The 1994 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya saw a young German driver drop another hint to the Formula 1 world that he would be a great, defined by his tenacity and hunger.
The fifth race of the ‘94 season was a first for a few things. It was the first race in which the Grand Prix Drivers Association was active, its first order to install a temporary chicane (the first of many that would crop up throughout the season) ahead of the fast Nissan chicane to reduce entry speed.
The weekend also played host to David Coulthard’s first grand prix, who was in at Williams in what must have been a testing, difficult atmosphere at the team. Ayrton Senna had passed away two races prior at Imola, the shadow overhanging the team and challenging professionalism – a daunting situation for anyone, let alone an F1 debutante.
Schumacher stuck his Benetton on pole for the race, only the second of his fresh F1 career, and in the opening stint of the race he was looking set for victory. He led for the opening 22 laps before pitting, at which point gearbox issues looked set to take away his strong result as he was left with only fifth gear for the remainder of the race.
How Schumacher continued to set respectable lap times was beyond belief, the scale of adjustment through racing lines and backing off early on straights to roll through corners was huge. Somehow he even managed to survive another pit stop.
Up until his issues, Schumacher was in a fight for the win with Damon Hill in the Williams and Mika Hakkinen in the McLaren. The Finn was looking strong on an aggressive three-stop strategy, right up until his Peugeot engine fizzled out – a common sight in 1994.
Hill took the win whilst Schumacher finished in an incredible second place finish in what some consider his greatest ever drive. In the press conference after the race, Damon Hill dedicated what was a muted and emotional victory to his mourning Williams team. He thought he’d outpaced Schumacher on merit, but was left stunned when the German commented on his race.
“At the beginning it was a bit difficult to take all the corners in fifth gear, but then I managed to find a good line and keep up lap times that were more or less good enough to compete against the others behind me.”
A truly stunning drive from a driver that kept fighting in conditions stacked against him, and the stuff of F1 legend. His determination to finish and not give in at this race would also prove critical in the wider context of the championship. Schumacher ended the year as champion, but only by a single point over Damon Hill. Had he not pulled off the fifth gear masterclass in Spain, Hill would surely have beaten him to the title.