F1 circuits history part 12: 1994

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The 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.

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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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11 comments on “F1 circuits history part 12: 1994”

  1. This series of articles is fantastic. Thank you for going to the trouble of putting it together! Very interesting stuff, especially seeing how the established circuits have progressed through the years.

  2. 1994 was a pretty terrible year in terms of accidents. Wasn’t it because they had removed a whole host of driver aids from the year before? i seem to remember Ayrton Senna expressing concerns about the removal of the electronic aids at the beginning of the season. sounds a little familiar to what Coulthard is saying now. Either way it was a terrible year, both for the drivers and the circuits. i still think the chicane placed at Eau rouge was almost a sin.

  3. Well, traction control was banned for ’94 but I recall that Senna was convinced it was still on Schumacher’s Benetton after watching his car from the side of the track at Aida. Makes a bit of a mockery of Benetton’s claim that it wasn’t used when the FIA later found TC software still on the car. But, yes, dropping some electronic aids (I believe active ride was also outlawed for ’94) was part of the issue.

    I think (this is just my memory) that the safety concern was more around ride heights, and the inherent instability in the cars resulting from the cars running in a critical zone between maximum ground effect and complete loss of ground effect, and the introduction of the underfloor planks was a reaction to that. I always thought that was the guts of Senna’s concern about the technical direction in ’94 and of course his concerns proved to be spot on.

  4. There was also a change to the Montreal circuit in 1994. A chicane was installed in a bid to slow the cars before the flatout left-right kink after the hairpin. This remained in 1995 until they removed the chicane and the kink in 1996.

  5. Forget that last post, I didn’t see Montreal in the list

  6. What was the incident on the podium at Jerez?

  7. I think the Mayor of the town stormed on to the podium or something along those lines, and Eccelstone didn’t want politics in F1, so he got rid of the race. im sure there is more detail but that is the gist of it. The same thing happened at Turkey last year, where they introduced one of the presenters of the trophies as the President of Turkish Cyprus, causing uproar. Turkey was nearly removed from the calender as well then.

  8. Seb is right. This is from GrandPrix.com:

    In 1997 the mayor of Jerez forced his way on to the podium and presented a trophy he was not supposed to present. The FIA reacted by cancelling the event and F1 has never returned to Jerez.

    Grandprix.com – Turkey responds (external)

  9. Thanks for looking that up for me – since this was the 1994 review I thought the incident was 1994, I didn’t parse closely enough to see “1994 and 1997” and “the last race proved”. No wonder I couldn’t find any reference to the 1994 Jerez podium incident. =/

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  11. 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.

    Jerez wasn’t planned for 1994 either, since the original calendar included an Argentine GP at Buenos Aires. However, the track wasn’t ready, and mid-season the race was dropped in favour of a European Grand Prix at Jerez.

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