If there is one word that does not describe the 1994 Formula One season, it's "uneventful." Potential technical rule violations, mayhem at the start-finish line, a fire in the pits, fresh faces on the podium and further FIA suspensions were all...
If there is one word that does not describe the 1994 Formula One season, it's "uneventful." Potential technical rule violations, mayhem at the start-finish line, a fire in the pits, fresh faces on the podium and further FIA suspensions were all in evidence as the F1 circus made its way to Hockenheim for the 1994 German Grand Prix.
With championship leader Benetton-Ford under FIA scrutiny for its "launch control" software and the second driver, young dutchman Jos Verstappen, repeatedly off the track during the practice and qualifying, Michael Schumacher would be taxed to the limit to get past the all-Ferrari front row at the start. But others had similar plans -- including Damon Hill in the #0 Williams-Renault and Mika Hakkinen in his McLaren-Peugeot.
As the light went green, Gerhard Berger, sitting on the pole, got a good start and clean lead, but chaos erupted behind him. His teammate, Jean Alesi, got a poor start as his engine was destined to die on the very first lap, while Schumacher was outraced to the corner by the ever-improving Ukyo Katayama in the Tyrrell-Yamaha. Fighting for the next position was Hill, while Hakkinen was attempting to find room on the white line on the outside of the track. When Hill ran out of room and had to move to the right, while Hakkinen attempted to avoid him, but eventually his rear wheel clipped David Coulthard's front wing, sending the McLaren careening across the track, damaging the Williams' wing and further inducing the accidents of three other drivers.
Hakkinen was unaware of exactly how the accident took place, but Coulthard was pointing the finger at the Finn. "I didn't make the best start and I was a bit slow into second gear, Hakkinen tried to come up on the inside and Blundell on the outside so they both tried to squeeze me not realising the other was there . With both of them doing that Hakkinen hit my front wheel and then went across and took off my front wing and took out Blundell as well."
At the end of the day, Hakkinen was to pay the price, with FIA maintaining its current hard line on driver behaviour, and banning him from Hungary for causing an "avoidable accident," the penalty that was also imposed on Jordan's Eddie Irvine earlier this year. Hakkinen and McLaren decided not to appeal the sentence and risk a heavier sentence, sand Philippe Alliot is expected to be in action on Hungaroring.
The five-car accident at the front of the field was not all, though; Hakkinen's teammate, Martin Brundle, forced Johnny Herbert's Lotus off the road, and at the back the two Minardis, Andrea de Cesaris' Sauber and Alessandro Zanardi's Lotus mixed it up and ended their races early. In further rule enforcement action, Alboreto, de Cesaris and Zanardi received suspended one-race bans for leaving the circuit after a crash without reporting to the stewards.
Once all the mayhem was left behind, it was Berger in the lead, Katayama in the second in his best-ever race position, and Hill looking for a way past Tyrrell. The cars touched in the third corner as the Williams driver attempted to force his way past, and Hill damaged his suspension in the contact. By the end of the lap, Katayama had lost second, but to Schumacher and not Hill.
The Williams was in the pits for a tie rod replacement -- but it had to line up behind Coulthard, who was already there for front wing repairs. As a result, Hill was to lose almost two laps during the repairs, rejoining the race in last place. "I lost a golden opportunity today. I'm not going to make excuses. [...] But at least Schumacher has not got points today either. The championship is still open."
Katayama's time in the spotlight was to run out quickly, though, as his throttle stuck open on the sixth lap, causing a spin in the stadium section. The Tyrrell retired from the race a lap later, the twelfth retirement in the race.
By this time Schumacher's Benetton was dogging the red Ferrari through the tight stadium turns, making several unsuccessful attempts to pass. On the fast back and front straights, though, the Ford V8 was no match for Berger's Ferrari V12 power, with the Benetton managing to stay close only by sliptreaming behind the leader.
Berger admitted that it was not easy to fight off Schumacher, though: "He still has the better car, it is very quick in the braking areas. Although I was in trouble, I could keep him behind. I was only in a dangerous position once, when he came alongside me, but I was able to block him. I was just able to keep him behind, although I was on the limit." Nevertheless, the packed grandstands -- with 150,00 fans in attendance -- waved German and Benetton fans furiously each time the leaders passed by.
On lap 13, with Schumacher unable to make an impression on Berger, made an early pit stop for fuel and tires, dropping just two positions, behind the surprising Ligiers of Olivier Panis and Eric Bernard, and quickly regaining second place, but now 22 seconds behind. Berger, planning to go for a single-stop race, kept going, but without the luxury of easing of his pace. Said Berger: "If he had made two stops he would have been in trouble anyway, and if he was planning one stop by keeping him behind me until we had both stopped, I had a good chance anyway."
Further drama was to come two laps later, as Verstappen brought the second Benetton into the pits for fuel and tires. The refueling hose did not seat correctly on the fuel filler valve, and as it came loose, fuel was sprayed liberally over the driver, car and crew. The fumes erupted in flames a fraction of a second later, with Verstappen still strapped in the car. In the four seconds that elapsed before the fire was put out, the heat melted a mechanic's visor and Verstappen's race suit's right arm: "At first I thought it was water, not petrol. Then when it caught fire I was panicking. Those few seconds seemed like half an hour."
While the refueling process was shown not to be 100% secure, the fire crews acted rapidly and efficiently to put out the 10-metre high flames. The fire was certainly far more spectacular than the one experienced the same day at the IndyCar race in Michigan, but FOCA president Bernie Ecclestone is not panicking: "I'm no more worried about this than any other accident. Somebody made a mistake and we have to find out what happened, but it does not make me have a rethink on refuelling."
The Ligiers were running well, with the power of the Renault engine quite useable on the long straights of Hockenheim, and maintaining third and fourth positions after Schumacher's pit stop -- after scoring not a single point in the first half of the year. Olivier Panis was maintaining a 10-second lead on teammate Bernard, who was confortably ahead of the Arrows-Fords of Christian Fittipaldi and Gianni Morbidelli.
The retirement list was about grow, though, and on the 17th lap Coulthard parked his car with an electrical problem preventing him from shifting gears. Two laps later, Brundle, who had been working his way back up the field after the first-lap incident, parked his McLaren with yet another blown Peugeot engine. "I was having a really good race, driving my way up through the field when quite suddenly the engine appeared to misfire and then blew."
The most significant retirement, at least from the World Championship perspective, though, was Schumacher's Benetton-Ford. He had been experiencing some performance problems since his pit stop, and finally retired on the 20th lap with a problem in the "fly-by-wire" electronic throttle system.
Once Schumacher retired, Berger held a 40-second lead over the second-place Ligier, and there was now an opportunity for Damon Hill to make up some ground in the points standings. However, the Williams was mired at the back of the field, some ten seconds askew of even the Simtek-Ford of Jean-Marc Gounon in ninth place. Hill would continue a charge through the field, but would be destined to finish in eighth place, behind the Larrousse-Fords of Erik Comas and Olivier Beretta.
The only events of significance in the second half of the race were the retirements of both Simtek-Fords, David Brabham with clutch problems and Gounon with engine electricals. This left a solitary Ferrari at the front, followed by both Ligiers, both Arrows, both Larrousses and the Williams of Hill to finish the race.
So it was to be the first victory for Prancing Horse; a Ferrari driver had not been on the topmost step of the podium since Alain Prost's victory in the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix, narly four years earlier. Berger gave much of the credit to team manager, Luca di Montezemolo: "I am very happy, happy for myself, of course, happy for the team, too, because they needed this. [...] I know how Luca di Montezemolo must be feeling: since he has been there he has been driving us very hard to improve the situation and build up a good structure."
Panis and Bernard were understandable happy at their first podium finishes and Ligier's first since Blundell scored a third at Hockenheim a year ago. "I'm delighted for the team, they have done so much work since it was taken over by Flavio Briatore," said Panis, while for Bernard the result also culminated a personal comeback: "It is a tremendous boost after the difficult period I have been through since my accident in 1991. It's also a fabulous reward for the team."
The teams now move on to the twisty Hungaroring in two weeks's time. With Hakkinen sitting the race out, and with Schumacher rumoured to start his pending two-race suspension there, there are surely more interesting developments in store. And of course the Italian Grand Prix, at Monza, is still in doubt because of environmental concerns, too ...
-- This article is copyright (c) 1994 by Tom Haapanen and rec.autos.sport.info. It may not be distributed on other online services without the permission of the author.