THE Senna Files



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 accident.

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 broken.

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 cockpit.

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 artery.

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 champion.

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 head-first.

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 million.

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 removed.

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 and relationships."

"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 devices."

"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 Vital concludes.

Information taken from:

Ayrton Senna - The Face of a Champion

©Micropower Software

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 service ANSA.

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 FIA.

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 in 1994.

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 charges.

"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 fatal event.

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 race.

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 charges."

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 offence".

"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 becomes definitive.

The S Files

Imola revisited

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 of manslaughter.

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 prison."

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 civilised society."

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 together properly?"

"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 arrogant again."

© 1996 Richard Williams / Guardian Newspapers