#576 1995 Italian Grand Prix

2023-01-13 23:00

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#1995, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Matteo Liotta, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#576 1995 Italian Grand Prix

On Tuesday 29 August 1995, a half-smile returned to Jean Alesi’s face, at the end of the first of four days of practice ahead of the Italian Grand Pri


On Tuesday, August 29th, 1995, a half-smile returned to Jean Alesi’s face, at the end of the first of four days of practice ahead of the Italian Grand Prix:


"I’m serene, even though I can’t say I’m happy, because I don’t like saying goodbye to Ferrari. At the same time, I can assure you that until the end of the season I will work hard, as I’ve always done. And I hope to win here in Monza to say goodbye to the Ferrari fans in the best way possible. On the other hand, I won’t say goodbye to the Italian fans, because I plan on being with them for a long time to come". 


The people in the grandstands welcome the Frenchman with great applause (a few whistles for poor, blameless Gerhard Berger). After the outburst in Belgium and the complaint about a relationship that has become difficult with Jean Todt, Jean Alesi meets with the French manager and the president. 


"I met with Presidente Montezemolo and Todt. We clarified everything, the tensions are over. We said everything that needed to be said. Now I’m convinced that he will continue to do the same for me as he did at the beginning. My attachment to the team is always great, and I will have it even in 1996 when I will drive for Benetton".


But could Jean Alesi return to Maranello in the future?


"I read that Schumacher's manager declared that Michael dreams of going to Mercedes in 1998. He says this now that he is not yet at Ferrari. I don't dream of anything else when I drive for a team".


It is clear that Alesi was also told the reasons why Schumacher was hired. That it was not a personal matter, but a company choice. And since he would not accept a subordinate role to the German, the split was inevitable. 


"We will continue to work together until the end of the championship. The tests of these days will be very important. The result on the 10th of September may also be determined by how we manage to work until Friday".


Could you give Gerhard Berger some advice?


"Yes, the one about not coming to annoy me in my next team".


Speaking of Gerhard, the announcement of the full lineup for 1996 will be made by Ferrari before Monza. The impression is that Berger will stay. In the meantime, the fever rises for the Italian Grand Prix on the renovated track (5.000.000 lire of expenditure). Tickets are selling like hot cakes, looking forward to Ferrari and the Schumacher-Hill duel. The Englishman reiterates his accusations against the German:


"In Belgium, he was unfair, he had an unacceptably unsportsmanlike behaviour. The punishment he got is not consolation at all".


The following day, Wednesday, August 30th, 1995, the track is still full of sand, and the leaves brought in by a great wind (and perhaps also the long straight that needs to be run with the accelerator at full throttle and where 330 km/h are reached) make life hard for the teams involved in the tests ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. First, Jean Alesi stops with clogged radiators and gushing hot water, then Heinz-Harald Frentzen with the Sauber-Ford and finally Gerhard Berger with the other Ferrari. 


To tell the truth, the engine mounted on the Austrian’s car was also worn out, having covered more than 500 kilometers, a limit for Formula 1. So the tests, for the time being, are relatively significant, even though technicians and drivers can still obtain important data for the first adjustments to setups and aerodynamics. On Friday, September 1st, 1995, it will probably be Jean Alesi’s turn to test the latest, enhanced, and improved version of the 12-cylinder engine, perhaps through a race simulation. As long as the truck clears up (the Frenchman has also left the track twice, always because of the slippery asphalt) and the weather turns for the best. In the meantime, Gerhard Berger, although repeatedly solicited, does not speak about his future or the possible renewal of his contract with Ferrari, but in turn makes a joke with a good prediction for the fans:


"In the Grand Prix, Alesi will be first, and I'll be second".


The Austrian praises the renovated circuit:


"The track is very good, it's just a pity that there’s a lot of dirt along the track at the moment. If you go off the line, it becomes difficult to steer the car".


The Austrian is also the protagonist of an unusual accident: the nose of his single-seater hits a bird, and the driver is forced to stop. Then, it is necessary to change the punctured nose and clean the car. Afterward, when making a prediction about the race, Gerhard Berger adds:


"In the current conditions, Williams is the favourite, but Ferrari will also have a good chance, certainly better than in Belgium".


Heinz-Harald Frentzen, the German Sauber driver, does not want to give any indication about 1996 either:


"I’ve made up my mind, but I've not signed yet".


Maybe he will go to Benetton. Ferrari's day is also studded with applause and choruses from the public, which continues to cheer for Jean Alesi. A group of youngsters, Bosnian refugees who are currently being hosted by Caritas in Monza and Bergamo, met the Frenchman and took a photo with him. And, in the stands, a new banner appears:

"Jean, we will follow you wherever you go, you’re a legend".


Cesare Fiorio is also here, talking about the FIA’s hypothesis of having three cars racing for each team next year. Indeed, it seems that his intent is to create his own team to handle one of these single-seaters. Meanwhile, Alain Prost runs the first test laps at Silverstone in the McLaren-Mercedes. But real-time testing will only start in mid-September. On Thursday, August 31st, 1995, a surprise came from the sky during the Formula One tests. The lawyer, Agnelli, arrives at the autodrome by helicopter. After a brief stop on the way to Cernobbio, where a seminar by the Studio Ambrosetti is scheduled, the president of Fiat is greeted at the Ferrari pits by the applause of the fans in the stands and by Jean Alesi. The president also talks for about 15 minutes with Nicola Larini and some technicians. He then gets into an Alfa Romeo 164 Td and does a lap of the track with Jean Alesi. 


"I've known Monza since the time of Nuvolari. Now the circuit is in magnificent condition. You can turn the Ascari chicane at 180 km/h. It’s the most impressive part".


When asked if he feels optimistic ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, Agnelli replies:


"We are waiting for the race. The guys are good, they do their job well, but races are like gambling".


Did he also come to comfort Alesi?


"To comfort… No, no, I came to congratulate him for everything he’s done and will do".


Who would you see next to Schumacher?


"I don't want to say that. I can't tell you. But I already know who will be".


A young man or someone with the same experience of Berger?


"You provoke me: you’re playing games to get a clue. I think Berger is taking another direction. Yet, it would be excellent, it's a bit like the German-Austrian Anschluss".


How come Italians have not raced for Ferrari in a while now?


"Not for a while. There have been very few. Ferrari was always worried about the drivers. He used to say: if an accident happens… He was worried".


On the possible use of a third car in F1 teams, Agnelli replies:


"It’s neither actual nor likely. And, I would say, not even possible".


On Friday, September 1st, 1995, another piece of the Formula One driver's market comes together. Gerhard Berger leaves Ferrari, having evidently not accepted Schumacher's arrival, and with a surprising move, he chooses Benetton. The contract will be for two seasons. He will race in 1996 alongside Jean Alesi.  Curiously enough, the pair will be reunited in the reigning champion team that lost Schumacher. For the 36-year-old driver from Woergl, it is a return: he had driven for the Italian-English team in 1986, winning his first race in Mexico. In the mood for twists and turns, Gerhard Berger is not only committing to Benetton, but he's also getting married for the second time, to Ana Corbo, a 30-year-old Portuguese woman. A beautiful tall brunette who has been discreetly following him for several years now. She is seven months pregnant, and a baby girl is due in October. Gerhard already had a daughter, Christina, now 15, with his first wife. The one of Berger is a getaway from Ferrari. The Austrian, who had already signed an outline agreement with the Maranello team in May, did not feel like competing with Michael Schumacher, also for reasons of personal friction. So he accepted Flavio Briatore’s proposal, settling for a sum slightly smaller than the one in the Ferrari contract. But we are still talking about huge sums, around 30.000.000 lire for two years. Gerhard, who is cunning, knows very well that with the German in Maranello he would have no place. With the Frenchman, however, he has already measured himself on equal terms and has often prevailed. Even if the first drive in Benetton was promised to Jean Alesi. It must be admitted, however, that the choice also has its own technical logic: his next team is currently already a winner, while it is not known whether Ferrari will be one in the future. 


"It was not easy to leave Ferrari after such positive years in Maranello. However, in recent times, Benetton has shown great competitiveness and offered me an overall package that I felt was the best to win races in the upcoming season. In addition, I think the environment is very serene, and I also like to stay with my friend Jean".


Flavio Briatore’s comment was expected:


"We’re happy to have Gerhard back. He won the first race with us, and we wish him to win again in 1996. With our technical ability, two strong partners like Renault and Elf, two excellent drivers like Alesi and Berger, I think next season will be very interesting for us and we can continue to be successful".


Berger’s decision has, for the immediate future, two different consequences. It frees Ferrari from the problem of a difficult cohabitation with Michael Schumacher but poses the problem of the second drive. Indeed, the Maranello team, in the classic note thanking Alesi and Berger, makes it known that it will announce the name of the replacement after the European Grand Prix. That is, after October 1st, 1995. This date, at least, has a significance. In fact, on Saturday, September 3th, McLaren’s option on David Coulthard will expire, so the 24-year-old Scottish Williams driver seems to be the one with the greatest advantage to join Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. But it remains to be seen whether Ron Dennis’ team will let him go. That is why there are other possibilities, all very interesting. According to what Agnelli anticipated at Cernobbio, when answering a question ("Look, I don't know what to tell you, about the driver who will replace Berger you can range from Finland to Brazil"), one can consider Mika Häkkinen (if McLaren will opt for the Prost-Coulthard lineup), the excellent and faithful Nicola Larini, up to the South American - but originally from Treviso - Rubens Barrichello. Now the Ferrari-Benetton challenge gets tougher. Agnelli had already said, at the time of Schumacher's signing, that:


"If they lose next year, it will be their fault".


But to be beaten with the German star in the cockpit of the Maranello car by their own former drivers would also be a mockery. This time, Jean Todt and his men will really have to give it all. Meanwhile, at first Jean Alesi takes the news badly, news that he was already aware of for at least a couple of days. Then, he puts on a good face. On Tuesday, when asked what he would advise Gerhard Berger if he stayed at Ferrari, he replied:


"Nothing in particular, I just hope that he doesn't come and annoys me at Benetton".


While now, in Monza, Jean Alesi says:


"I was joking, of course. I just hope that he doesn't bring some of his political behaviours to the team and, above all, that he doesn't bring Niki Lauda with him. Otherwise, I'll leave".


The second part is again a joke. But it is true that the 30-year-old French driver would like more transparency and sincerity from Berger, less manoeuvring within the team. 


"Now, however, it’s up to Briatore to provide clarity and say how the team will perform and who will be number one. As for the rest, having Berger in the team has its positives. We’ll lose less time getting to know each other. We’ve spent three years together, there have also been frictions, but we’ve always overcome them. One thing is certain, ours will be a nice, fun team. And determined to win".


A few words also from Niki Lauda:


"After signing Schumacher, Ferrari has only one goal, to make a good car. Finding a good partner for Michael will not be a problem. As for Berger, he received a good offer from Maranello. He made his choice; he must have his reasons. I remain loyal to president Montezemolo. I would also like to make it clear that there’s no dispute going on with Todt. I’ve made some criticism, but it has always been with constructive intentions. The truth is that every time they interview me, they misinterpret my words or extrapolate phrases to create controversy. Now I will not speak any more. But I’ll be in Monza next week, to provide the team with my advice".


Meanwhile, Ferrari completes testing ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. During the day, Nicola Larini continues his meticulous setup work while Jean Alesi simulates a race with the new engine, the latest evolution of the V12: 60 laps without any major problem, but four stops had to be made to clean the radiators from leaves and for a break adjustment. Best lap in 1'25"79, while last year his pole was 1'23"844. But everything has changed: track, cars, engines, impossible to make an assessment for now. 


"I’m quite satisfied, although there’s still some work to be done. A prediction? Difficult. Only one thing is sure: I will work as hard as ever. For Ferrari and for its fans".


After months of uncertainty, Formula One finally lands in Monza. Never had there been so many doubts as this year about the actual possibilities of the Italian Grand Prix taking place. However, with the usual Italian miracle, the problems have all been resolved and - one can believe - even the beautiful park and the environment will benefit from the fact that the racetrack will continue being operative. The circus of motorsport comes to Italy at a particularly delicate time of the season. On top of that, not only the title fight between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill arrives with all its implications, spiced up by the controversy between the two, but the race also takes place in the aftermath of a very hot driver market period. Negotiations that concerned the top teams and that saw the passage of the German driver to Ferrari and of both drivers from Maranello to the Benetton team. Some might even speculate that Alesi and Berger will have special consideration for their former team next year. But it won't be like that. First: because in Formula One (it is one of its truest aspects) no one is ever willing to give up anything, but also because the Frenchman and the Austrian are asked to give a double demonstration of their value: to Benetton who took them and to Ferrari who let them go. Second: for the great desire that the two must show how Schumacher is not the phenomenon that everyone believes he is, that he is beatable. Third: for the pleasure of bidding farewell in the best way possible to the tons of Italian fans, the Ferrari people, that is to say with a positive result. So, Jean Alesi and the cunning Gerhard Berger’s target is above all Michael Schumacher, the man who forced them to leave Ferrari. Alesi has no personal unfinished business: he has never quarrelled with the German, but he certainly does not forgive him the intrusion at Maranello. The Austrian, on the other hand, has never got along with Michael: the two do not like each other, they are not friends, even if the German driver in Belgium made a soothing gesture by bringing a present to Gerhard on his 36th birthday. However, everyone will have to reckon with the innkeeper. Namely, with Damon Hill and Williams-Renault. If there are no technical changes in the last few days, the Englishman and his car should dominate in both qualifying and race, on the very fast circuit in Lombardy. Damon has not forgotten the mockery of Spa, he did not like the merely platonic punishment inflicted on the German Benetton driver by the FIA commissioners, but above all he desperately needs to recover points in the standings. There are in fact 15 points separating him from the leader and with only six races to go, the gap is starting to get heavy. If Damon Hill always wins and Michael Schumacher finishes second each time, we will still have to wait for four other races before seeing Hill overtaking him in the standings. Therefore, it is a very difficult task for the London driver, who is also used to recovering in extremis. So, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger taking away points (to Schumacher, of course) would be useful for Damon Hill. 


It remains to be seen what Ferrari's potential will be. The Maranello team is expected to use the latest version of the 12-cylinder engine, which will end its very long cycle of duties at the end of the season to make way for the V10 engine, assuming the latter proves to be better. As one would hope. Last year, Jean and Gerhard occupied the front row at the start. Then, Alesi broke the gearbox while he was leading and the Austrian, who was second, lost the battle with Hill during the pit stops. Schumacher was absent, disqualified. This time he really will be up against everyone. Thinking about the future, Ferrari is not satisfied enough with Michael Schumacher. They want to build an even stronger team. That is why they are exploring the Formula One environment in depth, to examine all possibilities. In the last hours the market varied a bit. The eyes are mainly on the Marlboro-McLaren drivers, David Coulthard, Mika Häkkinen, and the Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, who is also supported by the tobacco multinational. Then the Italians, led by Nicola Larini, followed by Gianni Morbidelli, Luca Badoer, Pierluigi martini and Giancarlo Fisichella. If Alain Prost, despite the doubts expressed lately, decides to race next year and not just be a test driver-manager for Mercedes, surely the Maranello team can bet on the Finn or the Scot. Mika Häkkinen, from Helsinki, despite not having won a race, is certainly a very fast driver. He is not worn out, he has a fair amount of experience, he always fights hard, he goes fast on every track. David Coulthard has his young age in his favour. 24 years old, considered the greatest wonder kid of the motor racing circus. Since the start of the season, he has had a few setbacks due to obvious psychological problems, but he appears to be on the upswing. 


In the last race at Spa, he had a good start ahead of everyone else and perhaps would have won if the Williams gearbox had not broken. Rubens Barrichello is also young: he is 23 years old, from São Paulo like Ayrton Senna, but his family is originally from Treviso. He made his debut with Jordan in 1993 and immediately showed great speed, so much that last year he became one of the most valuable pieces on the market. After the accident in Imola in May 1994, he went through a rather long difficult period and to have a driver of Eddie Irvine’s calibre in the team certainly did not help him, since he often makes it hard for him. Nevertheless, he is a valuable element. And we come to the Italians. Unfortunately, it is not a particularly favourable moment for them. The Italian drivers have had very little chance to show their potential, because in recent years they have raced in midfield teams at best. However, Nicola Larini is in the mix: fast, reliable, loyal, 31 years old and full of willpower. So is Gianni Morbidelli, from Pesaro, 26 years old, aggressive, quick. Luca Badoer Was considered among the greatest promises: in the minor categories he won everything, but he stopped for a year and paid the price. Pierluigi Martini is a great fighter, with an already long experience in Formula One. It is therefore not excluded that Ferrari, within a short time, will anyway organize a series of tests at Imola precisely to assess the real potential of the Italians. Among other things, it seems that young Giancarlo Fisichella enjoys particular respect, but he would have to spend at least a year gaining experience with another team before joining Ferrari. On Monday, September 4th, 1995, having arrived in Italy for a series of tests with Williams ahead of Monza, David Coulthard admits that he had talks to drive for Ferrari in 1996. 


"I'm calm, because in any case I will be in a competitive team. If a few things fall into place, I might even make it to Maranello. I really like the idea of driving next to Schumacher. I’m young, and I can only learn from him".


David Coulthard, however, will have to wait for Alain Prost’s decision at the end of the month: only if the Frenchman decides to return to McLaren will he be freed by the British team, otherwise he will team up with Mika Häkkinen. 


"It's terrible. I get up, ride my bike, play golf, make phone calls, see friends, go out to dinner. Like always. Yet I'm mortally bored. I have no real goal during the day".


A symptomatic confession from four-time Formula One world champion Alain Prost. The seeds of racing torment him. Not because he is away from the circuits; he misses the agonistic tension, the confrontation with himself and with others. 


When he left Formula One for the second time since the beginning of his career at the end of 1993, the 40-year-old Frenchman (born in St. Chamond on February 24th, 1995) said:


"I'm glad I saved myself".


He was not afraid of death while driving at 300 km/h: he was terrified of getting hurt,  especially of becoming disabled in some way. When he saw Clay Regazzoni or Philippe Streiff Passing by in their wheelchairs, he would close his eyes. With such a statement, one could have foreseen the retirement. Then there was the negative experience with Reno, as a consultant. Locked in an office in Paris, even for a few hours a week, he felt lost. He hoped that the French company would help him in the building of his own team, at least with the engines. But the dream faded. So, Alain changed direction. And signed a contract with Mercedes. With options that regarded three different roles: manager, test driver, driver. He can take over the sports management of the Stuttgart company, devote himself only to the tuning of the McLaren (which employs German engines) or drive in Formula One with the Woking team or in the DTM. After the first tests with the British single-seater last week at Silverstone, Prost immediately gave the whole team a shock. 


"I don't understand how Häkkinen, and Blundell can drive with such a set-up, it’s completely wrong for me".


And he gave some advice that could already be put into practice during the Monza test. The transalpine, however, has not yet revealed his real intention. Does he want to get back on track to win another world title or not? Alain does not give real answers, but makes his considerations:


"Next year, Schumacher will be in Ferrari. Even if he is that good, a trial stage is needed. For him and for the new car. Benetton has changed everything with Alesi and Berger: he will have to start again, not from scratch but… and Damon Hill, with Williams, I’ve already beaten him".


What does it mean? That Prost, intelligent and calculating, sees a nice glimmer to slip into the title fight. Besides, would a guy like him put himself through testing without at least having the intention of trying to race? Only one obstacle could stop him: if the car turns out to be hopeless. And that does not seem to be the case with the McLaren and the Mercedes engine, which shows continuous progress. The chances of seeing Prost in the 1996 World Championship are therefore very high. Not forgetting the money factor: 50.000.000 lire a year, 10 million more than Michael Schumacher. Alain is very rich, but those who have a lot always want more. But back to Schumacher and Ferrari. Prost’s opinion about the Italian-German marriage is positive, but he replies with an enigmatic smile:


"Signing the best driver of the moment is anyway the right move. The unknowns concern the adaptation of both. Will Michael bond with the Maranello environment? And vice versa? In any case, Todt and his staff have only one way to go: prepare an extremely competitive car for Michael. If they succeed, everything will be much easier, even handling a driver as demanding as the current World Champion".


It is the eve of the Italian Grand Prix. Can Ferrari win? The answer is not polite:


"If the situation has not changed radically in the last fifteen days, Williams and Benetton will be uncatchable. Hill remains the biggest favourite. But in Formula One, everything is possible. I'm sure that Ferrari will make an enormous effort, making use of whatever they have available, and that Alesi and Berger will give everything for the fans of the red cars. To win in Monza with a Ferrari must be a unique experience. I’ve won the Italian Grand Prix three times, but one with the turbocharged Renault, two with the McLaren, Porsche, and Honda engines. With the Maranello car I was only second, in 1990: it's one of my regrets".


In the meantime, however, the organizers of the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix hope to break the attendance record (140.000 paying spectators in 1985) at the national circuit from Friday to Sunday. The circuit, which has been almost completely renovated, will host, in addition to the World Championship race, a whole series of events and side races that make the program very interesting. Everything is focused, however, on the Schumacher-Hill rivalry and the performance of Alesi and Berger with the Maranello cars. Meanwhile, the protagonists are almost arrived. Among them, also Rubens Barrichello, one of the candidates to join the German driver at Ferrari in 1996. 


"I'm very happy that my name is among the mentioned ones. This flatters me, but I think it’s still too early to talk about it, as no decision has been made. So, it will be twice as important for me to do well in the next races, to prove that I’m fast, especially in Monza, and then we’ll see. I'm sure that Sunday will be acceptable: we as drivers will be able to race with more confidence and therefore go faster. I think Ferrari will start on the front row".


Meanwhile, on Tuesday, September 5th, 1995, in Imola, the Willams-Renault tests continued with David Coulthard. The following day, Damon Hill takes the car to the track. The English team is doing everything to recover in the championship standings. But Benetton does not accept the announced superiority of Williams on fast tracks like Monza. And Flavio Briatore, director of the Italian-English team, is convinced that Michael Schumacher can win the Italian Grand Prix. 


"Ours is not presumption, but conviction based on data. At Spa, when the safety car came on, we had a 31-second lead. In the race, our car is the best, if anything, Hill has a better chance in qualifying. But on the Lombardy circuit, overtaking is not a problem. So, I continue to be very confident".


And Ferrari won't stand a chance?


"Why not? They know the track better than anyone else and will certainly try to make a good impression. But on this occasion, we can cheer for Maranello, too. Honestly, a second place behind Alesi or Berger would be fine. If they win, they will do us a favour because they take points away from the Englishman. It is clear that Michael will aim for an en-plein. He’s never won in Monza, and last year he didn’t race because he was disqualified. A first place would after all be the best introduction to the Ferrari people, in case anyone still had doubts about his qualities. I hope it will be a good race and that the public will enjoy it. The track has been renovated after so many difficulties. It must be a great celebration for Formula One and for sport in general. Moreover, the fans will have one last chance to witness Jean and Gerhard in red overalls".


Regarding Alesi and Berger, both at Benetton in 1996: why did Benetton take them as a whole? And how will it manage them?


"We immediately finished shopping in the driver market because we wanted to stay calm and not have any problems to deal with. In a way, our team took Luca Montezemolo’s advice: the Ferrari president had said that Jean and Gerhard were the best couple on the grid. We listened to him. We'll give them identical materials, as first drivers. Then, from mid-season onwards, we’ll see who will be able to earn the captain's stripes on track. Berger, with his experience, will contribute to the development of the car and be more independent. I will personally take care of Alesi. He’s a very fast, sensitive, and courageous driver, who also knows how to take risks. It's right to call him the Italian Mansell. He's a boy who needs to be looked after closely, to feel protected and loved by the team. I will take care of him like a son".


A promise or a threat? But does losing Schumacher worry Benetton?


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