#577 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix

2023-01-12 23:00

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#1995, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#577 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix

It is always said that in sports, in the end, you only remember who won. This assertion does not seem to apply to the Italian Grand Prix. While Johnny


It is always said that in sports, in the end, you only remember who won. This assertion does not seem to apply to the Italian Grand Prix. While Johnny Herbert’s success seems to have already been forgotten by everyone, discussions continue about what happened during the race. The negative result of Ferrari, which had also put the most competitive cars of the season on track, and the Hill-Schumacher accident stir up a series of controversies that do not seem to be dying down. On Tuesday, September 12th, 1995, Luca Montezemolo, from the Frankfurt Motor Show, takes stock of the situation, trading a few barbs at his drivers:


"We were unlucky, but the important thing is to not beat ourselves up and work to win. Schumacher and a young driver who reached the top already at 26 and came to Ferrari convinced of the technical choice. Some people claim that we spent too much. Maybe it’s because everyone talks about Ferrari, while we don’t want to talk about others. But there are teams that were hurt by Michael’s technical choice".


Continued the Ferrari president:


"I’m sorry Berger didn’t stay, although I understand his desire not to run alongside Schumacher as number two. Gerhard is a great driver, a friend and a committed Ferrarista not just to do the show. Alesi made a good choice by going to Benetton. To become true champions, you must experience different things all the time. Prost, Senna, and Lauda changed overalls four times; it’s a good way to become more mature. I hope Jean will prove from now until the end of the year that he’s a serious professional; a driver’s history is long, certain paths may cross again. For our second driver, there’s no rush. We will evaluate carefully. Whoever will join Schumacher must be good and able to give satisfaction to Scuderia Ferrari".


Speaking of Ferrari, meanwhile, possible replacements in the presidency of the Maranello-based company are being reported in the newspapers. But Cesare Romiti, CEO of Fiat Group, Ferrari’s controlling shareholder, makes a statement that leaves no doubt:


"With regard to the inferences reported in some newspapers about a possible change at the top of Ferrari, I reaffirm on behalf of Fiat the absolute confidence in President Luca Montezemolo, all his staff and technicians, and I stigmatize the dissemination of news that’s not only false, but also provocative and aimed at hindering the good work of the entire team".


Finally, from London, Bernie Ecclestone, president of FOCA, as regards the Italian Grand Prix, criticizes the behaviour of Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher:

"They risk too much, if they keep sending each other off track they could be a serious danger to their safety. That’s fine by me, however, I have to warn them to be prepared to face extreme consequences. They could kill or seriously injure themselves. In any case, the blame for the Monza accident lies in the Japanese Inoue, who should not be driving in F1".


Michael Schumacher, who meanwhile is in Paris to officially receive the position of UNESCO Special Envoy for Education and Sport, forgives Damon Hill, saying he is ready to shake his hand at the next race. The latest news comes from Silverstone, where Alain Prost continues testing with McLaren. The Frenchman completes 51 laps. 


"I didn’t look for times, but rather worked on the car, which still presents many problems. I hope I gave the right indications for Estoril".


After testing, for the first time, Alain makes a half-hearted admission:


"I don’t rule out driving again in 1996, although the chances are not high".


The challenge has now ended. For Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, battling for the F1 World Championship victory, each race may become decisive, as the German has yet to run three races under conditional disqualification, and the Englishman only one, due to the aftermath of punishments suffered in Belgium and Monza, respectively. The Benetton driver was convicted of misbehaviour at the Belgian Grand Prix, the Williams driver for rear-ending during the Italian Grand Prix. But the two contenders will not back down. Also because their respective stables are bringing major updates for the Portuguese Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday in Estoril. Williams-Renault has practically rebuilt the car, and many changes are also in store for the Anglo-Italian team. So, it is fair to predict a tight battle, especially given that at the Lusitanian track, Michael Schumacher had won in 1993, and Damon Hill in 1994 (but in that case the German was disqualified). Michael would like to wrap things up as soon as possible, Damon, on the other hand, hopes to make up some of the 15 points that separate him from the leader. There is also some hope for Ferrari. The Maranello team was an unlucky protagonist at Monza but, in the days leading up to the Portuguese Grand Prix, improves the aerodynamics of the 412T2, which was one of the car’s weakest points. Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, although disappointed with the latest results, will not spare themselves. Meanwhile, news arrives from Germany. BMW, which had previously won a world title with Brabham and Nelson Piquet, would return to F1. The German company's plans might include a comeback in 1997 with a V10 engine and its own team. According to the weekly Focus, the power plant might have already been successfully tested in great secrecy on a Benetton.  


"How beautiful. I’ve been dreaming about him every night for two years. You should see my room: it’s wallpapered with his picture".


Because of his famous father, Gilles?


"No, because of him, Jacques Villeneuve. I adore him. Since he’s been racing in Formula Indy, I think about him all the time".


The speaker is Diana, a girl from Masate, Italy. She is at the racetrack with her class, on a school trip. And she finds, surprise, her idol. Testing with Williams. One of the many tests planned by the British team to launch the young driver in the 1996 F1 World Championship. Twenty-four years old, Canadian by birth (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec), but a citizen of the world since during his childhood he has done nothing but drive from one country to another, non-stop. Jacques has a gentle appearance, different from that of his father, who was more naïve. Brush-cut hair, blue eyes, the face of a child, but a beautiful, experienced adult voice. He speaks fluent - and well - Italian, French and English. And he does not contain himself. Except the silence about how much he will earn in F1. Racing in America, and winning the Indy 500 as well as the title, grossed about $3.000.000 this season. He had said at the beginning of the year that F1 did not interest him. Why did he change his mind?


"It’s simple. I had a great opportunity to drive in a competitive team. I wasn’t the one who asked. They sought me out, and I decided, regardless of the results in the United States. I would have come even if I had won the championship".


Contacts with other teams, Ferrari maybe?


"Nothing serious. With Ferrari, there have only been jokes. I don’t think it’s that important for a driver to drive for Maranello. Although it is a big name and has been in F1 forever. They’ve done good in the past, and now they’re improving a little bit. And I also don’t think it’s necessary to go to Ferrari to end a career. That doesn’t mean that if one day they call me and an agreement is reached, what is now unthinkable won’t occur".


The comparison with your father Gilles is inevitable. Was carrying the Villeneuve name an advantage or not? 


"Overall, it favoured me. From the very first races, when I debuted in Turismo with an Alfa Romeo, I had everyone’s eyes on me. That got me very used to withstanding all kinds of pressure. As for dad, it’s not possible to draw a parallel. Apart from the fact that so many years have passed, and now you drive differently, I really don’t know what dad did, I was too young. I watched the footage of the old races, I found them very entertaining, and that’s all. In my life, I didn’t eat only bread and racing. I know that people won’t leave me alone because of my dad’s story. Gilles is always alive in the hearts of the fans, and I’m happy to be his son. But I don’t know if I could ever reach his level. And in any case, I’m not here to beat him".


What talents does Jacques Villeneuve think he has then, like Prost or Senna?


"I hope to be a good mix. Collecting the best of Prost, Senna, Lauda, etc. However, I have my own philosophy. I’m convinced that firstly you have to set up the car in the right way. You can gain half a second a lap with good tuning. Then it’s up to the driver to gain the other half a second. By the way, I’m never interested in ending the day with a record. I prefer to be satisfied with my work. A time achieved at 5:00 p.m. has a very relative value, better to push hard when necessary. Even if you have to do it now and then to see where you’re at".


What do you think about Schumacher?


"He’s a great driver who tunes his car well".


Any relations with Damon Hill?


"We’re on good terms. We’ll be equals, at Williams there will be no first or second diver, otherwise I would not have accepted".




"We haven’t talked about that with Frank Williams. But it seems clear to me. I came to win".


On Wednesday, September 20th, 1995, the practice continues. Meanwhile, with a poorly adjusted car, Jacques sets a time of 1'27"1. Just 2.7 seconds off the pole set on Saturday, September 9th, 1995. A good start. The art of driving is a strong family affair: a matter of who knows whether it is in the DNA or it is money, a habit or many things together. It happens in so many other sports and the world in general, but in Formula 1 and, in any case, in great speed motor racing, the sense of kinship and family continuity is very evident, and misfortunes do not even stop it, but rather serve as stimulus, a mission. Jacques Villeneuve now arrives in Formula 1, blessed with Formula Indy American successes. He grew up on the circuits, with his mother Joanne hanging out his baby boy’s freshly washed underwear on the wires outside the motorhome. 


The lives of children of champions are varied, ranging from running after the parent to locked-down stays in places of great luxury and tax heaven. Jacques inhaled combustible gasses since the early stages of his life. In contrast, Mario Andretti did not bring along his son Michael, who became a racer on his own, seeing his father on TV more than live. In America, he raced against Al Unser Jr., the son of a great rival of his father; in Europe, he had to race against his father’s memories, which was much worse: he did little in Formula 1. Also his brother Jeff and his cousin John race. Family affair, not just the transmission of talent and desire from father to son. The Fittipaldi’s (the great Emerson, and the modest Wilson) are brothers, now there is also Christian, Wilson’s son: his father is a Calabrese who immigrated to Brazil for bread, not even with a driver’s licence. Brothers were also the two Rodriguez from Mexico, Pedro, and Ricardo, talented - especially Ricardo – and billionaires, both dead on track, still young. On the fly, the Fabi brothers, Teo and Corrado, come to mind as well, skiers before becoming racers. And the Brambilla brothers, involved in cars and motorcycles, too. Outside Italy, the Germans Von Stuck, famous father, barely celebrated son. It comes to fathers and sons with the two Hills, as well, with Graham who died in his plane, attempting a landing in the fog near London twenty years ago, when Damon was still a boy. Graham had been a two-time world champion, married a famous British rower, and one might ask himself in what aspects Damon resembles his mother. 


Or going further back with the two Ascari drivers, Antonio, who died on the Monthléry circuit in France in 1925, and Alberto who died in Monza, thirty years later, to test himself, rather than the car: he had ended up in the sea four days earlier at the Monaco Grand Prix, right after having taken the lead of the race. A great of early motor racing Antonio, two-time World Champion Alberto, who had a son who decided to not even try that career, despite the surname he had. Anyway, on the eve of the Portuguese Grand Prix, everyone expects sparks in the fight between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. And in this regard, on Thursday, September 21st, 1995, the environment also appears bitter. Suspicions of technological espionage lurk between the teams ahead of the last five races of the season. And, on top of that, an anonymous letter also arrives to heat up tempers. A message to Max Mosley, president of the FIA, on Benetton headed paper, signed at the end by someone who describes himself as a mechanic that know a lot, but without a name. Two and a half pages of what might appear to be a kind of self-condemnation born within the team. It accuses the team of Michael Schumacher and Johnny Herbert of making use of traction control, prohibited by the rules, on slow tracks and in wet conditions. But, the tip-off, which is also in some parts talking nonsense (it speaks about a brake sabotage on Damon Hill’s Williams in Germany and that if the Englishman won the World Championship he might even be injured or killed…), lacks real essence in order to be taken seriously. It does not reveal where the irregular system would be found on the Benetton cars. The work of a psycho, a denigrator. In response, Michael Schumacher talks via his spokesman:

"It’s all baloney, it’s probably someone who wants to increase the already high tension".


Meanwhile, the team members of 1996 are being defined. Rubens Barrichello signs a new contact with Jordan, while as far as Ferrari is concerned, it seems that the choice should only be between David Coulthard and Nicola Larini once Professor Alain Prost reveals his decisions regarding McLaren-Mercedes. On Friday, September 22nd, 1995, the fight gets tough. On and off track, at both driving and psychological level. No holds barred. Michael Schumacher versus Damon Hill. Last year, the battle for the F1 World Championship ended at the last race. The German went off the track in Adelaide, hitting a wall and bouncing off his rival’s car, thus knocking it out. The Benetton driver had virtually lost, but forcing Damon Hill to retire basically made him keep the title. Since then, the friction between the two has not stopped increasing. First, the accident in Silverstone, then what happened in Spa, and finally Damon Hill rear-ending Michael Schumacher at Monza. The two drivers suffered conditional disqualifications immediately. If they repeat certain improprieties, they will be punished. But the spiral of tension seems unstoppable. It is only Friday morning, but during free practice an episode occurs that shows how the war between the two has reached dangerous levels, Damon Hill tells: 


"I arrived to a narrow part of the circuit and saw Schumacher in front of me going very slow. As I pulled alongside him, he suddenly accelerated, closing the road. If I hadn’t braked, I would have ended up off the track".


Bernie Ecclestone, patron of Formula 1, is very concerned. And just in the days leading up to the Portuguese Grand Prix, he issued a warning:


"If they go on like this, they will end up hurting themselves. They take too many risks".


And perhaps, just to try and find some antidote, the FIA, after three days, reinstates doping controls. The top three drivers in the standings (Schumacher, Hill, Herbert) and three by lot (Berger, Bouillon, Diniz) are called at the end of practice to undergo a control, conducted by Dr. Hiemmermann. The tests will be processed by one of the IOC’s specialized centres, but the results will probably not be released. The FIA seems to be protective about this matter. But certainly, the test is not random. A deterrent is being sought to calm tempers and make it clear that certain excesses can be regarded as the effect of a drug. Meanwhile, the first round of qualifying takes place as predicted on the eve. The fastest cars are the Williams-Renaults of Damon Hill and David Coulthard, ahead of Michael Schumacher, then the Ferraris of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. Hill laps in 1'21"322, at an average speed of 193.010 km/h, pulling 0.1 seconds ahead of Coulthard, 0.5 seconds ahead of Schumacher, one second ahead of Berger and 1.3 seconds ahead of Alesi. An exceptional time if one considers that in 1994 the Austrian’s Ferrari, which had been the best, with the 3500-cc engine and a greater ground effect, had got pole in 1'20"608. And this shows how technical progress is always very high. For Ferrari, the situation is more or less the same. The 412T2s, despite having the most powerful engine, continue to suffer from aerodynamic problems. 


To keep the right trajectory, they must load the wings, and they lose in both slow and fast parts. Better set-ups could be found on Saturday, but the situation should not change much; if anything, the Maranello cars, reliability permitting, could do better in the race. It must be said that Alesi and Berger appear unmotivated. Jean says he hopes to erase at least half of the disappointment suffered in Monza. But there is tension within the team due to the drivers leaving and Schumacher arriving. On Friday night, the German driver and his manager would have liked to invite the Italian press to dinner, to establish some kind of better relationship. But Ferrari let it be known that it would not be sympathetic toward Benetton, and the appointment was postponed to a less sensitive time. On the following day, Saturday, September 23rd, 1995, David Coulthard, and Damon Hill confirm the competitiveness of their Williams-Renault, and on Sunday, September 24th, 1995, they will be in the front row of the starting grid for the Portuguese Grand Prix, thus making a desperate attempt to take valuable points away from the German. But it cannot be said that Damon Hill found a natural ally to beat his rival. On the contrary, the young Scot could become an extra, very uncomfortable opponent, especially for his teammate. David Coulthard, the 24-year-old racer born in a small village called Twynholm, where his family runs a successful and profitable transport company, got his third pole position of the season. The young man offers a real lesson on how to drive at top speed on a difficult circuit. And, in a way, he mocks his British teammate. 


"I didn’t know how to adjust my car, it didn’t seem to stay on track, and I asked the technicians to set it up like Damon did. It went quite well".


Despite the indirect help he got from Damon Hill, however, as a good Scot, David is not willing to help his teammate:


"No team orders. Everyone will do their own race".


And he has a point. After all, Williams dumped him for next year, confirming Damon who will have young star Jacques Villeneuve by his side. The team’s only chance to intervene in the outcome of the race, if the opportunity arises, will be by slowing down the #6 car in one of the planned pit stops. Coulthard, however, remains the most valuable piece of the still open drivers’ market, disputed between McLaren and Ferrari. The British stable offers more possibilities, already having an option on the driver. But there is always the possibility that Alain Prost will decide to take the vacant seat. In any case, the young Scot’s worth continues to increase. In qualifying, David Coulthard sets his best lap in 1'20"537, at an average speed of 194.891 km/h. This means that the Scottish driver sets a lower time than the one (1'20"608) that had enabled Gerhard Berger to get pole position in 1994. With an engine of only 3000-cc (it was 3500-cc) and with cars modified to reduce speed in the corners. Basically, Formula 1 technology made another step forward. At least as far as Williams-Renault is concerned. The same does not apply to Ferrari, which sees Gerhard Berger in fourth place with a time of 1'21"970, that is, with a single-seater 1.3 seconds slower than last year. What is worse is that Jean Alesi slips from fifth to seventh place, also preceded by Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Johnny Herbert. The true performance for the Maranello team is that of the Austrian, as the Frenchman fails to get the most out of the car, despite his efforts. Jean once again, at the end of practice, does not hold back, and says:


"What you’ve seen is the real difference between Ferrari, Benetton and Williams. Our car is limited, it doesn’t improve. They’ve made great strides, we’re behind".


With an ironic punchline:


"But you’ll see next year. With the V10 engine and the World Championship, a revolution will take place…".


Jean Todt, head of the team, explains that the new aerodynamics prepared in recent days do not yet offer guarantees but will be tested along with other new features after the European Grand Prix, which will be held at the Nürburgring circuit. Then, he says that the test at Fiorano on Wednesday, September 27th, 1995, with Gianni Morbidelli, Luca Badoer, Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierluigi Martini will have nothing to do with the choice of the second driver. And he lets it be known that Nicola Larini, if he will not race with Michael Schumacher, will no longer be a test driver. So, the search for the test-driver position remains open. The theme of the race is obviously the Coulthard-Hill-Schumacher triple fight. The German works wonders to bring a strangely nervous and unstable Benetton-Renault to third place. But racing always holds surprises: and with tires lasting short here, pit stops will be decisive. An activity in which Michael Schumacher has so far been a master. On Sunday, September 24th, 1995, at the start of the Portuguese Grand Prix, David Coulthard holds the first position, but in the back rows a major accident involves Ukyo Katayama and Luca Badoer, with the Japanese driver’s car overturning several times and coming to a halt in the middle of the track, flipped over. The Tyrell driver is taken to the hospital and will have to miss the next European Grand Prix due to injury, before returning for the last three rounds of the season. The race is stopped by the display of the red flag. At the second start, David Coulthard holds the first position, while Michael Schumacher overtakes Damon Hill on the outside at Turn 1. Gerhard Berger is fourth, ahead of Johnny Herbert and Jean Alesi. However, the Williams already seem competitive, so much so that after ten laps David Coulthard has a 6-second lead over Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, who stays close to the German Benetton driver but never manages to attack him. Gerhard Berger is 15 seconds behind the leader, Johnny Herbert 20 seconds and Jean Alesi 23 seconds. Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill stop together, but while the German’s stop lasts only 7 seconds, the Englishman stops for 16 seconds. David Coulthard stops the next lap and re-enters the track easily ahead of Michael Schumacher. Damon Hill, on the other hand, is a few laps behind the Ferrari of Jean Alesi, who has not yet stopped in the pits to refuel. When the Frenchman pits, Damon Hill is a full 16 seconds behind Michael Schumacher. 


After 30 laps, David Coulthard leads the race by 6 seconds over Michael Schumacher and 22 seconds over Damon Hill, while Gerhard Berger, Johnny Herbert and Jean Alesi closing the top six. Halfway through the race, David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher make their second pit-stop, followed a few laps later by Damon Hill. The Scot can still count on a 4-second lead over Michael Schumacher, while Damon Hill is now 28 seconds behind the race leader. However, the Scot and the German must stop in the pits to make their third stop with 18 laps to go, while Damon Hill will not have to stop again. David Coulthard comes out of the pits 8 seconds ahead of his teammate, who is now ahead of Michael Schumacher. The German, with new tires, is clearly faster than his title rival and thus immediately passes him under braking at Turn 9. Behind the top three is still Gerhard Berger, now ahead of Jean Alesi and Heinz-Haralad Frentzen, while Johnny Herbert pays for the three-stop strategy and is now seventh. Nothing more happens until the end of the race, and David Coulthard wins his first career race. Michael Schumacher settles for second place and gains two points over Damon Hill. Gerhard Berger follows in fourth place, followed by Jean Alesi and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. A Williams was supposed to win. And it did. But not with the right driver, in fact David Coulthard (and not Damon Hill) won the Portuguese Grand Prix, with a dramatic start and a finish that saw Ferrari embroiled in yet another internal storm. Another time then, a Scottish driver is under the spotlight in F1. David Coulthard, in his 21st race, hits the top target, which is not for everyone. As was to be expected, the Williams driver proved to be one more opponent for Damon Hill, the big loser of the day. While his teammate imposed the law of the fittest, the Englishman experienced one of the most bitter moments of his still short career. Damon got wrong a lot of things, especially his race strategy. And this cost him a humiliating overtaking by Michael Schumacher. The German finished second, in a visibly inferior car, driving with intelligence and determination. Damon Hill finished in third place. A result that made him lose two more heavy points in the fight for the world title. With a 1-point lead and four races to go, Michael can easily continue. Behind the three frontrunners were the two Ferraris. With Gerhard Berger fourth and Jean Alesi fifth. A result that as such would be unexciting. But there is more, and worse. Gerhard and Jean risked being lapped, and above all, their cars never got into the thick of the race: two modest extras, in the background, even during the very first laps. And as if that were not enough, the Frenchman triggers a very harsh controversy. 


"I drive proudly for Ferrari. And I have to leave. But if there’s one person who should go home, this is Jean Todt. He is to blame for everything that happens. For ten laps, during the race, he asked me over the radio to let Berger pass. It had already happened in Brazil. I had to pretend I didn’t hear, so I wouldn’t respond in a certain way. I basically changed the Todt channel".


Unrelenting in his accusation, the Frenchman goes on saying:


"Todt pisses me off. Everything in the team works badly. Engineer Ascanelli, who is in charge on the track, only takes care of Berger. At most, if it emerges that we’ve found some good adjustments, they come to see what we’ve done. At this point, I really don’t know what I’ll decide in the next few days, whether to run with Ferrari again or not. I’ll go and talk to Montezemolo, but it’s the last straw that I always have to talk to the president".


Then Alesi leaves with his fiancée Kumiko, his brother Jose, and his parents, to return home aboard a private plane. Todt’s response is calm, but certainly the team manager makes a great effort to restrain himself:


"We know Jean. He’s hot-blooded. When he talks, he doesn’t consider the team’s strategies. We had two tires’ changes scheduled for him and three for Berger. Gerhard was faster and by being behind Alesi’s car he was losing a second per lap. So, we asked him to let him pass. Since he didn’t agree, we were forced to stop the Austrian a few laps earlier. And that could have compromised our whole strategy".


Will the division be figured out in the next few hours in Maranello? 


Probably yes. We’ll see Alesi in a Ferrari again in Germany, at the Nürburgring circuit. No disciplinary action will be taken against him. Only if he leaves the team, will the team be forced to call Nicola Larini.


"I had noticed that Damon was having problems under braking in that corner. So I waited for a good moment and passed him. It was a bit risky because I had to leave the good trajectory. But if you don’t do that, you always stay behind".


Never had a second place made Michael Schumacher this happy. The German, however, maintains the utmost caution in making predictions:


"There’s still time to talk about the title, let’s wait two more races".


Caution is never too much. Damon Hill, dark in face but serene, as a true British sportsman says: 


"Well done, Coulthard, he deserved the win, he drove well, even in qualifying. I decided to change strategy during the race: I had to make three stops, but after a bad start I was behind Schumacher, and I thought that the only way to try to beat him was to do a stop less. But I found myself with shredded tires and couldn’t brake. To avoid overtaking, I would have had to hit the Benetton. And that was not a good idea. The championship? Too many points to make up. It would take a miracle".


Not lucky, however, is Damon Hill. Williams had prepared a special car for him to beat the German. But on Saturday night, the engineers discovered that the new gearbox was putting a bearing out of order. And during the night they had to rebuild three single-seaters in the previous version. And maybe that is what fooled the Englishman, who in the past few days was the one consuming less the tires, thanks to the modified model. After the initial accident involving Ukyo Katayama, at the second start David Coulthard was the quickest. And Schumacher (another winning move) moved up to second by stealing Hill’s place. From then on, it was a continuous chase after the Scot. But albeit numerous pit stops, the situation did not change. The decisive episode on lap 62, after Michael Schumacher arrived behind Damon Hill, with fresh tires mounted on his Benetton. A few kilometers behind his rival to check what was the best spot to overtake, then the decisive action in the slowest hairpin corner of the track, where the danger - in case of a collision - would have been minimal anyway. Schumacher passed on the inside. Speaking of the drivers’ market, Alain Prost finally speaks out, saying: 


"I won’t race next year. I enjoy driving, but I feel I can no longer bear the burden of a long challenge. If I had agreed to return to competitive racing, I would have only done so to win again. And that would have been too hard, it would have undermined the quality of my life".


Prost, 40, will not stay away from F1. He will have a role in McLaren-Mercedes, almost certainly as a test driver, adviser, and manager. The Frenchman’s ‘no’ should also get it over with the second Ferrari driver situation. We are 90% sure that David Coulthard will be blocked by McLaren. So Larini hypothesis remains, barring any surprises. In any case, the Maranello team - it is not official, but it is rumoured out there - obtained an option on Mika Salo for 1997 (the young Finn will also be with Tyrrell in 1996). Thus, we range from Jean Alesi’s controversy at the end of the Portuguese Grand Prix to the choice of the driver who will replace the Frenchman in 1996, to drive alongside Schumacher. So, it now seems certain that Eddie Irvine, a Northern Irishman, 30, in the Jordan team since his Formula 1 debut in 1993, is on his way to Maranello. After Alain Prost announced he would not return to Formula 1 with McLaren, Jean Todt, head of Scuderia Ferrari, said:


"By now there’s very little chance of getting Coulthard".


As is well known, the go-ahead at Maranello indirectly depended on Alain Prost’s decision. If the former French champion had said yes, all well and good, otherwise McLaren would have taken the Scot, let go by Williams, which had targeted the rising star, Jacques Villeneuve. So ahead with Irvine, the surprise. The Northern Irishman, whose best result is a third place this year in Canada (big celebrations on the podium with Alesi himself, who had won his first Grand Prix), is a fast driver who never backs down. For example, on his debut, at the Japanese Grand Prix, in the rain, he even stood up for a long time to the great Ayrton Senna in a McLaren: lapped but indomitable and unscrupulous, he drove the Brazilian champion crazy. Who even, later, pinched him, sparking a post-race confrontation.


"When I’m on track, I just try to be as fast as I can. Lapped or not, I don’t care".


Eddie, who lives in Dublin, was born on November 10th, 1965, in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. His father is a car dealer. British Formula Ford 1600 champion in 1987, he raced in Formula 3000, the training ground for many F1 drivers, from 1989 to 1993. Recruited by Eddie Jordan, who had appreciated his qualities, he drew attention several times, but never succeeded, partly because of the lack of competitiveness of the small team’s cars. Irvine is a likeable, outgoing bachelor who enjoys female company. He is certainly not closed-minded and, they say in Dublin, should please Ferrari fans as well. He certainly does not displease Michael Schumacher, who has reportedly given Ferrari his approval for the hiring. The Northern Irish driver and his team manager Eddie Jordan will finalize the details of the move on Monday, September 25th, 1995, by travelling to Maranello, and on Tuesday the official announcement should be made by Luca Montezemolo himself, while on Wednesday Gianni Morbidelli, Luca Badoer, Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierluigi Martini will conduct a series of tests at Fiorano for a possible test driver role. Nicola Larini’s candidacy as Jean Alesi’s replacement thus disappears. Yet the Italian seemed to be held in such high regard by Ferrari. In any case, a pair of sprinters will be running with the Maranello cars next year, with Michael Schumacher committed to defending his now almost certain world title and Eddie Irvine determined to step into the limelight with a team in search of great revenge. Meanwhile, David Coulthard celebrates his first victory, Michael Schumacher savours the scent of his second world title, Damon Hill does some soul-searching thinking about the many mistakes and missed opportunities, and Ukyo Katayama waits to get out of the hospital, still a bit groggy after his big accident at the start of the Portuguese Grand Prix, but happy to have pulled through. Brilliant situations and some less so. But certainly, the worst day was experienced by Jean Alesi. An almost sleepless night, tormented by anger, with a thousand dark thoughts. On Monday, September 25th, 1995, the Frenchman is at home in Avignon. His brother José answers the phone: 


"Jean is here, he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. What he had to say he said on Sunday afternoon. He had been keeping such a bad mood all to himself for a year, and in the end he exploded. You have to understand him, because he’s a guy who always gives his all and would like to receive the same treatment. We believe that he will finish the season with Ferrari and run the last four races. In fact, he wants to make it known that he hopes to win at least one".


Of course, balance is not one of Alesi’s strong points. After the shot, unfair on this occasion, against the Maranello team and Jean Todt, he assumes the role of alleged victim. But he will not get away with it. It seems that Luca Montezemolo is really furious with the driver this time. Rumours filter through. Alesi telephones Ferrari in the afternoon asking to speak to the president, but the latter does not want to hear from him, letting know that he must speak to Jean Todt. Later, it seems that the two have apparently cleared the air. The French manager guarantees the driver’s maximum help until the end of the season. Montezemolo defined Alesi’s shot as:


"Outrageous behaviour for Ferrari".




"He is dead wrong".


Now, assuming, as it seems, that the situation is somehow resolved, Jean Alesi will be punished. A hefty fine, probably, for breaking his contract with his team twice: he did not obey the team manager’s orders to let Gerhard Berger pass, and he spoke badly about Ferrari and some managers publicly. Everyone understands that Jean Alesi acts on the impetus of deep disappointment. He, who is generous, courageous, and fast, fails to obtain the results he thinks he deserves. But this is not enough to excuse certain reactions. The truth is that the Frenchman is having a very difficult time. He felt betrayed by the Maranello team after the hiring of Michael Schumacher, which forced him to leave, even though he would have had the theoretical possibility of staying with the German. Above all, though, the Frenchman is irritated by finding Gerhard Berger at Benetton next year. Gerhard and Jean apparently can coexist, but to tell the truth, they have incompatible characters. Extroverted, cunning, opportunistic the former; jealous, selfish, if you will, even naive the latter. Alesi was assured by Flavio Briatore to be first driver in the Anglo-Italian team. But he was never told that at his side he would have Berger, the driver who, out of thirteen disputed races, has been in front of him ten times in qualifying. The man with whom he has already quarrelled furiously more than once. Alesi, in short, is currently tormented by the fact that he cannot win, and as for the future, by the presence of this inconvenient teammate. He is not serene, he does not think about the fact that he is a lucky professional who earns a lot of money, who has a work that he enjoys and who has become one of the most popular and beloved sportsmen. Of course, character cannot be changed. But evidently, Alesi is also misguided (assuming it is possible to do so) by those around him. To think that Ferrari wants to boycott him is really uncalled-for. Not out of love, but simply because it would be an action against the interests of the team. And the fact that there are things that do not work well, that is another matter. But when there are problems, discretion is a must. Even in F1. But then again, this is not the first time Ferrari has had problems with its drivers. As indeed has happened in most of the other major F1 teams. And the story goes on. 


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