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Schumacher: The New Hero
The untimely demise of Ayrton Senna opened up the Formula 1 world to new heroes. Consider the scenario: the champs from a couple of years back were all gone. Alain Prost had retired, Nigel Mansell had left F1, and Senna left the sport with a huge empty spot. There was a big vacuum waiting to be filled, and though Nigel Mansell returned in 1994, he was only a shade of his former self. Damon Hill in the other Williams car was usually faster than Nigel.
So, Damon was the title contender followed closely by Michael Schumacher, who had already earned a reputation for himself as the one who gave Senna a tough fight. In fact, it was Michael who was the de facto title contender while Damon was the other partner of Senna who had a chance; boy did Damon prove that wrong!
To Schumacher’s credit, despite the FIA ruling against the Bennetons’ car parts and disqualifying him, in addition to a couple of race bans, he was still a title contender in the last race. That speaks about the lead he must have opened up in the earlier races because both of Schumi’s banned races were won by Damon Hill.
However, by the time the last race arrived, the results took a drastic turn. So did people’s perspective.
Coming to the last race, the Australian Grand Prix, Schumacher led Hill by just one point. Though at second place on the grid at the start of the race, he pulled away and was followed closely by Damon Hill. The two racers were way faster than the rest and they opened up a gap to the third-place cars and beyond. However, between Michael and Damon, the gap remained between a second to three seconds.
Then at the 35th lap, Schumacher hit the curb, lost momentary control, and tried hard to avoid the wall, but there was contact. Schumacher then veered the car to the track, by which time Damon Hill was right behind. Damon did not see the crash, so for him, it was an opportunity to overtake the slow Benneton of Schumacher. And then Schumacher veered. Well, the rest is history. There was a collision.
Here’s the video.
Now, there have been numerous discussions on this video. Many claim that Schumacher was indeed guilty of ramming into Damon. However, what was not known was if Schumacher’s car was indeed damaged and incapable of joining the race before crashing into Damon. If the car was capable of continuing the race, then Schumi was justified in defending his line.
For whatever it was worth, the FIA found nothing untoward about the incident and Schumacher won his first F1 title.
Memories of the incident refused to die. Many continue to believe that Schumacher was at fault, and the British fans were the last to accept Damon’s loss in 1994. As history would show us, Michael’s tryst with British compatriots or competitors was not so exciting. Whether it was Johnny Herbert, Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Martin Brundle, or even Lewis Hamilton, there was no denying that there was a love-hate relationship between them. But none can refuse giving respect to Schumacher.
Schumacher–Damon Hill: 1995 Season
Still fresh from the 1994 title loss, Damon Hill was all fired up for the 1995 season. Williams was an uber-competitive car, and only the Benneton of Schumacher was anywhere close to their performance. This was also the year when Hill took out Schumacher twice and got away with it.
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The first incident that we will look at is the Silverstone GP, which also happened to be Damon’s home GP. Here’s the video.
Now, readers would have heard the commentators’ views about the incident, and it did appear too optimistic on Damon’s part, almost bordering on foolhardy. There was a video of the post-race talk with both drivers independently, and Damon appeared a bit guilty of the incident. Take a look.
See the difference in the body language of the two drivers. Funny enough, Michael just put the 1994 Adelaide incident on Damon as well.
But that was not the only incident of 1995. Here is another one.
The video is in a different language, so I urge viewers to take a look at the incident. What was seen clearly was that Michael and Hill collide while overtaking a backmarker. What was not known, on a lighter note, was how did the backmarker survive?
This was almost the third one. The video is in a different language, so I encourage viewers to watch more than hear. I couldn’t help but notice the narrator’s wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-… That was really close. The later part of the 90s had the rule of allowing one block by the driver in front, and if that applied to 1995 as well, then Schumacher was within his rights. He was, after all, taking the outside line to the turn.
To most of the F1 fans’ relief, this did not turn out to be the third incident. Schumacher went on to win the 1995 season and won the second world title in succession. Damon had to wait for one more year before he could take the championship.
Back to the Garage
While the 1994 incident is well worth a discussion (without conclusion), and even if Schumi was wrong, wouldn't the 1995 events make it even? I think even the drivers would have called it even and moved on. It is just the fans who feel that it is not over yet.
Now it is more than two decades since the incidents, but it still remains fresh. We will still have to guess who was right or wrong, but one thing is for sure, those were the wild years in F1!
© 2019 S K