NEWS FEATURE

Senna arrives late for work

At 07:00 on Friday morning, as Rome was waking up to the news that Ayrton Senna might not race for McLaren at Imola, Ayrton was on his final approach to the city's Leonardo da Vinci airport at Fiumicino on board an Alitalia flight from Sao Paulo. A driver was there to meet him, but they missed one another and so Senna jumped into a taxi and hurtled across Rome to the national airport at Ciampino, where McLaren's Challenger executive jet was waiting for him. They flew to Bologna airport where a helicopter awaited Ayrton's arrival. This whisked him to the heliport of the Autodromo Enzo & Dino Ferrari. A quick ride through the crowds on the back of a motor scooter got Senna to the McLaren motorhome with just a few minutes to spare before the start of Friday's free practice session for the Grand Prix. A few moments later, now changed into his racing suit, he climbed aboard his McLaren-Ford MP4/8.

Less than an hour later Ayrton spun backwards into a concrete wall at the exit of Tosa corner.

"I made a mistake and touched a kerb," he admitted. "The car just went around and I couldn't control it. It was my mistake."

Did flying all night and then spending the morning racing around Italy cause the accident?

"I don't think so," smiled Ayrton, "but of course those who want to believe it will claim that. I feel fine. Of course I am not 100% rested, but my health is good. I'm in a very good condition to cope with not only the physical, but also mental stress. I am trained for much harder conditions than this and therefore I don't feel I had to stretch myself anywhere near what I can do if I have to."

So why did he have to fly in so late. What was going on?

"It is very simple. Until now it has been very difficult to tell the truth and talk about why we haven't been able to sign a deal. It would have created problems for certain people involved and therefore I had to measure my thoughts and words. That was worth doing because it was constructive for the team.

"In the meantime of course I was blamed and people said I was greedy and asking too money. I can only say that the deal we tried to put together before I even tested the car is largely the same deal that we have been talking about the whole time. The circumstances are very difficult and it takes time to get everyone in the same frame of mind and put everything together. However, I can say that although we don't have a formal contract signed, I believe that the terms and conditions are achievable and the people involved knew that. I think it would have been only a matter of days before this was formalized.

"But that wasn't the reason I came late. If I had wanted a signed contract before the race in my mind that was already out of the question. I realised there were some difficulties and in these circumstances you have to be prepared to be flexible.

"The reason I came late was simply the engine. I think although Ford has a contract with Benetton, and people must respect their commitments to each other, we got three good results in the first three races which Ford never dreamed of getting. We proved ourselves, not with words but with action. Benetton got six points with two cars, I got 26 points. This is indisputable. We all know that there is a better engine available and Benetton is blocking it. Ford has made a lot of effort to find an amicable solution with Benetton - maybe a little late, maybe they could have done it a little earlier - but they have finally realised and tried hard and they put a deal together last Wednesday and Thursday. Benetton then moved the goalposts. It is very frustrating. I think it is ridiculous.

"Of course, every team wants the best for itself, this is business, but there is a limit to how selfish you can be and forget that Ford is much bigger than Benetton, Ford has been motor racing much longer and have supported - financially and technically - the team for many years. We know that at the eighth race it is all academic anyway. Why hold out for so long in a situation like this. I think it is very unfair.

"Especially when they request things and Ford fulfilled them and then they change the deal to perhaps win time and block the deal for another race. I was very pissed off about it and frustrated and I thought: "I don't need this shit. Why do I need to go to Imola and cope with this situation?" And then I thought about it some more and I realised that all Benetton was trying to do was to block my participation. They knew I was not prepared to come unless we had the engine.

"So I reconsidered and decided to come and not give them the opportunity to damage us. I changed my mind and got the plane just in time. It worked just fine. This is not a personal thing. It is business. You make a proposal to someone and you stick to it and then people then go back and change it. That isn't business. It is a joke.

"We know the engines are 0.7- 0.8s faster around Silverstone. And I feel it would be the same or more here at Imola. It would help us, but you cannot beat power. It could help us compete with Williams, not with Benetton. They are not competition yet. They may do well, of course, because they have a good car but the fact is that the best chance Ford has at the moment is McLaren."

"Now it is tough for us. We have to run with as little wing as possible because of the power and that makes the car very tricky to drive."

On Friday afternoon Ayrton had another accident spinning at the last corner and nearly hitting the pit wall. The following day - after a night of sleep - he spun again at the exit of Acque Minerale and smashed the rear of his car again.

Perhaps it was not tiredness after all.

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