This post was triggered by the finding and opening a photo album of year 1993. In it I found a lot of photos from the 1993 Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix in Barcelona. This set of photos made me think about the passage of time, and the mysterious phenomenon of the emergence and blooming of the feeling that I had when looking at the photos again. The feeling was the near certainty that the photos were depicting an event I had witnessed in the near past, not a past that is 21 years ago. How can it be? I confess I was tempted to write something on this mysterious phenomenon, but then I opted for something infinitely simpler: to recount the story of the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix as I experienced it. But then again, things are not so simple. There is something else in the background. It is not so much the need to recount the specific race. Rather, it is the need to lament over the demise of what used to be a trully extreme sport.
I have been watching Formula 1 races in television this year and cannot but express my disbelief and then my acceptance of the sad reality. Formula 1 today is a sport that makes no sense whatsoever. The technological leadership of Mercedes Benz has turned the sport into a Research and Development Department for the automobile industry. Mercedes Benz have done so in a way that totally denies the essence of Formula 1, which was to provide room for innovation and ingenuity in racing, not in hybrid engine development or environmentally friendly technologies, and other R&D that is linked directly to the automobile industry.
It is not an accident that in parallel with the domination of Mercedes Benz (their cars are almost invariably one or more second faster per lap in all races of 2014), we see the demise and – almost – eclipse of the smaller teams as they used to be. We do have smaller teams in Formula 1 today, but they are totally different compared to the past, e.g. the period 1985 – 1995.
In the past the smaller teams were innovative ingenious and cutting edge outfits. Examples are the British team of Tyrell, and Jordan. They obviously did not have the huge budgets of the leading teams, but they could do a decent job because they were doing something right, and they wer first of all producing racing technology. Today Formula 1 produces automobile technology.
It is interesting to note that during the 1985-1995 period the German manufacturers were only marginally present in F1. As an example, Mercedes Benz provided the “concept” to the Sauber team in 1993. The leaders of F1 were the British, the Italians, and the French and the Japanese with their engines.
Talking about engines, the engine noise of a Formula 1 car was a real experience, especially during gear changes. In 1994 I could tell without looking whether the car passing by was a Ferrari or not. I never wore earplugs during a race, the noise of the roaring engines was unbelievable. It was like a chainsaw is twisting in your guts.
Today the engine noise has become timid, throaty, boring, unexciting, like the “sport” itself; so much so that the pundits no longer crowd the circuits and the stands.
This whimpish style has poisoned the drivers’ behaviour as well. In a sport that should be competitive to the end, we now have minor incidents on the track becoming huge because one driver did not give all the space in the world to another driver. What happened to the good old days when one leading driver could challenge another leading driver all the way to the tire wall?
In any case, let us now proceed with the reminiscing. At first I will present two memorable incidents in the Circuit de Catalunya, then move on with the presentation of what I remember from Saturday before the race, concluding with the race on Sunday.
Memorable incidents in the Catalunya Circuit
Experience is not necessarily something that requires the presence of the body that encases one’s soul. Experience is also gained when the mind (always encased in the body but also not) indulges in a topic and fantasizes about it, in spite of the fact that the body is physically located elsewhere.
In this spirit, I want to start with the memorable incidents that occured in the Spanish Grand Prix over the years.
This is not meant to downgrade the 1993 race, but to provide a reference that supercedes the direct experience of 1993 and in a sense supplements it.
The first incident occurred in 2001, when Mika Hakkinen, driving for McLaren lost his clutch in the last lap and lost the first place to Michael Schumacher who was driving a Ferrari. A devastating incident for a driver who did a splendid job throughout the race, only to be betrayed by his clutch in the last lap! As the old saying goes, “it is not over until the fat lady sings”.
The second incident occurred in 1991, between Ayrton Sena, driving for McLaren Honda, and Nigel Mansell, driving for Williams – Renault. They raced wheel to wheel on the pit straight, at a speed of approximately 190 mph. At the end of the straight, Mansell overtook Sena and went on to win the race. I remmebr this race as if it took place yesterday. At the time I was living in Putney, London. I was at home, during a wet Sunday, and was watching the race broadcast on BBC. Unforgettable.
The Catalunya Circuit
The circuit de Cataluna is located in Montmelo, a small town around 30 km southeast of the urban sprawl of Barcelona. It is a modern circuit and is easily accesible by train from Barcelona.
Saturday, 8 May 1993
In a Formula 1 Grand Prix event, the race is on Sunday but there is a lot of fun on Friday and Saturday.
My ticket was on the stand of the pit straight, so I could watch and photograph the going ons.
The teams have VIP guests who go around the pits and have their photos taken.
This photo is taken in front of the pit area of the Japanese team “Footwork”.
The full name of the team was Footwork-Mugen-Honda. “Mugen-Honda”, a firm owned by Honda’s founder son, were supplying the engines to the team.
Two of the guests pose with two girls dressed in the colors of the team.
This team no longer exists.
Saturday is also fun because there are test runs and at the end a qualifying session. The test runs are in the morning and qualifying in early afternoon. Derek Warwick, a British driver with Footwork rests leaning on the pit wall during the Saturday tests. He qualified sixteenth for the race.
I met Derek Warwick at the Nice airport, following the Monaco Grand Prix of 1993, which Ayrton Sena won. It was the day after the race, and I had with me the morning issue of L’Equipe. Naturally, Derek Warwick signed on the winner’s photograph.
Teams have their observation benches by the pit wall. In the photo we see the bench of French team Ligier-Renault, which no longer exists. Second from the left is British driver Mark Blundell and first from the right is British driver Martin Brundle.
Blundell qualified 12th for the race, whereas Brundle qualified 18th.
In 1994 Brundle drove for McLaren. I took his autograph at the Montreal Mirabel Airport in the Spring of 1994.
Ligier was bought by Alain Prost in 1997, and changed its name to Prost. It did not achieve much and went bankrupt in 2002.
On the grid, Sunday 9 May 1993
Sunday is also fun, especially when the pit lane opens and the cars take their position on the grid.
Here the Italian driver Riccardo Patrese is getting ready for the race. He raced with Benetton-Ford, having Michael Schumacher as his driver colleague. It was tough going for Patrese.
Patrese qualified sixth for the race, whereas Schumacher qualified fifth.
Although Michael Schumacher was in the same team, Benetton-Ford, with Riccardo Patrese, the two of them could not differ more.
Schumacher was a star. He raced in Formula 1 for the first time in the Belgian Grand Prix of 1991 with Jordan. Immediately after this race, he was snatched by Benetton.
He earned his first world championship with Benetton in 1994.
Patrese, on the other hand, started 256 Formual 1 races, and won six of them. He ended his career in 1993.
Senna in 1993 was driving the clearly inferior McLaren-Ford car. The big problem of the car was its engine. The V8 Ford engine was not up to speed with the V10 Renault engine of the Williams, and was even inferior to the Ford engine that powered the Benetton cars. This was due to an agreement between Benetton and Ford, which gave Benetton the advantage. It is ironic that McLaren, the team that dominated Formula 1 racing from 1988 to 1991 found itseld in such an inferior position. This was the result of Honda’s decision to withdraw from F1 racing at the end of the 1992 season.
Of course, this withdrawal was not absolute, as Mugen-Honda remained in the game.
Senna qualified third for the race and finished second.
(The 1st May 1994, the day that Sena was killed in the Imola circuit, was one of the saddest days of my life.)
Damon Hill is the son of British champion Graham Hill. He qualified second for the race, driving the superb Williams- Renault FW15C car that completely dominated the 1993 season. Hill took Patrese’s place in 1993, when Patrese left Williams to go to Benetton. I met Damon Hill at the Montreal Mirabel airport in June 1994. He was waiting to collect his bags, and I took the opportunity to take his autograph. It was only a month after Ayrton Sena’s death at Imola, and I was carrying with me the June 1994 issue of Motorsport. Damon Hill signed at the lower right side.
The FW15C was designed by Adrian Newey and built by Williams Grand Prix Engineering. IT is worth noting that 1993 was the last season before the FIA banned electronic driver aids, The FW15C has a decent claim to be the most technologically sophisticated Formula One car of all time, incorporating anti-lock brakes, traction control and active suspension (Wikipedia)
Damon Hill became world champion driving for Williams in 1996, but was dropped by the team the next year.
Alain Prost joined the Williams team in 1993, after a sabbatical in 1992, taking the place of World Champion Nigel Mansell. During 1992 among other things he was commentating Formula 1 events for a French TV station.
Also known as “the professor” for his cool approach to racing, Prost had the best car of the year in his hands, and he went on to win the world championship.
In the Barcelona race he qualified first, and won the race.
Ready to go
The grid is cleared for the formation lap within five minutes. Warwick was 16th on the grid, ahead of his Japanese teammate Aguri Suzuki who was 19th. Other than the incredible roar of the Mugen engine, I do not remember anything from this team.
Patrese is fifth, Karl Wendlinger, the Austrian driver of team Sauber is sixth, and Jean Alesi, with number 27, driving for Ferrari, is eighth. Michael Andretti, driving for McLaren Ford, is seventh on the grid but not in the photo.
Patrese will finish fourth, Wendlinger will be betrayed by his fuel system, and Alesi by his engine. 1993 was a horrible year for Ferrari.
Damon Hill is second on the grid. But he will not finish the race due to engine failure.
The “professor” started first and finished first. But it was a rather boring race. The superior engine of the Williams – Renault car combined with the good weather conditions, made it impossible for inferior cars with better drivers (Senna driving McLaren-Ford) to win. As a matter of fact, Senna finished 16.873 seconds behind Prost.
Pit stops are important during the race. Here we see Jordan-Hart driver Rubens Barichello, with number 14. He finished 12th in the race. I had the opportunity to meet Barichello back in 1993 at the Frankfurt airport, after the Hockenheim race. He was in the middle of a group of people with an incredible volume of baggage. Barichello had an above average career, the highlight being his 2000-2005 period driving for Ferrari, and being Michael Schumacher’s teammate. He is also the first F1 driver to reach 300 entries in F1 races in 2010.
I cannot make out the driver in this Footwork car. IFrom the topline of the helmet, I assume it is Aguri Suzuki (Warwick’s helmet was light blue).
Did not finish
Martin Brundle went out because of a tyre blow out.
Fabrizio Barbazza, driving for Minardi-Ford spun off and did not finish the race.
Ukyo Katayama, driving for Tyrell-Yamaha spun off and did not finish the race.
Tyrell-Yamaha driver Andrea de Cesaris was disqualified from the race.
Karl Wendlinger’s fuel system gave up.
The sweetest moment for the drivers, champaign on the podium. Prost wins, Senna is second, Schumacher is third.