Features - Interview
APRIL 1, 1992
BY JOE SAWARD
For four years Michele Alboreto was a Ferrari driver. He won five Grands Prix and was second in the 1985 World Championship. In 1988 his F1 career went off the rails.
"I reached an agreement with Frank Williams," he says. "Everything was done by Hockenheim in July. I didn't sign a contract because Frank said there was a difficult situation with the team, but it was close enough to open a bottle of champagne with some mutual friends in a hotel room. From mid-July to September I had kept asking him to tell me if he had a problem because I had other good opportunities. He continued to say:"Absolutely, I want you. Keep quiet. Don't move because you will drive for me." I said OK. I trusted him.
"At the end of September he called me and said "I'm sorry Michele, I can't give you the drive."
It put me in a very difficult situation.
"The question was whether to stop racing or forgetting the success I had had and starting all over again. The important thing in F1 is what you do day by day, not what you did in the past.
"It would have been easy for me to stop. I have other things to do. My family pushed hard for me to stop but, unfortunately, when I wake up in the morning the first thing that I would like to do is to drive a car. As long as I have this passion I will continue. I believe that I am good, and better maybe than in the past.
"After the business with Frank the only good solution I saw around was to drive for Ken Tyrrell. Harvey Postlethwaite had left Ferrari and I knew that he was designing the car with mono-damping at the front. Ken said: "We have no budget, no sponsors. We have no money to give you except expenses. If you want to take this risk, we are very happy to have you." I didn't need money to survive and I just asked Ken to keep my personal agreement with Marlboro during the season. I had spent many years with Marlboro and I wanted to stay with them. Ken said OK.
"We started with the old car. The seating position was very bad for me and I had trouble driving it. I was waiting for the new car. It arrived in Imola, without being tested and I had a lot of problems and I didn't qualify. We found that a screw had come out of the monoshock and there was no damping at all. We fixed it and in the race Jonathan Palmer took the car and scored a point.
"The next race was Monaco and when I arrived I found that I had the old car. The second new chassis was not ready on Thursday. I don't know why Ken did it, but he said: "The new car is for Jonathan, your car will arrive for Saturday." I was really mad after what I had done in F1 and the risk I had taken joining Tyrrell. I decided not to accept this. I didn't drive on Thursday. Ken was very upset but the new car came for Saturday and I did a very good race and finished fifth. The relationship was a bit strained but after that I finished third in Mexico and could have finished second in Phoenix, but the transmission broke. I was really confident. Just before Paul Ricard, Ken told me that if I wanted to race with him I had to become a Camel driver.
"I had been with Marlboro for many years and I don't like to break contracts. I asked Ken to talk to Marlboro about it, but he said: "No, that's your problem". I was really mad about it and I said: "That's it. I don't want to drive for this team anymore. You do not have the mentality to be a winner". I think that is true. He will never be back as he was once. It is not the same Ken Tyrrell that I knew.
"I asked Marlboro to help to find me another team but they said: "Sorry, you are not driving a car, so you are not with Marlboro anymore. You are free to do what you want". That was my third big disillusionment."
"Three or four races afterwards Gerard Larrousse called me and asked me to drive. I said OK. There was no money, the Lamborghini engines were new and we were in pre-qualifying. In Hungary to qualify the car I cut the chicane and broke two ribs and for the rest of the season it was really painful.
"It was the worst season of my career, but in Monza I reached an agreement with Jackie Oliver to join Footwork for 1990. I found Mr Wataru Ohashi (the owner) very strong, with long-term plans and I was really confident for the future. We made an agreement with Porsche and I worked with them to make the engine competitive. It was too late, the car was late and then in the first test on a high-speed track I lost the wing in Tamburello corner. That was a very big crash. I had a broken bone and 18 stitches in my foot and I was there at Imola trying to qualify the car without testing. That was the lowest point of my F1 career but I went on. I wanted to prove that I was stronger than all these things.
"As the season went on I worked hard and made some miracles. The engine was really heavy and lacking power. The car was not good enough.
"Because I was trying hard the team trusted me and we went on and reached agreement with Mugen Honda for this year."
After a shaky start, the team is now up to speed with Michele finishing fifth in both Spain and San Marino and fighting for points in Monaco.
"This," says Michele, "is my first real season since 1989. It is going well because we have a very reliable engine and I can work on the car to find the small things which make a car really quick. If you are not reliable you never find them.
"Now the car is very very good. It's not possible to win races, but to qualify in the top 10 and finish in the points is like a win now. If we had 30 kilos less weight and 30-50 more horsepower I could put the car on the podium and maybe win.
"The important thing is that I am enjoying it again, rediscovering that I can run my races as in the past. These are the things that make me enjoy driving F1.