#594 1996 Belgian Grand Prix

2022-12-31 00:00

Array() no author 82025

#1996, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Marta Suman,

#594 1996 Belgian Grand Prix

As he had already announced in recent weeks, Michael Schumacher is negotiating with Ferrari to extend his contract until the end of 1998. On Wednesday

As he had already announced in recent weeks, Michael Schumacher is negotiating with Ferrari to extend his contract until the end of 1998. On Wednesday, August 14, 1996, the German driver confirms in an interview with the magazine Sport-Bild that his manager Willy Weber discusses precisely on a possible new agreement, and to have asked for an increase in salary. And Bild hypothesizes the figure: from the current 20.000.000 dollars per season, the World Champion would like to move to 30.000.000 dollars. Consistent with his style, the German driver does not provide any other details on his request, but admits:


"As a businessman I want the best. Evidently Ferrari will set some limits, but I'm sure we'll reach a solution".


The figure, unofficially, is enormous. And there will probably come to a middle way. But, moreover, even Damon Hill would have asked Williams for about 20.000.000 dollars. These are market prices: by paying Schumacher, Ferrari has the advantage of having the best driver and at the same time can get more money from his sponsors. Schumacher, however, reiterates his desire to continue racing for the Maranello team, despite the unsatisfactory results of this season.


"I would be a fool, crazy to leave the Italian team before 1998. What would be the use of all the work I'm carrying out in this period? I don't want someone to sit behind the wheel of a car that has become competitive and beat me in two years".


The morale of the 27-year-old driver from Kerpen, in spite recent retirements, is good:


"I am motivated, as always. My goal is to become World Champion in 1997. Only in 1998, however, will we see the true potential of Ferrari".


Schumacher still has one dream for the current season: to win at least one of the four Grands Prix remaining until the end of the World Championship. Michael also talked about his younger brother Ralf's debut in Formula 1, revealing:


"In 1997 he will drive a competitive car".


The young man, who is 21 years old, tested last week with McLaren. Meanwhile, in the Goodyear tests in Barcelona, ​​Schumacher is slowed down twice by engine problems. His best lap was completed in 1'22"5, against Villeneuve's 1'22"4 in the Williams. Thursday 15th and Friday 16th August 1996 everyone will still be at work, with the arrival of Jordan and Footwork. Formula 1 knows no holidays. Also, because the World Championship will return on Sunday, August 25, 1996, with the fourth to last round of the season, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Damon Hill, one step away from the title, will have to defend himself from the combative Jacques Villeneuve: in any case, Williams-Renault remains favoured for the victory on the fast track in the Ardennes. For Ferrari, the novelty of the car with the 7-speed gearbox, which should offer advantages in terms of engine use. Michael Schumacher has always run some great races at Spa. The German hopes to repeat himself on Sunday and to finally find a yes day with Ferrari. While his colleagues are launched on the track, Friday, August 23, 1996, Michael Schumacher sleeps in the Ferrari motorhome. Another sign of strength from the German who, shortly before, had been involved in a bad accident. A spectacular, as dangerous off-track, which prevents him from participating in the second practice session of the Belgian Grand Prix. Anyone else probably would have been nervous, pissed off, worried. He, perhaps, dreamed of a victory on this track that he loves very much. Schumacher spun in the Les Fagnes corner, a sort of S located in the middle of the circuit: there is about a minute left before the end of the first hour of testing. The German's single-seater is seen lose its trajectory, touch a curb on the right, then suddenly turning to the left and bumping the rear end violently against the barriers. The accident, at about 130 km/h, is cushioned by a few piles of tires placed for protection, but it was still very strong: the car was partially destroyed, the driver in a slight state of shock. After leaving the car alone, Schumacher, limping, gets into the ambulance and is transferred to the infirmary, where he remains for over half an hour. The doctors check his physical and neurological status and then release him. The only consequence of the adventure was a contusion with a bruise extending to the right leg muscle, above the knee. Says the imperturbable Michael Schumacher, at the end of the nap in the motorhome:


"I'm sorry about what happened because my Ferrari was working very well. I was able to go right through the most difficult corner, the Eau Rouge. And I think that, working to improve the set-up and traction again, I could have really fixed it. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and lost control. When I hit the barriers, my leg hit the steering wheel, which broke. And that's why I got hurt. Now I put myself in the hands of my Indian physiotherapist and I count on being fit for the rest of the weekend".

And he goes back to the hotel. In the Ferrari pits, after the inevitable moments of fear, the work to rebuild the car begins. Eliminated the bent ailerons, the broken rear suspension, the damaged chute, the gearbox almost shattered, the engine out of action, the technicians check the body. And a crack is discovered: it could have been repaired, but as a precaution it is preferred to rebuild the whole car on a spare chassis. The only real problem is the unavailability of another 7-speed gearbox: at the moment there are two examples left for the cars to be used in the race. It is however the first time that Schumacher goes off the track and is not unscathed. The German had several accidents (last year with Benetton also on this track in practice) but so far they were all resolved only with damages to the cars. In any case, what happened is normal in Formula 1, where risks are never lacking. The German had the second-fastest time, before the accident, and in the end he remained eighth. The fastest lap was set by Gerhard Berger with Benetton, lapping in 1'53"706 (at an average of 220.801 km/h). The Austrian gave a discrete gap (0.6 seconds) to David Coulthard's McLaren. Very well Jacques Villeneuve, third, considering he had never seen the runway.


"I'm already in love with this circuit".


Declares the Canadian, always in a great mood. Especially when he's ahead of his teammate Hill (P7). The other Ferrari driver, Eddie Irvine, is in P13, far from the leaders. But Friday's results don't count, Saturday starts again seriously. And there is the threat of rain. Jean Todt is asked, after practice: won't the accident affect Schumi?


"We train for next year, when we will only race on Saturdays".


The head of Ferrari replies wittily. And what about Giovanni Agnelli's statements about the fact that the German deserves a salary increase because the car is not so good?


"Michael has a good supporter, the best".


Funny jokes, in line with those of the Lawyer Agnelli: that continues to follow with affectionate sympathy Ferrari and to cheer for Schumacher and the Maranello team.


"I was very sorry that Schumacher went off the track and got hurt. Nothing serious, but it's always an accident. I'm sure, however, that tomorrow everything will be fine and that this misfortune will leave Ferrari forever".


Edwige Fenech, wife of Luca Montezemolo, is upset about Ferrari’s latest misadventures, but also declares herself extremely optimistic about the future of Ferrari.


"As a rule, both my husband and I do not deal with each other's work. We love to keep our private and professional life separate. This time, however, I'm making a small exception because I want to be close to Schumacher. I hope, indeed, I'm sure that tomorrow in Belgium everything will be fine".


Saturday, August 24, 1996, Jacques Villeneuve hits hard. Not against the guardrails, but on Damon Hill's head. The Canadian, with an extraordinary feat, conquers the pole position, clearly detaching the teammate. Psychologically, these beatings can affect the Englishman's confidence in his own means. Michael Schumacher also demonstrates a great temperament: after Friday's accident he settles with his Ferrari in third place, behind the usual, impregnable, Williams. Schumacher doesn't let it be understood, but on Friday he experienced one of the most difficult days since he has been in Formula 1. After a blow that could have knocked out a less physically strong rider, the German manages to achieve the goal he set for himself. Driving a car, the F310, which is certainly not the image of perfection, Michael leaves McLaren and Benetton behind. Teammate Irvine closes in P9, with a gap of about 1.5 seconds. Michael Schumacher says at the end of practice:


"I have no physical problems. I feel fine, even though my leg is swollen and has a small cut. It only hurts a little when I walk. Once in the car everything is fine. Then I have a slightly stiff shoulder, but it's not a problem, and the neck is fine. I recognize that the new protections placed around the cockpit are fantastic".

Schumacher's off-track also affects qualifying. The mechanics had worked until 11:00 p.m. on Friday to rebuild a new car. But the German uses the spare one, on which is mounted the only 7-speed gearbox still available.


"Actually, the fact that I didn't try hard on Friday didn't really penalize me much in the search for the set-up. The F310 always has more or less the same problems. And we can't solve them. However, there was a mechanical failure on the spare car, the left rear suspension joint loosened. So, I was forced in the morning to go out and come back at every lap until we found out what it was. Until that moment I felt like I was travelling on three wheels".


The particular in question - an uniball - is replaced after a certain mileage. The mounted one was almost at the limit. And the characteristics of the track, whose very fast corners require a huge support from the wheels, have caused a play in the suspension. Ferrari therefore decided to change all the joints, also reducing the period of use of this material. Michael Schumacher concludes the speech, serenely:


"Anyway, I couldn't have done better, at most I would have been a couple of tenths faster".


So, no hope for the Belgian Grand Prix?


"On a dry track I don't think the Williams can be beaten. In case of wet asphalt, I'll be able to have my say".


On Saturday afternoon, in the final part of qualifying and during the Formula 3000 race, a violent storm breaks out. And it is possible, according to the forecasts, that the rain can come back on Sunday. In any condition, the challenge between Jacques Villenueve and Damon Hill will light up. The Canadian feels he can win the World Championship and thinks he can close the distance (17 points) from his teammate. In Belgium, he takes the second pole position since his debut in Formula 1 (he conquered the first in Australia, in the opening race) lapping in 1'50"574, at an average of 226.859 km/h. And Damon Hill, who remains impressed, is almost 0.4 seconds behind. Damon claims that he could have beaten Jacques if practice hadn't been thwarted 20 minutes earlier due to bad weather. And due to his greater experience, he remains the favourite of the race even if some say that Villeneuve did not push to the extreme. Damon Hill reportedly confided in friends:


"I could have gone down another second".


Anyway, the Canadian has fun.


"This circuit drives me crazy. How nice to look for your limits. It may seem childish, but I learned the trajectories of the track that I didn't know about on a new video that is very realistic. But in the game, I was only eighteenth. So, not great".


Meanwhile, the story of Forti Corse now seems like a television series: every day a new voice, but substantially the situation does not change. The umpteenth definitive meeting between Guido Forti, who remains the sole director, and Ben Garz, head of Shannon Racing Team, which holds the majority of shares, was supposed to be held last Friday, then there was a postponement, apparently for the worsening of the conditions of Garz's wife, hospitalized. The next definitive meeting between Garz and Forti should be on Saturday. The certain fact is that Forti missed three Grands Prix and the risk of a fine from the FIA ​​hangs over the team. Participation in the next Formula 1 round, in Monza, would not involve travel expenses, but, assuming that Forti manages to get the engines, one wonders if Bernie Ecclestone is willing to overlook the vicissitudes of a team that does not give signs of solidity and without having guarantees for the future. The only new data is that the first meeting between Forti and Garz in the Shannon headquarters served to convince the two that a negotiation is essential. Forti said he is willing to take the helm of the team himself, if Garz is willing to fold. The super sponsor - that the manager from Alessandria says he has - would guarantee the continuation of the business, but only if Shannon will step aside.


"Garz has taken into consideration the hypothesis of leaving says Forti: speaking without intermediaries was useful".

Even the employees of Forti Corse also wish it, even if some mechanic has already left the team. Despite the rain falling on the Belgian track until Sunday morning, the race starts with a completely dry track. Sunday, August 25, 1996, at the start neither Jacques Villeneuve nor Damon Hill takes off well; the Canadian still manages to maintain the first position, while his teammate is overtaken by Michael Schumacher, losing another position to David Coulthard during the first lap. At the start Olivier Panis, Heinz Harald Frentzen and Johnny Herbert come into contact with each other, and are forced to retire. In the early stages Schumacher put Villeneuve under pressure but is unable to pass him; the situation remains stable until lap 11, when Verstappen crashes at the Stavelot corner shortly after having carried out his first refuelling. The impact against the barriers is very violent and the Dutchman, although unharmed, is transported to the hospital in Liège for checks; the track is littered with debris and the race direction sends the safety car to the track. Michael Schumacher, Jean Alesi and Mika Salo immediately take the opportunity to refuel; Jacques Villeneuve is called to the pits by his team, but does not hear the call and continues. Williams then communicates to Damon Hill to refuel, but then orders him to stay on track because the equipment for the Englishman’s pit stop were not yet ready; Damon Hill, who had already entered the pit lane, managed to get back on track, losing two positions to Mika Häkkinen and Gerhard Berger. The safety car remains on track for four laps; all the drivers take the opportunity to refuel, except for David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen, who left for just one stop. At the restart, then, the race is led by the two McLaren drivers, followed by Michael Schumacher, Jean Alesi and Jacques Villeneuve; the Canadian immediately passes the Benetton driver, but is unable to attack Schumacher. The gap between the two remains around 2 seconds, even when the two McLaren refuel around mid-race. Meanwhile, Pedro Paolo Diniz retires on lap 22 due to an electrical problem, and shortly after Rubens Barrichello also retires (lap 29) due to gearbox failure, while Martin Brundle stops on lap 34 due to engine failure. Finally, David Coulthard crashes on lap 37 at the Rivage. Villeneuve did not manage to overtake his rival even during the second series of pit stops, settling for second place. Schumacher therefore obtains the second victory of the season, ahead of Villeneuve, Häkkinen, Alesi, Hill, and Berger. Stories of extraordinary madness.
When you least expect it, Ferrari wins. First two days of testing with Schumacher's accident, doubts and tensions, then an incredible success. Enough to surprise Schumacher himself that in the end he cannot give a concrete explanation of the sudden change in his F310. But it doesn't matter. Probably there were many components that led Ferrari and the German to their second triumph of the season. The perfect work of the team; the right race strategy; some minor misadventures of the opponents. For once, Williams was not, in every sense, the perfect car of always. But we must not take away the merits of Ferrari: when you finish first in Formula 1 it is because everything worked well, because you are competitive at every level. And it was immediately clear that it was going to be a special day in Belgium. When Schumacher moved into the top positions, he did so with unusual authority, a sign that the car was competitive. Of course, if you compare the German champion and his teammate Irvine, you understand how class and driving skills, especially on demanding tracks like this one, play a decisive role. The Irishman is also unlucky. However, when the car breaks down in bursts, one wonders if this is also up to the driver. It is also difficult to explain why Ferrari struggles so much to impose itself. The truth is that the battle of Formula 1 employs enormous forces. Just think of the names of the big manufacturers present: Renault, Peugeot, Mercedes, Ford, Yamaha and, for now, even indirectly, Honda. The association between the so-called British manufacturers and engine suppliers puts certain teams in very favourable conditions, having to engage only in the construction of chassis and the study of aerodynamics. When, among other things, England is among the world leaders in the aerospace industry, along with France. Two countries that have culture and men able to intervene even on highly sophisticated single-seaters, increasingly similar to jets. Without forgetting that the economic commitment is also decisive. Given the exorbitant costs, teams with unlimited means no longer exist. And if a team like Ferrari has been forced to invest a huge sum on its driver (Schumacher), it must have cut his budget somehow, even if the sponsors have gone out of their way. And sometimes it also happened that the Maranello team had to give up some improvements.
Because it could no longer afford to break through the budget. In an extremely competitive situation, Schumacher's victory (the fourth for him in Belgium out of six races disputed, even if one in 1994 was removed by disqualification), as it happened has a particular meaning. Behind the German were Jacques Villeneuve (Williams), Mika Häkkinen (McLaren), Jean Alesi (Benetton), Damon Hill (Williams) and Gerhard Berger (Benetton). If David Coulthard with the second car of Ron Dennis' team is excluded, all the best drivers. There were no retreats and abandonments, no breakups, just normal episodes of running. A spectacular race therefore, with the great thrill when Michael Schumacher on lap 33 grazed Jacques Villeneuve who was coming out of the pits, to keep him behind for another 11 laps. Among other things, Ferrari's affirmation has intrigued even more the situation of the World Championship. If the German gave a small hand to Damon Hill, taking away the Canadian's 10 points for first place, the situation is still open. And Michael, who also manages to be witty, when asked if he wants to be the referee of the title fight in the season finale, replies:


"We can talk about it. Damon can make cash offers; business is business".


But for sure he thought: 


"If I manage to win, I don't care who comes second or who wins the World Championship".


Michael Schumacher mixes a few stealthy tears and a magnum of champagne on the podium, flooding Jean Todt who instead is crying profusely, completely wet. First the German anthem, then that of Mameli, while under the crowd explodes: applause, shouts, flags. German, Belgian, Italian fans together crazy with happiness. Miracles of Schumacher and Ferrari. And the champion's raised arms, and his happy smile. A Sunday of joy after so much bitterness. And finally, a long chat: the race, the prospects, the contract; an unforeseen victory for sure.


"It's true, I didn't expect it. I'm the first to be surprised. The goal was to finish the race and, at most, to score a few points. We weren't faster than Williams, but evidently we managed to keep the same pace and won by guessing everything".


Ever been scared?


"Yes. At the beginning, to keep up with Villeneuve, I took a big beating on the curbs of the chicane. At one point I felt that the steering was no longer perfect and the steering wheel a bit crooked. I feared that I had to go back to the pits, because at Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, the two most dangerous points on the circuit, I felt I was losing control of the car a bit. I consulted with the garages on the radio, and they reassured me, but I was no longer able to cut the corners as I would have liked".


Was it better to win in Barcelona or in Belgium?


"Two different emotions. In Spain it was raining, and I gained a considerable gap, I felt safe. Here I fought in uncertainty until the last second. Certainly, this track brings me luck, it's not for nothing that it's my favourite".


After the first success in June there was also talk of the World Championship.


"I never thought that. When I came to Ferrari, I knew exactly it was going to be a difficult season. As indeed it has proved so far. Indeed, I hope that the first place at Francorchamps does not create too many expectations for Monza. We did a lot of serious testing there but in practice the slow and medium corners, the straights of the Italian circuit don't suit our car very much. Of course, we will do everything we can, but we have to be realistic".

After a year at Ferrari, how is the first assessment?


"As for the team, everything is as I expected. Remarkable potential, very good programmes, great progress possible. I find the fans a little too emotional. In some respects, there is a lack of respect for the person. Joy must never turn into excess. In Monza everyone tries to touch me, a guy even tried to kiss me on the mouth. At least if he was a beautiful girl...".


Will the second affirmation speed up the agreement with the Maranello team for 1998 as well?


"No. That's not what matters. It was a really important success for me and for the team. As for the contract, in practice it is already almost done. It's just a matter of looking well at the details on both sides. It won't be signed before Monza".


Question of money?


"Certainly not, even if I still thank Lawyer Agnelli for the help, he has given to me. Money is important, I want to be paid for what I'm worth and according to market laws. However, technical proposals and bilateral commitments are equally crucial. In this regard I would like to make a clarification: a German newspaper wrote that I am asking for 30.000.000 dollars. And some Italian publication reported the figure, as if it were official. I have never said on what economic basis it is".


Let's talk about the race.


"The start was excellent. Now the clutch system works well. I could have attacked Villeneuve too, but I was on the outside and was forced to follow. When the safety car came on track for Verstappen's crash, I knew it. But we didn't change anything about the strategy, because I was expected to stop right on that lap. The tank told me that it was almost dry. In the second stop we anticipated Villeneuve and at that moment I pushed at the maximum to pass the Canadian. I arrived at the Source corner, he came out of the garage in front of me, but I was flying and faster. And I stayed in first position. Then Jacques attacked me, but my car was fine, and I was able to resist".


But how can you explain Ferrari's transformation from practice to race?


"We have changed almost nothing on the car. We had a really efficient engine and it was possible to fit a wing with more aerodynamic pressure. Then a lot of rubber settled on the asphalt during the ride. And this has allowed us to have a better grip. So, the rivals have been less good than us in strategies. And there's the circuit factor: fast corners are my speciality. The new 7-speed gearbox also helped me, with which I can drive better according to my characteristics. Maybe it's all together. But I also wonder if there wasn't some luck. We also need that in life".


In the morning Schumacher had met in the Ferrari pits the Olympic champion of the 200 and 400 meters, the American Michael Johnson. They had talked for a long time; the driver had given the sprinter his helmet. And in return had received a pair of purple running shoes.


"Go fast".


He had said the phenomenon of athletics. And Schumacher took it literally.


"This is the best answer for those who don't believe in Ferrari".

Jean Todt screams moved to the television microphones. A perhaps unexpected but strongly desired victory, certainly more incisive than the one in Spain where a storm allowed the F310 and Schumacher to surprise everyone and lay down the law. So, the Maranello team does its own thing again: victory number 107, tenth in Belgium (the last was that of Alboreto in 1984, but in Zolder), victory number 21 for the German driver who once again overtakes Hill (at 20 points). Jean Todt continues the speech:


"I think our winning move was this: doing everything to go out in front of Villeneuve after the second stop. And Michael as usual performed perfectly. This affirmation definitively banishes three very difficult months of troubles and problems".


Yet the reliability is not yet established. Indeed, Irvine's retirement, the eighth in a row, could leave some shadows.


"Poor Eddie, it's definitely not his fault. Transmission is still our weak point. And I have to confess that after the Irishman retired, I was on tenterhooks for Schumi until the end of the race. But we're working hard on it".


The gearbox problem is not easy to solve, because when the tooth of a gear that rotates at sixteen thousand revolutions per minute breaks, it causes enormous damage. So, it is very difficult to trace the causes. However, now Ferrari is expected at Monza.


"Coming there after a win is much nicer. The Tifosi rejoice and suffer with us. We hope we have given them satisfaction. It will be important to keep up improving. We will try. In the last few races, we never had a perfect setup on the cars, but sometimes we manage to fine-tune them. We will try to have greater continuity, even if in motor racing you never know what can happen, unfortunately. But now let's enjoy this moment, because after Barcelona, ​​when hopes were raised, everything went wrong".


To prepare for the Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari will be at Monza for a series of tests already on Tuesday, August 27, 1996. The car will be entrusted to Irvine, Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th August 1996 to Schumacher. Some small new modifications will also be tested, but above all the team will work on adjustments and reliability. Engineer Ascanelli, technical manager of Ferrari, declares:


"Going to Monza for the race in two weeks, after this victory, will take us out of the situation of having to compete in the race of life".


A little less pressure, therefore, but it is clear that the Maranello team will at least want to make a good impression.


"Yes, I'm not ashamed to say it, but when Schumacher crossed the finish line I felt like crying".


Luca Montezemolo is happy. And if on some recent negative Sundays for the Maranello team he would have wanted to smash the television, this time, perhaps, he would embrace it.


"Three months like this I don't wish them on anyone".


Ferrari’s president is a manager, a sportsman, but also a man who, fortunately, manages to get excited. For better or for worse. And like in the days of Lauda and the Austrian's first World Championship, when he was in charge of the team. President, you did not give up and you were right. What does Schumacher's success mean for Ferrari?


"A lot, a lot. Firstly, it is the most beautiful response on the field that we could give. A wonderful race, a formidable Schumacher. I was thrilled to see those flags with the Ferrari flying in Belgium".

A great joy for the Tifosi.


"I'm happy for all our men, for everyone who works at Ferrari and with Ferrari. And I'm happy, very happy for our fans, at least for the real ones. It's easy to stay close when you win, less when you lose. Well, I think this is a great satisfaction for those who still love Ferrari".


Even for Giovanni Agnelli, apparently...


"The Lawyer enjoys teasing, but he really loves Ferrari".


It is the second success of the year, after the one in Spain. You have reached the minimum target set at the beginning of the year.


"Yes, but that's not enough for us. There are still three important races: we hope, we count on bringing home some more fruits of our work and not just being the Saturday champions with pole positions, even if, after all, we consider the victory in Belgium to be the first of the next season".


Three terrible months, Schumacher swept them away in one fell swoop.


"Yes, we must thank Michael, who has put in a colossal ride. But we must also thank the garage, the technicians and the mechanics who helped him excellently. A lot of people wanted me to kick Todt out, make revolutions in the team. I held on, we teamed up, Ferrari, all of Ferrari, worked extremely hard. Well, this return to victory is the result of a teamwork, of the effort of a team that has committed itself head down. On the track and at home. There may be other difficult days, it's normal in Formula 1, but it seems to me that we have overcome the black moment in the most beautiful way".


So, is Williams no longer an unreachable monster?


"I am convinced that Williams is still superior to Ferrari today. But that it is no longer an unbeatable car. Have you seen how Schumacher duelled with Villeneuve? The work of these three months has brought us competitiveness and reliability back and I can assure you that Ferrari will do its utmost to achieve another great result at Monza in fifteen days' time".


But what happened to Ferrari on these terrible Sundays, made up of retirements and disappointments?


"I asked myself many questions. It was a deadly mix of reasons: the delay with which we put our hands to the car, the haste to emerge, especially after the success in Spain, a pinch of bad luck. I'm thinking of the pole conquered in Hungary by Michael and then his retirement in the closing laps".


And now?


"Now we have regained confidence. And we hope that this is the same for those fans who believed in Ferrari. We will continue to work, with the same commitment. And I promise one thing: the next car will arrive in the right time and will not be the result of a single designer. I reaffirm it: Barnard will work together with the technicians of Maranello. The new car will be a joint project. That's how you win today".

Staying in Villar Perosa, Giovanni Agnelli is anxious and rejoices for the success of Michael Schumacher and the dazzling resurrection of Ferrari.


"A great victory: for how the German drove, not a mistake, not a flaw, and, above all, for how he wanted it and how it came, without the regrettable concurrence of other people's misfortunes. Ah, Schumacher. And the car, finally competitive, reliable. Well done everyone: Todt, the mechanics".


And Montezemolo?


"He too, of course. I had no doubts that he would call me. I didn't think so soon, one second after the end. One second, maybe less. He told me it's not true that he always reads the newspapers. I answered him: what speeches, you don't read them when, like now, you don't need them. I even told him: did you see those barbs, as well as stimulating you, bring you luck? Even newspaper editors would do it to you... Luca was laughing. For how and how much he suffers, gets involved and works, I sincerely wish him another hundreds of these Sundays".


Did you follow the race on television?


"All of it. I found it exciting, intense. It has been a long time since I was so passionate about it. Either because Ferrari didn't even start, or because, as soon as it started, it retired. Not today. I watched what little of Schumacher emerged from the cockpit. That, and how it moved, was enough to understand its diversity, its immensity".


The most exciting moment?


"When Villeneuve came out of the pits, after refuelling, and Schumacher whizzed past him, by a hair. I got excited. A situation comparable to a well-taken penalty in the last minute of a final. A matter of moments, of reflections, of coldness. One goes out, the other passes: junctures of the highest pathos. The race was decided there".


How much did the driver have an impact and how much did the car?


"For once, Ferrari went better in race than in practice. Sure, Schumacher is Schumacher. One that never ceases to amaze and explore himself. And to think he came from a terrifying test crash. We needed victory. After all those withdrawals, those breakups, those controversies… Let me spend a few words about Häkkinen instead. He seems to me to be a very fast driver, very sure of himself. I've already told Luca".


And now, Monza.


"The people of Ferrari are already trembling. I understand. On the other hand, the mysteries and technical quibbles that govern the world of Formula 1 are many and such as to advise caution. Especially in Ferrari. Which wins when everyone gives it up for dead and disappears when they give it up for recovery".


The future?


"Work work work. Without deluding ourselves, but without even wrapping our heads. Schumacher's success, precisely because it was objectively unexpected, should serve as a shock. Let's leave the Williams alone. We look after ourselves. Not to what has been done, but to what we still have to do. Let's do it right, as Ferrari taught us".

Ringing bells during the afternoon in Maranello, right after the chequered flag fell on Schumacher's Ferrari. Then, as if for a big victory for the Italian national football team, the streets of the town are filled with red-flagged cars. Around here, the exploits of Ferrari touch the heart of the people born alongside the legendary factory built by the manufacturer from Modena. The processions with loud horns follow the usual itinerary: from the Ferrari Club to the mausoleum that is the Ferrari gallery, up to the church square, where the parish priest don Erio Belloi rings the bells:


"It is a wonderful thing; one could not have hoped for better".


Says the priest toasting the flying German. The following words are a proclamation of war, addressed to the next Grand Prix:


"It will be in Monza that we will teach everyone a lesson".


Victory is also drunk in another small Ferrari sanctuary, that Bar Nello where the owner offers a round of sparkling wine to everyone, dispensing smiles and hats with the Maranello team crest. Meanwhile, in Modena Don Sergio Mantovani, who erected a monument to Ferrari in the garden of the parish maternal home, speaks of an unexpected victory:


"Which has brought serenity to the environment. We expect what Agnelli and Montezemolo had announced on the occasion of the car presentation: they said that for 1996 the goal was to win two or three races".


Don Sergio, better known as the pastor of Ferrari due to the confidential relationships that bind him to the staff and drivers of the Maranello team, expresses words of great esteem for Schumacher:


"He's a guy who also gives satisfaction to mechanics; if something goes wrong due to the engine, and problems of this kind have certainly not been lacking during the current season, he never blames the mechanics. This is a great virtue; he is a gentleman and a true professional".


In the Della Gioia e del Sole retirement home, a stone's throw from the rectory, an excellent fan rejoices over the outcome of the race, after having watched the Grand Prix on television: it is Luigi Villoresi, the 87-year-old former driver whom Don Sergio wanted in his structure when, just over a year ago, Villoresi found himself in serious difficulty. Dark faces this time at Williams: this is the third-worst overall result of the season. A disappointment for a team used to hit hard, even with a series of braces. The only one who remains imperturbable is Jacques Villenueve, certainly not satisfied with his second place, but at least serene.


"I think I lost the race at the first stop, when the safety car was on the track. I, too, had to enter the pits straight away like Schumacher, but the radio didn't work. I didn't hear the order and didn't have the courage to stop without knowing if everything was ready for the stop. And I carried the problem with me the entire ride. However, my car wasn't exceptional, while I was impressed by Ferrari's engine which was pushing very hard. The World Championship? I got four points from Hill. As an average it is not enough. From now on I will have to inflict greater detachments on him".


Damon Hill replies: 


"Even my race was ruined by the safety car. When I moved to enter the pits, they warned me that Williams was still waiting for Villeneuve. So, I had to swerve suddenly at the chicane and went off the track. And I basically waited for all the contestants to pass. Among other things, I had to change the car after warm-up and the spare one was much less fast. With the first set of tires there was terrible understeer which luckily the mechanics were able to eliminate during the pit stop by changing the front wing settings. But it was gone now. I still have a 13-point lead with three races to go. I think I'm always in a satisfying position".

When the Ferrari team arrives in Bologna on a charter flight on Sunday night, they find another surprise. The victory in Belgium is not enough. Waiting for the men of the team is president Montezemolo, who arrived from Capri in the afternoon, just to congratulate the managers, technicians, and mechanics. Handshakes for everyone, smiles, lots of joy and satisfaction. Among the applause of the many travellers who are stopping in the airport. Particularly happy, tired and a little drunk Jean Todt, manager of the Sport Management: and not for the champagne in the toasts or for what Schumacher sprinkled on him on the podium, but for tiredness. Difficult role that of the French manager. The mere fact of being a foreigner and managing a team that represents Italy more than anything else in the world is often a handicap. Not to mention the envy and malevolence that certain decisions that he is sometimes forced to make can arouse. Says Jean Todt, in his office after a short night's rest and the long, usual budget and planning meetings on Monday:


"However, winning with Ferrari is more beautiful than anything else for someone in this profession. A special feeling that made me cry".


The affirmation of the German champion at Francorchamps also served as a lightning rod to release the enormous tensions accumulated in the last three months.


"Yes, it's true. For us, it was a very important undertaking. We played for it, in the four races that remained to be competed, throughout the season. We had said before the start of the championship that we wanted to win at least 2 - 3 races. This was like a release. Also, because our driver's first place came thanks to his skill and the work of the entire team. Everything was perfect: the start, the two pit stops, the technical choices".


Does this mean that Ferrari has overcome all its problems?


"No. We've only made some progress. Since 1990, Ferrari has not won two races in a championship and since 1993, there have been no pole positions. The many retirements in recent months, including that of Irvine on Sunday, have given a wrong picture of the potential of the team and the car. But reliability is still our weak point".


How did Todt experience the most critical period of Maranello?


"I knew our task was difficult. Ferrari, it is normal, more than any other team arouses emotion, exasperation and high expectations. So, in order not to fall into despair, I tried to always be 100% committed, to the limit of my abilities. I made some mistakes, but I think it's human".


Speaking of humanity, what is Schumacher like as a person and as a professional?


"He is a sensitive boy, with great qualities: sincerity, loyalty, intelligence, fairness. You can't help but appreciate him and love him".


Is he brave too?


"Of course, he proves it every time, not only on track, but also when he takes certain blames and when he reacts positively to negative events".


So, let's talk about the driver.


"His qualities behind the wheel are evident. He's a real phenomenon. On a technical level he must be followed, protected, sometimes even guided. He is capable of precise analyses; he knows what he wants. Great professional, a worker who relies heavily on method. He's also a very curious guy, he wants to know everything. And it's hard to tell him stories".

Schumacher explained on Sunday that in Monza, for the Italian Grand Prix, the fans will not make too many illusions. The track is not particularly suited to the F310.


"He is right to dictate calm. But, of course, Michael and all of us will go out of our way to please the crowd. There will be three teams, Williams, Benetton, and McLaren, who will be very strong. We are not at the top yet. We know, the road is long, but it is the right one".


The conversation moves to the future, short-term and long-term.


"At Monza the goal is to get on the podium. In the other two remaining races, Estoril and Suzuka, we'll see. We had anticipated three victories; we are at two".


And for 1997? There are those who fear that Ferrari, by presenting the new car too soon, risks having a car destined to be surpassed by those that will arrive later.


"No. We need a basis to work on reliability, but we will always go ahead with development, especially in terms of aerodynamics".


President Montezemolo said that Barnard will not be the only designer of the single-seater: is this a warning?


"No. But we sent a task force from Maranello to England. This time we all work together".


Meanwhile, the divorce between McLaren and its most important sponsor, Marlboro, is announced. After 23 years of collaboration and many successes, the American multinational leaves the English team, perhaps dissatisfied with the latest results. There was a negotiation with a reduced offer, Ron Dennis chose another tobacconist, the German Reemtsma Cigarettenfabriken, producer of the West and Davidoff brands among other things. Contract for five years. There is the hand of Mercedes which supplies the engines, and the 1997 car will be silver. Meanwhile, it seems that McLaren has made Damon Hill an offer of 10.000.000 pounds. Marlboro lets it be known that it will maintain its commitment to Formula 1, and perhaps will support Ferrari with more means. Speaking of sponsors, the figure that Ben Gartz, president of Shannon, would have declared that he wanted to invest only for 1996 on the Formula 1 team managed by Guido Forti, is 20.000.000 dollars. The news, reported by the German tabloid newspaper Motorsport Aktuell, is confirmed by Franco Liistro, press officer of Forti, who adds:


"By 1997, that figure should have risen to 50.000.000 dollars".


The situation then took a very different turn, with Forti stopped for three Grands Prix, suppliers waiting for payments that never arrived, the mechanics in turmoil over the uncertainty of the team's future. But who are the holders of the majority stake in the team of Alessandria? Motorsport Aktuell draws a disturbing profile of Shannon, a company of the Fin First Group founded in 1996. According to a brochure, the group is allegedly owned by 44 companies, but the German newspaper says it has not found any on the company registration register. The headquarters of the group, for tax reasons, is in Dublin, but the group operates in Milan. The offices of Fin First are extremely luxurious, in a residence in Pieve Emanuele, where access takes place exclusively via code-cards, with an image effect of sure impact. Little is known about Herman Ben Gartz, the mysterious president: German (or perhaps American), he travels in a black Audi with Swiss licence plates and does not seem to know much about engines, even if he is credited with a statement according to which Bernie Ecclestone would not have the minimal expertise in the matter. Among Gartz's habits is that of subjecting guests to interminable waits before giving them audiences: Forti confirms that the meetings always began a few hours after the scheduled time, but that decisions were rarely made. Talking to Gartz is a feat, the character is so elusive: a secretary of Shannon kindly invites you to leave your data (preferably by fax), promising the interlocutor that he will be called back, but it is better not to be under any illusions. Data in hand, the reality of Shannon is the following: the company has come to sponsor teams in Formula 1, Formula 3000 and Formula 3, in Italy, France, Austria and Germany: but of the seventeen cars that raced simultaneously with the green-and-white colours of the team today eight remain.


There are those who have closed or are about to close, waiting for the promised money: but when they arrive, Shannon's checks cannot be cashed. In his business Gartz has managed to involve important people, there are photos that portray him with Uwe Seeler, former footballer and president of Hamburg. The problem is that the bond with Shannon is hard to sever in the middle of the season, when it is almost impossible to find a new sponsor. Forti, however, believes he has a new chance and is trying to convince Gartz to step aside: the dream is to get back on track at Monza, but Bernie Ecclestone won't be satisfied with guarantees for just one Grand Prix. In the meantime, on Monday, August 26, 1996, 1.000 paying spectators attended the Ferrari tests at Monza, only with Irvine and under the rain, therefore with many stops. The Northern Irish driver will still be on track on Tuesday, Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th August 1996 it will be Schumacher's turn. Meanwhile, in Liège the Dutch driver Jos Verstappen is discharged from the hospital, victim of an accident in the Belgian Grand Prix. Jos Verstappen had been transported by helicopter to the Liège hospital for a series of checks. The Dutch Footwork driver, who had started from the eighth row, was involved in a spectacular accident during lap 12 of the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix: his single-seater went off the road and crashed violently against the guards of tyres. The driver got out of the cockpit by himself, but a first, summary check carried out at the circuit infirmary revealed severe bruises to his chest for the Dutchman. However, Verstappen's conditions are not worrying: he underwent a CT scan in hospital and was kept in the clinic until Monday morning for precautionary reasons.


©​ 2023 Osservatore Sportivo


Contact us


Create Website with | Free and Easy Website Builder