1994 F1 season

1994: Remembering the year everything changed

1994 F1 season

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The 1994 championship would forever be remembered chiefly for the harrowing events of its third round – that dark weekend at Imola which claimed the lives of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.

The tragic events of the San Marino Grand Prix cast a shadow over the championship and began an intense period of soul-searching over how to better protect drivers in the sport.

These were the most grievous events of the most traumatic season in recent memory. A Monaco crash left Karl Wendlinger in a coma which ruined a promising Formula One career. In the early part of the season injuries became almost commonplace as a succession of drivers were wounded in major accidents.

The death of the most famous racing driver the world has ever known thrust worldwide media attention on the sport. Under fierce scrutiny, the imperative to understand what went wrong and respond accordingly forced all involved in the sport to react.

In the chaos that followed circuits and cars were hastily altered. Bereft of a star driver, another champion made a sudden return. The season took an increasingly bitter turn with a series of controversial disqualifications and allegations over technical infringements. And it ended with a notorious collision in Adelaide.

But before the season began few could have imagined what lay ahead. The major preoccupations in the build-up to the new season were familiar ones: disputes over the technical rules and how to inject more action into the racing.

Formula One at the beginning of 1994

“Improving the show” is not a phrase that only gained currency in F1 in the last few years. Pick up a magazine or read a newspaper report from the end of the 1993 season and you’ll find it was already in vogue two decades ago.

The 1992 and 1993 championships had been largely dominated by one team – Williams – whose cars had taken pole position for 30 of the preceding 32 races. Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost won the 1992 and 1993 titles respectively at a canter.

Neither stayed to defend their crowns – although in January 1994 Prost’s future was far from certain. Mansell, meanwhile, had made history by switching to IndyCars and winning that title at his first attempt.

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Ayrton Senna, Williams, 1994In the mid-nineties Formula One kept a jealous eye on its North American rival. While Senna remained the only world champion left in grand prix racing 20 years ago, IndyCar’s driver roster featured Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi as well as Mansell.

The 1992 champion’s defection had won IndyCar many new viewers and the quality of its racing drew praise. Formula One responded by adopting some of IndyCar’s innovations, beginning with time penalties served in the pits and the Safety Car, which had appeared during 1993.

Another feature of IndyCar racing was adopted in 1994 – one which proved highly controversial. But as in-race refuelling ultimately remained part of grand prix racing for over a decade and a half, it’s easy to forget how contentious its return to F1 was at the time.

Refuelling was added to the rule books in mid-1993. It was slipped in at the 11th hour following months of wrangling between the teams and the FIA on a different subject: president Max Mosley’s desire to outlaw active suspension and other driver aids.

Faced with the threat of having their active cars banned mid-season in 1993 – forcing them to redesign their cars at huge cost – the teams agreed to a ban for 1994. Bernie Ecclestone seized the opportunity to add his rider: in-race refuelling, banned on safety grounds ten years earlier, would be legalised.

True support for the refuelling plan was almost non-existent, and following the meeting the teams swiftly united to try to expunge it from the rules. Even Benetton team principal Flavio Briatore, who argued in favour of such gimmicks as reverse grids at the time, turned against the refuelling plan when he calculated the huge sums involved in purchasing and shipping the necessary equipment.

The one team which continued to push for refuelling, preventing its rivals from achieving the necessary unanimity to get rid of it, was Ferrari. As they used the thirstiest engine in the pit lane they stood to gain the most from being able to refuel. Team principal Jean Todt even avoided a pre-season meeting of the teams where he expected to face fierce pressure to drop a plan which had raised serious concerns over safety as well as costs.

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The teams and drivers of 1994

Ferrari were flexing their political muscles because they were enduring their longest-ever winless streak in the world championship. Over three years had passed since their last win, courtesy of Prost in the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix.

During that time they had struggled with a succession of attractive but uncompetitive designs, and never got to grips with active suspension and other driver aids that were essential by 1993. The banning of such devices for 1994, along with the return of designer John Barnard from Benetton, promised to restore Ferrari to competitiveness.

But at the dawn of the new season few expected any challenge to Senna and Williams. Even though Benetton got their new car on-track several weeks before Williams and set competitive times throughout testing, the conventional wisdom was that Williams couldn’t possibly have got it wrong.

Benetton, however, had won at least one race per season since 1989 and Briatore had set his sights high. “If I don’t win the world championship between now and 1996 then I need a change of job,” he said before the season began.

Prost’s decision not to take up his option to continue at Williams for a second season opened the door for Senna, whom Prost had blocked from joining him as team mate in 1993. But after Senna took his place alongside Damon Hill, Prost began seriously thinking of continuing in Formula One, and he looked into making a return to McLaren.

Those who were hoping the Senna-versus-Prost show would resume were to be disappointed. After driving the team’s new MP4-9 behind closed doors at Estoril in early March, Prost decided to remain in retirement.

“You could tell Prost wasn’t keen,” Martin Brundle reflected in a recent book, “the Peugeot engine wasn’t really very strong at that point”. Brundle’s brave gambit of waiting on Prost’s decision was rewarded: he landed the second McLaren seat alongside Mika Hakkinen days before the championship was due to start.

Rubens Barrichello, Jordan, Imola, 1994With the exception of Scuderia Italia, who failed to complete the 1993 season and were effectively taken over by Minardi, the same roster of teams remained. But the clock was ticking for venerable names like Lotus, who produced a mildly developed version of their 1992 chassis; Tyrrell, point-less in 1993; and Ligier, whose owner Cyril de Rouvre was arrested in December and who were soon to be purchased by Briatore.

Better times seemed to lie ahead for two of F1’s newest teams: Jordan, who impressed on their 1991 debut, entered their second year with Brian Hart’s customer V10 engines. And Sauber, entering their sophomore season having taken a fine seventh on their debut, retained the backing of Mercedes and their Ilmor-developed V10s.

Footwork went back to being called Arrows as the Japanese recession led Wataru Ohashi to pull his backing. Having been snubbed by McLaren in favour of Peugeot, Lamborghini scrapped their F1 engine programme, leaving Larrousse to join Arrows in switching to Ford engines.

The arrival of new teams Simtek and Pacific boosted the grid to 28 cars – and meant two per weekend would be eliminated after qualifying.

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Mosley and the FIA

The move to outlaw driver aids for 1994 had inevitably drawn the strongest opposition from the teams who had benefitted most from it – Williams initially, and also McLaren, who won the final two races of 1993 with their highly advanced MP4-8. Not that their drivers necessarily felt the same way – Senna famously used his 1992 Christmas card to Mosley to lobby for a ban on driver aids.

But as the reality of the rules change sunk in during the off-season, concerns became fixed on whether it was possible to ban innovations such as launch control, which could be hidden within thousands of lines of proprietary computer source code. “I don’t think you should ban something that you can’t police,” said McLaren team principal Ron Dennis.

Days before the cars arrived in Brazil for the first race, Mosley warned that if someone “deliberately cheated – not that they interpreted the rule differently to you or there was some debatable point which they may be wrong about – then I think Draconian penalties are completely correct”.

But aside from worries over refuelling, safety was not a major talking point ahead of the new season. “Touch wood we haven’t killed anybody at a grand prix for 11 years now,” Mosley remarked in a pre-season interview, referring to the death of Ricardo Paletti in 1982.

Those intervening years had seen other serious crashes, including the death of Elio de Angelis during testing in 1986. But some of the more alarming incidents prior to 1994, such as Alessandro Zanardi’s fearful shunt at Eau Rouge the year before, had been caused by active suspension failures. There was good reason to believe that if banning it was going to have any effect on safety it would be a positive one.

But the coming months were to reveal in the most shocking way just how vulnerable drivers had become in their cars.

Remembering the 1994 season on F1 Fanatic

F1 Fanatic will run a series of articles during the coming year looking back on the how the 1994 season changed the world championship. More details on how the season unfolded will appear in many of the On This Day segments in the daily round-up.

Did you go to any of the races during the 1994 season? If so please share your experiences here:

1994 F1 season

Browse all 1994 F1 season articles

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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71 comments on “1994: Remembering the year everything changed”

  1. I have often wondered what might had happened if the FIA had not banned all driver aids at once, but had done it gradually, say no active suspension for 1994, no traction control for 1995, and no ABS for 1996. It certainly would have given the engineers and designers more time to come to grips with the new regs – to say nothing of the drivers. As it is, we may never know what ultimately caused Senna’s crash, but looking back, we can surely take the lessons forward into the future.

    1. I believe Sennas crash happen as a result of his steering arm breaking, so he couldn’t control the car at that particular point. I don’t know how many modifications Williams made after the banning of driver aids, and whether that could have had any adverse effects that caused Senna’s crash. Hard to know really, what would have happen had they not banned the driver aids

      1. The modification to the steering arm* was made to improve Senna’s feel and happiness with the car handling, which was skittish and inconsistent due to design issues brought about by the car’s suspension needing to be designed from scratch as a result of the ban on Active Suspension, ergo the ban on driver aids was involved.

        * – If it did specifically fail & cause the accident. It’s the suspected cause, but I still don’t believe we can know, because the severity of the impact would have likely caused the failure, had it not happened sooner.

        1. I thought Senna was just unhappy with the position of the wheel in the cockpit. If so it’s unrelated to the balance of the car, just cockpit ergonomics.

      2. But the Williams was, as Senna said, a really nervous car. Bear in mind that while it was based on the FW14C, that car depended completely on driver aids to mantain its stabilty while cornering. The cars generated a monstrous amount of downforce and no TC, ABS or AS meant you tip-toed while cornering quickly. That’s why the “chicane mania” started after Senna’s accident.

      3. Data showed senna extreme quick reacted to the slide and that’s why he went off.
        So I believe the idea that his car hit the bottom, lost downforce and that caused the crash.

        1. There was NO SLIDE! The car just veered off to the right.

          Senna never turned right! You can clearly see he is trying to steer left until the end!

          The “data” is all speculation and lies, used to build s theory that makes no sense.

          Cars bottomed out all the time and it was quite spectacular

          1. Catching an F1 at that speed isn’t about steering to the right,
            just less to the left. You can’t see it probably, but in the data you can.
            But we will never know for sure what it was. But the lower tyre pressure (no bottom plate then) because of the slow slow pace car and hitting the bottom is realistic in my view.

        2. Replying to your second comment (reply):

          “Catching an F1 at that speed” should have looked spectacular. Slide, loss of traction – that would have been visible. Also, where exactly does the data show a “slide”? Williams claim it in their silly documentary, but it’s only them. F1 cars generally don’t struggle with flat-out corners, and Tamburello was a flat-out corner.

          There are many difficult question that need to be answered in regards to the “cold tires/bottoming out causing a slide theory”. First, why should the tires be cold if he had raced one amazing, full-racing speed lap? And shouldn’t it have shown on one of the many tricky parts on the track on lap 6 if the tires were no good? If you watch Senna’s lap 6, it is an exceptionally fast and clean lap. Just watch how cleanly he drives, how clean he is on the last chicane that gets him on the start-finish straight, and how early on the power he is.
          Then, why is bottoming out so dangerous? You can see a lot more spark (and hence a lot more bottoming) in late 80s-mid 90s F1 races. And it’s not just the emprirical evidence – how is it technically dangerous? Williams tried to make it seem like F1 cars at the time relied on ground effects for downforce, but it’s actually the airflow through the wings and through the bodywork above the skidplate (yes, it was called a skidplate, because cars skidded on it). And even if the flow under the skidplate is SOOO important, then how can you ever constrict all of it in a high-G turn, where the car tilts (yeah, only millimeters, but that’s part of the Williams crap theory as well)? And bumps too – these are factors that can only speed up the airflow.
          Then they have to explain how a driver who has “lightning-fast reactions” and supposedly reacts to a hypothetical oversteer/slide in a fraction of a second can’t find enough time in almost 2 full seconds to steer away from the wall. And has it occurred to people that if Senna’s steering was working properly, he could have at least spun the car to the left to avoid hitting the wall with his face?
          And then I ask why Williams claimed Senna’s steering movement was normal, yet one can’t see it in his FW-16 in any other time, and in fact in any G1 car, ever? Why did Williams GP resort to that poor motionless mock-up they shot on camera, with a cover hiding the steering column, and try to use that as evidence?

          This, and many other questions. But as far as steering failure, if you’ve seen it happen, you would see it fits perfectly as the probable cause. There is a reason for that – the fact the steering column was extended just the night before, using whatever parts they could find, resulting in an improvised modification, not worthy of any performance machine. Williams never denied there were signs of fatigue on the extension piece. They just relied on it being hard to prove when exactly the steering column finally broke.

      4. The steering column breaking theory has been repeatedly debunked. We all miss Ayrton greatly, but it is time for people to move on.

        1. How was the steering column failure theory debunked? You can’t let one paid mokumentary make up your mind. Are you aware the metal fatigue on the modified column was so obvious, Williams never tried to deny it?

          As for moving on, it tends to happen when justice is served. But Frank Williams and Patrick Head made up an absurd theory and insulted not just Senna, his family and fans, but all F1 fans. But then again, maybe “Williams Renault” finishing second to last in 2013 is justice served, in a weird way.

          1. Jack (@jackisthestig)
            9th January 2014, 11:14

            In Senna’s accident the first part of the car to hit the wall was the front right wheel, was it that impact which broke a weak weld on the steering column or bumps in the middle of Tamburello? Nobody can know for sure and personally I believe steering column failure did not cause Senna to leave the track.

            In my opinion, the only credible conspiracy theory is that the severe bumps through Tamburello caused the FW16’s power-assisted steering system to behave erratically mid-corner. Telemetry data showed ‘spikes’ (i.e. pressure surges) in the car’s engine-driven hydraulic system which provides the steering assistance. The pressure surges were caused by sharp increases in engine RPM as the car bottomed-out as it went over the bumps and the unloaded rear tyres momentarily spun-up.

            The pressure surges would have caused sharp increases in steering assistance, causing the steering to suddenly go very light then back to the normal weight. This happened several times over a short time period while Senna was in the middle of Tamburello and just before he left the track.

            To my eyes, this theory ties in with the onboard footage; the way Senna looks down in the cockpit and the relatively small steering movements (if the steering column failed mid-corner then surely the steering wheel would have turned all the way round to the left).

            Also bear in mind that Damon Hill, the only other person who knows what it was like drive an FW16 around Imola on that day, has said he believes driver error caused Senna’s accident. That’s as well qualified an explaination as anyone could ask for.

          2. @Jack (@jackisthestig)

            It’s true you can argue all day whether the steering broke on impact or before. Interesting what happens to the steering column usually in such cases (including Ratzenberger’s awful crash the day before), and interesting why no one pays much attention to it.
            But keep in mind, as I have said before, Williams never tried to deny Senna’s steering column was damaged prior to impact, even though they claimed it broke only on impact. Senna’s steering was extended by cutting it and welding a much thinner metal tube. The prosecution claimed upon entering Tamburello for the last time, that metal tube was severed at least 60% (getting ready to hit the bumps for the last time). Williams, in their defence, claimed it was “only” 20-40%. But even IF true, would that be normal, or would it prove the steering column was faulty?
            To me steering failure would explain the incident perfectly. You have a reason (botched last-minute modification), some evidence (unquestionable metal fatigue, which even Williams couldn’t fully deny), and it looks just like steering failure too. I’ve seen footage of steering failure on racing cars, including an onboard on a Formula Mazda in mid-corner, and it is the exact same gentle and controlled veer-off and then perfect straight path to the wall.
            I think Senna’s experience would not have allowed a minor fault, like power steering failure cause the accident. You talk about steerign movement, and wheel movement, but you can clearly see, both on the onboard and on the external cameras, that the wheels don’t nudge after the initial unloading, when the car gently points to the wall. All this while you have some erratic steering input (and no output), and when the whole thing happens Senna tilts his head left, indicting he is trying to steer left (less restraints back then meant you could see how the drivers pointed their heads in the direction the steered). The official Williams explanation was Senna steered to the right in opposite lock! But clearly there is no indication of that, and the car never twitches. Even when it goes off, it does so in a very controlled manner.
            Another thing is that bottoming was perfectly normal back then, and it had been occurring for more than a decade, with both active and passive suspensions. Just watch some old races from Spa, Hockenheim – Imola wasn’t even the worst when it came to bumps (but there was a concrete wall next to Tamburello).
            As for Hill, no offence to him, but he was Williams’s star driver and championship leader when the court hearing started. A lot of his answers were pretty defensive, of the “I don’t remember” type. Not to mention he was way behind when the accident happened and he couldn’t even have seen it.
            And no, it’s not a conspiracy. I don’t think anyone conspired to kill Senna. But it is a case of gross negligence, and afterwards perjury. Don’t expect anyone from Williams to tell you the truth. Even Newey, in a very recent interview, said how we will never find out and so on, how the steering could have broken on impact, BUT he then admitted the official story of “cold tires” made no sense. His elegant solution was “a possible puncture”. So, half and admission from Newey, (if you read between the lines).
            And then, drivers who have had accidents on Tamburello will tell you only a mechanaical problems can cause accidents there.

    2. I agree with you … regulations was more anarchic and suddenly,it was so clear that 1994 bans were most about the polemic of challenge between driver and car skills ..it was unfair for Senna to get desactivate car at his transfer to Williams … ban of active suspension were dramatic decision

  2. That horrible weekend at Imola still seems like it happened yesterday. I was twelve at the time and it still makes me want to cry.

    1. I only started watching F1 in 2008, and learned more and more about its history as it went on. Senna’s impact and brilliance wasn’t really made clear to me until I saw Top Gear’s little segment (I think it was Series 15 or 16), and then of course, the Senna documentary.

      I can’t count how many times I’ve watched Senna, but every time I see that final onboard of him taking that final chicane onto the pit straight… there’s always a bit of me that hopes he makes the turn. I’ve watched it many times, but I’ve had to turn it off at that point after seeing it for the first time. Even just thinking about it gives me goosebumps, and saddens me. I don’t cry over much, but the movie breaks me down every single time I see it.

      At least it was the trigger for new safety regs which have largely been successful to this point. Very sad that that was the trigger, though…

      1. I’m similar to you. I started watching F1 in the earlier 2000s but really got into about 2006. I was 2 at the time when Senna passed but, like you, i have seen many videos and read many articles and watched the brilliant top gear Senna segment and of course the film. I just love reading about him and his brilliance and watching videos of him, especially when he was at Monaco.

        Its just a shame I will never get to see without a doubt one of the best drivers to ever grace this planet.

        Really looking forward to this series :)

      2. same here i started watching in 06 and then after top gear tribute i watched all the videos on youtube etc and having seen the senna documentary many times i still get tears in my eyes at the end. i never tire of watching some of his onboard laps such jerez,monaco 1990 and adelaide 1991 or japan 1989. that weekend probably was the worst in f1 history.
        also i didnt know de anglias died in 1986 was that in f1 testing? oh and @keith thanks for providing the most indepth f1 website out there hope the good work continues.

        1. wrong keith
          @keith collantine

  3. Briliant work! Cant wait for the rest of the series

  4. I was 14 years old at that time. F1 had always been deadly dangerous, but 1994 made me quit F1 for a decade and will remain deep buried in me.

    1. You aren’t alone. I was 14 at the time as well, and remember watching the race at Imola on TV in US. After that, I also couldn’t follow F1 too closely for a while.

    2. It is a great relief to find out I was not the only person who stopped following F1 at that horrendous moment in time. It was only last season that I could bear to take any notice once again.
      I too have buried that year deeply @spoutnik and do not wish to recall it ever.
      If the Schumacher fans feel any morsel of the pain I felt at that time then I send you hugs.

      1. It was imola 94 where I first lost my respect for schumacher, as he celebrated his win on the podium (while everyone else were very sombre)…. then it all went downhill from there. With the crashing into people and the blatent cheating, I had my new villan, and anyone who opposed him was my hero.

        F1 taught me a valuable life lesson though….. That bad guys do win, a lot. But also it taught me that even if your not that good at something (im looking at you damon hill, and more recently you JB), if you just keep trying and all the stars line up, you have a bit of luck and everything just goes right, you can come out on top and beat the best in the business.

        1. @mike-e Senna’s death wasn’t announced until more than two hours after the race finished, even though he was already deceased when Schumacher won the race. I’m sure Schumacher just didn’t know about Senna’s condition, even though he already claimed he couldn’t feel any satisfaction from his win following the accidents of Barichello, Ratzenberger and now Senna in the post-race press conference. There had been more “serious” accidents in previous years but even when Ratzenberger died the day before, he was not quite the driver Senna was and I’m sure a lot of people had no doubt Senna would pull through eventually.

          I know he wasn’t at Senna’s funeral, but as he later said in an interview, he never experienced death during his racing career up until that point and didn’t really know how to handle it and if he cared about Formula 1 enough to risk his own life and witness others die. He didn’t want to mourn in public and later visited Senna’s grave together with his wife. It may not have been a choice we all agree with, but I really doubt it had anything to do with disrespect.

          1. Indeed, it was announced after the race ended.
            And Michael has always been shy of limelight. So is his family. He didn’t even know Ayrton well enough that people would want the WC leader to be present at his funeral.

    3. I was 10, but was watching F1 for a few years, and Senna was my hero.
      I remember that day very very well. I was watching the race on eurosport.
      At first they said he was going to be ok.
      But on the news the news came he was clinically death.
      I didn’t know what that meant so they had to explain that to me.
      But I didn’t realise 100% that this was over.
      Once it was clear I cried so hard.
      School was really hard the next day.
      Horrible time, but now when I look back, I’m thankful to have seen the master race on top of his game!

    4. I was watching the live broadcast of the 1994 Imola race. I will never forget that day. I was 24 at the time and like you, I quit F1 for almost 2 decades.

  5. A brilliantly detailed article. I look forward to the rest of the series, with some trepidation of course.

  6. Very interesting read, and well written. That year I was 20 and I wasn’t yet into F1. My country (Albania) had only a couple of years that came out of one of the most extreme communist regime. We were struggling for every day bread (literally), and the most common discussions among youth that time was how to get to european countries. Any way, as mentioned in the article, the death of Senna made it to the news and that wasn’t the best way to get to F1. The first thought was why would people put themselves in such death to next corner situations. I had seen before, in Italian news TV, glimpse of cars going around but never got interested in that.
    It took some years and a close relationship with one patient italian friend, who never grew tired of explaining it to me until I started watching races in 1997 and from 1998 I started following full seasons as local TV stations started to broadcast them as well. It is not easy to become a F1 fan here were there is no information at all, mostly myths going around, big lack of history knowledge and technical information which is vital to understand it.
    So yes, there is not much for me to remember from that year from F1, except the sad memory of that room of a neighbor where we were all gathered and listening to the tragic death of Senna.

  7. If you wrote a book, with something like this written for every season, I would pay good money for it!

    Very interesting stuff. Looking forward to the next article.

  8. Unfortunately I wasn’t even 2 years old when the 1994 season started. But I am heavily fascinated by what happened during it. Really looking forward to this series of articles!

    1. I was dead (in the sense of lacking life)!

      However, it still chills me watching the crash footage of Imola 1994 – how such an accident could occur and the highly unfortunate consequences. It is a great shame never having been able to see Senna even attend race events but if the ramifications have indirectly saved other driver’s lives, I suppose in the end something positive came of it.

      You never know, maybe if we hadn’t lost Senna we would’ve lost Schumacher, which would in our position seem equally tragic (having seen the careers of both).

      1. I have to be honest, if we hadnt lost senna, you’d have never heard of schumacher.

        1. That’s nonsense of the highest order @mike-e

        2. I fully agree. If Ayrton had walked away from Tamburello on 1/5/94, he would have jumped in the spare car and won the race. Remember a certain M.Schumacher said alng the lines of “Had he survived, I would not have been the ’94 World Champion.”

          If that HAD happened, I think Ayrton would have been the 1st ever 10 times WDC with 7 back to back titles. Ayrton signed a 2 year to take him to end of 95, had he won in 94, then the 95 car he would have dominated with. I then think, he would sign on for another 2 years. 96-97 Williams won again. Now 98. Mclaren come on strong, or Ferrari (Ayrton said he would like to drive for Ferrari at some point) if he went to either team, then he would have won from 98-00 with how both cars were the pace setters.

          1. He was already in his mid-30s @minihulk . How was he going to continue, especially unchallenged, for another 7 seasons?

  9. If you search “death of Ayrton Senna” in google, it has a fact box at the top which says “traffic collision”. Anybody else find that both incorrect and quite ignoble?

    1. More than I can say…

  10. Looking forward to this series Keith, I was only four years old at the beginning of 1994 so obviously the more ‘behind the scenes’ aspects of the season have passed me by. It’s always interesting to hear about the more mundane worries of the time.

  11. I always felt the addition of refueling was the solution to a problem that in reality didn’t exist.

    It was done to spice up the show & add strategy to the racing yet the banning of the electronic aids was already going to spice things up & improve the racing.
    And there wasn’t really a need to add refueling for strategy reasons as the way the tyre rules were at the time gave plenty of scope for strategic options, Arguably giving teams & drivers far more strategic options & far more interesting & unpredictable strategies than refueling did.

    Fuel strategy was largely determined by the strategist’s computer simulations which were based solely off qualifying position. Once you had decided on your fuel strategy (Usually Saturday night after post qualifying briefings, After FP3 when parc-ferme was introduced in ’03) there wasn’t much wriggle room to change strategy on Sunday if you had an early race drama.

    Tyre strategy however was more fluid & drivers had far more input. You went into the race on the compound you felt was the best tyre to start on & had a general idea of what you were going to do, Yet with 4-5 compounds available to use as you wish there was far more scope to alter your strategy based on your circumstances as the race unfolded & most importantly based off drivers feedback.

    Also remember that teams had complete strategic freedom, If a driver wanted to run the hardest compound & run the whole race without making a pit stop they had the freedom to do that. If they wanted to run a softer/faster compound & race hard knowing they would need to make 1-2 stops they could do that.
    If they went into a race planning to do 1 strategy yet found there pace was better than expected & race position better than expected, The driver had the freedom to suggest making a stop to switch compounds, Abandon a planned stop or add an unplanned stop.

    Refueling sadly took away a lot of those freedoms & especially driver input regarding scrapping a previously planned stop, Something Michael Schumacher did to win his 2nd F1 race at the 1993 Portuguese Gp.

    Looking back at 1992/1993, There was some complaints about the fact Williams had dominated with Mansell/Prost & was call’s to improve the championship. However the banning of electronic aids which gave Williams there superiority & helped create the big gaps between teams with different levels of electronic sophistication was more than enough to have closed the field & improved ‘the show’.

    Refueling was never needed, It wasn’t wanted by a good 95%+ of participants or fans & would go on to make things far worse as far as improving the racing went as it just turned the racing into a fuel strategy game where fuel strategy & jumping the competition via fuel stops became more important (From the team point of view) than the racing.

    1. @gt-racer – Thank you for that. Refueling and the calls to bring it back yet again in F1 make me shudder. It is so unneeded and should never be reconsidered from the safety factor alone. As a nearly lifelong fan of many kinds of motor racing, F1 and Indy Cars in particular, dating back to the 60s, refueling is just too dangerous. Ask Jos Verstappen, Rick Mears and hosts of other drivers and pit workers needlessly burned and injured because of refueling. As GT-Racer already stated, there are other strategy options that do not have this inherent danger. I would much rather see a strategies involving driver skills than strategies based on artificial pit stops, particularly for refueling.

      1. Forget about the safety aspect. The present-day tyre changes are by no means safer than refueling used to be. We’ve seen tyres flying off all too often in the past years and they can do much more damage than some drops of burning fuel can do. Forget about Verstappen’s pit fire, which was caused by his team trying to gain a few seconds of refueling time at the expense of the safety of the driver and the pitcrew.

        The refueling ban has turned Formula 1 into very predictable processions. Formula 1 is much more than that and I always loved the idea to play with fuel loads. As expected, when in-race refueling was banned in 2010, nothing much happened: the Bridgestone tyres were way too durable to have different tyre strategies. In fact, the two-compound rule only made things worse, killing all possible strategic variety. The Pirelli tyres were a large improvement, although from a strategic perspective there is little difference between pitting for tyres or pitting for fuel.

        However, the problem with tyre strategies is exactly its flexibility. This means that the teams quickly respond to other pitstops instead of sticking to their own, more or less predetermined race plan. This strategic behavior usually leads to some “pitstop cascade”, with pitstops usually being initiated by the cars near the tail of the pack, after which increasingly higher-placed cars pit. Usually the leader has the luxury of being the last one to pit, which gives him an edge over his competitors for the remainder of the race. All in all, the refueling ban benefits the race leader (and that’s partly why Vettel wins his races unchallenged).

        As far as I know, in the old days of Formula 1, there was only one tyre compound per race. Let’s not overestimate racing back in these days. There were large differences in driver skill and equipment. The attrition rate was high and the gap between the race winner and the other drivers was usually big, so strategy was not really important. Nowadays, tyre preservation and strategy are much more important, with still drivers trying to overtake in the pits.

        I’m not claiming that everything was better before the refueling ban, although I think racing was much less artificial back then. Back then there were only two missing links: the 2011 safetycar rules and somewhat less durable tyres. Combined with a slightly less powerful DRS I think Formula 1 would have been great in that era too.

  12. Yup, I’m excited for this series of articles. The years between Senna vs. Prost and Schumacher domination have always been a bit under the radar for me (probably because I was a toddler during most of it :P), so it would be nice to learn some more about this season.

    1. 1994 was the first year of Schumacher domination. 8 wins and the championship, plus a repeat the next year with 9 wins. I’m sure you know that! I guess it was a few more years until the 5 years of domination at Ferrari, was that the time period you were referring to?

      1. @scalextric Yeah, the Ferrari-Schumacher domination – should have specified that.

    2. Does anyone else think after reading the article that the multitude of rule changes seem eerily close to the number of changes in 2014 ( of course , technically it is far from close and safety is hugely improved ) . Add to that some crazy double points ! All this makes me feel next year is going to be pretty crazy….oh I mean this year , I’ve just remembered ;-)

  13. I remember 1994 as the first season I started watching races religiously. Since then I haven’t missed one, and before that I had seen the occasional race, my first ever being Suzuka 1989.
    1994 was troublesome and controversial, no doubt about it. But it was also the rise of Michael Schumacher, in a season he completely dominated. Even if his car wasn’t legal for part of the season (mostly affecting starts, I would say), I was impressed by how superior he was to the others, mostly Hill.

    1. Btw, I was 16 at the time.

  14. I was too young to watch at the time, and my parents had actually quit following the sport as kids when Lauda had his accident in 1976. I think watching Imola 1994 (I was 3 at the time) would have kept me away from F1 forever, or at least as long as I lived with my folks.

    Still, as I started watching in 1998, 1994 was a very interesting season to read about and was often written about. Schumacher was by far my favorite driver, so it being his first title made it extra interesting. I’ve done a lot of reading on the season and think I’ve actually seen the ’94 season review more times than the ’96 that I actually own on VHS and got in 1998, long before YouTube. Tied in with Verstappen’s debut season, the many tragedies and controversies, the many driver changes (can you imagine a top team like Benetton in 1994 lining up 2 drivers like Verstappen and Letho for a couple of races, even if out of necessity?) and of course the deaths of Ratzenberger and Senna.

    I had a blast reading this article and am pretty excited to read the upcoming articles. :)

  15. I wish I could say that I have fond memories of that season but whenever I think back, I see the empty front-row in Monaco with the Brazilian and Austrian flag and Wendlinger in a coma after the crash on Thursday.

  16. It’s really interesting to read this. I was 16 at the time of Senna’s death and had been watching F1 for a few years. But at that time I didn’t read about F1 so much (no internet!) other than maybe a season review book for Christmas. And of course the TV coverage was really quite poor compared to what we’re used to now in terms of wider coverage of the sport and politics. My memory of the reintroduction of refuelling is quite different and I had no idea of it being controversial. I personally thought it was a really exciting addition at the time and hence was not that enthusiastic to see it go recently for nostalgia reasons.

  17. Looking forward to this series. 1994 was my first year of watching Formula One, and being only 9 at the time, the intricacies of the technical regulations and politics would have been well above my head.

    I certainly do remember there being a lot of last-minute slap-and-dash changes to the circuits, after Imola, especially those at Catalunya and Montreal. And as my little 1994 F1 Almanac book confirms, there seemed to be an entirely new field of drivers lining up on the grid at every grand prix. 46 different drivers drove for the 14 teams that entered, certainly the greatest amount that I can remember. Lotus, Larousse and Simtek getting through 6 drivers each. Only Pacific, Minardi, Footwork and Tyrrell kept their same 2 drivers for every race of the season.

    1. I’ll never forget when they put a chicane on eau rouge.
      They were this scared! (the fia). It was incredible.
      Thank god the safety of the cars are what they are today.

  18. I was 13 by then, Senna had been my idol ever since Lauda quit in ’84. Hearing the news from Imola really hurt. It’s just recently that I’ve gone back and watched the remainder of that season. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

  19. As a fan of F1 going back to the 1960s I’m glad for the improvements made in safety even though it took too many tragedies to bring about truly meaningful changes. The loss of Senna was heartbreaking and maybe the catalyst for meaningful change. The loss of life and terrible injuries to any drivers is equally heartbreaking. At a young age I was introduced to the reality of the danger involved in racing when my still favorite driver of all time, Jim Clark, was killed. F1 has been safe and fortunate for some time now in large part due to many safety improvements since 1994. I celebrate that! Let’s not kid ourselves though, racing at any level is still dangerous as events in Indy Car and other series have served as tragic reminders.

    I’m thankful for the 20 year perspective we have gained since 1994 and it is obvious that some good decisions were made after such tragic events. I’ll be looking forward to this series of articles @keithcollantine .

  20. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    9th January 2014, 1:17

    I often think that someone of importance had to be killed before the FIA got off their ***** and implemented more stringent safety measures. Tragically, Ayrton was that man.

    Hopefully (and thankfully) that culture of just waiting around for someone to die before something is done, has been flushed from the sport.

  21. I’ll be looking forward to this series too. I was 16 and this was probably the time at the peak of my interest in F1. The season held so much promise – rules changes that would shake the (stale!) order up, a new generation of drivers coming to the fore in Schumacher, Hill, Hakkinen & Alesi, even JJ Lehto, a guy who I’d admired since his F3 days had a decent seat. Benetton starting to mix it with the big two, and new teams and circuits in the series. I couldn’t stand Senna as a driver – an early Schumacher win, followed by hoots of joy that woke my parents up when he was booted off in Aida. Things were off to a thrilling start.

    And then.

    It was one horrific thing after the next that weekend, and for several races after. There was a feeling throughout the rest of the season of not ever being sure if we were out of some very cold, dark woods.

    Keith is right – it changed everything.

  22. I watched that race live on TV here in the US, and I could scarcely believe what I had witnessed. It always brings a tear to my eye when I think about that tragic weekend at Imola, and finding out later that Senna was carrying an Austrian flag with him in his cockpit to display in Ratzenberger’s honor after the race was so heart rendering. Such a sad weekend.

  23. I turned 4 in 1994, and have been a fanatic follower all of my life since young. My first ever watching the race memory is Martin Brundle’s crash in Melbourne 1996. My first genuinely acute memory of following a season is 1997.

    I kind of feel thankful that I have what, to my perspective, is the best experience and perspective of 1994 and the years following. What I mean by that, is that I ultimately didn’t experience it, I didn’t have to go through the trauma myself, for me it’s always been history. But it’s very recent history I don’t feel distant from. I never knew a time where Senna was alive or remember him being killed. But he was always ‘that modern and recently killed great’ as I was raised through my father and uncle on the sport and his legacy. I remember making Dad buy me the special Top 100 Drivers F1 Racing edition in 1997, (which I read so much then and have so treasured ever since that I could list you the 100 off by heart right here :P) and seeing Senna as No.1, and the quote referring to ‘that day at Imola three years ago’ and being taken aback, as someone who at the time considered themselves an established follower of F1 (as much as a 7 year old can be) that it was so recent. I don’t think the maths had quite felt that acute to me.

    As such, my fascination and research since then always centred on 1994, partly also for the crazy controversial season it became and also because I was a Schumacher fan, watching him in 97,98 and 99 knowing he was a previous champion but having not gotten to see it, so researching back to his glory days.

    1994 is definitely the turning point year for all the obvious reasons, but for me its always been more than that, it’s just kind of been the start of modern F1 for me. Obviously that is in large part contributed to by what happened and the changes, and up until 1994 the cars look so unsafe and ‘old and weird’ to me. But as someone who just intimately studies and immerses myself in everything about modern seasons and knows most that there is to know about every season in my generational lifetime, 1994 is the starting point to that. I’ve obviously over the years slowly wound back my study period. But 1992 and 1993 are comparatively ancient to me. They’re like any season back to 1950. I know who won the championship, I can (for most years) name the order of race wins. I know the basic stories. But 1994, 95, 96 etc , in terms of statistical vividness for me, and then obviously every year since 1997 in terms of ‘physical memory’, could just as well be 2013 for all the intimacy I have with them.

    (Actually in hindsight they’ll be far MORE clear years to me than 2013 which like 2011 has already kind of faded a bit. :P)

    But yeah, it’s just a weird thing for me. 1994 for most people is defined almost entirely by tragedy but for me and what I admit is my heartlessly cold statistical brain, 1994 is actually absolute fodder, I kind of remember it fondly purely for its ‘iconicness’ of events. You cannot deny the sheer history attached.

    But my awareness and study of the year is so complete that I of course have a full appreciation for the tragedy of everything.

    So that’s what I mean about my perspective. I really do feel humble and grateful coz in many ways 1994 is responsible for so much that has attached me to F1, like the coming of Schumacher and just the coming of late 90s modern era I loved. It is also the FIA’s work of 1994 and beyond that make me so privileged as to have never experienced death in F1, and until that day in Las Vegas more than two years ago now, to have never witnessed a live death in racing.

    But I get to have all this without having experienced the horror of physically been there, I can’t imagine what it would have been like for everyone.

    Most importantly, all well before the Senna movie but which only reinforced it more, I have a strong appreciation for Senna’s legacy and ultimately hold him with an appropriate reverence. I only regret not having actually got to experience him at the time.

  24. 1994 was the third season I’d ever watched of F1 and it is burned into my memory. It is no understatement to say it changed everything. We lost Aytron and Roland and very nearly lost Rubens and Karl Wendlinger, politics reached new highs, the rumours of teams cheating and the season ending incident between MSC and Damon Hill. It had highs from a sporting side, which for me happened on that dark and rainy day at Suzuka when Hill held of MSC for a tense aggregate win but it will forever be remembered for those we lost and for the political controversies.

  25. 1994 was the season I first remember watching on TV so I’m very much looking forward to this series of articles. First one made for a great read Keith :)

  26. What a terrible season. I was 18 years old, already a huge huge huge fan.

    Even if I was disappointed to see Prost leaving (since I’m french ;-) … and by the way sorry for the mistakes I cou… will make) ), I was so happy to see traction control and other assistances banned. The championship was open, especially after brazilian GP where Schumacher proved he would be a tough rival for Senna.

    Everything was settled for a great championship, and a great race in Imola. Beautiful track, beautiful weather… and in the end a nightmare for everybody. I remembered waking up several times during the night after the race; everytime I had the hope that all of this was not real. “Senna, the great Senna”: I had these words in my head and couldn’t get rid of them.

    There is a before 1994 and an after, as we say in french. F1 is not the same anymore since these terrible days.

  27. I’ve been a regular visitor to this site for some time now, but have only just got around to registering and it was this article that finally made me do so, so thank you to @keithcollantine for starting this series.

    I was 9 in 1994 and it was my second full season of watching Formula One. Despite being young then, I still have very vivid memories of the season, whilst there was great tragedy and in many ways it was a terrible time for Formula 1, when I am asked about “memorable” times or seasons in Formula 1, I find myself uncontrollably coming back to 1994.

    I think that this is because, as previous commenters have said, 1994 was when everything changed and for me, certainly, 1994 was when everything became “real”. The seasons I’d watched prior were (to the young me anyway) about watching “cool” fast cars racing and I still remember being in awe the first time I properly watched a race. Then 1994 came along.

    From the very beginning I became interested in the history of the sport and tried to learn (and in time watch) as much as I could, so I became aware of the tragedy that was prevalent throughout the sport’s history but this was different because I was seeing it unfold in front of me. From Zanardi’s crash at Spa in 1993, to the crashes in testing in Early 1994 (as mentioned in the article), suddenly the sport I had now become fanatical about was showing it’s dangerous side again. This was no more evident than in the first race of the year with the four car crash at the Brazilian GP, which at that point was probably the biggest (multi-car) crash I’d seen.

    By the time Imola came along, I was already feeling differently about F1 and when the report about Roland Ratzenberger came on the evening news (knowing already that Rubens was in hospital), I remember asking my parents about what would happen and whether the race would be cancelled or postponed. Even they said, they weren’t sure what would happen because it had been so long since anything like this had happened at a race weekend.

    As I’m sure any one who watched the race at Imola live on TV that would say, the atmosphere before the race felt strange and different. Obviously, we all know what happened next. In the days following Imola and Ayrton Senna’s death, as I look back on it now, this was when I went from being a big F1 fan to being a true emotional F1 fanatic (which has lasted right through to today) and I clearly remember feeling sad during the Monaco weekend, not least because of Karl Wendlinger’s crash but also because of the gathering of everyone at the front of the grid for the tribute to Ratzenberger & Senna. I remember thinking how sad they all looked and how I felt the same way.

    Then the drivers somehow all managed to get back into their cars and get back to the business of driving. Seeing them do that somehow gave me the strength and passion to keep watching, if they could carry on then so could I. Carry on, but never forget and always respect.

    I suppose in many ways, this is why the rest of 1994 will always stick out to me as well when I’m asked about my most memorable seasons, because going through this is what turned me into the passionate fanatic I am today and that could never have been more raw than in 1994.

    I’ll stop now because I’m sure that this must be one of the longest ever first posts in F1 Fanatic history, but I will eagerly await the rest of the articles in this series. I’m off to comment on other things now, but rest assured they’ll be much shorter!

  28. I feel so damn young compared to all of you. I was born a bit over a year after the accident and started watching F1 in 2002 and since 2003 I’ve been a diehard fan. Despite looking at tons of footage, Senna documentary and the Top Gear segment about him I have never really considered him the best I’d say it would be Fangio or Jim Clark instead.

    1. Senna had A LOT of charisma, and a deep, complex personnality. In 94, since Prost left, he was the only giant on track (remember Schumacher was still very young and considered as a rookie): the whole F1 world was looking at him as the natural leader of the field, sportily of course, but also spiritually.
      Senna’s aura was gigantic: maybe that’s something hard to feel through documentaries/videos when you have not known this era (one of the greatest of F1 history).

  29. Am I the only one here to think that Jordan from 1994 was ABSOLUTELY STUNNING? This is mere perfection in terms of beauty.

    I enjoyed F1 since about 1991/92, but it was Senna’s death that made me watch it diligently. I was 11 back then and still remember the very moment in which I found about the accident as I couldn’t watch the race on that day.
    We went with my parents to my dad’s friend and the 17:00 news on TV was on and their son – who was my age – shouted “Did you hear it already?!? Ayrton Senna died in a crash!!”.

    In the years 1994-1999 I watched F1, IndyCar, MotoGP and BTCC religiously missing only 1 F1 race: Monaco 1995, which I’ve always regreted (I was only able to see the first start with the mass crash).

    That year changed everything. And Mansell’s win at the last race in Adelaide always felt like the last race of the real F1.

    1. @damon The 1994 Jordan was a great looking car and most importantly went really well too… If memory serves, Rubens was 2nd in the championship after the first two races. They were also one of the first teams (if not the very first) to demonstrate refueling… I remember the images of one very large guy hauling the refueling equipment into the side of a Jordan at a very cold looking Silverstone!

      I know what you mean about Adelaide too, in many ways that was what brought a whole era to a close. Especially given how different many of the cars were for 1995/6.

      I remember Mansell, Berger & Brundle celebrating in parc ferme, I doubt they expected they’d be sharing the podium that day and they all looked like they’d had a very enjoyable race. One F1 magazine I read at the time jokingly called it the “Pensioners Podium” as it was the 10th Australian GP and they were 3 of the only 4 drivers that had competed in the first one (the other being Michele Alboreto, for whom it was his last GP). loved Murray’s enthusiasm as Mansell crossed the line too!

  30. Hope Keith posts the Dale Earnhardt condolences video after Senna’s death. I never knew about that until recently and I’m american…

  31. Great article, you just jogged some memories.
    I was 20, and I never felt so much sadness for a hero like for Senna’s death.
    Those were unique times, and I’m happy to remember the racer and the idol most of us lost that day.

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