1994 was a bleak year for Formula 1 and in particular the Williams team.
Simtek’s Roland Ratzenberger and three-times Formula 1 world champion Ayrton Senna, driving a Williams in only his third Grand Prix for the team, were killed at the San Marino Grand Prix – the first fatalities at a Grand Prix weekend for twelve years.
The sport was in mourning as it arrived in Monaco two weeks later, with Williams opting to run only one car out of respect for and in tribute to Senna.
A raft of changes aimed at preventing the events of the San Marino Grand Prix ever happening again had been decided and were planned to be implemented after the Monaco Grand Prix – the race around the streets of Monte Carlo arriving too soon to make any significant changes to either track or cars.
Those changes couldn’t come soon enough to save Karl Wendlinger from serious injury when he crashed his Sauber at the Nouvelle Chicane in first practice on Thursday morning prompting the team to withdraw from the event.
Williams #1 driver Damon Hill qualified in fourth place and retired from the race without completing a lap, and the team gladly packed up and headed for Barcelona for Spanish Grand Prix leaving a tough weekend behind them.
The situation could hardly be tougher for a young driver making his Formula 1 debut.
Step forward David Coulthard.
Ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix it was announced that the young Scot – Williams’ official test driver – would be replacing Senna (he’d share the drive with F1 legend Nigel Mansell between Indycar commitments it would turn out) and that he’d make his Formula 1 debut in Barcelona.
A hastily constructed chicane designed to temper speeds around the fast Circuit de Catalunya and modified cars with additional head protection around the cockpits were the most obvious signs of F1’s renewed commitment to safety.
Following another serious crash to Andrea Montermini’s Simtek in qualifying during which he broke both feet, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill lined up on the front row, with Coulthard a disappointing ninth.
Ninth quickly became seventh with Berger and Barrichello tangling ahead, and Coulthard steadily made his way up to fifth and into the points.
A bungled pitstop on lap 16 dropped Williams’ #2 down the order before fighting his way back to 12th when his engine failed and he was forced to retire on lap 32.
The race was won by Williams’ Damon Hill, giving the team an enormous fillip after one of the most difficult months in the team’s history.
Coulthard would go on to partake in a further 25 races for Williams, scoring a single win before leaving to join McLaren.