Almost everywhere around the world, if you look, circuit by circuit, at Ferrari’s latest victories, the same name always appears. That of Alain Prost. Here in 1990 the French champion sealed the Maranello team’s last success in England. And, on the SilverStone track, in the last ten years, Williams has won six times. The Grand Prix starting on Friday, July 14, 1995, with the first round of qualifying, therefore, looks difficult for Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, veterans of the disappointing French test. Admits the French driver:
"It’s true, it will be tough. In France we took a bad cold shower, in fact an icy one. Up to that point we had always grown accustomed to quite different results. Fortunately, the reasons for the setback are understandable and explainable. We were unable to prepare the set-up of the cars. In addition, since the beginning of the championship, we have had traction problems. And at Magny-Cours, traction is crucial, because of the characteristics of the track and asphalt".
Now comes Silverstone. With what prospects?
"It’s a risky race. The British teams test here all year round, again last week. They know the circuit like we know the Fiorano circuit. So there’s a danger that even cars that normally don’t challenge us too much, like JOrdan and McLaren, could make unpleasant surprises. Not to mention Benetton and Williams".
So will we see a Ferrari in resigned guise?
"No. But we have to be careful not to make mistakes. The first day of practice will be very important to find the right way in the setup right away. If the others make very fast times, we should not let ourselves be scared, but work calmly".
Should it go wrong, goodbye dreams of glory, that is, world thoughts…
"This is not true. I continue to be focused on the championship. I’m convinced that we can fight until the end".
However, we also need some basics, some improvements.
"Something new we have. Especially with regard to aerodynamics. Larini’s testing these days has allowed us to try several different parts that seem to work well. There are changes in the rear, in the chute, the side belies are narrower. We will see. I like this track very much".
Now the Schumacher-Hill challenge is expected, which has been on in words lately.
"We will see that as well. As for the controversies between the Englishman and the German, I find them useless and stupid. They only create dangerous animosity. It would be better to avoid them".
Schumacher, however, said that if there were Alesi in the Williams he would have a less easy opponent…
"I am not stupid enough to respond seriously to that statement. I don’t think he said it to send me flowers. He just wanted to spite Hill".
Speaking of spite: in an interview Berger made it known that he had practically gotten reappointed by Ferrari, while he noted that it will be more difficult for Alesi.
"Did he really say that? I spoke with Montezemolo in Rome a short time ago. He told me to be calm. And I am very calm. I’m waiting".
"I don’t know".
Meanwhile, there is to be noted the statement issued by Patrick Faure. The president of Renault Sport waves Alesi’s praises and says he is interested in the French driver. Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill do not like each other and are not friends. But it must be admitted that in the controversy that has arisen recently some of the tabloid media have played an important part. In Germany, taking up an interview of Hill in which he said that the German is a clone, a copy of a champion, one agency translated clown, clown. In this regard, on the eve of the British Grand Prix, the Times writes of Benetton and Ferrari’s interest in Hill for 1996. Both the Maranello team ("The news is totally unfounded") and the Italian-English stable deny it. From Benetton they say:
"We are happy with our team and have not yet thought about the future, only about winning the drivers’ and constructors’ titles".
But Schumacher retorts:
"I don’t think Benetton is interested in Damon, if anything, he would be the one asking for Benetton. He said they are a product of the sponsors because he doesn’t have any. And I think it will be difficult for him to find a team in 1996".
On Friday, July 14, 1995, Damon Hill makes happy the 10.000 more fans than last year (50.000 in attendance, 37.000 paying, not bad for a working FRiday) who arrived at the circuit to support him in his challenge with rival Michael Schumacher. But it’s not too much of a blow for the German. If there is no thunderstorm to define the starting grid on Saturday, let’s also expect the German’s retort. Only 0.273 seconds separate the two rivals, and the Benetton champion says he has a chance to snatch pole position from Damon Hill. All this despite black clouds gathering over Schumacher’s head. They don’t concern the sport directly, but his private life and specifically his earnings. German finance is investigating him as it has already done for tennis player Steffi Grafi and other celebrities. At issue are his MOnegasque residence (to be entitled to which one must live at least 178 days a year in the Principality) and the payment of taxes in Germany. The rider is suspected, when on the French Riviera, of residing in the villa of manager Will Weber, who is in France. And because of this, agents searched Weber’s own offices and homes, taking away dozens of documents. The Hill-Schumacher battle on the track is safe, however. Only David Coulthard could be a third wheel, according to the times marked in the first round of qualifying. In fact, Ferrari appears quite far behind. The placings are decent (Berger fourth, Alesi sixth, preceded by Herbert) when one considers that the Maranello team had not tested at Silverstone for a year. But the gaps get heavy: Berger is 1.533 seconds behind Hill, Alesi at 1.750 seconds. Since the French Grand Prix, run at Magny-Cours, there has been a widening of the gap in performance. There are two, different explanations. One is that proposed by Gerhard Berger, endorsed by Jean Todt. The other is that of Jean Alesi. Says Gerhard Berger:
"Since the French Grand Prix, the Renault engine has made a further evolutionary step. Our car is not bad, but the characteristics do not suit all circuits. We have found reliability, the maximum power is very good, but we lack torque. At low rpm we are struggling, and this adds to the lack of traction that the 412T2 complains about. I am neither disappointed nor pessimistic, because compared to last year we have made significant progress. And on many tracks we can take perhaps some satisfaction. But the situation now is this. This is a beautiful and difficult track, and if you are forced to ask for more aerodynamic pressure to have better drivability you lose in performance. Let’s hope for rain, because in the wet I don’t fear anyone anyway".
Meanwhile, Agip, the technical partner of Ferrari, Minardi and other teams, says it may leave Formula 1 because there is no more freedom of research. But the statement says it especially dislikes the FIA’s methods of homologation and controls on gasoline. Too casual, without precise standards. Nothing is known about the composition of approved fuels, and on-track examinations during Grand Prix are carried out occasionally, seemingly at random. Agip wants clear rules. And it is right, because otherwise suspicions, doubts, after what happened in Brazil, may seem well-founded. On Saturday, July 15, 1995, a day of classic English rain drenched the starting grid for the British Grand Prix. All the drivers remained firm in the places they won on Friday, with Damon Hill on pole, Michael Schumacher on the front row next to his rival, then David Colthard, Johnny Herbert, Jean Alesi and so on. But, at least, between downpours (the threat of bad weather continues, however, it should be less likely on Sunday) we discover the truth of Formula 1. The Devil is not Damon Hill who also is nicknamed The Demon, but Michael Schumacher, the authentic Lucifer of the tracks. This is what we learn from the words of the English Williams driver himself:
"I’m tired of starting up front and finishing second in the race. We are always faster in practice, then things change during the races. And it’s not a matter of tactics or pit stops. Unfortunately, Benetton always manages to find a better solution".
If we talk about Benetton, of course, the reference is to Michael Schumacher, since so far the other driver, Johnny Herbert, has counted for very little. Hell of a Schumacher, then, capable when he wants to turn the tables. And, indeed, the German is very confident and optimistic:
"If it wasn’t raining I could have beaten Hill’s time. But it matters little, it would have been just a little personal satisfaction. The important thing is to take the 10 points in the standings. In this way we will close the talk about the World Championship as soon as possible".
It seems that Schumacher is in a hurry to take his second title so that he can think about his future without any more problems. Including his marriage to Corinne, scheduled for September. However, Michael, although being investigated by the IRS in Germany, wishes above all to make good use of his successes. The Sun, a tabloid newspaper, publishes the news that the Kerpen champion has asked Benetton for 16.000.000 pounds to renew his contract. Flavio Briatore smiles, but does so through gritted teeth. Not for nothing did he seek, in the days leading up to the British Grand Prix, sponsors even in India.
"It will be a thriller race, a detective story, because the differences between us are minimal".
And what everyone is hoping for, because if there is a repeat of a race like Magny Cours, it will be a bore. Ferrari, then, does not seem competitive. After the progress shown since the beginning of the season, it seems to have stopped. Berger fourth, Alesi sixth, with heavy gaps. The men of the Maranello team admit that Renault, applying itself for years on engines and only on those, with an enormous expenditure of means and energy, has taken another step forward. Jean Todt explains:
"We have to work on the 12-cylinder on the dyno and on the track, more than has been done so far. We can make it up, but we have to work hard".
On Saturday, by the way, with the wet weather Ferrari could not study the track and the necessary adjustments on the cars as they would have liked. Berger is therefore very cautious in his predictions and declares that for now there is only the starting position, fourth place. Alesi, on the other hand, as usual, is more optimistic.
"I found a good set-up thanks to the help of John Barnard. He is the one who designed the car and he knows very well how the tuning should be done. This is the first time this has happened and I am very happy".
Jean Alesi is also not complaining about the fact that the FIA, after Agip’s letter of protest to clarify the gasoline regulations, thinks well - as a response - to do only one check. On Alesi’s Ferrari. With Agip fuel. On Sunday, July 16, 1995, at the start of the British Grand Prix, Damon Hill makes a good start and holds the first position, while Michael Schumacher is overtaken by Jean Alesi, who started splendidly from P6. At the end of the first lap Damon Hill is followed by Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert and Mika Hakkinen. Gerhard Berger is alone in P8, the author of a bad start. In the early laps Jean Alesi brakes Michael Schumacher’s run-up, and Damon Hill takes advantage to pull away: in fact, after 12 laps the Englishman has a 14-second lead over the Frenchman and the German. David Coulthard and Jean Alesi are the first to stop in the pits, while Gerhard Berger (lap 20, for failure to mount a wheel after the pit stop) and Mika Hakkinen (lap 20, for an electrical problem) have to abandon the race. Damon Hill stops on lap 22 and exits 9 seconds behind Michael Schumacher, who has strategy at one stop versus the Englishman’s two. In third position is now Johnny Herbert, who thanks to pit-stop strategies managed to pass Jean Alesi and David Coulthard, now fourth and fifth. On lap 30 Michael Schumacher makes his one stop and returns to the track 20 seconds behind his rival, Damon Hill. Johnny Herbert is quietly third, while Jean Alesi and David Coulthard fight for fourth place. Damon Hill gains up to 25 seconds on Michael Schumacher and makes his second stop on lap 40, then returns to the track with a 2-second delay from the German. On lap 45, being on new tires, Damon Hill tries to pass his rival, Michael Schumacher: the two drivers arrive at the Bridge downhill, then enter the Complex. Hill tries a very difficult attack at Priory, hooking up with his rival and sending them both into the escape route. The two contenders are forced to abandon the Grand Prix (the disastrous contact will be considered a normal phase of the race by race management), and for Damon Hill it is a huge missed opportunity, given his pole position and given that he was significantly faster than Michael Schumacher on new rubber. In the lead was Johnny Herbert ahead of David Coulthard and Jean Alesi (the Scot passed the Frenchman by taking advantage of a better strategy at the second pit stop), followed in the points zone by Mark Blundell, Rubens Barrichello and Oliver Panis.
David Coulthard overtakes Johnny Herbert, but meanwhile receives a Stop & Go penalty for exceeding the speed limit in the pit lane. The Scot serves the penalty on lap 50 but is now cut off from the fight for victory as he returns to the track in third place, distanced by Johnny Herbert and Jean Alesi. With two laps to go, the cars of Mark Blundell and Rubens Barrichello, fighting for fourth, come into contact. The Brazilian retires while the Englishman is allowed to continue despite having a damaged left rear end. Johnny Herbert wins the British Grand Prix and triumphs for the first time in his career. The British Benetton driver precedes Jean Alesi, David Coulthard, Olivier Panis, Mark Blundell and Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the finish line. It’s back to the bumper cars. Like in the good old days of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. At Silverstone Damon Hill rammed Michael Schumacher and both ended up in the sand. Thus, for the second time this season an outsider won. Ater Jean Alesi in Canada, here was Johnny Herbert, who played the prophet in his homeland, winning the British Grand Prix. And he gave Benetton its first success by one of its second drivers, a feat that had not succeeded, since the German champion has been around, by Patrese, Brundle and Verstappen. In what was certainly the most eventful race of the season, Ferrari was also seen again in the upper reaches of the standings. Alesi took an unhoped-for second place and, taking advantage of Michael and Damon’s exit from the scene, recovered heavy points in the World Championships standings, which sees him third, three points behind the Englishman and 14 points behind the German. If we look at the placings and the gaps remedied in qualifying, Alesi’s second place in round number eight of the Formula 1 World Championship constitutes an excellent result for Ferrari. Especially after the disappointment of the French Grand Prix. However, wanting to delve deeper, one can see how the Maranello stable is still far from where it would like to be. The performance of the 412T2 is always at a good level, but the gap to be bridged against Benetton and Williams is considerable. All things being equal, that is, with two scheduled pit stops and therefore less gas in the tank and reduced weight, the Frenchman took (evaluating the fastest laps) a second off Hill. And 0.5 second lost them to Michael Schumacher, who had more fuel on board. These are the data that are worrying, along with some of the mishaps that too often happen in the pits. Jean Todt admits:
"We cannot hide the fact that the circumstances in which the result occurred were fortunate. We were not flawless during the stops, and we will have to work on this as well to prevent certain episodes from happening again. Alesi had a beautiful race, but unfortunately we had to slow him down at the end to prevent him from aggravating a problem that was in the engine of his car".
In fact, Jean Alesi did not have a chance to try to catch up with Johnny Herbert, despite having 15 laps to spare after the accident between Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher and still 9 laps after David Coulthard’s penalty for exceeding the speed limits (120 km/h) imposed in the pits. Jean Alesi explains:
"There was a drop in oil pressure and if I had kept pulling I would have risked throwing everything away. Second place is good for me. I think I made a good start and all in all no one ever passed me on the track. They did during the pit stops and that demoralized me a little bit. When I finally got back into the race I was fifth and it was hard to keep motivated. The car was well balanced and the six points won are good for the standings. But we still need to focus on single-seater and engine development".
An excellent result for the Maranello team, which - on the other hand - still made a mistake in the pits, penalizing itself and poor Gerhard Berger, now haunted by bad luck.
"Another disaster in the pits, this is the fifth time this has happened this year. In addition, I always have a problem with the clutch, which is also why I got off to a bad start, dropping from fourth to ninth place".
With his left front wheel badly fixed, the Austrian was forced to retire, while he could have finished, as things turned out, on the podium behind his teammate. The overall result, however, was mainly determined by the incident between the two great Formula 1 rivals. And, just as last year at the last race Schumacher had thrown his rival out in Adelaide, this time it was the Londoner who made the mistake. Unintentionally, no doubt, because of an impossible overtaking attempt. The incident occurred during lap 46 at Priory corner (the Priory house). In the game of pit stops-two for Hill, one for Schumacher-the Benetton had come out ahead by just over a couple of seconds over Williams. But Damon, who had been the last to change tires, was faster and in a very short time had caught up with his opponent. And at the first opportunity he tried to take the lead. But he completely miscalculated. He entered the inside of the corner at excessive speed, did not brake and hit the Benetton that was on his right track like a guided missile. Both cars, by then unhinged, ended up caroming off the track. Schumi and Hill climbed out of the cockpit, knocked the dust from their overalls and took off toward the pits, looking at each other ruefully, but from a distance. Said Michael Schumacher, angrily:
"It was unbelievable, I can’t think about it. He is a fool and he tried to make an idiotic overtake. But maybe he had no other chance than to try that desperate maneuver. He was faster at that moment because he had fresh tires. But I knew that by keeping him behind, in a couple of laps the tires would start to deteriorate and he would have no chance to overtake me".
Pursued by the hard gaze of Frank Williams, accompanied by his wife Georgie (who is expecting their third child in these hours and had left the house in the morning to come and witness her husband’s possible triumph), Damon Hill drove away from Silverstone without speaking much.
"It was a racing accident. Of course, I thought it would end another way. The World Championship, however, is still open".
That’s right: the challenge for the title, with nine races still to go, may continue. But, in the half-misfortune, Schumacher and Benetton have reaped more. The German’s lead has remained unchanged, and the Anglo-Italian team has consolidated its leadership among manufacturers. Says Flavio Briatore:
"This partly consoles us. However, Hill’s behavior was crazy. We had once again put in place the right strategy and were sure we would make it. Instead Schumacher was thrown out. Long live Herbert".
On the other hand, Johnny Herbert is the picture of happiness. He repeatedly kisses his little daughters Amy and Chloe and tries to do it with his wife Becky, a pretty blond girl, who is, however, about six inches taller. And he has a hard time with it on his feet. Not far away they smile and applaud the pilot’s parents, who are selling T-shirts and souvenirs at a stall inside the circuit. Johnny goes back and forth shaking hands, getting pats on the back. He limps along. It is the memory of the terrible crash in 1988, at Brands Hatch, when he was racing in Formula 3000. A run off the track in which he risked losing his legs, which certainly slowed his career, at a time when he was considered the most promising British racer.
"Today I forgot everything. It’s amazing to win in front of your own fans. It's my first success in Formula 1, at the age of 31, but it came in the best way. I shocked even the bookmakers: in the betting they were giving me 25 to 1, and I didn't even think about it. With Schumacher on the team… Michael however is a friend, an example to imitate. A driver like Senna, Prost, Mansell. Of those who demand everything from a team, but give a lot. You can only learn from him. He congratulated me. Also Alesi, who was with me in Jordan. The best day of my life".
On the other side of the fence is David Coulthard. Third, but he could have won.
"Unfortunately, the speed control system broke down in the pits. I tried to go slow, but obviously it wasn’t enough. And they penalized me with a Stop & Go. It could have been my race. I am sorry, but I am convinced that I will have other opportunities".
At least a new name rose to prominence. And a vibrant race was experienced, with a few twists and turns, although overtaking continued to be lacking (two failed attempts, first Hill hit Schumacher, then Barrichello hit Blundell). As if that were not enough, Michael Schumacher was not only knocked off the track, but at the end of the race he was also handed an official caution by the stewards (who did not distinguish between drivers, blaming as well Damon Hill as Rubens Barrichello and Mika Hakkinen, protagonists of another collision). For once he seemed to be innocent. At least that is the impression of most about the incident between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. However, there are also some experts who support this theory: the crafty German may have caused the collision by breaking early. And that’s a hypothesis to consider. Knowing the character of the German driver, one might think that rather than getting beaten by the Engishman, he preferred a traumatic solution. After all, by finishing both off the track, the advantage is his because he keeps the gap in the standings unchanged, but with one more race run. Damon Hill's glaring mistake or Michael Schumacher’s cunning, the fact remains that between the two drivers it is now open war, on track and off, it all began last year in Adelaide. Both could still win the title. Michael made a mistake while in the lead and hit a little wall. His Benetton ended up on the other side of the circuit and re-entered the track exactly as Hill’s Williams passed. Carambola, Benetton eliminated immediately, the Englishman’s car stuck in the pits shortly thereafter with a bent suspension. Only Schumacher knows whether that incident was accidental or deliberately provoked.
It seemed that between the two great rivals a kind of mutual esteem was born after that episode. The next day they were seen having breakfast together, as if nothing had happened, or as if Damon had accepted the adverse fortune, without giving responsibility to the Benetton driver. And, instead, it was not over. Since the beginning of the year, the two drivers had been poking at each other: they felt and understood that they were destined against each other. At Magny-Cours, the German accused the Englishman of unsportsmanlike behavior, for a maneuver that seemed unfair to him. Since then the situation has become heavy: one controversy after another, with a series of accusations. First says Damon Hill:
"Schumacher is a cloned driver, the product of sponsors".
Then Michael Schumacher retorts:
"He says that because no one wants him, he is a loser".
But comes the Englishman’s immediate response:
"Michael talks a lot, but meanwhile I beat him in the qualifiers".
The skirmish continues the Benetton driver:
"I’ll see you in the race, and in 1996 Hill will struggle to find a team".
On the weekend of the British Grand Prix Michael Schumacher had to put up with booing from British fans. But during the three days of the next Grand Prix, to be held in Germany, it will be Damon Hill’s turn to face the German fans in Hockenheim. And there are already those who say that discreetly, but also using the utmost care, the police will have to protect the London driver. One wonders why in Formula 1 the leading drivers sooner or later come to the quarrel. Thinking only of recent times, it is enough to recall what happened between the last three World Champions: Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna did nothing but create states of tensions, make actual accusations (Nigel and Ayrton even went so far as to beat each other up), to the point of causing dangerous accidents. Perhaps having to race at 300 km/h entails a type of relationship that is difficult to handle calmly. But the game is very risky, so much so that it justifies the tough attitude of the sports authorities with all drivers, guilty and innocent. To preserve themselves, hoping not to have to implement the threats of disqualification. For Formula 1 it would be another defeat.