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 Prix:
"I am serene, even though I cannot 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 have always done. And I hope to win here at Monza to say goodbye to the Ferrari fans in the best way possible. On the other hand, I will not 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 denunciation of a relationship that has become difficult with Jean Todt, Jean Alesi meets with the French manager and the president in Maranello in the morning.
"I met with Presidente Montezemolo and Todt. We clarified everything, the tensions are over. We said everything that needed to be said. Now I am 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 1996 when I will drive for Benetton".
But could Jean Alesi return to Maranello in the future?
"I read that Schumacher's manager said 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 and bothering 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 waiting for Ferrari and Schumacher-Hill duel. The Englishman reiterates his accusation against the German:
"In Belgium he was unfair, he behaved unacceptably unsportsmanlike. The punishment he got is no consolation".
The following day, Wednesday 30 August 1995, the track still full of sand, the leaves brought in by a great wind (and perhaps also the long straight that is done all the way with the accelerator at full throttle and in which 330 km/h are reached) make life hard for the teams involved in the tests preceding 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 tired, having covered more than 500 kilometers, a limit for Formula 1. So the tests, for the time being, take on a relative significance, even though technicians and drivers can still take on important data for the first adjustments to the setups and aerodynamics. Probably on Friday, 1st of September 1995, it will be Jean Alesi’s turn to test the 12-cylinder engine in its latest, enhanced, and improved version, perhaps with the simulation of a race. Provided that the truck clears up (the Frenchman has also left the track twice, again because of the slippery asphalt) and that the weather turns for the best. In the meantime Gerhard Berger, although repeatedly solicited, does not speak about his future about the possible renewal of his contract with Ferrari, but in return he makes a joke, with a good forecast for the fans:
"In the Grand Prix Alesi will be first and I'll be second".
The Austrian driver speaks well of the renovated circuit:
"The track is going very well, it's just a pity that there is 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 a single seater hits a bird and the driver is forced to stop. It then becomes necessary to change the nose that was punctured and to clean the car. Then, making a prediction about the race, Gerhard Berger adds:
"In the current conditions Williams is the favorite 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 have made up my mind, but I've not signed yet".
Maybe he'll go to Benetton. Ferrari's day is also punctuated by applause and choruses from the public who continues to cheer for Jean Alesi. A group of youngsters, Bosnian refugees, who are currently being hosted by Caritas in Monza and Bergamo, meet the Frenchman and have their photo taken with him. And, in the stands, a new banner appears:
"Jean, we will follow you wherever you go, you are a legend".
Cesare Fiorio he's also seen a talking about the the FIA’s hypothesis of having three cars per team racing next year. Indeed, it seems that his intent is creating his own team to run one of these single seaters. Meanwhile, Alain Prost runs the first to test laps at Silverstone in the McLaren-Mercedes. But only in mid-September do real timed tests begin. On Thursday, 31st August 1995, the surprise comes from the sky, during the Formula One tests. Avvocato 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 he 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 with Jean Alesi, he does a lap of the track.
"I've known Monza a from Nuvolari’s time. Now the circuit is in magnificent condition. You can tackle the Ascari chicane at 180 kilometers per hour. It is the most impressive part".
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 the job well, but races are like gambling".
Did he also come to console Alesi?
"To console… No, no, to rejoice with him for all he has done and all he will do again".
Who would you see next to Schumacher?
"I don't want to say that. I can't tell you. But I already know who it is".
A young man or someone with the experience of a Berger?
"You bring me close like this: you are playing hot and cold. I think Berger is going in 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 then an accident happens… He was worried".
On the possible use of a third car in F1 teams, Agnelli replies:
"It is neither topical nor likely. And, I would say, not even possible".
On Friday, 1 September 1995, another piece of the Formula One driver's market comes together. Gerhard Berger leaves Ferrari, having evidently not accepted Schumacher's arrival, and in a surprise move, 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 world 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 vein of twists and turns, Gerhard Berger is not only marrying 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. She is seven months pregnant and a baby girl is due in October. Gerhard has already had a daughter, Christina, now 15, with his first wife. Berger’s is an escape from Ferrari. The Austrian, who had already signed an agreement in principle for 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 less than 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 been right. Even if Jean Alesi was assured of a first drive in Benetton. It must be admitted, however, that the choice also has its own technical logic: his next team is already a winner today, while it is not known whether Ferrari will be tomorrow.
"It was not easy to leave Ferrari after a positive years at 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 coming season. In addition, I think the environment is very serene and I'll also like to stay with my friend Jean".
Flavio Briatore’s comment was obvious:
"We are happy to have Gerhard back. He won the first race with us and we wish him to win again in 1996. With our technical capacity, two strong partners like Renault and Elf, two really good 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 shows the problem of the second driver. 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 the 1st of October 1995. This date, at least, has a significance. On Saturday 30 September McLaren’s option on David Coulthard will expire in fact, 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 other solutions are ready, all very interesting. According to what Avvocato Agnelli anticipated at Cernobbio, answering a question ("Look, I don't know what to tell you, for the driver who will replace Berger you can range from Finland to Brazil") one can go from Mika Hakkinen (if McLaren will make up the Prost-Coulthard pair), passing through the excellent and faithful Nicola Larini, to the South American - but originally from Treviso - Rubens Barrichello. Now the Ferrari-Benetton challenge gets tougher. Agnelli headset at the time of Schumacher's signing:
"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 go all out. Meanwhile, at first Jean Alesi takes the news, which he had already known for at least a couple of days, badly. 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 break my balls at Benetton".
While now, at Monza, Jean Alesi says:
"I was joking, of course. I just hope that he doesn't bring certain of his political ways into the team and above all that he doesn't pull Niki Lauda along. Otherwise I'll leave".
The second part is still a joke. But it is the truth that the 30 year old French driver would like more transparency and sincerity from Berger, less maneuvering within the team.
"Now, however, it is up to Briatore to provide clarity and say how the team will perform and who will be number one. For the rest, having Berger in the team has its positives. We will lose less time getting to know each other. We have spent three years together, there have also been frictions, but we have 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 getting 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 had a good offer from Maranello. He made his choices; he will have his reasons. I remain loyal to president Montezemolo. I would also like to make it clear that I have no dispute with Todt. I have 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 anymore. But I will be at Monza next week, to give my advice to the team".
Meanwhile, Ferrari completes testing ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. During the course of the day Nicola Larini continues his meticulous setup work while Jean Alesi stimulates 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 of leaves and for a break adjustment. Best lap in 1'25"79, last year his poll had been set with the time of 1'23"844. But everything has changed: track, cars, engines, impossible for now to make an assessment.
"I am quite satisfied, although there is 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 before had there been so many doubts as this year about the actual possibilities of holding the Italian Grand Prix. However, with the usual Italian miracle, the problems have all been overcome and - one can believe - even the beautiful park and the environment will benefit from the fact that the racetrack will continue its activities. The circus of motors comes to Italy at a particularly delicate time of the season. As if the challenge for the title between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill come with all its implications, seasoned by the controversy between the two, were not enough, the race takes place in the aftermath of a very hot driver market period. Negotiations that concern the top teams and that saw the passage of the German driver to Ferrari and of both runners from the Maranello team to Benetton. Some might even speculate that Alesi and Berger will be treated favorably in their 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 called upon 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 of the two to protect Schumacher is not the phenomenon that everyone believes that he is beatable. Third: for the pleasure of bidding farewell in the best way possible to the tide of Italian fans, that is, the Ferrari people, and therefore with a positive result.
So in sight of Jean Alesi and the cunning Gerhard Berger there is above all Michael Schumacher, the man who forced them to leave Ferrari. Alesi has no personal score to settle: he has never quarreled 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 qualifying and in the race on the very fast circuit in Lombardy. Damon has not forgotten the mockery of Spa, he did not like the only platonic publishment 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 would still have to wait for races before we see Hill overtake him in the standings. Therefore, a very difficult task for the London driver, who is also used to recovering in extremis. So, a possible points-grabbing placement (to Schumacher, of course) for Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger will come in handy for Damon Hill. It remains to be seen what Ferrari's potential will be. The Maranello team is expected to send out the latest evolution of the 12 cylinder engine, which at the end of the season will close its very long cycle 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 confrontation 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 extra strong team. That is why they’re sounding out the Formula One in the environment in depth, in order to examine all possibilities. In the last hours the market varies a bit. The eyes are mainly on the Marlboro-McLaren drivers, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, 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 raise 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 Hakkinen, 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 favor. 24 years old, he's considered the greatest wonder kid of the motor racing circus. Since the start of the season he's 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 hadn't broken. Rubens Barrichello is also young: he is 23 years old, he's from Sao 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 at Imola in May 1994, he had along tarnish and it certainly did not help him to have a driver of Eddie Irvine’s caliber in the team, who often put him in difficulty. Nevertheless, he is a valuable element. And we come to the Italians. Unfortunately it is not a particularly favorable moment for them. The Italian drivers have had very little chance to show their potential, because in recent years they have raised at best in medium caliber teams. 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 it was idle for a year and paid for that. Pierluigi martini is a great fighter, with already long experience in Formula One. It is therefore not excluded that Ferrari, within a short time, in any case, will 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 is highly regarded, but he would have to spend at least a year gaining experience with another team before joining Ferrari. On Monday 4 September 1995, having arrived in Italy for a series of tests with Williams ahead of Monza, David could start admits he has contacts to drive for Ferrari in 1996.
"I am 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 am young and 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 free of the British team, otherwise he will team up with Mika Hakkinen.
"It's terrible. I get up, ride my bike, play golf, phone, 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 racing bug gnaws at him. Not so much being away from the circuits; he misses the competitive 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 being maimed in some way. When he saw Clay Regazzoni or Philippe Streiff Passing by in their wheelchairs, he would close his eyes. Such a statement could have predicted total renunciation. 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 give him a hand in building his own team, at least with the engines. But the dream faded. So Alain changed direction. And signed a contract with Mercedes. With three roll options: 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 raises with 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 shake.
"I don't understand how Hakkinen and Blundell can drive with a set of that is completely wrong for me".
And he gave some hints that could already be used in the Monza test. The transalpine, however, has not yet discovered his real game. 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 a Ferrari. As good as he is, it takes some breaking in. 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 have already beaten him".
What does it mean? That Prost, intelligent and calculating, sees a nice opening to slip into the title challenge. 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 show 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 millions 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:
"Taking the best driver of the moment is still a right move. The unknowns concerned 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 the management of a driver as demanding as the current World Champion".
We are on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix. Can Ferrari win? The answer is not diplomatic:
"If the situation has not changed radically in the last fortnight, Williams and Benetton will be uncatchable. Hill remains the biggest favorite. But in formula one everything is possible. I'm sure that Ferrari will make an enormous effort, will put everything at its disposal on the field, and that Alesi and Berger will give everything for the fans of the red cars. When you get Monza with the Ferrari must be a unique experience. I have won the Italian Grand Prix three times, but one with the turbocharged Renault, two with the McLaren, Porsche engines and Honda. With the Maranello car I was only second, in 1990: it's one of the regrets I have left".
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 overhauled, 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 challenge and the performance of Alesi and Berger with the Maranello cars. Meanwhile, the protagonists are on the march of approach. 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 also mentioned. This flatters me, but I think it is still too early to talk about it, as no decision has been made. So it will be doubly important for me to do well in the next races, to prove that I am fast, especially at Monza, and then we will 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 5 September 1995, at 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 better period if anything, Hill has a better chance in qualifying. But on the lumber the 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 and we certainly make an important effort to make a good impression. But on this occasion, we can also cheer for Maranello. Honestly, a second place behind Alesi or Berger would be fine. If they win, they do us a favor because they take points away from the Englishman. It is clear that Michael will aim for full success. He has never won in Monza and last year he did not race because he was disqualified. A first place would after all be the best presentation for the Ferrari people, if 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 obstacles. It must be a great celebration for Formula One and for the sport. Moreover, the fans that have the last chance to see Jean and Gerhard in red overalls".
On the subject of Alesi and Berger, both of whom will be at Benetton in 1996: why did Benetton take them as a whole? And how will it manage them?
"We immediately finished shopping around in the driver market because he we wanted to stay calm and not have any problems to solve. In a way our team took Luca Montezemolo’s advice: the Ferrari president had said that Jean and Gerhard we're the best couple in the circus. We listened to him. We we'll give them both identical materials, as first drivers. Then, from mid season onwards, we will see who will be able to earn the captain's stripes on the track. Berger with his experience will contribute to the development of the car and will be more independent. I will personally take care of Alesi. He is 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 follow him like a son".
A promise or a threat? But doesn't losing Schumacher worry Benetton?
"No. We believe in the team as a whole. Now, honestly, we only once to think about the present, about winning the world championship, then we will see about the future. But I can guarantee that we will continue to be at the top. No technician has left us, they have all been reconfirmed. On the contrary, next year we will have an even stronger and more determined team, because the new challenge will be too beautiful and important".
Ferrari he is also preparing for a 1996. The new V10 engine is almost ready to be mounted on a laboratory car and should be on track at Fiorano in a short time. On Wednesday, 6 September 1995, meanwhile, the official announcement is made of the arrival of a new technical sponsor, Shell, which will supply petrol, lubricants, and the economic means. As anticipated, Agip leaves. Luca Montezemolo recalls:
"In November 1973 I personally reached the cooperation agreement with Agip that has bound us together for so long period I would like to thank all the companies managers and technicians who, over the last 22 years, have been close to us with friendship, passion, and competence, sharing happy and difficult moment with us. To Shell, has been a partner of Scuderia Ferrari from the very beginning, my welcome back to our side on circuits and markets all over the world".
According to rumors, on Thursday 7 September 1995 Max Mosley, FIA president, and Bernie Ecclestone, FOCA president, will meet Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo to discuss the future of Formula One, regulations and the possibility of a third car per team. Meanwhile, German driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen announces that he will remain at the wheel of Sauber-Ford in 1996.
On Thursday, 7 September 1995, not even the rain cooled the enthusiasm for the Grand Prix. Tickets almost sold out, while WWF and Legambiente, taking advantage as usual of the sounding board, announce further action to get the racetrack and even the golf course out of the park. From Friday, Formula One racing cars will be on stage on the renovated track. And everyone, it goes without saying, is wondering what Ferrari will be able to do hello, that is always the question. And like every time, on the eve of the race, it is without a precise answer: from everything to nothing. Let's just say that cautious optimism reigns in the Maranello team. Says Jean Todt, Head of Sporting Management:
"We think we're not doing too bad period in the last week’s tests we worked hard on start setup, aerodynamics, and engine. There is no big advantage over the other teams because the tests only lasted four days, two of which were basically dedicated to cleaning the track. But at least we are starting from a good base to fight with our rivals".
The French manager ranges over every topic concerning Ferrari. As for Monza, he expects a great test from Alesi and Berger:
"They have said that they will work hard. That until the end of the season they will feel like 100% Ferrari drivers and that it would be a dream to win at Monza. We will give them all the support we can".
But why, if relations are perfect, did they both leave?
"Alesi is still young. He wanted to gain experience with another top team. For him, however, there could still be an open door the future. It wouldn't be the first time a driver has come and gone at Maranello. Berger had an option to stay. It wouldn't have been easy for him to team up with Schumacher. He made a painful decision, which we respect".
In recent weeks, several interventions of Avvocato Gianni Agnelli on Ferrari have been noted. Is there active participation in the decisions at Maranello on the part of the Fiat president?
"For many years the relationship between Agnelli and Montezemolo has been like the one between a father and his son. It is clear that our boss gives him all the information. But he has never interfered, he leaves us complete autonomy".
This does not seem to be the case with Niki Lauda…
"Montezemolo, on his return to Ferrari, had asked Lauda to be his consultant because he needed to know the environment better. For two years I have been in charge of speaking on behalf of the Ferrari racing team period now Nikki has been offered to continue as a consultant and ambassador for Ferrari in series production. He will have to give an answer period from now on, however, when he will to the races, he will only speak on his behalf".
On the subject of drivers, little news.
"Schumacher will be available after the end of the championship. We can confirm that the German did not come to us for money. At least two other teams had offered him more. We believe we made the best choice. For the second driver, we will see, after Nurburgring. Coulthard? I can tell you that he's good, he's strong, he's young".
In the meantime, Damon Hill, despite the downpour, makes several laps of the circuit:
"A magnificent job, we'll have fun. I aim to win, for me it's a vital reason, given the situation in the standings".
Then Damon argues again with Schumacher:
"At Spa he was in the middle of the track. Hopefully it won't happen again. I was punished and lost to the victory for going 2 km/h too fast during a stop. He was punished ridiculously for something more serious. If everyone behaved in the same way, motor racing would become ridiculous and pointless".
Michael Schumacher replies with a single sentence:
"If I win again, I see him badly".
On Friday 8 September 1995 the Italian Grand Prix for Schumacher starts with a police escort. Says Flavio Briatore:
"It protects him".
A phone call two days before, lots of threats and the fear of a kidnapping after the multibillion dollar engagement by Ferrari. Flavio Briatore goes on to say:
"No big deal, guys, let's not make a big deal out of it".
No case, agreed. But the fact remains that the order to protect Schumacher apparently came directly from the questor of Milan. This is just the chronicle of a passion, of a cold- eyed driver who has taken the World Championship Is now seeking glory, and of another who when he speaks his eyes light up:
"It would be nice to make a present to Ferrari, here, at his home, for the last time".
This is Jean Alesi, a sweet guy who is a bit furious. Michael Schumacher would never say that. Sentiment is not worth half a second. But now, in the Ferrari, he will go. At Monza, the Benetton marquee he's right in front of the Ferrari marquee. And this is no coincidence either. Alesi has a little hat on his head when he passes, he wears a pout and never looks to his right and in front of him. Michael Schumacher has a baby face and cold eyes. One in front of the other, here at Monza. On the tracks, the boys with the flags arrive early in the morning, and lay the first banner:
"Better an Alesi today, then 100 Schumacher tomorrow".
Then another, painted red:
"If Schumacher is worth 40 billion, Alesi is worthless. Jean you are one of us".
Michael Schumacher doesn't even see them. He doesn't even see Jean Alesi. Avvocato Giovanni Agnelli would have said:
"I'm half a second faster than everyone".
Alesi, on the other hand, says that where the car can't go, sometimes the heart can. As the boys placed their banners on the grandstand in front of the pits, Schumacher is escorted by the police and Alesi is stopped by a policeman for a prohibited overtaking maneuver. He gives his license and politely apologizes. Schumacher has never apologized in his life. No need to apologize. And so, they tease him by saying:
"Prost says you are good, but without charisma".
He is contemptuous:
"Then tell him to come back, with his charisma".
Besides, even charisma doesn't make a car go faster. Schumacher is the one who works the hardest and is not afraid of anyone. He is the one who at the age of nine, in his first kart race, started 30th and came first. They told him not to come back. He didn't listen to them, came back, and won again. Schumacher is not afraid now either. The four Digos men are waiting for him in the lobby of the hotel, and then again in front of the Benetton marquee, and when there is practice, they are always there, in front of a white poster painted green:
"Schumi, not even the FIA can stop you".
Briatore runs away and admits only what cannot be denied:
"Well, of course I've seen them too. But it must be a normal precaution".
The managers of the racetrack also confirm:
"Benetton must have been threatened by a few drunks and asked for a minimum of protection".
It's just that the Germans have bad memories come from Graf to Becker, and so it's better to be careful. Schumacher doesn't even pay attention. He's someone who usually frightens others. Even Ayrton Senna was afraid of him, and once at Hockenheim he attacked him in the pits. But why are you picking on that kid? They asked him.
"Because he has to learn how to behave on track".
It wasn't true, that wasn't the reason. Michael Schumacher was in his infancy, yet he was frightening. He had the eyes of ice and the heart of a soldier. These must be the things that are worth half a second. And, after all, it is a complicated game that of Formula One. Often the cards get mixed up and it becomes difficult to interpret, even if, in the race, the aces win. On Friday, the chronometer’s response in the first qualifying round of the Italian Grand Prix was surprising, to say the least. David Coulthard beats everyone, Gerhard Berger overtakes Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, and Jean Alesi is forced to settle for fifth. In a circuit wallpapered with phrases of love, written everywhere, on flags and banners, on the walls and on the asphalt, almost always addressed to Alesi and Berger, that is to the Ferrari couple, the battle for provisional pole position takes place in silence. A strangely sleepy atmosphere, as if the first day was only a dress rehearsal for what might happen on Sunday, when everyone we'll be driving at full throttle. David Coulthard, the strong-jawed Scot, and Frank Williams’s protégé, meanwhile gives a good demonstration of himself. On the verge of moving to McLaren or Ferrari, the Williams driver seems to be growing day by day after a brief period of tarnish. He immediately pushes to the limit and scores a time of 1'25"516, averaging 242.901 km/h. And Monza immediately takes the title of fastest circuit in the World Championship, at least this year, with the track revised and corrected for safety. With compliments from all the drivers. Behind the David Coulthard, there is the old fox Gerhard Berger, who is 0.008 seconds ahead of Damon Hill, 0.186 seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher and 0.225 seconds ahead of his teammate of today and the future, Jean Alesi. Minimal differences, with the top five within 0.8 seconds. Which means that in the second attempt, if it doesn't rain, everything could change period also because the protagonists of the first day of practice had something to complain about, from first to last. David Coulthard for an excessive oversteer, Gerhard Berger for the brakes blocking the wheels, Damon Hill because the balance of the car is not perfect yet, Michael Schumacher because he is in crisis with the aerodynamic setup of his Benetton, Jean Alesi for an engine drop. Of all of them it is the Frenchman who is the unluckiest. Last week he had set a time of 1'25"79, during a race simulation. With qualifying configuration that should have done even better. Admits Jean Todt:
"We are not satisfied, because our cars should have been faster. We are also determined to improve for defence, who are extraordinary here and for that we will have to do something".
Jean Alesi, with a somewhat grim face (but still a big hard: the French driver let in a little girl who had no ticket and cuddled her like a sister) uttered bitter words:
"In Italy the public is all for Ferrari. And I fear that when I leave, they will abandon me. I’m sorry. But for this very reason, for a great farewell, I would like to win. I don’t know, it will be difficult, but I will try, despite everything. Today with a new, fresh engine, I will try to attack. Then we’ll see for the race tomorrow".
Into the Schumacher-Hill challenge, which remains the predictable dominant competitive motif of the race, comes the very human hope of Alesi, who continues to say that he will remain a Ferrari fan for the rest of his life. The goal obviously coincides with that of the Maranello team. Even if, honestly, it would take half a miracle: the 412 T2s tested here for four days the week before, but Williams is already ahead, and Benetton threatens to overtake. Unless the Frenchman or the Austrian come up with a fairytale lap. And not only to the delight of the public. And, on the other hand, on Saturday 9 September 1995, if Ferrari fans were projected into the future by a time machine, they could go mad with happiness, given that David Coulthard will start from pole position and Michael Schumacher at his side, in the front row of the grid at the Gran Premio d'Italia: a result that represents the image of a possible formation of the Maranello team in 1996.
The reality of the moment, however, is less brilliant. The Scotsman still wears the Williams tracksuit and the German the Benetton one. To find the Ferrari drivers, the current ones, and not the virtual ones, you have to go back to the third place of Gerhard Berger and the fifth of Jean Alesi. Not even bad placements, but we're in Monza. And everyone expected better. We can also speak of bad luck, but in sport as in life we must be able to favor good luck. And Ferrari, always grappling with some problems, is unable to express itself to the maximum of its possibilities. After being first and second in the morning's free practice, Alesi and Berger in qualifying did not repeat the times that would have allowed them to advance a few places. The Frenchman still encounters some problems with the engine, the Austrian is slowed down by an electronic glitch. Reliability and consistency are not the strengths of the Maranello team. The scent of Ferrari (or of McLaren, it will depend on Prost's decision to race or not in 1996) instead gives David Coulthard wings. The young Scot beats everyone lapping in 1'24"462, at an average speed of 245.933 km/h: over 0.5 seconds faster than Michael Schumacher, 0.9 seconds of Gerhard Berger, 1.2 seconds of Damon Hill and a little more than Jean Alesi.
"Two days in which everything went badly for me, I was hoping to give a different kind of greeting to my fans."
And yet, Alesi gives his everything, despite only having the previous version engine available. Just look at the maximum speeds obtained in the three sectors along the circuit, where he goes, in the first and second sectors, 14 and 16 km/h faster than Gerhard Berger. Which simply means that he brakes far ahead, to seek an impossible result. Jean Todt maintains, also disappointed:
"Anyway, I think there's a chance to do well in the race".
A joke that, referring to the French driver, receives a dry response:
"Yes, but I'll do the running".
In the sense that Alesi, at this point, is not optimistic but fatalistic and is afraid above all for the reliability that has stopped him in the last three races. Knowing the character, we know that this time too he will give it his everything, as will Berger, to at least score points. Five years ago, Jean Alesi was in Monza like today, and Dino Brambilla was there too that day, clinging to the gate like now, with his white Marlboro T-shirt and black knee-length trousers. Jean Alesi, the boy who had the Gilles Villeneuve poster hanging over his bed since he was 9, and who had already signed for Tyrrell and Williams, said:
"Either I race with Ferrari, or I stop".
If you ask him, the Brambilla fan, he remembers everything well. Frank Williams summoned reporters, looked them in the face and spoke with a smile:
"I would like to know why Alesi doesn't want to race with my car. Why do I stink?"
It went that Jean ended up where he wanted, his pout and those clear eyes of a sad Frenchman. He remained what he was then, an unfinished hero, too unfortunate to beat his luck. In five years, he has won just one Grand Prix, while Williams has won two world titles and more than forty races. Had he remained where he signed, Alesi would no longer be what he is.
An upside-down hero, with his Villeneuve poster in his bedroom, so close to the mechanic Dino Brambilla that the great Gilles keeps him as an icon in his workshop, so similar to his people who come here in procession simply to dream, just like he does. Now that his fans fill the stands with signs scribbled at home like the one that hangs at the top:
"Jean, call them if you want emotions".
Now that his fans are even able to cry for him, and that five years have gone by in vain, Jean Alesi says:
"This weekend everything went wrong. I wanted to give a different greeting to my fans. I wanted to give them at least pole position, and I've been dreaming about it these days. Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I dreamed it. There are those who tell me stop dreaming, but this is me, and in the end, I always pay for all my defeats".
After all, Jean Alesi and his fans are all here, in these sentences, victims of the same dream, a red car that fills people's imagination like a football team, like an idea, a passion. Alesi and Berger are the years of this dream pursued in vain in different ways. And now they are written on the placards, on the banners, before Schumacher with the ice eyes arrives.
"Jean and Gerhard forever in our hearts".
"Beyond the limit is Jean".
"Gerhard looks at the sky: it's the only thing bigger than you".
To which is added:
"Jean like Gilles, without you the Ferrari heart won't beat anymore".
And finally, his fans write:
"Jean we will wait for you".
Because there is everything in the stands, even illusion, in the name of Ferrari. There are messages:
"We are here for Alesi".
Tips for shopping:
"Eddie Irvine for Ferrari".
"Badoer at Ferrari".
And then you reproach:
"If the car doesn't go, he can't improve".
"Lauda go away".
In the crowds around the pilots, there is the order service which, when they hear the crowd cheering for Berger, blow:
"Blow us, Gerhard".
But now all this is coming to an end, there are now six races left, as Jean Todt states, and then we change. Fearless Schumacher will arrive, who looked at Ayrton Senna and said:
"He is a champion. I am the only one who can beat him".
Well then, Schumacher doesn't bother too much about the hustle and bustle:
"People? Well, I don't know: I arrive too early in the morning and leave too late in the evening. I can't meet them, for now, the fans. But I find it right that they support their riders in such a passionate way. They're right".
And also for threats, don't worry:
"Yes, I heard about it. Angry Alesi fans called Benetton. All normal. I don't worry, the escort doesn't bother me, and I laugh about the danger of kidnapping".
Five years later, Jean Alesi has just finished speaking:
"I have nothing more to say to my fans. I had two important days, and it went wrong. And about Sunday, I don't know".
But the Williams are faster and Coulthard at Spa, before leaving (gearbox), was very fast. However, as usual, there will be a game of tactics, stops for fuel and tire changes, in which Michael Schumacher has so far been a master with Benetton. And, to complicate the Grand Prix, there is also the heat, with engines in danger and the problem of the brakes being heavily used. During practice Luca Badoer, with the Minardi, attempted a braking for too long and ended up against the barriers with the rear of his car. Then the car crashed into the sand, flipped over and stopped on three wheels. Fear, shock for the pilot, taken to the medical center for checks: luckily no problems, apart from the semi-destroyed car. David Coulthard, among other things, must also take into account the position of Damon Hill who is fighting for the victory of the World Championship. And he could have special instructions from Williams to give way to his teammate if the situation is favourable. There are no unknowns. Also for Michael Schumacher: the German, as is well known, runs sub judice. After the zigzags of Spa he has a suspended one match suspension on his head, should he repeat the impropriety. So Michael will have to be careful. On Sunday 10 September 1995, during the warm-up lap of the Italian Grand Prix, poleman David Coulthard goes wide at the Ascari curve and ends up in the sand: the Scottish driver will be able to rejoin the race but will have to start in last position. At the start, Michael Schumacher is first and holds the position on Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi, who passes Damon Hill. But at the exit of the Ascari curve there was a lot of sand left by the Williams and the cars of Max Papis, Andrea Montermini, Pedro Lamy and Roberto Moreno spun. The race direction suspends the race at the start of the second lap, just as Gerhard Berger overtakes Michael Schumacher: the starting procedure will have to be repeated and David Coulthard can regain his first position. It starts again and this time the Scot shoots well and keeps the lead. Gerhard Berger passes Michael Schumacher, who is ahead of Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert, and Jean Alesi. However, the Frenchman overtook Herbert at the Parabolica and stuck to Hill; the British Benetton driver, in the following laps, was also overtaken by Rubens Barrichello and Mika Hakkinen. David Coulthard tries to escape, but the four behind him manage not to increase the gap too much: Berger is close, while the trio Hill-Schumacher-Alesi is 1.5 seconds behind the Austrian.
During lap 13 David Coulthard loses the rear of his Williams at the Roggia and ends up in the gravel: he will be able to get back on track in sixth position, but his car is too damaged, and he is forced to retire. Gerhard Berger then takes the lead and pushes to increase the gap from the duo made up of Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher: on lap 22, his lead is around 4 seconds. The following lap, however, the two great rivals of the previous season were forced to abandon the race: while lapping Taki Inoue's Footwork-Hart at the Biassono, Damon Hill delayed braking and hit Michael Schumacher, ending the race for both. Now completing the podium, in addition to the Austrian from Ferrari, are his teammate Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello. The series of pit stops begins: Gerhard Berger is the first to stop and his stop, which lasted 16 seconds, puts him in battle with Eddie Irvine and Mark Blundell, who pass him. Jean Alesi pitted a lap later and managed to rejoin the track ahead of the other Ferrari. Johnny Herbert, who was in fifth position up to now, delayed his pit stop and thanks to this move he overtook Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello. Now Alesi is first, ahead of Berger, Herbert, Hakkinen, Barrichello's Jordan and Frentzen's Sauber. During the course of lap 26, at the second one in Lesmo, Luca Badoer's Minardi goes sideways and gets lost in a spin; the car hits the guardrail, but fortunately the Italian driver manages to get out of the car without major problems. The probable Ferrari one-two fades away on lap 32, due to one of the strangest retirements ever seen in Formula 1: the camera car detaches from the rear wing of Jean Alesi's car and slams into the front left suspension of Gerhard Berger's car, severing it. While the Austrian was forced to retire, Eddie Irvine's Jordan climbed into the points; however, the Northern Irishman stopped on lap 40 due to engine failure, a fate shared also by teammate Rubens Barrichello three laps later. In the finale, Jean Alesi was managing the first position, also thanks to his 7 second advantage over Johnny Herbert, who in turn has a completely safe gap between himself and Mika Hakkinen. When there are 10 laps left to go, smoke is noticed coming out of the right rear tire of Jean Alesi's Ferrari: two laps later the Frenchman has to return to the pits, where he discovers that a bearing has gone up in flames.
Johnny Herbert then wins, winning the second Grand Prix of his career; behind him comes Mika Hakkinen, who gives McLaren the first podium of 1995; third is Heinz-Harald Frentzen, on his first career podium, with Sauber-Ford. Rounding out the points zone are Mark Blundell, with the other McLaren-Mercedes, Mika Salo with the Tyrrell-Yamaha, and Jean-Christophe Bouillon, who with his Sauber-Ford in the closing laps starts a duel with Max Papis to get the last points finish. We need to light candles in church, because Ferrari no longer knows which saint to turn to. They had dominated the Italian Grand Prix for a long time, clearly giving the feeling of being able to win and then collect nothing. In motor racing it is forbidden to talk about bad luck. You reap what you sow, but this time it went really wrong for the Maranello team: two cars in the lead, the racetrack ready to explode with happiness. Instead we go from enthusiasm to despair. Alesi is leading the race ahead of teammate Berger when many games are already done. But from the Frenchman's car a sort of missile hits the Austrian's. Who, after a near-explosion, with the brakes locked, has to put in place all his skill and coolness in order not to crash off the track. Broken suspension and abandonment. What happened? A unique case in the history of Formula 1. One of the cameras used for live video footage during the race detached from Alesi's car after being involuntarily hit by a mechanic during the last pit stop. Two were installed on the Frenchman's car. One on the left bonnet, the second on the right rear wing. It was the latter that severed herself cleanly. It is a wing-shaped object, therefore very aerodynamic, made of a special aluminum alloy. Its weight is exactly one kilogram. These camera cars are assembled directly by FOCA TV technicians, the special television team that depends on Bernie Ecclestone, to distribute the images to the director who takes care of the broadcasts. While the two Ferraris were traveling at around 300 km/h, the camera first hung from its electric cable, then was probably shot backwards from the rear wheel, like from a slingshot. The small fireball hit the toe-in arm of Berger's car right in front of the left-hand wheel. The rider basically lost steering wheel direction and under tremendous braking the suspension buckled. The episode, due to an incredible fatality, also had dramatic implications. Apart from the Austrian's risk of going off the track at full speed, there was a greater danger. Still shocked Gerhard Berger recounts:
"I saw that silver missile thing coming. A shocking thing. But I can say that I was lucky. If it had hit me on the face, even with the helmet on, I would have been dead. One hundred percent".
This is what happened on lap 33, before the Ascari chicane, when Alesi and Berger were first and second, with a good margin of advantage over the only pursuer still validly in the race, Johnny Herbert. But Ferrari's misfortunes weren't over yet. Alesi remained in the lead, alone, for another 16 laps. Quiet, with just the right pace to finish and win triumphantly. But no. Suddenly the right rear wheel of the car began to dance. And Herbert immediately gained ground. The evil ones immediately thought, as clouds of smoke were puffing out behind the Ferrari, of an engine failure. But in the meantime the brake disc caught fire and Jean had to go back to the pits. Reason for withdrawal: Seized hub carrier bearing. What to say? This is also new. For the Frenchman it is the fourth consecutive retirement. So the blond and lucky Johnny Herbert went on to win the second race of his career, after Silverstone. And he moved up to third place in the World Championship, overtaking Jean Alesi himself. Further up the standings have not changed. Damon Hill had rear-ended Michael Schumacher in the first part of the race, both remained firm in the standings. In any case, the German has an advantage because now the Englishman has one game less to make up for the 15-point disadvantage. David Coulthard, already out on the warm-up lap, then fished out for a carom on lap two that forced the race direction to restart, went into the sand on lap 14. In the end, a podium with consolation prizes for Mika Hakkinen and Heinz -Harald Frentzen.
"I was already happy with second place. Imagine the surprise when Alesi stopped. I can’t contain myself! I've been very unlucky in the past in my career. But in a short time I made up for it. I won at my home at Silverstone. And now Monza, one of the temples of motorsport. I could almost stop racing. But no, even if Benetton leaves me at home next year, I will try to get behind another steering wheel".
Johnny Herbert is the picture of happiness. Forget everything, even the controversy he had aroused last week in a column he wrote in an English newspaper in which he accused the team of treating him like a second-class driver. Now he hopes he can help Michael Schumacher win the title. Not before, however, taking revenge on his employer by telling him to f*** off live worldwide, as he will tell a few years later:
"I was lapping well, my lap times were good but I certainly couldn't compete with Ferrari who were going very fast. At one point they tell me I'm first, I control the race and win. It's incredible to see all those people applauding, even if I wasn't a Ferrari driver. I get on the podium and look down. Wonderful feeling until I see two Schumacher fans who boo me and give me the middle finger. I couldn't resist, I raise my hands and answer with the double middle finger and there I'm going to fuck off. Briatore is next to me and looks at me angrily. He tells me: what the fuck are you doing, are you stupid? And since he had just fired me to take Alesi, I turn around, take the cup, give him my middle finger and send him to fuck off in turn. If I had done it today, they would have banned me for at least six months. But at the time we were more free to act, to see two men give you the middle finger after you risked your life in a race and gave us inside, it made me angry. And instinctively I reacted and then with Briatore, he had always penalized me throughout the year, he had made me all the colors and so I sent him to hell too. I did it as a winner, not as a loser, so it was worth it".
"No, not at all, in fact if I catch some journalist who reminds me of those times, I'll tell him to fuck off".
But not all the British left the national racetrack happy. Martin Brundle walked away with an official booking and the threat of heavy penalties. After a flat tire, the Ligier-Mugen Honda driver did a complete lap of the circuit on a wheel rim, leaving pieces of his car almost everywhere. Reckless behavior given that he had no chance of rejoining the race, given that the distance from the pits was enormous. Among other things, the tough Martin almost caused big trouble for poor Gerhard Berger, the most targeted of the day in the true sense of the word. In fact, one of the debris from the Ligier-Mugen Honda body hit the Austrian's Ferrari on the right side, at the level of the passenger compartment. And it caused a collapse of the structure and a hole about thirty centimeters in diameter. The side protection bars of the car were also blown, and the driver would have risked in the event of an accident. It wasn't his day. The day also went badly Massimiliano Papis. The 25-year-old from Varese, who arrived in Formula 1 after mid-season, taking over from Gianni Morbidelli at Footwork-Hart, had a dream in life: to take a point once in Monza, the track he considers home. And he came very close: he finished in P7, 0.9 seconds behind the Frenchman Jean-Christophe Boullion who, with the Sauber-Ford, overtook him on the penultimate lap. But the incredible thing happened in the pits, during the refueling stop. The Footwork mechanics put fuel in the tank but did not proceed to change the tyres. For what reason? We don't know, maybe to save money. So Papis, who was already driving the badly adjusted reserve car (after the accident at the first start involving Roberto Moreno, Pedro Paulo Diniz, Andrea Montermini, Jean-Christophe Boullion and the Italian driver himself) found himself skidding from a across the track, with excessively worn tyres. It could have been the opportunity of a lifetime for him too, but instead it was the most burning disappointment since he's been a pilot. The clash between Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher continues. At Monza, the Englishman rear-ended the German driver's Benetton-Renault, and both ended up in the sand, out of the race, on lap 23. The two were teasing each other behind Gerhard Berger who was leading the race, with an advantage of about 4 seconds. At the Ascari variant they reached the Footwork-Hart of the Japanese Taci Inoue. The latter moved to the left to leave the road. Michael braked in extremis and Damon, evidently disturbed by the presence of the third car, was unable to do the same.
And with a masterful stroke he pushed his rival off the road, stopping in turn. The two, frowning, returned together to the pits on a bus besieged by fans. In the crowd, a Red Cross nurse was slightly injured.
"Damon even apologized to me. But that's not acceptable. It's the second time he hits me after Silverstone. He had to be more careful. You don't drive like that".
Hill's reply is not long in coming:
"It's ridiculous. A lapped, Inoue, changed course twice in front of me. He let Schumacher pass then blocked me, moving further. I have no responsibility for this incident. No one can think that I did it on purpose. My car was working very well, and I was using a waiting tactic to attack at the end. And I'm sure I could have won. If Michael is disappointed and angry, I'm more so".
The Englishman's explanation does not convince either the German driver or Flavio Briatore. So Benetton lodges a complaint and the stewards inflict a conditional suspension on Damon Hill for one race. That is, if he were to repeat a maneuver of the same type in Estoril, in two weeks, he would be disqualified. Michael Schumacher, after the zigzag at Spa, had received the same penalty, but he will still have to be careful for three races. To Flavio Briatore, already happy and benefited from Johnny Herbert's victory, it doesn't seem true to finally be able to accuse Damon Hill, between one joke and another:
"It was like in fairy tales, our Cinderella won. Herbert is trying to show us that we were wrong in not confirming him for next year (Johnny was practically fired to make room for Alesi and Berger, ed): let's hope he behaves in the same way until the end of the season. We were also fine with a second place after Schumacher's exit, I would have applauded a victory for Jean and Ferrari, but it went very differently".
Then the Benetton manager adds:
"You've all seen what happened. With us the judges have always been very hard, inflexible. It's time they do the same thing with the others. Damon doesn't practice motor racing but boxing, his isn't even a sport. Anyway if he does so until the last race of the championship, it could go well for us. Michael continues to lead, and we are gaining valuable points in the constructors' championship. We have further detached Williams".
David Coulthard's speech was less fiery, hero in qualifying and great disappointment in the race. An incredible exit from the track during the warm-up lap, then a spin due to a technical problem similar to the one that stopped Alesi. But the Scotsman does not admit that he made both mistakes:
"When I arrived first at the Ascari corner, there was something slippery on the asphalt, maybe some oil. And the car left without warning. Then I was lucky because the start was repeated, and I was able to retake my pole position. But it wasn't the day. I was leading without problems when I felt a vibration in the right front wheel. I went out, but the technicians found that a bearing had broken. Too bad, I think I could have fought well for the win. But I can make a promise: before the end of the year I'll be able to get on the top step of the podium".
They say the worst defeat is the one you don't expect. Jean Alesi expected to lose before the start and dreamed of winning an hour later. Yet he learned that:
"The ugliest defeat is the one that takes away a piece of your life, because life matters more than anything and now, I'm a bit dead inside".
A particular day, a Sunday with pale sun and a full moon, in the house of his dreams, in a red Ferrari with the #27. And at 5:00 p.m., Monza is like a circus that takes off its tents because the season is now over, and when it comes back here again everything will be so different, and even the actors will have changed, all the acrobats, the dwarfs, and the dancers, and even the party will no longer be this. Jean is right, with a sad face:
"I will remember it for all my life".
The show goes on, but this Sunday is really over forever, and next time there won't be these flags anymore, and the embrace of the people, and there won't even be any more boos to Michael Schumacher, the German who will take his place. Jean who loses and who leaves now confesses that he cried:
"I grew up in these five years, and year after year with these people, within this passion. And I told Kumiko who was crying seeing all this. It has become my life. Et alors, vous comprenez…".
It was the last chance and to the French reporters, the day he loses and leaves, Jean also confesses to having disobeyed Ferrari:
"When I noticed that the right rear wheel was dancing, I warned the team and they told me on the radio to continue, not to stop. But I didn't want to, because it was no longer needed, and you couldn't risk".
He went into the pits, and slipped slowly as the flags went down. It was 4:34 p.m. of a particular day. And when he got off, Jean saw his mechanics cry, he saw the massive Benassi bent over his ulcer and Claudio Bisi, the blond, who looked at him as if at a funeral. And then he saw his brother with his hands on his bald head and everyone around who didn't know what to do, what to say.
"What's up, guys, this is sport. It's like getting to the final and losing on penalties".
For him there is also something more, and he confesses it later, when he says:
"These people are like me, and I owed them something, as one owes a son, or a father, to one of your family".
Too bad it ended like this. With this hymn to bad luck, the people clapping and Jean Alesi leaving among the flags and his mechanics bowing their heads, and the speaker Luigi Vignando screaming like a madman:
"Look at him, Jean: he put his heart into it, and it wasn't enough, bad luck took away a victory that already seemed ours".
He didn't say his, he said ours, of the Italians, and at least this is perhaps somewhat true. Now, there are helicopters circling in the sky, and there is the silence of defeat around Beethoven's notes that greet the crowd of Monza. Gerhard Berger is also disconsolate:
"This time it was just bad luck".
The cars that went fast, the good track, favorable to 12-cylinder engines as Jean Alesi recalls, and then two cursed accidents that broke everything. A piece of the French pilot's camera comes off and sends Berger off. 4:15 pm, lap 32. And after, with 7 laps to go, the accident to Alesi:
"The suspension, like in Spa. But this time the causes seemed different to me. I must have touched something, I don't know, some fragment on the road".
But one can joke about it, as Jean Alesi tries to do:
"Berger? I unhooked the camera to get him out of my balls".
"And to think that at first, I even had to laugh. When I saw Hill and Schumacher take themselves out, I wanted to take a pen and erase: minus two".
It was 4:01 p.m., lap 23. At 3:47 p.m., accompanied by a roar of joy, David Coulthard had gone out, ending up on the sand of a chicane. It won't be sporting to wave flags over other people's misfortunes, but it was a day like this, a bit special. It had begun in the morning, when the stadium chants had welcomed Michael Schumacher and Jean Alesi. Whistles and applause.
"Alesi yes, Schumacher no".
Now, when a reporter asks him what he thinks, Jean replies angrily:
"I am not interested".
And if he insists, he repeats it well:
"I don't care at all whether the fans love him or not. This will be his problem. My problem today was another one, it's that I wanted to win for them".
And when a French journalist tells him that he came close to a second victory, Jean almost stops him:
"For me it would not have been the second victory. If it had happened, this would have been unique".
Nothing to do, however. When the circus closes, a huge red heart also appears lying on the crowd.
"We had prepared it because we believed we could do it".
The fans say:
"We really thought that Alesi would win".
Maybe that was it. It doesn't matter if, rereading this particular day, one wants to think that Jean Alesi would have lost anyway, even if it hadn't ended like this, even if he really had beaten everyone. In the Monza circus, the Frenchman who dreamed of Ferrari #27 had already lost his race. But in the most messy and worst organized Formula 1 Grand Prix it also happens that a Red Cross volunteer is beaten up by fans who want to stop a bus carrying Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher to the pits, as well as brawls, scams, and thefts. In the morning it also happens that the guys from the security service, who are supposed to control the access of the crowd to the park and to the stands, instead improvise touts by selling passes for seats behind the pits and permits for parking near the stands. They approach the cars in the queue and give everything in exchange for 10.000 lire. The result is that already at 10:00 a.m. the parking lots are full and there is no more room for those who have to work. There are 70.000 paying visitors, far from sold out, but the crowd is incredible. In the end Bernie Ecclestone is right, the boss of Formula 1, who thunders against the organizers of the Monza circuit and this disorder:
"What is going here is truly inconceivable. All kinds of things are happening, things we cannot accept, ranging from illegal traffic inside the racetrack, to thefts, to the absolute lack of control over who enters and who leaves the circuit. So, as far as I'm concerned, the day the contract expires, if they can't demonstrate that they're capable of taking things seriously, I could seriously consider racing at Mugello".
On Monday 11 September 1995, Flavio Briatore, the winner, and Jean Todt, the loser, clashed during the morning by telephone, in a debate carried out through the Italian sports broadcast of Rai 1. To tell the truth, fortunately, they are far apart, otherwise they would have kissed and embraced. A diplomatic attitude with an exchange of compliments, amid questions from fans and onlookers. Briatore, would you go to Ferrari?
"Todt is already here, let him work. Next year he will have Schumacher. Fortunately, we at Benetton can rest easy. We will try to show that we don’t depend on Michael, and we will try to let Alesi and Berger win. A good challenge. In any case, I'm sorry that Ferrari didn't win".
And what do you think of Hill?
"I think he's out of his mind. He realizes that he can't finish first and then he messes up".
Todt, why this umpteenth disappointment?
"What we have seen in Monza does not represent the real Ferrari. This is called bad luck. We had to be first and second. The bearing that broke, for example. We had replaced it earlier than necessary compared to the expected life span".
Let's talk about the future. Why did you leave Berger and Alesi to change everything?
"The contracts were expiring. We opted for Schumacher. This is part of Formula 1 life".
But when Enzo Ferrari was there, the Maranello team built the champions by itself.
"Times have changed".
The many mistakes in the pits, why would you not replace the mechanics?
"It wouldn't be fair; they are very good. Sunday everything happened in an instant. If we had won, we would have been heroes, now we are the worst".
And now you're still betting on Coulthard?
"I can only give my opinion. In the first outing he made a mistake, but it had also happened to some World Champions. For the second he had a breakdown on the car".
In 1994 there were some problems, this year there were more, what are the forecasts for 1996?
"We had to rebuild the team. In the next season we will have everything we need, and we will all work together. As far as breakdowns are concerned, we try to solve every problem quickly and in the best possible way".
Why can't we see Barnard in the pits anymore?
"He's planning the car for 1996".
The contrasts with Lauda?
"We have clarified the situation".
Florio was driven out with nine victories. And you only got two...
In the meantime, the bitterness does not pass in Jean Alesi's great disillusionment, despite the consoling presence of Kumiko, his beautiful and sweet Japanese companion. It's a different Alesi from the other times. At first, he looked like Samson: he went to the ground and always got up full of energy. Now it seems that they have cut his hair, like the strong giant. He seems to have been left without strength, especially psychological. So much so that he even gave up going to Mugello to carry out a series of scheduled tests. Indeed, he asks Ferrari to be excluded from this kind of activity from now on (Nicola Larini and Gerhard Berger will take care of it). It could also be the discouragement of the moment, given the shocking character of the boy of Sicilian origin. But now the crisis is deeper, perhaps irreversible. Why?
"The reason is simple. I don't believe it anymore. I had always convinced myself that things would change, that sooner or later we would really make a leap in quality. Even after the decision to go to Benetton, I was determined to give my best for my current team. Now I will continue to work on the track, but it seems useless to do work that is useless. I spoke on the phone with Montezemolo. But I didn't have much to tell him, also because he was more disappointed than me".
Do you really think that Ferrari won't be able to grab a victory or valid results before the end of the season?
"I don't know, as things stand, no. We probably also had bad luck on Sunday in Monza. But unfavorable fate is only the consequence of what one knows how to build. We had an important advantage in the Italian Grand Prix, that of having been able to test the cars for four days and having prepared them well. We have not been able to exploit it. For many reasons. Let me give you an example: Williams and Benetton use two engines per car every weekend. One for practice and the other for the race. Except of course when unforeseen problems arise. Four engines were changed on my car in three days, because there were always problems. Then on Sunday the maximum was reached: Berger was not happy with his latest version V12. Then the one that was on my race car was removed and put on Gerhard's spare car. I took his. Nothing wrong. But when you work in a hurry, when cars are built and rebuilt, the risk of having problems is always higher".
It has been seen that the problem of the detached (and already unstable) camera may have been caused by an involuntary collision with a wheel while they were being replaced during the pit stop…
"This is of little importance. One time it's the engine, another time the camera, then a wire, then a bearing. But we don't go on like this, it's negative".
Ferrari's performance at Monza, especially in the race, was brilliant...
"Even that doesn't make much sense. Our team prepares the Monza race almost as if it were the only commitment of the year. We had to go strong. But above all we had to take 16 points. What did we do instead? Zero point, zero. This is the real result. This is not pessimism but realism".
Aerodynamic changes have been announced for the next race between two Sundays. in Portugal.
"We will see. Meanwhile, we already know that Williams will bring an almost totally redone car. They're already going faster and if they take another step forward, who's going to stop them anymore? In fact, maybe we can do it. If it rains".
Alesi's goal of finishing at least third in the Drivers' World Championship, however, is still within reach, even if Herbert now occupies the position behind Schumacher and Hill.
"I don't want to have any more illusions. And I don't think it will be easy to recover anyway. Do you know what I've been doing for the past two months? Four consecutive DNFs".
At this point, Alesi may not even be interested in the future of Ferrari anymore. But is there a cure for healing the Maranello team?
“They took all the best, including Schumacher. Evidently if they don't win or won't win, someone will be to blame".
Whose names, let's make names...
"Well no. This no. Think about it. I don't think it's very difficult, take it as a riddle…".
The Frenchman asks to be exempt from track tests.
"This work is no longer of any use".