#597 1996 Japanese Grand Prix

2022-12-27 23:00

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#1996, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#597 1996 Japanese Grand Prix

Tuesday 24 September 1996 Michael Schumacher is the fastest in the tests carried out on the track at Estoril (1'21"58), but the real surprise comes fr


On Tuesday, September 24th, 1996, Michael Schumacher is the fastest in the tests carried out on the track of Estoril (1'21"58), but the real surprise is the Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, who tests with Benetton and sets the second-fastest time, in 1 '22"22. Behind him, Alesi with 1'22"28. The following day, for the first time, Michael Schumacher and his inseparable Indian guru Valbir Singh confess publicly and talk about their working relationship. In a report made for the Italian television on the circuit of Estoril, the World Champion underlines the role and importance of his coach, physiotherapist, dietician and also confessor, says Schumacher of Valbir Singh, who according to many may represent the secret of the driver's success, personally taking care of his preparation physical, nutrition and also the psychological balance:


"It helps me keep fit".


During filming in Portugal, Schumacher and Valbir Singh can be seen carefully choosing the diet and planning the driver's athletic training. While waiting for the last Grand Prix of the World Championship to take place, the most awaited hit of the Formula 1 driver market comes when no one expects it. On Friday, September 27th, 1996, during the afternoon, Twr Arrows officially announced the signing of Damon Hill for 1997. Thus concluding what risked becoming a long end-of-season series. But that does not explain the choice of the English driver. It is true that the leader of the world standings no longer had the possibility of being hired by a top team, but at least one of the teams still being talked about, namely Jordan, would have guaranteed something more concrete. It is evidently a commercial operation: Hill had enough money, and his new team will almost certainly be able to boast the #1 in his car next year. Certainly, the Japanese are behind the agreement. In fact, Arrows has been testing for some time the Bridgestone tires that would like to work alongside Goodyear (they will have to be able to supply at least four teams) and aim to snatch the Yamaha engines from Tyrrell. The Japanese industry is once again focusing on Formula 1 for its image and intends to invest heavily in the coming years. It is no secret that Honda (for now linked to Ligier through Mugen) is also preparing its return. Great. Immediately. However, we must not forget that the Twr Arrows, otherwise known as Footwork (the latter is the name under which they entered the World Championship since a Japanese entrepreneur, then bankrupt, had bought it from Jackie Oliver), has many ambitions. The current owner, Tom Walkinshaw, is one of the best-known figures of the racing scene. 


Scottish, within the last twenty years Walkinshaw has operated at great speed both in the industrial field and in that of competitions. Managing Jaguar, he won in the sports-prototype world championship, then he collaborated with Volvo in super-touring, last year he built the chassis of the Porsche GT1s that won at Le Mans. He has a joint venture factory with Volvo in Sweden, he is co-owner of Aston Martin and its Formula 1 workshop and other operations in Leafield, Oxfordshire is considered one of the best equipped, with cutting edge technology. In 1994, this enterprising businessman was also a 25% shareholder in the Benetton Formula, in the year of Schumacher's first title. Then, when Briatore bought Ligier, he went on to manage the French team, but at the beginning of the year he bought his own team. And he called the no less well-known Daniele Audetto to head the marketing operations, once sporting director of Fiat Corse in rallies and on the track with Lancia, then at Ferrari and again at Lamborghini. Tom Walkinshaw, solid appearance, arms worth of a weightlifter, has also had some misadventures in the environment and is considered an unscrupulous element. But at the same time, it manages to involve important sponsors and this year it received a large loan from Power Horse, an Austrian company that produces, among other things, energy drinks, against which Ferrari has opened a dispute because it uses a prancing horse in its trademark. In any case, the owner of the Twr (who this year had Verstappen and Rosset drive his single-seaters, the best result a sixth place by the Dutchman in Argentina) has been included among the fifty richest men in England in the latest rankings. Damon Hill says:


"I signed because Walkinshaw and I have the same goals, to fight for the World Championship. I hope to win this year, and then I'll try again with the new team. The potential is all there. I was looking for a dynamic and motivated team, I found it. I will put at their disposal all my experience in setting up cars and the race itself".


Montezemolo, Michael Schumacher and Todt, in Paris for the World Motor Show, talk with cautious optimism about the next championship, waiting for the Hill-Villeneuve fight for the title to end on Sunday, October 13th, 1996, in Suzuka. Nonetheless, the first act of 1997 Formula 1 took place on Tuesday, October 1st, 1996, on the track that hosted the recent Portuguese Grand Prix: Ralf Schumacher's debut on the Jordan that the twenty-one-year-old German will race next year. During a rehearsal stop, the World Champion's younger brother spoke about the present and the future.


"I'm very sorry that Hill didn't want to join my team. Maybe he did it for the money. Or he doesn't like the Schumachers. I don't know. In any case, I would have been happy to learn something from him, who is one of the most experienced drivers. Since Jordan hasn't yet communicated who will join me, I'd like Martin Brundle to stay with us, a guy who has a lot of experience, too".


Obviously, Ralf Schumacher is asked what advantage his surname had, in making him land so quickly in Formula 1.


"They didn't take me because my name is Schumacher, but because I was strong in the Japanese Formula 3000. Over there, they are at the top of the standings. During the first tests, at Silverstone, they told me I had to be fast, otherwise I would have stayed at home".


On his first day, also spent adjusting the car, Ralf completed 52 laps, performing two spins without consequences. On the other hand, in his fastest lap, he set a time of 1'24"51. Not bad if we consider that Barrichello - in qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix - had set a time of 1'22"205 and that Morbidelli had lapped in 1'23"550. In the meantime, there is news that the new Stewart team could announce the names of its two drivers by the end of the week. One will undoubtedly be the Danish Jan Magnussen. In anticipation of the next Grand Prix, would you ever go from Canada to Japan, making a quick stop in Bologna? Of course not: however, if your name was Jacques Villeneuve, you would have to make the detour to the Emilian capital. And so, here he is, in the chaos of the ceramic fair, the little Formula 1 knight, made even thinner by the bodies of the three bodyguards who protect him from the enthusiasm of the crowd. Black boots, chequered shirt outside the jeans, Villeneuve arrives from Montreal, he is in the city of Balanzone due to sponsorship obligations: the Modena-based tile factory that furnished the new Williams headquarters in Grove, England. In the Mirage stand, the driver signs autographs for over an hour and satisfies the curiosity of the public and reporters. And it reveals an unknown aspect of itself, claustrophobia. For the television interviews this easy-going boy who will try - on the Suzuka track - to snatch the world title from Hill is escorted into a small room: he remains there for a few seconds, then turns pale, trembles, sweats, says:


"No, it's hot here, there are too many people, I hate small and crowded places, let's get back on stage right away".


Which is also not an Eden of coolness and spaciousness. However, Jacques is at ease there and, in excellent Italian, sipping mineral water, often reviving the short hair already undermined by baldness with the fingers of his left hand, sometimes adjusting his glasses on his nose, smiles at those who wish him a great duel in Japan with Hill and replies:


"For God's sake, woe betide you if the two of us duel, it will mean that Damon is world champion. I hope there is no challenge, that a mechanical failure stops my rival right away. Otherwise, I would have no chance of making the World Championship my own".


Yes, to conquer it, Villeneuve must come first and rely on a disastrous race from his opponent and teammate: sixth place is enough to take Schumacher’s Formula 1 throne.


"I can win, but it's difficult for Damon not to take at least one point: however, you never know. No, I don't think he will play dirty looking for the accident that will end my race and his. If it rains? Better not, there are cars faster than the Williams in the wet. But with the rain, the risk of ending up off the track increases and who knows, it could be Hill's turn".


The little Canadian is not afraid to dream in public, and repeats:


"Damon's not one to play foul, outside the car he's nice, inside I don't know".


This division between inside and outside the car is curious. The distant plot woven by fate is curious:


"I was eleven years old, I was in the mountains in Pra Loup, France and Damon's sister was my babysitter".


A little controversy:


"In some tests, my partner was given better tires".


It is immediately soothed by the observation:


"However, in the race, we have always been treated as equals".


The fateful question arises from the audience:


"When will you race with Ferrari, like his father?"


Jacques resents being questioned every time about the legendary parent and replies:


"I don't race to imitate dad, it's not important to be in a Ferrari".


They ask him if he considers Schumacher a point of arrival, he implicitly replies no:


"He's an opponent I enjoy fighting with".


And on Hill's decision to move to Arrows, he comments:


"It depends on what they promised him, it's a choice you can make for money and with the intention of retiring at the end of the year. I want to continue for a long time and win the World Championship".


Once the sponsor was satisfied, the little Canadian who only fears small rooms full of people resumed his journey to Japan and, who knows, to glory. The fate of Formula 1 drivers seems, in some way, linked to Italy. And so, after T-shirts, caps, and glasses, even the Michael Schumacher perfumes pass through Sanremo. In fact, the company from Sanremo obtained exclusive rights for Italy for the Michael Schumacher Collection, a line of perfumes that will invade Italian shops within two months. The supply was awarded to Ditta Immagine, by Luciano Andreoli. A young company - born in 1986 - in Sanremo to operate in the field of distribution of fashion accessories, sunglasses, and perfumery, initially operating both on the Italian and French Riviera. Luciano Andreoli says:


"To have this exclusive, which fills us with pride, we had to work very hard since we were in competition with other important companies in the sector".


Andreoli is also keen to explain how a small company in the Sanremo area, geographically decentralized with respect to the Italian metropolises, can secure, with intuition and entrepreneurship, new and prestigious commercial channels that create employment. The new line of perfumes will be in the best Italian shops in conjunction with the Christmas holidays. The colour of the packaging is, inevitably, the same red as the Ferrari one. Meanwhile, Schumacher continues his relationship with the Riviera di Ponente. Resident in Monte-Carlo, he does not spend much time in the Principality. As soon as his commitments with Formula 1 allow him, he rushes to Arma di Taggia to drive go-karts on the Pista of Oleandri, managed by Guido Mandracci. His wife is also a loyal customer of Annamode, a boutique in Sanremo. In the past, Schumacher had nurtured the idea of moving to the city of flowers, commissioning a real estate agency to find him a villa. However, the deal did not go through. But the motor champion continued - and continues - to frequent the Riviera di Ponente as always. And who knows if he did not have a hand in the decision linked to the assignment of the supplies of his brands to the two Sanremo companies. Changing the subject, a few days before the Japanese Grand Prix, and exactly on Monday, October 7th, 1996, a headline in the French sports newspaper L'Équipe sounded the alarm:


"L'Italia voit rouge".


The double meaning, referring to Ferrari and its fans, arises from the rumours according to which the cars from Maranello could abandon their legendary colour next year. Indeed, these are not absolute inventions, but it takes a lot to completely change the traditional look: it is scheduled, if anything, a discreet restyling. Before launching it, however, Luca Montezemolo and his staff await clarity on the recent developments of the decree against the hidden advertising of cigarette brands. Because that is the only real cause for alarm. The Italian Health Minister, Rosy Bindi, who proposed it, reiterates its intention to adopt drastic limitations and controls in Italy too.


"I don't think they will put the sporting world in crisis, nor in particular that of Formula 1. And in any case, it will be a problem for other ministers".


The reality is different: if the advertising restrictions were to extend to a European level, the big stables would see a major source of income fall dramatically. Ferrari is directly interested because a tobacco sponsor is the origin of the possible new look. Marlboro has divorced from the McLarens, which in 1997 will bear the name of another tobacco company, a German one, and will become silver, abandoning the twenty-year white-orange colours. Marlboro, the wealthiest sponsor of the Motor Circus, while remaining present in a lesser form in other teams, has decided to concentrate most investments on Ferrari. To which the American multinational would bring, it is said, some tens of billions. It is normal to hypothesize that a higher demand for an image corresponds to increased spending. But Philip Morris executives are realistic. Removing the red light from Ferrari would be counterproductive, it would create discontent among the army of fans. Such an unpopular advertising operation would have a negative boomerang effect, retaliating against the very interests of the lenders. The Ferrari will remain red, as always. At most, it will carry an increased logo on the bodywork. And perhaps some white will appear, in combination with the colour red. But it would not be an absolute novelty: over the years we have seen cars leaving the Maranello workshops painted differently. Apart from a few single-seaters bought by customers at the beginning of Ferrari's history, the most famous of the custom-built cars in fifty years of racing remains the 1964 158 F1 with V8 engine, entrusted to John Surtees. In a moment of anger, Enzo Ferrari himself decided to have it painted white and blue, with a brushstroke of yellow, to have the Englishman (World Champion that year) race at Watkins Glen and in Mexico with the colours and the US licence. The Modenese manufacturer removed the national colour (red, precisely, because the official ones would be black and canary yellow) in a protest against the FIA which refused to homologate a sports car. Having got what he wanted, he went back to red. 


Other times we have seen the racing cars from Maranello with white and even yellow borders. Since 1988, white and tricolour stripes have appeared on more than one occasion. As late as 1993, there was an eye-catching white band on the engine cowling. Now Ferrari, which is currently negotiating the multi-year contract with Marlboro to ensure greater economic peace of mind in the near future, will have to concede something. Apart from the prominent name of the sponsor (after all, it already appeared seven times on the car that won in Barcelona, Spa and Monza) there will therefore be white and an eye-catching logo on the uniforms and overalls of the mechanics. And the agreement also covers other details, such as the presence of the drivers at Marlboro events. It is one of the elements that Schumacher, attentive to his personal freedom outside of racing, is evaluating before signing for 1998. Formula 1, like any more than other sports, is by now a huge business, that is, a worldwide business. Four days before the World Championship challenge between Hill and Villeneuve, Japan is only talking about economic issues. Obviously, the interest is cantered on the passage of the leader of the championship standings to Arrows in 1997. After the announcement of Yamaha's agreement with Tom Walkinshaw's team who hired Damon, Monday, October 7th, 1996, it was the turn of Bridgestone, the company that will supply the tires. Vying with Goodyear for supremacy on international markets, the Japanese brand, which also owns the American Firestone, presents its plans of attack:


"Together with Arrows, immediately starting in 1997, we will equip two or three other teams. We have done extensive testing, and we think we are very competitive. We hope to win soon".


The investment will exceed lire, to support its teams and technological development. Two more rivals, Yamaha, and Bridgestone, for whoever has ambitions for next year. Even Ferrari, linked to Goodyear like Williams, will have to be careful: in Formula 1 the tires are often of decisive importance, sometimes they count more than a few spare horsepower in the engine. But it is not only at the highest level that the turnover linked to the motor circus extends. The commercial network developed around racing with objects (models, prints, various accessories), clothing, publishing and souvenirs is incredibly widespread. You can find anything and everything in the most unexpected places. And there are surprises. Like the one that captures a group of insiders on their way to Suzuka, with a stop in Honolulu, the Hawaiian Islands. In a shop in the Ala Moana shopping centre, you can buy the most varied objects of fans' desire. In well-finished showcases are replicas of Ayrton Senna's helmet (regularly distributed by the family of the deceased champion) at $5.000 each, Piquet's when he raced at Indianapolis and Alex Nannini's overalls and helmet in the Benetton colours. And also Villeneuve's helmet, which seems to be sold by his manager Craig Pollock. However, the most important piece of the collection, presented with ambition by the owner of the restaurant, who wears an official yellow Ferrari shirt from last year, is truly incredible: the steering wheel of this year's Ferrari F310 is sold for the modest sum of 18,900 dollars, complete with aeronautical buttons and electronic display. One could think of a sensational fake, however, the signature of the German champion (which turns out to be fake) can be seen on the steering wheel. How this precious piece could have ended up in Hawaii (Ferrari, by the way, is notoriously very jealous of its technical secrets) is a mystery. The steering wheel is however inserted among the material of the Michael Schumacher Collection, which belongs to the champion's manager, Willi Weber. The name of Ferrari, also given to the companies of Magnum PI in Honolulu, is a myth in those islands. So much so that a local coffee manufacturer has seen fit to take possession of the brand: in supermarkets, complete with black writing on yellow and the Prancing Horse, Hawaiian Mountain Gold is sold, coming from the Ferrari Coffee Plantation. President of the company is a beautiful girl: Nikki Ferrari. Meanwhile, in Suzuka, the two adversaries, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, vying for victory in the World Championship on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix, seem to have put their grit aside. But maybe it is just a pre-tactic. On Sunday, October 13th, 1996, tension was high on the track: inevitable, given the stakes. Hill, from Hong Kong where he spent a couple of days on holiday, is relaxed, seemingly very relaxed.


"This is not the race of my career. I don't need to prove anything. I've shown my value as a driver over the past four years, with a series of victories that speak for themselves. Furthermore, in terms of pure mathematics, I am a clear favourite with nine points ahead of my rival".


The Londoner claims he has not yet thought of a tactic for the Japanese Grand Prix, which will close a season in which he scored seven wins.


"At the moment, I just want to take pole position. This is the first goal. We'll see. It also depends on what others will do. The idea would be to score points rather than looking for first place. But I don't want to be considered a fool. Jacques, on the other hand, must absolutely win and risk as much as possible: he has no alternatives".


Jacques Villeneuve replies:


"My advantage is that I have nothing to lose. If I finish second in the championship, I've already accomplished a feat. Until now no one, making their debut in Formula 1, had succeeded in this. I regret that I made a mistake in Brazil and Monaco, otherwise the situation would be very different now. But I don't worry too much. And if it's Damon who takes home the title, that's fine with me. He had a great season, and he deserves it. I can definitely do it again next year".


Between diplomacy and some acid digs, the two opponents agree on a consideration. They both say:


"If there is anyone who will be able to referee our challenge, it is Schumacher. He is always capable of providing surprises".


The Japanese bookmakers, however, are also offering some chances to the Benetton couple, that is to Alesi and Berger, and to the two from McLaren, Häkkinen and Coulthard. We are talking about placings, of course, because the Williams are still considered unbeatable. Among other things, the English constructor, Frank Williams, who dominated the 1996 season, reiterates his intentions, with an obvious sentence:


"We give Hill and Villeneuve the same material, may the best one win. After taking the Constructors' World Championship, we don't really care who takes the Drivers' one. It's their private matter".


Schumacher, called into question by Hill and Villeneuve, does not answer. He will speak on Thursday, but only about his own plans and those of Ferrari. Jean Todt, head of Gestione Sportiva, goes a little further and says:


"Based on the data we have, the Suzuka track could be suitable for our car".


This is what will be understood on Friday morning, in the first free practice sessions. Meanwhile, the French manager anticipates part of his plans for the future. Once the World Championship is over, Ferrari will carry out tests at Estoril, Portugal, and perhaps also at other European tracks. Michael Schumacher will not participate in these tests. The champion deserved a long holiday, also to be close to his pregnant wife Corinna for the first months of 1997. Aerodynamic tests on the single-seater model designed by the team directed by John Barnard, on a 1 scale, will begin on Monday at Fiorano. Todt assures that the new car will be ready around Christmas and that it will run on Ferrari's private track before New Year's Eve. And Michael, after relaxation, will have to work during the holidays. The Formula 1 World Championship is experiencing its last intense thrills in Japan. A season full of novelties and spectacular moments. The family fight between Hill and Villeneuve, with the Canadian as the great protagonist in the finale, gave life to a championship that had only one flaw: the dominance of a single team, Williams. Superiority balanced only in part by the recovery of Ferrari, but also reinforced by the impasse of Benetton and the decline of McLaren, without success for more than three years. On a technical level, the 1996 cars showed further progress, despite regulatory bottlenecks. On the human one, apart from the confirmation of a great Schumacher, the only extraordinary novelty came from Jacques Villeneuve. Driver of great value, even if facilitated by a competitive car. But it is precisely at the level of drivers that Formula 1 has set the pace. The best and most experienced are overpaid, while behind the five or six best there is a vacuum. For this reason, the transfer market is languishing, many teams struggling to complete next year's staff, with twenty-two places available. 


The top teams are settled, without major changes. Ferrari has confirmed Schumacher and Irvine, Benetton remains (at least for now) with Berger and Alesi, McLaren with Häkkinen and Coulthard. The only surprising blow was Hill's transfer to Arrows, who also hired the Brazilian Diniz (with his own money) as an economic matter. The new team set up by Jackie Stewart will have the almost rookie Magnussen, who intends to support the recycled Barrichello. Jordan, after taking Ralf Schumacher, brother of the champion, has difficulty forming the pair. After a ridiculous attempt to snatch Berger away from Benetton, he will delay the retirement of the Englishman Brundle, adding a Frenchman who will satisfy the engine supplier Peugeot. Sauber kept Johnny Herbert, Ligier renewed with Panis. In total, five drivers would still be free: two from Minardi, one from Sauber, Ligier and Tyrrell, which has only the Finn Salo. The names in the predicate to cover the gaps are that of the Argentine newcomer Norberto Fontana (Sauber), the Japanese Nakano (Ligier), the transalpine Collard or Bouillon (Jordan). Mystery over Minardi, who would like to hire Giancarlo Fisichella full-time, the prized piece among young people. Provided that Flavio Briatore (who now pulls the strings of Benetton, Ligier and Minardi) does not insert the Roman into the French team, trying to get the Faenza team to bring money from the Brazilian Rosset and the Portuguese Lamy. The truth is that the minor formulas no longer offer spare parts, and in Formula 1, only drivers able to pay for the season can access backup roles. The Italian school, which could boast up to fourteen seasonal appearances in the circus, has shut down. Apart from Fisichella, the only candidate now is Jarno Trulli, but only as a possible test driver for Benetton or Ligier. Villeneuve, indicating the five strongest drivers of the moment, replies:


"Schumacher, Hill, probably me, if you allow me, then Alesi and Fisichella. I think Giancarlo is truly one of the best, even if he hasn't had the opportunity to show it yet".


Important evaluation. One wonders why Ferrari missed the opportunity, given that Fisichella was in the orbit of Maranello. They insist on Irvine, but if Schumacher were to leave, an heir would be missing. Strange strategies. During the Japanese weekend, Briatore pronounces a sibylline sentence:


"October is long, anything could still happen". 


What is the dynamic manager preparing? Maybe Alesi or Berger for sale? Waiting to know the future, once again the Formula 1 World Championship, after wandering around four continents for nine months, ends in Japan, with the last race starting on Sunday, October 13th, 1996. An early rise for the fans, absurd for a championship that is above all European. So much so that the FIA, finally on the right track, plans to bring the conclusion in 1997 to Spain or Portugal. Facing each other, in the decisive match, as is now well known, two sons of the same family: Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. A 36-year-old expert driver, against a twenty-five-year-old, aggressive, unscrupulous, and uninhibited. The Englishman, even if he does not admit it, is risking his career, the Canadian tries to steal Michael Schumacher's role as the first star of the motor circus. Two different personalities, dominated by the shadow of fathers who were once true champions, the other a mythical and inimitable character even if he never boasted a world title. It is the seventeenth time that the championship, from 1950 to today, has been disputed in the last race. Only on five occasions has the classification leader been ousted by his challenger so far. And in five championships, the favourite has also won the decisive race. Among these, in 1962 and 1968, Graham Hill, Damon's father, conquered his two world titles with resounding final successes. But Graham himself, in 1964, with a five-point lead, in Mexico City, was beaten. A daring conclusion: the Englishman was put out of action, buffered by Bandini. Clark, who could have won the title, broke the engine a few laps from the end and Surtees won the championship with Ferrari. On Sunday, however, Damon's chances, with a nine-length margin over Jacques, are enormous. Villeneuve will have to win at all costs and hope that Hill does not place in the top six. One chance in a thousand, considering the performance and reliability of the Williams. Unless external factors intervene, there is no conspiracy against one or the other. Frank Williams, owner of the stable concerned, assumes an attitude that is nothing short of glacial:


"I'm not more excited than normal. The only thing I care about is to provide both with the best material. One of the two must win, for Williams".


Words that want to hide the resentment that the English builder certainly feels for Hill. Just in the days leading up to the Grand Prix, the real reasons for the divorce between the team and its driver leaked out. Damon wanted a £17.000.000 salary for 1997. Williams told him to think it over for a few days. The driver reappeared with a claim for £15.000.000, plus £2.000.000 in benefits. And he was sent away. Surprises are therefore not excluded, knowing the past of the champion team, which has sometimes thrown away possible successes so as not to give the drivers too much satisfaction. And even if Damon and Jacques announce correct and sporting behaviour, if there were to be decisive overtaking attempts between the two, both will not find the door open. On the contrary. Among the various complications that the race may involve, there is also the threat of bad weather. It rains for a long time on Friday and the forecasts are not favourable. In the event of a wet track, the risks of not winning or not finishing the race would be greater for both. But in this case, the greatest margins of success would be for Hill. Without forgetting that at least four competitors, Alesi and Berger for Benetton, Häkkinen and Coulthard for McLaren, who have remained winless since the beginning of the season, will aim to disturb the head-to-head for the title. After all, while preferring Hill to Villeneuve (better an old and all in all a bit discredited champion than a world championship in the hands of an inconvenient opponent in all respects) the others do not care about the fight for the world championship. Opinion that is expressed clearly and unequivocally by Michael Schumacher:


"Everyone is talking about our possible role as World Championship judges. The truth is that we don't care about this. Assuming I can win, I will do it for Ferrari. If the result favours one or the other, it doesn't concern me".


It is the rule of Formula 1, contrary to that of the famous Musketeers of the Queen. Here, the saying one for all and all for one does not apply, just the more selfish, each to his own. Even in the last race of the season, the Williams drivers dominated qualifying, inflicting heavy gaps on their opponents; this time it was Jacques Villeneuve who got the better, beating teammate Damon Hill by 0.4 seconds. Third is Michael Schumacher, one second slower than the pole position time; followed by Gerhard Berger, Mika Häkkinen, Eddie Irvine, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, David Coulthard, Jean Alesi, and Martin Brundle, who closes the top ten. At the bottom of the group, Giovanni Lavaggi remains out of the 107%, not qualifying for the race. Sunday, October 13th, 1996, the first starting procedure was cancelled because David Coulthard's McLaren remained stationary on the starting grid; the race was then shortened by one lap and the cars carried out a new formation lap, with the Scotsman lining up at the back of the pack. At the start Jacques Villeneuve started very badly, slipping to sixth position; in front of the Canadian, in addition to Hill, Gerhard Berger, Mika Häkkinen, Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine. Further back, Jean Alesi immediately retired, crashing into the barriers after sliding on a curb: the French driver, squeezed by the two Ferraris, put a wheel in the grass and spun against the guardrails. During lap 3, Gerhard Berger, who started with a three-stop strategy and therefore was more out of fuel than the Englishman, attempted a rather risky overtaking on Damon Hill, with the only result being a rear-end collision; the Williams driver proceeded undisturbed, while the Austrian was forced into the pits to repair his car. The Austrian driver restarts in P14. Meanwhile, Jacques Villeneuve gets stuck behind Eddie Irvine, overtaking him only on lap 12; at this point the Canadian begins to score a series of fastest laps in the race, without however gaining other positions during the first series of pit stops. Starting from lap 14, Jacques Villeneuve returned to the pits, then Schumacher, Hill, Häkkinen and Irvine. In the pit-stop, the German is quicker and takes second place behind the English driver. The second part of the race saw no position swaps, with Damon Hill continuing to lead ahead of Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen (passed by the Ferrari driver during the first set of supplies) and Jacques Villeneuve; the Canadian himself opens the second series of pit stops, returning to the pits on lap 32, after hearing strange vibrations coming from the rear of his car. Villeneuve comes in slowly with a slightly sagging tyre from a mini puncture. After replacing the tires, the Canadian restarted regularly, also setting the fastest lap in the race; however, during lap 37, the right rear wheel of his Williams comes off: Villeneuve's car swerves and the right rear wheel overtakes the car at breakneck speed, and flies over the nets in the crowd, without hitting anyone. 


Damon Hill is thus officially World Champion; at this point the Englishman limited himself to administering his advantage over his pursuers, winning with less than two seconds ahead of the German. Fourth was Gerhard Berger, who hit Eddie Irvine on lap 39, putting him out of the race; the points zone is closed by Martin Brundle - in the last race of his career - and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. As far as the Constructors' World Championship is concerned, thanks to good performances at the end of the year, Ferrari manages to overtake Benetton by 2 points and takes second place. Life is strange. One that has always been hidden behind a door, seems to be destined for anonymity, for suffering. Then everything changes and he becomes a hero. This is the case of Damon Hill, Formula 1 World Champion. The only son of art, in the history of motoring and perhaps also of most sports, who has ever managed to repeat his father's feats. Graham had won the title in 1962 and 1968. Twenty-eight years later, the thirty-six-year-old Londoner perpetuated the family legend, winning the world title at the end of a season that was both dominated and tight at the same time. But in the end, Hill won his battle with Villeneuve big time. A flawless, full success. First in the Japanese Grand Prix, victory number 21 in his career, the eighth of the 1996 World Championship. He crossed the finish line ahead of Schumacher's Ferrari and Häkkinen's McLaren. A result that allowed Damon to achieve his goal and the Maranello team to end on a high note with the second place in the Constructors' World Championship, ahead of Benetton. Ferrari had not climbed this high since 1990, thanks to the German driver's three victories, four pole positions, a series of performances that in the swing of joys and sorrows brought the balance sheet into net surplus. He defeated Jacques Villeneuve. Most of the time, everything has gone well for him so far. In Suzuka, however, everything went wrong. Right from the start, wrong. From pole position to sixth place, a faded dream. 


Then the useless, desperate, run-up and finally, incredible hoax, off the track with one wheel, the right rear, unscrewed after the pit-stop and tire change. Suspicions of a possible boycott had been raised in Hill, now fleeing to Arrows, where next year he will bring the #1. If it had happened to Damon, there would have been a scandal. Instead, it happened to the Canadian. An oversight that often hit the Williams drivers. A wheel retainer clip either not in place or broken. And the tyre flew dangerously towards the crowd (fortunately no one was injured) together with the hopes of young Jacques. Nothing to say about the title of Damon Hill. He deserved it. But to get there, what an effort. Graham Hill, the father, was very nice in the family. Penniless, he had started out as a mechanic. But he liked racing and at the age of twenty, still without a licence, he had started going to the circuits. It took his best friend's death to get a job as a driver. He won the first World Championship with B.R.M. and the second with Lotus, just missing one, in between, left in the hands of Surtees and Ferrari, in 1964. In 1975 Graham Hill, who had already left racing setting up his own stable, died, along with engineers and mechanics, ending up with his plane on the roof of a golf club. All the money he earned went to pay widows because there was no insurance. He left his wife Bette and three children, Damon, Brigitte, and Samantha, almost poor. Damon was fifteen and hated his father and cars. There were only motorcycle photos in his room. To pay for a few races on two wheels, he delivered the mail. They sent him to the United States to earn his first money. Sweeping Dan Gurney and Phil Hill's garage. Then something happened. He found some dollars, went to Formula 3 school. He was fast. But in Formula 3000, ready, steady, go against a wall. The sad-faced, ferret-like boy's real fortune came when he was hired as a test driver at Williams. First Mansell left, then Senna died. And suddenly he found himself as the first guide.


"It's incredible. It's too much. I dedicate the title to the team, the mechanics, my wife Georgie, my children Oliver, Joshua, and Tabitha. I feel like a rocket on the ramp, ready to launch. I knew I would succeed. I'm proud. Also because I beat a strong teammate, an exceptional rookie who will be World Champion in the future".


Villeneuve did not curse bad luck.


"I tried, but I was screwed at the start. The engine didn't rev, I redid the procedure, the power kicked in, the wheels skidded. By then I had already lost. I could recover only if something happened to Hill. Instead, it went badly for me. It doesn't matter, I enjoyed it. The best memories of the season? The two successes on tracks I didn't know, keeping Schumacher behind at the Nürburgring and overtaking him on the outside at Estoril. Now I no longer feel any pressure. Next year I will be even stronger".


Villeneuve promises to be a protagonist for the 1997 season. Hill, reigning World Champion, will have to struggle with Arrows to seek victory number 22. If he succeeds, he will have consecrated the title. It is not known whether Michael Schumacher did his military service. He is certainly a specialist in what, in the barracks, are called water balloons. Rivers of water and other liquids at the Ferrari party, among faces hallucinated with fatigue and tension and (moderate) alcohol fumes. Michael Schumacher says:


"I'm happy, because we achieved all the goals set for ourselves. In the race, I also thought about attacking Hill. The strategy was right, but I didn't make it. After the pit-stop, I went out just over a second late. At the beginning I was fast, then I had to defend myself against Häkkinen's comeback. But that's okay, honestly, second place was the best we could aspire to. Now I'm taking a little holiday, then we'll get back to work. Who said we won't try to win the title next year? It won't be easy, but we will try. Ferrari has the potential to do that. Hill was good, he deserved it at the end of a good season. And I'm satisfied to be ahead of Benetton".


Jean Todt also appears happy. After drawing up a (positive) balance sheet for Ferrari, the French manager confesses that he has fallen in love.


"Her name is Natalie. She’s French. Flavio Briatore introduced her to me. He had come to Paris to have back surgery. I went to visit him and there was a friend of his. One evening we arranged dinner and another girl arrived. After two marriages and a son, Nicolas, who is in high school, I fell in love. And I am happy. But I don't want to confuse work with private life. I'm also taking some time off. But first we must make plans for the next few months".


Already on Monday, October 14th, 1996, in Fiorano, the aerodynamic technicians worked in the wind tunnel on a 1:3 scale model of the car for 1997.


"It will be ready between the 15th and 22nd of December. And it will shoot at Fiorano before New Year's. Now we have taken the first step, we are close to Wilhams. We still have to do the most difficult one, reach and overtake the winning team. Another step to take will be to strengthen the workforce".


Todt reveals no secrets (by the way: an investigation has been opened for Schumacher's steering wheel put up for sale in Honolulu for around 30.000.000. The champion's autograph on the piece discovered in Hawaii is said to be fake, but the steering wheel is real). However, it is known that Ferrari is looking for a technical director capable of coordinating all sectors in the best possible way, of managing the various activities. The name of Ross Brawn, currently at Benetton, always circulates. But it is not confirmed.


"In 1997 we will have the numbers #5 and #6 on the cars. We will continue to do our utmost, both in development and research, to find maximum reliability. This year, in five out of sixteen races, we have not collected any points. This explains the big difference in the standings with Williams. But there are some very positive notes, such as the one concerning the new V10 engine. No one at the debut has ever achieved so much with a new engine".


The plans regarding the engine have already been defined: going ahead with the latest, duly evolved version throughout the winter and in the first races. Version 2 already has many changes compared to the first model, shorter stroke, and wider V. But the next one will be even more advanced, a marvel of technology, they say. At the end of a carefree day, Schumacher also had a word of comfort for Irvine, who was thrown out by Berger while he was in fourth position.


"We're good together, and it's not true that he's not strong. He's the teammate who has been closest to me so far in terms of performance. You will see that next year, he will get some satisfactions".


Finally, the sentence said in a moment of bitterness (but heavy) pronounced by Briatore (Benetton), on his two drivers:


"They're two morons".


The Formula 1 World Championship ends in a great, carefree party. On the one hand Damon Hill, World Champion, with his wife Georgie, a serious photographer and friend, at the table of the Italian restaurant (with Japanese chefs) Campanella. On the other, Ferrari, in its entirety, a very happy group, to which Villeneuve, Coulthard and Salo were gradually added, with their hair completely shaved off, a pledge paid just before in the pits. The event lasts until late at night. In a karaoke room, directed by Michael Schumacher (joined by his younger brother Ralph) who chooses the songs to sing. Together with his track engineer, Ignazio Lunetta, Schumacher performs with skill, applauded. But the prize for golden pipes is awarded to the engineer Enzo Castorino, responsible for the engines on the cars of the German driver, who after going to get some sheet music performs like a rock star. The only exception in the program, a romantic theme played by Jean Todt (after the announcement of his engagement to a beautiful French girl) who performs in a workhorse of Frank Sinatra, the classic Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. It is probably also a tribute to the main sponsor of Ferrari. Meanwhile, Willi Weber, Schumacher's manager, says that the next talks on extending the contract that binds the driver to Ferrari to the whole of 1998 will take place at the end of the month.


"The negotiations will continue at the end of October in Maranello, once everyone has returned from Japan".


Declares Willi Weber, who categorically rejects, calling them just talk, the allegations that the talks could fail: under discussion, he says, there are now only small issues that concern technical aspects. Weber calls ‘crazy’ the rumours that Schumacher is in talks with McLaren-Mercedes for 1998. The German driver's contract with Ferrari, as is known, expires in 1997.


"I feel a bit out of phase. In recent days, I have partially neglected physical preparation. Now I'm going home and training seriously for a couple of weeks".


Michael Schumacher is like that, he leaves nothing to chance. It is useless to expect any surprises from the former World Champion. Will, planning, and a little stubbornness, are its strengths. So a self-respecting balance, after a season at Ferrari, must be presented by chapters, in precise succession. So, how did the championship, the relationship with Ferrari and everything around it go?


"Overall good, very good indeed. I honestly expected more problems at the beginning. Instead, we got off to a good start, then we had three difficult months, and then it ended on a crescendo. Four pole positions and three victories, second in the Constructors' World Championship and third in the Drivers' World Championship. Couldn't think of more. And our successes have been real, not just due to luck. It was a matter of car and driving, tactics and overall team".


What were the best moments, and what were the worst?


"The most beautiful day was in Monza. I will remember it for the rest of my life. The most frustrating was in Hungary, when I stopped with a trivial breakdown, after a long series of retirements due to lack of reliability. At that moment the team wasn't working, and I wasn't in great shape either. But people sometimes don't understand, they don't know: a trifle in Formula 1 is enough to go from triumph to defeat. We have to be stronger, in terms of consistency, in the future".


The good and bad sides of Ferrari.


"In Maranello I found an unexpected ability to react quickly, the desire to improve. This gives me hope for the future. I discovered the least pleasant side when things didn't go well, with enormous tension. But there is one very important thing. It's about the engine, the new V10. It was amazing. Robust, powerful, immediately at the top. I never expected this".


This is the past, a glimpse into the future.


"I have already seen the model of the new car. It's also beautiful. But looking is one thing, racing another. However, I’m convinced that it will be better than the F310, we must treasure the mistakes and problems we had to face. I’m convinced that we can be on strong attack mode for the 1997 World Championship. I think we will fight for the title. But we must work very well, be united, reach Williams who will still be the team to beat and keep the other teams away, a very difficult task".


Michael Schumacher will be a father for the first time early next year. Could this change anything?


"I will certainly be a more faithful man and would like to spend a little more time with my family, to have more time available. But this will not change my way of approaching the profession. I want to commit one hundred percent. At home, I already have a wife, Corinna, who is strong enough to help me and not cause me problems. I have very clear ideas, I want to win for myself and for Ferrari".


On the track, you will also find your brother Ralf with Jordan. Will you try to help him out?


"I certainly won't reveal Ferrari's secrets to him. But he's a young boy, I've always been close to him and if I can, I'll give him a hand to make his way".


Schumacher could go to Williams, McLaren or stay at Benetton. Repentances after games are done?


"No. Congratulations to Williams, they were strong. Hill deserved the title and Villeneuve was a great rookie. Indeed, in the first run I was impressed, then on some occasions it was a bit disappointing. Next year with more experience he will be a valid opponent. But honestly, it doesn't scare me. The important thing will be to have a competitive car and not be too sensitive to the differences on the various circuits, as happened this season. The rest, if the single-seater goes works we hope, will come naturally".


President Luca Montezemolo, delighted with the results, also promised you a Ferrari 550 Maranello as a gift. What will you ask if you win the title?


"A Fiat 500. It was my first real car, and I would like to have a new one".


Instead, you will no longer drive the F310, waiting for the 1997 single-seater.


"It's not exactly like that. I'll drive it again on October 27 at Mugello for Ferrari Day. Indeed, I'm expecting a large crowd of fans for the occasion. We must all party together. Then I'll leave testing work to Irvine before Christmas with the lab car. I trust Eddie, we work well together. You will see that the results will come, and they will be even better".


On Tuesday, October 22nd, 1996, Heinz-Harald Frentzen makes his debut at Estoril in a Williams. For four days, the German will be able to test with the car that in 1997 he will drive in place of Damon Hill. In the team, there seems to be contrasts between Frank Williams and technical manager Patrick Head. The latter did not agree on the dismissal of the new World Champion. In the meantime, at Imola, Schumacher will be on track with Ferrari to shoot commercials, then Michael will go to Mugello on Sunday for Ferrari Day. The lawyer Giovanni Agnelli, president of Fiat, has Schumacher in his heart, as he had Platini. And the Ferraris make him throb almost as much as the beloved black and white shirts. The lawyer Giovanni Agnelli reiterates this on Saturday, October 26th, 1996, in an interview with the Italian newscast, during which he also confirms that the link between the German driver and the cars from Maranello is more solid than ever and will last for a long time: at least two more or three years. The lawyer's words reveal clear satisfaction with the outcome of the season that has just ended: a concrete certificate of esteem for Montezemolo and his team, but above all for Schumacher's ability.


"The past year went well: they did what they promised to do. They got four pole positions, they have won three grand prix. Much of this, evidently, is due to Schumacher; because it was him who won some of these grand prix with his own skill. As for next year, I don't think we can make any promises yet, but in truth we can't say every time: it will take two years... Now I say: let's hope it's a good year".


In short, the challenge for the world title was launched by Maranello's most authoritative supporters. The lawyer was asked if it is true that he has an esteem for Schumacher equal to the one he has always had for Michel Platini.


"One was an outstanding ace, the other still is, and he is certainly the best driver there is in the world. But, apart from the professional side, they are two exceptional men: they are men of class. One has never complained about the team, nor the coach, nor the conditions of the ground, his physical conditions, nor has Schumacher ever complained about the car, the assistance he gets or the mechanics. They are men of the highest quality".


He was also asked whether he, like the army of Ferrari fans, hopes Schumacher will stay in Maranello for a long time. Even if it does not cost like a loaf of bread. The reference is to a curious phrase from the past, which the lawyer himself recalls with amusement:


"Platini said it: I cost like a piece of bread, but with a lot of caviar. That was his way of expressing his engagements. Schumacher? He will certainly stay for two or three years".


Much more than a certificate of esteem: it is an imprimatur that is as valid as a signed contract. The signature, by now, is a simple detail. Finally, Agnelli is asked if there is another driver he likes. Is Villeneuve, for example, a future champion or does he above all have a famous surname?


"Villeneuve is very good, but regardless of that, the Ferrari team is what it is, we are perfectly fine as we are. I personally like a driver, but I say this outside of any possibility of engagement, and it’s Häkkinen".


Glory also for the Finn, to whom a door could be wide open in the future. In Scarperia, meanwhile, Ferrari lovers experience the first stage of a weekend all to themselves. Never seen so many Ferrari cars in one go. For those who are passionate about cars, it is an exceptional party. After all, nothing else could happen on Ferrari Day. Sunday, October 27th, 1996, the grand finale awaits at Mugello. With 50 historic cars and over 100 F355 sedans engaged in the various Challenges. Adding up the cars on the track, those of customers and those of the curious, about 500 jewels of Maranello: an estimated value of around lire. Intense programme: starting at 9:00 a.m., eight races, including three finals. The highlight at around 2:00 p.m.: the performance of Schumacher and Irvine with the Formula 1 F310 single-seaters. It will be the last time that the German champion will drive this model, waiting for the new car for 1997. Free admission. Ferrari's racing season ends with the traditional party at Mugello, with all the right ingredients: a wonderful sunny day, a large crowd of happy fans, cars - needless to say - fabulous. And the entire Maranello team. From the mechanics to the technicians, from the drivers to the managers, up to Jean Todt, head of the Sport Management, and Luca Montezemolo, in a blue cloth jacket and a blue striped velvet shirt. To contrast with the predominant red colour of the cars and uniforms. A weekend break, before resuming work at a rapid pace for the next, eagerly awaited season. What are the goals, president?


"I expect more than we did this year. Between 1997 and 1998 the goal was to win the World Championship. I hope this happens immediately, with the championship that will start in March".


Lawyer Agnelli said that Schumacher will stay at Ferrari for several years...


"The Avvocato, when he makes predictions, is usually right. This means that he has some information, deep down. Jokes aside: Giovanni Agnelli came to the presentation of the F310 for the first time. And he followed us closely, all year round. For the team it was very important. As for Schumacher, we can practically guarantee two more seasons. Then we'll see. But remember that in Formula 1 too long collaborations, in the end, create problems. Lauda, Senna, Prost, everyone changed, but this isn't a problem at the moment".


What's the problem, then?


"To build a competitive single-seater. Ferrari, also thanks to Schumacher, has renewed old enthusiasms. But now we have to move on. There are plans to be competitive. This time the car will arrive soon, it will run on the track at the beginning of the new year. We will have more than two months for development. And we will be able to present ourselves already in the first races with a good chance of success".


Will Williams be the one to beat again?


"Williams hasn't got it wrong for almost a decade. It will certainly be at the top. Then we can foresee a return of McLaren, which has an important engine and an excellent driver, Häkkinen. And a recovery of Benetton is also conceivable. But I'm curious to see what the underrated Damon Hill will do. His move to Arrows can be good not only for the British team, but also for all of Formula 1".


Speaking of Häkkinen, the Avvocato once again repeated that he considers the Finnish driver to be very strong...


"He is certainly one of the best. But we have never had any talks with him. Agnelli spoke of him as a player he likes. In truth, we are satisfied with our complementary duo. I spoke again this morning with Irvine, and I am sure that he will give us some satisfaction. It's better not to have contrasts in the team. Michael and Eddie get along well, they respect each other and work well together".


Let's go back to Schumacher. In what sense was your contribution decisive?


"In all senses. During competitions, he almost never made a mistake. And we all know how fast he is. But his presence also helped the team to keep the motivation going. The work in the pits this year has bordered on perfection. Schumacher arrived at the right time. Had we had it a year before, perhaps it would have been a mistake. A waste".


The team. Is everything okay?


"Ninety percent. A few more minor tweaks. We had been criticized when it was decided to change almost everything. But Ferrari had previously made a mistake in focusing only on certain characters. In sport, as well as in business situations, today it is important to have a long bench. Being able to grow a school, make substitutions, when necessary, without trauma".


About trauma. Will the Ferrari red remain? And is it true that Scuderia Ferrari could change its name, at least on official documents?


"Don't worry. The red will stay. There was also a lot of white in the past. It's not the colour that matters when you win. Instead, I exclude changing the official name of the team. Even if our sponsors are decisive. Without them today, given the costs of Formula 1, we couldn't race. I wish I could do as some of our rivals do who receive engines from a supplier on Fridays, more billions…".


The engine. A strong point of Ferrari.


"It is our pride. When we hired the engineer Goto, a Japanese technician, there was a scandal. But the engine department was directed by Paolo Martinelli who has been at Ferrari for thirty years. We built an all new V10, and it has already been among the best engines of the season. No one can really worry us in this sector".


But Luca Montezemolo is not a calm type. The president of Ferrari confesses that he often goes to the wind tunnel to see the model, on which the technicians are studying the aerodynamics of the new car:


"We managed to make our fans smile again. Now we hope to make them happy".


The exhibition continues with the driving of Schumacher, in his last appearance on the F310, of Irvine (author of a failed start with smoking tires), and the impressive landing of the Navy Harrier in the middle of the circuit, as an additional attraction. But there are also eight races, all very tight. Over one hundred cars on track for the various finals of the Challenge F355, with drivers from fourteen nations. Michael Schumacher arrives with a big smile on his lips. He likes crowds. Once upon a time he would have been a bit indifferent. Now, however, the Ferrari fever involves him. Even if this only applies to the moments when he does not have to work, i.e. when he is not busy in practice or in the race.


"Now there is still little to say. Apart from this beautiful day. It was right to be close to our fans, after a year with a positive but also very troubled balance. I understood, as happened in Monza, what it means to be in this team. There are strong emotions. It felt like a family party. It was a bit difficult for me to move in the paddock and in the pits. But it was the only chance for people to stand by us. There were teams, drivers, customers, racing and road cars. The best way to thank those who follow us with love".


Schumacher, a great racer, but also a catalyst for the team and testimonial for Scuderia Ferrari.


"Ferrari's latest addition, the Maranello 550, is the demonstration of how the company is working in the right direction. An extraordinary car that I would like to already have in my garage (perhaps a reminder to Montezemolo that he will have to give one away for winning two consecutive races? Ed). For those who can afford it, if they want speed, performance in general, safety, it's the best".


There was talk of the Grand Prix, of the challenge for the title, of technique. But has something changed for Schumacher in his relationship with Italy?


"In my personal life, sure. Last year in Monza the fans didn't want to see me in Alesi's place. Now I think they have another opinion. I feel a lot of confidence. And then here I like the food, in short, I'm fine. Surely, without the three victories, everything would have been much more difficult. But it went well. People are so sensitive, emotional, that we would have had problems if successes hadn't come. But I think it's normal".


So, is it really possible to think of a long-lasting marriage with Ferrari?


"When I accepted Montezemolo's proposal, I knew I was taking risks. In the beginning everything went well, even better than expected. Then there were three dark months, the car didn't work, it lacked reliability and this was certainly not what I had hoped for. Now, however, winning the World Championship with Ferrari may not be just a dream. I can say that if things go on like this, if the agreement with the team continues to be perfect, there will be no limits to our collaboration".


Lawyer Agnelli said that Schumacher can be for Ferrari what Platini was for Juventus.


"I would have liked to play football well like the French champion…".


Even Eddie Irvine, faithful squire, makes his voice heard:


"It has been a tough year, but I always look ahead. In 1997, I will be more trained, and I want to start having fun. You will see the real Irvine, several times on the podium".


When Gianni Agnelli takes a position on Ferrari, he does it for good reason. The lawyer had anticipated that Schumacher would stay in Maranello for a long time. Said and done. Here is the text released on Tuesday, November 5th, 1996, by Scuderia Ferrari:


"Ferrari announces that it has reached an agreement with the driver Michael Schumacher to extend the duration of the competitive technical collaboration to the 1998 and 1999 sports seasons. In the next Formula 1 World Championship he will be joined by the driver Eddie Irvine, whose contract provides for an option in favour of Ferrari also for 1998".


Two more years, therefore, of marriage between the German champion and the Italian team. It must immediately be emphasized that the mutual agreement for such a long period has a precise meaning. There is full confidence in the future on both sides. The driver considers Ferrari the team with the greatest potential for the coming years. The team obviously has the utmost consideration of the commitment and ability of the driver. Which among other things, with this signing, has practically pushed away the dreams of Mercedes to have him at McLaren. And perhaps also to those of other major constructors. Luca Montezemolo, architect of the operation, comments on the extension of the contract:


"The agreement with Schumacher represents a very important commitment for Ferrari. But we considered it essential to guarantee the stability and continuity necessary to continue our growth step by step, with method and planning. And also with genuine passion. Michael is not only the best driver in the world. He is also a man who knows how to work with the team and for the team. I am sure that in the next three years we will reap the fruits of this great common effort together and that we will give those who support us, shareholders, sponsors and fans, the satisfaction they deserve".


The effort, quantified in (unofficial) figures, is considerable. Surely, Schumacher got a raise (already foreseen by Montezemolo himself). In addition, he will have the opportunity to sell his line of products everywhere, even by mail order (caps, T-shirts, model cars, umbrellas, etc.), using the Ferrari name, something that has never been granted to any driver until now. In addition, there will also be pre-established prizes, based on the results. A huge deal which, however, also has positive economic implications for Ferrari. In a certain sense, the Maranello team will gain, amortizing part of the amount spent. From the increases requested and accepted by the sponsors to have the duo still together, to the sales of merchandising, the profits of which will be divided. And then there is also the factor of results to take into consideration. As has happened in football, with pay-TV and pay-per-view, Formula 1 will share a gigantic profit in the coming years. And obviously the part of the victorious will go to whoever wins the most races and above all the world titles. In this sense, it is a good investment. Already last season the mere fact of having obtained second place in the Constructors' World Championship in the last race, instead of third, earned Ferrari more or less lire. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher reports from Portugal, where he is continuing his physical training:


"I am happy to have signed the contract with Ferrari for three years. For many reasons. And not just for the money. I felt good in the Italian team. I have a perfect relationship with the managers, technicians, and mechanics of the team. I know the potential of the team. I am convinced that we will do well in the coming years. And then, I admit, after having developed the car, having followed the progress made step by step, having lived through the difficult moments and the exciting ones, it would have bothered me to give someone else the opportunity to exploit the work done so far. We want to win the World Championship. Together".


And on Friday, November 8th, 1996, he will be on track at Estoril (where he will meet his little brother Ralph, on the Jordan) for the first test ahead of 1997. Precisely in Portugal, those who expect to see a duel between the two brothers on the track are disappointed. Engaged for the first time together in a Formula 1 test, Michael and Ralf Schumacher, in practice, are only seen in the pits. Indeed, the smaller of the two German drivers broke the Peugeot engine of his Jordan and remained stationary. Resigned, Ralf Schumacher reaches the Ferrari stand where Michael Schumacher, cheerful and helpful, jokes and gladly answers all the questions. Michael says to Ralf:


"If you want, I'll give you a ride in my Ferrari. Go get the seat... Of course, this little brother of mine goes fast. Of course, he is stronger than me, being young. It's good to see him on the circuits. We are very close in the family. And before, I didn't have many opportunities to be close to him".


Then Michael Schumacher talks about the particularly happy moment.


"I was training in the Algarve. I gladly accepted Goodyear's request to test the tires for 1997. They seem very good to me. I'll still do the tests at the end of the month, then I’ll really go on holiday. Everything is going well in the family, my wife Corinna's pregnancy is perfect. The little girl should be born in the first days of March. And I'm sorry about that because then I'll be in Australia for the first race of the World Championship".


Three more years with Ferrari.


"It was the right time to sign. And - I repeat - I didn't do it just for the money. We could have reached an agreement at Suzuka, but we preferred to define all the technical details later. I am very optimistic about the future. Now I have only one thought: for 1997 I want to be successful and win with Ferrari. But it's not certain that I will finish my career with the same team when the contract ends. It's too early to know".


Practice ends with Gerhard Berger (with Benetton) setting the best time of the four days in 1'20"28, followed by Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1'20"72, Häkkinen (McLaren) 1'21"24, Alexander Wurz (Benetton) 1'21"47 and Ralf Schumacher (Jordan) 1'23"05. Michael Schumacher wants four children. The Ferrari driver confides this in an interview with Bild am Sonntag, in which he also says he is convinced he will be able to regain the world title next year.


"I'm optimistic, even if Ferrari will technically be at the level of Williams only in 1998".


The German champion's first child, a girl, is already on the way: she will be born at the beginning of March.


"Corinna and I have decided to do another one right away, and we won't stop. At night, I feel my baby kicking in the womb, it's exciting".


The only thing that stands against Michael Schumacher is the prospect of not being able to embrace his wife and baby right away, when the big moment comes: the birth could coincide with the start of the new Formula 1 season, which begins on Sunday, March 9th, 1997, in Melbourne. On Monday, November 11th, 1996, the Swiss team Sauber, in Formula 1 since 1993, announced that it had reached an agreement with Ferrari for the supply of technology that would allow it to build an engine based on the V10 used last season by the Maranello team. But Ferrari denies that the agreement (moreover very advantageous from an economic point of view) has already been reached. Negotiations, well underway, are ongoing. The Maranello team is surprised by the anticipated announcement, due - according to Sauber - to an error. However, Peter Sauber, owner of the team, supported by the petrodollars of the powerful Malaysian company Petronas, has already taken the first steps towards the establishment of his own engine department, entrusting the responsibility of the sector to the Japanese engineer Osamu Goto from, November 1st, 1996, the technician who had directed Honda's operations since 1988 and who had been working in Maranello for three years, most recently with the task of track manager for the engines. At Sauber (which raced with Mercedes and Ford engines) they say they are certain that the new V10, which they will build with the help of a few Maranello men and its technology, will offer better guarantees than those given by the engine used this year. 


As for the drivers, the Swiss team, which has lost the German Heinz-Harald Frentzen (at Williams) is looking for a guide to work alongside Johnny Herbert. If the operation is successful, the advantages for Ferrari (which up to now had only lent its engines to Lucchini and Minardi) will be many: for a possible technological exchange but also for the recovery of the heavy investments made in the sector. A few days later, Thursday, November 14th, 1996, the Formula 1 World Champion, Damon Hill, back behind the wheel for the first time after winning the title, went off track destroying the Ligier with which he was carrying out some tire tests. The British driver ends up against a wall, probably because the tires are still cold, and thanks to the slow speed of the car he comes out of a hairpin bend without getting hurt. But the fear is great. The tests are cancelled because the single-seater is unusable. In any case, Hill had recorded excellent times with the Bridgestones that will equip his Arrows next year, setting the best time of 1'40"14. Meanwhile, Renault, which mounts its engines on Williams and Benetton, announces that the new RS9, created in collaboration with Magneti Marelli, will debut on the Le Castellet circuit on Monday, November 18th, 1996. On Tuesday, November 19th, 1996, according to sources close to the powerful FOCA (Ecclestone manufacturers' association), it is learned that the Dino and Enzo Ferrari circuit could lose the Formula 1 San Marino Grand Prix. According to these rumours, the move of the races to the East (China has been pushing for a test since 1998 or 1999), now rich and also willing to accept sponsorships prohibited in the Old Continent, would take the race on the Romagna track out of the calendar. In support of the thesis, the fact is brought forward that Italy, with Monza and Imola, is the only country to have two world championship rounds. The lawyer Bendinelli, president of Sagis, the company that manages the racetrack, denies the hypothesis.


"We know there is pressure, but our race is already in the plans for 1997, and we are negotiating for a renewal until 2001. At the moment, we think there are no problems".


On Tuesday, among other things, the Counsil of the city of Imola approves the resolution that endorses the amnesty projects presented by Sagis relating to the advertising bridges on the racetrack, the new roofing of the garage building and the new internal hospital. A few weeks ago some structures and the paddock area were demolished and will be rebuilt thanks to a project designed to be in line with the provisions of the territorial framework study of the Santerno park. Days go by, and Formula 1 tests continue on the Estoril circuit.


"It's nice to be driving a Formula 1 car again".


To pronounce this sentence is Alessandro Nannini, who on Monday, November 25th, 1996, thanks to Briatore's invitation, relieves old sensations.


"I'm just here for fun".


Says the Tuscan driver, clarifying that his presence in Portugal is not a prelude to his sensational return to Formula 1. After the accident that ended his career at Benetton six years ago, Nannini got back on top, establishing himself in the DTM with the Alfa Romeo. Driving a Benetton car, the team for which he won the Japanese Grand Prix in 1989, Nannini - who also spins three times - laps in 1'24"2, proving that he is still going fast, given that the best time in the tests is made by Villeneuve (Williams) in 1'20"7, followed by Frentzen (Williams) 1'20"9, Häkkinen (McLaren) 1'21"5, Irvine (Ferrari) and Alesi (Benetton) 1'21"7. Nannini's good work continues the following day too. Twelve years of experience are not thrown away. But Giancarlo Minardi, in Formula 1 since 1985, restarts with new strength and with more ambitious goals. He did not hesitate to make his team grow, the constructor from Faenza who sacrificed himself. He remains director and president of the company but on Thursday, November 28th, 1996, he gives up quotas of the share capital. And the new partners are not unprepared: Flavio Briatore, Alessandro Nannini and Gabriele Rumi enter with 70% of the stable, the latter owner of Fondmetal and a sophisticated wind tunnel present in Ferrara. The group of industrialists from Brescia also remains with Lucchini, Gnutti and Palazzani, with a small participation of Marniga. The Italian spirit of the team therefore remains intact. Giancarlo Minardi says satisfied:


"For the first time, we are at the beginning of the season with a reasonable budget already almost fully completed. This manoeuvre will allow us to grow. It was the only practicable way, and I must say that I was also lucky enough to have partners that I like".


Briatore will deal with strategies and contracts, Nannini will be entrusted with the task of public relations and contacts with sponsors.


"On a technical level, we are equipped. We have an exclusive contract for the supply of engines, the 8-cylinder Hart, which will be developed in collaboration with Magneti Marelli for electronic management. And a contract has been signed with Bridgestone for the tires. The new car will be ready in mid-January. For the drives, three are under contract: Fisichella, the Brazilian Marquez and the Argentinean Tuero. I'd like to have the first two guides fixed and a third as a reserve. But on this level, we still have to wait a few days. It might even change everything".


In fact, Minardi has negotiations with the Japanese Ukyo Katayama and perhaps also with other drivers. A lot will depend on economic issues because at least one of the drivers will have to contribute to the residual funding of the team. As for the Jordan team, however, there is talk of an interest in Nigel Mansell. More will be known in the following days. In the meantime, again on Thursday, November 28th, 1996, Ferrari announced that it has reached a two-year technical collaboration agreement with Sauber, the Swiss Formula 1 team. All the points relating to the cooperation methods have now been defined: an ad hoc structure will be set up, independent of the Gestione Sportiva engine management, which will collaborate with the engine department of Sauber Petronas Engineering to produce engines based on the experience acquired by Ferrari and intended for use by the Swiss team in 1997 and 1998. At the same time, Sauber announces that Nicola Larini (test driver at Maranello for five years) will be the driver who will join Herbert next year. The agreement was announced on Monday, November 11th, 1996, by Sauber, specifying that Ferrari would supply technology that would allow the team to build an engine based on its V10. The anticipation had led the Maranello team, the day after, to blow up the agreement, which existed only in the will but not in the details. The development of the VI 0 will be entrusted to the Japanese Osamu Goto, who has worked with Ferrari for the last three years. News also at Tyrrell: Jos Verstappen, Dutch, 24 years old, last season at Arrows, will join the Finnish Mika Salo in 1997. Thursday, December 5th, 1996, those who go to the Bologna Motor Show could (indeed, should) also stop in Maranello. The renovated Galleria Ferrari, part museum, part living and vital centre of the world of Ferrari, which Luca Montezemolo inaugurates, deserves a visit. With 12,000 lire of ticket price, you can discover the legend of a man, Enzo Ferrari, and of a factory that has been producing extraordinary racing and touring cars for almost fifty years and feel emotions, joys and, sometimes, pains. 


The Galleria Ferrari collects pieces of history on two floors full of memorabilia, documents, and cars. There are 22 cars and, think about it, a motorboat (which mounted a Ferrari engine and which in 1954 obtained a world speed record on Lake Sarnico). Below, the touring cars, above the Formula 1 single-seaters and the one made for Indianapolis, which has never been on track. Fabulous pieces, some priceless. And, however, if we wanted to attribute a value to dream cars, one could speak of lire. Without considering, of course, all the rest of the material - engines, catalogues, books, cups and trophies, models - contained in this casket, which the Modenese company has taken over the management (construction is by the Municipality of Maranello). Want some examples of what you can see? Well, first, on the first floor, the old office that Ferrari had in Corso Trento e Trieste, in Modena, the company's first headquarters. There is the desk, with the agenda, the pen, the inkwell, the Commendatore's glasses, two large showcases full of models, paintings, a small armchair and two very uncomfortable-looking wooden chairs. A spartan office, if you like, but Ferrari really did no like luxury. The other two parts of this section include a central hall with 8 single-seaters (from the 166 F2 of 1951 to that of Schumacher) and a long corridor with luminous paintings bearing significant and evocative photographs of the Ferrari adventures. On the ground floor, there are thirteen Ferrari road models. A feast for the eyes. Like the silvery 166 MM Berlinetta with Touring bodywork (the Superleggera) with transparent roof, foam-padded seats: it was exhibited for the first time at the Turin Motor Show in 1948 ; like a yellow 275 GTB4 from 1968 or the stupendous Dino designed by Pininfarina in 1969; like, to get to our times, the F40 or the F50. And on the walls, panels explain how Ferraris are made. 100.000 visitors are expected. The myth continues.


"It's the first time in four years that I've been able to have a close encounter with the Ferrari fans. We owe you a debt, because you knew how to wait, and you didn't betray us even in the hardest moments".


This is how Luca di Montezemolo made his debut on Tuesday, December 10th, 1996, in front of the young Ferrari fans who crowded the convention hall of the Motor Show, on the occasion of the meeting organized by Gazzetta dello Sport. Enthusiasm increases when the president promises that Ferrari will win the Formula 1 World Championship by 1998:


"It's a commitment I make".


Will we ever see a Grand Prix at Mugello?


"Yes, you will see it soon, because Mugello will enter the Formula 1 World Championship as soon as possible, in rotation with Monza and Imola. In my opinion, the Tuscan track is the most beautiful in Italy. Soon there will be an alternative that will be good for everyone".


Will we have an increasingly white and less red Ferrari?


"No, no and no (applause): red it is and red it will remain; we won't go back to the 70s when there was too much white. It was Enzo Ferrari's idea, who thought of creating a more cheerful image, but he soon changed his mind".


What do you think of public shareholders?


"The idea is stimulating, I wouldn't mind, even if the shareholder-fans don't deny that it would be an extra problem".


Satisfied with Irvine?


"Yes, Eddie has three qualities: he's fast, he has Ferrari in his heart and above all he has developed an excellent relationship with Schumacher. Michael trusts him a lot and says he has never had such a fast partner. If Irvine had problems at the start, it was because he was unable to test the car. It will be fine next year".


Will you be competitive from the first race?


"I invite everyone to look to the future with passion but also with realism. We were coming from difficult years, if not dramatic like 1992, also from a business point of view. Then in 1996, thanks also to Schumacher and the technical staff, we returned to the forefront. Next season we must improve even more, winning at least four Grands Prix. We have an advantage over the past: we can work immediately on the new car, which will be ready by Christmas and presented on January 7th. The advance will allow us to study in the wind tunnel the development for the races following the first one".


Are you sure you got a deal taking Schumacher?


"I'd rather have Michael than leave him to others. He has been close to a team in difficulty when others, perhaps, would have thought only of the personal image. Like all drivers, he made a choice based above all on earnings, God forbid, but I assure you that he really cares about Ferrari".


But you could have hired him when he was cheaper.


"Three years ago, we wouldn't have won even if Nembo Kid had been behind the wheel".


And why not entrust the second car to Larini?


"Nicola has worked excellently with us for five years, but an Italian driver on a Ferrari could feel too much pressure".


What is the future of Formula 1?


"In 1999 there will be a Grand Prix in Malaysia and in the early 2000s there will be the Chinese Grand Prix. The countries of the East are the future of the world".


It was the last team to enter Formula 1 but beat everyone to the punch: on Tuesday, December 10th, 1996, Stewart-Ford presented the car with which it would make its debut in the next World Championship, way earlier than its rivals. It is called SF1, it has a Ford Zetec-R VI0 engine, and it is the first single-seater designed 100% with computers. It is characterized by a tartan motif that recalls the Scottish origins of the Stewarts and takes up the blue of the Ford. For the debut, the team does things big: in the private room of a very central London hotel, a musician equipped with bagpipes and complete with a Scottish skirt begins the ceremony. A kilt is a must. Jackie Stewart, president and former 27-time Grand Prix winner and three-times world champion, and his son Paul, general manager, outline the main features of the car, completed in just nine months by a group of 101 technicians, some in the Milton Keynes workshop (60 kilometres north of London), others in the wind chamber in Los Angeles, connected by a computer network that allows everyone to work on the same model at the same time. Jackie Stewart remembers:


"Stewart is a family run stable".


And so, instead of a provocative model, it is little Dylan, born in August 1995, who poses for the photographers at the wheel of the car, under the proud eyes of his father Paul and grandfather Jackie. The cars, generously sponsored by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Malaysian government, Texaco, Sanyo and Hertz, will be driven by the 24-year-old Brazilian Rubens Barrichello ("I am sure we will do very well: we have one of the most professional teams in the world behind us"), and the twenty-three-year-old Dane Jan Magnussen ("Impossible to make any predictions except one: the next world champion will be Jacques Villeneuve with Williams"). Testing of the new car will begin in January. The following day, Wednesday, December 11th, 1996, Nigel Mansell showed up in Barcelona without a moustache, for his return to Formula 1. Many questions arose after the first of the two tests on Jordan. The 1992 World Champion is the slowest of the ten drivers taking part in the test session on a cold day. With a time of 1 '23' 34, he is 4 seconds slower than Jacques Villeneuve (Williams). A Jordan spokesperson says:


"Nigel is a gamble for us, a risk. But if he starts running again as he knows how, it's a risk worth taking".


However, there is a flurry of innovations in Formula 1. The regulation has changed: from 1997 it will no longer be possible to test on the circuits that host World Championship races, except for one chosen by each team. Ferrari, Minardi and Sauber opt for Monza; Ligier for Magny-Cours; Benetton, Arrows, Jordan, McLaren, Tyrrell, Lola, and Stewart for Silverstone. Williams chooses Barcelona. Rich team, but strategic choice because they hope the Donington track will be approved to have two racetracks available. Furthermore, Minardi hires Ukyo Katayama and Tarso Marques, so Fisichella will test Jordan, who has a free seat next to Ralf Schumacher. The revived Lola hires Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset. The agreement between the Japanese driver and the Italian team was reached thanks to the support of the Japanese tobacco producer Mild Seven. Giancarlo Minardi comments:


"Katayama can make an important contribution to our team: he is fast, experienced, motivated and used to giving his best in all circumstances".


Katayama continues:


"I am happy to have arrived at Minardi; it's a turning point in my Formula 1 career. With new partners joining Minardi, a renowned engine like the Hart V8 and the support of Bridgestone, I think the Italian team will be a nice surprise for many during the season".


In the meantime, the first indications on the 1997 program arrived from Monza. The Italian Grand Prix has been confirmed on September 7th, 1997, and Ferrari has already set about twenty test days, starting in March. A few days later, on Monday, December 16th, 1996, it was announced that the trial for the death of Ayrton Senna would begin on February 20th, 1997, in the district court at Imola. This was declared by the lawyer Roberto Landi, who defends the accused Federico Bendinelli, managing director of Sagis, the company that manages the circuit, and Giorgio Poggi, director of the plant at the time. The other accused (for all, the charge is manslaughter) are Frank Williams, Patrick Head, technical manager of the team, the designer Adrian Newey and Roland Bruynseraede, race director. According to the experts, the accident occurred due to the broken steering column of the Williams, modified, and the impact was aggravated by the conditions of the track. The decision of the Bologna public prosecutor's office to prosecute six alleged perpetrators of the accident on May 1st, 1994, immediately aroused controversy, reactions and even not too veiled threats by the English teams not to race in Italy any more. To strengthen the thesis against any intervention by the judiciary in such cases, some statements by Tyrrell, dean of Formula 1 constructors, released on Tuesday, December 17th, 1996, are reported. The threat:


"It must be said that it is difficult to think of being able to compete in Italy if this is the situation that arises after an accident. Motor racing is a dangerous sport, drivers know this and although Senna's death was painful, as the loss of a driver always is, I don't think we could vouch for such decisions. We're talking about an accident involving one of the best-prepared cars in the history of our sport. If it went off the track, for whatever reason, I don't see how criminal liability could be charged. I believe that all teams will be united in deciding what to do. It's an important fact: it can concern motor racing all over the world".


As is known, the warranty notices reached Frank Williams, the technical manager Patrick Head, the designer Adrian Newey of the English team, Federico Bendinelli and Giorgio Poggi for the Imola circuit and the Belgian race director Roland Bruynseraede. The latter's involvement worried the FIA which issued a statement, while President Max Mosley sent an urgent note to the Automobile Club of Italy, asking to forward it also to the government. FIA position. According to Max Mosley, president of the FIA:


"This is exclusively an Italian problem, which therefore requires an all-Italian solution. Whatever the conclusion, no other country is affected, nor will there be repercussions on the Formula 1 World Championship, or on the World Championship and the European Rally. We hope that the situation will clear up before the start of the 1997 season. According to the best jurists, the six people accused will be acquitted. But the FIA will have difficulty convincing the international stewards to continue to perform their duties in Italy, even if their presence is essential for the races included in the international championships. It therefore seems that it could prove difficult to obtain the participation of non-Italian competitors".


Responsibilities: in Bologna, no explicit comment is expressed by the judiciary on the positions taken from abroad. In the circles of the prosecutor who conducted the investigation, however, it is noted that the indictments came at the end of a complex and in-depth investigation, conducted with the support of qualified and detailed expert reports. All of this took place by applying Italian law and in full compliance with the rules of criminal procedure. The trial is necessary because, according to the prosecution, elements of responsibility have emerged. Directly involved, Scuderia Ferrari, being Italian (like Minardi, while Flavio Briatore has aligned himself with the British for Benetton, threatening not to take his team to races at Imola and Monza again if there are convictions) makes known the opinion of the president Montezemolo through the words of his spokesman Giancarlo Baccini:


"We need to distinguish between the specific case and the general one. Specifically, it is advisable to be extremely cautious because one cannot speak of guilt until there is a sentence. And the case of Imola is far from being judged. In general, Ferrari, as a legalist, will respect the rules of the International Federation, while adapting to the laws of the countries where the races take place, considering sport an essential component of civil life".


Meanwhile, Formula 1 goes on. The new technical director Ross Brawn arrives at Ferrari, coming from Benetton. Shortly before, Michael Schumacher had told his manager, Willi Weber:


"Willi, we need Ross Brawn here at Ferrari".


There is an agreement in Formula 1 that no team principal is allowed to steal employees from others so Jean Todt, needless to say, strictly respects it, so much so that he does not phone Brawn himself, but sends Willi Weber to him. This approach has another advantage: if the enemy takeover fails and Ross talks to the press, Ferrari can always claim externally that Schumacher's manager acted on his own initiative. Thus, Willi Weber goes to England, where Brawn owns a beautiful estate where he grows roses and goes fishing.


"Wow, Ross. You are well settled here".


Schumacher's manager is full of compliments for the English technicians, then confesses:


"Michael misses you a lot, Ross. You are really a very good engineer. He always says to me: wouldn't it be great if Ross were here right now? We'll have a lot of fun. Have you ever thought that Italy is also very charming?"


But Ross Brawn retorts:


"You already know that I signed with Benetton".


But Willi Weber does not give up:


"Yes I know. But there is a solution for everything".


And he waits, in vain, for an answer. Then he continues:


"You know I can't make you a concrete offer, but Michael would really like you to come to Maranello. And yes, Benetton is fantastic. But Ferrari is even more so. And of course, they would pay a lot of money to have you".


Ross Brawn begins to falter:


"I understand".


The German driver's manager searches for the right words, then says:


"Would it be okay, provided that the idea of a change isn’t completely out of the question, if Jean Todt called you to ask you a few questions?"


Brawn retorts:


"Let me think about it".


And Willi Weber concludes:




And think: come on, old chap. You want it too. Don't make things difficult for both of you.


"So do I wait for a call?"


Ross Brawn closes the conversation, saying:




As for Mansell, after the test with Jordan, the Englishman announces that he will give up racing next year, because he has too many commitments and could not devote himself full-time to racing. Difficult test for Fisichella with Jordan at Jerez: rain and a broken gearbox, only three laps. Good news for the Imola circuit, as the variant plan for the works requested by the FIA has been approved, for an estimated cost of lire, and the pits, parking lots, paddocks and a new tree-lined area will be redone. Finally, Agip lets it be known that it has contacts with the Benetton-Del Vecchio group for a possible technological partnership, while Ferrari feels ready for the great challenge. And with what it takes to fight at the top in the 1997 World Championship, despite the uncertainties of a sport with such exaggerated technology. In Formula 1, surprises are the order of the day, and this requires caution. But if method, commitment and will pay off, it could be the right time. For Luca Montezemolo, the suffering as the first Ferrari fan begins:


"A tension that I will put aside only on March 9th, after the debut race in Australia. Until then we will not have certainties, like every year. Winter testing times don't mean much. The only real test is the direct confrontation with the opponents, who are strong and determined".


While waiting for a brief stop for the holidays and, above all, for the presentation of the new single-seater (on January 7th at Fiorano) Montezemolo takes stock, in the presence of the sports management manager, Jean Todt. It was also the occasion for the handover between the head of the racing team's press office, Giancarlo Baccini, who is leaving, and Claudio Berra, who is taking over, while Stefano Domenicali will be in charge of sports management.


"With the signing of Ross Brawn as technical director, who fills a hole in our organization, we have completed the roles. Now there is a strong team in all sectors, deeply renewed. As Formula 1 is increasingly a team effort, we look to the future with hopeful concern".


Many topics touched. Meanwhile, the predictions.


"Next year will be a very important one. We have to, we must do better than last season. In 1996, we won three races, we were second among the constructors. So we just have to be first. However, I am convinced that we will have more opportunities to win the World Championship in 1998".


The obligatory favourite, for Montezemolo, is always Williams:


"If they take more steps forward, it will be difficult to catch up and overcome them. We hope to make similar progress to the past two years. We believe that the right policy is the one of small steps".


This means that the 1997 car will not be revolutionary.


"We asked Barnard to fix the stability flaws in the last car. Little by little, we are bringing all the design work back to Maranello, along with the construction work. The wind tunnel will be completed by March. But the aerodynamics of the car has already been studied here since October 15th. We want to give Schumacher a good car and put Irvine in a position to give his all, too. Until now, the Irishman had great difficulty driving our F310".


Barnard, the drivers. Montezemolo has no doubts:


"Michael and Eddie have all our trust. There are no problems for the English designer. We let him work, but we managed to meet the deadlines. His contract will expire in July, we'll sit down to discuss as soon as possible. In the meantime, tomorrow he will meet Ross Brawn here in Maranello".


The impression is that Ferrari does not want to force the relationship with the so-called English wizard. Eventually, he will remain only under the conditions of the Italian team, which intends to concentrate the activity also to create a new school for technicians. As for the test driver position that Nicola Larini (sent by Ferrari to Sauber, as communications manager Antonio Ghini points out) will leave after January, there is no hurry. Also because the new regulations reduce the tests and a lot of work is done by Schumacher and Irvine. A possible name could be Luca Badoer. Montezemolo also reiterated that the agreement for the supply of the first version V10 engines to Sauber proved to be an important economic deal for Ferrari, thanks to the massive economic intervention of Petronas, the Malaysian oil company. But the collaboration will also serve for useful comparisons and data acquisition. Finally, a single controversial sentence against Flavio Briatore and Benetton, speaking of the problems that arose for the Italian circuits following the Senna trial:


"We cannot disregard the Italian law, but we are confident in a just solution. However, the threat of deserting Imola or Monza makes me laugh. After all, it seems ridiculous, pathetic to me that Benetton is flaunting the Italian licence. The regulation allows it, but the principle is wrong: apart from the ownership, the team is English".


The controversy becomes heavier, the boycott threats consistent. The Senna case risks exploding with extreme gravity against motorsport in Italy. So much that it could endanger the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Imola and Monza and all the other international races, including the Sanremo Rally, scheduled in Italy. Flavio Briatore, general manager of Benetton, was the first to unleash a story that could become a boomerang with devastating effects.


"If they convict Williams and the other accused parties for the death of the Brazilian driver, our team will no longer come here to race".


Immediately afterwards, following the crime notices sent by the Bolognese judiciary to Williams, to the head of technicians and Newey, to the managers of the Imola racetrack, Bendinelli and Poggi, and also to the race director, the Belgian Bruynseraede, Max Mosley - as president of the FIA - intervened. The highest federal authority had made it known that in this situation it would have been difficult to send international commissioners to administer the tenders in Italy. And that there was the risk, in the event of conviction of the prosecuted parties, of cancelling all the trials scheduled. In the days before the new year, new chapter. Mosley increases the dose by sending an open letter, known as a memorandum, to the lawyer Rosario Alessi, president of the Automobile Club of Italy, so that the latter can forward it to the government. In his four-and-a-half-page letter, the FIA president expresses some considerations on the accident that caused Senna's death on May 1st, 1994, but in practice he asks the government to change the law regarding manslaughter, or at least to apply it differently. The English manager also makes suggestions that have the flavour of conditions. Four points: the Italian authorities must be the solely responsible for safety during car events and no investigation should be opened against those who participate in the races, i.e. teams, drivers and marshals; the authorities should guarantee safety on all circuits, Rally routes, hill climbs; if an incident occurs close to an area where the public should not be present, trails must not be started for a crime that is not also contemplated in the country of residence of the accused people; the FIA must have access, with the approval of the judiciary, to every car involved in an accident in order to be able to take technical and sporting measures and to avoid the repetition of certain episodes as quickly as possible. Mosley also mentions episodes of intimidations during interrogations, of alarming situations when answers were not welcome, since the questioner had the power to jail the interlocutors. Now, if it is true that drivers, technicians, and mechanics are aware of the dangers of this sport and accept the risks, it is not legitimate to ask the government to change the laws, discriminating against citizens. We all know how justice is going in Italy, that there are immense issues (and also waste of money if we think about how much the investigation into the Senna accident, which lasted almost two years, must have cost), but at this point the trial, scheduled for February 20th, 1997, must take place. The deputy prime minister, Veltroni, has already made it known that there will be no personalized treatments. If the accused are innocent, no problem. Otherwise, the fans will watch the races outside of Italy, on television.


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