One hundred and forty thousand spectators, crowded grandstands and Ferrari cheering tinged with pure integralism. This was Imola. Riccardo Patrese, when Tambay’s Ferrari passed in 1983, ruining – only momentarily – the Ferrari party. But an opportunity to settle the accounts always comes up. And for ‘Richard the Lionheart‘, come call him the print the next day, that opportunity comes seven years later.
It is May 13, 1990, an important anniversary because forty years earlier Formula 1 began its epic in Silverstone. There is Imola to ennoble that very significant anniversary, in a season that in the first two races provided the right spot to attract the Ferrari horde to the banks of the Santerno. Two winners in the two different races, but above all at the wheel of the Red – the 641 F1, so beautiful that it is at the MoMA in New York – is the reigning champion Alain Prost. Who in the previous GP ruined the party in Senna, knocking out Interlagos after Ayrton had triumphed in Phoenix.
The fans are waiting for him for the big party, but they will remain dry-mouthed. Qualifying is the prologue to Sunday’s performance: the Reds are relegated to the third row, with Mansell fifth and Prost following. It will not go much better the next day, in a race that gives everyone in the first few minutes, only to experience the challenge between Berger and Patrese. From the start, there is no lack of controversial moments. Berger (who takes second behind the usual Senna) and Boutsen move before the red goes out, yet they pass it unscathed.
Senna still arrives at the Tosa in command, while behind Mansell, coming out of the Tamburello, he places his wheels on the grass, raising a fuss that kills Nakajima, Capelli and Moreno in one fell swoop. At the fourth lap, the first turning point of the race: Ayrton ends up on the Rivazza track with the rim out of use (perhaps due to debris left by the initial accident).
Out of Senna, Boutsen goes in the lead, but it doesn’t last long because his engine is having a tantrum, forcing him to retire. The acrobatic Mansell thinks to rekindle Ferrari’s hopes, who towards the middle of the race attacks the Berger tread shortly after the Tamburello. And a lot of controversy, because Gerhard closes Nigel at over 300 per hour, forcing the British into a spectacular spin. “I thought we were friends, I’m sorry I changed my mind about Berger” Mansell will attach it to the microphones. The red dream ends there: a bit of dirt slips into the Ferrari radiators, raising the oil temperature to the point of causing Mansell to retire. Outside Nigel, Ferrari’s hopes collapse, as Prost navigates in an anonymous fourth place, with which he will close the race.
However, there is one last card that wears the Italian colors: it is Riccardo Patrese. The Paduan picks up the pace and with his Williams-Renault attacks Berger, gaining the leadership, which he will never leave. This time Imola will be sweet with him, even if the speaker at the racetrack, on the podium, lets himself go: “Think if today an Italian had won in a Ferrari …“. Riccardo responds calmly: “That’s okay, even if I admit that on a Ferrari I would have received even more applause”. It is the right compensation for the bad story of seven years earlier, when Riccardo was overwhelmed by whistles as he passed Tambay, only to end up against the barriers giving the victory to the French.
“I passed Berger where I passed Tambay seven years ago, I was focused like never before” Patrese will say on the podium. A podium that, despite the Ferrari debacle, sees a lot of Italy, as Alessandro Nannini closes behind Berger, third on Benetton-Ford. Even if, even with two Italians on the podium, for the red people it remains a half party. “If Patrese and Nannini, instead of first and third, would have been last and penultimate and Prost first, then yes it would be a celebration of the people” Gian Paolo Ormezzano writes the following day on the print. There is no need to add more.