On Wednesday, September 11, 1996, interviewed in Monza, Cesare Fiorio, sports director of Ligier (owned by Flavio Briatore), says:
"There has been a discomfiture of the class of drivers in Formula 1 since, to race, they have to pay. Finding themselves without rivals, drivers like Michael Schumacher and Alesi go far. We find ourselves talking about Ralf Schumacher, but who is he to deserve Formula 1? I am not aware that he has acquired valid sports titles. It brings only $6.000.000".
Fiorio refers to the fact that the sample's younger brother should, in days, settle for Jordan, well supported by sponsors. And he digs into the subject taking a cue from the Jordan-Peugeot team, which he tries in Monza with the test driver Gianni Morbidelli:
"This is how things are going: the Pesarese, who has been standing still for months, went stronger than the titular drivers Brunelle and Barrichello during the Italian Grand Prix. He deserves attention from the teams, but no one offers him a place".
Fiorio's accusation points out that a problem now shared by many teams (especially the small ones, which ask their drivers to bring sponsorships to get a car) finds agreement and disagreement. Apart from Ferrari that never enters the controversy of others (however Maranello's team in the last twenty years has always paid for its drivers), Morbidelli himself, Giancarlo Minardi (holder of the Faenza team), and Alex Zanardi, the Bolognese driver who had to emigrate to Formula Indy, where he won three races and was named debutant of the year. Says Gianni Morbidelli, 28, Italian Formula 3 Champion in 1990 and temporarily promoted to Formula 1 by Ferrari to replace Alain Prost, in 1991:
"If I had to bring $6.000.000 in dowry to drive, I would say no. Now, after a long inactivity, I resumed the feeling with Formula 1. I have good motivations to look for a team for 1997. I don't want to continue being a tester for a lifetime. Either I find a serious team or I change categories".
Giancarlo Minardi replies, on the other hand:
"I don’t agree with Fiorio. Meanwhile, Ralf Schumacher's example is not convincing: it is not certain that the young German does not go strong he seems to be good. If he then brought some money, he will certainly have advantages too. More or less everyone started this way, even Senna. If Ayrton never paid to run, someone did it for him, maybe the family at the beginning. Formula 1 costs have become prohibitive, especially for small teams. And if someone gives us a hand, it can also be a positive fact. And then it does not seem to me that lately in Italy we have seen authentic phenomenal growth in the minor categories".
Zanardi, who has just returned to Bologna (next year he will still run to the United States), also expresses his idea:
"The mistake is not so much in the choices of the teams or the pressures of the drivers. It's the system that's wrong. In Europe, there is no longer a category where a driver can prove to be a potential champion. It's a hazy situation. So it is difficult to distinguish the champion from the incapable. And then it's also a matter of luck. On the Jordan with which Schumacher stood out with a P7 in qualifying for Spa, I was about to finish on the podium in the second race, but it went wrong. Then I switched to Lotus and it failed. So I was forced to look for a different business. And at the moment I am very satisfied. Certainly, the problem of those who make their way with money exists, but I don't think it's just Formula 1".
The situation is not happy: teams are forced to look for drivers with money because the poor ones, can't go far. Among other things, Ligier di Fiorio hired Pedro Paolo Diniz, snatching him from Forti, because it seems that the Brazilian had a sponsor dowry of 10.000.000 dollars. And if he hadn't had that money he would have stayed at home. Absent Michael Schumacher, who took a week off, on Thursday, September 12, 1996, Eddie Irvine continues testing with Ferrari on the Fiorano track. In the morning, the Irish driver breaks the circuit record set by his German teammate in August with a time of 1'01"91. The new primacy was set at 1'01"45. Irvine tests on an F310 laboratory car some details that will then be mounted on the 1997 single- seater which will presumably be ready by mid-December. On Friday, September 13, Eddie Irvine continues testing, and on Saturday he will test the three cars to be sent to Portugal. Meanwhile, on Friday, September 13, 1996, McLaren-Mercedes announces the renewal of the 1997 contract of its two drivers, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. The choice excludes a Damon Hill landing, left free by Williams. The Englishman could land at Jordan, Stewart's new team or, very difficult, take Alesi's place at Benetton. The English driver, in the next Portuguese Grand Prix, could win the Formula 1 World Championship. The Williams driver will just have to lose no more than 3 points from teammate Villeneuve. In any case, the thirty-six-year-old Williams runner is becoming a cumbersome object for the Circus of the engines. As well as Nigel Mansell had been at the time. As you know, Hill was supported in 1997 by Williams to make room for Frentzen. Now Damon's problem is mostly economic: he is a driver who costs too much. On Tuesday, September 17, 1996, Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), one of the world’s largest banking and financial service providers, announced that it will sponsor the Stewart-Ford team for £25.000.000 for five years, from 1997 to 2001. However, even with the help of a sponsor of this magnitude former driver Jackie Stewart, three- time Formula 1 World Champion, will probably not be able to afford to hire Hill. Stewart himself says HSBC’s support represents one-fifth of the necessary funding for the team.
"About the drivers, it would be a dream if Hill could drive for us. Although Damon also has other offers, I continue to hope. Sometimes fairy tales become reality".
The Stewart-Hill deal isn’t impossible, but very difficult, as the British driver is supposed to make disbursements. Only in a desperate case, if his negotiation with Jordan, or with other teams, failed, Damon could accept the new team's offer. At the moment, Stewart aside, the likely 1996 World Champion only has a couple of chances left. The most concrete concern precisely Jordan who has already hired Ralf Schumacher, the younger brother of Michael Schumacher. The other, according to some media, would be to sign for Benetton instead of Alesi. A hypothesis that at the moment has not found any official confirmation. And that it would only be based on the Frenchman's alleged disagreements with Renault and Ecclestone's desire to see Hill well-headed, for television reasons. The FOCA president, after signing millionaire contracts with a British pay-tv broadcaster would not want to lose his gold driver. But Benetton’s operations, assuming that Alesi accepts any proposals, would cost a fortune. Jean's engagement, already under contract for 1997, would have to be paid, plus the same penalty, plus Hill's salary which is no small thing. In practice, the same amount to have Michael Schumacher, but without having a driver who makes a difference like the German. Making negative predictions has brought him luck, like in the Italian Grand Prix. It will take some little help, but the feat is not impossible. The goal is a fantastic three-in-a-row, after Belgium and Italy: three consecutive victories that Ferrari has not achieved since 1990, when Prost, between June and July, won in Mexico, France and Great Britain. The Estoril circuit has 13 curves, all quite challenging. Since the German driver is said to have earned 0.1 seconds per lap for the extraordinary skill and technique of driving, he would have a theoretical advantage of 1.3 seconds for each step. The race will be on a distance of 40 laps, it's easy to do the math. We are on the level of theory, but often this goes hand in hand with reality. Much will also depend on the weather conditions (better the cold, rain would be welcome) and the attitude that technicians and drivers will be able to refine on the F310s. The rivals, Williams, Benetton and McLaren have the advantage of having tried a little more in the Lusitanian racetrack, but Schumacher has shown that he knows how to make up for unfavourable situations on some occasions.
In any case, the Ferrari-Schumacher binomial will have a precise role in the Hill- Villeneuve challenge: that of third in evil or fairness. The Maranello team has awakened the passion of even excellent fans. After Monza, President Montezemolo received a flood of telegrams, faxes and phone calls of congratulations similar to love messages, among these was King Bernard of Holland. Ferrari has no great traditions in Portugal: two wins, with Berger in 1990 and Mansell the following year. And then several problems. In the season in which the Englishman imposed himself, it was precisely from this track that the controversy that eventually caused the dismissal of Prost started. Last year it was Alesi who made negative statements against the Maranello team because he had been asked, during the race, to pass the Austrian teammate. But now it's all forgotten, and the atmosphere is relaxed. Schumacher, after the victory of Monza, didn't get the chance to get on a race car, if we keep out a performance the other night on a kart.
"I spent a week laying carpeting and painting walls in my new home in Switzerland, really relaxed, with my wife Corinna and our dogs. No one bothered me and I'm fully recharged. But don't expect too much this time, seriously. The circuit is not suitable for the F310, it looks very much like the Hungaroring where we had quite a few difficulties. That doesn’t mean we won’t do it to the fullest, but let’s not have too many illusions: the chances are minimal".
Schumacher is careful, just as Jean Todt, head of sports management, is cautious in predictions:
"If Schumacher claims that for Ferrari the next race will be an obstacle course, I don’t see how I could deny it. We won at Spa and Monza because everything went well. But we are not yet at the level of considering ourselves the favourites. There are always two cars in front of us. It will be better, in theory, in Suzuka, Japan".
The connection to the Williams is evident. But there is also a strong return of Benetton and McLaren to be feared.
"We know that. Our goal is to win a podium and have the other car in the points zone. Irvine has trained a lot and has also tried material for next year. We here in Estoril have nothing new on the technical level, apart from the 7-speed gearbox on both cars, even though we continue to work on reliability".
It's known that Ferrari is already focussing on 1997. And in this regard Todt gives some information about the English designer Barnard:
"Our base in Shalford is going well. Since last Monday, in my presence, aerodynamic tests on the 1997 model have begun in the Briston wind tunnel, from the 15 October we will continue in Maranello with the one on a 1:3 scale. Barnard is pleased: our latest successes are also thanks to him. At the same time, we are moving negotiations with our main sponsor, Philip Morris. This year we spent a lot because we had so many new things to do. Having the right amount of funding will be important for the future. As for the colour of the next car, red or red and white, it’s too early to talk about it".
While Ferrari thinks about the future and camouflages itself given the race in which it will certainly take over a pier as an outsider, the challenge for the World Cup between Hill and Villeneuve goes on. It's English that goes to the word attack. Damon Hill declares, visibly tense:
"They asked me if, as my compatriot Brundle claims, I would be able to try to win the title by causing an accident with my teammate. The answer is no: I have never approved who won in this way (an obvious reference to Senna, Prost and Schumacher, ed). I just need to get behind Villeneuve. But one thing is certain: if I will be in front of him, Jacques will have to prove that he is a true champion to surpass me".
On Friday, September 20, 1996, Ferrari strikes again.
"We expect others to clean the track".
Michael Schumacher asks his engineers. Then he put on a helmet and gloves, took a quick turn, and stood in front of everyone. Elementary Watson, Sherlock Holmes would have said even if it's not that simple. Right after the end of the tests, the German Ferrari’s driver lowers the waits again. Friday timing is not worth much, even if being in the lead always has its value. Not to mention that Irvine, after being the best in the first part of the day, concludes in P4. Michael Schumacher repeats at the end of the tests:
"I was and I stay pessimistic. The track, as in Hungary, is not good for our car. I had the best time with under-weared tires. I don’t think we can go strong, neither in qualifying nor in the race".
Who knows, maybe the rain, threatened for the rest of the weekend, can help him. In any case, half of the race is played on Saturday afternoon, when the twenty drivers will compete for the starting line-up. Given the characteristics of the track, with almost impossible overtaking, those who will be on the pole will have a nice advantage.
"I can only hope, but it will be very difficult. It should be very good for me and bad for others".
Schumacher fears the Williams, but also Benetton and McLaren, however, he remains quiet. But the biggest surprise of the day is Ukyo Katayama, who grows to the fore in the third half, leading the Tyrrell. But there is a reason: the Japanese, along with teammate Mika Salo, Jacques Villeneuve and the two Minardi drivers (Pedro Lamy and Giovanni Lavaggi) is one of the few drivers to use new tires in the free practice finale. The problem of tire wear on the Portuguese track is one of the most difficult to solve. Michael Schumacher lives his success with power, albeit with some detachment. And now he knows that next year he will also have to deal with his little brother. Jordan formalises what everyone already knew: the three-year-old engagement of Ralf Schumacher, who brings a sponsor (German beer) of about 6.000.000 dollars but will have a salary or maybe a percentage. Ralf Schumacher has already won in karting and Formula 3, he is now leading the Japanese Formula 3000 championship. It will debut in the tests on October 1, 1996, right on the Estoril circuit. Michael Schumacher says, about it:
"I’m happy because Ralf leaves on the right foot. A good growing team, but without too much pressure. He was criticised for bringing money, but it's normal. I am sure he will prove to be a very good young and fast driver".
For stats lovers, so far three pairs of brothers had run simultaneously in Formula 1: Jody and Jan Scheckter, Emerson and Wilson Fittipaldi, and Teo and Corrado Fabi. But the second ones were never as good as the first ones. Schumacher's favourable comment on his brother is the only positive of the day from Michael. When asked who he would like to see the World Championship win, between Hill and Villeneuve, Kerpen's twenty-seven-year-old gets cold:
"Do you mind? It's not the right word, on the contrary, it's just the wrong one".
No prediction, therefore, on the challenge for the title. Meanwhile, the sparks continue between the two contenders. At the end of the tests, Jacques Villeneuve accuses Damon Hill of hindering him in the final (when he had mounted on his Williams new tires), preventing him from getting the best time. Furious with everyone, the Canadian does not miss an opportunity to send a message to the poison even to Luca Montezemolo, who after Monza had teased him.
"He can thank his name if he had a chance to run".
Jacques Villeneuve replies, with a bad mood and tense nerves:
"There are too many people in Formula 1 who don’t understand anything about racing".
The battle is wide-ranging, nothing is overlooked, let alone the psychological side. They both say they love the Estoril circuit, and that they have no problems. It will be seen. The Formula 1 Circus continues to question the future of English. At this point, there are not too many possibilities for Hill. The driver doesn't speak. Jordan is hypothesised with increasing insistence and as an alternative to the new Stewart. But these days an imaginative idea has also been born: Hill could go for a year to Ligier and then land at Benetton in 1998. But will he run until he is forty? The Mito’s son, against the heir of the World Champion. The Formula 1 crown is up for grabs. The challenge between Hill and Villeneuve has reached the final close. A difficult track awaits them, that of the Grand Prix of Portugal, narrow and winding and no mistakes are to be made. The Englishman will just not give his teammate more than 3 points (he has 13 points in advantage); the Canadian can postpone the verdict to the last race, in Japan, if he earns at least 4. Everything could be decided already at the start: the two Williams are on the front row. On Saturday 21 September 1996, Damon Hill conquers the pole with a record time: 1'20"330, averaging 195.394 km/h. Jacques Villeneuve loses first place for a breath, 0.009 seconds, 75 centimetres, on the 4360 metres of the circuit. Scenes are already seen here in Portugal. In 1984 the final battle was between Prost and Lauda. The Frenchman won, but the Austrian driver, ranking second, won the title by 0.5 points ahead. Alain realised in 1993 against Ayrton Senna, placing himself behind Schumacher. This time the stakes are even bigger. For Hill, who is the big favourite, it may be the last chance to win the title and this would be a record: no son of an heir champion (his father Graham was worldwide in 1964 and 1968) ever managed to repeat the feat. The prospects of Villeneuve: debutant and back from the conquest of the Formula Indy crown, and also him with a father who, if he never reached the iris in his unfortunately short career, was generally recognised among the fastest ever appeared in Formula 1. Damon Hill explains, at the end of qualifying:
"There are only a few hours left to know how it will turn out, but it seems to me that the road is still very long. In the sense that I don't feel huge pressure. I'm sure of myself: I won my pole position number 20, number 9 of the season. And that makes me start on the right side of the track. The real job must be done by my rival, and even if he wins, there will still be Japan where I will still start in the lead. If instead Alesi or Schumacher were to go to the lead, it would not be a problem for me: at most I would feel sorry for the team that behaved very well with me. Despite having announced Frentzen's engagement in 1997, Williams still gave me great support and the best material. I think in the night I will sleep between two pillows".
All-true serenity or a weapon in the psychological battle with Villeneuve? The Canadian doesn't care too much about being tactful:
"It’s hard to accept being beaten for 0.009 seconds, a few centimetres: it would have been enough to take a few more risks at the last corner. Unfortunately, this will cost me problems at the start: my car will be placed where the asphalt is dirty and there is doubt that the wheels can skate. However, I stay optimistic: Hill is usually not good at the start, and I fear Alesi more. But I’m confident, I just have to focus and do my best".
What about the possibility of dangerous accidents?
"I can’t worry about what Hill thinks he’s doing, but I rule out that it may be unfair, trying to throw me out. Other drivers would do it, but it would be a thing from minor formulas, as children. I would be very disappointed if Damon misbehaved".
What if the title goes away?
"My budget is good. I'm here fighting for the title, and I'm not surprised: I predicted it, running for the best team. So far I have only one regret: having made a mistake in Monza would have changed everything. But I live peacefully".
The English man has just turned 36, the Canadian has exceeded 25. Two generations in comparison. But the third, the one who has already retired, does not give up: Prost is the test driver and the consultant for McLaren. And a resounding return is ready: Williams recalled Riccardo Patrese, 42, for a test at Silverstone, on October 8 and 9, 1996. The purpose of the test was to hire him as a spare driver for 1897, to fine-tune the car. Yet the two contenders will also have to deal with the pursuers. It is not excluded that the needle of the scale should be hung on the plate of one or the other Alesi or Schumacher, respectively in P3 and P4 on the starting grid. The Frenchman promises battle, while the German is more cautious but will not back down on the occasion. Michael Schumacher says, jokingly:
"Pow for the rain, because it could shuffle the cards. I admit that I wouldn't mind the wet track. Otherwise, we have no chance. Unfortunately, this track penalises us. The chicane, the hairpin bend, and the medium and slow curves put the F310 in trouble, as it has been since the start of the season. However, I couldn't have done better than the third half. The three wins in a row are a dream. We are a second to the slower lap of the Williams. And you will also have to suffer with Benetton and McLaren. I don't like to win just for the misfortunes of others. Among other things, we consume tires like our rivals, but we see a faster drop in performance".
So no hope?
"You can get to the podium. But it could also happen that the race becomes more difficult than qualifying. It will already be nice to keep the position at the start or earn a place. But beware of Alesi, he is really fast in departures. By the way: congratulations to Irvine, he was really good, and he went strong. I was satisfied with the car set-up after the first timed attempt and adopted what Eddie had studied for his: I was fine".
Schumacher's speeches, always very honest (a driver rarely admits to being helped by his teammate, even if only in the tuning of the single-seater), are one hundred per cent shared by Jean Todt.
"Given how things are going, Ferrari’s goal is to bring one car to the podium and the other to the points. This year, so far, we have only succeeded once in Imola, when Schumacher was second and Irvine fourth. Finding full reliability in the season finale would be a nice injection of confidence for winter work".
The statements in the Maranello team are more or less the same as on the eve of Spa and Monza. But, indeed, these were circuits more favourable to the characteristics of the F310. In any case, the cabal and statistics can also enter the scene. The first reads: there are no two without three. It remains to be seen whether it can refer to the total number of victories (already achieved) or consecutive ones. For the statistics, Schumacher won at Spa and Monza, always starting from the second row. But it would perhaps be too demanding. Schumacher concludes:
"I am fine with my conscience because at this point we have nothing to lose. The important thing is to show that our team is working well. The fact of having another confirmation that Williams is still superior and that the others are approaching must be considered positive. A further push to continue to do our best".
On Sunday, September 22, 1996, at the start, Damon Hill snaps well, while his teammate Jacques Villeneuve doesn't have a good cue and is overwhelmed by Jean Alesi and Michael Schumacher. The Frenchman also tries to trap Hill at the braking of the first corner but is closed by the Englishman with a decisive manoeuvre, having to settle for second place. Hill immediately begins to gain a decent margin on the pursuers, while his teammate worries Schumacher, but without being able to overcome him. On lap 16 (after that until this moment the only overtaking was that of Heinz-Harald Frentzen on Jos Verstappen on lap 12) the German driver finds himself slowed down by the Minardi of the dubbed Giovanni Lavaggi in the fast corner before the main straight; Villeneuve attacks him on the outside and overtakes him, with an extremely spectacular manoeuvre. Shortly after, the first series of supplies begins, during which the Canadian prevails over Alesi; the Frenchman, who started to make two pit-stops (against the three expected by the opponents), loses a position also against Schumacher, finding fourth. In fact, during lap 34, in the game of refuelling and changing tires, Villeneuve passes in the lead for two laps. Immediately after Hill finds himself the leader, but instead of having Alesi behind him, who is also overtaken by Schumacher, he sees the rival teammate Williams in the mirrors. At this point Villeneuve begins to recover ground against Hill, slowed down by some dubbing and a clutch problem; at the end of the second pit-stop series the Canadian is now very close to his rival. The third series of supplies turns out to be decisive, with Hill being overpowered by his teammate on lap 49 and settling for second place, ahead of Schumacher, Alesi, Irvine and Berger. The fourth season win allows Villeneuve to keep the fight for the World Championship open. Everything is postponed to Sunday, October 13, 1996, in Japan. But the English driver remains the big favourite in the title challenge.
Damon has a 9-point lead in the standings. To beat him, Jacques will have to win the last race in Suzuka and hope that the rival will not even take a point. It will not be enough for him to go very hard, he will also have to have a lot of luck. Unreasonable, therefore, Villeneuve's stunning victory, at the end of his most beautiful race since he was in Formula 1, an additional advantage to Hill. The young Canadian pays for Williams' competitiveness which, if he gave him wings, still allowed his teammate to defend himself well, limiting the damage with a reassuring second place. It was a race of great tensions, but in the end, the result respected the most logical predictions. Villeneuve had to attack and did so in the most spectacular way. Hill attempted the shot with a quick start, but when he found himself the opponent in front he rightly slowed down, so as not to take unnecessary risks. Prediction is also respected at Ferrari, with Schumacher's third position and Irvine's fifth. The declared goal consisted of a podium and a car in the points: centred. For the Maranello team, the result is worth double because it marks a return to full reliability, after four months. And now, in the Constructors’ World Championship standings, Ferrari has almost reached Benetton (only one detachment point) in second place. This match between Italian Scuderia will also end in Japan. If Hill takes home the Formula 1 crown twenty-two years after the second title won by his father Graham, the hero of this season remains Jacques Villeneuve. A truly special beginner who does not want to be compared to the legendary dad Gilles. But what Jacques claims is not so true. On lap 16 the Canadian made an amazing overtake right on the reigning champion that left everyone speechless. Maybe Schumacher too. Says Jacques Villeneuve, who has no reverential fears:
"It was fun to go where Michael didn’t expect it. After all, my car was faster and I had already lost enough time. If I hadn't, I probably wouldn't have been able to win. I took advantage of the last corner, what is called parabolic to overtake Ferrari. The experience earned on the oval slopes in the United States helped me".
And then he says:
"I had warned the box that I would pass there, and they by radio had begged me not to do it, otherwise they would have to pick me up on the guardrail with the teaspoon. But I didn’t listen to them and I was right".
A perfect race, the Jacques’s one.
"Yes, except for the departure. But I took courage because I knew I wouldn't have any other opportunities. The car was great and the team worked perfectly. The battle with Schumacher was good. The World Championship? Nine points are many, too many. But anything can happen in a run. Damon can make a mistake, break the car, or get involved in an accident. I will fight until the last lap. That’s for sure".
What about Damon Hill? What does he say?
"A great, magnificent street. I was fine at the head of the race. I was a little unlucky with pit stops and overtaking. A McLaren has slowed me down decisively. But when Villeneuve came out of the pits in front of me it was a shock. I thought I'd take it back, but I had a friction problem. I was afraid of breaking everything and at that point I was satisfied. I keep quiet. Anyway, Jacques was very good".
The name of the Englishman goes on to bounce like the crazy ball of a pinball machine in the market drivers.
"I haven’t had time these days to go on with the negotiations. If I want to stay in FI? I hope so. Withdrawal remarks? Not even for a dream. See you in Japan".
Then everyone eats the cake. Already, Williams, almost certain of the title, had prepared a gigantic one to celebrate Hill. For sure, they eat it anyway. The Ferrari's mission was accomplished. After the rehearsals of the past few days, it was not permissible to dream. Nor hope for miracles. Schumacher's third place and Irvine's fifth are the ultimate results that Maranello's team could aspire to. The merits were more of the team than the drivers. If we have to make a ranking between German and Irish, Michael was less good than Eddie. Especially if we consider the difference in the values expressed to date. Schumacher, who suffered one of the most difficult overtakes of his career, drove with the usual attention on a circuit he doesn't like, with a car that didn't go along with him. Just think of the detachments inflicted by Williams: 53 seconds, over 0.7 seconds per lap. Irvine, on the other hand, resisted Berger’s attacks; when the Austrian overtook him in the final, he immediately responded by returning to fifth position. Then, right on the last lap, the moment the Benetton driver rammed him, he managed to stay on track and preceded him to the finish line. Schumacher had to make three stops for the tire change, the last one on lap 52. When he found himself behind Alesi who was stopping in turn (round 44) for the second and last stop, engineer Giorgio Ascanelli immediately made him stop. After a perfect pit stop, Schumacher started again ahead of the Frenchman: the game is done. Michael Schumacher says, at the end of the race:
“We got the most we could aspire to. I am happy with the result and the excellent work of the team. The strategy and pit stops were perfect. Unfortunately, I couldn't go any harder, because the car lacked grip, especially in the areas of the track with the old asphalt and in the slow and medium curves. The only real surprise of the race was Villeneuve, surpassing me on the outside".
And he tells it, this overtaking.
"At first, I crushed Alesi. There was traffic, he stopped early. Luckily I just cut the face of my car. Then I had trouble keeping up with a certain pace. Jacques had been very close for several laps now. I was preparing to get over the Minardi di Lavaggi and I was afraid of having to slow down too much. I saw Williams in the mirrors and a moment later he had the front wheels in front of those of my Ferrari. I reacted, I could have pulled the staccato more, but I thought it would be useless; I would also risk ruining everything. It’s better this way, I will return the blow at the first opportunity when we are more competitive".
Irvine also overtook Berger in the pit stop.
"Then there was the incident".
tells Eddie, wearing a dazzling smile more than usual.
"It was since May, in Imola, that I didn't see the finish line. Although in the final I had doubts because my single-seater, due to tire wear, was hard to hold. Finally, I feel charged now, I want to get back to the podium at all costs: in the next race, in Suzuka. Down there our car should be fine and we have the potential to succeed. Finishing the season well is the best medicine to start the next one in a great way. I had a hard time, now it's over".
Poor Eddie: despite all Ferrari's official assurances and confirmation for 1996, the radio box continues to question it. First, there was a rumour that he was in Hakkinen to replace him. In the last few hours, even on the Internet, the indiscretion has appeared that he could make way for Damon Hill, and return to Jordan. And to say that he, along with Schumacher, has already been to England (in Shalford, where the DDF, the Ferrari technology antenna directed by Barnard) is based to have the custom-made seat designed to be mounted on next year's car. Someone loves him badly. Meanwhile, Maranello's staff continues the great manoeuvres for next season. Along with all the other teams (except for Ligier) the team will stop in from Tuesday, September 24 to Friday, September 27, 1996, in Estoril, for a series of tests with Goodyear tyres. This is a good opportunity to try ahead of the last commitment in
Suzuka, but above all to continue testing the material for next year.
"He made it dirty for me, but I could have made him pay dearly".
Says Jean Alesi, referring to Damon Hill.
"He closed my trajectory without thinking about it. If I had been incorrect, maybe I wouldn't have reached the finish line, but he too would have a few points less. And maybe, now he would be less quiet, in the duel with Villeneuve for the title. I'm sorry because if you had gone into the lead at that moment, the race would probably have ended differently. It bothers me to have skipped the podium appointment. If I hadn't been so far away in the last laps I could have been tempted to hook up Schumacher. Unfortunately, I paid for too much time spent behind slower cars than mine. But the season is not over yet. I will be in Japan too, everyone has to be careful".
The Frenchman is furious with Hill, but even Briatore doesn't look as cheerful as usual. The World Championship is about to end without Benetton having focussed on the results they hoped for: at least one win in sixteen races. And given Williams’ superiority, there’s little to hope for. Still open, however, is the battle between Ferrari for second place in the Constructors' World Championship and Schumacher for the third position in the World Pilots Championship.
"Two goals that we care about very much, and we will not give up for lost".
Berger also did not come out satisfied with the Portuguese circuit, in this country he considers his second homeland, given the nationality of his wife Anna.
"The car didn’t go as in the qualifiers, then our technicians analysing the telemetry found that there was an accelerator problem. It didn't allow me to dose the gas as I would have liked. I was forced to settle for and despite everything, I was able to reach Irvine. I also passed him, but I came out of the turn wide and he passed me again. Then, in the last lap, I was an inch away from him. I braked by locking the wheels and touched his Ferrari. It was just my fault".
Benetton, which will remain at Estoril like the other teams, is implementing a promotion program among Italian drivers. These days, in addition to Berger and Alesi, they should take the wheel of the cars of the team directed by Briatore, in addition to the test-driver Vincenzo Sospiri, also the young Roman Giancarlo Fisichella and the Abruzzese, Jarno Trulli. The latter with a sponsored car Benetton leads the competitive German Formula 3 championship. But hardly these auditions will have an immediate outlet in Formula 1 for the three candidates. Unless they perform as a showcase for landing in other Scuderia. Fisichella could return next year to Minardi, which was not exciting but was seen a lot in the dubbing, since Lavaggi and Lamy, due to the performance of their cars, placed themselves in P15 and P16 with 5 turns of detachment. But the Faentino team could, in 1997, leap forward thanks to a new corporate structure. Meanwhile, these days Cosworth will test an 8-cylinder engine with several interesting innovations. This is also a day marked by the McLaren debacle, the worst of the season for Ron Dennis's team. Coulthard (P13 at the finish line) was buffered by teammate Hakkinen. The Finn had to go back to the pits to change the front winger and the Scottish had to wait for his turn in a row, like in a garage. Then Mika retired because the car was hopelessly damaged. And David was forced to take a 10-second penalty for exceeding the allowed speed in the pit line. In short, a disaster. Despite being a hard-fought test, only four retreats, a primacy in 1996. In conclusion, despite an exceptional victory in Portugal, the real impossible mission is the one that Jacques Villeneuve will have to face. Attempting to win the Formula 1 World Championship in the last race by catching 9 points at a disadvantage is a daunting undertaking. The Canadian in Japan will have to impose himself, hoping Damon Hill won't score points, ranking after sixth place. Not to mention that the Williams driver will have to do everything himself: Villeneuve, 25, has no allies who can help him voluntarily. The young man pushed and wanted above all by Bernie Ecclestone to increase the show, is invited to the Formula 1 Circus. If the team managers like it because it goes strong (and many see in him a possible good investment), Villeneuve finds no consensus and sympathy among the other drivers. The reasons are simple: they range from envy to the provocative attitude that the character in question has taken upon arriving in the world of the Grand Prix. The rest of the normal situation. In which sport, in what workplace would someone be happy to have the emerging star next to him? A beginner who at his first experience tries to beat everyone, succeeding. Just to give a few examples: Alesi does not see him well because he could take away his popularity among French speakers. Schumacher because he could become a dangerous opponent at all levels. Ferrari's German says by the way:
"I don’t care who will win the title. If anything, I care if I can get it back next year".
But, down below, Schumacher cheers for Damon Hill. An opponent who has already been beaten twice. Villeneuve is a braggart as well as a very good driver. Still on Sunday, after Portugal, being in elbow contact with Hill, he says:
"Everything could happen in Suzuka. I point to win, Damon can make a mistake, or have a mechanical problem".
The truth is that Jacques is smart. He works on Damon Hill's mind trying to destroy him psychologically and bring him to the decisive challenge of a thousand anxieties. Hill, however, knows very well that he is in an iron barrel. The imponderable should happen to let the World Championship get out of hand. The problem of English also lies in its sportiness, in its loyalty. If he accepts the fight, he could lose his mind. Nor does it certainly facilitate its contractual situation. Williams has abandoned him and Damon still doesn't know where he's going to end up. He must win the World Championship to settle in well at least for another year, despite now having few valid solutions available. If it is true that he has already earned many millions of pounds, he does not intend to give up a still rich dish. In short, he has a lot of thoughts in his head. And that’s exactly what Villeneuve is aiming at. Who has nothing to lose: in fifteen runs he has already hit several goals. With four successes he has become the debutant who has always won the most in the first season in Formula 1, has almost reached the primacy of his father Gilles (six top places in six leagues) and, at the limit, he can also win the title. And he proposes himself as Schumacher's rival for the future. The battle between Hill and Villeneuve, after the Canadian’s stunning Sunday run, will continue every day before the fateful appointment in Japan. On Wednesday 24 September 1996, the two will be testing on the Portuguese track, along with Schumacher and the majority of the other drivers. Benetton should have Fisichella try. For all four days of training and testing on the material for next year. Damon and Jacques, in addition, will study car trim and strategies for the last challenge.