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Was Michael Schumacher's Title-Winning '94 Formula 1 Car Illegal?


Benetton B194 1994 F1 car. Image by Flominator, licensed under GFDL.

Benetton B194 1994 F1 car. Image by Flominator, licensed under GFDL.

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When it comes to records in Formula 1, no one owns more than Germany’s Michael Schumacher. In terms of superlatives, Schumacher has more championships (seven), more race victories (91), more pole positions (68) and more victories in a single season (13, in 2004) than any other driver in Formula 1 history.

With a record like this, you’d think that Schumacher was a shoe-in for the “greatest driver of all time,” but the F1 star seems to have as many detractors as he does fans. Many believe that Schumacher’s greatest skill was the uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.

Schumacher took his first F1 World Championship in 1994, driving for the Mild Seven Benetton Ford Team, where he was paired with teammate Jos Verstappen for much of the season. Schumacher earned eight victories that year, while Verstappen had none; in fact, the Dutch driver finished no better than third, and retired early in six of his ten races.

Was the remarkable difference between the drivers ability or something more insidious? According to Autoweek, Verstappen now claims it was the latter, saying that Scumacher’s 1994 car was fitted with illegal electronic driver aids, such as launch control and traction control.

Verstappen has no hard evidence, other than a conversation with then-team-boss Flavio Briatore. When confronted about the issue of driver aids, Briatore allegedly shrugged it off with a dismissive, “Let’s not talk about it.”

Even then-rival Ayrton Senna expressed his doubts about the Benetton B194’s legality after watching Schumacher’s performance in the opening races of the 1994 season. The FIA investigated the car and later found evidence of a launch control function, but the team claimed the software was inactive. No penalty was levied against Schumacher or the team.

The past is the past, and no one seriously expects an investigation into the events of a Grand Prix season some seventeen years back. Schumacher’s fans will ignore Verstappen’s claims as “sour grapes,” the ramblings of a driver who never quite managed to achieve immortality.

Schumacher’s detractors, on the other hand, will see this as more proof that the  F1 great relied more on luck than on skill. Like it or not, racing often honors the lucky more than the adept.
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Comments (10)
  1. omg it was 17 years ago who cares. Thats racing, every series has a level of cheating or greay area. I worked for many race teams, cart, TransAm and many more. They all push it/cheat its just the way it goes. And hope you dont get caught. Like when i was in IndyCar, before "IRL" they were not allowed traction control, well lets just say there were teams who had a version of it, and big teams, with big $$ but names dont need to mentioned. Loook at Nascar, same thing, but they only get caught "sometimes" then you will hear about it. Its been going on from the start of racing and will never stop
     
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  2. There's a big difference between cheating and finding grey areas! Briatore is not a good sportsman and the "crashgate" finally proved it. Teams like McLaren, Willams and also Red Bull wouldn't cheat. They wouldn't feel satisfied if they would win just because they cheated.
     
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  3. McLaren wouldn't cheat? They wouldn't be satisfied? That's ridiculous... See 2007. Everybody is cheating, more or less, it's just a matter of being caught. Nobody cares about "being satisfied".
     
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  4. If you're talking about Stepney-Gate...study the timeline and the actions of Ron Dennis...Yes, the mechanics, engineers and the drivers had knowledge of the Ferrari "bible"...but Ron played it ( believe, it's been a while since I read it) as safe as he could. Wikipedia recaps it ok "Stepneygate"...I feel Mike Coughlan should have received penalties equal to Stepney, as he brought the material into the McLaren "compound"...he should have brought it right to Ron Dennis or to the FIA. I was surprised he's employed by Williams currently...
     
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  5. 10 years from now Webber will probably say the same thing about Vettel's car.... Vettel is NOT that much of a better driver than Webber but Vettel won eleven races and webber only one but was still pulling out after Vettel had a "Faulty" transmission but still was pulling out fast lap after fast lap... I Speculate Redbull to be the most cheating team in F1.... there were some stunts that vettel pulled that you could not do with out some sort of electronic control like when he went through ascari at monza totally side ways and made it stick.... any other car would have flown off the track but his sticked.... just my opinion
     
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  6. Nothing's illegal on Vettel's Red Bull. There's no electronic for off road action! Why would they develop that? Like all wheel drive or what? It was risky and bold but not something Hamilton or Alonso wouldn't have done in the same situation! Vettel is smart and he knows that the first couple of laps are crucial now that we have DRS! That's why he focuses on the Pole and that's why he risked a lot to get back into the lead in Monza!
     
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  7. Vettel is smart - but does it prove his car is 100% legal? Maybe nobody found the problem (lucky Vettel/Redbull).
    Would you bet your arm on "Nothing's illegal on Vettel's Red Bull"? I don't think so...
     
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  8. @JAZPL, LOL. No I wouldn't, in fact...
     
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  9. Great objective article!
     
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  10. Of course it was illegal. Schumacher is German, not British nor French.
     
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