Round 8, British Grand Prix, Silverstone


1       Damon Hill (Williams Renault)

2       Jean Alesi (Ferrari)

3       Mika Hakkinen (McLaren Peugeot)

4       Rubens Barrichello (Jordan Hart)

5       David Coulthard (Williams Renault)

6       Ukyo Katayama (Tyrrell Yamaha)

THE first half of the 1994 FIA Formula 1 World Championship ended with a controversial weekend at Silverstone.  On a humid Sunday July afternoon, championship leaders Benetton and Michael Schumacher shot themselves in the foot, opening the door for months of political unrest that the sport quite frankly did not need in such testing times.

Arriving in Northamptonshire, Schumacher had won six of the first seven races and looked a dead cert to be champion.  His cause was aided, when his main protagonist, Damon Hill suffered a freak suspension failure on his first lap in Friday practice.  With royalty such as the Duchess of York and Princess Diana watching amongst the interested onlookers, Saturday’s qualifying turned out to be the most dramatic of the season.  Schumacher held down the fastest time from Friday, but the two Ferrari’s of Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi launched a stiff challenge the next day.  Fans were gripped by an unlikely prospect of four drivers fighting it out for pole position.  Eventually, Ferrari’s challenge faded when Alesi spun on his final attempt and Berger crunched the pitlane Armco on his exit from the pits.  However, they had both set challenging laps for Hill and Schumacher to try and beat.  Hill went first and set a time of 1 min 21.360 secs, two hundredths of a second faster than Berger.  So, Schumacher had to beat that lap for pole and it looked good, the Benetton B194 was a quarter of a second inside Hill at the second sector timing beam.  However, he lost all the time in a scrappy final sector and Hill took the first celebrations of the weekend, clinching pole by a mere three thousands of a second.

On the first formation lap, Schumacher overtook pole sitter Hill, something that was illegal in the FIA rulebook.  It looked like he might have got away with this when the sister Williams of David Coulthard, back in the cockpit following Nigel Mansell’s guest appearance in Magny-Cours stalled on the grid and the start was aborted.  Ten minutes later, on the second formation lap, Schumacher repeated his earlier illegal move.  Rather than warm up his own tyres and brakes, Hill had little option but to go after the Benetton to keep up with him and regain his rightful position.  Further back, Eddie Irvine didn’t even make it around the second installation lap, as his Jordan Hart V10 expired on the way to the grid.

At the green light, Schumacher bogged down and Hill charged into a massive lead at Copse.  Berger was third, ahead of a quick-starting Rubens Barrichello, Alesi and Jos Verstappen’s Benetton, who had clambered up from tenth on the grid.  The most dramatic demise was that of Martin Brundle on the first lap.  Smoke was billowing from the engine on the grid and as the lights went to green, the Peugeot engine quite literally went up in a bull of flame.  Mark Blundell did a well-skilled job to miss the back of the fiery McLaren and duck out of the way.  Brundle pulled off and looked absolutely gutted at his spectacular demise, without even making the first corner of his home grand prix.

Back at the front, Schumacher had caught up with Hill and on lap 16; the pair came in for their first pitstops.  Like on many occasions past and future, the Benetton team did a great job to get their man infront of Damon.  However, any advantage would be neglected by Berger taking over the lead in a heavier Ferrari and he proceeded to hold the German up, allowing the Williams to close right back up on the Benetton’s gearbox.  On lap 21, drama occurred when Schumacher was given the black flag.  He was meant to serve a five-second stop-go penalty for his antics on the formation lap.  Benetton misinterpreted the scenario and presumed the penalty would be added onto his race time.  Flavio Briatore looked incensed and he and joint principal, Tom Walkinshaw had a forceful conservation with the FIA director, Roland Bruyserade and his race stewards.  It was clear that the team were challenging the penalty.  What couldn’t be denied was the German blatantly ignore the flag being shown to him on three occasions between laps 22 & 27.  Eventually, Benetton brought their driver in to serve his rightful penalty.

All this left Hill with a 20 second lead and the chance to relax in the second half of the race.  Meanwhile, Berger quit from third place soon after his first stop, with engine trouble.  This meant, Alesi moved into an untroubled third place, with Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello scrapping furiously for fourth position.  With one lap to go, Hill lapped his team-mate Coulthard, who’d done well to fightback to sixth after his stall on the initial dummy grid.  Damon came through 18 seconds infront of Schumacher to record a famous win for him and the beleaguered Williams outfit.  He achieved his own bit of family history, that by winning the British Grand Prix, something that his famous dad, Graham had been unable to achieve in the 1960s.  Alesi was third, while Hakkinen and Barrichello tangled unnecessarily into the last corner.  Via a push from the marshals, Hakkinen recovered to cross the line in fourth, while Barrichello finished the race in the pits.  The final point went to Coulthard, shaking off the attentions of Ukyo Katayama’s Tyrrell Yamaha.

After the race, Schumacher was disqualified, handed a two-race ban and given a major slap on the wrist.  Benetton immediately served intention to appeal against the decision, meaning he could compete at his home event in Germany.  Meanwhile, Damon Hill had no cause for concern, as he produced his finest hour on the track.

Round 15, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka


1      Damon Hill (Williams Renault)

2      Michael Schumacher (Benetton Ford)

3      Jean Alesi (Ferrari)

4      Nigel Mansell (Williams Renault)

5      Eddie Irvine (Jordan Hart)

6      Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Sauber Mercedes)

THE penultimate race of the 1994 Formula One season was held at the Suzuka circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix.  With two races left, Michael Schumacher led title rival Damon Hill by five points and should he win and Damon finish lower than second, could claim his maiden title.  In the constructors, Benetton held a narrow two point advantage over Williams and counter-acted the Grove based team’s decision to bring back Nigel Mansell for the final races by drafting in Johnny Herbert to help their constructors bid.  Herbert was brought in to bring valuable experience to the team at such a crucial stage, as normal no.2 Jos Verstappen, had never driven a turn of either the Suzuka or Adelaide circuits.  Elsewhere in the paddock, JJ Lehto returned to Sauber as Andrea De Cesaris had announced his decision to retire from F1 with immediate effect.  Mika Salo made his debut for Lotus alongside Alessandro Zanardi and French F3000 runner-up Franck Lagorce paired up with Olivier Panis at Ligier Renault.  It was also announced on this particular weekend of McLaren’s eventual long-term collaboration with Mercedes, which would start from 1995.

All of this though was a side story to the main weekend battle: Schumacher vs. Hill.  Round one went to the Benetton; taking pole in Friday’s qualifying ahead of Hill and the impressive Heinz-Harald Frentzen.  With Saturday’s session being washed out, Friday’s times would count for the grid.  Sunday morning brought even murkier conditions and there was even talk of a safer rolling start, which was eventually dismissed by the organizers.  At the green light, Schumacher squirmed across Hill’s path to maintain the lead, followed by Frentzen, Herbert, Jean Alesi and Eddie Irvine’s Jordan Hart.

By the start of lap two, the rain was falling again and both Hideki Noda and Lehto had exited the race already.  On the next lap, third placed Herbert lost control of his Benetton and slammed into the barriers out of the last corner.  Meanwhile on the other side, local hero Ukyo Katayama smashed his Tyrrell into the pitwall and then had to make a quick escape from his car when fellow countryman, Taki Inoue did a similar job to his Simtek Ford.  The decision was taken to bring out the Safety Car and clear up the wreckage.  Katayama was being carried away by the marshals, clearly in some discomfort, putting his participation of racing in Adelaide into doubt.  The Safety Car stayed out for six laps, but conditions just got worse when the racing resumed.  Visibility was simply non-existent.  Schumacher led Hill, Alesi, Mansell, Frentzen (who had dropped back following an earlier spin) and Martin Brundle.  On lap 10, Lagorce connected with Pierluigi Martini’s Minardi on the entry to turn one, with the Frenchman spinning out and the veteran Italian the next to visit a guardrail.  Moments later, Martini’s team-mate, Michele Alboreto spun out at the same spot.  Also out of the race was Gerhard Berger.  The Austrian sidelined by dodgy electrics on his Ferrari, having been running a distant tenth.

By lap 13 and streams of water were running all over the circuit.  It was quickly turning into the Japanese Powerboat Grand Prix.  Next victim was Footwork’s Gianni Morbidelli, who had a big accident at the Degner Curve, ripping the front end off his car.  As marshals were bravely dealing with that incident, another car was spinning off in the same place in the shape of Brundle’s McLaren.  Brundle, who had been quickest in Saturday’s wet qualifying session, was simply a passenger as his car aquaplaned off in the danger area of where Morbidelli’s wreckage lied.  Unfortunately, he collided with one of the marshals, shattering one of his legs.  Finally, the race was stopped by the track officials and about time, the race had turned into a Last Man Standing Contest.

With the marshal on his way to hospital, a decision now had to be taken on the restart.  Hill sat in his cockpit throughout the delay, focused on the job in hand, whilst Mansell made his best impression of being FIA president, marching up and down the grid, instructing the clearly bemused officials what to do.  It was a wise thing to have him in charge, given his experience in F1 and in IndyCars.  Eventually, it was decided that the event would restart over 37 laps and behind the Safety Car, with the results being taken on aggregate timing.  Soon after this announcement, the rain finally stopped and the race resumed, first at rolling, then normal racing speed.  Schumacher carried a six second lead into the second part of the race, but relinquished that four laps later with an 8.0 secs scheduled pitstop.  It came clear that he would be pitting twice, to Hill’s once.  So, on lap 26, the order on timing was Hill, Alesi, Schumacher, Mansell, Mika Hakkinen andIrvine.

Damon Hill on his way to a memorable success in Japan

Five laps later, Hill came in for his one and only stop, handing Schumacher back the lead, but the German needed to pit again and when he did so, the race looked like it was won by the Williams ace.  Undeterred by being on the wrong strategy, Schumacher set out like a man possessed and sliced into Hill’s chunky 20 second advantage, trimming it down to just 3.2 seconds by the time the last lap came around.  Nerves were frayed in both camps at this dramatic finish.  Hill crossed the line first on the road, but had to wait for an agonising age to find out whether it was commiserations or congratulations.  Fortunately for Williams, Schumacher had been momentarily held up behind Christian Fittipaldi’s Footwork on the last lap, lost 0.3 secs and with it, any hope of winning.

Elsewhere, Alesi and Mansell had one of the best battles of the entire season, matching each other throughout the figure of eight course.  The Williams looked the better balanced car, but the Ferrari V12 power made it impossible for Nigel to overtake at the best opportunities.  On the last lap, he squeezed past the Frenchman on the outside of the final chicane to take third on the road.  However, it was Alesi who was the last man on the podium.  Irvine was a distant fifth, with Frentzen taking the last point.  This was definitely the best win of Damon Hill’s career at this point and set up a grandstand finale in Adelaide for seven days later.  Bonfire Day 1994 had certainly given us the trigger for fireworks in Australia.

Round 16, Australian Grand Prix, Adelaide


1       Nigel Mansell (Williams Renault)

2       Gerhard Berger (Ferrari)

3       Martin Brundle (McLaren Peugeot)

4       Rubens Barrichello (Jordan Hart)

5       Olivier Panis (Ligier Renault)

6       Jean Alesi (Ferrari)

THE 1994 Formula One season had been littered full of stories and tales to remind fans for centuries to come.  Filled with triumph and tragedy, breakthroughs and comebacks, winners and losers, the streets of Adelaide would decide the destination of both championships for the first time since 1986.

German wonderkid Michael Schumacher had been at the head of the driver’s championship ever since winning the first event in Brazil on March 26th and halfway through the season, was cantering towards the title.  However, misdemeanours from the young ace and his Benetton team had allowed Williams’s pride of Britain, Damon Hill back into the hunt.  Benefiting from some luck and producing great drives, Damon touched down in Australia just a single point behind Schumacher and had every confidence of making his own history, by becoming the first son of a father to win the world championship.

Both contenders had problems in the practice and qualifying sessions.  Hill went off twice on Saturday morning, still displeased with the lack of support he felt the Grove based team had given him throughout the season, plus unhappy with his current contract scenario.  Schumacher escaped unharmed from a 100 mph crash in the closing stages of Friday’s qualifying session.  1992 world champion Nigel Mansell took pole, infront of Schumacher, Hill and Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren Peugeot.  Friday’s session counted for the grid, because as in Japan the previous weekend, Saturday’s session was washed out by torrential rain.

All was set for the final battle of the season and at the start, Mansell picked up too much wheelspin and slipped behind both title contenders, with Schumacher taking the lead.  It got worse for Mansell later around the opening tour, when another excursion dropped him back to fifth, behind Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello’s Jordan Hart.  Ferrari’s mercurial Frenchman Jean Alesi rounded out the top six.

As Schumacher and Hill disappeared into the distance, the closest fought scrap was Mansell’s attempts to relieve Barrichello of fourth.  Following two earlier failed attempts, he made it stick on lap 10.  Three laps later, two other Brits were in trouble.  Mark Blundell overshot a chicane and produced a dramatic ballerina spin for the crowd.  Meanwhile, Johnny Herbert retired his Benetton in the pits from 15th with gearbox trouble, damaging their constructor championship prospects.  With the first stops in sight, Eddie Irvine spun out of seventh with flames licking from the back of his engine.  Alesi was the first of the front-runners to pit with the two championship protagonists in together on lap 18 for the first of three scheduled stops.

Benetton produced the quicker stop and kept Schumacher infront, but Hill was not giving up and continued to pile the pressure on the young German, with backmarkers interfering and keeping the top two very close.  Further back, Mansell’s efforts in jumping Hakkinen finally were rewarded when Mika locked a brake and ran wide on lap 24, whilst Alesi had a wild spin and gathered it up quickly without losing a place.  When Mansell pitted, Hakkinen resumed third place, but by now, his brakes had already taken a battering and Barrichello had him in his sights.  By coming in together, the Jordan team produced sharp pitwork to get their man out infront of Hakkinen.  Unfortunately for Eddie Jordan, Rubens blew it on his outlap by running wide and allowing Hakkinen back past.  Both were caught out at this opportunity by the lightly-fuelled Alesi who in one manoeuvre, flew past both the Brazilian and the Finn.  The order was now: Schumacher, Hill, Mansell, Gerhard Berger, Alesi and Hakkinen.

The moment that decided the 1994 championship

On lap 36, Schumacher made a critical error into Wakefield corner, ran wide and clouted the concrete wall, terminally wounding his Benetton.  Hill, delayed briefly by traffic, did not see the incident and instantly dived for the inside at the next bend.  Undeterred, Schumacher turned in on the Brit and heavy contact was made.  The Benetton was launched into the tyre barrier, fortunately facing the right way, leaving Schumacher stranded.  Hill limped back to the pits with a front left puncture but cruelly, his onboard camera confirmed a front wishbone had been bent askew in the collision.  He made it back to the pits and the mechanics took a brief look at it.  Technical director Patrick Head declared it unsafe and that was that.  With the engine switched off, Damon Hill was forced to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix.  It had been a sad way to settle such a great battle, but Michael Schumacher was now officially the youngest ever Formula One World Champion.

Back in the race, Alesi’s scrappy drive continued when he stalled his engine at his second pitstop, losing the frustrated Jean an eternity in time.  The battle at the front was now between former Ferrari team-mates, Mansell and Berger.  On lap 54, Mansell pitted and Berger took over at the head of the field.  Gerhard had qualified a distant 11th, but had steadily risen to the front of the field and now, scented the opportunity of handing the much-improved Ferrari outfit a second victory.  A brilliant 7.0 secs stop on lap 58 seemed to have done the job, with Berger getting out just infront of Mansell.  Unfortunately for the Scuderia, those dreams were dashed six laps later.  Unsighted by Michele Alboreto’s Minardi, Berger went down an escape road and Mansell regained the lead.  Ten second stop-go penalties for speeding in the pits had delayed Hakkinen and Barrichello further.  Now, the pair were running fourth and fifth, with Mika closing down his team-mate Martin Brundle.  Five laps remained, but Hakkinen’s brakes got the better of the exuberant Finn and exploded on the Brabham Straight.  He careered into a concrete wall, fortunately escaping serious injury.

The way was left clear for Nigel Mansell to win the Australian Grand Prix for the first time, on a track that had been his nemesis on many occasions down the years.  His 31st career win, which turned out to be his last too, with Berger finishing just a few seconds adrift.  Brundle was a creditable third, ahead of Barrichello, the consistent Olivier Panis from Ligier Renault and Alesi.

1994 will go down as one of the most talked about and hotly disputed championships in history, but F1 now had a new king, in the shape of Michael Schumacher.  However, his words in the press conference summed up the difficult year that Grand Prix racing had endured and who should have been the winner.

‘For me, it was quite clear that I wasn’t going to win the championship and it was going to be Ayrton who took the honours this year.  However, he hasn’t been around for these past few races.  So I’d like to take this championship and give it to him.’

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