Damon Hill, Williams, Silverstone, 1994

Home win for Hill while Schumacher earns ban

1994 British Grand Prix flashback

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The British Grand Prix, 20 years ago today, marked the halfway point in the 16-round 1994 world championship season, but even at this early stage the prospect of anyone beating Michael Schumacher to the world championship looked remote.

A gearbox glitch in Spain was all that had kept him from winning the first seven races in a row. He’d still limped home in second place, and so he arrived at Silverstone with 66 points from a potential 70.

His closest rival Damon Hill was now leading the Williams charge following the death of Ayrton Senna, but had less than half Schumacher’s points tally.

Schumacher had won again in France one week earlier, but the race gave his rivals some cause for optimism. Hill had led a Williams lock-out of the front row of the grid, and Ferrari’s revised chassis had performed well on its first outing.

At Silverstone a thrilling qualifying session on Saturday saw all three teams in with a chance of claiming pole position. But in the race a costly mistake by Schumacher had potentially massive consequences for his championship chances.

Hill takes pole in qualifying thriller

Nigel Mansell headed back to IndyCar after his appearance for Williams in France. While Mansell enjoyed his best result of the season so far, finishing second to Al Unser Jnr in Cleveland, David Coulthard picked up where he left off alongside Hill at Williams.

Hill went into his home race weekend in a sour mood, frustrated by press criticism of his inability to beat Schumacher. His demeanour was not improved when the suspension on his Williams collapsed on his first lap out of the pits during practice.

Fortunately Hill, like most of his rivals, had already driven the heavily revised Silverstone circuit during testing. Alterations had been planned at the track following JJ Lehto’s pre-season testing crash, but efforts were stepped up following the fatal crashes at Imola. Since then Pedro Lamy had also suffered a major crash at the track.

Silverstone had been heavily revised just three years earlier, and now went through another extensive programme of changes. Copse, still the first corner, was tightened to reduce the speed of the cars and increase run-off. The same was down at Stowe, though in years to come both these alterations would be relaxed.

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At Maggotts and Becketts the kerbs were lowered to prevent a repeat of the kind of crash Rubens Barrichello experienced at Imola. The most drastic change was at Abbey, scene of Lamy’s crash, where a chicane was installed to slow the cars before Bridge.

Priory and Brooklands were also remodelled, as was the pit lane entrance. For the spectators an unfortunate consequence of many of the changes was they found themselves considerably further away from the cars at several points around the circuit. Lap times were also considerably slower – by up to six seconds compared with the year before.

The increased lap times were, to a lesser extent, a consequence of changes to the cars to reduce their performance since Imola. A further change was planned for the next race in Germany where stepped floors would be mandated to raise ride heights and reduce downforce.

The British Grand Prix was the last race for flat-bottomed F1 cars, which produced their distinctive showers of sparks when they kissed the ground. Over 20 years later, the sport is trying to recreate that part of the spectacle via artificial means.

But despite the slower lap times – almost six seconds off the 1993 mark – qualifying proved the highlight of the weekend. Schumacher and Hill swapped fastest times with Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari throughout the final one hour of running on Saturday.

The Ferrari driver led the way until a late effort by Hill pipped him by two-hundredths of a second. But Berger’s next attempt to lower his time was thwarted when he was badly held up by Mika Hakkinen. Fortunately for the McLaren driver there were no penalties for impeding in those days.

Berger had only himself to blame for failing to get the most out of his last run. Accelerating out of the pits he clipped the wall, damaging his front-left wheel and sidepod, and though he tried to return to the Ferrari garage he spun at Priory.

That left only Schumacher able to beat Hill’s time. He hustled the the nimble Benetton through the final sector on his first lap and crossed the line a mere three-thousandths of a second off Hill’s time. With one run left Schumacher was ahead halfway through the lap – but a touch too much oversteer cost him that slender advantage, and pole was Hill’s.

It promised to be a thrilling grand prix – but Schumacher’s failure to capture pole position would have far-reaching ramifications on race day.

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1994 British Grand Prix grid

Row 11. Damon Hill 1’24.960
2. Michael Schumacher 1’24.963
Row 23. Gerhard Berger 1’24.980
4. Jean Alesi 1’25.541
Row 35. Mika Hakkinen 1’26.268
6. Rubens Barrichello 1’26.271
Row 47. David Coulthard 1’26.337
8. Ukyo Katayama 1’26.414
Row 59. Martin Brundle 1’26.768
10. Jos Verstappen 1’26.841
Row 611. Mark Blundell 1’26.920
12. Eddie Irvine 1’27.065
Row 713. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’27.284
14. Pierluigi Martini 1’27.522
Row 815. Olivier Panis 1’27.785
16. Gianni Morbidelli 1’27.886
Row 917. Michele Alboreto 1’28.100
18. Andrea de Cesaris 1’28.212
Row 1019. Alessandro Zanardi 1’28.225
20. Christian Fittipaldi 1’28.231
Row 1121. Johnny Herbert 1’28.340
22. Erik Comas 1’28.519
Row 1223. Eric Bernard 1’28.955
24. Olivier Beretta 1’29.299
Row 1325. David Brabham 1’30.690
26. Jean-Marc Gounon 1’30.722

After enjoying a support programme which featured Britain’s thriving domestic Formula Three and touring car championships, the crowd anticipated a grand prix with significant British interest. However several of the local drivers hit trouble within moments of the start.

Coulthard stalled his Williams and had to start from the back of the field. This also meant drivers had to complete a second formation lap, during which time Eddie Irvine’s Hart engine failed, putting the Jordan driver out. And within seconds of the race finally getting underway, Martin Brundle’s Peugeot V10 exploded.

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But a British driver led away at the head of the field. Hill had been beaten to turn one from pole position by Schumacher in France, but this time he made a clean start and stayed ahead of his rival at the first corner.

This came after an unsubtle attempt at gamesmanship from Schumacher. Pulling away from the grid on the first formation lap he made a point of overtaking Hill and staying there fore several corners. He repeated the tactic further around the lap and did so again during the second formation lap ahead of the final start.

The stewards took a dim view of his behaviour and decided to punish him under the rule requiring drivers to maintain their grid order at the start. The rule also required Schumacher to start from the back of the grid. As the race had started and this was no longer possible, he was instead given a five-second stop-go penalty.

Benetton later claimed they were unaware this meant Schumacher should enter the pits and stop for five seconds. Instead they said they expected he would have five seconds added to his race time.

This proved a crucial distinction, but Benetton did not have good grounds to make this assumption. The rules at the time stated that the option to add time to a driver’s finishing position was only available to stewards in the final 12 laps of a race. There were only a few previous instances of such a penalty being used, and all involved delays of a full minute rather than a mere five seconds.

Stop-go penalties, however, were a recent introduction as Schumacher was well aware. One year earlier in Monaco he had taken the lead of the race thanks to Alain Prost being given such a penalty.

Schumacher’s penalty was announced on lap 13, but when took to the pits four laps later it was only to make a routine refuelling stop. Despite the distraction, Benetton’s pit strategy was as sharp as ever.

The Benetton left the pits ahead of Hill’s Williams, who had pitted one lap before. Within a few laps they had caught Berger, who made a late first pit stop, and the trio briefly ran nose to tail before the Ferrari driver came in on lap 22.

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Not all of the television commentary teams were alerted to Schumacher’s predicament. The BBC were – and unlike Benetton understood it to be a “stop-go” penalty – but Eurosport were left in the dark. That changed when, moments before Berger made his pit stop, a message appeared on television screens stating Schumacher was being disqualified.

As he came past the pits the black-flag was duly shown, accompanied by his race number. It remained out for the next two laps, but still Schumacher stayed out.

Furious remonstrations were now underway between FIA race director Roland Bruynseraede and Benetton team members led by Tom Walkinshaw. The black flag was eventually withdrawn, and on lap 27 Schumacher finally appeared in the pits to serve his stop-go penalty while Bruynseraede looked on.

This served to spoil what could have been the most closely-fought battles between Hill and Schumacher so far. The pair were closely matched on performance, but towards the end of the race Schumacher began to struggle with his down-shift.

The race distance was shortened by one tour due to the extra formation lap, so when Hill crossed the finishing line he was initially unaware he’d won. He collected a Union Jack flag after clinching victory in a race his two-times world championship-winning father Graham had never managed to win. Fortunately for Hill, the FIA later cleared him of stopping on the slowing down lap to collect the flag – a potential transgression of the rules.

Berger’s challenge ended when his engine failed on the 32nd lap. That promoted Jean Alesi to third, while behind him a fraught battle for fourth was decided at the final corner.

Rubens Barrichello optimistically lunged his Jordan down the inside of Hakkinen at the second part of Luffield, succeeding only in spinning the McLaren into the gravel. Barrichello continued but, having also failed to realise it was the final lap, he pulled into the pits. Meanwhile Hakkinen was sent on his way by the marshals and crossed the finishing line to stay ahead of Barrichello.

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Following his hydraulic failure on the initial start, Coulthard impressively worked his way back into the points. This was despite a distraction from his radio which picked up interference from a local taxi firm, which asked him to make a collection from the nearby village of Towcester.

But they were all set to move up a place once the FIA called Schumacher and Benetton to account.

1994 British Grand Prix result

Pos.#DriverTeamLapsTime / gap / reason
10Damon HillWilliams-Renault601:30’03.640
227Jean AlesiFerrari601’08.128
37Mika HakkinenMcLaren-Peugeot601’40.659
414Rubens BarrichelloJordan-Hart601’41.751
52David CoulthardWilliams-Renault591 lap
63Ukyo KatayamaTyrrell-Yamaha591 lap
730Heinz-Harald FrentzenSauber-Mercedes591 lap
86Jos VerstappenBenetton-Ford591 lap
99Christian FittipaldiFootwork-Ford582 laps
1023Pierluigi MartiniMinardi-Ford582 laps
1112Johnny HerbertLotus-Mugen-Honda582 laps
1226Olivier PanisLigier-Renault582 laps
1325Eric BernardLigier-Renault582 laps
1419Olivier BerettaLarrousse-Ford582 laps
1531David BrabhamSimtek-Ford573 laps
1632Jean-Marc GounonSimtek-Ford573 laps
5Michael SchumacherBenetton-Ford60Disqualified
24Michele AlboretoMinardi-Ford48Engine
28Gerhard BergerFerrari32Engine
4Mark BlundellTyrrell-Yamaha20Gearbox
20Erik ComasLarrousse-Ford12Engine
29Andrea de CesarisSauber-Mercedes11Engine
10Gianni MorbidelliFootwork-Ford5Engine
11Alessandro ZanardiLotus-Mugen-Honda4Engine
8Martin BrundleMcLaren-Peugeot0Engine
15Eddie IrvineJordan-Hart0Did not start

Schumacher banned

When two late goals from Bulgaria knocked Germany out of the football World Cup later that evening, Schumacher must have thought his misery was complete. In fact it was just beginning.

Although he had committed a serious infraction by not responding to the black flag – which instructs a driver to pull into the pits and cease racing – the Silverstone stewards allowed his second place to stand, but levied a $25,000 fine.

That changed when Benetton were called before the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council, which took a dim view both of their behaviour and of how Schumacher’s penalty had been handled. Clerk of the Course Pierre Aumonier had his superlicence suspended for the rest of the year, an indication of the FIA’s displeasure at how the stewards handled the incident.

Schumacher’s plea that he hadn’t seen the black flag cut no ice with the council, which was no surprise. Mansell had used the same line five years earlier when he was accused of ignoring a black flag during the Portuguese Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver was excluded from the next race.

Failing to obey the instructions of the stewards was just one of the charges Benetton faced when they attended the WMSC hearing on July 26th. But it was the one which hit them hardest.

Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Jean Alesi, Silverstone, 1994
Schumacher stood on the podium but lost his second place
FIA president Max Mosley told Schumacher and team principal Flavio Briatore they were being fined $500,000 – and excluded from the next two races. “And we’re taking away the six points for Silverstone,” he added.

As with Irvine’s three-race ban earlier in the year, this was another example of tough justice from Mosley. Yet it also smacked of vengeance for Briatore’s public letter denouncing Mosley’s safety initiatives in the wake of Imola. It also promised to rebalance the situation in a very one-sided drivers’ championship.

“My impression at the time was that it was a set-up and I was the scapegoat,” said Schumacher years later, but admitted “the way Flavio Briatore dealt with it didn’t really help either”. It left him facing a ban from the next round of the championship: his home grand prix at Hockenheim.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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44 comments on “Home win for Hill while Schumacher earns ban”

  1. I remember how bit a mess this was yeah. Funnily enough it got me MORE interested to learn what was going on, as it was my first full season of F1!

    1. Looking back at races like this makes me think that points down to 10th would have been good back then.. so many finishers and cars on the grid! Points to 6th is less than 1/4 of the grid.. points to 10th would be around 2/5.. but I don’t know what would then happen at Monaco 1996!

      1. I liked the top 6.

        It felt utterly monumental when a Minardi would even get just one solitary point!

        Although, there were many more retirements back then due to the relaxed rules on upgrades, so perhaps the top 10 does reflect that a little more fairly now.

  2. Benetton’s seedy conduct and rule-breaking throughout the ’94 season still amazes me, especially in the wake of what happened earlier in the year.

    1. @celicadion23 It shouldn’t really if you know that Briatore was involved. Worst person ever to “grace” the F1 circus with his presence IMO(and man does he have some competition for this “title”)…

      1. I’m no stranger to Briatore’s ways, but still, option 13, their illegal refuelling rig, the pathetic excuses while trying to get out of their race bans, it was all just so rotten and lousy. And I’m with you, worst person in any role to be involved with F1.

        1. I always wondered if the cumulative effect of depriving Schumi of 1/4 of that year was an attempt to impose the penalties that Mosley later admitted they let slip for option 13, amongst other things..

          1. @fastiesty That’s as maybe. However, I’m not completely in line with the view that Schumacher’s penalties were so dis-proportionally harsh that they must’ve had an agenda.

            The 2-race ban for the British GP was deserved. I mean Benetton chose to ignore a black flag! then they gave feeble, pathetic excuses. The black flag itself is a DSQ but ignoring a black flag? That must carry a penalty to be feared and set an example for others never to even contemplate doing it again

          2. @montreal95 True, else we could have havoc where people ignore it then punt off the leader, for example.

            I was just going off the points table, and Mosley’s words.. thinking about it now, I can imagine a very strict penalty if they were ‘comprehensively’ caught cheating. Is it far-fetched to imagine them being DSQ’d from both championships?

            That might lead to an anti-climactic Hill victory though, which probably wouldn’t have served F1 very well at all. But, I am thinking of the Tyrrell 1984 DSQ, after being found guilty of cheating. Imagine if Mosley didn’t lose the launch control black box ‘smoking gun’ data…

          3. So, I guess I was referring to the plank infringement after a spin at Spa later on that season. It was a mid-season addition at the time, so I’m not sure how much the rules were ready for an infringement of that part in particular.

          4. @fastiesty That’s an interesting line of thinking! The other way round from the coventional “Benetton were heavily penalized to spice up the championship”. Maybe they weren’t penalized for option 13 which would’ve meant a very heavy penalty indeed, up to full season DSQ to keep the championship alive. Then they were of course put under magnifying glass for the rest of the season to penalize them as much as possible without the death knell for the championship

            Come to think of it, Mosley and the FIA were walking a very fine line. Removing Benetton altogether and with it killing the 1994 WDC/WCC coupled with the tragic events of Imola and drivers injured all over the place would have had catastrophic consequences for F1, perhaps even life threatening…

    2. @celicadion23 @montreal95 This is one of those stories where I think no one emerges with any credit. Schumacher was a naughty boy on the formation lap but giving him a five-second stop-go for it – costing him, what, 20-30 seconds? – was an over-reaction. Though I appreciate it was probably the most lenient penalty available to them at the time.

      Benetton then either made a whopping error by failing to understand the nature of the penalty or – rather more likely, I suspect – trying to blag it. But once Schumacher was black-flagged for ignoring the stop-go that was it, game over.

      Benetton and Schumacher’s defence that he wasn’t aware of the black flag doesn’t count for much given that he had no one in front of him when he passed it (having jut overtaken Berger), and that when the team finally decided to bring him in for a stop-go they were quite capable of summoning him. A one-race ban at minimum was required for that as per Estoril ’89.

      Incredibly the stewards compounded their error by allowing Schumacher to serve his stop-go and then letting him finish the race. No wonder they got in trouble afterwards as well.

      1. @keithcollantine Didn’t Benetton also argue that the stewards hadn’t issued the penalty within the regulation-specified time after the incident? 15 minutes I think? Is that valid or just more excuses?

      2. Mr win or lose
        11th July 2014, 14:11

        This formation lap farce is one of the most ridiculous things ever in Formula 1. It seems that Schumacher was gutted after being beaten by a (according to him) second-rate driver, and he decided to humiliate him by overtaking him repeatedly in the formation lap in front of his home crowd. The signal was clear. This was such an unsportsmanlike action and a penalty was completely justified. The ignorant reaction of the Benetton team made it even worse.

        In the end, Schumacher spoiled a near-perfect season and it will probably always remain a mystery what possessed him that day.

      3. @keithcollantine I agree, no one is getting any credit out of that farce. However, when you take a more bird-eye view of the situation of the whole Benetton team conduct in 1994 and other things the team’s manager Briatore did during his time in F1, it’s clear to me who’s the most to blame for the situation, if we decide to apportion blame

  3. There had been so many previous instances of drivers overtaking during the formation lap only to hand the place back. I still maintain that the FIA did their utmost to handicap Schumacher and make the year into a championship fight.

    1. There had been so many previous instances of drivers overtaking during the formation lap

      What examples are you thinking of?

      1. Hakkinen did it with Alesi in the same formation lap.

    2. I think the difference in Schumacher’s case was that he did it repeatedly during both of the formation laps & didn’t immediately give the place back.

      In the past drivers had passed other cars on the formation lap off the line (Still happens occasionally today) but given the place back either before or just after turn 1.

      Schumacher passed Hill off the line both times & stayed ahead for a couple corners. He then almost immediately re-passed Hill but let him past quickly before blowing past Hill again just before Abbey.


    3. Disqualification seemed ok, but yeah, a 2 race ban was definitely to make the chmapionship interesting.

      1. Why did Schumacher pass Hill on those parade laps? I’m sure that I’ve read somewhere that it may have been an issue with the Benetton’s ‘electronics’… Or, was it just ‘gamesmanship’?

  4. mattshaw85 (@)
    10th July 2014, 14:32

    My first visit to see F1 was for the Friday practice of this race aged 9, so one of my earliest proper F1 memories apart from San Marino that season. Before that the memories are just glimpses!

    It’s great to read the full account of what happened, as my memory leaves out the bit about the black flag being withdrawn, I just remember him ignoring it and serving the stop go. I suppose aged 9 I wasn’t caught up in the politics of the time!

  5. Hill had been beaten to turn one from pole position by Schumacher in France, but a clean start got him into Copse ahead of the British driver.

    I’m a little confused here. I can only assume “him” refers to Hill, biut if that’s the case, how is Michael Schumacher British?

    Nevertheless a fascinating article! And one that brought sweet memories to my father! Cheers!

    1. @scuderiavincero OK have tweaked that sentence.

  6. Great read, but was he also given a suspended ban for this which became the 3-race ban after Spa? Or was that purely because of the plank issue? It’s so hard to remember all of these Benetton/Schum controversies in 94… There were so many

    1. @newdecade Spa was only about the plank wear in that race, it wasn’t connected to this.

  7. Amazing to see the FIA standing up to politically connected team owners, enforcing their own rules, and handing out meaningful, punitive punishments based on documented evidence. Even suspending a steward for incompetence! It’d never happen today.

    Still, at least we’ve got double points and knee jerk mid season technology bans…

  8. I believe that 1976, 1982 and 1994 are the most complete seasons in F1. They offer everything F1 has to offer spectacle, speed, battles, rivalries, great racing championships decided in the last race but also drama, tragedy, controversyI barely remember ’82 but 1994 along with the USA world cup feels like yestarday.
    Hats off to Keith for these ’94 articles amazing stuff.

  9. Coulthard impressively worked his way back into the points. This was despite a distraction from his radio which picked up interference from a local taxi firm, which asked him to make a collection from the nearby village of Towcester.

    really? that is hilarious.

    1. I had never heard about this before I read the article. Brilliant!

    2. I think there was one thing which made it even funnier – taxi driver was named David.

  10. Anyone know where I can find an on-board from this race (even practice/qualy).

    I can’t find anything!

    Being a track buff, i’d like to see the cars going in to the revised Stowe.

    1. Back then it was rare for broadcasters to show us full in-car laps, In fact it was rare to get any in-car shots for more than a few seconds.

      I remember the Brazilian, German, Monaco & Australian TV crews been quite good with showing a decent amount of in-car camera shots back then but the rest didn’t use them much. I even remember the Italian TV crew used to show the in-car shot but not bother properly mixing in the audio so you either got left with the trackside audio or the audio from another car.

    2. @ecwdanselby This is BTCC from the revised track that year, gives a bit of an impression:


      1. Thanks, mate.

        Funny how they ended up making the circuit faster in time, isn’t it?

        1. @ecwdanselby Yeah it didn’t stay in this configuration for long.

          1. @keithcollantine Can you think of any other examples where they made drastic changes in 1994, then gone back and made the circuits faster?

            San Marino springs to mind with ridding that crappy final chicane. It makes it feel a little like the old Imola again with the old flatout section of the s/f, through Tamburello, Villenueve, and ending in Tosa.

          2. I suppose Montreal would be another one…?

          3. They made changes to the 2 Lesmo corners at Monza in 1994 to make them tighter but didn’t they then open up the 2nd Lesmo to make it a bit faster for 1995 onwards?

          4. Actually going back & watching footage from Monza ’94 it seems they left the 1st Lesmo as it was & just altered the 2nd part to slow it down-

            They then altered both corners to how they still are today from 1995 onwards-

  11. Enjoying this 1994 season review. I felt that the British GP that year was the turning point for the Championship. Putting aside all the controversy, it was awesome to see Hill win his home race, something his late father couldn’t manage! Just a shame that the Benetton-Schumacher shenanigans were the main headlines……..

  12. @keithcollantine

    The fact that lap times were six seconds off of 1993 is mentioned twice in close proximity and – I presume – same context in the 12th and 14th paragraph. It might not have been intentional.

    Otherwise, the usual mind-blowingly high quality standard made all the more exceptional that it is a flashback, so one had to dig deep to unearth the facts and the underlying processes.

  13. Great article once more! I’d like to underline (again) that I’ve read a fair share on the 1994 season, but these articles keep putting things in a context I hadn’t seen before and even mention new things.

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