#586 1996 San Marino Grand Prix

2023-01-07 23:00

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#1996, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#586 1996 San Marino Grand Prix

Precise, pragmatic, sincere: Thursday 2 May 1996 Michael Schumacher gets out of his red Fiat Coupé. “We feel the push from the Ferrari fans. They help


Precise, pragmatic, sincere: Thursday, May 2nd, 1996, Michael Schumacher gets out of his red Fiat Coupé.


"We feel the push from the Ferrari fans. They help us a lot with their passion. And we will give our best. But let's not have too many illusions: the race will be very tough and difficult. In theory, it’s impossible to repeat the Nürburgring performance".


On the eve of the first day of practice for the San Marino Grand Prix, the German driver gives a press conference, together with Irvine. It was organized to avoid unnecessary chasing. If anything, the World Champion will speak again on Saturday, after qualifying.


"I’m well aware that what I’m telling you will not please you and the people who will come to the race to support us. I expect a lot of problems with the car setup for me and Eddie. However, you have to be realistic. In Germany, everything went very well. If Hill hadn't had some trouble, though, we would have been fighting for third place. Our car doesn’t adapt to this type of track, we saw it in Brazil".


The question comes naturally. You also did some tests on Wednesday, May 1st, 1996, at Fiorano: don't you have anything new for San Marino?


"There is the latest version of the engine. With which we will be able to gain at most a couple of tenths per lap. For the rest, only minor changes. The other day we worked above all on the starts which, due to lack of time, had not been rehearsed. And we learned something. We must advance in small steps. As I said, we will be competitive from mid-season onwards".


A prediction based on certitude?


"On trust. I've seen the progress achieved so far, I know the plans, I know that little by little we will be able to develop the F310".


Ferrari's drivers have repeatedly argued that the new car behaves critically. How can you believe in a designer like Barnard?


"Simple answer: we have several problems. We have to solve them all; it’s useless to look for scapegoats. We must work together. The positive notes concern the braking, which is excellent, and the reliability achieved earlier than expected".


But can Schumacher still claim that Barnard is a fantastic designer?


"Of course. Remember that part of Benetton's success is thanks to his work. There are many things in Formula 1 that are the result of his ideas. Especially from a mechanical point of view. Perhaps certain solutions are not visible, but they can give important advantages".


Talking about the race and the World Championship. Will Villeneuve really be able to undermine Hill in the fight for the title?


"I don't think so, at the moment. Jacques was very good last Sunday at not making the slightest mistake. But if you look at the analysis of the race, you'll notice that he was, on average on the lap, seven tenths slower than his teammate. I think the Canadian could be very dangerous in the season finale. He’s a quick learner. But by then, Damon may have already won".


And what about Imola?


"It means a lot to me. Now it's like running at home. And it will be like this in Monza, too. I will have lots of motivation. It’s not enough, though. The Williams are not approachable now".


The World Champion also tells the reason why he doesn't want to learn Italian:


"That would be one more complication. I think in German, and I already have to translate into English. I'd make a terrible mix, with three languages. If anything, it can be an incentive for someone on the team who doesn't understand me well, they can learn better".


Irvine, on the other hand, is studying and expresses himself very well using the few words he has learned.


"I hope to do a good qualifying, to be in the top four or five. Even though my car still has a lot of understeer. We will make a revolution: we will apply a lot of oversteer and then go back. Let's hope it works. My aim for the championship is to finish around the fifth place. Hill will win the World Championship because Villeneuve still doesn't have the same pace. In any case, the two Williams are not within our reach. And Schumacher is not within mine, either. However, I could beat Alesi, if he continues as he started".


Speaking of Alesi and Berger, on the eve of the San Marino Grand Prix, Flavio Briatore appears in a bad mood after his recent misadventures. Surely, he must not have spared them heavy criticisms and accusations.


"There are some points in dispute: since someone doesn’t seem to understand English, even if he earns 5.000.000 million dollars a year, I also wrote him something in Italian".


Friday, May 3rd, 1996, Ferrari surprises even itself. After the cautious forecasts of recent days and Schumacher's prudence in addressing the discussions on the San Marino Grand Prix, the World Champion finds himself dominating the first day of free practice. Michael is fastest both in the morning, on the wet track, and in the early afternoon, when the asphalt dries up and conditions return to normal. Maybe it is just an illusion, and most likely the opponents (especially Williams) are hiding part of their potential. But when you're at the top of the timesheets, the signal in Formula 1 is always positive. And it must also be said that this time the merit was not only of the German driver. The F310s have, at least in appearance, done their part. Even Irvine, in fact, has always been in the top positions. The Northern Irishman could have ended the day among the best, if he had not run into a spin in the middle of the second session, which forced him to end the tests earlier. Even Schumacher is the protagonist of a nice spin in the finale. But it is more an excess of confidence at the Villeneuve corner, taken with enthusiasm, than a real problem with staying on course. Schumacher says, at the end of the tests:


"Honestly, I didn't expect such a competitive car. The set-up turned out to be good, and we were also able to improve it. But I fear that in qualifying something will change. I got my time with little fuel in the tank. While them, I believe, got it with heavier cars due to half-full tanks. However, on Saturday we will use the new, slightly more powerful engine and the differences shouldn't be huge. A few tenths at the most".


In any case, at the circuit, the tension is very high. The mere fact that Schumacher was the author of this performance excited the crowd of fans. And a sold-out is guaranteed by the assault on the box office for tickets. Also because - as it has been said - Ferrari's progress is substantial. The engineers used a different extractor profile at the rear of the car, which seems to have yielded some interesting results. 


Top speed has not increased, but the handling of the car and its overall performance have improved. Even Eddie Irvine, chronically struggling in the last three races, looks more relieved:


"I can't say that I have solved all the problems, however there is concrete progress".


The other side of the San Marino coin is represented by Benetton. If Ferrari is growing, the World Champion team continues to be bogged down at the back: P13 Alesi, P14 Berger. And the two drivers do not seem in good shape. Black is the colour proper to these hours. Jean Alesi in particular is tense, he would like to prove to what has been his audience for years, that Ferrari was wrong to let him go. And to those who ask him if it is true that, after going off the track at the Nürburgring, he was properly scolded by his team, he replies by abandoning the interview. And even the Austrian from Worgl, Berger, who finds many banners of support hanging from the grandstand, appears thoughtful and full of doubts. Someone says that there is a sort of lack of communication between the two drivers and the technicians of the Enstone team. To sum up, information and data cannot be transformed into vehicle improvements. But Flavio Briatore tempers the criticisms:


"There are no disagreements between Benetton and its drivers, just normal discussions between members of a team who row in the same direction. And the times of the first day have relative significance. It depends on the plans of a team: ours were a little disturbed by the rain. Other than that, we don't think we are that far from the best. That's what we'll see on Saturday and Sunday".


Behind Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Jacques Villeneuve enter the timesheets at Imola. However, the Brazilian is one of the few to put new tires on his Jordan at the end of the tests, with a good advantage in terms of times. As for Villeneuve, the little Canadian says:


"Now we need to stop arguing that Ferrari is bad. Besides having a great driver, the car is also good. In any case, I don't dream of going to Maranello. I just like driving".


On Saturday, May 4th, 1996, Michael Schumacher takes Ferrari to pole position on the circuit named after the son of its founder. With the risk of winning the San Marino Grand Prix and reopening the Formula 1 World Championship if that happens. The forecasts also need to be reconsidered, which postpones the hope of seeing the Maranello team at the top to mid-season. Miracles of the passion for Ferrari? No, progress of the F310, which allows Eddie Irvine to settle in sixth position, and extraordinary skills of the Schumacher phenomenon. Ferrari and the World Champion transformed the grandstands of Imola into a party. Among barrels, trumpets, and clamours, mixing the joy of the countless German fans and that of the Ferrari fans, the steel pair is sanctified. Driver and team, everyone celebrates, even René Arnoux, who had achieved his last pole here in Maranello in 1983 - a good 13 years ago - still small and dishevelled, a former driver accompanied by a blonde girl. There have been others and there will be more thrills, when the race starts on Sunday, 63 laps of suspense. Everything is possible, what a dream it would be to see Ferrari cross the finish line first, in front of the cars it was forced to chase until a few days ago. Support for the technicians and Michael Schumacher, who at the end of qualifying says:


"The race strategy will be decisive. We must study everything thoroughly, analyse the data".


Sleepless night for many, perhaps thinking of President Montezemolo's face. Yes, because there was also a big problem threatening Schumacher and Ferrari's big day, a thrill behind the thrill, the failure of a piece of the left rear suspension, which occurred a few moments after the record lap. Schumacher was the first to go down the still sunny track. And immediately he set an impressive time. 


Then Hill and Villeneuve, with their unbeatable Williams, opened the chase. The others linger. The ferret-faced Englishman and the Canadian with the air of a young intellectual go wild. First Jacques and then Damon overtake his rival, with Hill in the lead and Villeneuve second, the front row fully occupied. And complicit looks, as if to say: we got him once again. But it is not over. Qualifying is almost always made up of three attempts, four laps each. The magnificent trio is missing one. And there are 4-5 minutes left until the end of the challenge. Graham Hill's son and Gilles Villeneuve's son fail to improve themselves.


"Wrong settings".


Hill says.


"Too wide in the curve that leads to the pit's straight".


Villeneuve echoes. Schumacher did not fail, and did an impeccable lap, using the entire track, asphalt and even a bit of grass. An uncatchable time of 1'26"890 comes out of it, marked at an average speed of 202.683 km/h. Hill, livid, mutters:


"It was like getting punched in the stomach, how bad".


A mixed solution will be adopted on the Ferrari: the usual pure engine with new parts. But what seems to have closed the day, actually has not. There is, in fact, the last of the thrills. Schumacher, not happy yet, still has one lap left, having crossed the finish line a few moments before the chequered flag. And he pushes the throttle. The cameras watch him closely. And you see the car break down, sway, end up in a rapid spin, luckily without damage in the former and very fast Tamburello corner, now transformed into a hushed chicane. But the Ferrari people, in the pits, mostly saw the bent left rear wheel. Concern and relief for the narrow escape. What a risk. Look at the telemetry, wait, then examine the guilty piece, until the discovery of a broken pylon.


"No fault of the driver".


Declares Todt.


"I'm not worried about the broken suspension; I think it won’t be difficult to fix the problem before the start".


A conciliatory Michael adds. But during the night, Ferrari will have to work hard to reinforce the piece. And two specialists will be urgently called from Shalford, England, where John Barnard's design studio is located. To understand what happened and to prevent the trouble from happening again. Sunday's race is going to be tough: in addition to the Williams, there were also the McLarens and Benettons. Everyone hopes, including Alesi and Berger, to be better in the race than in qualifying. But it is Ferrari and Schumacher who are in front. The car is brought back to the pits on the wagon with the unbalanced wheel, with Schumacher standing near the cab waving to people and flags. He smiles. And then he smiles again when he gets out and passes among a group of microphones and parades accompanied by photographers in front of the pits, not to mention when he arrives to the press room:




Michael Schumacher is not a man who smiles a lot. But inside the pits, Jean Todt tries to kiss him. And he smiles. Drivers, what a special kind of people, wrote Enzo Ferrari. The one that exists now, people call it a computer, because they say it the type that programs everything, and they call a robot, the German. Ferrari used to say that great drivers must be a bit out of the norm, special people. Other than computers. They will find another nickname for him, you will see, for Michael.


"When the driver is a phenomenon, he counts for 50%".


Ferrari repeated. However, Schumacher took the first pole position with the Maranello car, and at Imola Ferrari had not been seen in front of everyone since 1983. And he says:


"I’m very surprised. And it’s true that I didn’t expect it. Because I've been at Ferrari since November and the results have come much faster than I expected. It's all so fantastic, this way of working, this enthusiasm, everything is so beautiful".


And his car had gone away on the cart, and then under the claws of a crane, with its left rear wheel dancing in the void as when it had jumped at the Tamburello curve, where Senna had died, two years ago. This is the truth: even fate is a bit of a pimp when it is time. The carbon pylon broke a few meters after Schumacher had set the fastest lap: a few seconds earlier, and everyone at Imola would be celebrating Williams.


"The carbon pylon under the attachment of the upper left rear suspension lever".


Jean Todt points out. Who cares, there was the Ferrari on the wagon and Schumacher smiling. The German pilot calls Montezemolo and says that he has never heard him so happy:


"Yes, I'm used to poles, but I must say that it's different here, the emotion is really very deep, more intense".


And then, during the evening, Montezemolo could not resist and showed up at the circuit. Praising the drivers, the mechanics, the team, handshakes.


"Good, all good".


Wedding Saturday. There are the guests and those who are not. There are betrayed lovers or ex-boyfriends. There is Flavio Briatore, from Benetton, someone who has the air of a viveur and takes defeats philosophically:


"That's okay. It's important that Ferrari and Schumacher are in pole position at Imola because Formula 1 wins and our sponsors win, as well. It's good for everyone".


And there is Jean Alesi who runs on the track and no longer sees the banners for him or hears the people cheering him on, even if some are still there, and someone even calls him. But a year has passed, and Ferrari has changed course. Alesi Says:


"At the bakery you find bread. Here you find the Ferrari fans".


We must get over it: now there is Briatore who gets angry like a boring husband, and then takes it all back with caresses, but he will get angry again. And Ferrari is getting married, with this German who never smiled and now drives around smiling, and in a while, he may even start joking, precisely this German driver who used to run away when he saw an Italian journalist. Today, and this is already incredible, he even speaks well of them.


"Before we met, there had been some misunderstanding between us. Not your fault, I have to admit. But they had spoken to me in a certain way about this environment and about you. Then, now that I'm here, I understood that the international press picked up on certain news and, through perverse mechanisms, relaunched it incorrectly".


And yet he is nice too. Today, Schumacher says it is a great joy for the whole team.


"Tomorrow, I think that for the first time since the beginning of the season we will be on par with the others, and we will fight for the win".


On Sunday, May 5th, 1996, Schumacher starts badly, and gives the position to Hill and Coulthard; the Scotsman, who got off to a great start from the second row, even conquered the first position at the first corner. The first lap was quite eventful: Alesi, recovering, to avoid the German from Ferrari, ended up with two wheels in the grass, then hit the Williams of Villeneuve first on the left, then on the right, author of a not exceptional start; the Canadian had to return to the pits with a punctured tire, while a suspension was damaged on Alesi's car. Salo thus moves into fourth position, author of an excellent start (from P8 to P4), followed by Berger (started in P7, ended up in P5). Coulthard maintained first position, while Schumacher, who started with less fuel than his rival, took advantage of a small mistake at the first chicane and overtook Hill, setting off in pursuit of the McLaren driver, unable to pass him, though. When Coulthard and Schumacher make their pit stops, on lap 19 and 20 respectively, Hill takes the lead, while the German overtakes the Scotsman; with a clear track in front of him, Damon Hill kept an unapproachable pace for everyone and when he refuelled (lap 29) he was back on track ahead of Schumacher. Further back, Salo retires, after having given the fourth position to Berger; Alesi, on the other hand, was the protagonist of a troubled race, with a damaged car and a Stop & Go inflicted on him for excessive speed in the pit lane. While Hill was easily controlling the race, progressively outdistancing Schumacher, Coulthard retired due to a gearbox problem (lap 44), thus making Berger move up to third position. At the end of lap 39, after the second round of stops, the games are over, with unbridgeable gaps from the leaders. 


Hill ahead of Schumacher and Berger. Six laps from the end, Villeneuve also retires, betrayed by the suspension of his Williams after having recovered up to sixth place. There are no other changes, and Damon Hill takes his fourth victory of the season. Despite the failure of the right front brake about halfway through the last lap, Schumacher still manages to finish second and then abandons the car a few meters after the finish line; Berger, Irvine, Barrichello, and Alesi follow. Damon Hill, in the San Marino Grand Prix, collects once again and takes home his 17th victory in Formula 1. The fourth of the season out of five races, a poker that will allow him to face his opponents with serenity and perhaps even allowing himself some bluffs in his approach towards the Formula 1 world title. But Hill, the real favourite of the race despite Michael's pole position, despite throwing the best cards on the carpet, did not cancel Schumacher and Ferrari's dreams of glory, because the appointment of the World Champion and the Maranello's team with the first place seems to be only postponed. When? Perhaps at the next race, in Monte-Carlo, in two weeks. The overflowing crowd at Imola could have been deluded on Saturday after the great feat of the World Champion. But Schumacher, growing with his team and finishing second, still has three problems to solve. Three thoughts that disturb - so to speak, given the incredible calm and trust that animate him - his nights. Three problems to be solved as quickly as possible. The first concerns the starts. So far, Schumacher and Irvine have not had a good one. But the drivers are not to blame. 


Once the light turns green, the F310s skate inexorably, giving way to the rivals that follow. The drawback - as Jean Todt himself, head of the racing team, admits - concerns the clutch. It is a matter of finding a faster and more reliable system, also linked to the electronic management of the gearbox. Second: overtaking seems prohibited. When it comes to overcoming even lapped competitors, it is always a drama. The Ferrari car lacks some acceleration and top speed. Considering how circuits are designed today, overtaking is more difficult for everyone. At Imola, Schumacher lost many of his chances of at least staying in Hill's slipstream to make him feel more pressure precisely because he was forced to run slowly behind Häkkinen and Diniz who were battling each other. But the biggest obstacle, the third, is not an internal problem at Ferrari. Its name is Williams. Right now, the English team's car still has a margin of advantage. Even if entrusted to a promising but inexperienced young man like Jacques Villeneuve and a driver who still raises some doubts about his actual absolute value, like Damon Hill. An advantage built over the years that is not easy to eliminate. For nobody. The improved engine to be used in races, some important aerodynamic modifications, mechanical and even more reliability improvements. It will not be easy. But, once on the right path, it is imperative to move forward for the Maranello team. Meanwhile, though, God save the Queen, once again. English anthem on the podium of the San Marino Grand Prix for Damon Hill and Williams. The Formula 1 World Championship leader's chair - for Graham Hill's son - is getting more and more comfortable. 43 points in the standings (among other things, even when he did not win, he took the 3 points of fourth place at the Nürburgring), Hill is now 21 points ahead of teammate Villeneuve, who was left without points at Imola. 


On the other hand, there is a 27-point margin over Schumacher, who, however, pulled away from Alesi and is third place on his own. It was not a very beautiful race, saved only by the tension deriving from the presence of a competitive Ferrari and the stupendous setting of the crowd, until there was an unconscious and extremely dangerous invasion of the track while the cars were still reaching the finish line at over 200 km/h. For the rest, there was only one real but platonic overtaking, when Schumacher overtook Hill on lap 2, who had preceded him at the start together with the Scotsman Coulthard. But precisely that initial overtaking should have signalled to rivals the secret of the tactics adopted by Williams for Damon. Why was the Englishman so slow? Simple: his car was heavier, as he had a higher quantity of fuel on board to allow him to get to lap 29, for his first pit-stop. It was a strategy, that of the British team, that worked. Hill was able to take advantage of the fact that Schumacher, stopped to change tires and refuel on lap 21, was jammed among the lapped cars. With the lead gained, the Englishman was able to win. In reality, Hill was also helped by some Ferrari uncertainties. If Schumacher had managed to hold on to first place on pole, with the lighter car, he would most likely have gained enough of an advantage to remain in the lead even after his rival's first stop. And even the two stops for the German were not as perfect as on other occasions. Let's be clear: the mechanics were very tired after a day and a half of non-stop work, and the usual quality of the best moments could not be expected. As had already happened on Saturday in qualifying, Schumacher did not miss the final thrill. The German practically crossed the finish line on three wheels. The front right was completely blocked. Michael Schumacher says, not without emotion:


"It happened at the chicane of Acque Minerali, and I thought I was done. I arrived at the finish line by miracle. And I didn't even know that it was the last lap of the race. If it had happened a few minutes earlier, goodbye points, second place and effort".


Schumacher suspected a stuck wheel bearing. But upon examination of the car by the technicians, it was discovered that the brake had nearly disintegrated. An unusual breakdown, to be added to that of the previous day's suspension. Fortunately, these are not congenital problems of the car, but problems that unfortunately happen in racing. However, Ferrari achieved their best result of the season, with Schumacher on the second step of the podium and Irvine fourth. A good overall result and a boost of confidence also for the Northern Irish driver: his car was finally drivable. Benetton is also on the rise, finally with both cars at the finish line and in the points. The cars of Berger and Alesi are not the best, but compared to the beginning of the season they show signs of recovery. Irvine's speech also applies to the Austrian. The McLarens are out of the standings, but Coulthard and Häkkinen, until they were forced to leave due to gearbox and engine failure, proved themselves. 


We also saw the new Forti with Badoer in tenth position. For a car that was making its absolute debut, it was a kind of promotion. Even if the driver from Veneto, punished several times for excessing speed in the pits, was quicker in the pits than on the track.


"I saw people coming down, running. A lot of people".


Hey, fear not. Once upon a time, not too long ago, Schumacher won on the Benetton, an Italian brand, and then was alone amid some Germans under the awning. In Imola, on the other hand, flags wave and fans scream with joy. After the race, says Michael Schumacher, almost overwhelmed by this wave of love:


“I didn't feel any fear. I pulled myself out of the Ferrari and rushed towards the rescue car".


Schumacher sat on the window, waving his hand, and smiling, with the people present on the track chasing him, and others jumping over the nets, coming down from the bumps next to the stands while the flags created red spots on the Imola track. There are also some Germans with a belly full of beer and a red cap on their heads.


"Too bad, I would have liked to walk back to the finish line and thank my fans".


But this is German stuff, while in Italy they always exaggerate a bit. Sooner or later, Schumacher will win on a Ferrari. Better that it had not been to Imola that day, the first time. Maybe, for the best, really.


"After the Acque Minerali, I saw this smoke, the sparks coming out of the front wheel, to the right".


The brake was to blame. It got stuck. And there he saw the crowd move towards the track.


"What a crowd".


There are about 150.000 people, mad with joy, who in these three days enabled the record number of tickets sold: 212.000. Then they also hurt 28 people, for the invasion. Eddie Irvine says:


"I was almost afraid of not making it to the pits. They patted me on the back, they hugged me, they wanted to rip my helmet and gloves off".


And the loudspeaker of the racetrack shouts:


"Help the ambulance, it has to go to the hospital. It can't pass".


There is a huge crowd in front of the finish line, brandishing the Maranello team flags. Damon Hill hardly smiles on the podium, because they do not celebrate him, even if he won. This is how it ended at Imola, a few seconds after the race, as soon as the Ferrari went out on the grass before the Tamburello, while the marshals waved their flags to stop the other cars. Winning, it will be for another time. In the press room, then, Schumacher sits on the counter, among the Italian journalists. Can Schumacher win in Monte-Carlo in 15 days?


"Well, Monaco can be good for us. It's a track we like, and we'll employ the new engine".


But he repeats, patience is needed. Coming to Imola always has a strange effect, you can lose the sense of things. To be realistic, Schumacher keeps repeating that he will only reach the highest podium in the middle of the season. The rest are dreams.


"When I arrived at Imola, I never thought it would be possible to finish second like I did today, even fighting for the win. We have shown that we’ve made great strides forward, more than any expectation. But today this result was good, what I could get. In the race, I realized that I was able to keep up with Hill, with his pace, but not to overtake him".


What comparisons do you make between last year's Benetton and this Ferrari?


"For now, both machines behave the same way. However, we are improving a lot at the moment".


Saturday and today, two technical incidents? Don't worry, both have a logical explanation:


"The important thing is to understand things".


Jean Todt also seems happy. He whirls away, then stops close to the reporters. Is he happier or more disappointed?


"Happier. We want to mess around. However, we have to improve because this is our job. Otherwise, we would be here to be journalists".


He is so pleased that he said it, he repeats it.


"Ah, these journalists".


And Montezemolo?


"We are always in contact".


Happy or disappointed?


"He called me now. He was happy".


Of course, he says. All right, today is a beautiful Sunday.


"But don't you see all these people?"


This must be why Schumacher continues to chat, sitting on the counter. They ask him: is there anything in which Ferrari is stronger than Williams? He thinks for a moment:


"Yes. The human factor. The men".


Starting with the mechanics in the red suit, who worked non-stop from 7:00 am on Saturday until the race: 35 hours, without sleeping. That is what Ferrari is. Passion and work.


"Great guys".


Schumacher says.


"And the crowd is amazing".


They already did not like each other before, let alone now. Jacques Villeneuve and Jean Alesi have only the French language in common. As for the rest, they are completely different, even though they are both fiery, hasty, like those who want to solve everything immediately. So the Williams driver and the Benetton driver collided with each other several times, ruining each other's race. It happened a few hundred meters after the start. Jean Alesi recounts:


"Before I had problems with Schumacher. I had to put two wheels in the grass to avoid a collision with his Ferrari when he changed direction. So I found myself inside the chicane alongside Villeneuve. We were both apart and touched each other. I resisted until the pit-stop when they also changed the steering wheel, which was damaged. But the speed limiter didn’t work. And because of that, I had to stop again for the 10-second penalty. After that, the car wasn't balanced. But I concentrated as hard as I could and managed to finish in the points zone".


Not even a consolation prize for the Canadian, however, who was forced to retire when there were four laps to go due to a rear suspension failure. Jacques Villeneuve says:


"It's a shame given how things went, I could have fought for the win. With Alesi I collided immediately. And this was perhaps inevitable, given the situation. But then he hit me with the front wheel and got me a flat tire. I returned to the pits and for me the race ended there. I don't understand why he acted like this".


Measured but decisive words. After all, Jean Alesi had another disappointing day. In the morning, he had gone off the track, destroying his car and ending up in the emergency room. Thankfully without physical damage. But he was forced to take the spare car for the race. After the accident with Villeneuve and the penalty given due to excessive speed in the pits (80 km/h limit) the Frenchman spun while trying to overtake his compatriot Panis. Finally, his Benetton went straight, cutting a bit of grass when he was trying to resist Schumacher. At the end, he finished sixth: the question arises. What would have he done in a smooth run? However, Alesi was not the only one to fall into the sporting justice system. Badoer was also (twice) too fast in the pit lane. Stops and 10-second penalties also for Häkkinen and Diniz, guilty of not respecting Schumacher's lapping attempt. On Monday, May 6th, 1996, breakfast time has just passed, when Luca Montezemolo and Jean Todt leave the Cavallino restaurant. At the table, in the reserved room, the president and the director of the Sport Management continued to exchange opinions. Speeches that began early in the morning, at the Gestione Sportiva, where - with the financial statements of the San Marino Grand Prix closed - the foundations were laid for the strategies to be applied in the next few days. 


The president of Ferrari first met his men. Then, from 9:00 a.m., for about an hour, Luca Montezemolo is live on television, to respond to the Ferrari fans and enthusiasts. An occasion during which the president of Ferrari explains, reveals little behind the scenes, talks about the past, present and future. President, how is the spirit after Imola?


"I'm happy, because today we are competitive. And we also get to the end of races. I'm happy for the fans, the real ones, who have been so close and helped us in our recovery effort. However, calm down with enthusiasm. Nothing happened yet".


How much is Schumacher's second place worth?


"When things go well, there is more desire to push. To win, you have to be perfect in every detail. And we haven't reached the top level yet. These results and the enormous public that Ferrari has, not only in Italy, must motivate us to do even more. We are close to success; we have the medicine and the motivation to take further steps forward. Todt did an excellent job together with the men from the Gestione Sportiva. I think few people would have thought they'd see Ferrari so close to the top in the European races".


Do you still have many problems?


"We are trying to solve them all, even if it won't be easy in the short term. We have to continue fine-tuning the V10 engine, which is already a strong point anyway, we didn't break one during the race this year; the clutch system needs to be reviewed as it turned out to be a handicap at the starts; the aerodynamics need to be modified to reach higher speeds on the straights. Finally, we have to save time in the pit stops. Unfortunately, there are difficulties in inserting the hose for refuelling into the tank valve, and so we lose a few seconds".


What must be done to continue on this path?


"Keep working together. Aware that Ferrari can count on the maximum support from everyone. And on two drivers who work entirely with and for Scuderia Ferrari. But we must continue with deeds and not with words".


Avvocato Agnelli spoke highly of Ferrari.


"I’m glad that the Avvocato is so happy. Doctor Romiti also called me. We want a competitive Ferrari".


Is it possible to think about beating Williams at this point?


"There’s still a lot to do. The Williams are stronger, but Ferrari has shown that, with a lot of work in recent months, it’s possible to close the gap a bit".


They say that all credit goes to Schumacher.


"We have a great driver. But I laugh when I hear these speeches. Returning to Ferrari, I fought against all the electronic gadgets that had taken away the driver’s credit from him. In Formula 1, pairs have always won: Lauda with Ferrari, Senna and Prost with McLaren, Mansell with Williams. You can't win if you don't have a champion, you can't win if the car isn't competitive".


What reasons made you choose the German driver?


"We had been looking for a champion for a long time. We had come very close to getting Ayrton Senna. He came to me on the Wednesday before the tragic accident at Imola. He told me: I want to end my career in Ferrari, I want to win a World Championship for Ferrari. Unfortunately, our times didn't match his. Maybe we weren't ready for a great champion yet. Last year, I thought it was the right time".


Then you got Irvine, when will it be time for an Italian?


"Irvine will soon prove his worth. As for the Italian driver, I think that if we had put him close to Schumacher, he would have had a difficult time. Having said that, I look very carefully at many of our drivers, one called Fisichella, in particular. Let's hope that we can have one of our guys at Ferrari again. But now we have to think about the present. This year we said we want to win a couple of races. The goal for 1997 is to aim for the World Championship. It will be difficult. But that's what we want, and we'll give everything".


Not far from Maranello, guest of an Italian sponsor who supplied him with the ceramics for his new factory in Grove, Frank Williams says he fears the recovery of the Italian team and Schumacher.

"It will be an uphill battle. We could, in theory, no longer win a race of the eleven that remain. Ferrari could have won the Grand Prix at Imola if it hadn't had problems at the start and in lapping. But it’s improving and it scares me".


It is clear that Williams also plays to enhance his results, so far very brilliant. Indeed, in a subsequent analysis of the situation, Frank Williams states:


"This year I see Damon Hill very calm, responsible, and decisive. We have bet on Villeneuve for the future, even though for our sporting policy he is free to play his cards. The young Canadian still lacks some experience. In certain circuits he has problems. But he grew immediately and a lot, extremely. I don't want to put too much pressure on him".


To those who asked him if it is true that Williams will have a new car in the middle of the season, Frank Williams replies:


"I don't think so, it's not necessary. We are very happy with what we have. In recent years, our idea of always moving forward in small steps has proved to be good".


The following day, Tuesday, May 7th, 1996, almost all the teams will start a series of tests right at Imola in view of the Monaco Grand Prix. Ferrari had to postpone the appointment for a day, Schumacher will test the car from Wednesday to Friday. The plans, which envisaged starting the tests with Irvine, were changed because the new gearboxes finished the previous week were missing: they still need to be overhauled. Among other things, we learn that the V10 engine used on Saturday in qualifying is not the famous Step 2, but something in between, considered by the drivers as much more drivable. The German champion will simulate a Grand Prix to homologate the most suitable engine version for the race in the Principality. Williams will be on track from Tuesday with Hill and Villeneuve, Benetton with Alesi, Berger and perhaps Sospiri, McLaren with Prost, Coulthard and Hakkinen, Sauber with Herbert and Frentzen and Forti, from Thursday, with Badoer.


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