Britain's Johnny Herbert and then his countryman, Martin Brundle, were among those who aquaplaned off the track, helpless passengers in uncontrollable high-speed missiles.
Brundle's car hit a marshal, breaking his leg. It could have been worse. Surely it would be, many feared, if this madness, perpetuated in the name of sport, continued. Had the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger not been a heavy enough price to pay?
The gloom and anxiety of that November afternoon at the Japanese Grand Prix provided a harrowing symbol of the 1994 world championship, and yet out of the darkness and fear emerged a spectacle and contest to illuminate the year.
They did race on, those who could, and reminded a sceptical global audience of their skill as well as their courage. The elements which threatened carnage had conspired to conjure a little magic.
At the front, Michael Schumacher raced with Damon Hill, his sole challenger for the title. Behind them, Nigel Mansell hustled Jean Alesi for third place. Their duels raged through the two-part grand prix, each rising to a nerve-racking climax.
Schumacher, the early leader, lost the lap-time read-out in his Benetton Ford and with it crucial ground in the middle of the race. Committed to an extra pit stop, he trailed Hill by 14.6 seconds with 10 laps remaining.
The German hauled in Hill's Williams Renault, furiously attacking the distinctive figure-of- eight circuit. With three laps left, the gap was 5.2 seconds; with two left it was 4.2; and as they launched into the final lap, it was 2.5.
The battle was finely balanced. Schumacher still had much to make up in 3.641 miles but, since the race was to be decided on aggregate times, he did not have to overtake the Briton on the road.
Hill knew he had to respond to stay ahead and stay in the championship. He produced the lap of his season, perhaps the lap of his life, cajoling his car sideways through the wet, slippery corners. As he crossed the line, Schumacher was not in sight. At last the Benetton arrived - 3.365 seconds down overall. A back marker had slightly hindered Schumacher, yet he had no complaint and ultimately he would, rightly, be crowned champion. However, this improbably glorious day was Hill's.
Mansell, in the other Williams, hounded and harried Alesi's Ferrari for the third place on the podium, a typically extravagant display by one of the great showmen. Alesi yielded at the last, realising - as Mansell did not - that he had enough aggregate time in hand.
At last the 1994 Formula One world championship had given us racing to talk about, a grand prix to savour, and rekindled some dwindling faith.Reuse content