Overshadowed by tragedy and tainted by controversy, the 1994 world championship nonetheless produced the first title-deciding season finale in eight years.
The final two races were held within a week of each other. Damon Hill stunned Michael Schumacher by taking victory from him at a waterlogged Suzuka, leaving the pair separated by a single point as they arrived at Adelaide.
The first half of the Australian Grand Prix provided a thrilling continuation of their Suzuka battle. But the championship was doomed to take a final and deeply acrimonious twist.
1994 Australian Grand Prix qualifying
Hill’s opening gambit for the crucial weekend ahead was a surprising one. He complained to the press that he felt undervalued by his Williams team: “I don’t feel like driving my nuts off for the sort of money you pay someone with no experience.”
It was an unfortunate comment to make on what turned out to be the first occasion that Hill was out-qualified by his team mate since Ayrton Senna had occupied the other Williams.
Nigel Mansell pipped Schumacher to provisional pole position on Friday by 18 thousandths of a second, and the Benetton driver crashed heavily trying to beat the 1992 champion’s time.
Heading into the quick chicane at the start of the lap, which had been renamed after Senna, Schumacher’s car spun heavily into the barriers. Earlier he had complained the race organisers had not done enough to comply with the drivers’ request for the kerbs to be lowered at the corner on safety grounds.
Several other drivers were caught out by the tricky Adelaide track. Johnny Herbert, partnering Schumacher for the second time at Benetton, spun and was almost collected by Mansell. Gerhard Berger, struggling with an ill-handling Ferrari, skidded into a gravel trap at turn five, the 90-degree left-hander leading onto Flinders Street.
Rain on Saturday meant Friday’s qualifying times set the grid. This meant a final disappointment for the Pacific team, as Bertrand Gachot again came close to dragging the unloved PR01 into the race for the first time since round seven. The tiny team had been fortunate to make it to Adelaide at all, as problems with their transport arrangements in Japan meant they missed their flight to Australia.
Gachot’s woes handed reprieves to Domenico Schiatarella, who made his return to Simtek, and Jean-Denis Deletraz, who had replaced Erik Comas at Larrousse. The French team was now seriously short of funds and this would mark their final race.
Sadly, the same was also true for the original Lotus team. The former constructors’ champions, which had begun racing under Colin Chapman’s stewardship in 1958, had gone into administration after the Italian Grand Prix and would not emerge.
1994 Australian Grand Prix grid
|Row 1||1. Nigel Mansell 1’16.179
|2. Michael Schumacher 1’16.197
|Row 2||3. Damon Hill 1’16.830
|4. Mika Hakkinen 1’16.992
|Row 3||5. Rubens Barrichello 1’17.537
|6. Eddie Irvine 1’17.667
|Row 4||7. Johnny Herbert 1’17.727
|8. Jean Alesi 1’17.801
|Row 5||9. Martin Brundle 1’17.950
|10. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’17.962
|Row 6||11. Gerhard Berger 1’18.070
|12. Olivier Panis 1’18.072
|Row 7||13. Mark Blundell 1’18.237
|14. Alessandro Zanardi 1’18.331
|Row 8||15. Ukyo Katayama 1’18.411
|16. Michele Alboreto 1’18.755
|Row 9||17. JJ Lehto 1’18.806
|18. Pierluigi Martini 1’18.957
|Row 10||19. Christian Fittipaldi 1’19.061
|20. Franck Lagorce 1’19.153
|Row 11||21. Gianni Morbidelli 1’19.610
|22. Mika Salo 1’19.844
|Row 12||23. Hideki Noda 1’20.145
|24. David Brabham 1’20.442
|Row 13||25. Jean-Denis Deletraz 1’22.422
|26. Domenico Schiattarella 1’22.529
Paul Belmondo, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’24.087
Bertrand Gachot, Pacific-Ilmor – 7’40.317
1994 Australian Grand Prix
The 1994 season had not been a memorable one for racing action, but the Australian Grand Prix put that right from the start.
Mansell spun his wheels when the green light shone and Schumacher was immediately through into the lead, followed by Hill. Mansell then took to the kerb at turn five and was passed by Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello.
Schumacher, who had trimmed his wing level back before the start out of concern he might be outgunned on the straight, shot into a two second lead by the end of lap one. But Hill wasn’t letting him get away, and pulled back half a second the next time by.
That set the scene for an absorbing tussle between the two. On the short 3.7 kilometre track with a full grid of 26 cars the backmarkers came thick and fast – especially the woeful Deletraz, who went a lap down on the tenth tour. The Williams filled Schumacher’s mirrors, Hill coming within touching distance of the Benetton and locking his wheels as they braked hard for the hairpin at the end of Dequetteville terrace.
The pair were setting a fierce pace. By lap 17 Hakkinen’s McLaren was almost half a minute behind. The reason for that became clear when Schumacher and Hill appeared in their pits together for their first of three pit stops on the next lap – and left in the same order.
By lap 21 Mansell had regained third place. His earlier pass on Barrichello was reversed by the Jordan driver, but Mansell later got by. Barrichello had an off-track moment and slipped back, then picked up a stop-go penalty for pit-lane speeding.
Next Mansell arrived on Hakkinen’s tail. Again he passed the McLaren but ran too deep and had to surrender the position. But Hakkinen soon succumbed, out-braking himself and letting Mansell through. The constructors’ championship was increasingly swinging in Williams’ favour: Herbert had spun early on, then dropped out with a loss of hydraulic pressure.
Jean Alesi also had a spin in his Ferrari, and by lap 28 he had joined Barrichello and Hakkinen in a three-way fight for fourth place. Barrichello got onto the kerb at Brewery Bend and was passed by Hakkinen, but a fired-up Alesi swerved between the pair of them, brilliantly passing Hakkinen at the hairpin.
The title rivals collide
As the leaders neared their second pit stops, Schumacher cranked up the pace in an effort to draw clear of Hill. Aided by an unco-operative Heinz-Harald Frentzen – who delayed Schumacher a lot but Hill even more – Schumacher’s lead was up to 2.8 seconds by lap 34.
Hill took almost a second out of that on the next lap, however, and as they began lap 36 Schumacher was beginning to feel the pressure again. Finally, as he reached turn five, he overstepped the mark.
“I got caught out on a bump when the car stepped out and went sideways, but I caught it,” he explained later. “Then I had to go on the white line and I had to use the run-off area. I went over the grass, touched the wall, but continued.”
The Benetton’s right-rear wheel made the heaviest impact with the barrier and showed signs of damage as he slewed back onto the track. Hill arrived on the scene fractionally too late to know Schumacher’s car was wounded.
“I didn’t see him hit the wall,” said Hill. “I saw him coming back across the grass, and onto the track. I thought ‘hello, you’ve slipped up there’, but of course I thought his car was OK.”
Hill seized what he thought would be his only chance to attack. Approaching the next right-hand turn Hill looked to the left but Schumacher swung across to the racing line. Hill came off the brakes, swung right and touched the throttle, committing his FW16B to the inside.
Schumacher turned in sharply and in that moment Hill believed his rival knew exactly where he was. Hill turned in tighter, the Williams clambering onto the kerb on the inside, but there was no avoiding the contact. First the Benetton’s sidepod hit Hill’s front wheel, then Schumacher’s rear wheel dealt it another blow.
Schumacher’s B194 sprang up onto two wheels and for an alarming moment it seemed it would flip over, but it came down on all four wheels and stopped against a barrier. Hill kept going, but only as far as the pits, where Williams discovered his front-left suspension arm was damage. it would take several laps to replace, meaning the championship was lost.
Back at turn five, Schumacher waited and watched anxiously to discover if he would be champion. “I was waiting and looking for Nigel passing the first time, the second time, the third time without seeing Damon. Then my first hopes came up that it’s still going to happen. And then I heard it over the speaker. A tremendous feeling.”
Mansell beats Berger for win
Both championships were decided in that moment, but there was still a race to be settled. Berger held the lead following his last pit stop but on lap 64 he went off at Brewery Bend, handing Mansell the lead. They remained in that order until the chequered flag, Mansell taking his 31st and final F1 win.
Hakkinen’s pursuit of team mate Martin Brundle for third place ended when his brakes failed, causing a spectacular accident at the end of Dequetteville Terrace. Barrichello moved up to fourth ahead of Olivier Panis – the fifth place for Ligier moving them up to sixth in the constructors’ championship at Tyrrell and Sauber’s expense.
Alesi recovered to claim the final point from Frenzten. The Sauber driver had held Berger up for several laps, mistaking him for the other Ferrari which he was racing with. When he realised his mistake Frentzen made way for Berger – but inadvertently gave Alesi the chance to pass him as well.
Neither Lotus driver finished the team’s final race. Mika Salo was the last of the pair still running, but dropped out on the 49th lap with an electrical problem.
Alessandro Zanardi went over the Senna chicane early in the race when his throttle stuck, and after an attempt to repair it in the pits failed he retired. The team later noticed the rear wing mounts on his car were cracked. When shown the damage Zanardi thought back to Lamy’s accident in testing at Silverstone, imagined the same thing happening on Dequetteville Terrace, and realised how lucky he’d been.
1994 Australian Grand Prix result
|Pos.||#||Driver||Team||Laps||Time/ Gap / Reason|
|5||26||Olivier Panis||Ligier/Renault||80||1 lap|
|6||27||Jean Alesi||Ferrari||80||1 lap|
|7||30||Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Sauber/Mercedes||80||1 lap|
|8||9||Christian Fittipaldi||Footwork/Ford||80||1 lap|
|9||23||Pierluigi Martini||Minardi/Ford||79||2 laps|
|10||29||JJ Lehto||Sauber/Mercedes||79||2 laps|
|11||25||Franck Lagorce||Ligier/Renault||79||2 laps|
|19||Hideki Noda||Larrousse/Ford||18||Oil leak|
|10||Gianni Morbidelli||Footwork/Ford||17||Oil leak|
1994 final drivers’ championship points
“Schumacher is a ruthless, brutal driver who’d do anything to win,” was Bernie Ecclestone’s verdict on the collision. “If he can live with what he did, that’s it.”
It wasn’t until Hill was shown the video of Schumacher’s mistake afterwards that he realised how close he’d come to being champion. The FIA also reviewed the video along with amateur footage of the collision, but decided against taking action.
Williams, feeling the shadow of Senna’s death upon them, decided against lodging a protest. But according to Patrick Head, this was not because they believed Schumacher was innocent.
“We at Williams were already 100% certain that Michael was guilty of foul play,” Head told F1 Racing in 2006. “He was about to drive his stricken Benetton up the slip-road when he spotted Damon’s Williams about to pass him and abruptly veered across the track to prevent that happening.”
It was the third time in six seasons that the championship had been decided by a collision between the two protagonists. Alain Prost had won the 1989 title after colliding with Ayrton Senna at Suzuka, and 12 months later Senna had done the same to Prost.
Schumacher and Benetton had fallen foul of the FIA several times already in 1994 under suspicion of using launch control, for overtaking on the formation lap and failing to obey instructions to serve a stop-go penalty and obey a black flag, for tampering with their refuelling rig and for causing excessive plank wear. This time the FIA stayed its hand.
This did not dissuade many from holding the view Schumacher had taken Hill out deliberately. While Prost and Senna had been driving healthy cars at the moment of their accidents, the damage Schumacher suffered suggested that he had made a spur-of-the-moment decision to chop across Hill, enduring that neither finished the race and Schumacher would be champion.
Incredibly, these suspicions were borne out three years later when, in similar circumstances, Schumacher collided with Jacques Villeneuve in an attempt to stop the Williams driver winning the championship. On that occasion Schumacher was not successful, and the FIA punished him by exclusion from the championship. Not since then has a drivers’ championship been settled by the two contenders colliding.
Max Mosley, the FIA president at the time, later said that under modern rules Schumacher would have been stripped of the 1994 title.
But beneath the acrimony over how the championship was decided lay a deeper sadness: a sense that the true competition of 1994 was lost the moment Senna’s car struck the barrier at Tamburello.
Despite the trauma of losing their lead driver, Williams recovered to win the constructors’ championship. But designer Adrian Newey believed Imola had taken away the best chance of one of their drivers taking the championship.
“There were a couple of silly little aerodynamic problems which we were getting on top of by Imola, so it’s even more of a tragedy,” he said. “We were on the edge of sorting it out, and had Ayrton survived, he’d have won the title without a problem.”
It was a view Schumacher was generous enough to endorse in his moment of triumph. “For me, it was always clear that I wasn’t going to win the championship, and Ayrton was going to win the championship,” he said.
“But he hasn’t been there for the last races. And I’d like to take this championship and give it to him. Because he is the driver who should have earned it. He had the best car, he was the best driver, and that’s my feelings about him.”
|Andrea de Cesaris||0||0||0||3||3||3||4||4||4||4||4||4||4||4||4||4|
1994 final constructors’ championship points
Grand Prix flashback
- Villeneuve slip-up hands title lead back to Schumacher after Panis crash
- Villeneuve’s binary season goes on as Panis charges to second
- Schumacher’s wet weather mastery puts him on top
- Villeneuve picks a fight, Frentzen wins one
- Ill Villeneuve withstands Irvine attack to win again
1994 F1 season
- Schumacher’s first title tainted by clash with Hill
- How Brundle’s 1994 Suzuka crash mirrored Bianchi’s
- Schumacher edges clear as fuel rig thwarts Hill
- Hill cuts Schumacher’s lead to one point in Portugal
- Hill wins as crash crushes Lotus’s recovery hopes
Image © WilliamsF1, Williams/LAT