“1994: The Untold Story” reviewed

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The 1994 F1 season shaped the modern world championship like no other 12 months in the sport’s history. The deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger and a series of other serious crashes forced the sport to drastically reconsider its approach to safety.

The loss of as great a driver as Senna, following the departures of other champions such as his long-term rival Alain Prost, triggered a changing of the guard. The new talent of Michael Schumacher rose to take his place, but his first world championship victory was marked by a series of controversies and was decided by a contentious collision with Damon Hill.

Many chapters have been written on the events of this year, not least in the numerous volumes on Senna. Hill himself (in “Grand Prix Year”) and Benetton mechanic-turned-broadcaster Steve Matchett (in “Life in the Fast Lane”) provided fascinating insights from the two teams which duelled over that year’s championships.

Now Ibrar Malik has produced a broad history of the season in “1994: The Untold Story”. Reminiscent of Christopher Hilton’s book on 1982 – another season marked by tragedy, political intrigue and a down-to-the-wire title fight – Malik has penned a well-research and thorough guide to the period.

With 25 years of hindsight it is easy to view 1994 through a mawkish lens focusing on the events in Imola. But in an era where F1 weekends seem to come and go without many talking points, in 1994 something extraordinary seemed to happen at every round. Mentally I’m already back in front of the television in the small hours watching Hill’s mastery of the wet in Suzuka, and ‘that’ collision in Adelaide.

Malik has dug deep with his sources for the book, and not being one of the usual F1 publication suspects, brings a refreshingly different perspective and array of interviews, particularly from mechanics on the front line. Likewise the text is not just a rehash (or reprint) of contemporary reports, which gives some refreshing perspective, and pushes for new insights.

As with other releases from Performance Publishing the book is very well presented with some great illustrative photos throughout. Equally, priced at a not unreasonable £29, this is well worth the investment, and a worth addition to the bookshelf.

RaceFans rating

Rating four out of five

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“1994: The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season”

Author: Ibrar Malik
Publisher: Performance Publishing
Published: 2019
Pages: 164
Price: £29.00
ISBN: 9780957645035

RaceFans’ history of the 1994 Formula 1 season

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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12 comments on ““1994: The Untold Story” reviewed”

  1. Did Benetton use “option 13” traction control?

    Books like this obviously have a market, but at what point do folks let things go? Darn, I’m going to have that “Frozen” song in my head all day. Incidentally, I asked for the 1982 book when it came out, but have yet to open it.

    1. Not George, Willem Toet has indicated in some articles that he has produced that Benetton were using a form of traction aid, but did not function in the way that traction control works and was therefore legal according to the regulations of the time.

      One important aspect about traction control is the fact that it requires a means of directly measuring the wheel speed in order to work out when the wheel is beginning to spin, so it can then send that information back to the ECU. The ECU can then work out what action to take – applying the brakes or cutting out a variable number of ignition sparks to reduce the engine power, for example, with the latter system being fairly common on the cars of the early 1990s.

      Now, when the B194 was investigated, whilst they did find “Option 13”, it is worth noting that nobody ever found any device fitted to the car that could measure whether the rear wheels were breaking traction and starting to spin. The indication is that there wasn’t a mechanism by which the ECU could directly measure the rate of rotation of the wheels and to dynamically work out whether the rear wheels were spinning or not.

      However, if the engine map had a fixed code that could run a routine along the lines of “if the car has a degrees of steering lock and is in gear b, then if the engine rpm exceeds c, cut the ignition a fixed number of times on d number of cylinders”, then the system doesn’t dynamically assess what the driver is doing.

      It doesn’t respond directly to what the driver is doing, and it does not change in response to the track conditions either – so, for example, if the threshold was set too low and it turned out to be possible to use more rpm than originally expected without having wheelspin, then it could actually be a detriment to the driver (as it would begin cutting the power even if the wheels were not spinning).

      Now, simple routines such as that which were coded into the ECU would be legal, as they do not meet the definition of traction control – only being indirectly linked to what the driver’s throttle input is – and, it seems, was quite possibly being used by multiple teams that season: the author of this book notes that Sauber, for example, were found to be walking around with a set up manual from a private test in early 1994 that seemed to mention using such a device.

      On a broader note, having done some work with the author of this book, whilst I can understand why some might believe that the author is trying to exonerate Benetton, I felt that wasn’t what they’d set out to do – there were a few times where he asked if I felt that he was being too favourable to Benetton and perhaps should rewrite some sections of text. I felt that he was frustrated that there only ever seems to be a limited number of fixed perspectives that were always repeated about the events of that season, even though there were some events at the time that present challenges to the fixed narratives that are often repeated, and therefore wanted to challenge that by coming at the events of that season in a different light.

      If I recall well, one of the things that sparked his interest was when he stumbled across an article from the 1994 Brazilian GP, where Ron Dennis was trying to justify why McLaren still had the code for traction control on their ECU. The way in which Ron defended himself – which was that the code was there, but it was “disarmed” – was strikingly similar to the defence used by Ross Brawn.

      However, he found that very few fans seemed to have been aware that McLaren seem to have had something similar to “Option 13” on their car – if any complaints against McLaren are raised about their 1994 season, it’s usually in relation to their gearbox (which was forgotten due to the debate over Benetton, but it was illegal – though the FIA quietly allowed McLaren’s results to stand if McLaren agreed never to use that gearbox again). It was from incidents such as that that he wanted to then look at what went on that season in more detail.

  2. Been waiting for this review, as I tend to stay away from books that claim to tell an untold story, or the real truth, or the hidden truth, or some such variation. But it seems that this book is the real deal instead of just some sensationalist cash-grab, so putting it on my wishlist.

  3. I have already read this book and to be honest it came across as trying to explain away the allegations, and despite the authors protestations they seem as though they are a Schumacher fan and not unbiased as they claim to be.

    1. Thank you for reading the book. I am the author, Ibrar Malik, you can search for me on the internet using that name or ibsey (the name I use in F1 forums like autosport / gp rejects). Go & prove I am a schumacher fan with one of my 1,000’s of posts then if you truly believe this then. Because if you don’t come back with prove, then that means 1: you don’t actually believe what you said. 2. you don’t feel what you said is actually worth your time to investigate either.

  4. Now, only 25 years later, people are coming clean regarding one of the most controversial seasons ever. I think this book is the third time I see someone covering that year recently.

    Benetton’s mechanical traction control finally surfaced, despite everyone being aware of it by the perfect starts and characteristic engine sound on corner exits. Not the electronic version on the ECU, a mechanical one inside the differential that got Ford worried by how abruptly it cut ignition to the cilinders.

    Briatore’s ethics were only criticized after Renault’s crashgate years later, despite Verstappen Sr almost getting killed in that fuel incident whose picture is on the cover of this book.

    A few people dare to criticize Schumacher due to his condition today, but he was anything but fair in his track behavior, something that became evident at Adelaide that year, and also at Monaco qualifying years later with Ferrari. Him pushing former teammate Barrichello against the wall when driving for Mercedes (having nothing at stake) did little in his defense.

    Newey’s turning things around to produce a winning car at the end of season cemented his already good reputation.

    And finally the lost of Senna and all the upcoming battles we missed. We missed seeing him driving to beat Prost’s 4 titles, beating and getting beat by future champions Schumacher and Hakkinen. And maybe giving Ferrari a title before retiring at the age of 40.

    It was really a season for the books. Literally. Lots of books.

    1. I have been a Fan of Formula 1 since the Season 1982 onward. Going on 38+ years a Fan, or so.

      During the years of mid 80’s to early 90’s, Formula 1 provided an epic list of Driver talent and racing competitiveness. Too many iconic drivers to really mention quickly, but my standout fave was always Ayrton Senna De Silva (right from the first Monaco 1984 Toleman showing). I have always tended to follow drivers more than teams. For Ayrton it was iconic sequence Toleman – Lotus – McLaren – Williams.

      That 1994 Weekend in Imola broke my heart. Rubens (near miss), then tragically Roland and then Ayrton lost.

      It took ten years for me to face the idea, the heart, to re-form my passion to watch Formula 1 again. That weekend of Imola 1994 defines break-point of the two halves of my Formula 1 passion.

      Still personally sombre internally about the events this tragic F1 weekend, so many years on.

  5. I think this book has value for new F1 fans, but less so for the “older” generation that lived through the events of 1994.

    I found most of the book replayed much of the well known stories of the time but unlike most publications this was was presented through the lens that Benetton were/are innocent and presented a case for it.

    There is no “new evidence” in the book, just more detail about lesser known stories from the year. I found the premise flawed that the author spends most of the book saying that Benetton were falsly accused, yet, accuses others without clear evidence.

    It’s not a bad book for the authors first attempt – Not worth nearly £30 for, try and get it second hand.

    1. I have read the book and I agree with your comment. It is very strange that the author states that they are unbiased and then throughout the whole book was defending Schumacher and Benetton, while accusing pretty much everyone else!

      1. All the professional reviews of the book (20+ including the above race fans review) seem to disagree with your assessment above.

  6. I’m the author of 1994: The Untold Story, and I will be releasing a follow up book entitled, Team Lotus: Struggling Beyond The Post Colin Chapman Era (due for release in days hopefully). I believe this Lotus book is just as good as the 1994 book as there is a few shocking stories to be told in that also…😉 To keep up to date on the Lotus book go to; http://www.1994f1.com/lotusbook/

  7. Having read the book the RaceFans review strikes me as somewhat generous. The text is littered with typos and grammatical errors which at £29 is not acceptable and leaves the impression that the publishers didn’t bother to proof before they published. Furthermore, it is evident that the author would have benefitted from the advice and input of a professional editor given the amount of repetition, flawed logic and ill-advised speculation.

    This, however, is not the fundamental problem with the book. The author has said that he has not written from the perspective of a Schumacher fan, this may well be the case, but the text does not read this way. Indeed, some passages read less as an analytical look at the events of the season and more like a cringe inducing fanboy’s defence of their favourite driver – the bullet point mitigation of Schumacher taking out Hill at Adelaide being a case in point.

    However, the book’s most significant defect is that it relies on interviews with ex Benetton employees all of whom, unsurprisingly, make the case that Benetton didn’t do anything dodgy – well yes, they would say that. Those with evidence or knowledge as to the other side of the debate haven’t been interviewed so the book is inherently unbalanced. Moreover, the author’s arguments are often made on the basis of assumptions, broad hypotheticals and general speculation as to the actions and motivations of those involved.

    It is a shame that the book is flawed in this way as there are aspects of interest. The technical wrangling in 1993 is important and the advantage Schumacher gained from adopting left foot breaking at an early stage to make best use of the Benetton’s diffuser is a key point but this is muddled in the wider arguments. The book is presented, priced and sold as a professional product, but it reads as an earnest but amateur publication.

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