Schumacher wins again as traction control row brews

1994 Pacific Grand Prix flashback

1994 Pacific Grand Prix start, TI AidaThe Tanaka International Circuit Aida, located in a remote patch of Japanese countryside north-east of Okayama, had not held many major motor racing events prior to 1994.

Even the country’s thriving domestic Formula 3000 championship had not appeared at the short, tight and narrow circuit which opened in 1990. So it was to the surprise of some that it appeared on the F1 calendar for 1994, assuming the title of Pacific Grand Prix as Japan hosted two rounds of the world championship for the first time.

Unsurprisingly the motivating factor was the money Hajime Tanaka put up to host a race at his eponymous circuit. Before the race he and Bernie Ecclestone smiled and embraced for the cameras, and talked about the three-year deal with an option for two further races.

The logistics of getting to the circuit proved daunting for teams, media and fans alike. A fleet of buses was laid on to bring spectators to the remote track.

But there was an added incentive for the locals to show up. Eddie Irvine’s one-race ban for causing a collision in Brazil had been sensationally increased to three events, and Aguri Suzuki showed up at Jordan with a reported quarter of a million dollars in backing to take his seat for this race.

As this was F1’s first race at TI Aida, an extra day of practice was arranged for the drivers to acclimatise to the 3.7km (2.3-mile) track. During the build-up to the race, the FIA’s Charlie Whiting took time to listen to the noises made by the cars as they pulled out of the endless slow corners and hairpins which comprised grand prix racing’s newest track.

Whiting’s ear was tuned to the distinctive popping sound of engine cylinders being cut, which might indicate the presence of the recently-banned traction control. And one car in particular captured his attention as he looked and listened.

Suzuki wasn’t the only substitute driver who had been pressed into action as early as round two. Ferrari’s Jean Alesi had injured his neck in a testing crash at Mugello and Nicola Larini performed his role as stand-in once more, returning to the fray for Ferrari for the first time in two years.

But Larini did not endear himself to his team when, speaking to Italian media ahead of the race, he spectacularly spilled the beans on the very technical trickery Whiting was looking out for. After Larini let it slip Ferrari were running a form of the banned traction control his team quickly issued a denial.

After the ban on driver aids had been announced at the end of 1993 several team bosses had claimed the FIA was incapable of policing it, and here was proof of their claims. Ferrari team principal Jean Todt insisted they had obtained permission from Whiting to run a ‘variable rev limiter’, but once the FIA interjected Ferrari were required to remove the device.

“It came to the notice of the FIA technical delegate that during the free practice sessions on Saturday car numbers 27 and 28 were fitted with a device which in certain circumstances limited the power of the engine,” said the FIA in a statement ahead of the race.

“As the FIA technical delegate was not satisfied that the decide complied in all respects with the regulations, Ferrari were advised not to use it. This advice was complied with.” But Mosley’s pre-season promise of “Draconian penalties” for anyone caught breaking the driver aids ban now rang hollow.

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1994 Pacific Grand Prix qualifying

Michael Schumacher, Benetton, TI AIda, 1994Brazil had left Williams in no doubt they had work to do with their FW16. The car was clearly quick, but with a sweet spot so razor-thin it was almost non-existent. Ayrton Senna had put the car on pole position but couldn’t live with its wayward handling during the race and spun off while chasing Michael Schumacher.

The team tested at Jerez ahead of the Pacific race but once in Japan the drivers found the car had improved little. Both Senna and Damon Hill spun during qualifying, but Senna was able to conjure up a quick lap once again to claim his 64th pole position.

Hill, who had recovered from his Brazilian Grand Prix illness, was pleased to trim the gap to Senna to half a second, the pair separated by Schumacher on the grid. However Hill was concerned about the lack of run-off in places around the track, especially turn two.

It wasn’t the only cause for concern from a safety point of view. A tight chicane was installed at the pit lane entrance to slow the cars as they arrived for their still-novel refuelling stops. Schumacher had made the case for imposing a speed limit in the pits on safety grounds but other drivers had disagreed.

The Williams drivers weren’t the only ones to be caught out by the low-grip surface of the TI Aida track. Olivier Beretta spun his Larrousse during qualifying – their cars now painted in the red-and-white colours of Kronenbourg instead of the green they appeared in at round one.

If Larini thought his troubles were over when he accelerated out of the pits and left the media men behind, he was mistaken. Ukyo Katayama’s Tyrrell spun into him on a fast lap, damaging the rear of his Ferrari. But he qualified within sight of team mate Gerhard Berger.

The only driver on the grid with prior experience of the obscure circuit was another Austrian, Roland Ratzenberger, who had competed in a Japanese Touring Car Championship race there two years previously.

The Simtek driver had failed to qualify in Brazil but took on testing duties for the team at Silverstone while David Brabham recovered from a virus. This time both drivers made it onto the grid, despite Brabham spinning at the last corner. As he got up to speed part of front wing separated from the Simtek, but he returned to the pits without incident.

With both of Nick Wirth’s cars on the grid, that meant the Pacific Grand Prix grid did not feature either of the cars from the Pacific Grand Prix team.

1994 Pacific Grand Prix grid

1. Ayrton Senna 1’10.218
Williams-Renault
2. Michael Schumacher 1’10.440
Benetton-Ford
3. Damon Hill 1’10.771
Williams-Renault
4. Mika Hakkinen 1’11.683
McLaren-Peugeot
5. Gerhard Berger 1’11.744
Ferrari
6. Martin Brundle 1’12.351
McLaren-Peugeot
7. Nicola Larini 1’12.372
Ferrari
8. Rubens Barrichello 1’12.409
Jordan-Hart
9. Christian Fittipaldi 1’12.444
Footwork-Ford
10. Jos Verstappen 1’12.554
Benetton-Ford
11. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’12.686
Sauber-Mercedes
12. Mark Blundell 1’12.751
Tyrrell-Yamaha
13. Gianni Morbidelli 1’12.866
Footwork-Ford
14. Ukyo Katayama 1’13.013
Tyrrell-Yamaha
15. Michele Alboreto 1’13.016
Minardi-Ford
16. Erik Comas 1’13.111
Larrousse-Ford
17. Pierluigi Martini 1’13.529
Minardi-Ford
18. Eric Bernard 1’13.613
Ligier-Renault
19. Karl Wendlinger 1’13.855
Sauber-Mercedes
20. Aguri Suzuki 1’13.932
Jordan-Hart
21. Olivier Beretta 1’14.101
Larrousse-Ford
22. Olivier Panis 1’14.106
Ligier-Renault
23. Johnny Herbert 1’14.424
Lotus-Mugen-Honda
24. Pedro Lamy 1’14.657
Lotus-Mugen-Honda
25. David Brabham 1’14.748
Simtek-Ford
26. Roland Ratzenberger 1’16.536
Simtek-Ford

Did not qualify:

Bertrand Gachot, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’16.927
Paul Belmondo, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’17.450

1994 Pacific Grand Prix

Ayrton Senna, Nicola Larini, TI Aida, 1994In an innovation, the formation lap took place behind the Safety Car, a Porsche 911 with lurid F1 branding. Once it peeled off into the pits Senna gunned his engine, trying to inject some extra heat into his tyres after a slower than usual tour of the circuit.

Four years earlier Senna had been on pole position for a race in Japan and tried to get his starting position moved onto the racing line, which he expected to be favourable. He wasn’t successful, and the eventual first-corner collision with Alain Prost at Suzuka was one of the most notorious episodes in his career.

Now Senna was on pole again and was due to start on the racing line – but this time he wanted pole to be moved to the opposite side. A dragster had had been in action on that side of the grid ahead of the start of the race and Senna believed the rubber it had left behind would improve traction.

It seemed he was right. When the green light came on Schmacher got alongside him from second place and beat him to turn one. Senna tucked in behind him – and in an instant his race was over.

Mika Hakkinen, who had made a similarly good start from fourth on the grid, tapped the back of his car as they reached the first corner. The Williams went off backwards into a gravel trap and was hit by Larini, who had run wide in the first turn. Mark Blundell’s Tyrrell was also eliminated in the melee.

An angry Senna laid the blame at Hakkinen’s feet. Meanwhile the McLaren driver was making trouble for the other Williams of Hill, who was trying to make up ground after getting too much wheelspin at the start.

On lap four Hill tried to go around the outside of the McLaren at the likeliest overtaking spot on the track, but was forced onto the kerbs and spun. That left him down in eighth.

Hill made his way forward again, passing Jos Verstappen, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Christian Fittipaldi, Martin Brundle and Rubens Barrichello. He pitted on lap 18, intending to make his first of three stops, and that helped him jump Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari to briefly hold second.

Another second place was starting to look like a reasonable result from a frustrating day. But on the 50th lap the Williams lost all drive and Hill coasted to a stop.

Up front Schumacher had little to do besides pick off the backmarkers at his leisure and take care of his two refuelling stops. Berger took second place back and Barrichello went one better than Brazil by claiming the first podium finish for himself and Jordan in their 50th grand prix.

Team mate Suzuki’s return lasted until just after half distance when he skidded into a barrier while struggling with his steering. Moments earlier Ukyo Katayama’s Tyrrell came to a stop, his Yamaha engine having failed as it also had during the warm-up.

Hydraulic failure ended Hakkinen’s race after 19 laps. His car’s nose still bore a black mark from the first-lap contact with Senna. Brundle in the other McLaren was running in a podium position when he suffered an increasingly familiar Peugeot engine failure 15 laps from home.

That promoted from Christian Fittipaldi, who also benefitted from Verstappen spinning off at the first corner immediately after leaving the pits following his second pit stop on lap 54. Heinz-Harald Frenzten took fifth for Sauber and was fortunate to avoid a sanction from the stewards after accidentally completing another lap during the warm up.

The final point went to Erik Comas, whose Larrousse was lapped three times. The two Lotuses and Ligiers also made it to the flag, and Ratzenberger achieved his first finish, albeit five laps down.

1994 Pacific Grand Prix result

Pos No. Driver Team Laps Gap/reason
1 5 Michael Schumacher Benetton-Ford 83 1hr 46’01.693
2 28 Gerhard Berger Ferrari 83 1’15.300
3 14 Rubens Barrichello Jordan-Hart 82 1 Lap
4 9 Christian Fittipaldi Footwork-Ford 82 1 Lap
5 30 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber-Mercedes 82 1 Lap
6 20 Erik Comas Larrousse-Ford 80 3 Laps
7 12 Johnny Herbert Lotus-Mugen-Honda 80 3 Laps
8 11 Pedro Lamy Lotus-Mugen-Honda 79 4 Laps
9 26 Olivier Panis Ligier-Renault 78 5 Laps
10 25 Eric Bernard Ligier-Renault 78 5 Laps
11 32 Roland Ratzenberger Simtek-Ford 78 5 Laps
10 Gianni Morbidelli Footwork-Ford 69 Engine
29 Karl Wendlinger Sauber-Mercedes 69 Accident
24 Michele Alboreto Minardi-Ford 69 Accident
8 Martin Brundle McLaren-Peugeot 67 Cooling
23 Pierluigi Martini Minardi-Ford 63 Accident
6 Jos Verstappen Benetton-Ford 54 Accident
0 Damon Hill Williams-Renault 49 Gearbox
15 Aguri Suzuki Jordan-Hart 44 Steering
3 Ukyo Katayama Tyrrell-Yamaha 42 Engine
7 Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Peugeot 19 Gearbox
19 Olivier Beretta Larrousse-Ford 14 Electrical
31 David Brabham Simtek-Ford 2 Electrical
2 Ayrton Senna Williams-Renault 0 Accident
27 Nicola Larini Ferrari 0 Accident
4 Mark Blundell Tyrrell-Yamaha 0 Accident

1994 F1 seasonSenna, the pre-season title favourite, was now 20 points behind Schumacher after two races. Benetton were making hay while Williams struggled, and a fascinating championship battle promised to develop once Williams got their car sorted.

But while the furore over Ferrari’s traction control raged on, they were not the only team to come under suspicion of breaking the rules.

After his enforced early retirement Senna had spent some time watching the race and like Whiting believed he spotted someone running traction control. But he had a different suspect in mind: Michael Schumacher’s Benetton.

1994 F1 season

Browse all 1994 F1 season articles

Images © Ford, Williams/LAT

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48 comments on Schumacher wins again as traction control row brews

  1. GeeMac (@geemac) said on 15th April 2014, 13:33

    That’s a great review. I forgot about Larini’s admission that Ferrari were running a form of traction control as all the fingers started to point at Benetton post Aida. So, I guess all we have to now is wait for the article about San Marino. :(

  2. I feel very nostalgic looking through that grid of familiar old names! Hakkinen and Brundle in the McLaren was my favourite combination in 1994 – I was very young and only really understood that season a few years later.

    It’s astonishing quite how many technical failures occurred that year. Only two cars finishing on the lead lap here as well… and yet we have people saying they’re bored by current F1!?

    • nidzovski said on 15th April 2014, 14:09

      Yeah I agree with you mate. I’ve been watching F1 from early 90’ties and have no problem with todays racing as I remember having “difficulties” following F1 races from the period of 2000-2004 :)

    • KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 15th April 2014, 15:17

      That’s nostalgia for you. People watch clips like the final laps of Dijon ’79 or the first lap of Donington ’93 and claim that racing (or actually everything) was better back then, while most of the races were rather processional.

  3. Thanks a lot – very nostalgic indeed.

    Senna specifically picked out a good spot where the traction would engage and when asked if he believed Schumacher’s car had TC, said he had no doubt about it. It was very obvious to him from the sound.

    As I remember, the traction software was even found on the car, but Benetton got away with claiming that it wasn’t “active”.

    • GeeMac (@geemac) said on 15th April 2014, 15:23

      Yup, they used the classic excuse of “well it is there, but that doesn’t mean we have actually used it”.

    • Steven (@steevkay) said on 15th April 2014, 15:43

      Which is part of the reason why I (and I’m sure many others) think so highly of Senna; taking such an unstable platform and still keeping up with TC cars, and at times beating them (i.e. Imola pole position), is astonishing.

      • JerseyF1 (@jerseyf1) said on 16th April 2014, 10:38

        @steevkay So would Vettel would earn your respect if he accused Mercedes of running illegal cars this year? Fortunately the FIA don’t have a policy of using rival teams and drivers to decide who is breaking the rules.

        • Steven (@steevkay) said on 16th April 2014, 13:50

          If there was strong evidence of illegal cars and he was keeping up, sure, why not. Neither seems to be happening, though.

          Besides, the guy has 4 WDCs and kept it together even when it seemed the whole world was against him, so he’s got my respect regardless.

          Not sure what you’re trying to get at, but it was a simple statement of one car has traction control, the other doesn’t and it’s still keeping up.

    • Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 15th April 2014, 20:51

      As I remember, the traction software was even found on the car, but Benetton got away with claiming that it wasn’t “active”.

      Who was in charge ?? Falvio & Ross

    • Manule said on 16th April 2014, 9:53

      I am sorry, but you remember wrong. The famous Option 13 that was found in Benetton software activated ‘launch control’ rather than traction control. There is a lengthy report by FIA and Charlie detailing his findings available online. There was a meeting set up by the FIA where Benetton were called for explanations, and after some elaborations FIA chose not to prosecute. Press release explaining the reasoning behing FIA’s decision is also available. In a nutshell, Ross has demonstrated that the car didn’t have any sensors installed that were necessary for launch control to work.

      So, there was nothing solid on Benetton’s traction control, and the whole thing was based on Senna’s repeated accusations. Considering Senna didn’t hear Ferrari’s traction control that was actually used unlike Benetton’s alleged one, this tells more about Senna’s sportsmanship than about Benetton’s cheating.

      • Robbie (@robbie) said on 16th April 2014, 13:11

        In a season that saw Benetton caught doing many things illegal I would not be so ready to blame anything they did or didn’t do on Senna’s sportsmanship. If he thought or suspected someone doing something illegal, it is sporting to try to get everyone on a fair and level playing field, and Benetton were far from that on several fronts throughout 94.

        • Jim said on 15th May 2014, 22:29

          Benetton tampered with the fuel flow meter aswell which almost burnt Verstappen to death during a Hockenheim pitstop (check youtube.)

          Benetton were cheaters in 1994, if Senna said he heard traction control I believe it.

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th May 2014, 8:25

            Given that fuel flow meters were only introduced in F1 this year, accusing Benetton of breaking the rules by tampering with theirs 20 years ago is one of the most unlikely accusations I’ve come across.

          • That is true, the fuel system used a filter which slowed it down to 12L per second. In 94 Benetton removed it hoping to win time. Thats what caused the fire.

  4. I used to watch Jackie Stewart in F1; But I remember 1994 very well. We all thought that it would be Senna’s year after Mansell 92, Prost 93 all driving the Williams. Next up was the San Marino GP, horror of horror’s on live TV!!

  5. Carlitox (@carlitox) said on 15th April 2014, 16:02

    I’m starting to think you could write a book by putting together all the articles. Great stuff Keith, top as always.

  6. Ibrahim (@ibrahim) said on 15th April 2014, 16:28

    Great review, what an odd circuit. I am perplexed by the 93 Donnington Senna fantastics. Didn’t the McLaren at that time have traction control and abs while most of the field did not? I have heard this and am trying to confirm it. If so, doesn’t that a bit explain that first lap??

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 15th April 2014, 16:35

      @ibrahim Thanks!

      Didn’t the McLaren at that time have traction control and abs while most of the field did not?

      They did and some other cars did too, notably the Williams. There’s a piece on it here:

      1993 European Grand Prix flashback: Senna’s last great race at Donington

      • Mr win or lose said on 15th April 2014, 22:14

        So if I understand this correctly, Schumacher didn’t have traction control when it was allowed, but he did have it when it was banned. That’s strange.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th April 2014, 9:09

          Lots of teams weren’t running the full gamut of legal driver aids early in 1993. I can’t remember exactly when Benetton added traction control to their but I remember it being not long after Donington.

    • Peter said on 16th April 2014, 2:06

      People also devalue Senna’s first race in Monaco, in the clunky toleman. They say he had ‘special’ wet weather set-up or because the toleman was so bad/slow in the dry, it somehow helped Senna smoke the field etc etc. The truth is, with or without traction control, Senna dismantled the field at donington(which included 2 state of the art williams cars with traction control and the future of Formula 1, the ‘rain-master’ himself: Michael Schumacher). Senna was special – In fact, he doesn’t need anybody to argue his case. People should just watch & enjoy his racing skills.

      • AbeyG (@1abe) said on 16th April 2014, 9:30

        Agree. Senna was special. But he doesn’t need anyone to defend him as well.

      • Ibrahim (@ibrahim) said on 17th April 2014, 15:41

        I do not mean to try to de value his Donnington performance, but IF, he had traction control, and ABS, and the MAJORITY of the field did not, well, if that devalues his performance than so be it. Senna was gifted beyond what any of us can even comprehend, but I don’t buy into his floating above the rest of the field all the time everywhere. He had off days, and he also had times when his car was waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy beyond anyone else.

        • Jim said on 15th May 2014, 22:32

          That is wrong. The FW15C was lightyears ahead of the entire field and had all the gizmo’s (Active Ride, TC, ABS, etc). The Benetton Ford Zetec was the series 8 which had more horsepower than Senna MP4/8 no TC but had ABS aswell I believe.

  7. It’s amazing what Senna could do, he could influence everyone around him, incredible. I wasn’t aware that he was lobbying Whiting about the Benetton.

    • It was incredible but you have to consider his intense, almost burning personality. A lot of his skill came from hard work but he also had this almost autistic skill of being able to “record” almost everything he saw and sensed. My point is that he didn’t just influence people by means of his personality and passionate speeches but also because he was usually right.

      • Ian Wilkins (@capt-wilko) said on 15th April 2014, 18:25

        Very good point. For me Senna is so endlessly fascinating because he’s truly unknowable; we will never understand the depths of him because he was so different to everyone else.

    • GeeMac (@geemac) said on 16th April 2014, 9:48

      He tried to get Williams to protest the Benetton, but Frank Williams refused.

  8. It’s interesting that they decided to have an extra day of practice on Thursday. Was there any particular reason for this other than the track being new? Seems strange to me because I hadn’t heard this happening at any other race track.

    • Optimaximal (@optimaximal) said on 15th April 2014, 19:44

      It was probably a promotional thing between Tanaka and Bernie. More people at the circuit, more air time, more attention on the egos.

      • Kazihno (@kazinho) said on 16th April 2014, 1:27

        No, it wasn’t a promotional thing. It used to be the standard. An extra day of practice on Thursday was known as a “Familiarisation Day” and used to be held when the circus raced at a track for the first time.

        I remember Argentina 1995 and Melbourne 1996 also had an extra day of Practice.

        This was in the day before complex 3D maps could be made of the new circuit from GPS data and simulators run to find the ideal car set up before the trucks even arrived at the circuit.

  9. our nige (@our-nige) said on 15th April 2014, 20:11

    At the time if the track was a new track they would have an extra day to get used to it. I had forgot they had dropped it.
    I remember the qualifying for this race and have it somewhere in tape. Senna was a fair bit slower and banzai’d the last lap he had. – a real, proper qualifying lap. It was amazing at the time. You just knew the Williams was on a knife edge the whole time.
    If anyone plays iracing they will know that track . It is a pretty good track for a star Mazda car, F3 speed, but too small for F1

  10. vuntoorsree said on 16th April 2014, 4:55

    I remember a documentary showed Senna after his accident hanging around the first corner with Nicola Larini and listening to the Bennetton coming out of the corner and claiming that it ‘ was making strange noises’ on the exit….strange noises=traction control=bennetton cheats

  11. sumedh said on 16th April 2014, 6:03

    Wait, there was no pit-lane speed limit in 1994? So cars could go down the pits at 300 km/hr?

  12. Schlawiner (@bebilou) said on 16th April 2014, 11:54

    Strange to look back at 94′ first two races… In some ways, they seem pointless, because of what was about to follow. But they also are the last 2 races of F1 insouciance, before being plunged into Imola’s nightmare.
    It’s also a cruel twist of fate that Senna failed to score in these 2 occasions.

    What a strange and terrible spring… 20 years later, it stills haunt me.

  13. hobo (@hobo) said on 16th April 2014, 16:29

    I don’t have anything substantial to add, I just really like this series and look forward to future installments. Nice one, Keith (@keithcollantine).

  14. Tim M (@tim-m) said on 16th April 2014, 21:32

    Great article, Keith. I’m actually very curious about the article after the next, since that’s when I had stopped following F1 for a while. I feel like there’s a gap in my knowledge for 1994’s full season.

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