Flashback: A tale of dodgy traction control and alleged cheating in Formula 1

Ayrton Senna in 1994 believed his arch rival had an unfair advantage

Ayrton Senna in 1994 believed his arch rival had an unfair advantage

The suspicion raised by former Formula 1 team owner Giancarlo Minardi, that Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull could be using a clever form of traction control, has conjured up memories of a similar scenario that played itself out during the 1994 season when Ayrton Senna went to his grave convinced that Michael Schumacher’s Benetton B194 was using traction control – and he may well have been right.

Senna and Schumacher were clearly the two main contenders of that season. The Brazilian, a three times world champion, having moved to Williams and Schumacher the young upstart with the Benetton team packed with a back room of the brightest technical gurus such as Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, all led by flambouyant Flavio Briatore.

Frpok the outset Senna was struggling with the Adrina Newey designed Williams FW16, it was not as easy to drive as the all conquering predecessors, namely the FW15C and FW14B. Nevertheless those close to Senna claim he drove the car harder than anything he had driven before, and although he never finished a race in 1994 he did qualify on pole for all three races he started.

Ayrton Senna battled in the Williams FW16 but still scored three out of three pole positions

Ayrton Senna battled in the Williams FW16 but still scored three out of three pole positions

Senna explained at the time, “I have a very negative feeling about driving the car and driving it on the limit and so on… Some of that is down to the lack of electronic change. Also, the car has its own characteristics which I’m not fully confident in yet.”

And famously added, “It’s going to be a season with lots of accidents, and I’ll risk saying that we’ll be lucky if something really serious doesn’t happen.”

In Brazil, Senna confided with his close associates that he was suspicious of Schumacher’s Benetton, and that he felt the team was using some form of traction control which along with active suspension and ABS was banned for 1994.

He became convinced of the use of traction control when after retiring from the Japanese Grand Prix he stood by the side of the track and heard the difference in engine sounds and characteristics between Schumacher’s car and his teammate Jos Verstappen’s supposedly similar Benetton B194.

At Imola, Senna was killed during the race and the Formula 1 world was sent reeling.

Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Flavio Briatore in 1994

Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Flavio Briatore in 1994

Coincidentially or ironically straight after the race the FIA impounded computer control systems of Ferrari, McLaren and Benetton. Shortly after Silverstone that year the governing body decreed that Ferrari had co-operated, and were clean, but two Benetton and McLaren were fined $100,000 each for attempting to deny the FIA’s inspectors access to their computer programme codes.

The Independent newspaper reported at the time: When the inspectors got into the Benetton computers, they discovered a hidden programme, and it was dynamite: a programme called Launch Control, which allowed Schumacher to make perfect starts merely by flooring the throttle, the computer then taking over to ensure that the car reached the first corner with no wasteful wheelspin.

Legal in 1993 but outlawed by the new regulations, the programme was still there – although now it had been concealed. To find it you had to call up the software’s menu of programmes, scroll down beyond the bottom line, select an apparently blank line, press a secret key – and, hey presto, without anything showing on the screen, Launch Control was ready for action.

Only a few people know if Michael Schumacher's Benetton B194 was legal

Only a few people know if Michael Schumacher’s Benetton B194 was legal

Brawn’s claim that the system had not been used during the 1994 season could neither be proved nor disproved; the FIA’s decision to publicise their findings suggested that they had their suspicions. After all, if Launch Control was now redundant, why had it had been left sitting in the software? Because, the Benetton people said, the task of isolating and removing it was one of impossible complexity. (The concealment, they added, was simply to prevent somebody switching it on by mistake.)

‘That’s enough to make me believe they were cheating,’ a computer specialist with another F1 team told the author at the time. ‘Look, we purged our own software of all the illegal systems during the winter. I did it myself. It took me two days. That’s all. Perfectly straightforward. And the fact that they disguised it was very suspicious.’

Also that year, after an investigation by Intertechnique at Benetton’s team factory, the FIA revealed that the team had been using an illegal fuel valve, without a fuel filter, that pumped fuel into the car 12.5% faster than a normal, legal fuel valve that had a filter.

This may have explained how Schumacher was able to leap frog Senna and take the lead at the season opening Brazilian GP. Upon which the Brazilian was forced to chase hard, but to no avail as he spun out in front of his home crowd.

Jos Verstapen suffered burns after a pit stop fire at the 1994 German GP

Jos Verstapen suffered burns after a pit stop fire at the 1994 German GP

Verstappen, who was lucky to survive with only minor burns when a fuel hose fire caused flames to engulf his car during a pitstop at the German GP, spoke of his 1994 season with Benetton alongside Schumacher

“I know what happened when we were together at Benetton. People think I’m looking for excuses but I know that his car was different from mine. I always thought it was impossible; I braked at the limit and took the corners as hard as possible, so how could Schumacher do it?”

“There was something wrong. There were electronic driver aids. It was never mentioned, but I’m convinced and when I later asked Flavio Briatore he replied ‘Let’s not talk about it’. So I know enough now,” claimed Verstappen.

The tragic story of the 1994 season is now part of the history and folklore of Formula 1, but it begs the question: Would Senna have been pushing the limits (in and out of the car) had he not been up against a rival using illegal means to gain an advantage?

And with this in mind it obviously must never be allowed to happen again in Formula 1 ever again. (GP247)

  • pfft

    Kinda like redbulls’ mysterious engine mapping…..
    And their ride height control….
    And their illegal hole/slot in the floor…

    Unlike redbull, tho bennetton/schumacher went even faster after it was removed. Proving it wasn’t giving that much of an advantage.

    And benetton at least got punished. ..

    And Senna? Well he knew all about cheating. A very poor sportsman unless he was winning. I don’t recall too many times when he lost and didn’t make accusations, or claim something unfair was going on. Even in his karting days…. or when hakkinnen immediately outqualified him at mclaren.

  • Proof of Schumachers bogus records

    That is only one season and one car, how about the special Bridgestone tires that Schumacher used to get that is well documented as well. How was anyone supposed to beat Schumacher when he had a tire that only he was allowed to have and that tire enabled him to run qualifying type laps through out the race while all the other teams had to use a different Bridgestone tire that was two seconds a lap slower.

    Thank god Michelin get involved. That is why all the top teams left Bridgestone for Michelin.

    Schumacher’s records should all have an disclaimer next to them or better yet they should all be taken away like other sports have taken away titles and championships when cheating was found.

  • pfft


  • pfft

    How about 2006?

  • pfft

    Two seconds a lap, eh? Wow!!!!!! Tell me more conspiracy theories and provide proof of your claims. Data showing two second advantage, the first inability of other teams to get access to the same tyre, the proof that Bridgestone (as u claim) illegally broke the rules to secretly provide a different tyre just for schumacher.

    Oddly enough, I agree that they made tyres that suited schumacher’s pointy driving style, but it was no secret. The other teams had access to the same tyres.

    Show me documented proof of anything different, not random comments by employees of rival tyre companies claiming they weren’t allowed to see some tyre data.

    Your move “Proof of schumacher conspiracy bogus numbnuts”

  • Michael Schumacher

    Haha! Michael had inferior bridgestone tyres from 2002, 2003 and 2004 yet blasted all his rivals on all those years!

  • Tamburello_1994

    Somewhat misleading here. The difference from 19 years ago is – that to my knowledge no driver(s) or team(s) are accusing / suspecting Vettel and or Red Bull of any shenanigans, Correct?

    But drag out the old stories for drama sake. I get it.

    Low hanging fruit, back-bencher – conspiracy mongering . . . . Until such time someone can provide some concrete proof. ( A You-tube video is not proof )

  • Imad

    LOL… pathetic, now media is looking into speculation and claiming it as facts, illegal car gizmos and special tires. Jos, is saying how could he be that faster!!!, Well Jos, i will tell you how, when you have a heart and charisma of a champion then you will excel those who are already excellent.

    the only advantage Michael had, was as good in technicals as a mechanic, very enlightened, like a pro mechanic, because of his passion for car racing, so he was involved in all the technicalities of his cars during his F1 career.

    his achievements go beyond some speculations and hateful grudge by.

    When you speak about a governed act of any kind, you must knowledge that the meaning of governed is that this act is under extreme management.

    Don’t go speaking about special tires and other things, the FIA are not morons, and to be far more specific, when it comes to Michael punishment, it will go as hard as it gets on him, because he is German and not a brit.

  • Richard Piers

    I have no doubt that Schumacher was using some form of traction control. At Silverstone he, and only he, was able to accelerate from the complex through Woodcote throughout practice with absolutely no hesitation, throttle regulation or wheelspin.

  • Red Bull Cheats

    My brother worked for Benetton at that time. They had illegal traction control on Schumachers car. A fact.

  • Sam

    Seriously, who writes this crap? Verstappen never suffered “severe burns”! He came out basically unscathed! You need to do your research better, awful mistakes.

  • Max

    Well if there was anything to this it would have been a lot sooner than now as I remember Martin brundle once saying that the teams record the engine sounds as the other teams and now things like rev’s feul loads just from how the engine sounds.

  • KC

    This site needs to figure out what it wants to be – a serious source of F1 news or a crappy tabloid peddling unsubstantiated rumors in an effort to get attention.

  • johnny hates you

    On the net, it’s so super easy for people to type; it’s true… my
    bro, my grandmother worked for Red Bulls… or Ferrari or

    Unless there are solid proof… other than that it’s all bullsh*t.

    Oh…. did I said my cousin worked for Red Bulls, it’s true I design
    that program : )

  • Taskmaster

    I don’t understand anyone who follows F1 still being interested in it if they honestly believe that the only reason top drivers are winning is because they are outright cheaters. The cynicism and the constant accusations without actual facts, evidence beyond opinion, or official finding or protest, is sickening and sad. Senna admitted to being uncomfortable in his car, then gripes about Schumacher being quicker. Well duh. Verstappen had 9 year career in F1 that was never much to write about. His rookie season opinion of Schumacher’s abilities are meaningless at best. Now Minardi, another F1 hack, spewing observations from his suite upon his first visit to Singapore – with zero support or validation. Fuel for the cynical oddballs this sport attracts, and as irrelevant as the rest.

  • Junior_Johnson

    @redbullcheats my brother was also working in benetin on that time and they did not have ilegil tracsion controls on Shu,s car. A fact

  • KC

    “The cynicism and the constant accusations without actual facts, evidence beyond opinion, or official finding or protest, is sickening and sad.”

    A lot of “F1 fans” are not fans of F1, but fanboys of individual drivers. If their idol is losing they have to come up with some explanation (other than “the other guy is better”) to explain it. Most of these comments boil down to “I don’t want to believe Vettel is better than my hero, so he MUST be cheating to win”.

  • Pointy

    Propaganda and innuendo… nothing more! Haters will always hate! Until there is confirmation of any theory it remains nothing but biased self serving speculation!
    Now that the irrelevant and chronically unsuccessful Minardi has raised some question of cheating based on his personal observations alone, we’re treated to stories of past cases of sour grapes and poor sportsmanship by less successful competitors? Well that proves what actually? That losers will often be unwilling to accept the fact that they’ve failed! In this instance even a great champion like Senna was the loser, but his assumptions and hunches remain completely baseless!
    Seb Vettel is the BEST driver, in the BEST car, on the BEST team! PROVE otherwise, or join the group of losers who lack the integrity to accept that they were beaten fair and square!

  • Die hard von schumi

    when you win u dnt need to answer anyone….but when u lose u question everyone…wining is all about wining thats it SCHUMI Rockzzzzz

  • McLarenfan

    My cousins, uncles, best friends, brothers mate said they are all cheats when winning but they are as strait as a die when they are not. and he works for ………………………

  • Red Bull Cheats

    I guess all you idiots don’t know about the number of actual cheating examples in F1 that were theories then proven real? Schumacher’s team mate even admitted to Schumacher having illegal electronic aids on his car. Flavio Britore the cheat ran that team at that time. Sorry your brothers didn’t work for Benetton, mine actually did. But regardless, loads of evidence Schumacher was cheating. When asked to show their software to the FIA they refused! Why do that if you have nothing to hide

  • cosmos

    My message has not appeared?

  • KC

    “When the inspectors got into the Benetton computers, they discovered a hidden programme, and it was dynamite: a programme called Launch Control, which allowed Schumacher to make perfect starts merely by flooring the throttle, the computer then taking over to ensure that the car reached the first corner with no wasteful wheelspin.”

    You know which driver and car in current F1 this sounds like? Alonso and Ferrari. In race after race he qualifies seventh, then makes these incredible starts and is up to second by the first corner. If anybody is using TC, it’s Ferrari and Alonso. It’s high time the FIA inspected that car.

  • cosmos

    Seems that the harder Seb drives into an apex the more assurance he’s got of coming out the other side. Electronic traction control is there an alternative ? you would drive harder if you knew you were defying the odds and assured of success on entry come exit. We have witnessed the squidgy deformable noses, perhaps smart driveshafts, or smart diff gear interactions, even force or pressure related hydraulic systems of a mechanical nature. The favourite has to be clever entire floor exhaust blowing and not just over the monkey seat and rear diffuser.
    Looking forward to 2014 when spent exhaust fumes exit behind the rear wheels ! knowing A***n he will defy the laws of physics, once again..

  • aberracus

    This is the sound of Red Bull Cheating
    “http : // ”

    if the link is removed search youtube for “Unusual engine sound Red Bull Singapore GP”

    Have great time explaining that Vettle Redbull fans…

  • KC

    “This is the sound of Red Bull Cheating”

    No, that is the sound of F1 fans whining that a driver they don’t like is winning.

  • pfft

    @ Redbull cheats

    My brother was doing your mum at the time. She had friction control. A fact.

    Seriously. .. your brother? 20 years ago? He was the head of electech? Are u ralf schumacher? Did they tell the entire team? Why didn’t they go slower after launch control was discvered? Why didn’t jos catch up?

    Can u ask your brother for me?

  • pfft

    @Redbull Cheats

    Jos never admitted anything. He only admitted he couldn’t keep up with schumacher and flavio didn’t want to talk to him.

    Ah, Jos the Boss…. the most untrustworthy violent, piece of trash, sore loser ever to wear a helmet.

    Check his record….

  • LB

    pfft that comment is class! made me laugh, and i totally agree. My dad took bennetton cars to races in 94, and he doesnt know whether they cheated or not! We will never know the truth, and with jos the boss thinking that all he has to do is brake later than schu and he will be faster is laughable, he just got his head wrecked by the speed of schuey, like many a man has.

  • pfft

    @LB Thanks.

    I have followed F1 for 50 years and have worked for a couple of teams based in Britain. No matter what anyone said publicly, most in the know would really marvel at some drivers. Jim Clark was a god-like figure among teams and even among the drivers. Alain Prost was the driver teams wanted racing for them as long as he could keep his mouth shut. Senna was considered to be fast but fragile. At times, particularly when his car wasn’t great we would bet a round of drinks on how long before he pulled a desperado. Schumacher was something else. He wasn’t the fastest over one lap, but he was like a metronome in the race.

    There were a few that thought there were doings afoot in 1994. Most of us thought it had more to do with ride height advantages and active diff, suspension and engine torque control.

    Launch control was used by some teams in testing. It was a way of setting a baseline and then reducing torque in the lower gears as a form of traction control. Completely legal, and clever.

    Around the time it was found, the story was that it was inadvertently left un their after testing. After Senna’s death, people like ron dennis jumped on the bandwagon.

    I guess we’ll never know for sure. Despite all the controversies and disqualifications, schumacher never slowed down. He still won the title (by use of force!) But 1995 confirmed he had risen abive the rest of the herd.

    Schumacher, clark, stewart, prost were the immortals. Senna joined them by virtue of his speed, if not his fragility.

    Alonso has a touch of it. As did hamilton in 2009 when his.mclaren wasn’t too flash. Vettel never wastes an opportunity.He doesnt have the total belief of all f1 fans as he needs a car advantage to get anywhere, but give him that car advantage and he won’t waste a single tenth.

  • farizY

    Provide solid evidence of cheating; please!! Instead of conspiracy theory. If there’s no evidence, please stop whining.

  • Kaush

    This monkey is mad, where was he all this years?? what the f…k is he talking about? unsuccessful idiot.

  • F1 Fan For A Long Time


    Great post. Nice to see that some people don’t come on here to squabble over nothing.

    Points made using intelligence and facts. Thanks.

  • Mark

    So it was a joint conspiracy and Senna paid for it !

  • Hawk

    dont shut the door on your out. we are tired of you whining about the site.. just f..k off

  • Hawk


  • M?dzis

    When you have two biggest cheats ever in F1 together in one team what else can one expect? Cheating to the maximum. Shame that Senna died because of these two cheats. Three year long (2010-2012) misery including 60 consecutive races without a win ended any hopes for one of these cheats to be called All-time Greatest. All-time Most hated yes, but not All-time Greatest. That’s it.

  • M?dzis

    This is ridiculous when Schumacher fans call his title in 1995 as some kind of huge achievement. Benetton-Renault and Williams-Renault were the best, because of Renault engine and because of Byrne and Newey. At the end of 1995, Ross Brawn of Benetton confirmed that Johnny had suffered because the team had concentrated its efforts on Michael Schumacher. In late 1998, reflecting further on his time at Benetton, Johnny told F1 Racing magazine:
    “I never had a problem with Michael – it was the team. He’d ask to stay in the car for another two days at a test and they’d say, ‘Okay Michael, no problem’. At the four day pre-Silverstone test in 1995, when I went on to win the race, I only did half a day’s testing. I think he’d had enough on the final afternoon, so I was allowed in.
    “The trouble all started after I qualified fourth in the first race in Brazil. Then we went on to Argentina, where I was quicker than him in the first session. That night he told the team that he didn’t want me to see his data any more. The next morning he came over to me and said, ‘I’m sure you accept you’ll have secrets from me and I’ll have some from you so you’ll understand if I don’t show you my data in future’. But, of course, he still had access to all of my data. What could I do about it? Nothing. I had no say in the matter.”
    Schumacher is not just a cheat, he is a coward as well!

  • pfft

    @ M’diz

    How did schumacher cause senna’s death. Senna had a long, long history of crashing.

    That’s why he could never outscore prost over a season, despite being generally faster. He just pushed and pushed and regularly pushed too hard….. even while leading.

    To suggest anyone but himself caused him to push that hard thrpugh tamburello even tho he knew the car was bottoming out, is lunacy.

    Schumacher finished ahead of senna in his first full championship (1992), too. As did mansell and patrese. Yet, somehow this never had any effect…..

  • Major Tom

    F1 is a sport where you exploit all rules to maximum.

    The word “cheat” is full of subjective opinions.

    When somebody´s more clever than others it´s sometimes called cheating, sometimes it transforms from cheating to be called smart thinking, like Brawns double floor.

    The only we know by fact is, there´s lot of colored speculations.

    To be the champion you have to beat the champion…simply as that!

  • EMIL

    hey! i donk know if vetel cheat or not, that’s not the point. the point is the world champion title. for me, i like alonso, for many reasons and i dont like to be nr 2 because he had a bad car! maybe he s better that vettel .senna was right at a time.if all have the same car and the enginiers made only aerodinamic work or what ever like gp2 or gp3 ….i donk feel like vettel will be the best after a season. it a good , very good dirver not doubt about that but the car makes him a world champion , and in my opinion it s not wright. and that availible for any time or driver.the balance about the cars is very huge and balance about the drivers its very close….so it s not a egual battle for me…its a mouse cat chase. i like to see vetttel in a ferrari car and alonso in a redbul car…joking but will be nice to see that =)) or to see both in the same car…what ever will be…ferrari or mecedes or renault! battle one on one!
    meanwhile the number one on the tabel point its vettel we have to respect that….but i wait very bad next season!
    ps: i like to see vettel in a bad car strugglin all season to catch alonso….. see how he handle the frustrating situation….ALL SEASON!

  • Major Tom

    Yes I agree, Alonso is a more complete driver than Schumacher was, even if Micahel was a great driver as well.
    Alonso does not lack competitiveness, speed or track cleaverness. On the track Alonso has all what it takes , but you also have to have The car and being capable to create a winning team around you.
    Alonso fails bigtime to create the winning team as was Schumachers trademark. It seems to be the most important aspects of them all.
    Alonsos negativism kind of slips through even though he works hard on hiding it. It spoils and divides the team. His time in Mclaren exposed the true Alonso.
    Therefore i cannot ever picture me Alonso be as great as Schumacher, he just does not have what it takes to be a 7 time world champion and 3 times runner up.

  • Major Tom

    As for the great Senna, what a driver, so skilled and talented on track. This might come as a surprise for most of you but the great Senna did have some weaknesses. In my opinion Senna was a true winner and a dare devil, a risk taker, but his car control was fantastic so he could drive where others did not. But that day in 1994 it finally killed him. He was pushing hard to hard fend off Schumacher but took it too far, he went off and the tragic accident became a fact.
    There is nothing more to it.
    He became a legend and as with all legends, they are untouchables.

  • Slick

    I’ve seen the onboard footage of Senna’s Imola accident about 15 times and it’s pretty obvious that his last steering reflex, turning the wheel did not turn the front wheels = clearly a broken steering column. What does that have to do with whether Benetton used traction control or not? We know, regardless of what the opponents were doing, Senna always pushed at the limit and did so just as hard against the crazy computerized Williams in ’92. He was a passionate, pure and clearly quick driver but let’s not let his charisma and tragic death blur our vision on the facts.

    A broken steering column is the responsibility of his own team, more specifically Patrick Head, who allegedly even welded that very steering column after Senna had requested adjustments before.

  • Max

    What a load of twaddle. Senna was rattled and shown that his emotions got the better of him. He span out at Interlagos under pressure, yes in a difficult car but it shown senna had a weakness to not be able to play percentages when needed. Even at Aida he virtually came to a halt when schumacher got his car ahead at the first corner in an almost shocked reaction.
    It surprises me that still to this day, that the assumption in 1994 senna was completely excused from the fact he was so error prone and that it was all his cars ‘problem’ that he made so many errors. Damon Hill managed quite well to qualify well up there and finish the race in a ‘difficult car’.

  • Pete_77

    To pfft:

    What did you mean by ride height advantages ?

    Do you you know anything more specific about

    1994 aerodynamics and suspension (the design or more practical aspects) ?

    Many thanks for your post.

  • turn it up!

    I’m an engineer, not a race engineer, though, and not a driver… but there’s a simple explanation for Vettel and Schuh being able to go faster through certain corners: downforce.

    The faster you go, the harder the wings press the car against the track surface (the same but oppositely vectored effect as lift for a plane). The speed-downforce effect is non-linear, and what this means is that there are corners where, with the right setup, you can take at 80kmph (because lower downforce means you can’t go faster but this speed is within the car’s limits) and also at 100kmph (because higher downforce holds the car against the surface better so the extra lateral g-force is still held in check)… but take it in between and you’re pasted. Of course, there are still limits because try to take the same corner at 200kmph and the lateral g-force can’t be accommodated by the tyres and downforce and you’ll also be pasted.

    There is a downside, though, which is that the higher downforce and consequent higher allowable lateral g-forces around corners are murder on the tyres (think Mark Webber and the extra “downforce” he gets from simply being a much taller man that Vettel, and chewing through tyres more than his teammate!)

    Schuh would know this from his technical/mechanical interest from his early racing days. Vettel seems a smart cookie and has probably learnt this too. But I recall Vettel being repeatedly told over the radio this year while in front to “not push”; why? so he’d use less downforce and conserve his tyres more.

    Conspiracies: who needs them when physics can explain things far more excellently!