F1 circuits history part 12: 1994

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, TI Aida, 1994The 1994 season was a traumatic one for Formula 1. It is often remembered solely because of the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.

But their deaths at Imola during the San Marino Grand Prix came in a season that saw a higher than average number of driver injuries: JJ Lehto in pre-season testing, Rubens Barrichello at Imola, Karl Wendlinger at Monte-Carlo, Pedro Lamy at Silverstone and others.

The governing body reacted by imposing changes on the cars; changes to the circuit were brought about at the request of the FIA and also following input from the newly re-formed Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, which remains active to this day.

Tanaka International Aida, Japan

The second race of the year was held at the TI Aida circuit in Japan (pictured top), and given the title of ‘Pacific Grand Prix’ just as Italy also had the San Marino Grand Prix. The circuit was far too small for F1 cars, very narrow and almost entirely dominated by slow corners.

Michael Schumacher won both races there in 1994 and 1995, taking his second title at the latter, at a circuit that simply did not deserve to be deciding F1 championships.

Montreal, Canada

Following the double fatality at Imola and Karl Wendlinger’s horror crash at Monte-Carlo, circuits reacted swiftly to slow down the cars’ progression through the fastest bends.

At the time the link from the second hairpin at Montreal to the chicane preceding the start/finish line was not a straight, it was a series of very quick corners. So the organisers set up a temporary chicane to force the cars to slow down.

In 1995 the fast bends remained but the temporary chicane was gone, but by 1996 the entire section had been straightened.

Read F1 fans’ experiences of visiting the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Circuit de Catalunya, Spain

The alteration at the Barcelona track was even more drastic ahead of the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix. At the behest of the drivers a temporary tyre chicane was installed before the Nissan left-right. The chicane was so tight it was dubbed ‘Beirut’ for its similarity to a security checkpoint.

Read more about the ‘Beirut’ chicane in this feature: “10 worst… chicanes”

Read F1 fans’ experiences of visiting the Circuit de Catalunya.

Silverstone, Great Britain

Silverstone made some tweaks to its fastest corners to curb speeds, the biggest of which was the transformation of Abbey from a flat-out kink into the chicane it still is today.

It followed Pedro Lamy’s massive crash in a Lotus in testing, when his rear wing failed. The car cleared the debris fence and landed in a spectator enclosure, which thankfully was empty at the time.

The chicane also reduced the cars’ speed through Bridge, where Andrea de Cesaris has suffered a huge crash in the 1991 race.

Read F1 fans’ experiences of visiting Silverstone.

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Of all the changes made in the aftermath of Imola the new chicane at Spa-Francorchamps was one of the most controversial. Happily the decision to turn Eau Rouge into a chicane only lasted for one year, after which it was changed back, although in subsequent years the barriers were moved back and a tarmac run-off area installed.

Read F1 fans’ experiences of visiting Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.

Estoril, Portugal

To slow down the cars before the long Parabolica right-hander a very slow uphill was built on the Estoril circuit dubbed Saca-Rolhas. But, as if to make a point about the difficulty of pursuing ‘safer’ motorsport, Damon Hill crashed and flipped his Williams at the new corner during practice.

The last race at the track was in 1996. Rookie Jacques Villeneuve took himself off Michael Schumacher’s Christmas card list by passing the Ferrari driver around the outside of the long Parabolica turn.

Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

Jerez returned to the F1 calendar for two final races as the European Grand Prix in 1994 and 1997. It was not originally intended to be part of the F1 schedule in that final year, but was added as an 11th-hour replacement for the cancelled Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril.

Two changes were made to the track – the run towards Curva Dry Sack was straightened and extended, and the fast corner behind the pits where Martin Donnelly crashed in 1990 was turned into a tight chicane. It was one of many such corners to but constructed at F1 track in the years following the Imola fatalities, and not the only one to be unfittingly named after Ayrton Senna.

That final race proved highly dramatic – Jacques Villeneuve won the world championship after surviving an astonishing attempt by Michael Schumacher to force him off the road. The race ended acrimoniously as McLaren were accused of fixing the finish to gift victory to Mika Hakkinen, and following an incident on the podium involving a local dignitary the circuit was told it would not hold any further F1 races.

It remains a popular testing destination for the teams, however.