Riccardo Patrese will never race in Formula 1 again. This was announced during the evening of Tuesday the 17th of May 1994 by the Italian driver, about whom there had been insistent talk of replacing Ayrton Senna at Williams.
"I decided half an hour ago to leave the Grand Prix world. These months, without racing, I was happy. I tried to come back and even had good opportunities. But after what happened at Imola and Monte Carlo I felt sad. And I realised it was time to call it quits".
In Formula 1 from 1977 to 1993, with 256 races to his credit, 8 pole positions, 6 victories and a second place in the World Championship (1992), Patrese however will not give up racing altogether. In all likelihood, Riccardo will accept Mercedes' offer to participate in the DTM, the spectacular German touring car championship. Patrese's renouncement opens the doors of Williams to Derek Warwick. In fact, the hypothesis concerning the recruitment of young Rubens Barrichello has been dropped. The Brazilian's stable has in fact officially announced that it has renounced an offer of 11.000.000 lire for the 21-year-old driver. Even for Warwick, however, there is still no certainty. It seems that Williams is trying to get the experienced and valid Marc Blundell from Tyrrell. It is a matter of little time. Also because Williams, together with Benetton, has scheduled from Friday 21st of May 1994 a series of tests at Jerez in Spain and this will be the occasion to let the chosen one try the car. On Wednesday the 18th of May 1994, in the meantime, the first of the cars modified according to the rules imposed by the FIA will take to the track at Monza, with the front wing without aerodynamic appendages and the rear chute cut off. Problems, on the other hand, for the Ferrari that was due to go to Mugello. The regulatory changes forced the Maranello team's technicians to wait to prepare the necessary modifications and the Tuscan track will not be available from Friday because of the DTM race on the calendar. It cannot be ruled out that Ferrari will be forced to appear at Monza at the end of the week. Positive news, finally, for Karl Wendlinger who was admitted to the hospital in Nice. The condition of the unfortunate Austrian driver, victim of Thursday's serious accident in Monte-Carlo, is still stable and the doctors let it be known through the Sauber team that they will begin the process of bringing him out of his coma in a controlled manner in the coming days. The danger of death will only be averted when Wendlinger has woken up completely. A prognosis on the driver's future mental and motor skills is impossible for the time being.
Even though they have not yet completely given up on bringing Nigel Mansell back to Formula One (in 1995), Williams seems to be opting for the easiest solution to replace Ayrton Senna. In fact, the young Scot David Coulthard, former test driver for the World Champion team, has been put on early alert. Coulthard, considered one of the emerging British talents (he is only 23 years old, was in karting in 1982 and last year came third in the Formula 3000 championship), would be willing to accept a term contract. The other candidate, Derek Warwick, would not. The fact that Williams wants a driver willing to step aside in case of need means that the team is also probing other avenues, at the moment not feasible, but with future outlets. In the meantime, on Friday May 20th 1994, a meeting of all Formula 1 engine manufacturers takes place in Maranello at Ferrari. Present are the heads of Renault, Ford, Peugeot, Mercedes, Hart, Mugen Honda and Yamaha. The meeting is described in very positive terms. At the end, a proposal countersigned by all eight participants is sent to the FIA. The Federation had asked, in order to reduce the power of the engines, to introduce a restriction on the admission of petrol. The manufacturers let nothing leak out about their decision, but it seems that for 1995 they want to lower the cylinder capacity from the current 3500 cc to 3000 or even 2500 cubic centimetres. On Tuesday the 24th of May 1994 another serious accident disturbs the world of Formula 1. The Portuguese driver Pedro Lamy, racing this year in a Lotus, is injured in an accident at the English Silverstone circuit. The British driver lost control of his car on the straight between Abbey and Bridge corners while travelling at a speed of 240 km/h and crashed into a wall. On impact, the Lotus was completely destroyed and the driver was immediately rescued and taken to Northampton Hospital. Here doctors found double fractures (already reduced by an operation) of his femurs and one arm. However, his life is not in danger.
The accident took place during a test session organised by Lotus to check the effects of the changes made to the cars following the new safety regulations introduced after the serious accidents at Imola (where Ratzenberger and Senna died) and Monte-Carlo (where Wendlinger was seriously injured). As for the Austrian, who suffered serious head injuries in the Principality, the doctors are about to bring him out of the guided coma in which he was kept in order to overcome the trauma.
"A tomographic examination that Wendlinger underwent showed a positive evolution, but his life is still in danger".
Meanwhile, safety is also being discussed at Maranello. Luca Montezemolo, on the sidelines of the presentation of the new Ferrari 355, says he is in favour of the initiatives taken by the Federation to limit power and speed.
"Formula 1, like all racing, contains a risk component, but the cars cannot be upside-down planes. I have heard some absurd opinions in recent weeks. I prefer to wait and see if the medication works. Then, if necessary, you can have the courage to pause for thought in order to make the necessary innovations".
In the future, it might even be necessary to abolish the 12-cylinder engines. Alesi states:
"This is the first time that positive changes have been made between Grand Prix. Good progress. With these cars you lose about two seconds compared to the previous ones. The circus-show must not become the circus-risk. One feels bad and reflects when tragedies like the one at Imola happen".
At Mugello, meanwhile, the team continues testing. On Tuesday Berger takes to the track, on Wednesday it will be Alesi's turn. There is no shortage of problems: in the morning, after just six laps, Berger breaks his engine. The tests then resume in the afternoon, but with many interruptions. There is still a lot of tension in Formula 1 on the eve of the start of practice for the Spanish Grand Prix. Tuesday's accident at Silverstone, in which Pedro Lamy suffered a fracture of both legs and an arm, creates no little alarm. The organisers of the Spanish Grand Prix ran for cover in the short time available to them, fitting the Catalan circuit with some new sets of protections. But precisely the new technical solutions split the drivers' front in two. There are those who consider the first measures sufficient, and those who would also like an immediate limitation of engine power. And on Thursday 26 May 1994 in Spain there will be a meeting of the riders to seek a common line. Fortunately, good news arrives from the St. Roch hospital in Nice. Karl Wendlinger, hospitalised since Thursday the 12th of May 1994, comes out of the artificial coma in which he had been kept by the doctors. And the first findings are comforting: the 25-year-old Austrian opens his eyes and reacts to pressure on his hands with movements of his arms and legs. The doctors also report that the haematoma on his brain has almost completely disappeared. The prognosis is reserved, it is not yet known what the boy's actual condition will be, but there is hope that he can be saved without very serious damage. Also on Wednesday 25 May 1994, at Imola, the expert's report on Senna and Ratzenberger's cars begins. Prosecutor Maurizio Passarmi with three of the appointed experts (Forghieri, Carletti and Lorenzini) and the legal representatives of Williams and Simtek, plus designer Patrick Head, begin the examination of the wreckage. It will take about two months to get the first official results. As is well known, 17 notices of guarantee for culpable homicide had been issued. The most important fact to record for the moment is the full cooperation of all parties in trying to establish the true causes of the two accidents. As for Senna, the only indiscretion speaks of a desperate attempt to brake by the Brazilian before the impact. Returning to the single-seater modifications, Ferrari completes testing at Mugello with Alesi. The Frenchman completes 22. laps, the fastest of which is 1'26"54, which is about 1.5 seconds faster than the limits obtained in previous tests.
"The car behaves differently, it feels more like driving. But there is no doubt that it goes less fast. We should all be on the same level, although a big surprise cannot be excluded".
Surprises that Benetton would like to unravel: on Wednesday, Flavio Briatore sends a polemical letter to Max Mosley in which he lays the blame for anything that might happen on the FIA, writing that his drivers will be informed that they will race without the appropriate guarantees of thorough testing. Mosley replies just as harshly:
"Benetton is not obliged to be there. It can induce force majeure to stay at home".
In the meantime Simtek announced that for two races the Italian Andrea Montermini would race, then the French Gounon would take over. And Mansell from the United States makes it known that he has no intention of leaving Indy for Formula 1. For this year. But, meanwhile, will the Spanish Grand Prix be run? There are big unknowns. The travails of Formula 1, which is unable to come up with a valid agreement to solve the problems caused by the recent dramatic accidents, continue. The eve of practice, in Barcelona, was characterised by controversy, discussions, meetings, exchanges of letters and threats. For the first time since 1985 (when there was a strike at Spa because the asphalt was crumbling and the race was postponed from May to September), on Thursday 26 May 1994 the drivers in assembly unanimously decided that they would not race if the organisers did not prepare by this morning a valid provisional chicane before the Nissan corner, considered dangerous because it was limited by two walls too close to the track. In an atmosphere of great tension the drivers, after five hours of exhausting speeches and after a thorough inspection of the circuit (with the commission composed of Lauda, Schumacher, Berger and Fittipaldi) explain their position. Says Pierluigi Martini, in the role of GPDA spokesman:
"We asked for a variant to be prepared to reduce the speed at the Nissan, an S that is tackled at about 220 km/h. At that point the risk of going off and crashing into the concrete walls is too great. The organisers immediately took care to prepare the chicane with a set of tyres. If we consider it suitable and if the Federation homologates the track variant, there will be no inconvenience. If not, we are determined to stop".
It is difficult, therefore, to know whether the race weekend will start with official practice on Friday. Also because Gerhard Berger and his colleagues reject the first solution proposed by the organisers.
"We went to see, and for the moment the problems don't seem to have been solved. They will prepare another chicane closer to the corner. We will go ahead until we are satisfied. And if we are not satisfied, we will not race. The final decision will be made this morning with another inspection".
However, the drivers also have their responsibilities. Schumacher should have come to inspect the system in recent days and did not do so. Those in charge at the Catalan racetrack carried out work without taking into account what was one of the drivers' priority requests, namely the modification of the Nissan. And there is also another warning from the drivers: if the requested modifications to reduce engine power are not implemented for the next Canadian Grand Prix (12 June 1994), they will call for a possible strike. The demand concerns the use of normal commercial petrol and the abolition of the airbox, i.e. the air inlet at the top of the chassis to feed the engines. The fuel manufacturers have in practice already accepted the proposal, while there are still doubts about the abolition of the air-box as there are many possible solutions and above all some manufacturers do not want to remove the bonnet, because it is lavishly paid for by the inscriptions of the various sponsors. As if that wasn't enough, meanwhile, a real war is looming between some teams (Benetton, McLaren and Williams) and the Federation. On Thursday, the FIA orders Benetton to submit a writ in which it should take responsibility for the quality of the modifications made to its cars. This is obviously requested after receiving the letter sent by Flavio Briatore to Max Mosley, in which the Italian manager expressed serious doubts (and criticism) about the aerodynamic changes imposed by the Federation and the danger of structural failure. Benetton replied that its cars had been found compliant in the technical checks.
The FIA replies, however, asking for a signed document discharging responsibility. The end result: if the letter is not submitted by Friday morning, Benetton will not be able to participate in practice and the race. Quite a chaos. Not least because, in the meantime, McLaren sends another letter to Max Mosley sharply criticising his actions and supporting Benetton's thesis about the risks due to the modifications. In the meantime, good news arrives regarding the state of Karl Wendlinger's health. The Austrian driver is beginning to show the first signs of recovery and is responding well to treatment. Sauber has decided to replace him in Canada with Andrea de Cesaris. On Ratzenberger's Simtek will climb - as said - Andrea Montermini, and on Lamy's Lotus the Bolognese Alessandro Zanardi. Among the thousand torments of Formula 1 there is now also a kind of coup d'état. On Friday 27 May 1994, nine teams carried out the coup, practically depriving the FIA of its authority. Led by Flavio Briatore's Benetton, the rebels McLaren, Williams, Lotus, Jordan, Footwork, Ligier, Simtek and Pacific first desert the morning's free practice. Only Ferrari, Minardi, Sauber, Larrousse and Tyrrell take to the track. Then they call a meeting in which Max Mosley, FIA president, also takes part, at the end of which they announce that they would only take part in the afternoon qualifying because they had obtained a positive response to their requests. Says Flavio Briatore, flashing a big smile, or rather a sneer:
"The Federation had dictated rules in Monte-Carlo that were not acceptable. We did not agree, neither on the times imposed nor on certain measures taken. This is not the way to run our sport. We are the ones who pay and the FIA has to do what we want. That is why it accepted our reasons. We will form a working group consisting of eight technicians from the major teams and the three drivers from the safety commission, Schumacher, Berger and Fittipaldi, plus the FIA delegate. On Monday they will all meet and formulate proposals that the Federation will only have to ratify".
Everything that was decided at Monte-Carlo is therefore called into question. Clearer than that: the money that the FIA takes from the constructors is that relating to one third of the television rights. The figure is about 36.000.000 lire. Flavio Briatore continues:
"Mosley also signed to cancel the article in the regulations that allowed him to possibly change some technical or sporting rules for cases of force majeure or for safety reasons. In addition we have advised him to show up very little at the circuits, at most he will come to a few races, maybe in Japan".
A real coup. The FIA president himself, Max Mosley, sweating and pale, was then forced to admit that power had changed hands:
"I had been forced by the pressure of public opinion and the pressure of many governments, including the Italian one, to take action quickly. The constitution of this new working group will allow the objectives set to be achieved".
In truth, the coup has at least one merit. Namely that of having put some of the technical rules for the cars into the hands of truly competent people. How far the group can be manoeuvred to operate in favour of one or other competitor remains to be seen. The fact remains that decisions will be taken with an established majority of 75%, i.e. by 8 out of 12 people. And it is also clear that Bernie Ecclestone, the all-powerful Formula 1 master, is behind this manoeuvre. The constructors' chairman must in fact be considered the real inspiration behind the revolt. Behind Flavio Briatore and the other dissidents there is certainly also him. And Ecclestone himself will have 75 per cent of the committee of engineers and drivers on his side. In this affair (it seems to be the first time in a sport that competitors are dictating the rules) Ferrari is a victim of events, holding high the banner of legality.
And perhaps it does not realise that while Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi test on the track, a historic turning point occurs in Formula 1, with the other constructors seizing power. It is only in the evening that the Maranello team comes out of the closet with a statement from press office chief Baccini:
"Ferrari does not agree with the method adopted to manage this story, but is fully supportive of the principle that a competent and prepared group will work on the passive safety of the cars".
Ferrari has not yet signed the document signed by the nine golpist teams. But at this point, without the legal representatives, the FIA and Mosley, it has only two paths to take. Either accept, or disassociate and give battle. In the latter case, however, he will not have much chance of victory. Meanwhile, with or without wings, with more or less safe cars, the result does not change. The fastest is always Michael Schumacher at the wheel of his Benetton. Despite not having practised in the morning, the German set by far the best time in the first qualifying session of the Spanish Grand Prix. A few laps later and, thanks to a 1'23"426 pass, at an average speed of 204.842 km/h, the Formula 1 World Championship leader detached all his rivals. Over a second to Hakkinen (McLaren), 1.2 seconds to Hill (Williams), 1.5 seconds to Alesi (Ferrari). The value orders of the teams expressed in the last two races are therefore also respected. Behind, well Martini, in P6 with the Minardi, far Berger (P11), struggling with gearbox failure. These are however atypical time trials due to the fact that in the previous FPs only nine cars had taken to the track and the set-ups are still to be done. The tyre chicane wanted by the drivers was duly placed before the Nissan corner, so the threatened strike was immediately withdrawn, even if the day was then enlivened by the golpist teams. A village gymkhana measure, which Hakkinen wisely describes as idiotic, but good for safety. Indeed, the variant marked by tyre blocks reduces speed along with the measures taken on the cars, with the elimination of the aerodynamic appendages on the front wings and the rear chute. In the first days of. January Michael Schumacher had lapped in 1'17"6: this time he is about 5.8 seconds over that limit. However, not everyone agrees on the adoption of the chicane, especially after seeing the Belgian Gachot hit it with his Pacific for braking too long, sending the tyres rolling all over the place. And what could happen on Saturday and Sunday in a similar case, if a driver finds the tyres on his path? Ecclestone, after taking a swipe at the teams who had chosen to go on track in the morning and avoid the tug-of-war with the FIA, says:
"While the serious teams were arguing about safety, they were on the track. I am not a technician. But I do fear what might happen on the first lap of the race when the group faces that sort of mousetrap. Let's hope for the best. They wanted it and they keep it, the chicane".
Saturday the 28th of May 1994, the great fear does not loosen its grip. The eve of the Spanish Grand Prix is poisoned by two accidents, one in Formula 1 and the other in practice for the side race, Formula 3000. Two drivers are still in hospital, injured but not life-threatening. Andrea Montermini, rookie with Simtek (the same team as the late Roland Ratzenberger), suffered a head injury, shock, contusion to the head, fracture of the third metatarsal of the right foot, comminuted fracture of the left heel. For the latter he will undergo surgery in the coming days. Brazilian Tarso Marques, driver of a Reynard of the Vortex Motorsport team, has a cracked rib and a large bruise on one arm. The atmosphere becomes increasingly tense. The two exits on the track reenact in their dynamics the terrible moments of Imola and Monte-Carlo: shattered cars, drivers lifeless in the cockpit, rescuers, harried doctors, flashing ambulance lights. A film already seen, shaking the motoring world. To the point that Damon Hill, Williams driver, immediately after Montermini's accident returned to the pits. Pale, distraught, the British driver starts screaming:
"He's dead, he's dead".
A chilling descent. Andrea Montermini, who was born just a few kilometres from Maranello, has had quite a career behind him. Favoured in his passion for cars by his jockey-like stature, he made his debut in 1985 in karts. He then raced in Formula 3 and Formula 3000 with excellent results. He was successively test driver for Scuderia Italia, for Ferrari itself and for Benetton. He also competed in Formula Indy (fourth in Detroit last year) and won the Formula 2 World Cup in Canada. A true professional, considered very fast. The Italian was waiting for his big chance. So with his briefcase and a few tens of millions procured from a sponsor, he agreed to run two races for Simtek, already knowing that after Canada he would be replaced by the Frenchman Gounon, ready with a purse of dollars bigger than his own. The accident occurred at 11:13 a.m., two minutes before the end of free practice. Montermini arrives too fast at the exit of the bend that leads to the pit straight, tries to adjust his trajectory, but loses control of the Simtek after putting two wheels on the grass. The car ends up against a tyre-protected guardrail edge and bounces off the other side of the track, crashing into a low wall. The single-seater is reduced to a wreck, the driver motionless with his feet outside the cockpit. His father Paolo, 55, owner of a clay quarry, is also in Spain. Shortly afterwards, his heart in turmoil, he rushes to the Hospital General de Catalunya where his son is to remain for forty-eight hours for observation in the intensive care centre. There, they finally calm him down.
The trauma clinic was also visited a few hours later by the father of Tarso Marques, car #17, who had gone off the track on the Formula 3000 grid lap. Witnesses recount that the single-seater did a looping, i.e. a loop of death in the air, falling back onto the asphalt. Same scene as before and even less damage. But still a lot of fear. Yet the engines continued to rev. And on Sunday 29 May 1994 as many as twenty-six cars will start to take part in the fifth round of the Formula 1 World Championship. Michael Schumacher, on his second pole position at the Barcelona circuit, is the favourite with Benetton. He is aiming to equal Mansell's sensational record: five consecutive wins at the start of the season. He will have to contend with Damon Hill and especially Mika Hakkinen. The Ferraris, with their worst overall placing since the start of the championship, preceded also by Rubens Barrichello's Jordan, start from the sixth place of Jean Alesi and the seventh of Gerhard Berger. The problems are always the same: the 412Ts designed by John Barnard do not hold their ground. The aim is to be in the top six. For the entire race in the vicinity of the new chicane the marshals give the yellow flag: no overtaking. Meanwhile, the war between the FIA and the dissident constructors continues. Ferrari and Max Mosley himself have not yet signed the document issued by the nine teams that had threatened to go on strike. And it seems they have no intention of doing so unless the contents of the letter are amended. Mosley, meanwhile, issues his own, very harsh statement:
"Changes are necessary. Those who do not agree will not be allowed to compete. Alternative proposals will be accepted if they increase safety. OK for the working group of engineers to settle the issues. All the rumours about Fia losing power are false. If the dissident teams had not participated in Friday's qualifying they would have been kicked out. The FIA owns and runs the Formula One World Championship. The teams can participate if they are aligned, otherwise they may as well not show up".
Flavio Briatore, general manager of Benetton - not - replied:
"No comment, we do not understand what that means".
Meanwhile, anticipating Monday's meeting, the technicians are already meeting on Saturday evening. Everyone hopes that the results will be positive. Sunday 29 May 1994, even before the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, Olivier Beretta retires as the engine of his Larousse-Ford breaks down on the formation lap. At the start Michael Schumacher holds the first position, while Rubens Barrichello and Gerhard Berger collide at the first corner. Neither driver retires as a direct result of the collision, but Berger is forced to make a trip on the grass and loses positions; the Austrian driver retires on lap 28 due to gearbox problems. David Coulthard climbed up to P5, despite having started from P9, but his car pitted on lap 16. Although the Scottish driver is then forced to retire on lap 32 due to electrical problems, leaving P12, he describes his race by saying:
"I think it was a good debut overall".
While Williams scored their first win of the season, and the first after the death of Ayrton Senna, championship leader Michael Schumacher ended the race by taking an excellent second place, despite his gearbox being stuck in fifth gear for most of the race. Knowing he had a big problem, Schumacher was able to make a pit-stop and come out in fifth gear, and had to change his driving style to find new trajectories and cornering apexes. Rubens Barrichello retired after spinning out near the pit entrance on lap 40, while Michael Schumacher was once again able to make a pit-stop and not stop the car. Mika Hakkinen is also forced to retire, due to an engine failure on lap 48, as is Michael Schumacher's team-mate J.J. Letho, who stops on lap 53. Mark Blundell took advantage of this, who gained third place with Tyrrell-Yamaha, followed at a distance by Jean Alesi, fourth with his Ferrari, Pierluigi Martini, who gained two points with Minardi-Ford, and Eddie Irvine, who finished sixth with Jordan-Hart. A victory dedicated to Ayrton Senna. It may seem demagogy - and perhaps it is - but Damon Hill's success with Williams in the Spanish Grand Prix offers, however, Formula One the possibility of applying a medicine to soothe a still open wound that will only heal with time. At a terrible time for the Circus, an all in all spectacular and even uncertain race, without incidents, also brings back some serenity and optimism for the future. The 33-year-old Englishman's fourth victory, the revival of the World Champion team and a touch of flavour in a championship that, on a sporting level, seemed to be a Michael Schumacher solo. But, behind the scenes, this race is worth recounting thanks to three characters whose exploits, albeit for different reasons and at different levels, will be remembered in motor racing history. Schumacher, second at the finish line, did the stuff of legends, once again showing his enormous talent. He drove 47 laps in only fifth gear. The Englishman was the protagonist of an incredible historical recurrence: his father Graham won the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama in 1968, the week after the death of his team mate Jim Clark, thus honouring his memory, as his son did with Senna. Finally Jean Alesi, fourth with Ferrari (third place went to the concrete Mark Blundell driving a Tyrrell, the first podium for a car with a Yamaha engine). The Frenchman's placing was all his own, obtained with extraordinary courage and determination, in the cockpit of a single-seater that proved to be one of the worst among those made at Maranello in recent years. So much so that Berger, after various mishaps, had to retire due to gearbox failure. When, at the end of the race, Schumacher explained why, after having dominated the first 18 laps, he was forced to slow down progressively, many people were incredulous. Even the Benetton people. But telemetry, i.e. the instruments that monitor a car's behaviour by radio at every instant, confirm it: the gearbox was stuck in fifth gear. In essence, the German performed a Nuvolari-like feat. He managed to lead a race that only an ace driver (Senna had also done it in the past, but only for a few laps) could attempt without heavy damage. Forty-seven passes (some of them from second), one pit stop, all in one gear, is almost a miracle. So much so that technicians and drivers from the other teams said it was hard not to think things had gone the other way. A bluff then? If true, it was played very well. Schumacher got off to a perfect start and gained a second a lap on everyone until the first pit stop for petrol and tyres. Then he dropped his pace and found himself in third place, preceded by Mika Hakkinen in the McLaren and Damon Hill. More stops and the Englishman of Williams took the lead with the German behind.
Five laps with the Benetton in the lead and then the final 21 passes as, a catwalk for Damon Hill. Schumacher, all things considered, was also lucky: Hakkinen could have attacked him but was blocked by the engine failure (water leakage from the radiator) of his McLaren. Just as, shortly afterwards, his teammate Brundle lost a possible third place due to a gearbox explosion. But McLaren and Peugeot are growing together, considering they only have five races behind them since their debut. And their strength will certainly have to be taken into account in the coming races. Schumacher, on the day of his greatest feat so far, missed the chance to break Mansell's record of five consecutive wins at the start of the season. But his position in the World Championship is still firm: he has a 29-point lead over Hill. The good Damon has no illusions. To those who tell him that the title fight is reopened, he replies:
"Sure, no problem".
But it is a cue of perfect British humour. On the podium it rains champagne and there is genuine happiness for the winner and for Schumacher and Blundell. In the pits, finally, Frank Williams smiles:
"A beautiful victory to honour the memory of Ayrton Senna".
Damon replies distantly:
"I dedicate the trophy to my engineer John Russell, my mechanics, Williams-Renault and all the people I met in Brazil who would have liked to see Senna triumph at the wheel of a Williams. I dedicate this victory to all of Ayrton's fans even though I know that no one will be able to replace him".
Schumacher congratulates his rival. But the German rejoices above all for second place:
"With that gearbox problem I didn't think I would finish the race, let alone on the podium. I don't know how the clutch and the engine held up. In the last laps I slowed down even more so as not to run the risk of stopping".
But how was it possible to drive 47 laps with only fifth gear?
"I learnt when I drove prototypes. Back then you had to save everything: petrol, tyres, mechanical parts. So after a few minutes of skidding, I set precise trajectories, always arriving at the bend with the engine at maximum revs so that it wouldn't shut down. When I stopped in the pits, when I restarted, the car was jumping like a horse precisely because I had to keep the engine packed. It went well. For me it's like winning".
It was quite a feat: the Ford V8 engines in Formula One, which are among the most elastic, go into torque from 10.000 rpm upwards. However things went, Schumacher was changing 40 times a lap. So, staying in a fixed fifth gear for 47 laps, he no longer did so and saved 1880 shifts. Flavio Briatore, general manager of Benetton, is emotional:
"The most beautiful race of Michael's career. It was fantastic. In the telemetry the gearbox was flat, like a switched-off brain. A part of the hydraulic system broke".
Among those happy with the day, besides Blundell and Irvine, sixth with Jordan, also Pierluigi Martini, in fifth position with the Minardi, still in the points after Alboreto's placing in Monte-Carlo.
"A wonderful result for us, prepared well by the team. Everything was perfect, including the two refuelling and the tyre changes. I even had fun doing some overtaking".
Good news for Andrea Montermini, after Saturday's bad accident. The Italian driver's condition is improving, so much so that the medical staff will apparently let him go home by Tuesday evening. In Italy, the 29-year-old will be referred to Dr. Claudio Costa, the motorcyclist's doctor, to establish the operation on the fractured heel and the timing of the rehabilitation. Yet another black moment for Ferrari. In the seesaw of hopes and disappointments of these years and the results of the current season, signs of discouragement appeared for the first time in Spain. Only Jean Todt, at the helm of the team tries to hold on, makes plans and speaks of great commitment, tries to hold together a car that is lurching from all sides. But in Maranello, President Montezemolo, glued to the television set, must surely have lost patience. Even the two drivers, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger begin to be unable to control a disappointment that is evident on their faces. Alesi, the protagonist of an extraordinary start (from seventh to fourth place, with a thrilling trajectory inside the platoon), had an incredible race, always on the defensive, always with a rival close behind, driving a car that once again hurt his hands, that did not stay on the road. But he doesn't care about that: he prefers to talk about Ferrari. At the end of a long meeting that keeps the drivers, technicians and managers busy after the race. A meeting in which someone is certainly shouting. Says Jean Alesi, very angry:
"I don't want to talk too much. In Canada there won't be much to do. But for France they promised us important news. Technicians, mechanics, everyone has to work harder, we have to work even at night, otherwise we will never get out of this".
Gerhard Berger is also very tough:
"It was a very bad day. I had a good start but someone crashed into me. I think it was Barrichello. Then, with the single-seater sliding away, I hit a kerb and damaged the flat bottom. Then I went straight into the dirt in a fast corner. Finally I stopped because of a gearbox failure".
Did you have a meeting? Did you talk about Ferrari's problems and solutions? Do you still believe in this team?
"How long have you been here? I have been at Ferrari twice at different times. I always heard that the time had come, that the rebirth was certain, that results were within reach. Nothing ever happened. And this time, unfortunately, we are not close to the top, we are really down".
Demoralisation, anger, helplessness. Only Todt - it is his job - tries to see something positive in the future. He admits that the Ferrari of these days is among the worst he has ever seen. Yet he also finds reasons for comfort:
"We knew that this circuit, due to its characteristics, would be very hostile to us. It went more or less as we expected. Now we are waiting to hear the technical decisions of the FIA, but we are already working in depth. We are working in the wind tunnel, we have a series of details to test that should change the situation. It's time to grit our teeth".
Some speculate that Ferrari will stop racing. Partly because of the serious competitiveness problems, but mainly because of the current disagreements over regulations.
"We are not thinking about that at all. We are confident. Tomorrow the engineers will meet in London and on Thursday in Geneva the FIA World Council will ratify the proposals. We hope that there will be clarity so that we can work better".
In short, Damon Hill won in Spain with Williams, and everyone is happy. But one wonders what would have happened in the Spanish Grand Prix if Schumacher had not broken the gearbox. Formula One would certainly have missed the feat of the German who finished second with only fifth gear at his disposal. True or untrue (there are many sceptics, the majority of team engineers think that indeed Michael had the problem for a few laps, but that in the final somehow the system got back on track) the feat will be remembered in the annals of motor racing. The fact remains that, without trouble, the Benetton driver would have won the race with negligible ease. Schumacher inflicted one second per lap on his rivals in the first few minutes: in the end everyone would have been lapped. And the championship could have been virtually filed away after five races. This is why Bernie Ecclestone, the authentic manager of the Formula 1 Circus, is trying to get Nigel Mansell back. The Englishman is the only champion at the moment capable of contrasting Michael Schumacher as a character and perhaps even beating him on the track, with the same car. An inimitable type: not only did the Englishman liven up the Indy 500, but when he was the victim of a spectacular accident (he was run over by the car of debutant Dennis VitoIo, who almost ended up on top of him) he fuelled the show with his usual hypochondriac scenes. He got out of the single-seater, hugged a rescuer and dragged him into a ruinous fall. Looking seriously injured, he was carried off on a stretcher. A few minutes and Mansell escaped from the emergency room, grabbed a miniature golf car and drove off, unharmed and smiling. Ecclestone has a lot of money ready for Mansell. It remains to be seen, however, should the Englishman finally accept the proposals, where to place him. At Williams? Difficult: Nigel left badly (and let's not forget that in a year and a half the English team lost three World Champions, with the abandonment of Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost, plus the tragedy of Ayrton Senna). At McLaren? It could be an idea. But Ron Dennis's team is banking on young Mika Hakkinen and may not have as much money to throw around. A return to Ferrari? Jean Alesi already has a contract for 1995 and Gerhard Berger, barring any changes, would like to sign a new deal. That leaves two hypotheses. Both linked to Benetton. Call Mansell alongside Schumacher (to annoy the German, a tactic always adopted by great teams and also to form an unbeatable team). Incidentally, Nigel has a contract with Ford, which supplies the engines to the Italian-English team. Or build a super-team with Ligier. Mansell, a good technician (Rory Byrne?), a winning engine, the Renault. A dream for Flavio Briatore who bought Liger: two teams, one mixed and one French. Very good drivers, domination also assured with sponsors. Given that Ecclestone is also behind the operation (who, it is said, is no stranger to buying Ligier...) the circle would close. But, while Mansell's answers are awaited, Formula 1 must move on. On Tuesday 31 May 1994 the engineers meet in London to discuss the regulations to be approved for Canada. John Barnard for Ferrari will also be present. On Monday the designer is in Maranello and certainly finds an environment very warm towards him. The drivers are clamouring for urgent changes on the cars that have not been competitive since the start of the season and are not improving. He has to get a move on, get a move on. The new rules will then be presented to the FIA World Council in Geneva on Thursday. Some claim that president Max Mosley is in danger of being removed during the assembly, after the coup attempts by dissident teams. But, in politics, lawyer Mosley is certainly better at it than his opponents. One hopes, however, that he thinks above all of the safety of the drivers. Meanwhile, a positive note comes from France: Karl Wendlinger is making progress after coming out of a coma. The Austrian driver, who was injured in Monte-Carlo, is now out of danger. This was reported by Sauber-Mercedes executives in Barcelona, pointing out that Wendlinger is improving quickly and recovering his strength.