The 1994 is a sporting season that will remain indelible in the history of Motorsport. In fact, 1994 can be considered a crossroads between the old and the new way of conceiving Formula 1, which heralds greater attention to the safety of drivers. The season is in fact sadly remembered for the dramatic weekend in Imola, the scene of the disappearance of two drivers.
Even the cars that took part in it can be said to be the latest in a concept that unwittingly puts performance ahead of the safety of the drivers, and in this the car that will win the constructors' world championship is no exception: the Williams one: FW16 which will be fatal to Ayrton Senna.
In 1993 it was Alain Prost who triumphed aboard a Williams FW15C, which literally beat the competition. But despite this success, the four-time World Champion was stolen the Williams wheel by Ayrton Senna.
The Englishman Damon Hill, who had been a good sidekick for the Frenchman, is joined by the Brazilian from Sao Paulo, to continue the winning streak with the best driver around.
Unfortunately things will be different, and Ayrton will not finish the season, replaced first by the Scottish David Coulthard and then by Nigel Mansell following the Imola accident.
The new regulations
The 1994 is a year of not negligible regulatory renewal. First of all, almost all electronic aids are banned, including the active suspension that had been among the strengths of the two Williams World Champions of the previous championships (FW15C and FW14B), and traction control, the ABS of the brakes, is abandoned. automatic gearbox, electronic differential and bidirectional telemetry.
Supplies are also reintroduced during the race, providing all the stables with an identical top-up device, and further changes will be imposed during the current season, when greater safety will be immediately demanded following the Imola events: the size of the aileron will be reduced. front and side deflectors to reduce aerodynamic load, fuels that deliver less power will be imposed, and other small interventions to maximize the safety of the cockpits.
In the sporting regulations, the only significant change is the number of participating cars which rises to twenty-eight, with twenty-six drivers admitted to the Sunday race.
An heir with great responsibilities
The new FW16 therefore does not have the prodigious active suspension that had made the fortunes of the team and its standard bearers Mansell and Prost. The tank is drastically reduced due to the reintroduction of supplies, and the size of the side air intakes is also reduced, with a carbon fiber frame that is overall slimmer.
Conversely, both the front and rear wings become wider, in order to maximize downforce. The new FW16 is, as expected, very innovative, as it adopts new solutions regarding the wing and the trapezoidal rear suspension:
- The first is an inverted V, the same solution as the wings of military aircraft;
- The latter are even more surprising, given that, in particular, instead of the traditional pair of arms, a single carbon upper arm has been placed, the section of which re-proposes the concepts of lift used in the design of aircraft wings.
This shaft also completely hulls the drive shaft. However, what is immediately assumed regarding this solution is that such suspensions could be judged to be irregular, since moving parts with aerodynamic functions are expressly prohibited by the regulation.
For example, the confusion in the application of regulations means that all teams are busy seeking regulatory interpretations in the construction and development of mechanisms that at the moment no one knows whether they are lawful or not. In this regard, Adrian Newey, for example, has decided to equip the car with a fly-by-wire accelerator despite being expressly prohibited by the regulation.
The single-seater, in the height of the years of one of the most successful pairs of all time, is equipped with a 3500 cm³ Renault WS6 V10 67° engine, delivering a maximum power of 830 horsepower. The transmission is transverse to six-speed semi-automatic sequential, and the car is equipped with Goodyear tires.
The difficulties of adaptation
The conditions for the season, despite a highly competitive car on paper, are not the best. The new Williams is very tight, and Ayrton Senna struggles to find the right feeling with the new car. After trying the car, at the end of generally disappointing pre-season tests, the Brazilian immediately reveals difficulties in getting in tune with the FW16, but does his utmost to modify it and make it competitive.
In particular, he complains of the excessive vibrations and enormous jolts of the body both on the straight and when cornering, and a passenger compartment that is too narrow for his body, where he never even manages to completely detach his feet from the pedals while driving; as a result Ayrton suffers especially over long distances, where he has an enormous effort to maintain a high pace in such uncomfortable conditions.
Furthermore, having very long arms, and being very narrow in the cockpit, Ayrton is forced to drive in an unnatural position according to his standards, and to this we must add the use of the steering wheel with a diameter of eighteen centimeters instead of twenty-two, as he had always used. With these premises that are anything but encouraging, Williams still shows up in Brazil with the underdogs, after the double title collected the previous year.
Despite the aforementioned difficulties, on the first round of the season it is Ayrton Senna who takes the first pole position at Interlagos; Michael Schumacher, who will prove to be the number one contender with his Benetton-Ford, is right behind him.
The German took the lead after the pit stops and the Brazilian, anxious to recover, lost his Williams in a spin, ending his race sixteen laps to spare. Schumacher wins, while Hill - who started fourth - takes second place.
The second round is in Aida, Japan, for the Pacific Grand Prix. Once again, the pole was won by Senna, confirming that Williams is competitive on the qualifying lap. The race, however, lasted a few seconds, as the Brazilian was eliminated by a collision with Mika Hakkinen at the first corner. Schumacher wins again, while Hill completes the bad day by retiring due to transmission problems.
The twenty to zero in the standings of the German Benetton driver against Senna is already a frightening gap. Adrian Newey recognizes the nature of the FW16's instability in a miscalculation of the length of the side bellies, containing the radiators, and promises Ayrton Senna the creation of a new car, which should have made its debut at the Canadian Grand Prix.
In the meantime, however, the Brazilian will no longer be able to make mistakes at Imola. However, the San Marino Grand Prix, held in Imola, is one of the most bitter chapters in the history of Formula 1.
In free practice on Friday Rubens Barrichello is the protagonist of a frightening accident at the low variant. The Brazilian gets away with a broken nose, cuts to the mouth, a broken arm, a cracked rib, a slight amnesia, and more generally a big scare.
Saturday's qualifying reserves the first tragedy: the Austrian Roland Ratzenberger, at the wheel of the Simtek, is the victim of a structural failure of the front wing at the exit of the Tamburello: the sharp drop in downforce makes the car unmanageable, which goes to impact on the barriers of the Villeneuve curve at over 300 km/h. The Austrian was transported unconscious to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna, but he died a few minutes later despite the energetic intervention of the doctors.
Senna, who will no longer take to the track, wins his third consecutive pole. In the race, in the midst of a frightening series of accidents, the worst drama takes place: Ayrton Senna leaves the ideal trajectory at the Tamburello curve and crashes into the concrete wall. He will go out during the evening at the Bologna Hospital, leaving the entire Circus upset.
The race, run in a surreal atmosphere, was won again by Schumacher, with Hill finishing sixth. The world of Formula 1 is shaken, and the Federation immediately imposes new safety solutions on cars to continue the season.
We are back on track fifteen days later in Monte Carlo, where Schumacher dominates the entire weekend with pole and victory, while Hill's only Williams in the race is the victim of a collision at the start with Mika Hakkinen.
After four races, with only one winner and the number one favorite no longer present, the world championship already seems to have nothing more to tell: Schumacher and his Benetton B194 dominate with forty points; the first pursuer is Berger's Ferrari at ten, while Williams collected only seven points from Damon Hill.
At the fifth race, however, the first acute of the English team finally arrives: Hill, helped by Schumacher's gearbox problems, wins in Spain ahead of the German, relaunching himself in the standings. Seventeen points to forty-six is still an abyss. David Coulthard also makes his debut in this race as a replacement for Senna.
In the next two races he returns to dominate Schumacher's Benetton, who wins in Canada and France ahead of Hill. The comparison in the standings, sixty-six to twenty-nine in favor of the German, is merciless. The constructors' championship, sixty-seven to thirty-one in favor of Benetton, is no exception.
We then go to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. Here Schumacher, supported by the team, ignores the penalty imposed for overtaking Hill in the reconnaissance lap. The victory goes to Hill's Williams in the home Grand Prix, but on Schumacher, who finished second, a tough decision by the Federation falls: for having deliberately ignored the black flag, which means immediate disqualification from the race, second place is canceled. and will not take part in the next two Grand Prix. Briatore, Benetton team principal, manages to change the disqualification, causing it to start from the Italian Grand Prix, extending to the Portuguese Grand Prix, thus avoiding not competing on circuits in their favor. The world championship, firmly in Schumacher's hands, suddenly opens up again. The rapprochement in the rankings takes place, but the gap remains huge.
The B version of the Williams FW16, promised by Newey to Ayrton Senna at the beginning of the season, is used starting from the German Grand Prix. This is characterized by shorter sides and a longer wheelbase than the original version; in addition, the rear axle was entirely redesigned, due to the new regulations imposed by the FIA after the events in Imola.
Berger's Ferrari wins in Germany, in its only triumph of the season, but Schumacher and Hill are first and second in Hungary, with Benetton extending in the standings thanks to the podium of Jos Verstappen: eighty-one to forty-nine, while Schumacher's advantage increases to seventy-six, against Hill's forty-five points.
We then go to Belgium, where Schumacher wins the race but is the victim of another disqualification: this time the fund is too damaged to mock him. Hill, second, thanks and collects another ten points in the standings. Verstappen and Coulthard are third and fourth respectively. The drivers' classification reads seventy-six to fifty-nine; that builders eighty-five to sixty-two.
With Schumacher disqualified, Hill has his full points in Monza and Portugal, while Coulthard conquers a podium and brings valuable points to the team. With three races to go the championships are, incredibly, both again under discussion: Schumacher seventy-six, Hill seventy-five; Williams, on the other hand, overtakes Benetton in the constructors' standings, with eighty-nine points against the eighty-seven of the Anglo-Italian team.
At Jerez de la Frontera, in the European Grand Prix, Schumacher returns to victory ahead of Hill, and the same script, but with reversed parts, is repeated in Japan, after a wet race characterized by two starts and scores assigned by the sum of the times. When only one appointment is missing, the two are separated by a single point (92 to 91), and the stables by only five (108 to 103).
The last and decisive event of the season is in Adelaide, Australia, where yet another controversial episode of a season full of controversy is staged. Schumacher, who made a mistake while leading, desperately closes the line in Hill with the damaged car, causing a collision that knocks both out. Hill hopes for a miracle for the mechanics in the pits, but the suspension triangle is now hopelessly compromised.
Michael Schumacher then wins the Drivers' World Championship with a point ahead of Hill, but Williams still has something to celebrate: Mansell, in fact, who had been recalled to compete in the last two Grand Prix, wins the race and gives the Williams-Renault FW16 the third consecutive Constructors' World Championship.
The team then closed the season with seven wins (six for Hill, one for Mansell), six pole positions (three for Senna, two for Hill and one for Mansell) and a constructors' title, in memory of the late Ayrton Senna.