1994 Spanish Grand Prix flashback
The weekend began with the threat of a drivers’ strike, which was followed by the mass withdrawal of the majority of teams from the first practice session. And when the cars finally took to the track, another serious crash further heightened fears over safety.
But the race eventually went ahead and, for the first time that year, Michael Schumacher failed to win it. But by bringing his ar home second despite spending two-thirds of the race stuck in fifth gear, it was arguably his finest performance of the season.
Crisis meeting over safety
The Circuit de Catalunya held its fourth Spanish Grand Prix in 1994, and 27 cars were entered for the race. The only single-car entry belonged to Sauber, as Karl Wendlinger remained in a coma following his crash in Monaco.
The day after Wendlinger’s crash, FIA president Max Mosley had announced sweeping changes to the cars to reduce downforce and cornering speeds in the name of safety. But many teams expressed concern over the cost, haste and likely impact of the changes.
The alterations to the rear of the cars was a major area of dispute. New restrictions on the size of diffusers imposed by the FIA had led to some components cracking when teams ran the new versions in testing. An attempt to address a safety matter had caused an entirely new safety problem.
Williams and Ligier were among the teams to discover cracks on their cars during tests. And on the Wednesday before the race, Lotus suffered the most serious failure. Pedro Lamy’s rear wing failed at speed while testing at Silverstone. Lamy was incredibly fortunate to survive – albeit with broken legs – after his car struck a barrier, flew into the air, cleared the debris fence and landed in a tunnel near a spectator stand.
The following day Benetton team principal Flavio Briatore sent a public letter to Mosley voicing the teams’ concerns. “It is our opinion that the opinion of yourself and your advisors to judge technical and safety issues in Formula One must be questioned,” he stated.
The teams who could afford to brought parts meeting both the new FIA specifications and their previous designs to Barcelona. When the first practice session began on Friday only Ferrari, Sauber, Tyrrell, Minardi and Larrousse took part.
The remainder met with Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone and spelled out their grievances over the car changes. They obtained some concessions on Mosley’s plans for future alterations but agreed to keep their cars in the new specification, partly because several had not brought parts with which they could satisfy the old rules.
Drivers demand chicane
Meanwhile the drivers were demanding changes of their own. Following a four-hour meeting of the newly-formed Grand Prix Drivers Association on Thursday they demanded the installation of a chicane at the high-speed Nissan corner where run-off was minimal.
The circuit had only opened three years earlier and had been built to fulfil the safety standards of the time. But the events of May 1994 had forced a rethink on how much run-off was acceptable.
Schumacher explained their position: “We have just two solution: Either we are going to use this chicane – if somebody has a better solution, OK, we always like to listen – but without this chicane we are not going to race.”
The race organisers and the FIA conceded and allowed the chicane to be built. Unfortunately, 11 years later, a similar solution was not found at Indianapolis.
Coulthard makes debut
The disruption to practice was particularly bad news for some drivers. Williams and Simtek had appointed their replacements for Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger and they needed all the track time available to get up to speed.
Formula 3000 driver David Coulthard had impressed Williams when testing for them in 1993, and was hired to continue in that role during 1994. He now found himself making his grand prix debut in the place once occupied by the world’s most famous racing driver – a daunting challenge.
His former F3000 rival Andrea Montermini had joined Simtek. But, like, Coulthard he was not expected to remain in the seat. Jean-Marc Gounon was due to replace Montermini at the French Grand Prix. And at Williams Nigel Mansell was set to return from IndyCar for non-clashing races during the season, beginning with Magny-Cours.
That proved academic for Montermini as he never made it to the race. During the Saturday morning practice session, still suffering the effects of a virus, he ran wide at the final corner and hit a barrier head-on at 140mph. Despite the sickening impact, which left the driver’s legs visible through the front of the car, his injuries were limited to a cracked heel, a broken toe and a facial wound.
Another new face in the 1994 field was Alessandro Zanardi. He had last driven for Lotus in Spa the previous year, where he had suffered a fearful high-speed crash at Eau Rouge. Now he stood in for Lamy, having been fortunate to avoid having his team mate’s accident at Silverstone. Zanardi had driven the 107C for two-and-a-half days of testing before handing it over to Lamy – who then crashed on his first lap out of the pits.
For the first time since Brazil the Jordan team was back to its original line-up, Eddie Irvine having returned from his three-race suspension to partner Rubens Barrichello.
Go ad-free for just £1 per month
1994 Spanish Grand Prix grid
Schumacher claimed his second career pole position with ease, while it took a late effort from Damon Hill to claim the second front row spot alongside the Benetton.
JJ Lehto took his best grid position of the year (and, it would turn out, of his career), following a disappointing weekend at Monaco where he had clearly been suffering the after-effects of San Marino.
Coulthard took ninth on the grid for his first F1 race, with the sole Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frenzten 12th. His C13 featured enlarged cockpit surrounds intended to provide extra protection for the driver. These were due to be made mandatory for the following race in Canada but following Wendlinger’s crash, Sauber decided to introduce them early.
Having lined up sixth and seventh in Monaco, the two Footworks suffered their worst qualifying performance of the year so far. It was the beginning of a poor spell for the team which were hit particularly hard by the aerodynamic changes.
Larrousse had reverted to their previous green livery but the cars remained firmly towards the rear of the field. Olivier Beretta qualified 17th but failed to start after his engine failed on the formation lap.
Johnny Herbert put the new Lotus 109 in 22nd, one place but well over a second faster than Zanardi, who was still in the 107C. The team understandably kept a close eye on their rear wing mountings throughout practice.
Bertrand Gachot headed the last row for Pacific, after earning the distinction of being the first driver to crash into the tyre chicane, with team mate Paul Belmondo almost two seconds off his pace.
|Row 1||1. Michael Schumacher 1’21.908
|2. Damon Hill 1’22.559
|Row 2||3. Mika Hakkinen 1’22.660
|4. JJ Lehto 1’22.983
|Row 3||5. Rubens Barrichello 1’23.594
|6. Jean Alesi 1’23.700
|Row 4||7. Gerhard Berger 1’23.715
|8. Martin Brundle 1’23.763
|Row 5||9. David Coulthard 1’23.782
|10. Ukyo Katayama 1’23.969
|Row 6||11. Mark Blundell 1’23.981
|12. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’24.254
|Row 7||13. Eddie Irvine 1’24.930
|14. Michele Alboreto 1’24.996
|Row 8||15. Gianni Morbidelli 1’25.018
|16. Erik Comas 1’25.050
|Row 9||17. Olivier Beretta 1’25.161
|18. Pierluigi Martini 1’25.247
|Row 10||19. Olivier Panis 1’25.577
|20. Eric Bernard 1’25.766
|Row 11||21. Christian Fittipaldi 1’26.084
|22. Johnny Herbert 1’26.397
|Row 12||23. Alessandro Zanardi 1’27.685
|24. David Brabham 1’28.151
|Row 13||25. Bertrand Gachot 1’28.873
|26. Paul Belmondo 1’30.657
Did not qualify: Andrea Montermini, Simtek-Ford – 1’31.111
1994 Spanish Grand Prix
Schumacher got away well at the start, leaving Hill to defend his second place from Hakkinen and Jean Alesi. The fast-starting Ferrari jumped from sixth to fourth and spent the opening laps with Lehto and Coulthard breathing down his neck.
While Schumacher made his escape – he was 6.5 seconds ahead of Hill by lap four – Hakkinen’s McLaren kept up with the Williams in the early stages. It was the two French engine manufacturers against each other in the opening laps, until an early pit stop for Hakkinen on lap 16 revealed he was intended to refuel three times.
Coulthard appeared in the pits moments later – an early stop potentially giving him the chance to clear Alesi and Lehto. Unfortunately an electrical problem delayed his return to the track, but he was doomed to retire with gearbox trouble later anyway.
There were no such problems for Hill when he made his first pit stop on lap 20. This dropped him behind the lightly-fuelled Hakkinen and temporarily promoted Barrichello’s Jordan to second place before he too made his pit stop.
Gearbox glitch slows Schumacher
Meanwhile Schumacher’s seemingly serene run to another victory had hit trouble. An onboard camera equipped with live telemetry from his Ford-Cosworth Zetec-R engine captured the moment has car became stuck in fifth gear. Schumacher radioed his team but was informed a hydraulic failure had jammed the car in gear and there was nothing to be done except try to finish the race.
Their first worry was whether he would be able to pull away from the pits when he made his fuel stops. The team had an engine starter on standby but Schumacher got away cleanly – albeit slowly enough that Herbert’s Lotus drew up close behind him as they rejoined the track.
While Schumacher struggled with his car first Herbert, then Eric Bernard’s Ligier and the delayed Coulthard, unlapped themselves. Now second-placed Mika Hakkinen appeared on his tail and was soon by into the lead on the beginning of lap 23. Two laps later Hill claimed second.
Having had the bad luck to get stuck in gear in the first place, Schumacher was at least fortunate enough to be stuck in a high enough gear to be able to lap the circuit at a reasonable pace. Using his sports car-honed experience of having to adjust his driving style to save fuel, he set about the task of finding the quickest way around the Circuit de Catalunya in fifth gear.
The telemetry overlay provided a fascinating insight into how well he was coping with the challenge – not to mention the impressive drive-ability of his Zetec-R – before a Cosworth engineer pulled the plug on the readout to stop their rivals from learning too much.
Schumacher even briefly returned to the lead on lap 41, before his final pit stop. He rejoined the track in second ahead of Hakkinen, but the question of whether the McLaren driver’s three-stop strategy would have paid off remained unknown: a damaged radiator led to a Peugeot engine failure on lap 49 as he closed on the Benetton.
He was the first of three drivers to drop out of third place, helping Schumacher keep his hold on second. Lehto in the other Benetton held the position for just four laps until his engine failed. Next up was the second McLaren of Martin Brundle, whose clutch failed in a shower of sparks and flames six laps from home, and was classified 11th.
This string of retirements elevated Mark Blundell and his Tyrrell into a podium position. This was Blundell’s third and would be his last. It was also the 77th and final podium appearance for Tyrrell, who quickly declined and disappeared from F1 over the next four years.
Jean Alesi came in fourth, the Ferrari driver having slipped backwards during the pit stops. Team mate Gerhard Berger had tangled with Barrichello on the first lap, gone off at turn one later in the race, then retired with a broken gearbox before half-distance.
Pierluigi Martini and Eddie Irvine completed the points finishers – the latter despite having to pit to replace his front wing following an excursion at the temporary chicane. The other classified finishers included the two Ligiers and Zanardi’s old Lotus – Herbert had spun the new car into a gravel trap at turn ten.
The sole remaining Simtek of David Brabham also took the chequered flag four laps down. This was some consolation for the team who, like Williams, had endured a tragic month. But having had two of their chassis destroyed, Brabham would be their only entry for the next race as well.
There was no repeat of the wing failures seen in testing during the race, with one exception: Pacific retired Gachot’s car just before half-distance after a problem with his rear wing, which he suspected he damaged on a kerb. Team mate Belmondo spun out on his third lap.
1994 Spanish Grand Prix result
|Pos.||#||Driver||Car||Laps||Time / gap / reason|
|1||0||Damon Hill||Williams-Renault||65||1hr 36’14.374|
|4||27||Jean Alesi||Ferrari||64||1 lap|
|5||23||Pierluigi Martini||Minardi-Ford||64||1 lap|
|6||15||Eddie Irvine||Jordan-Hart||64||1 lap|
|7||26||Olivier Panis||Ligier-Renault||63||2 laps|
|8||25||Eric Bernard||Ligier-Renault||62||3 laps|
|9||11||Alessandro Zanardi||Lotus-Mugen-Honda||62||3 laps|
|10||31||David Brabham||Simtek-Ford||61||4 laps|
|34||Bertrand Gachot||Pacific-Ilmor||32||Broken wing|
|10||Gianni Morbidelli||Footwork-Ford||24||Fuel system|
Williams’s vital win
There may have been an element of luck about Hill’s win, but it was a badly-needed result for him and the Williams team. It also served to alleviate some of the pressure on Hill, who had been thrust into the role of lead driver following Senna’s death.
“This victory must go to everyone at Williams, who’ve been through terrible times,” he said afterwards, “and also to all the fans of Ayrton Senna who I met in Brazil who said to me that they would be very pleased to see the Williams team do well.”
But Hill had barely made a scratch on Schumacher’s lead in the championship. The Benetton driver remained 29 points clear having taken 46 of the available 50.
And it remained to be seen whether anything less than a serious technical problem could stop Schumacher from winning. His lap time on the 18th tour, before his gearbox problem struck, was the fastest of the race by seven-tenths of a second.
A version of this article previously appeared in 2007.
Grand Prix flashback
- 25 years ago today: Prost hits Senna to win 1989 title
- Hill cuts Schumacher’s lead to one point in Portugal
- Hill wins as crash crushes Lotus’s recovery hopes
- Hill handed win as Schumacher is thrown out
- Benetton bounce back with double podium
Images © Williams/LAT, Toniarch