When Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna collided in Formula 1 title deciders in 1989 and 1990 rewarding the probable guilty party with the F1 title on each occasion (Prost in 1989 and Senna in 1990) we all wondered what kind of an example F1 was giving to young drivers looking to those at the top of the tree for inspiration when neither was punished for acts that were (especially in Senna’s case) widely considered reprehensible.
Well, it wouldn’t be long until we found out. Michael Schumacher, an impressionable 20 year old competing in German Formula 3 at the time of Prost and Senna’s tet-a-tete, graduated to Formula 1 in 1991, and quickly found himself competing for wins.
By 1994, he’d found himself in a car capable of winning him a world title, and the competitive, win at all costs Schumacher quickly replaced the happy-go-lucky driver we’d seen previously.
Various indiscretions by Schumacher and his team Benetton throughout the season earned the German a number of penalties and disqualifications over the course of 1994, which kept Damon Hill and Williams, still reeling from the death of their #1 driver Ayrton Senna at Imola, in a championship fight they’d probably long since given up.
Going into the season finale at Adelaide both men had a shout of the World Championship, Schumacher with a slender 1 point lead, meaning that all he needed to do was to finish ahead of Hill, or for his British rival to DNF to guarantee him the title.
Nigel Mansell, having been brought back into the fold by Williams to strengthen their driver line-up in the fight against Schumacher took his final pole position ahead of Hill in second.
At the start, Mansell dropped back behind Schumacher who led, Hill directly behind him with Hakkinen and Irvine too ahead of the polesitter.
With Mansell steadily moving through the field, Hill was able to maintain the gap to Schumacher at a steady second a lap.
The leaders pitted without incident, before the main talking point of the race and indeed the season.
On lap 35 Schumacher went off at East Terrace, colliding with the wall, before rejoining directly in the path of Hill.
Hill, unaware that Schumacher’s car was damaged, more than likely terminally, saw his opportunity to take the lead and possibly the championship darted up the inside at the next corner.
Schumacher, sensing that this was his only opportunity to stop Hill, simply drove into the Williams alongside him, momentarily throwing his car into the air, then the barriers and out of the race.
Hill continued and it seemed for a moment that he’d escaped unscathed, but it quickly became clear that his front wishbone was bent and he too was out of the race, handing the championship to Schumacher.
Schumacher stood at the side of the circuit, forlorn at first before the realisation that he was, in fact, Formula 1 world champion.
As it transpired, this kind of behaviour was not out of character for Schumacher as he would repeatedly demonstrate throughout his career.
But until then, despite previously showing signs of a refusal to be beaten whether it be through fair means or not, this was by far his most high profile indiscretion, and so the FIA – presumably giving him the benefit of the doubt, decided not to punish him for the incident.
They weren’t as lenient when he did the exact same thing to Jacques Villeneuve in the title decider in 1997, when he was disqualified from the entire season.
What proportion of Schumacher’s shadier actions were instinct, and how much of it was tactical it’s difficult to say. But there’s little doubt that in choosing to crash rather than concede a championship, Messrs Prost and Senna, and the FIA for refusing to punish said drivers for said actions must take some responsibility.