High jinks mixed with high drama at the 1994 Australian GP, as former Benetton mechanic Greg Field tells Rob Widdows
There is not much Greg Field hasn’t seen in over three decades as a racing mechanic, but 1994 was a particularly momentous year for him and the Benetton team. By Adelaide, the last race of the year, the world championship hung in the balance between their man Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill in a Williams. There were some powerful brains at Benetton then – Ross Brawn, Pat Symonds, Flavio Briatore and moustachioed operations director Joan Villadelprat.
“Joan was a very motivational team manager. It was a very tight team that year, really good camaraderie,” says Greg. “Ross had me stationed right next to the Williams pit in qualifying so I could report back on what tyres they were using or getting ready, and when they were due to make a change. Finally the Williams lads got fed up with this and tried to handcuff me to some pipework that ran along the pit garages – but they had cheap handcuffs and one of them broke before they could get both my hands clipped onto the pipes. It was a pretty tense weekend – before qualifying the stewards had made us remove the auto-downshift we’d been using all year. So we had to re-programme the gearbox for manual shift and I reckon it might have been a glitch in that which contributed to Michael going off the road in the race.”
On the grid before the start the mechanics had a big surprise in store for Villadelprat. Anyone who saw the race on TV that year will remember what happens next.
“We had these two Aussie brothers working for us for the Grand Prix, Daryl and Ray Stewart,” laughs Greg. “They’d just volunteered themselves one year and we always had them on board for Adelaide. Joan had this very Spanish moustache and we thought it would be a good laugh to get a false moustache for all the guys working on the car. So Daryl and Ray went off into town, found 50 black moustaches, and on a given command over the radio we all turned away from Joan and put them on. Right there on the grid with 15 minutes to go. It was good fun and lightened the mood. I remember Murray going on about it on the TV coverage.”
In the race things got serious of course, and when Schumacher’s tyres began to go off it looked as though the championship was lost.
“Then Michael ran wide and hit the wall before coming back onto the track in the middle of the corner. I don’t think either [he or Damon] realised that the Benetton was damaged. But then they collided, and Michael was into the barrier and that was that. I don’t think it was purely Michael’s fault. We saw it on the TV in the garage and we were surprised that Damon had gone for the gap where he did. Then we saw the Williams heading for the pits and we could see the front wishbone was badly damaged. And that was it, we’d won the drivers’ championship with Michael, and Williams had won the constructors. I’d had some badges made up during the week with ‘Michael Schumacher and Benetton, World Champions 1994’, written on them so we started dishing them out before the race was over. The Williams boys didn’t want them.”
All this was another excuse to turn up the music – by now a feature of the Benetton garage, which Briatore actively encouraged – and a big party was soon underway.
“We had a few drinks in the garage and even Michael got pretty tipsy, and once we’d packed up we had a huge party in town. There’d been a stewards’ inquiry about the collision but nobody really cared because they’d both gone out of the race and there weren’t any points to be docked or stuff like that.”
Greg Field began as a racing mechanic with David Purley’s LEC team in 1973 before moving to Project 4, then to Toleman, Onyx with Mike Earle and on to two stints at Benetton, as a mechanic and as race team co-ordinator. Greg now employs his fabrication and management skills at J S Fraser, building trucks and motorhomes for many of the Grand Prix teams.