#574 1995 Hungarian Grand Prix

2023-01-15 23:00

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#1995, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#574 1995 Hungarian Grand Prix

On Sunday, August 13th, 1995, Formula 1 will stop in Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the ninth round of the World Championship - a mid-summer c


On Sunday, August 13th, 1995, Formula 1 will stop in Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the ninth round of the World Championship - a mid-summer classic. The dominant competitive motif of the race will still involve the duel between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. The German is expected to test after his marriage (and celebrations) with Corinna. Knowing the Benetton driver, it is to be believed that the event has not distracted him much. He will take up the challenge even more determined, now that he has a family to take care of… In any case, the appointment will be much more important for Damon Hill. The Englishman faced two heavy blows both at Silverstone and Hockenheim. One more misstep and the title fight will become out of reach for him, given the gaps already accumulated in the standings. It must be said, however, that a clarification came, which exonerates the Williams driver for going off the track in the first corner - regarding the German Grand Prix. Williams admitted that a transmission failure occurred on the car. Also highly awaited, of course, is Ferrari, which has always had to deal with problems at the Hungaroring. It will be seen if the recent tests have brought something new for the Scuderia. Jean Alesi is under pressure: the Frenchman wants to prove his talent, just in time before Schumacher says whether he wants to drive for Ferrari or not. The deadline is set for Tuesday, August 15th, 1995. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher says he will not continue racing in Formula 1 for long. 


"More or less for another five years".


The Benetton driver, a favourite at the Hungarian Grand Prix, also speaks out for compatriot Steffi Graf, who is involved in a tax evasion investigation.


"Steffi has always paid huge sums in taxes. The truth is, they want to crush her".


The driver, a resident of Monte-Carlo, points out that many German champions would return home if tax laws were changed.


"I would gladly pay taxes in Germany if they were fair and not exaggerated".


When Luca Montezemolo revealed that he had started negotiations to bring Michael Schumacher to Ferrari, the Formula 1 environment went into a frenzy. On Thursday, August 10th, 1995, after lawyer Giovanni Agnelli uttered the sentence ("I think he’s already ours. With such a champion in our team, winning becomes an obligation"), even the most sceptical had to surrender to the evidence. The World Champion will arrive in Maranello. The official announcement is scheduled for release soon, but it could be anticipated and thus arrive within hours (if the latest revelations rush the events). That is an established practice in such cases. By now, there are also open talks ongoing about the terms of the agreement: two years of salary in the bag and a huge sum of money, which could be achieved not only with direct payment, but with a whole series of operations related to the exploitation of the champion's image and advertising. Certainly, a significant part will be played by the sponsors, who are willing to make great sacrifices to achieve a total regeneration of Ferrari. Later in the afternoon, Schumacher drove away from the Hungaroring circuit - before the news of Agnelli's interview in Villar Perosa could reach him. Questioned about the affair, the German had obviously tried to throw off the reporters.


"The only signature I put these days was on the registry for my marriage. The media are speculating too much about the drivers’ market, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve already said that I will communicate my intentions in September and there is no reason why I should change my mind. I’m on good terms with Benetton, and they always know how things are truly going".


Not a denial, in fact, but just an attempt to keep the secret as long as possible. 


It is clear that Schumacher is trying to safeguard his peace of mind, committed as he is to the climb towards his second world title. He fears, evidently, that someone will create impediments, that Damon Hill will be favoured. And Ferrari? Officially, not even a word. Alesi prefers not to talk about the future, although he makes it clear that it will be better to know what Schumacher has decided as soon as possible, to avoid problems. He promises maximum commitment from his side:


"If they give me a winning car, I will always try to be first".


The Frenchman, at this point, is expected to move to Benetton, although he has contacts with every team from Williams to McLaren and Jordan. Hill is expected to stay at Williams along with young Villeneuve, while Frentzen is to be hired by McLaren-Mercedes. Berger, on the other hand, is quiet. The Austrian has already said he is willing to coexist peacefully with Schumacher; after all, he had talked far too much in the past few weeks. The German's move to Ferrari will cause a driver swap. But all the fits will fall into place little by little, there is still time to define the situation. As Flavio Briatore explains:


"I’m neither worried nor scared, we will continue to be the best. From Schumacher, however, I now expect an answer within a short amount of time".


Meanwhile, for the Hungarian Grand Prix, which kicks off on Friday, August 11th, 1995, a sensational change of regulations came with the first round of qualifying. The FIA, after the accidents and especially the collisions occurred during the last few races, decided to change the rules with regard to overtaking. For as long as there have been races, those in front have always had the right to set their own trajectory lines. From Sunday on, however, if the one in front is caught up by a driver who can put even a part of his car’s nose next to his rival’s rear wheels, he will have to free the road and no longer close the trajectory. An innovation that will change the whole way overtaking is conducted, and the way racing is run. A topic of discussion that will not fail to arouse controversy. Friday, August 11th, 1995, is a tense day in Formula 1. To the usual heated competitive atmosphere, are to be added the great manoeuvres of the drivers' market. Thus, every move, every result takes on different meanings. In qualifying, Gerhard Berger beats his likely, future teammate Michael Schumacher. And Jean Alesi, due to a scary off-track move, ends up in the hospital. Nothing serious for him - he should regularly be fighting on track on Saturday. But it is clear that the accident does not help to lighten the mood. There were nine minutes left to the end of practice. Alesi was fifth in the provisional standings, more than a second behind Berger. The Frenchman was pushing hard. In the first intermediate he was 0.07 seconds off Damon Hill's time, the best one set then. He arrived at the fourth-last corner, very fast. The car skidded and ended up against the guards. A very strong three-quarter impact, on the left. The suspension bent, but the cockpit resisted perfectly. The suggested speed to approach the corner was 180 km/h: Alesi had touched 200 km/h and was over the limits. Jean got out of the car on his own. He was escorted to an ambulance and taken to the infirmary. First examinations, then he was transferred to the hospital on a helicopter, downtown. No danger in sight, says Dr. Laszlo Andics. The CT scan reveals the after-effects of when, back in Mugello 1994, Alesi got his vertebrae fractured, which cost him two races of complete rest. Deeper examinations, x-rays, MRI. Alesi returns to the circuit in company of girlfriend Kumiko wearing a neck brace, which he must keep overnight.


"I can race, the doctors have given me clearance".


On Saturday morning, the real test will be held on the track. If all goes well, the Frenchman will try to improve his fifth time. Meanwhile, Damon Hill is pulling away from everyone. Ferrari, positioned third with Berger, is close. He is ahead of Michael Schumacher. It will be a good battle. It is always the World Champion's move to Ferrari that holds the most attention.


As far as we know, barring unpredictable changes of course, Michael Schumacher will race for the Maranello team next year. And, at the same time, Benetton is expected to make official the signing of Jean Alesi. Two important fits in the mosaic of team swaps. Schumacher, in a press conference, tries his best to avoid answering questions directly.


"I read the statements of lawyer Agnelli very carefully, but it seems to me that he only made an assumption. I can only confirm that I’m negotiating with several teams. Negotiating does not mean I have signed yet".


Meanwhile, the background to the sensational market transaction is beginning to emerge. The recruitment of the 26-year-old from Kerpen always represents one of the biggest investments of any era in the field of sports, certainly the most relevant in Formula 1. Schumacher is expected to earn $20.000.000 per season for two years, plus the sums he will earn by making part of his race suit available to personal sponsors and thanks to contracts with televisions and newspapers. For Ferrari, however, this will not be a heavily passive operation. All Maranello team's sponsors will, in some way, participate in paying the driver, either through an increase in their contribution or a separate amount. Berger has already had an agreement with Ferrari for months, but he has reserved his final answer at the end of August: he may be playing catch-up, saying that he received offers from Williams. Moreover, it is well known that Schumacher does not like having an overly intrusive teammate. Michael would prefer a true second driver, and some people are spreading the rumour that Ferrari might fall back on Nicola Larini. But it is almost certain that Berger will stay in the end. However, the possibility of hiring young Jacques Villeneuve might also be considered. Word comes that the Canadian will leave Indy for Formula 1 at the end of the year. Frank Williams, who has tested his abilities, says:


"He’s a driver outside the norm".


And he is ready to hire him. Ferrari could make people dream with the Schumacher-Villeneuve driver pairing. The present and the future. Leaving the drivers' market aside for a few hours, Formula 1 is letting the track do the talking. A peculiar circuit, the one hosting the Hungarian Grand Prix. Narrow, short, winding, with prohibitive overtaking. Last year Schumacher won here by inflicting a hard blow on rival Hill with a perfect strategic race from his side. But this time, it will not be so easy: the Englishman claims to have learned his lesson. And, what's more, he will start on pole position - big advantage - having teammate David Coulthard at his side. The German World Champion, at the end of the second qualifying session, held on Saturday, August 12th, 1995, is relegated to the second row, next to Gerhard Berger, while Jean Alesi will be on the third one, with Mika Häkkinen's McLaren. Damon Hill, after two negative results, would like to take advantage of the situation. He hopes that Schumacher will be distracted by negotiations concerning his contract and, above all, he wants to recover some points in the standings. Between the two, as is well known, there is not much sympathy, and over the course of the day, they annoy each other while talking about the new overtaking regulations. Actually, it is not about new rules, but about applying existing ones more strictly, especially when a driver finds space to squeeze in alongside another competitor in front of him. Until now, whoever was in front was almost always right and could set his own trajectory line. From today, those who close the road in a not-so-clean manner could be punished up to and including disqualification.


"These rules should have been implemented 10 months ago".


Says Damon Hill, referring to the Adelaide accident when Michael Schumacher hit him and won the World Championship.


"But there are also those who go off the track due to their own actions".


The German driver replies. Then, an American-style confrontation between the two also starts. Michael Schumacher squeezes his rival inside a phone booth, waving a threatening finger under his nose:


"You can’t afford to say such things to a World Champion. You don't have to do that. Learn to respect me".


Both admit, however, that they have concerns about what may happen in the race, as it is unclear to what extent the stewards will be able to intervene and in what way. The only certain thing is that the race will be decided by pit stops for tire changes and refuelling. The asphalt is very abrasive and each driver, at least as far as the top teams are concerned, will have to stop three times. Show and suspense guaranteed, then, especially given the dozens of pit stops underway. Schumacher is very realistic:


"My Benetton always works well in the race, but the performance differences with the Williams are there. If I can't find an ideal setup, it will be very difficult to beat Damon Hill and David Coulthard. Fortunately, on the grid, I’m on the right side of the track, where it’s clean and on the good line".


But will there only be a Schumacher-Williams duel, with Benetton able to pull a stroke of tactical magic out of Flavio Briatore's cap? In theory, everyone else’s chances, including Ferrari, are very limited, although the 412T2s always do better in the race than in qualifying. However, there is a feeling that the Maranello cars could take on a role as dangerous outsiders. Says Gerhard Berger:


"We made 100% use of the available material. And there’s a difference of one second from Williams’ performance. I don't think we can keep Hill and Coulthard's pace throughout the whole race, or even Schumacher's. But it's safe to say we’ll try".


The Austrian, by the way, is going through a peculiar moment. Having concluded a parole agreement with Ferrari for next year, he may be feeling crushed by the presence of Michael Schumacher. So, he is holding contacts with Williams and McLaren. Jean Alesi is also determined to bring home a good result. His generous heart and strong character allowed him to be on track yesterday, after Friday's bad crash. But he was not lucky: the gearbox did not work properly on the car that had been set up the night before, and the Frenchman did very few laps. In qualifying, a single lap earned him the sixth place, then again a spin occurred - he was pushing to the limit without having been able to know how the car was going to behave.


"The pain is there but I’m relaxed. It’s only a muscle problem, resolved by the hour. And I’m not affected by external dynamics regarding the market. I want to act as a good pro driver until the end of the season and give my best. If I don't have technical problems, you’ll also see an Alesi in his best form on Sunday".


On Sunday, August 13th, 1995, at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, the leading positions remain unchanged, except for Martin Brundle, who, in his Ligier-Mugen Honda, moves from P8 to P6. Michael Schumacher, on lap 13, overtakes David Coulthard and moves into third place. At the same time, something tragicomic happens: Taki Inoue puts his Footwork in the escape lane, its engine breaks down; the Japanese driver gets a fire extinguisher in order to put out the fire ignited on his single-seater, but is hit by the oncoming medical car, fortunately only suffering a bruised leg. The Japanese driver is unlucky: in Monte-Carlo, his car had been rear-ended by a sports car, while being towed by an emergency vehicle after stopping in the middle of the circuit. The single-seater had flipped, and Inoue ended up in the hospital with a slight head injury.


"At least I landed on my feet, a perfect landing. After the impact, I'm expecting to be taken to the hospital by helicopter for proper assessment. But, at one point, Charlie (Whiting) comes in and says: sorry Taki, we can't use the helicopter, otherwise they'll make us stop the race. You'll have to wait another hour, at least until the chequered flag".


On lap 42, a brake problem forces Jean Alesi into yet another retirement. The race proceeds without any other particular turning point until the last laps. With four laps to go, Michael Schumacher must retire due to an engine failure, paving the way for a Williams-Renault one-two. But the fight for third place between Rubens Barrichello, Gerhard Berger and Johnny Herbert is also heated: the Brazilian in the Jordan manages to keep his rivals behind until the penultimate corner when he runs out of fuel and even slips down to seventh place, thus giving out the last step of the podium to the Austrian of Ferrari; Johnny Herbert's surviving Benetton-Renault, the Sauber-Ford of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and the Ligier-Mugen Honda of Olivier Panis are close to the points zone. From altar to dust. From the wedding’s joy in the Petersburg Castle Church a week ago, after the triumph at Hockenheim, to the bitterness of retirement in a meadow at the Hungaroring. This is how Michael Schumacher experienced his worst day of the season, watching from the track, while walking, his rival Damon Hill win the Hungarian Grand Prix. A success, that of the Englishman, that spices up the challenge for the World Championship and brings Williams-Renault back to undermine Benetton-Renault's supremacy in the constructors' championship, completing its achievement with David Coulthard's second place. Gerhard Berger, third with Ferrari, also finished on the podium. Another consolation prize for the Maranello team, which had one of its worst races since the start of the championship. The unfortunate Alesi retired once again while in fifth position, and the Austrian reaped the benefits of his great experience, also helped by a series of retirements among the many competitors ahead of him. The last one was that of Rubens Barrichello, in the corner, leading to the finishing straight, on lap 77, that is, when he was about to quietly cross the finish line. It must be said that Damon Hill deserved his third victory, after those in Argentina and Imola, the twelfth in an overall still short career, despite his 34 years of age. Magnificently overcoming the controversy and accusations heaped on him after the spectacular crash at Silverstone and the off-track crash in Germany, Damon pulled off an en-plein: pole position, the fastest lap in the race and first place. It rarely happens, even to great champions. 


For that matter, he might have won even without the problem that forced Michael Schumacher off the track prematurely. When the German took his car off the track with four laps to go, due to an electrical problem with the engine, he was hopelessly relegated to second place and would not have been able to make up the approximately ten seconds gap he had to reach the leader. The race, as always happens on this circuit, was on the one hand spectacular with its various events, and on the other rather boring because it was limited to the fight between only two drivers - the protagonists of the title charge. There was only one real overtake, that of Michael Schumacher on David Coulthard, when the talented German took advantage of the Scot’s uncertainty in lapping. As for the rest, as it has been the case for some time now, everything was influenced by pit stops, to change tires and refuel. And indeed, it was the first pit-stop that barred Schumacher's way. Even at Benetton, mishaps can happen. So, when Michael arrived, the pump that feeds the fuel into the tank jammed. Instead of the expected amount, the car was filled with only ten litres of fuel. This fact forced the German to switch strategies, reasoning that his second stop was anticipated and in the third he had to refuel because there were still 29 laps to go. The increased weight and tire wear did not allow Schumacher to catch up with Hill, assuming it was still possible. In fact, Damon's victory also appeared to be the result of excellent team strategy. At first, up to lap 16, after a perfect start, David Coulthard managed to slow down the German driver. With no foul play in sight, taking advantage of the performance of his Williams-Renault, the Scot lost valuable time to the Benetton driver - about 22 seconds. The entire race then played out on this gap; variations determined only by the various alternating stops of the competitors. In any case, Hill was always in the lead. Now the World Championship challenge is now open again: Schumacher, who had a 21-point lead, sees Hill reducing the gap to 11 points and therefore being much closer. What worries Michael is not the rival's form, but rather that of the Williams-Renault. There are seven races to go in the championship and the situation is fine. 


However, if Damon's team achieves a more obvious technical dominance, everything will become less accessible. Also because the Englishman has a valuable teammate who can possibly take space away from his opponents, while the German is basically running alone against everyone. Once the race is over, Michael Schumacher leaves the Hungaroring by helicopter. A short flight to the airport, then jumps on his personal jet to Nice, on his way to his home in Monte-Carlo. Also on the plane are Willi Weber, the World Champion's manager, Flavio Briatore and Christian Contzen, general manager of Renault Sport. The presence of these figures reinforces a sensational rumour that has arisen in recent hours. The French car company, together with the Elf oil tycoons, is reportedly making a desperate attempt to snatch the German from Ferrari with a mega offer, even more substantial than Ferrari's ($40.000.000 for two years). Perhaps not destined for the driver, but to allow the Benetton team to invest in technology, too. This is just an indiscretion all to be verified, but quite reliable. Now it remains to be seen whether Schumacher has already signed with the Maranello team and whether the tempting counteroffer will possibly make him change his mind. The announcement of Michael's move to Ferrari, meanwhile, slips to Wednesday, August 16th, 1995, together with that of Jean Alesi to Benetton. Michael, of course, does not make a single mention of the sensational transfer, nor of the other last-minute hypotheses.


"I’m very disappointed by this race, because I remain convinced that I could have won. There was a failure on the mechanical system of the fuel pump and that changed everything. I have nothing against Coulthard who kept me behind for 16 laps, he was fair to me. The characteristics of this circuit don’t allow you to overtake, while having the same car. Then, there was an electrical or electronic problem in the engine. Some smoke was seen because I stopped on the dry grass and the car was very hot. These things happen and there’s nothing you can do. At this point, the championship that was not yet closed is more and more open".


The usual evil people insinuate that, since there has been talk of Schumacher at Ferrari, the situation may be precipitating, and Renault is to play a decisive role in helping Hill...


"I believe that Renault wants to win races and titles as much as I do. I can’t even think that there is an anti-Schumacher plan ongoing. In fact, I don't even want to hear these things. Rather, there’s a real problem. Benetton needs to improve the performance of our cars. Williams has taken another step forward, and we need to catch up. That is why we scheduled three days of testing this week. And I will be there to try to give some useful pointers to our engineers".


Renault's frantic and somewhat desperate attempt to keep Michael Schumacher at Benetton is failing to make a difference. The German will move to Ferrari in 1996, and the official announcement - barring any last-minute surprises - will be made Wednesday morning. Along with that of Jean Alesi to the team headed by Flavio Briatore. The counteroffer of the French company (which in the past has lost two reigning World Champions, namely Mansell and Prost), the reassurances, the advice, are all useless. After all, if it is true that the German driver had already reached an agreement with the Maranello team, he could not have changed everything in extremis, accepting a substantial economic offer and the idea of a new challenge. The fact of having taken the best driver on the grid is a big hit for Ferrari. Although in Hungary he had to yield to Hill and the superiority of Williams, Schumacher proved once again that he was the best and the fastest. If there had not been the accident concerning the first unfortunate refuelling of petrol, certainly Michael would have fought for victory until the end. Schumacher, while not a phenomenon of sympathy, is currently the only heir to the great driving aces of the recent past, namely Senna and Prost.  From his predecessors, the German - who turned twenty-six last January - has taken many qualities: absolute professionalism, fussiness, determination, courage, skill in driving and tuning the car, and the rational use of his brain even in the most delicate moments of a race. Now Ferrari, having hired a character of this calibre, got a decisive, important, vital commitment. 


Indeed, if he does not fight to win the World Championship in 1996, Ferrari will have missed all its objectives. And it is hard to see what excuses he will be able to invent in case of failure. In short, it is a bet with no way back, but also a sworn promise to its fans.  Incidentally, from the Ferrari-Schumacher pairing (with or without Berger, it will be known at the end of the month, perhaps sooner) starts a real revival of Formula 1 as a whole. The actors are still the same (with the addition, however, of Jacques Villeneuve, who should be hired by Williams to race in 1996 alongside Damon Hill), but the roles change. Alesi and perhaps Barrichello at Benetton, Häkkinen and Frentzen (or Berger) at McLaren, the cards will be shuffled. In the name of entertainment. Meanwhile, Damon, Damon shouted the crowd when Hill appeared on the podium. So many fans for the Englishman, but one gets the impression that it is more about cheering against Schumacher than just for Hill. It is the fate of winners to not always be likeable. And the 34-year-old Williams driver, by dint of losing, has become a public beloved, who of course went wild when the very same driver finally returned to success.


"This crowd chanting my name impressed me; it was an exciting experience that I will hardly forget. There’s someone who loves me. Finally, in Hungary I was repaid for the bad luck I had in the previous races. I think everything worked properly this time. We had a tactical plan, and since it worked out, we also got second place - it means it was the right one. After Michael's first stop everything was clearer, but nothing was certain until the end. That's why I struggled, as it always happens in Formula 1".


Does this achievement mark Damon Hill's big comeback?


"If I want to win the world title, this is the only way. Winning races and putting a lot of pressure on Michael. I obviously hope to do the encore in the next race in Belgium. Schumacher gave me a great advantage by not finishing the race".


Tenth podium finish of the season for Ferrari, out of ten races. Is there anything to be happy about? Certainly not. And, behind the words of circumstance and the appreciation for Gerhard Berger's third place, in the depths of the people in Maranello there is deep disappointment. It is also true that a failure still stopped Alesi, who could have finished in the points zone. And that Berger, as he himself recounted, made a serious mistake in setting up the car just before the start, which definitely slowed him down. But the gap of a second per lap with the Williams and a little less with the Benetton is always there, like a nightmare that does not end. Jean Todt admits:


"For the past four races, the performance of our cars has been on a downward curve, despite the work we’ve done. It’s increasingly evident that the others have progressed further than us. Fortunately, we have a lot in the making, technical innovations with which we hope to close the gap, and not just a few tenths of a second. Apart from that, we’re happy with the podium. We certainly didn't expect this result halfway through the race. Third place is not to take for granted, that's how racing is. But I confirm that today we cannot fight for the victory: three cars, both the Williams and a Benetton, are always faster than us".


Earlier, Alesi, strangely calm and relaxed, had stated:


"I was fine, and the car was not working badly. I was stopped by the same failure as in Hockenheim. The rod that joins the spark plugs in a bank bent, and one of them broke. The engineers thought they had solved the problem, but instead it went differently. If the car breaks down, there is nothing I can do. I don't have to give explanations, I’m always the great Alesi. Maybe from now on, I will adopt Vialli’s strategy, who in the last soccer championship remained silent and then demonstrated his value on the pitch by scoring goals. However, they must at least give me a chance to score one of them".


Shattered by fatigue, but with a big smile on his lips, Berger described his race:


"I made a huge mistake. During the formation lap, the car had seemed too soft to me. So, I asked for harder springs to be fitted. Had I never ever wished for that: I was struggling with terrible understeer, later increased by the breakage of a small aerodynamic appendage of the wing. This mistake cost me terrible fatigue. I drove with the car going all over the place. And often, because it did not turn as I wanted, I was forced to help myself with the throttle, causing the car to skid".


Also, a big battle took place, with the others behind him.


"I even tried to hunt Barrichello who was in front, but I had to desist. Also because I was too busy looking over my shoulder. At the end, Herbert aboard the second Benetton drove me crazy. He was standing there, glued to my Ferrari, an inch away. He was trying in every way to overtake me. I had to resort to all my experience and determination to resist. Then I was rewarded: when I was already happy with my fourth place, poor Barrichello had to retire, betrayed by the engine, in the last corner. After all, he has definitely had a far worse day than I did".


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