Mercedes is ready to discharge Nigel Mansell. The withdrawal of the English driver in Barcelona was yet another reason that made the managers of the German company - Mclaren’s engine partner - lose their patience. These are difficult days for the German brand (which has problems also in Formula Indy, where Fittipaldi and Al Unser jr, with Penske powered by Mercedes, have resoundingly failed to qualify for the Indy 500) and for the first time since the beginning of the season the men from Stuttgart express severe criticism against the former World Champion.
"Both on the assembly line and on circuits, we need people who want to work".
Norbert Haug, the head of Mercedes Sport, tells this without periphrasis in an interview with the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper. Haug also points out that Nigel, with his 7.000.000 pounds, is among the best-paid Mercedes employees.
"Mansell should help us develop a winning car. We have fulfilled all our contractual commitments, and now we would like to get something in return".
After retiring from the Spanish Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell had stated that his McLaren was impossible to drive and fundamentally flawed. A new source of friction after the British driver did not take part in the first two races of the season due to the cockpit of the single-seater being too narrow, thus forcing McLaren to modify it, making it more comfortable. On Monday, May 22nd, 1995, Nigel Mansell himself and McLaren’s manager Ron Dennis, who are still in London, do not say if the driver will be regularly present on Thursday, May 25th, 1995, at the Monaco Grand Prix. Then, given the growth of rumors that presume a new withdrawal of Mansell from F1, McLaren specifies with a statement that his driver will be on track, as expected.
"We are aware that there’s still a lot of work to do, but let’s keep going".
Despite the attempt at minimizing, the tension between the driver and the team remains high. Nigel Mansell is accused not only of not wanting to risk or fight when in trouble, but also of not having any desire to take part in the tests to fine-tune the car. In fact, tests are almost always carried out by Mika Häkkinen and test driver Mark Blundell. For Nigel, the moment is very delicate: now he is under scrutiny, and he must perform well in the street circuit of Monte-Carlo. A track on which, if the car is not well set, there is the danger of crashing into the guardrails and qualify in the last rows. Will Nigel Mansell still be able to give a paw like a true Lion? Or, thinking of the money in the bank, he will prefer to be laid off, upon the invitation of Mercedes? The answer does not delay arriving. On Tuesday, May 23rd, 1995, Nigel Mansell was fired by McLaren: the British driver should end his relationship with F1. Maybe he can have fun in some other category, collecting more money. But on this matter, he has no problems: apart from the money earned previously, he will not lose a penny of the 7.000.000 pounds obtained with the hiring at the munificent English team. His contract, a 200-page volume, is lawyer-proof. Thus, having covered a total of 82 race laps (63 in Imola and 19 in Barcelona), he will remain the highest paid taxi-driver in history. Who wants to hire him as a driver? These considerations become mandatory after the news that emerges a day after the usual denials: the forty-one former World Champion was dropped by his team. The marriage lasted just over four troubled months. Twenty-four hours later the separation occurred, announced on Monday by a red-hot statement by Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes, which supplies the engines to McLaren. The Lion will not race in Monte-Carlo. His compatriot Mark Blundell, already present in the team as test driver, will be on the #7 car. It is the first time that a driver of such a name is kicked out of a team in this way.
Accused of being a finished driver, he no longer lives up to the situation. In the past, there had been similar episodes, with different motivations. Abrupt, sudden separations. But always for technical reasons, quarrels, or money. Alain Prost was also fired in 1991. But it was the last race. For Nigel Mansell, however, no periphrasis was used. While maintaining a certain style, McLaren manager Ron Dennis says:
"We decided to end our relationship after a frank and thorough discussion. Nigel didn’t get familiar with the car. And this went to the detriment of his ability to engage in the development program. Given the circumstances, I think that was the best course of action. Our relationship was short and clearly didn’t achieve the goals that the parties had set themselves".
Quiet is also the driver’s response:
"I’m obviously sorry that the partnership with McLaren and Mercedes, a relationship that could have produced excellent results, ended prematurely. At this point in my career, I expected that going to McLaren would allow me to be competitive with other teams. I have no immediate plans in F1, but I could keep in touch with the team, which I’ve left on good terms".
Instead, it seems that the divorce has occurred among furious quarrels and reciprocal reproaches. Nigel Mansell has certainly accused his partners of offering him a car and an engine inferior to the ones of the rivals. And the team replied that commitment and performance were lower than expected. In fact, they were both wrong: McLaren took a driver who wanted to return to F1 just to win the World Championship (no other result could interest him) and Nigel agreed to drive for a team that never loved or at least appreciated him. Ron Dennis has always considered him an incomprehensible man and driver. On Wednesday, May 24th, 1995, in Monte-Carlo, the yachts are rocking in the harbour, making those who are ashore seasick. In the offices still appears, severe, the photo of Ranieri, next to the prince, Alberto (no trace of Carolina and Stephanie). The circuit is more or less the same, surrounded by guardrails and walls, with some extra protection in the edges. In short, nothing has changed for the Grand Prix, except a reduced presence of Italians, due to the weakness of the lira. And the F1 environment is unchanged, merciless. No one sheds a tear for the firing of Nigel Mansell. Despite ending his career without ever winning this prestigious race, he does not cry. Jean Todt says:
"Too bad, another legend that leaves".
But these are words of circumstance. Flavio Briatore, concrete, laughs;
"Thirteenth, fourteenth, had somebody seen Mansell? It was as if he was not there".
The dismissal of Karl Wendlinger by Sauber (Jean-Christophe Bouillon will run) does not provoke emotions either. Someone indeed whispers:
"Better for him, he risked getting hurt. He stopped being a complete driver".
And to say that last year, for weeks, everyone had followed with passion the story of the Austrian in a coma after the incident that occurred on a Thursday. Even Ayrton Senna, is basically forgotten, despite someone remembering that here the Brazilian driver had won six times.
Perhaps the only ones who are a bit tense are Mark Blundell and Jean-Cristophe Bouillon, the substitutes for Nigel Mansell and Karl Wendlinger. The eyes of the public are on Michael Schumacher, winner of last year’s race and candidate to replace Ayrton Senna as the protagonist of the race. The German does not hide his desire to achieve another success to immediately crush the ambitions of revenge of Damon Hill. But first, he wants to see how his Benetton will behave.
"After the first qualifying round, I’ll tell you how it will go on Sunday".
For Ferrari, it is undoubtedly about the search for a good result, too. Says Jean Alesi, on the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix:
"After the tests in Fiorano, I’m confident. We will use the most powerful engine".
Nothing more. We right away talk about the market. Gerhard Berger, between the serious and the facetious, says:
"I have two or three negotiations going on, one with Ferrari, too".
It will depend on the next results. Meanwhile, there is very bad news for the Monza circuit. The FIA has rejected the work plan presented by ACI. On Thursday, May 25th, 1995, president Alessi will meet with Max Mosley. Those will be decisive hours for the future of the Italian Grand Prix. This time, Jean Alesi can rest assured. No one will take away his provisional pole position on Thursday, May 25th, 1995. Simply because in the Principality, the rules are different. Qualifications are not made one day after the other, but after forty-eight hours. Therefore, until Saturday, the Frenchman can dream of starting in front of everyone with his Ferrari and sit on the throne of Formula 1.
"But don’t ask me if I’ll win the game. It would be like asking Baggio if he will score when on the verge of a penalty".
To tell the truth, however, with every race that passes, Ferrari convinces more and more. In the first timed round, Alesi was constantly in the lead and, in the end, recorded the two fastest laps, ahead of Michael Schumacher and Gerhard Berger. The latter then, in the last lap, could have been at the same level as his teammate, if only he had not blocked the wheels at the Loews and had not been slowed down by traffic. Jean Alesi says:
"In this circuit, cars are difficult to drive. Every time you make a small adjustment, everything can change. However, the chassis of our car is great, it responds well. And the engine, despite the characteristics of the 12 cylinders, which is a little bit more abrupt than the others, allows us to really push. I’m very optimistic. I have prepared this Grand Prix as never before in my life. I’m focused, because I feel that the decisive moment in my career has come, for Ferrari returning to the top".
In fact, it is showtime for Jean. On his car, four cameras are assembled. As in a video game, you can see the Ferrari #27 skimming over guardrails and walls, with the driver always ready to make small corrections with the steering wheel, brake to the limit, take advantage of every part of the track. Ferrari, however, still has some secret weapons to use to fight back the attacks. In qualifying, the engines used in Barcelona were only fitted for qualifying and can also be used in the race. But on Saturday, there will be two special ones with a few more HP. There is also a different rear suspension that could be tested in case of extreme necessity. Even Berger, despite having a few more problems in finding the right set-up of his car, is confident.
"Our technicians worked very well. They prepared a new rear wing that works properly. If we can start at least in the front row, we can really fight for the win. Of course, we must always consider a certain Schumacher and Williams. They all have seven lives".
Sure enough, if the German gradually brought himself very close to pole position with his usual progression, Damon Hill and David Coulthard encountered difficulties. The Englishman set the fourth time and thinks he can fit in the challenge of the stopwatch. The Scotsman, who had never run here, has yet to understand the circuit. No particular problems for Mark Blundell, who replaced Nigel Mansell. The McLaren driver set the eighth time (fifth was his teammate, Mika Häkkinen) pushing to the limit.
"It’s clear that a slow street track hides the aerodynamic problems that a car can have. But I’m satisfied and I’ll certainly improve. I hope to have a fantastic season".
The Englishman will probably be able to race in Monza. In the meantime, good news for the Italian Grand Prix. ACI President Alessi and FIA Vice President Marco Piccinini meet Max Mosley. And all the misunderstandings about the September race disappear. But now it will be necessary to work intensively - and seriously - to do the work required for track safety. But there are not only sporting discussions on the table. Just a day off to reflect. In the hectic Formula 1 world, with the events that follow one another, it is not often possible to think. So, on Friday, May 26th, 1995, an alarm is launched. Fully legitimate. The speaker is Walter Toma, president of Philip Morris Europe. A company that invests huge capital in motor sports, from motorcycles to promotional formulas, up to Formula 1. Basically, sponsors, drivers, stables, races, everything. The annual investment is definitely over $100.000.000.
"Last year was very difficult for Formula 1. There were tragedies. We asked ourselves: is it worth continuing? The answer was positive. We know the risks of this sport and we accept them. But we want it to remain a sport. In this sense, 1994 was one of the worst in history, amid suspicion and controversy. We wanted to forget. We thought the new regulations had made things right. Instead, 1995 began, if possible, in an even more negative way: the fiasco of the Brazilian Grand Prix, and the subsequent sentences, was ridiculous. We can’t accept it. Sponsors are looking for sport. And not just a circus. We’re asking for credibility, image. Otherwise, we might leave".
And there are a lot of people who think in this way. Including some important constructors. If the FIA fails to change course, there will be sponsors leaving and the program may even be over. In a way, the Monza event is exemplary. The Italian Grand Prix has been targeted, softening the safety problems. In fact, the reasons that led to the danger of cancelling the race are also political and economic. An attempt by Bernie Ecclestone to seize the event, as he has already done for other races. Now, it seems that there have been clarifications and that if the organizers can carry out the planned work to make the track safe, there will be no problems. But considerable pressure had to be put on, from sponsors up to teams and manufacturers. Ferrari was important, trying to change course using the influential role that it plays. The first steps have been taken, now we expect a crucial attitude from the FIA, starting from the technical checks on cars to respect the sports regulations. That said, today the message arrives to the drivers. Alesi in the role of hare, and many hunters with a rifle pointed at him. Who will hit the most important pole target? In the Principality, it is a question of dynasties. While the Grimaldis have long happily ruled the small state, even in the Grand Prix, success can be handed down from father to son. That is what Damon Hill tries to do. His father, Graham Hill, had won the race five times in the '60s. On Sunday, May 28th, 1995, the Williams driver will have the great opportunity to boost the booty. Starting from pole position, he will be able to take the first place, add a sixth trophy in his home collection and, perhaps, even return to the lead of the F1 World Championship, passing Michael Schumacher. A nice plan to try on the roulette of a difficult and spectacular race. Even if you can always expect everything from car races, the #27 and #28 of Ferraris will hardly come out, though. After the exploit on Thursday, on Saturday the Maranello team experiences another difficult day.
Dreams, hopes, everything is back in the drawer. A kind of curse that persecutes Alesi and indirectly involves Gerhard Berger. From the provisional pole of the Frenchman and from the third place of the Austrian, we move to a fourth and fifth place that, given the characteristics of the track, do not promise anything good. After leading the dance until the end of free practice in the morning, when he had still scored the best time, Alesi must deal with bad luck. At the last minute, he bends a suspension of his car. On the first lap of qualifying, Jean stops at the Rascasse with the engine off. A drop in pressure in the gearbox hydraulic circuit and everything goes haywire. The stewards push him to the pits. But the rules are clear: if your car is broken, you can no longer use it and it is forbidden to use the backup car. So, Ferrari is immediately presented with a negative scenario. One car available, that of Gerhard Berger. You can make two choices. Sacrifice Jean Alesi completely and keep the Austrian going. But Jean Todt admits:
"I didn’t feel like taking away Alesi’s chance to try. He was always the fastest. If it happened again, I would do the same thing".
Right. But in this way Berger is forced to finish testing after eight rushed laps (each driver has twelve available). Then, his teammate gets on a car modified for him only as far as pedals and seat are concerned, having exactly two minutes to get on track and gamble everything. Alesi has a car that he does not know, with a different set-up, and no matter how good and brave he is, he is not even able to improve the time he had obtained on Thursday with great ease. Logic then suggests a contentious race between Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, who start in the front row, with the Englishman leading by seven meters. Everything could happen in the first corner, if the German managed to overtake the English at the start. So, there will be pit stops (only one for tires and fuel, here you cannot recover if you stop several times) that will surprise. The rest is in the hands of fate. On a circuit that does not forgive mistakes, surprises might not miss. As in the past. But for Ferrari, it will still be hard, as apart from the two direct rivals, the team will also have to deal with the other Williams of David Coulthard in front. At this point, Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi’s goal is above all to score points. Of course, Alesi is always on credit with bad luck. If he can have his share of the world title back, he will not miss it. And so, while Damon Hill celebrates the sixth pole position of his career and Michael Schumacher says that he does not consider the game closed at all, reserving excellent chances to win, Ferrari men are already in the boxes thinking about what happened. No drama, of course, but so much disappointment. As in Barcelona, the initial first place turned into a series of lower placements, not only compared to the expectations, but also to the real possibilities of the 412T2. Jean Alesi says sadly:
"I have no words. My feelings now are more of frustration than anger. I want to thank the mechanics and Berger who allowed me to give it a try. But honestly, it was impossible: you can’t get on a track like this without knowing the car you drive. When I realized it was gone for me, I tried to concentrate on seeing if I could do anything else. But the reality was somewhat chilling. At this point, I can’t even think about turning everything around in the race: starting from fifth place, I’ll not be there, I can’t be myself, I’ll have to adopt a waiting strategy. I can’t risk everything in the first corner, I have to think about the team and the points in the championship".
Gerhard Berger, who was hoping for a recovery, is also dazzled.
"Unfortunately, among other things, I had laps without traffic, but they were not good. Small imperfections, just enough not to improve as much as we could. In my opinion, the first row was within our reach. Hill’s time was fantastic, unreachable. When Todt asked me to lend the car to Jean, I agreed. In the short term it was hard for me, but in the long run I think that sooner or later I’ll be repaid for this gesture. We all work for Ferrari, and it was right to give a chance to Alesi, even if in a sense this affected my test, at least psychologically, because I felt too much pressure on my shoulders. It's for the better not to make predictions for the race: Hill leaves as in qualifying and no one sees him any more".
And Ferrari could not even be comforted by Maradona’s support, present with his wife Claudia and the president of Santos, the team for which he should play the next Brazilian Championship.
"My idol was Senna, but I’m a fan of the cars from Maranello".
The main drama of the day occurred after the practice session. Inoue had turned and blocked his Footwork, which had been towed back to the pit lane by a recovery vehicle, when the Renault Clio safety car hit him from behind while doing rapid demonstration laps of the circuit with rally driver Jean Ragnotti at the wheel. This took place at the centre of the Piscine complex, and the press delegate of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile was the passenger. The impact was enough to make the Footwork spin and make it a write-off: the FA16 suffered serious damage to the engine and gearbox, while the tow-rope, attached to the structure of the car behind the driver’s head, pulled the roll from the chassis. Inoue, who was still sitting in the cockpit with his helmet fastened, but with his belts undone, suffered two blows to the head, the gravity of which was demonstrated by the fact that a piece of the helmet came off. He was taken to the Princess Grace Hospital Centre for a brain scan, and although he was found to have only suffered a slight concussion, he was not allowed to take part in the afternoon qualifying session as a precaution. Jackie Oliver, head of the Footwork team, was outraged by the accident and wrote an official letter of complaint to the Automobile Club de Monaco, the body responsible for organizing the event. He said that Inoue would be dead if he did not wear the helmet, and questioned the ACM organization and Ragnotti’s attitude:
"Why was Ragnotti out there? It’s just a lack of discipline. I understand that he had made a couple of laps earlier at a million miles per hour with the handbrake turning at the Loews hairpin. What was the purpose of him doing that? Was it to give officials a thrill?"
The stewards tacitly acknowledged that the accident was not Inoue's fault by authorizing him to use the team's spare car for qualifying, but this was carried out with his non-participation in the session. On Sunday, May 28th, 1995, at 11:00 a.m., there is a warm-up session that lasts 30 minutes, in dry weather. Jean Alesi set the fastest time, followed by his team-mate Berger; both Ferrari drivers test their race and reserve cars. Michael Schumacher is third, ahead of Mika Häkkinen, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill, worried about the understeer that emerges when driving his car, especially in the slowest corners of the track. David Coulthard set the eleventh fastest time and the Williams team, concerned about the pace of its cars in the race set-up, decided to change its pitching strategy from a one-stop to a two-stop, hoping that the cars can better handle the relatively lighter fuel load. Meanwhile, Sauber’s mechanics adjusted a backup car for Heinz-Harald Frentzen (who now drives it after the damage to his racing car proved irreparable) and repaired Jean-Christophe Boullion’s damaged car. Team Jordan does a similar job on Eddie Irvine’s car, while Rubens Barrichello’s car has a broken rim. Taki Inoue was allowed to run and scored the slowest time of the session with the backup Footwork-Hart. As usual in Monaco, the race starts relatively late, at 3:30 p.m., allowing Prince Ranieri and his family to have lunch before attending the event from the royal stage overlooking the starting straight. The race takes place in warm and sunny conditions, with an ambient temperature of 23 °C, and is followed by a total of about 48.000 spectators. When drivers complete their formation laps from the pit lane to the starting grid, they discover an oil leak on Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Sauber, thus the German driver switches to the newly built spare car in time for the start. When the green light signals the start of the race, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher are both authors of a fast start, while behind them a multiple collision between David Coulthard and the two Ferraris of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger causes a red flag. Coulthard was slightly slower at the start and was passed by Berger on the outside in the first corner, and on the inside by Alesi. As the track narrows at the entrance to Sainte Devote, there was not enough space for the three cars to run side by side, and Alesi came into contact with the right rear of Coulthard’s car, which in turn was pushed against Berger’s car.
The Williams was thrown into the air and spun, before crashing again and stopping at the top of the curve with a broken suspension, while the two damaged Ferraris also had further contact with each other before stopping in the same point. Most of the drivers that followed, led by Brundle, managed to avoid the cars, while Eddie Irvine damages his front wing, Jean-Christophe Boullion suffers a broken speaker and Ukyo Katayama, Mika Salo, Gianni Morbidelli, Taki Inoue and Domenico Schiattarella are all forced to stop while avoiding obstacles. With the track completely blocked, the race is interrupted. Coulthard, Berger, and Alesi’s cars are irreparably damaged; all three are thus forced to race with the backup cars of their respective teams, agreeing with the usual Monégasque practice of Ferrari to bring one more car for each driver. Gerhard Berger’s spare car, however, is equipped with an engine with previous specifications that does not produce the same power as his racing car or Jean Alesi’s spare car, while the accelerator on David Coulthard’s car is not fully calibrated; a forgetfulness that is the result of the haste in preparing the car. Eddie Irvine’s Jordan-Peugeot and Jean-Christophe Boullion’s Sauber-Ford are repaired, while the other drivers stuck at the first corner manage to restart with their cars, except Mika Salo and Domenico Schiattarella: this is because the Yamaha engine has overheated, forcing the Finnish driver to resume the restart from the pit lane with the reserve Tyrrell, while the Italian Simtek driver was punished by the stewards after attempting to move his car away from the crash site. However, the team does not have a backup car, so Domenico Schiattarella will no longer take part in the race, and Simtek’s participation in the event ends - without a single car completing a race lap - when on Verstappen’s car problems emerge again just before starting the second training lap. At the restart, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher hold their positions again, while David Coulthard precedes the Ferrari drivers before facing Sainte Dévote. There were no major accidents on this occasion, although Ukyo Katayama suffered minor damage to the front wing of his car following a collision with Gianni Morbidelli’s Footwork-Hart. When the drivers complete the first lap, Damon Hill is leading with a 0.5 second gap on Michael Schumacher, followed by David Coulthard, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger.
In the first laps, Hill gradually creates a lead of almost two seconds over Schumacher, and the two break away together from David Coulthard, who, at the end of lap 10, is 8 seconds behind the German driver’s Benetton. Meanwhile, McLaren’s Mercedes engine of Mika Häkkinen fails due to a transmission problem of the fuel pump, and the Finnish driver is forced to retire during lap 8, while Roberto Moreno is the victim of a spin at Sainte Dévote, after a brake fluid leak causes him to lose control of his Forti-Ford one lap later. At the same time, Gianni Morbidelli makes an unscheduled early stop to eliminate a serious vibration of the tyre, caused by a section of rope of a heating blanket jammed in one of its rear wheels. This is the third event that uses electrical sensors to monitor possible early starts of each car and, at this stage of the race, six drivers (Barrichello, Brundle, Montermini, Frentzen, Morbidelli and Panis) receive the 10-second Stop & Go penalty. Apart from Andrea Montermini, everyone promptly returns to the pits to serve the penalty, and some will even have to queue, waiting for the penalty to be paid in the Commissioners' site. On the other hand, Montermini cannot return to the pits within the three laps of the reception, therefore the Pacific-Ford driver was disqualified from the race, arriving in P17 before paying the penalty belatedly. The penalized drivers are now all at the back due to the loss of time, thus - after 16 laps completed - the race order sees Damon Hill, in the lead, followed by Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Jean Alesi, Gerhard Berger and Johnny Herbert. Then, surprisingly, during lap 16 David Coulthard is forced to stop due to the breakage of his gearbox, and Jean Alesi begins his pursuit. Damon Hill, who chose the wrong strategy, stops for the first of his scheduled pit stops to refuel and replace the tires. Michael Schumacher takes advantage of the rival’s mistake and passes by, while Jean Alesi - who like the German stops only once - is in second position. After the pit stops (first Schumacher and then Alesi who takes the lead of the race for a single lap, the 36), the situation gets heated, also because Damon Hill’s pace increases. But the story ends shortly after. On lap 42, the double accident Brundle-Alesi makes silence fall on the circuit.
Only German fans are celebrating. Damon Hill is disappointed because he was hoping to win to revive the glory of his father Graham, while the disheartened Ferrari, despite the third place of Gerhard Berger, goes back home with regret. Johnny Herbert, Mark Blundell, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen followed. To Pierluigi Martini (Minardi), goes the tin medal of the seventh place for the best placement of the season. It now seems obvious: Ferrari, to try to pass from the hell of recent years up to heaven, must make a stop in purgatory. There is no other explanation. After the mockery of Saturday’s tests, another disappointment, spiced with anger. The Maranello team had to settle for the third place of Gerhard Berger, behind Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, for an accident that has brutally scratched Jean Alesi, who was second and thus with the possibility, at least theoretically, to attempt the attack on the German. The episode, which provoked a polemic reaction from Alesi, took place on lap 42. The Frenchman was pushing to put pressure on Michael Schumacher, when he found himself following the Ligier Mugen-Honda of Martin Brundle, sixth and lapped. After the Tobacconist’s turn, an area of 200 km/h, the Englishman lost control of the car and immediately spun. The Ferrari driver found himself facing the car in the opposite direction. And, to avoid an impact that could have had serious consequences, he was forced to aim at the guardrail. A terrible collision, however, that made us fear for the pilot, personally extracted from the cockpit. Fortunately, it was only a momentary state of shock, due to a blow to the head. Jean Alesi immediately recovered and went to protest against Martin Brundle, about whom he already had something to say on other occasions. Alesi’s accident, in addition to depriving Ferrari of a possible excellent finish, also took away all the interest that the race had until then. Michael Schumacher increased the pace compared to Damon Hill and Gerhard Berger, now too far away to think of giving a hard time to the World Champion. He indeed won with extreme ease, without any problems. Michael Schumacher thus achieved his second consecutive victory at the Monaco Grand Prix. And it must be said that Michael did not steal anything. Perfect strategy, precise driving, great determination, perfect choice in all overtakes and dubbing, used every space of the narrow circuit to the millimetre. Good, very good indeed. Now, with three wins in the season (and 13 in his career), the Benetton driver has taken another advantage over Damon Hill. Five points are starting to feel like a burden. While the Anglo-Italian team also took the lead in the Constructors' Championship, 4 points ahead of Williams-Renault, Ferrari slid to third place, 5 points away. Boring race, it was said, but great emotions were not lacking, especially during the initial part.
"One more Ligier".
They scream from the box, aving fists to the sky. When the flags of the team of Maranello are lowered, it is 5:00 p.m. and Jean Alesi is with the head reclined on the steering wheel, the car stops at the Tobacconist’s bend. That is how the dreams of glory ended.
"I got hit pretty hard, too".
Says Jean, after the stewards pulled him out of the cockpit. Martin Brundle, from his Ligier Mugen-Honda, however, stood up quickly.
"His fault, as always".
Jean grumbles a few minutes later, walking towards the Paddock.
"But what should I do to him? I’ll have to smash a table on his head".
At 5:00 p.m. Ferrari loses his dream, Jean Alesi withdraws from the race, and someone bursts. Giancarlo Baccini, the head of the press office in Maranello, speaks on television:
"We just want to point out that this is the third time this year that we have problems with Ligier, which happens to be owned by a gentleman who is also team manager of a team fighting with us for victory".
Then, when the race ends, it repeats himself in front of a crowd of notebooks:
"We only notice some coincidences. And there is a significant number of them".
Here they are, with names and surnames: Martin Brundle is one of the two drivers of the Ligier Mugen-Honda; the other is Olivier Panis and Jean Alesi had trouble with them three times, in Argentina, Spain and here in Monte-Carlo. In Barcelona, Alesi had spoken out with Anne Giuntini, a reporter for the Team:
"Once again I had a Ligier who wouldn’t let me through".
Last coincidence: Ligier was bought by Flavio Briatore last year, who is Benetton’s team manager, provider of Michael Schumacher’s car. Are we contemplating conspiracy? Baccini almost denounces him. Jean Todt escapes with a bad face:
"I don’t want to say anything. I’ll go watch the video first".
And after he sees it, his face does not change:
"It’s like Jean says".
Alesi walks in the paddock at half past five, his suit undone and his helmet in hand, chased by the cameras. And he tells this:
"Brundle cut me off, didn’t let me pass. For two laps, they waved the blue flag. I have no words. Some people shouldn’t be racing in Formula 1. I can’t understand how a dubbed person can do these things, bothering me while I’m fighting for the win".
The reporters besiege him, and he explains the accident:
"Brundle touched the guardrail with the right rear, his car spun, and I couldn’t do anything but end up against the guardrail".
The other, the Ligier drive, scratches his head, his eyes burst:
"But that’s not true. I didn’t obstruct him at all. I saw the blue flags, and then I looked in the mirror to see which way he wanted to go. And at that moment, unfortunately, the car ran sideways, into the guardrail. I was going fast, in Monte-Carlo it can happen".
Is that all? Ligier engineers swear it is:
"Absurd controversy. It’s clear that Alesi was stronger and passed him".
Yet it does not end here. Although Alesi partly denies Baccini, when some ask him if he thinks of some strange team game:
"Well, I don’t think so, let’s not say bullshit. I know Fiorio very well. I know he’s a fan of mine, he’s not mad at Ferrari. The only thing I know for sure is that between Brundle and me, here’s too much animosity. It’s been going on for years, it’s happened before when I was at Tyrrell, and he was at Brabham. I even tried to talk to him a year ago, and he told me that I’m wrong, that he’s not mad at me, that from now on he’ll be more careful. I’ve seen him. After the accident, I ran to the commissioners because I had not digested it and then, because I had taken a hit, I was hurt, but next time it could be worse. And they immediately said to me: don’t worry, we have seen everything. So what? What should I do? Either the FIA intervenes, or I break a table on his head".
Why don’t you try talking to him again?
"Because we’d get into a fight on live tv".
In the meantime, the Monaco Grand Prix ends like this. There is sun shining over the water, the boats sound their sirens. Alesi smiles bitterly. And Briatore listens to the reporters who come and taunt him. He has a hoarse voice, and a little poison:
"Brundle was running at his own pace. We, too, have been slowed down several times by McLaren, and we’ve not underlined that it has the same sponsor of Ferrari".
More poison. Frank Dernie, technical director of Ligier, says:
"After the first accident, the one at the start, there was no need to stop the race. They promised this morning, look, we’re not stopping. Then, because there were two Ferraris involved, they changed their minds".
And Tom Walkingshaw, co-owner of Ligier, adds:
"The person who makes those accusations is an idiot".
By now, the heroes are tired. Gerhard Berger is resigned:
"With the spare car, I couldn’t do more".
Third is little or nothing, when dreams were many. Alesi is still tearing his hair:
"I’ve never seen somebody as unfair as Brundle".
He repeats it to the French reporters.
"We might even be afraid".
The heroes of the Thursday are always on Sunday. And these quarrels are other wounds. Cesare Fiorio, sports director of Ligier, tries to close it here:
"Certain polemics are bad for everyone. Then it ends up like in football".
That is, with wars. The last sun appears on the skyscrapers of Monte-Carlo. And the kiosk of Gerhard Berger:
"This is a circuit where it is wrong to bite the neck of the opponent. You must be patient. I had to wait 15 laps to pass Herbert".
But you can’t tell if it is a message of peace.
"We’ve got a problem".
Meanwhile, Frank Williams confesses, a little upset:
"This Schumacher is very good and goes too fast".
A statement of surrender? No, of course not, but these words can also sound like an accusation against Damon Hill. The Englishman was only good in the two starts, when he kept the pole position. As for the rest, his performance was not particularly brilliant.
"My car has oddly changed from practice to race. And I can’t understand why. I’m very disappointed that I didn’t win here because there was a real chance to do it. I don’t think about the championship too much anyway. We have something new for our cars and I still got some points that allow me not to be very far from Michael. We’ll see, I hope to win in Canada".
But Michael Schumacher has the same intentions:
"I had a difficult start to the season, with the disqualification back from Brazil and then tire problems in Argentina and the accident in Imola. The Benetton improves from race to race and so if I won here, where it’s particularly hard, I can be even stronger elsewhere. I’m satisfied and calm, and I want to congratulate the team".
Michael also points out that he brought a Renault engine to victory in Monte-Carlo for the first time. After seventeen entries, the first success came. And Bernard Dudot, technical director of the racing department of the French company, ends up taking a dip in the harbour, thrown of weight by his men. A nice risk, given the water pollution... One defeated and one winner. Instead, for Ferrari this is a hybrid position, not favourable. But Jean Todt makes some things clear:
"Although I don’t usually like to do this, this time I have to say that this weekend Ferrari was unlucky and that the result of the Grand Prix doesn’t reflect the true potential of our cars. We couldn’t get a good position on the grid on Saturday. And that affected our chances. Then, there was the accident on the first stint that deprived us of our race cars. So, the drivers could not make the most of the material they had available. But we’ve confirmed that the team is working well, and I don’t doubt that in the future we can get some satisfaction".
Ferrari will be at Mugello this week for a series of tests. Some new technical solutions will be tested and of course some new work on the engine. In two weeks, we will race in Montreal, a track with long fast corners that should theoretically favour the 412T2. However, despite everything, the race was more convincing than the previous ones. Progress continues. On Sunday, the two protagonists of the accident do not meet any more: Martin Brundle goes to the Grimaldi Palace Gala, while Jean Alesi prefers to spend the evening with his beautiful girlfriend Kumiko and some friends. But the anger of the Frenchman is already gone. Nevertheless, Jean remains convinced that the English driver always has an excessively unfriendly behaviour towards him. Ferrari itself, however, dampens the tone of the controversy against Ligier. There are already other reasons for tension in F1. Jean Totd, head of sports management, returned to Maranello on Monday and did not spare criticism of Martin Brundle, but calmed the spirits regarding the suspicions against the team owned by Flavio Briatore.
"What happened is part of the races, especially when the track is like that of Montecarlo. I’m sorry that Alesi’s beautiful race ended due to a driver on the point of being surrounded who, instead of driving to the limit, should have respected the blue flags already exposed for a long time, thus letting him pass. Moreover, this driver is not new to similar behaviours that have absolutely nothing to do with the responsibility of the team. In any case, instead of thinking about unnecessary controversy, we look forward to the next Canadian Grand Prix in two weeks".
The Ligier case is however controversial. Among Ferrari fans there is the conviction, expressed by phone calls and letters to the newspapers, that the behaviour of Martin Brundle and Olivier Panis is indeed not correct.
"They are two good drivers, very determined, but when Schumacher arrives, they step aside like two little lambs. In the case of overtaking attempts by Ferrari, however, they literally see red. And they accelerate to the limit".
To support this thesis, there is a fact: Martin Brundle made his fastest lap exactly when Jean Alesi arrived behind him. Coincidence? Since Flavio Briatore bought Ligier, the situation is certainly more complicated. The Italian manager directs Benetton and at the same time guides the destiny of the French team. There is - to our knowledge - no other case of high-level professional championships in which there are two or more teams with the same owner. Beause par condicio would not be respected. At the start of the season, there was an attempt by McLaren’s Ron Dennis to avoid such a situation. But on a formal level the problem does not exist, because Flavio Briatore, who bought Ligier, is only an employe in Benetton. If anything, it is a moral question. Instead, about the matter regarding overtaking and dubbing, for many years now pilots have not respected the blue flags that, according to regulation, would oblige those who go more slowly to facilitate the manoeuvre of those fighting for the top positions. But since the Sports Commissars and the Federation have never punished anyone, many rivers pretend not to see, knowing they can get away with it. In 1991, Cesare Fiorio, former Ferrari sports director and current Ligier sports director, presented a proposal that the FIA did not accept.
"I had asked for the rules to be changed. Two solutions could be found. The first was to use the blue flags only for dubbing and not for normal overtaking, during which rivers have the right to defend themselves with their teeth, to the limit of fairness. The other hypothesis was to use two flags of different colours depending on the manoeuvre. I was told that the proposal was interesting, but that the Commissioners were used to acting in a certain way for too long to change the rules. It would have created confusion".
The experienced manager from Turin had returned to the attack about twenty days before the Monaco Grand Prix.
"Just a few notices this, but we also had - in our own small way - the same problem Ferrari had. I spoke again with the sports authorities, and it seems that this time they are determined to do something".
It seems that, thanks to the cameras now applied on all cars, the race direction will be able to evaluate the behaviour of the driver from time to time, penalizing those who will carry out unnecessary obstructionist manoeuvres. But in all honesty, it will be difficult to apply measures that won’t create further controversy.