1997 Sept 1 - Oct 3 : NewSfile #7
Alboreto: Senna knew of problem
1997 September 16
The trial into the death of Ayrton Senna reopened at Imola
today when chief prosecutor Maurizio Passarini recalled a former
witness - Michele Alboreto, ex-Formula One driver.
At a previous court hearing on March 17 1997 Alboreto had
said, after viewing a VHS video of the crash, that he felt mechanical
failure was the cause of Senna's failure to negotiate the Tamburello
curve. He told reporters: "I hope this trial helps us understand
what happened to Senna, because it still isn't clear."
Today in court Alboreto again told magistrate Antonio Costanzo
"You don't go off on that bend (Tamburello) unless there
is a mechanical failure."
He also stated that on circuits like Imola the stresses and
strains subjected on the steering column would cause flexing
-- "in the order of two or three millimetres."
Defend Senna's memory
Senna had already realised that something was wrong at the
previous bend, Alboreto claimed, because he had lifted his foot
on and off the accelerator.
He later told reporters: "I'm even more convinced that
it was a technical problem that caused Senna to crash now I have
seen the video."
"There is a tape which shows the flexing movement of
the steering wheel was two to three centimetres. No steering
wheel moves a few centimetres.
"Should the court accept this film as evidence it will
prove that something was wrong with Senna's car.
"I hope this trial will come to the defence of a man,
a great driver, who is no longer with us.
"Shortly after his death I heard ridiculous stories --
that the crash was caused by Ayrton fainting or because he was
thinking about his fiancee.
"Senna deserves the recognition that he was not to blame
for his own death. I don't want to see anyone go to prison, but
his memory must be protected and I find it annoying when people
attempt to defend positions which are indefensible."
Coulthard: Steering movement normal
Acting for Frank Williams and Patrick Head, lawyer Oreste
Dominioni has asked for a testimony from David Coulthard who
at the time of Senna's death was a test driver for the Williams
Coulthard gave a written statement saying that the amount
of movement seen on the steering wheel of Senna's car was normal.
Coulthard's statement is in direct contradiction to that given
Alboreto told reporters: "Coulthard has the prospect
of a long career in Formula One."
Charges of manslaughter have been brought against six men
including Williams team owner Frank Williams, chief designer
Adrian Newey and Patrick Head technical director.
The S Files
Senna trial schedule
1997 September 16
The dates for the next trial sessions are September 22, 23,
and October 3.
The S Files
Alboreto versus Coulthard
1997 September 17
David Coulthard, ex-test driver for Williams in 1994, has
been asked to attend the Senna trial on September 22. Coulthard
had been due to appear at yesterday's hearing, September 16,
but failed to attend.
Williams' lawyer Oreste Dominioni maintained that as Coulthard
would not be available until the end of the F1 season his written
statement should be accepted.
Maurizio Passarini stated that as Coulthard resides in nearby
Monaco he shouldn't have a problem with travelling 400 km in
order to attend the trial. However if Coulthard's written deposition
added nothing further to that already offered by the defence
then it should not be admitted.
Dominioni requires the examination of both Coulthard and Alboreto
as they are in direct conflict over the movement shown on Senna's
Alboreto's testimony, which was very direct and impassioned,
stated that movement is allowed, considering the torsion inflicted
by the arms of the driver and the composition of the material.
Oscillation could depend on the distance from the support, but
only by 2-3 millimetres, not by some centimetres. He added that
this opinion was formed from his many years of experience of
the Imola circuit and others around the world.
Coulthard supports the Williams' theory that the movement
seen on the Betamax video was perfectly normal.The magistrate,
Antonio Costanzo, accepted the testimony of Coulthard but only
with the proviso that he appears in person.
Outside the courtroom Alboreto said he was convinced that
Senna's crash was caused by mechanical failure and not driver
error. He stated that he was semi-retired and that fact allowed
him to speak freely.
He added: People involved in F1 don't want to be thought hostile
towards the environment. No one will go to prison for this, and
that is logical as the whole sport entails risks hardly avoidable.
But this trial is obliged to at least defend the memory of two
drivers, I talk also of Ratzenberger, they cannot defend themselves.
It bothers me that in all this people are defending positions
which are indefensible.
The chief prosecutor then staged a long dialectical duel with
the Williams defence lawyers, engineers and Mike Gutilla, on
the simulation elaborated by Williams which tried to prove that
the behaviour of Senna's car was to that of the simulator.
Passarini using the images from Senna's in-car camera to prove
that Senna steered to the right, recalled the famous yellow button
on the steering wheel. Another Williams expert, Vitali, said
the movements visible were not only circulatory as dictated by
the force of the torsion.
Finally Stirano showed a video produced at the laboratory
using a 1994 car taken from the teams' F1 museum. The film, which
had a driver at the wheel simulating the same movements as those
made during a race, according to the defence, showed a reconstruction
of the oscillations of Senna's steering wheel before the accident,
with the yellow button that moved in a springy compatible way
conducive to the materials used and the imposed effort from the
However the film did not impress Maurizio Passarini:
"The film shown today has the same value as the defendant
who says 'I wasn't in that place on that night', said the state
prosecutor. "It remains the comment of a defendant."
The written statement submitted by Coulthard said that the
steering wheel in the McLaren which he drove in 1996 behaved
The next court hearing will be on September 22 with the testimony
of David Coulthard (if he attends) and other consultants.
Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey are all scheduled
to appear on October 3.
The S Files
Not the reactions of Senna
1997 September 23
The court reconvened Monday 22nd September for an afternoon
session which was devoted to the counter-examination of the Williams
computer simulation shown on September 16.
Maurizio Passarini introduced Professor Fanghella, University
of Genoa, to question Williams' engineer Diego Minen.
Professor Fanghella said: My graphs showed that when superimposing
the traces of the real telemetry onto those of the simulation
there was a temporal difference of 1.5 secs. Regarding Tamburello,
the responses in the sim do not relate to those of Senna.
In comparing the two graphs there were discrepancies of 25%
50% and in some cases 100%. The simulation captures only the
course of the vehicle, not the corrections made by the driver.
The steering wheel is not in relationship with the angle of the
steering wheel in the program.
Minen replied: The relationship between the steering trajectory
and the steering wheel is not comparable due to the unstable
track surface. A phenomenon which happened only once but which,
for Williams, is the reason that Senna left the track. The temporal
difference in the telemetry real-simulation is of 1.2 secs and
this is not relevant. It is impossible to quantify the angle
of the steering applied by the driver by looking at the yellow
button on the steering wheel.
The track officials
On Tuesday September 23 Federico Bendinelli and Roland Bruynseraede
were questioned. Bendinelli is the director of Sagis the company
which runs the Imola circuit, Bruynseraede was the FIA delegate
present at Imola on May 1, the day Ayrton Senna lost his life.
Georgio Poggi, circuit manager, was not well enough to attend.
State prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, maintains Senna's accident
was initially caused by steering column failure, the secondary
cause being his inability to brake sufficiently, this was caused
by the raised edge of the track -- which prohibited the car's
wheels from gripping the surface.
The first testimony came from Bruynseraede who granted the
license to the Imola circuit in 1994. He stated that he had made
an inspection of the track two months prior to the race, and
those responsible for the circuit had always observed any demands
made to improve safety -- which the FIA can make after each GP
-- for the year following.
The last track inspection was made on the Wednesday preceding
the race and nothing was found to cause concern. The FIA had
never required alterations to Tamburello and I had never received
complaints from the drivers regarding that part of the track.
He added that in any case, he had not been involved in the bureaucratic
procedures by which the Imola circuit obtained its licence from
Bendinelli's testimony followed, he stated that the Imola
circuit had been modified but all alterations were carried with
the approval of the FIA.
He said that the FIA had never found fault with the angle
at the track's edge neither before nor after Senna's crash. Adding
that the Imola and many other circuits had modified their layouts
after 1994 following a series of accidents.
"Critical situations were being created for the cars,"
Bendinelli stated, "most likely because of the abolition
of active suspension.
"The FIA took remedial action with changes to the circuits,
especially the faster ones and also to the cars."
The FIA felt that drivers were relying too much on computers
and therefore the human element was being lost from the sport.
Senna welcomed the abolition of active suspension and was
one of its most vocal opponents.
In 14 years he had received only one request to alter the
circuit. This came from Alain Prost who in 1989 was acting as
the drivers' representative. Prost requested that a grass verge
at Tamburello be cemented over to allow drivers to brake more
quickly and give more control should they exit the track at that
point. The modifications demanded by the FIA were of common disposition
and not solely aimed at the Imola circuit.
Bendinelli's lawyer, Roberto Landi, asked his client about
the modifications to Tamburello.
"Tamburello is now different to previously," Bendinelli
concluded "but the track gradient with the run-off area
is the same as before the alteration." In the meantime Sagis
has gotten three validations from the FIA.
Maurizio Passarini made a move against the Williams team,
aiming at the written statement given by David Coulthard.
Coulthard has said he cannot participate in the trial proceedings
until the current Formula One season is completed on October
Passarini said on Tuesday that unless Coulthard is present
at the trial session to be held on October 28, his statement
should not be admitted as evidence.
The trial will resume October 3 with Frank Williams,
Patrick Head and Adrian Newey in attendance.
On October 28 Couthard is expected to testify and October
31 should bring Maurizio Passarini's closing statements.
The S Files
Williams: No room at the inn
1997 October 3
It took only five minutes for judge Antonio Costanzo to adjourn
today's session of the Senna trial after Frank Williams, Patrick
Head and Adrian Newey failed to attend.
Lawyers representing the Williams 3 maintained that due to
a ceramics trade fair being held in Bologna all hotel rooms in
the Imola area were fully booked. Subsequently, their clients
had found it impossible to secure accommodation.
The trial is set to resume on October 28 with David Coulthard
scheduled to testify.
Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey should now appear
on October 29.
Provisional trial dates
Negotiations between the parties concerned took in excess
of two hours before provisional future trial dates were agreed
On November 7 Maurizio Passarini will begin summing up the
case for the prosecution.
Further sessions scheduled, primarily for the defence, are:
November 10 - 11 - 12, 14 - 17 - 18 and 21.
The S Files