Date:Tuesday December 13 2011
Did Michael Schumacher cheat his way to his first Formula One World Championship with Benetton?
That's the claim that has been made by then team-mate Jos Verstappen.
The 1994 Formula One World Championship will always be looked upon as a tragic season for the sport.
The deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola will never be forgotten, while the Drivers championship was decided under controversial circumstances when Schumacher deliberately collided with title rival Damon Hill after the German had already made a mistake around the Adelaide track.
That collision forced the retirement of both drivers and Schumacher claimed his first of seven Formula One World Championships.
However according to then team-mate Jos Verstappen, Schumacher was only in the position to win the World title following the use of a number of illegal aids.
The Dutch driver who went on to win the Le Mans 24 Hour race in the LMP2 class strongly believes that he did not race the same car as Schumacher.
Schumacher won nine of the fourteen races that he took part in that season, with the Australian season finale, being his only retirement. [however he was later disqualified from the Belgian Grand Prix victory and he was also banned from two races after his disqualification after the British Grand Prix.]
Schumacher's team-mates Jos Verstappen retired from six of the ten races he started [with two third place finishes], JJ Lehto retired from three of his six races [sixth was his best finish] while Johnny Herbert ended the season with two retirements.
Verstappen believes that Schumacher not only had an illegal advantage over the other cars, but also his team-mates.
'People think I'm looking for an excuse, I just know that his car was different to my car. I kept thinking: this can't be done! I braked at the limit and went as hard as possible into the corners. Schumacher was able to do things and not to me. There was something wrong.' he told NuSport as quoted by Sky Sports.
'There were electronic aids. They will never admit it, but I am convinced, I later asked Flavio Briatore, who had brought me to Benetton and was then the team manager. He said, 'Let's not talk about it.' So I know enough now.'
'Michael depends on the car just like everybody else. To some people he is God. That bit is disappearing. He is not superman - he never was.
'When we went karting he never beat me. I know the reason why he beat me at Benetton.'
During the first three races of the Formula One season, Ayrton Senna [who had moved to Williams that season] grew suspicious that the Benetton car was illegal.
Schumacher was enjoying fast starts away from the grid and had also gained an advantage over Senna during the first Grand Prix of the season in Brazil when the Benetton pit-crew were able to fuel Schumacher's car faster than the Williams team could fuel Senna's car.
Benetton were later in the season found guilty of cheating by the FIA after an investigation into a pit-stop fire at the German Grand Prix that involved Verstappen.
The FIA deemed Benetton's fuel valve illegal as it was without a fuel filter, which enabled them to pump fuel into the car 12.5% faster than the legal fuel valve that was used by other teams.
However as the equipment was supplied by Intertechnique, Benetton received no punishment.
After Senna's retirement on the first lap of the second race of the season at the Pacific Grand Prix in Japan, Senna stood and watched the race from beside the track attempting to hear any suspicious noises that suggested traction control was being used illegally, Senna returned to the Williams pit suspicious that the Benetton car was indeed illegal.
Benetton, along with Ferrari and McLaren were later investigated by the FIA on suspicion of breaking the FIA-imposed ban on electronic aids.
Ferrari supplied the required information immediately and no further action was taken, while Benetton and McLaren initially refused to help with the investigation and were fined $100,000 for their initial refusal to cooperate.
When the FIA investigation concluded, both teams were found to have hidden functionality in their software, the McLaren software aided the gearbox program [that allowed automatic shifts] and was deemed legal, however the Benetton software included the ability to improve traction, which was illegal as drivers gained a benefit from such things as fast starts, but with no evidence that it had been used in a race, Benetton avoided further penalties and fines.
Date:Tuesday December 13 2011
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