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#589 1996 Canadian Grand Prix

2023-01-04 23:00

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#1996, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Alice Simonin,

#589 1996 Canadian Grand Prix

On Wednesday, 5 June 1996, it is a busy day for Michael Schumacher, called to carry out brake tests in the afternoon. In the morning, disrupted by rai

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On Wednesday, 5 June 1996, it is a busy day for Michael Schumacher, called to carry out brake tests in the afternoon. In the morning, disrupted by rain, the German driver receives the visit of Alberto Tomba, with whom he has long talks. Schumacher tells the Italian skier that he is delighted with Ferrari. Then, he loses his papers and switches hats with the policeman to whom he files a report. Finally, in the evening, a tifoso coming from Foggia gives him a heart-shaped cake that the German shares with the mechanics. On Thursday, 6 June 1996, the tests will concentrate on gearbox and clutch. And perhaps we will see the new raised nose of the F310. Also on Thursday, a new visit by Giovanni Agnelli is made to Ferrari and to Michael Schumacher, winner of the Spanish Grand Prix, the Sunday before, on the track of Barcelona. The Lawyer arrives by helicopter at the circuit (where the German prepares the next Canadian Grand Prix), accompanied by Luca Montezemolo. When the driver, after having strung together a series of laps, stops at the pits, there is a long and friendly talk between the two. 

 

"In life, there are difficult situations and simple situations: when the right moment comes, Schumacher seizes it".

 

Comments Agnelli surrounded by journalists. However, the honorary chairman of Fiat enjoyed Juventus' win in the final of the Champions League at the Stadio Olimpico more than Ferrari's win of the German driver on the Spanish circuit: 

 

"Because Juve's success completes a cycle, whereas Schumacher's success in Barcelona, I hope, is only the start of a series. I have always thought that Michael could reopen the World Championship, but now the difficulty will be to close it".

 

Giovanni Agnelli also focuses on the economic situation of the race team from Maranello: 

 

"Fiat is spending a lot of money, but we can also rely on the backing of important sponsors like Marlboro, Asprey and Shell, which supplement our endeavors. We rely on them, because as Fiat we can't always provide the money needed".

 

At 11:30 a.m., Agnelli leaves for Maranello, still by helicopter with Montezemolo, where, at Ferrari's headquarters, he meets with fellow soldiers with whom he shared his military service during World War II. This is a meeting that The Lawyer cares deeply about. Indeed, it should be remembered that the Fiat honorary chairman served during World War II as a cavalry officer with the Italian expeditionary force on the Russian front, with the Armored Reconnaissance Grouping Lodi in Tunisia, earning the War Cross of Military Valor, and in the Division Legnano of the Italian Liberation Corps. Coming back to Ferrari, it is worth noting that the technicians, contrary to initial expectations, plan to test the new raised nose of the F310 at Imola, an innovation which should improve the aerodynamic performance of the car. And indeed, on Friday, 7 June 1996, Ferrari ends the tests at Imola with Schumacher finally using the new raised nose, which seems to work well. Only the next week will determine whether to use it or not in Canada. On Tuesday, 11 June 1996, Irvine will do the tests at Mugello. With Michael Schumacher, Ferrari will perhaps be able to return to fight for the win of the World Championship in 1997. But in the meantime, this year the team from Maranello will have to settle for two or three other wins: Williams remains the best, even if the progress made by the F310 is tremendous and they have already made it jump to the second place of the standing. The propitious pairing driver-teamwork allows Luca Montezemolo to look with firm confidence to the future, in the long interview published by Welt. But one week after the triumph of Schumacher in Barcelona, and the day after the incredible victory of the F333SP of Massimiliano Papis and Giampiero Moretti at the Six Hours of Watkins Glen, the Ferrari myth (to which Welt makes explicit reference) and its euphoria inflame the Germans, as it has not happened for a long time. The interview with chairman Montezemolo – besides the race predictions and the interesting incursion into the world of Formula 1 - thus becomes a careful journey in the heart of a unique industry within the global automotive panorama, and, therefore, a valuable recognition of the Italian company. Naturally, the Berlin-based newspaper devotes a special attention to the home hero: Schumacher has also proven to Ferrari to be a champion, and the genuine praise from Montezemolo ("An exceptional and very talented young man, capable of working seamlessly with the team and of having a huge influence") is rightfully valued. Also, on its engagement - 40.000.000 brands - Welt adds: wasn't it hard, for Fiat, to find them? 

 

"Fiat hasn't given us a single lira".

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Answers Montezemolo. 

 

"We pay our activities ourselves. We have three major sponsors, which guarantee us such independence".

 

A statement which contradicts what was said in the previous days by Giovanni Agnelli. But from the long talk, the meaning of the Ferrari legend in today's world largely arises, after the crisis of the past years, and while the positive results in Formula 1 are backed by a leap in sales (a 25% increase in turnover and assets of 16.500.000.000 lire in 1995, despite all the difficulties). What does it mean to manage a myth, then? 

 

"It is a difficult task, because the Ferrari legend is born from the encounter between technology and culture. Our strategy is to be creative: new technologies, harmonious combination of future and tradition, close customer relationship, to produce a unique product".

 

Ferrari as a work of art, in short. This is confirmed by the exhibitions dedicated to the brand by the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the New National Gallery in Berlin. A work of art in which it is decisive that the mix of manual labor and machines labor works, but in which the direct human intervention still matters greatly: 

 

"There are important elements and interventions in the detail that we only let a person do".

 

Explains Montezemolo. 30% of the total: 

 

"In the interior equipment, in the assembly of engines and a large part of the assembly. In addition, a professional takes care of each car until the final test".

 
Before being delivered to the customer, each car is driven for at least 100 km in road tests and at the end of those tests, if it is necessary, the car undergoes new tests. How come in the past years following the death of Enzo Ferrari something went wrong? 

 

"Our technical tradition is above all in the mechanics. In the mid-1980s, the aerodynamic elements became ever more important: at this moment we experienced a crisis because we didn't have a great know-how in this field yet. At the beginning of the 1990s, the electronics became decisive. I think that it was a huge mistake for Formula 1. But so be it: in this field also, we didn't have enough experience".

 

And the future of cars? Does Montezemolo agree with Pininfarina, according to whom we will be able to live without the individual means of transport in 50 years?

 

"Not at all: the car embodies the greatest individual freedom. Even in the future, it will remain the primary means of transport. Of course, the technology and application possibilities will change".

 

The Formula One World Championship is at the halfway point: on Sunday, 16 June 1996, the eighth race of the season will be held in Canada, on the Montreal circuit. But, most importantly, the race on the circuit named after Gilles Villeneuve, could represent a turning point. After the win in Spain, Ferrari will try to give another hit on Damon Hill and Williams. Difficult task, but not an impossible one. The specifications of the track and the progress shown by the F310 allow the team from Maranello to be hopeful. Says Schumacher:

 

"Now comes the moment of truth. I consider that Williams is always the big favorite. But, if we manage to get a good result there, the perspectives for the future could change. I'm expecting, from the French Grand Prix onwards, in July, a series of very important new technical upgrades that should make us more competitive".

 

The first of those changes has already been brought to Montreal. It is the high nose tested at Imola and at Mugello. The one that, because of its beak shape, has already been described as a pelican: it has a sort of double chin in the lower part. Three pieces have been manufactured, which will allow to equip only one car for the free practice and the race. The technicians will decide at the very last moment on which driver to bet on. Usually, it is Schumacher that develops the new material, but it could be a risk. And incidentally, it is Irvine who has found the best benefits from the modified aerodynamics. Either way, the test will go on. Schumacher will still be forced to work overtime to earn some extra money. Eddie Jordan did a real number on him. In 1991, the German had broken his contract overnight to go with Benetton. The Irish constructor sued him. And, at the beginning of the week, the court of London ordered Michael to pay Jordan 900.000 pounds. Eddie Jordan, a true specialist in managing contracts with the drivers, points out:

 

"If he pays the required amount, the case will be definitively closed. If he doesn't pay and wants to appeal, then the issue becomes more serious. Given that there was an option to comply with also for 1992 and 1993, my request will rise to 10.000.000 pounds. Take it or leave it. I hope that he's wise".

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Ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix, we also learn that Formula 1 could lose one of its main engineering protagonists. Renault, which currently provides Williams and Benetton with engines, two of the top teams, is indeed meditating on their own position. According to French sources, a withdrawal at the end of this season is even possible, partly because of the huge costs incurred in this sporting adventure: we are talking about 200.000.000.000 lire per year. A decision will be taken before Friday, 28 June 1996, ahead of the race in Magny-Cours. The French company could also announce that they want to remain in competition with only one team (Williams?) but, instead, some talk about a possible support of Renault to another French brand—Ligier. On Friday, 14 June 1996, at the end of the first free practice, Benetton comes back, Ferrari keeps improving and Williams starts to feel in trouble. It is true that the free practice of the Friday this year have a relative meaning because they lend themselves to tricks to get easy newspaper headlines, just this once. However, when you put people like Alesi, Berger and Schumacher in the timesheet, trouble is expected for everybody. Because those people take this seriously. The French driver, who had won last year on this track of the Notre Dame Island with Ferrari, was the fastest driving with used tyres. Then, in the end, he has improved again with a set of new tyres, ahead of his Austrian teammate by 0.072 seconds. Alesi, who turned 32 years old on Tuesday, 11 June 1996, sets a time of 1’22"498, at an average speed of 192.921 km/h. A time which is not comparable to the times of 1995 as the circuit has changed. Now it is much smoother: the artificial chicane placed before the pit straight has been removed. Thus, the situation becomes more complicated. Especially for Damon Hill. The Englishman says he is worried: Benetton aside, this Ferrari begins to really scare him. The leader of the Formula 1 world standing is caught between several fires. On the one hand, his teammate Jacques Villeneuve that elbows. Even if he is only in P8, as he had never driven on the circuit named after his father with a Formula 1 single-seater. And therefore he has to learn the trajectories. On the other hand, a sneaky Schumacher who pretends not to be interested in the title. But, actually, the German drives like a maniac. Gratified also by an excellent relationship with Ferrari. He tells his friends: 

 

"If it goes on like this, I sign with the team from Maranello for two more years".

 

A defeat for those who predicted that the union between the World Champion and Ferrari would be a disaster. Says Damon Hill, at the end of the free practice:

 

"Ferrari is getting closer and closer. I have mounted a very small spoiler on my Williams to be faster in straight. And Schumacher with much more loaded aerodynamics has almost clocked the same speeds. There is every reason to be concerned. We have to react right away". 

 

A situation that the World Champion really appreciates: he loves the tussle. Schumacher declares, a big smile across his face, the one of his brighter days:

 

"I'm optimistic, because the car with that new raised nose has made us gain something in several sectors, as well as in stability. I predict that Saturday afternoon, in qualifying, there will be a great fight. And we will be there".

 

The plural applies to Michael, Ferrari and also Eddie Irvine. His teammate, despite not having the pelican beak nose, ends up in the sixth position, behind three cars that have used new tyres. Also Irvine, by the way, will be able, from Saturday morning, to use the car with the updated aerodynamics: a solution that he really enjoys. A championship that keeps getting fiercer, thus, with the anticipation that rises. The mere presence of Villeneuve, who will speak his word in qualifying for sure, has unleashed the hunt for tickets. Sold out in Montreal, it did not happen for years. The organizers have even removed the box office where you purchased entrance tickets of the Grand Prix as they no longer had anything to sell. A guaranteed show for the fans and chills for the teams, especially for Williams, Ferrari and Benetton which have now taken the control of operations. McLaren, Jordan, Ligier and Sauber seem irretrievably detached, at least on the lap time level. But we have to remember that this track is also a particular track, not an authentic permanent circuit. You race between two concrete walls, there are so many curbs and some corners challenge the cars and the drivers to the maximum. In short, anything can happen, surprises are not excluded. Williams with Hill and Villeneuve will not let the pole position be taken away that easily. 

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And indeed, on Saturday, 15 June 1996, Damon Hill, just in the last few minutes, for 0.020 seconds, a breath, deprives Jacques Villeneuve the satisfaction to do what even his father Gilles never managed to do. The English driver, after all, starts in pole position (number 16 of his career, the fifth of the season) for the Canadian Grand Prix, a front row locked out by Williams, as you could have imagined. But Ferrari, with Schumacher, is very close. Third fastest time for the German, just over a 0.1-second gap, while Irvine is in P5. A race opened to all results, with a window also for Benetton. Alesi and Berger are having a troubled day, ending respectively in P4 and P7. But their cars experience clear grip problems when braking, since both drivers brutally ended their session off track. Meanwhile, says Damon Hill, with a dark face as if he did not have favorable omens:

 

"I'm pleased to have achieved my sixteenth pole position, but the race will be very tough. We are all very close in performance. Now Ferrari is in our tracks, I knew it and I wasn't wrong. But it went so bad for me in the last two races, that I'm really hoping to bounce back and to put my rivals back in their place".

 

His young teammate, however, seems more optimistic.

 

"It is normal to be disappointed because I could have gone faster and give a beautiful present to my fans, to start with. I'm also convinced that it won't be a breeze, but we have the best car and we are starting in front. It is already a great starting point, at least for me". 

 

Michael Schumacher, likewise, does not seem particularly delighted. The German probably thought he would be the fastest, but he did not have the opportunity to show it. Knowing his nature, missing a result within his reach puts him in a bad temper. 

 

"I was forced to take the spare car because on the race one I had an engine issue. Then, during my best lap, I was slowed down by Brundle with his Jordan. Finally, in the very last moments, when I had still a lap to do, I got stuck because of Berger's crash".

 

Schumacher, however, opens the door to a possible win, even if he cautiously does it: 

 

"It's true, there are many cars that are more or less on the same level. If there are no issues, we will also be fighting for the top positions". 

 

According to the German, the new nose fitted on the F310 has brought small but significant advantages, especially regarding the stability and the top speed. An improvement that has given Eddie Irvine that confidence which he was missing with the car produced in Maranello. 

 

"I feel more comfortable, and for the first time since the beginning of the season I think that I'm on the right wave. I could have been better, but I've wanted to do different settings after the first attempt, and I've found myself struggling with an annoying understeer that I haven't been able to change. But it's okay, I will do a great race".

 

The session has also been interrupted, for about ten minutes, precisely because of Alesi's off-track. Let down by his Benetton, which became uncontrollable when braking, the Frenchman spun and was very good at controlling his car which was going at over 200 km/h. Jean, however, could not avoid the violent impact against the barrier of protective tyres. And, shortly after, he was imitated by Gerhard Berger. The corner along which the crash happened is named after Jean-Pierre Jabouille. In 1980, the blond Renault driver had broken both legs at that section. In fact, the Gilles Villeneuve circuit hides several pitfalls and is quite challenging for the mechanics. Last year no fewer than fifteen drivers were forced to abandon. One of the most used elements are the brakes, the driver who gets the tuning right can have considerable advantages. But the fuel consumption could also be decisive. This is the reason why the race strategy will play a crucial role.

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On Sunday, 16 June 1996, the emotions start right away, a few moments before the formation lap. Schumacher's Ferrari, while the others make their way, remains stationary, surrounded by the mechanics. Valuable seconds are lost and when the engine finally turns on, it is impossible for the German to reach the first drivers. Therefore, Schumacher starts in 22nd and last position. At the start, Damon Hill goes away well, defending the first position from the attack of Jacques Villeneuve; Alesi is third, followed by Irvine, Häkkinen and Berger. The Northern Irish driver, however, already retires during lap 2, when the front right suspension of his Ferrari broke down as he was going down the straight, maybe because of the impact with a piece of debris. In the meantime, Michael Schumacher manages to make it up to P17. On lap 5, Gerhard Berger moves up to P4, Damon Hill is the fastest on track and Schumacher continues to make up ground in P14. Two laps later, Ukyo Katayama hits the Footwork of the innocent Ricardo Rosset. Both are forced to retire. On lap 11, the second Footwork, Verstappen's one, also stops because of the failure of the Hart engine, while Schumacher thus moves up to P13. Leading the race, Hill, who started with low fuel to do two pit stops, extends his lead on his teammate, whose strategy consists of one unique refuelling; the race proceeds rather linearly, with the English driver handing the lead to Villeneuve during his first pit stop, recovering then when the Canadian makes his only stop halfway through the race. On lap 20, indeed, the first tyre changes start, while Heinz-Harald Frentzen first retires (Sauber-Ford, on lap 19 because of a broken gearbox) followed by Rubens Barrichello after a couple of stops (Jordan-Peugeot, on lap 22 because of a broken clutch) and by Andrea Montermini (Forti-Ford, on lap 22 because of an electrical issue). Michael Schumacher moves up to P11. On lap 30, Schumacher (who has decided to stop only once at the pits to do the refuelling) is now in P9, but his Ferrari reports brake issues. During lap 38, Mika Häkkinen is the victim of a spin and is likely to strike Giancarlo Fisichella, while Pedro Paolo Diniz is forced to retire because of an engine failure, along with Mika Salo (Tyrrell-Yamaha, on lap 39 because of an engine failure) and Panis (with the second Ligier-Mugen, on lap 39 also because of an engine failure), while Schumacher moves up to P7. On lap 41, Schumacher's Ferrari also retires: after having done his pit stop, the car of the German driver loses a part of the drive shaft while rejoining the track. Michael Schumacher goes back to the pits, with his helmet underarm, looks at Willi Weber, who had advised him a few months ago to race for Ferrari, rather than McLaren, and tells him:

 

"Thank you so much Willi, Ferrari has truly been a wonderful suggestion".

 

Two laps later, it is Gerhard Berger's turn (ended up in a spin) and later on Pedro Lamy's one, knocked out on lap 44 by Martin Brundle, and Luca Badoer's one, stopped on track in a dangerous area with a broken gearbox. After lap 48, only eight drivers were still in the race: Hill, Villeneuve, Alesi, Coulthard, Häkkinen, Herbert, Brundle and Fisichella. During lap 50, Jacques Villeneuve takes the lead, taking advantage of the pit stop done by Damon Hill. But the dream of the Canadian only lasts for 8 laps: after his tyre change, Hill (who in the meantime pushes on the limit, so as to gain a sufficient margin on his rival to get back in first position) retakes the lead and will keep it until the end despite Villeneuve, on lap 67, completing the fastest lap. The operation succeeds and Damon Hill takes his fifth win of the season, crossing the finish line ahead of Jacques Villeneuve and Jean Alesi. David Coulthard ends four, taking advantage of Gerhard Berger's retirement, because of a spin, to overtake the Austrian; followed by Mika Häkkinen and Martin Brundle, forced to do an additional pit stop after a contact with the lapped Pedro Lamy. It was not Ferrari's day. Schumacher and Irvine go back home from their North American trip without any satisfaction. Full points, however, for Damon Hill, strolling in front of everyone. The son of Graham Hill has reclaimed his status as big favorite for the world title. Eighteenth win of the 35-year-old Englishman's career, his fifth of the season. Now, the Williams driver is 21 points clear of the second, Jacques Villeneuve, in the standing. Who takes him over? A revolution would need to happen. Even his Canadian teammate, beaten at home, also on a psychological level, should give up on his dreams of glory. But above all, the Canadian Grand Prix, which broke the attendance record with 228.000 paying people for the three racing days, has confirmed, once again - assuming that proof were needed - the supremacy of Williams. The English team took the third 1-2 since the beginning of the championship. Despite using different strategies (Hill two pit stops, Villeneuve only one), the team directed by Patrick Head has crushed all its rivals.

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Speed, power, reliability, on a circuit where on lap 49 of the 69 laps scheduled saw only eight cars racing. It quickly was clear that this time there would be no surprises. At the start, Hill and Villeneuve, in order, went away like two furies. Only Benetton has tried to resist, with Alesi and Berger in the role of chasers never able to catch up. The Frenchman held strong without making the slightest mistake while the Austrian, now used to DNFs (it was the third consecutive one in Montreal and the sixth one out of eight races disputed), ended up sideways on track after a spectacular spin, in which he let the engine turn off. In short, Hill's success was never questioned. Taking the lead, Damon took a significant advantage on Villeneuve, dismaying the fans of the young home champion who were hoping to see quite another show. The 25-year-old Jacques took the lead of the race for only eight laps, while Hill stopped for the first of his two pit stops. After the next one, Villeneuve stayed at the second position. And if he came close in the end, it is only because Damon controlled the situation slowing down the pace of his Williams. At the back there was no emotions, also because the gaps were such as not to allow close duels. Flash in the pan for both Jordans which were lighter for having loaded less fuel; the slow McLarens which have still scored points with the fourth place of Coulthard and the fifth place of Häkkinen. Brundle took a prize finishing sixth because he was disputing his 150th Grand Prix. But the Englishman, even on this occasion, did not fail to stand out for his harshness: he kicked out the poor Lamy with the Minardi, crashing into him. And he got lucky because he managed to continue after stopping to change his damaged nose. Not a brilliant race either for Benetton, which - let's not forget it - has the same Renault engine as Williams. Jean Alesi, third, finished on the podium. But the Frenchman was hoping for a different race as well: a 54-second gap from the leader who slowed down in the end to avoid taking any risk, is not a great encouragement for the next races. But those leaving badly from the Notre Dame Island is above all Ferrari. This does not necessarily mean that the improvement has stopped, but it is still a fall from which it will be difficult to move on. Schumacher, down-to-earth, says: 

 

"I never dared to think of the title, now it would be insane to even dream of it".

 

After the celebrations of Barcelona, the virtual tears of Canada. A terrible cold shower on Ferrari, who despite never having opened the doors to overconfidence, was hoping for another result. The list of troubles that have affected the team from Maranello is similar to a war report. Schumacher remained stationary on track at the moment of the formation lap because of a fuel pressure issue, most certainly due to an electrical failure. Then the engine turned on, but the German was forced to start last. When Michael tried to catch up, he found himself struggling with the brakes that were not well-balanced (and for this reason many people have passed him). Finally, he retired after having done his refuelling and tyre change on lap 41: before the pit lane exit, he lost the right drive shaft. Far shorter even, the story of Eddie Irvine: a rear suspension was broken on his car. Schumacher, laconic and disenchanted, comments:

 

"These are the races".

 

Then, turning to a friend, he adds: 

 

"But the car was perfect".

 

His sense of humor is not lacking even in the worst moments. And, indeed, Montreal's race was an absolute one of the most negative races of the team from Maranello in recent times. Especially since that reliability, which was brought like a badge of honor expecting highest performance, was lacking. 

 

"I wasn't expecting so many troubles and all at once, but what's important right now is not to give up and to continue working with conviction on the important developments planned at the hands of the team. I don't know why I've lost the drive shaft at the pit lane exit, maybe I made the wheels skid too much after the stop. But there is always the inconvenience of the clutch which gets stuck sometimes and I wanted to avoid it".

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A very disappointed Irvine who gives this explanation on his DNF: 

 

"It happened all of a sudden, on the right, without any apparent reason. A shame as the car was valid. I was comfortably keeping the pace of Alesi, although I had a lot of fuel in the tank as I had planned to do only one stop".

 

A few words from Jean Todt, whom, if he is used to winning, as he said in Spain, has also obviously the habit of losing: 

 

"The situation couldn't be worse than this. The qualifying results had made us hope for a good result. Instead, we had a series of almost unbelievable problems, some of them had previously occurred, but completely new for the suspension strut on Irvine's car and the drive shaft of Schumacher's car. At the moment it is difficult to find explanations. In Maranello, we will try to find valid solutions for the future". 

 

Ferrari will do tests at Imola on Monday, 24 June, and on Tuesday, 25 June 1996, before the French Grand Prix. In the plans, there are other important changes on the F310, after the raised nose, and some new technical upgrades. They will work on the aerodynamics (after the raised nose, there are the flat floor to be revised, the diffuser and the rear wing with different designs), but the most important part will concern the clutch, which has been modified. Its faulty operation could be one of the reasons which have caused the drive shaft to break. When Schumacher stopped at the pits to change his tyres, the engagement of the first gear may have been so dry that it caused the collapse of one part of the transmission, more than the following but limited skidding of the rear wheels. Regarding the failure of the suspension strut, the reasons could be many, last but not least, changing the set-up of the car with the new nose. And in the meantime, the dreams of being part of the title fight have practically vanished. Hill is 21 points clear of his teammate Villeneuve and as many as 27 points clear of Schumacher. The Englishman could safely finish second for at least six times, behind the German, in the next eight races and still remain the championship leader. Mathematics is a condemnation, and the argument is always the same: when you have to chase and there is anxiety, everything becomes harder. The failure of the suspension strut (which is made of carbon fiber) and the one of the drive shaft are quite serious, and raise concerns. 

 

"These things happen. Even to ourselves. Think of Monte-Carlo. We could have won, we nearly won, and we were left dry. I don't think that with this setback Ferrari can be forgotten as a rival. Actually, it is often exactly how you go forward when you recover. You get a striking result and the next time, perhaps, there is the thud. But what matters is to be competitive. The cars from Maranello are competitive and I'm afraid that they will improve even more".

 

These are the words of Frank Williams. It is not clear, when the rivals somehow justify the setbacks of others, if this is about diplomacy or something else. Of course, it is difficult to explain how a car that wins big in Spain, can retire ingloriously in the following race. And yet, Ferrari seems to have gone back light years, losing that reliability which it had found at the beginning of the season. In Barcelona, under the rain, Schumacher was 4 seconds a lap faster than the rest. The mechanical parts on that occasion were not solicited. When you are going at low speed, everything becomes easier, and the driver's skills often play a key role. 

 

"But even I could not have gone so fast in the wet if the car had not seconded me".

 

Said Schumacher. So what happened in Montreal? How do you justify so many troubles? The issue with the fuel pump at the start; the balance of the brakes which was running on alternating current. Then the failure, with the loss of the part of the left drive shaft. This on the single-seater of the German. And the collapse of the front left suspension strut on Irvine's Ferrari? 

 

"I swear I didn't hit anywhere".

 

Says Eddie Irvine. Both guilty parts are brought to Maranello. Maybe Jean Todt, who is the first one to leave Canada, has them in his suitcase. They will undergo thorough examinations. And Ferrari, when they will manage to discover the problem, will try to take action. Even if now the opportunity to be at least close to Williams and Damon Hill, launched towards the title, is gone. At the pits of Williams, actually, Damon Hill screams, as if he had freed himself from a nightmare:

 

"It was a great race. I pushed as hard as I could, during each lap. The car was fantastic. I feel great, I can also thank the fact that here I didn't have much pressure on me, and I could work well in setting up my single-seater during the whole weekend. This time, all eyes were on Villeneuve. The championship? A big step forward, but we're just halfway through the season. Schumacher is always scary, even if he is far away".

 

Jacques Villeneuve replies, rather disappointed coming into the pits:

 

"I made a mistake, because I had too much fuel loaded and I was afraid to damage the brakes since the car was heavy. So, I was careful when it was actually time to attack. Then, I lost some seconds because of Montermini's off-track and in some slow overtakes. In short, I didn't play my cards right. The World Championship? I don't want to think about it right now, we will see later what will happen".


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