Damon Hill, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 1994

Hill wins, Schumacher stars on acrimonious weekend

1994 Spanish Grand Prix flashback

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The tragedies of Imola and the traumas of the weeks that followed pushed Formula One to breaking point as the fifth round of the championship in Spain drew near.

The weekend began with the threat of a drivers’ strike, which was followed by the mass withdrawal of the majority of teams from the first practice session. And when the cars finally took to the track, another serious crash further heightened fears over safety.

But the race eventually went ahead and, for the first time that year, Michael Schumacher failed to win it. But by bringing his ar home second despite spending two-thirds of the race stuck in fifth gear, it was arguably his finest performance of the season.

Crisis meeting over safety

The Circuit de Catalunya held its fourth Spanish Grand Prix in 1994, and 27 cars were entered for the race. The only single-car entry belonged to Sauber, as Karl Wendlinger remained in a coma following his crash in Monaco.

The day after Wendlinger’s crash, FIA president Max Mosley had announced sweeping changes to the cars to reduce downforce and cornering speeds in the name of safety. But many teams expressed concern over the cost, haste and likely impact of the changes.

The alterations to the rear of the cars was a major area of dispute. New restrictions on the size of diffusers imposed by the FIA had led to some components cracking when teams ran the new versions in testing. An attempt to address a safety matter had caused an entirely new safety problem.

Williams and Ligier were among the teams to discover cracks on their cars during tests. And on the Wednesday before the race, Lotus suffered the most serious failure. Pedro Lamy’s rear wing failed at speed while testing at Silverstone. Lamy was incredibly fortunate to survive – albeit with broken legs – after his car struck a barrier, flew into the air, cleared the debris fence and landed in a tunnel near a spectator stand.

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The following day Benetton team principal Flavio Briatore sent a public letter to Mosley voicing the teams’ concerns. “It is our opinion that the opinion of yourself and your advisors to judge technical and safety issues in Formula One must be questioned,” he stated.

The teams who could afford to brought parts meeting both the new FIA specifications and their previous designs to Barcelona. When the first practice session began on Friday only Ferrari, Sauber, Tyrrell, Minardi and Larrousse took part.

The remainder met with Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone and spelled out their grievances over the car changes. They obtained some concessions on Mosley’s plans for future alterations but agreed to keep their cars in the new specification, partly because several had not brought parts with which they could satisfy the old rules.

Drivers demand chicane

David Coulthard, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 1994
A chicane was installed before the Nissan S-bend
Meanwhile the drivers were demanding changes of their own. Following a four-hour meeting of the newly-formed Grand Prix Drivers Association on Thursday they demanded the installation of a chicane at the high-speed Nissan corner where run-off was minimal.

The circuit had only opened three years earlier and had been built to fulfil the safety standards of the time. But the events of May 1994 had forced a rethink on how much run-off was acceptable.

Schumacher explained their position: “We have just two solution: Either we are going to use this chicane – if somebody has a better solution, OK, we always like to listen – but without this chicane we are not going to race.”

The race organisers and the FIA conceded and allowed the chicane to be built. Unfortunately, 11 years later, a similar solution was not found at Indianapolis.

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Coulthard makes debut

The disruption to practice was particularly bad news for some drivers. Williams and Simtek had appointed their replacements for Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger and they needed all the track time available to get up to speed.

Formula 3000 driver David Coulthard had impressed Williams when testing for them in 1993, and was hired to continue in that role during 1994. He now found himself making his grand prix debut in the place once occupied by the world’s most famous racing driver – a daunting challenge.

Frank Williams, David Coulthard, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 1994
Coulthard took Senna’s sadly empty seat
His former F3000 rival Andrea Montermini had joined Simtek. But, like, Coulthard he was not expected to remain in the seat. Jean-Marc Gounon was due to replace Montermini at the French Grand Prix. And at Williams Nigel Mansell was set to return from IndyCar for non-clashing races during the season, beginning with Magny-Cours.

That proved academic for Montermini as he never made it to the race. During the Saturday morning practice session, still suffering the effects of a virus, he ran wide at the final corner and hit a barrier head-on at 140mph. Despite the sickening impact, which left the driver’s legs visible through the front of the car, his injuries were limited to a cracked heel, a broken toe and a facial wound.

Another new face in the 1994 field was Alessandro Zanardi. He had last driven for Lotus in Spa the previous year, where he had suffered a fearful high-speed crash at Eau Rouge. Now he stood in for Lamy, having been fortunate to avoid having his team mate’s accident at Silverstone. Zanardi had driven the 107C for two-and-a-half days of testing before handing it over to Lamy – who then crashed on his first lap out of the pits.

For the first time since Brazil the Jordan team was back to its original line-up, Eddie Irvine having returned from his three-race suspension to partner Rubens Barrichello.

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1994 Spanish Grand Prix grid

Schumacher claimed his second career pole position with ease, while it took a late effort from Damon Hill to claim the second front row spot alongside the Benetton.

JJ Lehto took his best grid position of the year (and, it would turn out, of his career), following a disappointing weekend at Monaco where he had clearly been suffering the after-effects of San Marino.

Coulthard took ninth on the grid for his first F1 race, with the sole Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frenzten 12th. His C13 featured enlarged cockpit surrounds intended to provide extra protection for the driver. These were due to be made mandatory for the following race in Canada but following Wendlinger’s crash, Sauber decided to introduce them early.

Having lined up sixth and seventh in Monaco, the two Footworks suffered their worst qualifying performance of the year so far. It was the beginning of a poor spell for the team which were hit particularly hard by the aerodynamic changes.

Larrousse had reverted to their previous green livery but the cars remained firmly towards the rear of the field. Olivier Beretta qualified 17th but failed to start after his engine failed on the formation lap.

Johnny Herbert put the new Lotus 109 in 22nd, one place but well over a second faster than Zanardi, who was still in the 107C. The team understandably kept a close eye on their rear wing mountings throughout practice.

Bertrand Gachot headed the last row for Pacific, after earning the distinction of being the first driver to crash into the tyre chicane, with team mate Paul Belmondo almost two seconds off his pace.

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Row 1 1. Michael Schumacher 1’21.908
2. Damon Hill 1’22.559
Row 2 3. Mika Hakkinen 1’22.660
4. JJ Lehto 1’22.983
Row 3 5. Rubens Barrichello 1’23.594
6. Jean Alesi 1’23.700
Row 4 7. Gerhard Berger 1’23.715
8. Martin Brundle 1’23.763
Row 5 9. David Coulthard 1’23.782
10. Ukyo Katayama 1’23.969
Row 6 11. Mark Blundell 1’23.981
12. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’24.254
Row 7 13. Eddie Irvine 1’24.930
14. Michele Alboreto 1’24.996
Row 8 15. Gianni Morbidelli 1’25.018
16. Erik Comas 1’25.050
Row 9 17. Olivier Beretta 1’25.161
18. Pierluigi Martini 1’25.247
Row 10 19. Olivier Panis 1’25.577
20. Eric Bernard 1’25.766
Row 11 21. Christian Fittipaldi 1’26.084
22. Johnny Herbert 1’26.397
Row 12 23. Alessandro Zanardi 1’27.685
24. David Brabham 1’28.151
Row 13 25. Bertrand Gachot 1’28.873
26. Paul Belmondo 1’30.657

Did not qualify: Andrea Montermini, Simtek-Ford – 1’31.111

1994 Spanish Grand Prix

Schumacher got away well at the start, leaving Hill to defend his second place from Hakkinen and Jean Alesi. The fast-starting Ferrari jumped from sixth to fourth and spent the opening laps with Lehto and Coulthard breathing down his neck.

While Schumacher made his escape – he was 6.5 seconds ahead of Hill by lap four – Hakkinen’s McLaren kept up with the Williams in the early stages. It was the two French engine manufacturers against each other in the opening laps, until an early pit stop for Hakkinen on lap 16 revealed he was intended to refuel three times.

Coulthard appeared in the pits moments later – an early stop potentially giving him the chance to clear Alesi and Lehto. Unfortunately an electrical problem delayed his return to the track, but he was doomed to retire with gearbox trouble later anyway.

There were no such problems for Hill when he made his first pit stop on lap 20. This dropped him behind the lightly-fuelled Hakkinen and temporarily promoted Barrichello’s Jordan to second place before he too made his pit stop.

Gearbox glitch slows Schumacher

Meanwhile Schumacher’s seemingly serene run to another victory had hit trouble. An onboard camera equipped with live telemetry from his Ford-Cosworth Zetec-R engine captured the moment has car became stuck in fifth gear. Schumacher radioed his team but was informed a hydraulic failure had jammed the car in gear and there was nothing to be done except try to finish the race.

Their first worry was whether he would be able to pull away from the pits when he made his fuel stops. The team had an engine starter on standby but Schumacher got away cleanly – albeit slowly enough that Herbert’s Lotus drew up close behind him as they rejoined the track.

While Schumacher struggled with his car first Herbert, then Eric Bernard’s Ligier and the delayed Coulthard, un-lapped themselves. Now second-placed Mika Hakkinen appeared on his tail and was soon by into the lead on the beginning of lap 23. Two laps later Hill claimed second.

Having had the bad luck to get stuck in gear in the first place, Schumacher was at least fortunate enough to be stuck in a high enough gear to be able to lap the circuit at a reasonable pace. Using his sports car-honed experience of having to adjust his driving style to save fuel, he set about the task of finding the quickest way around the Circuit de Catalunya in fifth gear.

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The telemetry overlay provided a fascinating insight into how well he was coping with the challenge – not to mention the impressive drive-ability of his Zetec-R – before a Cosworth engineer pulled the plug on the readout to stop their rivals from learning too much.

Schumacher even briefly returned to the lead on lap 41, before his final pit stop. He rejoined the track in second ahead of Hakkinen, but the question of whether the McLaren driver’s three-stop strategy would have paid off remained unknown: a damaged radiator led to a Peugeot engine failure on lap 49 as he closed on the Benetton.

He was the first of three drivers to drop out of third place, helping Schumacher keep his hold on second. Lehto in the other Benetton held the position for just four laps until his engine failed. Next up was the second McLaren of Martin Brundle, whose clutch failed in a shower of sparks and flames six laps from home, and was classified 11th.

This string of retirements elevated Mark Blundell and his Tyrrell into a podium position. This was Blundell’s third and would be his last. It was also the 77th and final podium appearance for Tyrrell, who quickly declined and disappeared from F1 over the next four years.

Jean Alesi came in fourth, the Ferrari driver having slipped backwards during the pit stops. Team mate Gerhard Berger had tangled with Barrichello on the first lap, gone off at turn one later in the race, then retired with a broken gearbox before half-distance.

Pierluigi Martini and Eddie Irvine completed the points finishers – the latter despite having to pit to replace his front wing following an excursion at the temporary chicane. The other classified finishers included the two Ligiers and Zanardi’s old Lotus – Herbert had spun the new car into a gravel trap at turn ten.

The sole remaining Simtek of David Brabham also took the chequered flag four laps down. This was some consolation for the team who, like Williams, had endured a tragic month. But having had two of their chassis destroyed, Brabham would be their only entry for the next race as well.

There was no repeat of the wing failures seen in testing during the race, with one exception: Pacific retired Gachot’s car just before half-distance after a problem with his rear wing, which he suspected he damaged on a kerb. Team mate Belmondo spun out on his third lap.

1994 Spanish Grand Prix result

Pos. # Driver Car Laps Time / gap / reason
1 0 Damon Hill Williams-Renault 65 1hr 36’14.374
2 5 Michael Schumacher Benetton-Ford 65 24.166
3 4 Mark Blundell Tyrrell-Yamaha 65 1’26.969
4 27 Jean Alesi Ferrari 64 1 lap
5 23 Pierluigi Martini Minardi-Ford 64 1 lap
6 15 Eddie Irvine Jordan-Hart 64 1 lap
7 26 Olivier Panis Ligier-Renault 63 2 laps
8 25 Eric Bernard Ligier-Renault 62 3 laps
9 11 Alessandro Zanardi Lotus-Mugen-Honda 62 3 laps
10 31 David Brabham Simtek-Ford 61 4 laps
11 8 Martin Brundle McLaren-Peugeot 59 Transmission
6 JJ Lehto Benetton-Ford 53 Engine
7 Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Peugeot 48 Engine
12 Johnny Herbert Lotus-Mugen-Honda 41 Accident
14 Rubens Barrichello Jordan-Hart 39 Accident
9 Christian Fittipaldi Footwork-Ford 35 Engine
2 David Coulthard Williams-Renault 32 Electrical
34 Bertrand Gachot Pacific-Ilmor 32 Broken wing
28 Gerhard Berger Ferrari 27 Gearbox
10 Gianni Morbidelli Footwork-Ford 24 Fuel system
30 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber-Mercedes 21 Gearbox
20 Erik Comas Larrousse-Ford 19 Radiator
3 Ukyo Katayama Tyrrell-Yamaha 16 Engine
24 Michele Alboreto Minardi-Ford 4 Engine
33 Paul Belmondo Pacific-Ilmor 2 Accident
19 Olivier Beretta Larrousse-Ford 0 Engine

Williams’s vital win

1994 F1 seasonThere may have been an element of luck about Hill’s win, but it was a badly-needed result for him and the Williams team. It also served to alleviate some of the pressure on Hill, who had been thrust into the role of lead driver following Senna’s death.

“This victory must go to everyone at Williams, who’ve been through terrible times,” he said afterwards, “and also to all the fans of Ayrton Senna who I met in Brazil who said to me that they would be very pleased to see the Williams team do well.”

But Hill had barely made a scratch on Schumacher’s lead in the championship. The Benetton driver remained 29 points clear having taken 46 of the available 50.

And it remained to be seen whether anything less than a serious technical problem could stop Schumacher from winning. His lap time on the 18th tour, before his gearbox problem struck, was the fastest of the race by seven-tenths of a second.

A version of this article previously appeared in 2007.

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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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23 comments on “Hill wins, Schumacher stars on acrimonious weekend”

  1. I didn’t realise just quite how horrific the 1994 season was. Did anything go right?

    1. BJ (@beejis60)
      29th May 2014, 15:25

      Once I reached the part about Andrea Montermini, I wondered this same thing…

    2. Mr win or lose
      30th May 2014, 0:02

      But why was 1994 such a horrible season? Active suspension had become a big risk factor in 1993 and the rule changes were supposed to make the sport safer, but for some reason 1994 was a sequence of horrifying crashes.

      1. I think it was precisely because they suddenly had a sweeping ban of all the electronic aids. It was a season defined by knee-jerk reactions, which often did more of a disservice.

        1. Mr win or lose
          30th May 2014, 15:17

          True, the cars were harder to drive, which resulted in driver errors, but the cars seemed to fall apart quite frequently. Besides, I don’t think the active-suspension ban affected the weaker teams too much, as they lacked resources to develop the system.

  2. I still remember the reaction of the Williams team after they won this race to this day. The team members on the put wall seemed to have a 1,000,000kg weight lifted from their shoulders and light seemed to return to the team’s lives. If I’m not mistaken Adrian Newey broke down in tears. It may have been lucky, but they team needed this win more than any other in their history I think.

    1. Maybe that win in Barcelona 2012 came close, but yeah, this one was a huge moment of relief for the team @geemac

  3. A point regarding the temporary tyre chicane & what happened at Indy 11 years later.

    The reason the change was allowed in this instance & not at Indy was because the chicane was added on the Thursday before the circuit was officially homologated for the weekend’s running.
    Once the circuit has been checked & homologated on Thursday no changes to the layout can be made because all the insurance & other details are signed off on the Thursday. Any changes that would break the circuit homologation would invalidate all the contacts for the insurance & whatever else is involved & cause legal trouble should anything occur resulting in injury/death of anyone within the circuit grounds as they would no longer be insured.

    Interestingly at Indy the teams/circuit owners could have built the chicane anyway without FIA approval & the race could have gone ahead as normal but been immediately stripped of its world championship status. However the teams/circuit owners would then have had to pay all the fee’s which FOM/FIA usually pay & ran the race without having the insurance in place, Hence why the teams decided not to go that route.

    1. At Indy in 2005 9 out of the 10 teams agreed that they should install the temporary chicane. Even Jordan and Minardi agreed to it and said they wouldn’t race without it, though they later reneged on that decision to the annoyance of Paul Stoddart of Minardi. Only one team was opposed to the idea, and that team won the race.

      1. Jean Todt & Ross Brawn have always insisted they were never asked about the chicane as nobody from Ferrari was ever invited to any of the meetings.

        Also interesting how people forget that only 1 Michelin team had problems with the tyres, Other teams had done over half race distances on 1 set of tyres with no sign of failures.
        Also remember how Toyota fueled Trulli’s car with virtually no fuel in it to grab the pole knowing full well they would not be racing.

        1. Wohaa. Some misinformation there.

          1. Jean Todt was the only team principal who didn’t show up at the meeting, even though he was invited. Ferrari simply ignored the matter, therefore they opposed the solution.

          2. It doesn’t matter if just one team had problems. Pirelli said that no team equipped with their tires should take part in the Grand Prix. If anything would have happened with a Michelin car and a spectator was injured or worse, F1 would be dead now.

          3. Michelin only told the teams on Sunday that they were not allowed to race.

          1. 3. Michelin only told the teams on Sunday that they were not allowed to race.

            So why did Toyota qualify with hardly any fuel in the car knowing they would not be racing?

    2. Thank you! Many people seem to forget the ‘circuit homologlation’ part and just resort to blaming Ferrari.

      1. Largely because they were at fault for not standing tall and ensuring an exhibition race could happen (with points only awarded to Bridgestone teams). So yeah, blaming Ferrari was indeed the easy option- but mainly because it was entirely valid.

    3. With the greatest of respects, you could write pages about insurance policies and homologation, but the bottom line is common sense did not prevail that weekend.

      It was a safety matter. You put a chicane in, you go racing, you make sure it doesn’t happen again.

      Don’t get me wrong – the novelty of seeing Jordans and Minardis racing for 3rd was slightly entertaining, but all those poor people that turned up and paid money for that ‘race’ must have been fuming, and rightly so. That’s when you know the sport is too big for its own boots.

      And to think, they think they’re in the ‘entertainment industry’, and how it’s ‘all about the show’…

      1. Putting a chicane in and taking all the fees the FOM and FIA usually take, not to mention the legal implications of a race advertised as a championship round of F1 (in the home of the mass lawsuit, the USA no less) could have lead to a catastrophic rise in costs for all the teams as well.

        Jordan and Minardi barely had enough money to go to the races. Even if they were spared by the other teams, a lawsuit could have still come their way and give severe monetary implications.

        Then there’s the question of what the FIA would have done? Let’s not forget Max Mosely was a very stubborn man. I would not have been surprised if the FIA would have withdrawn all their staff; leaving the teams without scrutinizing, medical staff, etc.

        What happened in the end was very bad, but not as bad as having a non-championship event and having as much as a crash with minor injuries or one spectator with some good lawyers in his drinking club.

        What the FIA, FOM and Michelin should have done in my opinion, was reschedule the round. Have Michelin pay for the tickets and hotels of the spectators (even if they would decide not to attend the rescheduled round). They done goofed; they done gone pay.

  4. You’ve got to respect David Coulthard, first F1 grands prix, driving the car in which Senna should have been driving had he not been killed. So much pressure for a 23 year old guy to bare. I too had forgotten just
    how many accidents there were in 1994, so many of them being failures to the car aswell. There really was a massive risk element back then for those drivers compared to today in terms of safety.
    Interesting to see that Williams had suffered cracks to their cars during testing, aswell as other teams. More fuel to the fire for the conspiracy theorists who maintain that Senna’s car broke at Imola, leading to his fatal crash.

  5. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t watching F1 back in 1994, but it has been one of the seasons that immediately drew my attention when I started watching in 1998. With the rising of YouTube, this became one of the races I watched most footage of (next to Imola), just because so much happened.

    Honestly, the racing might have been more boring than now (though perhaps not as boring as in the mid to late 00s), but this entire season had so much intrigue, I really wish there was a way to re-live it. These articles are doing a pretty good job, though!

    1. @npf1 I don’t think relive is very fortunate word choice, considering the awful events that transpired during that season. I certainly would not like several very severe accidents to occur.

  6. And if that race happened today, Schumacher would’ve retired once the gearbox got stuck out of fear of damaging an engine.

    And only 10 finishers with 3 on the lead lap? Even Caterham would have been able to score once in a while back then.

  7. UnitedKingdomRacing (@unitedkingdomracing)
    29th May 2014, 22:15

    There is something wrong with the first photo as soon as you open it in full dimension the colours change to make it look like a very old and bad photocopy.

    Otherwise a great article. As always much fun to read.

  8. This is one of Schumi’s greatest drives, and all for 2nd place… Other drivers may have just parked it thinking that their day was done, but given the points situation at the end of the season, how defining a drive this actually was by the German… I do remember this weekend as a huge relief, that there was some good in the world of F1.

  9. Love these flashback articles! Didn’t realise Ligier were so bad in ’94, but so far in these articles they’ve been well at the back, especially in qualifying. Was their double podium in Germany a massively undeserved fluke?

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