On this day 24 years ago Jos Verstappen’s Benetton became engulfed in a horrific ball of flames during a pit stop. The team were subsequently blamed for causing the fire because they had removed a filter from their refuelling equipment. Some have argued that wasn’t the reason for the fire and actually what happened was cloaked in secrecy.
Within his first book – 1994: The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial Season – Ibrar Malik investigates this and the various other mysteries from that fateful season. Aaron Lloyd Collins interviewed the Formula One fan turned book author.
Ibrar Malik replicates Michael Schumacher’s famous victory leap. Photo Courtesy of Ibrar Malik.
On the surface, 36-year-old Ibrar Malik from St. Albans in Hertfordshire comes across as a regular Formula One fan, and works full-time in property management.
However, for the last couple of years, Ibrar has been talking to various personnel involved in the 1994 Formula One season ahead of the book’s scheduled release in January 2019, containing exclusive insights and previously unseen F1 photography.
“Firstly, I’m a total Formula One geek,” Ibrar chuckled, “So my main hobbies revolve around racing, such as racing simulators, watching old races and reading F1 books.”
“Outside of that, the history of World War Two and the Cold War is another interest of mine, as I find it important to learn the lessons of history.”
“I enjoy long walks whilst listening to music. My tastes depend on what mood I’m in – old school rock by Jimi Hendrix or the Red Hot Chili Peppers for example, would pump me up for a race on the sim or a workout, whereas music with a more chilled vibe is better for when I’m working or doing housework.”
Ibrar started watching Formula One in the early 90’s, which included the now infamous 1994 season.
As you’d expect, Ibrar has been hooked ever since and recalls it well:
“I vividly remember when [Roland] Ratzenberger and [Ayrton] Senna died, and the massive media hysteria afterwards questioning whether the sport was too dangerous.”
“As a 12-year-old kid, I didn’t understand all the subsequent politics but I remember thinking ‘F1 drivers must have been extremely brave and loved what they did to carrying on despite the risks involved.’”
“And with the incidents involving [Karl] Wendlinger and the pit stop fire at Hockenheim that followed, you couldn’t escape F1 being the news.”
“That, and the emerging rivalry between [Michael] Schumacher and [Damon] Hill attracted me to the sport.”
“I remember watching the ’94 Japanese GP and just being awe-inspired by those last few laps; nail biting doesn’t even come close!”
“I’d pretend to be in the cockpit of a Williams whilst sat in bed, with my knees raised, the blanket over them, and a plate as my steering wheel.”
“Most of my childhood was spent playing racing games, like Grand Prix 2 on the PC; That was when I was bitten hard by the racing bug; In fact, I broke a few keyboards, from having pressed the accelerator key too much!”
“I tried to stay up for the finale in Adelaide but I couldn’t, and when I woke up the next morning, I saw the collision between the two of them repeated on the news. I was angry with myself for not being able to watch the race live.”
“I haven’t missed a race since, although I haven’t been as interested in recent years because the engine sounds or the tracks don’t excite me like they used to in the 1990’s, and still do whenever I re-watch old races.”
From this, the passion Ibrar has for Formula One began to come through and why he fell in love with it.
This came across further when Ibrar discussed his favourite F1 driver, Jean Alesi:
“My childhood hero was Jean Alesi, and my favourite race of his was the 1995 Japanese Grand Prix; classic Alesi, wasn’t it?”
Jean Alesi en route to his only Formula One win aboard the Ferrari 412 T2 at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix. Photo Courtesy of Rick Dikeman via Wikipedia Commons.
Ibrar describes Jean Alesi as a rough diamond, adding “He had all the talent in the world, but he sometimes showed the intelligence of a deep pan pizza.”
“Doing a silly jump start and then putting in a mesmerising drive to claw his way back, only for the Ferrari engine to fail.”
“Living in the UK, I used to stay up all night to watch the flyaway races live and had a paper round after they’d finished. I was completely buzzing from Alesi’s performance after that particular race.”
“My friends used to give me stick for being an Alesi supporter as he only ever won one Grand Prix (the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix) and occasionally did silly things.”
“But for me he was exciting to watch, as you never knew if he would be driving an amazing next race or do something stupid, like running out of fuel.”
“But I’m not one of those blind fans, as I know Alesi had many faults – my blog post highlights a few of them.”
“That is why I would never try and convince others of his abilities. I believe it is up to them to discover these themselves. That is when I feel you can claim to be a true fan of someone – when you acknowledge their faults, yet you still admire them in spite of this.”
“He was before my time but Gilles Villeneuve was another driver I hero worshipped because he’d always go for the win, rather settle for second or third.”
“You watch Formula One to see amazing drivers do things normal people couldn’t do, like the overtakes Gilles pulled at the French Grand Prix in 1979.”
“They’re not statistically the best drivers, but I reckon many would struggle to replicate what Gilles or Jean could sometimes do on a racetrack.”
“I like Max Verstappen for similar reasons, but I think the media should let him learn from his mistakes on his own.”
“I used to like [Kimi] Rӓikkӧnen in the 2000’s after seeing him at Spa in 2002 go through a massive smoke cloud at the top of Eau Rouge flat out when other drivers were lifting off [the throttle].”
“It’s moments like that, or when [Fernando] Alonso went around the outside of Schumacher at the 130R corner in Japan, that register with me.”
Moving onto the forthcoming book, Ibrar stated that one of the main reasons he chose to focus on the 1994 season was how it differed to previous years:
“Looking back now, 1994 was a landmark year for Formula One in so many respects. Firstly, it was the changing point from the Prost v Senna era to the Schumacher v Williams era, and under the backdrop of a global financial crisis this new F1 era needed to produce the goods, commercially.”
“To some, that meant having a German world champion, whereas to others, that meant ensuring a close, exciting championship battle.”
“Then the tragic accidents forced the safety of the sport to improve, but the manner in which those changes happened was questionable.”
The wreckage of Ayrton Senna’s crash at Tamburello which claimed the Brazilian’s life during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Photo Courtesy of Morio via Wikipedia Commons.
This resulted in a fallout between some teams and the FIA (all explained within the book), and following accusations of cheating certain rules and procedures needed tighten up.”
“For instance, at the start of the year there was no clear definition over what a driver aid was, and therefore what was banned under the new for 1994 rules. This led to confusion as teams and the FIA interpreting things differently, hence the many allegations afterwards.”
“ F1 learnt important lessons from that year, about airing its dirty linen in public or how to adapt to a more safety conscious world – a trend which continues to this day.”
“These lessons, and others should never be forgotten. Hence why I believe 1994 was an important year in F1 and its history needs to be recorded correctly whilst those involved are still around.”
“I’ve always visited F1 fan forums, and this book arose because there are constant debates, rumours and accusations about the various events from that year.”
“The problem with those forums are people tended to dismiss certain information based on whether they support Senna or Schumacher.”
“So, I felt the best way to unravel this subject was by analysing the various accusations as the 1994 season unfolded, race by race in a book.”
“This way the readers will relive events as they unfolded, race-by-race, which may help them appreciate things like the problems caused over driver aids ban etc.”
“Furthermore, readers will be given all the information to allow them to sort fact from fiction themselves and unlike an internet forum, there is no chance of them getting involved in an argument in the process.”
“Whatever your stance is regarding the 1994 events, I think everyone can agree the politics at play that year were complicated. This is why for the last few years, I’ve been determined to find out the truth about the 1994 season, which has led to this book.”
Schumacher was banned or disqualified from a quarter of 1994 races due to various rule infringements. Politics or cheating? Here, he is pictured celebrating a dominant win at the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix. Photo Courtesy of Willem Toet.
Whilst organising interviews for the book, Ibrar also read some existing Formula One books to understand what elements he should focus on:
Life in The Fast Lane by Steve Matchett – “Whilst this book briefly touches on the cheating accusations, they are told from Benetton’s point of view, therefore it could be construed as biased.”
Moreover, the book was originally released in 1995, and although it was updated in 2014, it doesn’t discuss some recent revealations on the subject .”
The Death of Ayrton Senna by Richard Williams – “This book only touches on the Benetton cheating allegations, and because Senna was convinced Schumacher had illegal traction when he died, this book supports that view.”
“My book analyses those arguments in more detail, and my findings are backed up by sources
Michael Schumacher: The Edge of Greatness by James Allen – “This barely touches upon the Benetton cheating allegations.”
“For instance, it provides minimal coverage of the Hockenheim fuel fire investigation and the subsequent aftermath.”
“Nor does it discuss any of the other controversies from 1994 which involved Ferrari and McLaren, or whether the banning of driver aids was a contributing factor to the fatal crashes of Senna and Ratzenberger.”
“It’s solely focused on Schumacher’s career, and one gets the impression his controversial moments, such as 1994, have been intentionally brushed over.”
“All the above books along with others currently available only offer one piece of this jigsaw puzzle.”
“My book collates those jigsaw pieces whilst adding many new ones, and allows the reader to decide for themselves what picture they see.
“Once the forgotten facts and exclusive findings contained within my book are released to the public, it will undoubtedly ignite debates amongst the F1 community, hopefully helping to resolve the 1994 mysteries once and for all.”
“No book like this currently exists about the 1994 Formula One season.”
As Ibrar uncovered more about the 1994 Formula One season in his research, the more it effected his approach of the subject at hand:
“I don’t want to give away too much of my opinion on 1994, since people on the opposing side will use that to claim the book biased, which I’ve worked hard to ensure it is not.”
“In fact, my best contributors have been those who disagreed with me, because they force you to look at things differently. “
“I am a fan of facts and I personally believe the facts within the book tell a powerful story in themselves, so I’d be interested to see if readers pick up on this.”
“I believe the best way to find out how true an allegation is, is by analysing it in detail. This will result in it either it stands up to scrutiny or that allegation falling apart like a cheap suit.”
“This is what the book does with all the 1994 controversies, whilst also including fresh insights from those involved in the story.”
Frank Dernie (pictured in 1993 wearing glasses alongside Benetton driver Riccardo Patrese) was Benetton’s chief engineer in 1994 and has provided unique insight within the book. Photo Courtesy of Antony John Dennis
“Like him or not, and despite all the problems with his heat of the moment decision making, [Michael] Schumacher was one of our sport’s greatest ever drivers and Benetton in the mid 1990’s was punching above its weight.”
“If their 1994 successes were achieved legally, then F1 fans must credit them rather than accuse. If on the other hand there is truth behind these accusations, then out of respect to Ayrton Senna then that truth must be known.”
“In my full-time job, in property, you’re taught to go where the facts take you, which is exactly how I’ve approached this book.”
“I’m neither a Schumacher nor Senna fan, so I’ve tried to stay as unbiased as possible within the book and simply stick to the facts.” “Where debatable points exist, readers are given both sides to the argument along with any corresponding evidence.”
“I have also changed my mind on certain things since writing the book, and learnt to appreciate the opposing opinions on the 1994 campaign much more. Perhaps readers might do so as well.”
“Hence the book’s motto; ‘there is no point having a mind unless you’re willing to change it.’”
“At the end of the day, this book is not about my opinions on these events.”
“Sure, I do give them where it may add value to what’s being discussed and I make it clear that it is only my opinion.”
“Instead, the book is the result of an F1 geek who has devoted the last few years to acquiring and reading all the magazines, books and internet sources covering this subject.”
“Furthermore, I’ve interviewed various key figures employed by Benetton, Ford Electronics and Williams.”
“In addition, I’ve studied and re-studied all the on-track action from 1994, because ‘common sense’ evidence is often forgotten when discussing this subject.”
“This book is the fruits of all that hard work and research.”
One of those key figures Ibrar managed to interview is Willem Toet, Benetton’s head of Aerodynamics for the 1994 Formula One season who has given some unique insights:
Willem Toet (pictured here in 1993) is another major contributor towards the book. Photo Courtesy of Willem Toet.
“I first emailed him in 2016”, Ibrar explained. “I told him how mind-blowing I was finding this subject and that I was thinking of writing a book about it.”
“He was kind enough to respond, and I sat on the book idea for a year hoping it might go away.”
“It didn’t, so I realised the only way to get it out of my system was to start writing it. If I’m honest I was kind of hoping I’d start writing the book, and after a week or two, I might get bored of it all and get back to my normal life.”
“But it was quite the opposite; the more mind-blowing stuff I unearthed, the more determined I became to ensure this was brought into the public domain.”
“If the content of the book wasn’t good, I wouldn’t have taken a sabbatical from my day job purely to write it. I’m sure readers will be equally as blown away with the content as the publishers and myself have been.”
“One of the book’s biggest exclusive findings is what Senna may have heard at Aida on Schumacher’s car.”
“It is a new, previously undiscussed theory which is supported by Willem Toet and certain telemetry traces.”
“Furthermore, I’m also seeking a second ‘big name’ contributor to give their opinion on this and am interviewing Mark Blundell about it soon; I believe it will explain a lot of surrounding the various rumours.”
“My every waking moment from now until January 2019 is to ensure the book is as good as it possibly can be. Because this is my debut book; I’m acutely aware that you only get one chance to make a good impression!”
“If this book does well, it may even tempt me into writing a second book, on a subject which would be a good follow up to this.”
“With this book being released on the 25th anniversary of the 1994 season, the length of time passed is also the reason why key contributors have used this book to speak openly about the allegations, much more than previously.”
Earlier this February, Motorsport Magazine held a podcast with Williams Heritage and amongst the questions was one regarding a Benetton test held at Pembrey in 1994:
“It was actually me who asked the original question on that Motorsport podcast, which led to that revelation. I also know what happened to the Renault recordings of the [Benetton] B194.”
“Since February I have been investigating these accusations by Jonathan Williams (son of team owner, Sir Frank Williams) and obviously discuss my findings within the book.”
“One of my contributors is someone who worked for a company contracted to Ford Electronics within Benetton in 1994 – who I hope to name within the book. – What he has to say about that Pembrey test is really interesting.”
“In light of that, my mind has changed. But again, I don’t want to give away what it has changed from and too.”
“As you may appreciate I need to leave the juicy bits for the book.”
On top of the exclusive insights, Ibrar’s book will also feature never seen before photos from the 1994 Formula One Season.
But how difficult has it been to exclude content?
“I could write two books on this subject, because that’s how passionate I am about it.”
“The book has been redrafted and revised at least five times now, but it currently comes out to about 15,000 words over the ideal amount the publishers (Performance Publishing) wanted to see.”
“So, some of my upcoming blogs are likely to contain material which was omitted from the published book.”
“It’s the same with photos. “I currently have around 285 that I’ve proposed to put into the book.”
“But the publishers were looking at a figure closer to 200 photos.”
Many of the upcoming book’s photos are rare, like this one of Benetton in 1993 undertaking start practice at the Lurcy Levis airfield in France. Photo courtesy of Antony John Dennis
“Whilst it’s difficult from a personal perspective to omit things, if it makes the book’s narrative flow better, easier to read, understand, then that is the most important thing.”
“And that is where the publishers’ professionalism comes into play.”
As you can imagine, Ibrar has faced many legal issues in regarding permission to use certain material in the book given the controversy and politics involved:
“For such a controversial subject, legal issues are going to be a big challenge.”
“However, as someone who has always has a considerable interest in the history of motor racing, I believe it is important that the events of the 1994 Formula One season are recorded as accurately as possible.”
“That is what I have intended to do within this book and why I’m getting it fact checked by several people who were involved in the heart of the action.”
“The biggest challenge has been getting a publisher involved. Performance Publishing always ensure that any book they take on will be a high quality, professional product.”
“It is also extremely rare that an unknown author like myself is ‘traditionally published’, which underlines how amazing the content is.”
“I started contacting publishers at the end of 2017, and got rejected more than 30 times which was very stressful at times.”
“From that process, I learnt how important it is to build up an author platform and show your potential readers that you know your subject.”
“Since March 2018, I’ve been writing blog posts on my website (www.1994f1.com) – which are usually released at the beginning of each month. So far, they’ve been well received and each month, more websites such as Essaar are willing to post these blogs on their respective sites.”
“They will only get better over time, as we get closer to the book’s anticipated release date of January 2019 and the blog post for August* is an especially funny one.”
“Another challenge was sending hundreds of emails whilst attempting to organise interviews and only receiving a few replies.”
“But if you have a passion for something, you just keep going. Persistence, organisation and passion for the subject you are writing about are absolutely vital if you’re going to write a book.”
“You have to remember that the 1994 controversies are an immensely complicated subject, like a jigsaw puzzle.”
“If you only see part of the picture, then it’s easy to conclude one thing; in contrast, once consideration is given to other factors then a different and much more interesting picture might emerge.”
“The book merely presents you with all the jigsaw pieces you need, what picture you see at the end is left up to you. That is important to overcome any legal challenges.”
Ibrar Malik’s book, 1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season, is due for release in January 2019.
If you are interested in reading Ibrar’s F1 blogs and want to find out more about his book, please visit his website, www.1994f1.com.
Alternatively, you can register at http://www.1994f1.com/contact/to receive automatic updates.