Ibrar Malik's Blog
April 15, 2019
Roland in the Simtek
Ratzenberger was popular among other F1 drivers and drove to that fateful San Marino GP with JJ Lehto. The Austrian, just weeks into his dream job, was attempting to qualify for his second Grand Prix with the new and underfunded Simtek team. During a fast lap he had a minor off-track excursion and instead of coming into the pits to check for damage he weaved the car, perhaps trying to judge for himself. Believing the front wing was OK, Ratzenberger carried onto another quick lap. That would prove to be a fatal error. Book contributor, Willem Toet, admitted “I’ve done similarly risky things and got away with it so I know that sometimes luck is with you and sometimes not.” As he approached the fastest part of the track his front wing failed under the heavy loading, and the Simtek ploughed straight into a concrete wall at 195mph. Ratzenberger was killed instantly and it was horrible seeing his limp head rolling from side to side, as the car bounced over a kerb and came to a stop. The popular Austrian had spent the last 11 years plugging away in the lower categories of motor racing just to get into F1. In that time he had built himself a reputation as a hardworking and a universally loved driver, so it was sad he could not reap the rewards of his efforts. However, it is comforting to know that Ratzenberger fulfilled his ambition to get into F1 and died doing what he truly loved.
Simtek later paid tribute to Ratzenberger via their air box livery.
The Toyota SARD team whom Ratzenberger was due to race for in Le Mans that year, left his name on the car as a mark of respect. The team finished second.
The final spot on the starting grid at the 1994 San Marino GP was left empty out of respect for Ratzenberger. Whilst his team bravely carried on with the event simply because they felt that was what Roland would have wanted. The decision on whether or not Simtek raced was left to their other driver, David Brabham, who later recalled: “I only raced because I needed to pick the team up, to help them get through the situation.” The sport, however, was in shock, this was the first race meeting fatality in twelve years so it was a crushing blow to a generation who had never experienced such a loss. Ayrton Senna, was deeply affected and on the grid for the race the following day, he had put an Austrian flag in his car to wave after the race in tribute to Roland. As you probably know, he never got the chance. Within the stunned paddock, the drivers came together in search of answers. Niki Lauda urged Senna to use his position as the sport’s most famous driver to lead a reformed Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) and lobby the FIA for better safety standards. Looking back now it’s clear Ratzenberger’s death was the initial spark which ignited the constant improvement of safety standards within F1. Not only can the re-formation of the GPDA trace its roots to Roland’s tragic accident. But in its aftermath, we saw the formation of an Expert Advisory Group which looked at improving F1 safety in other areas. It went on to develop measures like the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device which attaches to helmets to avoid whiplash or worse, higher cockpit sides and much more.
Perhaps Ratzenberger’s greatest legacy was F1 safety developments stemming from his death, like the higher cockpit sides shown above. This along with other measures saved drivers lives since.
Ratzenberger’s death along with subsequent accidents forced the sport to unite in a way which it has not done before or since. Willem Toet knows from being an occasional team representative at technical (regulations) working group meetings since, that nothing unites stakeholders like the issue of safety. The resulting scientific approach towards safety also improved the average road car – thus saving 10s of thousands of men, women and children across the world. After the Expert Advisory Group was formed at the following race (Monaco 1994) it looked at what governments were doing to prevent people being killed on roads, with a view to learning lessons for F1. To its considerable surprise, it found nothing had changed since 1974 as safety proposals were being blocked by the industry part of the European Commission who were under the influence of the car industry. Max Mosley, the FIA president at the time, changed this within Brussels and in 2014 he told Autosport Magazine; “It’s reckoned that since 2000, there have been 100,000 fewer killed (on everyday roads) than would have been if there had been none of the measures. And about 40 percent of that is a combination of the laws that were brought in the EU after we overcame the industry lobby, plus the influence of Euro NCAP, so that’s really significant.” It is questionable whether that would have happened without Ratzenberger’s accident triggering it.
Willem Toet with whom this blog has been written in collaboration with. He was Benetton’s Head of Aerodynamics during 1994 and has contributed extensively towards the book.
Toet added; “Somehow the ‘silent majority’ had become numbed to the devastating road toll, but a tragedy like Roland’s death motivated enough people in positions of influence to act, so that the consequences have been profound. Regrettably, tragedies will continue to happen and we can never stop working to stop them, but I’m pleased to note that under Jean Todt the FiA have not only continued but accelerated their safety work and research. Today, my thoughts are with Roland and his family.” There will be another blog commemorating Ayrton Senna tomorrow.
1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book, proudly dedicated Roland Ratzenberger. It aims to shed light on hirtherto unpublished facts & stories regarding that fateful year. It also explores Walkinshaw’s colourful past in detail. It is available from Performance Publishing’s website where you can also read a free sample of the book. Alternatively, sign up at; www.1994f1.com/contact to receive exclusive information on the followup book and have new blogs emailed to you.
Pleased to announce an audio book version of 1994: The Untold Story is now available for purchase from the below websites. In fact you can listen to it for free at Audiobooks.com or estories.com via their initial trial period.
Images courtesy; of Alastair Ladd, Willem Toet and Sgozzi, Morio, tonylanciabeta via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ma...
Mike with his other love, Toffee. In March 2018 Motor Sport Magazine wrote an article about him entitled “Racing’s artist in residence”…it is well worth a read for his wonderful stories.
One of the most famous helmets Mike’s painted was for future King of England, Prince William (pictured here in 1992).
Below are Mike’s memories of that time:
“This explains where I was career wise in 1994. As had been the case in previous seasons, 1994 began with being responsible for painting helmets for a number of F1 drivers. It was never certain if there would be late additions to the workload, but I’d anticipated there’d be helmets to paint for about eight. Before the season had started, because of a good relationship with the Williams team, I’d been asked if I could help produce a pair of helmets for Senna to use at the press launch & in early-season tests. I didn’t expect this to continue as there was every possibility he’d use another brand & that company would take care of the painting too. The first two races of 1994 were ‘flyaways’ in Brazil & Aida in Japan, so I had to make sure I’d completed two helmets per driver in order to cover their requirements before racing returned to Europe. Shortly before the teams freighted the cars & spares off to Brazil, including the helmets I’d completed, I had a phone call from Roland Ratzenberger. I knew him well, as I’d painted his helmets since 1989 but he’d been racing in various Japanese series, so it was a big surprise to hear he’s got a drive in F1 with Simtek! Getting additional helmets ready for him in time was going to be difficult because I was already running flat-out, but Roland was one of those really pleasant, amiable guys and I didn’t want to let him down.”
Roland Ratzenberger in his Simtek.
“Once the teams were away, the pressure didn’t lift as I still had to complete the third helmet for each driver in time for the first European GP at Imola. Then, just after the Brazilian GP, Roland faxed me saying that he felt disappointed failing to qualify for his first F1 race, but thanked me for all my effort getting his helmets done in time and said it made him even more determined to start the next race. Williams then called, asking if there was any possibility I could paint the helmets for Senna. I’d heard he’d been impressed with my earlier work and, even though it was going to be difficult, I said I’d think about it and we’d discuss it again after Imola. In those days TV coverage was limited to qualifying and the race, and from memory, the Saturday broadcast opened with a replay of Barrichello’s high-speed practice accident from the previous day. Rubens was using one of the helmets I’d painted for him and although the accident was huge, he had relatively light injuries. I then realised the helmet would have been damaged because he was concussed, so he’d be requiring a replacement very soon.
Rubens Barrichello’s ferocious accident. Fortunately, the Brazilian escaped relatively uninjured and was competing at the following race
I was still thinking about a new helmet for Rubens and how much time I’d have to do it when I spotted a Simtek riding a kerb quite harshly. It appeared to look OK, but shortly afterwards there was a big crash and when the car came to rest, Roland’s familiar red & white helmet was motionless in the cockpit. Suddenly my earlier worries regarding my schedule seemed totally insignificant…Of course, I watched TV again for the race on Sunday, but it wasn’t without thoughts and recollections of the times I’d spoken with Roland, or of the few occasions we’d met. When the race started there was yet more drama when JJ Lehto had a problem with his Benetton’s launch-control procedure which left him stationary on the grid. The field did well to avoid hitting his car, except for Pedro Lamy in his Lotus. Unsighted by smoke and the general starting chaos as the cars took off to the first corner, he hit the back of Lehto’s car leaving both chassis immobile and stranded on the track. As the wrecked Lotus and Benetton were removed and the debris cleared, the rest of the field continued to circulate under control of the safety car. It was hard to take in, but I’d also painted the helmets worn by the two drivers involved in the start line accident. It really hadn’t been a good weekend.”
In the wake of these incidents, Senna’s fatal crash later in the race and Wendlinger’s Monaco accident, Sid Watkins (F1’s doctor at the time) helped create the FIA safety group. Watkins specifically targeted drivers helmets first. Wendlinger’s accident and Ratzenberger’s death were significant but not as much as Senna’s tragedy in driving this forward. Also related to Wendlinger’s incident was the immediate ban on speakers inside helmets. Everyone had to use earplugs from this point onwards. Those speakers with heavy magnets were deemed unnecessary & dangerous – in fact, Karl’s injury wasn’t helped by them at all. It’s hard to believe (but true) that this ban was fought, purely on the basis that there wasn’t sufficient volume in a set of earpieces compared with speakers.
Schumacher’s 1994 helmet. After Senna’s accident, where a piece of suspension pierced his visor, the FIA undertook random helmet checks to ensure they passed stricter quality control.
Huge thanks to Mike Fairholme for sharing the above. If you found that fascinating then you’ll enjoy 1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season which is a new book explaining the various controversies and allegations from that year. The book is now available from Performance Publishing’s website where you can also read a free sample of the book. Alternatively, sign up at; www.1994f1.com/contact to receive exclusive information on the followup book and have new blogs emailed to you.
Pleased to announce an audio book version of 1994: The Untold Story is now available for purchase from the below websites. In fact you can listen to it for free at Audiobooks.com or estories.com via their initial trial period.
Images courtesy; of Mike Fairholme, Niki Richardson, Alan Dahl and Sgozzi via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ma...
March 31, 2019
Ayrton Senna was a unique champion and is still adored by F1 fans today.
Senna was a complex, charismatic yet contradictory character who evoked strong emotions within others – qualities which were evident during the final hours of his tragically short life. The death of Roland Ratzenberger during qualifying for the 1994 San Marino GP, the first death at a race meeting in 12 years, deeply affected Senna. Indeed, the Brazilian commandeered an official FIA car to visit the accident himself as he wanted to understand what lessons could be learnt for the safety of others. It was something the triple world champion would be chastised for before the race. He then went to the medical centre where he was met by his friend Professor Sid Watkins, F1’s senior doctor, who answered his questions with complete honesty. Upon learning that Ratzenberger was beyond medical help Senna could no longer hold back the tears. “You’ve got nothing left to prove. Give it up and let’s go fishing together” Watkins told him. Senna took a long time to think about his reply “Sid, I have to go on”. Those words must have haunted Watkins 24 hours later.
The below picture below does NOT show Roland – it is of Erik Comas who recovered from this accident. It shows though that Ayrton did not shy away from the dangers of the sport – he wanted to understand them just as he wanted to understand the performance side of the sport. Senna also showed great compassion towards his colleagues whenever they suffered horrific accidents.
Perhaps the most comparable experience the Brazilian had to draw upon was the 1990 Spanish GP when Senna visited the scene of Martin Donnelly’s near-fatal accident. In that example, he watched all the medical treatment the Ulsterman was receiving possibly watching him die from a crash. He watched all the needles and syringes and the tracheotomy. Then he went back to his garage, put his helmet back on, visor down, and with just 10 minutes left, did the fastest lap of Jerez ever of that track. Maybe that was Senna’s way of dealing with fear. He later reflected on that day; “I had to put myself together, walk out, go to the racing car and do it again, and do it even better than before. Because that was the way to cover the impact it had on me.” The next time Senna stepped into an F1 car after Ratzenberger’s tragic accident was the following morning. The Brazilian topped the warm-up timesheets with a massive margin over the next car, just as he had done in Spain 1990.
Senna always had great natural speed but was famous for harnessing his emotions to excel to even greater heights.
This is not to suggest the Brazilian was reckless. He was simply overcoming his fear by facing it head-on. At the 1994 San Marino GP there was an added incentive, Senna was determined to blow Michael Schumacher away and he wanted the German to know it. He had started that season as the overwhelming favourite to win the championship however Senna was being blown away by these upstarts, so he needed to reassert his authority on them. However Benetton appeared to be playing their own mind games; during that warm-up Schumacher was a massive 2.4 seconds slower, suggesting he might opt for an unfancied one-stop strategy in the race. Senna’s lap time suggested the more conventional two-stop strategy, but Schumacher’s lack of warm-up pace must have made the Brazilian wonder what his rival was up to. Unknown to Benetton, Senna had other issues on his mind all of which is extensively detailed in the upcoming book. For instance, he had become increasingly concerned with F1 safety in recent times. Senna said in a pre-race interview how the reintroduction of refuelling in 1994 turned races into a series of sprints with low fuel levels. The triple world champion considered this to be an unreasonable strain on both drivers and cars. Senna felt this factor had not been considered when refuelling was pushed through. Hence why Niki Lauda urged him as F1’s most famous driver to reform the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association and lobby the FIA for better safety for its participants.
Lauda was an advocate of safety, not least because he was lucky to survive a fiery crash in 1976. After Senna’s death, it was Lauda who became GPDA spokesman.
On the way to the pre-race drivers briefing, Senna asked Berger and Hill to raise a complaint for him. The Brazilian didn’t want to be the instigator because he was in trouble with the FIA over his actions the previous day. Namely commandeering one of the official cars to visit the scene of Ratzenberger’s accident and not attending the obligatory post-qualifying press conference. So at the behest of Senna, a complaint was made about the FIA using a standard road car to lead the field around the formation lap at Aida. The road car was too slow and prevented F1 drivers from getting their tyres up to the correct temperature/pressure. This adversely affected the handling and ride height of the F1 machines during the opening laps of a race and was something Senna was especially worried about. Consequently, the FIA decided not to use their road car prior to the start of an F1 race again. Among the last people to speak with Senna before that fateful race was former rival Alain Prost who told Autosport Magazine in 2014. “…I met him (Senna) on Sunday twice – the main constant was safety and the fact that we he was not happy with the situation, thinking that the Benetton was not legal.” Similarly, legendary Williams designer Adrian Newey said in his recent book “How to Build a Race Car” that he was in the garage when Ayrton came running in to get into his car for the race start. Newey had a quick chat with him and Senna “reiterated the fact that he felt he was going into a race against an illegal car. At the previous race in Japan, he had been eliminated at the first corner and spent quite some time watching Michael’s Benetton, convinced that it had (illegal) traction control.”
After retiring from the Aida race Senna stood trackside. He later told close associates Schumacher’s car sounded “different”. The book investigates…
Willem Toet, Benetton’s Head of Aerodynamics in 1994, and whom this post has been written with adds “I can fully understand why people may think that the Benetton wasn’t legal but I have a different view. Rule makers will often make bold statements to the press about new regulations but the headline and the details can often be different. I think Benetton found a loophole that others had not. Explaining the loophole would have given the concept to other teams so that wasn’t going to happen. However, at a certain point these things can get out of hand and the story surrounding traction control and Benetton is probably one of those. I never worked with Ayrton, but from my time at Toleman Group Motorsport (which became Benetton in 1986) I remember tales about his capabilities and attitudes from his short time with Toleman. Ironically Michael Schumacher was the next driver with such a dedicated attitude. The common link for me was my Benetton (and later Ferrari) boss (not always on the organisation chart but actually my mentor and leader) Rory Byrne. I don’t think I’ve been able to do justice to Ayrton the man, but I wanted to mark the day and hopefully present some things many did not know.”
A new book entitled 1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book, which sheds light on hirtherto unpublished facts & stories regarding that fateful year. It is available from Performance Publishing’s website where you can also read a free sample of the book. Alternatively, sign up at; www.1994f1.com/contact to receive exclusive information on the followup book and have new blogs emailed to you.
Pleased to announce an audio book version of 1994: The Untold Story is now available for purchase from the below websites. In fact you can listen to it for free at Audiobooks.com or estories.com via their initial trial period.
Images courtesy; of Martin Lee, Vikiskiss, Stuart Seeger, Smokeonthewater via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ma... and Károly Méhes
March 21, 2019
Paul Tracy in the Penske. Although the cars looked similar, Indycar drivers have not always adapted to F1, notably Michael Andretti in 1993.
Bernie Ecclestone organised the Paul Tracy/Benetton test because Indycar racing was growing in popularity at the time and becoming a serious rival for F1. Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi all raced in the U.S series and even Ayrton Senna investigated a move stateside at the end of 1992. It is believed that Ecclestone wanted to steal Indycar stars (like Paul Tracy) to weaken the American series but also to widen Grand Prix racing’s appeal. F1’s commercial supremo had been instrumental in moving the 1991 and 1995 Indycar champions (Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve) across the pond during the mid-1990’s.
Prior to 1994 F1 had been in a nosedive in terms of rising costs and declining public interest. But the powers-that-be proactively took measures to turn this tide.
Ecclestone was so keen that Tracy made the switch to F1 he even helped him overcome some legal wrangling as the Penske star later explained. “Flavio Briatore calls me into his bus and says, ‘Before you can test the car, you have to sign this contract.’ It was all in legalese, but I could see that if I signed Flavio would become my manager. It would bind me to him for the rest of my career. No way. Flavio flies home, so Monday morning I call him and tell him I can’t sign his management deal. He says, ‘Then you’re not getting in the car.’ I don’t know what to do, so I call Bernie. Bernie says, ‘Hold on a moment’, and I hear him get Flavio on the other phone and bark: ‘Put him in the car.’ Twenty minutes later I was in the car.”
Two days after the 1994 Portuguese GP, the circuit hosted a major F1 testing session involving most of the teams. It was also Schumacher’s first time back in the Benetton for several weeks following his ban from the Italian & Portuguese Grand Prix’s for a previous rule infringement. There were many interested observers to see how Schumacher faired because during his absence the B194 looked distinctly average prompting questions over whether Lehto and Verstappen were really that bad? Or was the car’s performance adversely affected by a recent rule change demanding no traces of driver aids (redundant or otherwise) be left within teams engine control units?
Only weeks earlier, Benetton had been found with apparently redundant and concealed launch control, hence questions over its legality.
The book explains how Schumacher and Verstappen fared at this test in comparison to earlier performances and how this might answer the above. However, after his two day test Tracy, driving a Formula 1 car for the first time, posted a lap that would have put him fourth on the grid for the Portuguese GP. Worth noting Verstappen qualified 10th for that race whilst JJ Lehto (who’d stood in for the suspended Schumacher) qualified 14th. Tracy later described the car as being on a “knife-edge” compared to Indycars. “Having confidence in what the car will do is the tough thing. Schumacher is killing me on speed through turn 2 and Verstappen is quicker too, although there’s not much in it. The car didn’t feel too comfortable through there, and I know there is a lot more to come.”
Paul Tracy (pictured in 2007) is a man known to call a spade a spade. So it’s unlikely he would have kept quiet had he thought Benetton were running illegal devices during 1994
Turn 2 in Portugal is an extremely fast corner and Tracy’s comments about confidence echo those made by others when referring to the Benetton. All of which is telling in understanding why Schumacher was so much faster than his teammates during 1994 something the book explains with telemetry traces. But it also gives us clues as to what Senna potentially heard on Schumacher’s Benetton at Aida 1994, which led him to believe there was illegal traction control. Tracy later recalled; “Benetton came up with a three-year F1 contract, but it was the old story: testing, no guarantee I’d be racing, and no proper money. Meanwhile, Paul Newman and Carl Haas offered an Indycar ride that paid $1.5 million – when Penske had been paying me $100,000. So I went for that.”
1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book which among other things explains the various controversies from that year. To order and view a free sample of the book click here. Alternatively you can keep up to date with this and future books by the author, as well as upcoming 1994 F1 blogs by signing up here.
Images courtesy; of Ford, Stuart Seeger, Bryan Lipovetsky and Ryan Bayona via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ma...
February 16, 2019
That scathing attack on his championship rival was just one of a number of comments made by Schumacher during the build-up to the 1994 European Grand Prix. His comments were more than a contrived attempted at psychological warfare to undermining Hill. Schumacher was lashing out after all the pain he’d endured during that summer. He was outraged to be level on points with someone who hadn’t beaten him in a straight fight all year. To him, the FIA were manipulating the championship and he was a mere pawn sacrificed in a bigger political game. Whether there was any truth in this is explored extensively in the book. Nevertheless, despite Schumacher being absolved of blame for the launch control and fuel filter allegations, the German’s image would forever be tarnished.
Despite the brilliant driving Schumacher had shown throughout 1994 few gave him credit for it, because of the Benetton rumors.
But worst of all Schumacher was deeply offended by Hill fuelling the allegations. “There were a lot of stories from Hill’s direction about the ‘cheating car’ and that sort of thing. Every time we proved that we never cheated, they twisted it around and said there was something else to answer. He always seemed the English gentleman but when you are in trouble you get to know people. Other competitors like Alesi have always been fair. He could have said the same things as Damon, but he never did…I don’t expect him to stand up for me, but I don’t expect that somebody should make it worse than it already is. He would have been better saying nothing at all.” After Schumacher’s start in France Hill said publicly; “The Benetton seems to be able to go flat-out immediately and yet change direction without spinning its wheels under full power.” These comments did nothing to dispel the rumours Schumacher’s Benetton was assisted by illegal driver aids. During another interview made after Hungary, Hill said; “All I can say is since Magny-Cours his starts haven’t been so good, have they? We have to be honest about that. He’s made a lot of practice starts here in testing. I’ve seen smoke pouring off his tyres when he’s been doing them and I never saw one bit of smoke in the first eight races of the season.” When asked about Schumacher’s Silverstone formation lap antics, Hill ended his response with “…he brought it on himself that one.” Hill publicly accused Schumacher of being a bad sport for not handing over the winner’s trophy after Belgium, but it later transpired Williams had it all along.
Many coded comments were made by Damon Hill which added to Schumacher’s 1994 troubles.
Earlier in the year, Hill set up a photo giving Schumacher two V-signs whilst the German drove past the Williams pit. Schumacher would have undoubtedly seen this before he made his outburst prior to the 1994 European GP which may partly explain it. Meanwhile, Hill reacted coolly to Schumacher’s tirade against him “I’d rather not drag the championship down by trying to diminish the reputation of the opposition. I think that’s sad.” It was a PR masterstroke by Hill because it gave him the image of a gentleman driver being attacked by a ruthless competitor. The public at large was not aware of Hill’s earlier comments regarding Schumacher and the aforementioned V-sign photo. To them the Benetton driver’s sudden animosity towards the Englishman at Jerez looked unprovoked and unfair, so most had little sympathy for the German. For this reason, Schumacher’s comments backfired, and a few weeks later he publicly apologised. Hill was also involved in the mind games at the time but was subtle in his approach. For instance, Schumacher rarely indulged in emotional language during interviews and generally, his manner was that of a cold professional. Therefore the press gave him a “robot” image. According to one journalist who covered F1 at the time, much of that came from things Hill said and propagated during media briefings, especially with reporters close to him. Hill was very articulate, so usually would have very interesting replies and come across as “human”. It was pantomime, the media portrayed Schumacher as the villain and Hill as the hero – and the paying public loved it.
After the 1994 controversies, the media dubbed Schumacher F1’s new villain.
By now Hill had acquired the support of Senna fans including the World cup winning Brazilian football team, simply because he was fighting Ayrton’s nemesis. By lifting Williams following Senna’s death Hill emulated his father in 1968 who carried Lotus through identical circumstances following Jim Clark’s death. If Damon won the championship for his fallen teammate, like his father Graham did in 1968, it would make a great feel-good story in the media. Also, it would make Damon the first ever son of an F1 world champion, who went on to become world champion himself. In his recent autobiography Hill refers to events “…as a convenient PR rivalry between Michael Schumacher and me. Part of me thought it was good fun playing the Good Guy v Bad Guy game, but looking back I had picked a fight with the wrong guy.” The F1 pantomime was enticed by Bernie Ecclestone who was responsible for ensuring the sport entertained, thus keeping sponsors and TV companies happy. Ecclestone engineered a photo opportunity of the two bitter rivals to sell the championship showdown to the world’s media. Hill later said; “So, we sat on the pit wall and did our bit. I said to Michael ‘come on, let’s forget all this bullshit and attempts at psychological warfare.’ He said: ‘Yes after the championship.’ So I said ‘Fine’ – and squeezed a little harder when I shook his hand.” The animosity between the two was evident during the remainder of the season and led to THAT incident in Adelaide.
1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book which among other things explains this and the various other controversies from that year. To pre-order and view a free sample of the book click here. Alternatively you can keep up to date with this and future books by the author, as well as upcoming 1994 F1 blogs by signing up here.
Images courtesy; of Willem Toet and Alastair Ladd
January 30, 2019
Verstappen failed to deliver on his initial promise, instead he crashed out of 50% of races during 1994. It earnt him the nickname “Vercrashen”.
Some believed the pressure of debuting for one of F1’s top teams (Benetton) alongside the 1994 World Champion got to him. Whereas others, including Jos himself, felt Benetton secretly gave Schumacher a car laden with hidden electronic aids which explained the Dutchman’s lack of performance. The upcoming book investigates this in detail however, what can be learnt from Jos’ career outside of Benetton? After go-karting Verstappen only had two seasons of car racing experience behind him prior to F1. At the time this was an unprecedented rise through the ranks to race the fastest cars and most dangerous cars on earth. It was almost half the car racing experience, Senna and Schumacher had before they got to F1. The Dutchman originally had been appointed as Benetton’s test driver for 1994 so he could learn the ropes away from the limelight. But a week after that announcement JJ Lehto, the team’s second driver suffered a serious testing crash and fractured his neck. It meant Jos was called upon to substitute for Lehto despite his lack of experience.
In 2014 Verstappen admitted “I think it (1994) was too early. I should have gained more experience in a lower team instead of going straight away into a top team next to Schumacher.”
The book details his 1994 season in which the 22-year old clearly struggled, qualifying on average 1.9 seconds behind his teammate. Towards the end of that year Verstappen, having only scored 11% of the points of Schumacher was demoted from race driver back to test driver. In 2011 the Dutchman claimed the sister Benetton had an unfair advantage. “There were electronic aids (in Schumacher’s car)”, Verstappen said, “they (Benetton) will never admit it, but I am convinced of it.” Conversely, during another interview, made in 1996, he also revealed “the (B194) car was too nervous for me. I cannot handle that style of car”. More analysis into these apparent contradictions is contained within the book however, for 1995, Verstappen continued as Benetton’s test driver. His boss, Flavio Briatore, had also recognised the need for Jos to gain more racing experience. Therefore a deal was struck with minnow team Simtek who allowed Verstappen to race one of their cars for 1995 in exchange for free Benetton gearboxes.
Although the team was small and underfunded, Jos was much happier with the handling of that car. “The Simtek is how I want it and I can play with it” explained the Dutchman in early 1995. “Last year I felt under pressure at Benetton and I was having to drive really hard just to get within a second or a second and a half of Michael (Schumacher). Maybe if I drove the car again now, I would be quicker.” Verstappen also put in some great performances at the time but unfortunately, Simtek folded by midseason. This left Jos without a race seat and rumours began to circulate that he might replace Johnny Herbert in the second Benetton. Herbert, in common with every second Benetton driver since 1993 had struggled alongside Schumacher but the Englishman unexpectedly won at Silverstone. Much to the annoyance of Verstappen and apparently team boss Flavio Briatore, Herbert’s home Grand Prix win secured Johnny’s Benetton seat for the remainder of 1995.
In 1995 Simtek used Benetton gearboxes in exchange for giving Verstappen, a race seat.
Verstappen then signed for Arrows, a midfield team, for 1996 and once again put in some impressive performances during the early races, the highlight being sixth at the Argentine GP. This led to BBC commentator Jonathan Palmer wetting himself over these displays in his belief Jos’ was a rising F1 star. At the time Arrows had just been taken over by Tom Walkinshaw who had worked with Jos at Benetton in 1994, so the future looked rosy. Unfortunately, it proved to be a false dawn, partly because 1996 was the year Verstappen’s reputation for crashing was cemented as evidenced by the Dutchman only finishing a quarter of races that season. But also because Walkinshaw concentrated his efforts on the following season and his upcoming partnership with Bridgestone tyres and the World Champion elect, Damon Hill.
Verstappen then spent the rest of his F1 career racing for midfield / back of the grid teams, scoring a total of six points outside of 1994. This included a third stint racing for Tom Walkinshaw in 2000 and 2001. Walkinshaw had been Benetton’s Engineering Director during 1994 and many labelled him as a cheat due to his colourful past. For instance, the Scot’s TWR’s run cars were disqualified for technical infringements from the 1983 British Touring Car Championship, and at Le Mans in 1993. It is therefore commonly assumed Benetton were guilty of giving Schumacher illegal driver aids during 1994 simply because of Walkinshaw’s involvement and past. However how much truth is contained within that assumption?
Verstappen drove for Tom Walkinshaw run teams during 1994, 1996, 2001 & 2001. Would he have done that if he genuinely felt cheated by Walkinshaw at Benetton?
1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book which among other things sheds light on why Verstappen struggled at Benetton in 1994. It also explores Walkinshaw’s colorful past in detail. To pre-order and view a free sample of the book click here. Alternatively you can keep up to date with this and future books by the author, as well as upcoming 1994 F1 blogs by signing up here.
Images courtesy; of Antony John Dennis, Alastair Ladd and Juanjoyutu via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ma...
December 20, 2018
Coming into that year Lehto was considered a rising star having tested for Ferrari and securing an incredible 3rd at Imola 1991 driving the unfancied Scuderia Italia.
After beating former race winner Alboreto to the second Benetton seat for 1994, Lehto would have been forgiven for thinking regular podium visits were just around the corner. This was the Finn’s first top F1 drive after five years within the sport and the new Benetton proved extremely quick in Schumacher’s hands. But that was as good as things got for JJ because on the 21st January 1994 he was lucky to survive a massive neck-breaking accident whilst testing the B194. January 2019 therefore marks the 25th anniversary of this. Few realised Lehto’s girlfriend had just become pregnant only days before that accident. So you can imagine thoughts of not wanting his unborn child to grow up without him might have been circulating within Lehto’s head as he laid in the hospital recovering. Frank Dernie was present at that fateful test and exclusively revealed “I think Lehto had not expected Schumacher to be as quick as he was. The massive crash he had where he broke his neck was a combination of factors, one was certainly deterioration of the track as the dew dropped. But I am fairly sure Lehto was convinced the damper testing we were doing on his car was the reason for Schumacher being quicker than him earlier. So when we put standard dampers on he was expecting more grip than he got.”
Frank Dernie (pictured in 1993 wearing glasses) was Benetton’s chief engineer in 1994 and provides amazing insight within the upcoming book.
You may find this surprising given the aftermath of Imola 1994, but at the time the immediate reaction within the sport was not one of what safety lessons could be learnt from Lehto’s crash. Instead, the press was more eager to know when the Finn would return and who would replace him? Despite his inexperience, Jos Verstappen was thrust into that role for the opening two races and promptly crashed/spun out of both events. All of which added pressure for Lehto to return as soon as possible. The former British F3 champion later admitted “…in F1, you don’t have time. Flavio Briatore (Benetton’s boss) is a businessman. Benetton needed two strong cars scoring points, so I didn’t have any choice (but to return).” Despite his injuries, Lehto believed he could better Verstappen’s results considering Schumacher had dominated those opening two races in the sister car. The Finn only had a one year contract with Benetton so needed to impress them by mid-summer when renewal negotiations were likely to have commenced. Lehto was acutely aware his enforced absence handed a golden opportunity to Verstappen, another man touted as the next big thing back then. “I wasn’t under pressure from Benetton to come back” claimed the Finn. “I was under pressure from seeing Jos Verstappen racing the car when I knew it should be me. That pissed me off in a big way”
Upon his return, Lehto had some decent performances like Imola qualifying and Spain. But equally, he had some dismal showings, most notably at Monaco and Canada where he is pictured above in 20th.
On average JJ qualified 2.2 seconds from Schumacher. No driver within a top team has performed so badly compared to their teammate since. The upcoming book provides greater analysis on this and whether it was merely down to his injuries or something more sinister? It also reveals something few know about Lehto during 1994 which helps readers understand his struggles (something on top of his unborn child mentioned earlier)
Even Frank Dernie didn’t initially know about the insight the book will reveal on Lehto.
Another point often overlooked is JJ’s final two races that season was in a Sauber, as he replaced Wendlinger whom himself was recovering from a near-fatal crash sustained at Monaco. “It was another chance to stay in F1, so I had to do it” The now ousted Benetton driver later recalled, “but it didn’t work out; it was a disaster really.” JJ not having previously tested the Sauber, qualified on average 1.3 seconds behind their other driver, Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Schumacher had been teammates to Frentzen during their Sportcars days and back then Heinz-Harald was considered the faster of the two. So make of this what you will.
De Cesaris, had filled in for Wendlinger at Sauber but wasn’t contactable after Jerez. Folklore says he was windsurfing somewhere – hence Lehto got his drive for Suzuka & Adelaide.
Although Lehto did get offers for 1995 he decided to switch to DTM instead. Leaving F1 also paved the way for a successful sports car career accumulating in victory at one of motorsport’s greatest events – the Le Mans 24 hour race. It all stemmed from his unique knowledge of 1994 F1’s engines. Lehto tested the Ligier Renault during July that year, shortly after that team had been purchased by Benetton and Flavio Briatore. Having also driven the Ford-engined Benetton along with the Mercedes engined Sauber, JJ suddenly found his knowledge was in demand by McLaren boss, Ron Dennis. Mercedes were joining forces with McLaren for 1995 and Dennis wanted a comparison between that engine and the two benchmark power plants of 1994, the Renault and Ford. “Ron asked me to write a report about the differences between the engines,” Lehto explained “I don’t know if that’s the reason, because obviously, Keke (Rosberg, Lehto’s manager) knew him well, but when Ron came up with his Ueno Clinic thing for the Le Mans 24 Hours, he called me.”
According to Lehto lots of drivers didn’t like the McLaren F1 GTR because they felt the BMW V12 engine meant it’s back end was too big and heavy. But the Finn himself loved the car.
At the time McLaren had just built the world’s fastest road car the McLaren F1 and wanted to race it in the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours. Ueno Clinic was a sponsor McLaren found for it and since none of the other teams which had bought the new F1 GTR wanted to take its money, McLaren controversially put together a team for Le Mans. Lehto, who had raced at Le Mans in 1990 and 1991 loved the event, but doubts were raised over whether his fitness and the unproven car would last the 24 hours. Both astonished everyone by claiming an unexpected debut victory for the McLaren F1. It was another example of the talent Lehto had shown prior to 1994.
1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book, due for release on 12th January 2019. Among other things, it sheds light on why Lehto struggled at Benetton. You can read a free sample of the upcoming book and pre-order it by clicking here. Alternatively you can keep up to date with this and future books by the author, as well as upcoming 1994 F1 blogs by signing up here.
Images courtesy; of youkeys and Martin Lee via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ma..., Alastair Ladd and Antony John Dennis
November 29, 2018
Herbert, arriving for his first Formula One test in 1989. Whenever he was buckled up within the car, painkilling injections were stabbed into his legs. Herbert’s injuries still affect him today.
Determined as he was, Johnny’s performances progressively got worse throughout 1989 as his leg injuries hindered him on circuits which required heavier braking. This led to a political battle over Herbert’s future, between Peter Collins (Benetton’s team manager) and Flavio Briatore (Benetton’s newly appointed Commercial Director). Collins, having spent three years supporting Johnny through the junior categories was adamant the Englishman should remain, but Briatore insisted on replacing him with a fellow Italian. After failing to qualify for the Canadian Grand Prix Herbert was promptly replaced by Emanuele Pirro (an Italian) and Collins left the team a few weeks later.
After Benetton, Johnny had a brief spell with Tyrell before joining the dwindling Lotus team at the end of 1990 alongside his former mentor, Peter Collins. By 1994 Collins had Herbert under a water tight Lotus contract, and the general consensus was the Englishman’s massive talent was being squandered by uncompetitive cars. Indeed McLaren had tried prizing him away in early 1994, albeit unsuccessfully. Luckily for Johnny, Lotus were in dire financial trouble and when the team filed for bankruptcy his contract was sold to Ligier. The French constructor themselves had just been purchased by Benetton and was now being run by Tom Walkinshaw, the subject of Benetton’s “management changes” following the fuel filter verdict (all explained in the book).
Herbert had become so demoralised driving for Lotus during 1994, he considered quitting F1 altogether. The Ligier opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time for him.
On Wednesday 19th October, Herbert reported to his new team for a testing session only to be told he would be driving the Benetton instead. “Really? Nobody told me” Herbert replied, “Flavio’s orders” retorted his mechanic. Johnny’s first day in the B194 was cut short by a spin through the gravel and then an engine failure, whilst Schumacher posted a time of 1m 23.43s which was 1.5 seconds slower than pole earlier that year because the Barcelona circuit was slightly damp. The following day Herbert finished the test with a 1m 23.84s after using two new sets of tyres late in the afternoon, when the cooler temperatures assisted quicker lap times. When asked about the Benetton, Herbert remarked “It’s got a lot more traction than the Lotus ever had. You go into a corner, you turn and you floor it.”
After that first B194 test Herbert noted, spinning the rear wheels (as shown) “was actually quite difficult (in the Benetton). Whereas with the Lotus you could do it easily and you had to feed the power in and be careful.”
Lapping 0.4 seconds from Schumacher’s best time set the day before was impressive although slightly misleading, because Johnny would have benefitted from the track being faster due to the slightly drier conditions and possibly more “rubbered in”. Nevertheless Herbert, buoyed by his competitive time, was confident he could tame the tricky handing B194, unlike his two predecessors. “The Benetton is a stage better aerodynamically than the Ligier, and it has masses of traction” exclaimed the former Lotus driver. “I’d heard that it’s twitchy, and it is. But you have to push beyond that. And when you do, it becomes quite stable.”
Benetton immediately confirmed Herbert as Schumacher’s teammate for the final two 1994 races, thus replacing the underperforming Jos Verstappen (father of current F1 star Max). Johnny’s appointment was ironic considering the acrimonious circumstances he had been sacked from Benetton during mid-1989. Moreover Briatore, the man behind that, now relied on the Englishman to win them the constructors championship and it was clear from Herbert’s recent autobiography the two never got along.
Briatore, whom Herbert claimed sabotaged his efforts at Benetton citing the examples of Schumacher’s telemetry being withheld from him & he wasn’t given sufficient testing.
Meanwhile, Walkinshaw publicly stated it was a bad idea for Herbert to immediately jump into F1’s toughest seat – being Schumacher’s teammate – given the demoralising time he had just had at Lotus. However, Benetton needed their second driver scoring points during those final two races to retain any hope of clinching their first ever constructors title, hence why these concerns were ignored. At his first race weekend with the B194, the Japanese GP, Herbert qualified 0.6 seconds off Schumacher, whereas Verstappen and Lehto had been on average 1.9 and 2.2 seconds off the German star.
Interestingly Herbert then qualified 1.5 seconds from Schumacher at the following race (Australia) and later admitted he “struggled”. The reason why is explored in more detail within the upcoming book, however at the time the Englishman said “I don’t know why I was that far off him (Schumacher)…The car’s a bit different style wise. I know when I did the testing after a good day I could actually get the thing to work really well.” These comments did nothing to dispel widespread rumours that Schumacher’s car was different to Johnny’s.
A comparison of Schumacher’s and Herbert’s throttle traces through a 160mph corner. Whilst telling, the upcoming book analyses this and other traces to help readers understand what was Schumacher’s additional speed down to? The above was based on their throttle traces shown at 2:57 within the below clip;
Book contributor Christian Silk, was Herbert’s race engineer at Benetton during 1994 and felt the above trace was typical of the differences between the two. “Schumacher was really good at listening to the team and adjusting his driving depending on what engineers wanted him to do.” Whilst former F1 driver Mark Blundell (a close friend of Herbert’s) exclusively revealed his thoughts on this within the book, and it is extremely telling. By the Australian Grand Prix every Benetton action was scrutinised to the nth degree, following their various controversies throughout 1994. Nowhere was this more evident than during Friday’s qualifying after Schumacher crashed his car.
Schumacher walking back to the pits afterwards
The German’s car had been written off as a result and Benetton’s actions afterwards sparked yet more rumours. Find out why within the upcoming book, along with whether Herbert’s lack of performance in Australia was down to confidence issues. Or had he performed too well previously and this was when Briatore (Herbert’s arch enemy) commenced his alleged sabotage campaign against Johnny?
1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book which investigates both of these arguments using more telemetry traces, exclusive interviews and some very rare images. A free sample of the book can be viewed here. Alternatively you can keep up to date with this and future books by the author, as well as upcoming 1994 F1 blogs by signing up here.
Images courtesy of Adrian Musolino, Alastair Ladd, Antony John Dennis Martin and www.neilwhitedesign.co.uk.
November 4, 2018
1994 would change the Formula One forever, especially after the dark Grand Prix weekend in Imola. First Rubinho crashed badly with his Jordan 194, however he only broke his arm. On Saturday, Roland Ratzenberger died due a horrible accident during the qualification session, 12 hours later Ayrton Senna would die when his steering wheel from the Williams broke. Only bad things happened in 1994 ? No Nigel Mansell made his comeback with Williams and won the last race of the season.
Female F1 Team
Rumours spread in the paddock of an all-Woman F1 team that would made its debut. Giovanni Amati, who drove for Brabham previously, was rumoured to be one of the drivers. While Johnson & Johnson were rumoured to be the main sponsor. It was said that Cesare Fiorio was the person behind this plan. However, when I asked Fiorio about the all-woman F1 team he told me it was not true. Neither any plans were deployed for an all-Woman F1 team. Read the full story here.
Formula Project Engineering
French F3 team FPE (Formula Project Engineering) announced their five years plan in 1994. Their goal was to debut in the Formula One around 1998 / 1999. As happened multiple times in the 1990s many F3 and F3000 teams announced their interest in the Formula One. This counts also for FPE that never made one footstep in the Formula One.
One of the best kept secrets in 1994 was the Ikuzawa HW001 designed by Tetsu Ikuzawa and supported by former Williams team manager Peter Windsor. The former Japanese driver Tetsu decided in early 1994 it was time to create his own Formula One team. The goal was to make their debut in 1998 with Kenny Bräck and Gil de Ferran behind the wheels. Enrique Scalabroni penned a brand new, future looking, car for the Ikuzawa team. The car was based on the rules that were rumours to be adapted in later years, though had most of the features of the current standards. In early 1995 John Watson, a former F1 driver, did several seating-tests for the car. Due the mid-90s slump in the Japanese economy, the team had to abandon their plans. Later it would know that Stewart integrated most of the key-people, thanks to Windsor, in his team. The HW001 became the SF01. Read the full story here.
Larrousse Junior Team
1994 was more or less a do or die year for the Larrousse team, once a team that showed some great progression ended up bankrupt. For me personally the Larrousse Junior Team is one of the few project I really don’t know what the real truth is, even though I wrote an post about their last months as a team, I’m still not convinced of it. Main reason are the rumours in 1994, and especially about the Junior Team. I would like to put a quote of the article i posted to give you just a slightly idea of the Junior Team.
“Larrousse, unofficially, changed its name to Junior Team Larrousse. The team stated that it was to quickly build their new car probably named JTL-01. Probably the team would use the blueprints of the Larrousse UK 1995 car, designed by Tino Belli. Normally this process would take months, while the new owners promised that the new car would make its debut during the San Marino GP at Imola. It is not sure which design they would use. Other drivers were rumoured as well. Érik Comas would return to the team while Christophe Bouchut would take the second car. In the meantime, Larrousse SA, the company that used to deal with the Larrousse F1 Team, remained in France’s equivalent of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.” Read the full story here.
Recently I found out that there were plans for the Lotus 109B, if the plans were serious enough that the Lotus 109 would be rebranded to Lotus 109B I’m not sure though. The documents I came across accidentally were from Team Lotus them self. Stating that they were working on the installation of the ZA5D, however the title stated that this was the new Lotus 109B. No more information is available at this moment.
Team Mansell / Team Lotus-Mansell
If I recall it back correctly the very first rumours of Nigel Mansell and his own F1 team appeared in late 1989. However In 1994, when Mansell left the Formula One, the rumours got spread that Mansell was looking to become an team manager from his own team in the Formula One! The rumours even became bigger when Team Lotus was near bankruptcy and in desperate need to get money. The Team Lotus-Mansell was born in the media. Though Team Lotus appeared on the 12th of September 1994 with the following press release, deny any influence from Nigel Mansell.
“Nigel Mansell and are established friends but there is no truth in the rumour that he will become involved in the running of Team Lotus. “Our enormous respect for Colin Chapman’s achievements and the Team Lotus marque is obvious, but we shall not be working together in the future.”
During an ice cold January day in 1994, the Williams Renault team showed their brand new car at Estoril. For many years the Williams cars sported a distinctive yellow, blue and while livery, which was in deference to their main sponsor. Williams changed their livery. As Rothmans were the new title sponsor for the 1994 season. Accordingly, the livery changed with it. As the Williams FW16 wasn’t ready year, Williams appeared with the FW15 from 1993 with the 1994 regulations. This meant that the Williams teams arrived with their Williams FW15D “interim car” at the Portuguese tracks. The Williams FW15D used during all the early-season test session until February 1994. The FW15D did not impress well, the car was slow due the fact it had not the electronically features it used to have during the previous season. Frank Williams would later describe the car as “mediocre”.
If you want to learn more about that year, 1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season is a new book which explains the various controversies, allegations and politics from that turbulent season. A free sample of the book can be viewed here. Alternatively you can keep up to date with this and future books by the author, as well as upcoming 1994 F1 blogs by signing up here.
October 30, 2018
Before we answer this let us remember the background surrounding this test. In early 1994 the Ligier team were in financial trouble following their team owner, Cyril de Rouvre, having been jailed on fraud charges. Benetton directors, Flavio Briatore and Tom Walkinshaw, bought the struggling French outfit in May 1994 following months of conveyancing. During this transaction, they were partly acting for the Benetton family – their paymasters – who wanted Ligier’s prized supply of Renault engines having failed to acquire them via more conventional means during 1993. This was because their rivals, Williams, had stopped Benetton advances towards the French engine supplier by giving Ligier assistance with gearboxes throughout 1993. Williams’ strategy was to keep Ligier competitive enough to maintain Renault’s interest in them. Following the 1994 acquisition, Walkinshaw owned a minor stake in Ligier but dreamt of owning the whole team and bringing them Grand Prix success with Ross Brawn. Whilst Briatore, another stakeholder, was simply happy to be a sleeping partner and saw the Liger purchase as just another of his investments.
Walkinshaw (Left) and Briatore of Benetton. Neither were strangers to controversies, therefore many people consider Benetton guilty of the 1994 accusations simply because of their association.
Upcoming book contributor and Benetton’s Head of Aerodynamics in 1994, Willem Toet, explained the relationship between Benetton & Ligier following the acquisition. “In order to help Ligier out, track performance wise, without spending a fortune, an agreement was reached to provide “technical assistance”. We (Benetton) were asked to provide certain pieces of design related information. I was not happy to give the info but, as an employee, you don’t always have many choices. One can leave the team of course and that’s what I did a little while later when there was a “last straw” moment – this was one of my reasons for being unhappy with how things were going.”
“Anyway, the resulting help that was given led to Ligier people coming and working at Benetton to make parts – from our moulds! Strictly not correct and really upset a “few” people (inside the company). They arrived in full team clothing which is what created a stir inside the company. So to hide where they came from internally (totally unsuccessful) they were given some Benetton clothing. That pissed the workforce off even more as this was not a privilege given to the guys in the composite workshop they worked beside…. The team really didn’t want the closeness of the working relationship to come out in full! That would have been another day in Paris to see the headmaster – and would not have ended well for either team!”
“What justification was there? I recall being told at the time that Ligier was in trouble and that our help would only bring them towards competitiveness, not more. This was certainly perceived as a lower cost way for whoever had put money into buying the team to provide an improvement than funding independent research, but regrettably, it was almost certainly outside the law. Intellectually I understood the motives but emotionally I was (very) upset by what the team did. When I got a phone call offering me a dream job elsewhere I said yes where normally I would not have been interested. Having finished the rollout car design for the following year I resigned (with other reasons as well of course).”
The 1995 Ligier’s looked suspiciously like Benetton’s. “It would, wouldn’t it” explained Ligier’s Technical Director & upcoming book contributor Frank Dernie. “Williams and McLaren (in 1995) have copied the Benetton, and I was at Benetton. It would be very silly if I’d copied the Pacific.”
During preseason 1995 Mosley visited the Ligier factory presumably to investigate their car’s striking resemblance to the Benetton B195? Walkinshaw stated afterwards “Mechanically, it (the Ligier) is totally different (from the Benetton) and structurally it is quite different as well. Aerodynamically, it’s as close as we can make it to being the same. I don’t know how you would end up with anything else if you take a core of engineers who have been working on the Benetton. Of course, the damn thing looks the same. But if you go into the detail of the car, there is nothing interchangeable” Transferring the much-sought-after Renault engines from Ligier to Benetton for 1995, left the former needing a power plant. At the last-minute Flavio Briatore somehow convinced the Mugen Honda concern to supply Ligier instead of Minardi. The decision left the latter team in a disastrous state, with a car designed for the V10 and parts already made. Giancarlo Minardi, the team’s owner, threatened legal action over the affair but the matter was eventually settled out of court when Briatore paid $1 million to Minardi as compensation.
Renault were considered the engines to have in F1 during the mid-1990’s, hence why Benetton and Briatore when to such lengths to acquire them for 1995. Indeed Martin Brundle famously said at the time “if Schumacher ever gets hold of a Renault, we might as well go home” and he was proved right. Using Renault power for the only year during his F1 career, Schumacher cruised to an easy 1995 title – even equaling Mansell’s 1992 record of winning the most races in one season. Before all of that, however, was his December 1994 Ligier test. Renault wanted the German to try out engine maps in preparation for 1995 which involved evaluating changes over two hot laps then coming into the pits to try another setup. It was too complicated to install the Renault into the 1994 Benetton, hence why Schumacher drove the Ligier instead.
In 1994 Ligier usually qualified no better than midfield, this was despite enjoying the same electronics and Renault engine as reigning champions, Williams.
During the test, held at Estoril, Schumacher immediately lapped one second quicker than regular Ligier driver Olivier Panis’ lap time during the only day they both ran. The lap times are below;
Hill | Williams | 1:19.57
Collard | Williams | 1:20.84
Schumacher | Ligier | 1:20.84
Panis | Ligier | 1:21.80
Barrichello | Jordan (3.0l) | 1:22.17
Blundell | Tyrrell (3.0l) | 1:22.53
Katayama | Tyrrell(3.0l) | 1:22.55
Ligier was amazed by this especially because Panis, having won the F3000 title in 1993 and finishing all but one race during 1994, was considered F1’s rising star at the time. Panis later lapped within 0.13 seconds of Schumacher’s time on subsequent days when the German wasn’t driving. Vincent Gaillardot of Renault noticed something within the telemetry data which illustrated why Michael was able to go so much quicker than Panis. Frank Dernie, who had close ties to Ligier & Schumacher during 1994 exclusively confirmed “Panis saw several things Schumacher did which helped including…”
What was Schumacher’s secret to being much quicker than his teammates in 1994?
What Dernie and Gaillardot of Renault refers to above is mind blowing and fully revealed in 1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season, a new book due for release in January 2019. Telemetry data is used to illustrate not only what is referred to above, but also what Senna might have heard on Schumacher’s car during the Aida 1994 race. A free sample of the book can be viewed here. Alternatively you can keep up to date with this and future books by the author, as well as upcoming 1994 F1 blogs by signing up here.
Images courtesy; of Martin Lee, Fox 1 via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ma... and Ford Motor Company