A quarter of a century ago

Michael’s first World Championship

A quarter of a century ago

There are those moments in sport when people become co-winners because they can join in the excitement at night. At the boxing fights of Muhammad Ali, the Grand Slam victories of Boris Becker – and Michael’s first World Champion title 25 years ago.

The 1994 Australian Grand Prix on the streets of Adelaide is one of those races for eternity. For Michael, the weekend begins down under, which is set to become one of the most important of his career, with a violent crash in training. On the grid, his Benetton is in a Williams sandwich. In front of him on pole position Nigel Mansell, behind him the title rival Damon Hill. Again one of those famous British-German duels in sport. Showdown!

In fact, a legendary Grand Prix will take place on this 13th of November. Only one point ahead of Hill and 81 laps under the Australian sun. Michael immediately takes the lead, Hill gets stuck in the rear. A wild hunt begins. In lap 36, after a lap manoeuvre, the Benetton slips off the track. “I thought, now the title is with the devil”, Michael remembers. The right front wheel touches a wall, somehow he manages to bring the car back onto the road despite the bent suspension. The tires full of grass and dirt just slip. He desperately tries to catch the car again, Hill shoots at him from behind. With the instinct of the racing driver and according to the rule that the curve belongs to the driver in front, Michael defends the ideal line. Hill wants to force his way past the inside, but there’s already a crash. The Benetton slides into the tyre pile, the rival continues.

A collective groan can be heard in the German living rooms. For the completely disappointed driver behind the fence, dramatic minutes begin: “They were unbelievable moments, I was completely disbanded. I didn’t know what had happened to Damon, but I knew that it shouldn’t be a problem for him to catch up with the one point lead I had.” He only understands the track talker in bits and pieces, and at some point he picks up something of a puncture at Hill. Michael waits to see if his rival will pass again, but he waits in vain. The front suspension of the Williams is bent.

Hill’s out, Schumi Champion. He only understands when a marshal congratulates him. But he can’t really understand it. What an end to a dramatic season. Eight victories in 16 races, and then one failure to become world champion. “I didn’t know anything anymore, I didn’t know if I should be happy, all my feelings were totally mixed. It was terrible out there, but it was indescribable when it was finally clear,” says Michael about the emotional roller coaster, “although I was so confused at the time that I couldn’t really put it into perspective.”

Michael has achieved what no German has ever achieved before – to be the first German to win the crown in the premier class. The Formula 1 world is upside down, and even at home the fans are slowly beginning to realise: We are world champions!