Berger ends Ferrari win drought after Benetton blaze

1994 German Grand Prix flashback

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The German Grand Prix, held 20 years ago today, was another torrid chapter in the controversial 1994 season.

In the days leading up to the race fans heading to the Hockenheimring were shocked to learn the participation of home hero and championship leader Michael Schumacher in doubt as he and his Benetton team came out on the wrong side of an FIA appeal.

Although Schumacher did ultimately race, his team came away from the meeting with no points and counting the cost of a horrendous fire during Jos Verstappen’s pit stop.

And with a massive crash eliminating ten cars on the first lap, it almost escaped notice that, when the chequered flag fell, Ferrari had ended their longest-ever victory drought.

Bonfires and death threats

Germany was in love with its new sporting hero. Tickets for its round of the world championship had sold out in mid-march and a capacity crowd in excess of 140,000 was expected for race day.

But three days before practice was due to start at the Hockenheimring came a shock verdict from the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council. For ignoring black flags during the British Grand Prix, Schumacher was to be banned from the next two races – beginning with his home race.

Some of those attending the race took the news very badly. Wood piles began to appear near the circuit, and fire departments were deployed to dismantle them out of fear that outraged fans were planning to set bonfires in the thick woodland the circuit passed through. Fearing a threat to public safety, the mayor of Hockenheim even made a direct appeal to those in charge to let Schumacher race.

The crisis could be averted if Benetton chose to appeal the decision. But they had incentives not to do so. Missing a race at the Hockenheimring, where their Ford V8-powered car would likely be out-gunned by the V12 Ferraris and V10 Williams-Renaults, would be preferable to missing a race later in the season at a track which suited them better if the outcome of their appeal was the postponement of Schumacher’s ban.

And there was the chance that appealing the ban could invite an even stronger sanction. Eddie Irvine’s one-race ban following the Brazilian Grand Prix was tripled on appeal.

Nonetheless, on the day before practice began Benetton announced they would appeal the decision. As a hearing could not be scheduled for several weeks, it therefore confirmed he would race at home, and the frenzy among the crowd subsided somewhat.

But not completely. On the day after the race Schumacher’s closest championship rival Damon Hill revealed he had been sent a death threat which he was told would be carried out if he qualified in front of Schumacher.

“A number of people seemed to think that I somehow should be blamed for his plight,” said Hill. “It could have been a crank, of course, but these days you never know and we took every precaution,” he added, mindful of the stabbing of tennis player Monica Seles the previous year by a fan of German player Steffi Graf.

Additional security was laid on for Hill, and later Gerhard Berger too when the Ferrari driver took pole position. “I used a back entrance to the circuit each day and had a police escort everywhere I went when outside the track,” said Hill. “There was even someone on duty outside my bedroom door each night.”

Ferrari front row

Schumacher was in the race, but Benetton’s problems were far from over. On the day before practice began the FIA released further details from the World Motor Sports Council hearing, including an explanation of how Schumacher might have used an illegal launch control system on his car.

The FIA had enlisted software analysts Liverpool Data Research Associates to inspect Benetton’s source code, and ruled that “according to LDRA the best evidence is that Benetton was not using ‘launch control’ (an automatic start system) at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix”. Nonetheless, Benetton’s engine supplier Ford wisely pulled an unfortunately-phrased print advert which read: “Revealed at last: the secret of the black magic box… This year Michael Schumacher had a distinct advantage.”

The details turned up by the FIA investigation provoked widespread discussion, and Benetton found themselves besieged by media enquiries about what they had or hadn’t been doing. This was an unwelcome distraction for the team at a time when they were trying to get to grips with the latest FIA-mandated changes to car design.

As on previous occasions these were being made with the intention of reducing the speed of the cars for safety reasons. The main focus of the alterations was the addition of a 10mm stepped plank underneath the car which forced teams to raise their ride heights, reducing downforce and therefore cornering speeds, a change which had originally been planned for 1995.

Among the front-running teams Benetton seemed to be the most affected by the changes, which also included smaller rear wing dimensions. Out-gunned on Hockenheim’s long straights, Schumacher took his lowest grid position of the entire season – fourth – one place behind Hill.

The pair were relegated to the second row by the Ferraris, whose V12 engines powered them to their first front row lock-out since the 1990 Portuguese Grand Prix. This was despite another FIA rules change which gave a tighter definition for where teams should add holes to their cars’ airboxes to reduce the pressure inside and therefore cut engine power, which meant Ferrari finally had to relocate the side vents which had caused so much controversy when added in Canada.

It seemed Ferrari had not got the new design of their engine cover quite right when Jean Alesi’s was ripped from his car as he blasted towards the Ostkurve chicane. He was therefore beaten to pole position by team mate Gerhard Berger.

Once again it wasn’t just the cars which were being tweaked for safety reasons. Hockenheim’s first and third chicanes were redesigned and also renamed – in honour of Jim Clark, killed near the site of the first chicane in 1968, and Ayrton Senna.

But the high-speed character of the circuit remained, which rewarded those with aerodynamic efficiency and a strong engine. Both the Tyrrell-Yamahas qualified well, with Ukyo Katayama beating David Coulthard’s Williams to claim his best-ever starting position of fifth.

The Ligier drivers also enjoyed their best qualifying performance so far, with rookie Olivier Panis 12th, two places in front of Eric Bernard. But Pacific’s draggy car and gutless Ilmor engine left their drivers two seconds slower than the last qualifier, and extended their run of failures to qualify.

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1994 German Grand Prix

Row 11. Gerhard Berger 1’43.582
2. Jean Alesi 1’44.012
Row 23. Damon Hill 1’44.026
4. Michael Schumacher 1’44.268
Row 35. Ukyo Katayama 1’44.718
6. David Coulthard 1’45.146
Row 47. Mark Blundell 1’45.474
8. Mika Hakkinen 1’45.487
Row 59. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’45.893
10. Eddie Irvine 1’45.911
Row 611. Rubens Barrichello 1’45.939
12. Olivier Panis 1’46.185
Row 713. Martin Brundle 1’46.218
14. Eric Bernard 1’46.290
Row 815. Johnny Herbert 1’46.630
16. Gianni Morbidelli 1’46.817
Row 917. Christian Fittipaldi 1’47.102
18. Andrea de Cesaris 1’47.235
Row 1019. Jos Verstappen 1’47.316
20. Pierluigi Martini 1’47.402
Row 1121. Allesandro Zanardi 1’47.425
22. Erik Comas 1’48.229
Row 1223. Michele Alboreto 1’48.295
24. Olivier Beretta 1’48.681
Row 1325. David Brabham 1’48.870
26. Jean-Marc Gounon 1’49.204

Not qualified

Paul Belmondo – Pacific-Ilmor, 1’51.122
Bertrand Gachot – Pacific-Ilmor, 1’51.292

Carnage at the first corner

Race day dawned full of opportunities for Schumacher’s rivals. Ferrari had their best chance yet to claim their first victory in almost four years. And Hill, armed with Williams’ revised FW16B, knew he had to capitalise on his starting advantage over his title rival.

But owing to his shock earlier in the weekend Hill had other things on his mind during the pre-race rituals. “I followed the usual obligatory procedure of taking part in the drivers’ parade and, as I sat on the back of an open-topped car with my team mate David Coulthard, the constant firing of rockets and firecrackers in the banked grandstands – something of a tradition inside the massive arena at Hockenheim – did little for my peace of mind.”

For half of the field, Hill included, the outcome of the race was decided in the first lap. Indeed for most of them it was decided within the first few metres. The chaos was triggered seconds after the lights changed: Andrea de Cesaris tangled with Michele Alboreto, sending the Sauber left onto the grass and the Minardi into the pit wall, against which it pinned Alessandro Zanardi’s Lotus.

As the rest of the field approached the first corner Mika Hakkinen, who was almost ahead of David Coulthad on the inside, squeezed the Williams driver too far and the pair collided. Hakkinen’s McLaren skidded in front of the field, and several of his rivals were taken out as they braked to avoid him, including Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Pierluigi Martini, Mark Blundell and the Jordans of Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello.

The decimation of the field didn’t end there. Jean Alesi’s new Ferrari 043 engine cried enough as the remaining cars headed into the forest for the first time.

That briefly promoted Ukyo Katayama into second place. The Tyrrell driver had started brilliantly, squeezing past Schumacher and Hill, who were now trying to find a way past. Schumacher made it through halfway around the first lap, and Hill went down the inside as they then approached the Senna Kurve. But the pair tangled and Hill dropped back with a bent steering arm.

As he limped on he was overtaken by the rest of the field including Coulthard, whose front wing had been damaged in the contact with Hakkinen. Both headed for the pits, where many were surprised to see the race continue.

As Berger led Schumacher onto the start/finish line yellow flags were flying from every vantage point and several course cars were parked on and next to the track while battered machinery was still being recovered. After the race some drivers criticised the decision not to stop the race and allow the marshals to clear the track of debris. In ordinary circumstances the Safety Car might have been deployed, but questions remained over whether its use had contributed to the crash which had killed Senna, and it hadn’t been deployed in a race since then.

It took several laps to clear the start/finish line. During that time Hill rejoined the race, albeit a lap down. Meanwhile Schumacher had caught Berger and was forcing defensive moves from the Ferrari, the Benetton making up for its lack of straight-line speed thanks to a tiny rear wing element.

Fire at Benetton

Schumacher was also running light on fuel, and on the 13th lap of 45 he headed to the Benetton garage for his first pit stop. He rejoined the track behind team mate Jos Verstappen, who let him past as they entered the stadium section. Two laps later the Benetton pit crew readied themselves for Verstappen’s pit stop.

It was the ninth race of the season and the teams were by now well used to the standard-issue Intertechnique refuelling rigs which had been introduced at the start of the year. But Simon Morley, the team’s sub-assembly mechanic who’d taken on the job of handling the fuel hose, found he couldn’t get the nozzle to engage properly. As he tried again to attach it, fuel sprayed from the end of the hose.

The shock of what happened had only a second or two to sink in until the heat of the car’s exhaust and front-right brake disc caused an explosion. A firestorm engulfed the B194, its driver and most of the mechanics.

Quick-thinking crewmen discharged their fire extinguishers on the blaze, which had been fed by up to six litres of fuel, and within seconds the worst of it was out. Some mechanics had jumped clear of the car, their uniforms ablaze, and were aided by members of other teams. The worst injuries were to Morley and Verstappen, as burning petrol had seeped inside their protective headgear, but the consequences could easily have been worse.

Most drivers became aware of the incident as they headed towards the grandstands and saw a column of black smoke rising from the pit lane. Among them was Schumacher, who still had one pit stop to make, but with six members of Benetton’s pit crew receiving treatment for injuries his car could not be serviced. That became irrelevant on lap 21 when his engine died, and he came to a stop at his team’s devastated pit box.

This left the field even further depleted, and Berger took an untroubled win with the two Ligier drivers promoted to second and third places. The remaining points were taken by Footwork duo Christian Fittipaldi and Gianni Morbidelli, followed by Erik Comas’s Larrousse. His team mate Olivier Beretta and Hill were the only others still running at the end.

Berger’s victory was Ferrari’s first since Alain Prost’s triumph at Jerez almost four years earlier. It jad been a long and painful barren spell for F1’s most famous team. This, their 104th win, put them level once more with McLaren who had overtaken them as F1’s most successful team in terms of race wins the previous year.

It was a relief for Berger too, though his last win had been more recent, at the end of 1992. He had been hit hard by the loss of his countryman Roland Ratzenberger and his friend Senna, and another tough day for the sport had at least produced a popular winner.

1994 German Grand Prix result

128Gerhard BergerFerrari451:22’37.272
226Olivier PanisLigier-Renault4554.779
325Eric BernardLigier-Renault451’05.042
49Christian FittipaldiFootwork-Ford451’21.609
510Gianni MorbidelliFootwork-Ford451’30.544
620Erik ComasLarrousse-Ford451’45.445
719Olivier BerettaLarrousse-Ford441 lap
80Damon HillWilliams-Renault441 lap
32Jean-Marc GounonSimtek-Ford39Engine
31David BrabhamSimtek-Ford37Clutch
5Michael SchumacherBenetton-Ford20Engine
8Martin BrundleMcLaren-Peugeot19Engine
2David CoulthardWilliams-Renault17Electrics
6Jos VerstappenBenetton-Ford15Fire
3Ukyo KatayamaTyrrell-Yamaha6Throttle
27Jean AlesiFerrari0Engine
4Mark BlundellTyrrell-Yamaha0Accident
7Mika HakkinenMcLaren-Peugeot0Accident
30Heinz-Harald FrentzenSauber-Mercedes0Accident
15Eddie IrvineJordan-Hart0Accident
14Rubens BarrichelloJordan-Hart0Accident
12Johnny HerbertLotus-Mugen-Honda0Accident
29Andrea de CesarisSauber-Mercedes0Accident
23Pierluigi MartiniMinardi-Ford0Accident
11Allesandro ZanardiLotus-Mugen-Honda0Accident
24Michele AlboretoMinardi-Ford0Accident

Hakkinen banned

The FIA’s gaze had scarcely lifted from Benetton when the pit lane fire focused attention on them once again. Further recriminations would follow.

But they weren’t the only ones to feel the FIA’s wrath in the coming races. Hakkinen had arrived in Germany with a suspended ban hanging over him following his last-lap collision with Rubens Barrichello at Silverstone, now he was handed a one-race ban for his role in the carnage at the start.

It was a formative moment in the career of the future two-times champion. “People decided I needed a slap on the wrist,” he later reflected. Some felt the slap should have been harder – notably Irvine, who had already served a lengthier ban and had been among those wiped out on the first lap.

Schumacher would eventually join them as the third driver to suffer a race ban during this contentious season, after his British Grand Prix appeal was rejected. Until then he would continue to race at the next two races in Hungary and Belgium.

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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33 comments on “Berger ends Ferrari win drought after Benetton blaze”

  1. I was there in 1994 with my father and one of my friends. Man, were we gutted by the 1st corner incident. With so many cars out of the race instantly, it turned into a very boring race to watch since the long Circuit meant there were long periods of time without any cars visible at all (besides the fact that there were a lot less track action when they WERE visible). We even had glorious seats that allowed us to look down the long straight leadin back to the in-field AND the start/finish line. Back then they only cost €180 as well.

    I never really forgave Mika for ruining the race, which we had travelled from Denmark to watch :/

    1. Always fascinating to hear from someone who was there. Did you see anything of the fire?

      1. Yeah, we saw it a few seconds after it happened. Suddenly everyone around us were looking to the left and when we looked, too, we could see a big cloud of smoke rising from the pits! With the loud engines back then (the Ferrari V12 made our concrete stand shake every time they drove past), it was difficult to figure out what was going on, though. :)

  2. If Ferrari continues it’s current ‘fine’ form, it can better this record of longest victory drought.

    1. Agree, but things is the comparison doesn’t really stand. The seasons are longer now (from 16 to 19-20 races), the testing ban and development freezing are longer than ever, reliability better than ever… so reality is that if a certain team has the best car (RBR), some “positive” records very probably will be broken, but some “negative” records will be broken too… and that’s left for the rest of the teams. And it happened. Unfortunately for Ferrari, for some time now they’re the “rest of the teams”. Don’t know for sure, didn’t want to fill my memory with all the regs, but I read that the engine development is mostly frozen for the next 2 season too. Basically, those who did a good job right from the start – Mercedes, are “condemned” to win for the next 2 years too, while the others to lose. If so, Ferrari/Alonso might have a big problem.

  3. Love these – thanks, Keith!

    Brabham was pretty close to the other cars in qualy! Also, a very good result for Comas. Would be cool to see the coverage we get these days, back then (ie. interviews with some of the lower teams).

    1. It’s a shame that Brabham never got a decent stab at F1.

  4. I love these posts about the 1994 season. Thank you for researching and posting them!

  5. Damned, I miss 3.5L engines noise…

    1. I miss different engine layouts with different strengths and weakness’, glad to get some of that back this year, unfortunately it’s all weakness for the non Merc. cars.

  6. Carey Cummings
    31st July 2014, 16:42

    I was lucky enough to be there. God, I cant believe its 20 years already. It was crazy hot that weekend. We drove to the track in an Audi A6, which of course had NO AC! Attendance was well over 200,000. We were by the first chicane. The minute I heard that Ferrari V12, I told my buddies “Ferrari will win this weekend.” They were so on song. One this that was mentioned in an earlier post, there was like 2min between when the cars came around, you dont get that nowadays. There were no big screens in the back of the track, so we had to rely on radio and the track PA which was in German. One of my buddies got on the snack and beverage line before the race and we didn’t see him again till the last lap! Took us an hour of claustrophobic baby steps to get to the car park. I’ve never seen that many people at a race ever. It was just nutz. Somewhere I have a bunch of pics from that race, if I can find them in the archives I will post them. Love these articles on 1994. It was such a messed up year, but really exciting because you really didn’t know what in the world was going to happen next.

  7. @keithcollantine I don’ think Seles was stabbed during the match between her and Graf. It was a fan of Graf though who carried out that stupid act. But it was against Magdalena Maleeva.

    1. @evered7 I should stick to the sports I know something about :-) Have revised the text.

      1. @keithcollantine You are doing an awesome job. Just giving my inputs to make the site more awesome :)

  8. The race fire at Benetton is really well described by the rear jackman of Verstappen’s car, Steve Matchett, whom writes about the entire 1994 season from a mechanics point of view. His recollection of this incident is astonishing, and I truly wonder why refuelling was allowed in F1 after this incident and the downstream effects it had on mechanics.

    1. I truly wonder why refuelling was allowed

      Because it was Bernies idea and Bernie is never wrong ! Bernie had been watching American racing and wanted to improve the show and in his own words “give the commentators more to talk about”.
      Gimmick # 1: Re-fuelling
      Gimmick # 2: Grooved tyres
      Fortunately those are gone now.

      1. Grooved tyres were an FIA idea (As part of the safety push to slow the cars down) & not a Bernie idea.

  9. That 1994 V12 Ferrari scream was the best ever for me.

  10. I remember watching this race and think, the Benetton was lighter on fuel, had less visually wing, better corner exit and 1500m of slipstreaming and yet couldn’t even come side by side with the ferrari, let alone pass. That ferrari tipo 043 must have been a beast!

    1. a better car not being able to pass because of an inferior engine, kind of like redbull not keeping up with Mercedes this year. back then it was fair game though as there wasn’t these engine homologation laws.

      1. But that’s the beauty that year the Ferraris were 2 seconds down in tracls like Monaco, Hungary and Jerez and had 2 front row lockouts in Monza and Hockeneheim. Now that’s real power! And not only the Cowworth V8s but also against the mighty Renault V10.
        This year the Mercedes is an excellent overall car so the engine advantage isn’t so blatant. Had Mercedes not existed the Williams could be the Ferrari of 1994.

  11. It seems incredible to me that drivers had death threats back then, hopefully that never happens again because nowadays security in some circuits is just a matter of having a paddock pass or not.

  12. Another great article. Can’t find any footage of the Alesi bodywork incident anywhere unsurprisingly.
    When actually was the Schumacher hearing? I assume it was after Spa if he was allowed to race in Hungary and Belgium?

      1. Wow. Thanks for that. That was crazy. Almost like a small explosion. Not what I was expecting!

      2. very interesting on the right menu of that video was this, how the old hockenheimring looks today:

  13. …if current events persist…I wonder when Jules Bianchi will break Ferrari’s win drought?

    V8 vs V10 vs v12….awesome is that..different engine formula’s competing on a level playing field..if only this was still prevalent…..wait a minute..WEC!

    1. Even if manufacturer’s were allowed to run different engine configurations they would all end up running the same layout as 1 format usually ends up proving to be the best.

      Thats what happened last time, After turbo’s were banned for 1989 different manufacturer’s went there own ways (V8/V10/V12) but by the Mid-90s the V10 proved to be the best all round package so everyone went down that route.

      The V8’s didn’t have the power so ended up only been used as a woefully underpowered customer engine that saw teams running it stuck towards the back.
      The V12’s had the power but were less drivable, Too big/heavy, Used too much fuel & required more cooling which all meant compromise in the chassis/aero design.

      Having different engine configurations works to an extent in WEC because the FIA/ACO balance everything else to try & ensure some degree of parity.

      1. Benetton used a v8 to a world title in mid 90s. 1996 they all swapped to v10, but that was also partly to do with the formula dropping from 3.5L to 3L – Ferrari considered V8, V10 and V12 for 1996.
        the WEC method of parity is the best, the results should not be down to engine power (like this year in f1), the best chassis and best driver should win – this is more likely to happen with parity. in the v8 f1 era 2006-13 it worked out great that the cars had relative parity in power, so homologation was sensible, but this year switiching to a new formula with all different turbo configs and ERS systems, homologation was a bad choice to bring in after only 12 days testing.

        1. the WEC method of parity is the best

          The problem with the WEC parity is that they don’t always get it right & are constantly having to change things, Including during the season & especially just prior to Le Mans (Audi got hit with additional restrictions this year just before le mans).

          I’ve always felt that if a manufacturer does a better job with there engine (As Mercedes have in F1 this year) then it should be down to the others to catch up & that the team that did the best job should in no way be held back (Same reason im against success ballast).

          the results should not be down to engine power

          I don’t see why not, Engine power has always been a key factor & there have been many occasions in F1’s history where its been the deciding factor.

          Its also worth remembering that the engine parity only became so close in the V8 era because big engine development was frozen after 2006 & subject to the 18,000rpm rev-limit.

  14. This was the first Grand Prix I ever watched on TV. Needless to say after this race I was hooked and haven’t missed watching a single Grand Prix since.

    On May 1st 1994 I was watching the Snooker Final when my mate came around to say Senna had an accident could he watch the coverage on the other channel?

    I moaned like hell cos he made me watch Steve Rider chatting to the camera while I was missing the Snooker. How times change!

  15. Missing a race at the Hockenheimring, where their Ford V8-powered car would likely be out-gunned by the V12 Ferraris and V10 Williams-Renaults, would be preferable to missing a race later in the season at a track which suited them better if the outcome of their appeal was the postponement of Schumacher’s ban.

    They ended up missing Monza, which is very similar to the old Hockenheimring.

    I have seen it claimed that Benetton had removed a part of the fuel rig in order to re-fuel the cars quicker, and this was what led to the fuel spilling over Verstappen’s car.

    1. Yes, it was one of Flavio’s (Briatore) “tricks.” :p
      It’s the handyman side of the guy.

      Hopefully, he’s forever far away from F1. Right ? Wait…

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