Autocourse - The World's Leading Grand Prix Annual
The Formula 1 season of 1994-95 may be remembered for any one of several reasons: the first world championship of Michael Schumacher, controversies surrounding 'technical irregularities', Jos Verstappen surviving a pit-lane inferno at Hockenheim, or the determination of Damon Hill to counter the seemingly unstoppable charge of Schumacher and the Benneton racing team. But it was the events of the weekend of April 30th / May 1st that was to dominate one of the most dramatic racing seasons for years.
Left: Cover of the 1994/95 annual.
Schumacher had won the opening two races of the season and was already looking to be a serious challenge to world champion Ayrton Senna. The third race meeting of the season, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, started badly on the Friday afternoon when Rubens Barrichello was incredibly lucky to escape with only superficial injuries after his car vaulted the kerb and slammed sideways into the tyre barrier (Right). Worse was to follow.
During Saturday's second qualifying session the car of novice driver Roland Ratzenberger was flung into the concrete wall after suddenly shedding part of its bodywork. Witnesses reported that the front wing had flown off moments before the crash. Medical staff carried out a swift transfer to hospital but the driver succumbed to multiple head injuries.
The sudden death shocked a sport in which the prospect of fatalities had been diminished by a series of safety improvements. The atmosphere was sombre and subdued but within 24 hours the death of Ratzenberger was to be eclipsed by further horror. After 6 laps of the Grand Prix, which had already featured the Safety Car, the Williams car of Ayrton Senna speared into the wall at the Tamburello curve. Debris covered the track as the car slid to a halt. Senna was transferred directly to hospital and the race was re-started while everyone waited to hear the condition of the driver. Rumour and counter-rumour abounded. The race would be won by Michael Schumacher, but the result seemed meaningless when it was announced in the evening that Senna had died of massive brain injuries. Subsequent examination showed that his helmet had been penetrated by a section of the front suspension.
Left: Larini, Schumacher and Hakkinen are subdued after the race.
After such a black weekend it might have been expected that the rest of the season would seem insignificant. However, it became dominated by the determination of Damon Hill (right) and a shaken Williams team to stop a run-away victory by Schumacher in the championship. As controversy swirled around the Benetton team, and Schumacher made errors of judgment, Hill reduced the German's lead to a single point at the start of the final race of the season, Australia.
The tension began to tell and Schumacher made an uncharacteristic mistake during qualifying. His car was seriously damaged but, rather than use the spare car, the team worked throughout the night to repair it in time for the race. The driving between the championship contenders was intense but slowly Hill seemed to be getting the upper hand as the race progressed. On the 36th lap Schumacher's car left the track and collided with the wall, damaging the suspension. As Hill saw the German returning to the track he moved to pass him and gain the racing line into the corner. Schumacher's Benetton turned into the corner and collided with the Williams car of Hill. Schumacher's car was flipped on to two wheels and his race was finished but Hill limped back to the pits in the hope that he would be able to continue racing. Unfortunately, the damage was too severe and he retired, leaving Schumacher to take the championship by a single point.
Left: Spectators enjoyed the high temperatures at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Although Schumacher declared that he believed Senna would have won the year's championship without the tragedy at Imola, it was a turning point in a career that would include seven world championships.
The drama of the 1994-95 season is captured in depth by the Autocourse series which has provided a definitive record of the racing season since 1951 (first produced in an annual format in 1959). The series provides the most complete information available, presented with entertaining articles and analysis. In addition to the wealth of information, the annuals include stunning images from the world's top motor-sport photographers. Capturing the glamour, speed and bravery of Formula 1, the Autocourse series has become a highly collectible record that 'no enthusiast should be without'.
Above: the Benneton of Jos Verstappen is engulfed in flames during refuelling. He, and his pit crew, were lucky to escape serious injuries.
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Information and images sourced from Autocourse 1994-95 - The World's Leading Grand Prix Annual
Contributed by Tim