81 – 1994 Japanese GP


A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

From the editor Damien Smith

The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been…

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.

1994 Japanese GP
November 6, Suzuka

The world title should long since have been settled, but this was a season scarred by tragedy following the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola, and controversy as teams, Benetton in particular, were accused of flouting the rules.

Michael Schumacher had been disqualified at Silverstone and Spa – and barred from taking part at Monza or Estoril, following his failure to respect a black flag in Britain – so the campaign’s dominant force was effectively competing in 12 races to everybody else’s 16.

As a result, he led the standings by only five points when teams arrived in Japan – where Damon Hill needed to beat the German to be sure of taking the title fight to the Australian finale.

In a proper Japanese deluge, Schumacher led initially and was 6.8sec clear of Hill when the race was red-flagged after 14 laps, Martin Brundle having spun off and struck a course worker – the latest in a string of mishaps, including accidents on the pit straight. The unfortunate marshal suffered a broken leg and the race resumed once he had been treated and the rain eased.

Hill took the lead when Schumacher refuelled – Benetton opting for two stops to Williams’s one – and although they tussled for the aggregate lead on slightly different parts of the track, Schumacher’s second stop gave his adversary a decisive advantage.

Hill has often cited it as one of his finest victories, given the conditions. “It felt like I had a voice talking to me in one ear, telling me to push,” he said, “while my mother was in the other, asking me to slow down…” SA

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