April 22, 2009 A Formula One car at the centre of one of the most bitter battles in F1 history, as well as one of its most infamous acts, goes under the hammer at the highly anticipated Ferrari Leggenda e Passione event at Ferrari’s home in Maranello on May 17. The car is the Ferrari 641/2 F1 car driven by Alain Prost in 1990 during his acrimonious run-ins with his McLaren rival, Ayrton Senna. It is also the actual car that Prost was driving when Senna punted him off the track in Japan within seconds of the start of the race, handing the Brazilian the 1990 title – an act which prompted an appalled Prost to make the comment that “motor racing is sport, not war.” In the hands of Prost, chassis 121 scored in total two third-place finishes, two second places and a victory in 1990, and is expected to fetch an estimated USD$700,000 at auction.
Ferrari F1 Clienti department, which maintains Ferrari Formula One cars for owners so they can drive them at selected events around the world, carried out a no-expense-spared overhaul on the unique 1990 Ferrari 641/2 F1 car, at a cost of nearly €110,000. Work included fitting a new injection system and set of gears for the sequential box, an overhaul of the braking system and dyno testing of the engine. No fewer than 360 hours were spent refurbishing the car, which was subsequently shaken down at Fiorano in April 2008 by the Ferrari test drivers. Ferrari F1 Clienti welcomes the car, which still performs impeccably, at any of its events during the 2009 season and even the Monaco Historic Grand Prix in 2010.
The year 1990 saw Ferrari with a dream driver line-up. Nigel Mansell, who fans called “Il Leone” (The Lion), was in his second season with the Scuderia and “Le Professeur” (The Professor), Alain Prost, was making his debut with the Maranello team. Ferrari was to have its best season in years.
Steve Nichols joined Ferrari from McLaren in November 1989 and thus inherited a John Barnard-designed car for the second time in his career. His 1987 McLaren MP4/3 had been a logical development of Barnard’s last car for that team, and Nichols decided against making any drastic changes to the Ferrari 640 concept. A larger and more robust fuel tank was used, the bodywork was revised and huge advances were made with both the sequential gear change and engine development. Ferrari’s V-12 engine was acknowledged to be one of the most powerful power plants by the middle of the season. The Ferrari 641 was a superb handling racing car, which Alain Prost described as being “the best car on the grid".
The 1990 season was to see the height of the bitter feud between Prost and Ayrton Senna. The 1989 championship had ended in acrimony with a clash between the two rivals at Suzuka. Prost retired, while Senna pitted for a new nose and duly won the race. He was later disqualified and fined. Prost was handed the title and the sport’s governing body refused to issue Senna with a license at the beginning of 1990 until he had paid his penalty and made a public apology. Both drivers blamed each other for the incident and the scene was set for more fireworks in 1990.
Ferrari 641/2 chassis number 121 was made available to Prost for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa on Sunday, August 26. Prost qualified third on the grid and finished an excellent second.
The next round at Monza produced a similar result. Prost qualified second in chassis 121, behind Senna and finished the race in the same position. At Estoril Mansell and Prost, again behind the wheel of chassis 121, occupied the front row with Senna slotted in behind. The start was a disaster for Prost. His teammate cut across the track in front of him and both McLarens were passed in an instant. Prost finished third.
At Jerez, Prost began to claw back some advantage. He and Senna were first and second on the grid again, but this time it was Senna who had bad luck, retiring with a punctured radiator. Driving chassis 121, victory at the Spanish Grand Prix was Prost’s. After the race he spoke of the tremendous spirit in the Ferrari team and the realistic chance he had to take the championship.
It was not to be. The next race was the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. On the first corner of the first lap, Senna, who was unhappy about pole position being on the dirty side of the circuit, punted Prost off the circuit, giving him the championship. The two men’s bitter rivalry had culminated in a repeat of the previous season. Prost was appalled and outspoken. “Motor racing is sport, not war,” he said.
Senna of course blamed Prost and it would take another year before Senna admitted that the move was deliberate. “He just had to let me through,” said Senna. “I didn’t care if we crashed. He took a chance, he turned, and we crashed. But what happened was a result of 1989. It was built up. It was unavoidable. It had to happen. I did contribute to it, yes. But it was not my responsibility.” Later the two rivals were reconciled and became friends.
Driven by Prost, chassis 121 had two third-place finishes, one being in the season’s final round in Australia, two seconds and a dominant victory during the 1990 season. This car has since spent some time in both the United States and Japan in important private collections.
More significantly, this car is a unique piece of Grand Prix history. It was raced by Alain Prost in perhaps the most acrimonious and fiercely fought Formula 1 championships ever, and was an innocent party in one of the most infamous acts seen in the sport. Just before the start of the Japanese Grand Prix of 1990 Prost said, “Whatever happens, I feel that, technically, Ferrari has won the championship this year, because we have the best car…” A few seconds after the green light, it was all over.
Specifications: Est. 685 bhp at 13,000 rpm, 3,500 cc 65-degree Ferrari Tipo 036/037 V-12 engine, Magneti Marelli/Weber fuel injection, Ferrari seven-speed transmission, double wishbone, pushrod-actuated inboard torsion bar and damper front suspension, double wishbone, pushrod-actuated inboard coil-spring/damper rear suspension, four-wheel SEP/Brembo disc brakes. Wheelbase: 2,855 mm (113.4 in.)