1994 Pacific Grand Prix
: 1994 Pacific Grand Prix: The Student Scores One on the Master By Jeremy McMullen
Early in Rubens Barrichello's career, Aryton Senna would support his racing efforts. Then, when Barrichello made his debut in Formula One, the triple World Champion would take his young countryman under his wing and would teach him about the world of Formula One. And what a teacher Barrichello would have. More than 40 victories and 60 pole positions, Senna was truly one of Formula One's greats. However, on the 17th of April, 1994, the student would score one on his master.
Aryton Senna had enjoyed more than half a decade of sheer dominance while at McLaren. It would be with this team that he would earn his three World Championships. However, there was a new age coming to the series—the age of electronics.
Semi-automatic gearboxes would become a given by the early 1990s, but with the Williams-Renault team would come the near perfection of active suspension and traction control. This would lead to an untouchable World Championship run for Nigel Mansell in 1992. In 1993, the Williams-Renault combination was still the class of the field. McLaren had lost its engine supplier Honda and was by no means the absolute best of the rest. But, in the hands of Senna, some of the most impressive and historic victories in Formula One history would be earned by the 1993 McLaren-Ford.
Still, Senna recognized the writing on the wall. Actually, he had recognized the trend in Formula One a couple of years earlier but was unable to close a deal with Williams as a result of the re-emergence of former teammate and rival Alain Prost. However, at the end of the 1993 season a deal would be done and Senna would be joining Williams for the 1994 season.
Rubens Barrichello would come into Formula One at the start of the 1993 campaign. It would be a difficult first season for the Brazilian. While Senna would be earning memorable wins in the lacking McLaren-Ford, Barrichello would be fighting with everything he had just to make it to the end of races. Struggling to make his way into the top ten, Barrichello would give himself and the Sasol Jordan team a great boost toward the end of the season when he scored a splendid 5th place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix. Aided by Eddie Irvine's 6th place result in the same race, it would be the only points the team would earn all season long.
It had been the first year with the new Hart V10 powerplant. Therefore, the 1994 season promised to be at least a little better as there would more development of the car and engine package.
Surely enough, at the first race of the 1994 season, the Brazilian Grand Prix, there would be a great turn-around with the Jordan team as Barrichello would come through to finish the race in 4th place. It would be the first points of the season and they would come in the first race of the season. It certainly appeared as if the pairing of Jordan and Hart was coming together. The next race would be a good indication of whether or not it was true.
It had been a special moment for one of the Brazilian drivers in their home grand prix, but it was not the one everyone expected. Everyone believed the combination of Senna/Williams would be a never-ending talking point all the way up until he would take his fourth World Championship. However, even before the season started, Aryton would note to the press what would be the truth.
Senna would advise everyone that the banning of the electronic aids would play a big part and would actually make the cars much more dangerous and hectic to drive as they were no longer under continual computer control to assist the driver. Unfortunately for Senna, no car would be more greatly impacted by the banning of the electronic aids than the Williams.
Nervous, touchy and constantly in and out of balance at every corner, even the tremendous talents of Aryton would not be good enough to keep the car under control. The result would be uncharacteristic spins from the triple World Champion. The most uncharacteristic spin would come during the race itself when he was closing on Schumacher for the lead of the race. The result would be that Senna would be out, Schumacher would go on to an easy win and Barrichello would finish the race 4th.
It had been just the first race of the season, but it seemed two of the Brazilians were heading in opposite directions. Sure, the Williams, the master's mount, had its issues but it had still started the Brazilian Grand Prix from pole, and therefore, was by no means an incapable chassis. Then there was Barrichello and the Jordan. Starting the Brazilian Grand Prix from 14th on the grid, it seemed the student's mount was not where it needed to be to challenge for any great result. However, Rubens would take advantage of the struggles of others and would show a maturity beyond his years throughout his steady drive to 4th. There seemed to be signs of the student overtake the master, but again, it had just been the first race of the season. Everyone expected a return to normalcy when Formula One travelled to Aida, Japan for the Grand Prix of the Pacific.
Situated between the Japanese cities of Mimasaka and Yoshinaga, the TI Circuit Aida was one of the most isolated circuits Formula One would ever attend. The isolation was partly by design as it would open in 1990 as a private race track. However, through some intervention and some influence it would be decided that Aida would host a Formula One grand prix starting in 1994.
Measuring 2.30 miles in length, Aida would have a layout that would seem like a mixture between Barcelona and Kyalami. Featuring some elevation changes, the circuit would be tight and relatively slow offering average lap speeds during qualifying of around 117mph. This would be in stark contrast to the 150mph average speeds achieved at Monza later on in the season. In fact, the Aida Circuit would have average speeds just 15mph or so faster than Monaco. So, the circuit would not necessarily favor the car with the highest power output but one in which all the power would be able to be controlled by a stable platform.
In spite of all the indications, Senna would take the troublesome Williams FW16 and would overcome all of its tendencies to want to swap ends at any given moment and would earn yet another pole position with a lap of 1:10.218. Michael Schumacher would be on the front row with Senna after posting a lap two-tenths of a second slower.
While the Williams had the power and suspect handling, it seemed the Jordan had the handling and needed a bit more power. However, at Aida, the stable handling car would prove to Barrichello's benefit as he would be consistently quick throughout practice and qualifying. When it was all said and done, Rubens would take his Jordan and would end up posting a lap a little more than 2 seconds slower than Senna. Still, it would be good enough to start the 83 lap race from the fourth row of the grid in the 8th position. This would equal his best qualifying performance of his career.
The temperatures on the 17th of April would be surprisingly warm and would leave the drivers and teams preparing for a long and arduous day of racing. The warm temperatures suggested there would be a large number of pitstops. But, at least the sun would be out and the day looked to be promising for dry weather throughout the course of the race.
Assembled on the grid awaiting the light, all 26 cars would be quite anxious to get started. When the green light came on to start the race, Schumacher would 'launch' out of his grid position and would be alongside Senna by the time the Brazilian got his Williams up to speed. Heading down the slope toward the first corner Schumacher was already ahead of Senna in the lead. Senna would be slotting into position behind the German when he would get tagged by Mika Hakkinen in the McLaren. This would spin the Williams around until it would get tagged in the side by Nicola Larini in one of the Ferraris. Off into the gravel, Aryton's race would be over before it even had a chance to get started. The master was out.
The student would get out of his grid slot rather slowly and would be in danger of losing a couple of positions before he headed into the first corner. However, when Senna spun and became collected by Larini, Barrichello would manage to squeeze down to the inside of the corner to get through. Brundle had gotten held up by the spinning Senna and would hand over his position to the Brazilian before the second corner. The student would be through.
The Williams would still be stuck in the gravel when Schumacher would come through to complete lap one well in the lead over Hakkinen and Damon Hill. Rubens Barrichello would have little opportunity to check on his mentor as he flashed by in 5th place as he would have Martin Brundle not far behind him pressuring him in his McLaren.
As proof of the struggles with the Williams, Hill would spin his car around on the 4th lap of the race after running brilliantly close behind Hakkinen. This would drop the second Williams all the way down to 9th place and would promote Senna's protégé up into 4th place. It was already a good day, but there was a long way still to go.
Schumacher would continue to build on his already sizable margin over Hakkinen. Slower cars would already come under threat from Michael after just about 7 or 8 laps. However, the man on the charge would be Hill. After calming himself down after his spin he would be quickly making up the lost ground and would be threatening Barrichello for 4th place by the 13th lap.
In spite of losing the 4th place spot to Hill, Rubens would look quite impressive. Barrichello wouldn't make it easy by any means for the future World Champion and it was a clear indication that the Brazilian was as very competitive. As John Watson would remark, Barrichello would 'aggressively' defend his 5th place spot from Brundle once Hill got past and would manage to stay in that position until the running order became shaken up by the first round of pitstops.
Schumacher would be well out front as Hakkinen made his first stop. Hakkinen would be delayed as the fuel hose would not disengage. Then he would be further delayed when he stalled the engine. At the same time, Hill would come in and would suffer no such drama would resume the race.
The stops by Hakkinen and Hill would again go to benefit Barrichello who would find himself up into 3rd place and, then, 2nd when Gerhard Berger made his pitstop on the 26th lap. The first-third of the race had turned out to be a fantastic enterprise for the Brazilian as the threat from Brundle would just vaporize and Hakkinen ended up out with gearbox problems.
The only impediment to Barrichello's holding onto 2nd place would come from the annoying Williams driven by Damon Hill. After fighting tooth and nail to get by, only to stop a few laps later, Hill would be back on Barrichello's gearbox wanting the Brazilian to just get out of his way as he attempted, in vain, to try and run down Schumacher.
Barrichello would make it all the way to the 31st lap of the race before he would make what would be his first pitstop. It had been a brilliant start to the race for Barrichello and Jordan. And though he would fall back down to 4th place behind Hill and Berger afterwards it was clear he was a strong contender on this slow circuit on such a warm day.
Of course, no one would be hotter than Schumacher as he would have more than enough of a gap in hand over Hill and Berger. It really didn't matter what went on behind him because nobody was close enough to bother him. His concern was merely keeping the car pointed straight and avoiding all maladies.
At the halfway mark of what would be considered a rather uneventful and sedate grand prix it would be Schumacher in the lead with all but the top 6 at least a lap behind. Damon Hill would hold onto 2nd place while Berger would be running in 3rd place in the Ferrari. Behind Berger would come Barrichello looking absolutely in control of his race and not at all bothered about fighting amongst the best.
Not a whole lot would change amongst the top five throughout the next 10 laps or so, except that Hill would end up retiring from the race with transmission failure. This mean that behind Schumacher it would be Berger and Barrichello. Berger would be far enough ahead of Barrichello that he would only lose his 2nd place position when he made another stop for tires and fuel.
Barrichello's race wouldn't be without its moments of drama. Battling with Hill for position earlier in the race, and then, with Brundle, there would be more than one moment in which Rubens would come under some pressure and would be forced to show his mettle. However, with 20 laps remaining in the race, Barrichello would have to face his biggest moment of drama.
At the end of the 64th lap Barrichello would make his way into the pits for what would be the final time. The last pitstop in anger for the Brazilian would show his only weakness throughout the course of the day. As the tires and fuel would go onto the car Rubens would allow the revs to drop out and would stall the engine. Time would be lost restarting the car and, as Barrichello rejoined the race, he would be down in 4th place behind Martin Brundle.
Just like that, the one solitary error on the day seemed to have thrown away the first podium for himself and Jordan. There would be just 20 laps remaining in the race and it seemed over for Barrichello to better his best.
Schumacher wouldn't even be a talking point throughout the last 20 laps of the race. Having a lap in hand on all but Berger in 2nd place, it was clear only attrition could prevent the German from earning his second-straight victory on the season. All of the discussion was further down, especially as Brundle trailed Berger by around 4 seconds.
Over the course of any race there comes a moment for every driver when there is a moment of providence that saves them. The trick for those wanting to earn a great result is to make that moment come when it isn't necessarily needed. Therefore, instead of that moment coming to help merely save a race it helps to propel a driver forward. Barrichello's mistake of stalling the engine had come in the pits. Providence was not necessarily needed to keep his hopes alive. Therefore, the Brazilian would still have his moment at hand when he could be propelled forward. And that moment would come on the 68th lap of the race.
Barrichello seemed to have thrown away his first podium. A year ago at the European Grand Prix Barrichello would have the podium stolen from him through mechanical ailments. This time it was all on him. But there would be grace on the man from Sao Paulo. Brundle had been able to hold off Barrichello for more than 5 laps, but then, on the 67th lap of the race Brundle would be seen heading down the pitlane to retire from the race. Banging the steering wheel with his hand, Brundle knew he had a podium snatched away from him and given back to Barrichello.
Barrichello was now en route to his first podium. He just had to make his way through the oil laid down by Gianni Morbidelli's Footwork-Ford's blow up and through to the end of the race.
Posting the fastest lap of the race on just the 10th lap of the race, Schumacher would be in control of the race from the very moment the light turned green. Heading into the final lap of the race he would have the 2nd place car of Berger directly in front of him, and therefore, knew emphatically he was under no pressure whatsoever. The gap behind Barrichello to Christian Fittipaldi also allowed him to control his own pace over the course of the final lap of the race.
After one hour and a little more than 46 minutes, Michael would come across the line to take his second victory of the season. It had been a perfect start to the season with two wins out of two races. And, as Berger would be the only car left on the lead lap, it would certainly have to be considered the Pacific Grand Prix had been about as perfect as one could get.
Berger would head around for one more lap and would finish the race in 2nd place a minute and 15 seconds behind. And then came the Jordan of Barrichello in 3rd place. Providence had been on his side and propelled him to the podium after it had been taken away from him the year before. It would be a great moment for the Brazilian and everyone at Jordan as it would also be the team's first podium result. Fittingly, it would be the protégé of Senna that would take the team to that next step. Crossing the line to finish in 3rd place it would be a very special moment for the young Brazilian given it was just his second year in Formula One.
On the parade lap Barrichello would be exuberant waving and pumping his fist recognizing that he had, in just his second year of Formula One, achieved the second of his four goals he laid out for himself when he was presented the prospect of coming into the pinnacle of open-wheel motor racing.
On the podium it would be an incredible moment for the young Brazilian because the success of reaching the podium would go beyond that momentous feat. Yes, it would be memorable watching him pump his fist and acknowledge his Jordan crew, but this simple reality was that because of his 4th place in the Brazilian Grand Prix and the 3rd in the Pacific Grand Prix Barrichello would be sitting in 2nd place in the World Drivers' Championship standings behind Schumacher.
The master was yet to have a point, and yet, his protégé would be the one in the position usually preserved for the three-time World Champion. It seemed impossible, however, that Senna would not eclipse the achievements of his student upstart over the course of the season. Of course, all such beliefs would be thrown out the window just two weeks later at a corner named Tamburello.