Schumacher wins again as traction control row brews

1994 Pacific Grand Prix flashback

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The Tanaka International Circuit Aida, located in a remote patch of Japanese countryside north-east of Okayama, had not held many major motor racing events prior to 1994.

Even the country’s thriving domestic Formula 3000 championship had not appeared at the short, tight and narrow circuit which opened in 1990. So it was to the surprise of some that it appeared on the F1 calendar for 1994, assuming the title of Pacific Grand Prix as Japan hosted two rounds of the world championship for the first time.

Unsurprisingly the motivating factor was the money Hajime Tanaka put up to host a race at his eponymous circuit. Before the race he and Bernie Ecclestone smiled and embraced for the cameras, and talked about the three-year deal with an option for two further races.

The logistics of getting to the circuit proved daunting for teams, media and fans alike. A fleet of buses was laid on to bring spectators to the remote track.

But there was an added incentive for the locals to show up. Eddie Irvine’s one-race ban for causing a collision in Brazil had been sensationally increased to three events, and Aguri Suzuki showed up at Jordan with a reported quarter of a million dollars in backing to take his seat for this race.

As this was F1’s first race at TI Aida, an extra day of practice was arranged for the drivers to acclimatise to the 3.7km (2.3-mile) track. During the build-up to the race, the FIA’s Charlie Whiting took time to listen to the noises made by the cars as they pulled out of the endless slow corners and hairpins which comprised grand prix racing’s newest track.

Whiting’s ear was tuned to the distinctive popping sound of engine cylinders being cut, which might indicate the presence of the recently-banned traction control. And one car in particular captured his attention as he looked and listened.

Suzuki wasn’t the only substitute driver who had been pressed into action as early as round two. Ferrari’s Jean Alesi had injured his neck in a testing crash at Mugello and Nicola Larini performed his role as stand-in once more, returning to the fray for Ferrari for the first time in two years.

But Larini did not endear himself to his team when, speaking to Italian media ahead of the race, he spectacularly spilled the beans on the very technical trickery Whiting was looking out for. After Larini let it slip Ferrari were running a form of the banned traction control his team quickly issued a denial.

After the ban on driver aids had been announced at the end of 1993 several team bosses had claimed the FIA was incapable of policing it, and here was proof of their claims. Ferrari team principal Jean Todt insisted they had obtained permission from Whiting to run a ‘variable rev limiter’, but once the FIA interjected Ferrari were required to remove the device.

“It came to the notice of the FIA technical delegate that during the free practice sessions on Saturday car numbers 27 and 28 were fitted with a device which in certain circumstances limited the power of the engine,” said the FIA in a statement ahead of the race.

“As the FIA technical delegate was not satisfied that the decide complied in all respects with the regulations, Ferrari were advised not to use it. This advice was complied with.” But Mosley’s pre-season promise of “Draconian penalties” for anyone caught breaking the driver aids ban now rang hollow.

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1994 Pacific Grand Prix qualifying

Michael Schumacher, Benetton, TI AIda, 1994Brazil had left Williams in no doubt they had work to do with their FW16. The car was clearly quick, but with a sweet spot so razor-thin it was almost non-existent. Ayrton Senna had put the car on pole position but couldn’t live with its wayward handling during the race and spun off while chasing Michael Schumacher.

The team tested at Jerez ahead of the Pacific race but once in Japan the drivers found the car had improved little. Both Senna and Damon Hill spun during qualifying, but Senna was able to conjure up a quick lap once again to claim his 64th pole position.

Hill, who had recovered from his Brazilian Grand Prix illness, was pleased to trim the gap to Senna to half a second, the pair separated by Schumacher on the grid. However Hill was concerned about the lack of run-off in places around the track, especially turn two.

It wasn’t the only cause for concern from a safety point of view. A tight chicane was installed at the pit lane entrance to slow the cars as they arrived for their still-novel refuelling stops. Schumacher had made the case for imposing a speed limit in the pits on safety grounds but other drivers had disagreed.

The Williams drivers weren’t the only ones to be caught out by the low-grip surface of the TI Aida track. Olivier Beretta spun his Larrousse during qualifying – their cars now painted in the red-and-white colours of Kronenbourg instead of the green they appeared in at round one.

If Larini thought his troubles were over when he accelerated out of the pits and left the media men behind, he was mistaken. Ukyo Katayama’s Tyrrell spun into him on a fast lap, damaging the rear of his Ferrari. But he qualified within sight of team mate Gerhard Berger.

The only driver on the grid with prior experience of the obscure circuit was another Austrian, Roland Ratzenberger, who had competed in a Japanese Touring Car Championship race there two years previously.

The Simtek driver had failed to qualify in Brazil but took on testing duties for the team at Silverstone while David Brabham recovered from a virus. This time both drivers made it onto the grid, despite Brabham spinning at the last corner. As he got up to speed part of front wing separated from the Simtek, but he returned to the pits without incident.

With both of Nick Wirth’s cars on the grid, that meant the Pacific Grand Prix grid did not feature either of the cars from the Pacific Grand Prix team.

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1994 Pacific Grand Prix grid

1. Ayrton Senna 1’10.218
2. Michael Schumacher 1’10.440
3. Damon Hill 1’10.771
4. Mika Hakkinen 1’11.683
5. Gerhard Berger 1’11.744
6. Martin Brundle 1’12.351
7. Nicola Larini 1’12.372
8. Rubens Barrichello 1’12.409
9. Christian Fittipaldi 1’12.444
10. Jos Verstappen 1’12.554
11. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’12.686
12. Mark Blundell 1’12.751
13. Gianni Morbidelli 1’12.866
14. Ukyo Katayama 1’13.013
15. Michele Alboreto 1’13.016
16. Erik Comas 1’13.111
17. Pierluigi Martini 1’13.529
18. Eric Bernard 1’13.613
19. Karl Wendlinger 1’13.855
20. Aguri Suzuki 1’13.932
21. Olivier Beretta 1’14.101
22. Olivier Panis 1’14.106
23. Johnny Herbert 1’14.424
24. Pedro Lamy 1’14.657
25. David Brabham 1’14.748
26. Roland Ratzenberger 1’16.536

Did not qualify:

Bertrand Gachot, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’16.927
Paul Belmondo, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’17.450

1994 Pacific Grand Prix

Ayrton Senna, Nicola Larini, TI Aida, 1994In an innovation, the formation lap took place behind the Safety Car, a Porsche 911 with lurid F1 branding. Once it peeled off into the pits Senna gunned his engine, trying to inject some extra heat into his tyres after a slower than usual tour of the circuit.

Four years earlier Senna had been on pole position for a race in Japan and tried to get his starting position moved onto the racing line, which he expected to be favourable. He wasn’t successful, and the eventual first-corner collision with Alain Prost at Suzuka was one of the most notorious episodes in his career.

Now Senna was on pole again and was due to start on the racing line – but this time he wanted pole to be moved to the opposite side. A dragster had had been in action on that side of the grid ahead of the start of the race and Senna believed the rubber it had left behind would improve traction.

It seemed he was right. When the green light came on Schmacher got alongside him from second place and beat him to turn one. Senna tucked in behind him – and in an instant his race was over.

Mika Hakkinen, who had made a similarly good start from fourth on the grid, tapped the back of his car as they reached the first corner. The Williams went off backwards into a gravel trap and was hit by Larini, who had run wide in the first turn. Mark Blundell’s Tyrrell was also eliminated in the melee.

An angry Senna laid the blame at Hakkinen’s feet. Meanwhile the McLaren driver was making trouble for the other Williams of Hill, who was trying to make up ground after getting too much wheelspin at the start.

On lap four Hill tried to go around the outside of the McLaren at the likeliest overtaking spot on the track, but was forced onto the kerbs and spun. That left him down in eighth.

Hill made his way forward again, passing Jos Verstappen, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Christian Fittipaldi, Martin Brundle and Rubens Barrichello. He pitted on lap 18, intending to make his first of three stops, and that helped him jump Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari to briefly hold second.

Another second place was starting to look like a reasonable result from a frustrating day. But on the 50th lap the Williams lost all drive and Hill coasted to a stop.

Up front Schumacher had little to do besides pick off the backmarkers at his leisure and take care of his two refuelling stops. Berger took second place back and Barrichello went one better than Brazil by claiming the first podium finish for himself and Jordan in their 50th grand prix.

Team mate Suzuki’s return lasted until just after half distance when he skidded into a barrier while struggling with his steering. Moments earlier Ukyo Katayama’s Tyrrell came to a stop, his Yamaha engine having failed as it also had during the warm-up.

Hydraulic failure ended Hakkinen’s race after 19 laps. His car’s nose still bore a black mark from the first-lap contact with Senna. Brundle in the other McLaren was running in a podium position when he suffered an increasingly familiar Peugeot engine failure 15 laps from home.

That promoted from Christian Fittipaldi, who also benefitted from Verstappen spinning off at the first corner immediately after leaving the pits following his second pit stop on lap 54. Heinz-Harald Frenzten took fifth for Sauber and was fortunate to avoid a sanction from the stewards after accidentally completing another lap during the warm up.

The final point went to Erik Comas, whose Larrousse was lapped three times. The two Lotuses and Ligiers also made it to the flag, and Ratzenberger achieved his first finish, albeit five laps down.

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1994 Pacific Grand Prix result

15Michael SchumacherBenetton-Ford831hr 46’01.693
228Gerhard BergerFerrari831’15.300
314Rubens BarrichelloJordan-Hart821 Lap
49Christian FittipaldiFootwork-Ford821 Lap
530Heinz-Harald FrentzenSauber-Mercedes821 Lap
620Erik ComasLarrousse-Ford803 Laps
712Johnny HerbertLotus-Mugen-Honda803 Laps
811Pedro LamyLotus-Mugen-Honda794 Laps
926Olivier PanisLigier-Renault785 Laps
1025Eric BernardLigier-Renault785 Laps
1132Roland RatzenbergerSimtek-Ford785 Laps
10Gianni MorbidelliFootwork-Ford69Engine
29Karl WendlingerSauber-Mercedes69Accident
24Michele AlboretoMinardi-Ford69Accident
8Martin BrundleMcLaren-Peugeot67Cooling
23Pierluigi MartiniMinardi-Ford63Accident
6Jos VerstappenBenetton-Ford54Accident
0Damon HillWilliams-Renault49Gearbox
15Aguri SuzukiJordan-Hart44Steering
3Ukyo KatayamaTyrrell-Yamaha42Engine
7Mika HakkinenMcLaren-Peugeot19Gearbox
19Olivier BerettaLarrousse-Ford14Electrical
31David BrabhamSimtek-Ford2Electrical
2Ayrton SennaWilliams-Renault0Accident
27Nicola LariniFerrari0Accident
4Mark BlundellTyrrell-Yamaha0Accident

1994 F1 seasonSenna, the pre-season title favourite, was now 20 points behind Schumacher after two races. Benetton were making hay while Williams struggled, and a fascinating championship battle promised to develop once Williams got their car sorted.

But while the furore over Ferrari’s traction control raged on, they were not the only team to come under suspicion of breaking the rules.

After his enforced early retirement Senna had spent some time watching the race and like Whiting believed he spotted someone running traction control. But he had a different suspect in mind: Michael Schumacher’s Benetton.

1994 F1 season

Browse all 1994 F1 season articles

Images © Ford, Williams/LAT

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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54 comments on “Schumacher wins again as traction control row brews”

  1. That’s a great review. I forgot about Larini’s admission that Ferrari were running a form of traction control as all the fingers started to point at Benetton post Aida. So, I guess all we have to now is wait for the article about San Marino. :(

    1. I do remember a bit of this race, but I strongly suspect that I had almost 0 access to anything not on the main (Eurosport at the time, I think) coverage @geemac

  2. I feel very nostalgic looking through that grid of familiar old names! Hakkinen and Brundle in the McLaren was my favourite combination in 1994 – I was very young and only really understood that season a few years later.

    It’s astonishing quite how many technical failures occurred that year. Only two cars finishing on the lead lap here as well… and yet we have people saying they’re bored by current F1!?

    1. Yeah I agree with you mate. I’ve been watching F1 from early 90’ties and have no problem with todays racing as I remember having “difficulties” following F1 races from the period of 2000-2004 :)

    2. That’s nostalgia for you. People watch clips like the final laps of Dijon ’79 or the first lap of Donington ’93 and claim that racing (or actually everything) was better back then, while most of the races were rather processional.

      1. Have to agree, sadly. I grew up watching F1 from 1985 (when the championship came to Adelaide, my home town) and frankly a lot of the races in the 80’s and 90’s were processional. It was actually worse in the turbo era with FISA imposing lower and lower fuel limits so that the races were more economy runs than anything and half the time the only passing that happened was because one engine (usually TAG or Honda) had better fuel economy than the others. Things started to get a bit better when naturally aspirated engines were back in vogue from 1989, but in a lot of cases it was still processional racing. Yes there were some exciting races over the period, but in all honesty a lot of the races were on the boring side. Unfortunately people look back at the past with rose coloured glasses.

  3. Thanks a lot – very nostalgic indeed.

    Senna specifically picked out a good spot where the traction would engage and when asked if he believed Schumacher’s car had TC, said he had no doubt about it. It was very obvious to him from the sound.

    As I remember, the traction software was even found on the car, but Benetton got away with claiming that it wasn’t “active”.

    1. Yup, they used the classic excuse of “well it is there, but that doesn’t mean we have actually used it”.

    2. Which is part of the reason why I (and I’m sure many others) think so highly of Senna; taking such an unstable platform and still keeping up with TC cars, and at times beating them (i.e. Imola pole position), is astonishing.

      1. @steevkay So would Vettel would earn your respect if he accused Mercedes of running illegal cars this year? Fortunately the FIA don’t have a policy of using rival teams and drivers to decide who is breaking the rules.

        1. If there was strong evidence of illegal cars and he was keeping up, sure, why not. Neither seems to be happening, though.

          Besides, the guy has 4 WDCs and kept it together even when it seemed the whole world was against him, so he’s got my respect regardless.

          Not sure what you’re trying to get at, but it was a simple statement of one car has traction control, the other doesn’t and it’s still keeping up.

      2. But this is also a tragic. Senna was struggling with TC cars so he pushed hard and harder (his lap in Imola race was 3rd fastest in the race if I remember well) so maybe he pushed to hard whatever the reason of Imola Crash was.
        I just can’t stop thinking if someone didn’t cheat someone would live. But this is very controversial way of thinking, I know that.

    3. As I remember, the traction software was even found on the car, but Benetton got away with claiming that it wasn’t “active”.

      Who was in charge ?? Falvio & Ross

    4. I am sorry, but you remember wrong. The famous Option 13 that was found in Benetton software activated ‘launch control’ rather than traction control. There is a lengthy report by FIA and Charlie detailing his findings available online. There was a meeting set up by the FIA where Benetton were called for explanations, and after some elaborations FIA chose not to prosecute. Press release explaining the reasoning behing FIA’s decision is also available. In a nutshell, Ross has demonstrated that the car didn’t have any sensors installed that were necessary for launch control to work.

      So, there was nothing solid on Benetton’s traction control, and the whole thing was based on Senna’s repeated accusations. Considering Senna didn’t hear Ferrari’s traction control that was actually used unlike Benetton’s alleged one, this tells more about Senna’s sportsmanship than about Benetton’s cheating.

      1. In a season that saw Benetton caught doing many things illegal I would not be so ready to blame anything they did or didn’t do on Senna’s sportsmanship. If he thought or suspected someone doing something illegal, it is sporting to try to get everyone on a fair and level playing field, and Benetton were far from that on several fronts throughout 94.

        1. Benetton tampered with the fuel flow meter aswell which almost burnt Verstappen to death during a Hockenheim pitstop (check youtube.)

          Benetton were cheaters in 1994, if Senna said he heard traction control I believe it.

          1. Given that fuel flow meters were only introduced in F1 this year, accusing Benetton of breaking the rules by tampering with theirs 20 years ago is one of the most unlikely accusations I’ve come across.

          2. That is true, the fuel system used a filter which slowed it down to 12L per second. In 94 Benetton removed it hoping to win time. Thats what caused the fire.

  4. I used to watch Jackie Stewart in F1; But I remember 1994 very well. We all thought that it would be Senna’s year after Mansell 92, Prost 93 all driving the Williams. Next up was the San Marino GP, horror of horror’s on live TV!!

  5. I’m starting to think you could write a book by putting together all the articles. Great stuff Keith, top as always.

    1. @carlitox Thanks very much! I would love to write a book on F1 and I’ll definitely consider it if I think I can make it work from a financial point of view.

      1. I’d buy it Keith! Is that enough to start one?

      2. @keithcollantine You could consider crowdfunding. So far, the articles teach me a fair bit and 1994 is one of the seasons I researched most.

      3. Make that two :-)

        1. and 3 for the book

  6. Great review, what an odd circuit. I am perplexed by the 93 Donnington Senna fantastics. Didn’t the McLaren at that time have traction control and abs while most of the field did not? I have heard this and am trying to confirm it. If so, doesn’t that a bit explain that first lap??

    1. @ibrahim Thanks!

      Didn’t the McLaren at that time have traction control and abs while most of the field did not?

      They did and some other cars did too, notably the Williams. There’s a piece on it here:

      1993 European Grand Prix flashback: Senna’s last great race at Donington

      1. Mr win or lose
        15th April 2014, 22:14

        So if I understand this correctly, Schumacher didn’t have traction control when it was allowed, but he did have it when it was banned. That’s strange.

        1. Lots of teams weren’t running the full gamut of legal driver aids early in 1993. I can’t remember exactly when Benetton added traction control to their but I remember it being not long after Donington.

          1. IIRC, Riccaro Patrese described the Benetton B193 as a step down in class from the Williams cars he had been used to. From memory they did use traction control in 1993, but Patrese did say that it didn’t have active suspension or a number of other electronic aids that their main rivals (Williams and McLaren) had.

    2. People also devalue Senna’s first race in Monaco, in the clunky toleman. They say he had ‘special’ wet weather set-up or because the toleman was so bad/slow in the dry, it somehow helped Senna smoke the field etc etc. The truth is, with or without traction control, Senna dismantled the field at donington(which included 2 state of the art williams cars with traction control and the future of Formula 1, the ‘rain-master’ himself: Michael Schumacher). Senna was special – In fact, he doesn’t need anybody to argue his case. People should just watch & enjoy his racing skills.

      1. Agree. Senna was special. But he doesn’t need anyone to defend him as well.

      2. I do not mean to try to de value his Donnington performance, but IF, he had traction control, and ABS, and the MAJORITY of the field did not, well, if that devalues his performance than so be it. Senna was gifted beyond what any of us can even comprehend, but I don’t buy into his floating above the rest of the field all the time everywhere. He had off days, and he also had times when his car was waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy beyond anyone else.

        1. That is wrong. The FW15C was lightyears ahead of the entire field and had all the gizmo’s (Active Ride, TC, ABS, etc). The Benetton Ford Zetec was the series 8 which had more horsepower than Senna MP4/8 no TC but had ABS aswell I believe.

  7. It’s amazing what Senna could do, he could influence everyone around him, incredible. I wasn’t aware that he was lobbying Whiting about the Benetton.

    1. It was incredible but you have to consider his intense, almost burning personality. A lot of his skill came from hard work but he also had this almost autistic skill of being able to “record” almost everything he saw and sensed. My point is that he didn’t just influence people by means of his personality and passionate speeches but also because he was usually right.

      1. Very good point. For me Senna is so endlessly fascinating because he’s truly unknowable; we will never understand the depths of him because he was so different to everyone else.

    2. He tried to get Williams to protest the Benetton, but Frank Williams refused.

  8. It’s interesting that they decided to have an extra day of practice on Thursday. Was there any particular reason for this other than the track being new? Seems strange to me because I hadn’t heard this happening at any other race track.

    1. It was probably a promotional thing between Tanaka and Bernie. More people at the circuit, more air time, more attention on the egos.

      1. No, it wasn’t a promotional thing. It used to be the standard. An extra day of practice on Thursday was known as a “Familiarisation Day” and used to be held when the circus raced at a track for the first time.

        I remember Argentina 1995 and Melbourne 1996 also had an extra day of Practice.

        This was in the day before complex 3D maps could be made of the new circuit from GPS data and simulators run to find the ideal car set up before the trucks even arrived at the circuit.

        1. Very interesting! Thanks for your response @kazinho

          1. Tanaka had a few year old F1 cars.

            I remember he was amazed that Senna immediately set a laptime that was 10s faster than he had ever done in his (not too old) F1 cars.

    2. They actually had an extra day (Thursday) of practice for the first Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide in 1985.

  9. At the time if the track was a new track they would have an extra day to get used to it. I had forgot they had dropped it.
    I remember the qualifying for this race and have it somewhere in tape. Senna was a fair bit slower and banzai’d the last lap he had. – a real, proper qualifying lap. It was amazing at the time. You just knew the Williams was on a knife edge the whole time.
    If anyone plays iracing they will know that track . It is a pretty good track for a star Mazda car, F3 speed, but too small for F1

  10. I remember a documentary showed Senna after his accident hanging around the first corner with Nicola Larini and listening to the Bennetton coming out of the corner and claiming that it ‘ was making strange noises’ on the exit….strange noises=traction control=bennetton cheats

  11. Wait, there was no pit-lane speed limit in 1994? So cars could go down the pits at 300 km/hr?

    1. Until Imola, yes. More on that to follow, of course…

    2. It wasn’t uncommon in the mid-80’s for cars to come into and exit the pits at speed with the pits packed full of people. Other than the pit crews (remember back then there were 26 cars per race), there were officials, media, photographers and just about every hanger on you could think of including a number of high profile celebrities (often rock legends or some model there because it was the place to be seen). Some of the vision I’ve seen of drivers completing a pit stop then gunning it out of the pit box and racing down pit lane with a wall of people either side parting like the Red Sea….its a wonder more people weren’t seriously hurt or even killed in the pits. And there were some injuries such as broken legs…..

  12. Strange to look back at 94′ first two races… In some ways, they seem pointless, because of what was about to follow. But they also are the last 2 races of F1 insouciance, before being plunged into Imola’s nightmare.
    It’s also a cruel twist of fate that Senna failed to score in these 2 occasions.

    What a strange and terrible spring… 20 years later, it stills haunt me.

  13. I don’t have anything substantial to add, I just really like this series and look forward to future installments. Nice one, Keith (@keithcollantine).

  14. Great article, Keith. I’m actually very curious about the article after the next, since that’s when I had stopped following F1 for a while. I feel like there’s a gap in my knowledge for 1994’s full season.

  15. I wish this circuit could return. It looks like a great location with a fun layout. With some better infrastructure the logistics would be less of a problem. Does anybody know how close the nearest big town or city was?

Comments are closed.