Mansell’s return fails to stop another Schumacher win

1994 French Grand Prix flashback

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The loss of Ayrton Senna in a fatal accident in the San Marino Grand Prix had left Formula One in the almost unprecedented situation of having no world champions on the grid.

Bernie Ecclestone was eager to change that in the interest of promoting the series. And the French Grand Prix provided him with an opportunity to do it.

Having lost their star driver, Williams’ engine supplier Renault was eager to bolster the team’s line-up with another top talent. But Alain Prost, who won the championship for them in 1993, had decided against a return to F1 racing after Senna’s death

Nigel Mansell had taken the title with Williams the year before. He was still racing, and having won the IndyCar title in 1993 his championship defence with Newman/Haas was being crushed by the might of their Penske rivals. After his last race at Portland Mansell had mustered barely more than half the points of series leader Al Unser Jnr.

Despite the acrimonious nature of his departure from Williams two years earlier, Mansell was open to the idea of returning to F1 again in one of the top cars. But his contractual obligations in America meant he would not be available to race until after the IndyCar season had ended, three races before the F1 championship’s conclusion.

However such was Renault’s urge to get him in one of their cars for the round at Magny-Cours that terms were agreed for Mansell to do the race as a one-off, along with the other three, for a total fee of £4 million. In order to avoid conflicts with his backing from Ford and Texaco in IndyCar, Mansell’s overalls would not feature the logos of Renault or Elf, though his car would. Red five, which had become red one in America, would return as red two.

Williams’ championship rivals Benetton had also changed their driver line-up. JJ Lehto’s wildly varying performances since returning to the car had convinced team principal Flavio Briatore all was not well with his driver, and Jos Verstappen was recalled to partner Michael Schumacher.

“I wanted to come back as soon as I could,” Lehto reflected, “but I probably made a mistake to return that quickly. Then, when I had the accident at Imola, it was difficult to pick up mentally.”

Jean-Marc Gounon’s arrival alongside David Brabham at Simtek in time for his home race had been planned since the beginning of the season. He made his return to F1 having started twice for Minardi at the end of the previous season.

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1994 French Grand Prix grid

Magny-Cours had been renovated as recently as 1991, so while other circuits were told to slow down their fastest corners in the wake of Imola, the French Grand Prix venue was largely unchanged. However more run-off was added in several places.

But during the second qualifying session a heavy crash for Verstappen highlighted another area for improvement. The Benetton driver got too greedy with the kerb at the final corner and pitched his Benetton hard into the pit wall. With no fence to contain the accident, debris from Verstappen’s crash demolished several of McLaren’s monitors but fortunately no one was hurt.

Schumacher had led the times on Friday with Damon Hill third and Mansell, predictably the centre of attention, seventh. But the Williams pair were flying on Saturday and Mansell headed the times until the final minutes of the session.

Hill, who had received a shock when Verstappen crashed just metres away from him earlier in the session, took to the track for a final effort. He hurled the Williams at the final corner, kept it together and crossed the line to pip Mansell to pole position by a scant seven-hundredths of a second.

Just as importantly as far as Williams were concerned, Schumacher had been dislodged from the front row of the grid for the first time all season.

For their home race Peugeot brought updated version of their A6 V10 engines for McLaren, but it wasn’t enough for either Mika Hakkinen or Martin Brundle to out-qualify either of the Jordans with their Hart V10s.

Briatore chose the Friday of the race weekend to announce he had taken over the Ligier team which, given their Renault engine supply, was a significant move. Former Ferrari team principal Cesare Fiorio was hired to lead them. As usual they put their local track knowledge to good use – Olivier Panis and Eric Bernard claimed their best qualifying positions of the year so far with 13th and 15th respectively.

But the return of the second Simtek spelled bad news for Pacific. Neither driver made it onto the grid – a pattern which continued for the rest of the season.

Row 1 1. Damon Hill 1’16.282
2. Nigel Mansell 1’16.359
Row 2 3. Michael Schumacher 1’16.707
4. Jean Alesi 1’16.954
Row 3 5. Gerhard Berger 1’16.959
6. Eddie Irvine 1’17.441
Row 4 7. Rubens Barrichello 1’17.482
8. Jos Verstappen 1’17.645
Row 5 9. Mika Hakkinen 1’17.768
10. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’17.830
Row 6 11. Andrea de Cesaris 1’17.866
12. Martin Brundle 1’18.031
Row 7 13. Olivier Panis 1’18.044
14. Ukyo Katayama 1’18.192
Row 8 15. Eric Bernard 1’18.236
16. Pierluigi Martini 1’18.248
Row 9 17. Mark Blundell 1’18.381
18. Christian Fittipaldi 1’18.568
Row 10 19. Johnny Herbert 1’18.715
20. Erik Comas 1’18.811
Row 11 21. Michele Alboreto 1’18.890
22. Gianni Morbidelli 1’18.936
Row 12 23. Alessandro Zanardi 1’19.066
24. David Brabham 1’19.771
Row 13 25. Olivier Beretta 1’19.863
26. Jean-Marc Gounon 1’21.829

Did not qualify

Bertrand Gachot, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’21.952
Paul Belmondo, Pacific-Ilmor – 1’23.004

Schumacher’s rapid start

Suspicions over the quality of the starts Schumacher was making in his Benetton had been raised earlier in the season. Williams had filmed Schumacher’s car at the start of races, and though the events of Imola had overshadowed the row, the FIA had begun investigating several teams including Benetton over allegations they were getting around the ban on traction and launch control.

Schumacher’s start in France gave fresh impetus to those claims. From third on the grid, and despite Magny-Cours having a very short run to the corner and Hill making what he called his second-best start of the year, the Benetton immediately shot past both Williams drivers.

It was all down to the development work the team had done in the lead-up to the race, said Schumacher afterwards. “I catched the right moment to go, just when the red disappeared I was going,” he said. “I couldn’t have done any better.”

“We have done a lot of development to our clutch which hasn’t been very good in the beginning of the season,” he added. “Since we raced this new clutch it’s giving us a lot better performance in the start and that’s what you see since then, we’re doing always good starts.”

Whether because of Mansell’s input or the advances made in recent races, the Williams cars were clearly more competitive than they had been – even if Mansell had undone some of his good work by making a late change to his rear suspension which had backfired. Hill gave pursuit of Schumacher, and set the race’s fastest lap as early as lap four, before a series of incidents deposited oil and gravel on the course.

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But Mansell’s experience of refuelling strategy in IndyCar racing seemed not to have rubbed off on the team. Once again they were outfoxed by Benetton. Hill made two pit stops during the race but Ross Brawn brought Schumacher’s car in three times. As the pair also demonstrated ten years later, Magny-Cours’ short pit lane meant little time was lost making pit stops, rewarding more aggressive fuel strategies.

Schumacher’s second pit stop on lap 38 handed the lead to Hill. But within six laps the Benetton was back on the tail of the Williams, and as both had to pit again Schumacher held the whip hand. Hill made his final pit stop that time by and was badly held up on his out-lap by the Sauber of Andrea de Cesaris. That completely finished his chances, and Schumacher easily held his lead after his third and final pit stop.

Mansell had made an early first pit stop to change his tyres pressures and adjust his front wing in an attempt to compensate for his set-up mistake. The swung the balance of his car from oversteer to understeer and forced a second pit stop on lap 29 – this time without even taking on any fuel – to correct the correction.

Transmission failure on lap 45 ended his disappointing comeback race – he rolled to a halt at the hairpin where he was immediately besieged by photographers. After a stop-off in the pits for a chat with Frank Williams, Mansell dashed off before the chequered flag to return to America.

His fellow F1 returnee Verstappen fared little better, exploring the Magny-Cours circuit’s expanded gravel traps to their fullest. He knocked the front wing off his car in one, then after having it replaced spun into retirement in another.

The Footwork cars showed little of their former pace: Gianni Morbidelli qualified 22nd and was running 13th when an over-ambitious Olivier Panis took him out at the hairpin. Christian Fittipaldi finished two laps down in eighth.

However Jean Alesi was fortunate to escape sanction after a careless mistake took him and Rubens Barrichello out of the race. The Ferrari driver had been running fourth when he went of at Lycee and bounced through the gravel trap, leaving his car facing the wrong direction.

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He executed a quick spin-turn just as fifth-placed Barrichello arrived in his Jordan. Facing a screen of Alesi’s tyre smoke, Barrichello was powerless to avoid the Ferrari and the collision eliminated the pair of them.

Following the collision and Mansell’s retirement Hakkinen was briefly promoted to fourth, before a Peugeot engine failure meant he joined his team mate on the sidelines. Heinz-Harald Frentzen therefore took fourth, with team mate de Cesaris in sixth making it a double points finish for Sauber. They sandwiched the Minardi of Pierluigi Martini.

Schumacher clinched his sixth win from seven starts but his reduced victory margin over Hill suggested the rest of the season was not going to be as one-sided. And a stronger showing from Gerhard Berger thanks to an uprated Ferrari engine showed Benetton had more than one rival to worry about.

1994 French Grand Prix result

Pos. # Driver Car Laps Time / gap / reason
1 5 Michael Schumacher Benetton-Ford 72 1:38’35.704
2 0 Damon Hill Williams-Renault 72 12.642
3 28 Gerhard Berger Ferrari 72 52.765
4 30 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber-Mercedes 71 1 lap
5 23 Pierluigi Martini Minardi-Ford 70 2 laps
6 29 Andrea de Cesaris Sauber-Mercedes 70 2 laps
7 12 Johnny Herbert Lotus-Mugen-Honda 70 2 laps
8 9 Christian Fittipaldi Footwork-Ford 70 2 laps
9 32 Jean-Marc Gounon Simtek-Ford 68 4 laps
10 4 Mark Blundell Tyrrell-Yamaha 67 5 laps
11 20 Erik Comas Larrousse-Ford 66 Engine
3 Ukyo Katayama Tyrrell-Yamaha 53 Accident
7 Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Peugeot 48 Engine
2 Nigel Mansell Williams-Renault 45 Gearbox
27 Jean Alesi Ferrari 41 Accident
14 Rubens Barrichello Jordan-Hart 41 Accident
25 Eric Bernard Ligier-Renault 40 Gearbox
19 Olivier Beretta Larrousse-Ford 36 Engine
8 Martin Brundle McLaren-Peugeot 29 Engine
10 Gianni Morbidelli Footwork-Ford 28 Accident
26 Olivier Panis Ligier-Renault 28 Accident
31 David Brabham Simtek-Ford 28 Transmission
6 Jos Verstappen Benetton-Ford 25 Accident
15 Eddie Irvine Jordan-Hart 24 Gearbox
24 Michele Alboreto Minardi-Ford 21 Engine
11 Alessandro Zanardi Lotus-Mugen-Honda 20 Engine

1994 drivers’ championship after France

With seven of the sixteen rounds completed, Schumacher held a 37-point lead over Hill (a win was worth ten). This was the largest margin he enjoyed all season.

Grand Prix Brazil Pacific San Marino Monaco Spain Canada France
Michael Schumacher 10 20 30 40 46 56 66
Damon Hill 6 6 7 7 17 23 29
Gerhard Berger 0 6 6 10 10 13 17
Jean Alesi 4 4 4 6 9 13 13
Rubens Barrichello 3 7 7 7 7 7 7
Martin Brundle 0 0 0 6 6 6 6
Nicola Larini 0 0 6 6 6 6 6
Heinz-Harald Frentzen 0 2 2 2 2 2 5
Mika Hakkinen 0 0 4 4 4 4 4
Mark Blundell 0 0 0 0 4 4 4
Ukyo Katayama 2 2 4 4 4 4 4
Andrea de Cesaris 0 0 0 3 3 3 4
Pierluigi Martini 0 0 0 0 2 2 4
Karl Wendlinger 1 1 4 4 4 4 4
Christian Fittipaldi 0 3 3 3 3 3 3
David Coulthard 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
Eddie Irvine 0 0 0 0 1 1 1
Erik Comas 0 1 1 1 1 1 1
Michele Alboreto 0 0 0 1 1 1 1
JJ Lehto 0 0 0 0 0 1 1

The ‘option 13’ row

Mansell’s return failed to inject a longed-for element of drama into the French Grand Prix. But the opening seconds of the race yielded its biggest talking point. Schumacher’s incredible start, performed after the cars had been held stationary for an unusually long time, aroused widespread suspicion.

The results of the FIA’s investigation into electronic systems used by Benetton, McLaren and Ferrari were announced ahead of the German Grand Prix. Ferrari, who had already come under suspicion of using traction control at the second round of the season, were cleared after giving the FIA the access it required to its source code.

Benetton and McLaren did not do so initially. Once Benetton had, the FIA found evidence of the presence of launch control systems, but stopped short of claiming they had been used.

When Benetton attempted to explain away its presence by saying it was only used during testing, and that in order to activate it the source code would have to be re-compiled, the FIA discovered it was in fact ready to run. But only if the driver and engineer knew where to find it.

“In order to enable ‘launch control’, a particular menu with ten options has to be selected on the PC screen,” read the FIA’s assessment. “‘Launch control’ is not visibly listed as an option. The menu was so arranged that, after ten items, nothing further appeared.”

“If, however, the operator scrolled down the menu beyond the tenth listed option, to option 13, launch control can be enabled, even though this is not visible on the screen. No satisfactory explanation was offered for this apparent attempt to conceal the feature.”

The FIA also discovered that as well as activating the hidden menu option, the driver had to perform a sequence of presses on the gear shift levers and clutch and throttle pedals to activate the system.

Schumacher strenuously denied having used it. Brawn insisted the team had obscured access to the system in order to ensure it wasn’t triggered accidentally and said the data proved it hadn’t been used. But FIA president Max Mosley remained suspicious, and six years later admitted the FIA had “slipped up” when investigating Benetton.

“We seized the [control] boxes but we didn’t hold on to them which would have shown conclusively whether they did cheat or did not,” he said, adding that those findings could have changed the eventual verdict, which was limited to a $100,000 fine for Benetton for failing to provide its source code in time.

It served to underline the point made by several teams before the season began that the FIA had over-reached in its efforts to ban driver aids such as launch control and traction control.

Further weight was given to that claim later in the year when McLaren were discovered to have been running a fully automated system for changing up through the gears. This was only revealed when Philippe Alliot, who drove for McLaren in Hungary, joined Larrousse at the Belgian Grand Prix and remarked that his new car lacked the same facility.

Whether or not Benetton had used ‘option 13’ in a race may never be known. But at the time it was only the beginning of their troubles with the FIA.

Images © Williams/LAT, Ford

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Mansell’s return fails to stop another Schumacher win”

  1. 1994. No KERS. No ERS. No DRS. No double points and the closest thing to a night race was that years Japanese Grand Prix. How things have changed in 2 decades!

    1. I think after one decade we will have pilots who will stand in parc ferme and will connect somthing to their brains and the cars will drive by itself- maby we will have some Google-Vodafone-Force India…. totaly crap. i would love to have a collection of the old style racing…

    2. They had thrown refueling in that year for no reason other than ‘to spice up the show’ & despite most drivers/teams & fans been against it.

      Some things remain the same then.

      1. It also did nothing but hurt the on-track racing for the next 15 years by putting fuel strategy above the actual racing, Hence the massive reduction in on-track overtaking throughout that time (From the very 1st race of 1994) & the big increase in on-track overtaking as soon as it was banned again.

        1. Mr win or lose
          5th July 2014, 12:13

          Pleaser watch some races in 1993, when tyre strategy was more important than racing, although overtaking was considerably easier than from 1994 onwards (especially when the plank was introduced). Whenever there are pitstops and whenever overtaking is difficult, teams will try to gain positions in the pits. I don’t care too much. Clever strategies and drivers who make the most out of their strategies should be rewarded. The refueling ban in 2010 did increase the number of on-track overtakes, but it was only because the midfield contenders quite often found themselves out of position after an early pitstop, so they had to overtake the horribly slow new teams. I don’t really see that as an improvement.

      2. yeah, but the one team that was massively in favour of it was Ferrari. “The more times change” and all that….

    3. No ERS? Tell me again how you wanted F1 with only one engine manufacturer.

    4. 3 cars finished on the lead lap, one driver was leading the championship by a mile. We have come a long way indeed.

  2. These articles are really interesting, I watched some of the races back then but never knew anything like the level of detail covered here. I hadn’t heard the full details of how they could access the “secret launch control software” – it’s kind of hilarious that the FIA accepted that excuse. It’s funny to think that at the same time i was entering cheat codes on Street Fighter 2, Schumacher was (allegedly) doing something similar in his Benetton ;)

  3. I was unaware of the Verstappen practice crash before this article. Here’s a link to it on youtube:
    The video doesn’t catch him clobbering the kerb, but shows the impact and the tyre flying off and wrecking the McLaren pit monitors. Its very scary to think what would have happened if the monitors hadn’t taken the brunt of the tyre that was on an upward trajectory over the pit lane.
    Another great article, thanks Keith.

    1. Also. the Alesi Barrichello crash can be viewed here:

    2. Thanks for the clips!

      And another great article. Love reading these.

    3. I hadn’t seen that crash before either, but I have to agree that those were some lucky monitors for the rest of the pit lane. Sometimes it’s really odd to see how easy things could have gone completely wrong in hindsight; you’d imagine there’d been fences on pitlanes in the 90s already..

  4. Excellent article and while the regulations were changed to “improve the show” cars sounded like this….

  5. Excellent article Keith. A very nice piece to move away from the dark incidents of the preceding two months.

  6. Brian Hart, 6th & 7th on the grid – what a legend.

  7. Random tidbit: the Finnish commentators actually swore during a commercial break of the race (the replay of the race on Monday didn’t have any commercials, so this wasn’t heard live) how uneventful it was.

    Also, later JJ Lehto has said that he definitely returned too soon. He even suggested that it took him a full year to fully recover. Shame that his F1 career ended (yes, he would still drive for Sauber later) with this too early return to the cockpit.

    And finally, Option 13 is probably the greatest technical mystery in modern F1. Was it simply a leftover from the previous softwares or a cheat?

    1. @kaiie That’s a great bit of random info!

  8. Option 13 is indeed intriguing. Keith may know more than I, and may indeed touch on this in a future post, but to my knowledge, Option 13 also involved only launch control. The persistent belief that Schumacher’s Benneton had traction control seems to stem only from Senna’s musings. Yet, it’s become fact, at least for those with a less than favorable opinion of Schumacher, that traction control was on the Benetton. Traction control, of course, is important to those who insist on minimizing the German’s talent.

  9. Loving these articles, Keith! Really looking forward to the rest as well, as we still have some very memorable incidents coming up..

    A shame the racing wasn’t as exciting as the drama in 1994, I only watched half of this race, couldn’t find the rest but wasn’t too concerned either.

  10. I did a lot of thinking should I post this or not, because people will probably call me blinded fanboy who lives in denial. But what the hell, here it is. I looked for all 1994 starts which involved Schumacher, and here are mine short observations on them.

    Interlagos – Senna starts better, Schumacher spins his wheels and looses one position to Alesi and almost another one to Hill 2>3 -1
    Aida – Schumacher starts well, gets ahead of Senna who had a big twitch, Hakkinen also had a good start 2>1 +1
    Imola – Senna and Schumacher had similar start 0
    Monaco – pretty much equal start from all in top 3 positions 0
    Barcelona – Schumacher starts well, as do Hill and Hakkinen 0
    Montreal – top 3 had pretty much equal start, all three spins wheels 0
    Magny-Cours – Shumacher had perfect start, Hill’s was average, an Mansell’s was poor 3>1 +2
    Silverstone – Hill’s start was perfect, Schumacher’s not so good 0
    Hockenheim – both Ferrari’s start is excellent, as is Katayama’s (equal to what Schumacher did in France), Schumacher and Hill both had an average start 0
    Hungaroring – both Williams cars starts better than Schumacher but he manages to stay ahead 0
    Spa Francorchamps – Barrichello and Schumacher had similar start 0
    Jerez – Hill overtakes Schumacher, his start was perfect pretty much like Schumacher’s in France 1>2 -1
    Suzuka – start on rain, Schumacher starts well, Hill had an average start, Frentzen also had a good start 0
    Adelaide – Mansell had a poor start, Schumacher and Hill identical 2>1 +1

    All in all, Schumacher gained positions on 3 occasions, and lost his positions on 2 occasions. In total he gained 2 positions.
    His only standout start was in France, all others were pretty average, meaning, they were not better than what other drivers did.
    Think of it what you want.

    1. Mr win or lose
      5th July 2014, 12:00

      Good analysis. It seems that the traction control conspiracy is nothing more than cherry picking.

  11. LOL Dissapointing come-back? Who wrote that rubbish? Set 2nd on the grid and was on the points until the car broke.

Comments are closed.