Thursday April 28th, 11:25 am. The Hawker 800 with Senna on board, his brother Leonardo, Julian Jacobi and Marie Ubirayara lands on the very short runway of the Paduan airport.
Deus Armand, with his Sony on his shoulder, frames the Hawker 800 with the camera, which stops in the square of the Paduan airport for Rede O Globo. The program is calculated by the minute: Ayrton must first visit the Carraro factory, then he must rush to the Sheraton for the presentation of the mountain bikes, before flying to Imola.
About fifty meters from the Hawker is the white and blue Agusta 109 of the Alpi Eagles, with the blades already in motion. Deus Armand continues to film Ayrton inside the helicopter, while talking with the photographer Koike and with Enrico Cuman who does the honors of the house.
Five minutes of flight, then the landing on the grassy square of the factory.
Ayrton descends from the helicopter ladder and with a wave of his hand greets a hundred people waiting for him, mostly employees of the company who want to see him and say hello.
Green jacket, white shirt and trousers, cashmere tie, Ayrton walks slowly surrounded by people; he does not want to escape from hugs and on the contrary he stops to talk, shakes the hands of those present and signs autographs.
Immediately after, the Carraros invite him to visit the factory and the assembly lines from which the bicycles signed by Senna will come out, which he follows curiously and listens attentively when they explain the construction methods. Meanwhile, Betise Assunçao, Ayrton's precious and inseparable press agent, wanders nervously in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel.
Suitcases always in hand, press rooms and planes chosen as their home, Betise's job is to take care of Ayrton's image, plan appointments and interviews, write reports and send them late in the evening, via computer, to the headquarters of the Senna Promoçoes. Betise however has never liked the frenzy of Formula 1:
"If it wasn't for him, I would never live in this shit of the world. I'm sick of this Formula 1".
Above all, he has always detested rivalries, lies, hypocrisies, distinctive sovereigns in the world of Formula 1. But Ayrton is different from the others, for Betise, and that is why he tries not to think about it and to overcome stress and anger, as well as being efficient and caring shoulder to the Brazilian driver at any time of the day, for three hundred and sixty-five days a year, twenty-four hours a day. An obscure but extremely precious work.
She also arrived in Padua on time, on Tuesday April 26th, to prepare for Ayrton's visit. Together with Celso Lemos, manager of the holding contracts, Betise, before going to Imola, was responsible for closely following the organization of the press conference for the presentation of the mountain bikes, produced by Cicli Carraro at Saccolongo, which will carry the Senna brand.
So Betise takes a look at the Mantegna room of the Sheraton hotel, where the presentation is scheduled, a check of the press kits in the printing house, a retouching of the schedule of meetings and timetables. Previously, he had spent a day and a half side by side with Enrico Cuman, owner of the advertising agency Il Cornice in Bassano del Grappa, and with Andrea and Enrico Carraro, of the bicycle manufacturer. As painstaking and a perfectionist as her employer, Betise has prepared everything to perfection.
When a little later the sound of the helicopter landing is heard, an emotional electric discharge goes off for Betise and for the three hundred people who are waiting for Ayrton. A part of the present group runs out to see him arrive, another looks for accommodation in the first rows of the large congress hall.
At the entrance to the hotel, Ayrton grabs the bike they give him and enters the room amid applause. With his sweet chant, he relaxes and hypnotizes the audience, until a girl asks him if Ferrari is still part of his plans:
"Since I was a child it has always been my dream. I wanted to become a driver and I succeeded. I wanted to become world champion and I managed to achieve this goal too. With Ferrari I went very close but, at the last moment, I am not I managed to make the engagement. So I did it because a good dream must not spoil. In order not to ruin anything, the wedding must take place at the most opportune moment. It would make no sense to drive a Ferrari and take three seconds in the race. The victory it would be just an illusion. And in Formula 1 there is no room for illusions".
Ayrton remains under the gun for an hour of questions, he also tells the story of the yellow bicycle he so desired and which was the first gift of his life:
"I was four years old and I had seen that bicycle in a shop window. After a few days I took my father Milton there to buy it. I played with it a lot. How many rides and how many tumbles. I was so fond of my yellow bicycle that I continued on to use it even when I was grown up and I was having a hard time pedaling. With friends we did strange races. Whoever came last won. My surplaces were endless. I was skilled, I went very slowly".
The representatives of the specialized Italian press, that group of twenty-five or thirty people who generally follow all the Grand Prix, snubbed this presentation; they would see him in Imola later. Only a few representatives of the local press are present, together with a Milanese journalist, Carlo Grandini, who occasionally follows Formula 1, with which Senna had particularly connected in recent years; at the end of the conference, in a private room it is Carlo Grandini who will collect what will become Ayrton Senna's last words outside the Imola circuit. The journalist begins by asking what expectations he has for the Grand Prix that will be held in Imola a few days later. Ayrton replies:
"From Imola a new life. It is the starting point to make up again. Difficult but possible. It is about combining a great job with Renault mechanics and engineers to optimize the modifications we are studying: the car needs to improve its balances. We at Williams have accused some problems that I hope will never recur".
"Imola is a fast track, where the power of the Renault 10-cylinder engine should help me. It could change the values expressed so far. The races are unpredictable, but I certainly can't go wrong at Imola. The championship is not over. I really want to win. After all, you always want to win, but sometimes the races are unpredictable. Michael is a great talent, he has a very fast car and he deserved his successes. Now it's up to the others to fight him, starting with me. As long as I feel motivated I will try to honor my personal tradition. Michael is talented, but there is. they are other talented young people who do not have a car as fast as yours".
"We are experiencing a phase of natural generational change that must be accepted and which, however, involves a negative point for the interest of Formula 1. They are young talents, but the characters like Mansell, Patrese, even Prost have disappeared. People of charisma able to excite and promote the show. Apart from the Ferrari case, which is unique, people do not cheer for a car, they cheer for a driver who with his character, his style, his way of dominating the car to drive at the finish line. If the man with a capital U fails, the interest, the motivation, the urge to follow the races also falls away. And here today we are poor".
At 2:00 pm Ayrton is still in Padua, so he arrives late in Imola. Arrived at the circuit, he takes a lap in the pits, stops to chat with Frank Williams and Patrick Head and then goes out, ready to go to a small hotel that for six years he has continued to frequent, in a nearby village, Castel San Pietro. But first, he has an important appointment.
Few people know, in fact, that every time Ayrton goes to Imola, even for tests, he regularly visits an exceptional friend in the local hospital: Massimo, a boy of just over twenty years. Massimo has been stationary in a room in the Imola hospital for more than a year after he fell into a coma following a motorcycle accident.
Motionless, the only things that make him react are the photos of the Brazilian driver. Ayrton often goes to see him and every time for ten long minutes he starts talking, sure that this stimulates the boy's reactions. Massimo's mother assures that whenever Ayrton visits her son, with whom he has developed a special conversation through his fingers, he reacts in an incredible way. And Ayrton, tireless, continues to speak. This is what will be discovered a few days later.
First, however, Ayrton has to face accusations that rain down on him: he begins to be seen as a driver who has reached the end of his career, now established and no longer hungry for victories, despite having publicly declared:
"I do not race for glory or for money. I race because I like to be a driver. My job gives me an infinite amount of emotions. And these are nothing more than a reflection of the love I have for racing. When not. I win I feel stuck, like I'm sick".
The issue of Autosport dated April 21, 1994 is entitled: Michael 20, Ayrton 0.
And a week later, under a photo of Ayrton portrayed with a worried air, Autosport writes: Can Senna withstand the pressure? Ayrton now has assets of over $ 40 million. On the other hand, the Brazilian knows how to do business, over the years he has accumulated real estate properties, including houses, palaces, villas, palaces in San Paolo, in Higienopolis, in Tatuì, in the continental country, in Andra dos Reis, its marine paradise, in Portugal; bought a helicopter, a plane, speedboats, a Ford dealership and an Audi; kicked off the Senninha comic book project, worth $ 4 million a year; trades and buys exclusives of everything, including electrical appliances, motorcycles and bicycles; and has life insurance with Lloyds, which according to the Financial Times amounts to 25.000.000 lire.
By the end of 1994, Ayrton's businesses are expected to close with total sales of $ 70 million. It is undoubtedly also true that Ayrton has not suddenly become a slow driver, or that he does not want to race just because he has built up an excellent heritage in the meantime.
The truth is that not even Ayrton expected such a disastrous start to the championship, with Schumacher twenty points behind after the first two races and with an almost unmanageable Williams FW16, because as his designer Adrian Newey admitted, the sudden change of regulations has unexpectedly put him in crisis.
The FW16 is sensitive to ground clearance, and when the Williams engineers tried to lower the nose of the car, they noticed that the car suffers from a stalling crisis of the underside, which leads to a decrease of downforce. In addition, the sides of the car are too long.
In short, the car so far has been unmanageable, certainly not due to the poor quality of the driver, yet, as mentioned, there is no lack of criticism around Ayrton. For this reason, the weekend in Imola, a circuit where he has already won three times in his career, is now a crucial junction for his season: there are those who say that Imola represents almost a last resort for his World Championship.
Thus began the last trip to Imola for Ayrton Senna.
On Friday April 29, 1994, at 1:00 pm, the first qualifying hour begins. Before starting the tests, Ayrton, with great honesty, talks to his mechanics and tells them that the championship starts from this race, and to stop thinking about what happened in previous occasions. Then he gets on the track.
The Brazilian has an agreement with Elf to perform a lap of the track via radio link, during which he would describe all the actions he would have taken along the way, and which would be used by French television TF1, where Prost is the technical commentator for the race. After the launch round, before starting he exclaims:
"Before starting I would like to say hello to my dear friend Alain. Alain, I miss you! We all miss you".
A phrase that, as told in the following years, caught The Professor off guard, but not that much, for the simple fact that this was not the first time in which Ayrton expressed himself in such terms towards him.
"In Imola, Ayrton recorded a video with Elf during which he was supposed to drive around the circuit and describe it through the microphone in his helmet. Ayrton began by saying that phrase, which I discovered when the TF1 guys showed it to me. It was a really nice one moment".
Then the fear. Low variant, 1:15 pm, a quarter of an hour after the start of the first qualifying round. Barrichello's Jordan flies at over 200 km/h against protective barriers. The driver lost control of the car, which took off on the curb and shattered against the safety net, above the heaps of tires placed to protect in front of the wall; then, after making two rotations in the air, it practically disintegrated.
"A real bomb. We got scared, we honestly thought the pilot was dead".
So tell some spectators seated on the VIP grandstand, positioned right in front of the lower variant that precedes the arrival straight. Rescue is very prompt, both doctors and firefighters arrive in a moment. The overturned Jordan is turned by hand with such haste that a few hours later it will lead to the ferocious indignation of Italian journalists, who will accuse the commissioners of having acted too hastily. Yet it is not so, quite the contrary.
Precisely the medical provisions indicate that it is better to cause a spinal injury than to leave the pilot in a possible condition of suffocation. And being the car overturned, it is difficult to understand the conditions of the driver. For a few terrible minutes we see the young 22-year-old Brazilian immobile in the cockpit, covered by a lot of blood present especially on the entire face.
With all the necessary precautions, after his tongue has been released, which was rolled up inside his mouth and has been intubated to allow him to breathe better, the rescuers immediately proceed to free the pilot.
Urgently loaded into an ambulance, Barrichello is transported to the super-equipped rescue center. Here other moments of feverish waiting and then, after a quarter of an hour, Dr. Giuseppe Piana, head of the medical service, provides the first, comforting news:
"We subjected Barrichello to an X-ray of the cervical spine and then to a brain CT scan which excluded traumatic lesions in the brain. Now he will be transported by helicopter to the Ospedale Maggiore in Bologna for other tests. In our opinion he should be under observation for fourty eight hours. As a prognosis, for safety, he is in any case excluded from the tests and from the race".
Later, more good news arrives from the hospital. Basically, apart from the shock, the very lucky Rubens only reported a fractured nose, plus bruises to one hand and ribs:
"In all likelihood I came a little too long and maybe I touched the curb with a rear wheel, or maybe there was oil on the track. The fact is that I got too fast to the racing point and I could not turn or turn to slow down sufficiently. I still have carved in my mind the moment when, after taking off on the outer curb, I flew over the tire barrier and saw the nets coming against me. Then the most absolute void. I feel fine, I just have some difficulty in breathing because of the pain in my nose. Too bad, I can't even play with the nurses; however I intend to go back to the circuit tomorrow".
Meanwhile, Senna, who took the provisional pole position, is very worried about the young compatriot and friend:
"My Williams was fine, but I couldn't concentrate. I think Barrichello came too fast at that point. There was wind and the track was dirty with sand. Maybe he slipped and lost control good. The cars were unstable and the set-up unpredictable. And here in Imola there are not enough escape routes. If you take a curb in the middle of the curve, as happened today in Rubens, you fly out on the other side of the track and you can end up in the middle to the crowd. It's a problem for Imola as it is for all the other circuits in the World Championship. Each track has a point where there is such a risk".
Ayrton is asked why, then, the pilots continue to complain but never find the courage to act. He thinks about it, makes a face, then replies:
"I've had so many problems in the past because I've done things that seemed right to me. Now I don't want to get involved anymore. I'm mature, experience has taught me that sometimes it's better to keep quiet".
But there is something wrong, it is evident. Now that the drivers have arrived in Imola, and not to conduct normal winter tests, but to compete at top speeds, all the limits of an absurd technical regulation are beginning to reveal themselves.
On the other hand, Imola is a medium-high speed circuit, and the drivers, accustomed the previous year to having the help of active suspension and traction control, now risk excessively and make mistakes, to prove it there are numerous outings of the track in which even the best are protagonists: Senna, Hill, Brundle twice, Schumacher and De Cesaris, are the protagonists of numerous and worrying spin.
Of course, there are also those who, in the turmoil of such a troubled qualification, have not found a good balance, like Schumacher, who is forced to make a difficult climb in the first half scored by Senna. For now, however, everything is silent, no controversy coming.
On Saturday, the tests begin in the usual atmosphere of competitive tension, and the whole Formula 1 seems to have already taken a step beyond the accident of the day before, despite at midday Rubens Barrichello, with his right arm splinted and bandaged, his nose swollen and a swollen lip, had finished telling how he had miraculously escaped the accident of the previous day. Then suddenly, the drama hits the circus like a blast of polar cold.
Sixteen minutes after the start of qualifying, the number 32 Simtek of the 31-year-old Austrian driver from Salzburg, Roland Ratzenberger, crashes like a bullet at over 300 km/h against the protective wall at the Villeneuve corner, the fastest and most dangerous of the circuit, then he crosses the lawn sideways and stops before the horrified eyes of the audience present at the Tosa curve, two hundred meters away from the impact. After the collision, Ratzenberger's head dangles helplessly from one side of the cockpit to the other. Once again the test is stopped and help is quickly taken.
Doctor Salcito, the neurosurgeons Servadei and Sid Watkins arrive breathlessly beside the wreck. The scene that presents itself to their eyes is horrible, the pilot's helmet and suit are soaked in blood; Roland does not respond to Sid's calls.
At this point, taking off his helmet, Sid Watkins begins to intervene on the body of the unconscious Austrian driver, still inside the car. A couple of minutes pass, and finally Roland is extracted and placed on the ground, then the heart massage is carried out almost immediately. It is Dr. Lega who practices mouth-to-mouth resuscitation because the driver shows severe respiratory failure due to the trauma. Dr. Servadei will tell later:
"The clinical state of Ratzenberger immediately made us think of the fracture of the first two cervical vertebrae. In the impact against the wall, the violent deceleration had a guillotine effect, in jargon it is called the dancing nape and leaves no way out".
From the pits, Ayrton sees the scene from the television, and observing the care given he exclaims in English:
Then he walks away, he doesn't want to see the scene. The Symtek box, on the other hand, lowers the shutter. Seven interminable minutes pass from the moment of impact to the moment in which Roland is loaded into an ambulance, to be transported to the circuit medical center, where Dr. Piana does not want to be asked for anything.
The remains of the car are quickly loaded onto the tow truck, to clear the circuit, and from here the car is taken to the entrance of the pits, and immediately covered with a blue cloth and placed under seizure by magistrate Luca Ghedina.
At the same time, Senna runs towards a service car, which is about to leave at the edge of the pit lane to reach the place of the accident, where interventions are urgently needed to repair the wall damaged by the impact of the car, an action for which the Race Director, Roland Bruynseraede, immediately proposes a warning:
"Senna was in a place where he was unable to access".
But Ayrton simply made sure that the conditions are acceptable to continue qualifying. The service car parked a few moments from the Villeneuve curve, then moves away, only to stop at the Tosa, where Senna gets off and talks to the CEA men present in the place. Everything happens very quickly, then Ayrton goes back to the front seat of the service car, on the passenger side, and walks away.
A split second later, a group of doctors moved Roland from the medical center, comfortable on a stretcher and with his head bandaged, into the helicopter, ready to leave for the Hospital Major in Bologna. Throughout the short journey, a doctor insistently continues to practice heart massage, until the moment of boarding. It is a chilling image.
After hospitalization, Dr. Piana goes to the journalist Ezio Zermiani, to whom he declares that the conditions of the unfortunate Roland are very critical: the prognosis is reserved.
The hospitalization at the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna takes place at 1:57 pm, but at 2:15 pm, exactly fifty-nine minutes after the impact and seven minutes after arrival in the Romagna capital, Dr. Giuseppe Piana, head of the medical service, is forced to report that Ratzenberger died in the anesthesia and resuscitation service.
The report specifies that death was caused by a skull base fracture and irreversible brain damage. Roland's body is transported to the Forensic Institute. Senna and his teammate Damon Hill are not back on track, they don't feel like continuing. Flavio Briatore also recalls his pilots:
"We won't finish practice today, it doesn't matter if we lose a few places on the grid".
Gerhard Berger, on the other hand, concludes his shift and, with his gaze fixed on the void, responds with a few crude words to the choice of Benetton:
"Briatore is into politics. He has never got on a Formula 1 single-seater, he can't understand. Nobody better than me can say these things. I locked myself in the motorhome and asked myself: Am I back on track or not? I also asked another thing: either I continue to race in the future, if I feel like it, if I can have this strength, or I might as well give up today and forever. I thought that perhaps it was better to get back in the car immediately because it is there. only way of not thinking".
Imola is in shock. There are voices that accuse, others that accept the harsh laws of this sport. Clay Regazzoni is not there, and from the very first moments after the accident of the young Austrian, he thunders:
"Yesterday the drama with Barrichello was touched upon. Today we lived it to the fullest. These are death machines, they are built with space technologies, but we must keep our feet on the ground. The regulations are wrong. We have seen so many accidents since the beginning of the year and if it has gone well so far, it was just a coincidence. We need to reduce the ailerons and the tires, make sure that an accelerating car is not so violent and that the pilot can control it. Now we should run on tracks in the desert, with kilometers of escape routes to avoid trouble in case of exit. It is absurd what the federation and Ecclestone are doing".
"This character is only interested in making money on Monday mornings and doesn't give a damn about the rest. For fifteen years now we have seen absurd regulatory decisions: these Formula 1 cars are forced to travel with dangerous set-ups. They are perhaps easy to drive, but when they lose grip, they don't warn and the driver can't do anything. said that to turn you need to have over 1000 kg of aerodynamic load at the front? If Ratzenberger had had another car, designed with different rules, he could have corrected the trajectory and saved himself".
And he concludes by saying:
"Senna? He talks a lot about safety, but do nothing".
The Brazilian does not reply and chooses the line of silence, but to the journalist Ezio Zermiani, who like Clay works for Rai, after qualifying he confesses:
"Now I'm too nervous, but I'll see you on Monday and I'll show you the deadly points of all the circuits in the world. Some illustrious heads will fall".
But what happened to Ratzenberger?
Immediately on a hot April afternoon, the world of Formula 1 can only speculate.
From the television images it can be seen that the Simtek has lost part of the front wing. In these cases the single-seaters become undriveable as the grip of the wheels and the ground effect are lost. It does not brake, it does not steer.
What are the reasons that caused the breaking of the wing, which among other things seems to have ended up under the car and fired at a height of fifty meters, is not clear. It is hypothesized that Ratzenberger may have caused the breakdown by hitting a curb, but there are also those who hypothesize that, since he had a collision with teammate David Brabham in the morning and his car was damaged, perhaps the wing had cracked and no one had noticed.
Jean Alesi, who inevitably wants him to be right at the point where Roland's car had passed a little earlier at a speed of 315 km/h, is persistently searched for by David Brabham, Roland's teammate, who swoops into the Ferrari motorhome, and murmurs:
"Where is Jean Alesi? I heard he saw the accident, I want to talk to him".
The French pilot says:
"I saw something fly in the air, then Simtek pulled straight into the wall: an impressive crash. The problem was aerodynamic in nature, the driver did not make a mistake and not even the track could be blamed, the services were timely".
In this regard, Michele Alboreto, one of the toughest in criticizing the situation, will add:
"At those speeds if you lose an aileron you are finished, you cannot control the car, you cannot steer or even brake because the wheels no longer touch the ground: you have to hope to get out at a point where there are enough escape routes to stop without getting hit hard".
Rubens Barrichello, the Friday miracle worker, is talking to reporters about his accident when he learns of the Austrian driver's death. After moments of disbelief, he declares:
"Now I'm really sad. In Aida, Roland and I had touched as I was passing him. There was a misunderstanding and he held me. I would have liked to have a friendly clarification with him and unfortunately he won't be there anymore. Imola is a circuit. where you travel with little rear downforce and jump a lot. Villeneuve also crashed at the same point as Ratzenberger".
Ratzenberger was almost a rookie. The Austrian driver had raced his first Grand Prix in Japan and finished eleventh, always fighting in the rear. At the finish line four laps behind the leaders, he declared:
"Now things will improve, because at Imola I will be able to give my best since I know the track and I can give a hard time to those in the rear group. Many will come from Austria to cheer for Berger, but I will also be there. With the car I have, I do what I can. But sooner or later I'll be able to break through, because I'm not afraid".
Roland spoke little, but listened a lot. He listened above all to Berger, an Austrian like him; it was the Ferrari driver, years earlier, who pushed him to racing:
"You have what it takes, Roland. You can get high".
So Roland had put his engineering degree in a drawer and started traveling the world, to raise two bucks. To race, the Austrian driver worked day and night. The 31-year-old Austrian was engaged to a black model, born in Kenya, who he wanted to marry:
"But first I have to become a champion".
With a lot of courage, Roland had achieved some victories in the minor categories. In 1983 in Formula Ford at the Nurburgring, in 1986 at Brands Hatch and in the following two years he became vice-champion of Formula 3 in England. Then he moved to Japan, where he had other victories, before reaching Formula 1, called by Simtek, who offered him a small contract for the first five races. In this golden world, Roland had proved he had an iron will. He drank only fruit juices:
"Because alcohol takes away clarity, and I always want to have quick reflexes".
Before racing, he sought concentration by isolating himself from everyone and listening to classical music. Then, surprisingly, Formula 1:
"It was a surprise for me too, I was sure I was still racing in Japanese Formula 3000, but through friends I learned that they were looking for a driver at Simtek, I proposed, we reached an agreement and here I am in Formula 1. I found the money for it. run five Grands Prix, but I hope to do well to find more money and finish the season. The team is young and so am I: we will have to go a long way together and show that with passion you can get anywhere".
He was in a hurry to arrive, he wanted to keep that seat, conquered with so much effort. He had to race, and he had to do it hard, to attract some sponsors and guarantee himself to stay in Formula 1. But that much sought-after car betrays him. However, not everyone is of the opinion that it is cars that have suddenly become unsafe for drivers. Giancarlo Minardi is one of these, and with courage he replies:
"Many drivers during the tests complained about the asphalt. It must be said that we have done a lot to make these cars safer, even if now with normal suspension they are subject to heavy stress".
And also Lauda, a Ferrari consultant, declares:
"It is useless to decrease the speed, because you can kill yourself at 250 km/h as at 300 km/h. Unfortunately all of us who live in racing have had great luck over the years. It was an illusion having solved the safety problem. It is not like that. The frames today are so strong that they remain almost unscathed, but the rider is still too exposed in the head-helmet-neck area. It also happened with Ratzenberger".
Precisely for this reason, in Ferrari, after an accident in recent weeks involving Alesi, the sports director Jean Todt admits that they are studying a new type of helmet:
"The weak point has become the head, weighed down by the helmet and subject to terrible decelerations. We are working on this specific problem with Professor Gerard Saillant".
The same doctor who is treating Alesi was the first to sound the helmet alarm:
"It does not completely cover the cervical area, if you hit and are conscious, hold on tight, but you can do nothing about the kickback. You have to anchor it in some way to the passenger compartment, with a belt".
The most lucid and intelligent in analyzing situations is Prost, present in Imola since the previous day. A few hours after Roland's disappearance, Alain gives an interview in which he analyzes what happened, and points the finger at the International Automobile Federation:
"The Federation looks after the money and the show, sacrificing safety. President Mosley has changed the regulations just to make the races more interesting, not caring about the safety of the drivers. Accidents can never be avoided but for some years now we have not operated anymore for safety. The risks are enormous, that's why I retired. The pilots also have their responsibilities. I tried to recreate the pilots association, but many of them, and not the least important, opposed it, as well as sports directors, authorities and sponsors. There is no more dialogue. Reducing the width of the tires has made the cars more dangerous: there are no more active and anti-skid suspensions. But whoever makes the rules has never sat in a Formula 1".
Meanwhile, Ratzenberger's body is transported from the mortuary of the major hospital in Bologna to the institute of forensic medicine. No pilot goes to pay homage to the unfortunate opponent. Insensitivity?
"No, they didn't come because they would probably see themselves in him".
Explains Bourghard Hummel, Ratzenberger's personal manager and friend. After the tragic qualifying hour, the drivers decide to reunite and reform the Grand Prix Drivers Association. Founded in May 1961, the GPDA was activated throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The first president was Stirling Moss and his main objectives were to obtain the representation of the International Sports Committee of the FIA, at the time a body dedicated to improving safety standards for drivers and spectators.
It must be emphasized that under the subsequent impulse of Jackie Stewart, in the second half of the 60s, the pilots began to make themselves being considered; their claims led to the cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix in 1969, due to the danger of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and the displacement of the 1970 German Grand Prix from the dangerous Nürburgring to the Hockenheimring.
The association started to be less and less influential until its dissolution starting in 1982, due to the very serious Pironi accident, which made the association lack a strong point of reference. Now the association recreates itself, under the impulse of Senna, who has made the commitment to write a document with a whole series of requests and technical and organizational details regarding some circuits.
So now the organizers are starting to worry, while the journalists and more generally the organization of Formula 1 try to limit the tones of the revolt, also believing that this derives from a mood impulse following the two serious accidents recorded in Imola, of which a deadly one.
Upon learning of Roland's death, Ayrton, who is at the time with Sid Watkins at the circuit medical center, grabs his friend's shoulder and bursts into tears. Sid, who first intervened on Roland's lifeless body, seeing Ayrton frowning at what had happened, tells the Brazilian driver:
"You have been three times world champion, you are the fastest driver, what else do you have to prove? Leave everything. I am retiring too and let's go fishing together".
But Ayrton doesn't think about leaving racing. And indeed, he replies:
"There are certain things over which we have no control...I can't leave, I have to go on...".
After this dialogue, Ayrton closes himself in the Williams motorhome, and asks Frank to speak out for the request to suspend the race, because he believes that most of the drivers are not in the best conditions to race.
Frank, however, reassures him, but a little later, the race director, Roland Bruynseraede, summons Ayrton to the control tower to ask him about his behavior related to the fact that shortly before he had gone to the accident site. At 3.10 pm, at the control tower, Ayrton is reiterated what he had already been told when he went to the colleague's accident site:
"You must think about driving".
This absurd situation makes him feel even worse. In Imola, even if his friends are there, even if his brother Leonardo is there, Ayrton feels alone. For this reason, in the afternoon he goes to the McLaren garage, where his friend Jo Ramirez stands, who he asks to be able to book a helicopter for Sunday afternoon, to return to Forlì, where his plane is parked, because after the Grand Prix he wants to go back home, in Quinta do Lago, Portugal, where Adriane is waiting for him.
Taking advantage of the moment, Ayrton lets out with his friend, and confesses that in Williams the attitude is very different from what he had been able to appreciate in McLaren for years. At Williams, he feels treated like a mere employee. After that, for the rest of the day, Ayrton closes himself in total silence.
"We talked about the many risks associated with this sport, but not those inherent in this profession, the extra ones, the free ones, those implicitly deliberated by the show and by the profit".
Says Michele Alboreto, to whom a counter-argument is addressed that insinuates that also in the past there have been attempts to reorganize the pilots:
"And nothing happened, I know, I know very well. I have tried many times to solicit others, the managers of the racetracks, the organizations. Nobody wanted to listen, they preferred to pretend to listen. Sometimes you too, even the press, or at least part of the press. In those who have written of the criticisms that I made on this circuit when we tried? I said then that it was crazy to race on this circuit. I said that part of the asphalt had to be redone, that that wall ten meters from where you curve at 300 km/h and where, let's be clear, at those speeds you shatter. You know that I clearly told the team that on this circuit I would not have tried again? I who by now think I have finished the book of miracles, with the accidents at Silverstone in practice and in the competition with Footwork here in Imola. But because, damn it, no one has ever wanted to listen to who they are now white hair inside the Formula 1 cars?"
We therefore return to the old discussions on the dangers of Formula 1 but this, Michele is pointed out, is a very broad discourse; maybe now the Imola circuit is under accusation, probably next year we will move to another circuit…
"No, I'm not just talking about this circuit".
"There are two other equally dangerous ones, Silverstone and Spa which have crazy track points. These are the three racetracks where you should get your hands on tomorrow morning. There is also Montreal, but Aida-like places are welcome, there an impact you take it at almost half the speed of the other three. In places like Imola you get crushed when you go outside, I tested it against the concrete in Imola. Do they want us to go at 300 km/h? down three hundred meters of sand, at least they hold you back before impact. And next week we will be in Monte Carlo".
At this point it is pointed out to Michele that the regulations are also under accusation:
"Sure. What they have done in recent years are just adjustments. Someone said they removed the active safety suspension. But don't make me laugh, the reasons are quite different. And who wants to understand, understand. For years I have paid in person when I say something. But why have I suffered so much in these years in the various teams, before marrying? Because I keep repeating these things. Whenever any of us raised our heads, punishments came. Because Did Ayrton lose a World Championship at the time? He had begun to worry too much about these things and, despite his world titles, he was not listened to".
Under accusation, however, there is also the fact that in many years the drivers have never managed to organize themselves to rebuild the Grand Prix Drivers Association, just as Prost had said the day before:
"What do you want me to tell you, that we are a gang of jerks? What changes? Do you want me to remember how you get to Formula 1? Do we want to remember that one driver strike in South Africa in 1982? Why was it successful? Why? the protagonists were different, they were people with attributes. When you were paid to race, and you were paid for how good you were, when you said something you were listened to. What do we want to do now, where most of the drivers bring money and the commitments with the sponsors must be respected? You organize something but who follows you? And if by chance retaliation follows you then you lose your job. Do you know how many pilots there are ready to take your place? Why then do I say these things? But because I love this job, but I can guarantee you that I can do other things, even though I know I know how to do this job very well".
At the same time, Williams technicians protest, on Saturday morning, with Goodyear, extending the protest also to the FIA through Technical Delegate Charlie Withing. Williams accuses the batch of tires supplied up to that moment as being defective (Patrick Head will say that there were cracks in the tire) and requested their replacement. During the lunch before Saturday's qualifying, in a discussion between Senna, Frank Williams and the Goodyear technicians recorded by the Brazilian television station Globo, it is noted that Senna is worried about the behavior of his car during the tests. The Brazilian pilot turns to Frank Williams and tells him:
"I can't get out on the track and start at a disadvantage due to technical problems. Solving them is not my responsibility".
The head of the team and the Goodyear men listen to the Brazilian driver's outburst. Senna goes on, this time turning his gaze to one of the technicians of the company that produces tires, and exclaims:
"It doesn't work, it doesn't work. It's a serious problem. I can't make concessions. Someone has to do things right".
Irritated, Williams cuts off the meal and addresses another Goodyear technician in a harsh tone:
"Do what Ayrton wants, because if he were to have an accident you would be in a bad situation".
At 1:00 pm, in correspondence with the start of the tests, exactly five tires already marked for Senna and four for Hill are replaced; three rear tires marked 5176 of compound D are replaced with tires C 5179, and two front tires always of compound D marked 5175 replaced with Cs marked 5180.
The fact is quite strange because on all the other single-seaters the D tires are fine. Only the Williams FW16 suffers problems with the softer compound tires, confirming that finding the set-up of these cars is extremely difficult.
Furthermore, to avoid incurring bumps that can excessively negatively affect the stability of the car while driving along the Tamburello curve, Ayrton and his teammate, Damon Hill, discuss how to approach this part of the track and how to stay away from the apex, while losing more time than the ideal trajectory.
After qualifying, and the subsequent disappearance of Roland Ratzenberger, Senna lets his colleagues know that he wants to organize a meeting to discuss safety the next morning. Alboreto, Schumacher and Berger immediately agree with him.
Towards evening, Ayrton leaves the paddock with his usual group of friends and with Betise, carrying his briefcase around the clock. But about ten minutes later he returns to the pits where Frank Williams is present, this time without his briefcase, with the group of friends left outside waiting for him. So he calls Patrick Head and starts talking in a rather flustered manner. After twenty minutes he leaves again and Frank Williams exclaims:
"It's incredible. Ayrton went back to discuss again how to set the car up tomorrow. He repeated exactly what we had already discussed in the afternoon meeting".
He's upset, Ayrton. At 7:30 pm, albeit unwillingly, he had dinner with a group of friends and his brother Leonardo at the Alla Romagnola restaurant in Castel San Pietro. Then, shortly before 10:00 pm, he returns to the Castello hotel, also in Castel San Pietro, a place he had located flying one day by helicopter, in 1989. Ayrton is so happy with that place and his discovery that in previous years he had even convinced Ron Dennis and the entire McLaren team to stop there during the race weekends:
"I always leave the windows open because when the day comes I like to listen to the birds, indeed, they are my personal alarm clock".
Ayrton returns to the hotel, where a wedding reception is taking place. Here he is immediately recognized by the bride, Teresa Tinarelli, who asks him to pose for a souvenir photo with her husband Davide. Ayrton does it willingly, then toasts the luck of the spouses, awaits the cutting of the cake and responds to the joke of the bride's mother who asks him point blank:
"But you, Mr. Senna, when are you getting married?"
"Soon, maybe very soon".
Before heading for the elevator. After this exchange, Ayrton goes to Frank Williams' room, where the two talk for an hour. Frank fears that his driver may refuse to race to lead by example and push all riders not to race; Bernie Ecclestone also had the same fear during the afternoon, after the British manager had also spoken to us.
Ayrton, however, reassures him and tells him that the next day he will start the race regularly. Then, he leaves the room of his British friend and manager, and enters his room number 200, where he calls Adriane Galisteu, his girlfriend, on the phone.
"Ayrton was very depressed and nervous: he had a bad feeling".
"He wasn't well, he had a lot of thoughts in his head. He was sorry for the accident of Rubens Barrichello, who was in hospital after the free practice crash. He was also frustrated with the death of Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying. I heard an anguish in his voice that I had never heard before. I remember telling him not to run the race. But he replied that he loved his profession too much, and he couldn't back down from running the race. It was his life".
After making this phone call, Ayrton lays down in his bed and sleeps until 7:30 am. The next day, early in the morning he goes to the circuit. That Sunday morning, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag publishes an article about Senna. The day before, the Brazilian driver had not given interviews to anyone, except this German newspaper, through which he had declared:
"I find myself in a difficult situation, but there are still fourteen races to go, and the twenty points gap from Michael Schumacher is not an objective mirror of the balance of power between him and me. During the Brazilian Grand Prix I made a mistake, and that's okay. But an accident like the one that happened to me in Japan, where Hakkinen threw me off the track, could happen to anyone. The Williams team had worked hard to get the car to its best, but these efforts turned out to be useless after just three hundred meters. I complained to the race directors: in the future, I said, we will have to look more carefully at young and inexperienced riders. This weekend I had a tragic confirmation of my suspicions: Roland Ratzenberger, who was in his first season, he died after an accident in the fastest corner of the track. The day before, Rubens Barrichello had crashed into the fence. At the moment there are many pilots who are too young, which increases the danger".
"My main rivals are the Benetton team and Michael Schumacher. Benetton is certainly an excellent car, especially on undulating tracks and with slow corners, as was the case in Brazil and Japan. My car, in conditions like these, reacts a little nervously. The reason is in its particular aerodynamics, but also in a certain difficulty with the suspension. Precisely for this reason, at the beginning of last week we experimented a couple of transformations in aerodynamics. As for today's race, I'm still optimistic. In this race, the higher efficiency of the Renault engine should give me a certain advantage over Benetton's Ford engines. The Imola track is fast, and in particular there is an uphill passage where having a higher engine efficiency means having an advantage".
"After two victories and a clear lead in the World Championship, Schumacher is in my opinion the clear favorite for the final victory. His advantage of twenty points still means that I was right when, at the beginning of the season, I didn't want to accept the role of the favorite. Anyway, I will do everything to create an exciting battle".
After doing the morning warm-up, Ayrton meets Alboreto, Schumacher and Berger, and talks to them about safety. At the end of the meeting, the four drivers undertake to organize a meeting between all the drivers, to be held on the Thursday before the race in Monte Carlo.
After asking his manager Julian Jakobi to get him an Austrian flag to pay homage to his colleague who disappeared in the event of a Grand Prix victory, Ayrton meets Prost on Sunday morning.
The meeting between the two is not a completely anomalous thing, since the two have made peace. However, it is anomalous that Ayrton, who usually prefers to go straight from the garage to the motorhome, joins a group of people in the Renault motorhome just to talk to Alain.
The two former rivals converse, even if Ayrton is troubled and struggles to appear calm and diplomatic. Above all, they talk about the issue of safety, of Benetton, according to him irregular, of Schumacher, of the fact that Ayrton is not sure he can win the race, and in the end they agree to meet again the following week.
Alain will see Ayrton again for a brief moment in the garage, just before the race. But in this circumstance the French driver does not want to disturb him, even though he knows that Ayrton wants help, advice, someone to lean on.
"Already from Adelaide, Ayrton had become a new person, a new driver. He said lost his motivation, his goals, and he explained all this to me. The strong person who was inside the cockpit was gone. I was, to say the least, surprised and incredulous at this change, which, he said, was due to the fact that I was no longer there".
Prost tells, who then goes on to say:
"During the previous week in Imola, he even told me things related to his personal life that obviously I will not tell anyone. He told me in confidence, but I will never understand why he did it, even if it was things that clarified many things about his way of being. He opened up about his problems and his personal life. He explained that our battle on the tracks had been really important, and that he was no longer motivated to race against these riders. Again, I was amazed. I had never been able to understand some of his driver behaviors, and now I couldn't to understand his behavior as a simple human being".
"The Sunday before Imola, not long before the race, he came to me while I was with some Renault men, and we talked for about five minutes. Again, I was surprised as it was strange for any driver to do such a thing. Then Ayrton went back to the Williams garage, and I went too. It was my last moment with him. He kept talking about things that didn't make him happy at Williams, of Benetton which he thought was irregular. He was showing himself in a position of weakness before the race. A behavior that was certainly not from him, from the driver I had known in the past. He was a completely different Senna".
Ayrton is not only upset by what has happened to his colleagues: he is nervous and thoughtful also because of the behavior of his Williams. Not surprisingly, in these days he spent a lot of time with his car engineer, David Brown, with whom he meticulously reviewed all the behavior of his car.
Ayrton is determined to win the race. He also talks about this with Adrian Newey, in the box, away from the cameras. To try to win, Ayrton agrees with the team to start with 60 kg of fuel, in order to extend the initial stint and refuel after Schumacher, who obviously assumes that he will be very close after the start.
On the contrary, Ayrton dedicates very little time - a few photos and a few jokes - to his sponsors present in Imola. Then the briefing between the drivers and the FIA takes place, as usual, before the race, at 11:00 in the morning. A briefing where, as Alboreto admits:
"We have not talked about anything; we have had a minute of silence".
But regardless of Formula 1, the Imola weekend seems truly bewitched. On Sunday morning the circuit is still plagued by a serious accident. During the Porsche Supercup, the French driver Jacques Heuclin, forty-nine, goes off the road at the Piratella corner. The car crashes into the side wall and the driver sustains minor injuries to his shoulder.
The previous afternoon, however, a truck that left Imola carrying the Formula 1 cars of French drivers Bertrand Gachot and Paul Belmondo was destroyed by flames in Haute-Savoie, near Chamonix. Fortunately, the cars of the Pacific-Ilmor English team were saved from the flames. The air is enormously heavy.
Before the start of the race, Ezio Zermiani, RAI journalist, interviews the lawyer Federico Bendinelli, president of Sagis, who responds to the accusations against the circuit by declaring:
"I do not agree with the accusations. Of course we have done everything that was possible and conceivable to do. And we do not hold back if there are further improvements to be made. But today I think it is difficult to criticize the Imola racetrack, both as services and as a system. Before doing any work on the circuit, we always asked the drivers' opinions and suggestions".
In the meantime, having positioned himself on the starting grid, Celso Itirebe Fratini, journalist of Rete Globo, sees Senna behave abnormally as usual. Normally after his car stops on the grid, Ayrton stays in the car to wait for the start of the Grand Prix, keeping his helmet on, with any atmospheric element; he has never lifted it in ten years of his career in those twenty minutes of waiting. But this time, incomprehensibly if he takes it off. Itirebe tells:
"Before the departure, it was strange, different. Usually, he jokes with the mechanics, talks, laughs. No Sunday. He was taciturn, worried. If there is one thing that struck me it is this image that I have in front of my eyes. He who stood still, with his hands resting on the rear wing, his gaze lost on the car, as if caressing it, without saying a word, for three or four minutes. A girl even came to ask him for an autograph and he nodded no".
Ayrton is tense.Spend the time trying to concentrate, trying to keep your eyes closed, then put your helmet back on. The race direction kicks off to get the cars moving for the reconnaissance lap.
In progression, Ayrton sets out to warm up the tires and to study the behavior of his car before the race. People along the way go crazy for him and for the two Ferraris, and they make themselves heard as they pass. After the formation lap, the cars line up on the starting grid.
It is 2:00 pm.
The scream of the engines rises, ready to unleash all the power. The asphalt vibrates. At the start of the race the pilots sprint quickly, only the Benetton of the Finnish driver JJ Lehto does not start.
"I can't explain what happened. I know that when I engaged the gear, the engine was running, then I let go of the clutch and stayed there. I felt a big thump behind me and I slammed my right arm into the passenger compartment: I really have no comments, it's incredible".
What happened? At the green light, Lehto's car, fifth on the grid, encountered a technical problem and the engine stopped, forcing the Finnish driver to remain stationary on the pitch. The following cars swerve abruptly to the sides to avoid the stationary car, but Pedro Lamy, who started 22nd, sees the obstacle only at the last moment.
The high speed and the presence of other single-seaters at his side make the violent impact inevitable, with the Lotus literally breaking through the rear of the Benetton, then drifting for a hundred meters and stopping at the entrance to the pitlane.
"I had thrown myself to the left because I saw the free track, then suddenly a driver moved in front and I saw the Benetton stationary. I tried to avoid it but I was too fast, I was about to put into fourth gear, at about 180 km/h. I was afraid, but I don't think I am at fault".
Both drivers report no consequences, except for some aches, but the debris lost by the cars involved fly in all directions. Some of them climb over the fences and end up in the stands injuring eleven spectators. One in particular, Antonio Mauro Maino, a twenty-eight-year-old building contractor from Courmayeur, is hit hard by a rubber. Immediately rescued, on Sunday evening the young man was taken to the Bellaria hospital in Bologna and underwent neurosurgery due to a frontal hematoma. His family members who have arrived in Bologna from Valle d'Aosta spend dramatic hours until, a few days later, the doctors issue a statement which, while not hiding the seriousness of the injuries, gives a glimpse of concrete hopes of recovery:
"He is in a pharmacological coma. We have subjected him to surgery for a frontal hematoma and now the prognosis is favorable".
Say the doctors of the Bellaria hospital in Bologna, giving hope to the family. In the meantime, as much of the pit straight is covered with debris, the race direction orders the safety car, driven by driver Max Angelelli, to enter the track in order to slow down the competitors and allow the stewards to clean up the track and move the wrecks of damaged cars.
However, the decision causes protests from some drivers, fearful that the slowdown could compromise their race. In general, the use of the safety car is strongly questioned in the Formula 1 environment, due to the fact that, in the absence of regulatory standards, each track has a different car, and often the models used - in this case an Opel Vectra - they cannot maintain a speed that allows top-class single-seaters to keep their tires up to temperature.
For this reason, on several occasions, during laps at reduced speed, Senna briefly alongside and overtook the service car to spur it in vain to accelerate. At the same time, from the pit wall the Williams engineers instructed Senna to walk along the main straight of the circuit, positioning himself on the right, thus avoiding accidentally climbing with the wheels on the debris left along the track. But no answer comes from Ayrton.
Once the track is cleared, the race resumes regularly, with Senna keeping the lead and immediately setting a good timed time, which will prove to be the third fastest time of the race, chased a short distance by Schumacher. During the seventh lap, at 2:17 pm, the Brazilian's Williams normally approaches the Tamburello corner at a speed of around 310 km/h. But then something anomalous happens.
Ayrton notices that something is wrong.
At a first bump, the car tends to oversteer after touching the asphalt with a flat bottom, so Ayrton first cuts the accelerator to half, losing 10 km/h of speed. In doing so, the car loses load, albeit regaining stability.
But a few hundredths of a second later follows a new contact with the asphalt and further control due to oversteer. Again a few hundredths of a second later, climbing over a second bump, realizing the loss of directionality, Ayrton releases the accelerator. The car touches the asphalt a third and fourth time.
At this point, Senna brakes sharply and in the hope of reducing the speed as much as possible, he shifts down a gear. This maneuver allows him to reduce the speed from over 300 km/h to 211 km/h, but a few moments later the Wiliams collides with the external wall of the Tamburello. Mirko Mezzetti, one of the foremen of post three of the marshals, just ten meters from the impact site, says:
"A moment before having the gap that then brought him against the wall, Senna's car gave me the distinct impression of undergoing a very slight but imperceptible lowering. It was like squatting. The wheels remained straight, as if the driver she was not making any corrections or maneuvers at the last minute: a very strange fact. When she reached the concrete before the wall, a smoke came out on the rear of the car. At the moment I thought it was the flat bottom Then, thinking locally and observing the tread of what was left of the rear tire, I was convinced that in any case the rider tried to brake with great decision by blocking the wheels which also tended to rise".
"Senna's car didn't hit head-on, but hit the front three/fourths. Bits of carbon and suspension arms started high up like bullets. My impression is that Ayrton was hit by one of these metal components. On the other hand, it does not seem to me that the head touched the wall, also because the car was quite flat when it hit. The sign that the wheels left against the wall is the clearest confirmation of this".
"However, before the Williams hit the wall, I had the very distinct feeling that one of the right front suspension arms was not in its natural position. In practice it seemed to stretch as if it had detached from the body. Two things in every case I noticed in very rapid succession: that the car was squatting at the moment it started going off the tangent, and that, as it approached us, something was out of place in the right front suspension".
After the impact against the wall, the great kinetic energy bounces the car backwards towards the track: it crosses the strip of grass that separates the track from the escape route and returns to the outside, and then stops about fifty meters ahead.
Seconds pass and Ayrton doesn't move.
But the absurd thing is that the race is not immediately stopped, and until this happens, the medical car cannot move from its station. The decision to stop the race or not rests with the FIA starter, Roland Bruynseraede, who, however, prevaricates.
The other managers of the circuit, at his side at that moment, immediately ask for a stop, but the starter continues to linger. Realizing the immobility of the driver still standing inside the car, it is finally Bernie Ecclestone who orders the race direction to display the red flag and finally calls for help.
After seeing the red flag displayed, Schumacher, who was the first to witness the accident, but who does not even suppose that it was serious enough to have injured Ayrton, places his car in the grid on the second pitch, thus leaving the pole pitch at Senna, which in the event of a restart with the forklift would have occupied the first position as required by the regulations.
At this moment, no driver knows anything about Senna's real health conditions, and Schumacher himself assumes in the first moments that he would have taken the forklift to leave.
Not far from the impact site, the photographer Angelo Orsi, friend of Ayrton, who inevitably wants that that day is right at the Tamburello curve, realizing the accident, gets on board his scooter and approaches the point where the driver's car Brazilian stopped. Here, Angelo takes a series of photographs, then stops.
The concern about what is happening is too much. Respect for a friend who is in obvious difficulty is equally so. It is the fate that Angelo was there that day, in that curve, because probably another photographer would have had no qualms about selling the photos that would have portrayed the rescues. Photos which, fortunately, were never published by Angelo Orsi's own will.
Precisely in the name of the friendship that exists between Ayrton and Angelo, at the end of the Grand Prix, in case of victory, the Brazilian driver would have loaded his friend on his car, to then have a photo taken while celebrating with the Brazilian flag and with the Austrian one, asked in the morning to Roland's manager to honor his memory. In the meantime, the cold has fallen in the press room.
Ayrton is immobile inside his Williams Renault FW16. Then he moves his head, probably due to brain injuries from the accident. But in that moment we cling to everything in order to hope to see Ayrton feel well and come out unscathed from the cockpit. So as not to experience another moment of terror. So someone yells:
But Ayrton returns to rest his head on the right side of the cockpit, remaining motionless. At this point, the car stopped at the Variante Bassa receives the communication: accident at the Tamburello, red flag.
Domenico Salcito immediately starts the car, without waiting for further news. Within two minutes, the car fills the kilometer of distance from the Variante Bassa to the Tamburello; as soon as you come out of the curve, the doctors see the car stationary. The Alfa 164 stops next to the damaged Williams.
In a few moments, Domenico Salcito, Giuseppe Piana, Giuseppe Pezzi, Federico Baccarini, Giuliano Mazzoli, Alessandro Misley and Giovanni Gordini, who had just been in the stands after the crash at the start, led by Dr. Sid Watkins intervened near the car.
The doctors, arrived at the place, discover that blood is evident from under the helmet. On his knees, on the right of Williams there is already Giuseppe Bezzi, the resuscitator positioned at the Tamburello, who tried to remove the helmet, but with little result since the blood hinders the visibility of the device that allows you to unfasten the chin strap.
Having encountered the difficulty, Salcito, kneeling on the left side of the Williams, holds up the scissors thus managing to cut the chin strap and remove the helmet while Baccarini, astride the Williams bonnet, keeps Ayrton's head still, helped by Dr. Watkins.
The clinical conditions and Ayrton's position do not allow other maneuvers, so Dr. Salcito opts for a quick extraction from the cockpit. Unlatching the seat belts, the doctors take Ayrton in their arms and then lay him on the ground, in order to be able to begin resuscitation maneuvers as soon as possible.
The pilot is lifeless and in a state of agonal breathing (an involuntary muscular movement, a gasping characterized by an extreme reduction in the frequency of the breaths up to their total arrest. Although appearing as a respiratory movement, gasping is an ineffective type of breathing. The patient must therefore be considered in respiratory arrest and must be treated according to the usual resuscitation protocols by means of artificial ventilation and external cardiac massage).
Moreover, as if that were not enough, in addition to the wound found above the right eye, the doctors discover that Ayrton has a bleeding from the nose and mouth and does not react to any type of solicitation.
At this point, the doctors keep the Brazilian pilot's airways open by carrying out intubation, to improve oxygenation and breathing - while they plug the bleeding and transfuse some blood material after recovering two venous accesses - but this' operation is difficult.
Watkins, having ascertained the extreme gravity of the situation and in the face of unsuccessful attempts at resuscitation, having to carry out an emergency tracheotomy, requests the intervention of the helicopter rescue, which in a completely new way for the history of Formula 1 is landed directly in track, at the site of the accident, with direct dispatch to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna, without passing through the Autodrome Medical Center, as per FIA protocol.
A few moments later, the rescue team place the cervical collar around the Brazilian's neck, stabilizing it, and begin the immobilization procedures, using a vacuum mattress. In the meantime, in these excited moments someone mistakenly authorizes the return to the track of Érik Comas, who had not restarted with the others at the exit of the safety car, but had remained stationary for a long time in the pits to repair the rear wing damaged by a touch. The Frenchman from Larrousse, unaware of the situation, arrives at the Tamburello at reasonable speed, barely avoiding to run over the emergency vehicles. Incredulous for the situation that has arisen, Comas gets out of the car to ascertain the state of the injured colleague. So, before the race direction disqualified him for the serious danger caused, he decides of his own free will to withdraw from the race.
At 2:34 pm Senna is loaded on board the helicopter, which takes off from the runway towards the Ospedale Maggiore in Bologna: following the pilot, Dr. Domenico Cosco, Alessandro Misley and the first assistant Giovanni Gordini, an anesthetist, embark.
Now it remains only to hope that Senna can save himself.
While the doctors rescue the Brazilian driver, the journalists ran out of the press room and headed into the paddock, towards the race direction, following along the way to Senna's brother, Leonardo, and to Betise. Leonardo is pale, upset, close to a nervous breakdown. Betise, also pale, tries to keep calm and direct Leonardo.
In the meantime, Bernie Ecclestone also arrives, hurriedly entering the Race Direction. Shortly after, he leaves and heads to his motorhome, accompanied by Leonardo and Betise. When asked, Bernie reacts nervously and rudely, so much so that two reporters, an Italian and a Brazilian, feel offended and heavily insult Ecclestone.
Shortly thereafter, Leonardo Senna made a phone call to the family from the FOCA motorhome, in which he says that Ecclestone had immediately warned him of his brother's death. But Ecclestone corrects him, and even later he will be categorical in telling the facts:
"There was confusion once the accident happened. I was informed by phone from those on the track that Ayrton was seriously injured in the head, but I knew he was dead. This is what I have said to his brother. Once the information was rectified, we began to hope again".
In the meantime, in the paddock and in the starting grid, the experts are wondering about what could have happened. Attention is therefore focused on Schumacher, who being the first driver to chase his rival may have seen something anomalous. And in fact, the German driver says he saw the Williams jump several times, before seeing it suddenly swerve to the right:
"In the previous two laps I saw that Senna's car was very nervous in the dips. Ayrton was struggling to keep it, but it didn't seem like it was such a serious anomaly as to cause such a dramatic departure from the track".
The second hypothesis that arises among the insiders is that a tire could have sold when Senna passed over the wreckage of the Benetton of Lehto, stopped from the start. But Goodyear spokesman Barry Griffin will say after the race:
"We analyzed the Williams rear wheel, and in fact there was a cut in the tread. But a tear of that width causes an immediate sagging of the tire which the rider feels immediately because the mechanical suspension does not compensate for the loss of air like instead it happened with the active ones. If the tire fails, the bottom of the car immediately crawls to the ground. Senna was too experienced a driver not to understand that something was wrong with his car and if he had a punctured tire he would certainly not have faced the Tamburello in full, as has happened. The cut in the tire occurred after the impact of Williams against the wall, not before. We brought the usual tires to Imola that worked well last year too: the same construction and suitable compounds".
Is this enough to resolve doubts? No, because Senna had just done a lap of the circuit, he was alone in the lead, and suddenly the car was thrown towards a wall. Could it have been an illness? Maybe the autopsy will tell. A driver error? Nobody believes it.
Someone else assumes that the entry of the safety car on the track, after the accident of Lehto and Lamy at the start, and the following slow laps could have reduced the tire pressure even more. Indeed, when the race resumed, the cars quickly picked up their racing pace and the accident at Senna occurred just a lap later, when the tires probably still hadn't achieved sufficient grip.
On the other hand, Benetton engineer Frank Dernie had stated that the drivers' cars would start the race with low-pressure tires, because it would be the heat that would make it rise quickly. He said it on Friday. Yet, soon after Ayrton's impact against the wall, someone swears they heard Patrick Head scream:
Which translated into Italian means power steering. To then turn to a technician, to whom he would have expressed his concerns:
"You who know more than me about these things, check if the system was off".
In Williams there is therefore the suspicion that some components may have yielded due to the lack of use of the power steering, but since the telemetry downloads all the data by radio message only when the car passes in front of the pits, not having concluded the seventh lap, the team cannot have comforting data.
Meanwhile, conflicting rumors about Senna's health begin to circulate inside the pits, bringing Williams engineers and mechanics into a state of doubt and despair. But the leaders of the team, in this moment of extreme confusion, tell their men:
"Focus on what you are doing. Don't listen to anyone else. Nobody knows what's going on, focus on what you have to do".
In fact, what filters from the FIA staff, at least in the first few minutes, is tranquility about Senna's state of health, even if no one wants to believe it. None of the drivers or team managers are informed of the actual gravity of the situation, with the exception of Flavio Briatore, who manages to get information from the journalist Ezio Zermiani.
Indeed, the Williams team is told, through an FIA employee, that Senna is fine and that he only has a cut in his arm, and therefore for this reason he will be forced to miss the race.
More or less the same indications are also given to the drivers who, it is to be believed, otherwise they would never have gotten back into the car. Berger, for example, asks Bernie Ecclestone how Ayrton is doing. The British manager only says that Ayrton is out of the car. So Gerhard is convinced that his friend and former teammate is fine.
Once the track has been cleared of what remains of the car, which is soon seized by the Italian police forces, together with the helmet worn by Senna, the second start is ordered within thirty-seven minutes, also deciding to draw up the final ranking through the sum of the times of the two tranches.
But despite the car being immediately impounded, Charlie Whiting arrives at the Williams pits and asks Patrick Head if he would like to see Ayrton's car as a precaution. Thus, Whiting and a delegation of Williams men, led by Patrick Head, go to the garage which must then be closed with the seals of the Italian Police Forces, and here they discover that Senna's car has a folding of the body from the right side, at the height of the passenger compartment. A bend caused by the front tire, which crushed the frame in the area where the steering wheel was, torn off at the height of the steering column.
For this reason, on the opposite side, always at the height of the control unit area, there is a huge crack that vertically crosses the body. Head is not surprised that the steering has broken, but further convinces himself that a problem may have been created with the power steering box. As a precaution, therefore, back on the starting grid, Head and the Williams engineers decide not to use power steering on Damon Hill's car.
First, however, the Williams technicians extract the control unit mounted on the right side, behind the water radiators. Despite the negative opinion of the CSAI technicians, Fabrizio Nosco, Giulio Pedroni, Alessandro Palmieri and Luca Chinni, after receiving the green light from Charlie Whiting, the control unit is taken to the Williams truck, where an attempt is made to connect the connector to the computers. But the Williams ECU, which records all the suspension and chassis data, is irremediably damaged inside; the impact at 210 km/h protected the external body, but not the internal components.
Thus, Head and his men return to the garage where Ayrton's Williams is deposited and extract the second ECU, that of Renault, which is not damaged and which has inside, in addition to the engine data, also those of the power steering, since this is controlled by an oil pressure circuit, controlled by the engine.
Bernard Michel Duffort, head of Renault Sport F1 engine control, will receive the Magneti Marelli control unit that same evening in Paris. The Williams men, and in particular Dickie Stanford, will return to the garage containing the Brazilian driver's car immediately after the conclusion of the race, to check that no one, apart from the Italian police forces, can touch the car. Ayrton or take any component inside the box. Once inside, Stanford manages for a few moments to hold Ayrton's helmet in his hands, and through this he understands the actual gravity of the accident.
Then, from this moment the box is sealed, and theoretically no one will enter it anymore, except for the Italian law enforcement officers. Although in reality it will be discovered that more than one person will enter the garage over the years to browse and see the remains of Ayrton's vehicle. At 2:55 pm the new start of the race is given.
To counteract this absurdity, there is a huge patch of blood on the concrete, on the edge of the circuit, at the point where Senna was rescued. The members of the medical team on the Alfa 164, the very ones who first rescued Ayrton, reposition themselves on the circuit to perform the second start only for professional duty.
After that, all the components burst into tears, each in their own silence, locked in the car until the end of the race. At the start, after an escape attempt by Berger with his Ferrari, Schumacher regains control of the situation. A few laps later, the Austrian driver is blocked by a mechanical failure and is forced to retire:
"I felt the car behaving strangely. At one point I looked in the left mirror and saw sparks. Later the 412T almost got out of hand, at the variant. I thought it might be the tires. I went back to the pits, I changed them, but when I got back on track the situation was even worse and in one lap I decided to stop because I didn't feel like tackling the Tamburello again at that moment".
Berger is in the pits when informed of the severity of Senna's accident. Worried about what happened, Gerhard arranges to fly by helicopter to the Ospedale Maggiore in Bologna. Meanwhile, on the track, Larini stands out with the second Ferrari, stably occupying the second position and briefly taking the lead when Schumacher returns to the pits to refuel.
Everything continues without other particular circumstances until, ten laps from the end, another serious accident occurs inside the pit lane: the Minardi di Alboreto, which is coming out of the pits after a stop, loses one of the rear wheels, badly fixed by mechanics.
The rubber ends up at high speed against the staff of the other teams crowded in the lane. Three Ferrari mechanics (Claudio Bisi, Maurizio Barbieri and Daniele Volpi), one of Lotus (Baltiry Naio) and one of Benetton (Mark Fluckingel), as well as Roberto Manoni, member of the CEA rescue team, are injured from this further dramatic accident.
In a short time the pitlane was crowded with paramedics and ambulances, who intervened to provide first aid to the mechanics. Claudio Bisi is hospitalized as a precaution, but is discharged after a few hours, he only has a bruise on his foot and left leg, while Maurizio Barbieri and Daniele Volpi are held in hospital as the first has a compound fracture of the tibial spine and the femoral condyle of the knee left, and the second suffered a contusion in the left hypochondrium and one in the cervical spine. Maurizio Barbieri will later say describing the incident:
"I remember perfectly that tire that was on me. I crashed, but I never lost consciousness".
Lotus mechanic Baltiry Naio reports severe head and chest trauma, while Mark Fluckingel, Benetton mechanic and Roberto Manoni, member of CEA rescue, are more minor. Once again, despite the drama and the pit lane crowded with people and doctors, the race director, Roland Bruynseraede, neither suspends nor slows down the race.
The race is then concluded with Schumacher's third consecutive triumph, ahead of Larini and Häkkinen. Once on the podium, the drivers, mindful of the events of the previous days and informed of the incidents of the race, maintain a composed attitude and do not open the champagne.
However, no one informs the three pilots about the seriousness of the accident suffered by Ayrton Senna, so both Schumacher and Häkkinen, albeit calmly, celebrate the result obtained, and Larini also, during the lap of honor, lets himself go to the joy of the public.
Only at the end of the ceremony, Briatore informs Schumacher of Senna's actual state of health so that Häkkinen and Larini, who are not far away, discover the real state of health of their colleague rushed to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna.
Upon hearing the truth, Schumacher bursts into tears. Now we can finally say that the race is over. So now the debate begins. Interviewed after the race, Michael Schumacher has some suggestions:
"To limit the speed in the pits and, in some circuits, to lengthen the starting area. Before Imola I had discussed the safety problem with Senna, Berger and Alboreto, but the positions and interests were different. Now that Ayrton is not there plus, I think we will all agree...".
Clay Regazzoni, on the other hand, acquits the Imola circuit but condemns the cars and the technical regulations:
"It is useless to point the finger at the Imola circuit when the problem is in the cars, in safety, in aerodynamics, in the crazy regulation where the pilot really does not matter. As long as we continue to send cars on the track that are more similar to military jets than to cars the risks will always be very high. Today Formula 1 has jumped back fifty years. It is necessary to denounce the instigators of this massacre. These two deaths were not a fatality, because we know well that the circuits do not have the same speed in improving. Formula 1 to give fans the opportunity to follow the Grand Prix, exalting themselves for the sporting prowess of the champions and not for these memories of death".
"We must stop this Formula 1. I do not see anything in this world of sport, only big business and, like me, many others think the same way. The Federation is governed by irresponsible people who can only create single-seaters of death. Enough get close to these cars to understand how dangerous they are. The driver no longer counts for anything; the flat bottom, the aerodynamics must be revised as soon as possible. That Barrichello accident was the last stroke of luck further on. If the car arrives like a plane against the wall, there is nothing else to do but pray. All safety measures must be reconsidered and this must not only be done by the organizers, but also by the drivers because mainly they are the ones who risk their lives. We were deluded after so many years since the last death, that of de Angelis, who the single-seaters had by now reached an excellent level of safety. Instead it is not like that".
Michele Alboreto acts as a counterbalance to him, who thunders:
"I'm pissed off, I'm pissed off. But do you know that next week there will be rehearsals here in Imola? Do you know how many times I've talked about safety with the organizers of this sport. A sea of times. How many have listened to me? How many took note of when I said about the danger of refueling in the pits but above all about speed in the pits? It is absurd, because we drivers are in the car and who risks are also those four guys I ran over today. Guys who can't risk it like this. You cannot risk your life because there is no precise regulation, a speed limit. In the Indy championship you enter the pits at 40 km/h. If you go at 41 km/h you have a penalty of ten seconds. Because you cannot do the same thing here? And next week in Monte Carlo? The pits there are among the trees. Well, I will enter the pits at 50 km/h. I will notify the team, who will have to calculate the forty seconds it will take when I enter the pits, and the others do what they want. And if they are intelligent, my colleagues will do the same thing. We need to return to reason in this sport".
Japanese Ferrari technician Osama Goto, eyes red from crying, can barely say:
"It was not Alboreto's fault, losing a wheel at the pit stop can happen. Unfortunately this time the consequences were more serious than expected. In Imola there was a series of negative coincidences that I just can't explain: in so many years nothing had ever happened, now we have evened out with fear".
While everyone, without exception, begins to speak and express their opinion, over nine million people want to know and understand what happened to Ayrton Senna. In the hours following the Grand Prix, the live broadcast from the circuit will move from the Imola circuit to the Ospedale Maggiore in Bologna, then to the television studios. While in Imola, in dismay at what has happened, work continues. The boxes must be cleared.
In the Williams one, the logistics mechanic has taken care of getting rid of all the things that usually lead to a race and are no longer needed. At a certain time, only a gray bicycle with the Senna brand remains under the awning. He didn't really want to touch that bicycle, because it is the last thing left on the track by the Brazilian driver.
When someone passes in front of the Williams motorhome, noticing the bike leaning against a table, he looks around before running away with his eyes red from tears.
Few hold up in front of that bicycle, with a red sign attached that reads:
"To photograph with Ayrton on the track".
But Ayrton is not there. It is 2:34 pm when the helicopter gets up from the Imola circuit to rush to the Ospedale Maggiore in Bologna. Ayrton was moved extremely quickly, as he needed a tracheotomy using mechanical instruments. A few minutes earlier, when Ayrton's car crashed into the wall at the Tamburello corner at 2.17pm, Dr. Fiandri was at home, watching the Grand Prix on television with her Formula 1 fans.
The doctor is not on call, but she is on call. Watching the television images, he immediately realizes that the accident is very serious, so he changes his clothes and gets into his car. The beep of the search for people sounds a little later, when the doctor is already on the street in the direction of the Hospital Major in Bologna.
At 2.45 pm, Dr. Fiandri arrives at the Hospital Major in Bologna at the same time as the helicopter carrying Ayrton. During the transport, the heartbeat in Senna's body resumed its activity, albeit faintly. Obviously, the Brazilian driver is immediately taken to the intensive care unit.
The first thing Dr. Fiandri notices is the deep cut in the upper right lash area. The rest of the body is intact, there are no other major injuries. But focusing their attention on the facial area, the team notes the skull fractures:
"He was beautiful and serene, he made that impression on me. Obviously his face was a bit swollen from the trauma but I remember that there was a person next to me who also exclaimed: how beautiful it is".
This is how Dr. Fiandri remembers the first minutes of that visit, who a few minutes later, at 3.15 pm, leaves the recovery room and in the main hall of the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna says to the press:
"Severe head trauma, circulatory insufficiency and haemorrhagic shock to the airways were found. The patient will undergo a CT scan. In any case, the neurosurgeon who saw him excludes any type of intervention".
Given this first sad news from Dr. Fiandri to the press, from the emergency department on the ground floor, Ayrton is transported to the radiology department on the eleventh floor of the Hospita Major, wrapped in a gold-colored thermal blanket. Here the CT scan is done, which confirms what the doctors suspected: the lesions are huge and inoperable. A new press conference is called at 4.30 pm.
This time, five doctors appear in the great hall: with Dr. Fiandri there are the head of radiology Sandro Sartoni, the surgeon Franco Baldoni, the neurosurgeon Alvaro Andreoli and the head of services in Imola and the helicopter that transported Senna to the major hospital of Bologna, Giovanni Gordini.
"The clinical picture is dramatic: there are multiple fractures at the base of the skull, there is a cerebral edema, there is also a frontal breakthrough, and there is a heavy haemorrhage of the superficial temporal artery. The CT scan did not show any hematoma to be removed but there is a global suffering of the whole brain. Senna is in a deep coma. The long cardiac arrest certainly had its weight and certainly caused irreversible damage, but with an impact at that speed, even with the resuscitator next to it, very little could have been done".
The news spreads throughout the hospital. In the auditorium there is a confrontation with cameras, recorders, cameras, and even the Brazilian flags held by some fans who have come to pay their last farewell to Ayrton. At the same time, after the race, Frank Williams calls the Hospital Major to get information on the state of health of his driver.
Informed of the situation, a little later he arrives inside the room where Ayrton the hospital chaplain, Father Amedeo Zuffa, is present to bring the sacraments to the Brazilian pilot who, at least for now, is still alive but unconscious.
Meanwhile, the team of doctors decided to do an electroencephalogram, to understand whether or not there was brain activity: at 5:50 pm the sad reality of the facts emerges. At 5:55 pm, that is to say five minutes later, Dr. Fiandri, once again in the hospital hall, confirms what the team had hypothesized, namely that the electroencephalogram would not have shown brain activity. Ayrton is therefore in a deep coma. This is a declaration that definitively crushes any kind of hope.
Only the Italian law does not yet determine the declaration of the definitive shutdown of the young pilot's body, given that to reach this condition one must wait for cardiac arrest. In the meantime, after the eleventh floor of the Hospita Major in Bologna, the companion of the Priest Amedeo Zuffa describes what he has just seen to the Brazilian journalist Livio Oricchio.
Not satisfied, however, the chaperone feeling himself at the center of attention, lets himself go to the enthusiasm and begins to release a detailed description to the people who in the meantime, intrigued, are crowding around him.
After witnessing this extremely embarrassing and undoubtedly disrespectful episode towards the Brazilian driver, Livio Oricchio runs towards the priest's companion and kindly asks to end the rally. Meanwhile, Galvão Bueno and Betise Assumpção leave the elevator. The Brazilian journalist then goes to his colleague Livio Oricchio, and with a rather shaken tone, while not crying, he confides:
"It's over; it's over".
Taking advantage of his colleague's arrival, Oricchio informs Galvao of what the Priest's companion was still doing, then for a second time, this time they both turn to him asking again to interrupt the meeting. Only thanks to this second intervention, the companion understands the mistake, picks up the priest Amadeo Zuffa and walks away.
Shortly afterwards his friend and former teammate Gerhard Berger also arrives at the hospital, who after having retired during the Grand Prix raced in Imola, learned of the seriousness of Senna's condition, had decided to join Dr. Sid Watkins at the Maggiore Hospital from Bologna:
"Professor Sid Watkins was there and told me Ayrton didn't look good, but he asked me if I wanted to see him in the operating room".
So, Berger asks the staff who are working on Ayrton's body for permission to enter the room, to give a last farewell to one of his closest friends. Dr. Giovanni Gordini will later tell the episode:
"He asked us for permission to enter his room, the same one in which he had been hospitalized after his accident at the Tamburello. We explained what he should expect. He went in and stayed until the end. They must have been friends, I think it's rare for those who do the job of the pilot a gesture like that of Berger".
Gerhard will recall later:
"I went in and they were doing something with his head while he was covered. We stood in front of him for a while and then we left. Right after that it was confirmed that he had gone out".
At 7:00 pm on May 1, 1994, in the midst of a forest of microphones, cameras and faces marked by tears, tension, prayers, Dr. Maria Teresa Fiandri, Head of the Reanimation Department and 118 of the Maggiore Hospital of Bologna, has the painful task of informing the world on live televison and the press present in the main hall:
"At 6:40 pm Senna's heart stopped. The encephalogram had already been flat for some time".
Frank Williams also arrives at 7:30 pm, while preparations are underway for the transport of the body. Ayrton is transported to via Irnerio, at the Institute of Forensic Medicine of Bologna, at 9:00 pm.
At the same address, the following day at 11:10 am Ronald Ratzenberger's father also arrives aboard an Opel and, anonymously, passes among the girls crying with flowers in their hands, among the young people who have waited for the whole night to see the body of the greatest of all, as someone screams.
The next day, at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Bologna, the first and last of the class rest peacefully in the same room, sharing an identical destiny. Only the father for Roland Ratzenberger, the crowd for Ayrton. The two of them, however, are there together, on two beds in a shady room, where the noises and the sun's rays arrive softly.
Two faces: Ratzenberger's quiet, and Senna's swollen and wounded one. Ayrton's manager, Julius Braga, brings two suits: they must be used for the last trip. One is blue, the other is gray. He chooses gray.
Imola the next day is full of anguish, anger, long silences and controversies. At 9:30 am the autopsy on Senna's body takes place, at 3:00 pm on Roland's body, both performed by doctors Michele Romanelli and Pier Ludovico Ricci, flanked by the expert Corrado Cipolla D'Abruzzo. The first determines that Ayrton died due to the basal cerebral trauma due to a clearly visible impact point, on the right of the forehead, caused by frightening pressure, and cardiocirculatory arrest.
Roland, on the other hand, in the accident suffered a severe head injury (fracture of the cap in half), two broken vertebrae, the marrow damaged with blood loss, and severe internal trauma, including the spleen, and abundant blood loss. It is therefore certain that Ratzenberger and Senna did not lose their lives due to an illness.
After the autopsy ended, on May 3, 1994, two days after the Imola accident, in order to get Ayrton back to his homeland as soon as possible, Brazilian President Itamar Franco telephones the President of the Italian Republic, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, asking him to hasten the bureaucracy and return the Brazilian champion to the millions of people who await him at home.
Scalfaro perfectly understands the delicacy of the situation and makes a government flight available. Ayrton's coffin, wrapped in the green-gold flag of Brazil, leaves the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Bologna, aboard a black Mercedes, at 5:10 pm and reaches the Marconi airport in Bologna. Here he is loaded on the plane of the President of the Italian Republic, and at 6:20 pm he takes off for Paris, then landing at Charles de Gaulle airport, where, from Terminal 1, he is boarded on MD 11, Varig flight 723, ready leaving for San Paolo.
On the plane, after the request of Celso Lemos, responsible for the contracts of the Senna holding company, has been accepted by the president of Varig who, as expressly requested by the commander Reginaldo Gomes Pinto, issues a fax giving the order to transport the coffin inside the aircraft and not in the hold, Ayrton is deposited in a space obtained after removing some passenger seats, closed by curtains mounted internally to separate this sector from the rest.
During the flight, the journalist Livio Oricchio together with Galvão Bueno, Reginaldo Leme, Luis Roberto, Candido Garcia, and Ayrton's staff composed of Betise Assumpção, Celso Lemos and Josef Leberer, (physiotherapist from Senna), accompany Senna in this last one travel.
Obviously none of them can sleep, so for most of the flight they form a conversation group, with Galvao telling many stories from Senna, and at each end of the story, frustrated, slaps the coffin saying:
"Look how we are bringing him home now...".
The journey continues quite quietly, apart from the fact that a photographer, during the journey, manages to sneak in and take a picture of the coffin: however, Celso Lemos notices the flash and intervenes in time.
Not knowing how to act, however, Lemos calls Livio Oricchio, who manages to agree a concession with the photographer: a photo of the coffin as soon as they arrive in Brazil, in exchange for the cancellation of that photograph taken so forcefully a few minutes earlier. The agreement is then maintained a few hours later.
After twelve hours of travel, at dawn on May 4, 1994, at 6.10 am, the commander Reginaldo Gomes Pinto lowers the plane and touches the ground of the runway at Sao Paulo's Guarulhos airport with extreme delicacy. A few moments later, at low speed, the plane approaches the passenger terminal. The curtains in the section where Ayrton is present remain closed.
An army of reporters is looking for news from anyone who leaves the Varig flight from Paris; only at this moment did the passengers discover that Ayrton's coffin was aboard the plane. After all the passengers have disembarked, Viviane Senna and her husband enter the plane, while the group of reporters and friends leave the plane.
Shortly after, at 6:43 am the coffin covered by the Brazilian flag is taken out of the plane by the cadets of the military police and placed on a fire truck, which along the road between Guarulhos and the Moema district face a huge crowd of people ran for him, for Ayrton. Thus began the long journey to the funeral home.
Thirty kilometers must be covered to get from the airport to the city center. The procession crosses the favelas surrounding the airport, then the center with its skyscrapers, then the residential villa districts, and stops at the São Paulo State Assembly building, in the middle of the Ibirapuera Central Park.
The entire Brazilian militia is lined up on the streets, with the honors worthy of a hero.
A sign reads Senna dead in Imola, the third world thanks the first world. It is the greeting of the Brazilian people to their hero.
Firefighters, cuirassiers, foot soldiers and soldiers accompany Ayrton towards the last journey, while the whole of Brazil pours into the streets: no distinction of social class, they are all there, approximately five million people united on the street, to pay homage to Ayrton Senna. At the same time, the president of Brazil, Itamar Augusto Cautiero Franco, declared:
"I suffer with the whole nation the death of a courageous and honored young man who has shown the world the capacity of a people".
Neide, Ayrton's mother, several years later confessed:
"I felt my son was a loved one, but I didn't know he was that much".
At the funeral, held at 11:00 am on May 4, 1994, there is a huge crowd of people, including relatives Viviane and Leonardo, friends, his loves, including Xuxa Meneghel and Adriane Galisteu, the last, who was waiting for him on Sunday evening in Portugal, in the Algarve region, in the house Senna owned in Europe.
After seeing the incident on television, Adriane was about to board a plane taxi to reach Imola, but news of Ayrton's disappearance reached her before she boarded. At the ceremony, however, Adriane arrived on foot, hiking up the hill like any other guest, because Leonardo Senna seems to have learned, a few hours before the San Marino Grand Prix, that Ayrton's partner still had relations with the ex-boyfriend.
There is his athletic trainer, Nuno Cobra, who approaches the coffin with his eyes down and his heart swollen with pain, and only after a caress on the coffin he explodes in desperate tears. But there are also colleagues and companions from a thousand adventures on the track, including Ron Dennis, Frank Williams and Alain Prost.
Alain, who was in Paris the day after the accident, receives a call from an old friend, Jean-Luc Lagadere. Coincidence that Jean-Luc Lagadere's wife is Brazilian; Alain doesn't think twice, and asks for advice:
"I've already got my plane ticket ready, what do you think I should do?"
The answer is eloquent: Alain must absolutely go and say goodbye to Ayrton. The Brazilian people would certainly have liked this. Alain simply needed some advice that would definitely spur him on, as he was afraid of receiving a bad reception once he arrived. Jean-Luc Lagadere removed any doubts from him.
Also because Alain knows in his heart that if he hadn't gone, he would have regretted him for the rest of his life. He does not want to go to Brazil to give a good impression of himself, but because he feels it as a duty dictated by the pain he feels for the disappearance of Ayrton.
Arriving in Brazil, just as Jean-Luc Lagadere's wife predicted, there is no hostility towards him. Indeed, Alain is warmly welcomed by Ayrton's family, so much so that the day after the funeral, Milton, Ayrton's father, invites him to his estate to chat.
Instead, only two hundred and fifty will attend the funeral of Roland Ratzenberger on May 6, 1994. Present at the ceremony, held privately, are Gerhard Berger, returning from Sao Paulo, Walter Lechner, Karl Wendelinger, Niki Lauda and Max Mosley, who declares:
"Roland was forgotten. I went to his funeral because everyone went to Ayrton's. I thought it was important that someone went to his too".
On the other hand, the one who is not present at Ayrton's funeral is Nelson Piquet, who hasn't spent a good time with Ayrton, and preferred not to play the part of his friend after his death, despite being upset by his disappearance, so much so that, when interviewed, he could hardly speak from emotion:
"It is an injustice".
That's all Nelson has heard of. Ecclestone is also not present at the funeral, given that the Brazilian driver's family has expressed their willingness to sue the Formula 1 executives, as said by Charles Marzanasco, spokesman in charge who then added:
"Bernie Ecclestone is not welcome at the funeral".
Ecclestone is therefore present in São Paulo for the funeral, but he is not allowed to be part of the ceremony, and after being denied permission to attend the funeral by Senna's family, in an attempt to gain some sympathy, he tried to declare:
"Why doesn't Senna's family want me? I'd give all my money to bring him back to life. I was treated unfairly, when I was the owner of Brabham I was the first to give Senna a chance, but Piquet himself vetoed it. Because no one if do you take it out on Piquet?"
But the attempt is unsuccessful, also because Piquet does not confirm the indiscretion exposed by Ecclestone. After the funeral ceremony, it's time to take Ayrton to his final destination, Morumbi Cemetery, fifteen kilometers away. Journeys in two hours, because half a million people are waiting for Ayrton. In respectful silence, the Brazilian guard carries the coffin on his shoulder, while twenty-one cannon shots are fired to commemorate the pilot: three days of mourning have just been proclaimed across Brazil.
There are sixteen drivers waiting for him: Emerson Fittipaldi, Wilson Fittipaldi, Christian Fittipaldi, Rubens Barrichello, Roberto Moreno, Raul Boesel, Mauricio Sandro Sala, Alain Prost, Jackie Stewart, Thierry Bousten, Johnny Herbert, Gerhard Berger, Michele Alboreto, Hans Stuck, Derek Warwick and Damon Hill.
Meanwhile, Betise Assumpção, Ayrton's press officer, who arrived late at the place of the funeral celebration because she had helped friends, family and international guests to reach the Morumbi cemetery to witness the arrival of the procession, is immediately joined by Berger, which tells him:
"Betise, something must be done! Someone told me that Alain and Jackie will be in front of the coffin. We must change the order, these are the two people Ayrton hated the most in his life".
Knowing this, Betise talks to Geraldo Rodrigues, Rubens Barrichello's manager, and a close friend of his to whom she says:
"You won't believe it. They want to put Jackie Stewart and Alain Prost right in front. But there is no doubt that Gerhard Berger has to be in front instead, because he has always been with Ayrton in most of the good times in the past track that out".
After this exchange of information, it was finally decided to withdraw both Stewart and Prost, while their front row seats were taken by Berger and Emerson Fittipaldi. Ayrton Senna rests in a meadow in the center of São Paulo, in an anonymous tomb without crosses or lights, in the midst of many other Brazilians. On the plaque is engraved a passage from the Bible dear to him:
"Nada pode me separar do amor de Deus".
Nothing can separate me from God's love.
"Before leaving, Williams told me that he saw - from the video recordings - the car hit the asphalt more than normal, but he didn't know what happened. He then observed that the corner, although fast, has a slight angle. and only a mechanical failure would explain a violent exit from the road like that, but he also added that a definitive evaluation will be made only when the engineers of his team will be able to examine the car, seized by the Italian judiciary".
These are the words of Leonardo Senna, Ayrton's brother, expressed at the end of the funeral, to which he added:
"Once I have ascertained that it was not Ayrton who made a mistake, what matters to me is to prove that the Imola track did not guarantee the necessary safety conditions to compete in the Grand Prix".
This, on May 4, 1994, three days after the conclusion of the tragic weekend in Imola.
Formula One has never been exempt from judicial procedures, both in Italy and in other European countries. Suffice it to recall that Colin Chapman was wanted for manslaughter following the disappearance of Jochen Rindt, and that when Peterson's accident happened, which had not yet become tragic, he asked his mechanics to take the Swedish driver's car and run out from Italy, because in 1970 the Austrian driver's Lotus was seized.
So, after the tragic events in Imola, it is no coincidence that the car and the circuit are seized by the judiciary. However, the mass hysteria that arises only after Ayrton's disappearance is a particular fact. Political class and the Italian press feed a climate that is already very heavy in itself.
Sunday, May 1st, in Italy is a feast day; workers are celebrated, and theoretically no newspaper should be available on newsstands the next day. And instead Corriere dello Sport, Tuttosport, Il Resto del Carlino, Il Tempo and La Nazione, bring an extraordinary edition to newsstands on the following Monday morning, while in the afternoon the two in-depth weeklies, Auto & Sport and Autosprint, are already on newsstands at Bologna, and the next morning throughout Italy.
Almost all the newspapers blame the condition of the track, the International Automobile Federation, and the possible mechanical failure in equal parts. From neighboring France the news comes roughly along the lines of the Italian ones, but less exasperated. L'Equipe, the only French sports newspaper, apart from a couple of headlines, is quite balanced, even if it reports the statements of Patrick Head on the responsibilities of the pilot:
"It was Ayrton's mistake, he took his foot off the accelerator and the car lost aerodynamic load. We saw it from the telemetry, from the data coming to us on the computer".
Words immediately denied by the same technical director of Williams. At the same time, on May 2, 1994, at 6:00 am, the Brazilian journalist Livio Oricchio, seeing no one inside the Imola circuit, enters the plant with the car and heads towards the Tamburello curve, of the accident.
Once he arrives, while trying to understand the dynamics of the accident that involved Senna the previous day, a car from the Carabinieri and one from Sagis, the company that manages the track, arrive. A very tall man gets out of the Sagis car and, without speaking, approaches the journalist and gives him a violent push.
Livio Oricchio, after falling on the asphalt, tries to react but luckily the Carabinieri interrupt the clash which, most likely, would have led to serious consequences for the journalist. However, the man who got out of the Sagis car, not happy with what he just did, after physically assaulting Livio Oricchio decides to insult him. Oricchio replies:
"Are you afraid of having problems with justice due to the lack of security on your track? Two deaths on the same weekend can actually harm a lot of people".
The situation subsequently calmed down and the police began to isolate the scene, delimiting the place of the accident; when the head of production of Rete Globo, Jayme Britto, also arrives on site, the carabinieri ask the two journalists to leave and return to the paddock.
But if on the one hand there are those who try to do their job seriously and are violently interrupted, on the other, in addition to the Italian journalistic hysteria, that of the political class is created, until now always very detached from the world of motorsport.
From the day following the race, on May 2, 1994, the President of the Italian Republic, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, immediately gets in touch with the Minister of Justice, Giovanni Conso, to find out what initiatives the Italian judiciary had taken for the events in Imola:
"The news of Senna's death deeply saddened me. I was interested in learning about the initiatives of the judiciary, which had already opened an investigation, and I firmly regretted that, after so much disaster, the race was not dutifully interrupted".
These are concepts that Scalfaro reiterates first in a message sent to the president of Brazil, Itamar Augusto Cautiero Franco, and later also in the course of a telephone conversation with Rosario Alessi, president of ACI.
On the same day, Minister Antonio Maccanico, undersecretary of the presidency of the council, also spoke with Alessi, saying he was saddened, on behalf of the Italian government, for the failure to cancel the race.
Climbing from the top to the bottom, within the Italian political class many are pronouncing themselves on the tragedy, starting with the group of Reformers parliamentarians who present an urgent question to the Prime Minister on the Imola incidents: Paolo Vigevano, Emma Bonino, Elio Vito, Peppino Calderisi and Lorenzo Strik-Lievers are the signatories.
A similar initiative is also launched by the parliamentary group of the Greens, which aims at the suspension of the Formula 1 World Championship. The Vatican's stance is also very hard, condemning the world of Formula 1 from the columns of the Osservatore Romano, describing it as:
"A glittering sideshow, the maximum expression of the gigantism and aberrations that sport-entertainment has reached. The true sporting spirit has suffered a final and definitive blow in Imola in the relentless degradation of its values, canceled by the interests at stake and overwhelmed by the inhumanity. The suspicion remains that if the best and most famous pilot had not fallen, everything else - the other victim, the wounded, the near misses - would have been minimized. Unfortunately it has already happened, and it is bitter to note that we have realize only now the value of human life".
And if you believe that the Vatican, which has always been opposed to car racing, has simply reiterated a concept that it had been expressing for decades, in Italy even figures from the world of sport express harsh opinions towards the world of Formula 1. The president of Coni, Mario Pescante, for example, declares:
"Sport and athletes are one thing, and therefore also the Formula 1 drivers, the organizers and managers are another thing. When you see the cars fly, as happened on Sunday, it is clear that you are working superficially. indecorous. I don't think it's simple business, that only money counts: maybe they believed in fate, in the fact that the death of the pilot is part of the game. It's not honest, it's not like that. I will meet as soon as possible with the president of CSAI: I will tell him that Italian motoring, which boasts a glorious past, no longer has much to do with the current one".
For these reasons, on May 2, 1994, after an initial hesitation, a phone call from the Minister of Grace and Justice, Giovanni Conso, to the Bolognese Attorney General Pellegrino Jannaccone, by the will of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, opens the investigation into the double accident of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna.
The consequence is that during the morning of May 2, 1994, in the offices of the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Magistrate's Court, a meeting is held with the prosecutors, the coroner and the head of the Polstrada, which was also attended, albeit informally, by the Chief Prosecutor of the Prosecutor's Office at the Court, Pellegrino Iannaccone. For at least four hours the reporters were unable to approach the magistrates, who were in contact with the Ministry of Grace and Justice, in turn pressed by the embassies of Brazil and Austria for the repatriation of the pilots.
At the end of this summit, at 2:00 pm on May 2, 1994, the chief prosecutor of the prosecutor's office at the court, Francesco Pintor, delivers to the prosecutor Maurizio Passarini a very concise statement summarizing the main stages of the investigation.
In addition to the investigations on the two destroyed cars, the magistrates will have to view all the videos of the accidents, already seized, and will have to pay particular attention, through the inspections on the circuit, to the road surface of the Imola racetrack, in the hypothesis that some inconvenience technician may have contributed to the accidents. But that is not all.
It was also decided that the race marshals, drivers and technicians of the Formula 1 environment must also be summoned to the courthouse, since their testimonies could prove to be important for identifying the causes of the two accidents, and the prosecutor must be flanked by Formula 1 experts. It is May 2, 1994, Monday afternoon.
The prosecutor Maurizio Passarini immediately began the investigation by putting the seals on the Imola circuit and on Senna's helmet, going in person to the scene of the accident, and inviting Sagis to appoint an expert to attend the autopsies of Senna and Ratzenberger, automatically triggering the warranty notice for the company that manages the racetrack:
"A duty even if everything was carried out in compliance with the rules".
The lawyer Roberto Landi specifies who, with Francesco Colliva and Gianluigi Lebro, represents Sagis, while the lawyer Federico Bendinelli adds:
"An obvious and inevitable fact: the seizure of the racetrack, the cars and the drivers' helmets had already inevitably called us into question. Probably the same fate will also befall others in the coming days, as the prosecutor has asked me for the addresses of the helmet companies and car teams".
On May 3, 1994, at the institute of forensic medicine, at 9:30 am, the investigation continued through the examination of the remains of Ayrton Senna and later, on the same day, of Roland Ratzenberger, as ordered by the chief prosecutor Francesco Pintor.
Meanwhile, while the Minister of Defense of the Italian government, Fabio Fabbri, hopes that the Italian magistrates will sanction the Imola crime, the public prosecutor Passarini proceeds to convene the protagonists of that world of Formula 1 that Fabio Fabbri defines as worse than the Circus Maximus with gladiators. In response to these statements, the CEO of Fiat, Cesare Romiti, urges the political class not to criminalize Formula 1:
"The accident at Senna was serious for the driver's reputation and also because another fatal accident followed. But there have been accidents in the past too and always, when valuable riders have fallen, there has been talk of changing rules and circuits. Now safety must be increased, but Formula 1 gives a lot to the industry, it must not be stormed".
From the early hours, the major accused seems to be the Imola racetrack, which from a model circuit in just one weekend, for public opinion, has become a dangerous facility, with too many walls and few escape routes, which has registered delays in rescuing pilots, especially Senna.
Yet, in the opinion of many protagonists of the world of Formula One, the Italian circuit is not absolutely guilty of the disappearance of Ayrton and Ratzenberger. During the race weekend, Clay Regazzoni, for example, lined up in defense of the Imola facility. Nelson Piquet thought about it, he too, in 1987, victim of a serious accident at the Tamburello:
"Imola is as dangerous as Monte Carlo, Adelaide and all the other racetracks. The problem is that to make the tracks safe, they should be surrounded by a safety area of one hundred meters long, covered with sand. But it is impossible".
However he adds:
"Of course, in the light of what has happened, however, I suggest eliminating the Tamburello curve by transforming it into a straight".
And obviously Federico Bendinelli, managing director of Sagis, the company that manages the plant, is not slow to publicly declare that there will be changes.
"We will make all the changes that are required, but that is not the point. The tracks cannot continue to chase the performance of ever more powerful cars. Ours are the problems of all the racetracks, the problem is high speed".
The next day, May 4, 1994, while Senna's funeral is taking place in São Paulo, a summit is held at the FIA headquarters in Paris, promoted by the lawyer Rosario Alessi, president of ACI, and by Marco Piccinini, president of the CSAI, to examine the reports received from Imola and try to understand if there were any technical problems that caused the accidents.
An impromptu summit is attended by, in addition to the Italian representatives, the president of the FIA, Max Mosley, the vice presidents, the Formula 1 commission and the members of the central Bureau. A meeting that, however, does not lead to any appreciable result, because the cars of Ratzenberger and Senna, being impounded, cannot be subjected to appraisals that can help to understand what happened.
Just as the summit is taking place, the lawyer Roberto Causo, representative of the FIA and the CSAI, went to the prosecutor Passarini to request the release of the cars in view of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, on May 15, 1994, hoping to be able to allow Williams and Simtek have the time to identify any faults or design defects, but the Italian magistrate denies the lawyer consent, also confiding to him that the trial times will go well beyond the ten days that separates them from the Grand Prix that will be run in Monte Carlo. Then, at the end of the summit, Max Mosley comments:
"We are waiting to receive some information from the teams concerned because there are some on-board equipment of the cars that need to be decoded. Tomorrow we will know more".
Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher makes it known that the pilots have also decided to come together and talk about what is happening around them. As expected since Imola, the drivers will meet in Monte Carlo to discuss what is happening:
"Before the next Monaco Grand Prix we will meet among us drivers to talk about the situation. But we certainly cannot change things, because we cannot do everything in one day. Last year we had reached high levels of safety. Now, it would be necessary to impose a speed limit in the pits immediately and, in some circuits, to lengthen the starting area. Before Imola I discussed it with Senna, Berger, Alboreto and Letho, but positions and interests diverged. Now we will all agree".
Schumacher declares, while the public prosecutor Passarini makes a telephone call to Benetton to obtain his home address and, more generally, to know where to find him. Meanwhile, the forensic police are processing the videos and photographs that were taken on the track, now under seizure, and analyzing the remains of the cars of Ratzenberger and Senna.
Two days later, on May 6, 1994, a further controversy broke out on the Imola circuit.
This is because it turns out that on March 9, 1994, Alberto Castioni, a great Formula 1 fan who has faithfully followed the tests that take place in Imola for years, with his video camera filmed a scene in which Ayrton is seen, accompanied by the director of the racetrack. Poggi and by the administrator of Sagis, Bendinelli, intent on showing some irregularities in the asphalt at the entrance to the Tamburello curve. In his testimony, Alberto Castioni states that Senna appeared very worried, so much so that during the rehearsals, in that stretch, he visibly slowed down:
"The rehearsals had been suspended for the lunch break, when a Mercedes arrived from which Senna got off, along with three other people. I filmed everything with my camera. Senna was worried and it was clear that he was complaining pointing to some patches of asphalt right in the point where his car then took off on Sunday. His was the only car that was wide open on the asphalt. From the few sentences I could hear Senna said that the road surface was dangerous, that you risked losing control".
Indeed, after the emergence of this testimony, at the same time it turns out that Senna had already complained about the roughness of the Tamburello curve with the journalists, to whom he had confided:
"At the Tamburello there are three or four steps that make the car hit the ground and accentuate the tendency to go straight. I hope something will be done".
But the lawyer Bendinelli, taken into question by these tests, immediately states that in the interview dating back to March 9, 1994:
"Senna said that the asphalt had bumps that made the car jump, we asked if he could suggest something and Ayrton advised us to file the bumps".
In this regard, the Italian driver Andrea de Cesaris adds:
"Senna and I had gone together to see the dangerous spots, namely Tamburello, Piratella and Variante Bassa. We were told that we were right, that the asphalt was not in order, that it would have to be redone but that there was no time. The fact is that when there were active suspensions the car adapted to these roughnesses, now we hear them all like hammer blows".
So, in the absence of time to be able to make the necessary changes on the asphalt of the circuit, between Wednesday March 9 and Thursday March 10, 1994, a work was carried out to level the roughness, as admitted by the lawyer Bendinelli:
"The work was done with a particular car, the day after Senna's signal. Ayrton told Poggi that he was satisfied. He no longer felt the roughness he had pointed out to us. The proof is that he later set the lap record".
And in fact, on Thursday March 10, 1994, the FIA manager present in Imola approved the circuit for the San Marino Grand Prix. Bendinelli also adds other very interesting details:
"When I went to say hello, he told me they were fine, everything was ok. I don't know that he complained again. I think the real problem is another: Senna had a critical car, as he said himself. A difficult car to drive, even for him".
In fact, Senna complained about the conditions of the asphalt with the circuit executives, but he also spoke to an Auto&Sport journalist about Williams' problems:
"We need to work on the suspensions, they are not strong enough to withstand the stresses. It is essential to adjust the shock absorbers and springs".
Bernie Ecclestone also openly declares that in his opinion Senna's disappearance was caused more by a suspension failure than by track conditions; a hypothesis, this, also espoused by Nelson Piquet.
Therefore, while the Italian political class is generally deployed against the world of Formula 1 and more in detail against the Imola plant, in the same environment one begins to perceive that a mechanical failure could have been causing Ayrton's accident.
In the meantime, the investigation of the Bologna prosecutor's office continues.
On May 6, 1994, after the two cars have been analyzed, the prosecutor Maurizio Passarini requests the acquisition of the control units of Ratzenberger's Simtek and Senna's Williams: both should be in the pits, but the prosecutor discovers that the engineers of the two teams they pulled them out and took them away when they left the Imola circuit on May 1, 1994.
Passarini therefore initiates an international letter of letters in England, in Banbury and Didcot, the headquarters of the two teams. The magistrate's hypothesis is that the explanation for the disappearance of the two pilots may be hidden in the mass of information recorded by the telemetry equipment.
Between May 6 and 7, 1994, the public prosecutor meets in secrecy in Imola and in the traffic police barracks, together with two technicians, Michele Alboreto and Pierluigi Martini. The interrogation touches on the most controversial aspects of their statements, issued in the aftermath of the disappearance of Ratzenberger and Senna.
In particular, Alboreto had told of how much Ayrton was shaken after the events of Saturday and would have strongly reiterated the criticisms of the Imola racetrack and the concrete wall against which the Williams crashed.
Martini, on the other hand, tells the prosecutor that he had discussed with Senna the problem of cold tires, which hardly reached the right temperature and which therefore represented an additional source of risk, especially at the Tamburello, and especially for Senna, since his Williams hit the asphalt.
Precisely in this regard, in the aftermath of Ayrton's fatal accident, Goodyear boss Leo Mehel had immediately made it clear that Formula 1 cars, with this type of narrow tires could not and cannot be governed, but he added:
"By regulation they wanted the tightest tires and we made them, now the problem is not ours".
On May 9, 1994, after the Italian magistrates had forwarded an international rogatory to obtain telemetry records of the race from Williams and Simtek, the English judiciary asked for clarification on the investigation, before proceeding.
At the same time, the public prosecutor Passarini discovers that, in addition to the control units, the wing of Roland Ratzenberger's Simtek, useful for the purpose of the investigation, is not present in the pits, as it may have been stolen by a spectator. Only a few days later it is discovered that a bartender from Bazzano, Salvatore Straniero, has at home, as a souvenir, a piece of the wing detached from Ratzenberger's Simtek.
After refusing to sell the find to various suitors, Straniero decides to make the story public, which is also well known to his fellow villagers, and the spoiler is immediately seized by the Bazzano carabinieri to deliver it to the magistrates in charge of the investigation into the disappearances of Ratzenberger and Seine. Salvatore Straniero will tell:
"I was behind the Villeneuve curve when I saw the Simtek lose grip and hit the wall: I threw myself on the ground, saw the wing piece next to me and picked it up".
Meanwhile, from England Frank Williams informs the press that only Damon Hill's Williams will be deployed in Monte Carlo, and adds that the investigations have not identified any breakdowns on Senna's car that may have caused the fatal accident:
"Since returning from Italy, an intensive study of all the data currently available has been carried out. And these tests did not reveal any system or component failures of the car. Anyway, the investigations continue. Of course, they would be facilitated by examining the car, which however is confiscated. But based on the results of the exams, and in consideration of the information we currently have, we can say that the team has confidence in the full safety of Williams who will race in Monte Carlo".
Thus began a particular tug-of-war between the English teams and the FIA who would like the release of the cars to understand the causes of the two accidents, keeping to underline that from the data in their possession they did not find technical anomalies (although these statements clash with what was said in the previous days) and the Italian judiciary which instead not only maintains the seizure, but also requires the control units in order to better understand the dynamics of the accidents. Meanwhile, on May 10, 1994, Damon Hill points the finger at the FIA, declaring:
"Those gentlemen in the FIA blazers do not understand anything about safety. Talking to them is impossible or completely useless: it would be like trying to teach democracy to Stalin. These people, who have never been in a Formula 1 car, cannot understand what it means to drive at over 300 km/h on a narrow track between two concrete walls and with twenty-five other cars behind. I believe that the responsibility for our safety must lie with the authorities. Drivers continue to drive in the most dangerous conditions because competition it is very strict. There is always someone willing to do anything to win. We need regulations even to protect us from our impulses".
And he concludes his public speech by stressing that on the 1994 single-seaters no driver could survive a collision that occurs at over 300 km/h. The response of the FIA is not long in coming. On May 12, 1994, an article appears in the columns of the Times of London in which Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone affirm that Senna has disappeared due to unfortunate circumstances, debunking the hypothesis of a mechanical failure of Williams.
Contributing to the tragedy, according to both, was most likely a front wheel, with relative suspension, which would have hit Senna in the head after breaking away from the car when it collided with the Imola wall. Ecclestone's belief is that Senna would have survived the accident without injury if only the front tire had flown ten centimeters sideways or higher over his head:
"Ayrton would have done nothing but unfasten his seat belt and get out of the car with a devil for a hair".
An intervention to which is added the comment of Max Mosley, who citing the results of the autopsy publicly declares:
"A piece of the Williams suspension punctured Senna's helmet, resulting in his death".
In the intervention published by the Times, Mosley vigorously defends the safety of Imola and more particularly the concrete walls that delimit the circuits, responsible according to a British neurosurgeon for serious injuries from deceleration:
"Concrete walls are allowed when the angle of attack, in the event of an impact, is likely to be not very pronounced because in this case the car loses speed as it re-enters the track and the deceleration is modest. A wall is only dangerous if the angle of impact is instead very pronounced: the leading drivers were all satisfied with the walls of Imola, because the experience of many accidents had shown that no injuries had occurred".
However, the FIA does not stand still in the face of what happened, and decides to appeal to safety considerations to impose a series of regulatory changes, aimed at reducing the performance of the cars, starting from the Monegasque race: a speed limit is in fact imposed to the cars in the pit lane of 80 km/h, and we start talking about how to slow down the cars in view of Grand Prix raced in very fast circuits such as Barcelona, Montreal, Silverstone, Spa and Monza.
Still on the safety front, the reborn GPDA begins to meet, electing Gerhard Berger, Michael Schumacher and Christian Fittipaldi as representatives, while the management is entrusted to Niki Lauda, and the drivers who would have been responsible for the inspection of the circuits theater of the Subsequent Grand Prix to verify safety and propose any corrections. With this increasingly tense and heavy climate, the race weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix began on 12 May 1994.
Not even the time to start, which immediately plunges the drama back into the world of Formula 1. During the first practice session, Karl Wendlinger loses control of his Sauber at the exit of the tunnel, and crashes violently against the barriers outside the Nouvelle Chicane. Due to the very low cockpit edges, which offer poor neck and head protection for pilots, Wendlinger slams his head directly against the protective barriers, which are poorly protected by a row of water-filled cushions.
Subsequent investigations ascertain that, due to an excessive delay in braking, the car broke down and became uncontrollable. The situation immediately appears serious: the rescuers extract the driver from the car, reduced to a state of semi-unconsciousness, stabilize him and transport him to the Saint-Roch hospital in Nice, where Wendlinger is placed in a pharmacological coma to facilitate the reabsorption of the serious injuries to the head.
What is absurd is that while Wendlinger becomes involved in this serious accident, people in the boat and in the city continue their normal social life, as the television does not immediately broadcast what is happening at the exit of the tunnel. Without television broadcasts, the gravity of the facts and of the news emerges with an exasperating slowness and only in the late afternoon the strangers swooped into Monaco for the great race start. Now we ask ourselves: what will Prince Ranieri do?
He could say enough to the gentlemen of the FIA who now all indicate as responsible for these episodes. Already touched by Senna's death, the Prince may decide not to continue the Grand Prix if Wendlinger fails.
Also because in Montecarlo there is no longer the festive air of the old Grand Prix. After the Wendlinger accident, some yachts leave the harbor; others begin preparations to set sail. The Sauber Mercedes team also announces that it will not start the Monaco Grand Prix, after Heinz Harald Frentzen, teammate Wendlinger, had already missed the first round of qualifying:
"The Monegasque weekend ended here for us: we don't feel like racing, none of us feel like it".
On the other hand, the race weekend does not stop. On May 14, 1994, during qualifying, Schumacher broke the track record, recording a time of 1'18"560 against the 1'20"557 set the previous year by Prost, with a car equipped with active suspension. Under an awning of the paddocks Clay Regazzoni stops watching television, parks his chair in front of a table, then blurts out:
"Here it is, Formula 1 slowed down by the abolition of electronics: these go two or three seconds faster than before. And there is no safety. They didn't understand me when I said it. They thought I was criticizing the circuits, the truth is that these machines make the tracks less safe, when you go at 300 km/h if you don't have very long escape routes you get hurt, you die you can completely change the circuits, you have to intervene on the power, on the speed. Elementary, right?"
"But no. Ratzenberger is dead, Senna is dead, Wendlinger is in a coma: all this had to be put together, before the pilots decided to do something. And what did they do? An association that will meet, will discuss, will decide. But it will only express himself on the circuits. It is already something, of course, compared to nothing that has been done up to now; but on the manufacturers, on the machines, who supervises? in the hands of the builders, who are perhaps also happy if one or two circuits are rejected".
"And then, what is the point of a commission of drivers led by Lauda? He is a former driver but he is also an employee of Ferrari. Niki, before deciding even the smallest thing, will have to talk to his employers and maybe even with Ecclestone. The truth is that these here, today's drivers, have no balls. In 1973, in Barcelona, we did an inspection of the circuit: there were Stewart, Fittipaldi, Beltoise. We discovered that the guard rails were slow, there they had fixed badly. We had to start practice, we went to the organizers and informed them that we, in those conditions, would not go to the track. And we did not go: the first day of practice was canceled, they fixed the guard rails and we returned to run".
"Stuff of other times, when there was a union conscience. He left with Stewart: when he retired, it was all over. The commitment, the teamwork, the desire to protect themselves. No balls, no security. I rushed in 1981, after my accident. Some American friends convinced me to sue the Long Beach circuit, also to create a precedent that forced the organizers to be more careful. I asked some drivers to sign the document. They told me to leave to lose, not to look for more trouble. Even Andretti, a friend, said no. It was all over, even then".
"On the other hand, this is the Formula 1 that the FIA and the constructors want. With electronics they had created the perfect cars, which they drove from the pits: it was enough to slip a dummy, any driver, and they walked. taken a step back, and we all see what happens. Not only the circuits, but also the drivers are unsuitable for these cars. Once upon a time you really drove, here in Monte Carlo it was fun: you worked hard, but you drove if the car did not go, it was made to walk anyway. Schumacher, Alesi, Berger: of those of today, only they could have driven twenty years ago".
"And maybe they would have learned to live in a group, to be respected. Instead nothing, they have no courage, no ideas. They say they are afraid of being fired, that they cannot strike. Well, I suggested, then try to ask for some changes of this circuit, but immediately: from the way in which the FIA will react, you will understand how strong you are. Nothing, they did not listen to me. That they did not go to see Wendlinger I understand, I have not done it in the past, and I never went to a funeral of a pilot: who goes there, almost always does it to be seen, to appear. The real scandal is that they waited for another serious accident before moving. If something changes, but seriously, it can only depend on them. I hear it said: now we are in tune with Ecclestone. It will be. But I cannot forget an afternoon twenty years ago, in Watkins Glen, America. Peterson had an accident, we pilots were upset. Bernie caught me and took me behind the pits, off the track. We were alone, he and I: he made me understand that it was better for everyone if we were good, he used an English idiom. He said, Clay, I scratch your back and you scratch me. It was windy, we were standing in the middle of a sea of garbage".
Obviously, this further very serious accident that in the first minutes seems to cost the life of another young driver, as well as infuriating the good Clay Regazzoni, one of the brave few who loudly denounces what is happening, does nothing but fuel the controversy unleashed by the Italian political class. The deputy of AN, Gustavo Selva, asks the government to promote all safety measures on cars and circuits with car manufacturers and organizers, while the Pannella List calls for the dissolution of television contractual obligations: an impossible initiative, because televisions who acquire the rights of Formula 1 cannot not show the Grand Prix.
But there is not only the political insurrection to govern the climate of tension around Formula 1 in Italy. A survey carried out by the Gr Rai, which receives 20.200 phone calls, shows that 82.39% of the people interviewed want the F1 world championship to be stopped immediately, without running the Monaco Grand Prix.
Yet, on May 15, 1994, in Italy almost one in two viewers watched the race: 4.825.000 spectators tuned into their television sets, recording a share of 46.05%. It is in this climate that the investigations into the disappearance of Senna and Ratzenberger continue.
Tuesday May 17, 1994. the Italian public prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, appoints the experts who will have sixty days to file the reports on the cars of the drivers who have disappeared in Imola:
- Francesco Bomparola, engineer of Anas, the national body for the streets;
- Alberto Bucchi, professor of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Bologna;
- Roberto Nosetto, former director of the Imola circuit;
- Enrico Lorenzini, Dean of the Engineering Faculty of the University of Bologna;
- Antonio Dal Monte, doctor of the Department of Sports Science;
- Corrado Maria Cipolla d'Abruzzo, medical examiner;
- Mauro Forghieri, former Ferrari and Lamborghini designer;
- Tommaso Carletti, Engineer of the Italian Formula 1 Team;
- Emanuele Pirro, former Formula 1 driver.
To these is added the engineer Giorgio Stirano, appointed by Williams, and:
- Enrico Alviano, engineer of Alfa racing;
- Jean Caude Migeot, former Ferrari designer;
- Marchionna and Giavotto, professors of the Milan Polytechnic.
Appointed by Sagis.
With regard to the hypothesis of manslaughter, the following are investigated:
- Frank Williams, proprietor;
- Patrick Head, technical director;
- Ian Campbell Harrison, legal representative;
- David Brown, track engineer;
- Stewart Prattley, chief mechanic;
- Michael Tyers, engine mechanic;
- Carl Nichols Gaden, stockbroker;
- Gary Alan Woodward, technician;
- Steven John Coates, tire dealer.
Part of the Williams Grand Prix Engineering, defended by the lawyer Roberto Causo. To these are added the charges for the hypothesis of manslaughter against:
- Nick Wirth, owner and technical director;
- Gary James North, track engineer;
- Andrew John Routledge, mechanic;
- Douglas Charles Harvey, mechanic;
- Andrew Coleman, mechanic.
They are part of the Symtek Grand Prix team, defended by the lawyer Claudio Naccarato. Finally, the public prosecutor Passarini also brings to trial for the hypothesis of manslaughter:
- Luciano Conti, president of Sagis;
- Federico Bendinelli, managing director of Sagis;
- Giorgio Poggi, director of the racetrack.
Defended by lawyers Landi, Colliva and Birindelli.
Sixty days: after which the appraisals should explain the reasons why Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna died in Imola, during the race weekend. As for the accident involving Ratzenberger, the Symtek technicians immediately indicate that the telemetry track shows that before the start of the route that leads the Austrian driver towards the Villeneuve corner, scene of the accident, the car would have travelled more meters than necessary.
This would show that Roland went off the track and presumably re-entered damaging the front wing, which under the enormous physical effort in full straight, at 314.9 km/h would have yielded, slipping under the car, making any attempt to steer vain. the front wheels.
In the following weeks, photos emerge showing that at Tosa the Austrian driver had lost control of the car and had returned to the trajectory after passing over the curb. On June 25, 1994, Passarini requests the dismissal of the investigations on Nick Wirth, Gary James North, Andrew John Routledge, Douglas Charles Harvey, and Andrew Coleman, who therefore are not even brought to trial. The procedure for understanding the causes of Ayrton's disappearance, on the other hand, is more complex.
On May 18th, Bernard Michel Duffort, head of Renault Sport F1 engine control, delivered the engine control unit previously mounted on Senna's car. Between May 1, 1994, and May 18th, the control unit was reused by Renault, so for this reason the data, which were transferred to a laptop, and from there moved to floppy disk, are delivered to the judiciary.
On Wednesday May 25th, the public prosecutor Passarini and the appointed experts inspect the cars kept in the garages of the Imola circuit, and proceed with the photographic sampling. Also present are engineer Giorgio Stirano, Patrick Head and Charlie Whiting, accompanied by a group of FIA technicians.
In this circumstance, the engineer Giorgio Stirano delivers to the prosecutor Maurizio Passarini the data downloaded by Williams on a laptop from the Renault control unit, the same delivered on May 18, 1994.
At the same time, the Siproma company inspects the Imola track and the Sorito company is commissioned to carry out the topographic surveys, while the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Bologna carries out laboratory tests on the Williams column. On June 1st, Emanuele Pirro, Antonio Dal Monte and Roberto Nosetto develop the plans of the Imola circuit and make further surveys on the road surface of the Tamburello curve.
Thursday June 16th, the prosecutor Passarini summons Patrick Head (under investigation) and Damon Hill (informed of the facts) for further study. Williams' technical director is listened to for a few minutes, and at the end of the meeting he comments:
"The fault of a car breakdown? How do you tell? If Frank Williams really said it, it was undoubtedly because he was upset. It was a hot answer, right after the tragedy. It was a a very bad moment, a terrible moment. I remember many things from that morning that may perhaps help the magistrate to reconstruct the picture of events".
While the British pilot is listened to for more than an hour in order to reconstruct the scenario of that damned day. On June 28th, Professor Enrico Lorenzini, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Bologna, examining the Williams column, notices obvious signs of fatigue on the metal. On Friday August 5th, the French newspaper Informatin publishes an interview with Williams designer Adrian Newey, in which he states:
"The steering column can break in the event of a collision, but the break may be due to a bad metal composition. Ayrton complained that he did not have the necessary place to maneuver the steering wheel and that he did not see his on-board instruments, so we reduced the diameter of the column. But the telemetry data doesn't tell us if it broke before or after the impact against the wall".
For this reason, on Friday September 9th, on the occasion of the Italian Grand Prix, the prosecutor Maurizio Passarini goes to Monza to meet Frank Williams, to whom he asks to be able to speak with Adrian Newey, Williams’ designer who until now has remained excluded from the investigation:
"Passarini came expressly to speak with Adrian Newey, our aerodynamics technician. I cannot say anything about the interview with him".
A few months later, on February 24, 1995, the public prosecutor Pasarini filed the reports on the incidents of Senna and Ratzenberger at the clerk's office of the Bologna District Prosecutor's Office. But it will be necessary to wait until Thursday February 20, 1997, for the Bendinelli trial plus others to begin inside the ballroom of the Palazzo dei Circoli, in which Ayrton's family sends the lawyer Carcaterra as an observer, since he is not constituted civil party.
In an interview published on May 26, 1994, by the newspaper O Globo, therefore three years earlier, Leonardo Senna had stated in this regard:
"Mosley and Ecclestone are looking for excuses to hide the truth about Ayrton's death: they only think about money, power and their ambition. We have hired an Italian lawyer to follow the report on the accident. We are sure that Mosley and Ecclestone are trying not to blame Ayrton's death on the wall of the Imola circuit: they are guilty of not having checked it".
The investigations should have clarified what happened to the Tamburello during the seventh lap of the San Marino Grand Prix, and indeed, many answers have been given. Not all of them, of course, but this is because due to the lack of some fundamental data, which were lost following the crash of the car against the wall, the dynamics of the accident cannot be fully explained - with certain and unequivocal evidence. What happened?
First of all, it must be borne in mind that the only concrete data are those relating to the telemetry of the engine and the power steering of the Senna car, the evidence taken from the traces present in the accident site, the video footage, which is not complete, the expert reports carried out on the material with which the steering column of Senna's car was made, and from the remains of the car.
Well, with the data that has become public domain through the process that took place in Italy, first of all by reading the data downloaded on computers by both Williams and Renault, which come from the telemetry recorded by the Magneti Marelli control unit of the Renault engine mounted on the Williams, which we must remember that transmitted the data via a radio signal to the computers present in the pits on the main straight of the Imola circuit, thus having to take the finish line as the starting point of the investigation, it is clear that:
From the finish line up to 10.70 seconds later, Ayrton follows the beginning of the Tamburello curve maintaining a stable curvilinear trajectory at increasing speed. At 11.10 seconds, at a first depression in the asphalt, the bottom of the Williams touches the ground, as also demonstrated by the disturbance of the camera signal. At this moment, oversteer begins (rear axle skids).
At 11.22 seconds Ayrton notices the presence of oversteer, as demonstrated by the increase in lateral gravitational force, which goes from 3.27 g (to 11.1 seconds) to 3.62 g. Ayrton cuts the throttle and the engine revs drop.
At 11.26 seconds, that is four hundredths of a second later, the car returns to lower itself towards the ground until it touches it again. The nose of the car begins a tangent trajectory towards the outer wall. Lateral acceleration is constant (3.62 force gravity point), while the car slows down due to contact with the ground. At the same time, at this juncture, comparing the video of the qualifying tests on Friday with the video of the accident, it turns out that the yellow button on the steering wheel has an anomalous movement, a translation (lowering and lateral displacement) of twenty-eight millimeters with respect to the center. steering.
But above all, between the time of 11.10 seconds and 1.24 seconds, the car is closing its nose to the left, i.e. at the corner due to oversteer and lateral acceleration goes from 2.72 g to 3.62 force gravity point, while in the instant 11.26 seconds an opposite effect begins, with an external displacement of the car in spite of the curve. At 11.30 seconds, Ayrton initiates steering reduction to correct oversteer. Lateral acceleration drops to 2.13 force gravity point as it decreases the camber.
At 11.40 seconds, in the absence of centrifugal force, combined with the hypothesized straightening of the car in spite of the direction of travel, Ayrton's helmet rests on the left side of the cockpit. An effect that would be confirmed by the decrease in longitudinal acceleration (to -0.14 force gravity point).
Between the second 11.42 and the second 11.48, in correspondence with the second depression, Ayrton closes the accelerator pedal, the engine revs decrease, the longitudinal acceleration due to the inertia of the car increases, while the lateral gravitational force remains constant along the straight path.
At 11.56 seconds, in the presence of a fourth interference with the ground (which during the surveys will present incisions on the asphalt in line with the output axis of Senna's car), the engine revolutions continue to drop and the car starts to go straight, as demonstrated by the value of the longitudinal acceleration (-1.59 force gravity point) due to the persistence of the car's drag.
Between the second 11.68 and the second 11.74, there are four moments in which Ayrton's desire to desperately brake the car can be noted (-1.7 force gravity point, -1.8 force gravity point, -2.1 force gravity point, -2.3 force gravity point of longitudinal force, which demonstrates the attempt to brake the car), with the engine revs decreasing.
At 11.80 seconds you no longer have the images of the car's camera, but a few moments before you notice that Ayrton's head is projected forward due to the strong deceleration (now reached -3.22 force gravity point). The engine revolutions drop to a lesser extent than the braking force, the acceleration on the longitudinal axis of the machine is very violent.
After having risen at 11.1 seconds, Ayrton's car would have resumed contact with the ground at 11.24 seconds, and then change trajectory at 11.26 seconds. This contact would have made the car lose an aerodynamic load value equal to 200 kg; what the telemetry shows is that in two, at most four hundredths of a second, the car suddenly became unstable and lost between 8° and 9° with respect to the optimal trajectory of the Tamburello curve. But that is not all.
The telemetry shows that the deceleration of Ayrton's Williams reaches peaks of -4.85 force gravity point on the eighty-three meter stretch that marks the starting point of the loss of the car up to the perimeter of the circuit, before dropping to -1.71 force gravity point on the dock, due to the loss of friction, as demonstrated by the incredible variation in the peripheral speed of the wheels, which oscillates between 195 km/h and 83 km/h in just one tenth of a second. As to why this happens, we are about to get there.
In summary, Ayrton went straight about 9° from the curve trajectory and after 121 meters, covered in 1.6 seconds, after having covered the last thirty-eight meters of the platform with the car starting to jump, he hit the wall of protection at a speed of 210 km/h with an inclination of approximately 22°.
These data, provided by the control unit mounted on the Renault engine, also show that there was first a pressure peak in the power steering hydraulic circuit, caused by a wheel that turned freely, requiring the sensor to be detected; then, in the last thirty-eight meters, those relating to the safety dock, the control unit recorded numerous peaks in the steering data, demonstrating that the wheel turns quickly from one side to the other.
The telemetry of the engine control unit, however, cannot alone explain whether these peaks were due to the will of the driver who maneuvered the steering, or if the applied force collided against the now unmanageable steering rack. It is certain, however, that this data is very important, and partly explains another important detail.
However, what is clear is that the safety dock placed before the wall is not coplanar with the circuit, therefore the car could have braked as best as possible right up to the track, with optimal aerodynamic load and grip values. And it is for this reason, and not for the humpbacks, that Luciano Conti, Giorgio Poggi and the lawyer Federico Bendinelli are summoned:
"The situation had already been clarified in the preliminary stages of the judicial affair: in fact in the indictment order that involved us as managers of the Autodrome we were not contested for the roughness of the terrain at the Tamburello, but rather the lack of coplanarity between the end of the track and the grassy quay that bordered it. What we were challenged by a totally wrong reading of the FIA technical regulations was this: the curve of the Tamburello was slightly uphill to the right, in the direction of the river. The grassy quay did not follow this ascending trend, but it was horizontal".
"When we were asked why this was the case, we pointed out that if the docks had to follow the uphill alignment in case of rain all the water would have spilled onto the track. This also applies to the concrete part. According to the experts appointed by the prosecutor, according to the experts appointed by the prosecutor, this feature had prevented the braking of Senna, the impact occurred at about 120 km/h, so there was a strong deceleration".
The lawyer Bendinelli confirms. It was therefore assumed that in case of coplanarity of the platform with the circuit, Ayrton could have continued to brake with a force of -4.6 force gravity point of deceleration and would have hit the wall at an approximate speed of 130/150 km/h.
While what is absolutely certain is that the car has lost much of its aerodynamic characteristics and grip to the ground in the last thirty-eight meters. It must in fact be taken into account that the Tamburello is a turn raised by 2°, which requires a steering of less than one degree. But above all, in reality it is the curve itself that is sloping, while the shoulder is horizontal: this has triggered a kind of springboard effect for Ayrton's car, as shown by the telemetry data. And with the loss of downforce, it becomes impossible to steer the car. So the Imola circuit was out of order? Actually no, since, even if in article 7 point 8 annex O of the FIA book of regulations of the year 1994 we read:
"The runway must be delimited along its entire length, on both sides by two compact platforms of a width of at least three meters, with a flat surface and never more irregular than that of the track without level changes".
But a second paragraph, which refers to escape routes, says:
"For circuits built before 1991, a downward gradient of 12 degrees is allowed".
The slope of the quay in Imola, with respect to the circuit, is 2°, that is 10° under the maximum limit. Another certain fact is that the analysis conducted at the accident site revealed: traces of the left front tire for thirty-eight meters, as well as six meters of abrasions - in length - in the grassy area located five meters from the wall, before the track bent to the left and then ran parallel to one meter from the wall. While as regards the right front tire of the car, the track is thirty-seven meters long and the passage on the grass is less evident, less marked, than the left front tire, demonstrating that the car was leaning on the left side.
Finally, it was noted that the protective wall was slightly indented in the impact zone. For all these reasons listed above, the technical consultants of the public prosecutor Maurizio Passarini argued in the trial that Ayrton, realizing the problem in his car, would have chosen to make the most of the possibilities offered by a straight braking, because by steering and braking at the same time, the grip of the front wheels decreases and therefore the braking capacity.
However, the technicians could not say for sure whether the wheels straightened due to centrifugal force, out of control, or because Ayrton put them straight, even if the images favor the latter hypothesis. Michele Alboreto, called by the prosecutor Maurizio Passarini as informed of the facts, leaving after a deposition from the courtroom, would have said:
"It is not acceptable for a drer to keep the wheels straight fifteen meters from the wall. He had some problems, I don't know which one but he certainly had a technical problem. I am absolutely convinced of it, as I am convinced that if the team has sent Hill back on track he knew what had happened".
So the dilemma is not related to why Ayrton would have decided to keep the steering straight, in such a way as to travel a straight trajectory (and if anything, we would have to understand the reason why he did it, surely stemming from the realization that the car had become ungovernable), since in doing so Ayrton was able to make the most of straight braking to slow the car, but rather it would be necessary to understand why Ayrton, in the last thirty-eight meters, did not swerve, since he kept the straight line.
This, as mentioned, most likely could have happened due to the loss of aerodynamic load and grip to the ground, when the car moved from the track to the dock. It should also be borne in mind that the cars designed for the 1994 have a very low ground clearance to make the most of their aerodynamic potential, since there are no longer active suspensions that control ground clearance; above all, the rear axle is much lower than the front wing which is slightly upwards. This is done to take full advantage of the Venturi effect and ensure greater speed in straight and cornering and greater grip of the rear tires. Not surprisingly, Damon Hill himself, after the fatal accident of his teammate, will admit:
"The cornering speed today is beyond all limits".
For this you have to load the front wing, and find the right balance. But above all, for this reason, especially in Imola, there have been numerous off the track since Friday. The reason is very simple: with these settings, it is difficult for the drivers to be able to steer, also because a few vibrations to the right and left are enough to make the car lose its aerodynamic characteristics. Is all this enough to explain Ayrton's car off the track?
Not yet. The question remains as to what triggered the accident.
Was it really the oversteer? Or did Ayrton notice something anomalous and preferred to slow down the car with the hope of braking it sufficiently, before inevitably hitting the wall? It is from this dilemma that various possibilities have developed, some valid, others implausible.
For example, initially it was hypothesized a possible breakage of the left rear suspension which was actually found broken after the accident, but the expert reports showed that this component gave way due to an excess of compression, probably during or at the end of the accident.
Subsequently, a possible tire defect was hypothesized. It is also necessary to take into consideration the fact that the tires, being cold, are likely to have a non-optimal pressure level; the speech of the fastest lap in the race which would demonstrate the correct pressure does not hold up, given that with cracked tires Ayrton had made pole position on Friday. And certainly the reduced section, wanted by regulation in 1994, contributed to not guaranteeing sufficient adherence. Finally, it must be remembered that Ayrton's car loaded 60 kg of fuel, so the heavier weight compared to the car of his teammate and his closest rival, Michael Schumacher, certainly influenced the car's driveability.
But these hypotheses were discarded as it would not have been possible to decelerate and maintain the exit line in the event of a suspension or tire failure. Indeed, if anything, it would have involved the triggering of a spin due to the imbalance of the braking forces, as admitted by the experts called by the prosecutor Maurizio Passarini.
What seems to be the most plausible explanation is the partial failure of the steering column due to fatigue, a factor in which both the experts called by the public prosecutor Passarini, and the engineer Giorgio Stirano, an expert on behalf of Williams, agree to say that this phenomenon began before leaving the runway; according to Williams consultants perhaps during rehearsals.
But more importantly, it has not been shown that the partial failure due to fatigue could not guarantee the maneuverability of the steering, and indeed even the experts called by the prosecutor have admitted that it is more likely that it was mechanically maneuverable.
On this point there are no definite and irrefutable proofs, but only hypotheses, given that the telemetry data that could have answered the question were lost in the accident due to damage to the control unit.
The appraisal carried out by Pratica Mare and the Institute of Metallurgy of the Chemical and Industrial Faculty of the University of Bologna at the behest of Passarini showed that 70% of the column section was already invisibly broken due to fatigue before the accident, as it shows traces of rubbing and beating, due to bending and movement between the two pieces. Failure due to fatigue is not a simple break, in two parts, but a subtle failure that starts invisible and proceeds silently, up to the point where the resistant section is so small that it is impossible that the second part of the break, that of crash. According to what emerged from the report, the remaining 30% of the column section is a ductile break, ie due to flexotorsion. The appraisal shows:
"From the examination of the two mirrored traces, the section shows damage from rubbing and beating".
The only point in which Giorgio Stirano, an expert on behalf of Williams disagrees with this report, concerns the percentage of the section of the route due to fatigue of the steering column. According to what emerged from the defense report, the section broken due to fatigue was equivalent to 35-40%.
Furthermore, a test produced in the laboratory showed that to obtain an appreciable breakage similar to that seen in the Williams column, with the same material and structure, a torsional load had to be applied which produced a break at 87.4 Nw/meter (8.91 kg). So surely the total breakdown of the entire section took place with a torsional load higher than the torque of 25 Mw/meter recorded by the telemetry of the control unit owned by Renault mounted on Williams.
What is clear, however, is that the column had begun to break invisibly before the accident. But if the torsional force is not the reason why it started to break, then what are the reasons? Well, these are three: bottom diameter, section and machining marks.
What we know is that to meet the requests of Senna and Hill, who had to drive by rubbing the knuckles of their hands on the cockpit of the car, unable to bear the tiredness and fatigue, he had intervened at the beginning of the championship by filing the bodies and modifying the steering columns.
The column modification had been carried out by Gavin Fisher and Kevin Young on both cars, while Brian O'Rourke had modified the body. The original Williams steering column tube was made of D45 steel. This was sawn about twelve centimeters from the steering wheel and polished with hand tools, and an EN14 steel rod with a diameter of 18 millimeters instead of 22 millimeters was inserted into the intersection, with a radius of connection of about 1.25 millimeters section. The breaking point was recorded at 22.5 cm from the steering wheel. It is very important to know that it was ascertained during the trial that both D45 (more resistant) and EN14 are two similar, weldable, resistant and quality steels, albeit not very strong, with a difference in strength of 8%.
So it is not because of the material itself or the weld that the reduced section broke, although it is true that it broke at the height of the weld. In fact, the analysis shows that most likely the beginning of the break coincides with one of the tool marks that were found during the analysis of the material.
These are not the cause, but they undoubtedly worsened the condition, according to the report, as the torsion and bending forces are concentrated on these points. Therefore, invisible fatigue cracks would have started from these tool marks, which have advanced and proceeded, benefiting from the reduced section of 1.25 millimeters and the depressions. When the wheels then transmitted a force to which the steering rack was opposed, they helped produce the beating marks.
But what is certain is that the final break only occurred when the right front wheel hit the wall. And it is precisely this wheel that, fatally, at first got stuck between the wall and Ayrton's car, which, due to the centrifugal force, even broke on the left side of the passenger compartment, causing the suspension to puncture the helmet and hit Senna's face, leaving enough time to create the irreversible conditions which Ayrton then poured out practically immediately.
But beware, it is only a hypothesis that Ayrton may have encountered the anomaly in the column while going through the curve, and for this reason he decided to brake desperately by returning the wheels straight, before getting on the platform, completely losing grip due to the sudden lack of downforce. Adrian Newey in fact provides a different version, while not hiding that the steering failure was present:
"I was one of the team leaders who designed a car in which a great man was killed. Whether the steering column was the cause of the accident or not, there is no escaping the fact that it was a a bad modification that should never have been fitted to the car. What weighs on me is not so much the possibility that the steering column broke as the cause of the accident, because I don't think it happened, but the fact that I had the car's aerodynamics wrong. I had foreseen the return from active suspension to a passive system: I designed an aerodynamically unstable car, with which Ayrton tried to do things that the car was unable to do. I will always feel some responsibility for Ayrton's death, but not guilt. Whether or not he suffered a puncture, his taking the inside line, faster, but also marked by more disconnections of the track, made a car so unstable. aerodynamically more difficult to control even for someone like him".
On December 16, 1997, at 2.30 pm the process called Bendinelli plus others ends. Judge Antonio Costanzo is called to decide the fate of the six defendants accused of manslaughter against Ayrton Senna by the prosecutor Maurizio Passarini, of which only for Patrick Head and Adrian Newey, who entered the trial later, a sentence of one year is requested of imprisonment with the benefits of the law, including suspension of the sentence.
According to Passarini, Head and Newey are the only ones who, due to their role in the English team, bear the responsibility for incorrect design and poor workmanship of the steering column, whose breakage is considered the primary cause of the accident and death of Seine.
While Frank Williams knew that that change had been made but he didn't have a role to prevent the event, which is why his acquittal was sought. The acquittal is also requested for Federico Bendinelli, manager of the circuit, while the formula is different for Giorgio Poggi, director of the Imola circuit, and for the Belgian inspector of the FIA, Roland Bruynseraede. For them the formula is because the fact does not exist.
At 14:44, judge Antonio Costanzo, in front of thirty people and one hundred journalists, cameramen and photographers, acquitted the patron of the English team Frank Williams and the technicians Patrick Head and Adrian Newey for not having committed the crime, who were accused of having materially made that defective modification to the steering wheel, which then remained in the hands of Senna, and absolves because the fact does not also exist the managers of the circuit Federico Bendinelli and Giorgio Poggi and the inspector of the FIA Roland Bruynseraede.
The ruling states that none of the asphalt coplanarity had caused the trampoline effect on the car by now ungovernable, nor had the homologation of the track violated the safety rules. At 2:47 pm it's all over.
The justice that, amidst the harsh polemics of the Italian political class, had violated the impenetrability of Formula 1 three years earlier, withdraws. While Senna's family members, who did not appear as a civil party, never attended only one of the hearings that began a year earlier, but as the lawyer Giovanni Carcaterra says:
"They always kept a watchful eye on the process. We kept in constant contact through a person from the Senna Foundation. Their only desire was to know the truth. To know why Ayrton's car cut the curve of the Tambourine and went straight. They know that no one is. he will be able to give his life back to an exceptional man, to a pilot who, thanks to his extraordinary skills, remains, after four years, still loved by the people".
In the years to come, the allegations surrounding the trial and the Imola accident of May 1, 1994, were numerous, and all never supported by incontrovertible data. On the other hand, the Italian law is clear, in 1997: the judge pronounces a sentence if the accused is guilty of the crime against him beyond any reasonable doubt.
Doubts about what happened in Imola still remain very many today. However, they all agree with a theory that in fact led judge Antonio Costanzo to confirm that what triggered the accident is certainly a technical problem.
And we should not be surprised if the men present in the Williams team have reacted almost all by rejecting the idea of having made a mistake that cost Ayrton's life; it is a human, psychological process, of those who certainly have the suspicion within themselves, but also of those who have to fight that suspicion every day, to move forward, as admitted, for example, by Patrick Head:
"Later I thought of retiring, of stopping. Then I thought: Well Patrick, if somehow you had a part in this trouble, then you have to continue, because at least this awareness could prevent it from happening to another pilot. And this thought served to to write off what had happened, but it was a terrible event. It was obviously horrendous for Ayrton's family and very hard for the team".
And also Damon Hill, who since the day following the fatal accident of his teammate had denounced the governance of Formula 1 in strong terms, when he was then called to respond to the public prosecutor Passarini closed himself around silence:
"I had to convince myself that I really understood what had happened, otherwise I would never have gotten back into a Williams again. I loved my family too much".
What happened, beyond any reasonable doubt, we may never know. And maybe it doesn't matter. What is important is what remains of Ayrton Senna, a champion, a phenomenon, whose fate is closely linked to what Alain Prost has done.
Because without Prost, Senna's career would not have been the same, magical story that the world has been able to admire, and at the same time, without Ayrton, Alain's career and caliber would not have been the same.
A story made up of challenges, of respect transformed into competitive hatred and even beyond pure competition, then of peace, friendship and nostalgia, so much so that in recent months Ayrton asks Alain to get back on track, because he needs him, his nemesis, the only pilot really able to counter him.
Michael Schumacher, strong as he was and close to becoming a great champion, was not seen as a challenging enough rival, just one of many who was winning thanks to a bumpy car, or at least that's what he believed, who knows, maybe why too obsessed with Alain, or because he had already started psychological games with his new opponent.
Then Ayrton, as we know, had always been determined to win and excel. And sometimes even to exaggerate. How can we forget the early years characterized by enthusiasm, during which experienced drivers like Keke Rosberg considered him a fast but reckless driver like a Formula 3 driver? Yet Ayrton was not a reckless driver, he was just extremely determined since his first race in 1984 to prove to the world that he is the best, as he confessed to a journalist:
"I sacrificed everything for this sport: friendships, affections, a normal life that every boy has. I want to succeed, I want to become world champion to repay my desire to become the best for myself, my family, my country. Say Who do I look like Gilles Villeneuve? No, Gilles was a great and I'm just a young driver who wants to learn".
A determination that Prost has known better than anyone else, but has been able to fight better than anyone else, through cunning, psychological games, or even on Ayrton's favorite hunting ground, pure speed.
On the other hand, as Jo Ramirez, a historian Mexican mechanic who spent his entire life in the Formula One circuits and experienced this rivalry, admitted, when Alain was convinced that he had a perfect car, not even Ayrton could fight it.
"Ayrton was definitely the best driver I have compared to. And he has been for a long time. He was the most determined of all those of our generation. Although to be fair, I think the best driver ever, in terms of tactical intelligence, it was Niki. But on the whole Ayrton paid everyone. He was successful in everything that concerned him, and everything he tried reached the maximum he could get for himself. We were usually two top riders, and it was inevitable that there were disagreements between us. The desire to excel, the competition leads you to be blind, not to look anyone in the face, but despite this we exaggerated".
Alain and Ayrton have marked and dominated an entire era, and the various uncomfortable thirds, such as Nigel Mansell or Nelson Piquet, have made everything even more fantastic; but not only: Alain and Ayrton have marked and are also marking subsequent generations, suffice it to dwell on the fact that nowadays, with the hint of a new rivalry, thoughts and comparisons are immediately made with the two of them, who have given birth not to any rivalry, but the rivalry par excellence. An unrepeatable rivalry.
Seven World Titles, ninety-two victories, eighty-eight pole positions and sixty fastest laps in two. Exceptional numbers, but paradoxically not enough to describe what Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, whose era ended that wretched May 1st 1994, gave us. What the two of them have experienced, the people around them, and all the fans, is something special, which perhaps numbers and words cannot describe properly.
They confronted each other by all means, on and off the circuit, because both were determined to prove that they were better than the other. And today, we can say it, without this challenge the most beautiful pages of Formula 1 history would not have been written, which will remain indelible in the minds and hearts of millions of fans around the world. And above all in Alain's heart:
"With Ayrton gone, I lost a part of me".
Davide Scotto di Vetta