1996 Jul 31 - Dec 31 : NewSfile #2
Another inquiry hitch
1996 November 06
The inquiry into Ayrton Senna's death at the 1994 San Marino
Grand Prix at Imola has hit another hitch.
Changes to the Italian legal code and a promotion for Maurizio
Passarini (the investigating magistrate) means that the inquiry
will probably have to move to Bologna.
Any new judge involved would be likely to order his own inquiry.
Some sections of the Italian press had expected a trial this
month, but there will certainly now not be one this year.
In December 1995, the official investigator of the crash,
Professor Enrico Lorenzini said a steering failure caused the
The S Files
The mystery continues
1996 November 24
For several years, Japanese photographer Norio Koike had been
Ayrton's private photographer. Koike followed him everywhere,
always quiet and discreet, working tirelessly and almost unnoticed.
Right after the accident, he was deeply upset. After Ayrton's
death had been officially reported, Norio sought out Leonardo
Senna, handed over his entire enormous collection of photographic
equipment and vanished. No one has seen him since!
The cause of the accident? Following an examination of the
pictures shot from Schumacher's onboard camera, French TV came
up with the first theories.
Using slow motion, experienced reporter Jean-Louis Moncet
studied the view from the German's Benetton, which had been running
in 2nd place.
According to the French channel, a small piece could be seen
dangling from underneath the Williams which flew off the track
immediately after this.
Immediately after the wreckage of the Williams had been towed
back to the pits, and before it was confiscated by the Italian
authorities, mechanics from the team removed the "black
box" data acquisition equipment with the consent of FIA
Technical Delegate Charles Whiting.
This electronic tell-tale would evidently have to be surrendered
eventually to the Italian courts, but while it was still in the
hands of Williams and Renault, the team had access to vital
information about what had happened in the moments before the
car crashed into the wall.
The Italian magazine Autosprint raised the suspicion,
one week after the accident, that the steering column had
Although none of the doctors or nurses remember having removed
the steering wheel, photographs of the car after the accident
indicate that the wheel was not removed from the column by releasing
the catch which allows the driver to get in and out of the cramped
Only a careful analysis of the materials could reveal if this
break took place before the crash or during it.
According to the Italian press, the leaked report suggests
that the fracture occurred, or was beginning to occur, in the
few seconds before the Williams ran off the road.
From the data available Patrick Head is not inclined to suspect
a flaw in the suspension, as with the weight of some 2,600kg
(the aerodynamic load at that speed, plus the weight of the car)
of which some 65% would have been on the right hand side on a
left curve, the car would have crashed and dragged along the
ground far more violently.
However, on the concrete before the wall, there is a long
score made by a metal part dragged forcibly along. Could this
have been a piece of the suspension?
The outcome of expert inspections and reports released by
the Italian Courts to the world press confirmed the suspicions
brought up by Italy's Autosprint magazine: the Williams
steering column broke.
According to the first clinical bulletin read by Dr. Maria
Teresa Fiandri at 4.30 p.m. Ayrton Senna had brain damage
with haemorrhaged shock and deep coma.
However, the medical staff did not note any chest or abdomen
wound. The hammerhead was due to the rupture of the temporal
The neurosurgeon who examined Ayrton Senna at the hospital
mentioned that the circumstances did not call for surgery
because the wound was generalised in the cranium.
At 6.05 p.m. Dr. Fiandri read another communiqué, her
voice shaking, announcing that Senna was dead. At that stage
he was still connected to the equipment that maintained his heartbeat.
The release by the Italian authorities of the results of Ayrton
Senna's autopsy, revealing that the driver had died instantaneously
during the race at Imola, ignited still more controversy.
Now there were questions about the reactions of the race director
and the medical authorities. Although spokespersons for the
hospital had stated that Senna was still breathing on arrival
in Bologna, the autopsy on Ratzenberger indicated that death
had been instantaneous.
Under Italian law, a death within the confines of the circuit
would have required the cancellation of the entire race meeting.
That in turn, would have prevented the death of a three-times
The relevant Italian legislation stipulates that when a
death takes place during a sporting event, it should be immediately
halted and the area sealed off for examination.
In the case of Ratzenberger, this would have meant the cancellation
of both Saturday's qualifying session and the San Marino Grand
Prix on Sunday.
Medical experts are unable to state whether or not Ayrton
Senna died instantaneously. Nevertheless, they were well aware
that his chances of survival were slight.
Had he remained alive, the brain damage would have left him
severely handicapped. Accidents such as this are almost fatal,
with survivors suffering irreversible brain damage.
This is due to the effects on the brain of sudden deceleration,
which causes structural damage to the brain tissues. Estimates
of the forces involved in Ayrton's accident suggest a rate of
deceleration equivalent to a 30 metre vertical drop, landing
Evidence offered at the autopsy revealed that the impact of
this 208km/h crash caused multiple injuries at the base of the
cranium, resulting in respiratory insufficiency.
There was crushing of the brain (which was forced against
the wall of the cranium causing oedema and hammerhead, increasing
intra-cranial pressure and causing brain death), together with
the rupture of the temporal artery, hammerhead in the respiratory
passages and the consequent heart failure.
There are two opposing theories on the issue of whether the
drivers were still alive when they were put in the helicopters
that carried them to hospital. Assuming both Ratzenberger and
Senna had died instantaneously, the race organisers might have
delayed any announcement in order to avoid being forced to cancel
the meeting, thus protecting their financial interests.
Had the meeting been cancelled, Sagis - the organisation which
administers the Imola circuit - stood to lose an estimated US$6.5
The alternative theory suggests that the drivers were alive
on leaving Imola, and that they died in hospital. Professor Sid
Watkins has maintained that Ayrton was still alive when he was
Following a momentary failure, technically his heart was still
beating. "His chances of survival would have been very limited,
due to serious brain damage", was the opinion, necessarily
guarded, of the FIA expert.
A supporter of this first theory, the Director of the Oporto
(Portugal) Legal Medicine Institute, Professor Pinto da Costa,
has stated the following:
"From the ethical viewpoint, the procedure used for Ayrton's
body was wrong. It involved dysthanasia, which means that a person
has been kept alive improperly after biological death has taken
place due to brain injuries so serious that the patient would
never have been able to remain alive without mechanical means
of support. There would have been no prospect of normal life
"Whether or not Ayrton was removed from the car while
his heart was beating" adds Pinto da Costa, "or whether
his supply of blood had halted or was still flowing, is irrelevant
to the determination of when he died."
"The autopsy showed that the crash caused multiple fractures
at the base of the cranium, crushing the forehead and rupturing
the temporal artery with hammerhead in the respiratory passages.
It is possible to resuscitate a dead person immediately after
the heart stops through cardio-respiratory processes."
"The procedure is known as putting the patient on
the machine. From the medical-legal viewpoint, in Ayrton's
case, there is a subtle point: resuscitation measures were implemented.
From the ethical point of view this might well be condemned because
the measures were not intended to be of strictly medical benefit
to the patient but rather because they suited the commercial
interest of the organisation. Resuscitation did in fact
take place, with the tracheotomy performed, while the activity
of the heart was restored with the assistance of cardio-respiratory
"The attitude in question was certainly controversial.
Any physician would know there was no possibility whatsoever
of successfully restoring life in the condition in which Senna
had been found."
Professor Jose Pratas Vital, Director of the Egas Moniz hospital
in Lisbon, a neurosurgeon and Head of the Medical Staff at the
Portuguese GP, offers a different opinion:
"The people who conducted the autopsy stated that, on
the evidence of his injuries, Senna was dead. They could not
say that. He had injuries which lead to his death, but at that
point the heart may still have been functioning."
Pratas Vital also mentions that the medical personnel attending
an injured person, and who perceives that the heart is still
beating, have only two courses of action:
"One is to ensure that the patient's respiratory passages
remain free, which means that he can breathe. They had to carry
out an emergency tracheotomy. With oxygen, and the heart beating,
there is another concern, which is loss of blood. These are the
steps to be followed in any case involving serious injury, whether
on the street or on a racetrack."
"The rescue team can think of nothing else at that moment
except to assist the patient, particularly by immobilising the
cervical area. Then the injured person must be taken immediately
to the intensive care unit of the nearest hospital", Pratas
Information taken from:
Ayrton Senna - The Face of a Champion
Well worth buying!
The S Files
Williams to face Senna trial
1996 November 27
An Italian prosecutor has obtained leave to indict F1 team
manager Frank Williams and 5 others for alleged manslaughter
over the death of Ayrton Senna according to the Italian news
The report, which could not be confirmed, said Williams technical
director Patrick Head and Imola race director Roland Bruynseraede
also faced trial over Senna's death at San Marino in 1994.
The S Files
Six indicted on Senna death
1996 November 27
>From Joao Alcino Martins (Brasil)
Two and a half years after the accident which resulted in
the death of Ayrton Senna, the Italian justice department accepted
the prosecutors report indiction and will charge six people.
Maurizio Passarini, Bologna's federal prosecutor, concluded
there was a manslaughter by Williams team and circuit administratives.
Regarding Williams team responsibilities he charges Frank
Williams, team owner, Patrick Head, team technical director and
Adrian Newey, team head designer.
The three other people are Federico Bendinelli, head of Sagis
the firm who administer the Imola circuit, Giorgio Poggi, track
official director and Roland Bruynseraede, race director from
Passarini sent the report to the judge Diego di Marco charging
the Williams people with neglect in modifying the steering column
of Senna's car.
Senna requested the modification in the steering wheel position
to make possible a clear view of the dashboard. The work was
done and accordingly specialists think supposed bad work on the
weld caused a premature fatigue failure in the column material,
causing Senna to lose control at Tamburello corner.
Bendinelli, manager of Sagis, is charged with not modifying
a well known dangerous corner where other accidents had happened
earlier and Poggi and Bruynseraede as co-responsible for not
making the necessary safety modifications in the circuit, mainly
after Roland Ratzenberger's death.
The Williams lawyer in Italy's representative office, Robert
Causo, told the newspaper Gazetta dello Sport:
"This is absolutely not how things happened. We have
proof that it gave way (the steering column) after the impact
and not before."
The British team always denied the failure cause and is shocked
by how things are progressing. Jane Gorard, Williams team Public
Relations, said "We have not had any official communications
from our representatives in Italy. We do not know when we can
make an announcement."
In the next days judge Di Marco will send the official communications
to the charged people.
Passarini has decided there is no case against the Simtek
team after the death of Roland Ratzenberger.
Ratzenberger crashed in practice the day before because he
did not pit after running over kerbs and breaking the front wing
supports. At the entry of Villeneuve corner the front wing detached
causing the driver to lose control and hit the wall.
© 1996 Joao Alcino Martins
I will be charged admits Williams
1996 December 01
Troubled Formula One boss Frank Williams has admitted that
he is convinced he will face manslaughter charges over the death
of Ayrton Senna.
Williams said: "There is no official release yet from
the prosecutor or magistrates office but this time I would think
the volcano will erupt."
"I would think that it will be out in a few days and
they will be asking for a prosecution, it could be tomorrow,
the next day or perhaps in six months."
The S Files
F1 boycott threatened
1996 December 10
Flavio Briatore, Benetton team manager, has threatened to
boycott Formula One races in Italy if there are convictions for
the death of Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola
Briatore's comments were made at the Bologna Motor Show, reported
by the Italian media Sunday, and follow last month's decision
by a magistrate to clear the way for a prosecutor to bring team
manager Frank Williams and 5 others to trial on manslaughter
"If anyone were to be convicted in Italy of Senna's death,
it would be big trouble," Briatore said, according to Italian
daily Corriere dello Sport. "I, for example, would not risk
bringing my team to a country that can convict you of an accident."
"Fatality is part of the game," he added
The S Files
Senna trial to start Feb 20 1997
1996 December 16
Six people will stand trial for manslaughter. According to
prosecutors all six, in their own way, contributed to rendering
the breakage of the steering column in Ayrton Senna's car, a
The day and the place of the trial were confirmed by Roberto
Landi, lawyer for two of the defendants: Federico Bendinelli,
managing director of Sagis, the company in charge of the Imola
race track, and Giorgio Poggi, manager of the circuit.
"We will attempt to show that the race track bore no
responsibility for what happened," Roberto Landi said by
telephone from Bologna, central Italy.
The others accused of the same crime are: Frank Williams,
head of the Williams team, for whom Senna drove; Patrick Head,
the teams technical director; Adrian Newey, in charge of building
Senna's car and Roland Bruynseraede, the Belgium race director
on the day of the crash.
An enquiry into Senna's death found that the accident was
caused by badly performed and badly planned modifications to
the steering column, which resulted in it breaking during the
Lawyer Roberto Causo said the trial was scheduled to open
on February 20 before a local judge in Imola. Causo, who is based
in Rome, represents Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Adrian Newey
and Roland Bruynseraede in the case. Causo declined to say whether
any of his clients would attend the trial, but said "We
deny the charges absolutely."
Williams Grand Prix Engineering issued a statement after learning
of the charges.
"Williams is disappointed at the content of the summons.
We do not believe the charges are well founded and intend to
do all that is necessary to defend our position and contest the
They added they would make no further statement on the situation.
An experts' report for Bologna prosecutor Maurizio Passarini,
who led the investigations into Senna's death, concluded that
the car's steering column had been modified and snapped as a
result of a poor weld as the vehicle took the curve.
The Williams team has argued that the steering column was
intact until the moment of impact.
Causo said the only charge which had been open to Passarini
under Italian law was manslaughter and argued that it would be
heard by a low-level court because it constituted a "minor
"The fact that it concerns a personality like Ayrton
Senna doesn't make it any more serious," Causo said by telephone.
The trial which will be heard by a local judge in Imola or
pretore, the equivalent of a magistrate's court under
the English legal system.
The judge's verdict will be open to automatic appeal by any
of the parties and it could be several years before a judgment
The S Files
1996 December 20
When Ayrton Senna passed the pits at Imola for the final time
at 17 minutes past two o'clock on the afternoon of May 1 1994,
a burst of digitised information silently evacuating the data
processors mounted on his howling Williams-Renault was to represent
the last reliable evidence of the Brazilian's racing career.
Caught by the tiny radio dishes on the wall in front of the
Williams pit and instantly relayed to the computer screens of
the technicians in the rear of the garage, it told the story
of the sixth lap of the San Marino Grand Prix. Sensors had recorded
the behaviour of virtually every component of the car during
the preceding minute and a half. The temperatures, the speeds,
the pressures, the volumes, the wear rates on vital components.
Less than a quarter of a minute later, as Senna's car smashed
into the concrete wall on the outside of the long, fast left-hand
curve called Tamburello, the whole lot was rendered meaningless.
The accident took 1.8 seconds from start to finish. That speck
of time will be the focal point of the trial that begins at Imola
on February 20th 1997, the announcement of which led to threats
that the Formula One circus might not feel inclined to pitch
its tents in Italy if an accidental death at a sporting event
could pose a legal threat.
What happened remains a complete mystery. The accident may
have had its beginnings and ending within these 1.8 seconds,
or - it may have started with incidents taking place several
weeks earlier, at the start of the season.
Senna ended the sixth lap at Imola with his car back up to
racing speed after a period of five laps behind the safety car
following a starting grid accident. When the race director decided
that the circuit was clear of debris and the safety car drew
off the track, Senna accelerated away towards Tamburello at the
front of the field.
One lap later as he headed back into Tamburello, he was still
just ahead of Michael Schumacher's Benetton. There is no doubt
that Senna was troubled by the threat from a new rival, for it
maintained a pattern set during the opening races of the season,
when the Brazilian had been shocked by the speed of the young
German in what should have been a significantly inferior car.
Joining Frank Williams' team, at the start of the year, Senna
was dismayed to discover that the 1994 car was nothing like the
magic-carpet machine that had carried Nigel Mansell and Alain
Prost virtually unchallenged to consecutive championships. The
new version was unstable over bumps and ripples, unpredictable
in fast corners and poor in slow ones. At the first race, on
his home track at Sao Paulo, Senna fell behind when Schumacher's
pit crew saved a vital second on each stop. Trying to catch up,
Senna spun off while accelerating out of a slowish corner in
what looked, from a distance, like a novice's error. (Although
in a post-race press conference Senna said the incident was his
mistake, thought Williams later admitted it was due to a problem
with the car? ED).
It was only later in the season that significant doubts began
to emerge about the Benetton teams tactics, including their use
of computerised driver aids hidden inside the transmission software
of Schumacher's car - devices that had been explicitly prohibited
- and the illegal removal of a safety filler from their standard-issue
refuelling rig in the cause of speeding up the flow of petrol.
Some of this had began to dawn on Senna in Brazil. At the
Pacific Grand Prix three weeks later he confirmed his suspicions.
Rammed out of the race at the first corner by Mika Hakkinen's
McLaren, he spent some time watching Schumacher drive to victory,
noting the difference between the behaviour of his Benetton and
Lehto's ostensibly identical car. What he knew was that the German
had a clear advantage, and that his own engineers had their work
cut out to catch up.
By the time they arrived at Imola several important aerodynamic
modifications had been made. Senna put the car on pole position
for the third time in three races, but this time he felt more
confident of maintaining the advantage in the race itself. It
was not to last beyond the seventh lap.
Formula One motor racing is a business of minutely calibrated
margins and tolerances, and the evidence of what happened during
those 1.8 seconds between the beginning and the end of Senna's
accident should have been easy to retrieve and analyse. Conclusions
could have been drawn. But when the right hand side of the car
swiped the wall, the impact destroyed the black box holding the
data for that lap. Only very meagre and inconclusive telemetry
from the Renault engineer's own information system, an onboard
memory in the engine-management system, remained unaffected.
Those abstractions, and the shattered physical remains of
the car, are the subject of a 700-page technical report that
will form the agenda for the hearing that begins in Imola on
February 20, when Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Adrian Newey,
the Imola officials Frederico Bendinelli and Giorgio Poggi, and
the race director, Roland Bruynseraede, will appear on charges
The natural reaction in Britain has been to assume that the
laying of charges against Williams, Head and Newey means the
Italians believe them to be guilty of something, a feeling given
further impetus by the finding of the technical inquiry, widely
leaked more than a year ago, that the car's steering column had
broken at the point of a recently welded modification.
British observers, not wanting to believe in the fallibility
of Britain's Formula One technicians, and frustrated by the lengthy
deliberations of the investigating magistrate Maurizio Passarini,
concluded that the Italians were looking for a scapegoat. Yet
anger at the legal action may have been based on a complete misunderstanding
of the judicial process.
The presence of the other three names on the charge sheet
suggests a very different scenario. It would be impossible to
imagine any circumstances in which either Bendinelli, the director
of the Imola track, or Poggi, formerly one of his executives,
could be held responsible for a faulty piece of welding by a
Williams mechanic. Nor could Bruynseraede, then a full time employee
of the FIA, world motor sport's governing body.
The logical conclusion, supported by a modicum of investigation
into Italian law, is that the 'trial' is not a trial in the British
sense of the term. In other words, the prosecutors have not yet
decided that they know, in any definitive way, what caused the
accident. The Imola trial is instead merely a further stage of
the investigation, at which various people who could plausibly
have cases to answer will be formally asked the relevant questions
in an attempt to get closer to the truth. That is why
at this stage, the presence of the 'defendants' is not mandatory.
If they wish, they may merely arm their legal representatives
with the required information.
So Williams, Head and Newey will indeed be invited to supply
answers to questions about the steering column, and perhaps about
other technical matters. But, equally Bendinelli and Poggi will
be asked about the ripples on the inside of Tamburello, of which
Senna was warned earlier in the meeting by his team-mate Damon
Hill, and about the narrowness of the run-off strip between the
track and the concrete wall bordering the Santerno river. (Thought
it was Ayrton who warned Damon? Ed.) And in his turn Bruynseraede
will be there to consider the accident not as a sudden disaster
but as the possible consequence of a chain of events unfolding
over the entire first six and a bit laps of the race: For instance,
had the track been properly cleaned before the safety car was
given the order to return to its parking space?
There are three and possible four levels of hearing and appeal
after this one. Were it to go the whole distance, we might be
talking about a final verdict in a matter of six, eight or 10
years. And as an Italian friend of mine said: "There has
been motor racing in Italy for ever, there have been many fatal
accidents, and the law says that a death involving violence must
always be investigated. But no-one, I think, has ever gone to
British reaction has evoked a degree of anger in Italy. Pino
Allevi, the Gazetta dello Sports distinguished Formula One correspondent,
wrote a powerful defence of his country's judicial system, concluding:
"If the English, who have always considered us a banana
republic, will not come to race at Imola or Monza any longer,
so be it. Formula One will suffer from that much more than our
Or, as my friend put it: "When a man dies, his death
should be properly investigated. The fact that he was doing something
he enjoyed doing, or that it carried the risk of death, has nothing
to do with it. After all, your mother may go off on holiday on
a plane. You both know that planes sometimes crash. But if it
did, wouldn't you want to know if the plane hadn't been screwed
"In Italy, the dead person is protected by the same law
as the living. You English, who think it's all right to give
a driver a small fine for running over a small child, are being
© 1996 Richard Williams / Guardian Newspapers