July 14, 1996 will go down as a dark day in racing history. Eight people lost their lives on this fateful day. Rookie Indy Car driver Jeff Krosnoff and a track official were killed in a horrific accident in Toronto (the first ever during a CART sanctioned race). Four spectators were killed in a rally in Alencon, France. And at the Spa Francorchamp circuit a British motorcyclist rammed into a Belgian official as he attempted to clear debris from the track.
Thankfully, the British Grand Prix was spared such a gruesome fate. Some Italian fans, however, would have gladly added a few more fatalities to the tally. Memories of Schumacher's triumphant win in Spain have all but faded, as Ferrari descends into the bleak shadows cast by three DNFs in a row. Jean Todt appears to be a marked man. Even though the 25 million dollar man himself admits that there is no reason to make Todt the scapegoat, his head is almost certain to roll.
In a pathetic attempt to lesson the impact of their miserable performances of late, the spin doctors at Ferrari went about a damage control campaign that only served to further deteriorate Ferrari's image. It was obvious to over a million viewers worldwide that there was smoke billowing out of Schumacher's 310, yet Ferrari insisted that the car retired only because of gearbox problems. Hmmm, a car being stuck in 6th gear doesn't usually emit heavy smoke from its exhaust pipes. To that half truth Derek Bell rightfully quipped, "What a Joke!" At least Ferrari was a little more direct about the fate of Irvine's car: "engine failure." I guess on the positive side you can say that Irvine's functioning gearbox allowed him to eke two more laps out of his Ferrari than Schumacher was able to manage. It looks like Luca di "Tony" Montezemelo has once again got some serious problems to fix.
Putting the Ferrari debacle aside, it was great to see Villeneuve win his second grand prix and come within 15 points of Hill in the driver standings. Villeneuve dominated Silverstone much like Hill had done in the previous two races. He lead from the start and was able to gain almost a second a lap over his rivals. Even though Hill's poor start in this particular race can be blamed on his heavier fuel load, resulting from his one stop pit strategy, it must be said that over the course of the season Villeneuve has consistently outperformed his teammate in this regard. But it was Alesi who had the best start of all, as he rocketed up from fifth place on the starting grid to challenge Villeneuve into the first corner.
After the start, unfortunately, the race wasn't much of a show. Hill's off and the debate over whether or not it was driver error provided the only excitement of the race. (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt--wheel bearing failure.) It was certainly encouraging to see the Bennetons and especially the McLarens looking so competitive. Seeing Hakkinen vying for the lead certainly must have cooled the heels of some of Marlboro's corporate cowboys. Compared to Ferrari, McLaren's future looks positively bright at the moment. The fact that Mercedes is a committed engine supplier until the year 2,000 must also make the boys at Jordan a little envious.