F1 Rac­ing tech­ni­cal con­sul­tant Pat Sy­monds be­came Michael Schu­macher’s race en­gi­neer at Benet­ton in 1992. They quickly be­came an ef­fec­tive fight­ing force as Michael grew from a raw tal­ent to a con­tender for the ti­tle in 1994, a sea­son be­set by tragedy and


As race en­gi­neer to Michael Schu­macher in the Benet­ton days, Pat re­calls that high-pres­sured first cham­pi­onship win

1994 was a mem­o­rable year for F1 in ev­ery re­spect – not all of them good. For me, it was the cul­mi­na­tion of a se­quence that had started when I formed a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Michael that grew into a par­tic­u­larly strong friend­ship, and one in which we achieved the high­est goals we had each set our­selves.

The story re­ally be­gan two years ear­lier, in 1992, when, after a short so­journ away from Benet­ton, I was asked to act as race en­gi­neer for Michael. I hadn’t been race en­gi­neer­ing for a cou­ple of years, but it was an of­fer I couldn’t refuse. We were all acutely aware of the prodi­gious tal­ent this young man pos­sessed.

Test­ing was our rst ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing to­gether at the sort of in­tense level that fosters the close re­la­tion­ship be­tween driver and en­gi­neer which is so im­por­tant for suc­cess. The nal pre-sea­son test in 1992

was at Kyalami in prepa­ra­tion for the rst grand prix of the sea­son. By the end of that test, I felt that we were work­ing as a re­ally co­he­sive team. Michael was giv­ing me ex­actly the feed­back I needed, and I had been able to im­press him by us­ing tech­niques to set up the car that were new to him but ex­tremely suc­cess­ful. We came fourth in South Africa, and suc­ces­sive podi­ums

in Mex­ico and Brazil fol­lowed, which meant we re­turned to Europe third in the driv­ers’ stand­ings.

The fly­away races then, per­haps more so than now, were a great chance for teams to gel, since we not only spent time in our nor­mal work­ing en­vi­ron­ment, but also in some­thing of a so­cial at­mos­phere due to ex­tended pe­ri­ods away from home. Dur­ing this time, the mu­tual re­spect we had for each other grew, as did a friend­ship that en­dures to this day.

While I had the great­est ad­mi­ra­tion for Michael’s abil­ity to drive an F1 car ex­tremely quickly, it was not this that made him unique. What raised him above the al­ready very high stan­dard of his peers was his amaz­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail and his in­nate abil­ity to re­serve a large amount of men­tal ca­pac­ity for anal­y­sis and tac­ti­cal think­ing, with­out miss­ing a beat in terms of con­sis­tency of per­for­mance. This was per­haps best il­lus­trated by his ap­proach to fit­ness.

Be­fore Michael, the most pro­fes­sional driver I had worked with was Ayr­ton Senna. While th­ese two ex­cep­tional driv­ers had much in common, it was a long while be­fore Ayr­ton ac­cepted that his lack of fit­ness was cost­ing him per­for­mance. Michael, on the other hand, was ob­sessed by de­vel­op­ing his stamina and up­per body strength. He knew that as other driv­ers showed signs of fa­tigue to­ward the end of a race, he was still able to push to the limit.

It was not just his recog­ni­tion of this that im­pressed, it was the level of de­tail he went to in or­der to achieve his goals. As an ex­am­ple, dur­ing a race-dis­tance test, when we stopped for a tyre change or to x a prob­lem, Michael’s trainer would take a blood sam­ple from him. This was then an­a­lysed and his gym rou­tine ad­justed un­til blood sam­ples taken dur­ing train­ing matched those taken dur­ing cir­cuit test­ing. In this way he knew the aer­o­bic regime he would follow in the gym was suit­able.

It was his sagac­ity that pro­vided him with his rst race win that year at Spa. Although the race started dry, it soon be­came nec­es­sary to t wet tyres. It was a typ­i­cal Spa race and be­fore long the track was dry­ing and the wet tyres show­ing signs of dis­tress. On lap 30, Michael made a small mis­take and Martin Brun­dle, his very ca­pa­ble team-mate, swept past him. Michael’s rst thought as he sat in Martin’s slip­stream was to check his ri­val’s tyre con­di­tion. On not­ing that the rears were start­ing to chunk, he de­cided to pit for dry tyres and, by pre-empt­ing ev­ery­one else, was able to take a well-de­served vic­tory.

The next year, 1993, fol­lowed a sim­i­lar path, and Michael’s men­tal ca­pac­ity was paramount in de­vel­op­ing the in­tri­cate B193 with its ac­tive sus­pen­sion, launch con­trol, dis­tance-mapped au­to­matic gear­box and unique four-wheel-steer sys­tem. The sea­son brought only one win, but Michael’s self-es­teem was de­vel­op­ing at a rate that let him chal­lenge at any level. Had the re­li­a­bil­ity of the car been bet­ter, he would have im­proved on fourth place in the cham­pi­onship.

And so to 1994, a year that brought ul­ti­mate suc­cess to Michael, but only after a sea­son marred by tragedy and in­nu­endo. Even be­fore test­ing be­gan, ev­ery­one was pre­pared for a change to the sta­tus quo. Wil­liams had built the most ef­fec­tive of the ac­tively sus­pended chas­sis but, with such sys­tems banned for 1994, we all had to re-ap­ply our knowl­edge in build­ing pas­sive sus­pen­sion sys­tems – and, per­haps more im­por­tantly, aero­dy­namic char­ac­ter­is­tics that were no longer be­holden to the abil­ity to run at a con­stant height.

Our ef­forts in this di­rec­tion at Benet­ton were mighty. We hadn’t gone as far down the road of peaky aero­dy­nam­ics as some, but we fully un­der­stood that we needed be­nign aero maps to achieve suc­cess in 1994. In ad­di­tion, we had de­vel­oped so­phis­ti­cated tools to un­der­stand and de­velop the ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics and ride, and the loss of the ac­tive con­trol loop merely re­duced the num­ber of equa­tions that had to be solved. We were able to con­vert th­ese tools to good ef­fect: the com­pro­mises reached be­tween a sus­pen­sion soft enough to give good me­chan­i­cal grip and aero­dy­nam­ics that would pro­vide con­sis­tent

down­force at vary­ing at­ti­tudes were far bet­ter than any of our com­peti­tors man­aged.

In Jan­uary we had a brief shake­down at Sil­ver­stone. This nearly ended in dis­as­ter for Michael’s team-mate JJ Lehto, who suf­fered a heavy ac­ci­dent that kept him out of rac­ing for some months. Michael was com­pli­men­tary about the car, but the cold con­di­tions made a real judge­ment dif­fi­cult.

As we headed to Es­to­ril for the first proper test, we were con­fi­dent our car was good, but we were acutely aware that last year’s best car, the Wil­liams, was now be­ing driven by the uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged best driver, Ayr­ton Senna. It was go­ing to be a chal­lenge, but the first laps were ex­tremely en­cour­ag­ing; Michael said he felt he had a car ca­pa­ble of win­ning the cham­pi­onship. When Michael made a com­ment like that, you tended to lis­ten.

“At the first test of 1994, Michael said he felt he had a car ca­pa­ble of win­ning the cham­pi­onship. When Michael made a com­ment like that, you tended to lis­ten”

In spite of our op­ti­mism, in sport all things are rel­a­tive and we could not ig­nore the fact that the Senna/Wil­liams com­bi­na­tion were also post­ing im­pres­sive times. That kept us push­ing to the max­i­mum. On top of this we had a ma­jor prob­lem. Not only was our Ford-Cos­worth Zetec en­gine signicantly down on power com­pared with the Re­nault RS6 we were ght­ing in the Wil­liams, it also had a frag­ile crank­shaft. The records will show that Wil­liams dom­i­nated win­ter test­ing, but what they won’t show is that Michael had limited run­ning, and what dis­tance we did was gen­er­ally with a rel­a­tively high fuel load so that we could dis­guise our true pace.

After the last test at Imola in March, we had still not been able to com­plete a race dis­tance with­out fail­ure, and with the cars about to be shipped to Brazil for the rst race at the end of the month, we were get­ting des­per­ate. With a new crank de­sign we at­tempted a race dis­tance at a freez­ing cold Sil­ver­stone South cir­cuit the day be­fore the cars had to leave. It was so cold, we could barely op­er­ate a stop­watch, but we cer­tainly got fur­ther than ever be­fore.

We did not ar­rive in Brazil well-pre­pared. The Benet­ton team knuck­led down to what re­mains to this day a leg­endary job list as we tried to ready our­selves for rac­ing. Jim Vale was the num­ber one me­chanic on Michael’s car, and work­ing with him were Jonathan Wheat­ley, cur­rent team man­ager at Red Bull, and Kenny Hand-kam­mer, now chief me­chanic at the same team. To­gether with many oth­ers we toiled through the work, sur­viv­ing on just a few

hours sleep. With a fresh en­gine for each day we some­how got through prac­tice and qualied sec­ond to Ayr­ton. Our lat­est-spec race en­gine was so frag­ile that we skipped the nor­mal Sun­day morn­ing warm-up.

In the race we man­aged to get past Ayr­ton by dint of a bet­ter pitstop and were pulling away when Ayr­ton spun try­ing to keep up. It was a per­fect il­lus­tra­tion of how the new rules played into the hands of both Michael and the team. While we couldn’t cover as many miles in test­ing, we’d spent hours prac­tic­ing pit­stops. From Michael’s side, he prac­tised his in- and out-laps re­lent­lessly, and it was this at­ten­tion to de­tail that en­abled us to pass Ayr­ton in the pitstop.

We re­turned to Europe on a high after a sec­ond win in Ja­pan and another re­tire­ment for Ayr­ton. Our eu­pho­ria did not last long: the next race on the cal­en­dar was Imola on that fate­ful day when mo­tor rac­ing was to change for­ever.

Once again we saw the depth of Michael as the events of that week­end un­rav­elled. His pub­lic per­sona was that of the de­tached pro­fes­sional. Those of us who were close to him could see the hurt and an­guish the week­end brought to him.

In the wake of Imola, the FIA im­posed a se­ries of changes to the tech­ni­cal rules in the hope that slow­ing down the cars would pre­vent a re­cur­rence of th­ese tragedies. It was a awed process, but un­avoid­able if we were to pre­vent an anti-F1 back­lash from the pub­lic.

Our beau­ti­ful car was pro­gres­sively neutered. First the dif­fuser was cut away and changes were made to the front wing with a view to re­duc­ing down­force. Th­ese were in­tro­duced for Spain, which that year fol­lowed Monaco – a race where Karl Wendlinger had suf­fered life-chang­ing head in­juries in yet another ac­ci­dent.

In spite of the changes, we con­tin­ued to en­joy suc­cess with a win in Canada and a sec­ond place in Spain, achieved in spite of be­ing stuck in fth gear for much of the race. Michael’s drive in Spain show­cased his abil­ity. When the trans­mis­sion stuck, he did a cou­ple of slow laps and, dur­ing th­ese, learned how to get the best from the car. His sub­se­quent laps were ex­tremely im­pres­sive – he had adapted his driv­ing style in a re­mark­able way.

At the time we were also liv­ing un­der the shadow of the ac­cu­sa­tion that we were us­ing il­le­gal launch-con­trol soft­ware. This arose when the FIA, on in­spect­ing our soft­ware, found an old menu left over from ear­lier days that set up launch-con­trol pa­ram­e­ters. It was ac­knowl­edged that th­ese were not part of any con­trol loop, and in­deed in­spec­tion of data from our starts showed an amount of vari­abil­ity that was not con­sis­tent with a launch-con­trol sys­tem. The case went no fur­ther but was leaked to the press.

In Ger­many we fell foul of the au­thor­i­ties once more and this time per­haps with more rea­son. A lter in the re­fu­elling rig had been re­moved and it is prob­a­ble that this caused the fuel valve to jam, caus­ing a ma­jor re as Michael’s team-mate Jos Ver­stap­pen’s car was re­fu­elled.

Among the other changes in­tro­duced in the wake of Imola was the ‘plank’, a large skid block placed un­der the car to force higher ride heights and lower down­force.

This change was to prove very sig­nif­i­cant at the Bel­gian Grand Prix, where Michael was dis­qual­i­fied when the skid block was found to have worn to be­low the min­i­mum thick­ness in one area. The hastily in­tro­duced rules stated that if the plank was less than 9mm thick in any area, it was to be re­moved and weighed and pro­vid­ing the weight was greater than 90 per cent of the new weight then it would be ac­cepted.

The scru­ti­neers ig­nored this de­tail and, in spite of protes­ta­tion that the dam­age was caused when Michael spun across the kerbs and was there­fore force ma­jeure, we were dis­qual­i­fied.

We were rac­ing in Bel­gium un­der ap­peal, since at Sil­ver­stone another bizarre in­ci­dent had got us into trou­ble. On the for­ma­tion lap, Michael, sec­ond on the grid, went past Damon Hill who was on pole. It was the sort of move we had all seen so many times and con­tinue to see to­day, but in the mood of the time it led to a penalty be­ing ap­plied. Tom Walkin­shaw ar­gued the penalty with the or­gan­is­ers and, when a black ag was shown to Michael, told us to ig­nore it. It was a grave mis­take and Michael was banned from the races in Italy and Por­tu­gal.

Michael’s re­turn in the Euro­pean Grand Prix yielded another win but he lost to Damon by three seconds in a bizarre Ja­panese Grand Prix that was stopped in heavy rain and restarted some time later, with the times ag­gre­gated to give a nal re­sult. It was the only time that Michael did not un­der­stand his ob­jec­tive. Lead­ing on the road he thought he had the race in the bag, but in spite of co­pi­ous en­cour­age­ment on the ra­dio he failed to pull out a suf­fi­cient lead to take the over­all vic­tory.

So we left for the sea­son nale in Aus­tralia with just a sin­gle-point lead over Damon. The out­come is well-doc­u­mented: Michael hit the bar­rier and ca­reered into Damon, tak­ing both cars out of the race. At the time it never oc­curred to me that it was any­thing but an ac­ci­dent and yet I com­pletely lost my cool; I be­lieved we were sure to be sanc­tioned. The re­sult stood and we won the cham­pi­onship.

Taken in iso­la­tion this last ac­ci­dent seemed to be noth­ing other than an un­for­tu­nate oc­cur­rence, but after the in­ci­dents at Jerez in 1997 and Monaco in 2006, I can’t help but won­der if this was the rst man­i­fes­ta­tion of Michael’s sin­gle character aw.

As a hu­man be­ing, few driv­ers can com­pare with Michael. He is witty, car­ing and de­cent. Th­ese qual­i­ties al­ways shone through and he was con­tin­u­ally think­ing about how best to help oth­ers. As some­one who en­joyed life, the par­ties at my house where he was of­ten to be found in the kitchen drink­ing the cou­ple of beers he would al­low him­self and en­joy­ing be­ing with his team, were leg­endary. He also had an im­mensely com­pet­i­tive in­stinct. This is nei­ther sur­pris­ing nor un­usual for a rac­ing driver but oc­ca­sion­ally, when time was not avail­able for a con­sid­ered judge­ment, this side of his character would dom­i­nate and lead to him be­hav­ing in an un­sport­ing man­ner.

It was the one aw that haunted him through his ca­reer, but in no way should it de­tract from the vic­tory he so de­servedly took in 1994. The odds were con­tin­u­ally stacked against us for rea­sons that were some­times co­in­ci­den­tal, some­times the fault of us as a some­what naive team, and largely for rea­sons that can only be de­scribed as Machi­avel­lian. At the end of the sea­son, Michael and I talked in­tensely about whether or not it was worth car­ry­ing on in such an en­vi­ron­ment. I was ready to walk away from a sport I felt was tainted. I am glad I didn’t: win­ning both the driv­ers’ and con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship the fol­low­ing year was the best pos­si­ble an­swer to our crit­ics.

FIRST WIN “Michael’s sagac­ity pro­vided him with his first race win in Spa 1992. Michael de­cided to pit for dry tyres and, by pre-empt­ing ev­ery­one else, took a well-de­served win”

FIRST CON­TACT “On the first lap at Magny Cours in 1992, Michael pushed Ayr­ton Senna off the track and into re­tire­ment. Some laps later, when it sud­denly be­gan to rain, the race was stopped. We were on the grid wait­ing for the re-start when Ayr­ton ap­peared. He had al­ready got changed, but de­cided to come and ‘dis­cuss’ the in­ci­dent with Michael. I acted as ref­eree!”

FIRST PRIN­CI­PLES “Michael prac­tised his in- and out-laps re­lent­lessly, and it was this at­ten­tion to de­tail that en­abled us to pass Ayr­ton in the pitstop in Brazil in 1994”

WHEN FIRST ISLAST “We were first over the line in Bel­gium ’94, but Michael’s skid plate was found to be worn be­low the min­i­mum thick­ness. We protested that this was due to dam­age in­curred when he spun over the kerbs, but he was dis­qual­i­fied”

DOU­BLE TROU­BLE “The next race was Sil­ver­stone, and Michael was banned from the races in Por­tu­gal and Spain after pass­ing Damon Hill on the for­ma­tion lap then ig­nor­ing a black flag”

BY A N Y M E A N S N E C E S S A RY “At the sea­son fi­nale in Aus­tralia, Michael hit the bar­rier and ca­reered into Damon, tak­ing both cars out of the race. It never oc­curred to me it was any­thing other than an ac­ci­dent, but I com­pletely lost my cool; I be­lieved we were sure to be sanc­tioned. The re­sult stood and we won the cham­pi­onship”

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