With the 2022 F1 season just around the corner, we’re getting excited! And so we’re taking a look back at another classic F1 race, this time from the 1995 season.
It was a thriller at Suzuka in 1995, the penultimate race of the season. And a race after Michael Schumacher had bagged his second world title for Benetton.
But there was plenty going on in the race after a dramatic season! With one Ferrari driver hellbent on showing his worth.
Stirring Battles and Errors at Suzuka 1995
The race took place on 29th October at the daunting Suzuka track, home to many notorious title showdowns.
Schumacher stook himself on pole, an alarming eight tenths faster than second placed man Jean Alesi in his Ferrari.
This is what it looks like trying to get around the circuit.
Mika Hakkinen was third in his McLaren, with Damon Hill fourth for Williams.
At the race start, there were dry/damp conditions.
And Alesi jumped the start, which is (of course) cheating and landed him a stop/go penalty. That’s where a driver is told to pull into the pits to stop for 10 seconds.
In the early phases of the race Schumacher and Alesi looked set for a race-long duel, but the Ferrari driver’s error suggested he was out of the picture.
That was a shame, as Alesi was closing on Schumacher at the time and a titanic battle seemed in order.
Instead, Alesi returned to the track in ninth. And the German legend seemed set for an easy ride out front. But… no! As the flamboyant Frenchman had other things in mind.
Jean Alesi’s Suzuka ’95 Rampage
Alesi’s race was fairly typical of his entire F1 career, with huge lashings of outstanding genius merged with errors and chronic bad luck.
He was basically the Keith Moon of F1. Alesi was a genius, but his big problem was he was so mercurial. On and off the track.
He was also plagued with the type of bad luck that makes you question reality.
We’ll cover the bad luck in more detail further below, but (other than maybe Johnny Herbert or Chris Amon) this guy was probably the unluckiest driver in F1 history.
But watching Alesi’s performance at Suzuka 1995, you can’t help but wonder why the guy didn’t bag many world titles.
He explodes in and out the race in rollercoaster fashion, blasting up and down the order like a lunatic.
After his penalty, he was behind Barrichello, Herbert, Frentzen, and Salo. With the track drying, Alesi decided to gamble on switching to slicks and so was back into the pits again.
However, before he pitted he blasted by Herbert at the fearsome 130R corner just for the hell of it. Incredibly risky, but brilliant all the same.
Returning to the track in 15th, he went ballistic. Notes on his progress in the below clip, with key highlights:
- Stop/go at 1:00 and a very angry Frenchman.
- Herbert pass and in for slicks at 2:25!
- Flying off the track at 3:30 in a silly incident, ruining his progress.
- The 5:30 mark where he just drives around Damon Hill in the far superior Williams in an outrageous manoeuvre.
- His Ferrari calling it a day at 8:00, ending one of Alesi’s best drives.
It’s the performance of a madman! To be clear, he did that charge through the field twice.
He went up and down the order. From last, to back at the front battling for victory. Twice. After the race, Schumacher acknowledged he was aware of Alesi’s antics and the threat the Ferrari posed.
It would have been an essential win for Alesi as he’d thrown away certain victory to Schumacher earlier in the month at the Nürburgring.
This would have been a triumphant response. He almost certainly would have won. But, as was so often the case in his career, the car failed and the result was gone.
Alesi also carried the number 27 on the front of his Ferrari, made famous by the legendary Gilles Villeneuve.
And his driving style was similar to the French-Canadian’s. That made Alesi’s one and only win in F1, at Canada in 1995, all the more glorious.
The Canadian fans got so excited they stormed onto the circuit when the race was still running.
The Williams Duo Implode
Whilst Alesi and Schumacher were off performing heroics, Suzuka 1995 was a demonstration of the Williams’ team’s underperforming drivers.
The team arguably had the best car that year, but Damon Hill (having challenged for the title in 1994) struggled to take on a flourishing Schumacher.
His teammate David Coulthard (DC) had the excuse of being a rookie in only his first full F1 season, but also churned out a litany of mistakes all season long.
And it was never worst than at Suzuka.
Hill made two errors at the Spoon Curve in the space of a few laps, the second time beaching in the gravel like an idiot.
DC also went off there, but got going again. But when he hit the brakes down the road at 130R, gravel from the gravel trap poured from his car, clogged his tyres, and he spun off.
The BBC commentary box with Murray Walker was left speechless, actively remonstrating the pair and how Williams was lacking drivers of the quality of Alesi and Schumacher.
Of course, a year later Damon Hill actually won the world title at the same track with Williams! So, it shows you what a difference a year makes, eh?
Meanwhile, Schumacher was serene and enjoyed a straightforward win. Mika Hakkinen bagged second and Johnny Herbert in the second Benetton came home third.
A Bit About Jean Alesi
Just to round off this post, we thought we’d cover the mercurial Frenchman who wowed the F1 world with his antics for over a decade.
We’ve added in Josh Revell’s video about him above, as his YouTube videos really make up one of the best amateur F1 channels out there.
Jean Alesi’s arrival in F1 was in mid-1989 for the Tyrell team, where he stunned the sport by finishing 4th on his debut at Magny Cours.
He bagged a 5th and another 4th before the end of the season, too.
For 1990, he then began defying reality At the first race of the season he took his unfancied Tyrell into the lead.
A perplexed Ayrton Senna found himself trailing the Frenchman for 25 laps until the Brazilian forced his way through. However, Alesi immediately retook the lead and caused consternation in the process.
Senna barged his way back through later to win, but Alesi’s 2nd was an alarming message to the F1 establishment.
Alesi backed that up with plenty more giant killing efforts, including 2nd at Monaco. And his stock shot through the roof. World titles seemed inevitable.
But then it all started going horribly wrong.
Williams (the best team on the grid) wanted him for 1991, but a strange contractual debate erupted. Even though Alesi had signed for the team, it still fell through and he went to Ferrari instead.
That seemed like a good move anyway, as Ferrari had almost won the 1990 title with Prost.
However, 1991 onward marked a colossal slump for the Italian team. And so Alesi was left to heroically battle increasingly disastrous Ferrari F1 cars around tracks in the hope of bagging a point or two.
Things did pick up a bit from 1994, and especially 1995, but at the same time things didn’t.
The Ferrari was very strong in 1995, for example, but intensely unreliable. And to say Alesi was unlucky is an understatement.
It’s almost impossible to conceive how someone could come up against such a wall of relentless disaster.
He managed four 2nd places in 1995 and finally took his first win at the Montreal GP.
However, he also retried from eight races. Largely due to mechanical issues. And regularly when he was near the front or leading.
Some of these were his fault, when he threw away an easy win at the Nürburgring.
But it was just so typical of Alesi’s entire career. Almost always at the front, but either breaking down or spinning off.
He switched to Benetton for 1996 as kind of a swap for Michael Schumacher, but there his inconsistency caused issues.
Another win was on the cards at Monaco 1996, but then his suspension broke.
Famously, at the first race of the season in 1997, he had an easy win on the cards. But ignored all team orders, failed to pit, and ran out of fuel.
These ongoing issues saw him drop down to more mid-field teams, starting with Sauber in 1998. This signalled the beginning of the end for his career.
Although he managed a podium at Spa 1998, and showed other flashes of brilliance up until his final season in 2001, that was it. No more success.
Alesi was very popular in the paddock and it was sad to see him retire.
His final race was at Suzuka, ironically, but he got caught up in an enormous accident and was lucky to survive.
But he did! And thankfully now he served as a commentator and F1 pundit, as well as driving in DTM.
In 2006 he was also awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. Bon!