It’s been 20 years since one of the most bizarre German Grands Prix on record, the 1994 edition won by Gerhard Berger for Ferrari.
Held at the old Hockenheimring, prior to the shorter, chopped new version that came into being in 2002, the weekend saw the V12 Ferraris produce an utterly dominant weekend on the 4-plus mile circuit known for incredibly long straights, where horsepower was king.
Berger and Jean Alesi locked out the front row ahead of championship rivals Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher. Schumacher was racing on home soil with a controversy hanging over his head after his British Grand Prix moment where he’d passed Hill on the formation lap.
While the Ferraris got away cleanly off the start (go to 3:33), there was a diabolical mess behind them with 10 cars eliminated either at the start/finish line or into Turn 1. McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen got a one-race suspension for the accident and was replaced at the following GP in Hungary by Philippe Alliot.
Those 10 were eliminated there with Alesi retiring at the end of the first lap with electrical issues. A throttle issue for Ukyo Katayama’s Tyrrell made for another retirement.
On Lap 16, one of the few who’d survived the first lap fracas, Benetton’s Jos Verstappen, had what became his most memorable moment in Formula One history. The Dutchman was engulfed in a fireball after a refueling stop went awry; NBC Sports Group analyst Steve Matchett was actually involved in that pit stop, having been a Benetton mechanic at the time, and recalled the moment during a SPEED “Formula 1 Decade” rebroadcast of the 1994 German GP during the 2004 season (see below).
Verstappen’s retirement brought the field down to just 13 runners left after 26 had started, and more retirements were to come. David Coulthard’s Williams had an electrical issue; Martin Brundle’s McLaren-Peugeot and Schumacher’s Benetton-Ford both had engine failures.
The 10 remaining runners included of all cars, both Ligier-Renaults, Footwork-Fords, Larrousse-Fords and Simtek-Fords.
Berger continued up front untroubled en route to a popular victory, Ferrari’s first since Alain Prost’s at the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, nearly four years earlier. International commentary is linked, but the V12 Ferrari is glorious.
Behind him it was a day for the underdogs, with Olivier Panis and Eric Bernard leading the way in scoring their first (and in Bernard’s case, only) career podiums for Ligier. Christian Fittipaldi and Gianni Morbidelli drove their Footworks to fourth and fifth, and Erik Comas brought the Larrousse home in sixth. Teammate Olivier Beretta recorded his best ever F1 finish of seventh, just shy of the points, with Hill eighth.
The dream of Simtek scoring points ended when David Brabham had a clutch failure and Jean-Marc Gounon an engine failure in the final 10 laps. They were retirements but Gounon (ninth) and Brabham (10th) were still among the top-10 at the end of the day.
For a modern-day comparison of what this kind of shock result would be like, it would be akin to… well… Ferrari winning the 2014 German Grand Prix with a down-on-performance chassis, say Lotus coming second and third with Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, Sauber ending fourth and fifth with Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez, and Marussia bagging sixth and seventh with Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.
Put simply, that ain’t gonna happen. And that’s why the 1994 German GP stands out so much, because it was such an odd, abnormal day of motor racing.