NIPPON GURAN PURI/JAPANESE GRAND PRIX - 6 November, 1994
The early laps on the rain-sodden Suzuka circuit’s serpentine configuration were a shambles, with cars slithering off in all directions. In the worst of the many accidents in which nine cars crashed terminally a track marshal received a broken leg when hit by Martin Brundle's aquaplaning McLaren. Mercifully the 50-lap race was red-flagged after 13 chaotic laps to enable debris to be cleaned up and wits to be collected.
Some thought it madness to continue but following the restart an enthralling race ensued, featuring a spirited battle for third place between Jean Alesi’s flamboyantly-driven Ferrari and Nigel Mansell flogging his Williams hyper-aggressively, while the varying pit stops of the world championship protaganists Michael Schumacher (Bennetton) and Damon Hill (Williams) meant they took turns leading.
The final laps were breathtaking as Mansell relentlessly attacked Alesi (who hung on for third place) and Schumacher crept closer to Hill who slid around spectacularly but remained in front when it counted - at the chequered flag - and the stage was set for their title showdown next weekend in Adelaide.
* Senna Remembered - Ayrton Senna (killed earlier in 1994 at Imola) is revered to the point of sainthood in Japan and at Suzuka thousands of mourning Japanese fans wept inconsolably during the Senna Memorial Service before the race. A helicopter painted in his helmet colours descended through the mist and deposited Senna's sister Viviane on pole position on the grid where she gave a short, emotional speech: "Ayrton could not take with him from our world all his gold and silver trophies. But not even death could take from him the special trophy he received from the Japanese people: a trophy made of honour, admiration, respect and love." The fans made pilgrimages to the nearby Senna Memorial Gallery and the Senna Forever exhibit where the vivid reminders of their dead hero (photos, videos and voice recordings, his passport, birth certificate, helmet, driving suits, fireproof underwear, his 1991 McLaren, go-karts, model planes and boats, sunglasses, tennis racquet, etc) and background music of sad songs produced floods of tears. In the Gallery the welcoming message said: 'We will never forget your gentle and warm smile responding to cheering fans coming from all over Japan just to see you. Thank you Ayrton, you will live in our memory forever.’
* Mansell Manouevres – Mansell, having been hired by Williams for the final four races following his successful IndyCar sojourn, was in his usual charging mood here, but whether or not he can impress Williams enough to employ him for next season he can't lose financially: he gets $1.5 million per race now and will receive a reported $4 million if Williams decides not to take advantage of their option on his services for 1995. Yet at Suzuka Mansell showed a distinct lack of charity toward his main rival for the job: David Coulthard, who had replaced Senna for the previous eight races. On Friday Mansell decided Coulthard's presence would be too much of a distraction for his mechanics and had him banned from the Williams pit. Mansell was not amused (though the mechanics thought it hilarious) when Jochen Mass (the former driver now working for German TV) cut a Coulthard photo from a magazine, drew a red stroke through it and posted it at the Williams garage door. Coulthard, when not doing duty as a TV commentator, was forced to seek sanctuary in the pressroom.
* Engine Machinations - Ron Dennis, smarting after his first losing season since he took over McLaren in 1981, thinks he can again create a powerhouse by switching engine partners. In fact, by replacing Peugeot motors with the Mercedes Benz variety (built by Ilmor Engineering and funded by the German automaker to the tune of $200 million over the next five years) Dennis says his goal is to win several races next year, and all 16 in 1996. Heading the queue to impede the progress of any such a potential Anglo-Teutonic steamroller will be next year's Jordan/Peugeot partnership, since the French automaker is not well pleased about being abandoned by McLaren after just one year of their three year contract. Ford, facing rejection from the top teams despite the fact that their (Cosworth-built) motor in the back of (Schumacher's) Benetton is the most successful powerplant of 1994, will also be keen to prove a point, especially to the forthcoming Benetton/Renault alliance. After Benetton bought Ligier to get the French team's supply of Renault motors for 1995 it was assumed Ford would next year transfer their impressive Zetec-R V8's (in 3 liter configuration to satisfy next season's displacement reduction of 500cc) to Jordan. Peugeot's surprise choice of Jordan as a replacement for McLaren means the factory Fords will probably appear in the back of next year's Sauber cars, that team being left powerless with the departure of Mercedes to McLaren.
* Drivers' Travels - Karl Wendlinger, following a successful test session, thought he had completely recovered from the Monaco crash which left him in a coma for 19 days and made plans to resume his career in Japan and Australia, whereupon Sauber dismissed replacement driver Andrea de Cesaris. But in a subsequent test, just before leaving for Japan, Wendlinger experienced severe neck pains and was advised by doctors to postpone his comeback until next season. Sauber then began a frantic search for the veteran Italian, whose whereabouts could only be narrowed down to several thousand square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean where he was indulging in his great passion: windsurfing. To replace the missing De Cesaris (who was finally located, too late, in Hawaii) Sauber then turned to Wendlinger's team mate from last season: JJ Lehto, who was eventually also discovered at sea - on a boat sailing from Monaco to Finland - but he eagerly abandoned ship and flew to Japan where his Sauber failed him on the first lap.
* Odds and Ends - Though the McLaren F1 and Penske IndyCar teams will share engine maker Mercedes, fuel and lubricant supplier Mobil and sponsors Marlboro and Boss, Roger Penske says his only involvement with McLaren comes indirectly through his 25% ownership of Ilmor and Dennis says rumours of Penske buying a piece of McLaren were started by rival teams intent on "destabilizing McLaren."...The "mystery consortium" which last week bought debt-ridden Team Lotus is variously reported to consist of such personalities as Nigel Mansell, Bernie Ecclestone, Japanese driver Taki Inoue (who raced here in a Simtek) and Laurence Stroll, the Canadian owner of clothing maker and longtime Lotus sponsor Tommy Hilfiger...On Thursday Ferrari’s Gerhard Berger borrowed a several sizes too small policeman's uniform and cap and appeared in the Williams pit where he staged a mock arrest of Frank Williams. The Austrian prankster, who later used the uniform to mask his identity from aggressive fans, was asked to sample a new Japanese fast food product, which he pronounced awful, then was told it was named after him: 'The Gerhard Burger.'