoeuvre of the Brazilian's overtaking attempt, which was unfair, played in that way by someone who had nothing left to lose because he was beaten. He was desperate and made a mistake".
"The regulations speak clearly. The Brazilian committed an offence and must pay. The code of sporting conduct is explicit: paragraph B of Article 4 states that a driver cannot take advantage of a situation like the one that occurred at Suzuka, when he cut the chicane shortening his race. However what happened is not my fault".
Does Alain feel like World Champion for the third time?
"Unfortunately not officially. We have to wait for the judgement. In any case there is still the last race to be run. I am a believer like Senna, but I don't read the Bible like he does before and after the race. I don't think God gets upset to let a Formula 1 race win".
Is Senna the real reason for the divorce with McLaren?
"Not the only one. The blackmail of Ron Dennis who told me that if I didn't want any problems I would have to sign for another two years had its own weight. As for the Brazilian, he is a strong, strong opponent, but also a traitor. He is disliked by everyone. He doesn't have a single word, he's not honest. As he showed at Imola when we made a certain argument and then he immediately misrepresented it. He is a lonely man on and off the track, he has no friends and that is already an explanation. As a rider he still makes mistakes. The fact that I am World Champion is proof that he is not perfect. He can't stand anything, he wants to be the fastest in practice, in the race and in life".
Let's leave the past, holding in abeyance the judgement on Senna that could change many things anyway, and let's talk about the future. Ferrari?
"Negotiations started already at the beginning of the year through the sponsor Marlboro. Then it went ahead after Silverstone with Fiorio, at Monza I saw Montezemolo and had a phone call with the lawyer Agnelli. Commitment stimulates me and I'm not afraid of it. I've raced for Renault and McLaren, and I know how difficult it is to act in a big team. I don't even fear comparison with Mansell, whom I know well, whom I respect, with whom I also have passions in common".
But will Maranello be able to give Prost something new?
"Potentially that's as much as a driver can ask for. Of course I hoped Bernard would stay, but even that can be overcome with commitment. I asked to take part in the team's technical meetings, not to stick my nose into the engineers' business, but to try to make a contribution of my own. I signed for one year with an option for the following year, i.e. 1991. It is clear, at this point, that Ferrari will be my last team because if there were problems I would have to stay put for a season and that becomes difficult at my age".
"I am a guy who has been lucky and successful. I don't hide that I am well off, in fact I am rich. I have made good investments in real estate and finance. I am now having a villa built in Courchevel and I recently bought a nice apartment building in Paris. But at the same time I like the simple life, I hate ostentation. I believe a lot in sport as a kind of education, even if Formula 1 has changed a lot in recent years because there are too many interests, money and hypocrisies. But basically it has remained quite clean. I dedicate this success (he is therefore convinced that he already owns the title ed) to my son Nicolas, who asks me a lot of questions and sometimes even asked me, strangely enough, about the Brazilian. As a driver, I basically think I am still intact: I admit that on some occasions I could have risked more, but I am at the same time sure that anyone in my place, with a bit of brains in their head, would have done the same thing. And with a competitive car, I think I can still bring my contribution to Ferrari. And having won 39 races so far, I don't rule out the possibility of a 40th before the end of this season".
But it seems a boutade, unless the Paris verdict forces him to pull out all the competitiveness he still has in his body. On Friday 27 October 1989, the three wise men of the FIA do not have the courage to deliver their verdict immediately after questioning the parties involved. They take a period of reflection and let it be known, via secretary Jacques Sarrut, that the ruling on the Japanese Grand Prix will not come before Monday 30 October 1989. Beyond that deadline the three judges (whose identity remains unknown) cannot go, considering that from the following day the teams and drivers will already be in Adelaide to prepare for the last race of the season. From a few lines of a communiqué issued by the FIA in the evening, concerning the complaint lodged by the Royal British Automobile Club on behalf of its member McLaren International, we learn that:
"After having listened at length to all parties to the case and their advisors, and considering the importance of the case, the International Appeals Tribunal has decided to extend its deliberations until Monday 30 October at the earliest".
Shortly afterwards, Sarrut let it be known that the ruling will almost certainly be made public on Tuesday afternoon. And this inevitably gives rise to a diplomatic case. In fact, a Honda-Marlboro-McLaren press conference is scheduled to take place at the Heathrow Penta Hotel in London on Monday morning at 11am. It is an embarrassing situation for Ron Dennis to find himself in front of hundreds of journalists without yet knowing which of his two drivers is World Champion. And especially if the magic number one drawn on the bonnet will emigrate - as everything suggests - to Ferrari together with Alain Prost. On Friday morning, however, Ayrton Senna looked confident as he cleared the throng of reporters on his way out of the sumptuous headquarters of the French Automobile Club, in the Place de la Concorde, where the FIA meets. Not that Senna had much desire to talk to the journalists: an initial attempt to lose them, exiting through a back door, succeeds. But the happiness for this little feat only lasts a few moments, the time it takes to be spotted at the taxi rank with Ron Dennis, with whom he reaches Roissy airport and from there London.
Says Senna making a hand gesture, alluding to the McLaren press conference. Then he adds:
"I am very optimistic, I have confidence".
"Our task is extremely delicate. McLaren will always be the team to beat, with a formidable pair of drivers. But we will also have to fear the return of Williams and the inevitable growth of Benetton. This is why we have a complex development plan, on which we have been working for more than a month".
How will the work be organised?
"All the design work will take place in Maraneilo. The workshop in Guildford will only be used for the production of certain parts, such as suspension and chassis. Enrique Scalabroni will be responsible for the chassis and aerodynamics part. Paolo Massai will be responsible for the engines, Silvestri for the electronically controlled gearbox. We expect a great contribution from the Mugello track, which we are fine-tuning and on which most of the tests will be carried out. If we need to reinforce the areas that are lacking, we will probably need a new engineer for the track".
Lately, however, the name of Steve Nichols, who is one of McLaren's most capable engineers, has come back into the limelight. What will change for the car?
"Basically the base will remain the same as it is now, the 640, but with very important changes that will force us to make almost a new one. The cockpit will be wider, there will be lateral reinforcements for the new crash tests, and we will have to increase the size of the fuel tank in anticipation of the increased engine power. It is possible that we will reach 700 hp before the end of the season, which was unthinkable at the beginning of the 12-cylinder project. A path, by the way, that many others are apparently following, such as Honda and Ford".
"As far as the Englishman is concerned, I think we have managed, despite everything, to regenerate him. He's in top form, he's going through his best period, in the race he's a fury. From Prost we expect a contribution of intelligence and experience. Among other things, we have granted the Frenchman, at his request, access to the technical meetings, precisely to seek collegial solutions, to have direct contact between the track and the workshop. I don't think there will be any problems between the two drivers. They will absolutely have an equal chance".
A judgement on Berger leaving and Barnard leaving.
"The Austrian is a champion, very fast. He suffered in the middle part of the season because of the troubles at Imola, but we now provide McLaren with an intact driver who was willing to change to find new motivation. Barnard is certainly a great designer, but he did not want to accept our conditions and the gap was inevitable. His departure, however, will stimulate us to create our own school so that we will no longer find ourselves in the dependent conditions of the past".
A forecast for the future?
"This year we have won three races, hopefully four with Sunday, and achieved a number of good placings. The aim is to improve, to be at the top. About drivers we have options for 1991 for Mansell and for Prost, Larini available from 1991 to 1993. In this first period in Formula 1 I have also had the opportunity to look around, and I have had ideas".
Monday 30 October 1989 the story of Senna's disqualification in Japan continues: in Paris the FIA appeal tribunal will announce its decisions on McLaren's appeal, but in the meantime the British team announces its intention to appeal to a French civil court in the event of an unfavourable verdict. There is only one precedent in this matter. Peugeot filed a similar lawsuit in 1986 claiming, among other things, some 43.000.000 lire in damages, because the FIA had unilaterally excluded Group B cars from rallies after the tragic accident to Toivonen in Corsica. In the first instance the car company was proved right, but the court later recognised that this was a private matter between a sporting body and its affiliate, and that public institutions had no right to intervene. In essence, Peugeot was defeated. McLaren acting in the same manner could risk exclusion from the Formula One World Championship. Between London, Port Douglas (Australia) and Paris, Formula 1 lives in tense hours waiting for the appeal court ruling. In England, McLaren holds a press conference with Ron Dennis. The team-manager analyses the Japanese Grand Prix affair with the help of film footage and large sketches on scoreboards and, as mentioned, announces an appeal to the civil court in Paris (with territorial jurisdiction) in case the sporting authorities confirm Senna's disqualification. Ron Dennis says:
"I don't think Senna made a gross mistake at Suzuka, cutting a chicane is a frequent occurrence in Grand Prix and had never been punished this year. Senna was pushed by the Japanese stewards because he was in a dangerous position. He gained nothing by returning to the track by jumping the chicane, on the contrary he lost a few seconds because he had to pass the slowdown barriers. We are convinced that the FIA will have to cancel the disqualification, our lawyer Prat made that clear to the judges on Friday in Paris. And I personally have no intention of depriving Prost of the car on Sunday in Adelaide. On the contrary, Alain will have the same chance as Ayrton Senna. In Australia there are already four cars, two each. This championship must end in fair-play. With Prost relations were polite until Monza. Then something sort of broke down, and from that moment on it was better for both of us to set relations only on a professional level. I have not spoken to Alain in the last few days, I am however sure that he will be at the start on Sunday in Australia".
"A genuine smear campaign is underway against Senna".
And he circulates photocopies of a report by FISA's Director General, Yvon Leon, in which he claims that Senna is a dangerous driver for the other competitors and that he should be punished, by the FIA, with the suspension of his licence for one year (with parole) and a heavy fine. This would prove - according to Dennis - the persecutory will against the Brazilian. And who would be the great persecutor? Him again, the omnipresent and omnipotent Jean-Marie Balestre, Prost's compatriot.
"He demanded that the Suzuka stewards meet immediately after the end of the race and decide on Senna's disqualification in just 25 minutes".
In Australia, while Senna keeps silent and waits, Prost comments calmly on the fragmentary news from London.
"I am going to Adelaide to race. I hope there will be no further negative developments to this already distressing affair. I have a contract with McLaren, I intend to honour it to the end and I hope the team will do the same as it should. After all, there is a heavy penalty for non-compliance".
There are a few phrases that might seem ambiguous in Ron Dennis' statements.
"At the moment I am not in a position to judge. I don't understand where this is going. The episode has had a resonance and, above all, reactions that I think are out of proportion. The idea of the FIA, if confirmed, to propose Senna for a suspended licence, has two aspects. On the one hand, it is a dangerous initiative, because it is difficult to define the rules of the game better than has been done so far. An overtaking, an accident, can have different interpretations and it is difficult to judge. On the other, the track is not a Wild West".
About McLaren's threat to go to a civil court if it does not get satisfaction from the FIA, Prost says:
"I see no reason why the Federation judges should go back on the decisions taken by the Japanese stewards. A mistake has been made, it must be punished".
"He broke our dream of a magnificent end of season, of a close fight between two great drivers, him and Prost. With his behaviour at Suzuka, the Brazilian ruined everything".
- 1988 Italian Grand Prix: collision between Senna (who thus loses the race to Berger) and Schlesser.
- 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix: immediately after the start Berger tries to overtake Senna inside the first corner and is thrown out. The incident is considered by all to be a normal race event, since overtaking is allowed both on the right and on the left and everyone attempts it at their own risk, but only now it is learned that Senna is to blame.
- 1989 French Grand Prix: Senna starts on the right, breaks the clutch and goes to stop on the left side of the track, cutting everyone off. True, but it is hard to believe that Senna wanted to cause an accident of which he would have been the first victim as everyone would have run into him.
- 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix: according to FISA, Senna is to be considered co-responsible for the collision with Mansell, despite the fact that a month earlier only the English driver was considered responsible.
- 1989Spanish Grand Prix: in practice Senna pretends not to see the red and black flags and continues to race.
- 1989 Japanese Grand Prix: in addition to the well-known incidents on the track there is another one reported by Ferrari, but apparently not detected by Balestre. When he restarts from the pits in the finale after changing the nose that had broken in the accident with Prost, Senna re-enters the track with the red light.
The verdict of the four judges of the FIA appeals tribunal had been ready for two days, but to make it public they waited for Balestre's return from Tokyo. The judges (the Dutch president Van Rosmalen, the Greek Remvikos, the Belgian De Winghie and the Portuguese Macedo Cunha) not only confirmed the verdict of the Suzuka stewards, and therefore Senna's disqualification, but they further treaded their hand by partly accepting FISA's request (under Article 189): six months' licence suspension, with probation, starting on Monday 30 October 1989. This means that if in the next two Grands Prix, on Sunday in Adelaide (last Grand Prix of the 1989 season) and in March in Phoenix in the USA (first of the 1990 season), Senna commits the slightest infraction of the regulations, he will be disqualified for the next six months. In addition he will have to pay a $100.000 fine. And all this because of his repeated dangerous driving. As shown by the list of four racing collisions (Schlesser, Berger, Mansell, Prost) and ten serious violations in the last fourteen months. Is Ron Dennis threatening to go to the civil court in Paris to have the ruling overturned? The counter-threat, veiled but not too much, from Balestre is heavy.
"I suggest to Mr Dennis, who attempted blackmail against the FIA by circulating at the London press conference a confidential report of ours on Senna, to reread Article 58 of the regulations: a FISA member must accept, as a last resort, the decisions of the FIA appeal tribunal. If he does not do so, for example by objecting in another jurisdiction, he can be excluded from the championships".
At this point it is clear that the 1989 World Championship ends with Prost winning. Ron Dennis and McLaren certainly cannot take the risk of being excluded from the track just to defend Senna. Balestre points out:
"And don't accuse me of being chauvinistic, as the British newspapers do. I am as much a friend of Prost as I am of Mansell or Berger. When I had something to say about Alain's behaviour I said so. All I care about is that the on-track improprieties end. If you want to know, the best moment this year was when I received a telegram from the president of Ferrari, Fusaro, saying: No more courts in Formula 1. Fusaro was absolutely right, I make his words my own. It's a pity that Senna continued to make mistakes".
"On the other hand, the race director was so furious against Senna that he wanted to show him the black flag immediately after the clash with Prost. He didn't do it just because we at FISA opposed it. We did not want to end the World Championship, on the track, with a black flag".
The two drivers are in Australia, so they learn of the decision - displayed in Paris, France - at different times, Ayrton Senna has gone to bed early. He will speak on Tuesday. Prost, on the other hand, woken in the night by his secretary informing him of the FIA tribunal's ruling, says:
"I am happy after a tense week. You never know what will happen in a courtroom, even if it is a sporting one. But I was sure that the Federation could not back down".
The Frenchman with this his third title joins Brabham, Stewart, Lauda and Piquet.
"It was the most difficult only because of the nervousness that reigned in the team. I haven't had any contact with McLaren for a week. I haven't heard from anyone, not even those at Ferrari, but I think Maranello is happy about this number 1".
Too harsh a sentence for Senna?
"When I think about when he rammed me into a wall in Portugal at 300 km/h, I can only approve. But I don't want to make a global judgement. In any case, the cars are becoming more and more difficult to drive, Senna believes he is immortal and makes others take terrible risks".
Short- and long-term plans?
"I would like to win on Sunday, and then with Ferrari next year. But let me enjoy this moment: I know there has been pressure from Ecclestone and Mosley against me. That's unfair, politics must stay out of Formula 1".
Ayrton Senna doesn't give up: he thinks he can assert himself in Adelaide, in the last race of the season, and then snatch from his great enemy Alain Prost the Formula 1 world title that the Frenchman won in advance thanks to the Brazilian's disqualification at Suzuka. How? Senna plans to take the FIA to a civil court and have the Federation itself condemned. Illusions? Probably. However, the McLaren driver's determination gives some breathing space to the organisers of the Australian Grand Prix, who estimate that the early conclusion of the rainbow challenge will cost them AUD$1.000.000 in lost ticket sales because the race has lost interest. In reality, Sunday's race will be a heated battle. Senna has not resigned himself and is aiming, for many reasons, for victory. And Prost, if he wants to protect himself from any (albeit very unlikely) surprises, must not concede this success to his team-mate. In short, first place will have to be played by the Brazilian and the Frenchman as if everything was still up for grabs. Ayrton appears calm, but clearly touched by the affair, firm in his position, sure that he has been the victim of a conspiracy that sooner or later will be uncovered and clarified, and which will be put right. After admitting that the punishment inflicted on him by the FIA tribunal was nevertheless excessive, Senna says:
"I never had any illusions. When at Suzuka I found myself before a kind of summary court composed of Balestre, Prost and the three FISA commissioners, I realised that there was no hope for me, that I was doomed. So with Ron Dennis and the whole team we immediately devised a strategy. The appeal to the FIA tribunal was just the beginning of the battle that will lead us to a civil case before the ordinary courts".
"We are confident that we are in the right. Knowing the political situation today in Formula One, what happened was what we should have expected. So it is necessary to go through with it no matter what. My disqualification was a real manipulation of the championship. That is our right. It's too early to talk, there are a thousand other things I can't reveal now, but they will be clarified when the time is right".
In what sense?
"Obviously there was a manoeuvre in favour of someone. It is not for me to name names, that is obvious. The fact of which I have been accused does not exist, that is, I did not commit any offence in Japan, on the contrary I respected the rules to the letter. And I am sorry that because the majority of people do not know the rules of our sport, public opinion has been swayed in a specific direction".
Back to the Suzuka accident.
"Good. I had thoroughly studied the possibility of overtaking Prost at that point, before the chicane, and I was sure I could do it. If you look at the footage from above, from the helicopter, you can see that the Frenchman's car, before the right-hand bend, veered towards mine in a direction that would have taken it off the track by a tangent. This means that he caused the accident deliberately, to knock me out".
This is his opinion, but the disqualification came for another reason, the cutting of the chicane through the escape route.
"Another mistake, a fake. We got stuck before the corner with the cars stuck. He got out and left the gearbox engaged in first gear, so that I could no longer move. The marshals had to first push me back, then unlock the other McLaren to push it into a safe position. Other marshals arrived and pushed me, so that my car's engine started running again. At this point I couldn't go back, because I would have posed a huge danger to those arriving, so much so that five seconds after my car had been cleared, an Arrows came by. The only thing left for me to do was to take the escape route, at the end of which there was a marshal with a green flag to give the go-ahead and rejoin the track".
But FISA claims that this was an unfair manoeuvre.
"Another mistake that will backfire. We have dozens of similar examples for which sanctions were never taken".
In short, a direct attack on Jean-Marie Balestre considered to be the main culprit in the plot against Senna, on Prost (whom Ayrton described as a destabilising element, the author of a policy in the team aimed at beating him more by psychological erosion than on the track), a larval threat of revelations that could revolutionise the Federation. It is difficult to know to what extent each element of this mosaic will fit together, but it is clear that the chaos at the moment is still total. Senna, in his speech, even admitted, among other things, that he had made a mistake in the incident with Nigel Mansell ('closing it without knowing he was disqualified') and in the incident in Brazil with Berger and Boutsen. But now everything takes a back seat to the offensive that the driver and McLaren will take to try to take back what they feel was undeservedly taken from them. And that is the title. Once upon a time, not so long ago, the two McLaren drivers would appear together, with the team's managers and technicians, at the press conferences before the races. Perhaps through gritted teeth, just to keep up appearances. But on Thursday, 2 November 1989, for the first time they put on separate shows. Alain Prost talks for half an hour, somewhat reticent, as if he wanted to forget the affair as soon as possible, Ayrton Senna for over an hour. A consummate actor's performance for an audience willing even to be moved. The two rivals reiterate and repeat their theses on the Suzuka-Balestre-Senna affair. The Frenchman:
"Yes, the sentence for that one was heavy, but deserved. Last year in Portugal he smashed me against a wall, I could have been hurt. He accused Balestre of hatching a plot against him to favour me. He is the president of the FIA, a compatriot of mine, but not a friend".
"I was treated like a criminal. But I don't want to play the victim, I will continue racing as I am capable, with determination. Racing is my life, I train body and mind to win. I will fight to the end and at any cost to make justice triumph, to unmask those who hatched a plot against me. I am innocent".
If it were not serious, it would almost be laughable. A story in which everyone tells their own truth: facts are always manipulable. Ron Dennis, McLaren's manager, invites everyone to breakfast to show a video recording from the helicopter, first presenting a voluminous dossier against FISA and Prost, which is very detailed. According to Senna, it would prove that Prost wanted to throw him off the track. But the video-clip, with footage from above of the accident, in truth certainly shows Prost's strange deviation, but above all it makes it clear that Senna at that speed would have ended up straight into the run-off lane, with no possibility of cornering. Next, Dennis shows a series of improprieties of almost all drivers in recent years, never punished. A highly educational film. It has to be said that in this affair, all things considered, Prost is the one who has attracted the most sympathy so far. Two former World Champions, Niki Lauda and Jackie Stewart, both speak in favour of the Frenchman. Says Lauda:
"Ayrton is not yet mature, he should not have attempted that overtake. Whoever is behind is always wrong, Senna should have waited".
And Nigel Mansell, Senna's sworn enemy, on hearing these opinions, joins the champions of the past to reiterate the point.
"I've had so many accidents, but when there were two of us, it was always him. The Brazilian is a kamikaze who always wants to overtake and never be overtaken. The punishment was harsh, but it's right that the rules are finally enforced to the end".
The Australian Grand Prix closes on Sunday on the Adelaide city track one of the most bitter and controversial World Championships in recent years. If on the field McLaren's superiority appeared unquestionable, with some exploits of a Ferrari tenaciously committed to climb back up the slope and return to the top of Formula 1, the querelle between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost inflamed the spirits and did these races a disservice. Sport and technique, if anyone still had any doubts, have become an important but secondary fact, in the shadows gigantic businesses revolve (and count). And the drivers, victims and accomplices together, are always the most affected. The Grand Prix already opened yesterday with the usual hard-fought pre-qualifying phase reserved for 13 cars. This mini-race, which each time anticipates the actual practice sessions, results in a triumph for Osella. The small Italian team manages to take two of the four places available. The best time is set by Nicola Larini who laps in 1'18"379, at an average speed of 173.618 km/h on the 3778 metre city circuit. It must be remembered that the track record belongs to Gerhard Berger with Ferrari, in 1'17"267, obtained in 1987. In second place is Philippe Alliot, with the Lola powered by a Lamborghini engine. The French driver precedes Ghinzani, at the wheel of the other car of the Volpiano manufacturer, and Finland's Lehto, driving the Onyx. First excluded is Swedish Johansson, ahead of Michele Alboreto. The Milanese driver breaks the bevel gear of his Lola-Lamborghini and cannot defend himself. Schneider, Moreno, Larrauri, Suzuki, Dalmas, Tarquini and Bertaggia are also out. For all these drivers, the World Championship ends three days early. The balance sheet looks particularly negative for Coloni, who in the whole season had gathered very little satisfaction with Moreno and Bertaggia.
"I was blocked on my fastest lap, by a Ferrari, not Mansell's, and a McLaren. I saw the yellow flags and, disciplined, I slowed down, as Prost should have done. Instead, he continued to step on the accelerator. That's why he set the best time. It's not fair".
Another accusation in short to Prost who laughs it off. Behind the McLaren duellists, an astonishing Boutsen in the Williams (just 0.08 seconds behind Senna), very fit and ready to fight for precious points that will eventually be used to take second place in the Constructors' Championship for the British team powered by Renault. Behind the top three, six Italian drivers, a patrol of youngsters ready to do battle on Sunday: in order Martini with the Minardi, Nannini (Benetton), Patrese (Williams), Modena (Brabham), De Cesaris (Dallara) and Caffi (Dallara). This group statement in lap times obviously has a little secret that lies in the Pirelli tyres. In any case, the quality of the Minardi, which has always been at an excellent level in recent races, is confirmed, as are the Dallaras, which on tracks where traction is important have always behaved very well. Black chapter for Ferrari, closed in P11 with Berger and P16 with Mansell. The Austrian always finds traffic, but also tests for only 20 minutes because after the morning's tests the Maranello engineers preferred to change the engine, which was not in perfect condition, and finished more than halfway through the timed test session. Mansell, too, complained about the traffic, but above all he did not spare any criticism for his car, which turned out to be very unstable, with very poor acceleration at the exit of the right angle corners of the Adelaide circuit. But it is not only the contingent facts that are worrying. In the environment there are whispers, suggestions are being made: McLaren has already set up an impressive programme of winter tests in which, in addition to the two drivers, two (Pirro and the young McNish) or three test drivers and a new 12-cylinder engine, which could be used at the end of the year, will be employed. Williams is promising progress with Renault; Benetton, having hired Barnard (and Ford is preparing a 12-cylinder) wants to get to the top. It may be that Ferrari, jealous of its secrets, has so many aces up its sleeve, that the impression of a certain flakiness not yet sewn up is just an impression. The technician Enrique Scalabroni, until now a second-rate figure at Williams, is called upon to make a tough commitment, as are the managers of the various sectors. Will it be possible to recover? The means, the skills, the technology are not lacking, perhaps even superior to those of the direct rivals. Perhaps it is the soul that is still missing, probably it still has to rise from the ashes of the old Ferrari, the new one, with the same grit and determination as in the past but with much less empiricism. The question is about team amalgamation, enthusiasm, responsiveness, serenity. Only if the cohesive element is found to form a solid whole will a new winning cycle begin. In the meantime, FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre, reacting to the controversy that has arisen after the sporting tribunal's decisions on the Senna case, reminds those concerned that in the recent past the French civil courts have ruled in favour of the Federation, recognising its wide autonomy in the field of motor sport.
"We refuse to enter into the controversy stirred up by certain media, so that the greatest calm reigns during the Australian Grand Prix. As for the possible questioning of the decision of the FIA's appeal tribunal, it should be recalled that since the FIA itself is subject to French law, twice in two different recent events, on 12 February 1985 and 20 April 1988, the Court of Appeal and the Tribunal des Grande Instances of Paris have ruled in favour of the Federation".
"Here it was difficult to find motivation after what happened. I was struggling with myself. But the other night, as soon as I got to my room, I read the Bible. I believe it, I feel it, my mental strength came back. I had great help from Him. I stayed awake until 2:00 a.m., but I woke up fresh and strong. I came to the track and did my work in peace. I don't care about the race or the future. He knows what He is doing. I rely on Him. It is not important to have a crown (reference to Prost, referred to as him, but with a lower-case 'l', ed). He is with me".
One is perplexed. How is it possible not to believe him? But also how is it possible not to smile, thinking of the situation, of the hatred that Senna bears towards his French rival, a hatred that made him put his life at risk in order to attempt a crazy overtaking move at Suzuka? We are truly faced with a peculiar phenomenon. There have been other champions in the past who have launched similar messages, great protagonists, however, of activities that are in any case less material than Formula 1. Going much lower, the day records an outburst by Gerhard Berger, at his last effort at Ferrari. The Austrian breaks the gearbox after 3 laps, then asks for the spare car but is told that this single-seater mounts a special, less reliable engine, which Mansell should try on the track. With 36 minutes to go he is given the Englishman's car. Berger takes almost 30 minutes to set it up, but on leaving the pits, the Austrian driver inadvertently presses the button that activates the fire extinguisher. The Ferrari fills up with dust, and Gerhard is left behind on the grid, in fourteenth place.
"Since I said I was going to McLaren I am like a foreign body. The team should be fighting for second place, but it relies on one driver. It's the only team that doesn't fight hard".
Fiorio's reply is not long in coming:
"We gave Berger the best we had at our disposal, always. Mansell even sacrificed himself by giving up his car, after he had been rear-ended by Piquet in his reserve car. If the Austrian then wanted to change all the settings and didn't make it in time to turn, it's not our fault".
Dulcis in fundo, a topical subject: doping. Balestre, after having thundered before Japan that he would have had the controls started immediately, to dispel the malicious rumours that some drivers were taking drugs to go faster, seems to want to backtrack. There is no more talk of this, the FIA president is too busy settling matters with McLaren who, by the way, had the official support of Honda who issued a statement on the matter. But some drivers, namely Prost, Berger and Piquet, want to get to the bottom of the matter, and will ask Balestre to keep his promise. On Sunday 5 November 1989, the beautiful Australian spring sun suddenly turned into a cloudy day, with black clouds laden with rain. And the water begins to pound in the late morning without stopping for a moment. So the Grand Prix organisers are forced at 12:30 a.m. to allow half an hour of extra practice time to fine-tune the set-ups and tyres for the wet track. The storm continues to rage even when the time comes, an hour later, to prepare the grid. It is immediately clear that many drivers want to wait, to postpone the race, waiting for a clearing. In previous tests Senna himself was the protagonist of a spectacular spin without any damage. Nannini and Mansell also ended up off the track, the former destroying his Benetton, the latter damaging his Ferrari. Prost, Piquet, Berger, Patrese and Boutsen are the leaders of the dispute, while Senna sits motionless in his car. Many drivers are uncertain. Feverish consultations follow. A delegation heads to the race director, Roland Bruynseraede. Many team managers also turn up, except for McLaren's Ron Dennis. Piquet tries to convince Bernie Ecclestone (who, however, dismisses him with a joke: 'Is it raining? An umbrella is enough'). Boutsen also goes to Senna, but without managing to move him. Stefano Modena confides:
"If I refuse to go, Ecclestone will never let me see a car again".
"I don't know if I will stop or continue. I'll go back to São Paulo, think about it, then decide. But right now I don't know which way to go. I am calm because God is with me. In fact I have never been so serene. But I can't talk about next year, about revenge, because I don't know if I will run. I am going home to rest, with my parents, the grandchildren. I will play with my model planes. There are no bonding problems: the sponsors give me freedom to do what I want. I was going through the best moment of my career, but to continue I would have to improve. I feel like world champion: I only lost because of mechanical failures and political reasons. I remain the strongest".
These are puzzling statements. It is true that Senna was the fastest again this year, but not the best. Sport is made of rankings, and after sixteen races Alain Prost finished 16 points ahead, not counting the placings discarded by the Frenchman. Will it be true that Senna will retire? We will find out in the coming months. Meanwhile, weapons are already being sharpened for next season. Prost would have liked to try the Ferrari immediately and perhaps give some advice. But he will not be able to do so, at least officially. He won't be able to drive the Maranello red car before 1 January 1990. He was prevented from doing so by Ron Dennis, the McLaren manager, who subjected him to his second blackmail of the season. The British manager had made it clear to Prost, when he learned he was about to sign for the Maranello team, that he had better change his mind if he wanted to continue the season with some peace of mind. Now, however, the matter is monetary: Ron Dennis has asked Prost for $300.000 to let him go early, two months earlier than planned. The discussions will go on for a long time yet, but in any case the affair will also affect Berger who will not be able to get into the McLaren until Prost goes to Ferrari. For the rest, this time nothing went according to script. Senna, who was supposed to win, who was driven by a divine urge (in his opinion), was instead blocked by what he considered to be his most dominating material, i.e. water.
The sudden downpour that disrupted the Grand Prix did not forgive him either: on lap 14 the Brazilian clashed with Martin Brundle's Brabham. It was the end of all his dreams, all his hopes. Senna is certainly an inimitable champion, the fastest. But in terms of maturity, there is still a long way to go. He had a 31-second lead over Boutsen at the end of lap 11, he could have avoided forcing the pace any further. He let himself be carried away by that irresistible urge of his to give everyone a lap. This time he also gave the lap to himself. A negative end for Ferrari as well, with two cars out of action. Berger eliminated by a collision with Alliot's Lola, Mansell went off the track straight away, due to a splash of water on his helmet that didn't let him see any more. It could have gone much better, the Englishman might have been able to arrive on the highest step of the podium, which was instead occupied by Boutsen. Ferrari ends the championship with a double 0-0: in Japan two retirements due to mechanical failures, in Australia due to a collision and an off-track. For the team from Maranello both final objectives thus vanished: third place in the Drivers' World Championship, taken away from the Englishman by Riccardo Patrese by 2 points, and second place in the Constructors' World Championship, retained by Williams. Yet, even though the premises had been good, the season did not end on a bad note: three victories (this had not happened since 1982), four second places and two thirds. But it could have gone better. Berger started well, but on the third lap due to a spin he relegated from twelfth to the penultimate position. A couple of leaps forward and on the seventh lap Gerhard finished his race against Alliot's Lola. Berger threaded the corner well on the inside, but the Frenchman closed the trajectory and the collision was inevitable. Out with both of them.
"The last weekend with Ferrari was not good. However, it was nice to be with the Maranello team".
"During an overtaking manoeuvre a bucket of water hit my helmet. I couldn't see anything and went straight ahead. It was a shame, because I was sure I could overtake Nannini soon, and challenge the Belgian who was in the lead. So I close a negative period, full of tension. Now a little rest, then I'll be ready for a year of challenges".
In second place was a triumphant Nannini, author of the most beautiful season finale by an Italian driver in recent years. Third was Pratese, who thus won the bronze medal in the Formula 1 World Championship, snatching it from Mansell. All over, then. In a week's time the cars will be back on the track for the first autumn tests and then, throughout the winter, at circuits all over the world, from Portugal to Italy, from Spain to Mexico, the cars will begin testing for the next season which will start on Sunday 11 March 1990 in the United States, in the Arizona desert, at Phoenix. Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna hated each other to the last moment, after two years under the same flag, that of McLaren. Two years in which they each won a world title. Prost is now going to Ferrari, Senna will remain with the British team, unless he actually leaves racing. Prost will soon be in Maranello to measure the car's seat and get to know the team well. The Frenchman, indeed, was supposed to test a Ferrari before long, because before Japan there had been some kind of agreement with McLaren to make the drivers free (including Berger then) before the contract expires on 31 December. But Dennis, as said, had second thoughts: he asked for financial compensation for this advance. It will be seen. The newly crowned champion had nothing more to do with McLaren a long time ago, since he signed for Ferrari. And so he was left alone to decide to quit.
"It would have been right not to start the race. Senna was the real culprit in what happened, because all the undecided drivers, seeing him motionless in his car, didn't have the courage to protest. I only sprinted at that point to do a lap, I would have stopped anyway, even without the interruption. The fact that I was the only one to give up is not a problem. But if you continue to accept certain decisions passively sooner or later someone will die. The race as seen from the pits made me regret nothing. And Piquet and Senna's accidents confirmed that I was right. It went well: the cars that crashed hit the rear of those in front and not the wheels. With the rain-sculpted tyres they could have hooked up and flown through the air. As happened to Pironi in 1982, when he hit me in Germany in similar conditions and smashed his legs. I am not a political leader but I can afford to make certain decisions. Senna's attitude that he always stayed in the car was provocative, and it was useless for him to say that he agreed to postpone. It could have waited an hour or two. Now I have officially won the World Championship, and I enjoyed being the protagonist of this pro-safety episode".
Senna's reply was not long in coming:
"The race had to be stopped. I was in favour of not starting, but I had to stay in the car so as not to lose concentration in case, as happened later, the start was given. But Prost doesn't tell it right: if he stopped because he thought the race was dangerous, he did the right thing and I respect that. However, I wonder why he took the first start, tried to take the lead and, after failing to do so and realising he would not win, stopped. But it all stemmed from the manipulations at Suzuka".
A total difference of opinion. And Senna, in spite of the professions of religious faith he has made in recent months, after the quarrel at Imola and the fictitious peace with Prost at Monte-Carlo (when Ron Dennis forced the two drivers to shake hands to camouflage the discord reigning in the team), confided that he would have liked to punch Prost in the face. And he made the same speech on Thursday on his arrival in Adelaide. So much for turning the other cheek. Now that the World Championship is over, Alain Prost no longer has any verbal qualms about Ayrton Senna.
"He destroyed Formula One thinking only of success. He risked his life just to win and become World Champion. I consider this to be too high a price".
"Thanks to its great tradition and enthusiasm, Ferrari will help me regain a taste for the challenge".
The Australian Grand Prix was also the race of farewells. Besides Gerhard Berger who left Ferrari after three years and Alain Prost who finished with McLaren after six long and intense seasons, four racers officially decided to leave Formula 1: Piercarlo Ghinzani, Eddie Cheever, René Arnoux and Luis Sala. There may be others, but only because they will not find a steering wheel next year. Piercarlo Ghinzani, from Bergamo, 37 years old, 75 races to his credit, after being one of the brightest youngsters (a European Formula 3 title) has had no luck. In recent years he has won only two points, haunted by bad luck and cars that were hardly ever up to the mark. He will probably still race in other categories, but it is not excluded that he will try to become team manager of a team of his own. For Eddie Cheever, a 31-year-old American living in Rome, it is instead a change of gear. For the second time, he is letting himself be attracted by covered-wheel cars and is returning to Jaguar, which has ambitions in the endurance world championship. A long career too (131 races), no victories, but plenty of placings and some very good races. Of Luis Sala there is little to be said: the Spaniard, admittedly not too bright, will have to look for another place. But the real character that will be missed in the Circus is René Arnoux, 41 years old, 148 appearances, 7 victories, 18 pole positions, considered one of the fastest drivers ever, with the extra edge. He raced with Martini, Surtees, Renault, Ferrari and Ligier. His duel at Dijon with Villeneuve in 1979 was legendary. The Frenchman from Grenoble moved his colleagues: he gave them all a leather Nazareno Gabrielli diary, with a personal dedication, sympathetic and poignant, an unusual but appreciated way to say goodbye. Maybe he will still do some racing in the endurance world championship.
The long Formula 1 season is over: sixteen races, some good, many bad and many, many controversies. McLaren won again; Prost imposed himself against the will of his own team, small but tenacious, skilful and shrewd, able to exploit even the continuous complaints to psychologically weaken his team-mate Senna. If we had to make a judgement on this result, we would say that the more continuous and experienced driver won, but the fastest was the Brazilian who, however, paid for his excessive impetuosity, his desire to always lap everyone, with a punishment that was perhaps too severe. If Ayrton had won on Sunday, someone would have organised a protest rally, the awarding of a fictitious world title of the people, i.e. awarded by a jury of fans. If something like that had happened, the championship would have ended in farce and who knows, Balestre, the FIA president, would have disqualified everyone. The crux of the matter, however, lies in the handle, i.e. in the management of Formula One, an activity that moves enormous interests, if one also considers the induced activities. FISA, which is the sporting emanation of the FIA, has not yet managed to give itself a professional set-up that is up to the task: on the organisational and legislative level we are still a long way from not only perfection but also from the minimum allowed for normal administration. The regulations are not always precise, they often lend themselves to different interpretations, in many cases they are applied empirically or coercively. The most blatant case, the latest, occurred in Australia, when, in the pouring rain, a decision had to be made on what to do. In this case, the rules only stipulate that the race is declared wet, i.e. that the tyres are fitted for the water. But there is also common sense, which was not even taken into account on this occasion. Given the special conditions of the track, the lack of drainage, the dangerousness of a track enclosed between walls, it should have been the authorities who proposed a time shift. An initial half-hour was allowed, then, in total chaos, the drivers were ordered to leave. Result: sixteen cars almost destroyed, and millions of dollars spent on repairs. Said Prost, the only one to give up the race:
"The accidents of Senna and Piquet proved that I was right. If there were no serious injuries or worse, it is a miracle. It would take an agreement between FISA, the drivers, the teams, the organisers. During the winter I will try to do something. We did not ask for the event to be cancelled, only delayed: as usual, they did not want to listen to us".
"If you don't race you will never see your Brabham again".
But then come the trials, the first races, and there is no more time to think about security. Nor is the situation very clear at the top, where there is a power struggle going on. McLaren manager Ron Dennis against Ecclestone for the Constructors' Association president's chair. In between a Balestre who launches proclamations (like the one on doping) only to backtrack when faced with other problems and difficulties (like McLaren's intention to sue the Federation in civil court for the victory taken away from Senna in Japan). In short, nothing is yet resolved or in the process of being resolved. Fortunately, there are also those who are trying to bring some serenity. On Sunday evening, for example, Honda-McLaren issued an amusing statement:
"Under the terrible Australian sun the McLarens achieved another double retirement. Observing all the rules of good driving in a Grand Prix (first look in the rear-view mirrors, then signal a change of direction and only then overtake), Ayrton Senna drove the new Neil Oatley-designed McLaren tricycle to an outstanding debut. Technically, the team suffered from the untimely death from the pit lane of its designer Gordon Murray, who was hit by a small plane lost in the low clouds. Honda's engineers in turn went into confusion when stray fish appeared on their monitors...".
A bit of serenity in the hurricane of controversy of a Formula One that knows no rest. On Monday 13 November, the big manoeuvres for 1990, ten days before the end of the World Championship, are already underway. Nelson Piquet completes the first tests with Benetton in England and Dereck Warwick tests a new Lotus with a twelve-cylinder Lamborghini engine. At the same time, Ayrton Senna tests a modified McLaren in Portugal. Ferrari announces that it has signed up 23-year-old Gianni Morbidelli from Pesaro, the Italian and European Formula 3 champion, as a test driver and he will be at Fiorano on Wednesday 15 November 1989 for an initial contact with the car. Alain Prost will also arrive at Maranello on Wednesday morning. The World Champion's visit, however, is not for technical reasons as the Frenchman, at least for the time being, has to respect his contract with McLaren, whereby he cannot drive another car until 1 January 1990. The Frenchman will be introduced to engineer Piero Fusaro, Ferrari's president, he will meet technicians and mechanics, visit the facilities and take measurements for the seat he will use next year. The half-stop, it should be remembered, was imposed by Ron Dennis. On the contrary, Ferrari has decided to keep a more gentlemanly attitude with the British team, and will not prevent Gerhard Berger from getting into a McLaren before the permitted deadline. In fact, it seems that the Austrian has been invited to test a McLaren at Suzuka, Japan, in the next few days. Ferrari meanwhile should be waiting for an answer from McLaren designer Steve Nichols. The American has taken a fortnight's holiday before announcing his decision, but he seems to be willing to accept a position that would strengthen the Maranello team's staff. As for Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian has reiterated in recent days his intention to meditate on a possible retirement from competitive activity. But in the interests of fairness, respecting his previous commitments, he went to Estoril for a series of tests obviously concerning the car for the next World Championship.
"Did you see? I already speak Italian much better than before and I'm still making progress. What a thrill to enter this temple of racing, it's every driver's dream and for me it has become reality. Everyone has welcomed me with a lot of kindness, with a lot of sympathy. Here, I can already say that I have found a second home here. I left McLaren because I no longer felt motivated, there were no longer the right human relationships, but here it's something else. Only in Italy can you see these scenes of enthusiasm. I had already realised this at Monza. So I took in with great emotion the new environment that I only knew from afar. I felt like a child on his first day of school. Now, with the fall of the McLaren veto, I can work at full speed on my technical update. I will have a first test next week when I can get into my new car. It is important for me to get familiar with the whole car".
The French champion does not wish to make comparisons, or make judgements in reference to his former team.
"This is not the time for criticism. However, I am convinced that what happened with Senna cannot happen again, that is, to reach such a low level. I don't think Ayrton can retire. You will see".
How did you spend your first day at the factory?
"I spoke with Fiorio, then with President Fusaro, and after that we worked on the seat. They took my measurements, now they'll have to make the seat out of special leather and aluminium, then they'll have to adjust the pedals, in short, next week I'll be able to start driving on the Fiorano track. That will be a really exciting moment, but until then I can't tell you anything, I have no idea how this car is going. Of course, I want to be aware of all the technical problems, I want to know about the development programmes, I want to work on the set-up".
On Mansell, the French driver said:
"He is a very fast driver, with whom I will have no problem".
"We will be competitive, while I think Benetton and Williams can only win on a couple of occasions".
Asked if he thinks he can win five titles, like Fangio, the Frenchman replies:
"I would already be really happy to get to four, but I know it will be very hard".
At this point, a journalist asks Prost if he thinks Senna will really retire from racing:
"Knowing him, I would say no, and then I would be sorry, he is a great opponent, a very good driver. I just didn't get on well with him from a human point of view, that's all. With Mansell I think things will go very well, he is a very fast driver, he will give me a hard time, humanly speaking he is not even comparable to Senna".
A few days later, on Tuesday 21 November 1989, Ayrton Senna, on his return to Brazil after the testing period with McLaren in Portugal, confirms that he will not abandon Formula 1 and breaks off his relationship with Xuxa Meneghel, the Brazilian TV presenter with Italian citizenship, while in Milan the birth of Osella F1 Spa is announced, a company that takes over all the activities of the Piedmontese team that debuted in the 1980 World Championship. Chairman is Enzo Osella, managing director Gabriele Rumi. Osella will compete in the next World Championship with a car: driver and engine will be announced shortly. In a man's life, though full of countless experiences, there is always room for new emotions. Thus, on Thursday 23 November 1989, Alain Prost, three-time Formula 1 World Champion and hero of many battles, is as tense as a little boy when he climbs into a Ferrari for the first time. It is 11:32 a.m.: in the meantime, 150 journalists press at the gates of the Fiorano track. A few minutes later, just enough time to do a few laps on the rain-soaked tarmac, the French driver welcomes the guests. And for Prost the photographers' flashes start, the official pictures, with the new red overalls and the Prancing Horse on his chest.
"I didn't think I could still have such feelings. Not even when I made my debut in a Formula 1 car in 1979 did I feel so nervous. I was a kid then, I'm 34 now, but I still feel younger. I am starting something new, something different, and I realise that I was right to accept the offer from the Italian team, because among other things it gives me great motivation".
Someone had criticised the Ferrari choice: why hire a driver who is already fulfilled?
"And therein lies the mistake. I've won three titles and 39 races, but I'm not off yet. On the contrary. With this team I want to aim for a fourth world championship, because I feel there is the potential to do so. I'll tell you more: my goal is to take a win in the first race in Phoenix, on 11 March. In this way I will reach 40 successes".
A first impression of the Ferrari with the automatic gearbox?
"It is difficult to give an answer right away, especially because of the wet track. I don't think there are any problems. After two laps you get used to it. But don't ask me for now to make a comparison with the McLaren and the Honda engine. It is not possible yet. The only thing that is certain is that the cockpit is much more comfortable, and that there are no problems. I still want to do a lot of kilometres before I start the championship. For the rest, the less I talk about my former stable, the better. I spent fantastic years with them, now it's time to shut down controversies that don't interest me. They are part of the past, that part to be forgotten. As for comparisons with other cars, with other teams, let's wait until 4 December, when we will test at Estoni all together. The gearbox? I had some hesitation going up in the gears and under braking. But that's normal for someone who has never tried it".
"No. I was just waiting to do this test to hear from my team-mate. I will phone him in the next few days. I hope to establish a good relationship with him and I will have no difficulty in helping him if it is within my possibilities and if there is an opportunity".
Then Prost returned to the track, lapping all afternoon with several stops. And it will continue on Friday, weather conditions permitting. Ferrari's technical staff can also be seen on the track, with the first public appearance of Enrique Scalabroni, the new Argentinean designer of Italian origin, who has arrived in Maranello with the responsibility of managing the chassis. Says the engineer who worked for five years at Williams:
"Ferrari has a huge potential unexpressed in recent years. Compared to the British it may still have 1 weapon of imagination that is not to be underestimated. We are working on it: the new car, the 641, should be ready for the first race and will differ from the current one by about twenty per cent".
More precise is engineer Castelli, who technically heads the racing team.
"We are working with a model in the wind tunnel. Some aerodynamic modifications offer interesting results, while the engine will be renewed in a very radical way",
All at work, then. Waiting for the response from Steve Nichols who could be in charge of track operations and experimentation. Meanwhile, chief mechanic Joan Villadelprat lets it be known that he has resigned on 15 December 1989. He will probably go to Benetton, following John Bamard. On Friday 25 November 1989, as planned, Alain Prost concludes the two days of testing on the Ferrari track with the 1989 car. In the morning the Frenchman does some laps then, taking advantage of work on the set-up of the car, he goes to play golf. In the afternoon he tests for two hours. From 4 to 7 December 1989 the French driver will be in Portugal for tyre tests. At the same time the tests of the Benetton with Nannini at Monza (Piquet remained in the pits) and of the Minardi at Misano with Barilla and Martini, who with a time of 1'01"0 set the absolute record at the Romagna circuit. On Sunday, 3 December 1989, if it wasn't for the bitter cold and rain lashing the Lisbon, Portugal, area violently, the weather would be that of a real Grand Prix. Formula 1 returns to the track less than a month before the end of the World Championship, until Sunday 10 December 1989, at a circuit, the Estonian one, chosen precisely because the weather is supposed to be more clement than elsewhere, even if it seems, for the moment, that it does not meet expectations. Seven days of important tests, officially for a tyre test (all Goodyear teams present), but in reality the appointment has much more interesting subtexts, before the long winter work that will then lead to the 1990 World Championship debut in Phoenix, Arizona. The dominant motif concerns the long-distance confrontation between Alain Prost and Gerhard Berger.
The World Champion at the wheel of the Ferrari, the Austrian making his debut with McLaren, both drivers for the first time in public with their new cars. To give an idea of the importance that the teams attach to this appointment, it is enough to think that almost all the drivers at their disposal have been mobilised, test drivers included (Ferrari will also have Mansell and the very young Gianni Morbidelli and the technical staff practically full). In addition to Capelli and Gugelmin, March will also have Giacomelli and four single-seaters, with 39 mechanics and technicians in tow; Lotus will make a comparison between the old car powered by the Judd engine and the experimental one with the 12-cylinder Lamborghini; Williams will have active suspension, and so on. Basically, the purpose of the week is to get the new drivers to do some mileage and, above all, to explore the technical solutions set for the future. It is no mystery that Ferrari is working on a practically new power unit, that McLaren is testing a 12-cylinder engine (and some parts could be tried on this very occasion, albeit mounted on the 10-cylinder), that Benetton will try to find good solutions with the help of John Barnard. Other announced debuts are that of Nicola Larini and Philippe Alliot with Ligier. This will also be the first opportunity for Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost to meet since they officially became teammates. Before travelling to Lisbon, the English driver is in Bologna, Italy, at the Motor Show, where the Ferrari mechanics are rewarded for the record tyre change carried out in 57 seconds during the Japanese Grand Prix. Mansell, in a hoarse voice due to a flu that has struck him in recent days, says that there will be no problems with the Frenchman, that it will be an opportunity to deepen a friendship already cultivated over the years. Then he does a few laps of the mini-track set up inside the exhibition, arousing the enthusiasm of the crowd present as usual.
"We will divide the tasks. In Portugal I will take care of the tyres, he of the engine. But I am confident. Ferrari has already made progress and with the two of us it will make more, until it becomes competitive".
"I don't accept these cuts, you don't act like this with me".
The quarrel is now in danger of ending up in the hands of the lawyers, as John Barnard does not turn up at Estoril, even though at an airport box his booking for a hire car, Mercedes 300, of course, is in plain sight. Then we learn that he was not coming and that on Tuesday he will travel to Detroit for a meeting with Ford, who supply engines to Benetton. Will it just be a technical meeting, or will the chief designer go to the American giant for help? Is it more likely that he will go in search of financial support to implement his plans? But back to the cars on the track, Prost completed 57 laps, busy learning Ferrari's automatic gearbox, in aerodynamic, set-up and engine tests. The French driver also tests new Bilstein shock absorbers. His teammate, Nigel Mansell, on the other hand, only runs laps in the afternoon (48 his passages) to test the goodness of the tyres, as Goodyear carries a total of 1700. The best time is set by Riccardo Patrese with the Williams in 1'17"82, a result that is not very significant, like the others, due to the fact that the drivers use different tyres and the circuit is in non-ideal conditions, with a damp asphalt, especially in the corners. Austrian Berger, for example, only set the tenth fastest time (1'21"07). Says the Austrian driver at the end of the day:
"I ride to get to know the car and to experiment. It's too early to have definitive impressions. But it seems to me that there is not a big gap between McLaren and Ferrari. The Maranello car, the product of a very long gestation by Barnard, is certainly more advanced in concept, and its futuristic gearbox is certainly better. In terms of power, the engines are not dissimilar, but the Honda is more elastic, while the Ferrari is a little brutal, as if it still had a turbo. I don't think there are any secrets to discover: last season Senna and Prost won because they were more reliable and because they were able to exploit small advantages. But I don't think I'm wrong if I predict for the next championship an uncertain and balanced fight between these two teams. As far as I'm concerned I'm working hard, I haven't had a real holiday yet. On Saturday I will be at the Bologna Motor Show, and from 12 to 14 December at Suzuka for another series of tests".
On Tuesday, 5 December 1989 Berger went on track with everyone else, with the exception of Ayrton Senna, who only announced his resumption in February 1990. The McLaren came to Portugal in disguise, just to let Gerhard Berger explore the car and in turn discover the Austrian driver. Ayrton Senna will rest for a couple of months at least and new test driver McNish, winner of the English Formula 3 championship, is expected in the coming days. On the contrary, Ferrari - as said - moved in force. Three drivers, Mansell Prost and Morbidelli, 35 technicians led by engineer Pier Guido Castelli, technical manager, and the new designer Scalabroni, three experts from the Fiat Research Centre in Orbassano headed by engineer Visconti, plus collaborators and suppliers make up the team that has officially started work for the Formula 1 World Championship. Forty and more people, in short. A deployment as impressive as it is opportune. In the 1989 championship, the insufficient winter preparation had delayed the development of the car, which was unreliable at the start of the season, despite the victorious Brazil break. Everyone is willingly committed, the aim is to regain competitiveness. Reiterates Alain Prost, at the end of the tests still interrupted by rain:
"I haven't had a real rest day yet and I'm quite tired. But I'm happy to be here, to be working, to be at the team's disposal because we have the same goal, to beat McLaren and everyone else".
"I don't want to make polemics or unpleasant comparisons with my previous team. Instead, I want to get used to the new car gradually, without forcing the pace. We're doing tests on the set-ups, the ailerons, the engine, in short a basic programme. It seems to me that things are going well, even though the bad weather is hampering us. The automatic gearbox is not a problem, it's just a matter of practising".
The Frenchman, with a smile, glosses over Senna and McLaren, although he lets it be understood that he agrees with what Berger had said on Monday, speaking of the differences between Ferrari and his new team.
"The chassis is very good, the engine powerful but a little less progressive than the Honda".
What does he think of Maranello's working methods?
"From the outside I had thought that in recent years at Ferrari something wasn't working. Now I have to change my mind, the method is that of a top team rich in means and determined to have everything possible. No door is closed. As I had asked, I attend the technical meetings and try to contribute with my experience. With Mansell everything is fine. We run different programmes, he thinks about tyre testing and looks for performance, on my side I take care of the preparation of the new car, the one for 1990. I talked a lot with everyone, with Scalabroni. It's by explaining to each other that problems are solved".
Castelli said that the team was still missing an element for track work and experimentation. Prost renewed his smile and replied:
"If he said that, it means it's true. In any case, it's not a question of numbers, the important thing is the quality of the people and their placement in the right place".
There is always talk of McLaren's designer Steve Nichols with whom negotiations are underway, but the matter is slow going. Some, especially the fans, say that it would be better next year to keep the numbers of last years' cars, i.e. the legendary #27 (Villeneuve's) and #28. Another smile and fulminating retort:
"It seems to me that the #1 is more mythical than the #27".
The World Champion's speeches are then taken up by Castelli:
"The judgments of Prost and also Berger confirmed that the difference with the McLaren was not so great, also because we missed many favourable opportunities due to faults. On the elasticity of the engine we are working hard, and we will try to recover by changing the distribution system. These first days with Alain have made us immediately discover his qualities as a test driver, and I believe his contribution will be very useful to Ferrari".
Tuesday still rain on the Formula 1 tests with a short break after lunchtime. The best time is obtained by Mansell with the Ferrari in 1'18"90, but these are only indicative results: the work on the cars is fragmentary. To be recorded a spin by Gerhard Berger (McLaren) and an off-track of Frenchman Eric Bernard (Lola-Lamborghini): no damage. Radio box, meanwhile, informs that Joan Villadelprat, the Spaniard who will leave the post of chief mechanic of the Maranello team on 15 December 1989, will not go to Benetton with Barnard as was thought, but to Tyrrell with Postlethwaite. Villadelprat will be the team manager of the English team, while the chief mechanics for the Maranello cars will be Umberto Benassi for the track and Paolino Scaramelli for testing. Even on Wednesday, 6 December 1989, it continues to rain on Formula 1 practice. The drivers run about forty laps, and Patrese with the Williams scores the best time with 1'18"20, placing himself in the time classification ahead of Berger (1'18"49), Mansell (1'19"11), Piquet (1'19"30) and Prost (1'19"38). It was Prost himself who, after 38 laps, broke his Ferrari's engine as it started raining again, forcing all the drivers to return to the pits. An opportunity, the forced stop, to exchange a few impressions with Alessandro Nannini. He begins as follows:
"Until some time ago I was just Nannini's brother. Now, at least in Japan and the US, where she is a little less well known, she is Nannini's sister".
"It was a stroke of luck but my merit, however, was to be there, behind the Brazilian".
Four years in Formula 1, the next one should be the decisive one to grab the top positions permanently.
"Of course. You have to win. At this point it is necessary to make the leap in quality, that is, to stabilise the results at the top. I, for my part, have the objective of fighting at the top of the table".
What does Nelson Piquet's presence in the team represent?
"First of all a guarantee for the set-up of the cars. I, I must confess, get bored to death in practice, my instincts only reveal themselves in the race, in the competition. He, on the other hand, is patient and very good. And what's more, the Brazilian champion will also be a stimulus, as the direct comparison is made above all with his team-mate".
Is the Benetton-Ford team capable of joining McLaren, Williams and Ferrari at the top of Formula 1?
"I am sure of it. The team is well organised. With the arrival of John Barnard the technical development will be remarkable. And Ford, if it wants, is the most qualified manufacturer, in terms of means and technology, to counter Honda".
So what will the next World Championship be like?
"There will be a more competitive Benetton, and I can also foresee that inevitably McLaren will lose a few strokes. So more uncertain, exciting races. As for the drivers, I think the man to watch will be the Italian-born Frenchman Jean Alesi. He seems to me a very fast and determined guy".
And Alessandro Nannini?
"I'm preparing for a 1990 to be stormed".
To have succeeded in convincing Steve Nichols, until a few days before possible number one at McLaren, given that technical manager Gordon Murray will presumably dedicate himself to the construction of the British team's announced grand touring car, is a blow of considerable proportions. Not so much because there is no prospect in a Ferrari to work well and at the top (the means and the will are certainly not lacking), but because the designer's graft was delicate, difficult and problematic, coming to overlap with already consolidated structures. Money was therefore not enough to solve the case. But Cesare Fiorio, it must be acknowledged, on this occasion achieved one of his political masterpieces. Capturing Nichols, convincing him to accept a status other than that of first mover, must not have been easy and this is shown by the course of the negotiations, which were long, laborious and recently close to a negative solution. The American engineer, who has extraordinary experience in the sector (having also worked at Hercules on the Trident missile project), will move to Maranello from 1 January 1990, taking the step that Barnard had never wanted to take. Now Ferrari can look to the future with optimism and also with a certain serenity, knowing that it has done its utmost to become a winner again. The confirmation of Nigel Mansell, the arrival of a champion of the calibre of Alain Prost, the support of a young test driver such as the promising Gianni Morbidelli, the acquisition of an element of the value of Enrique Scalabroni for chassis design (the Argentinean also has some merit in having said yes to the acquisition of Nichols), the restructuring of the team with all-Italian chief mechanics, the maturation after an arduous break-in year of engineer Pier Guido Castelli who is the technical director and all his young collaborators, all point to an exciting season, to a return to victory. Even if the others will not stand still and the task will always be very arduous. Ferrari has had the encouragement of Cesare Romiti - "Full support from the Fiat group and complete autonomy" - and its very attentive chairman, Piero Fusaro. Now it is a matter of getting down to work.