The 1994 French GP: Michael Schumacher’s 8th Career Win
The 1994 F1 Season
Michael Schumacher appeared unstoppable in the 1994 season. He won all the races of the season, barring one; even the one that he did not win was because of issues with the car, and yet he finished in second place. As such, he was dominating the entire track.
Benetton’s rivals had no answers to Schumacher’s tight grip on the race results and were forced to try out different things. The one significant change in approach came from the Williams team which called back veteran F1 champ, Nigel Mansell. Nigel made himself available from the French GP, the seventh race of the season. On hindsight, the Williams team needed Nigel for multiple reasons. For one, an erstwhile champ would be the ideal candidate to take the fight to Michael Schumacher’s Benetton camp, and second, he would be the only one other than Senna who could give quality feedback to improve the Williams car.
The decision to bring Nigel back proved timely. He proved the Williams team right by qualifying second, just a whisker behind Damon in the first place. He did appear strong for the race.
How would Michael fare against the Williams team?
Let’s find out.
Did You Know?
After the 1994 San Marino GP (where Senna was lost), for the first time since 1959, the F1 world witnessed a track without an erstwhile F1 champ. That situation remained so for the next few races until the French GP.
Nigel Mansell, the 1992 F1 champ, made a comeback with Willaims in the French GP, and in the process, restored some parity to the 1994 F1 season.
Finally, there was an F1 champ on track.
The 1994 French GP Qualifying
For once in the season, a team other than the Benettons was in the news. The Williams had made substantial changes in the team and car. There was a new engine expected, and Nigel’s inclusion was the most significant talking point. All seemed to have worked out well as witnessed in the qualifying run.
For the first time since the San Marino GP, Michael Schumacher was not setting the pace. The Williams dominated the qualifying session with Mansell taking the provisional pole ahead of Schumacher. The champ had made an impressive comeback. However, Damon Hill on his last run in the qualifying session pipped Mansell by just one-tenth of a second. Still, it was not a bad position for Mansell.
The overall news for Williams was heartening. For the first time in the season both the Williams car occupied the front row relegating Schumacher to third on the grid. All that the Williams team now had to do was get a clean and clear start.
The 1994 French GP – Race Day
Fans were happy to see Mansell back on track, and the run-up to the start of the Grand Prix was as expected. The Williams cars looked set to take the chequered flag and most likely have a one-two finish.
Just when all looked fine, the start of the race saw a Benetton shooting like a tracer bullet between the two Williams car. There’s no prize for guessing who’s Benetton that was. Michael Schumacher was once again in the lead. The Benetton car’s incredible performance at the start raised the question which Senna himself had asked – did the Benetton cars still have traction control? The regulation was precise that there would be no driver assists on the vehicles for the 1994 season.
Take a look at the start of the GP and the race:
The race highlights begin from 3:40 minutes. Schumacher’s getaway is clearly seen. Michael’s blistering start gave the impression that novices drove the Williams. The battle left off at the Canadian GP resumed at Magny Cours.
Michael quickly opened up a lead over the Williams of Damon Hill, and the position stayed so for the most part of the race. Mansell retired mid-way, and the track was dominated by Michael’s Benetton, Damon Hill’s Williams and the Ferraris. The Ferraris were the other team which had a resurgence in their performance and were looking better than most cars on track.
The cars and competition notwithstanding, Michael stormed to another victory in what could be called his dream season. With the French GP win, Michael had won six of the seven races so far putting him 37 points clear of the second-place Damon Hill.
To put things in perspective, a lead of 37 points was something that opened up near the end of the season, but in 1994, that was the lead opened up by Michael Schumacher even before reaching the mid-way mark. Such was the domination of Schumi.
Did You Know?
In the first seven races of the 1994 F1 season, it was only the Benetton of Michael Schumacher which was dominating the proceedings. The other Benetton did not have as much luck leading to the conclusion that it was the Schumi-Benetton combination which was the differentiator; more so, the driver making a significant difference.
Back to the Pits
With the conclusion of the 1994 French GP, most teams had given up their claim to the title. It looked like Michael Schumacher’s game, and only a miracle could lead to any other outcome.
A thirty-seven point deficit was a huge one to bridge. Statistically for Damon Hill to have any chance of winning the championship, he had to win at least seven races with Schumacher finishing second or lesser. Only then will the deficit be bridged. Even if that scenario did happen, Damon would coast past Schumacher only by the fourteenth race of the season. After that, two more races would remain where they would have to fight tooth and nail.
Of course, if at all that happened.
For now, Williams had to push themselves and hope for the best.
Questions & Answers
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