The 1994 Spanish Grand Prix was the second race after the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola.
While the media scrutinised the every move of the teams and the governing body, FIA President Max Mosley had rushed in a package of urgent changes to the cars aimed at slowing them down. The Spanish Grand Prix specification was only just agreed in time for the teams to test the parts one week before.
In spite of the furore, the race produced both a heartening result and one of the first truly great drives by Michael Schumacher.
Despite the widespread changes to the cars the black cloud that hung over the 1994 season did not dissipate in the approach to the Spanish Grand Prix.
Pedro Lamy was testing his revised Lotus at Silverstone when the rear wing structure failed at Abbey – then a flat-out curve rather than a chicane. The car cleared the debris fence and landed at the pedestrian tunnel at Bridge. Lamy sustained two broken legs, a broken arm and dislocated knees.
It got no better in Barelona. During Saturday morning practice Simtek driver Andrea Montermini crashed at the final turn at 140mph, tearing the front off the car. He broke his left heel and right foot but was otherwise unhurt.
The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association had been re-formed at the previous round at Monaco in reaction to the spate of accidents and wasted no time in demanding alterations to the circuit. But the focus of their concern wasn’t the bend where Montermini crashed, but the very quick Nissan chicane.
The drivers threatened not to race unless the corner was slowed by means of a tight tyre chicane placed before its entry. The authorities relented and the matter was resolved, though apparently the episode had been forgotten eleven years later during a similar crisis at Indianapolis.
Montermini had been drafted in to replace the late Ratzenberger. Having only run Damon Hill’s car at Monaco the Williams team faced a similar decision. While speculation mounted that Nigel Mansell would make a return they gave the drive to test driver David Coulthard.
Schumacher’s pole position was only his second – having scored his first at Monaco last time out. Alongside him Hill’s Williams was over half a second slower and just 0.061s quicker than Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren.Schumacher’s team mate JJ Lehto was fourth and Coulthard ninth.
The race was largely uneventful. Schumacher cruised away in the lead at the start with Hill a comfortable second. Coulthard picked up three places at the start but struggled with electrical problems that caused a stall at his first stop and led to his retirement on lap 32.
Schumacher’s first stop also led to drama. He couldn’t quite get back onto the race pace immediately afterwards and it transpired that he was having gearbox trouble. The car became stuck in fifth, yet despite a few slow laps he soon figured out how to drive the car quickly and lap comfortably within two seconds of his previous pace.
He could not hold off Hill at that speed, though, who sailed by on lap 46. Hakkinen was set to pass him as well until the McLaren’s Peugeot engine let go. This let a delighted Mark Blundell into third place in his Tyrrell-Yamaha.
Jean Alesi’s Ferrari was fourth, Pierluigi Martini and excellent fifth in his Minardi, and Eddie Irvine sixth for Jordan.
The race was a landmark in two ways. It gave Williams their first win since the death of Senna and a vital morale boost that would drive them on to challenge for both 1994 titles and ultimately win the constructors.
It also began the definition of the man who would success Senna as the next of the sport’s great. From then on, whnever anyone spoke of the great races of Michael Schumacher, they would speak of the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix.