The world of Formula One often erupts into debates about the legitimacy of championships, controversies and what-ifs. One of those legendary controversies has been reignited as calls resurface for Michael Schumacher to be retrospectively stripped of his 1994 world title – a championship in which he narrowly beat Damon Hill by a single point.
British former F1 driver and world champion of 1996 has now offered a cheeky response to these latest claims, suggesting a partnership with Felipe Massa, who is himself in a legal battle to overturn the title won by Lewis Hamilton in 2008.
The infamous 1994 season
The 1994 F1 season ended in one of the most controversial ways the sport has ever seen. In the final race of the year, the Australian Grand Prix, Schumacher and Hill were involved in a collision on lap 36 which resulted in both retiring from the race. The collision was seen by many as deliberate by Schumacher, but the stewards ruled it a racing incident. This allowed the German to secure his first championship at Hill’s expense.
Controversial opinion from a journalist
The debate has been reignited by Peter Benoit, a highly respected Formula One journalist, who recently stated in an interview that the 1994 title “should actually be taken away from [Schumacher] because he only won it because of his foul on Damon Hill”.
“As a six-time world champion, he definitely belongs in the top 5,” said Benoit to Blick newspaper.
Benoit went as far as to say that in his eyes Schumacher should only be considered a six-time champion, not a seven-time champion.
Hill’s tongue-in-cheek response
Taking to social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Hill responded to the argument with humour, writing:
“Slightly surprised to discover this. Does anyone have Massa’s phone number?”
The comment is a reference to Felipe Massa’s ongoing legal battle to have the 2008 championship – won in dramatic circumstances by Lewis Hamilton – awarded to him instead.
Context of the controversy
Schumacher’s 1994 championship came under immense scrutiny. Before the fateful collision, he had damaged his car by hitting a wall. Knowing that Hill was fast approaching and likely to pass him, many believe Schumacher deliberately collided with Hill to prevent his rival from finishing the race.
Both cars were forced to retire, preserving Schumacher’s one-point lead and handing him the championship.
Hill’s reflective view of Schumacher
In previous interviews, Hill has stated that he never had a close relationship with Schumacher, despite their on-track rivalry.
“I didn’t have much to do with Michael,” Hill once said, attributing this lack of connection to their racing rivalry and the fact that Schumacher continued to race long after Hill had retired.
It’s worth noting that the two drivers took very different paths in life – Hill retired from the sport and became a commentator, while Schumacher continued racing until a skiing accident in 2013 severely damaged his health with a brain injury.
While the idea of overturning championships years after they’ve been decided is a controversial one, the comments made by both Benoit and Hill have certainly added fuel to a debate that has been simmering for nearly 30 years.
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