#581 1995 Australian Grand Prix

2023-01-08 23:00

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#1995, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Greta Allison Martorana, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#581 1995 Australian Grand Prix

Niki Lauda, arrived Tuesday, October 31, 1995 at Malpensa at the controls of a Boeing of his company, renewed in look and for the occasion renamed Enz


Niki Lauda, arrived Tuesday, October 31st, 1995, at Malpensa at the command of a Boeing of his company, renewed in look and for the occasion renamed Enzo Ferrari, cannot avoid the questions about the future of the Maranello team and its personal commitment to the team for the 1996 World Championship, the first of the Michael Schumacher era. The former Formula 1 World Champion firmly denies that there are problems of coexistence with the German. 


"In fact, it was me in March who contacted his manager on behalf of Montezemolo. With Schumacher, I never talked about what I do or don’t do in Ferrari. At the end of the season, we’ll talk, the president and I. But, as far as I know, Schumacher would like me to be more present in Ferrari than to leave". 


Lauda seems to have no doubts about which car will be on track next season: 


"The 10 cylinders must be put to work and start. But the team won’t be forced to win immediately, just because they have Schumacher. In the second part of the season we will win, but it will still take some time, say three or four months, to make the new engine competitive. The world title will come in 1997". 


Regarding the upcoming panorama of Formula 1, these are the predictions of the Austrian: 


"Williams has the best car: we know Hill, and Villeneuve will need time even if Emerson Fittipaldi says he has the same speed, but more brain than dad Jean; Ferrari has the best driver, while at McLaren nobody knows what’s going on and at Benetton nobody knows how much Schumacher’s contribution weighted upon the results. In other words, everything is open". 


Regarding Irvine’s hiring as Ferrari’s second driver, Lauda agrees: 


"The choice of an Italian would have been risky, because at this time, no Italian driver is up to the Northern Irish". 


Including Nicola Larini, who is however an excellent test driver. Do we really need a Maranello branch in England? In this regard, Lauda’s thought is very clear: 


"Barnard is the best designer in the world. Formula 1 is all about the British Silicon Valley. If at Ferrari we are always staying in Modena, we can’t be in the centre of Formula 1".


And finally, the Austrian manager admits:


"If my help is still considered useful, then I will stay at Ferrari, but I’m not willing, in any case, to accept a role in the commercial sector. It will be decided, or rather, Montezemolo will between the end of November and the end of December".


Michael Schumacher is not a half-measures guy, either. Not even when he takes a week off before the last race. If he goes to the sea, he immediately meets a shark (a meter and a half, it escaped, the beast) that frightens his wife, Corinna; when he plays football in the Benetton team against Ferrari (three or four goals scored), he runs like lightning from one side to the other of the field, without ever stopping. And then gymnastics, swimming in the pool, gym, footing, parachutes and many more. 


All planned, even the fun. Says Willy Weber, his manager:


"I’m destroyed; to recover I will need many days of rest". 


Willi Weber is 53. He’s Bavarian, but he has the spirit of a true Neapolitan. He is the one who discovered Michael Schumacher. Rich enough (35 restaurants, 5 hotels), Willi was a gentleman driver, that is, he drove on track as a hobby. Porsche above all. At forty, he wanted to try his hand at Formula 3. He took a sixth place, then one day, the engine broke, he went back to the pits on foot and said: what am I doing with these kids? He then built a team and made Winkelhock compete successfully. First German champion, then European. 


"I once went to Salzburg. It was raining. There was a little boy starting from the seventh position. At the end of the first lap, he had an 8-second lead over everyone. I’ve never seen that before. He was born to drive Formula 3. I called him and asked him if he wanted to test my car. In the test at the Nürburgring, he drove a second and a half faster than any of my other pilots. I asked him if he wanted a contract. He said he didn’t have any money. I signed him for two years. 1.000.000 per month as salary, for transfers and meals". 


In his first season, in 1989, Michael finished second in the championship, 1 point behind Wendlinger. 


"He was 18 years old. What to do? Formula 3000 was a risk, and it cost a lot, we could have wasted everything. The following year he won it all, always in Formula 3. The Macau Grand Prix, the Fuji Grand Prix, the national championship, and the European Championship. But the continental title has been his only for an hour. Zanardi was 23 seconds behind, the team of the Bologna driver, Forti, made a complaint because our reserve car had a different brand compared to the race engine". 


Michael Schumacher’s successes interested Mercedes. The company in Stuttgart called him to the junior team to drive in the World Endurance Championship. He won three races, but the Jaguar was stronger and won the title. But Weber was already thinking about Formula 1.


"I called Eddie Jordan, my friend. I told him that Schumacher could run at Spa. He said he was too young and inexperienced. No way. I insisted. So the Irishman asked me 220.000.000 to test at Silverstone. I took the money out of my own pocket. They were all blown away. But Jordan wasn’t convinced. A huge amount of money. But Mercedes intervened with a check. It was high. We were both daydreaming". 


In Belgium, the German surprised everyone in qualifying: sixth. But his race only lasted half a lap, he went off track. 


"You know the rest. Benetton wanted him, and so they took him. I can’t say what happened in detail, since with Jordan we are still in court".


Since then, one success after another, many controversies, but also two world titles and now the hiring at Ferrari. With a hyper-billionaire contract. 


"I don’t know if he’s the richest of all time. We are very happy. But Michael doesn’t come to Maranello just for the money. He was looking for new motivation. He could have stayed at Benetton, but there was a danger in settling down. Going to Williams? The best car, the fastest driver. Too easy. Michael and I talked about it a lot. For two years. Then he decided: Ferrari, the total challenge. New team, new car, new engine. He knows he might not win. But he thinks he can. He is a perfectionist, a guy who always wants to excel, even playing football or billiards. He has a strong mentality and a total concentration. I always tell him: you drive, I do the rest. So he sleeps peacefully every night". 


And Schumacher confirms: 


"I rested in 1994, the night before the last race, title up for grabs. I had no problems this year, even though there was a lot of pressure on me. I’m excited to go to Ferrari, and I’m looking forward to November 16th, when I will try the car in Fiorano, with great emotion. But this doesn’t change anything: I will give my all". 


And Tuesday, November 7th, 1995, he will leave for Adelaide, where Sunday, November 12th, 1995, he will try to establish the new record of wins in a season. The Australian Grand Prix, which will close the Formula 1 World Championship, although in practice it should interest only Michael Schumacher and his pursuit of records (10 seasonal victories), has all the characteristics to be a race with a thousand chills. An exceptional crowd: 400.000 paying for the three days, of which almost half will arrive for the race and to drink millions of litres of beer, a city track that has always reserved incredible surprises and finally a series of challenges that anticipate the 1996 championship. Everyone wants to finish well because, as a rule, who wins the last race of the year, becomes the favourite of the following season. Schumacher, then, but also Hill, Coulthard and Häkkinen. And, why not, Alesi and Berger with Ferrari. The Frenchman has a great desire to leave Maranello with a good memory. 


"Mine is not a divorce, but a natural separation. After five years, it is right to change. I would have stayed, for love, but together with Schumacher there were no conditions acceptable to me. They took the world champion, they did great. It was an extraordinary, human, and professional experience. We had problems, but also experienced unforgettable moments". 


At this point, then, why the choice of Benetton? 


"For several reasons, the biggest regret is that I never had a competitive and reliable car at the same time. When it was fast, it stopped before the chequered flag. Do the maths: if this year we had taken all the points of the races in which we retired (in the position in which Gerhard and I were at that time), Maranello would now be the constructors’ champion. And I would have been fighting for the title with Schumacher, detached by a single length. I was the only one who could beat the German. With Benetton, I hope to reach the finish line many times. In these years, the Anglo-Italian car has never been the best most of the time, but it has always reached the end. Thanks to Michael, a fast driver, but also the team. And I have a very good relationship with Briatore, who has always been my advisor since Piquet times". 


Is there anything in Ferrari that Alesi never liked? 


"Yes, it’s Jean Todt. I always believed in the team, and I would have obeyed hard orders if there had been clarity. But since the beginning of the year, I’ve been asked to let Berger pass. I never understood that. So the whole team heard him on the radio wanting to watch me slow down and me sending him to hell. This has created a lot of tension at Ferrari. I had a fight with Berger. At Suzuka, before qualifying, engineer Ascanelli yelled at me in a bestial way, in front of Todt and he didn’t say anything. I can’t accept that they speak to me in this way". 


But the relationship with the team is still good, in general... 


"I have the highest esteem of President Montezemolo. I talked to him again for half an hour on the phone. I got a $200.000 fine. As promised, I will pay 160.000.000 lire, half of it, to the children’s institute of Notre Dame de Lourdes in San Pietro of Caltagirone". 


What will Ferrari and Benetton look like without Alesi and Schumacher? 


"I am convinced that Ferrari will win the World Championship in 1996. Michael is fast, there will be the new engine and Barnard for sure will not get the car wrong. The only unknown, reliability. For Benetton, Berger and I represent a new challenge: showing that they can excel and win titles even without the German". 


What about Adelaide? 


"The car is good. I believe in my chances. Anything can happen here. It’ll be my last chance to win with Ferrari. And I will try".


Andrea Montermini will have the #17 on the car. But the Italian driver, 31, born in Sassuolo, a few kilometres from Maranello, is not an unlucky guy. He dreamed of racing at least the whole championship, even if forced to drive the Pacific, a kind of Cinderella of Formula 1, a team in which the greatest commitment is to save engines, tires, spare parts, and money. The Italian had to be replaced in Aida by Yamamoto, who brought many dollars. But the Japanese did not have the characteristics to obtain the super licence from the FIA. Here in Australia, instead of Montermini, they wanted to register Gavin Olivier, British Formula 3 champion, enough to pass in Formula 1. But the British Federation has clamorously forgotten to ask the FIA for the special licence. And since registration closes Thursday, November 9th, 1995, at 6:00 p.m. in Australia (at 6:30 a.m. in Europe, offices are closed), the good Andrea remains in his cockpit. Friday, November 10th, 1995, Formula 1 rediscovers, brutally, the dangerous reality of the sport. Mika Häkkinen lies in a coma at the Royal Hospital in the capital of South Australia (but in the night his condition will improve slightly). After the difficult days of 1994, nightmares and fear return in the Circus of motorsport. A violent and deafening collision against a low wall, the car apparently almost intact, but blood starts to stain the track again. Still under accusation is a circuit at risk, excessive speed, too mild passive safety measures. After the death of Senna and Ratzenberger, the serious accidents of Wendlinger and Montermini, it seemed that the situation was under control. But the drivers themselves, faced with the evidence of the facts, realized that too soon they had lowered their guard. Also because, as it seems now established, at the origin of the exit of the track there is a disturbing reason: something that in the asphalt cut the rear left tire of the McLaren. A potential occult killer no one has found yet. This happens in the very first afternoon. The first qualifying round started 12 minutes prior. Häkkinen goes on track among the first, confident because his McLaren continues to show signs of progress. 


In the morning, he had scored the fourth time. Two steps to warm the tires and jump, then the flying lap. But his race ends in the middle of the track, at about 3780 meters. In the fastest corner, at over 200 km/h in fifth gear, his car arrives already unbalanced, wide, then takes the curb and spins, backwards, and ends up against a wall protected just by a row of old tires. And it stops suddenly. A great crash. The inanimate driver in the cockpit. Rescue. Scenes unfortunately already seen too many times. Half an hour of waiting and suffering before the ambulance finally left. At 4:00 p.m., three hours later, the first and only laconic communiqué comes from the hospital, saying everything and nothing: 


"Mika Häkkinen suffered a head injury in the accident this afternoon and was hospitalized. His condition is serious, but stable. He is treated in an intensive care unit under sedatives and artificial respiration. This is normal practice for head injuries. The scanner and X-rays showed no other major damage. No obvious head or face injuries. While, considering the neurological situation, it will be impossible to make short-term forecasts, the overall evolution seems anyway to be satisfactory". 


Caution? Veiled optimism? Hard to answer that. The only thing certain is that they were called specialists from Sydney and that Häkkinen’s parents were invited to come to Adelaide as soon as possible. Berger, one of the first to arrive at the accident site, also talks about broken teeth, a broken tongue and a broken cheekbone. Photos appear. In one, you see the car skidding with the left rear tire clearly deflated. A second shows Mika with the bloody face. They performed a tracheotomy because he was not breathing, but what damage did he really suffer? Only the experts, drivers, and managers, were able to see the video recording of the camera placed on the McLaren, with the obligation not to talk. But the case of the floppy tire is explained by Goodyear itself. Says Taube, head of the American company:


"In the morning, we found two transverse cuts of about 8 cm on the left rear tire of the Lamy Minardi and Herbert’s Benetton. We warned the FIA to open an investigation to clarify the mystery. Nothing was found". 


A nail or a screw placed to fix the curbs on the asphalt? A cutting manhole? Who knows. Berger, with Schumacher and Hill, returns to the crash site, but in vain: 


"However, we asked to strengthen the protections". 


The piles of tires in front of the walls seemed scarce and where Häkkinen hit there was only one row, while three meters ahead there were several. There are certainly responsibilities, the desire to hide, not to give more precise explanations. Although the same Ron Dennis, McLaren’s patron, said clearly that it was the flat tire that caused the exit of the track. But if that happens again, what then?


"I love the speed, the risk, the deafening noise of the engines. I don’t care about the woods of my Finland, of the silence, so much so that I don’t even like to go home". 


This was what Mika Häkkinen said a few months ago, to those who asked him to talk about himself. Born in Helsinki, 27 years old on Thursday, September 28th, 1995, blond, 1.79 meters, blue eyes, single with many girlfriends, fan of Michael Jackson and Phil Collins, great mineral water and Coca-Cola drinker, skier, swimmer, but above all driver: 


"I started when I was six years old with karting, and since then I’ve never stopped driving. My dream is to win a Grand Prix". 


He was five-time Finnish mini-car champion, then European Formula Opel, then British Formula 3 champion in 1990. Debut in Formula 1 with Lotus the following year, since 1993 at McLaren. This year, he finished second twice, at Monza and Suzuka. Saturday, November 11th, 1995, Mika Häkkinen is well and could - if complications do not arise - leave the hospital a few days later. What can we say? A miracle, or a stroke of luck? Certainly, the blindfolded goddess put her hands on his head. So we go from dismay after the accident on Friday, to relief on Saturday. Formula 1 takes a breath. The first comforting news comes in the morning. Announces Dr Brendon Kearney of the Royal Hospital:


"He moves his legs and arms and answers questions correctly. H’s recovering very quickly". 


Then in the afternoon the confirmation: 


"There are further, significant advances in the driver’s condition. He is conscious, sits on the bed and speaks. In any case, he will undergo continuous observation in the intensive care unit for the next 48 hours". 


The head injury, therefore, was not as severe as it seemed. Mika has lost some teeth, he has bitten his tongue but is not in danger of life and if everything goes well, he will remain perfectly normal, even if it will be difficult for him to resume competitive activity. Says Domenico Bonsignore, the doctor of Coni, now working for Ferrari:


"Although I’m not specifically aware of the situation, the bulletins are very positive. Häkkinen was shocked and stunned. But it seems clear that he had no neurological problems. So, a short-term recovery can be expected".


On Monday or Tuesday, the parents of the 27-year-old Finn will arrive from Helsinki. And as soon as possible they will have him transported to Europe, probably to Monte-Carlo - where he lives - or to Nice, to the university clinic where Wendlinger was treated. For the moment, however, no one can see the sick. Andrea Montermini, who was the only colleague to go to the hospital, was also blocked at the entrance. The fact that the McLaren driver did not suffer irreparable consequences reassures the Motor Circus. But the fear is great, and everyone realizes that it is still necessary to fight for the greatest possible security. Michael Schumacher explains:


"We have already achieved a lot. But it’s not enough. In this circuit, after our inspection, another 1000 protective tires were placed. Now we have to deal with one of the most serious problems, that of open wheels. In case of a collision between the rear and the front, there’s a danger of going off track. A car could fly and end up between spectators. The task of the security committee will be to solve, in a technical way, this nightmare". 


Meanwhile, however, the cause behind Häkkinen’s accident has not been discovered. Goodyear confirms that a clean cut was found on the McLaren’s left rear tire and on other cars (Lamy’s Minardi and Herbert’s Benetton). But they say that the inconvenience may have been caused by debris on the track. An explanation too simple to be true. How is it possible that three tires were damaged almost identically by something that should have been removed by each passing of the cars? 


There is the impression that once again the truth has been hidden, for fear of having to point out those responsible. At the same time, Niki Lauda, present at the qualifying practice of the Australian Grand Prix, the last round of the World Championship, did not attend the farewell of Berger and Alesi. The former Austrian pilot leaves with the Boeing 767 of his company called Ayrton Senna. But before leaving for Europe, the 47-year-old reiterates that he still wants to work for Ferrari. 


"There are obviously problems, but I hope to solve them at the end of the month with Luca Montezemolo. I want to stay with the team, even if my task is difficult, and I’m often misunderstood. I have always expressed constructive criticism and never with malice: my desire is to collaborate with Todt". 


Niki Lauda also addresses Michael Schumacher: 


"He told me that he has no problem with me and that he would be happy to have my advice next year. Everything that has been written, the controversy against me, has been invented outright. Michael is the best driver on the grid, the fastest. With him, Ferrari can start over. And if he can win the World Championship the first year, he will prove to be a real phenomenon. In any case, it will bring new motivations to the team. But it will be necessary to prepare a competitive car".


On Sunday, November 12th, 1995, at the start of the Australian Grand Prix, Damon Hill starts badly, and David Coulthard takes the lead of the race. 


Even Michael Schumacher did not start well and was overtaken by the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi, who he nevertheless then managed to re-overtake within a few laps. Meanwhile, David Coulthard managed to keep the lead of the race until the first pit-stop, but at the moment of stopping he took the pit lane at a too high speed: the Scottish driver crashed into the outer wall of the lane and was forced to retire during lap 19. A few laps later also Roberto Moreno on the Forti made a similar mistake and had to withdraw (lap 21). Shortly after the end of the first pit-stop series, Michael Schumacher and Jean Alesi come into contact and are both forced to retire (the Frenchman on lap 23, the German on lap 25). Johnny Herbert, on the surviving Benetton, thanks to the choice to delay his stop, gets into second position; but when returning to the pits, he risks making the same mistake as David Coulthard, but manages to avoid the wall and gets back on track. Gerhard Berger then moved into second place, but soon after the Ferrari engine broke, forcing him to retire during lap 34. In second place is Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who then has to stop for a gearbox problem. Damon Hill meanwhile continues to lead the race, with Johnny Herbert again second. Eddie Irvine on the Jordan followed them in third place, before having to retire due to a tire problem. Johnny Herbert, with the second place in the race, aspires to take the third position in the Drivers’ Championship, but is in turn forced to retire when the engine of his Benetton goes on fire, during lap 69. Olivier Panis, on the Ligier, then passes behind Damon Hill, who is a lap ahead of him, while in third position is the Footwork-Hart of Gianni Morbidelli, two laps behind. A few laps from the end, Olivier Panis' Ligier-Mugen Honda suffered an oil leak: Damon Hill lapped it again and was thus a step closer to the win. However, the French driver managed to keep the place of honor, with Gianni Morbidelli third (who got a first podium for him and Footwork). Behind them, Mark Blundell on McLaren-Mercedes finished in fourth place, followed by Mika Salo on Tyrrell-Yamaha. 


Pedro Lamy, despite a multiple spin in the middle of the race, earns a point (it will be the only world championship point of his career) for Minardi-Ford with the sixth place. Everything happened, in the race that ended the season in front of 205.000 paying spectators (the organizers mention 502.000 admissions from Thursday to Sunday, an absolute record). People enjoyed the show that the drivers, whether they like it or not, gave during the Australian Grand Prix. Damon Hill, one of the favourites, won. But the Englishman, with his success number 13 in his career, is now closer to his father Graham who, in fourteen years of Formula 1, had finished first 14 times, winning two world titles. His opponents in fact left the scene in a sensational way, leaving him the door open to the finish line. Williams' other driver, David Coulthard, has self-eliminated. Arousing great laughter, the Scotsman crashed into a wall while entering the pits for the first pit-stop. Schumacher and Alesi, on the other hand, thought it was right to get out of the way in a collision that left a trail of controversy, while fighting for second and third place. Gerhard Berger, who was at that point second, was forced to abandon due to the failure of the engine of his Ferrari. Frentzen, Herbert, Irvine, and Barrichello, all of them pretenders to at least the points. So on the podium, behind the happy Hill, the Frenchman Olivier Panis, Ligier driver and, for the first time in sixty races disputed so far in hiccups, the Italian Gianni Morbidelli. Then Mark Blundell with McLaren (cheered also by the increasingly positive news about the recovery of Häkkinen, now almost out of danger), the Finnish Salo driving the Tyrrell and finally the Portuguese Pedro Lamy who gave such a great present to Minardi. Also classified are the young Brazilian Diniz (Forti) and the Belgian Gachot (Pacific). Only eight cars at the finish line and fifteen retirements. A hex that, by the way, has allowed Hill to equal a record. Only once, in Formula 1, had it happened that a driver won with a two laps lead over the first of the pursuers: in Spain, Montjuich circuit, Sunday, May 4th, 1969, when Jackie Stewart had lapped Bruce McLaren. Hill and Williams, therefore, at the end of the day (World Drivers' Championship for Michael Schumacher, the Constructors' Championship for Benetton) took a small consolation prize. At the end of the race, Damon Hill admits:


"Life is strange. Coulthard overtook me at the start, and I thought it was going to be a tough race for me. Everything went really well. I had only one problem in the last pit-stop, when I lost about fifteen seconds because the left front wheel did not screw. For the rest, this success is a great boost for my morale and that of the team in view of winter work and next season". 


The negative result does not seem to affect the good mood of Benetton, which in the evening organizes a big party. The whole team, in a joking mood, showed up on the starting grid with big fake black moustaches. Says Flavio Briatore:


"We won everything. Just leave some crumbs to others. I’m happy for Frank Williams, for Ligier, of course, for Morbidelli and Minardi. And I would like to thank Schumacher for what he has done for us, while I wish him all the best for his future". 


A little diplomacy never hurts, especially considering the statements of Michael Schumacher, who tells the German reporters:


"Alesi is an idiot".


The French replies:


"I can’t bear to be accused of being an incorrect driver. It was just a normal race misunderstanding". 


Not bad for the handover. A few days after the Schumacher-Alesi exchange between Ferrari and Benetton, the two drivers were the protagonists of a collision. The accident occurred on lap 23. The German had just left the pits after changing tires and refuelling. Launched in pursuit of Damon Hill, he was however in front of the Frenchman, who found himself in second place. Without hesitation, Michael made the overtake, at the hairpin bend that follows the long straight Brabham. Benetton inside and Ferrari outside, almost in the dirty area of the track, where you risk going out. Schumacher, now ahead, widened as Jean tried to make a counter-overtaking.


The Frenchman’s right front wing was hit by the German’s right rear tire. The Ferrari driver returned to the pits to change the damaged nose, but soon after he was forced to abandon because the car pulled to one side. The same happened to the German, after a couple of unnecessary stops to try to remedy the instability caused by the upper triangle of the left rear suspension bent. The race ended for both, and endless were the discussions. Says Jean Alesi:


"He came to me very pissed off. But it’s not my fault. I had braked as late as I could, he threw himself on the right but was less decisive than on other occasions. I followed a forced trajectory, and his car touched me. If I had gone further left, I would have ended up in the dirty part of the track. And then I didn’t really want to put myself aside. It bothers me terribly that people think I’m capable of committing irregularities. It never happened to me: I fought with many drivers and many times also with Schumacher, but I always behaved honestly". 


But the German does not change his opinion: 


"I think Jean got nervous. He tried to overtake me on the outside, where there was no room. I was in front. It’s the last straw to be kicked out of a Ferrari. When it occurred to me that next year he will drive the Benetton, I went to my mechanics and said: I must wish you luck, since you will have to work with Alesi". 


An evil joke. But Jean does not give up. 


"We talked. I remained of my opinion and he of his. But if he continues to believe that I acted wrongly, I will go to him again to explain better what happened". 


Shortly after, Alesi went to Benetton and began a long discussion with Schumacher. The two are seen making great gestures to try to tell the respective manoeuvres. But each remains on their own position. Until Briatore, to loosen the tension, gets in the way and pats on the hand of Alesi as to punish him and the two separate. Jean Alesi then adds:


"I’m sorry to leave Ferrari like this. But now I have to think about something else. I want to integrate well into the new team. The next few days will be more stressful for me than a Grand Prix, knowing that next week I will have to drive a car that was built for a driver who has a particular driving style. At the same time Schumacher, however, will also undergo an examination, looking for the limits of Ferrari. We will immediately see if it really is much faster than us". 


Even the farewell of Gerhard Berger was not lucky. After a perfect start that allowed him to overtake Michael Schumacher and keep him behind for 5 laps, the Austrian was on the podium. 


"I don’t think I could have reached Hill, but on this track, anything can always happen in the last laps. But unfortunately, I didn’t get there because the engine failed. This is a very sad day for me: I leave Ferrari, my favourite team, and many friends. But if I look ahead, I’m confident. I see a Benetton that almost always reaches the finish line. I will be able to achieve great results". 


At the end of the race, Gerhard Berger gives a steel and gold watch to the 36 mechanics and technicians who worked with him. Gianni Morbidelli is considered one of the best, fastest and most serious drivers of Formula 1. But the 27-year-old Italian driver, for the first time on the podium, is practically unemployed. He still has no place for the 1996 season. 


He hopes for his current team, Footwork, but has not received any promises. Despite being the son of an industrialist (his father by the way was the manufacturer of the bikes that have won several world titles), he does not want to be considered a racer ready to drive thanks to a suitcase filled with dollars, but rather behaves like a professional. 


"For this reason, I’m very happy. This year, I missed seven races to make room for a driver that brought the money. I, on the other hand, am salaried and think I am valued by Jackie Oliver, the manager of Footwork. Now I want to enjoy this result that I did not even dream of, and then we will see. It was an incredible race: at one point, I smelled burning. I was thinking about my engine, instead it was the Ligier of Panis that lost oil. Australia brings me luck: in 1991 here, I took half a point with Ferrari, when I replaced Prost". 


Happiness also for Giancarlo Minardi. The point earned by Lamy ensures the tenth place in the standings to the Italian team. A result that is worth about lire for transport, coming from television rights. And it also pays back the team of the last misadventure: Ukyo Katayama, coming in for the pit-stop, missed the box and slightly injured two mechanics. Meanwhile, conditions continue to improve for Mika Häkkinen, the Finnish McLaren-Mercedes driver. According to the latest medical report, issued during the morning:


"Hakkinen is recovering significantly and has spent a peaceful night". 


The Australian doctors, however, do not go too far and warn:


"The Finn will remain in the intensive care unit for another twenty-four hours, before being subjected to normal hospital treatment until he has fully recovered from the accident". 


Which means, interpreting the bulletin and attempting some prediction, that the pilot should remain in the Royal Adelaide Hospital for two more weeks. And Alain Prost could return to Formula 1 in the place of Häkkinen if he does not recover for 1996. Tuesday, November 14th, 1995, the Finnish driver leaves the intensive care unit. Doctors say he could be discharged in a few days. But Paul Bennon, who is treating Häkkinen, also reveals that it will take a few weeks before it is possible to ascertain if the accident has left permanent damage. Aside from the head injuries, Mika suffered a skull base fracture and breathing block. Ron Dennis, McLaren manager, says: 


"We are working with Prost. There’s a possibility that he can compete, even if it’s still very premature". 


The Frenchman will continue testing the British car and will make a decision in the coming months. McLaren-Mercedes has, however, David Coulthard and Jan Magnussen under contract. One victory, that of Jean Alesi in Canada, four second places, six thirds, largely preceded by Benetton and Williams in the Constructors' World Championship. Even 1995 was not an exciting year for Ferrari. Good promises and results at the beginning of the season, then a worrying drop in reliability, with 16 withdrawals out of 34 total starts. And then so many, too many, controversies, which arose with the double divorce from the pilots. A negative balance, therefore. And nobody denies it. The disappointment is also and above all the Maranello team. But now we turn the page. It starts with the hiring of the two-time World Champion Michael Schumacher and a good partner like Eddie Irvine, and then the adoption of a new engine, the 10-cylinder instead of the old V12, hero of many battles, in recent years penalized by weight, fuel consumption, size and this season also by the reduction of displacement from 3500 to 3000 cc. Something will change in the coming months also in the team, maybe technical reinforcements will arrive. But above all Ferrari will have two wind tunnels, one in England, in Bristol, and the other in Fiorano. 


Aerodynamics has been one of the weaknesses of recent times. Says Jean Todt, head of sports management:


"It’s true, we are the first to be disappointed. We’ve missed many opportunities, and the results speak for themselves. We start from scratch, but with more experience and great determination. We rely heavily on Schumacher’s collaboration, even if it will be the team that will have to offer the German driver the means to assert his skill and his abilities. A champion as a stimulus, for the whole Ferrari environment. Now we have the best driver, we just have to win". 


The French manager has already prepared his own battle plan: 


"The new car will be ready at the end of January. In the meantime, we will focus on the development of the new 10 cylinders that other manufacturers have already adopted for some time now. Our English factory, the FDD of Shalford, now works very well, independently. So Barnard can be freer and probably will also be present at all races, and we can also take advantage of his track experience". 


But there is another character who would like to be part of Ferrari’s relaunch plans. It’s Niki Lauda. The 47-year-old Austrian manager is experiencing a moment of friction with Luca Montezemolo. But soon he will be in Maranello to try to smooth the difficulties. Says Niki Lauda:


"If I have expressed criticism, I have done it for the sake of good, without malice. And often I have also been misunderstood and misinterpreted. With Todt all right, we must work together, not one against the other. These days I also spoke with Schumacher. He has no qualms about me, he’d be happy to collaborate with me. The important thing is to build around the German driver a strong team, alone he will not be able to do anything". 


But will that be enough? 


"For me, yes. Hill, even though he won the last race, is down and still makes a lot of mistakes. Villeneuve will have the disadvantage of not knowing the tracks well. Alesi and Berger with Benetton could in theory be strong, but we’ll have to see what the team will be like without Michael. Coulthard is very good, but he has to start again with an unknown McLaren. In short, there are all the cards to be at the top". 


The first day of testing will take place on Thursday, November 16th, 1995, in Maranello. A few laps in Fiorano with the hybrid car (and V10 engine) by Schumacher, in white suit because of some contracts still in progress with its sponsors and then, next week, the first challenge, at Estoril, in Portugal. On track, Alesi and Berger with Benetton and Villeneuve with Williams. The German will also do a comparative test between the V12 and V10, just to better understand the engine situation. Unfortunately, times will be immediately taken into consideration, the comparisons with those set this year on the same track, driving different cars. Alesi and Schumacher, in Australia, left each other with the controversy following the collision, and now the results will have an even greater weight, because the rivalry has become more heated and more intense.


"Holy cow, I’ve been waiting here for half an hour. Get rid of that Golf or I run over it". 


Thursday, November 16th, 1995, at 2:30 p.m., it is cold and in Fiorano someone climbs up until fifteen meters on high voltage pylons, while from the balconies of the houses around the track hang the new banners and the usual wise guys rent their terraces to private televisions to place the cameras: moderate prices with kitchen use. Schumacher is already a fever. People admire him more than they love him. And he uses the irony of affection. 


"Did you see he’s already late for the tests?"


Says a fan, while Schumacher’s car is still not seen. 


"With these cars, they will make him lose his German punctuality: they break earlier".


They all laugh like it is a joke. But there is truth in these words. After the first lap in the Ferrari, the World Champion already stops for a broken differential ring. But the fans will not know until the following day, from the newspapers. The fans naturally think that things will change and that after sixteen years the cars of Maranello will win the Formula 1 World Championship. Even Giovanni Agnelli, in the summer, said it: 


"With him there will be no more alibis if the results do not arrive". 


Even when Schumacher announces that it is not the case to delude themselves and that it will be perhaps doable in a year, the people present in Maranello keep being confident, under the effect of a dust in the air, since here even shops borrow the names from motorsports, from the Pit-stop bar to the Warm-Up store. It is with these people that the German will have to reckon for the next two years. He will be confronted with their enthusiasm, which has overcome three decades of disappointments, incredible failures, and avoidable accidents: every change of driver was reborn certainty, and it took a few months to shoot it down. It was not enough (to win) Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell, and it was not enough to Jean Alesi, who won very little compared to the amount of love he got. 


Now, however, the image of the French disappears from the shops of Ferrari merchandise. 


"Jean is still selling well, his T-shirts and flags will be out in the coming months. But it was not nice that Schumacher arrived in Maranello and found our windows covered in Alesi". 


Would he be offended? Who knows. They say Schumacher is cold. Scary. 


"The real problem is that we also sold Alesi counterfeit stuff without him being against it, once he indeed even came to me to buy a suit for a boy. With Schumacher, we don't think this will be possible. He is able to send us his lawyers and confiscate the material. We’ll be careful".


In fact, the symbolism of Ferrari, in Maranello, has not yet matched the new arrival. And it will take some time to turn into something positive, to appreciate what led Ferrari to invest in the hiring of the German 40.000.000 dollars in two years. It is necessary to build a relationship with the factory and the people of Maranello. During the morning the workers applauded Michael Schumacher as he left the factory on a 456 bordeaux along with Montezemolo, Todt and Irvine to have lunch in a room at the Cavallino, the restaurant in front of the plant: the menu offered tortellini with cream and piccata with truffle. 


And many remain outside the Ferrari Museum waiting for the press conference, which is not an ode to functionality. Two hours of waiting, standing, pressed and uncomfortable before Michael Schumacher shows up to express the banal concepts that belong to the rituals of the first time, when there is the fear of engaging in the most delicate promises. 


"Sorry, we didn’t think Michael was so careful from day one about checking the car".


They explain, embarrassed, the men from public relations blown away by the habits of the German. And good thing they moved the event a day earlier not to start with the wrong foot. The first shadows of the evening fall on the Fiorano track, when the mobile phone of an engineer of Ferrari rings. 


"Sorry, are you finished?"


The respondent replied:


"Yes, but he doesn’t want to get out of the cockpit".


This is Michael Schumacher. First day at Fiorano and technicians are immediately put to the test. The demonstration test on the 412T2 hybrid with the new V10 engine turns into a real exam of preparation for the tests that will take place at Estoril from Monday, November 20th, 1995. After just one lap, the World Champion asks for several changes on the car: driving position, pedals, steering wheel. The mechanics work for three quarters of an hour. Also because a small (experimental) element of the differential breaks. Meanwhile, not to waste time and know the circuit, Schumacher runs some laps with different cars: first with the Lancia Zeta, then with the F50, then with the 456GT. He then makes another 16 laps (the fastest in 1'05"92, but the time does not count), finally stopped by the dark. 


"It was a great emotion. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I had come to Maranello while I was in Imola for a series of tests. Back then, in the fog, I saw the factory, the racing team, and I was already impressed. This time, in the red car, I got goosebumps. It will take some time to get used to this all. I noticed a huge enthusiasm around Ferrari. All those people along the circuit. You can feel the power of the myth. For me, it’s a great point of arrival". 


Aren’t you afraid of this commitment? 


"No, not in a particular way. I’m optimistic. But I want to clarify that it will not be easy, next year will indeed be hard. It will take a season of break-in, growth. Ferrari has made progress in recent times, but it will have to be even more competitive. Williams and Benetton will the favourites in 1996 and McLaren will make a comeback. We will try to do our best, but it will be in 1997 that we will aim at winning the World Championship, as I said. Do not expect more than you can do". 


An impression on the 412T2... 


"Too early to speak, just as it is impossible to make concrete and grounded predictions. I just tried a laboratory car, on which the new engine was mounted. It will be necessary to wait for the 1996 car at the end of January to give an informed judgment. However, I can say that the engine impressed me: I think it is an excellent starting point that we will have to develop thoroughly. Let us work". 


The last driver to take the number 1 to Ferrari was Prost. Does that mean more motivation? 


"Actually, I hadn’t thought much about the numbers. However, I think it’s nice to see the one on the nose of the red car. I’m proud of it, and we will do our best to keep it there as much as possible". 


Will the change from Benetton to Ferrari have more human or technical implications? 


"With Benetton I spent five excellent years, an exceptional relationship, which this year has developed with a double victory, in the Drivers' and Constructors' Championship. Now I face a big challenge, very exciting for me and my new teammate, Eddie Irvine. We must all grow together on a personal and technical level". 


In Fiorano there is also Eddie Irvine, the thirty-year-old Northern Irish driver who will share the adventure with Michael Schumacher. He’s coming to live in Bologna, to be closer to the team. 


"For me, it was an unthinkable leap forward, of at least a few years. I don’t think there will be any problems with Michael. I’ve always been an admirer of his, ever since I met him in the '90. I’ve already driven a lot, but for Formula 1 I’m a rookie. Standing next to a champion, I will have everything to gain and a lot to learn. It’s true that so far, Schumacher has destroyed his teammates. He’s the fastest. But I hope I don’t break away too much. My goal? The greatest number of podiums possible".


Then the party, strictly Italian sparkling wine, the big cake, the photos, the television. But Schumacher is in a hurry. Not to go home. The German driver summons the technicians for a night session. And who knows what time he sends them to sleep. A few years later, John Barnard will tell: 


"Jean and Gerhard always said that the V12 was very sensitive when lifting the foot from the accelerator, almost as if there was a lot of friction. When Michael tried the V12 he was a second faster than them and said he could have won the championship much more easily with that car...".


On the rest, however, Michael Schumacher did not like talking about the Ferrari factory: 


"More than a Formula 1 box, they had a kart workshop".


Monday, November 20th, 1995, eight days after the end of the World Championship, Formula 1 is back on track. And it will be a hard, bitter clash, even if those interested say for now that the lap times will have relative value. It is still a big advance on the 1996 World Championship. The Portuguese circuit will see the debut of Jean Alesi on the Benetton, then Michael Schumacher with Ferrari and Jacques Villeneuve on the Williams. From Wednesday, Gerhard Berger will also be on stage with the Anglo-Italian car. Schumacher will work mainly on the hybrid Ferrari with the new V10 engine. But he will also try the 1995 412T2 with the V12. Inevitable therefore the comparison with the times obtained in the Portuguese Grand Prix. Says Jean Alesi:


"We’ll see if Schumacher will be able to go faster than we did at the end of September".


He looks like an excited bride, Jean Alesi, when at 5:00 p.m. gets on the Benetton for the first time. White jumpsuit, immaculate, without the shadow of a sponsor; only note of color are the red shoes that he already wore when he drove for Ferrari. The bright eyes, perhaps shiny, that can be seen from the open visor of the helmet: the French driver leaves behind five years of history with the team of Maranello, a story began on the track of Fiorano on November 15th, 1990. And the Avignon driver immediately pushes hard, using the car that Schumacher had had as a reserve car in the Australian Grand Prix, in Adelaide. This is how the 1996 World Championship began at Estoril. Michael Schumacher will also be on track on Tuesday with Ferrari and Jacques Villeneuve driving the Williams. First time of reference will be 1'25"73 marked by Jean Alesi, who says:


"These times have no meaning now. It starts all over again, and for me, it was just a first approach. Honestly, I had the impression of still being on a Ferrari. This car seems to me quite easy to drive, but we are still in a phase of tuning. I was mainly concerned with adjusting the driving position, seat belts, pedals. The real work will start tomorrow. Hard to tell if the engine or chassis are better or worse. We wait". 


But in eight days everything changed... 


"When I arrived, I had a heartbeat, I was very tense. Then I entered my professional role. I allowed myself one distraction only: passing in front of the pits, I greeted the mechanics of Ferrari. I don’t think there are great differences. I’ve worked with a great team before, and I’m in the world champion team now. I was speaking in English with the technicians before, and I keep doing it now". 


But there must be a difference between the two cars. 


"It’s too early to judge. Ferrari, apart from reliability, was competitive. Of course, I would have liked to win a little more. But I’m full of beautiful memories, even if there were bad and flat periods. The engines? The Maranello V12 was very powerful, but the Renault ten-cylinder engine doesn’t seem to be much less. And then I still have to get used to the gearbox. In short, it will take some time to understand everything. In any case, I was welcomed very well. And then I’m a guy who communicates well with technicians and mechanics. I’m ready for a new challenge. In the previous seasons, I always left motivated and with high expectations". 


Didn’t you feel a little jealousy, knowing that Schumacher in Maranello was greeted by a crowd of fans as a hero? 


"No wonder. That’s the magic of Ferrari. One driver pass, Ferrari stays. I already know that next year at Imola and Monza, the heat of cheering will no longer be all for me. It’s normal, the red flags will remain". 


Are these special hours difficult to live? 


"I don’t know. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen, already this week. Comparison with others, with the past, with novelty. A climate of competition that I like. I’m full of dreams. I feel like I’ve been stuck for a year, I want to drive, to go fast". 


Is there a danger, with Schumacher on the track, that contact will happen? 


"No, that has already occurred. We really start from scratch". 


While Alesi tried (about ten laps), Ferrari prepared everything for his German driver. Two cars, the standard 412T2 with the twelve-cylinder engine and the hybrid on which the new V10 is mounted. Schumacher will focus mainly on the latter, at most he will do a test during the weekend with the other, just to see. The Maranello team shows up at Estoril with four trucks packed with material, plus the motorhome, and the test team, led by engineer Mazzola, with 32 people. Todt will arrive on Tuesday and the tests will last at least until Friday. Meanwhile, Luca Montezemolo calls Michael Schumacher, and tells him:


"There is no hurry to get results, we work for the future. I only want to see the times on March 8th, in Melbourne, in the first qualifying round of the first Grand Prix of the season". 


And the German, who has already drawn up a long list of technical solutions to try, answers: 


"I agree. Now let’s think about tuning the car and the engine".


If the test held on Tuesday, November 21st, 1995, were to be a football match, we could say that Alesi beat Schumacher 1 to 0. The Frenchman driving Benetton, in fact, is faster than the German with Ferrari in the first direct confrontation. Jean immediately adapts to the World Champion car and gives a second to the rival. But it must be said that for the moment the Maranello team has other problems to solve before looking for sensational times. The development of the new V10 engine, above all, will upset for a long time the spirit of the Maranello team technicians and those of the other new driver. But this is a road with no return: the single-seater for 1996 will be built around the less fractional engine, and the 12 cylinders will have to go. Even Schumacher, in strictly white suit (but with a red jacket and black hat with personal sponsors), works hard, making a total of 42 laps, four of which in on the track wet from the rain. The fastest passage with the 412T2 equipped with the V12 in 1'24"04, while with the other car on which the V10 is mounted sets a time of 1'24"47. Alesi instead goes down to 1'23"08. Says Michael Schumacher, promoting Ferrari in this first approach, after however changing the tuning of the car massively:


"I’m satisfied with this first day. There is a good feeling with the technicians, and I found very motivated people. We didn’t look for performance, but I tried to adapt the car to my driving style. It’s very different from the Benetton and I had to make a lot of changes. In the morning I was a bit rough, then I took courage, and everything went well". 


An impression on the comparison between the two teams? 


"We work in a way that cannot be compared. Especially, computer programs are not the same, so figures and data have another meaning. But that doesn’t matter. I was told that at Ferrari there’s always a mess, but it didn’t seem that way to me. We have to work together, and it’s important to have a good harmony. Otherwise, I’m not worried: I consciously chose this path. I know that next year we will not be able to aim for the Championship, but we will try to win races". 


John Barnard also attends the tests. A reassuring presence? 


"He is the designer, a very important pawn. We exchanged information, I tried to explain my needs. I think it is the best way to go in the right direction. I think it was predictable. I never forced it. Of course, it is nice to be the fastest, but right now it has no value to be ahead, instead it is more interesting to try to make progress in the preparation for 1996". 


Can the myth of Ferrari be a burden? 


"I wouldn’t say that. I realized there was a lot more attention. Here at Estoril, there were more people, journalists and photographers than at a grand prix. But at the end of the day, it’s always the same for me, because I’m still in a Formula 1 team". 


A consideration on the engines? 


"The Renault was obviously fantastic. The Ferrari V12 is also very good, very powerful. Drivable and consistent, but also heavy and cumbersome. The new V10 has fewer horsepower, but it is under development and will improve. After testing, we had a problem with the gearbox hydraulics. It is better that these things happen now, so we learn what it must be done". 


The German champion will be on track until Friday. He will work with both cars, carrying out tests of some new solutions, such as a modified power steering and differential system. 


"In two days, we will have more data available. Then, in mid-December, we will return to this track together with Eddie Irvine. From him, I expect a valid collaboration. I’m confident". 


Alesi, who is also the author of two spins damaging the bottom of the car, will give the wheel of the Benetton to Gerhard Berger on Thursday. 


"The car is easier to drive than expected. So easy that sometimes you push too much, and you run off the road. The balance is very good, I also immediately adapted to the new team. No problem". 


In the circuit you can see, for a quick blitz, also Flavio Briatore. Light-hearted and brilliant as always, the manager of Benetton says: 


"The other night, Jean called me. He was delighted, he seemed to be riding a bicycle". 


Then he shares news. Benetton gets permission to run next year with an Italian licence instead of the English one. If it continues to win, during the award ceremony, the Mameli hymn will be heard several times. On Wednesday, November 22nd, 1995, Jean Alesi closed his first test with Benetton, being the fastest with a time of 1'21"44, very close to what Michael Schumacher had achieved in the Portuguese Grand Prix (1'21"30). The track conditions are different, but the Frenchman shows that he has already adapted to his new car. However, he pushes to the maximum, so much so that in the final part he spins slightly damaging the car. The Ferrari V10 is also improving, albeit with some problems. Schumacher stops on the track and the engine is replaced. But the German makes progress, reaching 1'22"41. The designer John Barnard says that having the World Champion in Ferrari is an extra stimulus and that for the first time in three years the British factory works at full speed. So he expects to get good results in 1996. Jacques Villeneuve also takes to the track his Williams-Renault, turning in 1'22"57.  Thursday, November 23rd, 1995, a frightening accident closed the first test of Gerhard Berger with Benetton. The Austrian driver goes off the track at the parabolic and destroys the car, so much so that on Friday the team will return to England. 


"I don’t like the car’s set-up; it happened suddenly, and I lost control". 


Gerhard had scored the best time 1'22"25. Problems also for Ferrari: Michael Schumacher breaks a V10 engine, but with the V12 it drops to 1'21"23, better than what he had done with Benetton in the Portuguese Grand Prix. In this regard, the engineer Mazzola tells:


"After twenty laps, we were in trouble again. I changed the whole set-up: stiffen the car at the front and soften the rear, completely freeing the differential both in traction and braking. Michael did six laps and lowered his lap time by three seconds, we were on qualifying time, all this with the 12 cylinders".


The fastest, however, is Jacques Villeneuve, who with his Williams-Renault set a lap of 1'20"96. Jacques Villeneuve is only 24, but he is already a wise man. 


"It’s not thanks to me, it’s the car. It’s fast, probably the best of all". 


After having completed the fastest lap of this week’s test (as mentioned, 1'20"96, just 0.4 seconds from the pole position scored by David Coulthard in the Portuguese Grand Prix on the same track), the Canadian decided to continue the tests. The reason? 


"I hope it rains. I want to prepare myself thoroughly, even in the wet".


Villeneuve makes no proclamations. He knows he is a Formula 1 rookie, he never saw some circuits. 


"But I’m in a strong team, so I expect to join the group of the best. Then we’ll see". 


For the moment, he is training properly. 


"Before I got to Estoril I drove in Silverstone, Monza, a track that fascinates me and I think it fits my driving characteristics, in Imola and Magny-Cours. I overall like this Portuguese track, especially the parabolic curve. Instead, I find absurd the hairpin that many other drivers wanted for safety reasons. I’ve driven 3,000 miles, long enough to know the car is great. Compared to Formula Indy, these cars are lighter and more agile. They have more acceleration and are faster when cornering. So much so that for the first time I had a hurt neck. But at the beginning of the championship, I will definitely be one hundred percent fit". 


A threat? Of course, Villeneuve is not a rival to be taken lightly. 


"Michael Andretti had failed because he had not tried enough and had arrived at a McLaren now in crisis. I accepted Williams' proposal because the car proved to be the fastest of 1995 and because they guaranteed me such a series of winter tests that I could better prepare for next season. Ferrari also contacted me, but it was too late. I talked to Jean Todt: who knows, maybe one day there will be Maranello in my future". 


The Canadian does not trust anyone. In these days, he did not even meet Schumacher and Berger, who were walking with him: 


"I had no time, I had to work". 


And this also gives the idea of the character and purpose that animate the young driver. Even Schumacher, however, does not have many opportunities to chat. The German tries to make the most of these first tests with Ferrari, too, which ended in the late afternoon. 


"I’m satisfied, and the team works well. I like the V12 engine very much, the V10 obviously has to improve, but it promises well. And the Ferrari 412T2 is faster than Benetton in fast corners". 


In fact, Schumacher does not look for sensation times, but sets a time of 1'21"30 with the old car, and 1'22"84 with the hybrid, equipped with the new engine. With the latter, the German driver makes 24 laps without stops, then after another 7 laps is stopped due to the engine breaking. The Maranello team technicians say:


"These tests have also served to have precise data on the V10. We have identified the main problems, which are always the same". 


Faults occur after about 200 kilometres of driving. In Fiorano they are already manufacturing new parts, but the engine will have to undergo further development, also because it does not run at full speed. It will have to grow in reliability and power. There are three months left. Few, but it was expected. Actually, at the end of the trip, the engineer Mazzola, in charge of the tests-team, asks Schumacher if he wants to try a fast lap, just to have a point of reference. But the 27-year-old from Kerpen, showing good sense, prefers not to and continues to drive with a lot of petrol on board, stopping at almost every passage to make new adjustments. The right way to start. Who, however, disagrees with the way single-seaters are used, is John Barnard, who says:


"I tried to talk to Michael and express my point of view. For me, the car is fast if you can stick the rear end. If you can always have maximum rear-wheel drive, you can open the throttle first and you’ll be faster. Now, Michael didn’t drive like that. Michael drove in what I call off the front of the car.  He wanted a front with which he could only turn the steering wheel into the curve, and then he would try to fix the back. Everyone else said: 'We don’t like it that way, because when we do it, the rear drifts’".


Flavio Briatore had announced the news during a blitz at the Estoril tests. From Sunday, November 26th, 1995, it is official: Benetton will take part in the races of the 1996 Formula 1 World Championship with an Italian licence, issued by CSAI. The confirmation of the delivery of the document is given by Alberto Librizzi, president of the Italian Automobile Sports Commission, at the national circuit to attend a rally. 


"Italy will now count more in Formula 1. In addition to the Scuderia Ferrari, whose licence dates to the 1930s, there are, in fact, the Minardi and the Forti Corse". 


So far, Benetton (born from the purchase of the Toleman team) had raced for the English colours. To achieve the transition, the rule that the teams can only conduct private tests on national circuits has been changed. On the contrary, two years of racing and not a single point earned, as well as financial difficulties, forced Pacific to withdraw from the Formula 1 World Championship. 


"We made every effort to carve out a space in Formula 1, but we were not able to progress as we hoped".


Wiggins Team Technical Director declares, when making the declaration public. In the meantime, the FIA Gala of the end of the year, which takes place in Monte-Carlo for the award of the 1995 champions, is cancelled. The reason is the transport crisis due to the strikes in France. 


"Benetton could, in the future, count on Italian drivers". 


Says Wednesday, December 6th, 1995, Flavio Briatore at the Convention Renault organized as part of the Motorshow. 


"It will depend only on their ability: if they go strong, we will have no problem contacting them and make them try". 


On the fact that the team has become Italian, Flavio Briatore makes it clear: 


"Our every victory will be greeted with the hymn of Mameli. So I hope there is no more speculation as it has been so far, when they attacked us saying we were English".


After announcing that for Alesi and Berger the season has in fact already begun, Briatore illustrates the calendar of immediate commitments on track: from Monday, December 11th to Friday, December 15th, 1995, tests will be carried out at Estoril, followed by others in Barcelona from Monday 18th to Friday 22nd of December 1995. In addition, Flavio Briatore points out that the team will not have a first guide: 


"We just have to make sure that the rivalry between the two drivers doesn’t benefit Schumacher’s Ferrari or Hill’s Williams". 


The new Benetton (which will be presented in January in Taormina, a tribute to the land that gave birth to Alesi’s parents) will be equipped with an unprecedented 10-cylinder Renault engine that has already brilliantly passed the bench tests and will debut (on the Williams) at Estoril. About the championship, the sports director comments:


"Benetton, Ferrari and Williams have a 33% chance of winning the Grand Prix. It will be a hard-fought battle, but we are not afraid of anyone and if we can’t win, as Italians we would love Ferrari to win". 


Monday, December 11th, 1995, Jean Alesi is invited to speak at the Bocconi University, in Italy, and takes the opportunity to explain to the audience why Ferrari does not win: 


"Simple, the team doesn’t exist. It can happen that Ferrari doesn’t win, and the fault lies in the driver, then in the designer, then in the detail that breaks; instead, when the victories never arrive it is because there’s no group unity, there’s no one who takes decisions and responsibility for them". 


To those who ask him why he should believe that next year Briatore will always support him and above all, since in Ferrari Todt should have done so, Alesi answers: 


"Todt arrived in Ferrari and hasn’t managed to do anything, Briatore arrived in Formula 1 recently and has already won two Drivers’ Championship and a Constructors’ Championship". 


Alesi closes the meeting by saying:

"Ferrari is always looking for the best; they wanted Schumacher and succeeded in it. I didn’t want to be his second, and that’s why I left. But after giving my all. That wasn’t enough for them. Everyone must do their job. And in Maranello, sometimes, some didn’t so I didn’t win". 


Schumacher in the meantime drives in Portugal: the tests at Estoril are positive. On the hybrid car, the German driver completed 52 laps during the afternoon, improving by 0.3 seconds the time scored two weeks before.


"I’m satisfied, there is progress. The 10-cylinder has yet to improve in power, but I’m not worried because I know Maranello’s expertise in the field. For the rest, everything is going well, and I carry on along with the team. In the weekend, after finishing work, I will take a holiday period. I will return to the track in mid-January at the Castellet circuit". 


Ferrari, by the way, already in the coming days will try a second version of the new engine that should be at least more reliable than the previous one. Good test also for Eddie Irvine who for the first time runs with the V10 completing 37 laps, the best in 1'22"99. The Northern Irish driver is mainly responsible for adjusting the set-up of the car according to its driving characteristics. And it is, however, very fast. Also Gerhard Berger gets on track with Benetton: the Austrian gets his best time in 1'23"93. Williams (with Villeneuve-Hill) and Jordan were also expected to participate in the tests, but the two teams are forced to postpone the programs, because the mechanics remain in London where the airport is closed due to the presence of fog. In the following days, Jacques Villeneuve goes off the track (fortunately without consequences) with his Williams-Renault, while Michael Schumacher, instead, is once again the fastest on a wet track. Then, however, Thursday, December 14th, 1995, Damon Hill (Williams-Renault) sets the new record of the Portuguese circuit by turning in 1'19"91. Michael Schumacher completes 306 kilometres of simulation before having engine problems (the best lap in 1'21"12).  After the tests, Saturday, December 16th, 1995, there is a big party at Benetton, especially to celebrate the successes in Formula 1 (World Drivers' Championship and Constructors' World Championship), waiting for volleyball and rugby to finish their commitments. Seven hundred people in the hall of the sumptuous complex of La Ghirada and applause for all, in the usual disenchanted, cheerful, and somewhat provocative atmosphere of the Venetian multinational. Guests of honour next year’s drivers, Alesi, and Berger, very popular, while for Schumacher (seen briefly, only in a video) there is also some whistle. Flavio Briatore, team manager, takes the opportunity to take stock of the situation, revealing part of the future programs. 


"The new car will be quite different from this year’s, particularly in the sides and rear, it should be ready by mid-January. We will take it on track in Silverstone, all white, not to take away the surprise when it will be officially presented". 


A surprise is, however, already revealed by the same Briatore. Since the team became Italian, the debut will take place in Taormina on February 4th, 1996. 


"We will turn the car with Alesi and Berger in the main street of the beautiful Sicilian city". 


A few words also about Berger and Alesi. The latter will carry out a month of preparation, almost all of January, in Courmayeur. 


"For Jean, it’s been easier to drive the Benetton right away. It’s instinctive. But we’ve already managed to change him a little bit, to integrate him into the team spirit. In the Estoril tests, he didn’t ask us to do some fast laps with new tires to get a good time. It’s already a good sign. As for Gerhard, he’s had a few problems more, but he’s made progress. We wait for the opening of the new championship confident and also curious to see what will happen, as I think the majority of fans. For now, merry Christmas and happy New Year to all".


Meanwhile, Luca Montezemolo, president of Ferrari, symbolically prepares the Christmas tree, at the foot of which he places gifts. Shiny packages, well wrapped, in classic Scuderia Ferrari colours: red and yellow. Inside, there is above all the present and the future of the team, but there are some scratching jokes, revelations, internal and external challenges. All in the form of a confession-interview. What is the final consideration for the year that is about to end? 


"The most disappointed, it’s me. We had to do better, and we could have done better. In some races, I ate my heart out. Reliability and a bit of luck were missing". 


So for you, next year will be the last chance? An English newspaper wrote that you would quit racing if you fail again... 


"There’s no last resort for Ferrari. It will continue to run in the future, even if I get fired. That’s not the point. But just because something didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean we didn’t do our best to improve". 


Does that explain Schumacher’s choice? 


"It was our duty to have him, because he was going to change. He didn’t just come for the money, others would have paid him more. It fills us with pride, to be fair, that he wanted to accept the challenge with us". 


But actually, you have changed the whole team. 


"It was necessary, there had to be a breakthrough. We recognize that Alesi and Berger were committed. But Jean disappointed me with his behaviour towards Todt in the end. And it made me realize that maybe it’s easier coming to Ferrari than leaving. Schumacher, in addition to his undisputed skill, offers us new motivations. We already liked Irvine: he is fast and smart. He chose to live in Bologna to be close to the team, also reiterating that he wants to learn from Michael". 


But some say that Schumacher will influence Ferrari. To what extent? 


"Drivers are highly paid employees, and they have to do what the team asks them to do". 


So are you ready for a brilliant 1996? 


"Everything is new: drivers, car, engine. There will certainly be problems, but we aim to win three or four races, I hope the important ones. Speaking of the V10, Schumacher and Irvine said that engine is better than they expected. But there’s a lot to work on. Let’s hope we don’t look like those students who give their heart and soul and then get a 5". 


What about the world title? 


"We must be realistic: we will aim for victory in 1997. It’s true that Ferrari has not achieved this goal since 1979, but it could have become reality in 1982 and 1990 if certain things hadn’t happened. But people forget that much has changed in the last fifteen years. In Formula 1, we have moved from automotive technology to aeronautical and space technology. Unfortunately, in Italy, there’s no real culture in these fields. We had to start over, and it showed. But we’ve come a long way now". 


You will have to confront, among others, especially with the World Champion Benetton, which is becoming Italian... 


"I take my hat off in front of the results of Benetton and of Renault that supplies the engines. If the team becomes Italian, I am pleased. But we’ve seen a lot of tricolours teams in all these years... And anyway, it seems ridiculous when people talk about Italian factory. In any case, I admire them: they certainly keep the name of our fashion high". 


When will the new car be ready? 


"In February, although there may be delays, as is often the case with Barnard. But it will be a very accurate car, also for what concerns aerodynamics, very different from those of recent years, thanks to the small size of the V10. Ferrari must win".


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