A badly rewarded champion?
Ah, 1992. It’s a long way off! Michael Schumacher wins his first race at Spa with Benetton, Jean Alesi carries a Scuderia Ferrari at the bottom of the hole at arm’s length, Paul Belmondo drives for March, an obscure Italian team Andrea Moda, whose boss fricots with the mafia, drives wrecks and the last woman to officially line up in F1, Giovana Amati, couldn’t do anything about a miserable Brabham-Judd she shares with a rookie named Damon Hill. But 1992 is above all the year of Nigel Mansell, who, driving a missile called Williams-Renault, literally atomized the competition. With a fearsome active suspension and an exceptional Renault V10, the FW14 outclasses all other cars. So much so that, by finishing 2nd in the Hungarian Grand Prix, in the 11th of the 16 races of the season, Mansell finally won the world title, which had eluded him in 1986, 1987 and 1991.
Adored by the fans for his audacity and spectacular driving, but also mocked by part of the paddock for his legendary blunders, his sometimes clumsy manners and his image of a magnificent “looser”, the “lion”, as the tifosis call him. enjoyed his time at Ferrari, did not miss his chance. Except that at the end of the Hungarian GP which crowns him, it’s a slap. Intoxicated by success, Mansell asked Frank Williams for an extension for 1993 with a very substantial salary increase, even exorbitant for some well-informed observers. Williams showers the pretensions of the English, because the devious British boss, always as clever in the negotiations, has two other irons in the fire, and not the least: Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna!
A Williams Named Desire
Forced into a sabbatical year after being fired like a mess by Ferrari at the end of 1991 (the truck!), Alain Prost gave up his plan to take over Ligier and actively prepared his return for 1993. The Frenchman returned to Renault and Elf , ten years after the bitterness of a first collaboration which had failed, and, supported by the French engine manufacturer and tanker, signed a pre-contract with Williams. But who is also knocking on the door of Grove (Williams’ headquarters, editor’s note)? Ayrton Senna of course! Honda having announced its withdrawal from F1 at the end of the 1992 season (and they will leave for good, not like today…), McLaren finds itself for the 1993 season with an engine supply problem, not to mention that Woking was unable to develop a machine as sophisticated as the Williams. Ron Dennis is going all out in order to keep his Brazilian pearl, even to the point of considering buying the Ligier team in order to get his hands on the Renault V10 which powers the blues! Senna does not care and plays his personal card, via his management company “Ayrton Senna Group” which he has just founded with the agent Julian Jakobi.
Contacts are established with Ferrari via Niki Lauda – we speak then of a salary of 25 million and solid technical requirements – but the boss of Ferrari, Luca Di Montezemolo closes the door, knowing full well that Ferrari is not yet in able to give Magic what it expects. It’s not the first time nor the last that the Scuderia and Senna have collided, but this fan-fantasized collaboration will never happen. Obsessed with success, Senna wants the best car to win and lobbies Williams, even offering to drive for free! One can imagine the temptation of Frank Williams, who had allowed “Magic” to carry out a first test in F1 1983 and who had almost entered it in 1985 before being overtaken by Lotus. Who wouldn’t want to afford such a pilot? However, there is an obstacle: Alain Prost, who does not want to cohabit again with his great rival, after an experience at McLaren which was, to put it mildly, complicated! Prost’s contract includes a release clause in case Williams hires Senna! A dangerous game for Williams, who had already tried to play on several fronts the previous year (with Jean Alesi in particular). Mansell in all this? Forgotten and pushed out!
Senna will take his troubles patiently, Mansell goes into exile
Between the end of August and September, the chessboard is set up. The recruitment of Prost was announced with great fanfare before the Portuguese Grand Prix, for the 1993 and 1994 seasons, provoking a very virulent reaction in the media from Senna who denounced the “cowardice” of the Frenchman who refused direct confrontation with him. The French sweeps away these spades, deploring the attitude of capricious child of his adversary. This tension once again raw between the two men, we will feel it throughout the 1993 season. The Brazilian must make up his mind and will hesitate between several options, from the sabbatical year to the extension by default at Mclaren, going through the American temptation via an Indycar test with Penske which will take place at the end of the year at Laguna Seca.
Senna finally resigned himself to staying McLaren and was content with a customer V8 Ford, but demanding to be paid 1 million dollars per race (!) before joining Williams in 1994 after Prost’s retirement. As for Mansell, who did not feel wanted, who felt humiliated by a lower salary offer from Williams and who certainly did not want to cohabit again with Prost after a first painful experience at Ferrari in 1990, he announced his retirement from F1 on the sidelines of the Italian Grand Prix. He went to Indycar with Newman-Haas to win the 1993 CART championship then returned to F1 in 1994, recalled in disaster by…Williams, after the tragic death of Senna at Imola. Crossed destinies.