Start, Spa-Francorchamps, 1994

Hill handed win as Schumacher is thrown out

1994 Belgian Grand Prix flashback

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When the chequered flag fell on the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix 20 years ago today Michael Schumacher believed he had extended his point leads far enough that his position seemed secure even with his impending two-race ban.

But a few hours later the stewards ruled his car broke a recently-introduced new rule and threw him out of the race. Damon Hill was declared the new winner – which was the worst possible outcome for Schumacher’s title hopes.

Faux Rouge

Almost four months had passed since the events of Imola when the F1 field arrived at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the 11th round of the 16-race 1994 season. But its consequences were still being felt, and one of the most striking examples of that was the emasculation of one of Formula One’s most famous corners.

Eau Rouge had long been one of the quickest, steepest and most challenging corners on the calendar. But Imola had cast new light on the dangers of inadequate run-off at high speed corners.

Larger gravel traps had been installed at some of Spa’s quickest corners – Pouhon and Blanchimont. But there was insufficient time to complete the work at Eau Rouge, so an alternative but deeply unsatisfying alternative was arranged.

A slow chicane was built to force the drivers to pass through the sequence at much slower speeds. All of the challenge of the corner had been lost, and perhaps only some of the danger – several drivers pointed out that the new line through the corner meant they approached it pointing towards a barrier at speed. During a touring car support race one driver suffered a huge crash at that very spot.

The dangers of the old Eau Rouge had been vividly illustrated the previous year, when Alessandro Zanardi hit the wall at almost unabated speed. But not only was the corner now gone, Zanardi was not around to hit it.

Struggling Lotus hand Adams debut

The Lotus driver had been told at the Hungarian Grand Prix he would not be in the car at the next race. A court had given Lotus 60 days to pay at least £400,000 of the £2.1 million it owed to Cosworth for its supply of engines in the previous two seasons. The team’s management decided they had no choice but to sell Zanardi’s seat.

A deal was arranged with Belgian touring car driver Philippe Adams. Following an inauspicious Formula Three career he had won the British Formula Two championship the year before, which was in fact contested with Formula 3000 machinery, and had attracted grids of fewer than ten cars on occasions.

Exactly how Adams was paying for a seat was a matter of some debate, particularly when representatives of several companies he claimed were sponsoring him turned up to demand he stop using their logos. He later revealed he had taken out an insurance policy out against his result in the Belgian touring car championship to pay for his F1 seat.

In this at least he was successful, winning Saturday’s support race in the category, but he proved one of the least qualified drivers to take the wheel of an F1 car. Adams crashed his Lotus within minutes of practice starting at the kink by the pit wall, and had several more spins and scrapes during the build-up to the race. Disappointed fans hung up a banner near the pits which read “bring back Zanardi”.

Another driver missing from the action was Olivier Beretta, who like Zanardi had been supplanted at Larrousse because the team needed to bring money in. Philippe Alliot, who had substituted for Mika Hakkinen at McLaren in Hungary, therefore returned to the team he had driven for the previous year.

He caused a stir when he remarked to journalists that he wished the car’s Benetton-sourced gearbox had the same automatic up-shift facility as the McLaren had. This set alarm bells ringing, as such a device would constitute an illegal driver aid, and the FIA were soon making enquiries.

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Barrichello claims youngest-ever pole position

It seldom stopped raining during practice. The rain continued into the first of the two qualifying sessions on Friday, but as the hour came to an end the track was beginning to dry.

For drivers and teams the question was whether to gamble on making a switch from wet weather tyres to slicks – there being no intermediate option available. Michael Schumacher stayed on wet weather tyres, but had to settle for second after a spin. Damon Hill went the same route as his championship rival and lined up third having been delayed by Schumacher’s team mate Jos Verstappen.

One Ferrari had been sidelined with a blown engine but the other was driven by Jean Alesi, who could usually be relied on to take a chance on slicks on a damp track. He proved true to form, but Alesi lost time behind Martin Brundle, who was also on a flying lap. Alesi vented his frustration at Brundle afterwards, claiming he had only got a seat at McLaren “because Ron Dennis couldn’t find someone else”.

Rubens Barrichello had to be persuaded by his Jordan team to take a gamble on slick tyres but it proved an inspired move – he pipped Schumacher to a provisional pole position by three-tenths of a second.

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But half an hour before the second qualifying session began on Saturday the track was dry. Jordan and Barrichello were beginning to accept the inevitability of losing their first pole position when the skies darkened and doused the circuit with fresh rainfall. That began a nerve-wracking hour for the team as they waited to see if conditions would improve sufficiently for anyone to beat Barrichello’s time.

What was good news for one Brazilian driver threatened to be very bad news for another. Christian Fittipaldi had failed to set a time on Friday due to an engine failure, and was now at risk of failing to qualify his Arrows. But the conditions improved enough for him to claim 15th on the grid.

This was bad news for Pacific, as it meant once again they had failed to get either driver on the grid. Bertrand Gachot was just 0.7 seconds shy of Adams’ Lotus, who in turn was over six second slower than his team mate Johnny Herbert. Lotus were anxiously awaiting the race debut of the significantly lighter and more competitive Mugen-Honda ZA5D engine, which had set tongues wagging with its performance in testing but wasn’t ready for its race debut.

The tension finally broke in the Jordan pits when the chequered flag fell and no one had been able to beat Barrichello’s time. At 22 years old, he had become F1’s youngest ever pole sitter.

1994 Belgian Grand Prix grid

Row 1 1. Rubens Barrichello 2’21.163
2. Michael Schumacher 2’21.494
Row 2 3. Damon Hill 2’21.681
4. Eddie Irvine 2’22.074
Row 3 5. Jean Alesi 2’22.202
6. Jos Verstappen 2’22.218
Row 4 7. David Coulthard 2’22.359
8. Mika Hakkinen 2’22.441
Row 5 9. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 2’22.634
10. Pierluigi Martini 2’23.326
Row 6 11. Gerhard Berger 2’23.895
12. Mark Blundell 2’24.048
Row 7 13. Martin Brundle 2’24.117
14. Gianni Morbidelli 2’25.114
Row 8 15. Andrea de Cesaris 2’25.695
16. Eric Bernard 2’26.044
Row 9 17. Olivier Panis 2’26.079
18. Michele Alboreto 2’26.738
Row 10 19. Philippe Alliot 2’26.901
20. Johnny Herbert 2’27.155
Row 11 21. David Brabham 2’27.212
22. Erik Comas 2’28.156
Row 12 23. Ukyo Katayama 2’28.979
24. Christian Fittipaldi 2’30.931
Row 13 25. Jean-Marc Gounon 2’31.755
26. Philippe Adams 2’33.885

Did not qualify

Bertrand Gachot, Pacific-Ilmor – 2’34.582
Paul Belmondo, Pacific-Ilmor – 2’35.729

Ride height concerns

The rain persisted on Sunday morning, when Schumacher headed a soggy warm-up by three seconds. But as the race start time approach the track was drying out, and this presented teams with some difficult questions.

Two races earlier in Germany a rules change had required them to fix planks to the underside of their cars to ensure they weren’t running too close to the ground. Conformity with the rules was checked by measuring the thickness of the planks after the race, and if too much was worn away the car would be disqualified.

Wet weather conditions require higher ride heights, but to be competitive in the dry teams needed to lower their cars. The problem was, having had no dry running the teams could not judge exactly how far to go. Those such as Williams and Benetton who had used active suspension the previous year did not have relevant data from the previous season to fall back on.

During his reconnaissance lap while driving to the grid, Hill decided his car was touching the ground too much and asked for his ride height to be raised. Schumacher also increased his car’s ride height, by half a millimetre. But no one could be sure they had got it right.

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Schumacher slips ahead

“Either you stop going on about the first corner, or I’m going to give you a slap,” Hill told his surprised team mate David Coulthard during the pre-race briefing at Williams.

The stress of the championship battle was having an impression on Hill. He didn’t react well to Coulthard’s warnings about pole sitter Barrichello’s start-line performance, which he had gleaned from racing against the Jordan driver in junior categories.

For his part Barrichello made it clear he would avoid interfering in the battle between the championship contenders. Although he held his lead at the start, Schumacher easily passed him on the Kemmel straight and by the end of lap Alesi had demoted the Jordan as well.

Barrichello swiftly regained second place, as the unfortunate Alesi suffered another engine failure at the beginning of lap two, but the next time by Hill also demoted the Jordan. By now, however, Schumacher was already ten seconds up the road.

In Hungary Olivier Panis had jumped the start and once again several drivers in the midfield, including Alliot, were clearly already moving when the lights changed. But again there was no response from the stewards and this time there were no incidents on the first lap.

With Hill now second, the rate at which Schumacher was pulling away fell to 0.7 seconds per lap, while behind them Barrichello continued to lose places. Coulthard took up third ahead of Hakkinen, but on lap 11 Heinz-Harald Frentzen spun at the Eau Rouge chicane while trying to pas the Jordan for fifth.

On the next lap Hill came in for his first of two pit stops, followed by Coulthard on the next lap. The pair had been separated by six seconds, but the benefit of a lap which much less fuel on board helped Coulthard emerged from his pit stop ahead of Hill. Schumacher was also two-stopping, and made his first visit to the pits on the lap after Coulthard.

The Benetton driver kept up the pace when he returned to the track, but on lap 19 he got off-line at the exit of Fagnes and spun, losing six second to the chasing Williams pair. “Sorry about that,” he told his team on the radio, adding “I think the tyres are OK.”

Hill was also on the radio to Williams, urging them to tell Coulthard to let him past. “My view is that the team should have acted sooner in asking David to let me by,” he said afterwards, “and I let them know my feelings on the radio”.

Coulthard eventually let him by as they approached Pouhon on lap 36, then at the end of the lap he came into the pits to have his rear wing checked. The team discovered a support mounting had broken but with eight laps remaining they believed it could go the distance. This can’t have been an easy decision given the events of Imola and the questions about the condition of Senna’s car when he had crashed.

But Coulthard now had another problem – rising temperatures during the long pit stop caused an electrical problem which left his car jammed in fourth gear. Mark Blundell caught and passed the Williams in his Tyrrell but Coulthard knocked his rival into a spin at La Source and took the place back.

There were no further dramas for Schumacher after his second pit stop. With a two-race ban for his Silverstone infraction likely to begin at the following round, he had gone into his enforced absence with a pair of wins which gave him a 35-point lead over Hill with 50 available.

Hill was a disappointed second, Hakkinen benefited from Coulthard’s problem to take third for McLaren on his return. Verstappen was an impressive fourth given that the first lap of the race was his first ever at Spa in dry weather.

Despite their pole position, Jordan came away without any points for the third race weekend in a row. Barrichello had skidded off at Pouhon following his pit stop – a few laps after Adams’ race ended in the same gravel trap.

1994 Belgian Grand Prix result

Pos # Driver Team lap Time/gap.reason
1 0 Damon Hill Williams-Renault 44 1hr 28’47.170
2 7 Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Peugeot 44 51.381
3 6 Jos Verstappen Benetton-Ford 44 1’10.453
4 2 David Coulthard Williams-Renault 44 1’45.787
5 4 Mark Blundell Tyrrell-Yamaha 43 1 lap
6 10 Gianni Morbidelli Footwork-Ford 43 1 lap
7 26 Olivier Panis Ligier-Renault 43 1 lap
8 23 Pierluigi Martini Minardi-Ford 43 1 lap
9 24 Michele Alboreto Minardi-Ford 43 1 lap
10 25 Eric Bernard Ligier-Renault 42 2 laps
11 32 Jean-Marc Gounon Simtek-Ford 42 2 laps
12 12 Johnny Herbert Lotus-Mugen-Honda 41 3 laps
13 15 Eddie Irvine Jordan-Hart 40 Alternator
5 Michael Schumacher Benetton-Ford 44 Disqualified
9 Christian Fittipaldi Footwork-Ford 33 Engine
31 David Brabham Simtek-Ford 29 Wheel
29 Andrea de Cesaris Sauber-Mercedes 27 Throttle
8 Martin Brundle McLaren-Peugeot 24 Accident
14 Rubens Barrichello Jordan-Hart 19 Accident
3 Ukyo Katayama Tyrrell-Yamaha 18 Engine
11 Philippe Adams Lotus-Mugen-Honda 15 Accident
28 Gerhard Berger Ferrari 11 Engine
19 Philippe Alliot Larrousse-Ford 11 Engine
30 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber-Mercedes 10 Accident
20 Erik Comas Larrousse-Ford 3 Engine
27 Jean Alesi Ferrari 2 Engine

Five hours after the chequered flag had fallen came a dramatic change in the order. Schumacher’s car was thrown out after it failed a technical inspection, and Hill was promoted to first place – he received the news shortly after arriving at Brussels airport.

The Jabroc plank fitted to the underside of Schumacher’s Benetton had measured 2240x300x10mm when new. The last dimension was the crucial one – the car was deemed illegal because more than 10% of its original thickness had been lost.

The narrowest the plank should have measured was therefore 9mm. But the stewards found it had been worn away to as little as 7.4mm thick at a position 100mm back from leading edge, and the worn section extended for around 800mm – more than a third of the plank.

Benetton lodged an appeal which was heard ten days after the race on September 7th – for convenience it was added to their two existing appeals from Germany and Britain. The team argued the damage had been done to Schumacher’s plank when he spun on a kerb at Fagnes, but the FIA claimed the scratches from that spin could be seen further back on the plank, and did not relate to the extensive wear seen at the front.

Benetton’s appeal was rejected and Schumacher’s disqualification was upheld. That left his points lead reduced to 21. And with Schumacher’s ban from the next two races in Italy and Portugal upheld, Hill had two priceless open opportunities to take aim at an open goal reduce Schumacher’s lead to almost nothing.

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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28 comments on “Hill handed win as Schumacher is thrown out”

  1. @keithcollantine “Schumacher also increased his car’s ride heigh, by half a millimetre.”

    I love these articles, it takes me back to my earlier F1 memories. Its funny how media and forums mis-construe the facts. My recollection of the DSQ of Schumi was that the FIA rejected the notion that his spin in Les Combe had any bearing on the plank, and the important component to that, is that I don’t ever recall the FIA mentioning that they “saw” the wear further back on the plank…

    1. It´s also good in showing how memory works. When thinking back to the race, the first thought is the one of scandal, of broadly discussed disqualification, mayby the spin. It´s only the complete write-up when I realise this was an utterly boring race to watch, Schumi running away, and apart from the early falling back of the Jordans all changes in position came from technical difficulties… and what they did to Eau Rouge was so awful, I´ll probably suppress any memory of it again in 5 minutes.

      1. Meanwhile as a Williams fan and therefore supporting Hill I was continually being enraged by seeing Hill going backwards every pit stop, so it’s more than 20 years of puting up with an Ecclestone gimmick that for me ruins much of F1s appeal.

        1. Must have been an awful year for Williams-fans, hoping for a driver that was ond-and-a-half seconds slower than the initial championship hope (Senna) to get the title and then miss it by one single point to a rival with so many dubious things revolving around…
          I´ve never cared back then, as an Alesi/Ferrari-fan I had my own moments of frustration (see: “as the unfortunate Alesi suffered another engine failure at the beginning of lap two”), but today, you have my sympathy.

  2. I was just 4 years old, but I can remember so much of this 1994 season. It was excitement and sadness all wrapped up in one season.

  3. Between this one and Hill’s 1998 win at Spa, I do wonder if Damon would be one of the drivers who would have had a lesser standing with fans, had there been radio broadcasts by the FOM back in the day. Jenson Button has got a lot of flak these past few years for his manner of talking on the radio, but generally people don’t respond too good when drivers complain on the radio about their teammates, but I really think his win at Spa in 1998 would have lost a lot of empathy would the radio conversations been broadcast at the time.

    And as always, great article, Keith!

  4. The 1994 Belgium Gp was also the F1 debut of this camera mounted on Mark Blundell-

    You can also see the chicane added at Eau Rouge at the start of that clip. While it did completely ruin that corner & was a really rubbish chicane I think its entirely understandable why it was put there as back then there was no runoff at Eau Rouge at all with an armco/concrete barrier right next to the track on both sides.

    For anyone who has not seen Zanardi’s 1993 accident-
    Another angle-
    Full speed replay-

    1. Good golly. How did he survive that blow(s) in that flimsy little car? It looked like an airplane crash. Senna spinning into the scene was a bit creepy, from today’s perspective. Thanks for posting those.

  5. Congratulations again on an excellent piece of reading Keith. I’m learning a lot about this season,things no other website has, not even Wikipedia! As always, looking forward to the next one! Hopefully after this series is finished you could write another one next year about other important season. As we say around here, dreaming is free! ;-)

  6. Mr win or lose
    28th August 2014, 15:18

    Nice race and a really nice article. Was Coulthard really 6 seconds behind Hill before the first series of pitstops? No way he could overcome such a deficit in just one lap. Something must have happened to Hill.

    1. It was the first season in the refueling era, and teams were not maximising inlaps/pit stops/outlaps as much as they have come to do in later years. It was one of the main reasons Benetton were doing so well in 1994.

      1. Mr win or lose
        28th August 2014, 23:56

        Yeah, maybe it was just inexperience, although pitstops were not a new thing in F1 back in 1994. Hill’s stop was actually pretty good, though.

        I watched the race today on YT. I thought it was funny that the commentators mentioned that Hill’s inlap at his second stop was significantly faster than Schumacher’s.

  7. What crazy memories. On the NBC broadcast, Matchett was going on and on about how everyone knew the “real” winner of this race. There was an uncomfortable silence until Hobbs came on and told him to pipe down about ancient history. I don’t know if the plank issue was intentional, but when I listen to Matchett often I must remind myself that he was a chief mechanic on one of the dirtiest years of one of the dirtiest teams in F1 history, with one of the dirtiest drivers ever in the cockpit. Between the sad events of 94 and the cheating and controversies over cheating in that era, these were really dark days for F1. In fact, I had largely tuned out, being preoccupied at the time with the travails of engineering school. It’s refreshing to see how far we’ve come in terms of safety and when we don’t have constant disputes about who has an illegal car on the grid.

  8. Another great article. As @Crammond elluded to above, the race sounds so dramatic in the write up, but its more the off track events providing the interest.

    I know its rain plus a much slower Eau Rouge (and therfore Kemmel straight), but an F1 quali lap of Spa @ 2’21.163 feels like torture – and Belmondo was just over 15s further back than that.

    I’m intregued about the Alliot accusation. Did anything more come of that?

    1. I’m intregued about the Alliot accusation. Did anything more come of that?

      The FIA investigated, Told them not to use it again, Gave them a warning & closed the matter.

      Going purely from memory here, I believe part of the reason for that was that it wasn’t a fully automatic gearbox, IT was basically a gear Pre-selection system where the driver still had to pull the paddle to signal he wanted an upshift but from there the computers would take over & only shift once the engine reach optimum revs.
      It was particularly effective on downshifts as it stopped drivers downshifting too early which helped prevent rear locking & over-reving of the engine on downshifts.

      When driver aids were reintroduced in 2001 I believe most teams ended up using a similar system where drivers could use the paddles to pre-select up or downsifts if they didn’t want to leave it fully upto the computer aids.

      You see in this incar video Montoya using the paddles to pre-select downshifts-

      1. Thanks for the info Peter, I never knew that before.

  9. Excellent article, as usual, Keith. Particularly interesting since it has so much to say about pay drivers. They are not a modern phenomenon and, in fact, were quite common in the past. Who remembers Nelson Piquet’s longtime Brabham team mate, Hector Rebaque, for instance? Now there was a guy who didn’t really deserve his seat but I guess Bernie needed the money in those days. Guys like Gutierrez, Chilton and Maldonado are almost aces compared to some in the past (as your article makes clear).

    1. It did make me laugh when everyone went crazy about Marussia and Chilton.

      Honestly, it’s not a new thing whatsoever.

      Musical chairs was very much the norm!

      1. @clive-allen @ecwdanselby What I find interesting is why pay drivers do elicit a stronger emotional reaction from a lot of the sport’s followers these days. I wonder if it’s just because the sport is covered in so much more detail now. 20 years ago in the UK the scope of the coverage was far smaller than it is now in terms of television, and internet coverage was non-existent. What little coverage there was tended to focus on the front runners. So people were less likely to know that, say, Zanardi had been turfed out to make way for Adams.

        Whereas now people do know and their expectations of F1’s competitors are the same as they would be of any other sport – i.e., they are competing at this level because they are the best, not the richest.

        1. I think you’ve nailed it, @keithcollantine. Media coverage is broader and deeper than it used to be so F1 fans are more aware of what is happening in feeder series. News of bright new talent spreads much faster and so people get annoyed when an also-ran with money is picked for an F1 drive, rather than an interesting star in GP2 or F3.

          Which makes Red Bull’s selection of Max Verstappen for next year even more interesting. The guy has been impressive in his brief career so far but can he really be ready? His father had a similarly meteoric rise into F1 but never really reached his apparent potential. And does anyone remember Mike Thackwell?

        2. @keithcollantine I think when you think back to the 80s and 90s, no one dared speak up, it wasn’t acceptable to speak out of turn. These days, speaking out of turn is done freely and is generally accepted. I think this contributes a lot to these sort of issues gaining air time these days.
          Also when I think back to the media coverage, most of it was focused on the track, now when I read all these articles, most of it is about off track happenings. Who would have thought that a meeting between 2 heads of a team (merc) and their 2 drivers (HAM/ROS) would create such headlines….

        3. It probably harks back to the old days of amateur racers too, back then it wasn’t so long since they had non-championship grands prix, so the idea of someone running what they brung (or hopping into someone else’s car) wasn’t as shocking as it would be now.

  10. Thanks very much for the positive feedback everyone!

    1. Thank you for going so in-depth on one of the most (sadly) intriguing seasons in F1 history.

    2. @keithcollantine If you do a review of 1995 next year, my F1 childhood highlights would almost be completely relived ;)

  11. Another great article, thanks :)

    I’ve said it before, but I think the chicane at Eau Rouge is a good chicane – if you can ignore the great corner that it replaced in 1994. I like the slightly awkward approach to it, the small kerbs, and especially the uphill acceleration out of it. However, I wonder what other options they pondered. Could they have used a solution similar to the original layout, where the first left-hander would’ve been roughly 90 degrees followed by a right-hand hairpin?

  12. I got the US broadcast of this race on DVD and I remember it well. To me, it solidified my belief that, in the rain, Michael had no equal and Damon Hill was not that great a driver in a superior car in any condition(my opinion on Damon has since softened). Under adverse conditions, Michael, driving on worn slicks in wet conditions, held off a charging Damon on fresh Goodyear wet tires for many laps.

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