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The aftermath of Imola 1994: Knee-jerk reactions and more big accidents

Formula One, still reeling from Imola 1994, may have staggered through Monaco but the reality would hit home in the more workaday world of the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks after that.

In the absence of any obvious reasons for Ayrton Senna's fatal crash, something had to be seen to be done in the face of mounting criticism, much of it driven by emotion rather than reason. Cornering speeds had to be reduced, and, in equally simple terms, downforce would be slashed by minimizing nose wings and crudely chopping the rear diffuser in half -- with immediate effect.

Predictable unease among the 14 teams was accelerated into nervous indignation when Pedro Lamy had a colossal accident at Silverstone when testing his Lotus Mugen-Honda in the latest guise. The car had gone out of control at an estimated 150 mph, crashed into a debris fence and wall before what was left of the chassis flew into the spectator area and landed in the entrance to a tunnel. The 22-year-old Portuguese driver broke both kneecaps and a thigh. The fact that no onlookers were present and Lamy had survived did nothing to quell the mounting unease.

Even though the exact cause of the accident was unclear, the scary circumstances had been enough to prompt a campaign against Max Mosley and his emergency technical reforms. Flavio Briatore, never a fan of the FIA President, seized the moment when the teams gathered in the Barcelona paddock.

In a letter to Mosley (which Flavio 'helpfully' leaked to the media), the Benetton boss claimed the F1 cars in their current state were untested and therefore dangerous. The FIA responded that if the Benettons were unsafe, they contravened the regulations and should be withdrawn immediately.

Meanwhile, very few cars ventured onto the track for first practice thanks to most of the team principals holding a private meeting. And of the cars that did go out, one of them crashed. Heavily.

The fact that it was a Simtek-Ford (driven by Andrea Montermini, making his F1 debut after the loss of Roland Ratzenberger at Imola) added emotion to a shocking accident. The Italian had lost it coming out of the very quick final corner, hit the barrier on the left and ended up with his feet protruding from the front of the damaged chassis. By an unfortunate coincidence, the Simtek had come to rest directly under the nose of Damon Hill, standing with the Williams-Renault crew at the pit wall.

I was among the posse of British journalists keen to talk to Hill immediately afterwards. Pale, drawn and unable to speak in his usual lucid manner, he had clearly been through the wringer ever since Imola. Never mind the colossal, unexplained loss of his team leader, Hill had dealt with finding Ayrton's T-shirt and overalls still hanging in the changing area in the Williams truck at Monaco (a detail easily overlooked in all the desperate aftermath) and then crashed out as the sole Williams entry on the first lap.

He had come to Barcelona knowing that the Renault hierarchy had made little effort to conceal a haughty lack of confidence in the Englishman as the new No.1. The Williams had been difficult enough to drive at the best of times, never mind taking a hacksaw to its delicate parts. And now this; yet another big shunt. Small wonder he was lost for words.

There was more. Keen to have their say, the drivers had demanded the insertion of a chicane before what was known as Nissan Curve (no longer in existence but located after what had been a much faster Turn 9 at Campsa). The chicane was no more than piles of tires lashed together; a crude device by any standards, and one which, predictably, would cause more trouble than it was worth as drivers began to hit it. All in all, the mood had become so tense that rumours of the race being cancelled were easy to believe.

In the event, Round 5 of the championship took place at the appointed hour. Briatore had provided the FIA with an assurance that the Benetton-Ford was safe, and Michael Schumacher was probably grateful for it when he led from pole, followed by Hill.

The Englishman was finally about to receive some luck when the Benetton became stuck in fifth, allowing Hill to give himself and Williams their first win in what had been a dreadful season thus far.

Hill's gritty drive had come 26 years after his father gave Lotus victory at Jarama a few weeks after the death of Jim Clark. Graham Hill went on to win the championship in 1968: Damon would lose out by a single point. But in each particular moment in Spain, father and son had given their respective teams a morale-boosting victory when it was needed most.