1995 Italian Grand Prix: Frentzen Survives for the Podium
June 20, 2014 by Jeremy McMullen
Frentzen would be in just his second season of Formula One racing when he arrived at the Italian Grand Prix in September of 1995. The German would be happy just to have a drive. He would have thoughts of glory, but, would find himself fighting for the left-overs dropped from the top teams in the field. But on that 10th of September, at a place famous for intrigue and drama, Frentzen would have the opportunity to do more than clean up the scraps. He just needed to keep his head while everyone else seemed to lose theirs.
Frentzen had been without a contract following the 1991 season when he competed in Formula 3000. The German had been left without hope until he had found his way to Japan to race in Formula 3000 there. But then he would find a lifeline.
Frentzen had been a part of the Mercedes-Benz junior team in sportscars and drove for Peter Sauber's team during the 1990 season before leaving the team to drive for Eddie Jordan's Formula 3000 team. But now, without hope, Sauber would come calling and would provide the lost German with a drive in his ultimate goal of Formula One.
Frentzen would do his best to take advantage of his situation by earning a 5th place in just his second race with the team. This would be followed up with three other points finishes in a car that was steadily improving. But just when things were looking up, the team would find itself having to scramble to overcome apparent setbacks.
Toward the end of the '94 season Mercedes would withdraw its support from the team making it clear the engine provider was not pleased with the relatively slow progress made from the team. This loss would be terrible for Sauber's team. It was believed the Mercedes engine was what was going to make the difference in taking Sauber forward amongst the constructors.
Rather reeling from the departure of the German manufacturer, Sauber would be looking for some new partners to help his team not just improve, but survive. Dietrich Mateschitz, famous for the energy drink Red Bull, would be interested in making greater in-roads into Formula One. The Austrian would end up buying a majority share in the team and would use his wealth and influence to secure a supply of factory Ford Zetec engines. In addition to sponsorship from Petronas, Sauber would actually find itself in a relatively strong position. However, it was unclear just how good the team truly was given the simple fact the Mercedes engine the team had lost was a V10 and the Zetec Ford would be a V8 and brand new for the team to deal with.
In spite of all the questions and concerns, Frentzen would find the new Ford engine very suitable as he would score points in two of the first three races of the season and three out of the first five. All throughout the first two-thirds of the season Frentzen would remain right around the points-paying positions proving the 1995 Sauber C14 was actually stronger than the C13 of the previous season. Throughout the first eleven rounds of the championship Frentzen would suffer just three retirements and two finishes outside of the points. He, and the car, would demonstrate a run of consistency Mercedes undoubtedly looked for in its previous years with the team.
Frentzen had come close to the podium a couple of times before, but it seemed abundantly clear he, and the team, would need some sort of extraordinary event to take place. Thankfully, that extraordinary event was about to take place.
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Frentzen would be garnering some attention of his own. His string of consistent finishes had brought him to the attention of Frank Williams, who had been growing more and more frustrated with the performance of his team, particularly Damon Hill, over the course of the '95 season. What the German truly needed was a performance, a statement that would firmly plant himself within the consciousness and subconscious of every team manager and owner within Formula One. However, at a circuit like Monza, Frentzen certainly needed some help given the horsepower deficiencies of the Ford Zetec engine.
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is one of the classics and a veritable foundation in Formula One. From the moment it was completed in 1922, the circuit has been a national institution famous for speed and danger. Speed and accidents were all a part of the circuits early history, which would lead to major rebuilding projects throughout the 1930s. But then came the Second World War and the track would fall into disrepair and would be badly in need of renovations if the circuit were to take its place in Italian motoring present and future and become one of the icons of Formula One.
With the advent of Formula One, Monza would become the one mainstay, remaining on the calendar nearly every single year from that beginning in 1950. Though the circuit would include a high-banked oval along with the road course, the layout and nature of the circuit would change very little throughout the years, this would include 1995.
The high speeds around Monza had been something of a concern for years. This would be addressed with the Variante Ascari chicane leading to the backstretch and a couple of different chicane designs along the front-stretch prior to what is now the Curva Grande.
Nearly everything would remain identical from previous years. However, the drivers would find the Lesmo corners slightly revised. The double right-handers had been fast and a great challenge, but that left little room for a run-off area. Not wanting to install a chicane or something else to try and slow the cars the second of the Lesmo corners would be altered slightly. Pulled in, the corner would still be quick, but sharper. Therefore, the speeds would be reduced slightly. However, the excitement and challenge would remain while there would be increased run-off there to help catch the errant drivers that got the corner wrong. However, when the race approached, it would be another area of the circuit nearly each of the drivers would need some kind of aid to help them make it through.
A lot was going to be changing in 1996. David Coulthard knew he would not be retained by Williams for the following season and this would seem to reinvigorate him from the moment he showed up for practice. The Scot would be amongst the fastest throughout practice. And then, in qualifying, he would be virtually untouchable lapping the circuit in 1:24.462 to take the pole by a half a second over Michael Schumacher in the Benetton.
Frentzen, a man that was being tapped by Williams to take over Coulthard's seat the following year, would show his worth with the V8-powered Sauber. Despite not having the straight-line speed, the German would be impressive in qualifying setting a lap time two seconds slower than that of Coulthard's. While this would be an impressive gap, it would be good enough to give Frentzen a starting spot on the fifth row of the grid in the 10th position overall. This would be four places, and two seconds better, than his teammate Jean-Christophe Boullion.
Brilliant sunshine shone down on the circuit as the tremendous crowd began to gather all around the circuit. The usual warm-up would conclude and the teams would begin making their final checks before the start of the 53 lap race on the 10th of September. Everything would proceed without issue and like clockwork. There was nothing that would signal this particular Italian Grand Prix was going to be one of the strangest and most drama-filled editions of the Italian round of the World Championship in memory.
Everything would start out without a problem. The cars would pull away from the grid to begin the parade lap. The crews would scurry back across the straight to take up their positions in the garage. Spectators would be busy rising from their seats straining to spot their famous red cars. Two-thirds of the parade lap gone. The field approached the Ascari chicane. Suddenly, Coulthard would lose control of his Williams spinning right around. This would set-off a chain-reaction behind him that would cause Max Papis, one of the Tyrrells and a couple of other cars to spin around in nice pirouettes. As a result, the race would be red flagged even before the field reached the grid.
Coulthard would make it back to the pits and the crew would busily set to work to get their car back into the race. There was a chance he could start from the pole again if they were ready. However, the crew would not be done cleaning and checking the car before the field took off again to try everything all over again.
This time it would be Schumacher leading the field around on the parade lap. The German would manage to lead the field all the way around without incident and the field began taking its places on the grid in preparation for the green lights to go out. As the field formed up on the grid, Coulthard would be still in the pits with the crew checking the car. His pole-position was seemingly lost. Frentzen, and a number of others, would be just inching to get the race underway.
The race had been red flagged the year before as a result of a first lap incident. The red flag on the parade lap was either ominous, or, just the field getting the red flag out of the way. As the red lights turned to green, the field would behave itself through the first couple of chicanes and through the one before the Lesmo corners. It appeared the red flags were going to stay put away for once.
Meanwhile, at the start, it would be Schumacher leading the way ahead of the two Ferraris. The Italians would be mad with excitement as the two red cars hunted the Benetton. Frentzen, on the other hand, would get a bad start to the race and would be down a few places even before he ever reached the chicanes for the first time.
The race was finally underway. Schumacher led the field through the Ascari chicane about to complete the first lap of the race. All focus turned toward the next 53 laps when Andrea Montermini and Roberto Moreno spun coming out of the chicane. A number of other cars would be caught up in the episode to the point the exit of the chicane would be entirely blocked. There was no way the race could continue as it stood. The field would stream across the start/finish line for the first time, but would be shown the red flags by the time they headed into the Curva Grande for what was to be the second lap.
The red flag meant everything reset yet again. The Williams crew had worked hard to find out what, if anything had caused Coulthard to spin during the parade lap. He was back in the race. And, because the race was stopped at that point it was he was able to take his place back at the point of the field. The whole thing was reset and looked almost as if there had not been two attempts at the start of the race.
Good news for Coulthard meant good news for Frentzen as well. The restart meant Frentzen would move back up to 10th place after having falling back a few places at the attempted start to the race.
There had been a lot of action already, and the race hadn't even gotten started yet. The field would be down a couple of cars, but it would assemble on the grid once again, hopefully, ready to get the whole of the race underway. The red light would come on and the revs would come up. Then the green would flash and the field would roar away while everyone else would be praying the field would finally make it through a lap.
As with the first start, Gerhard Berger would get away well but it would be Coulthard able to hold onto the lead heading into the chicanes for the first time. Powered on by the force of the Tifosi, Berger would be side-by-side with Schumacher into the first of the chicanes and would come out in 2nd place. Cars would be sideways under braking all over the place, but the field would manage to make it through without too much trouble. Unfortunately for Frentzen, the second chance would do little to help his cause as he would make another poor start and would lose a couple of places.
This time the field would actually complete a lap and Coulthard would be its leader. Berger would bring the crowd to its feet as he crossed the line in 2nd place and Alesi stalked Hill for 4th place. Frentzen's poor start would hurt him as he would cross the line around 12th place. However, he had made it through the first lap and could try and settle down and see what the race could offer him.
Coulthard would be in the lead and, as he had been for much of the weekend, wouldprove to be the man as he began to stretch out a lead right from the very beginning. Frentzen would remain stuck in his position as he tried to settle down. However, trouble with Martin Brundle's car would help him to find some momentum forward. A nice move into the chicanes would see Frentzen move up and seemingly find his legs.
Coulthard continued to pull away from the field and appeared to be in a class of his own, especially compared to his teammate who remained in 4th place. David continued to add to his advantage until a wheel bearing seized throwing his Williams into a spin taking him out of the race. Suddenly the crowd would erupt as Berger would be in the lead of the race in the Ferrari on Italian soil. The frenzy, though, was only just beginning.
Frentzen would be back up to his starting position when Coulthard retired from the race with his wheel bearing failure. The German would then be hunting down Mark Blundell and would be within striking distance when another twist of drama struck the head of the field.
Berger continued to lead the race with Schumacher and Hill following along not far behind. Hill would be on the prowl of Schumacher, the man that had been getting the best of him and the very same one he had collided with in the British Grand Prix a couple of months earlier. In a case of déjà vu, Hill would plow into the back of Schumacher taking both cars out of the race. As Frentzen powered his way by, now up inside the top ten and with striking distance of a points-paying position, Schumacher would come resolutely up to the side of the Williams ready to give Hill a piece of his mind, and likely a piece of his fist, before being pulled back by the marshals. Frentzen would move by unbothered and ready to make his move on Blundell.
Pitstops would take place and the two Ferraris would be out of the lead, but only for a moment. The two would pick up where they had left off when Hill and Schumacher. The crowd would be utterly beside themselves at the prospect of a Ferrari one-two, but it would prove to be far too early to be thinking such thoughts.
Unfortunately for the Ferrari fans, Alesi would come out ahead of his teammate after the pitstops cycled through. This would be sad as it would be clear the camera mounted to the rear wing of Alesi's Ferrari was not attached too securely to the car. Sure enough, the camera would detach from the wing and would fly back and smash into the left-front suspension of Berger's Ferrari. Immediately, the suspension members would collapse and one Ferrari would be out of the picture. Still, Alesi was in the lead. There was still a chance for Ferrari and Italian glory.
Frentzen continued to work hard. He would pick off people when and where he could. He would be by Rubens Barrichello and within reach of his best result in Formula One, which was 4th.
Alesi continued to lead the way with less than 10 laps remaining in the race. The Italians were nearly beside themselves thinking about the possibilities. No Ferrari had won at Monza in the 1990s, and now, with just eight laps remaining, it was nearly within sight. However, as Alesi was seen flashing through the Ascari chicane, there would be something flashing at the rear of his car. Just like Coulthard, Alesi's right-rear wheel would have a bearing failure and would be alight with flames. The Frenchman would pull to the side, his emotions deflated, right along with tens of thousands of others.
Alesi's retirement meant Johnny Herbert was now leading the race in the second Benetton. He too was not going to be with the team the follow season and so he also wanted to go out in style. Herbert would be absolutely delighted to find himself in the lead. Around a half a lap further back, Frentzen would be elated as well finding himself now up to 3rd place! A podium was in the offering for the German that had absolutely no drive just a few years earlier. And, with an unknown engine and a team somewhat deflated by the departure of Mercedes, it too was ready to earn its first-ever podium.
Despite all of the drama throughout the race, the last few laps would go off without a single problem. Herbert would round the Parabolica for the final time, shifting up quickly to ensure he didn't get loose and throw the car away with the checkered flag literally within sight. The Englishman would power his way down the straight and across the line to take his second victory and second of the season. About 18 seconds later, Mika Hakkinen would come through to finish in 2nd place. The crew at Sauber would be looking back up the straight toward the old banking and the Parabolica waiting, and hoping, their man negotiated the last lap without incident. Then, finally, about 10 seconds later, Frentzen would appear, charging out of the corner toward the line. It would be a remarkable finish for the German and the team. In spite of all the unknown and the frustration, in both Frentzen's career and within Sauber, the two would come together to drive an absolutely flawless race to finish on the podium for the very first time in either's career.
Frentzen, on the podium, would not have the emotion of Herbert, but the gravity of the situation had not been lost on the German. Coming back from being left with nowhere to go, Heinz-Harald now stood someplace he had only every dreamt of. What's more, he was standing on the podium at Monza, such a memory would not easily pass from his mind and, on that day, Frentzen would prove exactly what everyone had believed was possible and what he believed deep down within himself. He had survived. He had weathered the storm and used a very mature performance to come out victorious, at least in his mind and in the mind of the team.
Now the man that wasn't even a passing thought in people's heads a few years ago would be standing on one of the most famous podiums in the world. A man that had no options as of a few years ago would now be sought after by some of the best teams and would be considered a man capable of beating Schumacher…again.
All eyes would be on Ferrari coming into the race, and for good reason. It had been a number of years since the Scuderia had a car truly capable of contending for victory. But the '95 car would present just such an opportunity for the team and the Tifosi. In addition, Ferrari would have their new engine available for their car. So while there were concerns over the reliability of the updated engine, the thoughts of the potential would be almost too much for every Italian to bear.
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