Welcome first win for Alesi

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The Independent Online
Motor racing

DERICK ALLSOP

reports from Montreal

Some were adamant it would never happen. He was always insistent it would. And yesterday Jean Alesi was vindicated. The Frenchman celebrating his 31st birthday and in his 91st race became a Formula One winner at last.

Alesi steered his Ferrari into the clear after the Canadian Grand Prix tripped up the leading championship contenders, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill.

Schumacher and his Benetton-Renault were again in imperious form, and it seemed a fourth win of the season as well as a huge advantage in the title standings were his for the taking.

By then Hill had retired from the race. His Williams-Renault stuck in sixth gear and the season appeared to have lost any competitive edge.

But this can be a cruel and capricious business and yesterday, for once, fortune smiled on Alesi. Often derided as erratic - even wild - he maintained his composure as well as his pace to make the moment his.

He, like his team-mate, Gerhard Berger, had overtaken Hill, but required Schumacher's mishap to lay claim to that elusive maiden success.

Schumacher cruised into the pits 11 laps from the end and proceeded to lose more than a minute and a half there as his technicians worked frantically to put the Benetton back in working order.

He re-emerged in seventh place, but at least managed to pick up a couple of places and points when his old adversary, Martin Brundle in a Ligier- Mugen collided almost inevitably with the equally combative Berger and both were eliminated from the contest.

Schumacher still found himself in the eye of the celebrations, picking up the stranded Alesi who had run out of fuel on his slowing-down lap.

The winner milked the applause and danced on to the podium, neither able nor willing to contain his jubilation.

This was Ferrari's 105th win, which takes them clear of McLaren in the list of all-time winners.

A poignant triumph too. Alesi's Ferrari carries the No 27 given near- mythical status by the late Gilles Villeneuve, who hailed from these parts and in whose honour this circuit is named.

Alesi said: "I have had my misfortune in the past and now this is fantastic for me. I said in my mind maybe today is my day. It is fantastic not only for me and Ferrari but for all Italy. Formula One is so special for all Italy.

"It is also something special to win with this number here in Canada. Gilles won this race many years ago and of course everybody knows what he meant to all Ferrari fans. Now we are getting stronger and stronger and I believe we can challenge for the championship."

The evidence, however, still suggests Schumacher is the likely champion for 1995. He took advantage of his pole position to hold the lead at the first corner and from that moment Hill and the rest must have sensed the contest was for second place.

Hill came under increasing pressure from the two Ferraris, losing the support of his team-mate, David Coulthard, before the end of the first lap.

Alesi had loomed large in the Williams' mirrors before they confronted backmarkers at the Old Pits hairpin. Alesi seized the opportunity, diving down the inside, and Hill acknowledged that he could not respond.

Soon Berger too slipped by the failing Williams, but his progress was checked when he ran out of petrol within sight of his mid-race pit-stop. By the time he had rolled on to his crew and returned to the track, he was down to eighth - more than a lap behind Schumacher.

This, alas, was to be a fruitless day for Hill, who abandoned his car alongside the pit wall 18 laps from the end.

The 34-year-old Englishman who vented his frustration after being defeated by Schumacher in Monaco a fortnight ago was again dismayed.

He said: "The hydraulics went and I was stuck in sixth gear. There was nothing I could do. It's been a pretty chronic performance. We've done a lot of work but nothing's happening. I'm angry. We've been soundly beaten."

Hill now trails Schumacher by seven points in the championship standings, and must fear not only that the German will disappear, but that the charging Alesi will continue to close in on him.

The only contented United Kingdom driver was Eddie Irvine who, like Rubens Barrichello, registered his best result in Formula One and completed a splendid afternoon for the Jordan camp. Irvine said: "We've had our problems but I'm just pleased to be on the podium. It's the first time I've been there and hopefully it will not be the last."

Johnny Herbert in the other Benetton locked horns with Mika Hakkinen driving a McLaren-Mercedes at the Old Pits hairpin first time round and were put out of the race.

Mark Blundell, attempting to retain his McLaren drive, had to park up 20 laps from the end while running ninth.

CANADIAN GRAND PRIX (Montreal): 1 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1hr 46:31.333; 2 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Peugeot +31.687; 3 E Irvine (Irl) Jordan- Peugeot +33.270; 4 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Mugen Honda +36.506; 5 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Renault +37.060; 6 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Hart +1 lap; 7 L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford +1; 8 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Yamaha +1; 9 T Inoue (Japan) Footwork-Hart +2. Only nine drivers finished.

WORLD DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP (after six races): 1 Schumacher 36pts; 2 D Hill (GB) 29; 3 Alesi 24; 4 G Berger (Aut) 17; 5 J Herbert (GB) 12; 6 D Coulthard (GB) 9; 7= R Barrichello (Bra); E Irvine (GB) 6; 9 M Hakkinen (Fin) 5; 10= H-H Frentzen (Ger); O Panis (Fr) 4; 12 M Blundell (GB) 3; 13 G Morbidelli (It) 1.

CONSTRUCTORS' CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Ferrari 41; 2 Benetton 38; 3 Williams 32; 4 Jordan 12; 5 McLaren 8; 6= Sauber; Ligier both 4; 8 Footwork 1.

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