On Thursday, 16th June, 1994, driver Damon Hill and Williams designer Patrick Head are in Bologna to be questioned, the former as a witness and the latter as a suspect, by the magistrate conducting the investigation into the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix. The British driver comments on the meeting, saying:
"I think I was helpful".
And Patrick Head reaches out:
"There is nothing obvious in the data in our possession. However, there is an ongoing investigation and I cannot give any technical answers".
Speaking of the technical aspect, on Tuesday, 28 June, 1994, also in Bologna, Professor Lorenzini examined the steering column of Ayrton Senna's car, noting signs of obvious metal fatigue. As a result, in the days that followed, specialised weeklies spoke of modifications to the power steering system of Ayrton Senna's Williams and speculated on design errors. In the meantime, the tests carried out in these days by Scuderia Ferrari do not give sufficient indications to pass judgement on the goodness of the modifications, even if the only organ under examination, the new 043 engine, is not promoted by Gerhard Berger.
"It is still too early to bring it into the race immediately at Magny-Cours. We will probably have to wait a few races and use the 041 for the time being, which is reliable and proven".
The engine problem, however, is not the most pressing for the Maranello team. The real wait is for the modified single-seater that will be tested in the next two weeks. It is actually an almost completely rebuilt car as Barnard had to revise the aerodynamics, chassis, suspension and gearbox of the 412 T1. The work of the English designer and his collaborators was certainly complicated by the regulatory changes of recent times, wanted by the FIA for safety reasons. But only with a radical transformation of the car that contested the first six races of the season will Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi have any more hope of fighting at the top. While the Frenchman has already renewed his contract for 1995, the Austrian is in negotiations right now. The confirmation of the contract renewal comes on Wednesday, 22 June, 1994. Gerhard Berger thus becomes the driver with the highest loyalty for the Maranello team. In fact, 1995 will be his sixth season at the wheel of a Ferrari. At the same time, new problems arise for the organisation of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The Green Party, predictably, protested about the possible cutting of trees in the park containing the racetrack. Cuts are deemed justified by Mayor Montefiori in order to accommodate the drivers' requests to modify the track for safety reasons. But on Friday, 17 June, 1994, the leader of the Lombardy group, Fiorello Cortiana, presented an urgent question to all the bodies concerned to ask them to prohibit the felling of the trunks (even though they had promised to plant new ones in greater numbers). In short, the story continues. On Friday, 24 June, 1994, there is great expectation on the Fiorano track for the tests of the new Ferrari, or rather the version revised and corrected by the Austrian technician Brunner of Barnard's 412 T1. Many people are at the trackside, starting with Luca Montezemolo and Jean Todt, to watch the test. Only John Barnard is missing, an entirely understandable absence. The new car, modified especially on the sides, starts running around 3:30 p.m. - driven by Jean Alesi - and continues until the evening. Comparative tests are also carried out with the old model and, based on telemetry, the first data on the new single-seater are very comforting. On the 54-laps run, the French driver sets the best time of 1'02"59, declaring himself very satisfied at the end of the tests:
"The car responded well straight away, and the steering wheel felt much less heavy than before. Above all, I noticed improvements when coming out of corners, which means that we have already achieved a good balance. I have the impression that a new World Championship can begin for Ferrari".
Testing of the new car will continue the following day, again with Jean Alesi. The car will then be disassembled for further checks, then the mechanics will start thinking about the trip on Tuesday, 28 June, 1994, to the French circuit of Le Castellet, where Brunner's car - for which the new name has not yet been decided - will face further tests. The race debut is scheduled for the French Grand Prix, at the Magny-Cours circuit. They will insist on the current 041 engine, which appeared reliable anyway, postponing the debut of the new 043. On Sunday, June 26, 1994, Nigel Mansell threatened to sue some English newspapers that had written about his return to Formula 1, claiming that the driver had only accepted Williams' proposals for the vile money. Matter of opinion. The fact remains that the eclectic, extravagant, unpredictable, spectacular champion driver will indeed return to race in the Formula 1 World Championship. Barring any last-minute hitches, on Tuesday, 28 June, 1994, Nigel Mansell will be at Brands Hatch for a practice test and from Friday, 1 July, 1994, he will be competing in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. This will be the first of the six races Mansell will take part in in 1994, continuing in Formula Indy until the end of the season, as he waits to be in contention for the title next year. A tough commitment for the man and the driver, who will not have a free weekend until November. But what convinced Mansell to retrace his steps? The reasons are many. Firstly, despite certain enthusiastic declarations of manners, Nigel has never liked Indy racing and neither has the American environment. In addition, relations with the Haas-Newmann team have deteriorated in recent times. The Englishman is a guy who needs human warmth, to be pampered and encouraged. The United States is too cold for him. And the car he has at his disposal has so far not proved competitive to win, neither on ovals nor on road or conventional tracks. However, the real reason that prompted the almost 41-year-old racer to accept this new adventure is twofold. On the one hand a millionaire's salary offer, on the other a fine moral revenge, a kind of revenge on Williams: this time the British team had to accept all his conditions. When he left, Mansell said in fact:
"I decided to leave Formula 1 because of circumstances beyond my control. The chemistry between a driver and a team is decisive for success. Now this no longer exists between me and Williams. Before the Hungarian Grand Prix we had made a verbal agreement, with witnesses, for 1993. Three days later one of the team managers phoned me to inform me that Ayrton Senna had offered for nothing. And I, having just won the world title, would have to accept a huge reduction in my salary, because the Brazilian was ready to sign the same evening. I refused".
So it was not just the money, but also a lack of respect and consideration. Then the story developed differently: Alain Prost took his place and won the 1993 World Championship. Finally, the Frenchman was removed to make way for Ayrton Senna. And everyone knows how that turned out. Now Nigel Mansell has a chance to make up for it with all interests, moral and economic. It is said that he will receive for the 22 races to be contested (6 this year and 16 next season) one million dollars per race. In addition, he has been called as the saviour of the country because Williams has done very little so far. Frank Williams had to sacrifice himself to get him. But he could not do otherwise: partners and sponsors were not satisfied with Damon Hill and David Coulthard. Rothmans, Renault and Elf wanted a character and a champion, and they did everything to achieve this by overcoming all obstacles. Even those with the American sponsors (Ford, Texaco) who did not want to give in. And they also had to offer huge sums to Carl Haas and Paul Newmann to achieve their golden goal. Now Williams says he is overjoyed. And he repeats what he said about Mansell, when relations were excellent:
"Nigel has enormous talent, driving ability and control of the car that I have not seen in any driver in the last ten years. In addition, he has the ability and determination to get 110% out of himself and the car in any conditions".
In any case, Mansell's return can only be good for Formula 1. Schumacher awaits him for a confrontation between champions. It goes a little less well for Ferrari that on Tuesday, 28 June,1994, will be at Le Castellet with Alesi and Berger to test the new car that should mark its relaunch. With Nigel on the track everything will become more difficult. But if the Maranello team wants to go back up the slope it must also be able to overcome this new obstacle with a moustache. In the meantime, Benetton declares that it has chosen the Dutchman Jos Verstappen, 22, instead of J.J. Lehto. The Dutchman will race in the French and British Grand Prix. Tuesday June 28, 1994, here he is, the champion. The only survivor among the greats of the 1980s. The British driver returns to save Williams and - he says - to help Formula 1, which is declining in image and interest. Ready to face the busiest week of his life. On Sunday, 26 June, 1994, he raced in Portland in the Indy (P5), on Tuesday and maybe Wednesday he will test in the circuit that saw his debut, from Friday he will take part in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. Then he will return again to the United States for the American championship. His moustache is neatly trimmed, his eyes a little shiny, his voice slightly metallic. Photographers' flashes and camera lights await him for an early morning press conference, as the day must be dedicated to testing with Williams. The British driver is in white and blue overalls (made by the Turin company Sparco), with only the non-technical sponsors' inscriptions. The two main names are missing: Renault and Elf, who are the ones paying for this comeback. The money, that is the basic condition for the English driver to reach an agreement with his current Newman-Haas team and above all with his backers, Ford and Texaco. Why the return to Formula 1?
"I left not because I didn't like it any more, but because of different opinions with the team. In the USA I have a great experience. But when I had started many friends had helped me. Now I respond like this to those who call me, I'm here to race".
With what kind of commitment?
"For the moment for one race, the one at Magny-Cours. I have a very hard week ahead of me. I have to get to know the car and get back into the climate of a different competition. Then we'll see".
Does he think he can challenge and beat Schumacher?
"The German is very strong and has a great single-seater at his disposal. He sets the pace now in Formula 1 and so my challenge is to Schumacher".
Formula 1 has gone through very difficult times, experienced tragedies and received heavy accusations for safety.
"It's not for me to talk about the cars and the circuits. It seems to me that something is being done. It is difficult to express oneself when someone loses their life. Ayrton Senna's death touched our whole world, although in a different way. Certainly Berger, who was closest to him, suffered more than me. In any case, the Brazilian will never be forgotten, even if people tend not to remember the past: since I started, many drivers are no longer with us. In the 1980s there were terrible accidents. We know that something can always happen. So I am amazed at what has been said and written. I race for a living because I want to. When I had uncertainties I even thought about retiring, as happened in 1989. But it is clear that I enjoy driving and so I continue".
Mansell and Williams, therefore, are only talking about one race in Formula 1. But there are those who say that the programme is already established in detail: Nigel should be present in France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Japan and Australia. That is, in races not concurrent with Formula Indy.
After all, the Newman-Haas team has issued a statement saying that the moustachioed Briton will finish the season in the United States. It basically claims to have lent Mansell to Formula One for one Grand Prix as a sign of sporting cooperation. And what does Mansell expect from this new experience?
"An exciting challenge. I am doing it for the sport and the fans, to take an opportunity that few other drivers have had. And, of course, because I still feel at the top".
"I have won four times in France, the last two at Magny-Cours. And then I want to be competitive, to help Damon Hill, to help the team. I expect to do a good job".
Many say it was money that weighed on every decision.
"The money? When I started, I was paying to race, because I had the passion. It has remained intact, even now that I already have a nice nest egg. Money is not the most important factor, life is the most precious thing we have. Sometimes I regret that I love racing so much".
Yes, but how much are these millions of dollars?
"Two dollars, OK?"
At 10:30 a.m., Nigel Mansell takes to the track. At 10:32 a.m. he makes his first spin on the grass. Sending the 5,000 spectators present at Brands Hatch into raptures just to see the return of the warrior. Nigel Mansell has been racing cars for 26 years. He made his debut in 1968, aged 15, driving a 100-cc Fastkart. Since then he has won everything, including the Formula 1 World Championship and the Indy Championship. A complete ace, but certainly not a youngster. Why did Frank Williams, after Senna's passing, want him so badly?
"The reason is simple: we need him, we want to win races. For us, the championship is not over yet".
But can one still be sure that Mansell will be as fast and as good as before?
"Williams thinks so. However, in Formula One we are used to taking risks".
And will he only do one race?
"For now we have a contract for Magny-Cours. The situation with the Americans is complicated, but everything can be solved".
Nelson Piquet called Jean Alesi a short fuse. Like those bombs that, as soon as they are lit, blow up in your face. An appropriate definition for the French driver, fiery on the track and a man of explosive temperament but as good as bread. The Ferrari driver is currently celebrating the fifth anniversary of his Formula 1 debut, which took place at the 1990 French Grand Prix (at Le Castellet) with Tyrrell. It is a decisive moment for his career; in fact, he has hinted that if things do not go well, he might even leave Ferrari at the end of the year.
After professing a great love for Maranello, why think about divorce?
"Being at Ferrari is not a job, but the fulfilment of a passion. However, I don't want to go down in history as the driver who drove the most races without winning. If from now on there are improvements and we become competitive there will be no problems. If not, we will see…".
Alesi already has a contract for 1995. But Ferrari itself would not keep a racer who is in the team against his will. At Maranello they say: that of the drivers for us now is the last matter. But aren't you afraid of putting yourself on the market too late?
"No. There aren't many top drivers. Look at Williams: it was in such trouble that it recalled Mansell. After dropping him in 1993".
By the way, what does Alesi think of the Englishman's return?
"It's a very positive fact. He is a symbol, a champion, someone who puts on a show on the track and also in the pits. I think he will still be strong. But I hope not very strong, because I want to beat him".
Fast drivers: what about Schumacher then?
"Michael is a phenomenon: he has the physique, the mentality, the skill and the car to win. But let's not forget that now, after Senna, he is practically on his own and has the best complex of the moment. With Ayrton in the race it would have been different".
Let's talk more about Alesi. It is said that he is a turbulent element, capable of losing his head and that as a test driver he is not worth much...
"I can't stand bad faith. In Canada I refused to talk to French journalists because they had said and written that Ferrari was cheating. I would never race with an irregular car. Accusing my team is like calling me a crook. Maybe I am capricious, but not rude. As for the tuning of the cars, I have never had a truly competitive car to win. And when the car doesn't work, everything is more difficult. So I'm still running after my first win".
How have you been since the accident at Mugello?
"Fine to drive, but I'm struggling to sleep and when I get up I feel like I've boxed all night with Tyson".
Back to Ferrari. On Friday it will present a practically new car, the 412 T1B. Chassis, suspension, aerodynamics. What prospects?
"It's too early to talk. The tests at Le Castellet went well. Apparently there is progress of one second per lap. We should be closer, even though this circuit is not favourable to us. But there is still room for fine-tuning. At Silverstone we should have the full titanium gearbox, at Hockenheim the 043 engine, in qualifying and in the race. I haven't tested this engine because once again Berger did the testing. But I think it will give us advantages. As I have already said, I hope that Ferrari will take steps forward, from this race onwards, to a victory".
Is that Jean Alesi's hope?
"No, this is the starting point. My dream, indeed my goal, is to bring Ferrari back to the world title. Then I will remain at Maranello for the rest of my life".
On Friday, July 1, 1994, the Formula 1 Circus found Magna-Cours at extremely high temperatures on and off the track. With 47 °C on the asphalt Michael Schumacher fends off his rivals' attacks with a perfect lap at the start of the first qualifying session. But the Ferrari with Gerhard Berger and the Williams thanks to Damon Hill come very close to the Benetton, just a few tenths of a second away, on a circuit that should especially exalt the skills of the car of the World Championship leader. This result has several echoes and implications. First: Schumacher is very good and is always able to make the difference; second: the new Maranello car, the 412 T1B, is on the right track; third: even Williams, little by little is catching up. On the other hand, Nigel Mansell, on his return to Formula 1, showed that it is not easy to reposition himself immediately at the top (as Mario Andretti had done in the past) and only finished seventh. Also ahead of him were Jean Alesi (P4), Martin Brundle (P5) and the usual Rubens Barrichello. There is the impression that Schumacher still has considerable margins, especially in the race. However, this time he had to play cunningly and skilfully to get the most out of his car's capabilities. He prepared a compromise set-up, willing to lose something in the first part of the circuit (the fastest one, where he scored fifth) to make up for everything in the other two sectors, which are slower and more twisty. An alchemy that confirms the sensitivity of the driver and the team's ability to support him. Ferrari still has a few small problems to solve, but at least there has been a concrete step forward. As Gerhard Berger explains:
"The car actually runs a little better. The aerodynamics now work well. The drawback still concerns the front end. It is a defect of mechanical origin, I don't know if it comes from the suspension geometry, the springs or something else. But now we have a lot of things to try and I am sure that within a short time we will be one hundred percent competitive. There will be the new engine, the lighter gearbox. In short, I am confident. I am convinced that before the end of the season we will win some races. And if I have renewed the contract for 1995 it is because I believe in the team, in the team that now works as well as a McLaren can".
A fine compliment from the Austrian, who for the first time confesses to being optimistic. But, since the two drivers of the Maranello team are like black and white, one the opposite of the other, on a character level, if Berger, strong in his second time, is hopeful, Alesi is angry. It may be the fact that, although he is not jealous, Jean never likes to be behind his team-mate, but the fact is that the Frenchman does not talk about cars and races, but takes it out on a good part of the Italian press, accusing it of having invented certain statements of his on Thursday, with which he had linked his stay at Ferrari to the competitiveness of the new car. The Frenchman takes a step back (but there are plenty of witnesses and tape recordings to testify to the veracity of what was written) and issues another statement of total faith for the Maranello team. It is noted, Alesi is like an explosive, short fuse type, as Nelson Piquet says. The important thing - for Ferrari - is that he comes on strong at the right time, when there is a chance to win. Fortunately, certain tensions are tempered in the environment by the good humour and sense of humour of Flavio Briatore, manager of Benetton. Who, to justify yet another driver change (he has again replaced Lehto with Verstappen), says:
"I am not like Sacchi (football coach of the Milan Football Club and the Italian national team). I leave those who are not in condition at home and make those who are fit play".
And he also throws a dig at Nigel Mansell, downgrading him from Lion to Cat. In fact Nigel has not yet scratched much. And he stalls:
"A few laps are not enough to push to the maximum, even though the car has great potential. I am not disappointed. On the contrary, I am convinced I can improve a lot. It was an exciting day anyway, fantastic job".
It is no coincidence that, on Saturday, 2 July, 1994, even if beaten in a sprint, the old Lion still shows he has enormous capabilities. Nigel Mansell is always able to amaze. And on Sunday he will be the main attraction of the French Grand Prix. In fact, the English driver will start on the front row, next to team-mate Damon Hill, who takes pole position, the third of his career. And it will be difficult to overlook his presence: Mansell is a born fighter, capable of giving the kind of spectacle that Formula 1 is struggling to find. With a great desire - among other things - to prove that he has earned the pharaonic remuneration received for this race alone. It may be random, but Williams with Mansell is once again the fastest car. A good contribution came from Renault, who brought a new engine (RS6B) for qualifying, but the fact remains that the car improved in set-up and the battle between the two drivers of Didcot's team led to a surprise result. It was only on the very last lap that Damon Hill, by 0.077 seconds, with reckless driving flush with walls and kerbs, overtook his 41-year-old rival-friend. But in the race it could be something else.
"I am happy to be on the front row, and it is great to have been invited for this test. I thank the mechanics, the technicians, the sponsors, the family...".
A galvanised Williams that for the first time since Ayrton Senna's tragedy regained pole position and competitiveness. Relegated to the second row, in third place, Michael Schumacher, who had dominated the last three qualifying sessions. The German, author of two off the track in the morning (a sign that when you are put under pressure everything becomes more difficult), says that his Benetton is not perfect. However, he has already won this year without starting on pole. The two Ferraris remain in P4 (Jean Alesi) and P5 (Gerhard Berger), but they are closer in time (0.7 seconds from the Williams, 0.2 seconds from the Benetton). The two drivers claim to be satisfied, even if there are still some set-up problems that can only be resolved in the coming weeks. This is Jean Todt's prediction:
"We will be more competitive next Sunday at Silverstone, and able to win at Hockenheim".
That is when the final modifications and new engine will arrive. And in France, what will happen? Gerhard Berger says:
"It will be a long and difficult race, I hope for a good placing".
While the always optimistic Jean Alesi, adds:
"I'll start on the second row, but it won't be impossible to fight for the victory".
If you look at previous tests, however, you have to say that in the race Ferrari always loses more than its rivals compared to timed tests. If something different happened it would really be a step forward. In the meantime, the safety issue is back on the agenda, after Jos Verstappen violently hits the pit wall and one of the two wheels lost from his Benetton demolishes the McLaren's position. Fortunately, no damage was done. At the same time the FIA commission (Ecclestone, Mosley and Todt) decides to increase the speed limit inside the pits from 80 km/h to 120 km/h. They say that such slow single-seaters are ridiculous. One hopes, however, that this is not a reversal.
The drivers, by the way, were informed when the decision was made. However, they agree. While they reiterate their threats regarding their lack of presence at the Italian Grand Prix, which will be run at Monza: if the big corner between the two chicanes is not changed, they will not show up. On Sunday, 3 July, 1994, at the start of the French Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher took the lead followed by Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. In a few laps the German and his English rival pull away from Mansell and the Ferrari drivers, gaining a decent lead. At the second stop, Michael Schumacher, who had been in the lead up to this point, gave up the lead to Damon Hill, who would only stop a few laps later. Then, on lap 41, Rubens Barrichello and Jean Alesi touch and eliminate each other. The following lap, Nigel Mansell also drops out due to mechanical problems. On lap 44, Damon Hill pits again, handing the race lead to Michael Schumacher, who will not abandon it again until the end. The German, therefore, crosses the finish line first, followed by Damon Hill, Gerhard Berger, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Pierluigi Martini and Andrea de Cesaris. Another race that was decided at the start. In fact, a stroke of brilliance by Michael Schumacher was enough to mortify all pretenders to victory within a few metres. The Benetton driver at the start slipped between the two Williams preceding him on the grid and goodbye glory dreams. Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell were as if caught off guard, both passed by an unexpected sprint. They stepped aside, one to the left and one to the right, and from that moment on they began to suffer, seeing only more of the tail of their clever rival's car. In truth, Schumacher was the perfect executor of a plan devised with excellent strategy by his team. The 25-year-old racer from Kerpen started with the light single-seater, having decided to make three pit stops to change tyres and refill the fuel tank. A little stratagem that brought great results. A tactical victory of which Michael was the ideal interpreter, fast and determined. Sixth victory out of seven races for the German driver, to which a second place must be added. He now has a 37-point lead over Damon Hill, an abyss given the way things are going. Schumacher only needs to manage the rest of the season well to win his first world title without any problems. However, even though it ended with another victory the French Grand Prix has sent out some warning signals for Benetton, who from next Sunday at Silverstone will have to face circuits that are on paper less favourable.
Although Schumacher dominated far and wide (he finished 12 seconds ahead of Hill and 52 seconds ahead of Berger, but made one more pit-stop than the Englishman and the Austrian) there were signs of redemption from Williams and Ferrari. Didcot's team, in qualifying was able to use a new Renault engine that will make its debut in the race at Hockenheim, that of Maranello improved aerodynamics and mechanics, waiting for the new engine that should also make its debut in Germany after having been used in time trials on Friday and Saturday at Silverstone. Ferrari could have picked up something more if Jean Alesi had not stumbled into a mistake that ousted him from the race on lap 42, while he was in P4 and with a good chance to recover. The Frenchman ran off the track at the chicane preceding the entrance to the pit straight. Jean Alesi tried to get back on track with a controlled spin (he had finished his carambole spun in the opposite direction) but as he moved he hit the Jordan of the unsuspecting Barrichello who was overtaking. Race over for both. For the rest the race was tremendously boring. The only real, decisive emotion, as has been said, at the start, when Schumacher gulled the Williams duo. For the rest, thanks to a ridiculous track (with the same conditions you can't overtake anywhere), everything was based on pit stops and - if you like - breakages and accidents. Schumacher was always in the lead, except for seven laps (from lap 38 to lap 44) when his position was taken over by Hill. Thanks precisely to the round of stops. Not a single overtake in the top positions. Alesi, who was faster than Mansell, was behind the English moustache for 17 laps, until Nigel came into the pits for the first refuelling. Incidentally Mansell had set his car's set-up wrong and came back in early to see if anything could be changed. So Berger had his good race that put him on the podium behind Schumacher and Hill, and gave 4 points to Ferrari still second in the Constructors' Championship. In the end the Austrian slowed down because he had no one to push behind him and no one to try to catch up with. The spectacle was basically made by the Italian group, this time less unlucky than on other occasions. Martini P5 with the Minardi and de Cesaris P6 with the Sauber were the consolation prize. The two Italian drivers at least earned a place in the top six by doing some overtaking. Big bad luck, on the other hand, for Gianni Morbidelli, who was involved in an accident with the Ligier of Oivier Panis, initially caused by the usual carelessness of the Japanese Ukyo Katayama.
At 3:25 p.m., Nigel Mansell parked his Williams in the run-off lane of the Adelaide corner. The Englishman stopped almost in slow motion, then remained in the cockpit of the single-seater for a long time, his head tilted forward a little.
Someone said, referring to the hellish heat that accompanied the race.
"No, he's doing the usual cinema, like a great histrionic man".
Someone else replied. In reality, the almost 41-year-old driver only waited until he had finished talking to the pits over the radio to explain what had happened to him. Then he got out, took off his helmet and asked:
"Which way do I go?"
Half an hour later Mansell is already at Nevers airport. A short wait and there he is flying to London. In England he changes planes for Florida. Then a couple of days rest and another trip to Cleveland where he will compete in a Formula Indy race next Sunday. Will we see him in Formula 1 again? Frank Williams answers:
"Maybe at the end of the season, in the last races".
Nigel heads back to the States with his hefty cheque in his pocket, as we are talking about $1,000,000 in fees for a single race. Was it worth that much?
"Of course, for many reasons. Because he is good and it helped the team to get an idea of what needs to be done on the car. And it also stimulated his team-mate Hill, who now has more experience and is maturing from race to race".
The opinions on Mansell are almost all positive. Not least because, in the end, he didn't bother anyone. The experiment has pleased the drivers, who can reaffirm that one can race at the highest level even at an advanced age. Not even the team managers had anything against it. Not least because they did not pay for it. The sponsors are also happy, since the Englishman has brought interest back to a somewhat dull Formula 1. In short, a success. Even Alain Prost, who did the race commentary, found no negative elements in the temporary return of his former rival:
"In qualifying he was fantastic. In the race you couldn't expect more, you can't arrive in Formula 1 with the cars there are today and be a winner without training and without knowing the vehicle you drive well".
The person concerned is laconic. With a slightly dull smile, the Briton dictates a proclamation of sorts:
"I hope Damon will still do some good racing. I'm going back to the States now because you know I have some commitments next weekend. I wish all the drivers a good British Grand Prix. I have spent three excellent days here and I want to thank everyone, especially the men at Williams. All the best".
And he runs off very quickly, without saying another word to anyone. Only the reason for Mansell's retirement remained to be revealed. On his car the belt of the oil pump that runs the hydraulic system of the gearbox broke. A cheap detail, which put the millionaire driver out. But Mansell's adventure in Formula 1 is almost certainly not over. We will see him again at the end of the championship and then again next year, busy chasing another World Championship, again with Williams. Rumour has it that the contract has already been signed. Meanwhile, with a big smile and a few punches against a railing to vent his happiness, Michael Schumacher punctures another hole in his 1994 season ticket with victory. A few words to comment on the race:
"A fantastic start, then a good fight with Hill on the edge of tenths of a second. We made the first stop together and when we came back onto the track I saw that he was slower. So I realised he was only going to stop one more time. And I pushed as hard as I could and took the advantage, which allowed me to apply the tactic we had studied without any problems. It was all perfect, really".
Damon Hill replies:
"Unfortunately I let myself be fooled at the start. Then I attacked hard to recover, but with the second set of tyres the car was no longer balanced. Anyway, we got the strategy wrong. I think I had a good race and I think we will be more competitive in the next tests. We are looking forward to Silverstone".
Ferrari is also convinced that they are on the right track. For the first time, Jean Todt makes predictions:
"Good result, in England we will improve again, in Hockenheim we will be able to fight for victory".
A conviction, that of the Maranello team manager, shared by Gherard Berger.
"I am third in the World Championship, Ferrari is second, we have done five podiums, we are growing. The car is better even if it is still not perfect. I am confident for the future. As for the race, I was faster than Mansell, but I couldn't take any risks and waited for him to pit. Then, in any case, he retired and I took it easy until the end because the fatigue due to the ambient temperature was terrible".
Jean Alesi, on the other hand, did not even have to wait until the end of his effort. But the accident did not faze him too much.
"I made a mistake, because I had terrible oversteer and went off the track as I was forcing myself to catch up with those in front. I was in the middle of the track and had to get out of a dangerous position. I did a controlled spin and was coming back in when Barrichello hit me. The young Brazilian has to learn to be master of his car. I knew I had a ten-second lead and he should have had time to see what had happened and change his trajectory".
Of the opposite opinion, of course, Barrichello, furious at the elimination:
"Alesi moved like crazy. Drivers in big teams should learn to have a little more respect for others. I would definitely have taken some good points".
Alesi does not reply, as he is already focused on the tests he will do on Monday at Magny-Cours.
A test on the new titanium gearbox is scheduled, which will lighten the car by about 9 kg at the rear, to improve weight distribution as well. If the test proves that the material is reliable, it will be used as early as Silverstone, along with the new 043 engine, which, however, will only be used in qualifying.
"We have made up more than half a second on the lap, now we are looking for what we need to catch up with Benetton".
On Monday, the 4th of July 1994, Jean Alesi, smiling as few other times had seen him, comments on the extra practice session with Ferrari in the aftermath of the French Grand Prix.
"I took pole position two days late".
In fact, the French driver, at the end of the series of tests carried out, at 3:15 p.m., i.e. in the middle of the afternoon heat, does a kind of qualifying lap in 1'16"200. Last Saturday, Damon Hill in the Williams had been the fastest of the batch of contenders in the fight for the race grid, setting a time of 1'16"282. After the mechanics prepared the car with the new titanium gearbox and made the necessary adjustments to compensate for the change in weight distribution, Jean Alesi took to the track at 9:30 a.m., and in total completed around forty laps with many stops for set-up. A short stop at midday for a snack, work resumes at 2:00 p.m.. Then the very fast passage and even a spin in the circuit's second fast corner, without damage.
"Only once before had I experienced a Ferrari that was so easy to drive. It was the 641 with which Prost narrowly missed out on the World Championship in 1990. It was autumn, then the regulations changed and things went from bad to worse for us. But already on Sunday, in the modified 412 T1B single-seater, I had similar feelings".
Does this mean that Ferrari is ready to win?
"Well, on Sunday we will be racing at Silverstone where Benetton, Williams, McLaren and most of the other British teams have done all their testing. So we will start at a disadvantage. Let's say that the real competitive Ferrari will be seen at the end of the month, in the German Grand Prix".
Indeed, the Maranello team prefers to be cautious about the immediate future. The titanium gearbox gives good results, but the material still needs to be tested to offer a minimum guarantee of reliability in races. Furthermore, it is not yet known whether the new 043 engine will be fitted in qualifying. A decision will be made on Thursday, the 7th of July, when the team and technicians will arrive at Silverstone.
"The important thing now is that we are on the right track. We must not lose our composure or have any easy illusions. The opponents are also working and progressing. Among other things, our car is open to further improvements. Basically it is new and has a lot of room for development. John Barnard is working on a rear suspension with different geometries that should take us another step forward. But let's wait: we don't have the bear skin yet. Better to wait for the response from the track in direct confrontation with our rivals".
However, are the improvements already achieved enough for Jean Alesi to stay at Ferrari after the doubts of the past week? Alain Prost advises him to respect the contract for 1995 so as to take advantage of the work done so far.
"I really never thought of leaving Maranello. However, the fact that Alain agrees with my decision gives me even more confidence".
All that remains is to wait, therefore, at least one or two races. For Ferrari, things seem to be going well. After the hell that lasted three years and the purgatory of these last months, promotion to paradise is perhaps within reach.