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#566 1995 Argentine Grand Prix

2023-01-24 00:00

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#1995, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#566 1995 Argentine Grand Prix

The condemned are silent. Michael Schumacher, comforts himself on vacation on an island north of Rio de Janeiro. He lets known, through his manager Wi

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Those on trial are silent. Michael Schumacher comforts himself on holiday on an island north of Rio de Janeiro. He makes known, through his manager Willi Weber, that he will not speak until a final decision is made. Instead, he announced that he promised earlier this year, in favour of his relatives, that, before the end of 1995, he would marry his girlfriend, Corinne. David Coulthard, the other disqualified driver of the Brazilian Grand Prix, after saying on Sunday night that he was very sorry, remained silent on his return to London. Evidently, his team, Williams, ordered him to be completely silent. Only Damon Hill, who had been forced to retire due to a gearbox failure while leading the race, made a joke, even if he was almost certainly not joking:

 

"That's fine with me. We’re all starting from scratch, with Schumacher and my teammate, Coulthard".

 

Even Flavio Briatore, team manager of Benetton, who never fails to speak, is silent. Strict confidentiality also by the most directly involved, i.e., Elf, the producer of the petrol deemed non-compliant, and Renault, which used it. More than decent attitude while waiting for the counterevidence. Assumptions can be made. Since we will end up in front of a Court, there could be two solutions. Discharge if it is established that the analyses carried out were incorrect and the petrol was regular. In this case, the original classification of the race would be restored. If, however, there are doubts, the ranking that led Gerhard Berger's Ferrari to victory will be validated. Meanwhile, there is a strange position taken by Max Mosley, president of the FIA, who, according to a German agency, declared that he considered Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard innocent (but no one blamed the drivers, who are normally oblivious of the composition of the fuel used on their cars). The English executive mostly thinks about a possible mistake made by Elf, rather than an attempted fraud. But in this case the disqualification should be confirmed because the regulation is clear. However, if it was a mistake, the situation would simply be settled. However, it seems that no decision will be made before the Argentine Grand Prix: another big problem. In any case, the troubles for Michael Schumacher do not end here: many have pointed out the fact that the German driver, at the official weighing carried out by the FIA, weighted 9 kilos more than usual.

 

"They're muscles".

 

Responds the German. But there are those who suspect a new conflict, given that from this year car and driver must not drop below 595 kg overall. And since at the end of the race cars are checked without the driver, thus the total comes from the addition of the indicated weight of the driver, reporting weight that is higher than the real one could be an advantage, which some estimate to be around 0.2 seconds per lap. Max Mosley also intervened on this issue:

 

"I have ordered the commissioners to recheck the weights".

 

And so, F1 becomes more and more a kind of pharmaceutical laboratory, dealing with chemical analyses and scales. On Wednesday, March 29th, 1995, the FIA announces that it will examine the appeals filed by Benetton and Williams against the disqualifications of Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard on Thursday, April 13th, 1995. Further analysis of the fuel samples are awaited. No measures, however, for the weight of Schumacher.

 

"Schumacher at Ferrari?"

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The question is ongoing for The Bild. The German newspaper makes it clear that negotiations have started between the Italian team and the driver. But the denial comes from Modena:

 

"No negotiations are currently underway".

 

According to The Bild, Michael Schumacher is fed up with Benetton after the disqualifications. Meanwhile, the FIA World Council meets in Paris. Among the decisions made, the presence of the Italian Grand Prix of Monza in the F1 calendar is still in the balance, given that the guarantees concerning safety works should arrive before Wednesday, June 28th, 1995. And staying on the subject, on Sunday, April 9th, 1995, after fourteen years of absence, Formula 1 returns to Argentina. The last test held at the Buenos Aires circuit, in 1981, was won by Nelson Piquet with the Brabham-Ford. For the record, the first race carried out on the same track was won by Ferrari with Alberto Ascari and the Maranello team did it again in 1956 with the Fangio-Musso line-up (drivers of the same team could alternate). The return to Argentina will have a double meaning on this occasion. On the one hand, the recovery of an important market for the Circus of motorsport, which has always experienced this sport with great interest, passion, and participation (just remember the names of Fangio and Reutemann). On the other, a sort of counter-proof after the case of Interlagos. The race will be based on a provisional general classification that sees, among the drivers, Gerhard Berger in the lead and, among the Constructors, Ferrari (14 points), pending decision of the Court of Appeal on the disqualification of Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard for the petrol deemed non-compliant by the scrutineers, after a series of repeated tests. However, it is difficult to think that the results of São Paulo will be distant. Probably, Williams and Benetton will still have a good margin of advantage. The only difference could come from a minimal recovery by the rivals. From Jordan Peugeot who disappointed and McLaren-Mercedes who showed something good, without overdoing it, to Ligier-Honda who, after Olivier Panis left the scene on the first lap, was unable to express his potential. However, the greatest leap in quality is expected from Ferrari. If Berger was a lap behind Schumacher in Brazil, it is unthinkable that the gap would be closed. 

 

The 412 T2s should have step 2 engines, that is the second version, a little more powerful, apparently successfully tested in Monza. The modified regulations will make it possible to reuse the air-boxes that should give breathing space to the 12-cylinder engines produced in Maranello. This is among Ferrari's hopes. Juan Manuel Fangio, healthier than what has been said and written in recent times, copes with the risks of a serious kidney problem that, at almost 84 years old, forces him to undergo haemodialysis three times a week. On Wednesday, April 5th, 1995, he made it known that he was very happy that Formula 1 was back in Argentina and hoped for a great race. The old champion does not seem to care much about what happened in Brazil. He is probably used to it: even more serious things happened in his time. So here we are at the Oscar Galvez racetrack, named after a famous runner of road racing. In this plant built on the ashes of the ancient Almirante Brown, two free practice sessions are scheduled on Thursday, April 6th, 1995. From 11:00 am to 12:00 am and from 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm. It seems that the asphalt is discreet and the track quite slow, due to heavy braking and sudden accelerations. There is a lot of curiosity around these tests, but it must be said that the wait specifically regards the fuel matter that led to the disqualification of Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard in Brazil, with the victory assigned to Gerhard Berger of Ferrari. The word curiosity is a euphemism, let's just say that the environment is poisoned by petrol fumes. Elf, indicted and punished in São Paulo, make it known that the same product was brought to Argentina, homologated by the FIA. And if there were still problems, even if no one explicitly states it, the seven teams (out of the thirteen present) supplied by the French company could be blocked. That are Williams, Benetton, Ligier, Forti, Symtek, Pacific and Sauber. A threat that evidently no one wants to come true, but which is always a good deterrent. And the Circus is divided. There are those who argue that the verdict will be confirmed by the Court of Appeal and those who think that the FIA will have to back down. 

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However, it is generally believed that over the course of the checks carried out in São Paulo, something illegal actually emerged and that the current ranking will not be affected. But perhaps a trick will be found so as not to make a bad impression on anyone, with the thesis of an involuntary mistake made by the oilman. On a technical sporting level, there is the novelty of restoring the air-boxes, the forced air intakes of the engines, which could bring a few more HP to some teams. As mentioned, there is also Ferrari, which among other things brings to Buenos Aires a modified and more powerful engine. We look forward to seeing it in action, though. Jean Alesi has a completely renewed seat, since the original one had transformed his race in Brazil into an ordeal, while Gerhard Berger says he is quite optimistic. And some new features on the Maranello cars concern aerodynamics, too. Also, the president Luca Montezemolo is in Buenos Aires and on Wednesday evening he inaugurated the headquarters of the new Ferrari importer Auto Giallo. The presence of the president is also meant to be an encouragement to the team, which is leading the World Championship by 14 points. Nevertheless, the team does not know whether this advantage will be made official on Thursday, April 13th, 1995, when the Court of Appeal will give its sentence on the appeals of Williams and Benetton. A very brilliant Montezemolo, as usual, willing to joke about the rumours of his imminent marriage to Edvige Fenech:

 

"My children called me to tell me that they saw the news in a weekly. I honestly don't know anything about it...".

 

If there is one marriage that the president of Ferrari absolutely wants, it is the one with the F1 World Championship, but the journey is still long and full of very gifted suitors, unwilling to step aside. Nonetheless, a good start, they say, is halfway done. And on Thursday, April 6th, 1995, Ferrari, even without employing the modified engines (reserved for competitions and official tests) sets the best times during the free tests, which allow the pilots to get acquainted with the new track of the Argentine Grand Prix. All former Ferrari drivers, Carlos Reutemann, Clay Regazzoni, Froilan Gonzalez and Jean Alesi are watched by Luca Montezemolo, but Jean Alesi was the fastest, with a lap of 1'35"187, ahead of David Coulthard and Gerhard Berger by 0.328 and 0.443, respectively. Results are provisional, subject to changes, but it is anyway a sign that at least the chassis of the 412T2 is not working badly. In fact, the circuit is slow (the average is 161.076 km/h, thus some call it a go-kart track) and laps are reduced to one hour due to the rain. Admits Jean Alesi:


"I felt at ease, but it's too early to talk. We hope we’ve improved something compared to Brazil".

 

Meanwhile, the controversy regarding the disqualifications for the petrol used in São Paulo has not passed. Michael Schumacher (seventh with a gap of 1.035 seconds) and David Coulthard await the verdicts of the Court of Appeal. The German does not want to comment or make forecasts: he simply tells a story about an accident that occurred to him while he was on holiday in Brazil over the past few days ahead of the Argentine Grand Prix:

 

"I did a dive off Bahia, with my masseur and hotel manager. We were underwater for half an hour with tanks. When I surfaced, the support boat was gone, it had broken free. We began to shout, to signal, but no one could see or hear us. So, I started swimming and after thirty-five minutes I finally found help. It was the biggest fear of my life, other than F1".

 

On the other hand, Elf and Renault are those who are thinking intensely with the help of an entire platoon of lawyers, affected by the disqualification of São Paulo. It is clearly stated by the oil company that if the judgment on appeal is not favourable and if the real classification of the race is not reinstated, with Michael Schumacher's victory, the lawyers will also resort to ordinary justice, with huge requests for damages. A situation of total tension which confronts the FIA with a series of possible actions followed by unpredictable consequences.

 

"Petrol was perfectly legal, and we want justice".

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And Briatore adds that Luciano Benetton told him to sue every single person who wants to damage their image: according to the Italian manager, Niki Lauda and Gerhard Berger have made heavy statements while speaking about the irregularities. Ferrari, which got the win with Berger, is officially silent. Luca Montezemolo says:

 

"It's not our problem. We aim at winning races on track with our cars, trying to improve from time after time".

 

On Friday, April 7th, 1995, after leading all day, Jean Alesi was forced to lose pole position to David Coulthard at the end of the first qualifying session of the Argentine Grand Prix, played on acrobatics and thrills. Pouring rain since the morning, then the track was drying out at the end of practice. In about twenty minutes, you are forced to do everything. Jean Alesi drives brilliantly, with exceptional control of his Ferrari 412T2, in the lead. But he ran out of laps at his disposal and had to go back to the pits. Precisely in that instant, the Scot of Williams beat him. Jean Alesi says, at the end of the tests:

 

"The asphalt was becoming visibly dry. If I only had one possibility left, no one would have overtaken me".

 

President Luca Montezemolo replies:

 

"In any case, I would already sign for a front row tonight, no matter how things go".

 

The forecast says that there is a chance of more rain, but everything could change on Saturday. The best in the wet are in order David Coulthard, Jean Alesi, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Damon Hill, Gerhard Berger, and Mika Häkkinen. Michael Schumacher was only relegated to ninth place, more than 2 seconds behind. The German did circus acts, including a 360-degree spin and a collision with the Sauber of Wendlinger, yet he remained far from the fastest. Luca Badoer and Gianni Morbidelli did very well, in P11 and P12, respectively. Ferrari shows to be improved and that the modified engine seems to be able to provide some useful additional HP for speed. But obviously, confirmations are expected in the second qualifying session and, above all, in the race. Meanwhile, Elf takes an official stand on the case of petrol bans in Brazil. Michel Bonnet, sales manager of the French oil company, takes stock of the situation through a very tough speech against both the FIA and Ferrari, guilty - according to the French manager - of unwelcome verbal interference in the statements after the race held in São Paulo.

 

"The FIA did wrong by interpreting the regulations in an irregular manner. In the morning, they had announced that the classification would be provisional, two hours after the race they instead gave the official one by imposing two disqualifications on the two drivers in the first positions. We have also obtained a second homologation for the same fuel used in the first round of the championship, giving the FIA all the elements on the manufacture of our petrol. And then, the checks carried out were superficial: it took them 45 minutes for an examination that we do in eight days and with much more sophisticated equipment. We feel like we’re not in the wrong, and at the same time we feel denigrated. Now, we await the decisions of the Court of Appeal. We’ll provide Williams and Benetton with all the elements for the defence".

 

Referring indirectly to Ferrari, Bonnet declares:

 

"After so many years of sporting activity, we are surprised and sorry that a red team allows itself to make certain statements, while they should be red with shame for having been lapped".

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The offending sentences would be those of Gerhard Berger, Niki Lauda, and Jean Todt. The driver and former world champion had spoken of possible influences on the performance of the cars if the fuels are irregular, while the manager of the Gestione Sportiva had limited himself to saying that the FIA had to do its duty and enforce the regulations. Later, Todt and Bonnet talked to each other and explained their respective points of view: peace is made with the Maranello team. Moreover, Elf makes known that they are waiting for the end of the situation before making any decisions, but it seems confirmed that if further checks reveal that fuels are not compliant, the company will leave Formula 1 and the seven teams it currently supplies. A very serious threat. In addition, the FIA has been challenged to carry out other tests, but the technical commissioners do not act. The whole affair is very unpleasant and complicated. But one wonders: in Brazil, if race executives took such a drastic decision by excluding the first two disqualified riders from the race, they would have certainly had the necessary elements in hand to do so. On Saturday, April 8th, 1995, ten minutes of respite were enough to revolutionize the starting grid of the Argentine Grand Prix. Ten minutes during which the rain, which began to fall furiously just before the start of the second qualifying session, slightly slowed down and stopped flooding the circuit. At this moment, all the drivers go on track, starting an infernal carousel amid spray and clouds of water, taking all the risks involved. Skill and even a little bit of luck rewarded the young newcomer Scotsman David Coulthard, who, already in the lead on Friday, confirmed his supremacy by taking the first pole position of his career after just ten races. Just behind, Damon Hill, driving the other Williams-Renault, while Michael Schumacher miraculously climbed from ninth to third place. A leap forward that makes the German smile as if he had won a lottery. On the other hand, the two Ferrari drivers, Jean Alesi, and Gerhard Berger, who fell back to sixth and eighth position respectively, did not find any winning ticket. The Frenchman, who was among the very first throughout the weekend and who thought - if the asphalt had remained dry - that he could fight for the front row, says he has not found a single decent lap. That is, it has always been slowed down by some other competitor. But it seems that someone, either the team or the driver, made an error of judgement: in fact, Jean Alesi goes on track too early, perhaps thinking that it was the right time. But when there are unstable situations, logic and experience tell us to do exactly what stronger opponents do. And Jean Alesi should have gone on track at the same time as David Coulthard, who explains to journalists:

 

"It was the team that played the right cards. They kept me informed by radio of what was happening and who was in front of my car and behind. So, I was able to slow down on the straight opposite to the pits and create a space for myself to push hard without having to overtake slower competitors. The Williams was obviously fine".

 

Now we wonder what will happen in the race. Normally, on this type of track, slow, winding and narrow, the driving turns out to be quite spectacular. Because groups of several cars are formed, and overtaking is almost impossible. A lot will depend on the start (where Michael Schumacher intends to surprise both David Coulthard and Damon Hill) and the usual pit stops to change tires and refuel. Unless someone plays the joker, that is not stopping at all. The Ferraris, starting behind, have limited possibilities to fight for the top positions. Even if there is some progress in terms of performance and the race goes better than the one in Brazil in terms of gaps. But for now, in the pits of the Maranello team you can only see rage and frown faces, together with the slightly disappointed one of the president Luca Montezemolo and, above all, the face of Jean Alesi, who cannot hide it when things go badly.

 

"I was optimistic, because my car was fine. In both dry and wet conditions, I thought I could attack. Instead, it went bad, I was never able to push to the limit, I always had some obstacles. We hope it works out with the race".

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It is interesting to see what Eddie Irvine will do with Jordan-Peugeot and Mika Häkkinen with McLaren-Mercedes. There are some unknowns that could make the race interesting. Even if the predictions, at this point, must consider a duel between the Benetton-Renault of Michael Schumacher and the two Williams-Renaults of Damon Hill and David Coulthard. A battle of accelerations and braking which, however, could also be decided by the best overall tactics. As for fuel, among other things, neither the teams nor the Federation say anything. Barring surprises after the race. On Sunday, April 9th, 1995, at the start of the Argentine Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher tries to overtake Damon Hill, but the Englishman manages to keep his position. Meanwhile, behind, Jean Alesi spins in the first corner, causing a series of carambolas that lead to the retirement of Luca Badoer, Bertrand Gachot and Karl Wendlinger. The red flag was thus displayed, and a second start was necessary, in which Jean Alesi also took part with the backup car. At the second start, Mika Häkkinen, hitting Eddie Irvine's Jordan-Peugeot, punctured the rear left tyre, retiring; Michael Schumacher starts well, moving into second position behind Damon Hill, and Jean Alesi also has a good starting point, finishing fifth behind the surprising Mika Salo on Tyrrell-Yamaha. With a two-stops strategy in mind, unlike the Williams and Benetton drivers, Jean Alesi shows great difficulty in overtaking Mika Salo, thus losing precious seconds, while his teammate, Gerhard Berger, punctures a tire after a few laps and compromises his race. The Williams prove to be superior to the others, especially with regard to the chassis, and picking up the pace. On lap 16, however, David Coulthard retired due to accelerator problems so, Damon Hill and Jean Alesi remain fighting for the win, although the latter has the advantage of making one stop less compared to the Englishman; Michael Schumacher, on the other hand, was unable to find the ideal race pace, even though he kept third position without problems. The race was decided with Damon Hill's third pit-stop: the Williams mechanics made no mistakes, and the Englishman therefore maintained the lead of the race, taking his first success of the season ahead of excellent Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher, Johnny Herbert, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Gerhard Berger. 

 

On the other hand, the two Forti-Fords of Pedro Paulo Diniz and Roberto Moreno surprise negatively, as they reach the finish line 9 laps behind Damon Hill and, not having completed 90% of the total distance, are not even classified, despite having actually finished the race. Ferrari is close: after Gerhard Berger's third place in Brazil (later promoted to winner due to the disqualification of Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard), the Argentine Grand Prix sees Jean Alesi on the second step of the podium behind Damon Hill, king of the race. But the position of the Frenchman - even if we must consider the type of circuit, very slow and tortuous - has a very different meaning compared to those obtained two weeks earlier in San Paolo. We finally saw a Ferrari that was competitive in terms of timing. Furthermore, it must be said that if the driving had gone differently, perhaps the Ferrari driver could have even fought for a final sprint with the Englishman from Williams-Renault. But let's be satisfied with the step forward and the progress shown by the 412T2s, which also brought Gerhard Berger to sixth place, despite various drawbacks. Michael Schumacher, with Benetton-Renault, emerges defeated from the second round of the World Championship. The German - who says he was basically held up by two sets of tires that did not work - finished the race in third place. Apart from a few spurts and a few fastest laps, the Benetton driver was never a protagonist and appeared at the mercy of Williams and Ferrari. In terms of performance (Damon Hill inflicted a gap of 6.4 seconds on Jean Alesi), Ferrari was at par with rivals. Damon Hill made three pit stops, as did Michael Schumacher, while the Frenchman stopped twice. So, he drove with less competitive tires and with a heavier load. And he was very good because he had to drive the backup car due to the accident occurred in the first corner after the start, thus forcing the organizers to repeat the start. In these cases, the regulations allow the cars to be replaced. In the meantime, while waiting for the verdict of the Court of Appeal, following the appeal by Benetton and Williams against the disqualifications imposed in Brazil, Ferrari remains at the top of the championship standings. With Gerhard Berger in the Drivers' World Championship (Jean Alesi is third) and in the Constructors' World Championship, as well. This is an excellent encouragement for the next San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, at the end of the month. But the most comforting fact can certainly be found on track, where we saw a Ferrari being a protagonist, as everyone expected. 

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And to say that the race had started badly. For the Italian colours there is an honourable ninth place by Domenico Schiattarella with Simtek and the usual beautiful race by Gianni Morbidelli who was sixth when he had a breakdown due to an electrical problem. For Minardi, however, this is another day to forget. Luca Badoer did not compete, while Pierluigi Martini ended up being overtaken on the dirty side of the track, thus encountering the debris left on the asphalt by the competitor. Not to mention the fact that he immediately had to go to the race direction (together with Eddie Irvine and Olivier Panis) to testify about the accident at the start, which did not take away Jean Alesi's smile. This time the Ferrari driver really enjoyed himself:

 

"I went well at the first start. I had a terrible start, and to avoid being passed by everyone, I went on the inside of the corner. So, I ended up in a dirty spot on the track and the car spun as if it had gone on ice. Then, there was a whole series of collisions".

 

Is it a problem to race with the backup car?

 

"No, it worked perfectly. At the same time, this race showed how important it is, especially in certain circuits, to start in the front row. Of course, the engine on my car was a little better, but the other one worked very well, too. I’m very happy because we’re headed to Imola in high spirits and with significant improvement prospects. At Ferrari, there are many new things to try, and I think we’ll still be able to improve".

 

Jean Todt echoes the French driver:

 

"Nice race. Today, the real Ferrari is the one seen on track. The modified engine worked really well. The gas? Let's let the others do the talking".

 

Gerhard Berger is less satisfied:

 

"It was a bad day. I think I had a slight flat tire after Häkkinen's crash. I went into the pits, but the radio didn't work well, and we didn't understand each other. They figured I had a shock absorber problem (and I did, as it turned out later), and they were already pulling me to the garage. I lost almost a minute and a half. Then, I also had other small problems, but by then the race was compromised. The only satisfaction: I’m still leading the World Championship standings".

 

Damon Hill says everything was perfect, he did not have problems in the slightest and enjoyed seeing Schumacher's Benetton in the rearview mirrors. Instead, the German spoke about his troubles with the tires in the first two changes:

 

"Otherwise, the race would have been different".

 

Meanwhile, the Finnish Mika Salo of Tyrrell is speechless. After being blocked for a long time by Aguri Suzuki, he went directly to the Ligier pits to punch the Japanese driver. But the clash was stopped before it escalated. In the morning, the entire Fiat delegation had been to visit Ferrari, and, on Monday, they will sign a contract for an investment of around 1.000.000.000.000 lire in front of Argentine president Carlos Menem. The amount will be used to build a plant in Córdoba for the construction of the 178. A plant that will provide jobs for 6,000 people. Paolo Cantarella and Umberto Quadrino are present, together with the managing director, Cesare Romiti. Paolo Cantarella, number one at Fiat Auto, jokes:

 

"We’ve got to spend a lot to be able to come and see a Grand Prix".

 

And Cesare Romiti adds:

 

"Fiat and Ferrari are two independent entities of the same family. We provide Maranello with all the necessary means. Luca Montezemolo often comes to cash in, but what he has at his disposal should be enough for him. As far as I'm concerned, I'm ardently rooting for Ferrari, Alesi, and Berger, they are the best. Fiat has had great progress in recent times, thanks to the excellent product offered and the attitude of the company. If Ferrari wins, it's good for us all".


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