Pale as a rags, psychologically destroyed, barely holding back tears, on Tuesday 30 August 1994 Michael Schumacher, at 7:30 p.m., learns from the FIA judges that he will have to miss the next two Formula One World Championship races (he will be replaced by the Finnish J.J. Lehto). He will watch the Italian Grand Prix (11 September 1994, at Monza) and the Portuguese Grand Prix (25 September 1994, at Estoril) on television or from the Benetton pits. The verdict of the appeal court composed of judges Van Rosmalen (Holland), Koussis (Greece), Macedo Cunha (Portugal) and Dahlstrom (Sweden) is harsh. In practice, the sentence imposed on the German driver by the World Council on Tuesday 26 July 1994 is confirmed in every detail. After hearing all the testimonies, including that of the defendant, the four judges reject the explanations received, deeming them absolutely unreliable. In truth, the German driver's defence is superficial and laughable. The Benetton driver still maintains that he did not see the black flag displayed at Silverstone and that he mistook the #5, which is that of his car, for the penalty seconds. The argument that the stewards should have re-started the race by putting the German's Benetton in last position, after he had overtaken Damon Hill on the grid lap, was also not accepted, as it did not comply with the rules. The judges, in their ruling, also considered the fact that the Stop&go penalty was communicated to Benetton late to be irrelevant. In their opinion, the driver should have obeyed the order to return to the pits when he saw the appropriate signal. For this reason the fine of $500.000 to the team is also confirmed, and they withdraw their appeal. Thus Michael loses 16 points (6 from the second place at Silverstone and 10 from Spa), and in addition he will have to concede two races to rival Damon Hill. But the world title should not elude him. Apart from anything else he has been the best. And now?
"I'm devastated. My head is empty, I can't think about anything. Neither the championship nor my future. I've never experienced a moment like this. And to think I was optimistic. I had faith in a reduction. Instead they were ruthless. Even for Sunday's race at Spa. I don't think the abrasion on the dashboard under the car favoured me. I had won because I had gone faster than everyone".
Then he continues:
"Now I don't know what I will do these days. Testing was planned, but is it worth it? You judge if everything that has happened to me is right. I still respect the decision. But I am in a state of shock. I haven't even phoned home or Benetton. I can't believe it".
Michael Schumacher had appeared at 9:35 a.m. in the morning at the Place de la Concorde, accompanied by Pat Simmod of Benetton, his lawyer David Mills and his manager Willy Weber. He then left, through a back door, to escape the onslaught of cameramen, photographers, reporters, and a hundred or so onlookers and fans waiting for him on the doorstep of the FIA headquarters. Dark in the face, the German driver returned to his hotel to await the verdict. On arrival, he exchanged a few words with those present:
"I learned about the disqualification in Belgium at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, at a friend's house. I don't want to comment on this, I just hope it won't influence the judges' decision for Silverstone. I slept peacefully, my conscience is clear".
The driver feels more like a victim than a protagonist of the unpleasant events that involved him. And there has even been speculation about a divorce from Benetton, which Michael would hold solely responsible for the situation. True or false? To a journalist who is considered one of his best friends and confidants, Schumacher said:
"I am not interested in money or myths. I want to win races and the world title. According to what I know, the Renault engine is the best at the moment, the most competitive. I will race with a car that will have this engine, whatever happens".
So either he will remain at Benetton - even if his agent Willi Weber has asked some lawyers to find out if it is possible to break the contract that binds the driver to the Anglo-Italian team - or at best he could aim for Williams. Even if this eventual move would put Nigel Mansell in difficulty for his return in 1994. Incidentally, Williams itself officially announced that the English driver would race the last three Grands Prix scheduled for this year (Jerez, Suzuka and Adelaide). Ferrari, who would have sounded the ground with Schumacher, would still hear a negative answer, for the time being. There is always controversy in Formula 1. While at the Monza racetrack the century-old oak tree placed at the Roggia variant falls among other protests of environmentalists, a harsh querelle between Michael Schumacher and Ferrari blossoms, with statements, communiqués and punctuation by Gerhard Berger, fully recovered from the car accident. From the pages of the Auto-Bild magazine, the Benetton driver accuses the FIA leadership of adopting double standards in their actions and, in particular, of having used meekness towards the Maranello team both on the occasion of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, and by preserving, despite the safety problems, the refuelling of petrol during the race, to the advantage of the Maranello cars. According to the German, the wooden plate used for the first time in Germany and intended to raise the single-seaters to reduce ground effect would not have been regular on the first three classified cars (Berger's victory).
"It was less thick than allowed, but there were no disqualifications because the FIA recognised the teams' lack of custom. An argument that was right at Hockenheim and should have been right for me in Belgium".
And so, here is Ferrari's reaction.
"In relation to the reckless statements made by driver Schumacker, which appeared in the weekly Auto Bild, if confirmed, Ferrari has nothing to say except that their car, after the victory in Germany was checked by the FIA technical commissioners who found that the step applied to the flat bottom was perfectly regular".
"I don't understand the German's statements. My car had been carefully checked at Hockenheim and the stewards had found that there was nothing irregular. What is happening has created too much confusion in Schumacher's head. Maybe some rest will do him good".
Berger was in great form, recovering quickly from the blow he suffered when his taxi was rear-ended on Wednesday.
"That's all I needed. In all the accidents of my life, and there have been many, this is the only one for which no one can blame me, not even Schumacher".
On Thursday 1 September 1994, the Austrian drives the Ferrari together with Alesi, Frentzen (Sauber) and Alboreto (Minardi). The Frenchman sets the best time.
"The track is beautiful, better than before. In the second Lesmo you go out at about 170 km/h (before it was 260 km/h) and you can even try to overtake before the Ascari where there is a very big escape route. This was not possible in the past. The circuit is very safe: a very good job".
Practice started at 2:50 p.m.. At 12:24 p.m. the first blow was given to the now famous oak tree. The technicians said it was now half rotten, with the trunk invaded by the water that had fallen over the last few days. Alesi lapped in 1'27"55. In 1993 Alain Prost's pole position, with the fastest track, had been 1'21"179, at an average speed of 257.209 km/h. In testing, Ferrari uses the old 041 engines: the 043s that gave problems in Hungary and Spa are under scrutiny at Fiorano. Perhaps they will be used on Friday. Finally, a gentle note. At the renovated second Lesmo corner, two Milanese girls, fans of Ayrton Senna, remember the Brazilian champion exactly four months after his death by laying a huge bouquet of red roses on the spot where Ayrton won. While the practice sessions end at Monza, on Sunday 4 September 1994, Michael Schumacher breaks his silence and confesses his disappointment with Benetton, from which - he hints - the divorce could be imminent. After the controversy of the last few weeks, the time has come for him to defend himself; while a decisive week opens for the Italian team, in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper the German racer distances himself from it, and states that he has even thought of retiring from the political-mercantile spectacle of Formula 1. After the absolute weakness that had so far persuaded him to keep quiet, then anger exploded, leading him to put aside the idea of retirement and resume contact with other teams. His manager Willi Weber, Schumacher admits, is negotiating:
"Every contract includes the possibility of an early termination".
Of Benetton, in fact, the World Championship leader is disappointed.
"I have always had a lot of respect for the team, but unfortunately the opposite has not always been true".
Especially at Hockenheim, Schumacher complains, the team's support was lacking. It is precisely the incident that occurred on the German circuit during the refuelling of petrol in the pit lane that Benetton will have to defend itself before the FIA, which will also examine the case of the wooden board placed under the car, at the origin of the disqualification after the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. Won't all these proceedings be a persecution against the Italian-English team? Schumacher hints that it might be true, and wonders if the conflict between the team's sporting director, Flavio Briatore, and FIA president, Max Mosley, is not at the origin of the Benetton case. Says Michael Schumacher again:
"Why was the millimetre too much tolerated on the wing of Berger's McLaren, at the 1992 Canadian Grand Prix, while with our car the pharmacist's scales were used?"
But whatever the FIA's responsibility in the affair, the German driver has no doubts about the team's misbehaviour towards him.
"Benetton has often thought more about the team than about me, and in these circumstances I may well have made mistakes. I have cared too little about public opinion".
Now all that will change:
"There are things I have to take care of myself. I have to defend my interests".
Michael Schumacher's words are answered by Luciano Benetton, who says about the German's intentions to terminate his contract after the disappointment of personal and team sanctions:
"We made mistakes due to inexperience, and it is right that we pay for it. But I am calm and we believe that Schumacher will still be with us. Surely Michael was shocked by the two-race disqualification. But I am very calm".
And about Lauda's accusations of impropriety to the team, the Italian manager replies:
"He belongs to another team and, of course, they try to take advantage of him. I don't believe in a persecution against us, but since there have been very strict controls up to now I hope they will be strict for the others too".
Meanwhile, on Tuesday 6 September 1994, in front of the FIA, not only Benetton but also McLaren appeared, accused of using a fully automatic gearbox. Well, the following day, as part of the investigations into clean engines, it was decided to opt for a kind of moratorium: no punishment for Benetton and McLaren, accused of having committed irregularities that in theory could have led - as a maximum penalty - to the exclusion of the two teams from the current Formula One World Championship. On the other hand, Michael Schumacher's disqualification for the oversized step of his single-seater in the Belgian Grand Prix was confirmed. The ruling issued by the World Council and announced by Max Mosley, President of the FIA, is a classic example of how even sporting justice has to make certain compromises. Says Max Mosley:
"The irregularity that caused a fire start to Verstappen's car during the pit stop at Hockenheim was not committed deliberately. As for the automatic gearbox used by McLaren at Imola, it was illegal, but we decided not to impose penalties. There were too many doubts and uncertainties to intervene heavily".
In essence, a double acquittal due to insufficient evidence. The FIA admits that removing the petrol filter was not the cause of the flare-up in Germany. Although the removal of a part of the fuel system was prohibited. In the investigation, however, it was discovered that Larrousse had done the same thing earlier. The same goes for McLaren, who were rewarded for reciting a retroactive mea culpa, promising that they would no longer use the programmed gearbox and that the misunderstanding arose anyway due to a different interpretation of the regulations. If we were to stick only to the rules of the sporting code, the decision taken in Paris can be considered questionable to say the least. And it sets a very dangerous precedent of impunity. In other respects it restores serenity for the moment in an environment already too traumatised by incidents and controversies. The teams themselves, reunited in Budapest, had asked not to exaggerate with punishments so as not to ruin the image of Formula 1 once and for all. On a human level, a heavy sanction would also have irreversibly damaged a driver, Michael Schumacher, who has proved to be by far the best, as his car, the Benetton, has so far proved to be the most competitive and reliable. The German, who can now quietly make his plans for the future with his current team, is already racing against obstacles. Schumacher's exclusion from the rankings at Silverstone (black flag) and Spa (lower-than-permissible step), plus the two days' disqualification suffered again for the incident during the British Grand Prix are already quite a handicap to overcome. What's more, the Benetton driver, who holds a 21-point lead over Damon Hill, will be absent at Monza and Portugal, and will have - barring any more surprises - twelve races to win the title, against his rivals' sixteen. Quite a challenge. And even greater satisfaction if he succeeds.
After a long ordeal and some caesarean sections, the Italian Grand Prix, now in its 65th edition, kicks off on Friday 9 September 1994, orphaned of Michael Schumacher, the Formula 1 World Championship leader, disqualified for two races. But the German driver, from Bonn, makes his voice heard:
"I have decided to respect my contract until 1996 with Benetton. I am very bitter about what happened, but I accept. I hope Ferrari will give me a hand by taking points away from Damon Hill. I hope he doesn't take more than 10 between Monza and Estoril".
Now that things with the FIA have settled down for the better, with no further punishments, he appreciates his team. And he's asking the Maranello team for help, after pointing him out as one of the main culprits of his troubles. In any case, Benetton does not seem to like the conclusions reached by Flavio Briatore, the team director, very much. To hold a simple mechanic responsible for removing the petrol filter at Hockenheim is too easy, and there may even be dissatisfaction in the team. But by now the affair is legally closed and we start from scratch. Thursday 8 September 1994 Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone meet Luca Montezemolo. The three will certainly have talked about these stories, but no one makes any statements. What is known, however, is that they are moving towards a renewal of the Concordia agreement that regulates the movements of the whole of Formula 1 and towards the establishment of a new championship for GT cars (to replace the defunct World Sport Championship), in which Ferrari could participate. In the meantime, the majority of drivers view the modified track and approve of the changes. The only risk, bad weather. Gerhard Berger argues:
"In the rain the straight becomes very dangerous, the cars pass very fast, close to 335 km/h".
The Austrian says that the Ferrari should do well, but he will have to contend with the Williams, which has made a lot of progress. Gerhard, very diplomatic, is also rooting for Jean Alesi:
"I would be happy if he wins, he deserves it, although I will play my cards right".
Six years ago, the day before mid-August, Enzo Ferrari passed away. It was a tough time for the Maranello team. A period of great transformation, of traumatic changes. At the end of the previous season Gerhard Berger had broken a long period of failure for the Italian team, winning in Japan and Australia. But the 1988 World Championship, which had begun under the sign of optimism, was turning out to be disappointing. A few placings and a pole position at Silverstone by the Austrian driver himself and a podium by Michele Alboreto. Nothing more. The single-seaters were fast, but not very reliable. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost with McLarens powered by Honda engines shared the top places. They arrived at Monza on 11 September 1988 (the same date as the Italian Grand Prix scheduled for Sunday) without hope. The Brazilian star and his French teammate-rival had the favour of prediction. Ayrton started like a splinter, no one seemed to be able to stop him. Alain followed him at a respectful distance. They had practically already won the race. But Prost was eliminated by a breakdown and on lap number 49 Senna too, almost mysteriously, as if driven by a divine hand, left the track due to a stupid collision caused by the Frenchman Schlesser. An incredible, double retirement. For Ferrari it was a triumph, as beautiful as it was unexpected. Gerhard Berger won by 0.5 seconds over Michele Alboreto. Almost a parade for the Ferrari fans. Says the Austrian driver, six years later:
"That is the most beautiful memory of my life, perhaps not only of my racing career. A memorable day. One of those results that help you overcome the worst moments, when you are discouraged and feel that everything is going wrong. What we need now is a similar panacea. It is true that Ferrari overcame the crisis by winning the German Grand Prix. But that's not enough: given the way things went, we can complain. If we had been a little luckier and also less fragile we could now be fighting for the world title".
Gerhard Berger is referring to Michael Schumacher's misadventures, without which the German would obviously be out of reach of all opponents. Now, however, he could be threatened by Damon Hill, who is 21 points behind (assuming the situation is not changed by the forthcoming rulings).
"If our cars had been more reliable in the last two races, we could be close too and aim at least for the World Constructors' Championship. Unfortunately, we will have to be content to live from day to day".
One of these could be the Italian Grand Prix. In tests over the previous days, the 412T/1B showed that they are at ease on the modified national circuit.
"In fact, as far as I am concerned, I am quite satisfied with the set-up of the car. The type of circuit, flat and with a series of straights laced with a few corners and chicanes, favours us. The doubt always concerns reliability. It is useless to start on pole position if you don't finish the race".
The Maranello team's engine engineers are making every effort to solve the problems highlighted by the new 043s. On Friday, 2 September 1994, Nicola Larini at Monza successfully simulated a race with a last-series engine that was a little tamer in power. Then he completed a considerable number of laps with a slightly more powerful one.
"I am torn between different feelings. Winning to spite Damon Hill or losing to spite Michael Schumacher, who has made some mistakes recently with certain statements that do him no credit. But, joking aside, the right way lies somewhere in between: let's try to win a good victory for Ferrari, for its fans, for the morale of the team and us drivers. A good end to the season can be the springboard for the next one. I continue to have faith and I am convinced that it will be reciprocated: I will have a winning car at my disposal".
Friday 9 September 1994, in 0.114 seconds, an imperceptible breath, there is everything. Joy, skill, the heart of a driver, months of work by a team, the burst of enthusiasm from a crowd of fans, a brushstroke of fresh colour (red, of course) on the Ferrari myth. This minimal gap (corresponding to about 7.8 metres), inflicted on Damon Hill, is enough to give Jean Alesi a day of glory. And to dream of winning the Italian Grand Prix. But, to take provisional pole position, the French driver had to ask everything of his car. Three thrilling laps. One lap after the other, faster and faster, heedless of the cars he found in his path, engaging in overtaking that in truth was mad dash from one side of the track to the other. A great motoring spectacle, on the circuit that still remained the fastest in all of Formula 1. Then, at the end of the challenge, a kind of lap of honour, with his arm raised, while crowds and flags waved in the stands and along the entire 5800 metres of the national circuit. So Alesi gets out of his single-seater, talks on the phone to President Montezemolo, who is also excited in front of the video, at Maranello, and gives himself up to another crowd, that of journalists:
"It was a difficult day because it had started badly. I had done very little lapping in the morning, the track was damp and I didn't like the set-up of the car. I changed a lot of things for qualifying and found myself driving a car that was four seconds quicker, which was a problem to interpret as best I could. Of course, I am happy. But let's face it: I'm not here to make films, but to win the race".
What does that mean?
"That pole is not my only priority. It is important to start at the front, but it will be crucial to prepare the car well for the race. And for this I am very confident, I think I have found a perfect set-up. In the second qualifying round, however, it will be necessary to find another 0.5 seconds because Williams is very strong and it will be difficult to beat them".
Indeed, the British team, which arrived at Monza without ever having tested at the Lombardy circuit, manages to impress. And Hill in his last attempt also experiences a gearbox problem that locks in fifth gear. Danger lurks and not only in terms of performance. In the morning Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi ended up straight in the chicanes once each and on Jean's car, after free practice, the technicians preferred to change the engine because the telemetry indicated something irregular. So much so that the driver thought he had broken it. Williams is making every effort to put Damon Hill in a position to fight for the title and take advantage of Michael Schumacher's absence.
"We by philosophy give our two racers equal cars and engines. But, at this moment, if there is something better it will be for Damon. Moreover Mansell has promised me that in the last three races of the season he will do everything to help him. We also want to win the constructors' championship: I personally live for that".
Frank Williams also received a visit from Maurizio Passarini, the magistrate in charge of the investigation into Senna's accident:
"I greeted him because I didn't know him, but he especially wanted to talk to our engineer Adrian Newey, which he did. We are waiting for the conclusion of the investigation".
While Ferrari and Williams are contesting the twelfth race of the World Championship, there are two novelties. The first, positive, concerns Lotus. A prestigious name that for too long has fallen into the anonymity of the very low rankings. Yesterday Herbert set the sixth fastest time. With the new Mugen-Honda engine. Or rather with the Honda-Mugen, because it seems that the big Japanese company is doing transmission tests to get back into the racing environment. The second, negative, concerns Benetton. While Max Mosley reiterates for over an hour that the decisions taken by the FIA are perfect and unassailable, Flavio Briatore closes himself in a strange muteness. He is due to speak at a press conference on Saturday. And, to those who ask him where Michael Schumacher is, he replies that he knows nothing. So, without the German, the team that has dominated the championship so far drops to Jos Verstappen's P14 and J.J. Lehto's P16. There are extenuating circumstances: Schumacher certainly has more than a second's foot on the accelerator. Lehto had been away from the race for some time and the Dutchman does not know the track well. But the atmosphere in the Anglo-Italian team is off. More than one might have thought after his misadventures. On Saturday 10 September 1994 Ferrari doubles up. Jean Alesi will start in front of everyone in the race, and at his side will be Gerhard Berger. It was a dream: it had been since 1982, when the Maranello team called in Mario Andretti at the height of a season as winning as it was unfortunate, that one of its cars did not take pole position in the Italian Grand Prix. This time it went even better, as it did on Sunday 31 July at Hockenheim, where the front row was all red. And the hopes of victory are concrete, even if in Formula 1 there is never certainty. In qualifying, Ferrari put on a show, stirring up stories of ordinary madness, in the stands, along the entire circuit. And finally the commitment, the courage, the skill of Jean Alesi, a driver with heart, are rewarded. In 80 races in the Motor Circus, this is the first time that the French driver has achieved pole position.
"I almost didn't remember any more, because the last one was in 1989. I was racing in Formula 3000 with Jordan. I took off a brick that had been weighing too long on my stomach. However, only when I manage to get on the top step of the podium will I be able to say that I have freed myself from a nightmare that has been haunting me".
Unlike what had happened on Friday, during the second practice session Ferrari did not suffer too much. And it is immediately understood that with a few adjustments the Italian single-seaters would have been uncatchable. And in fact, while Alesi retains his first place and Berger climbs to second, Hill in the Williams drops to third, detached not by a whisker, but by 0.3 seconds. These are still tiny gaps, but indicative. Above all because - to hear the two Maranello team drivers tell it - the cars are also very competitive in race trim, perhaps better than for just one fast lap. Alesi and Berger, even before practice was over, ran to the pit wall for a virtual hug with the fans. Then they go wild, with the Austrian in the mood for jokes as always:
"You bastard, you beat me".
Then, more serious:
"I had a perfect lap, I went one hundred per cent, I couldn't push any harder".
A recognition for Jean Alesi. Who reciprocates by involving the whole team in this partial success:
"A small reward for Luca Montezemolo and Jean Todt. When they normally talk to us they always have to put up with our complaints. The president was overjoyed this time and so was our boss. But I hope that a Ferrari like this will bring a lot of people to the circuit, and that the families of our mechanics who have worked like mules over these months will be able to rejoice with us even if only by watching television".
There will be no team tactics in the race. Gerhard Berger explains:
"The only recommendation is not to mess up at the start or at the first corner. Of course, whoever is in front will have a big advantage, but the race is long and difficult".
And there will be no shortage of fierce opponents. Uncertainty about reliability (which applies to everyone, even Williams, who broke the engine on David Coulthard's car), tyre changes, petrol refuelling, Damon Hill fighting for the World Championship, the rediscovered Lotus - fourth time with Johnny Herbert, in a car powered by a Honda engine - the outsiders Ligier, Peugeot. A race of drivers and also of engines, since in the first positions there are big companies, such as Ferrari, Renault, Honda precisely, Peugeot and Ford. Mercedes is not missing either, thanks to the irreducible Andrea de Cesaris, P8 on his home track. There is no Michael Schumacher, and that would have been dangerous, but less so than on other occasions given the characteristics of the track that are not very favourable to the Benettons. Everyone then turns their attention to Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. In particular, the Frenchman says:
"I hope I have shown that I am not a wet rabbit and that the lawyer Agnelli is also happy. And tonight I will sleep peacefully unless Berger sends a band to play under my window".
When, in the late afternoon, he leaves, driving a spectacular yellow Ferrari F355, a fan shouts to him:
"Go slowly, Jean".
But he was only referring to the journey to the hotel. On Sunday Alesi must go fast, as fast as possible. At Monza, good news, besides Ferrari's return to competitiveness: Karl Wendlinger is back in Formula 1 circles. On Saturday, for the first time, the Austrian driver, who had been in a coma for more than fifteen days following the terrible accident at Monte-Carlo, sees friends and cars up close again. The therapy for recovery continues, Karl expresses the wish to be able to return to racing. The presence of the 25-year-old Sauber driver is a dramatic reminder of the dangers of the sport. Much has been done for safety, but one must not give up. At Monza Jean Alesi lapped at an average speed of 249.033 km/h. Just 7 km/h less than Alain Prost last year. Despite the reduction in power, less sophisticated aerodynamics, and circuit modifications, technological progress continues. So in 1995 more work will have to be done to reduce risks.
Sunday, 11 September 1994, at the start of the Italian Grand Prix Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger get off to a good start and are the first to enter Turn 1, while Johnny Herbert pulls ahead of Damon Hill, in third place. Behind them, the fast Eddie Irvine misses his braking, hitting Johnny Herbert's car. The Lotus is thrown into the middle of the track in a spin, and the car hits the right rear of David Coulthard's Williams. Several other cars are involved, blocking the track and interrupting the race. Johnny Herbert is thus forced to take the second start from the pit lane in his spare car, but without the upgraded Mugen-Honda engine, while David Coulthard is forced to use Damon Hill's spare car and Eddie Irvine is relegated to the back of the grid. At the second start both Ferrari drivers, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, start well again, followed by Damon Hill and David Coulthard. Behind them, Jos Verstappen collides with Alessandro Zanardi, in the second Lotus, entering the Curva Grande, also forcing Gianni Morbidelli's Footwork off the track and crashing into the outside wall, putting all three drivers out of action. Johnny Herbert's race ended on lap 14, when the alternator broke, preventing the electrical system from working properly. On lap 15 Jean Alesi came into the pits to make his first pit-stop with an 11-second lead over Gerhard Berger; disaster struck when the French driver tried to leave the box and his gearbox failed. Gerhard Berger thus inherited the lead of the race until lap 24, when the Austrian driver also encountered problems during his pit-stop: the Ferrari driver was about to break away from the pack, but suddenly Olivier Panis overtook him, causing him to lose enough time to Damon Hill and David Coulthard and prompting the fans to jeer at the Ligier team mechanics. As the race went on, the number of retirements increased: the Sauber cars of de Cesaris and Heinz-Harald Frentzen suffered engine failures on laps 21 and 23 respectively; and the Minardis also retired within two laps of each other, as Michele Alboreto's gearbox failed on lap 29 and Pierluigi Martini was the victim of a spin at the Variante Ascari on lap 31. Mark Blundell also spun at the Variante Ascari in his Tyrrell on lap 40, before Irvine's engine failed on lap 42. Taking advantage of the numerous retirements is Tyrrell's Japanese driver Ukyo Katayama, who climbs to fifth position. Then, however, the Japanese driver also spins out on lap 46, at the second Lesmo corner.
After David Brabham retired with a puncture on lap 47, only ten cars remained in the race. In the final laps, Damon Hill maintained a small advantage over David Coulthard, while Gerhard Berger recovered and closed the gap that separated him from the two Williams-Renaults. With one lap to go, while going through the Parabolica corner, David Coulthard suddenly stops: his Williams-Renault runs out of fuel. Damon Hill is then left alone, and the British driver wins with a 4.9-second lead over Gerhard Berger, while Mika Häkkinen takes the last place on the podium, finishing 21 seconds behind. Rubens Barrichello ended the race in fourth position, followed by Martin Brundle, fifth with the second McLaren-Peugeot, while David Coulthard, despite having stopped, was classified sixth. Jean Alesi's dream was shattered on lap 15. Instead of the longed-for victory in the Italian Grand Prix, the French driver accumulated another retirement while leading the race, already by a good margin, so Jean immediately went home, without uttering a single word. He let out an irritated sign with his right hand, making it clear that this time it was the gearbox that had failed. The crowd, who waved red flags and shouted their enthusiasm as he passed by, froze: it looked as if a neutron bomb had gone off in the stands, the kind that kills people without damaging property. And this even though at the head of the race was another Ferrari, that of Gerhard Berger. But not even the Austrian managed to win. He had to settle for second place, which was excellent considering the circumstances, but mortifying as a result for the Maranello team's expectations. Instead, success did not escape Damon Hill and the Williams-Renault. The Englishman had to score a first place to take full advantage of the absence of the disqualified Michael Schumacher and take 10 points. He did it, without shining, helped also by a good dose of luck and by his team mate, David Coulthard, who at the right moment, obeying team orders, let him pass while he was ahead. Now, with four races to go before the end of the championship, Damon the Demon has only 11 points to make up. And still one race to go, the next one at Estoril, without the German in the race. The Italian Grand Prix was not pretty, because basically the final standings for the top places were determined by pit stops for tyre changes and refuelling. But you can't say the day wasn't eventful, even with scary moments.
It got off to a bad start in the morning when, in the warm-up, Gerhard Berger went off the track at the Roggia variant, the one with the oak tree cut out. A carambola at over 230 km/h and then a big blow with the rear of the car against the protective tyres. The car was semi-destroyed and the driver was first in the infirmary and then in hospital. Fortunately, nothing serious, so that Gerhard was able to race regularly with the reserve car. But the Austrian was not the only one who had to resort to the third car that all teams have at their disposal. Damon Hill (oil leak on the starting grid), Jos Verstappen and Martin Brundle also had to do so to start. But that was not enough. When the green light came on, at the first chicane, while Alesi and Berger had already taken off in the first positions, Irvine brutally crashed into Herbert, involving Coulthard and Panis. So even these four drivers were forced to change cars for the second start, imitated by de Cesaris who was not happy with his Sauber. In the final laps Gerhard Berger began to lose ground slightly, partly because of neck pain, but also because his single-seater began to show severe understeer. Then, finally, surprise on the last lap, with David Coulthard running out of petrol at the start of the straight and allowing Gerhard Berger to move up to second place, ahead of Mika Hakkinen, Rubens Barrichello, Martin Brundle and the Scottish Williams-Renault driver. The race ended with the usual thrills at scrutineering. So much so that Frank Williams, when congratulated on Damon Hill's victory, said:
"Let's wait, the real race has yet to begin".
Then the doubts were dispelled by the FIA technicians who made it known that no car had been found to be irregular, including Bernard's Ligier which had been checked with particular care. At the end of the race, however, Damon Hill does not appear happy. That is to say, he does not express with great emphasis his joy at having won 10 very important points.
"I feel a lucky man, because I had the experience of winning here at Monza with a Ferrari driver next to me on the podium. I think the Italian fans are fantastic. And I think Williams' success is fully deserved. I would also have liked to have had Coulthard by my side at the prize-giving ceremony. David did a great job this weekend and would have deserved a brilliant result".
Asked if his team-mate had deliberately let him pass, Damon Hill replied:
"I don't know. It happened after the Parabolica. He was going slower and I overtook him. In any case if we want to aim for the title we still have a lot of work to do. When Alesi got away I didn't worry too much because I thought he would stop twice for tyres and petrol. But, honestly, when I tried to catch Berger I didn't succeed. On the contrary, he was stretching and when his car ran out of fuel, he was very fast. I pushed harder but stayed away. I only overtook him in the pit stop and I was lucky. I would have had a hard time doing it on the track".
Damon Hill, too, is not very optimistic about the performance of his car. He would like something more and better, even though he is now on his fourth win of the season and his second consecutive one after Belgium, where he won thanks to the exclusion of Michael Schumacher.
"Among other things while I was already on the starting grid I had to run to the pits to get the other car as the technicians had discovered an oil leak. Then, when at the first start there was the accident and they stopped the race, the car was already repaired and Coulthard was able to race because they wouldn't have had time to prepare his, which had been damaged in the accident with Irvine and Herbert. The title? I think I still have a chance, but we have to improve, waiting for Schumacher to come back into contention with his Benetton".
Young David Coulthard can do nothing but despair. He was on the verge of second place when he came to a standstill, out of petrol.
"I was already savouring the taste of champagne on the podium, instead I was left high and dry in every sense. It's a pity because I was driving relaxed, with the sole aim of not letting Berger catch up with me. I thought I had made it, but in this sport you can never tell until the end. I covered almost 307 kilometres without any problems, I just missed the final 400 metres. I was ranked sixth, one lap behind. But I did them all. Almost...".
David Coulthard is a young man to watch: it is not out of the question that next year, with Nigel Mansell, he will not be the chosen one to complete the team. And Gerhard Berger? The Austrian driver leaves Monza with six points in the classification, a big scare and the perception of what health care is like in Italy.
'What I experienced at the hospital in Monza was unbelievable. They threw me into a room with other people but no doctors. Then they wanted to X-ray my brain and my whole body, while I told them my neck only hurt. Then they were bouncing x-rays from one room to another. And finally they got into an argument about whether they should take me back in an ambulance or in the police car. After the accident I never thought of skipping the Grand Prix because of the pain, only because of the bureaucratic hiccups".
From the hospital they replied that the rider had instead received full and speedy care.
"He had crashed at 230 km/h and was preparing for a terrible afternoon: it is understandable that the neurosurgeon and the orthopaedist wanted to build up a complete clinical picture before discharging him. In fact, he should have also undergone a CT scan, which he refused. He was just in a bloody hurry to get back on track".
They say in Professor Magni's department. The proof of the need for an in-depth analysis lies in the fact that, during the race, the Austrian told the pits several times that he was in terrible pain and that that was why he was slowing down. In short, the knock was serious and who knows what Gerhard Berger would say after trying at least once to book an examination in Italy.
"I would recommend the trackside assistance: they left me in the sand with cars whizzing past at 300 km/h and the rescuers hadn't even taught the drivers how to remove a helmet. Better to forget everything".
Let's also forget the oaks' revenge on the motoring people who would have cut more of them down to be sure of the race:
"But we have to improve safety, this time we turned a blind eye so as not to get our Italian colleagues into trouble".
Explained Berger. Even the forces of law and order, massively engaged in Milan for the Leoncavallo events, struggled more than usual to control the fans bivouacking in the Park and around the circuit in the nights preceding the Grand Prix. Approximately 300 operations were required: 22 people ended up in hospital as victims of incidents resulting from fights. The two most serious incidents involved a 17-year-old boy burnt by a firecracker and another young man stabbed during an argument. There was no shortage of vandalism, thefts from parked cars, throwing of bottles and stones at spectators' cars passing through the streets.
Even after the race the incidents continued: one person suffered a split lip when climbing over a fence and another was taken away in an ambulance after suffering a fractured jaw from a punch. Even on the track, however, the drivers did not behave very well. Eddie Irvine, the fiery Jordan racer, caused the carambole on the first start by crashing into the Lotus of the blameless Johnny Herbert. The Irishman, who last year had a dispute with Ayrton Senna in Japan and was disqualified for three races at the start of the season due to an accident triggered in the Brazilian Grand Prix, was first penalised and forced to start at the back of the grid for the second start. Then the stewards gave him another conditional disqualification for one race. If he is responsible for any more offences in the coming races, he will be severely punished again. The Italians also made their mark. Alessandro Zanardi practically eliminated Jos Verstappen in the first lap. The Benetton Dutchman punctured a wheel and in order to return to the pits damaged the car and was forced to retire. The Bolognese was also left on three wheels and tried to slowly make his way back to the pit-line. Everyone passed him on the inside except Gianni Morbidelli, who tried to pass on the outside. The Lotus driver perhaps did not realise in the oncoming Footwork, moved to the right and drove the Pesaro driver off the track, forcing him to retire. For the little Italy of Formula 1, it was a very black day. Apart from Ferrari, not a single car or driver crossed the finish line. Andrea de Cesaris saw the engine of his Sauber Mercedes explode (like that of his team-mate Frentzen), Michele Alboreto broke the Minardi's new automatic gearbox, Pierluigi Martini went off the track. A truly poor balance sheet. But by now it is almost a habit. When you race at home everything seems to become more difficult, also because the Monza track is merciless for cars and drivers: out of twenty-six starters only ten were classified. On Monday 12 September 1994, the telephone on board Jean Alesi's boat, moored in the port of Antibes, rings continuously. Apart from journalists, Jean Todt, Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo, and friends search for him several times. But there are also welcome surprises. Among them a call from Giovanni Agnelli and one from Cesare Romiti. The scene of the desperate French driver, forced to abandon the Italian Grand Prix that he was dominating and could have won, impressed everyone. His anger, the sense of impotence of a generous racer who could not realise his dreams, despite being considered one of the best in recent years, was tender.
"It was terrible. I had a terrible night. Of real nightmares. It was as if I had had a terrible bereavement in the family. I couldn't understand what had happened at Monza. I felt a real curse on me. I had victory within my grasp and it slipped away again".
"Now it's all in the past, forgotten. That's how I am, fortunately. I break down in the moment, I'm capable of any gesture of despondency. But the next day is different. Indeed, I can say that these difficulties give me even greater strength. I must admit that the lawyer's phone call did me a lot of good, as if Mitterrand had sought me out. He told me: you were good all weekend, you were running a perfect, beautiful race. You are the moral winner".
But what really happened in that pit stop? There are also rumours in the circles that Jean Alesi may have made a mistake by breaking the gearbox in a moment of frenzy.
"No. Not that. I didn't make a mistake. The manoeuvre is simple: you arrive, you stop, you put the gearbox in neutral. You look in the mirrors, when you see it's all over, you engage first gear. It wouldn't go in. At that point I tried everything, I would even have started in reverse. But it wasn't possible, the gearbox just wasn't working".
After examining the Frenchman's car, Ferrari gave an official explanation for what happened in a statement:
"Alesi's retirement was caused by the failure of the sliding clutch of the first and second gears. The technicians are still analysing the failure, but there is a high probability that the break is due to an inadequate surface hardness of the material".
It is not excluded, by the way, that the failure was caused by the two starts: the first is only used at the start, at pit entry and exit. Misfortunes aside, is Ferrari really back to winning ways? President Luca Montezemolo is disappointed with the final result but happy with the performance of the cars that dominated practice and the race as long as Jean Alesi was in the running. And he also confirms that he has full confidence in the drivers, whom he considers to be the best unit in the whole of Formula 1. Jean Alesi continues:
"I too am convinced that we are now on the right track, not only on the fast tracks. The single-seaters are more balanced and the engines, besides being powerful, no longer lack reliability. At the end of the week we will test for four days in Barcelona: Friday and Saturday Berger, Sunday and Monday it will be my turn. We also have to test some new, interesting things".
In ten days we start again, at Estoril, with the Portuguese Grand Prix.
"The track shouldn't create any difficulties for us. But, above all, Gerhard and I will still give it our all. In fact, personally I will work twice as hard as usual. At this difficult time for me, I have felt the warmth of so much consideration and friendship. The fans, the press, everyone has been very close to me and to Ferrari. It's a pleasure. The appointment with victory is only postponed".