1997 Jan 1 - Feb 19: NewSfile #3
Williams will attend trial
1997 January 5
Frank Williams said today that he will appear before
Italian judges next month to face a manslaughter charge arising
out of the death of Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix
Although the hearing could be heard in his absence, the wheelchair-bound
head of the Williams team said he would be present.
"I will be there and I will be defending my company and
myself, why should I not go? I know one is not obliged to but
I think it is correct to represent the company. It is my job."
Williams said he had made his own decision and had not "even
asked the lawyer if it is the right thing to do."
He said the waiting had not been a strain. "It has been
a worry. It is not the same thing. You have to understand that
the law in Italy is above everything else and you have to respect
"A death at a race track in Italy has to be investigated
and I am participating very willingly in that investigation.
I am planning to go there on the 19th and I know what to expect.
It is only a small magistrates court."
He added that the inquiry and the case had "been hanging
around for 30 months."
Williams would not say whether Patrick Head, technical director,
or Adrian Newey, design director, would attend the court. He
also declined to talk about details of the case which is expected
to be heard on February 20 at Imola.
Williams and five others have been charged with manslaughter.
An experts' report, compiled by the Italian investigators
into the crash, has been alleged to have revealed that faulty
modifications to the steering column of Senna's car led to the
Williams and his team have denied this allegation strenuously
but have not had access to the wrecked car since the accident.
The S Files
1997 January 07
"Tamburello," said Keke Rosberg, at the time of
the disaster, "was a heart-in-the-mouth corner, a place
where you feared something would go wrong, because it was flat
out, and the run-off area was nothing."
"But it was not a difficult corner - you just
turned in, and hung on. It was never a place where a driver,
yet alone one of Ayrton's ability, would go off because of a
Michael Schumacher, who was following Ayrton, implied after the
crash that he did not believe it was caused by steering failure.
He said after the race: "On the lap after the restart
(the safety car was brought out to allow time to clear the debris),
Ayrton's car was bottoming badly over the bumps."
"On the lap of the crash, it was even worse. The car
seemed to come off a bump oddly and then head off. The skid plates
touched the ground, the car got sideways and he lost it."
The S Files
Allegations to answer...
1997 January 7
According to the summons Williams will be charged with the
allegation that to make the resultant steering column modification,
it replaced one section of the column with a tube of smaller
The prosecution will allege that :
- Williams did not adequately evaluate the force to which the
modification would be subjected;
- the joint between the sections was of inadequate radius;
- the material used in the smaller piece was different and
inferior to the original;
- tool marks were left on the modified piece, reducing its
resistance to stress;
- the piece of reduced diameter was at the point subject to
the greatest stresses.
Patrick Head was quoted as saying last year:
"The steering column had been checked after Senna was
involved in an accident at the start of the race preceding Imola
and found to be undamaged and free of cracks."
Excerpts © 1997 Autosport magazine
Williams to take the stand
1997 January 7
Frank Williams and the two other senior members of his team
who have been accused of manslaughter will all travel to Italy
to defend themselves in court later this year - but Williams'
lawyer Roberto Causo claims that the chances of them going to
jail are extremely slim.
The Italian charge of culpable homicide is far less serious
than the UK equivalent of manslaughter. The former is brought
if anyone has been judged to be careless or negligent in any
way if a person dies.
But legal sources say it is almost unheard of for defendants
to get a custodial sentence unless there is adjudged to be a
high degree of negligence.
The maximum sentence carried by the charge is five years and
the minimum one, although mitigating circumstances can reduce
it by 60%. A penalty of more than two years cannot be suspended.
What Williams is accused of: that a modification to the steering
column on Senna's Williams FW16 was poorly designed and implemented,
causing it to fatigue and then break as he rounded the 190mph
Tamburello corner - will likely be regarded as an error or miscalculation.
"In Italy," Causo said, "every (fatal) road
accident finishes with an action like this. And this is a road
accident, technically speaking."
The fact that Senna knew the risk he was taking by driving
a F1 car will reduce the degree of negligence for which Williams
can be held responsible, and Senna's request for the steering
to be modified will weigh heavily in Williams favour.
The preliminary hearing which Causo predicted would not end
until October, will be adjudicated by a pretore - a senior magistrate
- in front of whom the prosecution and defence will present witnesses.
Causo said Williams will ask to have proper access to Senna's
car for the first time since the accident, and will request that
another experts report be written by parties appointed by the
proctor with Williams' assistance. If the magistrate denies them
that chance then they will appeal.
The team is likely to claim that the steering did not fail
and both Head and Newey will present evidence in their defence.
If Williams is found guilty, Causo said, "It will go
to the Court of Appeal in Bologna - which would take another
couple of years and if Williams loses again it will take the
case to the Italian Supreme Court."
The length of the trial is extremely unpredictable, and the
case, which will be heard in three stages, may not finish for
a least five years. The court will have a tough time deciding
guilt. There is no TV footage, and the court will have to choose
between two submissions of conflicting and highly complicated
TV rights holder FOCA claims that a film taken from the on-car
camera of Senna's Williams of the events leading up to the accident
cuts off before the car leaves the track.
Excerpts © 1997 Autosport magazine
Court of petty thieves awaits Williams and the world!
1997 January 12
The courtroom might have been from Dickens' London. An oak-panelled
wall with a high backed leather chair commands the 23ft x 50ft
room, as it has done for almost 200 years.
For the past two centuries, miscreants from Imola have been
arraigned here charged with a variety of crimes ranging from
petty theft to more recently drug and traffic offences. I was
shown handwritten documents of a trial heard in this court in
Yet this is the place where Frank Williams will be brought
in his wheelchair next month and deny having any responsibility
for the death of Ayrton Senna.
And Williams, like the minor criminals summoned here down
the ages, will be required to deliver his defence to a robed
magistrate sat underneath a crucifix and the gold embossed legend:
La Legge E Uguale Per Tutti. Williams, fluent in Italian, will
not need to be told that this means, The law is the same for
To prove the sincerity of the claim, one of the last defendants
to pass through the court was a young man sentenced to three
months in jail for possession of drugs.
But through nearly 200 years of dispensing anonymous justice
to small-time thieves, liars and those violating the Italian
Highway Code, no one would have imagined that this little courtroom,
accessible through a narrow cobbled courtyard and two flights
of stairs, would one day bear witness to a case of such global
Who would have imagined that the reigning Formula One world
champion Damon Hill would give evidence for the defence from
behind the arc of light-stained desks assembled before the magistrates
raised bench, or that the ultimate racing driver of his generation,
twice world champion Michael Schumacher, would testify for the
defence in this courtroom?
But this is the likelihood as solicitor Peter Goodman composes
the strategy for the defence of his clients, Williams, the team
patriarch, and his top designers, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey,
before the case begins in 39 days.
And some solemnly warn that the trial of the Williams Three
- and the other three defendants charged in connection with the
death of Senna at the circuit a couple of miles from this magistrates
court in the centre of this ancient city - puts in jeopardy the
very future of Grand Prix racing in Italy.
Should they be condemned in court, how many Formula One personnel
will feel comfortable about risking the force of Italian law
in the event of another fatal accident here at Imola, or at the
Italian Grand Prix at Monza?
Maurizio Passarini, the prosecuting magistrate who has brought
the case to court, explains he is merely a slave to the law.
"If I am the most unpopular man in Italy, I am sorry,"
he says, when I visited him in his office in the Palace of Justice
in central Bologna, "But this is the law. In Italy, the
prosecutor has to investigate any fatal accident and act accordingly."
Passarini, 39, a small, shy, bespectacled man, with two pipes
amid the paperwork, on his desk, once followed Ferrari legends,
Niki Lauda and Gilles Villeneuve. "I don't have the time
for motor racing these days," he says coyly.
An earnest lawyer, he will keep his counsel for the court.
"I won't talk about the accused until the trial, that is
the proper place," he suggests. Yet we know his case against
Williams will allege that modifications to the steering column
on Senna's car were a cause of his crash at the 190 mph Tamburello
curve during the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1 1994.
Goodman said: "We will try to do a straightforward English
criminal job, which is to produce doubt on the strength of the
prosecution case against us. The steering column didn't break
before the accident, that's it in a nutshell." Williams,
Head and Newey will attend the first day, when first the prosecution,
then the defence, outline their cases. The length of the trial
is totally unpredictable.
I understand that Goodman plans to request as a witness Hill,
who last September was told by Williams that he was surplus to
requirements, but who was driving on that fateful afternoon an
identical Williams-Renault to the one in which Senna lost his
life. There is also hope that Ferrari star Schumacher will meet
Goodman. Schumacher, driving then for Benetton, was placed immediately
behind Senna before the Brazilian crashed. Other drivers who
have had accidents at the same corner include Gerhard Berger,
Nelson Piquet, Riccardo Patrese and Michele Alboreto, and Goodman
added cryptically: "We may need to speak to one or more
drivers"' Goodman must submit his list of witnesses by February
There will also be a concerted attempt in the days ahead to
persuade Passarini to allow Head to examine Senna's car, which
remains behind locked doors of the Polizia Stradale in Bologna.
For 15 years, Goodman was a criminal lawyer. His most celebrated
case was an appearance for the defence in the trial of Graham
Young, known in the media as the St. Albans Poisoner, whose villainous
behaviour was later the subject of a film; and Goodman chuckles
when he remembers that he twice prosecuted a singer called PJ
Proby, a man more renowned for the minimal cut of his trousers
than his voice.
But for the past 10 years, he has acted for Williams and he
will be assisted in structuring the defence with Williams in-house
lawyer Stephen Greenway. Goodman will be instructing Italian
advocate Roberto Causo, based in Rome and a man with years experience
in motor racing, and an Italian professor of law, to present
the case in court.
It is the reputation, rather than the liberty, of Williams,
Head and Newey that is at stake. The offence carries a suspended
prison sentence of between six months and five years and applies
to the other three defendants in the trial, Federico Bendinelli,
the race organiser, Giorgio Poggi, circuit boss, and Roland Bruynseraede,
the race director.
The courtroom here has room, you are told, for 100 people
in the public sector. There will be twice that many media representatives
from around the world and the one guarantee ahead of this sensational
trial is the prospect of scenes of pandemonium never envisaged
back in 1806.
© 1997 Malcolm Folley / Associated Newspapers
Venue changed - Williams appoint new lawyer
1997 February 10
It is reported that Williams are no longer employing Italian
advocate Roberto Causo in order to avoid the defence of the six
accused being compromised by split loyalties.
Williams' solicitor Peter Goodman has evidently assigned Italian
lawyer Oreste Dominioni to represent the Formula One team in
Roberto Causo will continue to represent Roland Bruynseraede
(race director), Federico Bendinelli (race organiser), and circuit
boss Giorgio Poggi.
Judge Antonio Costanzo (36) has declared the 19th century
magistrates court in Imola to be inappropriate for the proceedings
as it measures just 23ft x 50ft.
The trial will now be held half a mile from the original courtroom
on the first floor of a city administration building.
Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher are reported to be witnesses
for the defence.
The S Files
Williams 3 not present at trial opening
1997 February 12
In a change to the original plans the Williams 3 (Frank Williams,
Patrick Head and Adrian Newey) have been advised by their legal
team not to attend the opening of the trial on Thursday February
Frank Williams had previously said that he would be going
to Imola for the trial opening because he felt it was right for
him to be seen to be representing his team.
After the trial starts it will continue on isolated days thereafter.
The next likely day of activity is expected to be February 28.
It is anticipated the duration of the trial will last at least
The S Files
Blue speck in the death of Senna
1997 February 17
Four days before the trial a photograph has emerged appearing
to show a small blue object laying on the Imola track in front
of Senna's Williams-Renault.
The British Sunday Times newspaper suggests that the colour
of the fragment could mean it was a piece of a Benetton car which
had crashed earlier.
The picture was taken by French photographer Paul-Henri Cahier
who said he had not sold the photo but had passed it on to both
Renault and the Williams team.
When the newspaper learnt of the pictures Cahier agreed to
publication. It is unclear why the photo (taken from 600 yards
before the point where Senna left the track) has only just emerged
but it is extremely likely that it will be used in the defence
of Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey.
The Sunday Times suggest that Senna swerved to avoid the apparent
debris, lost control when the car hit a bump and skidded off
They maintain that the car was vulnerable to such a response
because the tyre pressures were low at the time of the crash.
The newspaper said studies of other pictures taken by Cahier
appeared to show the apparent debris was flicked up into the
air and off the track when Senna's car went over or very near
The Sunday Times also offered an alternative and even more
bizarre theory for the crash and asks: "Is it possible
that Senna blacked out."
They refer to the in-car video and the position of Senna's
helmet suddenly dominating the mirror completely, as if he is
leaning sharply to the left. Saying this action would be a natural
reaction to the car jumping violently away from him, that it
was instinct for him to lean into the corner.
They continue with the suggestion that "this sudden movement
may have indicated a deeper problem, something personal to Senna".
Evidently an unidentified close friend of Senna's consulted
an unidentified medium who implied that the crash had been caused
by Senna and not the car.
The medium spoke about the driver's inability to breathe.
The close friend mentioned this to a colleague who knew
Senna personally (having worked with him for a time), and who
stated that once Senna had spoken privately to him about his
It is claimed that sometimes when Senna was under pressure,
he would hold his breath for the opening lap of a race believing
this action heightened his senses and exaggerated his feel for
The S Files
Debris theory ignored as Williams stay silent
1997 February 17
Legal sources in Italy are saying the prosecution of Williams
will still focus on Senna's modified steering column despite
the allegations in a British newspaper yesterday that track 'debris'
could have caused the accident.
Bologna's public prosecutor Maurizio Passarini has built his
case around technical evidence which points to the steering modifications
made to Senna's car being the cause of the crash. The suggestions
made in the British Sunday Times newspaper yesterday could have
shifted blame from the Williams 3 towards the Imola track management
officials also facing trial.
A second photo taken as Senna had passed the debris, and as
yet unpublished, is said to show that the position of the fragment
had moved therefore suggesting some form of contact.
The other outlandish theory offered in the same article was
that Senna blacked out because he was holding his breath.
The Williams team are presently refusing to say whether or
not the published photograph would be used as evidence in their
The S Files
Senna photo irrelevant
1997 February 17
Commenting on the supposed new photographic evidence published
in the British newspaper The Sunday Times, Maurizio Passarini
said today that "the photographic document made no difference,
even admitting that it is reliable, and does not shift by one
millimetre the conviction of the prosecution which has identified
the snapping of the steering column as the cause of Senna's accident."
The newspaper alleged the photo could clear the Williams team
of fault in the death of Ayrton Senna.
Thursday's proceedings are expected to be purely technical
and witnesses are not expected to give evidence until March.
The S Files
1997 February 18
Will Italy lose 34 motor racing events if Frank Williams and/or
others are convicted of manslaughter over the death of Ayrton
FIA president Max Mosley is declining to outline what exactly
he has in mind but has hinted that the world governing body would
take action if the accused are found guilty.
A logical move could be withdrawing approval for the 34 events
currently held in Italy.
This would include the San Marino Grand Prix in which Ayrton
Senna died when his Williams-Renault careered off the track at
Imola on May 1 1994.
Shortly after the indictment of the Williams 3, Flavio Briatore,
head of the Benetton team, said he would be unwilling to race
in Italy if Williams were to be convicted.
He was backed some days later by Ken Tyrell.
The 1997 San Marino Grand Prix, due to take place on April
27, is not threatened for the Italian justice system is known
to be notoriously slow.
Appeal processes after the trial could last for as long as
The S Files
Possible debris NOT on fatal curve!
1997 February 18
The supposed new photographic evidence trumpeted in
the Sunday Times newspaper this weekend was nothing new said
Sagis the company that runs the Imola circuit.
The photos and also video footage showing the debris were
handed over to the Italian magistrature immediately after the
Sagis, whose managing director Federico Bendinelli is one
of the defendants in the trial, also stressed that the photo
published in the Sunday Times magazine did not show the
part of the circuit leading into the fatal curve, but was taken
"some 700m from the Tamburello bend".
In presenting the new photo the newspaper alleged it
could clear the Williams team of fault in the death of Ayrton
Senna's family said today that they had no comment to make
on the photo nor the Sunday Times' report which also suggested
that Senna may have fainted due to an alleged breathing trick.
The S Files