On Thursday 29th August 1996, during the afternoon, Michael Schumacher is in the Monza autodromo to complete Ferrari test in sight of Italian Grand Prix. The German driver exclaims, thrusting his head out the box:
"My gosh. I am late, there is already the Grand Prix".
Grandstands full of crowd, queues at box offices, rush behind the paddock would have deceived anyone. The Schumi-Ferrari fever, after the victory in Belgium, rose to a hospitalization temperature: 13.000 payers and a crowd of Portuguese climber over each fence. Almost 20.000 people in total to see three cars sometimes run (there are also Minardi and Sauber), between long intervals. The national autodromo transforms in a kind of bull ring, in a bullfighting atmosphere. Lavaggi runs: applause. Frentzen comes out, handclapping. Ferrari remains at box: desperate whistles. Hundreds of people, without any authorization, flock pitlane. Policemen, carabiniers, financial police are watching. Controllers’ open gates to friends: it is complete anarchy, it is crazy. Then, finally, Ferrari is ready. Mechanics adapt for the German the car driven by Irvine in the morning. It took an hour and half. The crowd is turbulent, can not wait anymore. When Schumacher roars the engine, it is an explosion, with trumpets and screams. Practices become a show, more to fans than to protagonists on track. The Ferrari man that exposes times becomes the hero of the day. He uses the sign as the matador waves the muleta. He gradually shows the result. If the time is high the grandstand explodes in a buuu. If it is low, it is a triumph. A game that last until when a furious storm comes down on the autodromo and cool down every enthusiasm. The last roar, before thunders fill the sky, is however still of fans when Michael shows up and says hello with the hand, a couple of times. Schumacher stops to talk with his engineer, Ignazio Lunetta, then grants an interview to reporters, now soaked under the heavy rain. Sum up of the day:
"Just a few checks ahead of the race: strategies, consumptions of fuel. I did not work on the set-up, I will do tomorrow if the time permits".
Were you impressed by the crowd?
"I asked to mechanics if something happened, if it was race day. Incredible, how many people were there. Thirteen thousand? Was it free? No? And how much they paid? Fifty thousand lire? Just like when I tested in Silverstone with Benetton. Over there it was much if, of people, there were 120. Only the rain looks me the same".
What you did after the victory in Francorchamps?
"Two days at home, with family, at Kerpen. My parents live among threes, I spent half day, completely alone, in the forest. Indeed, I was not completely alone, there were my dogs, Jenny and Floh. And thinking a crowd of paparazzi was waiting me around my new house near Ginevra. Maybe next time".
Did you receive many calls, even from Agnelli?
"To say the truth no. Because I turned off all devices. I was unreachable. I am quite well, the leg does not hurt me driving, but I can not go jogging and cycle".
What you expect for Monza?
"Sadly not great things. We have many problems to the gearbox and around the transmission. We are at limit. I have good reasons to be realistic. After the race in Belgium, apart from the hole in the chassis maybe caused by a rock, we found on the car important problems".
Evidently something was about to break. And is for this that Schumacher is pessimistic:
"It can not be otherwise. Fans have to prepare to a hard weekend. I know that after Belgium they await miracles, a very competitive Ferrari. Instead I can not either say that we will be in the conditions to end the race. We hope that everything goes better than I think. Generally I am wrong in predictions".
And this sentence is the only that offers signs of hope. There is nothing new on Ferrari to test in Monza in sight of Italian Grand Prix. Indeed, to save pieces, the Maranello’s team returns to the old. Old rear slide and suspension, six speed gearbox. Only on Friday, maybe, will be mounted latest versions aerodynamic and mechanical details. Maranello’s team order includes saving above all 7-speed gearbox: there were built three of them, two broke in Spa. They work with great effort to produce others of them. Schumacher, in any case, is clearly the fastest: 1'25"14. Irvine follows with the other Ferrari, 1'27"15. Then Frentzen (Sauber 1'27"65) and Lavaggi (went off track twice with Minardi, 1'30"83). On Friday continues for the joy of Ferrari fan crowd. There are few to know that signed caps and t-shirts by Schumacher are produced in Sanremo. The exclusive for distribution of products in Italy and in France in fact is won by Ars, leader company in the sector that at the beginning of summer has been protagonist of a joint venture with German house which since ever handles the image of the Formula 1 World Champion landed this year in Ferrari after successes in Benetton house. And the contract includes selling on circuits, in shops and on highway network of the special clothing line right signed by that Michael Schumacher that always had a particular feeling with the city of flowers and the Riviera enough to be regular visitor of Eroi square marked and of Arnia di Taggia kart track. Ferdinando Ottaviani explains, manager of Sanremo’s Ars: so an increase of work?
"I would say considerable, also in view of a great investment that we have incurred in order to have the exclusive, and also being manufactures under license".
Well, because Ars precises that last June also signed a contract to manufacture their own gadget with Schumacher’s sign. And immediate effects of the operation have been two new jobs at Ars and four more in a company supplies stuffs.
"In addition to stands on tracks and to selling in autogrill, also we entered in mail order, a channel we never used before. Just in these days will come out on a specialist magazine of big diffusion an attachment with all clothes of Schumacher line and related coupon with our Sanremo addresses".
For the moment Ars bought four design of clothing line combined with the image of the Formula 1 World Champion that is managed by a young German woman, the daughter of the driver’s manager. And this took within few weeks to mass production of polo, t-shirts, gilet, label and driver suit for children too. For Sanremese company protagonist of this national exploit the work is guaranteed. Schumacher has been a safe investment even if many will depend on how things will go on track. The fans’ world, moreover, is like that: already after the victory in Belgium, and in sight of Monza race, the number of orders increased dramatically. Tickets for Italian Grand Prix, meanwhile, are almost disappeared, at least grandstands one. And saying organizers of Gran Prix increased the capacity of Monza National Autodromo for what concern seats. They became 40.000 with adoption of new structures placed at Serraglio, at out of Ascari, at inside and at opposite to Parabolica, at Lesmo. And thinking that costs are considerable: from a minimum of 150.000 lire for less preferable seats, to 400.000 of Centrale, only for Sunday race. In most of the cases, besides grandstands, have been placed maxi screens from which is possible to follow the race. The Italian Gran Prix organization costed overall 23.000.000.000 lire, included the amount that is paid to FOCA for teams’ contract.
But from this year banners and media rights are all of Ecclestone on behalf of FIA, for which A.C. Milan (that manages on his own the event) will have to take account on cash out of selling tickets on some pre-existing advertising contracts. Last year in total the income was 30.000.000.000 lire, this time is hoped to put in cash something more. Even because the amount for the 80% needs for Formula 1. With the rest is ensured for annual maintenance of the implant. Two principal problems that shows up to Beghella Bartoli, autodromo director: check tickets (last year many were found fake) and block fans that go by climbing over walls and cutting fencing: only in 1995, they had to be replaced 600 meters of fences inevitably destroyed by abusive pincers. Among control and ticket selling staff will be employed 10.000 people. Another difficulties to overcome, the final invasion of the crowd after the race: dangerous and able to cause millions fines by FIA. While in Italy increase day by day the cheer for Michael Schumacher, suddenly in England Frank Williams seems unmovable, and leaves all stunned when he declares:
"I do not want to see anymore Damon Hill".
And, unless improbable second thoughts of the constructor, next year the English driver has to change team. What happened? On Wednesday 28th August 1996, Damon Hill sends his manager, Michael Breen, in the Frank Williams’s office. As soon as he arrived, the manager of the driver poses the handbag on the desk of the British constructor, he opens it, he leans back on the chair and says:
"Well, our request starts from 15.000 dollars, Frank, this is if you want to make your offer to keep Damon next year we start from here".
Frank Williams stayed silence for a long; in this moment his nurse is with him, and will tell this story. He remains like this for two minutes. Then, Frank Williams looks at Breen and says to him:
"Michael, when you will come back with a price and a sensible proposal I will be glad to talk with you. Meanwhile, that is the door. I would appreciate if you take off the handbag from my desk and leave may office".
If Damon Hill would have gone in person to Frank Williams, he would not have obtained what Breen was asking, but anyway he would obtain much money. This becomes a serious error of judgement from Damon. Breen will not come back. The news, anyway, was in the air for a while. In the environment, though, was believed that two parties would have come to an agreement at the end. Instead no. On Sunday 1st September 1996 Michael Breen, lawyer of thirty-five-year-old driver, lets officially known that Williams unilaterally interrupted negotiations to renew the collaboration. And also he specified the reason of the fracture: Williams does not accept Hill’s request to rise the contract over 3.000.000 pounds per year for 1997. The layer Breen narrowed the discussion on Sunday, in occasion of Belgium Grand Prix, stopping three days at Francorchamps. But he returned at home without slightest progress, only a sequence of rejections. Damon already was earning lot of money and, with the prospective to become World Champion, asked an adjustment. Now Hill is deepening contacts which he already had with McLaren, with Jordan and Stewart Racing will debut next year, obviously guided by former World Champion Jackie Stewart and his son Paul Stewart. Anyway the most probable hypothesis is that Hill ends at McLaren: Ron Dennis, team’s patron, has absolute necessity to wipe the slate clean to the image of his scuderia that does not win a race since three years. Alain Prost, tester and adviser of McLaren on behalf of Mercedes that provides engines (and that will have a greater influence since the start of the next season, seen that cars will be painted in silver), always sustained that:
"Damon is the best in absolute to work on set up of a Formula 1 car, much better of Häkkinen and Coulthard, current drivers".
But the British constructor decided to throw him. Shadows on World Championship: now will Villeneuve benefit from? Engaged for 1997 by the German Heinz-Harald Frentzen, for what concern current McLaren driver, David Coulthard has a two-year contract, therefore he would be reconfirmed, while Mika Häkkinen has to find another seat. And there is who, also referring to some admiration declaration by lawyer Agnelli regarding the Finnish, anticipates to him a future in Ferrari. Anyway, is difficult to understand how and for when, seen that the Maranello team confirmed Eddie Irvine for 1997. Frank Williams announced in Hungary the reconfirmation of Jacques Villeneuve, while he did not do a single mention to the other driver. It is obvious that the British manger has other ideas. The aim is that to focus on talent of the young Canadian, supporting him with a teammate able to stimulate him and eventually even to be faster. For this reason, initially seemed that Williams had already chosen since 1995 the German Heinz-Herald Frentzen (former teammate of Schumacher in Mercedes, when both raced with sport cars; but the news will be refuted right by the German driver, in Monza), and will just be him the new driver of the English team. Frentzen, 29 years old, of Moenchengladbach, now in Sauber, is considered one of the greatest talents of Formula 1, even if unexpressed until now for lack of competitiveness of driven cars. It is clear that, with Villeneuve and him, Williams intends to build a team able to answer in the best ways to Ferrari. The English constructor thinks that Maranello team, with Michael Schumacher, next year will be a terrible rival and wants to prepare the counterattack. Frank Williams did never look to anyone’s face before taking his decisions. Since 1980 his team won well five Driver World Championships, but never with the same constructor. Indeed, after the conquest of the World Championship, in practice there have always been turbulent separations. Except for Alan Jones, who won the 1980 World Championship and the decided to leave, next Nelson Piquet, Keke Rosberg and above all Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost were driven out, left free for their requests considered exaggerated. The announced divorce between Williams and Hill, three races before the end of the season, with the English leading the standings with 13 points above Villeneuve, does not contribute for sure to clarify the situation. Already during last weeks, in the environment was talked about of a possible sabotage of the team regards Damon. It is enough a less accurate setup of the car (the constructor title is already widely won) or to provide better materials to the Canadian, and the game could be over. The only certain thing is we will see nice things, the conclusion of the World Championship will be tense and very hard: the English driver of fragile moral against a charged and supported by all team Villeneuve. The answer of the Williams team is not long in coming, the next day makes it known that will guarantee that until the end of the season will offer to Hill the same treatment reserved to Villeneuve:
"Both will be able to rely of the same equipment: the team is calm because both have the same opportunities to win the World Championship".
As to Frentzen, he would already have signed the contract with Williams and should be presents during the week. While the Formula 1 circus holds court the Williams-Hill divorce, rapidly approaches the appointment of with Italian Gran Prix. First cars arrive on Wednesday 4th September 1996 at national autodromo, where on Thursday afternoon will take place technical checks. Among these even three Ferraris which on Tuesday 3rd September 1996 have been tested by Nicola Larini in Fiorano. Two singleseaters (race and backup car) of Schumacher with seven speed gearbox and the Irvine’s one with the old six-speed transmission. The Maranello team was not able to immediately prepare to Eddie the last version of F310, which is however updated in the aerodynamic and in the suspensions. An in extremis attempt will be anyway done on Thursday, always on the track that is near to Racing Department, to run a third model of the new gearbox. In case of positive outcome it could be mounted on the car of the British driver. After having won the debut in Belgium, here is the test of truth, for the last technical news of the Italian team. For designers of Maranello team, after tests done last week, adopted some different solutions for what concern used materials, with the purpose to improve reliability for what has really been the main problem of Ferrari since the start of the season. Michael Schumacher explained:
"The problem is not about the choice of the number of speeds but the structure itself of the gearbox, which suffers of some inconveniences related to global performance of the car. It is always tried to improve it. But at the day before of each race remains doubts, until when we will not have the certainty of having found and having resolved the troubles origin".
For the World Champion, in any case, the Monza track does not suit in particular to the Ferrari of this year.
"With seven speed gearbox it can be gained two or three tenth of second. But the track, made of straight linked by curves not too fast, will facilitate others team. We have the advantage of having much practiced the autodromo, and we hope to can exploit it. The seventh speed can be inserted two times, but this solution allows me above all to use shorter speeds and to maintain engine high rev".
Schumacher, therefore, while remaining with feet on the ground promises the maximum commitment. He does not want to deceive fans, but if he will arrive at the end, he will be on the podium. While is known that Damon Hill will hold on Thursday, at Monza, a press conference. What will say the World Champion? It is easy to predict: he will let you know that he does not believe in a possible sabotage from Williams, that beyond any consideration he has complete confidence in the team, that his chances to win the championship remained untouched. And what else could say the London thirty-five years old? A conference against his team would have only even more negative results. The driver is very concerned. Only with the World Champion won he will have the possibility to choose a team to his liking among those at disposition (and are not much: McLaren, Jordan and Stewart). Otherwise, apart from seeing fade away a lot of money he hopes to earn, the English really risks to remain without a car. He would be too expensive for anyone. And backtrack, when you do so many requests, becomes so hard. The game that is developing on the Hill’s head in fact involves huge interest. After the announced withdrawal of Renault at the end of 1997, it is open hunting to engines. With Villeneuve and Frentzen, Williams will be able to focus on Honda engine and maybe even to BMW, if the German company decides to return to Formula 1. But even important sponsors are on the line: Marlboro, after having ended with McLaren, aims a lot on Ferrari and Schumacher. But he has an eye even toward Villeneuve, considered an element more promising for next years. In short, the market is in ferment at every level. But it can not be excluded neither a surprising end of the story: working cut-price Frank Williams could have forced Hill to looking around and to understand that he will not go far alone. So he will try to stay where he is, but at conditions imposed by the constructor. Meanwhile, though, the British manager Frank Williams hits hard: the day before the start of the operations for Italian Grand Prix announces the engage of Heinz Harald Frentzen. The German, as said, will join Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Another bad shot for Damon Hill. If there was an hope to compose the dispute with the constructor, reducing economical pretentions, now the English driver is for real in a difficult situation. The choice of Frentzen by the team which already conquered the Constructor World Championship this year part of a strategy at short and middle term.
The German driver, 29 years old, born in Moenchengladbach, of Spanish mother, never won a race since when he arrived in Formula 1 in 1994. But he is considered very fast. Frank Williams relies on him to conquer again the Constructor World Championship next year, together with his young Canadian teammate. But above all he hopes to having engaged the anti-Schumacher, that considers the most dangerous enemy paired with Ferrari in next years. Frentzen, together with the two times World Champion and to the hurt Karl Wendlinger, represented in 1992 one of the prominent elements of Mercedes team in the prototypes championship. Them three fought first in German Formula 3 (year 1989, success of the Austrian Wendlinger by a point on Schumacher and Frentzen, paired at second place). Someone claims that then Heinz-Harald was better than Michael. But, indeed, the true value of Schumacher (who meanwhile goes to Barnard to do his seat for the 1997 car…) was discovered only when he arrived to drive in Formula 1. Among other things after both have been good friends they did not have any idyllic relationships since the former girlfriend of Frentzen, Corinna, ended marring Schumacher. Anyway in agonistic terms, until now, the new acquisition of Williams appeared weaker than compatriot of Ferrari. He has a Latin temperament and thus seems to be less focused during race, more discontinuous. So much so that Williams makes him to sing a single year contract. First he wants to see him tested. And meanwhile he saved a lot of money: if rumours that run in the circus are true, from about 30.000.000.000 lire asked by Hill he has moved to 4.500.000.000 lire, paid for the hiring of the German driver. Someone claims that Frentzen could even be a good reason to arrive to obtain a made in Germany engine (BMW?) when Renault at the end of 1997 leaves Formula 1. But these, at least for now, are only chats, Williams in this sector with results that obtains anyway he will have the best of what the market will offer. With this news, the wait for the Italian Grand Prix further increases. Reasons of interest increase and organizers wait record crowd and income.
"Frentzen at Williams? I am happy for him. He is a fast driver, very good. It will be exciting to race next year".
Michael Schumacher says with few words and great kindness the chapter about former teammate when both were rookie, at Mercedes. And then spends a sentence on Damon Hill:
"He has a good car, he fought for two years until the end for the title, I do not see why he could not win it this time".
But to the German driver is asked again what will do the Ferrari at Monza.
"After the result of Hockenheim, in a circuit similar to Italian Grand Prix one, and after tests we did here, I am quite pessimistic. After all I do not want to unleash useless and bad illusions in the fans. We will see on Sunday, we will not be sure of nothing until the last meter, assuming we arrive there. I believe there will be many cars will go fast on this track".
Schumacher, he is right, tries to lower expectations. Jean Todt shows himself less pessimistic:
"Our problem is the gearbox. Schumacher will have the 7 speeds one, Irvine will drive a car on which is mounted 6 speeds one. We had to make choices because there is not much material at disposition. However there have been progresses: recent breaking verified because of mechanical failures and of too high temperatures. We improved. At contrary of Michael I do not want to be neither optimistic neither pessimistic, but realistic. Our aim is to place a car in first two row and the other in first three tomorrow in qualifying. For race, two singleseaters in the points and possibly on podium".
The hot weather and favourable weather forecast will not be on the Ferrari side. The advantage of several tests done in last weeks could be cancelled by a single test session. Jean Todt adds:
"In any case even if we already obtained what we wanted, that is two victories, this does not mean we stop. Still remains three races and we want to obtain good results, starting right from Monza. This is circuit of Ferrari: we have not the claim to win, but leave us at least the desire".
On Hill-Frentzen story, the French manager release calm comments:
"We do not work in function of the formation of other teams. Independently from quality of other teams, Ferrari still has to raise, because we are not at Williams level".
It is talked a few, meanwhile, about McLaren, which until now has confirmed only Coulthard. And on the subject of the Scottish, it is known that silicon trend arrived even in Formula 1: Davis’s girlfriend, the beautiful but filiform Andrea, booked a seat in a specialized clinic: he wants to get glutes reinforced, because he considers to having a much reduce aerodynamic. On Thursday 5th September 1996, thousands of fans fill the National Autodromo remaining grabbing for hours to nets only to see passing some Formula 1 character. Above all tight mark for Ferrari and Schumacher, at the point that the German is forced to enter in the paddock aboard of a Ulisse, under guard, almost disguised. But even protagonists of the fight for the win of World Championship, Hill and Villeneuve, are carefully followed by looks, applauses and screams, after recent events. The young Canadian left alone the rival. He arrives late, with a big smile printed on his mouth, wearing sunglasses instead of the usual contacts, dishevelled, like he was a tourist. Instead Hill is forced to face a press conference in early afternoon in front of a lot of television operators, photographers and reporters. The British driver looks determined but sad. Exactly the opposite of Frentzen who will replace him in Williams: stunned, smiling but afraid, the German, as if a bigger thing fell on him.
"I speak now, because then I have to take care above all of the race and of the World Championship. Frank Williams communicated me by phone last Wednesday that at the end of the season I will not be part of this team anymore: I am sorry, I am very disappointed. But this does not mean raising white flag. I will fight for the title and to still win races. I am at 20, I hope to arrive at 23 with races left this year".
Did you, Hill, are afraid that now Williams can favour Villeneuve, as driver even for next season?
"No, I do not. Frank and the technical responsible Patrick Head assured me the maximum support and the same material of my teammate. I believe them, they are sportsmen. Jacques is strong, he is the young that represent the Formula 1 future, but I believe of being able to play right all my chances even because I still have a good margin of advantage".
Meanwhile Renault lets known will give same engines both to Hill and Villeneuve: no favouritism. Instead many are not sure on Williams about that: in 1981, last race in Las Vegas, Reutemann could again win the title, but he had to say with the team and his Williams sudden became unstable, undrivable. Thus the World Title went to Piquet. A test case that lets think, even if Hill does not want neither hear about: he looks ahead, at hand title. And then?
"I do not think to America, how Mansell did. I do not care. I am talking, there are good opportunities, I can put my experience at disposal of a team that want to grow and to win. I do not think I will have problems to find a good place. Anyway I never talked with Ferrari: I only read on some newspapers of creative negotiations with Maranello’s team. Inventions. Before of the arriving of Schumacher maybe would be some possibility. Now is a closed argument, even if for all drivers it has a great value the passion for a mighty name".
But, it is asked why Hill has been defenestrated in favour of a Frentzen that at the end does not win anything yet?
"Honestly, I do not know. It has not been a matter of money. We were treating as civilized and sensitive people. Ask to Frank Williams. The we will see who will have been right".
Called into question, the German, confused, almost incredulous, says:
"It is not true I already signed an option in 1995. I signed last week. I had other offers and I did good to wait until last time. It is a great challenge, I am honoured of the choice, I am convinced in 1997 there will be great battled races. Even with Schumacher and Ferrari. But it will not only be a fight among Germans: the battle could become very uncertain and with many ambitious protagonists".
The drivers market that turns on before the Italian Grand Prix seems having involved now even Alesi, which many see about to leave Benetton to move to Jordan. The French and the team officially deny the hypothesis. But Radio Box insists: it is said that Ecclestone wants to see Hill in a competitive team, Benetton indeed. The English pay-tv Itv, which paid 60.000.000 dollars for a year, would have the English, above all if he will be World Champion, on a winning car. Another chapter of this story still to be written, even if it will be difficult to change the situation. In waiting to see what will do Maranello’s team in the second session of practice, and above all during race, the circus continue to live on Hill-Villeneuve fight for the title. On Friday 6th September 1996 the Canadian is ahead of the English. But Jacques used new tyres while Damon goes without. And this has is importance. The battle is at all levels: agonistic, technical, psychological, dialectic. Damon Hill says at the end of practice:
"I am glad, because I found the team very determined and I had the impression that everyone was than usual to me. I do not think to World Champion though. I just concentrate on next curve, on next lap. A thing is sure: if I win the World Champion helmet, I dedicate it to myself. Do you want to know what kind of character is Frank Williams, in three words? An inscrutable man".
After all a gentle definition, seen that the constructor, when was asked to him why he fired Hill, answered:
"Because next year I need a fast driver".
And even Schumacher, if we want, makes the last price to the English thirty-five years old:
"I think that for him changing team will be a good opportunity. Thus he can demonstrate that is not true that he wins only because he has the best car".
Even Jean Todt interviewed on the event, responsible of Ferrari races team, after having resisted to the question, he ends to answer, stumbling over a kind of a blunder:
"I think that Hill will win the title. In the past even to me happened to have to do without a World Champion. I want to have the same opportunity next year, with Ferrari…".
A warning for Schumacher? No, only a wrong interpretation. Todt evidently wanted to say he would like to choose which of the two drivers at disposal to win. The problem does not seem to concern one of directly involved, Jacques Villeneuve. With the air of a professor, the young Canadian speaks clear on his intentions. Once again.
"I am here to fight against Damon. Evidently on track, out we can even be good mates. But I can not say we are friends. Everyone does his life. And if I have to hang around someone in the environment, I could go out to dinner with Mika Salo. We were both to race in Japan".
Beyond the title fight, what thinks Villeneuve of his next year teammate?
"I know Frentzen a little. I know he is fast. For sure he is an unknown. Of Hill now I know well strengths and weaknesses. However I do not care much, the only certain thing is that I will not be the number two of the team. It is enough if they give me the same material".
It is true that many scuderia what to engage you?
"Already in last season. But I signed a two-year contract with Frank Williams. For which all is settled, even the payment. When it will be the case of starting other negotiations, we will see. I do not like this story of accords which are worth nothing. Then would be useful to sign: I intend to respect my commitments and I desire that others do the same thing".
Still three races, how many possibilities you have to recover 13 points from Hill?
"I want to defeat him. It does not matter where and when. I will do my best. Here in Monza, in Estoril on a track I really like, in Suzuka which I find really funny".
And, as usual, Jacques confesses to his manager Craig Pollock:
"My crazy desire? Overtaking Damon of a point at last race".
Schumacher divided in two the practice day. In the morning, in first session, he prepared the car for the race. Then the German driver worked for qualifying. After having obtained at 21 lap the best time (almost 0.5 seconds less than of how much he ever obtained in several tests done on the same track), the German driver says:
"We went better of what I expected. But my Ferrari is not into place yet: I had a problem with the steering wheel and even the set up is not perfect. We have to work".
It is a vice (or a value?) of champions that of never being happy. Ferrari’s fan screamed and booed until when the World Champion did not go to the pit wall to wave with large gestures of arms. And broke out an applause that rocked old-growth grandstands of the National Autodromo. In sight of the Italian Gran Prix, ahead of tens thousands of fans, in fact, Ferrari roared strong. It is true that first day of free practice does not count for anything to practical effects of the race, but when it is obtained the first (Schumacher) and fourth (Irvine) time there is something that rise well. Even because the time recorded by the German is by a whisker under the one that allowed Coulthard last year to conquer the pole position. Schumacher says, smiling:
"I am a bit surprised too. Now I can admit it. Yes, we are able to fight to start on pole position. Respect to what happened in Hockenheim, on an equally fast track and similar, we made steps forward. This does not mean that is a downhill road: we wait to see what will do others, Williams, McLaren and even Benetton. For us there has been the advantage of previous tests and of being able to use tyres that, unlike what happened in last races, have been prepared on the base of our tries".
The story of special tyres creates some whispers at box. Even because Villeneuve complained about the fact when he mounted on his Williams fresh tyres, that is new, the car went worse. But it is normal in Formula 1: Goodyear sets up tyres in different circuits with present teams, and then provides it to all for race weekend. In this case it is about of covers quite hard because the asphalt in Monza has a good grip. Michael Schumacher will be the most careful and closest eyewitness of the big tension between Hill and Villeneuve. The driver and his Ferrari will start at third place in Italian Grand Prix, behind the Williams couple. On Saturday 7th September 1996 the German did everything to centre a pole that would have unleash the enthusiasm in Monza. But we could not ask the impossible after that he already flow over curbs and he performed tricks like Rally. The seal to fastest lap was put by Hill, with a time of 1’24’’204, at an average of 246.686 km/h, for the eight time since the start of the season and the 19 in career, the English detached all rivals. A good start for a hard race like Monza one, charged with tensions. Damon though could even close the argument for World Championship with two races ahead. If he will win and Villeneuve will not arrive at least third, it will be reachable. Very challenging race, it was said. That is how the day of Saturday was with qualification, enlivened by a splendid sun and disturbed by a strong wind. And happened many things. During the morning in free practice Villeneuve, at Parabolica braking, had a fight with Diniz’s Ligier, while he was trying the overtake. He went out of track and ended against guardrail. No physical damage but he lost a lot of time to set up his Williams. In the afternoon, under stopwatch, with best partial result, he had to take a chicane straight to not hit Lamy’s Minardi. Jacques was furious above all with Diniz. He says at press conference:
"I do not understand how they can give the superlicence to a driver that is only able to take millions of dollars to his own team, thanks to his rich father".
The statement does not like to the Federation, that summons the Canadian in direction and reprimand him. It was missing something too, in the general confusion. Also is strange the behaviour of Williams and of its manager in this particular moment. On Hill car mounted a new exhaust for the Renault engine. On Villeneuve one (to replace the damaged material in his incident) was installed a special fairing of the superior triangle of the front suspension.
"The change on my singleseater did not give noticeable advantages. The innovation on Damon car led to extra fifteen horsepower".
There are no lack of incidents and breakings. Noted for out of track Panis, Frentzen, Coulthard, Diniz. Japanese engine broken at Ligier (Mugen Honda), at Tyrell (Yamaha). Different trouble even at Ferrari. As if for the Maranello’s team having problems on Saturday morning could a sort of ritual to prevent Sunday ones. Schumacher lose the engine cover for the breaking of a closure clip, Irvine bends a wing crashing against cones placed in the chicane to avoid dangerous cuts of trajectory. The Irish loses the powertrain cooler. For his is almost a fortune: the new one mounted on his F310 was better and Eddie can qualify at seventh place, to only 0.02 seconds behind Alesi. Quite disappointing McLarens (in the morning Häkkinen obtained a time of 1'24"051, which guaranteed him the pole on qualification) and Benettons. The track continually changes and two team suffer from continuous variations. But all drivers have to get busy to showcase themselves in the scraps of a marked which can still reserve surprises. For which we aspect a pulled race in which Ferrari, if it gets everything right as in Spa, might say his. But attention to Villeneuve, who did as testimonial of a new drink, sold in a packaging that looks like a grenade: the energetic Bomb. It is produced by the Austrian that sells underwear of the skier Alberto. Even it is needed the Tomba energy to beat Hill. Williams’s drivers are nervous, even if they do not want to show it. Maybe it is also because a way of doing pre-tactical, one against the other. They look content, quiet. But you feel the tension and probably if they touch their hands would come out sparks as nearing two poles of the battery. From the rest the stakes are huge. On a side millions of dollars, on the other prestige, future, credibility. And even, do not forget it, the Formula 1 world title. Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, put in front of a terrible destiny. Both sons of art. The English with a father that has been true champion, consecrated by two world titles, died in a plane crash; the Canadian descendant of a champion which won few but excited much, fell in an out track. On psychological study plan we could write an endless essay. They play their cards. Damon with the composure of a married thirty-five years old, father of three children.
"I showed I am the fastest. The thing makes me happy. A lot. As you see reasons, with all is happening, I do not lack them. I went strong as I did all the season. The race? It will be hard. For everyone".
Villeneuve puts in provocation terms. Now it is his style, he can allow itself to enter in the role of mouth of truth.
"I would have preferred to be ahead and maybe with three or four other drivers between Damon and me. But I am okay with the second place in first row, considered the car is not perfect. I hope my engineer and mechanics will resolve all technical problems before the race. I will handle it on track".
The young Jacques, who alternates land registry employee goggles and contacts, has no doubts:
"I can not reach the finish line behind Hill. I have to beat him, otherwise I have to leave hopes of fighting for the world championship behind me. I am charged in the right way".
The he aims to his teammate-rival, with which he has a formally correct relationship. The other evening, at two different tables in the same restaurant, before leaving he went to see him off.
"Dear Damon, this is a wide and fast track. You can overtake almost everywhere".
As saying: your pole position is useless, so much at first turn in front I will overtake you. From where comes all this confidence? Villeneuve is convinced of being better than the English. Other than results, considering he is a rookie in Formula 1, comforted him spied data at telemetry on Hill. The telemetry is science which, via a laser transmission of the racing cars to computers at box, says everything on a driver. How he faces a curve, braking, acceleration, trajectories. Everything. And, comparing numbers, he understood, confirmed of being better. Thing that after all thinks Frank Williams too. Seen that fired his compatriot even without waiting the end of the battle.
On Sunday 8th September 1996, at the start neither Damon Hill nor Jacques Villeneuve starts well: the Canadian is still able to flank his teammate, which however pushes him outside, forcing him to pass on the grass. Jean Alesi takes advantage of it, started very well from the sixth position on the grid, overtakes the English at first turn, taking the lead. The leadership of the French last only half lap though, because Hill overtakes him already at second Lesmo curve; little behind Mika Häkkinen overtakes Villeneuve, taking himself to third position. Meanwhile Michael Schumacher is only sixth, overtaken by Häkkinen and Coulthard, in addition to the French of the Benetton. Panis starts last because his engine does not turn on. During the second lap Jacques Villeneuve hits tyres barriers at second chicane, bending a suspension of his car; some tyres bounce on track and Coulthard hits one of them, having to retire with the steering wheel of his McLaren broken. Villeneuve continues, but his race is compromised and the Canadian slowly falls behind in the standing. At fourth lap even Alesi hits the stack of tyres at second chicane; the French continues without damages, but Häkkinen hits a tyre bounced on track, having to stop at box to change the nose of his McLaren and returning on track at thirteenth position. A minute goes by and even Berger retires for the breaking of the hydraulic system of his Benetton. Two laps later, at lap 5, even Hill touches tyres barriers, this time at first chicane; the Williams of the English goes into a spin and Hill is forced to retire. Thus Alesi takes the lead, followed by Schumacher and Irvine; the German quickly recovers the disadvantage, then starting to stalk his rival without being able to overtake him, even seen the better top speed of the French driver. At lap 10 Jacques Villeneuve, already late, returns to box to change tyres. Even the Canadian is victim of an error at chicane against provisional barriers. During the lap 23 even Eddie Irvine is victim of the same mistake. The situation remains stable until lap 30, when Alesi returns to box to do refuelling; Schumacher pushes at maximum, marking the fastest lap in race, and when he does his pit stop two laps later comes out of pit lane significantly ahead of the Benetton of the French, with six seconds of advantage. Then the Germans limits himself to manage the lead, conquering the second consecutive victory as well as the third of the season; Alesi is satisfied of second place, ahead of Häkkinen on finish line (author in the end of a great comeback), Brundle, Barrichello and Diniz.
Villeneuve, with the damaged car, is doubled and is not able to do better of the seventh position, placing that prevents him to take advantage of the retire of his teammate to reduce the disadvantage in championship. Ten cars classified, no Williams in points zone. It happened only in Monaco Gran Prix this year that English scuderia did not have any car among top six. Miracles, as such, by definition, do not repeat. Thus it is not a miracle that Ferrari, after the success in Belgium, did an encore in the Italian Grand Prix. And the way in which Michael Schumacher conquered his victory number 22, the first in the Country of his team, is the confirmation of real progresses of the Scuderia Ferrari (that is the most famous automotive brand in the world) and of a wanted, searched and obtained triumph. Eighteen seconds on Brabham of an emotional Jean Alesi, over a minute on Häkkinen’s McLaren, nothing of narrow. The German driver has even put a series of record on lap. And ahead were not anymore the feared Williams, delayed by tyres. That are races: but in Monza who makes mistakes, pays. The trap of tyres put in the chicane to avoid dangerous cut of trajectory, played an important role. A lot of old tyres have in some way influenced on the result of the Italian Grand Prix, and for sure will have even a decisive weight on the award of the world title. They consist of retrieving tyres that race direction had put in strategical places of chicanes to avoid drivers to cut dangerously designed bottleneck, since seventies, in the circuit to reduce speed. In last few days in same places of the track were put road signs cones. But races hit them deliberately to pass faster. Then, after having listened to Hill and Berger, stewards decided to put away cones and to place tyres, a stack of six. The new solution caused many polemics, but has been accepted as the only one adoptable in short terms. The happened what you saw. It is the first time that happens. But the unexpected are not new in Formula 1: in past years once in Clermont Ferrand almost everyone punctured because had been remade the asphalt. At Nurburgring once the constructor of tyres missed the production and dominated small teams which had old tyres. Thus many drivers were wrong. Seriously. Hill and Villeneuve maybe because too much under pressure. Coulthard betrayed by the heat such as Häkkinen which though remade himself with a great chase.
While Alesi has been author of a great performance, by a mature driver but even brave. Instead he, Schumacher, showed once again because he is two time World Champion. Even if he had nothing to prove. The talent, the technical skill, the coolness, the calculation skill, the tactic. Skills and characteristics which, put all together, make a true champion. And Ferrari. Beyond the victory, there is an even more important fact: he found the reliability, moreover on a track that causes difficulties to all mechanics organs. If did not arrive both cars to the finish line (even if in this case does not exist a counterproof) it is only because Irvine made a mistake. It is not said that this step forward is sure and definitive, for ever. But it is for sure a result. It had to be the Hill- Villeneuve match. They did it on abacus. Both out of racing, the advantage is for the English which remains ahead in the standings with 13 points of before and with only two races to go. The young Canadian promises fighting, but from now on if he want to hope, he will have to be impeccable and to have a bit of luck too. Damon Hill says, after the race:
"For me was a good affair, seen how ended".
Damon Hill loses the lead of the race and the race, but remains very calm:
"At chicane I touched tyres were put there because no one shortcut the path: and it has been the end of my race. I was sure to go toward the world title, then happened one of those things of which you are always afraid. Stupid things, you never know how to defend for them".
Villeneuve, instead, knows to having lost an occasion:
"I soon noticed of not having a big top speed. Do not ask me why, I do not know, care are capricious too. I decided to continue trying to do at least some point, I failed even this objective".
And Frank Williams? Great, as always:
"I knew that Ferrari would arrive at top. However I did not think they would arrive so forcefully. For out fortune
games are closed, but next year…".
It was since 1990, Mansell in Portugal, Prost in Spain (and the English success almost certainly took away the World title from the French), that Maranello did not conquer a race after the other. The maximum target declared for the season is now centred in the middle. It was talked of 23 victories, we are at the third after Barcelona and Spa. And two races are left to the end of the season. In Portugal in two weeks and then even further ahead in Suzuka, it could look the definitive steppingstone for 1997. Since ever in Formula 1 who ends good the championship usually starts better the next one. It is important for the president Montezemolo, for Jean Todt and all his men, to maintain focus and serenity. To take forward all plans after all already put together by now. Those same programs, showed to Schumacher, which convinced him to race for Ferrari. Now the German definitely knows of having done the right choice. And it will be him the catalyst, the fixed point from where to start again for even higher level. It is clear that if there would not be engineers, mechanics, winning technology, even the talent of a driver would be useless. The thing that surprise everyone, leaves you speechless, disorients rivals, is especially the ability that Maranello’s team had to let debut a completely new engine and making it winning. A 10 cylinders, on a road never carried out until now, that in few month arrived to overtake who in this field works for many years. We do not forget, after the reconstruction started by Luca Montezemolo in July 1993, when put Todt as head of GES, now Ferrari is the youngest and the freshest team of all Formula 1. Michael Schumacher tells, in English, the Italian Grand Prix. Very cool:
"A technical explanation: the first set of tyres went bad, the second one good. And to me went good this sequence: because I aimed to second part, to when I would be able to run away from Alesi, to free myself from his presence ahead, thanks to the refuelling delayed at most. I thought that at Benetton studied a strategy similar to ours, I counted on a bit more of fuel in our tanks and so it was. When I took the lead I understood that the big was done. From box they said to stay calm, to save brakes and tyres. I even deconcentrated a bit, that is why I hit on tyres at chicane. A very stupid error, which could cost me everything. I remined surprised, more than angry or scared, for risk run. But talking about of concentration: the fact that in this Gran Prix I always went at ninety percent of my maximum, without ever having to push everything".
"But yes, a bit of luck, others hit on tyres and their race ended there. Even Hill. But we already were competitive on Friday against Williams. We worked a lot, we prepared the race well".
"Do not ask me anything about Grand Prix of Portugal. It is not a Ferrari circuit. Slippery asphalt, tyres problems. Instead I like Japan, Suzuka. I hope to be able to adapt the Ferrari to that circuit, so maybe we can win again".
"I have to thank above all two categories of people: mechanics and fans. Firsts worked a lot, and very well, here as everywhere. Seconds gave me a calm day before. Then, under the podium, they gifted me the biggest spectacle of love, as only can happen in Italy and with Ferrari. I say it in Italian, un grande magnifico casino (a huge beautiful chaos). I got excited, touched".
"About of commotion and emotion, I have to say there is a thing that count for me more than Monza, more than everything: the fact that my wife Corinna is pregnant. She is at fourteenth week. I said that to a fried before the start: it would be great to win and make the announcement. Did it. But I do not want to speculate on an all private happiness. Anyway Alesi beat me, his creature will born before mine".
"There was who, such as Alesi, did amazing things: for example at start. I checked Williams, while my tyres slipped, I saw a Benetton leading, I asked where came from. I fast recovered some positions, though. When I were behind Alesi I saw I was gaining ground pretty well, without much problem and I could even let me save the car. At that point was a fuel matter, for the game, achieved, of refuelling. Ended the pit stop, I thought to have Alesi on my way, instead it was already all decided".
"When I heard of Irvine out I said shit, and though I thought that misfortune already did his work with us. After my hit with tyres a small vibration at steering wheel, which at the moment of the impact I was holding with one hand, alarmed me: but it was only a moment".
"Tyres being wall in the chicane are not a solution. But did you see a solution? It can not be studied penalizations, too complicated. We knew of the problem, of the risk, we all had to be more concentrated and professional: me included".
Instead his partner of scuderia Irvine, at ninth consecutive retirement, said:
"The car was pretty good, with a bit of oversteering at the entry of curve, then there was the hit with tyres. My fault, I can console myself thinking that many made the same mistake, may better than me".
Jean Alesi, arrived second at finish line, says:
"Ending second here, behind Michael, behind Ferrari, seeing the happiness of these fans is by the way a big thing. The tyres hit? A problem, but in any case there have to be a unique solution, not each time a new thing".
Jean Todt is euphoric:
"I am too excited to be quiet, I try. It was not our most beautiful victory, I liked more Barcelona, it was the most important, especially thinking to the place, to the people. Tactic? The great work, if it is a tactic. The team. Everything is prepared well, at least we believe it, then is victory or crisis, disaster. Here we risked something, stopping Schumacher for refuelling at lap thirty-two, a lap after Alesi. Well, if you want this is the tactic. The matter of tyres wall at chicane is a problem. Schumacher was distracted when he hit against it, but others were more distracted than him, they hit stronger. If we could tie together tyres, to avoid at least they go for a walk on track, but then it is risked of creating a real wall, too much resistant. Our world is done of problems that come, are faced, sometimes are resolved. It is built to win, or to see everything destroyed in a day, in a moment. It is worked to an engine as our 10 cylinders to win in 1997 and to win already now and among other things we are just three points behind Benetton in constructor standings. We climb on podium and we are happy, but wrong to think of being the best: even because we are not. We are not yet".
Luca Montezemolo already won an important bet with Schumacher.
"At the start of the season he said to me: this year I except two successes at maximum. I answered to him: no, you will see that it will be at least three. We are here, we took taste of it. Now right at work, to try, if possible, to add the fourth".
Luca Montezemolo radiates joy and enthusiasm, from his house of Capri where he closed himself in hermitage. While enjoying alone at television, as he often does, the most beautiful triumph. The Italian Grand Prix tempted him, but superstition was stronger of seduction.
"And then I think my presence at races is useful when things go less well. This time it was not needed, others deserved the showcase. I am very happy. Because in Monza we did not win for 8 years, it is a success that comes from far away. It is the demonstration that the work started three years ago, and great desire, pays. We already at Spa were out of a difficult period: Monza has been the splendid confirmation. Many asked revolutions and cutting heads, I always said that for no reason I would accept to destroy or to ruin a team like this. We answered on field".
Hot phone, intense emotion.
"Seeing on television so much enthusiasm, all those flags in the sky, it was a priceless emotion. Monza is unique and inebriating, even for the fantastic contour that offers. We spoke right after the end, with Michael we were thanking each other and almost we were missing words. He also remained astonished for what he saw, for the great demonstration of affection of people".
Praises overlap, Schumacher is not alone, but remains on top of thoughts of the president:
"A huge driver: you have to think that he made the record at three laps to the end, reaffirming how much the car was in good conditions and how much he is strong".
Michael as Senna? More than Senna?
"Hard, it is wrong making comparisons, above all with the passage of time. I can say, though, when we took him it was the right time and we have a human and intelligent guy. We also knew, coming to us, Schumacher would become a worldwide superstar. If possible, now he is even more friendly, because winning with Ferrari empathize. Above all, Michael showed how strong he is in knowing how to stay near the team in hard moments. And it is what I appreciate the most, it is easy to unify when winning, much fewer helping others in delicate days. He did not have to demonstrate anything else: that he was a great champion, the fastest of all, we already knew. It is enough to see where is the Benetton today".
Reds seem having definitely hit ghosts, taking a stress that lights the future. Montezemolo coins a slogan:
"This is for real the most beautiful victory. To divide in three. It is the victory of men, of Ferrari, of fans. Above all of fans. Driver, team, organization, car, supporters: I want and have to thank everyone, who was on track and who worked with passion and competence behind scenes at Maranello".
From the president, a special dedication:
"To Todt, who is the head of racing team. He did a great work, him, gritting his teeth in hard moments. What most excites is to reflect on what Ferrari represents for all of us. For Italian industry. People are near us as no one of other scuderia because they know that this is an entirely created, born and built car in Maranello. It is result of our technological research. Victories like this, wanted and deserved, are a strong signal".
Luca Montezemolo will be forced to gift to Schumacher a 550, the 12 cylinders GT a front engine, last born of Ferrari range. A jewel of 325 million. The Ferrari president tells:
"Michael, after having tried the 550, said to me that was the best car he ever drove. Do you gift me one? He asked me. I answered: with what you earn? Michael claimed he would win two races. Even believing that victories would be at least three, I risked. I said to him I would give it to him if he won two Grand Prix in a row. I am compelled to gift him one, maybe one of test, not new. We enjoyed the victory. Schumacher and Todt, even if Jean will say otherwise, they got drunk. I thanked everyone, even those that were at home. This is the victory of everyone, after three months in which, for someone, we were only assholes. They are the same that won in Spa and in Monza. Williams is even stronger. Schumi made the difference. In 1997 we will try to win the World Championship. If we will not be able, we will do it in 1998. We are not closing the English base. It is an important technological antenna, the contract with Bernard expires in August 1997. There is time. The commitment is on new car".
A joke on Villeneuve:
"I did not like him for the arrogance with Diniz. If he was named Jones it would not be in Formula 1. Easy being cool at Williams".
Ended the race, Michael Schumacher makes a jump (with his personal jet) in Monte-Carlo. Then he goes to take refuge in the luxury mansion that he rent near Geneva. Thus Michael Schumacher spends the after Monza, even a bit stunned by celebrations. And sincerely impressed by enthusiasm and above all the affection showed to him by Ferrari fans. What you though when you saw that incredible crowd?
"First of all that certain things can happen only in Italy. These people waited so much time that wanted to live the special moment close. I believe that Ferrari for Italians is as much important as Papa. And winning in this way, on the home track, being witnesses of the event represents an unique occasion".
Do you can do a comparison between these three successes of this year?
"Each one is different. In Barcelona with rain. In Spa under the pression of Villeneuve. Here I could dispute the second part of the race with a reasonable margin on my follower. And there is no doubt that in Monza I felt the biggest emotion. It is fantastic. I only hope that my private life can survive among all of this".
Schumacher has been the first driver in Formula 1 to mix public and private, announcing during the press conference that he will have a baby soon.
"I was so much happy for this thing that I could not stop myself. Family for me is the first thing in life. After last checks done by my wife Corinna, doctors said we will have at 70% a girl. We do not decided the name yet".
Returning to the race. Tyres put as protection at chicane created so many troubles. Can not be found another solution?
"It was the only one possible. Next year it has to be changed. It was up to us to auto-regulate ourselves. Even I also took one of those fear when I touched tyres. I almost fell into the trap. Evidently in Monza even tyres love Ferrari, maybe they wanted to kiss me…".
A surprise seeing, after few laps, that there were not anymore Williams on track?
"Yes, I was. I surprised much. But I was not happy of that".
Is it a shock finding a Benetton in front right after the start?
"It is a crazy situation. On straight I was among two McLaren. When we entered the first turn and I saw Alesi’s car, I asked myself: and from where he come from? I had no idea from where he came. I did not noticed to having overtook him".
It follows that Schumacher did not a great start…
"Effectively if it was good, I would be leading".
But at the end Ferrari was not bad. With Irvine since the start of the season having often reported understeering and oversteering.
"It is true, but depends on circuits. If there are bumps grip is loosed and tyres get ruined. As happened to us in Hockenheim".
There is a big difference between a victory in a circuit as Hockenheim and Monza?
"Sure, it is a big difference. It is different the mentality of fans. Germans are obviously much interested in motorsport. And are even them emotive. But not as Italians. This is a fact. In Monza, as in Imola, there is a very special situation. After the race people are able to invade the track and go wild, to celebrate. In Germany, I do not for what reason, this is not possible. And since fans can not approach that much, can not be captured their emotions. It is for this reason that is really beautiful seeing the crowd so happy and closely with drivers".
Does exist an ideal track for F310?
"I do not believe it exists. For example in SPA we went very well in fast curve. In those average and slow were in difficulty".
Before starting the championship was it really thinkable to win three races?
"It was my aim. But I set it before driving this car. I knew it would be hard. However, honestly, I did not believe we had to get over so many obstacles. With this singleseater there is a base problem. We hope to not having it anymore next year".
Meanwhile Eddie Irvine does not arrive to the finish line from nine races…
"He looks to be very lucky with women. Each time a different girl. Thus can not be lucky on track too".
What do you except from Ferrari in next two races?
"It will be very hard in Estoril. I do not know in Suzuka. In Japan maybe we will have the possibly to stay with the best and fighting for first place. Anyway it is hard to do predictions only bases on sensations".
Speaking of World Championship, who lost more opportunities in Monza? Hill or Villeneuve?
"Both of them, obviously. Jacques should have taken advantage of the problem Damon had. And the English has been unlucky for the fact that the Canadian was not able to collect points. As can be seen, in our sport everything can suddenly happen, even at last meter. Maybe at next race happens another episode and the championships is completely open again. For now Hill remains in a position of significant advantage".
Schumacher speaks German and English. Do you think to learn Italian too for 1997?
"Yes, I do. If you give me lessons…".
Of the 22 races conquered until now, in which position you would put the one obtained in Italian Grand Prix?
"It is difficult to answer. But the last is always the most enjoyable".
It is talked a lot about the future of Damon Hill. Fired from Williams, even being in race for the victory of the World Championship, the English driver will have to find another team. Among many and suggestive hypothesis has been done the one of a his move to Benetton in place of Jean Alesi. Hill would be sponsored by Bernie Ecclestone: in fact the patron of the Formula 1 circus, as said, would like to see Damon in a top team because otherwise would have problems with English pay-per-views. But Flavio Briatore puts an end to speeches with a sharp sentence:
"I never said that I want to change drivers. We go ahead as we are".
And moreover right Alesi - who after Monza has been in Turin with her partner Kumiko, glowing for the imminent maternity, guest of Mario Miyakawa, friend and curator of personal sponsors - does important project for his future with Benetton.
"The first year was of break-in. We had many problems, but things are going right way. The relationship with team and Renault is perfect. I am working for them and technicians are preparing me a car and an engine that will be almost customized realized".
"Fighting for the championship. I am sure we will achieve it. I matured, I still learned many things. The working method of English people teaches us, on this there is no doubt. Many will aim to the World title and I will be there too. Ferrari makes progress, Schumacher is very strong, it has to be admitted, but they will have a hard life. We will be there too. And I hope to show it even in two races left to dispute before the end of the season. In Estoril in two weeks. And then in October in Suzuka. There, if I win, I can leave the trophy at my Japanese relatives’ house…".
The French thirty-two years old in the Italian Grand Prix beat a record. At the start from sixth place he jumped to the lead. A series, of scary overtakes, Alesi dreams to win in Suzuka which has been confirmed as king of sprinter of Formula 1. Which is the secret for these incredible performances?
"It can seem strange but at the starting I am one of the coldest and most concentrated driver, despite my Latin temperament and my Sicilians origins. Indeed I have to say that while my colleagues are tense and strained, I try a particular pleasure in the moment in which the green light turns on. On track in which, often, overtakes are prohibitive, to overtake soon one or more rivals can be determinant for the result of the race".
Yes, but are needed even abilities of a special driving and particular technical solutions to allow some strong start.
"When you start you need to play with friction and wheelspin. After a hard training on dragster track in England, I believe to having found the right measure. The rest is a matter of reflexes".
And on tactical level?
"Normally a driver prepares a plan based on the grid position. Then happens always the contrary of what you imagined. At that point you need to act in fractions of seconds. And having the global view of what happens in the initial bedlam. Finding the right openings, predict others moves. I do it quite good".
An Alesi, then, sure of himself, ready to give battle. Nothing but psychological crisis.
"The end of the championship will be spectacular for sure for the fight Hill-Villeneuve, but there could be third wheels. The true show will arrive in 1997 though when we will be many to fight for the title. I am sure".
On Tuesday 10th September 1996 he was at Silverstone for a series of tests. But in his visit to the Benetton’s factory of Enstone he already prepared the cockpit of the new car.
"You will see it will be fantastic, very different from the current one and with a bomb engine".