With Formula 1 still recovering from the tragedies of the previous spring, Michael Schumacher firmly established himself as the best driver in the world. Schumacher displayed all the attributes of a Grand Prix driver who would dominate his generation – he was tactically aware, ruthless and, above all, quick. Benetton joined Williams in adopting Renault engines for the new season and these two teams would once again fight it out for the World Championship.
Conventional wisdom was that the Williams FW17 was the better car, but Benetton had the best driver and it generally out-manoeuvred Williams with superior race strategy. The result was nine GP victories for Schumacher who took his second world title by a decisive 33-point margin.
The contest between Schumacher and Williams’s Damon Hill was a sometimes bitter one with the German accusing his rival of “brake testing” him while running in traffic in France. The animosity grew a fortnight later at the British GP when they crashed together as Hill attempted to take the lead. The two cars again made contact during the races at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, earning a rebuke from F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone.
Johnny Herbert continued as Schumacher’s team-mate having joined Benetton for the final two races of 1994. He benefited from the collision between Schumacher and Hill at Silverstone to score a popular home victory and followed that up with another win at Monza.
Williams passed up the opportunity to sign Nigel Mansell, preferring to invest in the youthful promise of David Coulthard instead. Though unquestionably fast, Coulthard’s season was marred by mistakes. Even so, he defeated both Schumacher and Hill in a straight fight in Portugal to score his breakthrough victory and he was third in the final standings.
Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi remained at Ferrari for another season of frustration. However, Alesi scored his first win in Canada when Schumacher experienced gearbox trouble – Ferrari’s sole triumph of the year.
Schumacher’s Canadian misfortunes also benefited the Jordan team, with drivers Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine both finishing on the podium. This was the team’s first year with a works Peugeot engine and the combination proved fast but unreliable. Irvine also suffered a frightening fire during a refuelling pitstop during the Belgian GP.
McLaren, now using engines from Mercedes-Benz, signed Nigel Mansell in his full-time return to F1. The combination soon turned into a disaster and Mansell, who originally could not fit into the MP4/10, only raced twice before finally leaving the sport. In contrast, his team-mate Mika Hakkinen confirmed his talent by finishing second in Italy and Japan although his season ended with a stark reminder of the sport’s perils. Hakkinen was seriously injured while practising for the Australian GP although he eventually made a full recovery.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen showed maturity in the Sauber, now powered by the works Ford engine that had won the championship just 12 months previously. Several fine performances, including a podium finish at Monza, suggested that he could challenge Schumacher if armed with a competitive car.