Hill revisits his 1994 rivalry with Schumacher

Date published: February 6 2020

Damon Hill reflects on 1994 Championship battle with Michael Schumacher.

Ex-F1 driver turned pundit Damon Hill has reflected on the 1994 season where he battled Michael Schumacher for the World Championship.

The duo fought it out all the way until the season-ending race in Adelaide, one which ended in contact between the pair and marked their rivalry down as one for the ages.

And while agreeing that it was a strong rivalry, Hill believes other factors, including the death of his team-mate Ayrton Senna that year, only intensified the situation.

“Naturally it was an intense season because of [Roland] Ratzenberger and Senna, the changes and politics,” Hill said in an interview with Auto Motor und Sport.

“There was massive politics, Benetton were up to tricks, and the FIA, there was so much global coverage of this sport, because of the issues.

“And in the middle of it was a Championship being fought out with a guy who everyone said is a No.2, against this new guy Michael Schumacher who at that point nobody knew how good he was.

“It was an interesting season, there was a lot of pressure and I had never led a Championship before. The only Championship I had ever won until that point was the champion of Brands [Hatch] on motorbikes.

“So I had a new experience being in the spotlight, a lot of pressure, and some things I did well, some things I didn’t do well.

“But I think I got the best out of myself in that season.

“Michael pushed me to the maximum and I gave the maximum I’d ever given in a car in Suzuka to keep the Championship alive, and after that we went to Adelaide and carried on.”

Hill’s performance in Suzuka went down as one of the classics as he outran an advancing Schumacher in the pouring rain, while driving with only three new tyres after one got stuck due to a wheel nut issue, to reduce the Championship deficit to just a point going into the season finale.

Asked why he produced that superhuman performance, he said: “Because I knew the chips were down.

“I knew I had to beat Michael to keep the Championship alive and so I was determined to push myself to the very maximum, and the conditions were extreme, that made it ever so challenging.

“Racing against Michael Schumacher, in a monsoon, for the World Championship, one of the toughest circuits, I drove out of my skin in that race.

“The last lap I don’t even remember being in control of the car, it was almost like the throttle was stuck wide open and I was just hanging on and I managed to increase the gap to Michael.

“It frightened me actually to be honest. I got out of the car and I was actually shocked because it was almost like I had gone slightly mad in the car to go that fast, and it’s quite scary.

“I was quite relieved to be out of the car.”

Hill compared Schumacher in 1994 to Sebastian Vettel, saying both of them didn’t like the pressure of not being able to win without a fight.

“I think Michael showed sometimes that he didn’t like pressure at all,” he explained.

“He didn’t like anyone getting close to him and he didn’t like when it wasn’t easy to beat someone.

“It threw a switch a little bit, and you see that sometimes with Sebastian Vettel at times as well, that’s me being the sports commentator.”

At the Championship decider in Adelaide, Schumacher and Hill collided in controversial fashion with the retirements which followed for both drivers handing Schumacher his first title.

The German’s Benetton was damaged after he went wide at the East Terrace corner and brushed the wall, and Hill said that if he had known about that damage, he wouldn’t have tried to overtake Schumacher.

“I take the view that you go into a race and things are going to happen,” he said.

“If I was to come away and say ‘oh I’m cut up about losing’, I didn’t see that I had lost the Championship, I saw it that Ayrton got killed and he was going to win the Championship, and I was going to stop Michael from winning the Championship the best I could.

“And I got very close, I nearly won the Championship but we collided. There was some confusion on my part because I didn’t know his car was damaged, I just thought he was weaving and I did a clumsy move.

“If I knew he was damaged I would have just let him park the car and given him a wave, but that’s not how it happened.”

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