It was Friday, November 10, 1995.
Tickets were only available on the black market and cost an arm and a leg. No matter, Harry was footing the bill after all. He also bought a Ferrari flag and a Gerhard Berger T-shirt for each of us. Dressed very smartly and fittingly for the occasion, we took our seats on the grandstand behind Brewery Bend, a fast right turn that leads directly into the long Brabham Straight. Free practice was already underway, and the three of us were now extremely keen on the race. We were insanely happy that we could watch Gerhard at work so far from home.
We could hear our fellow Austrian in the 412 T2 with the starting number 28 as he accelerated out of Stag Corner into Jones Straight. Heavens to Betsy, that was an angry roar! It taught you the meaning of humility! The closer it got, the more dramatic the change in timbre and decibel level. Of course, we didn’t use earplugs since none of us wanted to look like a sissy. The Ferrari was now about 150 yards from the entry to Brewery Bend, you could already feel its timbre in your guts. Your one thought: Holy Guacamole, if they could get all the hearing-impaired people from the greater Adelaide area here now, they would be deaf no more. (Or was that a gross error in reasoning and the deaf would actually end up even deafer?) When Gerhard had the Brewery Bend in his rearview mirror and was gunning it hair-on-fire down the long straight – Are you out of your freakin’ mind! – our eyes rolled back in our heads and our mouths dropped open, and we forgot all about waving our flags because we were so awed. We proudly displayed our forearms covered in goose bumps and were unanimous in our opinion that the Ferrari’s competition sounded like a bunch of pimply-faced pubescent youngsters whose voices were still breaking.
A few laps later, this sport, which we loved at least as much as our wives waiting for us at home, reared its ugly head: Häkkinen’s McLaren sustained tire damage and came flying directly towards us at 200 km/h, a half a meter above the ground. After crashing into the track barrier Mika was trapped in the cockpit with a fractured skull base, a bloodied face and his tongue lodged in his throat. He was about to suffocate, and at the last second race doctor Sid Watkins rushed over and performed a tracheotomy.
We quickly learned that he was not in any mortal danger, so we were free to enjoy Saturday and Sunday reasonably worry--free. Berger put the Ferrari in fourth place on the grid in final practice. In the race he pulled into second after thirty laps. Four laps later, if I remember correctly, curtains: engine failure, of all things. This was the final chapter for the last twelve-cylinder in Formula 1. Alesi was already done for on lap 23 after colliding with Schumacher.
Ferrari stuck with its twelve cylinders in racing’s premier division for two years longer than all the other teams. Because the twelve-cylinder is to Ferrari what the Mafia is to Sicily or what Wagner is to Bayreuth. Moreover, the twelve-cylinder engine is also every Ferrari’s “sex organ”, as Luca di Montezemolo, Maranello’s long-time patriarch, always used to emphasize. All well and good, but Ferrari wasn’t winning any more titles with it. Its torque was too low, and its fuel consumption much too high. Anyway, as Gerhard Berger later said about his last laps in the 412 T2, “I said to myself, you’ll never hear a sound like that again.” The three of us – Harry, Bertl and myself – all had the exact same thought.