The world of Formula One, at the beginning of the last decade of the second millennium, witnesses the consequences dictated by the episode of the Japanese Grand Prix, raced in Suzuka, in 1989: Alain Prost leaves McLaren, given the turbulent climate inside the British team with Ayrton Senna and Ron Dennis, and decides to marry the Ferrari project, sharing the garage with Nigel Mansell.
On the one hand the English Lion, on the other the Professor, three times World Champion and reigning champion, together create an extraordinary couple, which literally ignites the environment of Maranello.
The Prost-Senna duel is made even more fascinating by the historical rivalry between Ferrari and McLaren, given that 1990 presents itself with very high ambitions for the Prancing Horse.
Incredible work on the engine
The Ferrari 641 F1, also known by the acronym F1-90, is the evolution of the 640 F1, from which it differs little from the point of view of the chassis, since it retains the external dimensions, the duck nose and the radiator outlets in definitely ahead of the McLaren MP4-5B.
In 1989, the single-seater project was followed by John Barnard, but the British, at the end of the year, due to disagreements with the new Maranello organization chart, moved to Benetton as technical director: development therefore continued under the direction of Enrique Scalabroni, and Steve Nichols, torn by his rivals from Woking.
On February 2, 1990, in Maranello, in the traditional setting of the Ferrari racing department, the new car was presented. At the ceremony, in addition to the two drivers Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost, and the test driver Gianni Morbidelli, the president of Ferrari, Piero Fusaro, the sporting director Cesare Fiorio, and Luca Cordero di Montezemolo representing the Fiat Group also attended.
The side bellies, very low, have the typical shape of a violin case, therefore very rounded, which start from the side air intakes, widen up to 3/4 of the car, and then tighten towards the rear, creating the so-called shape to Coca-Cola and end on the gearbox, making the car aerodynamically very effective.
The ailerons do not have exaggerated dimensions, especially compared to competitors, and this is an indication of a better aerodynamic efficiency of the car body, which alone manages to provide sufficient downforce and offer optimal road holding.
The extractor profile is also smaller than those of other cars, since the 641 makes good use of the ground effect thanks to the aerodynamic shape of the car body, and a very light frame.
As for the mechanical aspect, the suspensions are push-rod type.
The F1-90 is still born with a 12-cylinder engine marked 036, similar to the one used the previous year, while the seven-speed longitudinal gearbox, with electro-hydraulic control and electronic management, is one of the main innovations: the latter has overall dimensions lower than in 1989, and allows for a particularly slender and considerably lightened transmission unit.
Changes to the transmission were also adopted in an attempt to improve the reliability of the gearbox, the main source of mechanical trouble in the previous championship.
In view of the greater power output, with consequent increased consumption, the fuel tank capacity has been increased to 215 liters, thus ensuring the required distance can be covered even on challenging and critical tracks in this respect, such as Imola and Montreal.
Alain Prost, pilot and engineer
Starting from the Grand Prix of the Republic of San Marino, the 641 F1 undergoes some technical changes: during the qualifying tests, Ferrari introduces a new version of the 037 engines, characterized by a shortened piston stroke.
The new single-seater, signed 641/2, retains the bodywork separate from the chassis, thus ensuring the possibility of making any aerodynamic changes faster, and has a more pointed and less squared nose.
Barnard's departure initially portends Ferrari great difficulties from an aerodynamic point of view, but the 641/2, thanks to the work carried out by Nichols and the Argentine Henrique Scalabroni, will prove to be extremely competitive, and at times even dominant, as for example in France, where Ferrari presents a new wing, with two side bulkheads that create a sort of air channelling that allows the car to obtain a clear improvement in terms of downforce.
An important part of the credit also goes to Alain Prost, who proves indispensable during the development of the car: it is precisely during the testing phase that all the genius and indisputable ability of the French driver to contribute to the development of the car, and to refine its quality, squeezing it from every point of view.
A further evolution of the 037 engine is brought to the track starting from the Hungarian Grand Prix, and thanks to this, the different stroke and bore sizes result in a reduction in displacement from 3.497 to 3.499 cm³. Furthermore, the application of mathematical simulation models allows to constantly improve the thermodynamic performance.
During the season, Ferrari technicians work hard to minimize internal friction, while at the same time lightening the moving parts and developing some increasingly refined lubricants, with which the maximum engine rpm is progressively increased and, consequently, the power delivered, causing the initial version of the 036 from 665 horsepower to 13.200 rpm, culminates in the evolved 037 from 710 horsepower to 13.800 rpm.
It should also be noted the use of light and resistant materials at the same time, such as the light alloy used above all to make the cylinder head, or the titanium with which the intake valves are built. Ferrari chooses to equip the engine with five valves per cylinder, three intake and two exhaust: this solution can theoretically allow an increase in the volumetric efficiency of the engine; however it makes the design of the combustion chambers more difficult due to greater crowding and interference between flows during the intake and exhaust phases.
Finally, the distribution is a cascade of gears.
Prost against Senna, the duel is renewed
Overall the Ferrari 641 F1 proves fast, and especially in the case of Prost, reliable. But the McLaren Mp4-5B is, at least at the beginning of the championship, superior. Albeit not overwhelmingly.
Thanks to the Professor's abilities, not only as a driver, but also as a test driver, the Rossa quickly became the number one rival of the English team from Woking.
The updated version, called 641/2, made its debut in Imola with Mansell, who retired due to engine failure, while for Prost it was decided to use the old 641 for the last time, with which he finished the race in fourth place.
Basically the two single-seaters differ in some aerodynamic details, thanks to which the 641/2 is well recognizable compared to the previous model: the square nose is abandoned in favor of a round appendix, moreover the attack of the bellies becomes sinuous in the upper part; both details subject to modification, until now have remained almost unchanged from the 640 F1 of the 1989 season, as they came from Barnard's pencil. Improvements have also been made to the suspension compartment and, as anticipated, the engine power is increased and the tank capacity increased.
The contribution made by the French driver is remarkable, and he was immediately identified as the first rider of Ferrari, thus degrading Nigel Mansell to a common gregarious, especially after the British Grand Prix, where the British driver, after yet another stop for mechanical reasons, he decides to retire from sports competitions, only to think about it at the end of the year.
Inevitably, a hot rivalry arises between the two, often resulting in situations of very high tension, as in the Portuguese Grand Prix, won by the English Lion (the only one in the championship), after the latter pushes his teammate almost to the wall at the start, thus favouring Senna, who ends the race in front of his direct rival for the championship.
Mansell will justify himself by saying that he had been promised at least the achievement of a victory, in order to equalize the calculation of Stirling Moss's victories, while Alain Prost will address heavy accusations against the Maranello team, guilty of not having the ability to manage league developments in the best possible way.
But the five successes and the nine total podiums highlight the qualities of the three-time French World Champion, who seriously manages to worry the great Ayrton Senna, considered the number one favorite for the world title. So, after a slow start, with the only victory in Brazil, starting from the Mexican Grand Prix, the Ferraris achieved a series of positive results, which are countered only by the Senna, able with Honda to find an electronic set-up in every race that guaranteed him to be able to hinder the race of his eternal rival.
Suzuka 1990: revenge is served
The contact between Senna and Prost in Suzuka, during the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, still represents today one of the most controversial episodes in the history of Formula One: the Frenchman had forcefully closed the door to the Brazilian during an overtaking maneuver of this last at the final chicane, called Casio Triangle.
For the Professor, the competition ended without any kind of possibility of restart, while Senna managed to resume the march thanks to the help of the commissioners. Then he returned to the pits to replace the nose of his car and re-entered the track with six laps to go, furiously reassembling Nannini's Benetton and taking home the victory, later revoked by the commissioners with a disqualification, who penalized the Brazilian for having cut the chicane at the restart after the accident with Prost, allowing the latter to mathematically become World Champion.
All this resulted in the anger of Senna, who accused the FIA of having manipulated the outcome of the championship. And the McLaren appeal was of little use; the Brazilian was even accused of having created remarkably dangerous situations on the track in the last two years.
The fact is that Suzuka 1989 serves as a background for the outcome of the 1990 championship: after Senna's retirement in Spain and Prost's victory, the Circus arrives in Japan, again in Suzuka, for the penultimate Grand Prix of the season.
After scoring pole position, and having been refused the change of position on the starting grid, as originally expected, Senna sprints in front of Prost, who was unable to set a better time than the Brazilian driver: the two have recently separated more than two tenths of a second.
Winning the Japanese Grand Prix is essential for the Frenchman if he wants to keep the games open until the final Grand Prix, which will be held in Australia.
At the start, the Professor surpasses his rival McLaren, but the latter, without thinking twice, decides to throw himself into a non-existent space, causing an inevitable contact with Prost and the consequent withdrawal of both.
Right from the start it is evident that Senna's move is too aggressive and infamous, especially since an experienced driver like him cannot interpret the very fast first corner of the Suzuka circuit so rashly.
The Brazilian driver, returning to the pits, makes an unequivocal statement:
"That's how races are, sometimes they finish at the first corner, sometimes six laps from the end of the race".
Alluding to the contact between him and Prost of the previous year, which took place just six back from the checkered flag.
It is clear that Ayrton has not forgotten the episode of the previous year, and instead of appeasing the controversy, he has further fueled the flame.
Unlike 1989, however, the personal conflict between Senna and Prost does not only concern McLaren, which among other things arrived in Japan with the arithmetic certainty of having won both titles, but also Ferrari, still fully in the running to snatch the crown from the Woking team; a similar episode undoubtedly plays against the Ferrari, effectively delivering the Drivers and Constructors' championship to Senna and McLaren.
There are endless controversies and disputes, above all because Senna has absolutely no hidden intention to hit Prost at the first corner, but by now the fate of the 1990 world championship has been written.
The Ferrari 641 F1, driven by Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell, is therefore one of the most competitive single-seaters of the Prancing Horse of the 1990s: at the end of the championship, with Prost's five wins and Mansell's only success, it achieved the same number of victories of the McLaren MP4/5B world champion, or six, something that had not happened in Maranello since the time of the 312 T4 in 1979; there are three starts at the pole, all by the British, and five fastest laps, three for Mansell and two for Prost.
But from now on, in Maranello we will have to wait for Schumacher's arrival to relive a high-ranking season.
Simone Pietro Zazza