How Far Would Damon Hill Have Gone If Schumacher Hadn't Broken Him In Adelaide?

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How Far Would Damon Hill Have Gone If Schumacher Hadn't Broken Him In Adelaide?

As any reasonably well informed fan of Formula One could tell you, Michael Schumacher won his first World Drivers Championship under controversial circumstances. It is well know that Schumacher could easily have walked away from 1994 empty-handed after a collision with his main rival, Damon Hill.

But for the sake of getting all the facts straight, let's take a look back to November 13, 1994 and the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.

The 1994 season had been one of almost unbearable tragedy with the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola forcing the sport into a panic and bringing about a technical knee-jerk reaction in a desperate attempt to make the cars safer.

Much has been written about the way in which the 1994 spec F1 Cars evolved. For the purposes of this article, it is sufficient to say that the single stage removal of electronic driver aids left the cars prone to unpredictable handling at high speed. It is highly likely that this contributed to the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger as well as a number of other horrendous crashes.

It wasn't until the 1995 season that proper measures to improve driver protection and aerodynamic stability were enacted and seemingly every circuit with a high speed corner became a mass of gravel traps and third gear chicanes.

Prior to the horrors of the San Marino Grand Prix, the growing rivalry between Senna and the still relatively inexperienced Schumacher was the essential highlight of the Grand Prix weekend. Surprisingly, Schumacher's Benetton B194 was hugely competitive. Senna meanwhile struggled with a weak and unpredictable Williams FW16. The great Brazilian failed to score in the season's first two rounds. Then came Imola...

The first race after Senna's untimely demise was Monaco and Schumacher dominated the event. By comparison, Williams' number two and sole entrant Damon Hill crashed into first corner retirement.

At this stage of the season, it seemed as though Schumacher could win every race and would be Champion long before the final event of the year in Adelaide.

But then Hill and the Williams team staged a remarkable recovery. A fortuitous win in Spain galvanised Damon and his mechanics and as designer Adrian Newey got on top of FW16's problems, Damon put together an impressive string of podiums.

Then came the Silverstone fracas, where Hill won his home race and Schumacher saw himself first penalised for overtaking Hill during the parade lap and ultimately disqualified for refusing to serve his penalty. The DQ turned into a two-race ban after Schumacher and Benetton chose to ignore the Silverstone Black Flag and with Hill scoring consistently in the revised FW16B, the championship was game on as the drivers took a sodden grid in Suzuka for one the wettest Japanese Grand Prix's in history.

In a two part race, Hill scored a superb victory that not only cemented his position finally as Williams number 1 driver but also reduced his championship deficit to a single point. 

Amazingly, given the first half of the season, the teams travelled to Australia with both titles still unresolved and Damon Hill as Michael Schumacher's unlikely challenger for the drivers crown.

For 36 laps of the Australian Grand Prix, Hill and Schumacher traded fastest laps and sliced through the Adelaide street circuit nose to tail. The rest of the field were the better part of a lap behind when Michael went into the East Terrace corner too deep and skidded off the road, clouting the wall and crippling his Benetton B194.

Damon had dropped back briefly while he negotiated a backmarker and did not see Michael hit the wall. The Williams' on-board camera showed Schumacher slithering back onto the track and sensing this might be his only chance to pass the German, Hill went for the inside line...

Schumacher returned briefly to the racing line before skewing deep into the apex of the next right hander at exactly the moment that Hill arrived alongside him. The two cars touched and Michael was launched onto to two wheels, into the wall and into retirement.

Damon appeared to have escaped with only a left front puncture and as he was miles ahead of anyone else an unscheduled stop to change it would have left him with a relatively easy charge to fifth place and with it his first drivers championship.

Sadly for Hill and Williams it was not to be. The impact had buckled the left front upper wishbone of the FW16B and mindful of the risk of sending him back out, given all that had happened to them in 1994, the Williams team instructed Hill to switch off the engine.

And just like that, Michael Schumacher was World Champion for the first time.

But, for the sake of argument, imagine the situation had unfolded differently.

Imagine that after the collision, Damon Hill had been able to continue. He would almost certainly have finished on the podium and therefore won the title instead of Schumacher.

The public reaction would probably have been positive. In Britain, it would have been jubilant. Damon would have not only emulated his father in winning the drivers title, he would have done it in eerily similar circumstances to those, which brought Graham Hill his 1968 championship. Back then, Hill Senior had galvanised a Lotus team shell shocked by the tragic death of Jim Clark in a Formula Two race at Hockenheim by winning the title; defeating Jackie Stewart in dramatic style.

Michael Schumacher might well have been condemned by the media. Firstly for failing to convert palpable dominance into the title. And secondly, the collision itself might have brought him the sort of reaction and perhaps even punishment he was to suffer in 1997 after his ill-judged collison with another Williams driver and eventual champion, Jaques Villeneuve.

1995 would have started on an entirely different footing. Hill would have been brimming with the confidence of a new champion. Such a boost might have helped him to turn the brilliance of the Williams FW17 into a second title. It's certainly likely that he would have avoided over driving the car, something Damon definitely did in his attempts to erase the memory of his bitter defeat at Adelaide on November 13th 1994.

Who knows. We may even have come to talk of the mid- nineties as the "Hill Era"...

And how might that have affected Schumi's progression to Ferrari? So much of what he ultimately built there can be traced back to that moment in Adelaide when Michael, backed by Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, won his first title.

It's fanciful of course. But that collision could possibly have been the signal defining moment of Formula One in the 1990s.

But for one bent wishbone, it could all have been so different...

(As an interesting footnote, had the current points system of 10,8,6,5,4,3,2,1 been in use in the 1994  season, Damon Hill would have won the World Championship by eight points.)

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