Few Formula 1 seasons are quite so infamous as the 1994 instalment, and the Benetton B194 is inextricably linked with the many controversies across that year.
Benetton B194‑05: The car that took Schumacher to his first F1 title
By the time the season ended with one of the most talked-about moves in F1 history – with Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill coming together in Adelaide, finishing the race for both cars – the sport had seen peaks and troughs like no other since.
The season had started relatively quietly, with Schumacher taking two wins from two in a sister Benetton B194. For the third race, Schumacher switched to the B194-05, the car you see here, a visitor to the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard. That was the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, which claimed the lives of both Roland Ratzenberger, in qualifying, and Ayrton Senna in the race the following day.
In the tragic circumstances it’d be easy to forget the race result, but Schumacher scored his third win in a row. He followed that up with another win in B194-05, at Monaco. In fact the car you’ll see here really laid down the marker for Schumacher’s championship season.
As Andre Bergermann of Rennwerk, who looks after the B194 for Motorworld, points out: “This car scored half of all the points that Michael Schumacher scored in 1994 to win the world championship.”. B194-05 took Schumacher to victory not only in Imola and Monaco, but Canada and France too, with a second place in Jerez adding up to 46 of Schumacher’s 92 championship points.
Although not the car Schumacher used in Adelaide to damage Damon Hill’s Williams’ suspension, putting him out of the race, therefore clinching the championship for Schumacher – that’s part of Schumacher’s collection, stored on display at Motorworld, but not in running condition – B194-05 too was mired in controversy. It was the car Schumacher was driving when, after overtaking Damon Hill on the parade lap at the British Grand Prix, he was first penalised, then black-flagged for ignoring the penalty (on team advice), then disqualified from the race and banned for two more races for ignoring that. In addition, the 1994 season had seen electronic driver aids banned, and the teams suspected Benetton of still using a hidden traction control system.
“There was this thought that everybody tried to stop Benetton from winning the championship,” says Bergermann. “There were so many controversies like the Spa incident with the skid plate, the overtaking stuff in the British Grand Prix, and the ideas of launch control in the car.
“I asked Ross Brawn what he thought was so special about the car and why it was so good. He said basically it was Michael, and that the car was very simple. It was a simple V8 with a very low centre of gravity, which was the main change from the 1993 car. What they did was train launches every test, 10-20 times every time. They were really the first in the whole F1 field to train launches, before nobody did it. But they realised after they did it that the other teams started doing it. It really was Michael’s attitude and attention to detail.”
The car has two other pretty special touches. Aside from Schumacher’s own B194, this is the only other one of the chassis to retain the original Ford 3.5 V8. “All the other cars are fitted with the 3.0-litre engine from the later ages – ‘95, ‘96, ‘96 – because there were only really 20-25 engines bought, and most of the engines were destroyed or they were converted to 3.0-litre engines,” explains Bergermann.
This B194-05 is also the only one of Michael’s F1 cars to date that has also been driven by his son Mick. Schumacher Junior took this very chassis around the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in 2017 on an exhibition run to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Michael’s first F1 win, at Spa in 1992.
And who drove this very special piece of F1 history at the Festival? Schumacher’s 1994 championship rival Damon Hill.
Photography by Joe Harding, Drew Gibson and Nigel Harniman.
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