San Marino GP 1994

San Marino GP, 1994

The unpleasant atmosphere in Formula 1 in the Spring of 1994 was bubbling to the surface before the San Marino GP with pressure building for a solution to the problems of electronic driver aids which the FIA was obviously having trouble controlling. Although these aids were banned there was suspicion that Benetton was still using them. No-one anticipated the disastrous weekend that was ahead.

The field was as it had been in Aida, except that JJ Lehto was back in action for Benetton and Jordan had replaced Aguri Suzuki with Andrea de Cesaris (Eddie Irvine was still serving his three-race ban for causing a huge accident in Brazil).

The disasters began on Friday when Rubens Barrichello crashed his Jordan heavily at the fast corner before the pits. The car took off and hit the top of the barrier. It was then launched back onto the track where it came to rest upside down. Barrichello was unconscious and he had swallowed his tongue but quick intervention from the medical teams saved him although he was out for the rest of the weekend. Ayrton Senna, driving his Williams to the limit, set the fastest time of the day. The next day was even worse when Roland Ratzenberger crashed at high speed into the wall at Villeneuve Corner (named after the late Gilles Villeneuve). A front wing flap had fallen off the car and launched it off the ground at 200mph. It hit the wall at around 180mph and came to a halt with Ratzenberger slumped in the wreck. He was beyond help but was flown to hospital in Bologna, where he was officially certified dead a few minutes after arrival.

The session was eventually restarted but only a handful of drivers improved their times. Senna was on pole with Michael Schumacher (Benetton) second and Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) third. Damon Hill was fourth fastest in the second Williams with JJ Lehto (Benetton) fifth and Ferrari's Nicola Larini (standing in for the injured Jean Alesi) sixth. The top 10 was completed by Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Sauber), Mika Hakkinen (McLaren), Ukyo Katayama (Tyrrell) and Karl Wendlinger (Sauber).

At the start of the race Lehto stalled. Most of the cars missed the stationary Benetton but then Pedro Lamy arrived at the scene unsighted in his Lotus and he ran into the left rear of the car. The Lotus 's right hand wheels and other wreckage was thrown high into the air, over the debris fence and into the grandstand. Four people were hit. A Safety Car was sent out and for four laps the field stayed behind the car as the wreckage was cleaned up and the injured spectators looked after. Then the race was restarted with Senna leading with Schumacher right on his tail. At the start of the sixth lap Senna's car went straight off at Tamburello Corner. The Brazilian tried to turn the car in the final moments before hitting the wall but there was no escape. The car hit the wall! In the impact the front suspension of the Williams came back and hit Senna on the head. The car bounced back towards the track, throwing wreckage into the air, and slid to a halt beside the circuit. The doctors fought to save Senna's life and he was rushed by helicopter to Bologna. But from early on it was clear that there was no hope. Ayrton Senna died that evening.

The extent of Senna's injuries were not clear to many in the paddock and no-one complained that the race was restarted from the grid. Berger took the lead on the road but Schumacher was still ahead on aggregate. Schumacher went ahead on lap six of the new race and soon afterwards Berger retired with a rear wheel problem. When Schumacher pitted Larini led for a while but then Schumacher reasserted himself. The race went on with Schumacher dominant and during the second round of pit stops there was another accident in the pitlane when Michele Alboreto's Minardi lost a wheel and slewed into the Ferrari mechanics. A Lotus mechanic was also hit by debris.

Finally the race ended with Schumacher winning from Larini (his achievement completely overshadowed by the dreadful events). Third place went to Hakkinen with Wendlinger fourth, Katayama fifth and Hill sixth.

But the racing was irrelevant that day.

Michael Schumacher Benetton-Cosworth  58 1h28m28.642s  
27 Nicola Larini Ferrari  58 1h29m23.584s  
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Peugeot  58 1h29m39.321s  
29 Karl Wendlinger Sauber-Mercedes  58 1h29m42.300s  10 
Ukyo Katayama Tyrrell-Yamaha  57  
Damon Hill Williams-Renault FW16 57  
30 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber-Mercedes  57  
Martin Brundle McLaren-Peugeot  57  13 
Mark Blundell Tyrrell-Yamaha  56  12 
10 12 Johnny Herbert Lotus-Mugen Honda  56  20 
11 26 Olivier Panis Ligier-Renault  56  19 
12 25 Eric Bernard Ligier-Renault  56  17 
13 Christian Fittipaldi Footwork-Cosworth  54 Brakes/spin 16 
15 Andreas de Cesaris Jordan-Hart  49 Accident 21 
24 Michele Alboreto Minardi-Cosworth  44 Wheel Lost 15 
10 Gianni Morbidelli Footwork-Cosworth  40 Engine 11 
23 Pierluigi Martini Minardi-Cosworth  37 Spin 14 
31 David Brabham Simtek-Cosworth  27 Puncture/accident 24 
34 Bertrand Gachot Pacific-Ilmor  23 Oil Pressure 25 
19 Oliver Beretta Larrousse-Cosworth  17 Engine 23 
28 Gerhard Berger Ferrari  16 Handling 
Ayrton Senna Williams-Renault  Steering Column/fatal Accident 
20 Erik Comas Larrousse-Cosworth  Accident/under-wing 18 
JJ Lehto Benetton-Cosworth  Accident 
11 Pedro Lamy Lotus-Mugen Honda  Accident 22 
ns 32 Roland Ratzenberger Simtek-Cosworth  26 Fatal Accident 26 
nq 33 Paul Belmondo Pacific-Ilmor     
nq 14 Rubens Barrichello Jordan-Hart   Accident/injury