1997 Oct 4 - Oct 29 : NewSfile #8
Senna trial: Head and Newey silent
1997 October 29
At today's hearing of the Senna death trial both Patrick Head and Adrian Newey exercised their rights not to answer questions, but opted to submit written statements to the court at a later date. The proceedings were then adjourned awaiting the arrival of Frank Williams.
Williams: Doubts about steering
Arriving late for this morning's session Frank Williams was asked by the state prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, about the Williams teams own internal investigations.
Williams said: "We were looking for as much fact as possible and were anxious to see as much television footage as we could."
"We as a company formed the opinion that the steering column did not break. This was decided after examining the telemetry readings and also a lot of simulations."
Williams went on to say that the team had considered various explanations but he did not offer a theory for the cause of Ayrton Senna's crash. He did remember that alterations were made to the steering column after May 1.
"I remember that all the remaining cars were checked and were OK. Even so we decided to change the columns and manufacture different versions to remove any doubt about integrity."
Asked whether he had any doubts about Senna's steering column Williams replied: "Absolutely. We had doubts, that's why we're here today, trying to find out what happened."
Maurizio Passarini then questioned Williams about why the modifications were made to Senna's steering column.
"Ayrton wanted more room in the cockpit and it was decided to change this. When it was decided, I don't remember. There would have been communication with all the relevant people.
"I can't be accurate or specific because I do not follow, and never have done, every operation on a daily basis."
Williams said he didn't know who was responsible for making the changes only that many people would have been involved.
"Senna made three or four pages of recommendations to make the car go faster after every practice session. I remember that he was not happy about the amount of space, and there were also many other things he wanted to change.
"He also wanted a very large steering wheel, it was one of his trademarks," he said.
Williams said that he was not personally aware that changes had been made until after the race.
Passarini offered a judgment on Senna's opinion of the car which Williams rejected saying: "The driver did not say he could not drive the car, rather that he would like more space so he would be less tired in the latter half of the race."
Attempting to press Williams further Passarini brought up the fact that his (Williams) teams own experts had discovered over 40 percent metal fatigue in Senna's steering column.
Williams added: "But I'm certain that the plane I arrived in yesterday had cracks in it."
Pushed further with regard to any action he would have taken had he known about the extent of the metal fatigue in Senna's column, Frank Williams restated that he was not responsible for technical issues.
At the start of the Senna trial on February 20 1997 Adrian Newey's lawyers had argued that, as their client had been interviewed previously as a witness not as an accused, much of the case against him should be dismissed. This plea was reiterated again today.
Speaking to reporters later, Williams said: "We'll probably never know what happened. But I made it clear in court today that we think that the car probably left the road rather than suffered a steering column failure."
Coulthard: Steering oscillations normal
Yesterday, October 28, David Coulthard, ex-test driver for the Williams team in 1994, gave evidence. Coulthard testified that the movement shown by Senna's steering column/wheel was perfectly acceptable.
He stated that in 1994: It was normal for the Williams' steering column to move both up and down and left and right by several centimetres, and for the driver's hands to rub against the cockpit. As the steering wheel was constructed of carbon fibre this would also flex. Changes have been made to the regulations and this year the collapsible steering wheels are much stiffer.
Passarini asked Coulthard if he knew how much play there was in the steering column, independently of the steering wheel.
Coulthard retorted: No, I have never done this test, because I have never driven a car without a steering wheel."
A video shown in the courtroom featured Coulthard sitting in a stationary Williams F1 car showing the movement in the steering wheel. Michele Alboreto who previously testified said that the amount of play shown in Senna's car was abnormal.
Today Alboreto again stated that he had never before experienced that behaviour in a steering wheel.
The next court session is presently scheduled for November 7.