Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher crash in Adelaide revisited 30 years on

Any era of Formula One worth remembering has the blockbuster rivalry to define it.

Think Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and James Hunt, or, more recently, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

Thirty years ago, one of F1’s most exhilarating title battles reached a jaw-dropping climax in Australia off the back of one of these iconic rivalries.

It was ultimately decided by one point and, in true F1 style, a moment of high controversy that will never be settled.

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The history books show Michael Schumacher came out on top, clinching the 1994 world championship after a dramatic twist in Adelaide.

The controversy would ultimately deliver him the first of seven titles – and send him on the path towards all-time greatness.

However, it would also see him branded as a ruthless, and sometimes reckless, driver – a tag he struggled to shake throughout his career.

His victim was a man as unlikely to be his bitter rival as he was a title contender at the time, Damon Hill.

Thirty years ago, Michael Schumacher won his first world championship in Australia in a moment of high controversy.
Thirty years ago, Michael Schumacher won his first world championship in Australia in a moment of high controversy.Source: News Corp Australia

The fact the Englishman is still sometimes referred to as the ‘Gentleman Driver’ tells you all you need to know about who was to blame for the Adelaide fiasco.

Heading to Australia, Schumacher led that year’s world championship by a solitary point, and was beating Hill until he went off the track on Lap 36 and hit a wall.

As Schumacher attempted to recover, Hill came bearing down on him, forcing the German to use the entire track to defend.

Hill darted down the inside – and the rest is history.

Schumacher turned sharply towards the corner’s apex, with the resulting contact sending him onto two wheels, into the tyre barrier, and out of the race.

Hill would’ve been clear to claim the title, if it were not for the terminal damage to his own car. The Williams driver limped back to the pits where his car was retired due to a damaged front-right suspension wishbone.

Schumacher learnt of the retirement trackside and was elated. With Hill not scoring, and no other driver a mathematical chance, he had just won his first world title.

It’s one that remains divisive within the F1 community.

The moment.Source: News Corp Australia

The German was cleared of wrongdoing with the crash going down as a racing incident. Such a lenient ruling would have no chance of being delivered in modern day F1.

The soft touch assured that the Schumacher-Hill rivalry would not be a one-season fling, but rather evolve into an iconic duel, defined by a moment of madness to live through the ages.

While victorious, Schumacher was painted as the villain of the piece, particularly by the British media which was still grappling with a great sense of injustice.

Hill winning would’ve been the fairytale end to a bone-chilling season, in which the dangers of F1 were brutally thrust back into the spotlight by the deaths of Senna and Roland Ratzenberger on the same weekend in Imola.

Senna was meant to lead Williams’ title challenge against his heir-apparent in Schumacher. Without the disaster of Imola, Senna and Schumacher almost certainly would’ve formed the most explosive rivalry in F1 history.

What many didn’t expect was for Hill, a 34-year-old late bloomer on poor pay for an F1 driver, to pick up the pieces so capably following Senna’s passing.

Hill and Ayrton Senna, who would tragically die at Imola early in the 1994 season.Source: Getty Images

After Schumacher won each of the first four races of the season, Hill bit back in stunning fashion, particularly in the second half of the season which he dominated.

Crucially, he won twice in races that Schumacher was disqualified in. Some owed those disqualifications to a petty squabble between his Benetton team and the FIA.

Their feud served as an intriguing subplot to the 1994 season; Benetton was accused of cheating but the FIA struggled to prove any wrongdoing, such as the alleged use of traction control and other illegal measures.

One of the biggest flashpoints between Benetton and the FIA was when Schumacher was disqualified at the British Grand Prix. The German overtook Hill during a formation lap and, after a lengthy deliberation, was given a five-second penalty.

Schumacher didn’t serve it immediately, and was black-flagged on Lap 21, but kept racing. Benetton later unsuccessfully argued that they weren’t informed of the penalty properly.

Needless to say, the tragedy at Williams, and Benetton’s infuriation with the FIA, saw tensions snowball through the 1994 season. A one-point split in the title race only amplified this further by the time the season reached its finale in Adelaide.

Hill speaking to the media after losing the 1994 title in Adelaide.Source: Getty Images

Whether Schumacher then intentionally crashed out Hill to win the title we can never say with total certainty.

After a 306-race F1 career that was defined by his legendary ability to derive extraordinary reward from terrifying risk, Schumacher sustained devastating injuries from a ski accident in 2013 and hasn’t been seen in public since.

The widespread belief, however, is that he did intend to make contact and win the championship via the dark arts – something which both Senna and Prost were accused of doing before him.

A similar incident with Jacques Villeneuve during the 1997 world championship decider certainly doesn’t leave Schumacher with much defence.

That year, Schumacher – now driving for Ferrari – was wiped from the entire season for a deliberate collision with the Canadian at the season-ending European Grand Prix at Jerez.

This attempt was more brazen – yet not dissimilar to the incident in Adelaide – but was unsuccessful. Villeneuve won that year’s title by three points. That is, until Schumacher’s disqualification was confirmed.

It wasn’t just the British press to turn on the German this time.

So did publications in his own nation, with German daily newspaper Bild writing: “He played for high stakes and lost everything – the World Championship and his reputation for fair play. There is no doubt that he wanted to take out Villeneuve”.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine labelled him as “a kamikaze without honor”.

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By contrast, Hill was a popular figure – still is – whose initial reaction was one of surprising grace and restraint.

He later said: “I saw the opportunity and thought I had to go for it, but it didn’t happen.

“In retrospect, I would have let him go.”

Williams opted to not appeal in 1994 with the wounds from Senna’s death still gaping. Hill has always opted for dignified restraint when reflecting on the incident.

It wasn’t until 2006 that it became clear this was a controversy time would struggle to heal, despite Hill and Williams’ acceptance.

Twelve years after the event, Williams’ technical director, Patrick Head, told the F1 Magazine: “We at Williams were already 100 per cent certain that Michael was guilty of foul play.

“He was about to drive his stricken Benetton up the slip-road when he spotted Damon’s Williams about to pass him and abruptly veered across the track to prevent that happening.”

Hill eventually spoke out about Schumacher in a book, writing: “There are two things that set Michael apart from the rest of the drivers in Formula One – his sheer talent and his attitude.

“I am full of admiration for the former, but the latter leaves me cold.”

Hill still hasn’t forgotten the injustice, but does have a sense of humour about it.

This month, Felipe Massa launched legal action against the FIA over the 2008 world championship, which he lost by one point to Lewis Hamilton following the Crashgate controversy.

In response, Hill tweeted: “Has anyone got Massa’s phone number?”

Behind the humour, however, remains an underlying darkness. Hill has experienced more than his fair share of hardships to dwarf the 1994 controversy.

Hill will revisit the moment again in a pre-race segment for Sky Sports, which will be aired on Fox Sports and Kayo.Source: Supplied

At aged 15, his legendary, dual world champion father, Graham, died in a plane crash.

Hill later described the event as an “emotional nuclear bomb” for his family, telling The Guardian: “It caught us so hard. There was a void – a crater – where he had been.

“I dealt with things by telling myself it was no good feeling sorry for myself. We were lucky to have had the time we had with him.”

In many ways, that tragedy shaped the way that Hill would deal with the tragic circumstances of the 1994 season, and the comparatively trivial – yet still shocking – way it ended.

Hill refused to openly play the victim, and went on to become a world champion himself, claiming the 1996 title by 19 points over Villeneuve.

Schumacher was a distant third, but was in the first season over an ambitious Ferrari project that would ultimately deliver him five-consecutive titles between 2000 and 2004.

The pair never reconciled before Schumacher’s horror accident in 2013.

“I don’t think he was really interested in getting any relationship going,” Hill told Channel 10 last year.

“It’s a shame. I would have liked to have known him better. But that might not happen now.”

On Sunday, Hill will revisit the moment again in a pre-race segment for Sky Sports, which will be aired on Fox Sports and Kayo before the Australian Grand Prix.

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