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F1's biggest scandals: 1994 Benetton cheating controversy

The 1994 season was marred by tragedy and controversy in Formula 1, none more so for everyone's favourite pantomime villains Benetton. RacingNews365 takes a look at two scandals that characterised their year.

The images of the Benetton mechanics being engulfed in flames during a routine pit stop at the 1994 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim are some of the most iconic to have come out of Formula 1.

Five mechanics and driver Jos Verstappen suffered burns in the incident, although thankfully nobody had any life threatening or serious injuries as a result.

But what was the cause of the fire? It turned out to be part of one of the accusations of cheating that were levelled against Benetton during that season.

The fuel rig

Following an investigation from the FIA, it was found out that the fuel spillage which prompted the fire, was caused by a valve in its refuelling rig failing to close to due to the presence of a "foreign body."

The FIA and Intertechnique, the company who manufacturered refuelling equipment for all the teams, believed the "foreign body" reached the valve because of a filter.

This filter was designed to eliminate the risk of spillage and had been deliberately removed according to the company in their findings. It later transpired that Benetton removed the filter to increase the fuel flow rate by 12.5%, thus giving them a one-second advantage during their pit stops.

No further action was taken after it was found Benetton removed the filter without the intention of cheating, but a much bigger accusation was gathering storm in the background.

Article continues after image.

Traction control

Allegations of the Benetton using traction control first emerged at the Brazilian GP, when Micheal Schumacher made a pit stop which enabled him to go on to win the race.

Following the tragic race weekend at Imola, the FIA asked Benetton, Ferrari, and McLaren to provide copies of their engine management system source code to see if a traction control system was being stored.

Both McLaren and Benetton missed the deadline and were fined $100,000 by the governing body, while the latter had to direct the FIA to engine provider Cosworth as they did not have permission from them to provide it.

Analysis was also made on the black boxes and found that a "launch control" system was in the software, after it included a hidden trigger system. The investigation showed that it could be triggered by a PC and that it was an option that was not 'visible' known as 'Option 13'.

The team later admitted the existence of the code, but claimed that it could not be activated by Schumacher. The FIA had no proof it was being used, so no further action was taken.

"The best evidence is that Benetton Formula Ltd was not using 'launch control' at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix," said the FIA.

The aftermath

In the aftermath the FIA admitted that it had trouble scrutinising driver aids on the cars, with a decision later being made to permit traction control, launch control and automatic transmissions in 2001.

Launch control and automatic gearboxes were later banned again in 2004 with teams now required to use identical ECU units from 2008, which prevents them from concealing traction control and other electronic driver aids.

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