FW15C, arguably the finest piece of machinery to ever enter a Formula One grand prix.
1994 was a tumultuous season, and the dogged Williams team had fought through so much adversity, whilst the Benetton team had created so much controversy. But through it all there were two shining lights: the talent of rising star Michael Schumacher, and the strength and character of Damon Hill.
Schumacher dominated the season, nearly always finishing on the podium - including twice when he was subsequently disqualified. Hill fought tooth and nail, won five races and inherited a sixth after Schumacher was disqualified from the Belgian Grand Prix. With five races to go, Schumacher’s title hopes, and 21 point championship lead (up to 35 points if appeals went Benetton’s way for the disqualification), hung in the balance of the FIA.
They gave him a two race ban, the disqualification stood, and Hill won the next two Grand Prix. One point split the two, Schumacher won at Jerez and Hill was second. Ball in Michael’s court. Hill made a brilliant come back to win in the rain at Japan (pictured), beating Schumacher. One point split the two heading into the final Grand Prix in the South Australian state capital, Adelaide.
Nigel Mansell, after a poor title challenge round up in the American CART circuit, was the replacement for David Coulthard as the number two driver for Williams. He threw a spanner in the works, securing pole, but the two title contenders quickly dispatched the former champ. The battle was on.
Lap 36, Schumacher goes off at East Terrace, he blows his lead and scrambles quickly to defend his lead to Hill. He swerves to keep his lead, his car may be damaged after hitting the wall, Hill goes down the inside and Schumacher collides with him. It looked deliberate, but Schumacher went off into the wall and he was out! All Hill has to do is finish with 2 or more points. Schumacher gets out of the car and looks gutted.
Hill slows, he pits. His suspension arm is broken. He gets out of the car frustrated. Schumacher is track side looking sour when he is told and breaks out in joy. The incident is judged a “racing incident”, Schumacher wins the title.
1994 was an awful season for many reasons, I think it is my second most hated after 1982 (where two drivers also perished, with equally as much bullshit behind the scenes with FISA/FOCA), and I am torn between condemning Schumacherhis actions and praising him for the miracles he did that season. I don’t know who to trust, considering the main man I believed that the Benetton of Schumacher had no Traction Control or Launch Control, Pat Symonds, was later found guilty of ordering a driver to deliberately crash to win a Grand Prix. Then there is the argument: would Senna have won? Isn’t he the “true” champion? There is just such a sour taste in my mouth after writing this, but then I remember:
- Damon Hill’s win at Japan in the rain to keep the title fight alive
- The Spanish Grand Prix where Hill took William’s first win after Senna’s death, and where Schumacher finished second despite being stuck in fifth gear virtually the whole race
- Schumacher finishing either first or second every time he finished a race, even when he was later disqualified
- Jean Alesi’s first of only two pole positions
- The safety reforms that have meant that no driver has lost their life in Formula One since Imola
1995 was a far better season, I think. But as far as last round title deciders go, this is one of the top three or four.
Remember when Sebastian Vettel lost the Canadian Grand Prix on the last lap to Jenson Button last year and everyone laughed derisively at him? Don’t worry, Nigel has got you covered. While waving to the crowd after a dominant performance to snatch ten points back from title rival Ayrton Senna, who had retired earlier in the race, ol’ Nigey boy slowed down so much the car selected neutral and stalled and he was unable to get it going again and ground to a slow halt, giving his old team mate and arch nemesis Nelson Piquet the win.
This would be Nelson Piquet’s final Grand Prix victory for the triple world champion.
While the whole country was celebrating their favourite moustache winning the historic British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a not-so-young 31 year old rookie made his first start for the equally historic (but now woefully bad) Brabham Formula One team during their final season. The Brit was classified last, four laps behind the leading Williams of Nigel Mansell, and there are photographs of the two driving together, two drivers at two completely different points in their careers. Mansell was close to clinching his long evasive World Champions and this not-so-young Brit, completely insignificant if not for his name, was probably doomed to obscurity like other champion’s sons like David Brabham and Michael Andretti until the very man that had exploited Frank Williams’ “let them race” attitude in the 1986 season, Alain Prost, stipulated “No Moustaches or Brazilians” in his contract, effectively ruling out Nigel Mansell and Prost’s rival Ayrton Senna unless they were to shave their moustache or change nationality respectively (impossibilities for both).
This left the door for the King of Monaco Graham Hill’s son, Damon, to take the second seat beside the Frenchman. From the start of 1993 to the end of 1996, over four seasons, Damon would go on to finish twice runner up and once victor of the World Driver’s Championship, two constructor’s titles and 21 race victories - a haul match only by then-double World Champion Michael Schumacher. For those four years, Damon found himself filling the shoes of two of biggest names in Formula history after the retirement and death of Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna respectively, and with the weight of the British public and the name of a double World Champion, some would simply crush under the weight of expectations. Damon took it all with good humour, did his bloody well darndest and after winning the world title was promptly shown the door because he wanted the pay rise he deserved. Nice doing, Frank.
Damon would get one last hoorah, though. On a rainy day at Spa Francorchamps in 1998, Damon would lead an unlikely 1-2 finish for seminal midfielders Jordan for their maiden victory. After a brief “career” playing in cover bands with other celebrities, Hill became head of the British Racing Driver’s Club and now spearheads the operations for the annual British Grand Prix at Silverstone. A race that he had won in 1994, which he dedicated to his father who had never won their home Grand Prix.
Damon Hill congratulating and consoling team mate Jacques Villeneuve after his maiden Grand Prix at Melbourne, 1996. Starting from pole position, the French-Canadian Indy 500 winner and son of former Ferrari hero Gilles Villeneuve, lead most of the race before a small off damaged the rear of his car, causing it to spill oil all over his close following team mate. To stop the car from completely failing all together, Villeneuve had to drop off the pace which allowed Hill to pass and take the first win of what would be a dominant season for the two Williams drivers.
Naturally thrilled with a stunning debut where he outqualified and outpaced his esteemed and more experience team mate, Villeneuve was left deflated after failing to win due to a small mistake.