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The 1995 Season

The 1995 Season

My personal reminisces of bygone seasons has reached 1995 which saw a continuation of the battle for the Championship between Michael Schumacher (Benetton) and Damon Hill (Williams). Their rivalry had not reached the level of intensity of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost before them but was definitely developing an edge to it.

Benetton had swapped to the same Renault V10 engine that was in the back of the Williams and had re-engaged Johnny Herbert as number 2 who had driven for them at the begining of 1989. Williams gave the nod to David Coulthard over Nigel Mansell who went to McLaren – but that partnership did not last long.

My first Grand Prix of the year was the British at Silverstone, the eigth of the season. Schumacher had won four and Hill two of the seven so far with Jean Alesi (Ferrari) scoring what would be his only career win at Canada. It was a typical British July weekend – wet, dry and everything in between. The race itself started on a damp track but stayed dry throughout. I spent the practice days roaming general admission and watched the race from the infield grass bank overlooking Abbey Curve.

In the latter stages of the race Hill running second behind Schumacher having made two pit-stops to one and on fresher tyres was catching up fast. In attempting to take the lead the pair collided and retired on the spot. This left their ‘number 2s’ first and second – Herbert leading Coulthard with fifteen laps to go. Whichever of the pair won I was about to see a British driver take his maiden Grand Prix victory, at Silverstone no less. And that turned out to be Johnny Herbert. So, as we left Silverstone, Schumacher still had an eleven points lead over Hill.

The only European Grand Prix I had not yet visited was the Hungarian, so I decided it was time to put that right. My brother was working and living in Wroclaw, Poland, at the time so I flew out and joined him on the Thursday. After a night on the town we set off early Friday morning for the drive south through the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Stopping for lunch in Brno we drove out to have a look at the race track, the new purpose-built Mazarykring. It seemed to be an open track day as all sorts of private cars and bikes were circulating this pretty little circuit. On the way back to re-join the motorway we passed a building that looked remarkably as if it had been a pits complex before its refurbishmant into business premises. We stopped and checked the map we had picked up from the tourist office and indeed we were on the start line of the old Mazarykring road course, disused for the past decade or so since the new track had been built. The track had also been marked out on our map by a dotted line so we were able to complete a tour of this amazing circuit.

Budapest city centre was buzzing in the evenings, packed with race fans who seemed to know where all the drivers were staying as they congregated outside the luxury hotels.

Saturday we roamed the hilly general admission areas of the Hungaroring which give a good view of this twisty little circuit and race day positioned ourselves on the outside of the final U-turn. It was swelteringly hot and dusty with the grass parched yellow. An uneventful race (apart from Taki Inoue getting hit by the safety car) saw Damon Hill lead all seventy seven laps to win from pole and Michael Schumacher retire with engine problems near the end thus reducing the Championship gap to 11 points between them.

After the race we spent a couple of hours in the paddock where most of the drivers were chilling in the evening sun, no-one seemed to be in a hurry to leave and we eaves-dropped on Murray Walker interviewing Damon Hill for the BBC.

On Monday’s drive back to Wroclaw we passed through the ski resorts of southern Poland before stopping for lunch in Krakow then spent the afternoon at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a very sobering contrast to the previous couple of days.

My final visit was an overnighter there and back to Spa for race day only. It was a changeable wet/dry race which brought out the best of action at this circuit. There were several different leaders, tyre changes between wets and slicks, a safety car and ultimately Michael Schumacher winning from sixteenth on the grid and Damon Hill finishing second from eighth on the grid. There was some robust racing between them with Hill critical of Schumacher’s blocking tactics on which the stewards agreed serving him with a suspended one race ban. Schumacher had extended his championship lead over Hill to fifteen points.

The final six races brought another coming together between the pair in Italy with Johnny Herbert once again being the winning benefactor and David Coulthard’s first win in Portugal. Thereafter a hat-trick of Schumacher wins saw him and Benetton comfortably clinch both drivers and constructors Championships, with Damon Hill taking the last round in Australia.

But perhaps the most significant moment was the emergency trackside procedure to save the life of Mika Häkkinen after his practice accident at the Australian Grand Prix.