Throwback Thursday: the 1994 Adelaide Grand Prix

Written by Mick Bolognese | November 27th, 2014

Thought the final Formula 1 race of 2014 was anticlimactic? Here’s a flashback to the drama of the 1994 season, resolved at the Australian GP in Adelaide.

This past weekend saw the end of the 2014 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi, with Lewis Hamilton backing up his 2008 championship win with a second title – the first drivers’ championship win for Mercedes since Manuel Fangio’s in far-off 1955.

Many (including me) were hoping that the FIA’s controversial decision to award double points in the final race of the season would make for a thriller finish, with the championship still on the line in the last few laps. The signs were promising, with Rosberg clinching pole position on Saturday, but in the end his slow start was followed by a series of technical problems that pushed him out of the points, and Hamilton effectively cruised to a comfortable win. Searching the annals for a tighter finish, I went back 20 years to the 1994 season, probably the most dramatic in the history of the sport.

For many, 1994 is synonymous with the death of one of Formula 1’s most loved figures, Ayrton Senna, at the San Marino GP in Imola. Adelaide and Australia had a particular love for the Brazilian, and though he only won the Australian GP twice in nine attempts, this is where he won his last race (7 November 1993) in front of a doting crowd who later saw him pulled up on stage by Tina Turner to introduce her song ‘The Best’. One year after the accident at Imola which ended his life, a plaque was erected in the renamed ‘Senna chicane’ of the Adelaide street circuit. Though Formula 1 racing has since moved away from Adelaide, the plaque still stands at the same spot just off Wakefield Rd, and a memorial was held there earlier this year to mark 20 years since Senna’s death.

Despite the Imola tragedy (two drivers lost their lives that weekend, Senna during the race and rookie Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying) the championship continued. A bright young star by the name of Michael Schumacher, who until then had only won two races, won six of the first seven GPs of 1994. As the season wore on, British driver Damon Hill made up much of the lost round and with only the Adelaide race left in the season, he was just one point behind Schumacher in the standings.

Nigel Mansell qualified in pole, followed by Schumacher and Hill. The two title contenders both passed a slow-starting Mansell just before the approach to the first chicane (now ‘Senna chicane’), and remained in 1st and 2nd until lap 36. Here Schumacher went off track at one of the first turns of the lap, brushing against a wall. He quickly returned to the track, but Hill had made up a lot of ground and attacked the German at the next corner. Schumacher’s defence saw him turn narrowly into the corner. The cars collided and the leader of the title race slammed into a barrier, ending his race immediately. At that point, Hill needed only to finish in the points to be crowned champion, but it soon became apparent that his suspension had suffered damage and he pulled into the pits, where attempts to repair the damage were futile. Schumacher won his first of seven titles, but the question of whether or not he intended to cause that collision which effectively won him the championship is still a topic of debate two decades later.

It might only be a meagre consolation to Damon Hill, but he did win the Adelaide race the following year – the last ever GP on the Adelaide street circuit, as the race was moved to Melbourne in 1996. That race was no thriller: Hill won by a whopping two laps.

Unfortunately I have no memories at all of this or any other of my hometown GPs, though my father assures me that he got seven-year-old me into the pits during the 1993 race. If you, however, have any experiences of the event that left a more lasting impression, I’d love to read them!


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