1994 F1RGP2C Japanese Grand Prix
The 1994 F1RGP2C Japanese Grand Prix was a motor race held on Novemeber 6, 1994 at the Suzuka Circuit. The race was the fifteenth and penultimate round of the 1994 F1RGP2C season. Both qualifying sessions and the race itself were held under torrential rain. Padraig O'Connell won the race for Ferrari after a wild race in which multiple cars ran out of fuel in the dying laps.
The tense battle for the Drivers' Championship between Jack Christopherson and John Zimmer had left Europe after the 1994 F1RGP2C European Grand Prix with only five points separating the two drivers. Furthermore, their respective teams, Williams-Renault and Benetton-Ford, were only separated by nine points in the Constructors' Championship. The buildup for the race was enormous. Few analysts predicted that Christopherson would seal the title at Suzuka after Zimmer's dominant victory at Jerez three weeks before.
Practice and Qualifying
The weather on Friday morning was overcast but dry. The first practice session was completed without any major incidents but rain began to fall near the end of the one-hour session. By the first qualifying session later that afternoon, the track was soaked and teams were forced to pull out the full wet tyres. The first qualifying session was topped by John Zimmer in the Benetton, setting the eventual pole time of 1:57.049. The session was packed with massive crashes and incidents as the teams failed to calculate the proper fuel consumption under wet conditions. This was the first wet race in the history of the F1RGP2C and the teams were still green. Several drivers ran out of fuel in front of the pits or on the quick 130R corner, causing several spectacular accidents.
Pippa Mann was the first driver out and the first driver to run out of fuel. Unfortunately, she lost control of her Simtek at the end of 130R and slammed straight into the barriers. She was shaken but was able to return for the second session on Saturday. Meanwhile, Ben Fleet desperately tried to get his Pacific onto the grid, knowing all too well that this was Pacific's best chance at a race start. He later his described his qualifying lap as "the best of his career". Fleet's 2:06.074 was able to get him to 24th on the provisional grid after Q1. Then, Masta Valsattis lost control of his Minardi while running out of fuel, pitching him directly into the barriers at 130R. Just after that, Gio van Dycke's suspension failed at the Spoon Curve, sending his Larrousse into a violent spin into the gravel. While track marshals attended to Valsattis, Max von Hegel's Footwork stopped in front of the pit lane with transmission problems. Dennis Mignolet was also out of fuel and was attempting to haul his Ligier back to the pits. With the marshals distracted with Valsattis' Minardi, there were no yellow flags waving for von Hegel. Mignolet tried to avoid the Footwork but his car aquaplaned and flew out of control. He hit the pit wall head-on and rolled back onto the circuit. Debris now covered the circuit and the marshals were forced to immediately red-flagg the session. Jack Christopherson, the championship leader, had not yet gone out for a lap. There was not enough time in the session for him to complete a flying lap, leaving him with no time in Q1.
Q2 was a less interesting affair. The teams did a better job of estimating fuel but Sebastien Belo and Miko Fakkinen ran out of fuel, among others. Christopherson was able to complete a flying lap but he was unable to beat Zimmer's pole time, eventually missing pole by over half a second. The last bit of drama focused around Ben Fleet. His brilliant lap in Q1 held up under the assaults of George Tramontani and Pippa Mann. Tramontani was unable to beat Pippa's time which earned him his fist DNQ of the season. Giovanni Roda joined him on the sidelines. However, Zimmer's pole position put him in a great position to claw back the five point deficit to Christopherson. Daniel Moreno lined up in third place, ahead of both Ferraris and both McLarens.
At the start, John Zimmer took off, building a massive lead by the end of the first lap. Christopherson was unable to offer any resistance and fell behind a fast-starting Douglas Mann. Mann lost second place to Christopherson after only two laps but both he and Rory McAllister had leapfrogged Moreno. Meanwhile, Zimmer had pulled out an enormous lead of ten seconds after just three laps completed. As the rest of the field jostled for position in the tricky conditions, Pablo da Silva pulled off the circuit with fire pouring out of his Sauber despite the rain. da Silva had an unbelievable start, rocketing from eighth to fourth by the first turn. But just like that, his race was over. Two laps later, disaster struck for Jack Christopherson. His Williams burst into flames as his Renault engine combusted, leaving Zimmer with a golden opportunity to take the lead in the championship. Christopherson quickly evacuated his Williams and rued his misfortune on his walk back to the pits. In the meantime, Gio van Dycke pulled over with suspension problems on his Larrousse.
Williams' disappointment was music to Benetton's ears as Zimmer extended his lead to twenty four seconds to Douglas Mann after just seven laps. Mann was busy fending off McAllister's Ferrari and Moreno's Williams as the three engaged in a great scrap for second place. However, true to form, the mechanical problems kept on piling up. Leonhard von Gottorp limped into the pits with an electrical problem on Lap 6. One lap later, Mann's teammate Tom Douglas suffered a puncture at the Spoon Curve. His car went head-first into the barriers at over 100 mph. Douglas was taken to on-track medical facilities where he was later diagnosed with a concussion and severe whiplash. On Lap 11, James Davies pulled into the pits with electrical problems as the rain wreaked havoc on the sensitive electronic instruments inside of the cars. Max von Hegel and Daniel Moreno both crashed out on Lap 16 after aquaplaning at the exact same spot. Ben Fleet, the hero of qualifying, retired with a suspension problem on Lap 18; he was running as high as 19th place due to attrition. On Lap 19, Poppy Whitechapel went out with a terminal oil leak while running in fourth.
Whitechapel was the eighth retirement through nineteen laps. On Lap 20, von Gottorp spun off the circuit at 130R and was hit by Davies, shattering Davies' front wing and sending him into the pits for his second unscheduled stop. The madness continued as Douglas Mann spun at the same spot two laps later, breaking his front wing. Kazuhiko Takagi and Pieter Kickert retired on Lap 23 with near-simultaneous engine failures. Takagi and Kickert were running in fourth and fifth at the time; their exit elevated Dennis Mignolet and Kazuyoshi Hoshino into the spots. Five laps later, Miko Fakkinen made his second unscheduled stop with an electrical problem (his first coming early in the race due to a loose wheel nut). von Gottorp spun off the road again on Lap 30, breaking his front suspension which sent him to the pits for the third time. Meanwhile, John Zimmer sat above all the chaos. He pitted on Lap 23 and was ready to go for the rest of the race. It looked to all like Zimmer would secure a commanding lead in the championship heading into his home race at Adelaide.
Alas, it was not to be. Zimmer unraveled in front of everyone as he spun on Lap 30. He spun again four laps later, breaking his front suspension in the process. His seemingly insurmountable lead dropped by forty seconds as Padraig O'Connell (the only driver on the lead lap) began to catch the Benetton. Suddenly, six laps from the end, Zimmer's Ford engine exploded and he was forced out of the race. Within the span of six laps, he had lost the championship. While this drama played out, Rory McAllister in the lead Ferrari was having a disaster on his own. He spun on Lap 32 and broke his front wing before he was then forced to pit again six laps later to fix a problem with his brakes. If he hadn't spun off, McAllister could have been leading the race when Zimmer retired. As it stood, however, O'Connell now assumed the lead with Mignolet in second. Davies and von Gottorp tangled again; this time Davies was hit by von Gottorp which forced Davies in for his fourth pit stop of the race. Crucially, Davies neglected to take on more fuel which would come into play in the last five laps.
By Lap 40, chaos reigned up and down the pitlane. Most of the teams had again made a fatal calculation error. None of the cars had enough fuel to finish the race! Teams were now faced with a tough decision. Should they pit immediately or stay out and ride the storm? Lap 40 also saw Douglas Mann spin for the second time. On Lap 43, Ferrari brought in O'Connell having already filled up McAllister's car with extra fuel on Lap 38. Ligier brought in Mignolet but Sebastien Belo elected to gamble and stay out. Masta Valsattis pitted for Minardi. Hoshino pitted his Footwork and took on extra fuel. The rest of the field had nothing to lose and decided to stay out. It would prove to be a disastrous call. Belo was the first to run out of fuel on the last lap, squandering a potential career-saving fourth place. He lost control of the car and crashed heavily at Spoon, just in front of Éadbhard Ó'Caoimhín's Jordan. McAllister had moved into second place when Mignolet pitted but he spun again on the last lap, giving the Ligier driver a remarkable podium. Douglas Mann ran out of fuel. Pippa Mann ran out of fuel. Davies ran out of fuel. Cannon ran out of fuel. Fakkinen ran out of fuel. Cars were strewn all over the circuit as marshals rushed to clear the stricken vehicles. Somehow, Ó'Caoimhín dragged his Jordan across the line in fifth; he was the only driver who didn't pit who managed to survive. Valsattis, despite spinning off on Lap 38 and breaking his front wing, finished in sixth place. Hoshino limped home to an incredible fourth in the Footwork.
However, all the praise went to Padraig O'Connell. He ended up taking his third win of the season by over a minute to Mignolet's Ligier. He braved the elements and made the correct strategy calls. Mignolet celebrated his miraculous podium with Rory McAllister in the other Ferrari. Reject of the Race went to every driver other than O'Connell, Mignolet, Hoshino, Fleet and Douglas as every other driver in the field made critical errors during the race. The championship battle swung into Christopherson's favor as neither contender finished the race. Even if Zimmer won in Adelaide, Christopherson only had to finish second to secure the championship.
Standings after the race
- Bold text indicates who still has a theoretical chance of becoming World Champion.
- Drivers' Championship standings
- Constructors' Championship standings
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
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