After the Canadian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher had said:
"I'm frustrated. When you have a half-a-minute lead, you try to keep everything under control. But you know that something unexpected can always happen. That's what happened. A problem with a control unit. So, Alesi won. I'm happy for him. Achieving his first win the day of his birthday is fantastic. He deserved it".
The German driver is not the type to make empty compliments. The recognition of Jean Alesi who brought Maranello's team the win number 105 in F1 from 1950 to date, has a heavy value. Because it does not only refer to the race disputed in Montreal but to the whole career of the French driver, who, on Wednesday evening, 14 June 1995, was celebrating in a jubilant crowd with the city center of Avignon paralyzed by Tifosi.
"Because he's fast, passionate and fair".
Adds the German Benetton driver. But, one wonders, is the Alesi-Ferrari pairing no longer scary now?
"Honestly, I feel quite comfortable. If I hadn't had the electronic problem, he wouldn't have beaten me. It's clear that, from one race to another, you can always expect surprises, but we're not sitting around with our feet on the desk".
Indeed, Benetton is already at work. From Wednesday onwards, the tests at Silverstone will start with a car deeply changed regarding aerodynamics which should make its debut on Sunday, 2 July 1995, on the occasion of the French Grand Prix. Schumacher is allowed to rest as Johnny Herbert and the development driver Jos Verstappen will work until Friday. No fear, then, for the challenge in the World Championship?
"There are always some doubts, because someone presents new technical upgrades in each race. And the circuits are always different: they can be in favor of a car or another by turns. Fortunately, we've always done good, both in qualifying and in the race, except in Argentina. This means being competitive. The championship is still long".
It is true, the season, with six rounds disputed, has basically just begun. But there are already talks about the drivers' market. What will Schumacher do?
"I've not decided anything yet because my contract with Benetton will expire at the end of the year. In all serenity, I think that I'll have the possibility to also decide at the very last moment. I've always said, and I want to keep my word, that I'll try to drive only for potentially winning teams".
However, even in the Formula 1 environment, some believe that Schumacher can become a bulky person because of his demands regarding the recruitment. We are talking about 20.000.000 dollars per year.
"I'm convinced that there won't be any problem. Someone will always be willing to pay the right price".
Four teams are candidates to take Schumacher. Benetton is first in line (with the help of Renault which does not want to lose him), Williams, McLaren (with the complete support of Mercedes, ready to do crazy things) and in theory also Ferrari, although they have neither the intention nor the possibility to pay so much money. There are those who hypothesize an Alesi-Schumacher exchange, but if it should be so, everything will depend on the results. And if the thirty-one-year-old Frenchman wins again? On the other hand, Jean Alesi has not only inflamed the hearts of the Ferrari Tifosi with his beautiful win in Canada. The victory of the driver from Avignon also gave a breath of fresh air to the French F1 fans. After the departure of Alain Prost. In fact, the odds of the French drivers, despite some boost with Olivier Panis at Ligier, had slipped down. Better not to talk about the Italians who, in the post-Patrese era, apart from a couple of bursts by Gianni Morbidelli, did not have the opportunity to show anything. And, for the rest, the Italian group does not have valid means. A beautiful viaticum, still, the one of Jean Alesi ahead of the next French Grand Prix, scheduled at Magny-Cours from Friday, 30 June, to Sunday, 2 July 1995, seven round of the World Championship.
"This year, our car is competitive on all the circuits. Reason why I'm always going for the win".
And to develop strategies and technical resources, Alesi will get out on track at Monza. He continues to support Jean Todt, the racing team manager of Maranello:
"The victory at Montreal should not make us forget that there's still a lot to do. We have to work intensely and do our utmost".
In fact, there is still a gap to catch up of about half a second per lap in favor of Benetton (only Schumacher's one...) and the superiority demonstrated against a Williams apparently in crisis has to be confirmed each time. It is at the Autodromo Nazionale that - let's not forget - the future will be decided (the works requested by the FIA for the safety issue have not yet started and are not even approved actually): Ferrari will carry out a definitive test on the most current version of its engine, the step 2 of the 12-cylinder. It should allow for a leap forward in performance, with more power or better use of it. Even if Schumacher remains the man to beat of the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. Alesi is convinced of being able to aim for the second success of his career. The event at Magny-Cours will be of particular importance for the power units: Renault announced the introduction of a renewed 10-cylinder for Benetton and Williams; Peugeot will provide Jordan with an evolution of its engine. There is a great battle ahead, with all the necessary unknowns. These are new elements and therefore susceptible to positive or negative surprises. Last year, on the circuit which is a few kilometers away from Nevers, Ferrari, despite the chassis problems seen almost everywhere, didn't act too badly. Berger was third behind Schumacher and Hill. This time, with a 412T2 which seems to have took the right path, things should go even better. In short, Alesi and his Austrian teammate will have the opportunity to shine. A lot will depend on the results in qualifying, as usual, given that overtaking at Magny-Cours is not easy. Even if some adjustments that have been done to the track could change the situation for the better. Jean Alesi states:
"I'm in top form and I no longer have a nightmare of having to break the ice to climb on the highest step of the podium. Generally, when a driver finds the utmost confidence in himself and in the team, he performs at one hundred percent. And maybe even more. I think that from Friday onwards, there will be thousands of my fans and of Ferrari Tifosi in the grandstands. It will be hard but I have one more reason to aim for the first place".
Before winning in Canada, the Ferrari driver, although with an incurable optimism, had often gone uphill. He always had to struggle to conserve enthusiasm and recharge after every disappointment. Now, at two weeks from the Montreal victory, he appears in great shape and is euphoric. His blood is boiling, he waits for the races as if they were energetic injections. On Monday, 26 June 1995, at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, at the beginning of a series of tests that will last three days, before the French Grand Prix, Jean Alesi does not hold back.
"At first, I was only dreaming of the moment during which I would climb on the highest step of the podium. Now, I have another thought, fixed: becoming a World Champion. I have a plan. Ferrari, this year, is able to win lots of races. Not one or two, a lot more. The fact that, except in Brazil, we've been competitive on all circuits demonstrates it. There are no tracks that bother us. And the ones that are the most favorable to us have not yet arrived, like Hockenheim, Spa and Monza. I'm confident".
The driver, born in Avignon, adds:
"I'm not the Alesi that only thinks of winning anymore; when it won't be possible, I will still try to earn points for the championship".
But to achieve that aim, he will need the collaboration of the whole team:
"It's important that no one makes mistakes during the weekends of each Grand Prix. One only mistake can now have greater repercussions than in the previous seasons and cost us the win".
The Montreal victory also makes the French people rediscover Alesi. Won't there be too much pressure at Magny-Cours?
"In Italy, I've always been much loved. My compatriots were following me up to now because I was driving for a strong team. After Canada, however, I'm part of the ranks of the winners. I'm used to Monza and Imola with the Ferrari Tifosi. For others, the pressure is something negative, for me it's a motivation, it helps me".
Back at Monza ten months after the disappointing retirement in the 1994 Italian Grand Prix, Alesi remembers the phone call he received that day from Giovanni Agnelli.
"A difficult moment. Everyone was close to me and suffered with me. After Canada, the Fiat chairman never called me again. But I also won for them. Juventus had won the league title, it was right to also contribute to the diffusion of Ferrari. In an interview, Giovanni Agnelli said: the day on which Alesi will win, he will be part of the great family. Now I'm also part of the winner family".
The problem of the contract renewal is not a problem of the driver:
"In Roma, the lawyer Montezemolo told me to stay calm. I am. The word is as valid as a signature. But the renewal has to be earned. I'll do everything to have it".
At Monza, Jean Alesi is forced to stop the tests because of a crash, after having went off track at the first chicane. But he stays optimistic:
"The car is great, it's fast. And today, I'll fully test a new engine. It could be the right weapon for the French Grand Prix".
And Luca di Montezemolo, chairman of Ferrari, also says to a French company, before the French Grand Prix:
"We're on the right path, but there's still a lot to do. We're showing that Ferrari is competitive, even if it's not the best car at the moment, we've gained in confidence, in serenity. Today, Ferrari is like someone who has regained freedom after having been held hostage. It comes back to life. But we must remember from where we started. Knowing that it's easy to fall back. We had known three difficult years, before each Grand Prix it was known that Ferrari had nothing to hope for. At Monza, in 1993, Alesi's second place marked our comeback. Last year, we got our highest number of points since 1990. It's important that Ferrari is at the first place in the billboard and the win is the best motivation. For this, it's true that I'm happy about the victory claimed in Canada, but we also have to be aware of the path that still needs to be done and not forget that when Schumacher had to slow down, he was ahead".
Montezemolo denies the hypothesis that Ferrari has offered a contract of 26.000.000 dollars to the German for 1996.
"It doesn't make any sense. Ferrari can't afford these crazy numbers. Not even for Schumacher. I'm satisfied with the drivers that we have whose contract, it's true, will expire at the end of the season. The speculations are normal, but after only six races, it's still too early to talk about 1996".
Safety, in the end, on prospects.
"Our story forces us to be a complete team which autonomously produces chassis and engines, which is unique in the F1 world. It's our specificity, our daily fight. Ferrari will remain a team at the full 100% in F1 or out of F1".
Speaking of the F1 future, the Italian Grand Prix will be held at Monza on Sunday, 10 September 1995, provided that the ACI present a definitive and formal commitment to the FIA by next Monday. The FIA World Council has actually granted an extension, convinced by the guarantees of Rosario Alessi, the ACI president. This news comes from Paris to Monza, where on Wednesday, 28 June 1995, Jean Alesi got out on track with his Ferrari to carry out further tests, promoting the latest evolution of the 044 engine. The French driver says:
"I'll have it on Sunday. I'm going to Magny-Cours to win, the car is competitive and the team is charged".
The consensus of the World Council is linked to the fact that all the work required by the FIA will be completed before the Grand Prix according to the schedule. The commitment of the ACI and the government to this must arrive in Paris no later than at 12:00 a.m. on Monday, 3 July 1995. In practice, the ACI has to make sure that there will be no obstacles to the works that concern, among other things, the suppression of the large corner and those of Lesmo, with the cutting of 185 trees, by this deadline. A race against the clock. From Rome, Antonio Paolucci, Minister of Cultural Heritage, announces that the Council of Ministers has committed itself to seek a reasonable and possible way out (within ten days) involving all institutional actors and all political expressions legitimately concerned.
How do you balance the ten days with the FIA stop? The FIA in question is in Paris and has also introduced certain technical and sporting rules to avoid, among other things, the recurrence of cases such as the one of fuel in Brazil and that too slow drivers are allowed in the race. Tough position against the invasion of the circuits at the end of the race, with the threat of heavy sanctions against the organizers. To answer these questions, we must wait. In the meantime, the French Grand Prix starts with an abduction. Not of a person, but of a team: Minardi. At 3:30 p.m., on Thursday, 29 June 1995. In the pits of the Italian team, where they are working with fervor, a distinguished gentleman appears with five gendarmes in tow.
"I'm Maître Etienne Lamotte, huissier at the Court of Nevers. I'm sorry, but I have to seal your material. Here's an order for payment, if it's not complied with, I'm forced to seize everything".
The officers begin to seal: the single-seaters of Martini and Badoer, the pits, the trucks, even the two motorhomes. Tapes and wax at will. And the enforcement agent hangs warning flyers everywhere: anyone who removes the material is liable to a fine of about 1.000.000.000 lire and three years in prison. A terrible news for Giancarlo Minardi, 48 years old, from Faenza, in F1 since 1985. In practice, a revenge has been taken against him. At the beginning of the season, he had sued Mugen-Honda, who had preferred to supply Ligier with their engines after signing an agreement with Minardi itself. And he asked for damages, with an action brought in the Court of Ravenna, having had to remake his cars and find other power units (Ford) at the last moment. Mugen-Honda and Ligier (owners Flavio Briatore and Tom Walkinshaw) did not like it. And as soon as they arrived in France, they presented to the Romagna constructor the bill for an old and - apparently onerous - debt. It is said that about 7.000.000.000 lire were leased for Ford engines in the 1993 season. In the meantime, sneering, Flavio Briatore says:
"I have nothing to do with it, ask those who did the action".
But Benetton's manager quietly suggests that Giancarlo Minardi should have avoided involving the Japanese in a court case. In reality, however, the abduction was requested by the Grand Prix Engineering Sponsorship Ltd in Dublin, which had leased the engines, that is to say for rent, to Minardi. And here is the opinion of Tom Walkinshaw, the Scottish manager who will replace Cesare Fiorio at Ligier next week:
"Business is business; the Irish company has to take the money from Minardi and then pay us who had the engines under management. We've been sending letters for eighteen months".
What will happen now? Three possible solutions: Minardi does not race and the case will go through legal channels; Minardi finds a surety and the material is released; Minardi renounces the case against Mugen-Honda and in turn is freed from that with the Irish society.
"At this point, I'm only a spectator. The others will decide".
And Giancarlo Minardi does not make other comments. The FIA says it is unaware of the problem, although there is a possibility that Bernie Ecclestone may intervene to comply with certain clauses of television contracts. A minimum of twenty-four cars should be guaranteed at the start. Anyway, that's another really big problem that does not contribute to the image of the Circus.
Minardi stays stationary, but the others will get out on track. There is much anticipation for Ferrari and for Jean Alesi. It is said that there will be a record audience, precisely thanks to the Alesi effect. To whose jokes, sympathetically, but not without stinging, Gerhard Berger answers:
"He says he's more sympathetic to the Italian Tifosi? Well, I am more sympathetic to the Austrian ones. But this is not an Italian or Austrian championship. It's a World Championship. And then personally, I don't like to get too emotionally involved. Jean wants to win the title? I got my first win after 36 races, him after 91. If math isn't an opinion, he'll be a champion at 45 years old. But let's be serious. Right now, we have to fight against Williams and Benetton. We think about getting better, being more regular at the top and then anything will be able to happen".
We had left Jean Alesi on the highest step of the podium in Canada. On Friday, 30 June 1995, three weeks after, following the first day of qualifying for the French Grand Prix, Ferrari seems to have to start over. Both Williams are back in front, with Damon Hill on provisional pole position, then David Coulthard and the usual Michael Schumacher. Gerhard Berger and his teammate, Jean Alesi, follow. The gaps are not abyssal (around 0.5 seconds), but is this alarming? Was the win in Montreal just a stroke of luck? Jean Alesi, backed by Gerhard Berger, answers:
"No, this is a contingent situation. The Magny-Cours track is particular. There is no grip. It requires a very fine setup of the cars, of high-precision. You get a one-millimeter adjustment wrong and you're off the track. We can catch up if, of course, we don't commit mistakes".
Hopeful sentences even if Jean Alesi, as always when things do not go well, has a very black face. For the moment Gerhard Berger is faster than him, his Ferrari is not going as he would like. And he also dislikes the widening of small misunderstandings due to his statements on a television in Modena when he had said that he was the most loved by Italians. His words, reported to Berger, were met with a sarcastic response from the Austrian, and this did not help to improve the climate between the two drivers. But that is not really the problem. Eagerly awaited by his Tifosi, the racer from Avignon had probably hoped to make an exploit right away, to propagate the Alesi effect that should bring a record crowd to the circuit. Instead, the driver finds himself with the problems he has always had. Among other things, even the threatening presence of Michael Schumacher, who repeats that he will decide in September with which team he will race next year, did not help him. Hinting that among these teams, there is also Ferrari. Jean replies with harsh words:
"Montezemolo will be the one to take a decision. I don't know how it will end, but the only certain thing is that whatever the final choice is, mine or Schumacher's, I won't race with the German".
And he also gives a reason why.
"Michael is in a strong position and wants a huge engagement. And a team that will pay him so much will inevitably have to focus everything on him, disregarding the other driver. If Schumacher takes 18 or 20 millions of dollars, if Berger receives 11 or 12 millions, I would have to accept 1 or 2 millions? It's about getting respected".
So, there is also a money problem to solve. Back to the race, perhaps the Maranello cars will manage to improve something today and do better on Saturday, but honestly this is not the type of track where they will be able - except surprises that are always possible - to give something to think about to their rivals yet. The true test will come with the next race, at Silverstone, while Williams is back in the spotlight after the apparent tarnishing of the last tests. Damon Hill and David Coulthard say they are delighted with the car which now sticks well to the road and with the new Renault engine. They will have to deal with Michael Schumacher, who remains confident to claim the pole (and when do you ever give up?) and, hopefully, with Ferrari. Meanwhile, good news for Minardi. After being stationary for the abduction, the Italian constructor obtained permission in the late afternoon from the Court of Nevers to be able to participate in the tests that will take place on Saturday as well as in the race. The case will continue the following week, but probably in other words. Giancarlo Minardi states that his debt towards the company that had leased his engines in 1993 is, according to his calculations, of about 1.100.000.000 million lire and not about 6.000.000.000 lire as it was said.
The same manager also announces a legal action to recover the material and moral damage suffered. On Saturday, 1 July 1995, it is official: France is no longer a winning land for Ferrari. After the triumphs of the roaring years, nowadays the wins of the Maranello team are counted: Lauda's win in 1975 and Prost's win in 1990. And the haul, by the looks of it, does not seem set to increase on Sunday, 2 July 1995, since Jean Alesi will start in fourth position and Gerhard Berger in seventh position. It would take a hurricane or a series of lucky coincidences to bring the French or the Austrian driver on the highest step of the podium. It will be more likely and more logical to see a great duel between Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, with David Coulthard in the role of the uncomfortable third between the two title contenders. Yes, because between the German champion and the English challenger, the story of last year is repeating itself. A neck and neck with no holds barred. Damon Hill did not forget the disappointing loss in the last race at Adelaide, when he was forced to retire because of the clash with the car of his rival. And fight. Michael Schumacher, on the other hand, would like to close the book in his favor as soon as possible, so that to not take risks. Damon claims the first virtual win, taking the pole position, the seventh of his career, third of the season and on this circuit, thanks to a time of 1'17"225, set at an average speed of 198.122 km/h. Michael tries the impossible, in the very last minutes, but this time he does not succeed. And the two confront each other in press conference. Damon Hill says:
"Magical Williams. It allowed me to have the best time even if Schumacher in extremis, in more favorable conditions (ed: the ambient temperature had decreased), tried to beat me".
The German Benetton driver replies:
"I was screwed by the headwind and the traffic, otherwise I would have made it. But it's not important, it will be different in the race".
But the Williams driver answers:
"There was wind for everyone and then, since the circuit is 360 degrees, one time you have it in front of you and one time you have it behind. It doesn't change much".
There seems to be no sympathy between the two. Everything is done to discourage the rival, the battle is also psychological. Michael Schumacher is very determined, even if he was disturbed in tests by a strange episode that had Benetton as the protagonist. The English team presented himself to the sports commissioners to change 7 of the 56 tyres available for both their drivers during the weekend. It consisted of used tyres which, according to the Anglo-Italian team, would have been punctured by mistake during the controls of the temperatures. These tests are performed with some kinds of awls that the Goodyear technicians would have pushed a little too hard on the tyre. This claim was rejected. The commissioners inform:
"If we had accepted it, we would have created a dangerous precedent. From now on, someone could have punctured the tyres to get them changed and have new ones".
In fact, the amount of damaged tyres is a bit odd: five on Michael Schumacher's car and two on Johnny Herbert's one. For the German, it is therefore permissible to worry a little about the pit stops during the race. But it has to be said that Williams has made great progress after Canada and so it will also be a question of performance, as well as tactics and stops in the pits. In the surroundings, it is said - between the serious and the facetious - that Didcot's team is in crisis because its technical director is in love. Patrick Head, 48 years old, involved in a love story with a prosperous Brazilian woman named Betize Assumpcao (Ayrton Senna's former press secretary), allegedly neglected his job. Instead, even if he arrived here by motorcycle with the young woman, Head evidently engaged with his collaborators, especially with the aerodynamic expert Adrian Newey, who changed body and floor. So much so that the car has started to be competitive again. Ferrari, however, has not. Difficult track, this one, slippery and flat and many problems. Jean Alesi did not even complete a lap of test because of an hydraulic problem at the gearbox and Gerhard Berger, with a less serious but similar failure, does not manage to find an optimal set-up. Both 412T2 lose tenths of a second everywhere. Because of the mechanical development, because of the aerodynamics, because of the adjustments and the use of the last version of the engine.
"I did everything I could, but I wasn't going forward. It's difficult to come out good from the slow corners".
So what? All these red flags, the banners with Jean Alesi je t'aime written on it, all for nothing? Perhaps yes, but the hope is always there: in Formula 1 the races are strange, unpredictable. On Sunday, 2 July 1995, at the start of the French Grand Prix, Damon Hill keeps the first position, followed by Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard and Olivier Panis. Johnny Herbert moves up into P6 from the tenth position over the course of the first lap, while Jean Alesi is the author of a poor start and from four he ends up at the seventh position. Over the course of the first lap, Pedro Paulo Diniz ends in a spin and retires, just like the Japanase Taki Inoue and Ukyo Katayama, who make contact. During the second lap, Jean Alesi tries to attack Johnny Herbert at the Adelaide corner but he hits the British driver's Benetton, which ends up spinning and is forced to retire. Martin Brundle takes advantage of that and moves up into P6, in front of both Ferrari. Rubens Barrichello and Olivier Panis, who occupy the third and fifth positions, are penalized with a Stop & Go of 10 seconds for a jump start, giving David Coulthard the opportunity to move up into the third position, ahead of Martin Brundle and both Ferrari, which are now in the points. Rubens Barrichello and Olivier Panis go back on track in P9 and P10, well behind Mika Häkkinen and Eddie Irvine. Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, are on a race of their own, and after 18 laps they already have a 10-second lead on the third driver, David Coulthard. Michael Schumacher goes back to the pits on lap 18 and has a clear track to catch up on Damon Hill, who remains blocked behind the lapped drivers. When Hill stops on lap 20, he is clearly behind the World Champion, who leads the race with an 8-second gap on the Englishman. After this series of pit stops, Michael Schumacher is now the leader, followed by Damon Hill and Martin Brundle, who has managed to overtake David Coulthard thanks to his pit stop tactic. Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello are respectively in P5 and P6 and are followed by Eddie Irvine, Mika Häkkinen, Olivier Panis and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Gerhard Berger falls into P16, given that his pit stop took a good 54 seconds, because of a problem of the refueling filler of his Ferrari. Michael Schumacher, in the meantime, increases his lead on Damon Hill, which goes up to 14 seconds at half of the race. Just before the second series of refueling, some drops of rain fall on the circuit, but all the drivers still put on slick tyres in the pits.
Michael Schumacher, despite a problem to the front right tyre, remains at the lead with a comforting margin on Damon Hill; they are then followed by Martin Brundle (who had anticipated his second stop and will have to stop a third time), David Coulthard, Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello. Mika Häkkinen and Olivier Panis are now seventh and eighth ahead of Eddie Irvine (who turns off his engine during the second stop and loses valuable seconds) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Gerhard Berger, in the meantime, has moved up into P12, but his race is now jeopardized. Martin Brundle stops for the third time at 16 laps from the end, going back on track with a 7-second gap behind David Coulthard, thus putting himself in the hunt of the third place. The Ligier Mugen-Honda driver manages to catch up the Williams of the Scotsman in a few laps, but he does not manage ever to attack him on the twisty French track. The race thus ends with the fourth win of the season of Michael Schumacher, the number 14 of his career. The two Williams-Renault drivers, Damon Hill and David Coulthard, finish in second and third place, followed by Martin Brundle, Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello. History repeats itself. Last year, Damon Hill had started ahead and Michael Schumacher had won. On this occasion too, the Englishman has started from pole position and the German has easily took the first place. Compared to 1994, the standings only changed in the following positions: third for the other Williams of David Coulthard, fourth for a hard-fought Martin Brundle, behind the wheel of his Ligier Mugen-Honda and, finally, Jean Alesi in his Ferrari, who was ahead of Rubens Barrichello and his Jordan Peugeot. A step backward for the Maranello team, not only compared to the win in Canada, but also compared to the result of the last season, when Gerhard Berger had finished third, although far away from the two protagonists. Now: Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. The challenge was there, but it did not go on for long. Damon, who at this moment is far from being a demon, kept the lead until lap 21, with a little advantage gained with difficulty. At the first pit stop, the evil Michael (who must have made - so to speak - a pact with Lucifer) left and his rival never saw him again. In the end, the Benetton ended with a 31-second gap on the Williams. Which also says all about the spectacle of the race, one of the most boring ever seen in recent years. The decisive overtake, thus, has again happened in the pits, during the refueling and the tyre change.
This means that Benetton and Schumacher are more clever than the Williams-Hill pairing. It took a little bit of extra speed to carry out the operation and a winning tactic. As soon as he went back on track, the German pushed to the maximum, gaining the valuable three or four seconds that then allowed him to administer the race at will. A little luck in lapping and checkmate. It must be said, however, that during the Grand Prix, unlike qualifying, the Benetton also proved to be faster than Hill's car. Schumacher was able to easily keep the pace of his rival after the start and showed, with two or three attack attempts, that he could overtake at the moment he saw fit. For the World Championship, after seven races, the lead of Michael Schumacher, with his fourth win (Brazil, Spain, Monaco and France), is starting to get massive. That is 11 points, which puts the Kerpen's driver in a position of absolute peace. From now on he will even be able to afford a zero-point blow (with the Englishman winning) without losing the first position. This was his win number 14 out of 58 races disputed. Benetton's strategy, with a champion of his caliber on their team, pays off. The team led by Flavio Briatore evidently does well to focus on only one of his drivers, leaving to Johnny Herbert a role as a simple wingman. Michael makes the most of all the material that the team produces and does it perfectly, without smudging, with exceptional determination, without making the slightest mistake. Nothing is left to chance. Michael Schumacher, as Ayrton Senna was doing, always keeps everyone under pressure and in turn offers a talent that makes a difference, beyond all consideration and supposition. At Magny-Cours, there was the tyre problem, with a reduced number of possible changes because of the strange punctures of the past days. But even this obstacle, obviously, has been overcome with ease. Now, Williams should really do a miracle to put Damon Hill in the condition to catch up. Everyone in the surroundings hopes that this will happen, otherwise the rest of the still long season would have very little interest. Ferrari made a step backward, Ligier and Jordan does not seem to be teams that are ready to aim for the win yet. Not to mention McLaren, which is now permanently in crisis. The worst moment in the last twelve years for the team of Ron Dennis who, however, after having signed a contract with Mercedes to have the engines of the German company, has the satisfaction of driving for free with luxury cars. Flavio Briatore, when he wins, is a great gentleman. And at Magny-Cours, he forgives Jean Alesi, who is his friend among other things, for having crashed into Johnny Herbert.
"I understand him, there was a fight, it was the beginning of the race and he had badly started. It was the classic race crash, without mean things or misconduct".
The Benetton manager did not want to rage on the Ferrari driver. And nor, this time, take revenge on the charges from which he had suffered in Monte-Carlo for the famous collision between the Frenchman and Brundle's Ligier. But Flavio Briatore is quite right to be magnanimous: the bogey Williams proved to fall short and the fourth success of Michael Schumacher, besides bringing at least 500.000.000 lire of prizes in cash, will make it easier to renew the contract with the German driver. Besides, Michael Schumacher is the one to compliment the team:
"I've never driven a perfect car like this one. From the first to the last meter, I didn't have the least problem. I was pushing with fuel in, when I was without fuel, with the new tyres and the ones already used. In a way, it was easier than what was expected. After having overtaken Damon at the first stop in the pits, I understood that I was faster and I knew that I would win. We've been great once again: we could have done three pit stops, during the race we opted for the choice that turned out to be the right one".
The World Championship?
"A great step forward, but it's too early to talk about it. There are still ten rounds, anything can happen, even if at this point I'm very confident. I'm also delighted because the new regulations for the overtakes have perfectly worked. The commissioners displayed the blue flags steady for the attempts to overtake and agitated them when it came to lapping. No one was wrong, everyone complied with it".
Is Benetton unbeatable again?
"During the French Grand Prix, it was the fastest car for sure. But in each race, there are new upgrades and the characteristics of the circuits change. Let's say that, since the start of the season, huge amount of progress has been made. And it's not finished yet. We still have some little surprises in store for our rivals".
For his part, Damon Hill does not find reasons to smile this time. The English driver, after having claimed three pole positions in a row on this track, finds himself with a record of as many second-place finishes.
"It could have also been worse. But I don't like not being able to fight on an equal footing with Schumacher. His Benetton was faster, I couldn't keep up with his pace. The only hope was the one of being ahead after the pit stop and fighting with him during the whole race. Instead, I didn't see him again. The car was good, but obviously it's missing the extra thing it needs to win. Now Michael has an important lead in the standings. However, I don't despair, the season is still long. I really hope to return the blow at my home, at Silverstone".
Great joy, however, for the young David Coulthard, third at the finish line and so on the podium, having countered to a very harsh attack from Martin Brundle.
"It went good for me because my Williams had a problem of grip in the fast corners which was slowing me down a lot. During the night, I had dreamt that I would go off track because of a spin in the last corner. Reason why, during the final lap, with the Ligier at one centimeter from my car, I was terrified. I almost went sideways but I held the position. So, I managed to break the ice after three races with no points".
Among the great dissatisfied of the day, there are Rubens Barrichello and the Frenchman Olivier Panis, sixth and eighth respectively. The automatic sensors put under their cars signaled a jump start to the sports commissioners. And thus they were forced to do an unplanned Stop & Go.
"A scandal, because we didn't move. These devices should be tuned differently. We've lost a podium for sure".
But Johnny Herbert has been the unluckiest. Thrown off track by Jean Alesi, the Englishman tried to go back on track but his gearbox broke. Then the race director sentenced him with a 10.000-dollars fine, still for the jump start. Having already retired on the third lap, they could not penalize him with the ten-second stop in the pits, so he is forced to pay the fine. At the same time, with only one clean slate, Ferrari erases what good it had done in recent times. Worst result of the season with the only two points of Jean Alesi, loss of the leadership in the Constructors' World Championship in favor of Benetton, which in the vast majority of the race, basically, gets out on track with one only driver, chronometric gaps as they have not seen since last year. There was not even a small high note during the weekend: a higher speed than those of the rivals, a section of the circuit where it was faster? Nope. Nothing. The only satisfaction, but it is platonic, is the best time of Jean Alesi in the morning, during the formation on the circuit wet from the rain. But, during the race, the sky only dropped down a few drops without forcing the drivers to put on the appropriate tyres. And the Frenchman had to say goodbye to his possible dreams of glory, because when the track becomes wet, he is really fast. A bitter post-race, therefore, for the Maranello team, with faces more astonished than angry. If things go wrong it is one thing, but when you suddenly find yourself in front of an unpleasant reality it is another.
And the reality is that Ferrari first went badly in qualifying and then went even worse during the race, taking more than a second of gap per lap from the best. And as if it was not enough, they have also jeopardized the result of Gerhard Berger (who would not have gone too close to the podium anyway) with a disastrous stop in the pits. The Austrian lost around one minute because the fuel filler did not fit into the tank. The poor and innocent mechanic Stefano Ascari, in charge of the operation, tried in every way to complete the refueling under the merciless eye of the cameras. And his discomfort, almost his despair, was evident.
"For security reasons, the system has three slots. Obviously one of these misfired and did not work. In the end, the young man had to push with all his strength to input the fuel. Tests are performed, but it's only in the race that the material is fully solicited and a problem can always happen. We've replaced the piece and then everything went well".
But for the Ferrari image, it is a disastrous blow. The start was also poor, although it was one of the strong points of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. The Frenchman threw off track Johnny Herbert on the third lap, then went after Luca Badoer on a lapping. At the end, Jean was called at the race direction for a double warning: for the crash with the Englishman and for having raised his hand from the wheel to protest against the Italian (resulting in a dangerous skidding of his car).
"It was a weekend to forget. At the start, I was stuck in traffic and I didn't want to take risks. Regarding Herbert, I felt sorry. But I was attacking with a car that wasn't going well and it was easy to make a mistake. It was actually difficult to stay on track during the whole race. The biggest problems concerned the lack of traction at the exit of the slow corners and also a little bit the engine torque being too high. Unfortunately, since Friday we were never on the right path. But we don't have to start crying and panic. This stage is the most delicate one of the championship. In fifteen days, we'll have to race at Silverstone where the English teams test all year long, then we'll arrive at Hockenheim on a circuit that should be more favorable to us. If we manage not to get swept up in England, you'll see that we'll recover well".
Gerhard Berger also expressed more or less similar considerations:
"It's not a lucky moment. I happen to have them all, like the story of the filler. When I went back on track, I went from P3 to P18, with a gap of one lap. What more could I do? I tried a couple of times to overtake Blundell, then, when we made contact, I gave up insisting because it was all useless".
Jean Todt adds:
"It was hard. I would love to be able to say that our problems are all due to the type of circuit, but it's not like this. The truth is that the other teams have improved and we haven't. Moreover, we didn't really manage to find a set-up of the cars suited to the situation. I can confirm that there was a lack of traction and very little engine torque. Fortunately, we've got adjustments to try before Silverstone: engine at the bench, aerodynamics and chassis. We hope that those adjustments will be the ones helping us to catch up. But this is an answer that we'll only have in two weeks in England".
While Niki Lauda draws the attention back to the Ferrari drivers. Jean Alesi, in particular.
"At Magny-Cours, the car wasn't competitive. But before the end of the season, we can win at least three races. Then we'll see where we stand, see how much our drivers are worth. I'm happy for Jean's victory in Canada. Very good for him and for all of us. But an F1 professional shouldn't let himself be deluded. In my day, after a first-place finish, I would concentrate myself to make it happen again in the next race. We should not make the mistake of considering ourselves an Eternal Father. You won and the world is with you, but only for the ten minutes that you're on the podium. Three weeks after, you don't win, you don't go on the podium and they kick your ass. It requires balance. Alesi is great as a person and as a driver, but the reality is the one that I've told. Jean and Berger are good for me, but we have to admit that Ferrari didn't go as far as it should have done in France".