When Hill conquered Imola for Williams in memory of Senna

One year on from one of Formula 1’s darkest ever weekends at Imola in 1994, the 1995 San Marino Grand Prix was a poignant victory for Damon Hill and Williams, who beat the Ferraris of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger on an emotional day for all concerned.

When Hill conquered Imola for Williams in memory of Senna

Ahead of the race, a minute’s silence was held in memory of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, the ’95 raceday falling on the exact anniversary of Ratzenberger’s death in qualifying. The drivers stood in a somber circle before getting into their cars on the starting grid, ahead of the race on the modified circuit layout, which now had two new chicanes between the startline and Tosa – including one at Tamburello.

Fans pay tribute to Ayrton Senna

Fans pay tribute to Ayrton Senna

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

The drivers stand on the grid, in remembrance a year after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger

The drivers stand on the grid, in remembrance a year after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Points leader Michael Schumacher, who’d scored a joyless win in ’94, started from pole for Benetton after beating Berger by just 0.008s. 

“I think we have to fear Ferrari here as well as Williams, with Gerhard only eight thousandths of a second behind,” warned Schumacher before the start.

David Coulthard lined up third, ahead of Williams teammate Hill – who said “I don't like being fourth on the grid, but that will pump me up nicely for tomorrow!” Alesi, who had topped the extra ‘familiarisation’ practice sessions, started down in fifth. Alesi also lead Sunday’s morning’s warm-up session, which was held in wet conditions, ahead of Berger.

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195 Renault, and Gerhard Berger, Ferrari 412T2 start on the front row of the grid

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195 Renault, and Gerhard Berger, Ferrari 412T2 start on the front row of the grid

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195 Renault, Gerhard Berger, Ferrari 412T2,, David Coulthard, Williams FW17 Renault, Damon Hill, Williams FW17 Renault, Jean Alesi, Ferrari 412T2,, Mika Hakkinen, McLaren MP4/10 Mercedes,, Eddie Irvine, Jordan 195 Peugeot, and Johnny Herbert, Benetton B195 Renault, at the start

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195 Renault, Gerhard Berger, Ferrari 412T2,, David Coulthard, Williams FW17 Renault, Damon Hill, Williams FW17 Renault, Jean Alesi, Ferrari 412T2,, Mika Hakkinen, McLaren MP4/10 Mercedes,, Eddie Irvine, Jordan 195 Peugeot, and Johnny Herbert, Benetton B195 Renault, at the start

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The race started on a damp track, with Schumacher scampering into the lead on wet tyres, ahead of Berger and the two Williamses.

Further back, Nigel Mansell was returning to F1 with McLaren after a new chassis had been built to accommodate his frame, and he had qualified ninth – over one second slower than teammate Mika Hakkinen. He started on slicks, and although and other slick starters struggled badly in the opening laps, those who started on wets were soon in the pits as the track dried.

Berger – who was almost taken out lapping Luca Badoer’s Minardi at the final chicane – stopped on lap five, but he struggled to get away from his box with a dragging clutch. Meantime, leader Schumacher only just missed a spinning Ligier before he too stopped a few laps later. 

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195 Renault walks back to the pits after retirement

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195 Renault walks back to the pits after retirement

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195 Renault walks back to the pits after retirement

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195 Renault walks back to the pits after retirement

Photo by: Motorsport Images

On his out lap on slicks, Schumacher spun as he crested the rise at the kink before Piratella, and briefly became airborne before he slammed into the tyrewall at high speed, almost rolling over as he dug in to the gravel trap. He emerged from a frightening wreck unharmed.

“The start was good and I was able to control Berger even if through the traffic it was a little bit difficult,” said Schumacher. “After the tyre change when I went out again, I felt the car a little unstable at the rear side. It is not clear why I came off and we will have to investigate the reason. I was going quick and I feel lucky because I really thought I was going to be hurt.”

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Berger now led, clear of Hill, while Coulthard and Alesi fought a furious duel for third. After 11 laps in front, Berger pitted again – but this time his clutch issue caught him out completely and he stalled. He lost many seconds while the car was restarted, with Ferrari’s rear jackman throwing his pit equipment on the floor in disgust when the Austrian finally departed, all hope of victory now gone.

Gerhard Berger, Ferrari 412T2

Gerhard Berger, Ferrari 412T2

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Damon Hill, Williams FW17 leads David Coulthard, Williams FW17

Damon Hill, Williams FW17 leads David Coulthard, Williams FW17

Photo by: Sutton Images

“In the warm-up I did just one lap in my race car on which, unlike the spare, I had chosen a dry set-up,” explained Berger. “I did not notice that the clutch action was very harsh. I decided to race with this car, as it was obvious the track would dry quickly, but there was no opportunity to improve the clutch. And it was the clutch that caught me out. 

“I don't think I could have won if I had not stalled, because despite the progress made we are still not at the same level as the Williams, but if I had stayed in the lead after the stop I would have at least tried to defend my position.”

Hill was promoted to the lead, but he now had Coulthard – who’d won his monumental early battle with Alesi – all over him. But Coulthard then spun at the new Villeneuve chicane, and compounded this error by speeding at the pits as he took on new tyres and fuel: “I went shooting over the limit,” he admitted. “I changed into second gear and pushed the rev-limiter button, then it took a while for everything to slow down.”

David Coulthard, Williams FW17 Renault

David Coulthard, Williams FW17 Renault

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Jean Alesi, Ferrari 412T2

Jean Alesi, Ferrari 412T2

Photo by: Sutton Images

Coulthard rejoined ahead of Alesi, with whom he battled once again, allowing Hill to extend a dominant lead. DC's speeding offence resulted in a 10s stop/go penalty, but he also had another problem that would lead to a fourth pitstop…

“I damaged the front wing endplate [during the spin] but didn't realise this when I came in for my next stop and did my whole middle stint running two seconds off the pace,” he said. “I came in for my pit lane speed penalty, but we couldn't change the nose at that point and I was graining the tyres badly.”

Hill won by 18.5s over Alesi, to take the lead in the world championship as Schumacher non-scored, with Berger a very distant third – although he set fastest lap in the closing stages to keep the recovering Coulthard at bay.

Race Winner Damon Hill, Williams FW17 Renault

Race Winner Damon Hill, Williams FW17 Renault

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Jean Alesi, Ferrari, Damon Hill, Williams, Gerhard Berger, Ferrari

Jean Alesi, Ferrari, Damon Hill, Williams, Gerhard Berger, Ferrari

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“It was a race where I needed to think hard, use all my tactical ability to try and read the race,” said Hill. “It was pretty treacherous with changing conditions, deciding when to pit for slick tyres and trying to get through the backmarkers. It was very easy to make a mistake today.

“In all honesty, the thought that this is the place where we saw such terrible times last year, I was able to keep out of my mind most of the time and get on with the job. However, I think today was a good race and I think Ayrton would have approved of it.”

For Alesi, he was content with second place, but livid with Coulthard’s driving during their fight, branding him “ignorant”. Alesi fumed: “I lost many precious seconds with Coulthard blocking me in an incorrect way. You should not zig-zag to stop someone faster from passing, especially in the early stages of the race.

“Coulthard hit me at one point to block me, slightly bending the steering arm. I do not want to imply that David stopped me winning. The gap to the winner was in fact bigger than the time he lost me.”

Nigel Mansell, McLaren on the grid

Nigel Mansell, McLaren on the grid

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Nigel Mansell, McLaren MP4-10 Mercedes

Nigel Mansell, McLaren MP4-10 Mercedes

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Hakkinen and Sauber’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen rounded out the point scorers, while Mansell finished 10th on his comeback, having stopped for a new nose and then been clobbered by Jordan’s Eddie Irvine in a “misunderstanding”. 

“I eased myself into the race and got into the points,” said Mansell. “When the car was balanced I clocked up some respectable times. Then I had a series of incidents, quite a few really, and things got a little harder.”

Significantly, it turned out to be the final time Mansell finished a grand prix, as he retired from the following Spanish GP, complaining about the car’s handling characteristics, and then quit F1 yet again – on this occasion for good.

Race Winner Damon Hill, Williams Renault

Race Winner Damon Hill, Williams Renault

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Damon Hill, Williams FW17 Renault

Damon Hill, Williams FW17 Renault

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Fans pay tribute to Ayrton Senna

Fans pay tribute to Ayrton Senna

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Nigel Mansell, McLaren

Nigel Mansell, McLaren

Photo by: Sutton Images

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