#571 1995 French Grand Prix

2023-01-18 23:00

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#1995, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Alice Simonin, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#571 1995 French Grand Prix

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 cont


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 on 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 win number 105 in F1 from 1950 to date, has an important 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, June 14th, 1995, was celebrating surrounded by jubilant crowd in 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. That’s clear, from one race to another, you can always expect surprises, but we're not sitting around with our feet on the desk".


Benetton is indeed already at work. From Wednesday onwards, the tests at Silverstone will start with a deeply changed car as far as aerodynamics is concerned, making its possible debut on Sunday, July 2nd, 1995, on the occasion of the French Grand Prix. Schumacher is allowed to rest, since 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 brings new technical upgrades each race. And the circuits are always different: they can be in favour 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 already 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 complete tranquillity, I think I'll have the possibility to decide even 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 cumbersome person due to his demands regarding the hiring. We are talking about 20.000.000 dollars per year. 


"I'm convinced that there won't be any problems. 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, willing to do crazy things) and, in theory, also Ferrari, although they have neither the intention nor the possibility to pay that amount of money. There are those who hypothesize an Alesi-Schumacher exchange, but if it is so, everything will depend on the results. And what if the thirty-one-year-old Frenchman wins again? On the other hand, Jean Alesi has not only inflamed the hearts of all Ferrari Tifosi with his wondeful 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 for French drivers, despite some improvement by Olivier Panis at Ligier, had decreased. Better not to talk about the Italians who, in the post-Patrese era, apart from a couple of successes by Gianni Morbidelli, did not have the opportunity to show anything. And, for the rest, the Italian group does not have valid means. Still, it is a significant help the one of Jean Alesi, ahead of the next French Grand Prix, scheduled at Magny-Cours from Friday, June 30th to Sunday, July 2nd, 1995, seventh round of the World Championship. 


"This year, our car is competitive on all circuits. The reason why I'm always going for the win".


And to develop strategies and technical resources, Alesi will get out on track in 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 must work intensely and do our best".


In fact, there is still a gap of about half a second per lap in favour of Benetton (only Schumacher's one...) and the superiority demonstrated against a Williams, which is apparently in crisis, needs to be confirmed each time. Let's not forget that it is at the Autodromo Nazionale that the future will be decided (the works requested by the FIA for the safety issues have not yet started and, to tell the truth, they have not even been approved): Ferrari will carry out a definitive test on the most current version of its engine, the version 2 of the 12-cylinder. It should allow a step forward in performance, with either more power or a better use of it. Nevertheless, Schumacher remains the man to beat at the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. Alesi is convinced of being able to aim at 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 kilometres away from Nevers, Ferrari did not go that bad, despite the chassis problems seen almost everywhere. Berger was third behind Schumacher and Hill. This time, with a 412T2 which seems to have taken 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 says:


"I'm in top form and I no longer have the nightmare of having to break the ice to step on the highest spot of the podium. Generally, when a driver finds the utmost confidence in himself and in the team, he performs giving his 100%. 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, often faced an uphill struggle. He always had to try to conserve enthusiasm and recharge after every disappointment. 


Now, two weeks after 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, June 26th, 1995, at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, at the beginning of a series of tests that will last three days ahead of the French Grand Prix, Jean Alesi does not hold back. 


"At first, I was only dreaming of the moment during which I would step on the highest step of the podium. Now, I have another thought, defined: becoming a World Champion. I have a plan. Ferrari, this year, can 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 suit us best 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 any more; when it won't be possible, I’ll still try to earn points for the championship". 


But to achieve that, he will need the collaboration of the whole team: 


"It's important that no one makes mistakes during each Grand Prix weekend. One single 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 loved a lot. My compatriots were following me up to now because I was driving for a strong team. After Canada, however, I'm part of the winners' list. I'm used to Monza and Imola with the Ferrari Tifosi. For others, the pressure is something negative, but for me, it's a motivation, it motivates me". 


Back at Monza, ten months after the disappointing retirement during the 1994 Italian Grand Prix, Alesi remembers the phone call he received that day from Giovanni Agnelli. 


"A difficult moment. Everyone stayed close to me and suffered with me. After Canada, the Fiat boss never called me again. But I also won for them. Juventus had won the league title, it was right to contribute to the publicizing of Ferrari, as well. In an interview, Giovanni Agnelli said: the day on which Alesi wins, he’ll become part of the big family. Now I'm part of the winner family, too". 


The contract renewal is not a problem that concerns 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 must be earned. I'll do everything to achieve that".


In 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 test a new engine to the fullest. It could be the right weapon for the French Grand Prix".


And before the French Grand Prix, Luca di Montezemolo, chairman of Ferrari, says to a French company:


"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 now, we've gained in confidence, 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’ve been through three difficult years, before each Grand Prix it was known that Ferrari had nothing to hope for. In 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 in the first place in the standings and the win is the best motivation. So, it's true that I'm happy about the victory claimed in Canada, but we also must be aware of the path that still remains to be done and not forget that Schumacher was ahead, before being forced to slow down".


Montezemolo denies the hypothesis that Ferrari 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 contracts, 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 the 1996 season".


Caution, then, on the prospects. 


"Our story forces us to be a complete team, which autonomously produces chassis and engines, unique in the F1 world. It's our peculiarity, our daily battle. Ferrari will remain a team 100%, either in F1 or out of it".


Speaking of the future of F1, the Italian Grand Prix will be held at Monza on Sunday, September 10th, 1995, provided that the ACI presents 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 travels from Paris to Monza, where on Wednesday, June 28th, 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 fully motivated".


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 not after 12:00 a.m. on Monday, July 3rd, 1995. In practice, the ACI must make sure that there will be no obstacles to the works by this deadline, concerning, among other things, the suppression of the large corner and that of Lesmo, with the cutting of 185 trees. 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 political representatives 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 the one related to the presence of slow drivers in the race. Tough positions are taken against the invasion of circuits at the end of races, 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, June 29th, 1995.


In the pits of the Italian team, where they work with fervour, a distinguished gentleman appears with five gendarmes in tow. 


"I'm Maître Etienne Lamotte, bailiff at the Court of Nevers. I'm sorry, but I have to confiscate your material. Here's an order for payment, if it's not complied with, I'm forced to take everything". 


The officers begin to pack: the single-seaters of Martini and Badoer, the pits, the trucks, even the two motorhomes. Tape and wax at will. And the enforcement agent hangs warning flyers everywhere: anyone who removes the material is liable to a fine of about lire and three years in prison. 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 that took place 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 (whose respective owners are Flavio Briatore and Tom Walkinshaw) did not like it. And as soon as they arrived in France, they presented the bill to the constructor from Romagna for an old and - apparently onerous - debt. It is said that about lire were borrowed 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 constructor in a lawsuit. To tell the truth, 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, having had the engines under control. We've been sending letters for eighteen months". 


What will happen now? Three are the 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 is in turn 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 is another huge problem that does not contribute to the image of the Circus. Minardi is required to stop, 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. Gerhard Berger jokes sympathetically about it, but not without a witty answer:


"He says Italian Tifosi likes him more? Well, I’m liked more by the Austrian ones. But this is not an Italian or Austrian championship. It's a World Championship. And personally, I don't like to get too emotionally involved. Jean wants to win the title? I got my first win after 36 races, he got it after 91. If maths in't an opinion, he'll be a champion at 45 years old. But let's be serious. Right now, we must fight against Williams and Benetton. We think about improving, being at the top more regularly, and then anything can happen". 


We had left Jean Alesi on the highest step of the podium in Canada. On Friday, June 30th, 1995, three weeks after, following the first day of qualifying at 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 an unpredictable situation. The Magny-Cours track is unusual. There’s no grip. It requires a very fine setup of the cars, one of high precision. You get a one-millimetre adjustment wrong, and you're off the track. We can catch up if, of course, we don't make mistakes". 


Hopeful sentences, even if Jean Alesi, as always when things do not go well, has a very dark expression on his face. For the moment, Gerhard Berger is faster than him, his Ferrari is not working as he would like. And he also dislikes the fact that small misunderstandings have been blown out of proportion due to statements he made on a television in Modena, specifically when he said that he was the most loved by Italians. His words, reported to Berger, got a sarcastic response from the Austrian, and this did not help to improve the mood between the two drivers. But that is not really the problem. Eagerly awaited by his Tifosi, the driver from Avignon had probably hoped to make an exploit right away, to increase the Alesi effect that should be bringing a record crowd to the circuit. Instead, the driver finds himself facing the problems he always had. Among other things, even the threatening presence of Michael Schumacher did not help him, with the German repeating that he will decide in September with which team he will race next year. 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 no matter what the final choice is, mine or Schumacher's, I won't race together with the German". 


And he also gives a reason why. 


"Michael has a major role and demands a high-priced contract. And a team paying him that much will inevitably have to focus everything on him, disregarding the other driver. If Schumacher takes 18 or 20 million dollars, Berger 11 or 12 million, why should I accept 1 or 2 million? It's about being 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 this is honestly not the type of track where they will be able - except surprises that are always possible - to make it hard for their rivals. The true test will occur at the next race, in Silverstone, while Williams is back in the spotlight after the clear tarnishing of the last tests. Damon Hill and David Coulthard say they are delighted with the car, which now sticks well to the ground and works satisfactorily 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 having stopped working due to the abduction, the Italian constructor got permission in the late afternoon from the Court of Nevers to take part 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 different terms. Giancarlo Minardi states that his debt towards the company that had leased his engines in 1993 is, according to his calculations, of about million lire and not lire as it was said. 


The manager also announces a legal action to reacquire the material and recover from the moral damage suffered. On Saturday, July 1st, 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 team from Maranello are numbered: 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, July 2nd, 1995, since Jean Alesi will start fourth and Gerhard Berger seventh. It would take a hurricane or a series of lucky coincidences to bring the French or the Austrian driver to the highest step of the podium. It is more likely and logical that one will witness a great duel between Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, with David Coulthard playing gooseberry between the two title contenders. Yes, because between the German champion and the English challenger, last year’s story is repeating itself. A head-to-head with no holds barred. Damon Hill did not forget the disappointing loss in the last race in Adelaide when he was forced to retire because of the clash with the car of his rival. And the fight is on. Michael Schumacher, on the other hand, would like to close the chapter in his favour, as soon as possible, not taking risks. Damon claims the first virtual win, 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 fails. And the two confront each other in the press conference. Damon Hill says:

"Magical Williams. It allowed me to have the best time even if Schumacher tried to beat me in extremis, under more favourable conditions (ed: the ambient temperature had decreased)".


The German Benetton driver replies:


"The headwind and the traffic screwed me up, 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 the other 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 during the tests he was put in a difficult position 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, were punctured by mistake during temperature controls. These tests are performed with some kind of awls that the Goodyear technicians seem to 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 might have punctured the tyres to change them with new ones". 


In fact, the number of damaged tyres is a bit odd: five on Michael Schumacher's car and two on Johnny Herbert's one. It is therefore comprehensible the slight concern the German has regarding the pit stops during the race. But it must be said that Williams made great progress after Canada, and so it will also be a question of performance, as well as strategies and pit stops. 


Meanwhile, in the paddock, 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 Betise Assumpcao (Ayrton Senna's former press secretary), allegedly neglected his job. Instead, even if he arrived here by motorcycle with the young woman, Head would evidently keep himself busy with his collaborators, especially the aerodynamics expert Adrian Newey, who changed body and floor. So much so that the car started to be competitive again. Ferrari, however, has not. Difficult track, this one, slippery and flat, involving many problems. Jean Alesi did not even complete a lap of test due to a 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, aerodynamics, adjustments, as well as the last version of the engine employed. 


"I did everything I could, but I wasn't improving. It's difficult to come out good from the slow corners". 


So what? Are all these red flags, banners that say ‘Jean Alesi je t'aime’, all for nothing? Perhaps yes, but the hope is always there: in Formula 1 races are strange, unpredictable. On Sunday, July 2nd, 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 fourth, he ends up seventh. During the first lap, Pedro Paulo Diniz spins and retires, just like the Japanese 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 Ferraris. Rubens Barrichello and Olivier Panis, in third and fifth position, are penalized with a Stop & Go of 10 seconds for a jump start, giving David Coulthard the opportunity to move up into P3, ahead of Martin Brundle and both Ferraris, which are now in the points. Rubens Barrichello and Olivier Panis go back on track in P9 and P10, far behind Mika Häkkinen and Eddie Irvine. In the meantime, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher 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 enters the pits on lap 18 and has a free track to catch up on Damon Hill, who remains blocked behind the lapped drivers. When Hill stops on lap 20, he is far 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 strategy. Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello are respectively in P5 and P6, 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 due to a problem with the refuelling filler of his Ferrari. Michael Schumacher, in the meantime, increases his lead on Damon Hill, with it now being 14 seconds halfway through the race. Just before the second series of refuelling, 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 that affected his front right tyre, keeps the lead with a comforting margin on Damon Hill; they are then followed by Martin Brundle (who had anticipated his second stop and now needs 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 with 16 laps to go, going back on track with a 7-second gap from David Coulthard, thus putting himself in the hunt for 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 to attack him on the twisty French track. Therefore, the race ends with Michael Schumacher’s fourth win of the season, the 14th 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 started in pole position and the German easily took away the first place from him. Compared to 1994, the standings only changed in the following positions: third for the other Williams of David Coulthard, fourth for a combatant 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 back for the Maranello team, not only compared to the win in Canada, but also to the result of the last season, when Gerhard Berger had finished third, although far behind 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. After the first pit-stop, the wicked Michael (who must have made - so to speak - a deal with the devil) kicked off, and his rival never saw him again. In the end, the Benetton ended with a 31-second gap on the Williams. Which also says a lot about the during the race, in other words, one of the most boring ever seen in recent years. Thus, the decisive overtake happened in the pits again, during the refuelling and the tyre change. This means that Benetton and Schumacher are cleverer than the Williams-Hill pairing. It took a little bit of extra speed to carry out the operation, as well as a winning strategy. As soon as he went back on track, the German pushed to the maximum, gaining the valuable three or four seconds that later allowed him to manage the race at will. A little luck in lapping, and checkmate. However, as opposed to qualifying, it must be said that during the Grand Prix 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 every suitable moment. 


As 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 could even allow himself 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 calibre in the team, pays off. The team led by Flavio Briatore is right to focus on only one of his drivers, leaving for Johnny Herbert the role of a simple wingman. Michael makes the most out of all the material that the team produces, and he does this 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, shows 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 given the strange punctures of the past days. But even this obstacle has obviously been overcome with ease. Now, Williams should really do a miracle to put Damon Hill in the condition to catch up. Everyone in the environment hopes that this will happen, otherwise the rest of the still long season might not be that interesting. Ferrari made a step back, 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, after having signed a contract with Mercedes to be supplied with the engines of the German company, however, has the satisfaction of driving luxury cars for free. Flavio Briatore, when he wins, is a true gentleman. And at Magny-Cours, he forgives Jean Alesi, who is incidentally a friend, for having crashed into Johnny Herbert. 


"I understand, there was a fight, it was the beginning of the race, and he had a bad started. It was the classic racing accident, without malice or misconduct". 


The Benetton manager did not want to rage on the Ferrari driver. And this time, not even 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 prize 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 such a perfect car like this one. From the first to the last meter, I didn't have the slightest 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 we expected. After having overtaken Damon at the first pit-stop, 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, but during the race we opted for the option that turned out to be the right one". 


What about the World Championship? 


"A great step forward, but it's too early to talk. 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 concerning the overtakes have perfectly worked. The commissioners steady displayed the blue flags for the attempts to overtake and waved them when it came to lapping. No one made mistakes, 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, a 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 being ahead after the pit-stop and fighting him during the whole race. Instead, I didn't see him again. The car was good, but obviously it's missing the extra detail required to win. Now Michael has a significant lead in the standings. However, I don't despair, the season is still long. I really hope to strike back at home, at Silverstone".


Great joy, however, for the young David Coulthard, third at the finish line, and thus on the podium, having defended against a very harsh attack from Martin Brundle. 


"It went well 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 I was terrified during the final lap, with the Ligier at one centimetre from my car. 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, Rubens Barrichello, and the Frenchman Olivier Panis, sixth and eighth respectively. The automatic sensors put under their cars signalled 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 was the unluckiest. Pushed 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, 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 now forced to pay the fine. At the same time, with only one blank slate, Ferrari erases the good results obtained in recent times. Worst result of the season with only two points for Jean Alesi, and the loss of the leadership in the Constructors' World Championship in Favor of Benetton, which - in most of the races - basically gets out on track with one driver only, not to mention chronometric gaps that had not been 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 they were faster? Nope. Nothing. The only satisfaction, but it is a platonic one, is the best time of Jean Alesi in the morning, during the formation on a circuit wet from the rain. But, during the race, only a few drops appeared from the sky, without forcing the drivers to put on the appropriate tyres. And the Frenchman had to say goodbye to his possible dream 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 even worse in the race, suffering a gap of more than a second from the best. And as if it is not enough, they also jeopardized the result of Gerhard Berger (who would not have got closer 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 refuelling under the merciless eye of the cameras. And his discomfort, almost despair, was evident. 


"For security reasons, the system has three slots. Obviously, one of these misfired and didn’t 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 arise. We've replaced the piece and then everything worked well". 


But for the Ferrari image, it is a disastrous blow. The start was also poor, despite it being one of the strong points of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. The Frenchman pushed off track Johnny Herbert on the third lap, then went after Luca Badoer trying to overtake. At the end, Jean was called in by the race direction for a double warning: the crash with the Englishman and 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’m sorry. But I was attacking with a car that wasn't working well, and it was easy to make a mistake. It was actually difficult to stay on track during the whole race. The biggest problem concerned the lack of traction at the exit of the slow corners and a little bit of 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 panicking. This championship appointment is the most delicate one. In fifteen days, we'll race in Silverstone where the English teams test all year long, then we'll arrive at Hockenheim on a circuit that should be more favourable to us. If we manage not to get swept aside in England, you'll see that we'll recover well". 


Gerhard Berger had more or less similar considerations: 


"It's not a lucky moment. I happen to have them all, like what happened with the filler. When I went back on track, I went from P3 to P18, with a one lap gap. What more could I do? I tried a couple of times to overtake Blundell but then, when we made contact, I gave up insisting because it was useless". 


Jean Todt adds:


"It was hard. I would love to say that our problems are all due to the type of circuit, but it's not. The truth is that the other teams have improved, and we haven't. Moreover, we didn't really manage to find a car set-up that suited was right for 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 disappointed. Back in the day, after a first-place finish, I would concentrate to make it happen again in the next race. We shouldn’t 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 step 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 must admit that in France Ferrari didn't go as well as it should have".


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