Hill wins as crash crushes Lotus’s recovery hopes

1994 Italian Grand Prix flashback

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Formula One made a heavy-hearted return to Italy for the first grand prix in the country since the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger four months earlier.

But the Italian Grand Prix, held 20 years ago today, almost didn’t go ahead amid the urgent push to improve F1 track safety in the wake of events at Imola. One month before the race Marco Piccinini, the president of the Commissione Sportiva Automobilistica Italiana, said Italy’s automobile club had withdrawn permission for the race to take place.

Representatives of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association had demanded improvements to the run-off areas, particularly at the high-speed corners at the start of the lap. But to do so would have involved felling trees in the Royal Villa of Monza Park, which met with local opposition on environmental grounds.

Recently-elected Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi intervened within 24 hours of Piccinini’s announcement. Berlusconi, who had previously helped Bernie Ecclestone in his dealings with television broadcasters, reached an agreement with the Formula One boss for the race to go ahead.

As a concession to the GPDA’s demands the Lesmo 2 corner was tightened, but the run-off areas at Curva Grande and Lesmo 1 remained unchanged. However further improvements to the safety of the circuit were promised for the following season.

It was a sign that the GPDA’s resolve to force higher safety standards was weakening. There were signs of dissent within its ranks: Ferrari’s Jean Alesi said he was “appalled” by some drivers who were “prepared to do everything to prevent the Monza race happening”.

“A world championship without the Italian Grand Prix at Monza does not deserve the name,” he added.

Benetton struggle without Schumacher

Relations were strained at Williams as well. Damon Hill arrived at the 12th round of the championship knowing that with Michael Schumacher banned from the following two races he had a priceless opportunity to demolish the Benetton drivers’ 21-point championship lead.

Hill intended to start by asserting his position at Williams. To begin with he wanted David Brown, who had been race engineer to Senna and previous Williams champions Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell, to switch to his side of the garage from David Coulthard’s. He got his wish.

It was an inevitably weakened Benetton outfit that arrived at Monza. Not only was Schumacher banned from the race, he elected not to attend the grand prix.

Benetton’s line-up therefore comprised Jos Verstappen, who was making his eighth start and had never raced at Monza before, and JJ Lehto, who despite the promises of team principal Flavio Briatore had hardly sat in the car since being pulled from the race team three months earlier.

Matters took a turn for the worse for Benetton on Friday when Verstappen damaged his chassis. Following overnight repairs he suffered a further setback during Saturday qualifying when the onboard camera fell off Pierluigi Martini’s car and smashed his sidepod – fortunately missing the driver. The delays left him tenth on the grid, which was still ten places better than Lehto managed.

Alesi had further cause to cheer Monza’s reinstatement on the calendar when, at his 82nd attempt, he seized his first F1 pole position. Gerhard Berger joined him on the front row, doubling the joy of the Ferrari faithful.

Lotus stun with fourth

Hill claimed third on the grid but Coulthard was bumped back to fifth by one of the greatest surprises of the season: Johnny Herbert’s Lotus in fourth place.

Neither of Lotus’s cars had started higher than 15th all season. But at Monza the combination of their low-drag configuration, a supple set-up to handle Monza’s kerbs and – perhaps mostly importantly – a lighter and more powerful new Mugen-Honda engine helped Herbert split the Williams drivers and put his car on the second row.

The team had only one gearbox suitable to work with the new engine, which went to Herbert. Alessandro Zanardi – back in the car for his home race following Philippe Adams’ Spa appearance – had to make do with the old equipment, but demonstrated the car’s affinity for Monza by taking 13th on the grid.

Herbert could have been forgiven for feeling under pressure ahead of the start of the race. Lotus, a once-great team of the sport with a 36-year heritage, had not scored a point all year and at the previous round had resorted to taking a pay driver after a court ordered them to pay a debt owed to Cosworth. A podium finish – or better – promised to hand them a financial lifeline.

1994 Italian Grand Prix grid

Row 11. Jean Alesi 1’23.844
2. Gerhard Berger 1’23.978
Row 23. Damon Hill 1’24.158
4. Johnny Herbert 1’24.374
Row 35. David Coulthard 1’24.502
6. Olivier Panis 1’25.455
Row 47. Mika Hakkinen 1’25.528
8. Andrea de Cesaris 1’25.540
Row 59. Eddie Irvine 1’25.568
10. Jos Verstappen 1’25.618
Row 611. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’25.628
12. Eric Bernard 1’25.718
Row 713. Alessandro Zanardi 1’25.733
14. Ukyo Katayama 1’25.889
Row 815. Martin Brundle 1’25.933
16. Rubens Barrichello 1’25.946
Row 917. Gianni Morbidelli 1’26.002
18. Pierluigi Martini 1’26.056
Row 1019. Christian Fittipaldi 1’26.337
20. JJ Lehto 1’26.384
Row 1121. Mark Blundell 1’26.574
22. Michele Alboreto 1’26.832
Row 1223. Yannick Dalmas 1’27.846
24. Erik Comas 1’27.894
Row 1325. Jean-Marc Gounon 1’28.353
26. David Brabham 1’28.619

Did not qualify

Bertrand Gachot, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’31.387
Paul Belmondo, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’32.035

Pre-race problems for Hill and Berger

Ferrari’s hopes of winning a race in Italy for the first time in six years suffered a blow before it had even began. During the morning warm-up Berger went off at the Roggia chicane, slamming backwards into a tyre barrier, and had to receive medical attention.

The incident raised further questions over safety standards in F1 as the session continued while Berger was attended to at the side of the track. But after a visit to hospital he was judged fit to drive – though he had to switch to the spare car which did not have Ferrari’s latest engine specification.

Hill faced a similar problem when his car sprang an oil leak on the grid. He dashed back to the Williams pit to take over the spare car, which as well as lacking Renault’s newest engine was also not set up to his liking.

Irvine takes out Herbert

Ferrari’s V12 power had propelled them to a front row lock-out on their home track. But their single previous win in 1994 had come one a day when the two Williams cars had been compromised. With Herbert’s Lotus also potentially in the mix, it promised to be an exciting race.

But Lotus’s hopes were dashed within seconds of the start. Eddie Irvine got away briskly from ninth on the grid, but arriving at the Rettifilio chicane he braked too late and hit Herbert.

Several other cars became involved in the melee, and with stationary machinery littering the first corner the decision was taken to stop the race. Although it gave Herbert the opportunity to rejoin, he had to do so in the spare car from the pit lane, minus Lotus’s new engine.

At the second start the Ferrari pair repeated their formation getaway ahead of the Williams pair. Alesi, planning to pit twice, pulled away from his team mate, who was still sore from his morning crash and went across the gravel at the Rettifilio early on, and came under renewed pressure from Hill and Coulthard.

Ukyo Katayama, who was also planning to pit twice, shot up to seventh at the start and then picked off Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Mika Hakkinen. He arrived on the tail of the Williams pair by the time of his lap 12 pit stop, but a sticking left-rear wheel took him out of contention.

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Alesi out of luck again

A worse fate awaited Alesi when he came in three laps later. His gearbox refused to select first gear and his car was pushed back into the garage. The fuming Alesi, who had been forced to retire from second place two weeks earlier, stormed off.

Ferrari had lobbied strongly for refuelling pit stops in the face of strong opposition from rival teams, and were continuing to resist efforts to scrap it for 1995. But they must have wondered whether it was worth it when their other car’s pit stop also torpedoed his chances of victory.

Berger’s stop went smoothly, but just as he was about to leave Olivier Panis pulled into the adjacent pit box, forcing him to wait. The Monza crowd jeered the Ligier mechanics as the delayed Ferrari lost enough time to drop behind both Williams drivers.

As at Spa, Coulthard jumped in front of Hill when they pitted. But this time it came back to bite him. Coulthard was quick to hand over the lead when ordered to, but on the final lap his engine coughed at the Parabolica and he coasted to a stop, out of fuel.

That cost Williams six points on a day when they had a chance to inflict maximum damage on Benetton. Verstappen had tangled with Zanardi on the first lap and later retired with damage. Lehto, meanwhile, could have inherited sixth from Coulthard had a wheel sensor not failed, leaving him unable to activate his speed limiter when he came into the pits, leading to a costly ten-second penalty.

Berger, who had closed on the Williams pair as Hill moderated his pace, was promoted to second. Hakkinen inherited the final podium place, and with Martin Brundle in fifth McLaren had both cars in the points for the first time all year. The pair were separated by Rubens Barrichello, who had to take evasive action on the straight when Frenzten’s Sauber blew its Mercedes engine in front of him.

Having again missed out on his first podium finish, Coulthard was classified sixth ahead of Eric Bernard’s lapped Ligier. The two Minardi’s retired shortly after half-distance, so there was no repeat of their finishing line acrobatics of 12 months earlier.

1994 Italian Grand Prix result

Pos.#DriverTeamLapsTime / Gap / Reason
10Damon HillWilliams-Renault531hr 18’02.754
228Gerhard BergerFerrari534.930
37Mika HakkinenMcLaren-Peugeot5325.640
414Rubens BarrichelloJordan-Hart5350.634
58Martin BrundleMcLaren-Peugeot531’25.575
62David CoulthardWilliams-Renault52Out of fuel
725Eric BernardLigier-Renault521 lap
820Erik ComasLarrousse-Ford521 lap
95JJ LehtoBenetton-Ford521 lap
1026Olivier PanisLigier-Renault512 laps
31David BrabhamSimtek-Ford46Puncture
3Ukyo KatayamaTyrrell-Yamaha45Accident
9Christian FittipaldiFootwork-Ford43Engine
15Eddie IrvineJordan-Hart41Engine
4Mark BlundellTyrrell-Yamaha39Accident
23Pierluigi MartiniMinardi-Ford30Accident
24Michele AlboretoMinardi-Ford28Gearbox
30Heinz-Harald FrentzenSauber-Mercedes22Engine
29Andrea de CesarisSauber-Mercedes20Engine
32Jean-Marc GounonSimtek-Ford20Gearbox
19Yannick DalmasLarrousse-Ford18Accident
27Jean AlesiFerrari14Gearbox
12Johnny HerbertLotus-Mugen-Honda13Alternator
6Jos VerstappenBenetton-Ford0Accident
11Alessandro ZanardiLotus-Mugen-Honda0Accident
10Gianni MorbidelliFootwork-Ford0Accident

The end of the road for Lotus

Herbert had climbed his way up to 14th in the old car before its engine died. Less than 24 hours later Lotus applied for an Administration Order at the High Court.

What might Herbert have achieved had he not been taken out at the start of the original race? Even on a two-stop strategy a podium finish was surely possible. With that it’s inevitably tempting to think that the Lotus story could have ended differently.

A high-ranking finish might have provided a valuable glimpse of their potential. Like Brabham two years earlier, a once-great F1 team was nearing its demise. Although the Lotus name returned to F1 in 2010 and was the subject of a bitter row between two teams who claimed the right to use it, neither can claim to be descendants of the real Lotus.

Given that Irvine had already served a three-race ban for his role in a crash at Brazil, he must have been relieved not to receive a further penalty for his role in the first-corner crash.

He would be on the grid at the next round in Portugal, but Schumacher wouldn’t. “Of the two races where Michael’s away that’s one down, one to go,” said Hill, who now trailled the Benetton driver by 11 points with five races remaining.

Images © Williams/LAT, F1 Fanatic

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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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17 comments on “Hill wins as crash crushes Lotus’s recovery hopes”

  1. The Lotus 109 is one of my all-time favorite F1 cars – right next to the Jordan 191. The lines are just classic, clean and simple. It looks much faster than it was. I spent most of a summer holiday building Revell model kits of the 191 and (I think) the 107 with my dad, one of my fondest memories of a common hobby with him when I was a teenager. Thanks for another great write-up. Looking at a race like this really makes the races back them seem chaotic and unpredictable – not like the ones we are used to nowadays.

  2. Amazing how many cars failed to finish in those days.

  3. All those great names of F1, Team Lotus, Brabham, Tyrrell, March, Ligier etc… the 90’s really ballsed up classic F1

  4. Thanks to the article, I was tempted to watch the full race. Coulthard was ordered to and let Hill past on lap 29. The same lap where Rosberg made his mistake and Hamilton got into the lead this weekend, 20 years after.

    /r/conspiracy/ ?


  5. So there you have it, Eddie Irvine is entirely responsible for the downfall of Lotus.

  6. Hill wins as crash crushes Lotus’s recovery hopes

    What is this, 1962? ;)

    1. Formula Indonesia (@)
      11th September 2014, 17:04


      1. Woah you got a little serious there.

    2. @andae23 What happened in 1962? Sorry I’m a bit slow today and don’t get the joke :/

      1. @wpinrui Not much in particular, Graham Hill won the World Championship for BRM, while Lotus kept retiring from races. :)

        1. Nice! That clears it up :D

  7. That race in my minds ranks next to Suzuka ‘90,98,99 Jerez ’97, Interlagos ’08, ’12 and Abu dhabi ’10 as the absolutely most frustrating races I have ever watched. In fact is the most frustrating of the non champion deciders.
    On another note, had the internet been developed as it is today the conspiracy theories about how the Ligier-Renault delayed the Ferrari and handed the victory to the Williams-Renault would have hit the sky. I mean most people here are seasoned F1 fans do you remember any other instance where a car delayed another for several seconds in the pits?

    1. The Ligier team however were owned at that time by Flavio Briatore, Bennetons team manager and rivals to Williams so wouldn’t have wanted to help them too much.

    2. I haven’t seen the incident. How did they hold up the Ferrari for that long? Were the pit boxes too close to each other? Usually a hold up is only brief as a car enters or exits its box.

      1. @Keir I remember that the Ligier pit box was right after Ferrari’s. The moment Berger was leaving the Ligier came the driver braked to avoid collision and stopped with the car’s nose pointing the Ligier box blocking the space in which Berger would go. I believe he stalled which can happen but the Ligier mechanics even though were very close, it took them ages to move the car which amounts to 8-10 secs in F1 time. If my memory serves that is. The Ferrari unfortune in Monza in 1994 is challenged by their 1995 misforune with both cars retiring after leading in formation. The difference is that while in 1994 the lead came through the sheer grunt of the Ferrari V12 that propelled them faster than the opposition un the long starights, in 1995 the lead was inherited courtesy of the Schumacher-Hill collision so it was easier to swallow.

  8. Interesting to note that Lotus failed despite having so many sponsor logos on their car. I can’t imagine how Marussia and Caterham and surviving having never had a large sponsor backing them.

    1. The Lotus of today is starting to look like that with lots of different what looks to me like small sponsors.

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