"It is not my habit to make rash predictions, but it must be admitted that if everything goes well we can be very close to beating our rivals".
The track is theoretically suited to the characteristics of the 412 T2, a few small changes on the engines, an efficient chassis, easy to set up. These are the Maranello team's weapons. But there is more. Lately there has been friction between the two drivers: the accident at the start in Barcelona and the fact that Alesi somehow obstructed Berger in qualifying at Monaco created a situation of separation at home between Jean and Gerhard. So President Montezemolo had to intervene and he certainly made the two drivers face up to their responsibilities.It is true that Formula 1 is an individual sport, but there are also definite team interests. And since Ferrari's intention is to reconfirm Berger and Alesi for 1996, the two drivers have had to review their intentions and now the situation should be normalised. Among other things, reliable market rumours say that the Austrian has already signed (before Monte-Carlo) a contract for next year and that the Frenchman met Montezemolo in the days before the Canadian Grand Prix to do the same. Although Alesi has had practically every possible confirmation, his position would be more fluid. Jean would be very keen on Benetton, and he would also have had contact with Williams. It is clear that Renault would be behind the manoeuvre, who would like to have at least one French driver. But there is also the possibility that Frank Williams, disappointed with the French company that also wanted to give its engines to Benetton, could change supplier, turning to Ford. In this case, all that would be left for Alesi would be the team managed by Flavio Briatore, his great friend and admirer. There is also talk of a Schumacher-Alesi exchange between Ferrari and Benetton, but there is a huge obstacle in the form of the German driver's financial demands. The good Michael Schumacher would ask for a sum valued at around $30,000,000 per year. Another hypothesis, a little more fanciful, speaks of Alain Prost who would like to make an all-French team with Alesi. With Berger apparently confirmed, and Alesi now on the home straight (although some of Montezemolo's advisors also like Coulthard and Frentzen, the latter about to try out for McLaren, at the behest of Mercedes), Ferrari should have found peace of mind as far as the human factor is concerned. It remains to be seen whether the technical and car progress will really be confirmed from Friday 9 June to Sunday 11 June 1995, also considering that for Saturday and race day there is the threat of rain. Which could also be a further advantage. While waiting to see if Alesi and Berger will really succeed in the duel between the leader Schumacher and Damon Hill, the market holds sway. And not only that of drivers. Wednesday 7 June 1995 Cesare Fiorio also confirmed the rumours that had been circulating for some time. And announces that he will leave Ligier as of 2 July 1995. A communiqué speaks of an amicable and consensual separation, after the conclusion of a contract signed for just one year. In reality, the Italian manager preferred to leave the French team because of the arrival of Tom Walkinshaw, who holds the same position as him. Fiorio, skilled and competent, brought Ligier back to an acceptable level. But he was preferred to the controversial British executive with whose departure Benetton in some way paid a debt to the FIA. Briatore had in fact promised the Federation, after last year's events (irregular petrol filler, etc. etc.), that he would remove the person responsible. Underground manoeuvres. Michael Schumacher doesn't want to take any risks. And he doesn't give rivals any room.
"I'm told that in the second qualifying round it might rain, so it will be better to go straight to the front".
Said and done. On Friday 9 June 1995 the World Champion's Benetton is in provisional pole position in the Canadian Grand Prix. And if the weathermen are right, the German driver will once again start ahead of everyone. The skill of a driver is also this: knowing how to take advantage of all situations and being able to get the best at the right moment. Something that didn't happen to Ferrari, which for now has to be content with third place for Berger and fourth for Alesi, both also preceded by Hill. On an atypical circuit, between low walls and guardrails, with the asphalt ruined by the winter cold forming small depressions, Schumacher had every intention of gaining his fourth win of the season. To lengthen the pace in the standings and leave Damon Hill in the lurch. Michael Schumacher always comes out on top, thanks also to a car that evidently supports him perfectly.
"We worked hard, just to be one hundred per cent right away. And everything worked perfectly. I could even have been faster if I hadn't run into traffic, a few too many overtakes. But I am happy even so. If there is a chance to improve, though, I certainly won't go on the track to get overtaken".
"I turn 31 on Sunday, and I really wanted to celebrate it with my first Formula 1 success. However, it looks like that will not be the case this time either. Hope is always the last to die, but things did not turn out as well as we all hoped. The small bumps on the track put us in crisis, we couldn't find a good set-up to get over the jumps well. Then with the second set of tyres the car had an electrical problem and I had to give up. I don't give up, as always, but everything becomes more difficult".
"Honestly, after only three laps, I could not expect more. I tried a fast lap in the final, to improve, but by only two seconds I caught the chequered flag marking the end of qualifying. There was a small problem with the fuel filler valves in the refuelling and I lost valuable time. Let's hope the weather forecast is wrong and we can make up for it in the second round. I think Ferrari is worth the front row".
For the moment, next to Schumacher is Damon Hill.
"My Williams is very difficult to drive, it was jumping all over the place. I saw myself against the walls several times. Luckily I always managed to avoid skidding too violently. Otherwise I continue to have confidence for the race. Now we'll study the telemetry data and you'll see that we'll be more competitive".
It has to be said that Williams, while always remaining at the top, is often surprised in recent times by various problems. Coulthard, for example, had a terrible time with the road holding and on his car the gearbox would jump when the Scot shifted gears. Not an easy situation, driving at 250 km/h in this kind of Notre Dame Island gut. The challenge is still open, but much at this point depends on whether the rain will fall. Around here they hardly get the barometer (and of course the satellites) wrong. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for Saturday. So the second qualifying round might even be saved by the wet track. More difficult is the situation for the race, when a lasting drizzle should theoretically arrive. And who knows, on the wet asphalt, Alesi might find his lucky day. But this is not serious: to confirm its progress, Ferrari would have to go faster without help from the clouds. In the pits, however, there is also talk of something else. And specifically about Jacques Villeneuve, son of the unforgettable Gilles Villeneuve. Suddenly, the little boy seems to have become a hot market item. Where will Jacques Villeneuve go? Perhaps to Ferrari, like his famous father? The question bounces impertinently between one pit box and another, after the 24-year-old son of Gilles won the Indy 500. But, evidently, it is no longer enough to be a child of art. The answer comes from Bernie Ecclestone:
"Jacques? He's not going anywhere. I've tried polling the various stables, nobody wants him".
On Saturday 10 June 1995, the announced rain does not wet the track at Notre Dame Island. There is also bright and warm sunshine on the second qualifying day of the Canadian Grand Prix. But, mysteries of Formula 1 and the asphalt, the track is still slightly slower than on Friday. So very little changes in the starting grid and the only major change makes only one victim: Ferrari. While Schumacher retains his pole position ahead of Damon Hill, the ninth of his career and the third of the season, the ardent Coulthard takes third place, ahead of Berger and Alesi who move up one position. In a certain sense the starting grid seen at Monte-Carlo is repeated, with the only difference being the exchange at the top between Schumacher and Hill, who, however, both remained on the front row. It would therefore be logical to foresee a good battle between the World Champion's Benotton and the Englishman's Williams, with the possible inclusion of the young Scot and the two Ferraris in the role of outsiders. But there is always the threat of a downpour that could turn the parties around, or at least create surprises. Indeed, at this point the Maranello team would be better off hiring a rain dance wizard, given Alesi's ability in the wet. But clement weather will be preferable: the risks on an extremely dangerous circuit would be too much. Michael Schumacher now seems to have an easy job. In the second practice session he waited until the last moment to try - unsuccessfully - to improve his time (and he also made a nice spin), but he already seemed sure to keep pole. Not content with that, the German driver nevertheless managed to improve the grip of his car, with a modified rear suspension and perhaps even a different front wing that could give him some advantage. Says Michael Schumacher, at the end of practice:
"In any case I am confident, but it will not be an easy race. The track is challenging and if it rains the race could become a lottery".
Indeed, the Canadian circuit is unforgiving. Barrichello almost destroyed his Jordan against a low wall (damage only to the car and a fright for the driver), as did Luca Badoer, who then repeated himself in the afternoon (a broken rim on a kerb). The spins and braking errors are not counted. Brakes indeed, tyre and petrol consumption (the highest in the World Championship) will be part of the game, as will pit-stop tactics. Due mainly to the small bumps the track is full of, the Ferrari suffers more than expected. Alesi improves by about 0.1 second, tries to soften his car to make it more efficient over the bumps, but the asphalt is too slippery:
"I was always on the limit. and I had to overtake several times".
An extreme attempt by Berger to recover positions in the finale was also futile. Badoer's going off the track interrupts practice with three minutes to go. When the go-ahead was given again, the Austrian launched himself onto the track. But he had already completed 10 of the 12 allowed laps, and with the launch he makes 13 passes in front of the finish line. His time was therefore eliminated. However, he had not managed to overtake Coulthard and remains in fourth place. Gerhard Berger explains:
"We thought that since the red flag had been given, the last lap before the Minardi incident did not count".
He thought well. In fact, after a complaint from Ferrari, the race direction agrees with him.
"However so much effort was for nothing. The race? Difficult to make a prediction. In a normal situation, we could aim for the points zone or maybe the podium, if everything goes well".
"Do you want to know what was the most difficult moment of the race? When I heard that Schumacher had stopped in the pits. My eyes filled with tears and I could no longer see anything. I felt an incredible joy, I realised I was going to win. In a way I regret that I have built my first success on the misfortunes of others, but at the same time I have had so much bad luck in the past, I have come so close to victory many times, mocked at the last moment, that I can think of nothing else but this fantastic achievement".
Jean Alesi stammers, almost unable to utter a sentence without his lips quivering. But finally he freezes.
"For me, a nightmare ended. I was terrified of going down in history as a driver who had never won anything. The eternal second. But I had faith, I knew that sooner or later I would hit the target. From the beginning of the year we were getting closer and closer. We outperformed the Williams in the race, now we are close even to Schumacher's Benetton. It took a twist, but when you push at the end you get there. After all, that's how racing is done, on other occasions and we capitalise on our rivals to win on our misfortunes".
Thoughts towards the world title, now that there is a solid third position on Schumacher and Hill's shoulders?
"Ferrari can aim for the Constructors' World Championship, that's for sure. In fact, I feel sorry for Berger, we could have made a great haul, finishing first and second. As for the Drivers' World Championship, you have to be realistic, it will be very difficult. But the season is still long. If we also do Monza, there will still be eleven races to go. And anything can happen. Realistically Schumacher is still the big favourite".
Speaking of Schumacher, it was nice of him to stop on the track to bring you back to the pits when you ran out of petrol on the slow lap.
"Actually, I didn't run out of fuel. I was waving to the crowd, I was crazy with joy and took both hands off the wheel. And the engine died. It was my mistake. But it allowed me to drive the Benetton, even though I was on the bonnet. A beautiful car, really...".
"To myself because I believe I have deserved it, to the president Montezemolo who has always heartened me and believed in me even in the most difficult moments, to Todt who has worked for two years to make us win, to all the technicians and in particular to my engineer Ignazio Lunetta, to the mechanics, to the cooks, to those who stayed at home and work in the workshop. Then to the fans, who are extraordinary, the Italians and the French. To my family, to those who put up with my temper, to the whole world, even Martin Brundle".
A kind of general amnesty, in short. Very bitter Gerhard Berger:
"Too bad, I could have been there too. The car was going really well. First there was the fuel problem. I don't know what happened, I had started with a full tank, there must have been at least one litre left. Maybe there was an abnormal consumption. Then the accident with Brundle. It was my mistake, I braked too late thinking that the Englishman was going wide. It will be for another time. Long live Alesi".
It took six years, about 2160 days, to win. But it was worth it. In just under two hours Jean Alesi made up for the bitterness of the past. He won his first Formula 1 victory and returned Ferrari to the top step of the podium. A great satisfaction for the son of a Sicilian emigrant who works as a coachbuilder in Avignon. A dream come true for the boy who, as a novice driver, did not even dare to think about the world of Grand Prix. And yet, step by step, from karting to promotional formulas, to the French Formula 3 champion title to that of Intercontinental Formula 3000, and now here, protagonist with Ferrari. Here he is, the day after: a big smile on his lips, bright blue eyes, De Niro face. How does it feel now?
"Very good. After the race I was still full of pain, of tiredness. My stomach was in pieces. Stress and nervousness. Now I realise: I talked to a lot of people. My parents, dad Franco and mum Marcella. Then lots of friends. I phoned President Montezemolo. I think he was a wreck in front of the TV, worse than me. I know he also spoke to Mr Agnelli. He was happy. I told him: so, will you keep me in the team? He replied: we'll see, we'll see. There are no problems, but it's clear that things aren't always easy, you have to prove something every time, provoke motivation. I hope I succeeded".
Did you think you could win?
"No. We had started badly on Friday and Saturday was worse. Somehow we did the opposite of the usual. Normally since the beginning of the year we were doing well on the first day, a little less on the second, bad on Sunday. I knew that starting in fifth position was a handicap and that it would not be easy to recover.
Then there was the nice birthday present from Schumacher who, leading by 30 seconds, stopped in the pits with an electronic problem...
"A present yes. But I deserved it, because I was gold there, in second place. I immediately made a very risky overtaking move on Berger. At that moment Coulthard's Williams spun. I said to myself: there, now I'm going to centre it and it's all over. I managed to avoid it. Then I overtook Hill, well, I think. In short, I was doing my race. On other occasions it had happened to me to stop while I was in the lead. This time it happened to others".
"Yes, very nice. So I also got to take a lap in the Benetton... But I prefer my Ferrari. Joking aside: I got into the German's single-seater without thinking, euphoric. When I realised I couldn't hang on, I thought: God, what have I done? Now I'm going to roll on the asphalt and slaughter myself".
The victory in Canada also exorcised the curse of the number 27, which had not won in years.
"I've never been superstitious. Senna had won a World Championship with the #27. It's a number like any other: I've grown fond of it".
Does this success erase the other best memories?
"Let's say that Sunday was the most important day. But I don't forget other episodes. Like in Phoenix, when, as a rookie, I passed Senna after he had overtaken me. I had never spoken to him, for me he was a myth".
What was the most difficult period in Ferrari?
"1992. I had arrived at Maranello in a winning team with Prost. Prost was no longer there and I found myself with Capelli and a car that didn't even run. Ivan also paid for that situation. Then I stayed because, called by Montezemolo, Jean Todt arrived. He turned the team around, he transformed it. Now we're driving strong".
Is the fact of having broken the ice, of having stepped onto the highest step of the podium, the end of a nightmare?
"Everyone thinks I had some kind of psychological block because of it. It's certain that I didn't want to go down in history as a driver who had never won. But my problem was something else. It was the incredible history of Ferrari. Every time I lined up on the track for the start of a race, there was someone who said: here, Villencuve started in P18 and came first. Or: on this track Lauda won the World Championship. And so on. A series of memories, of comparisons that oppressed me, that annoyed me. I hope it's over".
Lately, however, it seems that there have been problems with Berger.
"It is true. There have been misunderstandings. But not because of racing incidents, as people believe. Misunderstandings can happen on the track. But then everything settles down. Gerhard got angry because of certain statements I made after Spain, when he had said that the engine was losing power. And I had explained that I hadn't noticed this problem. Someone had gone to tell him about it, giving a wrong interpretation, and he was angry. We clarified it. Of course rivalry exists, this is an individual sport. But our relationship, on a professional level, is correct".
Where can Alesi and this Ferrari go from here?
"We hope to win again, maybe in the next French Grand Prix. The possibilities exist. We still have to improve, especially in the use of the engine. For the Constructors' Championship we are there, you can see it. For the drivers' championship the challenge is four: Schumacher, Hill, Berger and me. The championship is still long, anything can happen. On equal terms, for me Michael is not unbeatable. We'll see".
"We talked quite a bit about it. It looked like it might have been quicker to do two stops, but to do that the drivers would have had to lap three quarters of a second faster than on a one-stop routine. Taking into consideration the time in and out of the pits, we reckoned that, forgetting the other 22 cars on the circuit, and with the drivers pushing very hard all the way through the race, they would have probably finished the race a couple of seconds, maximum, in front. Then, if you took into consideration the traffic, and having to re-pass people after the pit stops, it didn't look a very viable way of doing it. Our biggest problem was that our fuel consumption was very high and we knew we would struggle to make it to the end. The 115-litre tanks were filled to the brim, but as the drivers crossed the line to record the team's best Formula One results, Barrichello had just two and a half litres of fuel remaining. That was luxury by comparison with Irvine, whose Peugeot engine was busy devouring the last half-litre - hardly enough to complete even half a lap".
And Eddie Irvine adds:
"After about 10 laps my guys came on the radio and said: Reduce the fuel mix. I said: I already have. I realised the race was going to remind me of the Japanese Sportscar Championship, where we were always having to plod because of the fuel consumption".
But it transpires that the Ulsterman's predicament was partly of his own making. Explains Walton:
"The problem was that when we told Irvine to adjust his fuel he put the mixture switch the wrong way. So he was actually using more fuel instead of less".
Even without that error, the team always knew things would be marginal:
"We felt we were in serious trouble after about lap five or six. That's when we had to start telling the guys to lean the mixture off and reduce their revs. As the race went on, it got worse. They were both very good about driving to orders, though. It was good team-work. They could see they weren't able to push each other. Had they done that, then I suspect neither of them would have finished the race. In the last 10 laps the consumption was quite high and we were getting very, very worried. We couldn't lean the mixture off any more, so the only way left to use less fuel was to use less revs. On the telemetry we could see each lap and knew exactly how much the cars were using. Then we worked it out and told the guys what they could and couldn't do, and when they could or couldn't do it. Aside from our changes to the car for that race, Peugeot did manage to find some better economy with the engine - about five per cent. Had we not had that, we would have been in deep trouble".
The tanks might have been empty by the end of the race, but Eddie Jordan's cup of joy is overflowing. Lastly, Gianni Morbidelli, sixth in the Canadian Grand Prix, is always in danger of being sidelined by Footwork. Mercedes, however, is not happy with Blundell at McLaren and would like the German Frentzen: if the latter does not break free from Sauber, it could be Morbidelli's turn.