THE Senna Files


1997 Feb 20 - Mar 17 : NewSfile #4

Tell us the truth

1997 February 20

A man stands in silence at the entrance to a makeshift courtroom, he holds a placard showing a picture of Ayrton Senna and the words "Tell us the truth" written underneath.

It is February 20 1997 in a converted ballroom at Imola, and amid invasion by the world's media, the Ayrton Senna manslaughter trial began.

Judge Antonio Costanzo swiftly ordered the hordes of cameramen and reporters out of the hall, allowing two fixed television cameras to remain for the trial, but said they could not film defendants who objected, including Williams and Patrick Head.

The only defendant present was Federico Bendinelli, director of Sagis, the company that runs the Imola circuit. He told reporters that in Italy criminal investigations are obligatory and added that no-one should be held responsible for the accident.

Bendinelli had said on Thursday that "Senna's death was due exclusively to the fact that part of the suspension block on one of the wheels snapped off and broke through his visor hitting his forehead."

"It was like a bullet. If it were not for this, he (Senna) could have walked away from the accident."

He also told the Rome daily newspaper La Republica:

"The risk exists that all races in Italian territory will be banned if we are convicted."

A lawyer representing the Senna family was in attendance as an observer, and stated that Senna's relatives would be following the trial very closely, but had decided not to stand as civil plaintiffs.

The Italian news agency reports that prosecutors accuse Williams and others of manslaughter based on an inquiry which indicated that Senna's steering column snapped, due to a faulty weld made previously, when the car was modified to make it lighter.

Race officials are charged for not ensuring that safety requirements were met.

Today's three hour session dealt mainly with preliminaries. There was a defence challenge against the investigative procedures of Maurizio Passarini, and a request that tests on the wrecked car should be ignored because two defendants were not present during the appraisals.

Lawyers said that much of the case against Newey and Bruynseraede, which had built up over the past 3 years, should be ignored as their clients were not informed of the inquiry, nor given the opportunity to defend themselves.

"This is a scandal. It should not happen in a civilised country," Newey's lawyer Luigi Stortoni told the court.

Oreste Dominioni, one of Williams' lawyers said "We are absolutely sure the car was in good order. The steering column broke after and not before the crash."

The prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, said he planned to call as witnesses world champion driver Damon Hill, Bernie Ecclestone, head of FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association), and Michael Schumacher, Ferrari driver.

The judge said witnesses would testify between April 24 and April 29.

This period will coincide with those people being in Italy for the San Marino Grand Prix.

The trial resumes on February 28, when the presiding judge will rule on various defence requests to limit evidence.

The prosecution will present its case on March 5, with the first witness due to testify on March 12.

The S Files

Legal blunder in Senna case?

1997 February 21

Luigi Stortoni, the lawyer acting for Adrian Newey (Williams chief designer), stated in court that his client had been improperly questioned by examining magistrate Maurizio Passarini in order to obtain evidence.

He argued that Passarini had interviewed Newey as a witness, not as an accused, and had failed to warn him that he (Newey) could face prosecution.

Filippo Sgubbi, acting for Roland Bruynseraede (FIA official) also claimed that his client gave information under similar circumstances.

Francesco Pintor (head prosecutor) maintained, "All the rules and regulations were strictly adhered to."

The S Files

Damon Hill's car also a death trap?

1997 February 23

"On the day that claimed the life of Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill was driving a Williams-Renault which had been modified in exactly the same way as the great Brazilian drivers".

This is a claim made in a British newspaper today.

The 'News of the World' reports:

The steering columns on the Williams-Renaults of Hill and Senna were altered two months previously, in the SAME way on the SAME day.

Williams will claim: Hill's car worked perfectly well, blaming track debris as the most likely cause of Senna's accident.

Williams previously stated: Senna had asked for a modification to lower his steering wheel, the steering column snapped AFTER impact with the wall at Tamburello.

It took Maurizio Passarini over two years to collate the evidence contained in a 3,000+ page report (reports as to the 'size' of this document vary! Ed), which finally led to the indictment of the six accused. The Italian prosecution's case maintains: The accident was caused by the modified steering column, track debris played no part.

The News of the World article quotes Professor Adolpho Melchionda, a mechanical engineer, and member of the court's investigative team, as saying:

"When you saw through an essential part of the machinery, you are altering the crystalline structure of the metal involved. This can work, on the other hand, may not work. To say that it was a job well done, because Hill had no problems, is short-sighted."

"We believe that the evidence will show that he was driving a potential death trap and was lucky nothing happened to him. The cause of Senna's crash was the work done on the rod. The *recent pictures which were released showing the scrap on the track have nothing to do with it at all."

* The recent picture referred to was published by the British 'Sunday Times newspaper, just 4 days before the Senna manslaughter trial began, in an article entitled:
"Photograph explains riddle of Ayrton Senna's death."

Sagis, the company which runs the Imola circuit, later said:

"The photo did not show the part of the circuit leading into the final curve, but was some 700m from the Tamburello bend. The photos and also video footage showing the debris were handed over to the Italian magistrature immediately after the crash."

The S.T. article also alleged that: Senna may have "held his breath and passed out." - Ed.

And continues: Newey's defence lawyer Luigi Stortoni, confirmed the same work had been done on both Williams cars. He said:

"Work was done on the steering rod. The same work was done on Hill's car. The diameters of the two pieces of pole were different. But to demonstrate that the job was done well, it has to be shown how Damon Hill had no trouble with his car."

"We are convinced that the welding was not the cause. The work was done in March, and both Hill and Senna had raced two Grand Prix with the modified cars and there wasn't any problem."

"On the third, Senna crashed. I don't know how many times, if ever, Hill raced the modified car after that. And Newey certainly did not carry out the work."

Newey is involved in a contract dispute with the Williams team after agreeing to join McLaren from the year 2000.

Milan-based lawyer Oreste Dominioni is representing both Williams and Head, and a spokesman from his office confirmed:

"Yes, Mr. Hill had the same modifications made to his car as Ayrton Senna. And I think he believes the job was well done. It was well done."

Around 40 witnesses are expected to give evidence before the judge Antonio Costanzo, including Nelson Piquet, Gerhard Berger and Riccardo Patrese.

Excerpts © 1997 News Group Newspapers Ltd.

Can Williams be sure?

1997 February 24

Williams have stated that Ayrton Senna's steering was working until impact with the wall at the Tamburello curve. As a Physicist and Master of Science, in Instrumentation and Dynamic Signal Analysis, I believe that the Williams team cannot be sure whether the steering system was working before impact or not, based only on telemetry data.

Firstly, the steering angle is measured by a potentiometer placed on top of the steering column, just behind the dashboard, close to the steering wheel and above the break point. Any steering wheel movement would be registered by the sensor but the steering rods would not be responding properly due to failure of the steering column.

Secondly, a pressure sensor mounted on the hydraulic steering system would inform that the oil pressure was O.K. but this does NOT mean the whole steering system was operational. This sensor only indicates problems in case of oil leakage and is used only as a safety indicator against steering power loss.

Therefore I feel that the Williams affirmative lacks 'cause-effect' relationship.

© 1997 Joao Alcino Martins

Debris theory a ploy?

1997 February 24

From Joao Alcino Martins (Brazil)

Press reports and reaction to the Sunday Times' theory:

On February 18 Maurizio Passarini, the prosecutor on the Senna case, declared that the alleged new evidence reported by the Sunday Times is irrelevant to the line of charge. "The picture does not change our conclusions."

The members of the technical team formed by Passarini to investigate the tragedy are:

Mauro Forghieri - ex Technical Director for Ferrari

Enrico Lorenzini - Professor of Engineering at Bologna University

Tommaso Carletti - ex Ferrari race engineer

Alberto Bucchi - Professor at Bologna University and expert in road construction systems

Francesco Bomparole - representative of state road contractors

Roberto Nosetto - ex president of the Imola circuit

Antonio del Monte - Professor of Science and Sports; ex-Ferrari team manager;

Emmanuelle Pirro - former F1 driver.

The Sunday Times (Feb 16) published a picture showing a small piece of bodywork, likely to have come from JJ Lehto's Benetton, lying on the asphalt. The newspaper's theory said that it is possible that Senna would have tried to deviate from the piece, lost control of the car because of cold tyres, and crashed.

Also the newspaper alleged that Senna could have kept his respiration suspended in order to heighten his concentration for the race restart and passed out.

The Brazilian press consider the Sunday Times theory could be a ploy to deviate the attention away from the Williams team and to lessen the charges laid against them. Some journalists consider the theory ridiculous and nonsense as there is NO technical evidence to support the statements.

Feb 19: Maurizio Passarini is said to have asked for large screen TV's and will show second-by-second, the last minute of Ayrton Senna's driving. The video footage will be coupled to the Williams telemetry indications recovered from the Williams data bank.

"Each split second we will know what Senna was doing, hitting gas, braking, turning wheels or changing gears" explained Passarini.

The dates for the trial hearings are Feb 20, Feb 28 and March 14.

Sagis, the company who were responsible for the Imola circuit, published a statement declaring that the photo published in the Sunday Times has been part of the investigation records since the beginning.

Passarini confirmed this, and the fact the picture did not add any significance to the proceedings.

Some newspapers consider the Senna case will be transformed into a battle between England and Italy as 5 of those indicted are from two nationalities.

The penalty under Italian law for manslaughter varies from 6 months to 5 years, but there are early records indicating the penalty could be a fine, as in other race incidents.

The S Files

What happened to the steering?

1997 February 24

From Joao Alcino Martins (Brazil)

Brazil's largest television company commented on the Sunday Times' theory of Senna's death:

Regarding Senna's alleged breathing habit: Ayrton Senna was the fittest driver in F1. The technique he used was NOT to keep his breath suspended, on the contrary! Would Senna suspend his breath for as long as 1min 30 sec?!

Williams telemetry and also rubber strips laid down on the tarmac proved that Senna braked hard and changed gear at least twice before impact. So he WAS NOT disabled.

Even if the published picture was relevant: Would Senna have even seen such a small piece of debris, and would he have been able to begin any manoeuvre, considering he was close to 200mph?

It is alleged that at the time of the crash that many people heard Patrick Head, in front of the TV monitor, when Senna started to go straight, shouting "Steering power!"

And at the time of the impact "What happened to the steering?"

They said that as the witnesses worked for Williams, no-one wanted to declare or confirm this fact publicly.

The S Files

Co-author is friend of Frank Williams

1997 February 24

From Joao Alcino Martins (Brazil)

A report on TV news stated Peter Windsor, co-author of the Sunday Times' article headlined "Photograph explains riddle of Senna's death", to be a close friend of Frank Williams. Windsor was a passenger when Frank Williams had the car crash which left him paralysed. He has also worked for the Williams team and was shown, on film, in Williams team clothing beside Nigel Mansell, walking along the pit lane.

The S Files

Judge rejects defence challenges

1997 February 28

Antonio Costanzo, judge of the Ayrton Senna manslaughter trial, rejected the challenges from two of the defence lawyers today.

At the trial opening on February 20, lawyers for Adrian Newey and Roland Bruynseraede had argued that their clients had not been warned, when interviewed by chief public prosecutor Maurizio Passarini, they were under investigation. Both lawyers had demanded that the technical evidence, which is key to the prosecution case, be ruled inadmissible against their clients.

But Antonio Costanzo ruled that the proceedings against all six accused should continue, and rejected the submissions as unfounded.

A separate challenge on territorial jurisdiction from Newey's counsel, stating the trial should be moved to Bologna, where Senna was declared dead in hospital, was also discarded by the judge.

The trial was adjourned until March 5, when the prosecution is due to present its case.

The S Files

Don't blame Senna

1997 March 5

Faulty engineering by the Williams team and a defect in the track were responsible for the death of Ayrton Senna, Public Prosecutor Maurizio Passarini told the court today.

Passarini was opening the case for the prosecution in the trial of the six men accused of manslaughter in connection with Senna's death including Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey. None of the accused were present, all were represented by their lawyers.

Passarini pointed out two causes for the accident:

The first was a "modification to the steering column which had been poorly executed causing it to break."

The second being that the car left the track because the asphalt surface was not on the same level as the trackside. "There was an angle with the side of the track," he said.

Williams' defence lawyer Oreste Dominioni immediately rejected the accusation that the car was at fault, claiming that the state of the track was to blame and that investigators had failed to carry out proper tests on its surface.

"They should have determined whether the characteristics of the course were such as to make the car lose stability and leave the track," he said and called for a new technical investigation of the circuit.

The move against the track was promptly countered by a group of lawyers, representing Poggi, Bendinelli and Bruynseraede, who said that ample checks and inspections had been carried out on the Imola circuit.

Passarini said his case was that the steering column of Senna's Williams car had been badly designed and was not strong enough to withstand metal fatigue. Also that a welding job done when the column was modified before the race had been poorly executed.

"The steering column had been cut and a new element - which was not of the same quality of metal or of the same diameter, being 18mm instead of 22mm - was welded in. And it was where the new element had been welded in that the column broke."

"When Senna had a steering wheel dangling in his hands, he was doing 192mph. He braked and hit the wall at 130 - 136 mph."

"If the track had been completely flat, he would have been more able to brake and his speed could have been reduced to 105 mph. Senna paid the price of these circumstances", he said.

Dominioni denied that modifications to the steering column had been done 'fast and furiously' before the Imola race, and also pointed out that the steering column was identical to that of the one used by Damon Hill in the other Williams car that season. (See current NewSfile - Damon Hill's car also a death trap? 1997/02/23).

The Williams' lawyer stated he would be able to demonstrate that the column had broken after the crash and not before.

Roberto Landi, for Sagis, denied there had been anything wrong with the track to cause the accident. He declared: "All the world's circuits are like Imola."

Adrian Newey's lawyer demanded a new forensic examination of the steering column on the grounds that Newey had not been able to appoint his own expert to attend the original tests, as he had not been warned he was under investigation and might face charges.

Passarini, who spoke for 90 minutes, also said he wanted to counter suggestions that he was waging a vendetta against motor racing by pointing out that no prosecution had resulted from the fatal accident, the day before Senna was killed, involving Roland Ratzenburger.

That accident occurred because of damage to the car sustained when it left the track earlier rather than because of design or construction errors, he stated. Only in the case of Senna have the investigations demonstrated a case of manslaughter.

Passarini then asked judge Antonio Costanzo to admit various pieces of evidence, including a recording of film taken by a camera on Senna's car, analysis by consultants and a digital reconstruction of the accident using television pictures taken from several angles.

He said he also wanted to use as evidence records regarding crashes on the same bend by other drivers in previous years: Nelson Piquet in 1987, Gerhard Berger in 1989, Michele Alboreto in 1991 and Riccardo Patrese in 1992.

In addition Passarini wanted to refer to television pictures showing various cars grounding on the corner and sending up showers of sparks.

Finally he wanted to admit film showing an object thrown into the air by the wheels of either Senna's car or Schumacher's close behind.

Soon after the crash, using 'slow motion' replay, French TV studied the view from Schumacher's on-board camera. According to the French channel, a small piece could be seen dangling from underneath Senna's Williams, which flew off the track immediately after this.- Ed.

Referring to a recent article in the British Sunday Times newspaper which suggested that a piece of debris was the cause of Senna's crash, (See this NewSfile - Co-author is friend of Frank Williams - 1997/02/24 also NewSfile #3 - Blue speck in the death of Ayrton Senna - 1997/02/17), Passarini said: "But I wish to clarify that I do not attribute any causal significance to the small object on the track. An enquiry by experts revealed that NO blame can be attached to Senna: he HAD NOT taken any drugs, he DID NOT make a driving error and he DID NOT pass out - contrary to reports in the British press."

"There was no illness because Senna desperately tried to stop the car until the end."

Dominioni said he would be calling as witnesses both Damon Hill and Massimo Angelini, who was driving the safety car which led the drivers around the circuit before the race restarted. There have been reports that Senna asked Angelini to speed up because his tyres were losing temperature.

Antonio Costanzo, the magistrate dealing with the trial closed today's session by accepting all the documents and expert reports presented earlier by both the defence and the prosecution.

He postponed his answer to Williams' lawyers, led by Dominioni, who had asked for a new investigation of the Imola circuit by experts.

Today's was the third session since the trial opened on February 20 1997.

Damon Hill and F.O.C.A. (Formula One Constructors Association) president Bernie Ecclestone are expected to appear as witnesses next month, although they are under no obligation to do so.

Damon Hill, Senna's team mate at the time of the accident, has been called to appear on April 28 and will be questioned by both the defence and the prosecution. Ecclestone is due before the court on April 22.

The next trial session will be held on March 11, with the appearance of Italian technical experts and the first witnesses.

The S Files

First witness called in Senna trial

1997 March 11

The trial resumed today at Imola with the opposing strategies of the prosecution and the defence coming into sharp focus. The defence claims that poor track conditions caused the accident. The prosecution states that Senna's steering column broke due to faulty welding executed two weeks before the race, when the car was modified to make the driver more comfortable.

The focus of early testimony today were the design changes made on Senna's car, with Chief Prosecutor Maurizio Passarini pointing out a metal plate that was allegedly welded onto the rear suspension after the suspension was damaged during winter testing at Le Castellet in France.

Passarini said: "I mention that not to say that the rear suspension was the cause of the accident but to note that, despite the fact that these are very sophisticated vehicles, when a problem occurs it is patched up with a metal plate."

Passarini was referring to the prosecution theory regarding the steering column modification.

Among the witnesses called was Mario Casoni, driver of one of the emergency vehicles that attended the scene of crash. Casoni said "I noticed the abnormal state of Senna's steering column, which had been uprooted and was dangling from the cockpit."

Williams lawyer Oreste Dominioni then pounced on the fact that in 1994 Casoni had said the column was lying on the ground. Casoni replied that he had made a mistake in his statement given to a police officer at the time.

Oreste Dominioni for the defence, pointed to problems with the track surface and said it had not been fully investigated. Lawyer Roberto Landi, representing Federico Bendinelli, director of Sagis, intervened and said that an inquiry had ruled out problems with the track. An amateur video taken at Imola on March 9 1994 during private testing, shows Senna with track director Giorgio Poggi and others, discussing the track conditions on the Tamburello curve.

Another witness, police inspector Stefano Stefanini, head of Bologna's traffic accident unit, said Senna was complaining about depressions in the asphalt, which were reportedly taken care of the following day by track workers.

But under questioning by Dominioni, Stefanini did admit that track management had not been consulted regarding this incident, only the director of the crew that fixed the problem. Seen as preventing a defence bid to blame the condition of Senna's tyres, Passarini called on Stefanini to give lap times.

Senna, with a fully loaded car, clocked 1 min 24.887sec on the sixth lap of the restarted race. "That was a very good time," said Stefanini,"only two drivers bettered it - Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher - and that was at the end of the race."

Falling tyre pressures/adherence has been a topic of speculation by the media since the accident.

Traffic police commissioner Marcello Gentili was asked about the cars trajectory and signs of braking prior to impact, to ascertain whether problems with the asphalt could have caused the crash. Gentili said there was a 21cm angle between the track and the trackside and there were intermittent signs of braking.

Two doctors who pulled Senna from the wreckage testified that they did not encounter any obstacles in pulling his body out of the car. This led them to suppose that the steering column was already broken.

The S Files

The bump effect was normal

1997 March 12

The second trial session of the week continued with chief prosecutor Maurizio Passarini calling Pierluigi Martini to testify as a former Formula One driver knowledgeable of both the Imola circuit and the Tamburello curve.

Martini said: A driver like Ayrton Senna didn't go off the track at that point unless there was a problem. A lot of things can happen during a race, but in this particular case I don't know what the problem could have been. Drivers took the curve at 300km/h and there was a small dip in the middle of the track which disturbed the cars. The bump effect was perfectly normal and is common to every racing circuit in the world.

I was at Imola with Senna and others two weeks before the race when we noticed a small bump in the Tamburello bend. The circuit officials were very efficient, and had the asphalt smoothed out, which was the only thing they could do. The cars still touched the ground and were disturbed so you just had to hold your line.

The repairs had only slightly improved the situation. Senna had complained to me three weeks before Imola at Aida (Japan), that his car was nervous and the cockpit narrow. But Tamburello could have only created problems for a car that had problems. The people at Imola did everything they could to give us drivers what we asked for.

Martini felt he could not say that the Tamburello bump had caused Senna to veer off the track. There was only one line into Tamburello and the bump could not be avoided without leaving the track. He added that Senna's fast lap time indicated that his tyres were fully warmed up.

Eight course officials who were present at the Imola race were then questioned by Passarini as to whether or not they had been aware of anything lying in the path of Senna's car, and whether they believed his Williams-Renault had left the Tamburello curve in a straight line.

All felt that Senna's car went off in a straight line towards the wall and all said there had been nothing in his way.

The trial continues on March 17 with further witnesses including an electronics expert from Williams' engine supplier Renault.

FIA race delegate, Charlie Whiting is expected to testify the following day.

The S Files

Williams engineers called as witnesses

1997 March 16

Williams engineers Alan Young and Gavin Fisher are to appear as witnesses in the Senna trial according to reports. Fisher and Young will answer allegations that Senna's steering column was altered before the start of the season and again after the Japanese Grand Prix.

Luigi Stortoni, representing Adrian Newey said:

"The modification of Senna's steering rod was in the hands of Fisher and Young. That is why we have called them as witnesses."

"It wasn't a rush job, it was planned and we don't think welding was the cause of the accident."

"Let's face it, Senna was a driver. He had complete faith in the experts. What could he say about modified steering rods?"

The S Files

Black boxes were scratched but intact

1997 March 17

The trial resumed with conflicting claims regarding the condition of the two black box data recorders carried in Senna's car. The first belonging to Williams, was designed to record data from the chassis and gearbox, the second belonging to Renault stored information on the V10 engine.

Fabrizio Nosco said he had removed both black box data recorders from Senna's Williams after the crash, having obtained permission from Charlie Whiting the FIA representative.

Nosco testified "that apart from a few scratches, both were intact."

Bernard Duffort, a Renault engine electronics expert, claimed that the Williams box showed signs of impact and had been damaged. When examined it contained no data. * See NewSfile #1 - Sabotage

Duffort said the data from the Renault box was transferred onto a computer disc on the day of the crash and a copy was handed to the Italian authorities on May 18, along with the data recorder. By that time, however, the recorder's information was no longer available. Duffort said that tests on the recorder, which erased its data, were carried out in Paris on an engine test bench several days previously.

Senna had mechanical failure

The ex-Formula One driver, Michele Alboreto, testified in court today that he believed Senna's fatal crash was caused by a mechanical failure in the car and not a fault of of the race track itself.

The driver gave his verdict after viewing a video of the crash, replayed in the courtroom, in particular pictures coming from a camera onboard Michael Schumacher's car, which was close behind Senna.

Film was also shown of previous crashes at Tamburello - involving Gerhard Berger, Nelson Piquet, Riccardo Patrese and Alboreto himself.

He told reporters afterwards: "Senna's shift to the right makes me think it was a mechanical failure. The situation at Imola was not exceptional, we've raced in much worse conditions that those. I hope this trial helps us understand what really happened to Senna, because it still isn't clear. Mechanical failures are frequent, given the nature of the races and people always aim for the limit. But no engineer can ignore safety."

He went on to describe the bumps on the track surface just before the curve, which have been the target of Williams' lawyer Oreste Dominioni, as minor and said they could not have forced Senna's car off the circuit.

The trial continues tomorrow with testimonies from more witnesses, including FIA delegate Charlie Whiting. It is still not known whether Patrick Head, technical director at Williams would attend.

The S Files