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Pre Season 1996

2023-01-12 23:00

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#1996, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

Pre Season 1996

With about twenty laps driving the 412T2 hybrid, Tuesday, January 9, 1996 Michael Schumacher inaugurates the new suit with the colors of Ferrari. "Our

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By driving the 412T2 hybrid for about twenty laps, on Tuesday, January 9th, 1996, Michael Schumacher inaugurates the new suit with the Ferrari colours. 

"Our work focuses on the engine and assisted driving reliability. We’re not looking for absolute performance here".

Rain interferes with the second day of Ferrari at Le Castellet, preventing a Grand Prix simulation: Schumacher does 12 laps in the whole afternoon. Ferrari will be joined on Thursday by McLaren, which cancelled the tests at Estoril. Unlike what happened the previous day, on Thursday, January 11th, 1996, bad weather does not prevent Ferrari to simulate the Grand Prix: Schumacher runs 10 laps in the morning, but in the afternoon - due to fog - he only manages to do one of the two sessions, with a total of 18 laps. Meanwhile, Tyrrell confirms the Japanese Katayama as driver of the British car. As the position of Steffi Graf’s father, Peter, and even the one of Heidi, mother of the number one of tennis, gets worse, according to Bild, Michael Schumacher may also be forced to publicly defend himself against the accusation of tax evasion made by the first German television network. According to the Fakt dell'Ard programme, the Formula 1 World Champion would in fact have his habitual residence in a villa on the French Riviera. This is confirmed by witnesses interviewed by the German crew: neighbours and other villagers. But if Schumacher lives in French territory - and not in the Principality of Monaco, where he owns a flat and where he claims to have his first residence - he must pay taxes in France: not only for the villa of La Colle sur Loup, but for all the earnings, estimated at around 50.000.000 marks per year. In Munich, on the contrary, Michael Schumacher enjoys the privilege of tax exemption extended to other illustrious residents, as well. But the Ferrari driver defends himself by claiming that the villa actually belongs to his manager, Willi Weber:

 

"I go there, but my residence is in the Principality of Monaco". 

Fakt reporters say they are in possession of a letter sent to the driver - at the address of La Colle sur Loup - by a real estate agent, Michael Zinngraf, who rejoices with him for the realization of his wishes, and thanks him for the trust shown him. A fake, a misunderstanding, or an evidence that Fakt’s accusations are true? The mayor of the French village, Henry Zissler, allusively replies to the denials of the person concerned: 

"The municipality of La Colle sur Loup is involved in a story that goes beyond the boundaries of our community. A story that could have important consequences for Michael Schumacher". 

It is not the first time that the possession of the villa on the French Riviera is contested by the German driver. Last summer, another Ard broadcast, Brisant, had raised doubts about Schumacher’s real residence. On that occasion, the pilot had invited to check the water and electricity bills of his flat in Monte-Carlo: 

"Between one Grand Prix and the other, I always live in the Principality". 

No investigation had been opened by the French authorities at the time. And the situation has not changed in the last few hours. Meanwhile, Maranello celebrates a newfound partnership. Ferrari and Shell return to work together again, after 23 years, with the aim of winning. 

"The best work together".

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It’s the slogan that explains why the oil company chose Ferrari. The Shell man - Bonino - speaks of an impossible dream, of the desire to revive a collaboration that had given Ferrari 49 of his 105 victories. And it illustrates why the Maranello team chose Shell. The Ferrari man - Ghini - observes that being with the leader in the oil sector is reassuring, like finding a lost love again. Behind the orange blossoms - witness also Barnard - there is the will to win. Scientists are already working in close collaboration with Ferrari technicians to develop gases and lubricants. Shell does not hide its desire to become a point of reference, welcoming the winning image that Ferrari can give, so the oil company has decided to collaborate with the Maranello team. The agreement is long-term, but does not specify the duration and financial weight of the operation. And the role of Schumacher in all this? Nothing direct, but his presence is also important. Meanwhile, the Ferrari that will compete in Formula 1 in 1998 will be born in a new wind tunnel that will be built by mid-1997. 

"Unlike what happened in the past, inside Ferrari, nobody is currently working against the plans. I’m more often in Maranello, so I don’t think anyone can prepare alternative projects without my knowledge". 

John Barnard, on a visit to Shalford, England where 40 people from Ferrari Research and Development work under his guidance on the 647 projects which will be presented in mid-February, says: 

"The problem of Ferrari has always been that of the leak: it’s not good, also because certain information must remain restricted to the team". 

About the delay with which Ferrari has decided to launch the project of a 10-cylinder engine, Barnard says: 

"I never understood why nobody would listen to me. I pointed out to President Montezemolo the need to follow this path, but evidently others convinced him that it was better to continue with the 12 cylinders". 

Barnard also says he would feel fulfilled if Ferrari were to win the World Championship:

"However, I’m not sure I’m welcome. There are some, few in truth, who think that Ferrari should come back great using only Italian technicians. But people and fans care little: it only matters that Ferrari wins, and if I can do my job well, I’ll be the first to be happy". 

And maybe, Ferrari will succeed thanks to the support of Michael Schumacher. About the German driver, Tuesday, January 16th, 1996, during the meeting of the drivers in Madonna di Campiglio, Ron Dennis and David Coulthard say of Michael Schumacher:

"Schumacher is currently the strongest driver, but we also believe he’s beatable".

And just on the same day, as for a curious twist of fate, the German is the protagonist of a spectacular accident, on the track of Fiorano, while testing the single-seater with the new 10-cylinder engine. At a corner, with the tyres still cold, Schumacher crashes into the guardrail. The speed at that moment was between 100 and 150 km/h: the Ferrari bounced towards the protections placed on the other side of the track and suffered the tear of the front suspension. Fortunately, no consequences: Schumacher remains unharmed. Then he apologizes to the technicians and mechanics: 

"I was wrong to push, with the tires still cold: and in that stretch, the track was covered with frost". 

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After three hours, the German driver resumed the tests, but completed only 14 laps due to a problem with the hydraulic system. On Wednesday, Schumacher will fly to Cologne to sign a princely contract (of 16.500.000.000 lire) with Nike. Then, on Friday he will be in London for the award ceremony of the 1995 World Championship, and Saturday he will talk with Todt, in Campiglio, about the programs of Ferrari. On the other hand, McLaren’s objectives are already known: 

"We aim to win many races, if possible, all, and the World Championship, too. If we don't manage to do that, it will be a failure".

Dennis and Coulthard explain. McLaren, which continues to carry the colours of the same main sponsor of the Maranello team, Marlboro, is putting forward a great relaunch. For two seasons the most successful team in recent years is still not competitive, the latest success dates back to the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, at the hands of Ayrton Senna. Ron Dennis points out, with a serious face:

"It’s been a long time of suffering and pain for us, but we feel ready to renew our winning tradition. We have prepared a new strategy just to immediately reach the goal. Our car will be ready in early February. But we’re not going to do one: in three weeks, five will be built, I think that’s a record. The championship will start with three long trips to Australia, Brazil, and Argentina, and we’ll be able to continue an incessant series of tests at home to improve continuously. We will also have a new Mercedes engine and the most advanced electronics that exists, the Tag 2000, which will manage the whole car with a single control unit". 

The owner of the Woking team manages a holding company with four businesses (525 employees, 230.000.000.000 lire of turnover, profits ranging from 20.000,000,000 to 30.000.000.000 lire per year) and has developed a project to compete with Ferrari with a GT car that costs about 1,500,000 lire: 88 units sold at the end of this year, a half failure, despite winning in endurance. Even last season, presenting his car, Ron Dennis had said that it was revolutionary and fast, and then proved uncompetitive. But they certainly do not spare 360 degrees means and commitment. 

"We also rely heavily on Prost, who plays an important role in the team, not as a consultant, but with an active role in design, development and testing. It’s not planned for the Frenchman to drive in the race, but I have become accustomed to the fact that it’s better to ‘never say never’. We got Coulthard, who we really believe in, and we are counting on the complete recovery of Mika Häkkinen, who, hopefully, will start testing in the first days of February and will be on track already in the first race. If the Finn fails, we’ll use our young Danish test driver, Magnussen". 

Coulthard, the 25-year-old Scotsman, also shows some confidence: 

"I’m in McLaren to win. Ferrari had also been looking for me, but I had already signed. Schumacher? On and off track he is very strong, not for nothing he won two consecutive titles. I think he will succeed with Ferrari in some races. However, I repeat, he’s not invincible. The favourite? In my opinion is Hill, with Williams". 

But Eddie Irvine warns:

"I’m not weak".

While in Fiorano Ferrari concludes some top-secret tests with Larini, Irvine - in Madonna di Campiglio - talks about Schumacher: 

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"He’s good and correct, but I set the right relationship with him last year. At the Belgian Grand Prix, I made him understand that I’m neither a weak nor an easy driver to beat. However, being close to him can only help me improve". 

 

A few groups already late, Thursday, January 18th, 1996, Jordan brings on track the new 196 (which mounts an evolution of the V10 Peugeot) with Martin Brundle, at Estorii. A month and a half before the start of the Formula 1 World Championship, there are only three keywords for Ferrari: 

"Looking for reliability". 

The new program, led by Michael Schumacher, reserves no doubts. 

"For the start of the season, we don’t have to focus only on performance. If we manage to finish the races, placings will come on their own. Then we will think about the engine power". 

In a good mood, the champion responds to tone: 

"Do you want to know if I really earn 65.000.000.000 lire a year and how I spend it? The only thing I can say is that if they give me a lot of money, it’s because I’m worth it. About whether I’m having a child or not, my wife Corinne is not pregnant, at least as far as I know. The speculations about me, like the one about the accident in Fiorano, bother me. It seemed like I was almost dead. I was surprised, and it will feel the same in the future". 

Do you think you can succeed where Prost failed in 1990? 

"I’m not interested in French people. Perhaps that experience will help Ferrari not to make the same mistakes, back to when Alain and Mansell were the protagonists of an internal fight. Now the deals are clear. I’m first guide and Irvine is in the team to help. If it comes down to Eddie, he’ll back off so I can get some extra points, but I hope I won’t need them. If everyone agrees, the team will be competitive". 

But there is still the unknown of many novelties. Car, engine, gearbox, all new.

"I was anxious about the V10, because others have a remarkable experience. But it’s going better than expected. It’s not yet at the level of Renault, but we are on the right track". 

The opponents? 

"Williams has the best package. I don’t know what Benetton will do. The car last year was not good, and I feared not to win the title. I’m sure the designers will fix the problems, but I have no idea what Alesi and Berger will do. The biggest unknowns, however, concern us at Ferrari and McLaren. I repeat: it would be nice to be competitive and win a couple of races, and then aim for the 1997 World Championship. It’s not a pre-tactic, but healthy realism". 

From Monday, January 22nd, 1996, Michael Schumacher will test at La Castellet. 

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The new car will be presented on Saturday, February 10th, 1996. Finally, Todt’s words on the future of Lauda are significant: 

"He will continue to be Ferrari’s ambassador for production cars. If he wants to come and see some races, he will be welcome as a guest, as a fan".

 

In the meantime, however, there are still problems for Ferrari in testing the new V10 engine at Le Castellet. Saturday, February 3rd, 1996, Michael Schumacher starts the simulation of a Grand Prix only at 3:00 p.m. because the track is wet: the German driver makes 59 of the 81 laps planned, before finishing with a spin for an electrical failure. Waiting to discover the new Ferrari, Monday, February 5th, 1996, to begin its season, Benetton leaves the circuits to turn in the narrow but picturesque streets of Taormina, in front of Etna and the sea. An unusual and exciting presentation of the new car, the B196. First, Alesi and Berger go through the streets of the old town with the old single-seaters, for an unprecedented bullfight like Pamplona: and the people, the young people, almost throw themselves under the wheels to experience the thrill of Formula 1 up close. Then, the latest born is revealed at the Teatro Antico, among Greek and Roman vestiges, in an absolute and the most fascinating contrast. Seeing the two drivers arriving on a colourful Sicilian cart, with Flavio Briatore on the third seat, between two wings of crowds (schools on holiday for the occasion), as in a procession, is perhaps the most suggestive moment, even if the meeting suggests different ideas, in a crescendo from typical and desecrating, but also witty and surprising circumstances, according to Benetton style. All seasoned by the presence of celebrities of racing and entertainment. From the president of the FIA, the Englishman Max Mosley, to the godmother, the blonde Mara Venier, and the godfather, the French actor Gérard Depardieu. Mosley gives the World Cup to Flavio Briatore. And for the first time (the few Englishmen present shudder, since the title was won when the team was still the daughter of Albion) the anthem of Mameli is played, with all standing. Good time then, right after, to talk about programs and ambitions. Says Flavio Briatore:

 

"We chose Taormina because we wanted the sun, because it’s the land of Alesi, because we are Italians. If we went to Berger’s home, we’d be forced to eat sauerkraut… We wanted a Formula 1 closer to the fans, when at the circuits, the public is always kept away. We believe we’ve made a good choice, from next week - for fifteen days - we will be at Estoril to test. We have a small advantage over our competitors because we are the first top team to put the new car on track". 

The manager, accompanied by the president Alessandro Benetton, explains the future strategies: 

"Alesi and Berger start at par. But they will have to work as a team, we don’t want to leave anything to our rivals. If there’s a problem between the two, we will try to solve it, talking about it all together. Predictions? Difficult to make: we start from a season perhaps unrepeatable with two world titles. It will be hard. Ferrari makes it known that they aim to win a couple of races. We don’t believe them. They took Schumacher, it means the intentions are serious. He’s a special champion, and now the Maranello team is frightening us. But it is clear that we will defend ourselves well and to the maximum of our power". 

In his speech, Briatore inserts an important key. Benetton is trying to create an Italian school: the third driver is Vincenzo Sospiri, Formula 3000 champion, ready to replace Alesi or Berger if any unforeseen events arise. In addition, a Formula 3 team was formed, and the 21-year-old Jarno Trulli of Teramo will take part in the German championship, one of the most promising young drivers. In short, a nursery to cultivate:

 

"Also hoping to reduce already unsustainable expenses for engagements". 

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Particular attention is also paid to suppliers and sponsors (there are thirty of them, of which many Italians, starting with Magneti Marelli and ending up with Piaggio, offering the team its Tiphoon scooters), as well as to praises to Renault. The French company has the new RS8 engine: small size and many novelties, but the data is almost all secret to not favour competitors. Finally, the drivers. Alesi and Berger are cautious. Says Jean:

"We are in the champion team, so there are guarantees to make a great championship. It will depend on us, too. I prepared myself, physically, as I had never done before. Goals? Win races, then we will see". 

 

Gerhard, on the other hand, uses the meeting to erase the shadows caused by his recent negative statements about Benetton: 

"I’ve been misrepresented, I have full confidence, the car will be fine, main opponents are Williams and Ferrari. McLaren is all to discover". 

A little prudence does not hurt. But in the end Briatore, the truth-teller, lets slip: 

"We are here to win".

Under the dress there are many secrets. At first glance, the Benetton B196 looks like the old one, but the differences are many. If the front retains the characteristic hammerhead nose, already the body, in the central and rear, presents interesting differences. The car, narrower, leaves the lower step and offers a very nice profile to improve aerodynamics. The cockpit, as required by FIA regulations, is wider and protected with bulkheads for the safety of the driver. But it is under the skin that the B196 proposes the most important innovations. The springs have disappeared from the suspension, replaced by three anti-roll bars much easier and faster to adjust. There is a 7-speed gearbox redesigned and built by Benetton itself. Software and hardware developed by Renault, Benetton and Magneti Marelli have also been totally reprogrammed. And to maintain the advantage in the time factor over the others, on Tuesday Benetton will begin its tests at Estoril, waiting for Williams (Friday, February 16th, 1996) and Ferrari (maybe Thursday, February 15th, 1996). Already a week late, on Sunday, February 11th, 1996, is also presented at Estoril the new McLaren MP/11. Thursday, February 15th, 1996, will be up to Ferrari, with its classic debut in Fiorano. There is a lot of anticipation for this car: for the first time in the history of the Maranello team, it will be equipped with a VI 0 engine. Obviously, Ferrari also counts a lot on the contribution of a champion of value like Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine, too. Meanwhile, a pale and a little nervous Mika Häkkinen makes the first official appearance at the presentation of the new McLaren-Mercedes MP/11. The single-seater, tested by Alain Prost with the 1995 version of the Mercedes engine (1'23"40 his best time), was assembled in the 1996 version only during the night. On Saturday, Alain Prost drove it for only five laps, then stopped because of a water pump problem. The new McLaren is thinner than last year’s. Abandoned the revolutionary and unsuccessful idea of the second wing, it has a raised nose in the style of Williams, while in the space between the front moustache and the cockpit an additional air intake has been obtained, and the cabin is more protected by a kind of dome to safeguard the driver’s head: these are the aesthetic novelties of the new English car, in addition to the new 10-cylinder Mercedes engine. Then, finally, it is the turn of the Scuderia Ferrari. On Thursday, February 15th, 1996, Lawyer Giovanni Agnelli goes to Maranello to attend the presentation of the F310, the new car that is about to race in the Formula 1 World Championship. A debut that, as always, becomes a party, which gathers drivers, managers, technicians, and many friends of Ferrari, mixing hopes and fears. There are those who do the show in Taormina, like Benetton, and there are those who do them in the factory, on the edge of the track, where you work. A huge tent with a front that looks like a castle, a stage, a bunch of beautiful Grand Turismo (Ferrari in 1995 sold 3307 cars, of which 83% abroad, the budget is thriving) and then, she, the F310 that embodies the dreams of victory of Luca Montezemolo, of the Maranello team and the fans. 

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Yes, the fans. Says from the stage the lawyer, for the first time, at the presentation of a car in Maranello:


"Ferrari is a huge industrial and commercial success. All that is missing is this holy World Championship; I hope that they will bring it to us because when I think of Ferrari, I don’t think of it as a partner and car manufacturer, but I think of it as a fan, as all those I see at the racetracks. I know they have many qualities, above all they had a lot of patience, so they deserve to be rewarded after all this time". 

 

Agnelli would also like to emphasize this. 

"Someone said that Fiat has put an ultimatum to Ferrari, either you win, or we won’t run in the future. Firstly, it’s not our custom to set ultimatums, and then in Italy, we learned from politics, ultimatums are always pen ultimatums. So, it is the most categorical no. And there’s another fact: we are close to Ferrari. We want to take it to win, and we’re sure that it will not disappoint us". 

 

Agnelli had arrived early in Maranello, and had visited the factory, which in recent years has transformed. 

"For me, it’s an holiday morning, in which we don’t talk about politics, economy, currency, car markets in recession and growth. It’s only a pleasant visit to Maranello for the baptism of a new product that will be a fighting one".

A baptism that is also an opportunity to remember the links between the city of Turin and that of Maranello. 

"I think about what the relationship between Fiat and Ferrari was, when it was born, and I go back to the late '60s. Ferrari had negotiated with Ford the sale of what was then of Maranello, meaning racing and production. In the middle of the night, he interrupted the negotiations and phoned us. The next day Fiat said to Enzo Ferrari: don’t worry, we will find the way to make a deal, to protect and help it". 

An agreement that has developed over the years. Ferrari today is 90% Fiat and for the rest is Piero Ferrari’s. The Lawyer specifies: 

 

"I must say that with Ferrari, the owner was always him. It was because of its character and temperament, and because historically it was what the company represented. Then, after Ferrari’s death, we were left more alone". 

The concern remains the World Championship. And it strikes a certificate of confidence to Luca Montezemolo and his collaborators. 

"I believe that today there are conditions to reach it. We have the men, Montezemolo, Todd and Piero Ferrari have put their souls into it, we’ve got the best drivers. We had two excellent ones in Alesi and Berger, but this year we have something more because we have a star". 

And the joke goes on: 

"Schumacher came of his own free will, I can’t say he came for no big deal, but he definitely came of his own free will". 
 

The lawyer goes away driving, of course, a Ferrari F355, heading towards the airport of Bologna, and Schumacher and the rest of the team take care of the new car. There is a cautious optimism, Montezemolo hopes for three victories, and sighs: 

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"Facts will count, not words". 

The new weapon of Ferrari for the next World Championship of Formula 1 is called F310: very simply, ‘F’ stands for Ferrari, ‘3’ stands for the three liters of the engine, ‘10’ for the number of cylinders. It has nothing revolutionary, but it seems to be above all the compendium - as Enzo Ferrari loved to say - of what Maranello has done better in recent years. But, beyond appearances, the car is all new: more contained measures of the previous models, aerodynamics totally redesigned (the great handicap of 1995) and unprecedented V10 engine. A powertrain with high technological content. The F310 is beautiful, compact. A single-seater conceived according to some fixed ideas of what has been defined as the chief designer, that is, of the designer John Barnard, one that never takes rash steps. The nose is no longer an anteater bent down, but it is not even as exasperatingly raised as those of Williams, McLaren, and Benetton. A middle way, with a single column under the tip that supports the large front wing. The bellies are rather wide, with oval air intakes at their ends. The body of the single-seater seems to reflect the reasons for the double bottom that was proposed in 1992 by the French specialist Migeot. In the rear, the most sophisticated area, where the air flows work, a secret area that Ferrari gave the impression of not wanting to reveal completely, camouflaging the body that could be adapted from time to time to the various circuits. President Luca Montezemolo says, in great shape and a little excited:

"This is the result of a remarkable effort of men and means. Ferrari finances 50% of the races, the rest comes with sponsors: in addition to the traditional Fiat, Marlboro, Pioneer, and Telecom, we now have Asprey, the greatest English jeweller (NDR: also provides Queen Elizabeth). We started from afar, from 2 seconds a lap that we took from the strongest three years ago. We have progressed constantly, even if the results have not been equal to the expectations. The Ferrari industry is fine, we just need to improve in racing and our goal is to win the World Championship. Unfortunately, sport is not an exact science, great drivers, a great team and the will to succeed are not enough. In any case, now we must make the last effort".

Montezemolo also reiterates what has been said on recent occasions: 

"The immediate goal is to win more than last year, two or three races at least, to realistically aim for the title in 1997. We expect a lot from Schumacher, both in terms of driving and working on the preparation and tuning of the car, with the contribution of Irvine who is not only a fast driver, but also a smart guy. We have done everything in our power, and if we took someone like Michael, it’s because we don’t want to look for an alibi. We know very well what we’ve done, with the conviction that we have taken the best path for the Ferrari of the future. Rivals? Williams above all, I have great respect for them, then the Benetton who is reigning champion, then McLaren paired with Mercedes". 

The head of sports management, Jean Todt, explains that the team is very motivated. And he reveals that the ambitions for the 1996 season are actually greater than those announced. 

"But we must act, not talk". 

 

In short, Ferrari is cautious, but at Maranello they are also convinced that the F310 will be competitive. Anyway, the car is entirely new and the uncertainty about reliability suggests a calm attitude. And in the afternoon, anticipating the schedule (the first test was scheduled for Friday morning), Schumacher immediately tested the car, taking it to the track at 5:31 p.m.. One lap and a short stop, and then another six consecutive. Best time 1'04"94 (the record in Fiorano is by Irvine with a hybrid car, that is with the new engine: 1'02"41). 

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At the end, the German says: 

"All right. It looks very well-balanced. It’s positive that there were no problems, and it’s important to have turned earlier, so the technicians will be able to develop it for further testing".

Just before, it was the drivers who pushed the car on stage. Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine, plus the third man, namely Nicola Larini, in the role of reserve and test driver. Three blazing red suits, which Todt defines (after Montezemolo spends a few words of thanks also for the outgoing Alesi and Berger) as fresh air and as the last piece of the restructuring of the team. A team now consolidated. The most popular, of course, is the German. First question: did he come for the money or to win the World Championship? 

 

"I’ve been running since I was four, I want to play sports and have fun. Money isn’t everything. And I could also take more from another team. I was looking for a challenge and new motivations. I found them in Ferrari. We’ve been together for almost three months now, there is a great feeling. I think I have chosen the right moment to arrive in Maranello. Ferrari is close to winning and now, after seeing the new car, I’m even more optimistic. The biggest problem is reliability: thirteen times last year, Ferrari didn’t finish the race. We want to improve. Let’s be realistic. I was used to detaching my teammates sharply. Now there’s Irvine who’s going to make my life difficult, and it’s another challenge for me. In my opinion, the cause of victory and defeat must be split between drivers and team, 50% each. With Ferrari, we’ll win or lose together". 

Instead, the Northern Irish driver says a few words: 

"At Jordan, I was with family. But also here. I had a great welcome, warm. I think we will have no problem working in the same direction". 

Some additional indication on the car comes from John Barnard: 

"We worked mainly on aerodynamics. The F310 is well advanced, but there are great possibilities for development during the season. We have a completely new transverse shift, I’m very optimistic. It should be a driveable car like last year’s, but I hope it’s two seconds per lap faster than the previous model. We look forward to the results from the track". 

Regarding the engine, the engineer Martinelli, responsible for the engines, explains: 

"It’s the result of a project designed and developed according to the Ferrari tradition, even if for us, it is a new fractionation. We managed to contain the length in 60 cm and the weight in 120 kg. We have goals, and we believe we are close enough". 

Last words for Jean Todt. Thanks to the collaboration of Minardi, Ferrari in 1996 will also test the young driver Giancarlo Fisichella. Tests in Fiorano with Schumacher will continue until Sunday evening. From Tuesday, February 20th, 1996, two F310 will shoot together with other teams in the circuit of Estoril, Portugal, for five days. Then the adventure will start with the first race in Melbourne, Australia. On Friday, February 16th, 1996, the work of the German driver, who was supposed to carry out a first test on the car, is slowed down by a gearbox problem. The technicians had already noticed the fault the night before, after making the first laps on the track in Fiorano, in a check. After a quick repair in the afternoon, on lap 7, the problem resurfaced with a considerable smoke in the rear. Nothing serious, but given the tight time (just over twenty days to the start of the World Championship), the inconvenience spoils the party. 

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Schumacher, however, says the first impression is good and that he is not worried. He will be back on track on Saturday with an intensive testing program. Jean Todt, team manager, says the technicians have figured out what it is about: 

 

"It’ll take 24 hours to fix it. We didn’t want to, but all in all we’re not too worried because, when you put on track a completely new car, surprises are the order of the day. This is not serious". 

In the meantime, two cars are shipped to Estoril, a new and a hybrid one of last year with which the simulation of a Grand Prix will probably be carried out; a third, the one used by the German, will be sent to Portugal on Tuesday with a special plane. At Estoril, meanwhile, the returning Finn Mika Häkkinen with McLaren sets the best time. The Finn laps in 1'21"50 surpassing by only 0.01 seconds the surprising Rubens Barrichello with the Jordan-Peugeot. The latter, just in the last minutes of the day, marks a better time than Jean Alesi (1'21"75) with Benetton, and David Coultard (another McLaren, 1'22"82). The other times of the day: Brundle (Jordan) 1'23"12, Lamy (Minardi) 1'23"44, Berger (Benetton) 1'23"71. Alesi gets the highest peak speed, exceeding 304 km/h. 

 

Prost is enthusiastic about Häkkinen: the professor, in the role of master at McLaren, says that Mika is recovered in full and will debut at the Australian Grand Prix. Williams Renault, in the meantime, to present the new FW18 and its drivers (also engaged at Estoril) organizes a satellite teleconference in thirteen European cities. The car has few innovations compared to the past: small adjustments aiming for a higher performance and meeting the new regulations. The difference will have to be made by Damon Hill, last year second only to Michael Schumacher, and Jacques Villeneuve, at the debut in Formula 1 after the triumphs in the Indy 500. Two sons of art. Damon’s son of the two-time World Champion Graham, and Jacques, son of Gilles. Hill already presents his candidacy for Schumacher’s succession:

"But I will know if I can do it after the third test, when I’ll be sure about the proper functioning of the car". 

The British driver guarantees to be ready and that he prefers to compete in qualifying only on Saturday: 

"It will be more stimulating; I fear above all Benetton, which has two excellent drivers and has managed to rebuild a great team". 

Jacques Villeneuve is ready to compete with his team-mate and opponents, at every inch of the track: 


"I always push to the maximum when I drive, and I don’t leave anything behind to anyone. Those who are incorrect will be repaid with the same coin. I entered Formula 1 with only one goal: to become World Champion. For this season, I could settle for a third place, but I want the title within three years".

 

Jacques shows a lot of confidence, even if he admits he still has to discover this new world: 

 

"I have to get used to the external pressure of sponsors and journalists in order not to compromise the results. It takes a proper temper: the one that helps you win. Moreover, I still have to understand well the car even if I have already covered 10.000 kilometres with the Williams. I want to improve my knowledge of circuits because everything here is based on personal experience". 

To those who point out that he is the first to move from the American Formula to the European one, he replies: 

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"It’s different for me because I’ve lived a lot in Europe. I’m fine with Williams: Ferrari could interest me in the future only if it became competitive".

 

On Monday, February 19th, 1996, Michael Schumacher does not test the new Ferrari F310, contrary to what the Maranello team had announced the night before. After the prolonged work on the new transverse gearbox (smaller than the previous one) that had suffered an oil leak and required the modification of a component, the single-seater was disassembled, and the technicians realized that the problem persisted, even if it is much smaller than before. It will take a few days to solve the issue, so a slight delay in the already scheduled test program is needed. For Tuesday and Wednesday, the test sessions at Estoril are confirmed with the 1995 car and the 10-cylinder engine. Michael Schumacher will be at the wheel. The new car should instead be back on track in Fiorano by Thursday afternoon: if the tests are encouraging, the F310 would be sent on the same evening to Portugal, where Friday and Saturday it should finally face a series of tests on track, always with Schumacher. Giancarlo Baccini, head of the Ferrari press office, says:

 

"No alarm. Even if the time is getting closer and the World Championship is approaching, we are calm, and we have clear ideas on what to do".

 

Waiting to see the F310 on track, Wednesday, February 21st, 1996, four months after the accident, Mika Häkkinen beats the Estoril circuit record (1'20"87), then improved in the afternoon by Rubens Barrichello on the Jordan: 1'19"93. For Schumacher, 21 laps with the hybrid Ferrari. Testing for Ferrari and Michael Schumacher continues on Thursday. The German still tries the new 10-cylinder Ferrari engine, mounted on the old body. However, there are problems with the gearbox during the day. A fire breaks out on the vehicle. Despite these setbacks, Schumacher made 58 laps scoring the fourth time turning in 1'21"08, behind Jean Alesi, Mika Salo and Gerhard Berger. Meanwhile, in Fiorano, the brand new F310 is tested by Irvine, with wet tires followed by dry ones: the Northern Irish pilot covers a total distance of 51 laps. The Australian Grand Prix is approaching: just two weeks after the first race of the World Championship, Ferrari is late: it must race against time, chasing a difficult recovery. Friday, February 23rd, 1996, at Estoril, Michael Schumacher finds his new F310, beautiful as a capricious, but the first public release cannot be described as exciting: the German completes, 4 laps overall. Then he returns to the hotel, masking an understandable disappointment. He had to find the set-up and check the reliability of the gearbox, drastically modified to avoid the oil drawing that had prevented the first tests, but he was betrayed again, this time by the failure of the petrol pump. The work of Ferrari, in short, continues. Even if only on Sunday evening, when the tests are finished in Portugal, there will be a reliable, if not definitive, picture of the state of health of the new F310. 

 

The #1 car of the World Champion had arrived at Estoril after the comforting test carried out on Thursday in Fiorano by Irvine, at the end of a legendary tour de force that says a lot about the need to waste no more time. Ferrari had to request a derogation from the Ministry of Transport to depart, at 4:00 in the morning, from Bologna airport (not enabled to night flights); the car was loaded on an Antonov-cargo that landed in Lisbon at 7:00 a.m., simultaneously with the Learjet of the racing team of Maranello. All eagerly awaited, on the circuit that will host the penultimate round of the World Championship and where a sort of virtual Grand Prix is ending, already indicative of the level of preparation of the various teams. Here the greats challenge each other, and spy, in preview: there are those who trudge, bluff, or runs already unstopping qualifying assets (maybe to charm the sponsors). And in all this, the new Ferrari was the announced star. But even on Friday, the beautiful red car showed up with too many defects. Chronicle of a difficult day, much more than expected. At 10:45 a.m. the F310, cleared and hooded, arrives at the box. Only at 3:50 p.m. the powerful V10 starts to roar. Here it is, finally. Ephemeral enthusiasm: 300 meters, two curves, and Schumacher already stops. Comes back towed by the tow truck. First diagnosis, minor electrical problems. Restart at 4:30 p.m.. One lap and another stop at the box. Third test, a quarter of an hour later, only three laps, before the final yield. 

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Schumacher comes back when the engine is turned off. Nothing dramatic, but it takes time to mount another. First day at Estoril ends here.

 

"I mainly wanted to fine-tune the set-up, but four laps are really few. We have two more days of tests, we hope there will be no more setbacks".

 

Soon the teams will fly to Australia: therefore, the Maranello team works in order not to start already behind. Jean Todt, head of the racing team, postpones the verdict. The president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo, continues to show optimism, since the days of baptism, when Giovanni Agnelli announced the season as one of possible recovery. But time is really running out now. And Schumacher is the most cautious and realistic. 

"I expect a year of transition, because everything is new, and new things take time". 

Ferrari, however, is not the only one to report problems. Unforeseen troubles also hit the teams that arrived at Estoril much earlier and that seemed already launched. Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi, brilliant protagonists in recent days, both breaking the change of their Benetton B196, heir of the World Champion car, by conducting the start and simulated Grand Prix tests. And David Coulthard (McLaren) sees the fourth Mercedes engine break this week, even if his team-mate Mika Häkkinen still holds the track record. The Williams seem to be the most reliable at the moment, although even the newcomer Jacques Villeneuve has experienced repeated electrical problems.

 

Every day, Ferrari must fight against a new enemy. And the team’s run at the temple that separates him from the first Grand Prix really becomes an obstacle. Thursday, April 25th, 1996, should be a full day of work, like Saturday, for Michael Schumacher and the new F310; but at Estoril (where there is always sun) the rain comes out. So, the weather forced Ferrari to an early escape from Portugal. The tests had started regularly in the morning and continued intermittently in the early afternoon. Then Jean Todt and his staff had to surrender to environmental hostility. Another six hours of testing on Monday morning (before Estoril is engaged with DTM cars) to further test the reliability of the F310. Before the stop, the German still managed to complete some test series, without ever forcing (1'23"83 the best time) for a total of 34 laps. The V10, like the day before, held up well and there were no drawbacks. The programs are now revolutionized again. The World Champion returns immediately to Italy and (waiting for his car that will take two days) will probably turn in Fiorano alternating with Irvine on the second F310. Given the long series of drawbacks, in a long interview with the British newspaper The Times Of London, on Monday, March 4th, 1996, the World Champion Michael Schumacher does not declare himself particularly annoyed by the continuous delays in the preparation of the new Ferrari, although he points out that things will have to go differently next year: 

"Of course, some decompensation, in the last few weeks. I was told that the new car would be ready for the end of January, then for the beginning of February, then for the 10th of February, finally for the 15th of February. Of course, I’m not happy that this has happened, but it's happened, and now it is important to understand what has slowed down the work. The Maranello team, compared to that of Benetton, responds faster, tries more solutions for each problem, but it is more inaccurate". 

In turn, Luca di Montezemolo, interviewed by the private broadcaster Italia 1, rejects the hypothesis that this is a decisive year for Ferrari: 

"It will be an important season, in which to make the last leap in quality to bridge the gap from the best, but certainly not a last chance".

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Meanwhile, all drivers, including Schumacher, are very satisfied with the street circuit of Albert Park in Melbourne, where Sunday, March 10th, 1996, will start the World Championship with the Australian Grand Prix.

The Circus will start again from the country where it closed last year with Michael Schumacher and Benetton World Champions. But the new challenge, the number 47 in the history of modern motorsport, has at least in theory the right cards to propose something new and different from the past. The sides on the track have changed profoundly, there are important changes in both technical and sports regulations, innovations that could trigger an exciting season. If Damon Hill with Williams-Renault takes on the role of great favourite, the presence of a Jacques Villeneuve in his own team, the Benetton-Renault renewed with Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher, and Eddie Irvine at Ferrari, a seemingly recovering McLaren-Mercedes and the growth of the Jordan-Peugeot offer a number of reasons of undoubted interest. All accentuated by the fact that everything will start on a circuit unknown to all, drivers and technicians, that of Melbourne, taking the place of Adelaide. A choice that, among other things, creates many problems as environmentalists strongly dispute the circuit (almost in the city centre, in the Albert Park). There is a fear that they will express their reasons in the days before the Grand Prix, perhaps with some sensational action. But let’s stick to the sporting aspects of the World Championship. Perhaps, no one better than Gerhard Berger can analyse in the best way possible this championship that is about to begin. The Austrian driver is by far the person with the highest service activity (180 races), has driven for several top teams, from McLaren to Ferrari, and is now up to reopen the title with Benetton. Damon Hill, then, is considered the favourite by all the experts. Why? 

"It’s simple, Williams is the most consistent team at the moment as it has a competitive car and a driver who’s now experienced and mature and has joined the young man, considered more promising. The other teams, all the contenders for the title, have undergone major changes. Alesi and I at Benetton, Ferrari with the German and the Irish, McLaren that must test the real value of Coulthard and the conditions of Häkkinen. Many factors play in favour of Damon, who must take advantage of the opportunity. Either he wins this year, or he probably won’t have any more chances". 

 

What about Ferrari? 

"Well, it is clear that the eyes of all the fans will be focused on the challenge between us and the Maranello team. It will be a very harsh, harsh comparison, for obvious reasons. Schumacher will give a boost to the Italian team, but I don’t think it will be enough alone to make the difference. The new Ferrari will certainly become fast and competitive, at least, I think. However, now, I think it will have many reliability problems. And this could also cause damaging internal friction. They say that winning two or three races will save the season. They actually dream of something else. And disappointment will be very difficult to digest. One thing is certain: we will do anything not to facilitate the task of Ferrari, indeed passing them will be our first goal". 

But will Benetton, after losing Schumacher, no longer be the team to beat? 

"Our team, with the departure of Michael, has certainly lost a consolidated value. But at the same time, it has found new motivations. Warning: do not underestimate us. I can reveal that from the data taken from the computers in the tests of Estoril I didn’t get the third time as it seemed, but the second, with 1'19"82: only 0.017 seconds from Hill. A result I hadn’t looked for. A set of fresh tires and a little more push got me very close to Williams". 

 

The first days with the team led by Briatore, however, with two serious incidents in the tests, had aroused some apprehension. 

 

"The new car is different, and then last year’s car was built according to Schumacher’s driving style. Now I’m at ease and in all 380 laps in Portugal, I didn’t end up in a spin or off track. And I didn’t even have a problem with the engine. There was some trouble with the new 7-speed gearbox, but apparently, it’s been fixed. I’m very confident, and you will see that we will start on the right foot".


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