In part two, we delve deeper into the events of that weekend and discover how the team reacted to Michael’s performance.
“As a rookie, Michael had already tasted substantial success and he’d been a fully-fledged Sauber-Mercedes driver in sports car racing, and therefore, he wasn’t exactly a newcomer to big events, or to grown-up racing. He’d not only raced in Junior Formula, so he was confident,” says Mark.
“I dealt with him on a one-to-one basis for all the media stuff, all the basic things you have to do when a new driver joins the team, but I found him to be very very business-like; not arrogant, but there was certainly a very clear focus. That’s not to say he was difficult to deal with, but his priorities were very clear; to get into that car and do as good a job as he possibly could.”
That trademark Michael Schumacher focus was on display very early on, but Michael knew that he had an opportunity to shine that weekend as the Jordan car was much better than some people gave it credit for.
“Everyone knew that the Jordan 191 was a quick car and we’d had a number of really good results already by the time of Spa; we’d had a double points finish in Canada where we finished fourth and fifth and everyone knew we were two engine configurations less than the Benetton works engine, and yet, we were quite often embarrassing them. The car was mechanically and aerodynamically fantastic and Michael knew it was a good car.”
Michael’s teammate in the second Jordan car that weekend was Andrea de Cesaris, making his 160th Grand Prix start. As Mark explains, Andrea was surprised to find himself behind Michael on the grid.
“Andrea had driven in a lot of Grands Prix for a lot of teams, and he’d been through a lot of highs and lows in Formula One. By that stage in his career, he knew several things; he knew the car was very good and he knew there was potential to get very good results towards the end of that season because we’d made good progress.” says Mark.
“He wasn’t best pleased by being out-qualified by Michael, I do remember that, but he wasn’t upset, I would say he was more puzzled. I recall doing the press release after qualifying and he gave a fairly non-specific excuse as to why he hadn’t matched Michael’s pace.”
Reflecting on Michael’s performance, Mark was keen to add that no one in the team thought that they had a multiple future world champion on their hands, and neither did Benetton.
“I feel though it is important to remember that no one, including Flavio or the late Tom Walkinshaw, could say that just because of what Michael was doing that weekend, or because of what he’d done in Formula 3 or with Mercedes, there was no one who thought this was a multiple world champion. He was regarded as a very good talent and someone who had it in him to be extremely competitive, but no could say it was obvious from the get-go that this guy was something on a completely different level.” Mark explains.
“I’m not putting down Michael’s achievement, but the fact that a quick driver was able to put that car seventh on the grid wasn’t a complete shock to us. I think with the passage of time, maybe there’s been a little bit of a myth that has built up around Michael’s performance that day. Especially given what he went on to achieve.”
In part three, Mark discusses the aftermath of that weekend and the effect that Michael’s departure had on the team.