Thursday, April 28, 11:25 a.m. The Hawker 800 with Senna, his brother Leonardo, Julian Jacobi and Marie Ubirayara on board lands on the very short runway of the Paduan airport. Deus Armand, with his Sony over the shoulder, frames with the camera the Hawker 800 that stops on the Paduan runway for the Brazilian television channel Rede O Globo. The program is calculated to the minute: first of all, Ayrton has to visit the Carraro factory, then he has to go very quickly to the Sheraton for the mountain bikes presentation, before flying to Imola. About fifty meters from the Hawker there is the white and blue Alpi Eagles’ Augusta 109 with its blades already moving. Deus Armand keeps on filming Ayrton inside the helicopter talking with the photographer Koike and with Enrico Cuman that is welcoming him. Five-minutes-flight, then the landing on the grassy factory forecourt. Ayrton comes down the helicopter stairs and, with a wave of the hand, greets a hundred people that were awaiting him, mostly the factory employees that wanted to see him. Ayrton, who wears a green jacket, a white shirt and trousers and a cashmere-pattern tie, walks slowly, surrounded by people. He doesn’t want to shy away from hugs; instead, he stops to talk, to shake hands and to sign autographs. Right after, the Carraros invite him to visit the factory and the assembly lines from which his bikes will be produced. Senna follows them interested and listens carefully when they explain the construction method. Meanwhile, Betise Assunçao, Ayrton’s precious and inseparable press agent, walks nervously in the Sheraton Hotel hall. With her luggages always ready and press rooms and airplanes as her home, her job is to cultivate the image of Ayrton, to plan his meetings and interviews, to write reports and to send them late at night, via computer, to the headquarters of the Senna Promoçoes. However, Betise never liked the rush of Formula 1:
"If it wasn’t for him, I would never live in this shit world. I’ve had enough of this Formula 1".
Above all, she always hated rivalries, lies and hypocrisies - which are elements that characterise Formula 1. However, for Betise, Ayrton is different from any other driver and, for this reason, she tries to not think about it and to overcome stress and anger, besides being the efficient and caring support of the Brazilian driver at any time of the day, three hundred sixty-five days a year, twenty-four hours a day. An obscure but extremely precious job. Even in Padua she arrived on time, on Tuesday, April 26, 1994, to prepare Ayrton’s visit. Betise, together with Celso Lemos - the contracts manager of the holding - before going to Imola, had to follow the organisation of the press conference for the mountain bikes presentation. These mountain bikes, produced by the Cicli Carraro company in Saccolongo, will have the Senna brand. Thus, Betise checks the Hotel Sheraton’s Mantegna room, where the presentation will take place, the press kits and slightly modifies the appointment and timetables schedule. The day before, she was with Enrico Cuman, the owner of the advertising agency Il Telaio in Bassano del Grappa, and with Andrea and Enrico Carraro, the owners of the bike manufacturer. Betise, as scrupulous and perfectionist as his employer, has organised everything perfectly. A little later, when the helicopter lands, Betise and the three hundred people that are there to await Ayrton are really excited. Part of the group runs towards the exterior to see him arriving, while the others try to take the first-row seats in the big conference room. At the hotel entrance, Ayrton takes the bike that is handed to him and enters the room with all the cheering from the public. With his sweet speech, he relaxes and hypnotises the audience, until a girl asks him if Ferrari is still in his programs:
"It’s always been my dream since I was a child. I wanted to become a driver and I made it. I wanted to become World Champion and I managed to accomplish this too. With Ferrari I almost made it but, at the last moment, I didn’t. Back then, I did it because a beautiful dream must not be ruined. In order to make it, the deal has to happen at the right time. Driving a Ferrari and losing three seconds in the race won’t make sense. The victory would only be an illusion. And in Formula 1 there’s no room for illusions".
Ayrton answers questions for an hour. He also tells the story of the yellow bike that he wanted and that was the first gift of his life:
"I was four when I saw that bike in a shop window. A few days later, I took my father Milton there to buy it. I used it a lot, I did many rides but I also fell many times. I was so attached to my yellow bike that I’ve continued to use it even when I was older and couldn’t pedal properly. I did some strange races with my friends. Whoever arrived last won. My track stands were endless. I was good, I rode really slowly".
The journalists of the specialised Italian press - that group of twenty-five or thirty people who usually follow all the Grands Prix - didn’t show up to this presentation. They would see him later in Imola. Only a few journalists of the local press are there, together with Carlo Grandini, a journalist from Milan that occasionally follows Formula 1. In the last few years, Senna was particularly close with him. After the conference, in a private room Carlo Grandini himself heard Ayrton Senna’s last words outside the Imola Circuit. The journalist starts the interview asking him what he expects from the Imola Grand Prix. Ayrton answers:
"From Imola it will be a new life. It’s the starting point to make up for the Championship. It’s difficult, but possible. It’s all about doing a great job with Reanult’s mechanics and engineers to optimise the changes that we are building: the car needs a better balance. As Williams, we had problems that I hope will never show up again. Imola is a fast track where the power of Renault’s ten-cylinder engine could help me. It could change the values that we have seen so far. Races are unpredictable, but I can’t make mistakes in Imola. The Championship isn’t over".
Then he continues:
"I really want to win. After all, I always want to win, but in some cases races are unpredictable. Michael is a great talent, he has a very fast car and he deserved his achievements. It’s up to the others to fight him, starting from myself. I will try to honour my personal tradition as long as I am motivated. Michael has talent, but there are other young drivers that have it too but that don’t have a car as fast as his".
And he concludes:
"We are living a natural phase of generational turnover that we have to accept and that is a negative aspect for the Formula 1 interest. They are young talents but aren’t drivers as Mansell, Patrese and Prost. These drivers had a charisma that made people emotional and promoted Formula 1. Apart from the case of Ferrari, which is unique, people don’t root for a car, they root for a driver that with his behaviour, his style, and his driving style takes the car to the finish line. If a true Man is missing, the interest, the motivation and the desire to follow the races will be lower. And today we are poor".
At 2:00 p.m. Ayrton is still in Padua, so he arrives late in Imola. When he arrives at the circuit, he goes into the garage to talk with Frank Williams and Patrick Head. After that, he is ready to go to the hotel he has been staying at for six years which is located in a small village nearby, Castel San Pietro. However, before going there, he has an important meeting. In fact, only a few people know that, whenever Ayrton is in Imola, - which means even for some testes - he always visits a special friend in the local hospital: Massimo, a guy who is around twenty years. Massimo has been hospitalised in the Imola hospital for over a year, after he went into a coma as a consequence of a motorcycle accident. Motionless, the only things that make him react are the photos of the Brazilian driver. Ayrton often goes to visit him and every time he keeps on talking for ten minutes. He is certain that his talks help Massimo to react. Massimo’s mother guarantees that whenever Ayrton visits her son - with whom he has developed a special way of speaking with his fingers - he reacts in an incredible way. For this reason, Ayrton talks and talks. However, before this, Ayrton has to face some accusations. The Brazilian driver begins to be seen as a driver who is at the end of his career, by now successful and who isn’t challenging for victories anymore, regardless his public declaration:
"I don’t race for glory or for money. I race because I like to be a driver. My job gives me an endless amount of emotions. These emotions are the reflection of the love I have for races. When I don’t win I feel blocked as if I was an invalid".
The issue of Autosport published on 21st April 1994 is titled: Michael 20, Ayrton 0. One week after, below a photo of Ayrton in which he seems worried, Autosport writes: Can Senna handle the pressure? Ayrton now has assets of over forty million dollars. Furthermore, the Brazilian driver is good at business. Over the years, he has accumulated real estates: houses, flats, villas, palaces, farmhouses in São Paulo, Higienópolis, Tatuí, within the country, in Angra dos Reis, his marine paradise, in Portugal. He bought a helicopter, a plane, some motorboats, a Ford and an Audi car dealership. He started the project related to the Senninha comic for an amount of four million dollars a year. He trades and buys all the exclusive models, like electric equipment, motorcycles and bikes. He also has a life insurance by the Lloyds that, according to the Financial Times, is about twenty-nine billion dollars. By the end of 1994, it is expected that Ayrton’s commercial activities will reach seventy billion dollars. It is certain that Ayrton didn’t suddenly become a slow driver or that he doesn’t want to race only because he owns an excellent wealth. The truth is that Ayrton didn’t expect a championship beginning so bad, with Schumacher twenty points ahead after the first two races and with a Williams FW16 almost uncontrollable.
As Adrian Newey - his design engineer - admitted, the sudden regulation changes have put him in crises. The FW16 is sensitive to ground clearance and, when Williams’ engineers tried to lower the nose of the car, they noticed that the car suffers a deadlock crisis in the lower part. This leads to a downforce reduction. In addition, the sides of the car are too long. In short, the car has been uncontrollable so far, but certainly not because of the poor quality of the driver. However, Ayrton is criticized. For this reason, the Imola weekend - a circuit where he already won three times in his career - is crucial for his season: some say that Imola is his last chance to remain in contention for the championship. Thus, the last weekend in Imola begins for Ayrton Senna. Friday, April 29, 1994, at 1.00 p.m., begins the first hour of qualifying. Before free practices, Ayrton speaks very honestly to his mechanics saying that the championship starts with this race and that they don’t have to think anymore about what had happened previously. Then, he goes on track. The Brazilian driver agreed with Elf to do a lap on the radio, during which he would describe all the actions he would take along the lap. This recording would have been used by the French television TF1, where Prost is the technical commentator of the race. After the out lap and before starting, he exclaims:
"Before starting I would like to greet my dear friend Alain. Alain, I miss you. We all miss you".
This statement surprised Prost - like he would have told in the following years - but not entirely because that wasn’t the first time that Ayrton said these things about him.
"In Imola, Ayrton recorded a video with Elf during which he had to drive around the circuit and describe it through the microphone in his helmet. Ayrton started with that statement that I discovered when the guys of TF1 showed me. It was a nice moment".
Then, the fear: Variante Bassa, 1:15 p.m., 15 minutes after the start of the first round of qualifying. Barrichello’s Jordan flies at over 200 km/h against the barriers. The driver lost control of the car which went over the curb and crashed against the barriers, over the tyres that served as protection. Then, after two spins into the air, it completely disintegrated.
"A true bomb. We got scared, we honestly believed that the driver was dead".
This is told by some spectators that were in the Vip grandstand, exactly in front of Variante Bassa which precedes the straight. In a blink of an eye, doctors and fire marshals arrive. The upside down Jordan is turned so quickly that, some hours later, Italian journalists will accuse the marshals of acting too hastily. However, it’s not like that. On the contrary, medical regulations affirm that it’s better to provoke a spinal injury than to leave the driver in a possible suffocation condition. In this case, due to the upside down car, it’s difficult to assess the driver's condition. For some terrible minutes the 22-year-old Brazilian driver is motionless in the cockpit, covered by plenty of blood, mostly on the entire face. With all the necessary precautions, marshals get the driver out of the car, after releasing his tongue that had rolled up inside the mouth and intubating him to make him breathe. Barrichello is loaded into the ambulance and is carried to a well equipped emergency room. Then follows some moments of anxious waiting. After 15 minutes, Dr. Giuseppe Piana - the medical service manager - gives the first encouraging news:
"Barrichello underwent a cervical spine x-ray and a brain scan. These excluded traumatic injuries to the brain. Now he will be carried by helicopter to Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna for further tests. In our opinion, he should be under observation for forty eight hours. For safety reasons, he is out of free practises and the race".
Later, other good news come from the hospital. Basically, apart from the shock, the very lucky Rubens has suffered a nose fracture, several hand and ribs contusions:
"Probably I went too long and maybe I touched the curb with one rear tyre or maybe there was oil on the track. The fact is that I arrived too fast to the apex and I couldn’t turn nor slow down enough. I still remember in my mind the moment when, after I went on the curb, I flew over the tyre barrier and against the fences. Then the void. I feel good, I have some difficulties breathing due to the nose pain. It’s a shame. I can’t even joke with the nurses. However, I want to be back at the circuit tomorrow".
Meanwhile Senna, who won the provisional pole position, is very worried for his young compatriot and friend:
"My Williams went really well, but I couldn’t concentrate. I think that Barrichello came to that point too quickly. There was wind and the track was dirty with sand. Maybe he slipped and lost control. He was lucky. The car was unstable and setups were unpredictable. Here in Imola there aren’t enough escape routes. If you go on the curb in the middle of a turn, like it happened today to Rubens, you fly on the other side of the track and you can end up in the crowd. This is a problem in Imola as it is in other circuits of the Championship. Every track has a point where there is such risk".
Therefore, Ayrton is asked why drivers keep on complaining but, in the end, they never find the courage to do something. He thinks, winces and then answers:
"In the past I had many problems because I did things that I thought were right. Now I don’t want to let these things affect me. I am mature, the experience taught me that sometimes it is better to shut up".
However, it is clear that something isn’t working. Now that drivers are in Imola, not to make winter tests but to race at maximum speed, all the limits of a ridiculous technical regulation are becoming more and more obvious. Imola is a medium-high speed track and drivers - that last year used to have the help of active suspension and traction control - now risk too much and make mistakes. This is demonstrated by many drivers, even the better ones, that go off the track: Senna, Hill, Brundle two times, Schumacher and De Cesaris who spun worryingly several times. There are some drivers that didn’t find a good balance in this qualifying. One of them is Schumacher, who has to do a good lap to beat Senna’s one. Nevertheless, there is no controversy so far. On Saturday, free practises begin in the usual tense and competitive atmosphere and Formula 1 seems to have overcome the crash of the day before. At 12:00 p.m. Barrichello, with a splinted and bandaged right arm and a swollen nose and lip, had just finished telling how he survived the crash which happened the previous day. Suddenly, the tragedy happens: sixteen minutes after the start of qualifying, the Simtek number 32 of Roland Ratzenberger, a 32-year-old Austrian driver, crashes like a bullet at over 300 km/h against the barriers at the Villeneuve corner, the fastest and most dangerous one. Then, the car goes over the grass sideways and stops in front of the horrified eyes of the audience at Tosa, two hundred meters from the impact.
After the crash, Ratzenberger’s head dangles motionless from one part of the cockpit to another. Qualifying is once again stopped. Dr. Salcito, together with Servadei and Sid Watkins, both neurosurgeons, rush beside the wreck. The scene is horrible: the helmet and the driver’s suit are full of blood. Roland doesn’t respond to Sid’s commands. At this point, Sid Watkins takes off the helmet from the unconscious Austrian driver and begins to act on his body which is still inside the car. After a few minutes, Roland is taken out of the car and laid down and doctors start performing the cardiac massage. Dr. Lega starts performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation because the driver shows a severe respiratory insufficiency caused by the accident. Later, Dr. Servadei will tell:
"Ratzenberger’s medical state made us think about a fracture of the first two cervical vertebrae. During the crash against the barriers the violent deceleration acted as a guillotine. It is a neck injury and it spares no one".
At the box, Ayrton sees the scene from the screen and exclaims:
Then he goes away. Ayrton doesn’t want to see the scene. The Symtek box closes. Seven minutes passes from the accident to the moment when Roland is loaded in the ambulance to be carried to the medical centre of the track, where Dr. Piana doesn’t want to be asked anything. The parts left are loaded on the tow truck to clean the track and the car is taken to the box. Then, it is immediately hidden with a blue cover and impounded by Magistrate Luca Ghedina. At the same time, Senna runs towards a service car that from the pit lane is about to reach the crash site. There, an intervention is needed to fix the broken barriers. When he sees where Senna is, Roland Bruynseraede, the race director, proposes to send him a note of caution:
"Senna was in a place where he shouldn’t have been".
Actually, Ayrton just wanted to make sure that the conditions allowed them to continue qualifying. The service car stops a few meters away from the Villeneuve corner, then goes away and stops at Tosa. There, Ayrton gets out of the car to talk with somebody from CEA Squadra Corse. Everything happens very quickly and then Ayrton goes back on the front passenger seat of the service car and goes away. A few moments later, a group of doctors moves Roland from the medical center - lying on a stretcher with a wrapped head - to the inside of the helicopter, ready to fly towards Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna. During the short way to the helicopter and until the moment of the embarkation, a doctor continues to perform the cardiac massage insistently. It is a terrible scene. After the hospitalisation, Dr. Piana goes to Ezio Zermiani, a journalist, to tell him that the condition of the unlucky Roland is very critical. Hospitalisation happens at 01:57 p.m., but at 02:15 p.m., exactly fifty-nine minutes after the crash and seven minutes after the arrival in Bologna, Dr. Piana - the medical service manager - tells that Ratzenberger passed away in the anesthesia and resuscitation service. The report specifies that his death was due to a basilar skull fracture and to irreversible brain damage. Roland’s body is carried to the Istituto di medicina legale (Institute of Legal Medicine, N.d.T.). Senna and his teammate Damon Hill don’t go back on track. They don’t feel like continuing. Even Flavio Briatore calls back his drivers:
"Today we won’t continue qualifying. It doesn’t matter if we lose some places in the grid".
Gerhard Berger, instead, finishes his turn and, with his eyes looking into the void, answers with harsh words Benetton’s choice:
"Briatore wants to make policy. He never drove a Formula 1 car, he can’t understand. No one better than me can say these things. In the motorhome, I asked myself: should I go back on track or not? Then, I told myself: I can continue to race in the future, if I feel like it, if I have this strength, otherwise it’s better if I give up today and forever. I thought that maybe it was better if I went back into the car because it is the only way I cannot think".
Imola is in shock. There are some rumors that blame the harsh laws of this sport, other rumors that accept them. Clay Regazzoni wants to speak up and, immediately after the crash of the Austrian driver, affirms:
"Yesterday, with Barrichello, we were not far off from the disaster. Today we fully experienced it. These cars kill. They are built with advanced technologies, but we have to face the reality. Regulations are wrong. Since the beginning of the year we have been seeing many accidents and it’s just a coincidence if all has been going well until today. Wings and tyres have to be reduced to make sure that a car driven at high speed isn’t so dangerous and that the driver can control it. Now we should be racing in the desert, with kilometers of escape routes to avoid accidents if a driver goes off the track. All the things the FIA and Ecclestone are doing are absurd. For Ecclestone, the only thing that matters is cash on Monday morning. He doesn’t care about anything else".
Then he continues:
"For fifteen years we have witnessed absurde regulatory decisions. These Formula 1 cars require dangerous setups. Maybe they’re easy to drive, but when they lose traction the driver can’t do anything. Who said that the front end has to have over a thousand kilos of downforce to turn? If Ratzenberger had had another car, studied with different regulations, he could have corrected the trajectory and saved himself".
He concludes by saying:
"Senna? He talks a lot about safety, but he doesn’t do anything".
The Brazilian driver doesn’t answer and chooses to stay silent but, to the journalist Ezio Zermiani, who works for Rai as Clay, after qualifying confesses:
"Now I’m too nervous, but on Monday I will tell you all the dangerous and deadly places of all the tracks around the world. This will put some important people in danger".
But what happened to Ratzenberger? On a warm afternoon of April, the Formula 1 world can only make assumptions. The television shows that the Simtek lost a part of the front wing. In these cases, cars become undriveable because they lose grip and ground effect. The reasons that caused the wing breaking are not clear. In addition, it seems that the wing went first under the car and then flew at fifty meters of height. Some believe that Ratzenberger may have caused the breaking by going on a curb, while others believe that, following the damage on his car caused by the collision with his teammate David Brabham, maybe the wing has cracked and nobody noticed it. Jean Alesi is exactly in the place when Roland’s car has gone at a speed of 315 km/h earlier. He is searched insistently by David Brabham, Roland’s teammate, who bursts into the Ferrari motorhome and asks:
"Where is Jean Alesi? I heard that he saw the accident. I want to speak with him".
The French driver tells:
"I saw something flying, then the Simtek went straight into the wall: a tremendous crash. The problem was aerodynamic, the driver didn’t do anything wrong and even the track can’t be blamed. Services have been timely".
Michele Alboreto, who harshly criticised the situation, will add:
"At that speed if you lose a wing you’re done, you can’t control the car, you can’t turn nor break because the tyres don’t touch the ground anymore: you just have to hope that you go off in a place where there are enough escaping routes to stop you without hitting the wall harshly".
Rubens Barrichello, who on Friday was the subject of a miracle, is talking to some journalists about his accident when is informed of the Austrian driver’s death. After a few moments of disbelief, he says:
"Now I’m really sad. In Aida, Roland and I touched each other when I was passing. There was a misunderstanding and he squeezed me. I would have liked to have a friendly explanation with him but now it can’t happen. Imola is a track where cars have a low rear downforce and the ground isn’t regular. Even Villeneuve crashed at the same point as Ratzenberger".
Ratzenberger was almost a rookie. The Austrian driver ran his first Grand Prix in Japan and finished eleventh, always fighting in the background. After the end of the grand prix, where he finished four laps off the firsts drivers, he said:
"Now things will get better because in Imola I can give my best. I know the track and I can give a hard time to those at the back. There will be a lot of people for Berger from Austria, but I will be there also. With the car that I have, I do what I can. Sooner or later I will be successful because I have no fear".
Roland didn’t talk a lot, but listened. Above all, he listened to Berger, an Austrian like him. It was the Ferrari driver, years ago, who convinced him to go racing.
"You have talent, Roland. You can get to the top".
So Roland put aside his engineering degree and began travelling the world to make some money. The driver worked day and night to go racing. The 31-year-old driver wanted to marry his girlfriend, a black model born in Kenya:
"But first I have to become a champion".
With plenty of courage, Roland got some wins in smaller categories. In 1983 in Formula Ford at Nurburgring, in 1986 at Brands Hatch and in the two following years became vice-champion of Formula 3 in England. Then he moved to Japan, where he got other wins, before joining Formula 1. He was called by Simtek, which offered him a contract for the first five races. In this golden world, Roland proved to have a strong determination. He used to drink only fruit juices:
"Because alcohol doesn’t make you think clearly and I always want to have quick reflexes".
Before racing, he isolated himself from anyone to concentrate by listening to classical music. Then, by surprise, came Formula 1:
"It was a surprise for me. I was certain to race again in the Japanese Formula 3000. I was told by some friends that Simtek was looking for a driver and I proposed myself. We reached an agreement and here I am in Formula 1. I found the money to race for five Grand Prix, but I hope to do well to make more money and finish the season. The team is young and I am young too: we should be successful together and demonstrate that with passion everything is reachable".
He wanted to reach Formula 1, he wanted to keep that seat which conquered with great difficulty. He had to drive and had to do it quickly to attract some sponsors and keep the seat in Formula 1, but it is that car that betrays him. However, not everyone thinks that the cars have suddenly become dangerous for the drivers. One of those is Giancarlo Minardi, who bravely replies:
"During tests many drivers complained about the asphalt. It should be said that we did everything we could to make these cars safer, even if now with normal suspensions they suffer a lot of stress".
Even Lauda, Ferrari’s consultant, says:
"There’s no point in decreasing the speed because you can be killed at 250 km/h or at 300 km/h. Unfortunately we have had a lot of luck all these years. It was an illusion. We’ve had the illusion that we have solved the safety problem. We did not. The chassis that we have today are so strong that they can be almost undamaged but the head, the helmet and the neck of the driver are still too exposed. It happened also with Ratzenberger".
For this reason, in Ferrari, after an accident that in the last few weeks involved Alesi, the sports director Jean Todt admits that they’re studying a new type of helmet:
"The weakest point has become the head which is weighted down by the helmet and subjected to terrible decelerations. We are working on this specific problem with professor Gerard Saillant".
The same doctor that is treating Alesi was the first to appoint the helmet problem:
"It doesn’t cover all the cervical area. If you crash but stay conscious you hold on, but you can’t do anything concerning the backlash. We have to attach it to the cockpit with a belt in some way".
Prost is the most lucid and intelligent one in analyzing situations. He has been in Imola since the previous day. A few hours away from the loss of Roland, Alain gives an interview in which he analyzes what happened and blames the International Automobile Federation:
"The FIA is more interested in money and show at the expense of safety. President Mosley changed the regulations just to make races more interesting, not caring about drivers’ safety. There will always be accidents but in recent years nothing has been made for safety. Risks are huge, for this reason I retired. Even drivers have their responsibility. I tried to recreate the drivers’ association but many of them - and not the unimportant ones - opposed it, as did sports directors, authorities and sponsors. There isn’t a dialogue anymore. The reduction of tyres’ width has made cars more dangerous: there are no more active and anti-skid suspensions. But who writes the regulations never sat into a Formula 1 car".
Meanwhile, Ratzenberger’s body is carried from the mortuary of Ospedale maggiore of Bologna to the Institute of Legal Medicine. No driver goes there to pay tribute to the unlucky competitor. Is it insensitivity?
"No, they didn’t come because otherwise they would have seen themselves in him".
Explains Bourghard Hummel, Ratzenberger’s personal manager and friend. After the tragic hour of qualifying, drivers decide to meet and bring back the Grand Prix Drivers Association. The GPDA, founded in May 1961, operated between ‘60s and ‘70s. The first president was Stirling Moss and his main objectives were to get the representation of the International Sports Committee of the FIA, which at the time was the best organisation to improve safety standards for both drivers and the audience. It should be noted that, in the second half of ‘60s and under the impulse of Jackie Stewart, drivers started to make themselves heard. Their complaints led to the cancellation of the Belgium Grand Prix in 1969 because of the dangerousness of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, and to the track changing of the German Grand Prix in 1970 from the dangerous Nürburgring to the Hockenheimring. Then the association started to become less and less influential. In 1982 it didn't operate anymore due to Pironi’s terrible accident, who was a reference point in the association. Now the association is brought back by Senna, who wants to write a document with a series of requests and technical and organisational clarifications concerning some circuits. Now organisers begin to worry. Journalists and Formula 1’s organisation try to contain the controversy believing that it is a consequence of the two terrible accidents that happened in Imola. Ayrton is with Sid Watkins when he hears about Roland’s death. He bursts into tears on his friend’s shoulder. Sid, who was the first to arrive on Roland’s body, seeing Ayrton angry for what had just happened, says to the Brazilian driver:
"You are a three time World Champion, you’re the fastest driver, what else do you have to prove? Just leave everything. I will retire too and we can go fishing together".
But Ayrton doesn’t want to leave racing. On the contrary, he answers:
"There are things that we can’t control… I can’t leave, I have to go on...".
After this exchange of ideas, Ayrton goes inside the Williams’ motorhome and asks Frank to know if the race can be suspended because he thinks that most drivers aren’t in the right conditions to race. Frank reassures him. Shortly afterwards, Roland Bruynseraede, the race director, summons Ayrton to the race tower to ask him if he can explain the reason why he was at the crash site. At 03:10 p.m., in the race tower, Ayrton is said again:
"You just have to drive".
This absurd situation makes him feel even worse. In Imola, Ayrton feels alone, even if there are his friends or his brother Leonardo. For this reason, in the afternoon he goes to the McLaren box, where there is his friend Jo Ramirez. Ayrton asks Jo to book him a helicopter flight to go back to Forlì, where his jet is. After the Grand Prix he wants to go home immediately, at Quinta do Lago, in Portugal, where Adriane awaits him. Ayrton, taking advantage of the moment, vents his feelings with him and confesses that Williams’ behaviour is really different from the one that he very much liked at McLaren. In Williams, he feels like he is being treated like a simple employer. Then, Ayrton stays silent for the rest of the day.
"We talked about the many risks linked with this sport, but not about those involved with this job, the extra ones, the free ones, the ones involved from this show and from the money”.
Says Michele Alboreto, to whom a reply which implies that in the past drivers tried to organised themselves is addressed:
"And nothing happened, I know this very well. I tried many times to convince the others, the track owners and the organisations. Nobody wanted to listen, they just pretended to not hear. Even you sometimes, the press or part of it. How many journalists wrote some critics that I did about this circuit when we practiced it? At the time I said that it was crazy to race on this circuit".
"I said that a part of the asphalt had to be redone, and even that wall from where drivers turn at 300 km/h and where at that speed you can die. You know that I clearly said to the team that on this track I would have never practised again? Me, the one that has got many myracles, with the Silverstone crashes during free practice and the race with the Footwork here in Imola. But why did nobody ever want to listen to who drives Formula 1 cars?"
So the subject of the dangerousness of Formula 1 returns. As it was pointed out to Michele, this is a very wide topic. Maybe now the Imola circuit is blamed and next year will be another track…
"No, I'm not just referring to this circuit".
"There are other two tracks that are as dangerous as this one, Silverstone and Spa, that have crazy track places. We should work on these circuits tomorrow morning. Also Montreal. Circuits like Aida are welcome! There you crash at half the speed of the other three. In places like Imola when you go off you get hurt. I tried the impact with the asphalt. They want us to race at 300 km/h? No problem: they have to put three hundred meters of sand, so they can stop you before the crash. And next week we will be in Monte-Carlo".
At this point, Michele is pointed out that there are also the regulations to blame:
"Of course. All the things that they have made in the last few years are just adjustments. Somebody said that they eliminated active suspensions for safety reasons. A word to the wise - there are other reasons! For years I've been facing the consequences firsthand when I say something. Why did I suffer so much all these years in various teams before staying here? Because I keep on saying these things. Whenever one of us spoke there were some consequences. Why, at that time, did Ayrton lose a Championship? He started worrying too much about these things and wasn’t heard, despite his Championship titles".
In addition, for many years drivers didn’t organise to bring back the Grand Prix Drivers Association, as Prost said the day before:
"What do you want me to say? That we are a bunch of idiots? What does it change? Do you want me to remind you how to get into Formula 1? Do we want to remember the only drivers’ strike in South Africa in 1982? Why was it successful? Because drivers were different, they were brave. When you were paid to race, you were paid because of your skills, but when you said something you were heard. What do we want to do now - where most drivers are paid drivers and the sponsor’s agreement has to be respected? If you organise something, who does hear you? And if they do, you lose your seat due to consequences. There are plenty of drivers ready to take your seat. Then why do I say these things? Because I love this job, even if I can do something else - although I know I do my job very well".
On Saturday morning, Williams’ and Goodyear’s technicians protest to the FIA with Charlie Withing, the technical delegate. Williams says that the tyres provided until that moment were defective (Patrick Head will say that some holes formed on the tyre) and they ask for the changing. During the lunch before qualifying, Senna is clearly worried about the behaviour of his car during free practices. This discussion between Senna, Frank Williams and Goodyear’s technicians was recorded by the Brazilian television channel Globo. The Brazilian driver says to Frank Williams:
"I can’t go on track and be disadvantaged due to technical problems. It’s not my responsibility to solve them".
The team principal and some Goodyear’s technicians listen to the Brazilian driver. Senna goes on and exclaims to one of the technicians:
"It doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It’s a serious issue. I have to say it. Somebody needs to do things in the right way".
Williams, annoyed, stops to eat and says firmly to another Goodyear technician:
"Do what Ayrton wants because if he has an accident you will be in trouble".
At 1:00 p.m., while free practice is starting, five tyres for Senna and four for Hill are changed. Three D compound 5176 rear tyres are changed with C 5179 tyres and two D compound 5175 front tyres are changed with C 5180 tyres. This is quite strange because on the other cars the D compound tyres work very well. The Williams FW16 is the only car that has problems with a soft compound tyre and this points out how difficult it is to find the right setup of these cars. In addition, Ayrton and his teammate Damon Hill discuss how to drive in this part of the track to be far from the apex despite losing time. They want to avoid bumps that could excessively undermine the balance of the car at Tamburello. After qualifying and the loss of Roland Ratzenberger, Senna let his colleagues know that the following morning he wanted to organise a meeting to discuss about safety. Alboreto, Schumacher and Berger agree immediately. In the evening, Ayrton leaves the paddock with his friends, Betise and his twenty four hour briefcase. But after ten minutes he goes back to the box where Frank Williams is, this time without his briefcase, with his friends out to await him. He calls Patrick Head and starts talking in a nervous way. After twenty minutes he leaves again and Frank Williams exclaims:
"It’s incredible. Ayrton came back to discuss again about the setup of the car for tomorrow. He said exactly the same things we said at the meeting in the afternoon".
Ayrton is really nervous. At 07:30 p.m., he has dinner against his will with a group of friends and his brother Leonardo at the trattoria Alla Romagnola of Castel San Pietro. Just before 10:00 p.m., he goes back to the hotel Castello in Castel San Pietro, a place that he discovered in 1989 during a helicopter flight. Ayrton is really happy to have discovered that place and in previous years convinced Ron Dennis and all the McLaren team to stay there during race weekends:
"I always leave the windows open because I like listening to birds when the sun comes up. Actually, birds are my personal alarm clock".
Ayrton goes back to the hotel where a wedding reception is taking place. Teresa Tinarelli, the bride, recognises him and asks him to take a photo with the groom Davide. Ayrton does it with pleasure, then toasts to the happiness of the couple, sees the cutting of the cake and answers to the bride’s mother who asks him:
"Mr. Senna, when are you getting married?"
"Soon, maybe very soon".
Then he goes towards the elevator. Ayrton goes into Frank Williams’ room and they talk for an hour. Frank fears that his driver could refuse to race to be an example and to encourage all the drivers to refuse it too. During the afternoon, even Bernie Ecclestone - after speaking to Frank - fears that. But Ayrton reassures him saying that the following day he would have started the race regularly. Then, he leaves his friend and British manager’s room to go into his room number 200. He calls Adriane Galisteu, his girlfriend.
"Ayrton was very sad and nervous: he had a bad feeling. He didn’t feel well, he had a lot of thoughts in his head. He was sad about Rubens Barrichello’s accident, who was staying at the hospital after the crash during free practice. Moreover, he was frustrated due to Roland Ratzenberger’s death during qualifying. I heard an anxiety in his voice that I’ve never heard before. I told him not to race, but he answered that he loved his job too much and that he couldn’t refuse to race. It was his life".
After this phone call, Ayrton sleeps until 07:30 a.m.. The following day, he goes to the track early. That Sunday morning, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag publishes an article about Senna. The previous day, the Brazilian driver gave an interview only to the German newspaper and declared:
"I am in a difficult situation, but there are also fourteen races until the end. The 20 point gap from Michael Schumacher isn’t representative of the fight between us. During the Brazilian Grand Prix I made a mistake and that’s okay. But an accident like the one that I did in Japan, where Hakkinen pushed me off the track, could have happened to everyone. Williams had worked very hard to settle the car at its best but, after three hundred meters, all these efforts were useless. I complained with the race directors: I said that in the future young and inexperienced drivers should be controlled more carefully. This weekend confirmed my suspicions: Roland Ratzenberger died after an accident at the highest speed turn of this circuit in his first season. The day before, Rubens Barrichello, 21 years old, crashed into the barriers. Our problem is that at the moment there are too many young drivers and this increases the danger".
Then he continues:
"My main rivals are the Benetton team and Michael Schumacher. Benetton is surely an excellent car, in particular on wavy tracks and slow corners as in Brazil and Japan. My car, in these conditions, is a little nervous. This because of its peculiar downforce but also because of some suspension problems. For this reason, earlier last week we tried some downforce changes. However, I am optimistic about today’s race. The higher performance of Renault’s engine should give me an advantage on this track compared to Benetton’s Ford engine. Imola is a high-speed track and, in particular, there is an uphill part where a higher performance engine makes the difference".
And he concludes:
"After two wins and a gap of many points in the Championship, I think that Schumacher is the favourite for the final victory. His twenty point gap shows that I was right when, at the start of the season, I did not want to accept the favourite role. Anyway, I will try my best to create an exciting fight".
After the morning warm-up, Ayrton meets Alboreto, Schumacher and Berger and they speak about safety. At the end of the meeting, they agree to organise a meeting with all drivers for next Thursday, before the Monte Carlo race. Ayrton asks his manager Julian Jakobi to bring him an Austrian flag to pay tribute to his colleague who passed away in the case of a victory. On Sunday morning, Ayrton meets Prost. Their meeting isn’t unusual because they have reconciled. However, there is something unusual: Ayrton, who usually prefers to go inside the motorhome garage, goes into Renault’s motorhome among a group of people just to speak to Alain.
The two former rivals talk, even if Ayrton is worried but tries to appear calm and diplomatic. They talk mostly about safety, about Schumacher’s apparently irregular Benetton and about the fact that Ayrton isn’t sure to win the race. At the end, they agree to meet again the following week. Alain will see Ayrton again in the garage, just before the race. But in this circumstance the French driver doesn’t want to bother him, even if he knows that Ayrton wants an help, an advice, someone to rely on.
"Since Adelaide, Ayrton had become a new person, a new driver. He explained to me that he had lost his motivation, his objectives. The strong person inside the cockpit had disappeared. I was very surprised by this change. He said that it happened because I wasn't there anymore".
Prost says. Then he continues saying:
"The week before Imola, he said to me some things about his private life that I won’t tell anybody. He said them confidentially but I will never understand why he did it. Surely they were things that explained the way he behaved. He opened up about his problems and personal life. He explained that our fight on track was really important and that he wasn’t motivated to race against these drivers. Even that surprised me. I had never been able to understand some of his behaviours as a driver and now I couldn’t understand his behaviour as a person”.
And he concludes:
“The Sunday before the Imola race, he came to me no long before the race. I was with some Renault's men and we talked for about five minutes. Even on this occasion I was surprised because it is weird that a driver does this. Then Ayrton and I went back to Williams' box. It was my last moment with him. He kept on talking about all the things that weren’t making him happy at Williams and about the fact that, according to him, Benetton was irregular. He was being weak just before the race. Certainly, it wasn’t like him to act like this, it wasn't the driver I had known in the past. It was a completely different Senna".
Ayrton is not only disappointed by what had happened to his colleagues, but also nervous and thoughtful about his Williams’ behaviour. In fact, he had spent much time with David Brown, his car engineer, in the last few days. With him, Ayrton reviewed all the behaviours of his car. Ayrton wants to win the race. He talks about this with Adrian Newey at the back of the box, away from cameras. To try and win it, Ayrton agrees with the team to start with sixty kilos of fuel. This will allow him to extend the initial stint and to refuel his car after Schumacher, who he thinks to be really close at the start. On the contrary, Ayrton spent little time - some photos and some jokes - with his sponsors in Imola. Then there is the usual pre-race briefing between the drivers and the FIA, at 11:00 a.m.. A briefing where, as Alboreto admits:
"We didn’t speak about anything. We did a 1 minute silence like we will do next time".
Regardless of Formula 1, the Imola weekend seems really haunted. On Sunday morning there is another serious accident. During the Porsche Supercup, the French driver Jacques Heuclin, 49 years old, goes off the track at Piratella. The car crashes against the lateral wall and the driver reports light injuries at the shoulder. However, the previous afternoon a truck containing the Formula 1 cars of the French drivers Bertrand Gachot and Paul Belmondo was destroyed by fire in Alta Savoia, near Chamonix. Luckily the cars of the British team Pacific-Ilmor were rescued from the flames that broke out for unknown reasons. It is a difficult situation. Before the starting of the race, Ezio Zermiani, a Rai journalist, does an interview to Advocate Federico Bendinelli, Sagis’ president, that answers the charges towards the circuit by declaring:
"I don’t agree with the charges. Of course, we did everything we could. We are willing to make other improvements, but I think that today, speaking of services and structure, we can’t criticize the Imola circuit. Before making any changes to the track, we have always asked the drivers’ opinion".
Meanwhile, on the starting grid, Celso Itirebe Fratini - the Rete Globo journalist - sees Senna behaving in an unusual way. Usually, after the car is positioned on the grid, Ayrton stays inside the car to wait for the start of the race with his helmet on, despite the weather: during all his ten years of career, he never took it off in those twenty minutes of waiting. This time, instead, he incomprehensibly takes it off. Itirebe tells:
"Before the start he was weird, different. Usually he jokes, talks and laughs with his mechanics. That Sunday he didn’t. He was silent, worried. There is one thing that surprised me: he was motionless, with his hands on the rear wing, his eyes lost on his car as if he was touching it in silence. This for three or four minutes. A girl even came to ask for an autograph but he refused".
Ayrton is nervous. He spends his time trying to focus, keeping his eyes closed. Then he puts his helmet on again. The race director gives the green light to do the formation lap. Interestingly, after Ratzenberger’s accident, on Saturday afternoon Simtek thought about retiring its second car driven by David Brabham for the Grand Prix, leaving a place for the out-qualified Paul Belmondo’s Pacific. However, Bernie Ecclestone convinced the British team to race, so on Sunday Simtek goes on track with just the car number 31. Finally, it is decided to not give the final spot to anybody, leaving it empty. As usual, Ayrton starts to warm up his tyres and to study his car’s behaviour. People on the grandstands go crazy for him and the two Ferraris. After the formation lap, the cars line up on the starting grid. It’s 2:00 p.m.. The roar of the engines rises. The asphalt vibrates. At the race start all the drivers go away except the Benetton of the Finnish driver JJ Lehto that doesn’t move.
"I don’t know what happened. I know that, when I put the car in gear, the engine was working. Then I released the clutch and I didn’t move. I felt a big hit on my back and I hitted the right arm in the cockpit: I don’t have any comments, it’s incredible".
What happened? When the green light went on, Lehto’s car, which was fifth, had a technical issue and the engine stopped, leaving the Finnish driver to be still on the grid. The cars behind him went quickly on the sides to avoid him but Pedro Lamy, who started twenty-second, saw the obstacle at the last moment. The high speed and the presence of other cars on his sides makes the crash inevitable. The Lotus literally smashes Benetton’s rear end and drifts for about a hundred meters, stopping by the pit lane exit.
"I moved to the left because I saw that there wasn’t anyone, then the driver ahead of me moved and I saw the Benetton standing still. I tried to avoid it but I was too quick, I was about to put the fourth gear at about 180 km/h. I got scared, but I don’t think I am to blame".
Both drivers don’t suffer any serious consequences, except some aching, but all the debris from the two cars fly in every direction. Some of them go into the grandstands and hit eleven people. In particular, Antonio Mauro Maino, a real estate developer from Courmayeur who is twenty-eight years old, is hitted by a tyre. He is suddenly helped and on Sunday evening is carried at Bellaria hospital of Bologna, where undergoes a brain surgery due to a frontal hematoma. These are dramatic hours for his family, which arrived in Bologna from the Aosta Valley. A few days after, doctors issue a statement that doesn’t hide the seriousness of the injuries, but which contains concrete hopes of recovery:
"He’s in a medically induced coma. He underwent a surgery due to a frontal hematoma and now the prognosis is positive".
Meanwhile, the race directors order the safety car, driven by Max Angelelli, to go on track because most of the box straight is full of debris. This is done to make drivers slow down in order to clean the track and take away the crashed cars. However, the decision causes some protests from the drivers, who fear that the slowdown can affect their race. Generally, the safety car use in Formula 1 is controversial because, without regulatory standards, every track has a different safety car. Usually, the cars used - in this case an Opel Vectra - can’t go to a speed that allows Formula 1 cars to keep the tyres in the right temperature. For this reason, during these lower-speed laps, Senna goes side by side with the safety car or overtakes it many times to make it go faster. Meanwhile, from the pit lane, Williams’ engineers tell Ayrton to go on the straight on the right-side, avoiding the debris on track. But from Ayrton there is no answer. Once the track is clear, the race continues normally, with Senna in the lead followed by Schumacher. Ayrton does a good lap which will be the third fastest lap of the race. At the seventh lap, at 2:17 p.m.. Ayrton’s Williams approaches Tamburello at around 310 km/h. Then something strange happens. Ayrton realizes that something isn’t working. In the first bump, the car oversteers after touching the asphalt with the flat floor, so Ayrton, with his foot, brings the throttle pedal to the half, losing 10 km/h of speed. By doing this, the car lowers the downforce, but regains balance. A few hundredths of a second later, the car touches the asphalt again and there is another control due to oversteer. Another few hundredths of a second later, Ayrton goes on another bump and releases the throttle due to the lack of directionality. The car touches the asphalt two more times. At this point, Senna suddenly breaks and shifts down to reduce the speed as much as possible. This action allows him to decrease the speed from over 300 km/h to 211 km/h but, a few moments later, the Williams crashes against the external wall at Tamburello. Mirko Mezzetti, one of the head of the station number three of the marshals, who was ten meters away from the crash site, tells:
"A second before the crash against the wall, it seemed to me that Senna’s car had lowered. The tyres were straight as if the driver didn’t do any correction or move at the last minute. This was very strange. When it arrived on the cement before the wall, the back of his car was smoking. At the time I thought that was the flat floor. Then, rethinking about it and observing the tread that remained on the rear tyre, I convinced myself that the driver tried to slow down very strongly, locking the tyres that tended to lift up".
Then he continues:
"Senna’s car didn’t crash frontally, but to three-quarters. Pieces of carbon and suspensions flyed high. My impression is that Ayrton was hitted by some of these metallic parts. I don’t think that the head had touched the wall because the car was quite flat when he crashed. The evidence left by the tyres against the wall confirmed it. However, before the Williams crashed against the wall, I had the feeling that one arm of the front right suspension wasn't in its natural position. It was like it stretched as if it had detached from the frame. I suddenly noticed two things: that the car lowered when it was out of control and that, coming towards us, something wasn’t right in the front right suspension".
After the crash against the wall, the kinetic energy makes the car bounce back towards the track. The car touches the grass strip that divides the track from the escape route and goes back externally, to finally stop fifty meters away. The time passes, but Ayrton doesn’t move. The ridiculous thing is that the race isn’t suddenly stopped and, until it doesn’t, the medical car can’t move. This decision is up to the starter of the FIA, Roland Bruynseraede, who waits. The other directors of the circuit, next to him, ask him to stop the race, but the starter continues to hesitate. When Bernie Ecclestone sees that the driver doesn’t move and is still inside the car, tells the race directors to red flag the race and calls for help. After seeing the red flag, Schumacher - who had seen the accident firsthand but didn’t think that was that serious - drives his car to second place on the grid. He leaves the pole position to Senna who, in case of a restart, would have started the race in first place. At that moment, the drivers’ don’t know anything about Senna’s conditions and Schumacher himself thinks that Ayrton would have resumed the race.
A few meters away from the crash site, photographer Angelo Orsi, a friend of Ayrton that is at Tamburello, gets on his scooter and goes where the Brazilian driver’s car has stopped. Angelo Orsi takes some pictures, then stops. He is too worried for his friend, who is clearly in a difficult situation. The fate made sure that Angelo was there, at that turn, that day because maybe another photographer would have sold all the pictures with doctors. Fortunately, these pictures have never been published thanks to Angelo Orsi’s will. At the end of the Grand Prix, and in the case of win, Ayrton would have carried Angelo in his car, in the name of their friendship. Then, he would have had a picture taken while celebrating with the Brazilian and Austrian flags that he had requested in the morning to Roland’s manager to pay him a tribute. Meanwhile, in the press room people are worried: Ayrton is motionless inside his Williams Renault FW16. Then he moves his head, maybe due to the brain injuries caused from the crash. But in that moment they hold on to anything to see Ayrton step out of the car unharmed. They don’t want to live another terrible moment. So, someone screams:
But Ayrton lays his head on the left side of the cockpit, still motionless. At this point, the car at Variante Bassa receives the communication: an accident at Tamburello, red flag. Domenico Salcito starts the engine immediately, without waiting for other news. In two minutes, the car goes from Variante Bassa to Tamburello. After the turn, doctors see the car. The Alfa 164 stops next to the crashed Williams. In a few moments, Domenico Salcito, Giuseppe Piana, Giuseppe Pezzi, Federico Baccarini, Giuliano Mazzoli, Alessandro Misley and Giovanni Gordini - who was in the grandstands after the crash at the start - reach the car, headed by doctor Sid Watkins. They discover that there is some blood under the helmet. Giuseppe Bezzi, a resuscitator doctor, is on his knees on the right-hand side of the Williams. He tried to take off Ayrton’s helmet but couldn’t do it because the blood obscured the view to unfast the chin strap. On the left-hand side of the Williams, Salcito, having seen the difficulty, cuts the chin strap with the scissors and takes off the helmet. Baccarini, on Williams’ engine bonnet, holds Ayrton’s head together with doctor Watkins. Ayrton’s clinical conditions and position don’t allow any moves, so doctor Salcito opts for a rapid extraction from the cockpit. After unbuckling the seat belt, doctors lift Ayrton and lay him down on the ground in order to start the resuscitation as soon as possible.
The driver is lifeless and in a state of agonal breathing (which is an involuntary muscle movement, a gasp characterized by an extreme decrease of breath frequency until its complete stop. Gasping, even if it seems a respiratory movement, is not an effective breathing. The patient must be considered as if he went into respiratory arrest and treated on the basis of the resuscitation protocols through mechanical ventilation and an external cardiac massage). In addition, besides the injury above the right eye, doctors discover that Ayrton has a blood flow from the nose and the mouth and doesn’t react to any commands. At this point, doctors keep his airways open through an intubation in order to better the oxygenation and the breathing, meanwhile they plug up the haemorrhage and transfuse some haematic material after recovering two venous accesses. But this process is difficult. Watkins, understanding the seriousness of the situation and after some unsuccessful resuscitation attempts, asks for the helicopter rescue having to perform an emergency tracheotomy. The helicopter lands directly on track, on the crash site, in an unprecedented way in Formula 1 history. Then, as opposed to the FIA protocol, the helicopter can go immediately to Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna, without going to the Medical Centre of the Circuit before. A few moments later, doctors place the cervical collar around Ayrton’s neck to stabilize it and start performing the immobilization techniques using the vacuum mattress.
Meanwhile, in these agitated moments someone wrongly authorizes Érik Comas to go back on track, who didn’t restart with the others at the end of the safety car, but was still in the pits to change his damaged rear wing. The French driver Larrousse, unaware of the situation, arrives at Tamburello at a high speed, avoiding to hit the doctors by a hair. Comas, astonished by the situation, gets out of the car to control the state of his collegue. So he chooses to retire from the race before the race directors disqualified him for the danger caused. At 2:34 p.m., Senna is carried on the helicopter that takes off heading towards Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna. With Senna there are doctor Domenico Cosco, Alessandro Misley and the anaesthetist Giovanni Gordini. Everyone hoped that Senna could be awakened. Meanwhile, journalists run out of the press room and towards the paddock to reach the race directors. They are together with Leonardo, Senna’s brother, and Betise. Leonardo is pale, shocked and close to a nervous breakdown. Betise, who is pale too, tries to be calm and to support Leonardo. Even Bernie Ecclestone is there and steps quickly into the race direction. Then walks out of it, heading towards his motorhome with Leonardo and Betise. Bernie reacts very nervously and rudely at some questions and two journalists - one of them is Italian and the other is Brazilian - get offended and insult Ecclestone. After a while, Leonardo Senna, inside the FOCA motorhome, calls his family saying that Ecclestone made him aware of the brother’s death. But Ecclestone corrects him and even later will be categorical in explaining the facts:
"There was some confusion when the accident happened. I was told by phone by who was on track that Ayrton was seriously injured at the head, but I understood that he was dead. That’s what I said to his brother. When the information was corrected, we began to hope again".
In the paddock and on the grid, the marshals keep on guessing what happened. The attention is on Schumacher who, being the first driver behind his rival, could have seen something unusual. In fact, the German driver says that he saw the Williams bumping many times, before moving on the right-hand side:
"In the two previous laps I saw that Senna’s car was really nervous on bumps. Ayrton was struggling to control it, but it didn’t seem to be a problem so big to cause this dramatic situation".
The second hypothesis is that a tyre could have failed when Senna went on the debris left by Lehto’s Benetton, who didn’t move since the start. After the race Barry Griffin, Goodyear’s spokesman, will say:
"We analyzed the Williams’ rear tyre and there was a cut on the tread. A cut that big provokes an immediate failure of the tyres. The driver feels it right away because mechanical suspensions don’t compensate for the air leakage as it happens with active suspensions. If the tyre fails, the car’s floor touches the ground. Senna was too experienced not to understand that something was wrong with his car. If he had had a puncture, he wouldn’t have gone at maximum speed at Tamburello, as it happened. The cut on the tyre was made after the crash against the wall, not before. We brought in Imola the same tyres that last year had worked well: the same construction and suitable compounds".
Is this enough to solve all doubts? No, because Senna had done just a lap, was in the lead, and suddenly the car crashed against the wall. Was it due to an illness? Maybe the autopsy will tell. Was it a driver mistake? Nobody believes this. Somebody else thinks that the safety car entry, after Lehto and Lamy’s accident at the start, and the lower-speed laps could have decreased the tyre pressure. In fact, when the race restarted, the cars went back to their high speed and Senna’s accident happened after one lap, when the tyres had not yet reached the right temperature and adherence. Moreover, Frank Dernie, Benetton’s engineer, said that both cars would have started the race with low-pressure tyres because the heat would have increased it quickly. He said this on Friday. However, after Ayrton’s crash against the wall, somebody swears to have heard Patrick Head screaming:
And then he would have said his doubts to a technician:
"Since you know more than I do, verify if the system was off".
Williams suspects that something could have failed due to the power steering not being used. However, the team can’t have positive data because the telemetry shows the data through radio message only when the car passes in front of the pits, but the seventh lap wasn’t ended. Meanwhile, inside the pits there are some rumours about Senna’s condition that raise doubts and discourage Williams’ mechanics and engineers. But the team’s leaders, in this moment of confusion, say to their employees:
"You have to focus on what you’re doing. Don’t listen to anybody else. Nobody knows what’s happening, you have to focus on what you have to do".
In fact, the news that comes out from the FIA - at least during the first few minutes - about Senna’s condition is positive, even if nobody wants to believe it. No driver nor team manager is informed about the seriousness of the situation, except for Flavio Briatore, who is informed by journalist Ezio Zermiani. A FIA’s officer says to Williams that Senna is fine and has just a cut on the arm and that for this reason he has to miss the race. The same things are said to the drivers, otherwise they would never get back in the car. For example, Berger asks Bernie Ecclestone how’s Ayrton. The British manager answers that Ayrton is out of the car. So Gerhard is convinced that his friend and ex rival is fine. The track is cleared and the crashed car is sequestered by the Italian police together with Senna’s helmet. In thirty-seven minutes the race is ready to restart. The grid is decided by the final classification adding up the times of the two tranches. Meanwhile, although the car is immediately sequestered, Charlie Whiting goes into Williams’ box and asks Patrick Head if he wanted to see Ayrton’s car as a precaution. So, Whiting and a delegation of Williams’ men - led by Patrick Head - goes inside the box that will be closed with the seals of the Italian police and find out that Ayrton’s car has a frame bending on the right-hand side. This bending was caused by a front tyre and smashed the chassis where the steering-wheel is, blown off at the height of the steering column. For this reason, on the opposite side, at the height of the control unit area there is a massive crack on the frame. Head is not surprised by the fact that the steering wheel is broken but is even more convinced that there was a failure in the power steering box. As a precaution, back on the grid, Head and Williams’ engineers decide to not use the power steering on Damon Hill’s car.
But before, Williams’ technicians pull out the control unit from the right-hand side, behind water radiators. Despite the negative report from Csai’s technicians, Fabrizio Nosco, Giulio Pedroni, Alessandro Palmieri and Luca Chinni, after receiving the approval from Charlie Whiting, the control unit is carried in William’s truck, where they try to link the connector to the computers. But Williams’ control unit - which records all the suspensions and chassis data - is irreparably damaged. The crash at 210 km/h has protected the external frame, but not the interior components. So, Head and his technicians go back to the box where Ayrton's Williams is and extract the second control unit, the Renault’s one. This control unit is not damaged and contains the engine and the power steering data, since this power steering is commanded by an oil pressure circuit activated by the engine. Bernard Michel Duffort, the responsible for the Renault Sport F1 engine control, will receive the Magneti Marelli’s control unit in Paris the same evening. Williams’ technicians - and Dickie Stanford in particular - go back inside the box where Ayrton’s car is. They control that nobody, apart from the Italian police, touches the car or takes some component. Inside the box, Stanford holds Ayrton's helmet for a few seconds in his hands and understands the seriousness of the accident. Then, from that moment, the box is sealed and nobody will get inside, apart from the Italian police. Actually, more than a person will get inside the box throughout the years to look around and see Ayrton’s car. At 02:55 p.m., the race can restart. The only evidence of this absurde situation is a very big bloodstain on the ground where Ayrton was rescued. The doctors on the Alfa 164 - the ones that rescued Senna - goes back on track for the second restart but just for professional duty. After that, all of them burst into tears in silence and remain inside the car until the end of the race. At the restart, after that Berger with his Ferrari has tried to go away from the rest, Schumacher takes the lead. A few laps later, the Austrian driver is forced to retire the car due to a mechanical failure:
"I felt that there was something strange with the car. At some point, I looked at the left mirror and there were sparks. Later, at the Variante, I almost lost control of the 412T. I thought that could be the tyres. I got in the pits to change them but when I got back on track the situation was even worse. After a lap, I decided to stop because I didn’t feel like going back to Tamburello again".
Berger is in the pits when is informed about the seriousness of Senna’s accident. Gerhard, worried about it, organises all to go by helicopter to Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna. Meanwhile, on track, Larini is in a good position with the other Ferrari. He is in second place and takes the lead when Schumacher goes to the pits to refuel. All goes well until ten laps to go. Inside the pit lane, a serious accident happens: Alboreto’s Minardi, that is going out of the pits, loses a rear tyre which was fastened wrongly by the mechanics. The tyre goes against the other team’s mechanics at a high-speed. In this dramatic accident, three Ferrari’s mechanics (Claudio Bisi, Maurizio Barbieri and Daniele Volpi), a Lotus’ mechanic (Baltiry Naio), a Benetton’s mechanic (Mark Fluckingel) and Roberto Manoni, a CEA’s member, are injured. In a short time, the pit lane is full with paramedics and ambulances to help the mechanics. Claudio Bisi is hospitalized as a precautionary measure and is released a few hours later with just a contusion of the foot and of the left leg. On the contrary, Maurizio Barbieri and Daniele Volpi are kept in hospital because the first one has a compound fracture of the tibial spine and of his left knee femoral condyle, and the second one has a contusion of the left hypochondrium and of the cervical spine. Later on, Maurizio Barbieri, describing the accident, will say:
"I clearly remember that tyre coming at me. I fell, but I never fainted".
"Michael Schumacher changed after Ayrton Senna’s death. He really thought about retiring after what happened. However, luckily for us all, he decided to continue".
Now that the race is finally over, the debate begins. Michael Schumacher, interviewed after the race, has some ideas:
"We have to limit the speed in the pit lane and extend the starting area in some tracks. Before Imola I discussed the problem of safety with Senna, Berger and Alboreto, but ideas and interests were different. Now that Ayrton has passed away, I think that we all agree...".
Clay Regazzoni, instead, doesn’t blame the Imola circuit but the cars and the technical regulations:
"Blaming the Imola circuit when the problems are the cars, the safety, the downforce, and these absurde regulations is useless. As long as we continue to race with these cars that are more like military jets than cars, the risks will always be that high. Today Formula 1 has gone back fifty years. We have to denounce the responsibles for this carnage. These two deaths were not casual because we all know that the tracks don’t get better in the same amount of time. We have to re-discuss all Formula 1 to give the fans the possibility to follow the Grand Prix and be excited for the champions’ skills and not for these death memories".
Then he continues:
"We have to stop this Formula 1. In this championship I don’t see the sport, I just see a huge business and there are other people that agree with me. The FIA is controlled by irresponsible people who create only killing cars. You just have to get near these cars to understand how dangerous they are. Nowadays the driver isn’t important anymore. The flat floor and the downforce have to change as soon as possible. Barrichello’s accident was the last stroke of luck. We can’t continue like this. If the car arrives so quickly towards the wall there’s nothing else to do but pray. All the safety measures have to be re-considered not only by the stewards but also by the drivers because they are the ones that risk their life. After so long from the last death, De Angelis’ one, we thought that these cars had reached an excellent safety level. They have not".
Michele Alboreto agrees with him and says:
"I’m really pissed off. Do you know that next week there will be some practices here in Imola? Do you know how many times I’ve talked about safety with the stewards? Many times. Who listened to what I was saying?"
"Who listened when I was talking about the dangerousness of the refueling in the pits or about the speed in the pits? It’s crazy because we are the ones that are inside the car and the four guys that I hitted today are the ones that risk. These guys can’t risk like this. We can’t risk our life because there aren’t accurate regulations or a speed limit. In the Indy championship, they go in the pits at 40 km/h. If you go at 41 km/h you receive a ten-seconds penalty. Why can’t we do the same thing?"
Then he concludes talking about the next race, that will be in Monaco:
"And next week in Monte-Carlo? There the pits are among the trees. Well, I will go to the pits at 50 km/h. I will tell the team so they can calculate the forty seconds that I will need when I go into the pits. The other drivers can do what they want. If they’re intelligent, they will do the same thing. We have to reflect in this sport".
Osama Goto, Ferrari’s Japanese technician, with his eyes red from crying, can barely say:
"It wasn’t Alboreto’s fault, losing a tyre in the pits can happen. Unfortunately, this time the consequences have been more serious than expected. In Imola there were a series of negative coincidences that I can’t explain: over many years nothing has happened, now we got scared enough".
While everyone, without exception, starts talking and expressing their opinion, 9,556,000 Italians are watching the television to know what has happened to Ayrton Senna. During the hours that follow the Grand Prix, the live television goes from the Imola circuit to the Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna and then to the television studios. Meanwhile, in Imola people continue to work in a general shock. The boxes have to be cleared: in the Williams’ one, the logistics technician eliminates everything that the team brings to a race and that is no longer necessary. Later that day, the only thing that remains there is a grey bike with Senna’s brand. He didn’t want to touch that bike because it is the only thing left of the Brazilian driver. When someone walks by Williams’ motorhome and sees that bike, goes away quickly with the eyes red from crying. Nobody holds the tears near that bike that has a red sign which says:
"To be photographed with Ayrton on track".
It was 2:34 p.m. when the helicopter went from the Imola circuit to Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna. Ayrton was moved very quickly because he had to undergo a tracheotomy with mechanical equipment. A few minutes before, at 2:17 p.m., when Ayrton’s car crashed against the wall at Tamburello, Dr. Fiandri was at home watching the Grand Prix on television with her sons, which are Formula 1 fans. She is on call. Looking at television pictures, she immediately understands that the accident is serious, so she changes her clothes and gets in her car. The beep of the pager rings a little later, but she is already driving towards Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna. At 2:45 p.m., Dr. Fiandri reaches Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna at the same time of the helicopter that is carrying Ayrton. During the flight, Ayrton’s heartbeat starts beating again, though feebly. The Brazilian driver is carried straightaway in intensive care. The first thing that Dr. Fiandri notices is the deep cut on the left eyebrow. The rest of the body is intact, there are no significant injuries. But concentrating on the face area, doctors notice the skull fractures:
"He was handsome and serene, I had this impression. The face was of course a bit swollen from the trauma but I remember that there was someone next to me that said: he is so handsome".
Dr. Fiandri remembers the first minutes like this. A few moments later, at 03:15 p.m., gets out of the emergency room and in the hall of the Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna affirms to the press:
"A severe head trauma, circulatory insufficiency and airways hemorrhagic shock have been found. The patient will undergo a CT scan. In any case the neurosurgeon excludes any type of surgery".
When Dr. Fiandri tells this to the press, Ayrton is carried from the emergency room on the ground floor to the radiology department on the eleventh floor of Ospedale Maggiore, wrapped in a golden space blanket. Here the CT scan is performed and confirms what doctors have suspected: there are massive injuries that cannot be operated. At 04:30 p.m., there is another press conference. This time, there are five doctors: with Dr. Fiandri there are the head of the radiology department Sandro Sartoni, the surgeon Franco Baldoni, the neurosurgeon Alvaro Andreoli and the head of services of Imola and the helicopter that transported Senna to Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna, Giovanni Gordini.
"The clinical situation is dramatic: there are multiple fractures at the bottom of the braincase, a cerebral edema, a frontal fracture and a massive blood loss of the superficial temporal artery. The CT scan didn’t show any hematoma that should be removed but there is an overall pain of the brain. Senna is in a deep coma. The long cardiac arrest has certainly provoked irreversible damage, but at that speed nothing more could have been done".
The news is spread all over the hospital. In the hall there are cameras, recorders, and even Brazilian flags taken by some fans that want to pay their respects to Ayrton. At the same time, when the race ends, Frank Williams calls the Ospedale Maggiore to have more information on the conditions of his driver. Shortly afterwards, the hospital chaplain Padre Amedeo Zuffa, aware of the situation, reaches the room where Ayrton is in order to bring the Sacraments to the Brazilian driver who, at least for now, is still alive but unconscious. Meanwhile, doctors decide to perform an electroencephalogram to understand if there was still some brain activity: at 5:50 p.m. the sad reality comes out. Five minutes later, at 5:55 p.m., Dr. Fiandri goes into the hall and confirms what doctors have suspected: the electroencephalogram didn’t show any brain activity. Ayrton is in a deep coma. This statement leaves no hope. The Italian law is the only one that still doesn’t allow the disconnection of the body from the machinery unless there is a cardiac arrest. A man who was with Priest Amedeo Zuffa, gone back to the eleventh floor of the Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna, describes what he has just seen to the Brazilian journalist Livio Oricchio. In addition, this man, being at the centre of attention, is caught up in excitement and starts to describe in detail what he saw to the people around him, who are becoming more and more curious. Livio Oricchio, after having seen this extremely embarrassing and unrespectful scene, runs behind the man and asks him to stop talking. Meanwhile, Galvão Bueno and Betise Assumpção get off the elevator. The Brazilian journalist goes to his colleague Livio Oricchio and, with a shaky voice but without crying, tells him:
"It’s over… it’s over".
Oricchio informs Galvao about what that man was still doing so, for the second time, they both ask him to stop talking. Thanks to this second intervention, the man understands his mistake and goes away with Priest Amadeo Zuffa. After a while, Gerhard Berger, a friend and ex rival of Ayrton, arrives at the hospital after retiring from the Imola race. He decided to get there after being informed about Senna’s serious condition and reached Dr. Sid Watkins to Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna:
"Professor Sid Watkins was there and told me that Ayrton wasn’t well. He asked me if I wanted to see him in the operating theatre".
So, Berger asks the doctors if he can get inside the room to see one of his closest friends one last time. Later on, Dr. Giovanni Gordini will tell:
"He asked us if he could get inside his room, the same room where he was hospitalized after his accident at Tamburello. We explained to him what to expect. He got inside and stayed there until the end. They had to be really close friends. I think it’s rare for a driver to do what Berger did".
Gerhard will tell:
"I got in and they were doing something with his head while was covered. We stayed in front of him for a while and then we left. After that, they confirmed that he passed away".
At 07:00 p.m., on May 1, 1994, among many microphones, cameras and people crying in shock and praying, Dr. Maria Teresa Fiandri, head of the resuscitation department and of 911 of Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna, has to announce it to the people that are watching television and to the press in the hall:
"At 6:40 p.m., Ayrton’s heart stopped. The encephalogram was already flat for quite some time".
At 7:30 p.m. Frank Williams arrives, while preparations for the transport of the body are in progress. At 9.00 p.m., Ayrton is carried in Via Irnerio, to the Institute of Legal Medicine of Bologna. The next day at 11:10 a.m., even Ronald Ratzenberger’s father arrives with an Opel. Anonymously, he goes through girls that are crying and holding some flowers, and guys that waited all night to see the body of the greatest of all time, as someone screams. The day after, at the Institute of Legal Medicine of Bologna, the first and the last of the class rest peacefully in the same room with the same destiny. For Roland Ratzenberger there is only his father there, for Ayrton there is a crowd. But they are there together, lying in two beds of a dark room, where noises and rays of sunshine come in lightly. Two faces: Ratzenberger’s one, calm, and Senna’s one, swollen and injured. Julius Braga, Ayrton’s manager, brings two dresses that must serve for the last trip: one blue, one grey. He chooses the grey one. At 9:30 a.m., an autopsy is performed on Senna’s body and at 3:00 p.m. on Roland’s body by Dr. Michele Romanelli and Pier Ludovico Ricci, together with the expert surveyor Corrado Cipolla D’Abruzzo. The first one determines that Ayrton passed away due to a basal head trauma from the evident point of impact on the right side of the forehead. This was caused by a massive pressure and by the cardiocirculatory arrest. Roland, instead, sustained a severe head trauma (the fracture of the cap in half), two broken vertebrae, a damaged marrow with blood loss, and severe internal traumas, including the spleen, and a massive blood loss. It is certain that Ratzenberger and Senna did not pass away because of an illness.
On May 3, 1994, after the autopsy and two-days after the Imola accident, the Brazilian president Itamar Franco - to return Ayrton’s body home as soon as possible - calls the Italian president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and asks him to hasten the bureaucracy in order to return the Brazilian hero at home because millions of people are waiting for him. Scalfaro understands perfectly the delicacy of the situation and provides a government flight. At 5:10 p.m., Ayrton’s coffin, wrapped in the green and gold Brazilian flag, leaves the Institute of Legal Medicine of Bologna on a black Mercedes and arrives at the Marconi airport of Bologna. He is carried on the plane of the Italian president and at 6:20 p.m. takes off to go to Paris, landing at the Charles de Gaulle airport. There, he is carried from Terminal 1 to the MD 11, on the flight Varig 723, ready to go to São Paulo. Celso Lemos, contracts manager of Senna’s holding, asked Varig’s president if the coffin could be transported inside the plane and not in the hold. He accepted and, as requested by Commander Reginaldo Gomes Pinto, sent a fax containing this provision. Some seats are dismantled and Ayrton is placed there, with curtains around him to separate this sector from the others. During the flight, journalist Livio Oricchio together with Galvão Bueno, Reginaldo Leme, Luis Roberto, Candido Garcia, and Ayrton’s staff formed by Betise Assumpção, Celso Lemos and Josef Leberer (Senna’s physiotherapist), are on his last trip with him. None of them can sleep and talk for the most part of the flight. Galvao tells many stories with Senna and every time slaps the coffin frustrated and says:
"Look how we’re bringing him back home now...".
The flight continues calmly, except for the fact that a photographer manages to sneak in to take a picture of the coffin. However, Celso Lemos notices the flash and intervenes immediately. Lemos, who doesn’t know what to do, asks Livio Oricchio to go there. Oricchio makes a deal with the photographer: he will take a picture of the coffin in Brazil, but now he has to delete the picture that he has just taken. The agreement is maintained some hours later. After a twelve-hours flight, on May 4, 1994, at 6:10 a.m., Commander Reginaldo Gomes Pinto lands gently at the Guarulhos airport in São Paulo. A few seconds later, the plane moves slowly towards the passenger terminal. The curtains where Ayrton is remain closed. Journalists are searching for some news from anyone on the Varig flight from Paris. At that time, passengers became aware that Ayrton’s coffin was on that flight. When all passengers get off the plane, Viviane Senna and her husband get on the plane, while the group of journalists and friends get off. After a while, at 6:43 a.m., the coffin covered with the Brazilian flag is carried off the plane by the military police cadets and placed on a fire truck. The truck, from Guarulhos to Moema, has to pass through a huge crowd of people who came for Ayrton. So the long journey to the funeral home begins. Thirty are the kilometers to cover to get from the airport to the city centre. The procession crosses the favelas around the airport, the centre with its skyscrapers, residential villas districts and stops at the palace of the Legislative Assembly of the State of São Paulo in the Ibirapuera Park. The entire Brazilian militia is deployed in the streets, with the honours of a true hero. A sign says: Senna passed away in Imola, the third world thanks the first world. The Brazilians pay a tribute to their hero. Firefighters, cuirassiers, men on horseback and soldiers accompany Ayrton in his last trip, while the entire Brazil is in the streets: there is no social class distinction, they are all there, around five millions of people through the streets to pay their tribute to Ayrton Senna. Meanwhile, the Brazilian president Itamar Augusto Cautiero Franco declares:
"I suffer with all the country the loss of a brave and honoured young man who proved the Brazilians’ skills to the world".
Many years later, Neide, Ayrton’s mother, will confess:
"I knew that my son was a very loved person, but I didn’t know how much".
At the funeral, which takes place on May 4, 1994, at 11:00 a.m., there is a crowd of people. There are also Viviane and Leonardo, his friends, his lovers, Xuxa Meneghel and Adriane Galisteu (his last girlfriend) among them. On Sunday evening Adriane was awaiting Ayrton in Portugal, in Algarve, in the villa that he owned in Europe. After having seen the accident on television, Adriane was about to get on a plane to reach Imola, but she heard the news of Ayrton’s loss before doing it. However, she arrived at the funeral on her own by foot as anyone else because it seems like Leonardo Senna had known, a few hours before the San Marino Grand Prix, that Ayrton’s girlfriend was still in contact with her ex boyfriend. There is also his fitness coach, Nuno Cobra, who walks towards the coffin with his head down and his heart heavy with pain. After touching the coffin, he starts crying desperately. But there are also Ayrton’s colleagues and adventuring companions such as Ron Dennis, Frank Williams and Alain Prost. Alain, who was in Paris the day after the accident, receives a call from an old friend of his, Jean-Luc Lagadere. Fate wants that Jean-Luc Lagadere’s wife is brazilian. Alain takes the opportunity to ask for an advice:
"I’ve already bought the plane ticket. Do you think that I should go?"
The answer is certain: Alain has to go to pay its tribute to Ayrton. The Brazilians would have surely appreciated it. Alain just needed a suggestion to convince himself completely. He was afraid to receive a negative welcome, but Jean-Luc Lagadere removed all doubts. Alain deep inside knows that if he didn’t go, he would regret it forever. He doesn’t want to go to Brazil to make a good impression of himself; he feels it as a duty dictated by the pain for Ayrton’s loss. When he arrives in Brazil, there is no hostility towards him, as Jean-Luc Lagadere’s wife had said. On the contrary, Alain is warmly welcomed by Ayrton’s family. In addition, the day after the funeral, Milton - Ayrton’s father - invites him into his home to talk. On May 6, 1994, there will be just two hundred and fifty people at Roland Ratzenberger’s funeral. At the private ceremony, there are Gerhard Berger, who got back from São Paulo, Walter Lechner, Karl Wendelinger, Niki Lauda and Max Mosley, who declares:
"Roland was forgotten. I went to his funeral because everyone was at Ayrton’s. I thought it was important that someone went to his".
Nelson Piquet, instead, didn’t go to the funeral because he hadn’t a good relationship with Ayrton. He didn’t want to seem like a friend who only cares about him after his loss, even if he was upset. When he was interviewed, he almost couldn’t talk from emotion:
"It is unfair".
Even Ecclestone didn’t go to the funerals because the Brazilian driver’s family wants to sue the Formula 1 directors, as said by the spokesman Charles Marzanasco, who added:
"Bernie Ecclestone is not welcome at the funeral".
So Ecclestone is in São Paulo for the obsequies, but he can’t attend the ceremony. After being denied permission to attend the funeral by Senna's family and trying to gain some sympathies, he declares:
"Why Senna’s family doesn’t want me? I would give all my money to have him back. I was treated unfairly. When I owned the Brabham I was the first to give Senna a chance, but Piquet refused it. Why is nobody blaming Piquet?"
However, the attempt fails because Piquet doesn’t confirm Ecclestone's rumour. At the end of the funeral, it is time to carry Ayrton to his final destination, Morumbi’s cemetery, which is fifteen kilometers away. It takes two hours to get there because there are half a million people waiting for Ayrton. In a respectful silence, the Brazilian guard carries the coffin on their shoulders, while twenty one gunfires are shoot to commemorate the driver: three days of mourning have just been announced in Brazil. Sixteen drivers are there: 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, was late for the funeral because she was helping friends, family members and international guests to reach Morumbi's cemetery to be in time for the procession. When she arrives, she is immediately reached by Berger, who says to her:
"Betise, you have to do something. Somebody told me that Alain and Jackie will be in front of the coffin. You have to change it, these are two of the people that Ayrton hated more in his life".
Betise, having heard that, talks with Geraldo Rodrigues, Rubens Barrichello’s manager and a dear friend of hers. She says to him:
"You will never believe it. They want to put Jackie Stewart and Alain Prost in front of the coffin. There’s no doubt that is Gerhard Berger who has to be there because he has always been with Ayrton in most of the good times both on and off the track".
After this exchange of information, Stewart and Prost are put backwards and their places in front row go to Berger and Emerson Fittipaldi. Ayrton Senna rests in a meadow in the middle of São Paulo, in a grave without crosses or candles, among many other Brazilians. On the marble is engraved a Bible passage which is dear to him:
"Nada pode me separar do amor de Deus". (Nothing can separate me from the love of God, N.d.T.)
At the end of the funeral, Leonardo Senna - Ayrton’s brother - said:
"Before leaving, Williams told me to have seen - from the recordings - the car touching the asphalt more than usual but they don’t know what happened. They observed that the turn - no matter how fast it is - has a light angulation. The only thing that would explain a running off the track as dangerous as that is a mechanical failure. But they added also that a definitive evaluation will be carried out when the mechanics will be allowed to examine the car, which now is sequestered from the Italian magistracy".
Then he added:
"Once it is certain that Ayrton didn’t make a mistake, the only thing I care about is to prove that the Imola circuit didn’t guarantee the safety conditions to run the Grand Prix".
This was happening on May 4, 1994, three days after the end of the tragic Imola weekend. Formula 1 has always been involved in legal proceedings, in Italy and in other European countries. Just remember that Colin Chapman was wanted for manslaughter after Jochen Rindt passed away. Moreover, when Peterson’s accident happened - and wasn’t tragic yet - , Chapman asked his mechanics to take the Swedish driver’s car and leave Italy because in 1970 the Austrian driver’s Lotus was sequestered. So, after Imola’s tragic events, it is no coincidence that cars and tracks are sequestered by the magistracy. However, the mass hysteria after Ayrton’s loss is peculiar. Political class and Italian press increase the already heavy situation. Sunday May 1 is a public holiday in Italy: employees are celebrated. In theory, the following day no newspaper can be sold in the newsstands. On the contrary, the Italian newspapers Corriere dello Sport, Tuttosport, Il Resto del Carlino, Il Tempo and La Nazione published a special edition the next Monday morning. In the afternoon two weekly in-depth magazines, Auto&Sport and Autosprint, are published in the newsstands of Bologna and the next morning all over Italy. Almost all the newspapers blame the track conditions, the International Automobile Federation and the possible mechanical failure. The news that come from France are pretty much the same as the Italian ones, but a bit less exasperated. The Equipe, which is the only sports newspaper of France, is quite balanced, even if there are some catchy titles (Stop it!) in it. It contains also Patrick Head’s declarations about the driver’s responsibility which were immediately denied by Williams’ technical director:
"It was Ayrton's mistake. He took his foot off the throttle and the car lost downforce. We’ve seen it by telemetry, from datas that we have on our computers".
Meanwhile, on May 2, 1994, at 6:00 a.m., Brazilian journalist Livio Oricchio, not seeing anyone inside the Imola circuit, goes in with his car and goes at the Tamburello turn, on the crash site. He arrives there and tries to understand how the accident happened. At that moment, a police and a Sagis’ - the company that runs the track - car come there. A very tall man gets out of the Sagis’ car and, without talking, comes close to the journalist and pushes him violently. Livio Oricchio, after falling on the ground, tries to react but fortunately the police stop a fight that, most likely, would have led to serious consequences for the journalist. However, the man who got out of the Sagis’ car, not satisfied with what he had just done, decides to insult Livio Oricchio. Oricchio replies:
"Do you fear some justice problems due to the lack of safety of your circuit? Two deaths in the same weekend could indeed cause some problems to many people".
Later, the situation calmed down and the police started to isolate the scene, delimiting the crash site. When Jayme Britto - Rete Globo’s director - goes there, the police ask the two journalists to get back to the paddock. If on the one hand there is someone who does its job seriously and is interrupted, on the other hand there is the Italian journalistic hysteria and that political class that, until then, was detached from the motorsport world. From the day after the race, on May 2, 1994, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, the Italian President, contacts immediately Giovanni Conso, the Ministry of Justice, to know what the magistracy of Bologna had done for what happened in Imola:
"I was really sad when I read the news of Ayrton’s death. I wanted to know the initiatives of the magistracy, which had already started an investigation. I really regretted the fact that, after all of this tragedy, the race wasn’t stopped".
All of this was said through a message that Scalfaro sent to Itamar Augusto Cautiero Franco, the Brazilian President, and then in a phone call with Rosario Alessi, ACI’s president. The same day, even Minister Antonio Maccanico, the Prime Minister’s undersecretary, talks with Alessi and says to him that all the Italian government was really sad about the race not being stopped. Many representatives of the Italian political class speak their mind on the tragedy, starting with a group of reformers who writes a urgent interpellation to the Prime Minister about Imola’s accidents: Paolo Vigevano, Emma Bonino, Elio Vito, Peppino Calderisi and Lorenzo Strik-Lievers are those who signed. A similar initiative was launched by a parliamentary group of the Verdi party, who aims to suspend the Formula 1 world championship. The Vatican’s position is also very harsh. The Vatican condemns the Formula 1’s world on the Osservatore Romano daily, which describes it as:
"A sparkly circus, maximum expression of the gigantism and the aberrations to which the sport-show has arrived. In Imola the true sportsmanship has experienced the last and definitive blow for the degradation of its value, deleted from the interests at stake and overwhelmed by inhumanity. If we hadn’t lost the best and the most famous driver, all the rest - the other victim, all the injured people and the tragedies that we almost lived - would have been minimized. It has happened before and it is sad to see that we realize how important a human life is just now".
The Vatican, which has always opposed to motor racing, has just reaffirmed a concept that has been saying for decades. However, other Italian personalities from the sport say harsh words towards the Formula 1 world. For example, Coni’s president, Mario Pescante, declares:
"Sports and athletes - including Formula 1’s drivers - are one thing, directors and organisers are another thing. When we see these cars flying, as has happened on Sunday, it is clear that they are working with an embarrassing superficiality. I don’t think that is all about business and that only money matters: maybe we’ve believed in fate, that a driver’s death is part of the game. It’s not honest, not like that. I will meet with the Csai’s president as soon as possible: I will tell him that the Italian racing, which has a glorious past, has nothing to do with the current one".
For these reasons, on May 2, 1994, after an initial hesitation, the Minister of Justice Giovanni Conso calls the Attorney general of Bologna Pellegrino Jannaccone, by the will of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro. This call opens the investigation on the accidents of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. As a consequence, on May 2, 1994, a meeting takes place in the Public Prosecutor’s offices by the Court with prosecutors, the legal doctor and the Polstrada's director. Off the record, there was also the Chief Prosecutor of the Public Prosecutor’s Office by the Magistrate’s court, Pellegrino Jannaccone. For almost four hours, reporters weren’t able to get near magistrates, which were in contact with the Ministry of Justice, already pressed by Brazilian and Austrian embassies for the drivers’ repatriation procedures. At the end of this meeting, at 2:00 p.m., on May 2, 1994, the Chief Prosecutor of the Public Prosecutor’s Office by the Magistrate’s court, Francesco Pintor, gives to Prosecutor Maurizio Passarini a very short statement which summarizes the main stages of the investigation. In addition to some checks on the crashed cars, magistrates will have to see all the crash footages, which are already sequestered. They have to pay particular attention to the Imola circuit’s track surface, by some inspections on track, to see if some technical issue could have provoked the accidents. But that’s not all. It is also decided that at the Courthouse there will also be marshals, drivers and Formula 1’s technicians because their testimonies could be important to identify the causes of the two accidents and the Public ministry has to be joined by Formula 1’s experts. It is May 2, 1994, Monday afternoon. Public ministry Maurizio Passarini starts the investigations immediately sealing the Imola circuit and Ayrton’s helmet, going on the crash site and inviting the Sagis to appoint an expert that has to be present for the Senna and Ratzenberger’s autopsy. This would trigger the notification for the society that runs the circuit:
"A necessary act even if everything was held within the rules".
Specifies Advocate Roberto Landi who, with Francesco Colliva and Gianluigi Lebro, represents the Sagis, while Advocate Federico Bendinelli adds:
"An obvious and inevitable act: the sequestration of the circuit, the cars and the helmets had already called us into question. Probably the same thing will happen to others in the following days, since the Public ministry asked me the addresses of the helmet and team’s companies".
On May 3, 1994, at the Institute of Legal Medicine, at 9:30 a.m., the investigation goes on through the examination of Ayrton Senna’s remains first and then of Roland Ratzenberger’s ones, as said by the Chief Prosecutor Francesco Pintor. Meanwhile, whilst even the Italian Minister of Defence, Fabio Fabbri, hopes that the magistrates of Bologna punish the Imola’s crime, the Public Ministry Passarini convenes the leaders of the Formula 1’s world that Fabio Fabbri says that is worse than the Circo Massimo with gladiators. Responding to these statements, Cesare Romiti, Fiat’s CEO, invites the political class to not criminalise Formula 1:
"Senna’s accident was serious because of his fame and because it followed another fatal accident. Even in the past, when there were accidents that involved famous drivers, it has been said to change regulations and circuits. Now we have to increase safety, but Formula 1 gives a lot of money to the industry, we don’t have to rush into it".
From the first hours, the Imola Circuit seems to be the one to blame. Within a weekend, from a model circuit it has become a dangerous circuit to the public, with too many walls and only a few escape routes. This caused some delays in helping the drivers, Senna in particular. However, according to many leaders of the Formula 1 world, the Italian circuit isn’t the only one responsible for Ayrton and Ratzenberger’s loss. For example, during the weekend Clay Regazzoni defended the Imola circuit. Nelson Piquet, who had an accident at Tamburello in 1987, agreed with him:
"Imola is as dangerous as Monte Carlo, Adelaide and all the other circuits. The problem is that to make these tracks safe, we would have to surround them with an area of one hundred meters wide, all covered in sand. But that’s impossible".
"Of course, given what happened, I suggest eliminating Tamburello and transforming it into a straight".
Federico Bendinelli, Sagis’ CEO - the society that runs the track - , states publicly that there will be some changes:
"We will do all the changes that they ask for, but that’s not the point. Tracks can’t continue to go after the performances of cars which are always more and more powerful. We have the same problems of all the other circuits: the high speed".
The following day, on May 4, 1994, while in São Paulo takes place Senna’s funeral, in Paris - the FIA’s headquarters - there is a meeting organized by Advocate Rosario Alessi, ACI’s president, and Marco Piccinini, Csai’s president, to examine Imola’s reports and trying to understand if there were some technical failures that caused the accidents. In this improvised meeting takes place the Italian representatives, Max Mosley, FIA’s president, the vice presidents, Formula 1’s commission and the central office members. However, this meeting doesn’t lead to a positive result because Ratzenberger and Senna’s cars are sequestered and can’t be examined in order to understand what happened. During the meeting, Advocate Roberto Causo, the FIA and Csai’s representative, went to the Public Ministry Passarini asking him to release the cars before the Monte Carlo Grand Prix on May 15, 1994, and hoping to give Williams and Simtek the time to see some failures or design flaws. The Italian magistrate denies its consent to the advocate saying that the procedural times will last longer than the ten days which separates them from the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. So, at the and of the meeting, Max Mosley comments:
"We’re waiting to receive some information from the teams involved because there are some on-board equipments which have to be decoded. Tomorrow we will know something more".
Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher says that the drivers agreed to meet and talk about what is happening around them. As they had already planned, the drivers will meet in Monte Carlo to talk about what is happening:
"Before the Monaco Grand Prix we will meet between us drivers to talk about the situation. Of course we could not change things because we cannot do it in one day. Last year we reached very high levels of safety. Now it is necessary to impose a speed limit in the pit lane and extend the starting area in some circuits. I had discussed it with Senna, Berger, Alboreto and Letho before Imola, but our opinions and interests were different. Now we will be all in agreement".
States Schumacher. Meanwhile, the Public Ministry Passarini is calling Benetton to know the address and where to find it in general. The science police processes the recordings and the pictures taken on track, which are now sequestered, and analyses what is left of Ratzenberger and Senna’s cars. Two days after, on May 6, 1994, there is another controversy concerning the Imola circuit. It is find out that on March 9, 1994, Alberto Castioni, a big fan of Formula 1 who follows all the tests in Imola, recorded with his camera a scene in which there is Ayrton. He is with the circuit director Poggi and with Sagis’s CEO Bendinelli and is trying to show them some irregularities of the asphalt at the beginning of Tamburello. Alberto Castioni states that Senna was looking really worried, so much that during free practices he clearly brake in that stretch:
"Practises were suspended for the lunch break, when Senna got out of a Mercedes with three people. I’ve recorded everything with my camera. Senna was worried and was pointing at some patches of asphalt at the point where his car flew on Sunday. His car was the only car that touched the asphalt. From the few things that I heard, Senna was saying that the track surface was dangerous, that they risked losing control".
Actually, after this testimony, it is find out that Senna had already complained about the roughness of Tamburello turn with the journalists, to whom he had said:
"At Tamburello there are three or four steps that make the car touch the ground and go straight. I hope they do something".
But Advocate Bendinelli, becoming aware of these proofs, immediately precises that in this talk of May 9, 1994:
"Senna said that the asphalt had some roughness that made the cars bump. We asked for some suggestions and Ayrton said to reduce the roughness".
The Italian driver Andrea de Cesaris adds:
"Senna and I went together to see some dangerous spots, such as Tamburello, Piratella and Variante Bassa. They told us that we were right, that the asphalt was wrong, that it had to be redone but there wasn’t enough time. The thing is that when there were active suspensions the car adapted to these roughness, now we’re feeling them as hammer blows".
So, without enough time to make the necessary changes on the asphalt of the circuit, between Wednesday March 9 and Thursday March 10, 1994, the roughness was leveled, as Advocate Bendinelli has admit:
"It was done with a particular machine, the day after Ayrton’s notification. Ayrton said to Poggi that he was satisfied. He didn’t feel all the roughness that he felt before. This was proven by the fact that he did a lap record later on".
In fact, on Thursday, March 10, 1994, the FIA’s representative in Imola homologated the circuit for the San Marino Grand Prix. Bendinelli also adds some other interesting details:
"When I went to greet him he said that all was alright. I don’t think that he has complained again. I believe that the true problem is another: Senna had a critical car, as he said. A really difficult car to drive for him too".
Actually, Senna did complain about the asphalt conditions with the circuit directors, but he also spoke to a journalist of Auto&Sport about Williams’ problems:
"We have to work on suspensions because they aren’t strong enough to resist solicitations. It is important to fix the set-up of dampers and springs".
Even Bernie Ecclestone says publicly that Senna’s loss was caused by a suspension failure rather than by track conditions. Nelson Piquet agrees with him. So, while the Italian political class is against the Formula 1 world and the Imola circuit, the idea that Ayrton’s accident was due to a mechanical failure is spreading. Meanwhile, the investigation of the Prosecutor’s office in Bologna continues.
On May 6, 1994, after having analyzed the two cars, the Public Ministry Maurizio Passarini asks for the control unit of Ratzenberger’s Simtek and Senna’s Williams: both should be at the box, but the Public Ministry finds out that the engineers of the two teams have extract them and taken away when they left the Imola circuit, on May 1, 1994. Passarini draws up an international rogatory letter and sends it to England, in Banbury and Didcot, the headquarters of the two teams. The hypothesis of the magistrate is that the explanation for the loss of the two drivers can be found in the information recorded by the telemetry. Between May 6 and 7, 1994, the Public Ministry and two technicians secretly meet Michele Alboreto and Pierluigi Martini in Imola in the traffic police’s barrack. The interrogation is about their polemic declarations after Ratzenberger and Senna’s loss. In particular, Alboreto had told how Ayrton was upset after what happened on Saturday. In addition, he had criticized the Imola circuit and the cement wall against which the Williams crashed. Martini, instead, tells the Public Ministry that he had discussed for a long time with Senna about the issue of the cold tyres, which reached hardly the right temperature. This was another risk, in particular at Tamburello and for Senna, because his Williams touched the asphalt. After Ayrton’s fatal accident, the Goodyear’s boss, Leo Mehel, said that Formula 1 cars with this type of narrow tyres couldn’t and can’t be controlled, but added:
"They wanted narrower tyres and we did them. Now it is not our problem".
On May 9, 1994, after that the Italian magistrates sent an international rogatory letter to see Williams and Simtek’s telemetry recording of the race, the English magistracy asks for some clarifications about the investigation before proceeding. Meanwhile, the Public Ministry Passarini finds out that, in addition to central units, even Roland Ratzenberger’s wing - useful for the investigation - isn’t at the box and could have been stolen by a spectator. Just a few days later, it is find out that a bartender of Bazzano, Salvatore Straniero, in his home has a part of Ratzenberger’s wing as a souvenir. Straniero, after having refused to sell it, decides to say it publicly, especially since his neighbourhood knew it. The wing is immediately sequestered by Bazzano’s police to be given to the magistrates who are investigating Ratzenberger and Senna’s loss. Salvatore Straniero will say:
"I was just behind the Villeneuve turn when I saw the Simtek losing adherence and going against the wall. I got on the ground, I saw this wing part next to me and I grabbed it".
Meanwhile, Frank Williams - who is in England - says to the press that in Monte Carlo will race only Damon Hill with his Williams and adds that the investigations didn’t discover any failure on Senna’s car that could have caused the fatal accident:
"Since we’ve come back after Italy, all the available data has been studied, but no system nor any other car components failures have been found. However, the investigation is still going on. Of course, it would be easier if we could do an investigation over the car, but it is sequestered. On the basis of the results and all the information available, we can say that the team believes that the Williams that will race in Monte Carlo is completely safe".
So, a trial of strength between the British teams and the FIA begins. The teams want the car’s release to better understand what caused the accidents, pointing out that, from what they’ve seen, there wasn’t any technical failure (despite the fact that these declarations go against what they’ve said in the days before). The Italian magistracy, instead, keeps all sequestered, but asks also for the central units to understand the accidents. Meanwhile, on May 10, 1994, Damon Hill criticizes the FIA stating:
"These men in suits of the FIA don’t know anything about safety. Talking with them is either impossible or useless: it is like trying to make Stalin learn democracy. These people, who never got in a Formula 1 car, can’t understand what it feels like driving at over 300 km/h in a track surrounded by walls of cement and twenty five cars behind. I think that our safety should depend on authorities. Drivers are still driving in the most dangerous conditions because the competition is hard. There is always someone who is willing to do anything to win. We need regulations even to protect us from our instincts".
He ends his public statement saying that on 1994 cars no driver could have survived a collision at over 300 km/h. The answer of the FIA comes. On May 12, 1994, in the Times’s columns there is an article in which Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone state that Senna’s loss was due to unfortunate circumstances, putting aside the hypothesis of a Williams’ mechanical failure. According to both, the front tyre and its suspension have contributed to the tragedy, hitting Senna on the head after the suspension came off during the crash against the wall. Ecclestone believes that Senna could have survived the accident without injuries if the front tyre flew ten centimeters aside or higher than his head:
"Ayrton would have released his belts and got out of the car angrily".
Max Mosley, telling the autopsy results, states publicly:
"A Williams’ suspension part perforated Senna’s helmet causing his death".
In Times’ article, Mosley strongly defends the safety of Imola and of the cement walls that surround the circuits in particular which, according to a British neurosurgeon, have caused some serious injuries during the deceleration:
"Cement walls are allowed when the incidence angle, in case of a crash, is likely to be less pronounced because the car loses speed while returning on track and the deceleration is small. A wall is dangerous if the incidence angle is very pronounced: the greatest drivers were all satisfied with Imola's walls because the experience of accidents demonstrated that there weren't any injuries".
However, the FIA doesn’t stay silent about what happened and decides to appeal to safety reasons to impose a series of regulation changes to decreasing the car performances already from the monegasque race: a speed limit of 80 km/h is imposed in the pit lane and there are talks about how to slow the cars for high-speed Grand Prix such as Barcelona, Montreal, Silverstone, Spa and Monza. The GPDA, which is back to discuss about safety, starts to meet and chooses Gerhard Berger, Michael Schumacher and Christian Fittipaldi as representatives and Niki Lauda as director. They also choose the drivers that have to inspect the tracks of the following Grand Prix to verify their safety and propose any corrections.
Translated by Monica Bessi