Motor Racing: Senna gives Mansell a clear run

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL was out on the golf course, unaware that his day was growing better by the minute. His work had already exceeded expectations, yielding provisional pole position for tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix with a lap almost 2.2sec faster than his closest challenger, Ayrton Senna. So much for doubts about his motivation.

As Mansell then proceeded to blast his way down the fairways, Senna revealed that he was ruling himself out of contention for a seat with Williams-Renault next season. That, presumably, leaves Mansell with a simple pitch and putt to book his place alongside Alain Prost.

It could be, of course, the desperate last throw of the dice by Senna, yet he claimed there was no point pursuing the drive because Prost had exercised his power of veto. The Brazilian is disenchanted by his one indifferent season with McLaren, and Honda and see no prospect of improvement in 1993. He is preparing himself for a year's sabbatical, which Prost is about to complete.

Senna said: 'I am finished with Williams. I shall not be going there. We were close two or three times in negotiations but then they rang and said there was a problem. Now I realise I am wasting my time.

'Williams and Renault wanted me but Prost has had a contract for several months and he has a clause giving him power of veto over the other driver. He has excluded me. Unless everything changes technically at McLaren between now and February, I shall retire for a year. If you ask me today then I have to say I think I shall have a sabbatical.'

It is ironic that Senna should become the victim of such a clause some seven years after denying Derek Warwick a move to Lotus. Ironic, too, that Prost, the man Mansell despised at Ferrari and wanted kept out of Williams, should now be instrumental in easing the Englishman's path towards agreement.

The question of money still has to be addressed and Williams are all for supporting a general crusade in Formula One to reduce salaries. But Mansell's bargaining position would appear to have been strengthened and an announcement from managing director Frank Williams - who greeted Senna's statement with a terse 'no comment' - could now be made sooner rather than later.

The only Briton currently certain of a job next season is Johnny Herbert, who has re-signed for Lotus-Ford. Herbert, 28, said: 'Lotus is a team with a future. We are going forward while others are staying still or going backwards. I'll be disappointed if I'm not on the podium before the end of the season and hope to win races next season.'

Martin Brundle is having to confront the prospect of losing his place at Benetton-Ford to Riccardo Patrese, the Italian making way for Prost at Williams. Brundle said: 'I hope to be with Benetton next season, if not a better team.'

That narrows down the field to Williams and McLaren, and since Williams are oversubscribed it is not unreasonable to link him with McLaren. The team who dominated Formula One for four seasons up to this one, have lost Gerhard Berger to Ferrari and are likely to lose Senna to the lure of the easy life. Despite the possibility that McLaren might also lose Honda engines, their organisation and resources are such that they are capable of rapid recovery.

According to the Formula One grapevine, McLaren have failed in an attempt to take Michael Schumacher from Benetton. Another obvious candidate is their current test driver, Mark Blundell, Brundle's countryman and partner at Brabham last season. They are also said to be considering recruiting the experience of Michele Alboreto, who has had an excellent season with Footwork-Mugen Honda.

Activity in the paddock has deflected much of the attention from action on the track now that Mansell's world championship is secure. Mansell produced a best time of 1min 50.545sec, to distance himself from the rest grappling with this magnificent circuit - carved from the forests of the Ardenne - and bring into focus a record ninth win of the season. That would also be sufficient to seal the constructors' championship for Williams.

Senna spun in his desperation to compete with Mansell. So did Patrese, who completed the qualifying session fourth, one place behind Schumacher and one ahead of Jean Alesi, in the new Ferrari.

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX (Spa-Francorchamps) First qualifying times: 1 N Mansell (GB) Williams-Renault 1min 50.545sec (227.115kph, 141.123mph); 2 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Honda 1:52.743; 3 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1:53.221; 4 R Patrese (It) Williams-Renault 1:53.557; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:54.438; 6 G Berger (Aut) McLaren-Honda 1:54.642; 7 T Boutsen (Bel) Ligier-Renault 1:54.654; 8 M Hakkinen (Fin) Lotus-Ford 1:54.812; 9 M Brundle (GB) Benetton-Ford 1:54.973; 10 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 1:55.027; 11 G Tarquini (It) Fondmetal-Ford 1:55.965; 12 I Capelli (It) Ferrari 1:56.075; 13 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Ilmor 1:56.111; 14 M Alboreto (It) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:56.282; 15 E Van De Poele (Bel) Fondmetal- Ford 1:56.674; 16 J J Lehto (Fin) BMC Dallara- Ferrari 1:56.809; 17 S Modena (It) Jordan-Yamaha 1:56.889; 18 K Wendlinger (Aut) March-Ilmor 1:57.039; 19 P Martini (It) BMS Dallara-Ferrari 1:57.267; 20 B Gachot (Bel) Venturi-Lamborghini 1:57.330; 21 E Nespetti (Fr) March-Ilmor 1:57.794; 22 O Grouillard (Fr) Tyrrell-Ilmor 1:57.818; 23 G Morbidelli (It) Minardi-Lamborghini 1:58.126; 24 M Gugelmin (Bra) Jordan-Yamaha 1:58.499; 25 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:58.826; 26 U Katayama (Japan) Venturi-Lamborghini 1:59.383; 27 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi- Lamborghini 1:59.626; 28 R Moreno (Bra) Andrea Moda-Judd 2:05.096; 29 P McCarthy (GB) Andrea Moda-Judd 2:15.050.