Telling the story of the 25 drivers who raced on F1’s darkest day
1. Ayrton Senna – Williams
Imola 1994 was the 65th – and final – pole position of three-times champion Senna’s career, a towering record that stood for 12 years after his death until Michael Schumacher eventually surpassed it. It was the flourishing rivalry between the pair that had dominated the start of the ’94 campaign, rising star Schumacher having won both of the opening two rounds for Benetton while new Williams signing Senna remained scoreless, despite a 100% pole record, after spinning out in Brazil and then being taken out at the start in Aida. Tragically, Senna would never open his points account for the Grove team.
2. Michael Schumacher – Benetton
Having already served notice of his talent with two victories in his first two-and-a-bit years of F1, the then 25-year-old Schumacher’s winning start to 1994 had given him a commanding early championship lead. Following Senna’s death, Schumacher, who won the restarted Imola event after the race-leading Brazilian’s accident, went on to succeed Senna as F1’s most famous name and rewrite almost all the record books. After initially retiring at the end of 2006, the German returned for a far less successful three-year stint with Mercedes. He has spent the last four months in a coma in a French hospital after suffering life-threatening head injuries in a skiing accident in December 2013.
3. Gerhard Berger – Ferrari
Imola 1994 was an especially emotional weekend for Berger given that Ratzenberger, who was killed in qualifying, was a compatriot of the Austrian while Senna was a close friend and former team-mate. Indeed, Gerhard was a pallbearer at the Brazilian’s funeral four days later. Although Berger was to finish third in the 1994 Drivers’ Championship, his career trailed off a little thereafter, the Austrian winning one more race in 1997, his tenth, before retiring at the end of that year. He has since successfully made the transition into management roles with stints as BMW’s Competitions Director, Toro Rosso Team Principal and, now, the President of the FIA’s Single-Seater Commission.
4. Damon Hill – Williams
Senna’s final team-mate and one of three current Sky Sports F1 pundits to take the start on F1’s darkest of days. Hill was thrust into the championship spotlight post Imola and took the fight with Schumacher all the way to an Adelaide decider, only to be denied by a controversial collision. He did go on to become World Champion two years later before retiring in 1999, after which he made the successful transitions to, first, motorsport statesman in the guise of BRDC President and, most recently, television analyst.
5. JJ Lehto – Benetton
JJ – full name Jyrki Juhani Jarvilehto – Lehto was making his debut for Benetton at Imola after injuring his neck in pre-season. However, after just eight races the Finn was dropped and never returned to F1. He went on to race in German Touring Cars and the Le Mans 24 Hours, an event he won twice in 1995 and 2005, before a move Stateside saw him enjoy more success in American Le Mans. In 2011 he was sentenced in Finland to two years in jail for his role in a boating accident, but was later cleared of all charges on appeal.
6. Nicola Larini – Ferrari
Standing in for injured Ferrari driver Jean Alesi for the second successive GP, Larini finished second to Schumacher in the race, but what turned out to be his sole F1 podium was naturally completely overshadowed by the weekend’s tragic events. A five-race sojourn followed at Sauber in 1997 before a long stint in the European/World Touring Car Championship between 2001 and 2009. The Italian driver, now 53, returned to racing in the Italian Superstars series in 2013.
7. Heinz-Harald Frentzen – Sauber
Imola represented just the third start of the then 26-year-old Frentzen’s F1 career and over the next decade the German gained a journeyman reputation via stints of varying success at Williams, Jordan, Prost and Arrows, before an eventual return to Sauber. On leaving F1 at the end of 2003, Frentzen spent three years in the DTM before competing in both Speedcar and Le Mans. He continues to race and in 2014 is competing in the ADAC GT series in Germany.
8. Mika Hakkinen – McLaren
The ‘Flying Finn’ completed the Imola podium and by the end of the decade was a double World Champion with McLaren. After a sabbatical in 2002 swiftly became a permanent F1 retirement, Hakkinen turned to the DTM before stopping racing at the end of 2007. Although now more commonly associated with ambassadorial roles and driver management, Hakkinen has though made a handful of returns to racing in Asia and last year won his debut race at the GT Asia Series at Zhuhai in China.
9. Ukyo Katayama – Tyrrell
The Japanese driver, who started 94 grands prix in the 1990s, turned to mountain climbing – making the news in 2009 when he was rescued from Mount Fuji – in the years after his career at the top level fizzled out. Occasional returns to the cockpit at Le Mans and, more recently, the Dakar Rally followed as did an F1 television commentary role in Japan.
10. Karl Wendlinger – Sauber
While fifth at Imola equalled the best race result of what at the time was Austrian youngster Wendlinger’s burgeoning metier, two weeks later at Monaco he suffered head injuries in a heavy accident which kept him in a coma for two weeks and effectively ended his F1 career. Six more races for Sauber in 1995 aside, Wendlinger sought sanctuary in sportscars with Le Mans outings and a long stint in the FIA GT series. He continues to appear in endurance racing.
11. Gianni Morbidelli – Footwork
While Morbidelli’s pulled up few trees in a 67-race F1 career, an attrition-assisted podium in Australia 1995 aside, in the years since 1994 the Italian has become a veteran of the touring and sportscar scene and has this year returned to the World Touring Car Championship at the age of 46.
12. Mark Blundell – Tyrrell
Blundell now runs a sports management company after a racing career which saw him compete in single-seater categories in both Europe and Stateside. Although his F1 stay ended 18 months after Imola 1994 following a solitary year at McLaren, he spent five seasons in ChampCars before combining the role of TV pundit with appearances at Le Mans. Since 2010 he has competed in the Spa 24 Hours and in 2013 turned out in the British GT series.
13. Martin Brundle – McLaren
Since stepping out of an F1 cockpit at the end of 1996 with Jordan, Martin Brundle has carved out a hugely successful and award-winning ‘second’ career as a TV co-commentator and analyst, work he continues at Sky Sports F1. He made a racing return to the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2012 sharing a drive with his son Alex.
14. Pierluigi Martini – Minardi
By 1994 Martini was reaching the end of his F1 career but success in Le Mans soon beckoned, the Italian triumphing in the prestigious endurance event for BMW alongside Joachim Winkelhock and Yannick Dalmas in 1999. A return to racing in 2009 saw him finish tenth in the Superstars touring series.
15. Michele Alboreto – Minardi
Former Ferrari driver Alboreto retired from F1 at the end of 1994 following 194 starts and five wins and went on to compete in IndyCar and endurance racing, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1997. In 2001 he was killed in an accident while testing for Le Mans in an Audi R8 on the Lausitzring circuit in Germany aged 44.
16. Christian Fittipaldi – Footwork
The nephew of double World Champion Emerson, Fittipaldi’s time in may have ultimately proved a brief foray in his early 20s – just 40 starts for Minardi and Footwork between 1992-1994 – but the Brazilian has since earned a lifetime’s worth of racing experience Stateside in first ChampCar and more recently sports and stockcar racing. In January 2014 he triumphed in the Daytona 24 Hours.
17. Eric Bernard – Ligier
Having restarted his F1 career in 1994 more than two years on from breaking his leg in Japanese GP practice, Frenchman Bernard stayed on the grid for just 11 more races post Imola – despite a maiden podium in Germany. Like many on the grid at the time, the Frenchman continued his career in sportscar racing and in the last decade has competed on several occasions in the Dakar Rally, finishing 23rd in 2014.
18. Erik Comas – Larrousse
The events of Imola were particularly depressing for Comas given the Frenchman credited Senna with saving his life two years earlier after the Brazilian stopped to assist him following a horrendous accident at Spa’s Blanchimont. Comas left F1 at the end 1994 and headed east to Japanese Super GT racing where he would spend the next 12 years, winning back-to-back titles in 1998-1999. Aged 53, Comas now runs the Green Cars Challenge business.
19. Olivier Panis – Ligier
The third Frenchman in a row on the starting grid, Panis was making just the third start of his career at the time of Imola. He went on to compete in 157 races over the next 11 years for Ligier, Prost, BAR and Toyota, famously winning the 1996 Monaco GP. Regular Le Mans 24 Hour appearances followed and in 2014 Panis continues to race in French GT and manage Renault test driver Charles Pic.
20. Johnny Herbert – Lotus
The popular Briton and future Sky F1 pundit joined Benetton alongside Schumacher at the end of 1994 and the following season took his first two career wins at Silverstone and Monza before switching to Sauber for 1996. A three-year stint at Hinwil was followed by two at Stewart/Jaguar, where a third and final win followed at the Nurburgring in 1999. Three consecutive runner-up finishes at Le Mans, victory in the short-lived Speedcar series and touring car outings in both the UK and Italy continued a successful post-F1 career.
21. Andrea De Cesaris – Jordan
After initially missing out on a drive at the start of 1994, veteran De Cesaris was drafted in for Imola by Jordan to fill in for the suspended Eddie Irvine. He rounded off the season – and his mammoth 208-race F1 career, which featured not a single victory – at Sauber, with a sixth place his only finish for the Swiss team. A comeback in the ill-fated GP Maters Series of 2005-2006 aside, De Cesaris became a successful broker and, apparently, windsurfer. He died on 5 October 2014 after losing control of his motorcycle on Rome’s Grande Raccordo Anulare motorway.
22. Pedro Lamy – Lotus
Portugal’s Lamy is now a long-established endurance driver having racked up 14 Le Mans 24 Hour appearances, and two runner-up finishes, since his 32-race F1 career ended in 1996. Since 2012 he has also competed in the World Endurance Championship and finished 16th at 2014 Silverstone season-opener.
23. Olivier Beretta – Larrousse
The Monaco-born driver’s time in F1 lasted just 10 races for the cash-strapped Larrousse team in 1994 with an eighth-place, then a non-points-paying result, at his home street race his best result. A long career in sportscars instead beckoned and Beretta is currently competing in the European Le Mans Series.
24. David Brabham – Simtek
Despite the death of his Simtek team-mate Ratzenberger the day before, David Brabham made the decision to race on at Imola, with the words ‘For Roland’ on the side of his car. The son of World Champion Jack, David started just 24 GPs in total but has gone on to enjoy a long and distinguished career in sportscars, including a American Le Mans Series/Le Man 24 Hours title double in 2009. He also runs a driver performance clinic.
25. Bertrand Gachot – Pacific
Most famous for inadvertently handing Schumacher his F1 breakthrough in 1991 following a imprisonment for an alteration with a London taxi driver, Gachot propped up the grid at Imola for the small Pacific team. The Frenchman stayed with the team until it folded at the end of 1995 and went on to compete in Japanese Super GT and the Le Mans 24 Hours before focusing on business interests.