Nice sideburns, Heinz-Harold.
5. Jacques Villeneuve
Blondie. All he did was play it cool, thumbed his nose to the authorities and Schumacher and still won the world championship in 1997. He was so caught up in how good he thought he was, he and BAR boasted of being able to challenge for the title in 1999 with what was essentially Tyrrells (never gonna happen).
But, really, what makes him so high on the cool list is two things: THAT overtake of Michael Schumacher around the outside of the last corner at Estoril in 1996, as well as always flat out through Eau Rouge no matter what. Look it up on youtube, his crashes in 1998 and 1999 during practice say it all, never doing anything but giving 100%. Like him or not, he never pretended to be anything but Jacques.
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.