The Benetton B194: Michael Schumacher’s First Championship Car
The Benetton B194 was a refined version of B192 and B193 and was designed by Rory Byrne. The car was powered by a Ford-Zetec-R V8 engine and was manufactured by Cosworth (funded and branded as Ford). The need for modifying the Benetton B193 arose when in June 1993; the FIA announced that electronic driver aids would be banned for the 1994 season.
At the Canadian Grand Prix, the FIA announced a ban on electronic aids. These included power brakes, traction control systems, anti-lock braking systems and active suspension. These regulations were to even the playing field and give more power to drivers rather than the cars.
Designed due to regulation changes by the FIA
Rory Byrne had designed the Benetton B193 as a significantly advanced car than the Benetton B192. Byrne set to work earnestly in an effort to get the car going before the 1994 Formula One season. Byrne was assisted by Ross Brown and Nicholas Tombazis in his efforts. The resulting car was light and nimble and proved to be the car to beat during the 1994 racing season.
It needed a champion to tame a beast. Although the car was highly manoeuvrable it was not easily handled by all the drivers that drove it. It took Michael Schumacher to get the most out of the car. The combination of Michael Schumacher and the Benetton B194 was unbeatable since the car first raced at the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix in March of that year.
Michael Schumacher and the B194 in 1994
Michael Schumacher won the first four races of the 1994 racing season. This was followed by a second-place finish and two more victories. The competing teams started levelling charges of cheating, surprised that an underpowered car could deliver such stunning performances. Schumacher was disqualified from races that year but snatched two more victories to win the Drivers’ Championship title.
Schumacher started with a bang winning the inaugural Brazilian Grand Prix. That was followed by a victory in the Pacific Grand Prix. Jos Verstappen retired in both the races. Schumacher burst ahead with points by winning the next two races in San Marino and at Monaco while JJ Lehto retired in San Marino and finished seventh in Monaco.
While Schumacher finished second in Spain he was quite satisfied with his finish while Lehto again retired. Schumacher raced to victories in Canada and France and had a good lead over Damon Hill, his nearest competitor. It was obvious that Schumacher and the Benetton B194 were running away with the Championship.
At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Schumacher ignored the black flag twice and was awarded a five-second penalty. Schumacher ignored the penalty also and was disqualified. After the event, both Schumacher and Benetton were fined and Schumacher awarded a two-race ban for the offence.
Schumacher led the championship with three races in the season to go. But he led Damon Hill of Williams-Renault by just a lone point. His position improved with a victory in the European Grand Prix at Jerez. Damon had finished second but then he was not done yet. Damon Hill finished first in Japan to Schumacher’s second restricting the latter’s lead to Just one point.
Drivers’ Championship victory and cheating allegations
The Australian Grand Prix was the last of the season and the decider of the Driver’s Championship season. Nigel Mansell took the pole position in qualifying followed by Schumacher and Hill in that order. However, Schumacher soon took the lead with Hill following closely. They held their positions till the 36th lap.
When Damon Hill tried to overtake Schumacher, the Benetton and the Williams collided eliminating Schumacher. Damon Hill took for the pits but realised that his car was so far damaged, that he had to retire also. Michael Schumacher had won the 1994 Formula One Drivers’ Championship but Benetton had missed the Constructors’ Championship.
The FIA launched a thorough investigation into the allegations of cheating against Bennetton. They found a start sequence (launch control) system in the car’s on-board computer system. There were no traction control systems or other systems to aid the driver. The FIA finally dropped the complaints and declared Benetton B194 above board.
What was surprising about the Benetton B194 was that only Michael Schumacher could get the best out of the car. In 1994, Schumacher had JJ Lehto as a partner. Lehto finished 24th in the rankings and could only muster one point from the eight races that he competed in. Lehto retired in four of the races while Schumacher did so in two.
After the season when Rory Byrne was asked about it he paid rich tribute to Schumacher’s ability to handle the car. He said that the car was an ordinary car with a V8 engine and allow centre of gravity. Benetton had taken to 10-20 train launches every test which helped. No other team had this routine but they started soon after seeing the benefits.
Schumacher’s teammates not comfortable with the B194
Years later Michael Schumacher was to say that the Benetton B194 was genuinely difficult to handle being “a bit twitchy at the rear end.” His other two teammates, Johnny Herbert and Jos Verstappen also complained about the handling of the car. All of these drivers drove the B194 with Schumacher but none of them was comfortable driving the car.
In 1996 Jos Verstappen said, “I must have a little the same driving style as Johnny because he said basically the same things about that car that I did and seems to have had the same feelings. It was a very difficult car. You could not feel the limit and so you were pushing and pushing and then suddenly it would have oversteer. Normally when you get oversteer you can control it but the Benetton would go very suddenly and so you ended up having a spin. I had big problems with that car.”
During the Brazilian Grand Prix, commentators were confused between the No 6 and No 5 cars. Number 6 was Schumacher’s car. Commentators of both ESPN and BBC twice mistook the two cars. To avoid confusion, Schumacher had small red accents adorn his car during the Pacific Grand Prix.
Although Rory Byrne missed the Constructors’ Championship title in 1994, he had his due in 1995 with the slightly modified Benetton B195. The only difference between the B194 and B195 was that the Ford engine was replaced with V10 Renault Engine. Michael Schumacher raced away with both the 1995 Drivers’ Championship with nine victories. His win also earned Rory Byrne and Benetton the Constructors’ Championship.
The 1994 Benetton Conspiracy Podcast
In episode 32 of the Formula 1 Grid talk podcast we went back in time to look at the ‘Benetton Conspiracy’ of 1994 that surrounded Michael Schumacher’s first championship.
1994 Formula 1 Season Review
See the Benetton B194 in action, as Michael Schumacher took his first World Championship.