Schumacher returns to winning ways in Montreal

1994 Canadian Grand Prix flashback

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Michael Schumacher shrugged off the setback of the previous round and returned to winning ways in the Canadian Grand Prix, held on this day 20 years ago.

When the weekend began it seemed Ferrari might finally have the pace to keep Benetton from another victor. But after making a change to their car due to a dispute over the latest round of safety changes Jean Alesi lost his grip on pole position, allowing Schumacher in for another win.

Safety concerns remained a major talking point as the sport continued to reel from the dire events of the previous month. As in Spain changes were made to the track as well as the cars, as drivers demanded the construction of a new chicane at one of the most dangerous points on the track.

Row over Ferrari airboxes

Then as now, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was a circuit which rewarded engine power and straight-line speed. So it was widely anticipated to be a strong venue for Ferrari, the only team in the field to use a V12 engine, who had regularly topped the speed trap tables at earlier races that year.

And while the latest changes to the technical regulations on safety grounds were focused on reducing the top speed of the cars, they could be expected to have just as great an effect on Ferrari’s rivals. The FIA required teams to replace their exotic fuel concoctions with pump petrol (though defining exactly what that constituted was fraught with difficulty) and cut holes in their car’s airboxes to reduce the ‘ram effect’ of air being forced into the engine. Both measures would reduce power output.

Teams interpreted the rules on airboxes in different ways. Most placed holes either directly behind the airbox, through which the rear wing was visible, or on the top. But Ferrari instead cut two modest slits in the sides of their engine covers.

This became a focus of dispute when it became clear the 412T1s enjoyed an even greater straight-line speed advantage than usual during Friday’s running. Having never headed a qualifying session nor got within 1.4 seconds of pole all season, Jean Alesi headed the Friday times by over half a second.

Team principal Jean Todt fumed at suggestions Ferrari had not satisfactorily complied with the new requirements on airbox dimensions. But overnight the team were forced to yield ground and enlarge the slots in their engine cover.

“As a gesture of goodwill, and under no obligation, we put another hole in the airbox of the 412T1,” said Todt. “And, as all could see, it made no difference.” In fact, all could see Alesi was unable to replicate his Friday time on Saturday, while almost every other driver bettered theirs. The speed trap figures also undermined Todt’s claim the larger holes had made “no difference”.

Schumacher therefore took pole position off Alesi, but his lap time was over seven seconds slower than Alain Prost’s from the year before. This was largely due to the installation of a new chicane to slow the drivers before the flat-out series of bends on the approach to the chicane right-left before the pits.

This was another alteration on safety grounds at the behest of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, who sent Martin Brundle to the track early to ensure the work was done to their satisfaction.

1994 Canadian Grand Prix grid

While Schumacher claimed his third consecutive pole position, the other Benetton of JJ Lehto languished in 20th place, nearly three seconds slower than his team mate.

Lehto had blown hot and very cold since returning from injury at Imola. He was fifth on the grid for his first race back, then seventeenth at Monaco. Spain was a significant improvement: from fourth on the grid he was running third when his car failed. But in Canada he was back in the doldrums once more, struggling with his set-up and his still painful neck.

For his second F1 race David Coulthard lined up fifth, one place and just over a tenth of a second slower than Williams team mate Damon Hill.

Ukyo Katayama had been an impressive fifth on Friday in his Tyrrell, but on Saturday he slipped four places, behind the Jordans and Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren.

Sauber were back to fielding two cars and Andrea de Cesaris was back on the grid, making his 200th start for the Swiss team.

Johnny Herbert gave Lotus some encouragement by putting the new 109 in 17th place, while team mate Alessandro Zanardi still had to make do with the old 107C. Simtek continued to field just one car, and unsurprisingly of the 27 entries present Paul Belmondo’s Pacific was the only driver who failed to make the cut.

Row 11. Michael Schumacher 1’26.178
2. Jean Alesi 1’26.277
Row 23. Gerhard Berger 1’27.059
4. Damon Hill 1’27.094
Row 35. David Coulthard 1’27.211
6. Rubens Barrichello 1’27.554
Row 47. Mika Hakkinen 1’27.616
8. Eddie Irvine 1’27.780
Row 59. Ukyo Katayama 1’27.827
10. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’27.977
Row 611. Gianni Morbidelli 1’27.989
12. Martin Brundle 1’28.197
Row 713. Mark Blundell 1’28.579
14. Andrea de Cesaris 1’28.694
Row 815. Pierluigi Martini 1’28.847
16. Christian Fittipaldi 1’28.882
Row 917. Johnny Herbert 1’28.889
18. Michele Alboreto 1’28.903
Row 1019. Olivier Panis 1’28.950
20. JJ Lehto 1’28.993
Row 1121. Erik Comas 1’29.039
22. Olivier Beretta 1’29.403
Row 1223. Alessandro Zanardi 1’30.160
24. Eric Bernard 1’30.493
Row 1325. David Brabham 1’31.632
26. Bertrand Gachot 1’32.838

Did not qualify

Paul Belmondo, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’33.006

1994 Canadian Grand Prix

Schumacher’s V8-engined Benetton left a faint pair of tyre marks behind as he pulled away from the grid. The two V12 Ferraris laid thick black lines as they set off in pursuit.

The blue-and-green car immediately sliced across the front of Alesi’s scarlet machine to take the racing line into turn one and the two Ferraris fell in behind him. Next came the two Williams drivers, Hill having made another poor start and fallen behind his junior team mate.

Rubens Barrichello was squeezed hard by Hakkinen as they pulled away, the pair almost making contact. Eddie Irvine then dived down the inside of the pair at turn one, but Barrichello drove around the outside of his team mate at the hairpin to regain the position.

Within one lap Schumacher was 1.7 seconds up the road, and he continued to pull away from his pursuer at up to as second per lap. Berger, however, was slipping back from his team mate and coming under increased pressure from Coulthard.

This was despite the fact Coulthard was suffering a lack of feeling in one of his legs from early in the race, which was impairing his ability to brake. Hill was soon on his case, exploring the inside and outside line on his team mate at the second hairpin, but his attempts to get a run out of the corner were spoiled by the new chicane.

Hill was soon on the radio urging Williams to arrange an exchange of positions, which they did on lap nine. Half a dozen laps later Hill put a move on Berger for third, and it took Coulthard another seven laps to do the same. By then Hill was already bearing down on Alesi.

Any hopes Alesi had of beating Schumacher rested on the Benetton driver making two refuelling stops to Ferrari’s one. But as the leader had four fewer cylinders to feed that never seemed likely. Sure enough, Alesi was the first of the two to make their single visit to the pits.

He was followed on the next lap by Hill, who had been two seconds behind the Ferrari but rejoined the track comfortably ahead. This was tinged with irony, Ferrari having lobbied hard for the introduction of refuelling to make them more competitive.

Soon afterwards Irvine, who’d fallen to tenth place, spun his Jordan into the pit wall. He lost control in the final chicane, where for the first time the concrete at the exit had been extended to the concrete barrier, which would eventually acquire the name ‘Wall of Champions’.

His team mate was passed by the recovering Lehto for seventh place on their final lap. This meant he was promoted to sixth when Christian Fittipaldi’s Footwork was disqualified after the race for being under the new 515kg minimum weight limit, which had been raised by 10kg as part of the package of safety measures.

It was a double blow for the team as Gianni Morbidelli had been running fourth between the two Ferraris when his Ford-Cosworth engine failed on lap 50. Among those he joined in retirement were the two Saubers and Martin Brundle, whose McLaren only lasted three laps having been quickest in the warm-up.

Katayama spun his Tyrrell twice during the race. The first time he got going again after alarmingly spinning his car in front of oncoming traffic; the second time he got the car pointing the right way again only for the engine to die.

There was yet more disappointment for Pacific as their sole representative in the race, Bertrand Gachot, retired when his Ilmor engine died on the 48th lap. Not only had they failed to finish any of the first six races, but as Simtek filled their second seat at the next round, neither of their drivers made it onto the grid throughout the rest of the year.

Ahead of Lehto was fifth-placed Coulthard, who faced some terse words from team mate Hill for holding him up earlier in the race. His leg had begun to improve following his single pit stop, and he was the first of the finishers not on the lead lap.

Alesi nearly lost third place to his team mate in the closing laps when his car jammed in a low gear. There was just over two seconds between the pair at the finishing line.

But the first driver to see the chequered flag once more was Schumacher, 40 seconds clear of Hill, and now 33 points ahead in the championship.

1994 Canadian Grand Prix result

Pos.#DriverTeamLapsTime / gap / reason
15Michael SchumacherBenetton-Ford691:44’31.887
20Damon HillWilliams-Renault6939.660
327Jean AlesiFerrari691’13.388
428Gerhard BergerFerrari691’15.609
52David CoulthardWilliams-Renault681 lap
66JJ LehtoBenetton-Ford681 lap
714Rubens BarrichelloJordan-Hart681 lap
812Johnny HerbertLotus-Mugen-Honda681 lap
923Pierluigi MartiniMinardi-Ford681 lap
104Mark BlundellTyrrell-Yamaha67Spun off
1124Michele AlboretoMinardi-Ford672 laps
1226Olivier PanisLigier-Renault672 laps
1325Eric BernardLigier-Renault663 laps
1431David BrabhamSimtek-Ford654 laps
1511Alessandro ZanardiLotus-Mugen-Honda62Engine
9Christian FittipaldiFootwork-Ford68Disqualified
7Mika HäkkinenMcLaren-Peugeot61Engine
19Olivier BerettaLarrousse-Ford57Engine
10Gianni MorbidelliFootwork-Ford50Transmission
34Bertrand GachotPacific-Ilmor47Oil pressure
20Erik ComasLarrousse-Ford45Clutch
3Ukyo KatayamaTyrrell-Yamaha44Collision
15Eddie IrvineJordan-Hart40Accident
29Andrea de CesarisSauber-Mercedes24Oil pressure
30Heina-Harald FrentzenSauber-Mercedes5Accident
8Martin BrundleMcLaren-Peugeot3Electrical

Mansell’s return

While the wrangling over changes to the cars and tracks continued, the Canadian Grand Prix weekend was dominated by discussion over whether Nigel Mansell was about to make a surprise comeback for Williams.

Mansell’s defence of his IndyCar title was not going well. His Haas Lola was outclassed by the new chassis from Penske, and he’d suffered a string of frustrating races, capped by Dennis Vitolo crash-landing on top of him during the Indianapolis 500.

The death of Ayrton Senna had left F1 with no world champion on the grid, and Bernie Ecclestone was anxious to lure Mansell back to F1. Renault were also eager to bolster Williams’ line-up with the man who had won the title for them two years earlier.

Mansell’s contractual obligations to Haas meant he would be unable to drive until the IndyCar season ended in October – with one exception: the French Grand Prix, the next round on the calendar.

Image © Ford

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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20 comments on “Schumacher returns to winning ways in Montreal”

  1. Ah, I’ve read “Schumacher returns…” and got so excited….

    1. Yeah, a bit of a “unfortunate” title of the article ..

      1. I agree, don’t know why he keeps doing that. Tell us something we “don’t” know about Schumacher please.

      2. I disagree, if a person “returns” it’s pretty clear he hasn’t woken up from a coma. Nothing wrong with that title.

        1. That and the old picture, or the rest of the title should make it clear.

    2. same here, took me a few moments to grasp it.

    3. All these “flashback” articles should have some sort of prefix or something so that it’s immediately clear what they are. The headlines always look out of place until you read the subtitle. Do something like “Flashback: Schumacher returns …” or “This week in F1: … ” or “10 years ago today: … “.

  2. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    12th June 2014, 15:28

    I know 1994 is a landmark year for F1 (more safety, the tragedy) but can we get artiles about other things, maybe a build up to the Austrian GP with some stuff about Coulthard, the infamous 2002 GP, etc?

    1. Well, you can do a guest article :D

      1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
        13th June 2014, 5:08

        @mike I would love to! Unluckily, I don’t have either the time or the resources to present a clean sheet. I’m not saying the article is bad either. It’s just a wish.

    2. @omarr-pepper I think they are running through the 1994 season in an ‘as live’ feature this year, so that you can kind of follow how the season progressed rather than just reading through the history. I think it’s quite interesting, and there are still plenty of articles referring to the current year. I’d rather see some things a bit different to some of the non-stories which pop up on other sites (with titles such as “Alonso wants to win races” etc)

  3. Very nice article Keith..

  4. Nice. And I see what you did there with regard to the tire-marks left on the grid by the Benetton.

  5. Interesting to see that in 20 years some things haven’t changed – I’m thinking of Jean Todt’s approach to publicly dealing with inconvenient problems, which then as now seems to be to bury his head in the sand and deny deny deny!!

    1. That & “tinged with irony, Ferrari having lobbied hard for the introduction of refuelling to make them more competitive” made me snort. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

      ps. Really look forward to these retro articles – should be compulsory reading for all those continually moaning about the state of F1 today.

      1. Mr win or lose
        16th June 2014, 23:09

        Without refuellng the Ferraris were losing time because of their heavier fuel-loads, with refueling they were also losing time because of slower pitstops. Having said that, the Ferraris were much more competitive in 1994 because of the active-suspension ban.

  6. Oooooh I wonder whether Mansell will return to Williams next race! :P

    Nice article as ever, remarkable that ten years later Schumacher could win with the same ease.

    1. Best car in 1994 (at least in the 1st half of the season), best car in 2004.

  7. 515 kg! That’s race car…

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