27th March 1994 – Interlagos
In the 1990s, grand prix seasons traditionally opened with the event at Interlagos, and the first race of the 1994 season was an action-packed affair in which only twelve cars survived to meet the chequered flag.
After a fourth place finish the previous year, future F1 legend Michael Schumacher was one of the favourites to fill the void left by champion Alain Prost, who had made a comeback in 1993 and romped to the world championship before retiring for good. Alongside Benetton-Ford debutant, 22-year old Dutch driver Jos Verstappen, Michael Schumacher was a renewed force over a weekend that was to be an indication of days to come.
The entire weekend was beset by heavy rain, ensuring that drivers were forced to negotiate treacherous conditions during qualifying. Saturday’s round of qualifiers was undertaken haphazardly due to the rain, but Ayrton Senna showed his quality and experience to claim pole position ahead of Schumacher.
The race began, as expected, with Senna dominating the early stretches, opening up a lead of 4 seconds. Meanwhile, Schumacher battled with Jean Alesi for second place.
In the run up to lap 20, the gap between Schumacher and Senna was gradually closing, and the warring duo were neck and neck as they both pitted. Though utilising similar fuel strategies, Benetton were quicker from the restart, allowing Schumacher to take the lead at a vital moment.
Schumacher’s lead soon extended to an unassailable 10 seconds after the next pit stop, and the German maestro even managed to lap third-placed Damon Hill. In the true fashion of an F1 hero, Senna would not be defeated without a fight, and he halved that gap as the race came to a close. But there was one final twist, Senna retired from the race after losing control of his car and spinning off the circuit.
As a result of Senna’s retirement, Schumacher won with consummate ease, comfortably ahead of Damon Hill (2nd) and Jean Alesi (3rd).
The 1994 season was overshadowed by the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola on May 1st. With the world of motorsport in mourning for the remainder of the season, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill produced a championship duel that was a fitting tribute, with the German winning his first world title by a single point.
By Tamhas Woods
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