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#564 1994 Australian Grand Prix

2021-03-30 00:00

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#1994, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#564 1994 Australian Grand Prix

Everything is ready in Adelaide for the grand finale: on Sunday the 13th of November 1994, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill will battle it out for th

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Everything is ready in Adelaide for the grand finale: on Sunday, 13 November 1994, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill will battle it out for the title: how the landscape of Formula 1 has changed in just one year. On Sunday, 7 November, 1993, Williams celebrated its fourth title with Alain Prost. The Frenchman in the last race of the season was second behind Ayrton Senna. Today Alain Prost is a pensioner and Ayrton Senna is no more. The rising star is the German Michael Schumacher, with Benetton, who already wants to prove in practice on Friday, 11 November 1994, that he deserves the title. Hill and Williams permitting, of course. It's a fiery finale. Apart from the temperature (30 °C), while Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill and the rest of the group of drivers take to the track for the first qualifying session (half an hour early so as not to disturb a funeral ceremony taking place near the circuit), Formula 1 is bitterly contested by an aggressive minority of environmentalists. In Melbourne, where the Grand Prix will move to in 1996, at the start of work to build the circuit (located in a park), violent clashes between police and demonstrators lead to twenty-one arrests, including three university professors. Placards and chants of protest, however, are also noted in Adelaide, on Thursday, 10 November 1994, on the arrival of Bernie Ecclestone, FOCA president. The cunning British manager, however, manages to calm the spirits: 

 

"We would be willing to go to Melbourne now and even pay something to move the race. But your mayor still wants it for a year. Take it up with him. As far as we are concerned, we have offers to race even from China, where they are waiting for nothing else".

 

Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, the two protagonists of the final battle, also have tense nerves for different reasons. The German could not stand the criticism from Benetton, who accused him of wrong tactics at Suzuka, driving too slowly after the first pit-stop. Behind conciliatory words from the parties, there is a lot of friction that continues to fuel rumours of a possible divorce between Schumacher and his team. As for the race Michael is both confident and full of doubts: 

 

"We have always been the best, and I don't see why that shouldn't be the case this time as well. Certainly by now, if I had not had to endure certain situations and had not also made mistakes, I would be more relaxed, with the title in my pocket. But in motor racing you can never be sure of anything. An engine that gives out, a flat tyre, a trivial accident, and you've thrown everything away".

 

Damon Hill, on the other hand, declares himself ready for battle:

 

"The more pressure there is, the more I want to win. I like the circuit and last year I was the fastest in the race here. Ideally I would like to take pole with Mansell by my side, so as to put a good barrier between our Williams and the others. I want the title". 

 

The Englishman, however, is vulnerable on a psychological level. In the days leading up to the race weekend he complains about the treatment he receives from Williams, which confirms him for 1995 with the mortifying qualification of test-driver, with a salary of about 800.000.000 lire a year. Ten times less than other drivers and half of what his team-mate Nigel Mansell gets for a single race. He makes it a matter not just of money, but of consideration. But the truth is that at the moment the British driver has no bargaining power: no other team has so far offered him a place. And Damon suffers for it. The atmosphere is red-hot at Ferrari too. Gerhard Berger did not like the criticism of some Italian newspapers that accused him of having withdrawn at Suzuka for fear of rain. 

 

"I am sincere, and if I had abandoned for a reason that was not technical I would have admitted it. I don't like to be considered a coward". 

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Jean Alesi, for his part, is in a phase of impatience due to not being able to win, indeed not being able to fight for victory. And in Australia, there is honestly not much hope. So Jean appears very nervous. One last piece of news, meanwhile, concerns Sauber: abandoned by Mercedes, the Swiss team finds an agreement with Ford to have the engines that are fighting for the title. Here they are, facing each other, the German driver and the everyman. It is the final challenge between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. The two, in Australia, play for the Formula One World Championship victory. A single point divides them in the standings: the German wants to take advantage of this advantage to bring (it would be the first time in the history of motor sport) the prestigious title to Germany. The Englishman, who almost by chance found himself fighting at the top, hopes to become the heir to his father, Graham Hill, World Champion in 1962 and 1968. The prediction, given the results of the entire season, is for the Benetton driver. Eight victories, plus one cancelled by a disqualification. If he had not run into so many mishaps, Schumacher would have brought home the rainbow helmet by now. Instead, he is forced to bet everything on one race, in a roulette where a number other than his own could come up. Michael knows he is stronger, but he has no certainty of winning. He is under pressure, even though he does everything he can to hide it. On Friday, 11 November 1994, in the first qualifying session, battling for the provisional pole with a wild Nigel Mansell, the German had his first bad accident of the season, going off the track at full speed, at around 200 km/h. After stepping onto a kerb, Schumacher loses control of the single-seater, slams first with the rear end against the protective tyres, losing the wing, and then, after a crash, hits hard again so that the two left wheels come off. Two more quick spins and he ends up, with what remains of the car, as if parked, at the edge of the track. The public remains with bated breath: the dramatic images of Imola come to mind. But Michael, imperturbable, exits alone from the cockpit, dusts off his overalls and returns to the pits, refusing even the intervention of the doctors. 

 

"It's nothing special; it's normal when you're pulling to the maximum. I had said that those kerbs are dangerous, useless. They didn't listen to me". 

 

But the Benetton is toast: the team is also forced to change the chassis. All because a little earlier Nigel Mansell, the showman, had set the best time, beating the German by 0.018 seconds. A few moments earlier the Englishman had avoided, with a controlled spin, crashing into Herbert's Benetton, which had spun in front of him. Subsequently the Williams driver ended up in an escape route with a wheel off. Apparently Mansell will be the referee of the contest, although Michael Schumacher does not seem to mind:

 

"If Nigel wins it's enough for me to finish second, ahead of Hill. In any case I will do everything to win the race, as is my habit. I am very confident". 

 

Will this be true? Hill also seems calm. After all, he has nothing to lose. He is in a position to win a title he really didn't hope for. But the tension for everyone is very strong. And there are those who remember similar situations from 1989 and 1990. When in Japan Alain Prost forced Ayrton Senna off the track with a cunning manoeuvre and won the title. Then when the same Brazilian, the following year, knocked out the Frenchman driving the Ferrari. The others do not count, except for Nigel Mansell who may be the referee and favour Damon Hill, or Johnny Herbert who may give a helping hand to possible future teammate Michael Schumacher. For Ferrari there is little hope. Should it rain (it is possible, the forecasts speak of one or two thunderstorms coming on Sunday) Jean Alesi hopes to be on the podium. Even less optimistic is Gerhard Berger, who before practice says he has the impression (immediately contradicted by the stopwatch) that he is going fast. For the Maranello team it is still a year to forget. There was no lack of progress, but the dreams were quite different. On Saturday, 12 November 1994, the Formula 1 World Championship, even before it ended, had its winner. Nigel Mansell, 41 years old, two seasons of exile in the United States where he had won the Indy Championship in 1993, will start on pole position, number 32 of his career. 

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The Englishman is helped by the rain, which stops the results on Friday's times. However, the exploit could guarantee him at least another season at Williams to aim for his second World Title. Mansell was the character that was missing in the motor racing circus. A sport that this year went through one of the most critical periods in its history: the double tragedy of Imola (the death of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna), the many, too many accidents, the thousands of controversies and the many traumatic changes. Even the final challenge between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill was artificial. The German would have deserved to win the rainbow helmet in advance, had he not run into the well-known mishaps. The Englishman found himself fighting for the final success because of the tragic death of Ayrton Senna and because he was able to recover in the standings thanks to his opponent's problems. But, above all, the prospects for Formula 1 are certainly not rosy. Rising costs and FOCA's ever-increasing demands have made it an uncomfortable sport that finds it difficult to expand in Eastern Europe and Asia because it cannot obtain the economic guarantees it would like. And even the United States continues to reject it, despite attempts to find a venue to put at least one American competition on the calendar. The uncertainty of the regulations, which has heavily conditioned the entire season, has certainly not helped either. There was a partial ban on the escalation of electronics on the cars, with disastrous results. Thus, both Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, regardless of the result of the last challenge, will need a counter-evidence. The German, in order to prove that he really is the best, the heir to Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna; the Englishman to confirm that he was not an occasional meteor, a fake creation due to the need to have an alternative to results that were a foregone conclusion at the start. 1995 was full of novelties, some positive, such as the official return of Mercedes, paired with McLaren. 

 

An important role was to be played by Ferrari. The team from Maranello still experienced a year of transition, with barely acceptable results, only compared to the even poorer ones of the previous seasons. From the team directed by Jean Todt one expects a total recovery of competitiveness at the highest level and the task of guarding with its political weight and prestige so that Formula 1 regains a clean image. Ferrari is not asked to denounce those who might try to cheat, but to put pressure on the Federation so that clear rules are established and those who break them are punished without hesitation. This is the only way to get back on track. Before all that, however, the last race of the season must take place. On Sunday, November 13, 1994, at the start of the Australian Grand Prix, both Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill manage to pass Nigel Mansell, moving into first and second position; positions maintained even after the first pit-stop. But then, on lap 35, the German driver goes off the track at East Terrace corner, hits the wall with his right front tyre and damages the suspension; returning to the track, at the next corner, he closes the trajectory to the oncoming Damon Hill, causing contact. Michael Schumacher's car lifts off the ground, falls back into the escape route and collides with a wall. The German retires, while Damon Hill tries to continue: the British driver struggles to reach the pits. Michael Schumacher climbs over the wall and leans against the fence, in disbelief. His dream of becoming World Champion has vanished. The German thinks Hill will have no difficulty in picking up the one point he needs to win. His advantage over his pursuers is too great. Po, however, the Benetton driver hears some fragments of the announcement from the circuit announcer:

 

"Hill... in the pits... problems".

 

Schumacher looks around, waiting for him. But Hill does not pass. Instead, a steward approaches, congratulating the Benetton driver on the victory he has just achieved. Damon Hill is forced to retire due to severe damage to the quadrilateral arm of the front left suspension. Michael Schumacher thus wins his first title, maintaining a one-point lead in the drivers' championship over his rival, Damon Hill. At this point Nigel Mansell is leading the race, followed, a few seconds behind, by the Ferrari drivers Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi, who, after an astute refuelling strategy, manage to move up the rankings. Further back are Mika Hakkinen, Rubens Barrichello and Martin Brundle in fourth, fifth and sixth position respectively. A little later, Jean Alesi is the victim of a series of unfortunate pit-stop problems that will take him out of the fight for victory: he will re-enter the track in ninth position. At the last pit-stop, however, Gerhard Berger manages to stay ahead of Nigel Mansell and there is a tussle between the two drivers. 

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In the meantime, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello suffer penalties for excessive speed in the pit lane and Martin Brundle takes advantage and moves up to third position. The duel between Gerhard Berger and Nigel Mansell continued, until the Ferrari driver ran off the track for a short time and the Englishman overtook him. In the final, Mika Hakkinen retires after a violent crash on the barriers caused by a brake problem, during lap 76. The race ends with Nigel Mansell winning the last of his 31 career victories. For the English driver, it is the first success since his return to Formula One (not since the 1992 Portuguese Grand Prix). Gerhard Berger and Martin Brundle completed the podium ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Olivier Panis and Jean Alesi. At the end of the race and the championship the historic Lotus Team, for some time in a results crisis, leaves Formula One after 37 years, among other things in the worst possible way, with the retirements of Zanardi and Salo and, for the first time in its history, with zero points gained in the season. Together with the historic British team, Larrousse and drivers Michele Alboreto, Paul Belmondo, Franck Lagorce, J.J. Lehto and Christian Fittipaldi also left Formula 1. It ended as expected. The Formula One World Championship went to the driver who proved to be the strongest throughout the season, namely Michael Schumacher. A deserved title, which rewards the skill of the 25-year-old German who was able to take full advantage of the competitiveness of the Benetton on all circuits. And he also had the strength to overcome critical moments, between more or less justified disqualifications, controversies and doubts. But Michael Schumacher's success, beyond all the talk, is not without its chiaroscuros. 

 

Michael Schumacher beat Damon Hill by eliminating him in an accident that - like many others - will be debated for a long time. A collision similar to those in Japan in 1989 and 1990 between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The cars of the two rivals were damaged and the retirement of both drivers handed the title into the hands of the German. The incident happened on lap 36 of a race that had started at a furious pace. At the third corner of the circuit, the Benetton driver, who had failed to shake off the Englishman's Williams, lost control of his car for a moment. First he hit the wall on the right, then he skidded all the way to the left, his tyre already sagging. For Hill it looked like it was done. But the 34-year-old Londoner had not reckoned with his opponent's seven lives. In the next right-hand bend, travelling at 110 km/h, Damon tried to make a final escape. He threaded his way through, however, finding his way barred by the Benetton suddenly closing the door. Hill tried to brake, then accelerated again: inevitable collision. Schumacher flew into the air and then ended up with the nose of his car in the escape route, in front of a pile of tyres. Hill managed to continue. However, it was soon realised that his car was also damaged. While Michael behind the safety net, despairing, convinced that he had lost the game, Damon returned to the pits. An almost pathetic scene with the driver motionless inside the cockpit, waiting for a miracle. And the mechanics touching a bent upper left front suspension triangle arm. An evil little kink in the metal that did not allow Damon to return to the track. It would have taken at least 15 minutes to replace it, no dice. For a minute, as long as he was in front, Hill was potentially World Champion. But then the sadness fell in his eyes, and the joy of Schumacher and the Benetton exploded. 

 

"I dedicate this championship to the great Ayrton Senna".

 

Michael Schumacher says, inevitably, stumbling over his sentences, swearing, incredulous at the good fortune that has befallen him. The two rivals do not hurl accusations at each other. Damon merely whispers: 

 

"I thought I was going to pass, instead I gave him the decisive push to make him win. But I had the opportunity to take the lead and I had to try. That's motor racing. Obviously I am heartbroken to have arrived at the last race in this situation. A one-point lead wasn't much, but it gave Michael the chance to put me in a situation where I had everything to lose. The only consolation for me is that I gained some good experience which will serve me well in the future. And I think I proved that when I was able to have confidence in myself, I achieved good results. I don't know if I will have the chance to do it again, but I will try hard". 

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After the controversy and accusations of the past weeks, Schumacher says nothing bad about his defeated rival:

 

"I made heavy comments against Damon this year, I said I didn't respect him. I must admit I was wrong, because what he has done in the last two races and what he must have endured before that has been outstanding. He has been a great opponent and I am sorry for what I said about him. I want to congratulate him. For my part, I don't think I've demoted the title. I basically skipped four races and fought hard throughout the season, winning even when it seemed very difficult. When Senna was there I thought he would win the title. He was a good driver like no other". 

 

A few words on the accident: 

 

"My car was understeering, difficult to drive. However, I thought I would be able to overtake Damon. Instead I found myself overtaking some lapped drivers and he was always right there. I went over a small bump and the car went off to one side. I controlled it but ended up on the grass and then against the wall. I felt I could continue, I went into the corner when I saw that Damon was right next to me. We bumped into each other. I flew into the air and I was afraid of flipping. It was a terrible moment, because my rival was going ahead. Then I heard over the loudspeaker that he had a problem. When I won Mansell passing two or three times in front of me without Hill, I understood...". 

 

Michael Schumacher, born in Huerth-Hermuehlheim (Rhineland) on 3 January 1969, has always lived in Kerpen, some twenty kilometres from Cologne. He is 1.74 metres tall, weighs 69 kg and is not married, but has been living for some time with Corinna, his fiancée. He started his career racing in karts in 1983 (his father ran a track) and soon won national and European titles. In 1986, he made his debut in Formula Koenig, winning the championship. After four seasons, he made his mark in German Formula and this result launched him into the international arena, thanks to Mercedes who called him to drive their Group C cars. In 1991 he drove six races in Formula 1, first with Jordan then with Benetton. In Australia he was in his 52nd race. He has won 10, eight of them this year. Thousands of fans celebrate in Kerpen the victory of their most famous compatriot, Michael Schumacher. In the assembly hall of the gymnasium, where four giant screens had been set up, the first bottles of sparkling wine are uncorked; then the party continues through the streets of the town. Carousels of cars, car horns, choirs and chants blaring from loudspeakers, hugs and dancing on tables and benches: the world party is unleashed especially near Schumacher's birthplace, who will be welcomed with full honours on Thursday 17 November 1994. No fewer than 150 of Germany's highest personalities are expected to attend.

 

"I found myself at the first corner with Schumacher and Hill in front, one on one side, the other on the other. I had to let them pass".

 

Nigel Mansell, his voice a little tired, but his eyes shining with joy, explains his bad start. Perhaps if he had not spun his wheels at the start, the race would have ended differently. Instead, it was the German Benetton driver who took the lead, pursued by his rival, with gaps varying from a maximum of 3.6 seconds to a few hundredths of a second. The two immediately set a very fast pace, impossible for the pursuers. Mansell even let himself be overtaken on the first lap by Hakkinen and Barrichello. And then he had to perform balancing miracles to get back to third position. On lap 18 the series of pit stops began. The first to enter for tyres and fuel were Alesi, Schumacher and Hill. And it was clear that the three would make three pit stops. First because they were faster than everyone else, second because the race was still very long. In the game of stops, however, came a tough Berger who, little by little, climbed up to third place. After the accident between Hill and Schumacher, Mansell took the lead followed by the two increasingly surprising Ferraris of Berger and Alesi. The Frenchman, however, spun and dropped to sixth place and then, with another very long stop (engine out), down to ninth. 

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The Englishman of Williams, meanwhile, was unable to pull away from Berger, who was very fast. And the Austrian on lap 54, when Nigel stopped again for refuelling, took the lead. Ten laps of hope for Ferrari, who dreamed of a second win of the season. But Gerhard, so good on so many occasions, made a mistake. Finding himself in front of Alboreto's Minardi, and trying to take advantage of the lapping, he braked late and went long on the outside. Mansell didn't seem to be able to regain the lead and started a long duel with Berger, in a continuous succession of difficult situations caused by lapped drivers. And it was one of these, the German Frentzen, who finally stopped Berger. The Sauber driver then explained:

 

"I didn't realise it was the Austrian, I thought it was Alesi who was behind me. So I resisted". 

 

A resistance that cost precious seconds to Berger who could no longer regain contact with Mansell. The Englishman therefore completed his comeback in these last three championship races that saw him re-enter Formula 1 after two seasons in Indy. At Jerez he arrived tired and out of form, at Suzuka he looked around and at Adelaide he won. Always spectacular, always ready for a thrilling manoeuvre. A protagonist to hold on to for next year. 

 

"I have three possibilities for 1995. They all suit me. One is to race for Williams, the other to retire, the third I don't want to reveal. I would, however, gladly stay on the track".

 

Behind Mansell came Gerhard Berger and Martin Brundle. Three experienced drivers, one aged 41 and two aged 35, as the Austrian points out. The McLaren Englishman happily climbs on the podium, but this could be his last race, as Ron Dennis' team, next year paired with Mercedes, could pair David Coulthard with Mika Hakkinen. Speaking of the Finn: he went off the track due to a locked brake with 5 laps to go at a speed of 270 km/h and took a terrible blow. Fortunately, he was not hurt. On the other hand, the two Ferrari drivers are really good. At the start nobody beats them. At the start Alesi immediately recovered from eighth to sixth place, while Berger climbed from lap to lap towards the top positions. Theirs was a great race, with surprisingly competitive cars. On Friday, the 412 T1Bs were flying all over the circuit. On Saturday the shock absorber springs were changed, some special adjustments were made and the behaviour of the cars changed dramatically. So much so that they came close to victory, thanks of course to the accident between Schumacher and Hill, who otherwise could never have caught up. However, Berger, with his slip on one side of the track and some slightly too cautious lapping, despite appearing at times to be faster than Mansell's Williams, allowed himself to be mocked by the Englishman. 

 

"I lost control for a moment, but Frentzen took it all away from me by holding me up for two laps".

 

True. And it is scandalous that the marshals never displayed the blue flags warning lapped drivers to get out of the way. The one who did make it big, however, was Jean Alesi. So much effort, his usual skill, all wasted by a couple of mistakes. First a spin that cost him a ten-second delay, then the engine going out at the second pit stop. Dulcis in fundo - but this is not his fault - even the third stop to change tyres and put petrol in the tank was longer because the mechanics had to put air into the engine's pneumatic valve system that was losing pressure. In total the Frenchman threw at least a minute and a half to the wind. If you calculate that he finished a lap and a bit more behind Mansell, you can understand where he could have gone. Basically, Ferrari with a bit of luck could have taken first and third place. The fact is underlined by Jean Todt:

 

"Before the race we would have signed for second place. Now we are disappointed. We could have won".

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Those who finish the season well, however, usually start the next one better. For Ferrari there is already a demanding work programme. In the first days of December, a hybrid laboratory car with the new 12-cylinder 3000 cc engine will take to the track. The engine should undergo gruelling testing so that it will arrive in January able to guarantee performance and reliability. About a month later, the new car designed by the British group headed by Barnard and built in Maranello will make its debut. But these will not be the only novelties: Todt intends to change the organisation and working method of the team again. For this, some reinforcement technicians will arrive. Benetton's big party, which had been postponed last week after the Suzuka setback, takes place on Sunday night. At The Circuit. Sport Gate, on the East Terrace, the men of the Benetton team celebrate their victory in the Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship won against Williams. Flavio Briatore says, regaining the energy of his best days:

 

"We're taking the Trophy to Treviso, to the company headquarters". 

 

A phrase thrown in just to reiterate the Italian character of the team that, although based in England, is 70% owned by the family of industrialists from Veneto, while 30% belongs to technical director Tom Walkinshaw. Briatore continues:

 

"We dedicate this title to the Benettons who have always supported us and to all the guys who have worked so hard. The credit goes not only to the men who come to the races, but above all to those who stay in the factory". 

 

Founded in 1981 as Toleman, the team was taken over by Benetton in 1986 with an ingenious innovative intuition. With a relatively small sum of money (around 3.000.000 lire) the sponsor became owner, achieving the dual purpose of continuing to advertise itself with the team name alone. The turning point came with the arrival of Briatore in 1990, although the new manager had no specific skills: the new factory was built with an investment of around 40.000.000 lire and the number of employees increased from 60 to around 200. Briatore's predestined victim was McLaren boss Ron Dennis (who won nothing this year for the first time since 1980). After wresting Michael Schumacher from Jordan overnight by challenging a clause in the driver's contract, Benetton secured the exclusive supply of the Ford engines that McLaren would have liked. Then last winter it foiled the plans of Ron Dennis who would have wanted the German driver at all costs. Finally he signed an agreement with Renault for 1995, always preceding McLaren who had to turn to Mercedes. It also signed Johnny Herbert who Ron Dennis liked. Last but not least, Briatore had the courage to oust the designer John Barnard, after reproaching him for being too slow in his work and entrusting the technical side to the South African Rory Byrne. But, after winning the title, will Benetton manage to stay at the top? Briatore is sure: 

 

"Next year we will have Renault engines and we will be stronger. Ford gave us a big hand this year, but in terms of power we were inferior. I think we can repeat that. With Schumacher and another fast driver, which could be Herbert or someone else, we'll see. There are some pretty good youngsters and we will try someone out in the coming months". 

 

Alessandro Benetton, 32, president of the team, is a little more cautious: 

 

"We will no longer be a surprise, they will keep an eye on us. It will be more difficult, but it is clear that we will not stand by and watch. We T-shirt sellers have shown that we also know how to deal with high technology, as we do with all the Benetton Sportsystem brands, from boots to tennis rackets, from skis to bicycles. We take advantage of experience to improve. We have also worked and are working with basketball, rugby and volleyball. But no sport can currently be as important a vehicle as Formula 1. It's a challenge that excites us and one that we continue". 

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The German driver won against the everyman. Even if Michael Schumacher has shown some human failings (the runway exit and the accident with Hill under pressure), he is still the prototype of the modern driver who relies on technique and preparation of the smallest details to be the fastest. Some natural talent, of course, is not lacking in the German champion. But his driving system is based on the accurate exploitation of the most sophisticated systems used in Formula 1. Such as telemetry, which allows thousands of data points to be recorded as a car drives around the track. Together with the engineers, Schumacher studies the results, consults the computer and then decides how to prepare the set-up of the car. Joan Villadelprat, Benetton's sporting director, explains:

 

"Michael has two secrets. One in the setting of the car, the other in the actual driving. The first consists of a special set-up. Schumacher is not interested in top speed, braking and all the other details that intrigue most drivers. He goes to a circuit and only thinks about making a set-up that allows him to accelerate before his rivals. His car must be perfectly balanced, it must not pitch forward or backward. In this way he can accelerate already at the entrance of the corner ahead of everyone else. This manoeuvre allows him to go out much faster even if he does not have the most powerful engine". 

 

And what about driving? 

 

"Our Benetton is tailor-made for Schumacher. That also explains the difficulties that his teammates find, who often cannot understand how he can go so fast. Example: we prepared an oversized clutch for Michael. For the simple fact that he accelerates and brakes at the same time, a bit like rally drivers do. So the engine is always under pressure". 

 

But is he a nice guy? 

 

"He is very professional. When he is on the circuits he doesn't like to joke, he works all day with the technicians. As did Prost, and Senna. That's the only way you can emerge at the highest level". 

 

Schumacher is therefore a driver who is 100% dedicated to his professional activity. Due to some problems with his knees he cannot race much, but he does a thorough psychophysical preparation. He swims every day, goes cycling, follows special diets, and is very careful about eating. His favourite drink is apple juice diluted with mineral water. He loves Italian food, especially the pasta that is prepared for him daily by Luigi Montanini, known as Pasticcino, who was a cook at Ferrari for many years. On a technical level, Schumacher also keeps himself constantly up to date. After normal studies in middle school, he specialised in mechanics, which is why it is difficult to get him into difficulties. He understands immediately if a car is set up in the right way. If the engineers set up tricks to see his reactions, he always manages not to be fooled. In private life, the newly crowned World Champion has fairly simple tastes, even if he often betrays his provincial origins. He likes gold chains, slightly flashy watches, and western clothing, with jeans and ankle boots. He has a weakness for rock and dance music, listening to records by Michael Jackson, Phil Collins and M. Rosenberg. His great passion is motorbikes. In Monte-Carlo, where he normally lives like most riders, he owns a cream-coloured Harley Davidson converted into a chopper, with rich, shiny accessories. With his girlfriend Corinna in the saddle, he goes on fun rides around the Côte d'Azur. But he always gets home in time for a good hour of gymnastics. Not for nothing when he finishes a race, he is always the freshest of them all. Benetton wins the World Drivers' Championship with Schumacher, Williams the World Constructors' Championship. Ferrari is third and does better than McLaren, which for the first time since 1980 does not win a single race in the entire championship. So signs of progress from the Maranello team. But are they enough? Jean Todt, Head of Sports Management, says:

 

"No, I am not satisfied. We did not deserve more than what we got. To be happy we should have won". 

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One win, five second places, five third places, three pole positions. The cars were only competitive on fast circuits and, above all, reliability was lacking. But, in any case, with Benetton and Williams, there was almost nothing to be done in terms of performance. Berger could even have won the race in Australia (after Schumacher and Hill went out, because as long as they were on the track the two were unreachable) if he had not made a mistake. Alesi finished sixth, but could also have been third if he had not let the engine go out at the second pit-stop. 

 

"I am sure we will make another leap forward in 1995. The team has been completely rebuilt, some changes will still be there. But now we know where we are, whereas at the beginning of this season there were no references. In addition, we have broken many engines because we were always forced to chase and therefore struggling to improve. From now on this must not happen again. Next season we will all start from scratch because of the change in regulations. And Ferrari will have to be ready to win immediately, right from the first race". 

 

But let's see, point by point, how the Maranello team will have to work to achieve the goals it has set itself. Chassis: this year's was a disaster. Too long wheelbase, inefficient aerodynamics, difficult adjustments. For a wrong chassis you can even lose 3 seconds per lap. With a super engine you can make one up. But to do that, the engine is often so stressed that it becomes fragile. The technical regulations for the 1995 season, which allow a smaller fuel tank, will allow Barnard and the men from Ferrari Design and Development to prepare a smaller and more agile single-seater. The English designer will also have more time to work, as the car will arrive towards the end of January. A notable contribution should be the engagement of Willem Toet, former Benetton aerodynamics specialist. The twelve-cylinder used this year was certainly the most powerful of the batch of competitors. But the horses were all at high revs and the power came in brutally. In Maranello, the division headed by Claudio Lombardi, with the collaboration of the Japanese Osamu Goto, has been working for some time on the new 3-litre as required by the regulations. Torque will be favoured, trying not to go too far at the expense of power. But Todt makes it known that Ferrari is considering other options for the future, i.e. 8- and 10-cylinder units. However, there is talk of 1996, or at least a possibility for the end of the next championship. Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi, both confirmed for next season, have done what they could. 

 

In some cases they have also made mistakes, but when you are always under pressure it is not easy to be calm and perform at your best. However, this is the last problem for the Maranello team, which will have to look to the future (Barrichello, Frentzen, the young Villeneuve?). About the team: Todt still wants to improve the work organisation. Ferrari has been lacking above all on the track, both (sometimes) in race strategy and in the tuning of the cars. From 1 January, Giorgio Ascanelli will return, probably as technical manager during the races, after a long experience in Benetton and McLaren. Other reinforcements will almost certainly be taken on. The electronics sector will also be of considerable importance, since in 1995 it will be possible to use the wireless gearbox, the computerised clutch and the hydraulic differential. This is Ferrari's basic plan. From the end of the month, the 3000-cc engine will start running. With a continuous development programme that should form the basis for a finally winning season. Another year of transition would not be acceptable. Even taking into account the strength of its rivals, the Maranello team has the means at its disposal to return to the top. But it will be necessary not to make any more mistakes because, otherwise, the crisis will become irreversible. This is how the 1994 World Championship ends. Or not, since three days after the Australian Grand Prix, on Wednesday 13 November 1994, the London newspaper Daily Mirror came out with an extensive report according to which:

 

"Schumacher could be stripped of his Formula One World Championship title if he is proven to have been responsible for the collision with Hill in the Australian Grand Prix". 

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The news is not without foundation. For some time now the FIA has been sending an observer to the circuits to check the work of the stewards and technical stewards and to draw up a report on what happened in the race (depicted in the drawing opposite). This document will be delivered on Thursday,17 November 1994, in Paris, at the FIA headquarters, and it will obviously also examine the incident that, by putting Schumacher himself and Hill out of action, allowed the German Benetton driver to win the title with the only point he had before the Adelaide race. An unofficial FIA source reportedly let the newspaper know that the commissioner suspects that Schumacher's collision with Hill was deliberate. Should his remarks be deemed valid, the Federation Council could open an investigation into the matter. If the origin of the collision is considered intentional, action could be taken against the German driver. These include exclusion from the World Championship classification and loss of the title. The sporting rules leave a wide margin to the judges as to the extent of the punishments to be inflicted on offending competitors. The observer in Adelaide was Italian: lawyer Roberto Causo, who - by the way - is Williams' defence counsel in the enquiry into Senna's tragedy at Imola. Together with his report, the footage of the external cameras and the footage of those on the cars will be examined. At the moment the FIA is not commenting on the matter, waiting to see the documentation. But it should not be forgotten that the Australian stewards had described the collision between the Williams and Benetton as a normal accident. The majority of observers in Adelaide were split down the middle between innocent and guilty. Many of the drivers, on the other hand, while refraining from public statements after watching the television pictures, were convinced that Schumacher had at least closed the corner too well, while claiming that he was not in perfect control of the Benetton. It is very difficult, however, to argue the intentionality of Schumacher's manoeuvre when he had just hit the protective wall. Only the driver, in his soul, knows the exact truth. And he will not confess his possible guilt. On the contrary, Michael has already denied the hypothesis several times, calling it absurd. It seems highly unlikely that drastic measures will be taken against him, unless the affair becomes part of the political games that plague Formula 1. In any case, one wonders: if Schumacher had not had that point advantage in the standings that allowed him to win the title anyway, would the accident have happened? While an answer is awaited, from Germany, the German driver lets it be known that he is calm. 

 

"I am not at fault, nor am I afraid of the investigation and of losing the title. It was just an accident, and even Hill acknowledged it".

 

On Friday, 18 November 1994, the FIA makes it known that it will not make a decision until next week, regarding the accident that decided the World Championship in the Australian Grand Prix. According to a spokesman, the FIA observer's report is under review. On Wednesday, 23 November 1994, the FIA announced that Michael Schumacher will not be stripped of the Formula One World Championship, explaining that no elements have emerged to justify a continuation of the investigation. The FIA has examined all information about the accident at the Australian Grand Prix. There is no evidence that Michael Schumacher behaved improperly. The FIA emphasises that the examination of the facts relating to the collision also took into account elements not in the possession of the stewards present in Adelaide, thus it declares the case closed. The go-ahead is therefore given for the title ceremony, scheduled to take place in Monte-Carlo on Friday, 9 December 1994. In order to avoid the possibility of the World Championship being decided by an accident of the same kind in the future, the FIA is studying a regulatory change. According to it, the race judges will be able to authorise the drivers involved to continue the race in reserve cars, or to conduct a play-off race at the end of the Grand Prix. The Federation's decision was greeted with obvious satisfaction by Benetton:

 

"It confirms our belief that Michael has won this hard-fought World Championship in the cleanest way".

 

All-English was the reaction of Williams, Damon Hill's team, who with much fair play announced that they were happy. 

 

"Now, we can finally look forward to next year". 

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As for the regulatory change under consideration by the FIA, Benetton welcomes the Federation's constructive statement regarding possible changes to avoid disputes. And, remaining on the topic of Williams, who could ever have imagined that Ayrton Senna had left a written will? And who could have thought that among the various beneficiaries there might also be an Italian? But there is, and he is a missionary priest. His name is Father Lorenzo Zanini, a priest from Suzzare, a large town in the Po Valley, who has recently returned home to Mantua, to celebrate forty years of priesthood. Father Lorenzo thus revealed, at his brother's house, that he had received a large sum of money directly from the parents of the Brazilian driver, who perished on that terrible 1 May 1994 on the Imola circuit, in the San Marino Grand Prix, when at the Tamburello corner his Williams crashed into the boundary wall and the Brazilian died pierced by the arm of a suspension that had broken through his helmet. The bequest bears witness to how attached Senna was to the work of the Italian religious figure, a man well known in Latin America for his apostolate among the poor, which led him to build a care centre housing some 300 orphans, a drop in the ocean of problems besetting Brazil's big cities, but still a first attempt to snatch young people from delinquency. At the end of 1954, Father Zanini began his missionary work in Argentina, then moved to Porto Alegre and Carezinho. 

 

"I met Ayrton Senna in a large suburb of São Paulo where I founded a new parish, including a church, schools and numerous other institutions. He was very interested in my work and encouraged me to continue. Now I understand his questions. To be remembered by him and thus be able to have new funding to try to get more and more children off the streets is a great honour for me and shows what kind of man we have lost, not just world motor racing". 

 

Flavio Briatore, who has been team-manager of Benetton Formula for five seasons, will be celebrated on Friday 25 November 1994, during an evening at the Notorius disco. They will remember all the successes they have achieved and, above all, the 1994 Formula 1 World Championship title won by the German Michael Schumacher and officially awarded to him by the FIA, which decided to shelve the case of the collision with Damon Hill in the Australian Grand Prix. 

 

"We want to surprise him. We have decorated the venue with Benetton Formula posters and T-shirts. It will be a goliardic night, which we hope will serve in some way to make Flavio forget the tensions accumulated in a year particularly full of controversy and envy in the Formula 1 circus". 

 

Flavio Briatore, originally from Verzuolo, lives in London, but he has remained very attached to his hometown. Every fortnight he returns to Cuneo to say hello to friends. On Friday evening he is invited to a dinner at the Lion's Club in Mondovi. Afterwards, a show in his honour awaits him in Borgo. After three weeks of relaxation, Michael Schumacher is already ready to hit the track. In all probability, the German driver will make a blitz during some tests in Estoril, Portugal, in the first days of December. But there is a surprise: the fresh Formula One World Champion will not be driving the Benetton with which he won the title in the last race in Adelaide. Instead, he will be at the wheel of the Ligier. The arcane is soon explained: Ford, somewhat brutally disbanded by the Benetton team, in order to devote itself immediately to its new partner - the Swiss Sauber, in turn abandoned by Mercedes and passed to McLaren - and perhaps also to take revenge for the non-consensual divorce, immediately took the engines away from Benetton itself. Since the new car that will house Renault's engines is not yet ready, Michael, just to keep himself in shape and to make his first tests with the French engine (which he will have at his disposal in 1995) will install himself for now in the cockpit of the Ligier. Which for the occasion will bear a large Renault inscription on the sides. These days, meanwhile, both at Benetton and Ligier - both under the control of the dynamic Flavio Briatore - important decisions will be taken. The French team hopes to sign a contract with Mugen-Honda to have the engines, in competition with Minardi, unless the Japanese intend to supply two teams. As for the drivers, Schumacher obviously confirmed at Benetton, three places remain to be filled. 

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Next to the German there could be Johnny Herbert, but there is also talk of an interest in Damon Hill. At Ligier there is the young Olivier Panis, there are talks with Martin Brundle and also with a Japanese racer if Mugen will be there. As for Ferrari, the 3000-cc engine for next year has been running on the dyno for some time. It could go on track in a laboratory car with Larini, from Monday 5 December 1994. Formula 1 seems to be snoozing at this time, although Williams has already had a week of tests at Le Castellet, testing with the French Bouillon (the winner of the Formula 3000 championship) and Collard. But the drivers' market is boiling over. In practice, so far only Ferrari and Jordan have formed teams for 1995. Williams officially hasn't decided anything yet. Benetton and McLaren, with Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinon confirmed, have a vacancy. Not to mention the smaller teams, almost all of which are still on the high seas. In this scenario, an interesting indiscretion emerges, with curious implications. As mentioned, Benetton could be interested in taking Damon Hill to flank the German World Champion. The two rivals, who lit up the 1994 World Championship finale, could find themselves teammates. The hypothesis is credible and has concrete premises. Michael and Damon, after the accident in Adelaide, became great friends. They talked to each other, explained and the Englishman never said a word against his adversary about the collision during the Australian Grand Prix. Basically, he accepted the incident as a normal incident that can happen in racing. But there is more. Hill has never made a secret of the fact that he is on bad terms with Williams with regard to his salary, which he considers too low compared to the value demonstrated during the season. Moreover, if the British team were to strike a deal with Nigel Mansell, Damon would be in trouble. Not forgetting that Frank Williams has always publicly praised the young David Coulthard, one of the revelations of the 1994 season.

 

And he holds him in such high esteem that he has brought an as yet undefined lawsuit - against McLaren, who made him sign a contract, forgetting one detail: the Scot was under a Williams option. In short, the games are still to be played. Much depends, of course, on the will of Nigel Mansell. The British driver has shown that he is not tarnished. But he is very expensive and has enormous demands, also with regard to team policy. Should he stay, Williams will have to bet everything on him, given the financial commitment he requires and his pedigree. A Mansell-Coulthard duo might be more rational: the young upstart would be asked for a year of transition. We are, as has been said, in the realm of conjecture. But from Benetton's headquarters, in Enstone, no denials arrive. It seems clear that big manoeuvres are underway, also because the team directed by Flavio Briatore can no longer afford not to have a valid second driver. The fact that they lost the constructors' title precisely because they did not have the right team-mate for Michael Schumacher weighs heavily. Damon Hill, by the way, could also be interesting for McLaren, which by contract with the sponsors must have at least one top-driver. And Mika Hakkinen has so far won nothing, while the Englishman has won nine races. An offer, therefore, would not be impossible even from Ron Dennis' stable. Apparently, from being the Cinderella of Formula 1, the vice World Champion is becoming a prized piece of the market. However, the answer to all the questions will not come too soon, as there is still plenty of time to decide and there are many pieces to be inserted to complete the mosaic. In the meantime, as far as engines are concerned, Minardi (which tested on Tuesday, 29 November 1994, at Fiorano with the young Giancarlo Fisichella and Luca Badoer on board, with excellent results for the young Italian Formula 3 champion) seems to be set to win its race for Mugen-Honda. Ligier should therefore aim towards the classic Fords. A direction that other teams will also be forced to take, given the dearth of offers on the market. 

 

"There are no more excuses. We have to get back to winning. I would like the World Championship, but it is clear that the task is arduous, too many factors play a role to be sure. However, Ferrari must return to being competitive at the highest level". 

 

Wednesday, 14 December 1994 Luca Montezemolo, who did not go to see a race on the circuit for the entire season, spoke as little as possible, suffered in silence on television when things did not go well, in compiling the balance of the season and presenting the next one, has a lot to say.

 

"We have a big responsibility".

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And he starts by talking about the last World Championship. 

 

"I am not thrilled but not completely dissatisfied either. One first place, three pole positions, many leading laps. And if it had gone better we could also have won at Monza and Adelaide. It is crucial, however, that we have taken another step forward. We must continue on this road". 

 

People wonder why Ferrari, with so many means at its disposal, has lagged so far behind and for so many years. 

 

"Apart from the fact that we could have won the title in 1982 and 1990, there are several reasons for this. First, in his later years Enzo Ferrari was not, could no longer be what he was before, for a simple age-related reason. The very death of the team's founder was a trauma. Second: at one time Ferrari was essentially fighting against assemblers who used Ford Cosworth engines. The competition was more restricted. Then came Renault, BMW, Porsche, Honda, Mercedes, Yamaha, Peugeot. Third, we were also unlucky, from the Villeneuve tragedy to the title lost by Prost". 

 

In Formula 1 circles, however, it is said that the Maranello team's budget for Formula 1 is the richest. But that is not enough. 

 

"We are the only ones who do everything ourselves. Try asking how much a manufacturer spends on making engines. This year we covered 55% of our expenses with sponsors; without Philip Morris and Agip we couldn't race just with prizes and the sale of single-seaters to collectors. This year we didn't even have the money to form an autonomous team for testing. However, we don't allow ourselves to count in the pockets of others". 

 

However, the drivers are also among the highest paid. 

 

"We have two of the best, a complementary pair. Apart from the fact that their salaries are paid by the sponsor, there are people, and I can name Ron Dennis for McLaren, who would have even offered more to have them. Many teams have asked us for them. We have confirmed Berger and Alesi and we are satisfied. Gerhard is a very good driver, a serious guy. I feared he would retire after Senna's death. He went through very difficult times, he also lost two family members, he has problems with his father. He has behaved like a true professional. Alesi is brave, he had a bad accident, he missed two races, but he showed great attachment to the team and excellent qualities. This does not detract from the fact that both of them have also made mistakes on some occasions. It happens. Then we have Larini who is an excellent test driver".

 

Then, the conversation moves to John Barnard.

 

"He is our designer. He also got the wrong car in 1993. But he is good, we believe he won't do it again next year".

 

And about the 1994 World Championship, the president says:

 

"We are changing the team, optimising the methods and the organisation. We lost our technician, Giorgio Ascanelli, for the track work and a valuable aerodynamicist, the french Toet. Will will do something more".

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Around the Paddock they say that the new 3000 cc 12 cylinder engine will bring no advantage. 

 

"We can confirm that we are also working on a 10 cylinder that will be tested in March. The vehicle has been designed to have this engine, perhaps during the last races, with a few changes. The project 10 is given to the Frenchman Simon, the 12 one to the young engineer Schianchi. Under Claudio Lombardi's direction. But all of the talks are pure theory, we will see on track". 

 

There's the rules' problem though, they are still not clear. 

 

"We hope that the FIA will be able to do the right technical checks. As far as we are concerned we will keep our eyes open, we won't tolerate detours. Formula 1 has to be serious and believable". 

 

In the end he states his utmost trust to Jean Todt, responsible for the Gestione Sportiva. 

 

"He worked well, he is fair and loyal". 

 

The new car will be presented maybe in the third decade of January, in Fiorano.

 

"I wish you a happy and relaxing Christmas. May all your dreams come true in 1995. Bernie". 

 

Kind and well-mannered, on Thursday the 22nd of December 1994, Bernie Ecclestone, president of the Formula 1 Constructors' Association, the famous FOCA, but also truly ironic by sending the classical postcard for the holidays, the English manager remembers the storyline that has animated the automotive summer with the polemics about the Monza circuit. He draws a cartoon where, behind the Circuit of Monza panel, there are falling trees (even if there were oaks but not firs...) while the drivers race with rustic wooden snowboards. Of course, Schumacher also wins on snow. As in all stories, there is a moral: both Grand Prix scheduled in Italy (Monza and Imola) are still in danger and Ecclestone reminds us that we need to get busy. Otherwise next year we risk having a postcard with the drivers engaged in a race under the Chinese wall. In the meantime, the days go by but Nigel Mansell remains on foot again and could even be forced to definitively abandon the competitive activity. Frank Williams has in fact chosen the green line. Shortly before Christmas, taking advantage of the holidays, the British manager surprisingly decides to sign the young David Coulthard, alongside the reconfirmed Damon Hill. Scottish, 23 years old, Coulthard made his debut in the World Champion team on Sunday the 29th of May 1994 in Spain, about a month after the tragic death of Ayrton Senna. Then he had to make way for the returning Mansell for the French Grand Prix and in the last three races of the season (Jerez, Suzuka and Adelaide). Eight races run, a second place in Portugal, several brilliant placements, sometimes being faster than teammate Damon Hill. Results that led David to be one of the most interesting elements in Formula 1. So much so that at the end of the Championship he was the subject of a legal dispute between Williams and McLaren who tried to steal him from the team that first launched him. Making him sign a pre-contract for 1995. But the special Commission of the Federation which examines the engagements decided that Coulthard was already engaged with Williams which subsequently, on Friday, 23 December 1994, formalised his hiring. With this move, Frank Williams has clearly bet on the future, leaving aside the forty-one year old Mansell, despite the pressure from Renault which would have preferred the volcanic and popular English driver. Now the road becomes uphill for the Lion. 

 

He doesn't have many options left to drive a competitive car. Obviously Williams (Hill and Coulthard), Ferrari (Berger and Alesi) and in theory also Benetton (Schumacher and Herbert) are complete. McLaren would remain, which has not yet hired a driver to work alongside Mika Hakkinen. But Ron Dennis has never made any secret about his dislike of Nigel Mansell. Dennis would like the German Heinz-Harald Frentzen to be subtracted from Sauber, taking advantage of the support of his new partner, ie Mercedes. Therefore, only one opportunity would remain for Nigel: that of landing at Benetton. Hypothesis that in England he has already taken root in the last few hours. The pilot and his agent, Sue Membery, declined to comment on the indiscretion. But sources very close to Mansell claim that his move to Benetton could be the solution to the problem. Flavio Briatore, director of the Anglo-Italian team, would not be against having him (moving Herbert to Ligier), also because the 16.000.000 dollar signing would be covered by Renault, which would have spent it to have him at Williams. In addition, it would achieve the purpose of always putting Michael Schumacher under pressure. All that remains is to wait. The next few days will be decisive for Mansell: in retirement or behind the wheel of Benetton. Thus ends the 1994 competitive season, and it seems that this year of world sport can be traced back to two fundamental passages, one very intense and one very diluted, which can and must concern everyone: the death of Ayrton Senna, in a moment of tremendous tension in sport automotive, and the affair of Chinese doping. Involved our hearts, our brains, with assorted anxieties for the fate of the human body, anxieties then cultivated in what should be the temple of health. The death of Ayrton Senna, in the midst of a series of accidents on circuits, with another victim, the lesser known but equally man Roland Ratzenberger, was one of those world sporting events that affect the New Zealander like the Chilean, the Indian like Swedish. It is possible that an American will tell you that the 1994 event was the baseball strike, and he may believe it: but too much of the world simply doesn't care about this matter. Senna was the absolute of participation, of involvement, of pain. Regret, related to remorse, is perhaps that of not having been able to fully appreciate the character in life: dead Senna made love unleash, far beyond admiration, fanaticism. The sentimental effect even seemed like a somewhat ambiguous way of arranging even questions in pain. The year - it must be said - was not very rich in absolute sporting events.


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