It seems that just about any discussion regarding Michael Schumacher’s career inevitably turns to the final race of 1994, where Schumacher won the title after a collision with Damon Hill took both drivers out of the race.
On lap 36, Schumacher ran wide on the exit of turn five and brushed the wall on the outside of the corner, which caused him to be slow on the approach to turn six. Damon Hill rounded turn five on the racing line, saw Schumacher rejoining the track at low speed and attempted to pass him into turn six. However, Schumacher turned in and the left front tyre of Hill’s Williams made contact with the side of Schumacher’s car, lifting the right hand side of Schumacher’s car into the air. Schumacher’s car hit the tyre barrier on the exit of turn six, eliminating him from the race on the spot. Hill attempted to continue, but the accident had caused damage to the front suspension of his Williams, and there was insufficient time to repair the car during the race.
In the aftermath of the incident Schumacher was widely criticised, particularly in the British press who felt that Schumacher had deliberately taken their hero, Hill, out of the race. Even now, 18 years later, the incident is still cited as an example of questionable behaviour by Schumacher, alongside incidents such as Jerez 1997 – where Schumacher turned in on Jacques Villeneuve in an unsuccessful attempt to take his rival out of the race – and Monaco 2006 – where Schumacher was found to have deliberately parked his car on the track in qualifying in order to cause yellow flags that would prevent his provisional pole position time from being beaten.
While Schumacher undoubtedly acted wrongly in the incident with Villeneuve in 1997 and the available evidence suggests that he was correctly punished in 2006, the 1994 incident is not nearly as incriminating as it is often made out to be. Schumacher was in front of Hill going into the corner. Hill’s attempt to pass was, at the point of entering the corner, obviously not going to succeed – he was driving into a closing gap. Schumacher was quite entitled to take the racing line, which he did. Hill did not back out of the passing attempt, and a collision was the result.
The behaviour of both drivers is completely understandable. Schumacher had a one point lead in the championship, which meant that the race was a straight fight for the title between the two drivers. He was leading and not about to give up his lead without a fight. Therefore he did not give way, and there is no reason that he should have. Hill knew that he had to pass Schumacher at some point to become World Champion. When he saw Schumacher rejoining the track slowly, he saw an opportunity and went for it. In hindsight, it’s easy to suggest that Hill should have waited for another chance to pass, particularly because Schumacher’s car may have been damaged in the previous corner when he hit the wall. But Hill could not have known at that point that Schumacher’s car was possibly damaged.
Hill had to go for the pass, and Schumacher had to cut him off. Any racing driver in either position would have done exactly the same thing. The stewards of the race examined the crash and declared it a racing incident, which is the only reasonable conclusion based on the evidence at hand.