#559 1994 Belgian Grand Prix

2021-04-04 00:00

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#1994, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#559 1994 Belgian Grand Prix

Seventy-five billion lire for three years in Formula 1. That is the price for Nigel Mansell's return to Williams and for the definitive farewell to th


Seventy-five billion lire for three years in Formula 1. That is the price for Nigel Mansell's return to Williams and for the definitive farewell to the Indy championship which crowned him champion last year but which, in the current season, has been stingy with laurels. The English press now takes the prodigal son's return for certain, on those princely conditions: the announcement would be made official on Saturday, 3 September 1994, on the eve of one of the English driver's last overseas commitments, in Vancouver. 


"The exile is over".


Mansell's sponsorship of American races confirmed it. The agreement between Frank Williams and Mansell's current patron, Carl Haas, is said to have already been completed: all that remains to be finalised are a few legal details. It is a matter of dissolving a contract and entering into another one; and behind the move of the English team, which for a matter of money had let the most loved driver in England slip away after his 1992 World Championship victory, there would be Renault. Last weekend, at the Hungaroring, the French manufacturer confirmed not only for next year, but also for the next two, the supply of engines to Williams. But Mansell's presence in the team, it is now disclosed, would have been an essential condition of that unexpected agreement: otherwise Renault would have changed its strategy by focusing on Michael Schumacher. Williams-Renault for three years, then, but with the most quoted driver of the moment: the only one, apparently, able to contrast and defeat the Schumacher-Benetton pairing. It is the logic of the sponsors that allows the millionaire contract, which will make the English driver the highest paid of all time, even more than Ayrton Senna. It had already been seen, on the other hand, how much Williams was willing to pay to get its star driver back. It is said that for a one-off appearance at the French Grand Prix, held in July at Magny-Cours, the British team paid $1.000.000. A similar fee would be offered to Mansell for each of the last three races of the season in which he would participate: the European (in Spain), Japanese and Australian Grands Prix. Those three races, which were supposed to be isolated episodes, thus became a springboard for the third marriage between Mansell and Williams, destined in the hopes of the English team to break Schumacher's domination. It is a gamble that will cost dearly: not only because of the billionaire salaries, but also in the face of a less than enthusiastic Damon Hill and a David Coulthard forced to look for another team. Mansell is already 41 years old. The new agreement means that he will race in Formula 1 until he is 44; and there are, of course, those who wonder if this too is not a gamble. But the deals seem done. 


"We are convinced that he will not be with us next year".


Bert Thomas, of Texaco, observes from the US: 


"We believe that there is an agreement between Carl Haas and Formula 1 (Bernie Ecclestone, ed.) and we are in the process of concluding another agreement for 1995 that will allow us to announce our drivers shortly". 


And in the end, with a Berlusconi-Mosley phone call, on Monday, 15 August 1994, the Monza circuit was saved, albeit with a conditional order. The FIA re-admitted the Italian Grand Prix to the calendar: it would be run on Sunday, 11 September 1994. But the Federation also says that for next year everything will be reviewed. The message from the Paris headquarters at Place de la Concorde is clear: no more mistakes will be allowed. So the risk of having homologation withdrawn in 1995 is still high. The FIA relents in the face of the new project to modify the second Lesmo corner: it will change the angle of the corner so that it will match the escape route, built on the space of the grandstand that has been removed. 


The meeting at the villa in Cannes between the host and FIA president, former driver Max Mosley, on the one hand, and Letta, Lombardy politicians and technicians on the other, therefore paid off. 


"Great relief".


This is the comment that comes from Ferrari. The Maranello team thanks Max Mosley for the consistency and sensitivity shown in this matter, and the Italian government for its decisive intervention. Ferrari gives an appointment at Monza to all the fans and their flags, which represent the best support for the team's commitment. Already in Budapest, at the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix, good news had been circulating about Monza's fate. Then, on Monday afternoon, the FIA issued the release:


"A project to modify the second Lesmo corner was prepared with the collaboration of the Monza circuit, Fia experts and Berger, the drivers' representative. This solution, which modifies the trajectory and reduces the speed, was judged acceptable on condition that it is only valid for 1994". 


So, after 72 years the physiognomy of those Lesmo curves that the designer, architect Alfredo Rosselli, designed after observing the rows of trees that were interspersed with roundabouts in that area, will change. 


"And so, in order to insert the roadway harmoniously into the landscape, I made the asphalt run along the original ornamental design". 


But today that design no longer applied. The architect of the agreement in extremis, Gianni Letta, is beaming. 


"All's well that ends well, this is a solution that is also a lesson: when you work together, loyally and in a spirit of cooperation, animated only by a common goal, the result cannot fail. This is what the government has done in this case in full agreement with the Lombardy Region". 


For the Italian undersecretary to the presidency of the Council, the FIA has shown that it knows how to harmonise not only the reasons of safety with those of the environment, but also those of sport with those of the State. 


"Without derogating from the principles and rules of the Federation, and without stiffening on decisions already taken, renouncing the sterile and mutual contestation of defaults, delays and commitments, a solution has been reached, a mosaic made up of many small pieces". 


The drivers, as always, readily align themselves with the FIA's decision. The ACI and the CSAI express their satisfaction. The mayor of Monza, former driver Aldo Moltifiori, will do so at Wednesday's press conference. Then, once congratulations and felicitations are over, it will be necessary to get down to work quickly, because time is pressing. The Lombardy Regional Council will meet on Thursday morning to examine the correction of the Lesmo second and the widening of the Ascari variant. It is up to the junta to give the go-ahead for the work to begin. The project prepared by SIAS, the concession company, will be sent to the regional offices on Wednesday to begin the preliminary investigation. And from Monday, 22 August 1994, the bulldozers will be back at work. Everything must be ready by the end of the month. On this solution - says the president of the council, the leghist Arrigoni - the positive opinion of the Soprintendenza per i Beni ambientali e architettonici (Environmental and architectural heritage superintendency) is also certain, because it foresees the felling of ten plants. 


And the Greens are also satisfied. The heads of Legambiente and WWF say:


"The park has won, now we want to see the new project, to be sure that only those ten trees, one of which is centuries old, will really be sacrificed". 


But, as said, for the future there is only uncertainty. A confirmation comes from the words of president Max Mosley, reached by telephone on the French Riviera where he is on holiday. The Federation president said: 


"I am grateful to the Italian government for its efforts to save the Monza circuit for 1994. The preservation of the Italian Grand Prix was one of our priorities, but we had to think about the safety of the drivers. By tightening the angle of the curve in question, the speed was reduced, meeting the imperative needs of motorsport at this very difficult time. This was everyone's objective and it has been fully achieved". 


It is even clearer from this speech that the agreements are only valid for this year. For what reason? One can try to interpret the thoughts of the federal leadership. In a certain sense the FIA would not like to distort the characteristics of all international circuits. Monza is famous for the Lesmo and Parabolica curves, which are evidently considered a test of skill for the drivers. By modifying the track as will be done in the coming days, the circuit will take on a different appearance. And this is evidently considered an invalid solution. The dossier will therefore be reopened immediately after the race. The initial discourse will have to be resumed, which envisaged the opening of new escape areas. And the felling of more than 500 trees. So all the problems will come back to the drawing board. With the sole advantage of having a year. In fact, the only real hope of survival for the autodrome is for a law to be passed that will release it from the Monza Park, so that all the work deemed necessary can be carried out in complete freedom, trying not to damage the environment. The situation in some respects is rather strange. The British have completely changed the physiognomy of the Silverstone circuit, transforming it from a high-speed track (averages around 250 km/h) to a normal 210 km/h one. And nobody protested because the characteristics that had made the facility famous became completely different. It is clear that there is something specious about the Monza case. Among other things, the Italian circuit is the only one (together with Monte-Carlo) that has not ceded the management of advertising in the hands of Bernie Ecclestone, the grand patron of Formula 1. 


Enormous interests are at stake. In the name of safety, games of various kinds are being played. For example, that of refuelling during races. Since they entail an extra risk, they will allow the authorities to drive out of the pits all persons not involved in the manoeuvres. And TV crews will also be turned away. Filming will only be carried out by a group of professionals directly employed by the Manufacturers' Association. In this way those who want to buy pictures will have to go directly to the source. For a fee, of course. Closed-box purchases, very expensive. And in the broadcasts, the producers (the Foca) can also insert commercials. Since the market is vast (there are some seventy countries that broadcast Grand Prix live or deferred), the value of filming can be estimated at many millions of dollars. At the forefront in organising and exploiting the benefits of sports entertainment, Formula One is perhaps opening up another way to get rich. Meanwhile, there is unpleasant news in Gerhard Berger's house. But this time it is not about sports and motor racing problems. His father Johann, owner of a large road haulage company, is in pre-trial detention in Stuttgart, Germany, as part of a fraud investigation. The Austrian racer himself confirmed the news. According to rumours, Johann Berger is alleged to have been linked to a Swiss-Italian businessman, Gianfranco Ramoser, who is accused of having swindled some 22.000.000 Deutschmarks from 1989 to 1992 in Germany alone from banks in Baden-Wurtemberg with a series of shell companies. Of course, the accused defended himself, saying that he had acted in good faith and that any irregularities were committed without his knowledge. 


The Bergers, apart from Gerhard's sporting activity, are well known in Austria for their entrepreneurial activities. Mr. Johann is one of Europe's most important private freight forwarders. His company, in Worgl in the Upper Tyrol (where he was born), some forty kilometres from the famous ski resort of Kitzbuehel, has around 150 trucks and three hundred employees. The head office is located on Innsbruckerstraße in the centre of town and almost incorporates the villa where the family lives. Every morning of the trucks that start up, about fifty come and go from Italy. They transport everything, especially marble, which is then diverted to the North, to Germany. The turnover is said to be over 70.000.000 lire annually. In addition, the Bergers own other companies. Gerhard has also gone into trucking on his own and owns Europatrans, which has around 30 vehicles and 60 employees. However, his company is located in Kundl, a small village not far from Worgl. Here the driver shows up every now and then after the races, but due to his busy schedule he was practically forced to hand it over to trusted administrators. Father and son are also involved in a company that studies and produces special parts for trucks. Lately he has marketed a special brake to be applied to the propeller shaft that avoids dangerous mishaps when going downhill. The news of Johann Berger's arrest caused a stir and developments are awaited with great interest. Precisely with the Austrian Gerhard Berger at the wheel of the Ferrari #28, on Thursday, 18 August 1994, the three days of tests that the Maranello team had planned at the Mugello International Circuit began, in view of the Belgian Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, 28 August 1994, at the Spa circuit. Also on track were the Minardi and Sauber.


Ferrari's first day of testing is used to look for valid modifications on the 412 T1B: new solutions for shock absorbers, suspensions and the rear wing. All changes designed specifically for the next World Championship race. The engine used on Berger's car, however, was once again the old 041, allowing comparisons to be made with previous tests. The driver from Worgl runs about thirty laps, interspersed with long stops to work on the single-seater, with times around 1'30"0. At Mugello, Italian Pierluigi Martini also tested the Minardi, to check the operation of the new automatic gearbox. Good results for the team from Faenza, which will test new shock absorbers and shorter bellies on Friday. For the Swiss Sauber team, Heinz-Harald Frentzen drives, carrying out tests on aerodynamics, reporting positive results, so much so that the time set by the German, 1'27"4, is the best of the day. From Friday morning on track there will be Ferrari and Minardi again with the alternation, starting in the afternoon, between Berger and Alesi. The Frenchman is at Fiorano, for a meeting with Jean Todt. After the disappointments suffered in Hungary, Alesi is encouraged by the French manager and at the end, more serene, he promises a great race in Belgium. As practice finishes at Mugello, on Saturday, 20 August 1994, Michael Schumacher finds the behaviour of his team, Benetton, unacceptable for the burning of Jos Verstappen's car in the German Grand Prix. The German also says he has received proposals from all the major Formula One teams to change teams next season. On Sunday, 21 August 1994, Jean Alesi, still on holiday for two days off the coast of Capri with his boat, recharged himself completely after the misadventures of Budapest:


"I really like the track and it should suit the characteristics of our car".


Thus he indicates a favourable forecast for the Belgian Grand Prix, scheduled from Friday 26 to Sunday 28 August 1994 at Spa-Francorchamps. 


"I came out of the Hungaroring in low spirits: P13 in qualifying, then retired in the race. I could no longer understand anything. I was plagued by doubts. I went to talk to Todt at Fiorano, then to test at Mugello. The two things put together helped me a lot. I have confidence, I am looking for my first victory". 


Jean Alesi is a guy who lets his feelings get the better of him. And sometimes he lets slip a little heavy declarations.


He always does so in good faith. In the days following his last race, some had interpreted his phrases as an opening to a possible divorce with the Maranello team. 


"I don't want to hear any more about it. I'm staying at Ferrari in 1995, I have a contract". 


But if hope and optimism have returned to the driver, one wonders about the true potential of the 412T/1B for the eleventh round of the World Championship. 


"Honestly there are still problems. The car keeps jumping around in the front end. But the three days of testing in Tuscany should give us useful indications for the race in Belgium. The technicians are evaluating the data to work on the set-up of the single-seater. Barring unforeseen events, after a test on Thursday, the new features will be brought to Spa". 


Perhaps Ferrari is progressing, but the others are not standing still either. Benetton and Williams are always the teams to beat. 


"They are going strong. And they have worked like us, starting from better foundations. That's why our commitment is double: we have to catch up and move forward. It is not easy. However, since we will be in the Ardennes, they will be the wolves and we will try to be the hunters". 


At Spa there is also the unknown of the track, which has been profoundly modified. Especially the famous descent after the pits. considered dangerous, has been slowed down with a chicane. 


"But the circuit in essence should have remained the same, and should enhance the power of our engine. But I also trust in some suspension and aerodynamic improvements. We can repeat the success of the Nürburgring. Let's hope that everything goes well; we would also need a bit of luck". 


Speaking of circuits. On Sunday, 21 August 1994, a day early, work gets underway at Monza. It seems that 20.000 people have gathered around the park to witness the ritual. The first removals of trees removed from the construction sites to move the track are carried out: a 20-metre-long truck passes through narrow paths, someone has had to cut branches and there have been protests. However, the circuit managers say that everything will be ready by Tuesday, 30 August 1994. And the tests planned by Ferrari, Minardi and Sauber from Wednesday, 31 August, to Friday, 2 September 1994, should take place regularly. A few days later, on Tuesday, 23 August 1994, Renault, after confirming a three-year contract with Williams two weeks earlier, signed a similar agreement with Benetton. The news had been in the air for several months, but the recent misadventures of the Anglo-Italian team had raised doubts as to whether such a marriage was really possible. (It is precisely those in charge of the Benetton team who will have to appear before the FIA World Council, in extraordinary session, on Wednesday, 7 September 1994 for the enquiry into the fire in Verstappen's car at the German Grand Prix: the team is accused of having removed a filter from the petrol filler pipe. Benetton had been summoned for Wednesday, 19 October 1994, but in order to give a quick solution to the affair, president Mosley brought the time forward). Instead, the reasons were stronger: Renault had made major investments in the sport and intended to dominate in Formula 1 for some time, at least for the next three years. For Benetton, too, the agreement for the new engine supply comes as a panacea. In a very delicate moment (it wins, but has several unfinished accounts with the FIA: from the possible confirmation of Michael Schumacher's disqualification for two races to the possible punishment for unduly removing the filter from the petrol filling system), the team is relaunched both in terms of image and confidence.


By the way - according to news from a German source - just in the last few days there had been a rift between the Italo-English team and Michael Schumacher: the German had distanced himself from the team over possible transgressions of regulations. But now, faced with the possibility of having a top car in the next three years, everything seems to have been settled. Flavio Briatore says:


"I gave the news to Schumacher, and you can't imagine his joy". 


From Renault's point of view, the operation is a success right from the start. With a relatively small outlay, it will have at its disposal the two teams currently considered the best: on the one hand Williams with the champion Nigel Mansell, the established champion (says Faure, president of Renault Sport: 'It is possible that Nigel will be at the start of the last few Grands Prix in 1994'), on the other hand, Benetton with the up-and-coming Michael Schumacher. Moreover, two markets in their hands in terms of advertising, the French and the German, and vast possibilities for expansion. And it must be added that the technological research carried out in Formula 1 always pays off and that by pitting Williams and Benetton against each other there will be a competitive level that is difficult for other teams to reach. The two teams will be treated identically: as partners of Renault, they will not pay for the use of engines and will exploit, together, the same engine evolutions. In practice, the one who succeeds better in the construction of the cars and in the management of the team and drivers should go stronger. A colossus against which it will be very difficult to fight, the two biggest rivals being isolated: Ferrari and McLaren-Peugeot. What remains to be decided, in this new scenario, is the future of Ligier, which in any case will have Renault engines until the end of the season. The French company makes it known that it will wait to see the results of the French team, before deciding, but it is quite unlikely that the Regie will decide to supply three teams. Ligier, owned by Briatore and managed by Fiorio, could have the official Ford engines left by Benetton, but it is not certain that the American company will passively accept being sidelined in this way. Moreover, Mercedes seems intent on strengthening its position and Bmw on returning to Formula 1, perhaps with a team of its own. In short, a fuse has been lit that could make all the values on the field reassess. It is said that the best defence is the attack. And Flavio Briatore, manager of Benetton Formula, is a master in this art: 


"Do you want to know with what arguments we will present ourselves to the FIA judges, for the appeal on Schumacher's disqualification and, later, for the petrol filter case? We will bring to the table another fine victory, that of the Belgian Grand Prix. The best way to make it clear that we are the strongest and that we deserve to win the World Championship. Regarding the refuelling affair at Hockenheim, we will present a series of evidence and testimonies in our favour. Concerning the discussion about the punishment of our driver, it seems to me that we have already been penalised enough. But we do not feel persecuted, we will accept the judgements because we believe in the integrity of the sporting authorities. Even if we have the impression that certain initiatives started even before the incriminating facts were committed". 


In the meantime, Michael Schumacher, perhaps coached by his team, is distancing himself from the filter case (so he hopes for the benevolence of the judges). And, at the same time, he is happy about the prospects for 1995. Flavio Briatore concludes with an enigmatic smile:


"We and Williams will be the best and we will fight on equal terms. Whoever is better at making cars and managing the team and drivers will win". 


The surveyor from Cuneo deliberately ignores Ferrari, which for the moment he does not consider to be up to scratch, even for this Grand Prix that opens on Friday 26 August 1994 with the first practice session. Even the men of the Maranello team, after all, are cautious. 


Jean Todt affirms:


"We have made a lot of changes, we will see if we have worked well. Aerodynamics and suspension are different, it's all to be verified". 


On Thursday morning, Gerhard Berger is still at Fiorano to carry out some tests, while the last parts arrive at Spa in the evening, while the drivers do sighting laps on the Belgian track, which has been profoundly renewed with a chicane at the bottom of the Radillon descent, new, much wider run-off areas, various protections (tyres and water containers). The majority are satisfied, a few disapprove, including Rubens Barrichello: 


"The chicane is very dangerous". 


Speaking of the young Brazilian, the latter has had contact with Ferrari, unofficially confirmed, but for 1996. Because, as Jean Todt confirms:


"For next year we have Alesi and Berger". 


We will see. Drivers come and go. So much so that Philippe Alliot takes the place of Olivier Beretta (who apparently has not fulfilled his financial commitments) at Larrousse. And Lotus will be driven by 24-year-old Belgian Philippe Adams. What merits does this driver have that exclude Alessandro Zanardi? He won the almost non-existent English Formula 2 championship. So what? Simple: he has a lot of money. On Friday, 26 August 1994, the most talked-about driver of these days surprisingly took provisional pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix. Rubens Barrichello, 22 years old, Brazilian of Italian origin, gets with Jordan the best time in a first qualifying session conditioned by rain. The track, at first very wet and then gradually drier, made the carousel of fast laps a kind of roulette. The young South American (who drives with contact lenses, which he needs when visibility is not perfect) is on the one hand very good at exploiting the right moment and on the other helped by good luck. And so he showcases himself at the most important and perhaps decisive moment of his career. It is no secret that Rubens Barrichello is of interest to some top teams. McLaren wants him and even Ferrari is considering him for possible use in 1996. Basically, Rubens has been blocked by sponsor Marlboro who will turn him over to one of the two teams in question as soon as possible and according to future developments. Barrichello's story is exemplary. The Brazilian is practically $3.000.000 in debt to Arisco, a company in his country that has helped him so far financially but wants the money back. An investment in himself that can only be completed with full success. But the young man, also esteemed by poor Ayrton Senna, is on the right track. On the asphalt with a dry track, after having mounted slicks at the very last moment, the Jordan-Hart driver laps in 1'21"163 (at an average speed of 178.542 km/h), 0.331 seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher. The German runs into a spin, otherwise he could have improved. It is not a good day for Ferrari either. Jean Alesi goes no further than P5, also preceded by Damon Hill and Eddie Irvine. Gerhard Berger is only P11. The Frenchman gets angry after being blocked by Martin Brundle on his best lap. The Austrian, on the other hand, is forced to stop along the circuit and switch off his engine due to a flare-up from an oil leak. Says Jean Alesi bitterly:


"I could have set at least the best time if Brundle had not slowed me down with irregular behaviour. He saw me because I was alongside but did everything he could to prevent me from passing. I told him a few things: that he is in Formula 1 by chance, that there are young people who deserve to be in his place. It's not the first time he's done that. I had dry tyres, he had wet ones. I was faster, he had to step aside". 


Anger aside, Alesi was almost always among the quickest throughout the day. And he says he is quite optimistic, for Saturday's practice and for the race. And Berger is  confident too. The Maranello cars should be competitive under normal conditions, when they will be able to use the innovations brought to Spa. The drivers meanwhile approve of the new Eau Rouge chicane, and speaking of safety, Belgian driver Philippe Adams, who had just taken to the track in his Lotus, crashed into a guardrail. Shouldn't the rules for granting Formula One licences to drivers also be reviewed? But the Belgian's misadventures certainly did not end there: shortly afterwards ushers turned up at the pits to demand payment of certain invoices from him. But wasn't he extremely rich? On Saturday, 27 August 1994, helped by the sky (in the form of rain) Rubens Barrichello makes it. In the race he starts ahead of everyone in the Belgian Grand Prix. And he also becomes the youngest driver of all time to have taken pole position in Formula 1. With 22 years and 93 days he precedes Andrea de Cesaris and Jacky Ickx. On Saturday, a beautiful autumnal downpour practically renders the second qualifying session useless, locking the times on those of Friday. The only variation was that of Christian Fittipaldi, who was excluded and managed to slip into third last place on the grid. Two Brazilians in the headlines, then, a sign that the South American school, after losing its star driver Ayrton Senna, continues to produce talent. Rubens Barrichello, amazed at the result, admits:


"I was lucky, but in life you also need that. I know very well that if the track had been dry I would not have had the chance to stay where I was. However, my car is going well and in all weather conditions I think I can finish the race on the podium or at least in the points. If it is still wet I will have a better chance. I dedicate this partial success to my friend Senna and my father. Without the support of my family I would not be here to savour this satisfaction". 


Barrichello also talks about his dual passport (Brazilian and Italian, being originally from Treviso) and the suffering he experienced in the pits while waiting for the timed laps to finish:


"It was going crazy, because the weather was getting better. It went well". 


Then, answering an indirect question about his future, Rubens Barrichello replies diplomatically: 


"For now I'm content with the green-blue of Jordan". 


And he does not want to make comparisons with his three World Champion compatriots, namely Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. 


"They have already done everything. I have very little to my credit, I am practically an unknown". 


The presence in pole position of the young racer from São Paulo poses an extra problem for Michael Schumacher. The German is aiming for a victory to feel more comfortable in the standings, while waiting for the decisions of the FIA appeal tribunal that will meet on Tuesday 30 August to confirm or not his two-race disqualification following the events at Silverstone. But it will not only be the Brazilian who will undermine the German of Benetton. Immediately behind there will also be Damon Hill, a direct rival in the fight for the title, and a wild Jean Alesi. The latter could not improve on his fifth position, but set the best time of the day in the Ferrari, lapping in 2'25"099. 


"I have the regret of not having been able to conquer a pole position within my reach because of Brundle who got in my way. But I think I can have a good race, both in the rain and in good weather. In the wet I'm very good, I have a very good feeling, although obviously everything becomes more risky". 


A much more difficult task for Gerhard Berger, who remains stuck in P11. The Austrian, who by the way is celebrating his birthday, says with much realism: 


"Barring unforeseeable events, at most I will be able to give myself a gift of two or three points. Not more. It's a shame, because our cars, as far as we have been able to test over the last few days, seem to have made some progress in terms of grip". 


Apart from the threat of rain, many drivers are also concerned about the characteristics of the modified track. The most critical (along with Barrichello himself) is Damon Hill: 


"The new Eau Rouge chicane has perhaps eliminated the serious risk of finishing at full speed against the guardrails on the left side of the track. But now there is a danger of going straight ahead on the right under braking. For the start, above all, you have to be very careful". 


Let's also not forget the trap of the Source, the sharp bend immediately after the start. In past years it has been the scene of spectacular pile-ups. On Sunday, 28 August 1994, at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix, with a dry track, Rubens Barrichello leads Michael Schumacher and a very fast Jean Alesi. Shortly afterwards Michael Schumacher overtakes Barrichello at Les Combes, followed by Alesi, only for his engine to break down on lap three. With the Jordans struggling to hold track position against faster cars, Damon Hill moved up to second place, ahead of David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen. Gerhard Berger in the remaining Ferrari also retires with an engine failure on lap 12. Philippe Adams, who was making his debut in the Belgian Grand Prix, makes a mistake on lap 15 and flies off the track after being the victim of a spin, ending his race with his car planted in the gravel. Meanwhile, David Coulthard overtakes his team-mate, Damon Hill, during the first round of pit-stops, while Rubens Barrichello moves up to second place before stopping. On lap 19, Michael Schumacher spins out of Fagnes, but retains the lead; meanwhile, Rubens Barrichello also spins out at Pouhon, but crashes into the barriers damaging the suspension of his Jordan 194. As a result, Martin Brundle goes into P5 in the second McLaren-Peugeot, before he too is the victim of a spin, crashing into the barriers as happened to Rubens Barrichello, but on lap 25. When Schumacher and Hill make their second pit stop on lap 28, Coulthard takes the lead for a lap for the first time in his Formula One career. After making his second stop, the Scottish driver stays ahead of Damon Hill until the Williams team calls him into the pits on lap 37 to check the rear wing. 


Subsequently, the Scottish driver slows down due to gearbox problems and is overtaken by Mika Häkkinen, Jos Verstappen and Mark Blundell. On lap 40, David Coulthard hit the back of Blundell's car crossing La Source, but both were able to continue the race; at the end of the race the Scottish driver apologised to Mark Blundell. Just three laps from the end of the race an alternator failure stops Eddie Irvine's Jordan, which is nevertheless classified in P14 (it will move up to P13 after Michael Schumacher's disqualification). Although Damon Hill managed to set the fastest lap of the race on lap 41, Michael Schumacher crossed the line some 13 seconds ahead of the British racer and 51 seconds ahead of Mika Häkkinen, who finished third. They were followed by Jos Verstappen, David Coulthard and Mark Blundell, momentarily sixth at the finish line in his Tyrrell-Yamaha. Unstoppable as a panzer, fast as a missile, Michael Schumacher at 3:28 p.m. crossed the finish line first at the Belgian Grand Prix. But at 8:31 p.m. he is disqualified. Another incredible misadventure for the German driver. But the Federation is inflexible. During scrutineering, delegate Charlie Whiting discovers that the #5 Benetton is irregular. This time it is not an electronic issue or a sporting offence that leads to the exclusion of the World Championship leader from the classification. What has happened? It's simple: one of the new rules adopted about a month ago to improve safety by reducing the speed of the cars, requires a shim to be placed under the flat bottom. A small step one centimetre high, thirty wide, along the longitudinal axis of the single-seaters. It is made of a kind of marine plywood mixed with a special resin. It reduces the ground effect. If it comes into contact with asphalt or a kerb it can also wear out. 


But the regulations state that it cannot shrink by more than a centimetre (so 9 millimetres) and less than a tenth of its weight. After the inspection, Charlie Whiting presents his report to the three stewards, namely Belgium's De Fierlant, Switzerland's Buser and India's Hoosein. The discussion is lengthy. The material is checked, the television footage is viewed, and an inspection is also carried out at a spot on the track where Schumacher spun and where he could have unintentionally filed the step. After analysing all the evidence gathered, the stewards come to the conclusion that the part was not damaged during the race and is therefore irregular. Analysing the drawing of the thickness presented in the delegates' documentation, it can be seen that the front part for a length of about 80 centimetres is only 7.4 millimetres thick. According to one expert, this cut would improve the ground effect of the car. And for this reason Michael Schumacher was disqualified. The Benetton managers, i.e. the designer Ross Brawn and the team manager Joan Villadelprat, before the discussion, summoned by the commissioners had argued for an abnormal abrasion caused by the German's spin. Subsequently, having learned of the negative ruling, they appealed. The FIA will now have nine days to confirm its decision or not. At this point, however, a relegation seems unlikely. Incidentally, the commissioners' discussion lasted strangely longer than expected. It cannot be ruled out that they did not want to hear Chairman Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone first before issuing their verdict. The whole affair was also followed by the FIA's special observer, the Italian lawyer Roberto Causo. On Tuesday, 30 August 1994, as if that were not enough, Michael Schumacher will have to appear before the Federal Court of Appeal in Paris to find out whether his disqualification (two races) handed down at Silverstone for failing to observe the black flag will be upheld, reduced or increased. 


To this could be added a further punishment for the case of the petrol filter illegally removed from the refuelling system at Hockenheim. Certainly, at this point, with a story like that, certain accusations, hitherto rejected by the Anglo-Italian team, take shape. Since the start of the season, along with dazzling victories, Benetton has been at the centre of controversy too many times for alleged irregularities. One wonders if the German driver is also having second thoughts and does not want to change formation. Michael Schumacher had won his eighth race of the season without too many problems and put an almost definitive mortgage on the world title. Now, however, everything is reversed. The success goes to Damon Hill who was second and the Englishman of Williams, in just one day, it is as if he had gained 14 points, the 10 taken away from his rival and the four obtained with the promotion. Now the gap between the two is 21 points. The change in the classification also rewards Mika Hakkinen, Jos Verstappen, David Coulthard and Mark Blundell, advancing them by one place. Italian Gianni Morbidelli, who was seventh, enters the points zone. A good result for him. A large crowd had celebrated Michael Schumacher. The Germans had come in droves to witness the Benetton driver's success. We are talking about 80,000 spectators, a record for ten years in Belgium. And practically nobody knew before they got home what had happened. Probably not even the person concerned, who had happily left the circuit to return to Kerpen, his home town, which is a hundred kilometres from Spa. Said Michael Schumacher, after he had stepped onto the podium:


"I feel calmer now. With this victory I can face the judgement of the Court of Appeal with more serenity. I did not see the flag at Silverstone, but I admit that my team should have reacted in a different way. I hope for the best, I will accept the verdict whatever it is". 


It had been a kind of self-confession, in the hope of receiving a reduced punishment. Now, however, things are looking very bad for the German. More help, however, for Damon Hill, who had accepted defeat on the track by praising his rival: 


"Schumacher drove a wonderful race and deserves first place. His car was travelling like a train. What can I say. I had a positive race, I fought for a long time with my team-mate Coulthard, who was very good. But honestly I can't claim to be happy with a placing, in the fight for the title I needed a win".


Damon Hill also learned that he had won the Belgian Grand Prix when he was already at home in London. At least he was pleased. Who definitely lost, besides Michael Schumacher, once again, was Formula One. These events, the upset classifications, the irregularities, the suspicions, do nobody any good. On the contrary. There is much talk of sport in crisis of spectacle, of credibility, and then we are faced with disconcerting facts. Accompanied by British lawyer David Mills, Pat Simmod and manager Willi Weber, Michael Schumacher will now try to defend himself against the charge of deliberately breaking the rules. He will repeat that he did not see the signal at Silverstone and will also invoke Article 152 of the sporting code, under which he should still have been allowed to start last in the British Grand Prix for overtaking Damon Hill on the grid lap. But with what spirit will the magistrates be able to judge a driver who only forty-eight hours earlier had run into another unpleasant mishap? Namely disqualification in the Belgian race because his car did not comply with the regulations. The affair split public opinion in two. Guilty and innocent: fraud or accident? On one side, that of the prosecution, it is said that too many times this year Benetton has been caught in the act. On the other, it is pointed out that the champion and his team are being hounded by the FIA, that nothing irregular has been proven. Among the accusers is Niki Lauda, who through Austrian radio says:


"Schumacher's disqualification at Spa is sacrosanct. He is good, but if the rumours of irregularities are confirmed, exclusion from the World Championship will be a necessary measure. If you build a car at the limit of legality, it is not at all correct. F1 remains a sport, one should not resort to doping". 


In the technical sense, of course. But Benetton maintains that the deterioration of the dashboard was caused by a contingent situation, apart from the spin involving Michael Schumacher in the race: because it always rained on practice days, the car's set-ups were adjusted in a certain way. On Sunday the track was dry, the set-up was different and probably wrong. So the abrasion was accidental and unintentional. So much so that the other single-seater, that of Jos Verstappen, finished the race in good order. Benetton team manager Flavio Briatore affirmed, after having also received a phone call from Luciano Benetton, who, among other things, guaranteed the team's full support:


"Since we are in the crosshairs of the FIA, we would have been crazy to have tried to cheat. What happened was not intentional on our part, but a deterioration due to a particular situation". 


The Benetton team also speaks of persecution, of a plot to tarnish Michael Schumacher's achievements and take the World Championship victory away from him. In short, it is a very difficult moment, not least because on Wednesday, 7 September 1994, Benetton will have to appear before the Formula One World Council over the affair of the removed petrol filter and await the outcome of the appeal lodged at Spa over the disqualification of its driver. Who, in the meantime, would be determined to leave the team if he is convicted over the filter case. In Germany, according to Die Welt newspaper, the German champion's lawyers are examining the possibility of terminating his contract, valid until the end of 1995. Meanwhile, as if that were not enough, in this Formula 1 of stamped paper, there are still alarm signals coming from Monza. The Roggia area, where an oak tree should be removed, is still under sequestration, and the work cannot be completed. The ACI and the CSAI let it be known that a clearance should arrive on Tuesday, 30 August 1994. But if this is not the case, Ferrari will not be able to test the track on Thursday and Friday. And, at the very least, if the inconvenience is not resolved, the Italian Grand Prix could be skipped. The Belgian race was not only catastrophic for the Benetton team, but also for Scuderia Ferrari, as Jean Alesi retired on lap 3, and Gerhard Berger on lap 12. Both with a broken engine. The Frenchman had made a great start and was in P2. The Austrian had recovered from P11 to P6. All in vain, all to start again. And to say that with Michael Schumacher's disqualification, in theory they could even perhaps have won. Instead, the Maranello team sees itself overtaken by Williams in the Constructors' Championship standings. And it will have to present itself at Monza with many doubts to resolve. The drivers, rightly, despair. Two races, four retirements, a lot of anger. Ferrari, after a series of fairly positive races and the success at Hockenheim, misses a great opportunity. 


At the very moment when the team has produced its maximum effort, the reliability of the engine has failed. And the trouble is that - according to initial analyses - these failures are not always similar, which makes the task of remedying them even more difficult. In addition, the missed results can affect morale. Alesi is furious. The Frenchman hoped to at least get on the podium, but he also had a secret dream of winning. Instead, after fourteen kilometres he was already with his feet on the ground. He got out of the car, parked at the exit of the pits, was bent in two for a long time with his head in his hands, then took off his helmet and returned cursing. 


"That's enough, that's enough, they all happen to me. I don't know anything, I don't understand. The team works to make the engine more powerful and this is the result. Now I am going home and I will reflect on my future for a long time". 


Gerhard Berger also shows bitterness:


"I was going quite well and suddenly everything blew up. I was forced to swerve to the right, having signalled the manoeuvre with my arm. There was a cone of shadow and I honestly didn't see the oncoming McLaren in the mirror. I did it in good faith, I thought leaving the car in that spot was very dangerous. I tried to explain myself, but they didn't understand me. Anyway, I accept the judges' decision, the conditional disqualification, because according to the rules it is fair. I won't appeal, it's pointless". 


But let's talk about Ferrari... 


"Engine, engine, engine. It's the usual talk: we're working in all areas, but we're not right. The chassis is still not perfect, the engine, apart from the failures, has the power too high. The Ford of the Benetton and the Renault of the Williams in almost all conditions get away from us in acceleration". 


Some say that the performance was good, but if you look at the timing at the start there was a two second lap delay on the Benetton and one second on the Williams. 


"Schumacher's single-seater was clearly out of our reach. The gap to Hill's and Coulthard's was weighed down by the fact that I had only planned one stop and they had two. So they had less petrol on board. If I could have finished the race, I don't know how it would have turned out, maybe there was room for the podium. But this is theoretical talk, the reality is something else". 


Still a negative day for Jean Todt, who expected much more. 


"There is no reliability, but we have a very intact programme of tests that should get us out of this situation". 


To those who compare him to a general, the Frenchman replies: 


"I am not a general. However, the troop is compact, we lack external support". 


For this last phrase, the French manager leaves room for interpretation. Perhaps he means that Ferrari does not enjoy a favourable press. But it is not the journalists who make the engines.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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