THE Senna Files


1997 Mar 18 - June 24 : NewSfile #5

And still they try

1997 March 18

On Wednesday the German magazine F-1 Racing is to publish the debris photograph first carried by the British Sunday Times newspaper on February 16 1997.

The photo taken by Paul-Henri Cahier, and related article "Photograph explains riddle of Senna's death", was subsequently headlined worldwide.

It was, however, unclear to many that the possible track debris originally depicted, was in fact lying 6 seconds approx. from the point where Senna left the track. See PicSfile #1 - A ploy from the start?

This regurgitated theory has yet again left the State Prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, unimpressed.

Speaking to reporters before the start of today's court session Passarini said:

"Obviously I haven't seen the F1-Racing photograph, but as in the picture published in the Sunday Times, I can only refer to the conclusion of the experts' enquiry. It wasn't tyre damage that made Ayrton Senna go off the track."

The S Files

Secrets of Senna's black box

1997 March 18

The court hearing resumed today with the cross-examination of FIA delegate, Charles Whiting.

This focused initially on whether the FIA had been informed of a modification to Senna's steering column made two weeks before the race.

In his testimony Whiting said that Senna's car had been modified without permission before the race, but the modification would have been bound to have been reported at the next regular check.

Williams claimed they had already informed the FIA and could prove it. Whiting, who in 1994 was responsible for checking all F1 cars, said that he had approved Senna's car in February and again in March.

But after looking at photographs of minor changes to the chassis Whiting told the court: "I don't remember this on Senna's car."

Whiting was asked to explain why he had contravened his own regulations by giving the black box, taken from Senna's car, to the Williams team before handing it over to officials.

Whiting claimed he had done so because of the overriding need to make sure the other Williams car might not suffer the same strange loss of control which had apparently affected Senna's.

He confirmed the statement made yesterday by Bernard Duffort, the Renault electronics expert, and told the court he had authorised the Williams representatives to remove the black box immediately after the accident, but it had been damaged in the crash and all the efforts made at the circuit to read the data were in vain.

However, Marco Spiga, an electronics expert, disputed Whiting's claim and said he felt it could be used.

Whiting's statement was in direct contradiction to a testimony given yesterday by Fabrizio Nosco who said that "apart from a few scratches, both black boxes were intact when he removed them from Senna's car."

A further investigation of the data recorder was called for, and all the parties involved were summoned to an examination of the unit at the Engineering Department of Bologna University on March 24.

The findings of the autopsy report on Senna's death were read out in court today.

The report confirmed Senna's injuries were compatible with a massive blow above the right eyebrow.

Pathologist Corrado Cipolla, said that Senna died not from the impact itself, but from "a blow to the head by a blunt object," indicating a photograph apparently showing a section of the front suspension.

The blow was said to have crushed the front part of Senna's brain killing him instantly, although his heart and lungs continued to work assisted by a life-support machine, which was eventually turned off.

The official time of Senna's death was therefore given as 14.17, although 'cardiac death' came at 18.40.

Experts said Senna's blood indicated perfect health and a total absence of banned substances, and that his helmet complied with specifications.

The next session of the court will be on April 2.

The S Files

Williams pair took black box

1997 March 26

A British newspaper has interviewed Fabrizio Nosco, the man who removed the two data recorders from Senna's car.

Nosco testified in court last week that the boxes were scratched but intact when he removed them from Senna's Williams.

On Sunday the News of the World reported:

Regional technical commissioner Fabrizio Nosco, 30, who has worked for 10 years at the Imola track, revealed:

"The wreckage of Senna's car was brought into the Parc Ferme and put in the garage. Then, ten minutes later, two Williams mechanics came and asked to see the car. We politely told them that this was impossible because of FIA rules."

But according to Nosco, the FIA's technical delegate in Imola, Charlie Whiting, arrived soon after with two more Williams mechanics and ordered him to remove the boxes.

Nosco added:

"Whiting told me to open up the garage and that he had permission from John Corsmit, the FIA security chief that day. Whiting told me to remove the black boxes."

"The Renault engine box was situated behind the cockpit. I removed it with a pair of large pliers. The Williams chassis box was behind the radiator near the back wheel on the right wing of the car."

"I have seen thousands of these devices and removed them for checks. The two boxes were intact, even though they had some scratches. The Williams device looked to have survived the crash."

The boxes were not seen by Italian investigators for another month. Engineer Marco Spiga told the court: "The Williams box was totally unreadable when we got it back."

© 1997 News Group Newspapers Limited

Data card not supplied

1997 April 2

The trial into the death of Ayrton Senna continued on Wednesday, with more questions regarding the black box data recorder.

Williams have always maintained that Senna's black box was badly damaged during the crash at Imola and that no data could be retrieved.

Last month witnesses Charles Whiting, FIA delegate, and Bernard Duffort, Renault electronics expert, confirmed Williams opinion.

But Fabrizio Nosco, the person responsible for removing the two data recorders from Senna's car, testified at the trial that the boxes were scratched but intact.

Maurizio Passarini called on Marco Spiga, an electronics expert, to demonstrate how the external sockets of the data recorder worked.

These were the sockets reported to be damaged in the crash, today new pin connectors had been supplied by Giorgio Stirano, a Williams expert.

Edda Gandossi, a lawyer acting for Williams said: "It would be pointless to try and cast any suspicion or inferences regarding the behaviour of the Williams' engineers, this has always been polite and courteous."

Unfortunately a vital piece of equipment, namely a data card, needed to transmit the information to a computer, was not supplied. Today's court session therefore proved inconclusive.

The state prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, asked:

"Why are we only told today that we need a card. Williams have never told us this before. Why wasn't it made available?"

Giorgio Stirano replied:

"Because we were only asked for the pin connectors."

But added, on Passarini's request, that a card could be made available for the next court session.

The next trial sessions are scheduled for April 15 and 16 when the prosecution should present expert evidence regarding Senna's broken steering column.

The S Files

Fate or fiction

1997 April 16

The Senna death trial continued on Tuesday and Wednesday with Patrick Head and Adrian Newey making their debut in the courtroom to observe the evidence presented by the prosecution.

On Tuesday April 15, Maurizio Passarini called more witnesses to give evidence regarding Senna's broken steering column.

Tommaso Carletti, ex Ferrari race engineer, said:

"There are three possible causes of the break - poor quality work, the quick movement of the steering column and a too small diameter of the joins between the three sections of the column."

Mauro Forghieri, ex-technical director for Ferrari, said:

"I believe that Ayrton Senna turned his steering wheel firmly to the left shortly before the crash. If he had not done so he would have crashed immediately."

And added:

"Senna would have realised the steering on his Williams-Renault was functioning abnormally and after twice easing off the accelerator, he began to brake."

Enrico Lorenzini, Professor of Engineering at Bologna University, also provided technical evidence for the prosecution.

The defence opposed the statements of the three prosecution experts.

On Wednesday the court heard the testimony of two Williams engineers, Giorgio Stirano and Diego Milen, who stated that Senna had a problem with oversteer as his car went over a bump on the asphalt surface of the Imola track.

And that this bump was located just a few yards from where the prosecution claims Senna's car began to veer off the bend at Tamburello.

The Williams engineers maintained that faced with the oversteer, which sent the car towards the inside of the track, Senna countered by steering away.

However, his car bumped again and skidded to the right, nine degrees off the ideal line.

At this point, Senna decided to keep the line that he had and tried desperately to brake, the Williams witnesses claimed.

They told reporters later that there was no blame to be attached to either the track or the driver, but there had been an ordinary problem which destiny had turned into a fatal one.

That conclusion had been reached after examining the telemetry readings from Senna's Williams and from video tapes, the Williams engineers said.

Williams opinion was in direct contrast to that of Forghieri, Carletti and Lorenzini who claim that Senna's steering column was already 60 - 70 percent cracked with metal fatigue and simply stopped responding after the car hit the second bump in the track.

"Senna realised that if he had tried to steer the car in a way to spin it round, the steering would have snapped," Forgheri said.

Lawyer Robert Landi, acting for race organiser Federico Bendinelli, said the bumps on the track were no different from those which drivers had to contend with on other circuits around the world.

Having previously refused to comment, Adrian Newey told reporters:

"Ayrton Senna's accident was down to fate."

When asked if he felt in anyway responsible for Ayrton Senna's death, he replied:

"My defence will give my opinion on what happened on May 1."

Newey confirmed that he has resigned from Williams and may be be taking legal action in England against them over his contract. He hinted that he may go to the McLaren F1 team.

The S Files

Trial postponed

1997 April 21

Antonio Costanzo, the presiding judge of the Senna manslaughter trial, said the forthcoming court hearings due to resume on April 24 have been delayed.

Witnesses who were due to testify in the Imola courtroom on April 24 - 28 - 29, included Damon Hill and Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Costanzo said the delay is due to a crowded court schedule and other commitments which would have prevented him from attending the court.

The next session will therefore be on May 6 when new trial dates will be allocated.

The S Files

Strike threatens Senna trial

1997 May 2

From Joao Alcino Martins (Brazil)

A lawyers strike announced in Italy this week could threaten next weeks impending court hearings. If the threatened strike action goes ahead the trial sessions scheduled for May 6 and 7 could be postponed yet again.

Reports from Italy say that some of the lawyers representing the six accused (Williams, Head, Newey, Bruynseraede, Bendinelli and Poggi) are supporting the strike.

The absence of just one of the appointed defence lawyers would be enough to postpone the scheduled court proceedings.

The S Files

Trial sessions cancelled

1997 May 6

A nationwide strike by Italian lawyers caused the cancellation of the two court hearings scheduled for May 6 - 7.

Judge Antonio Costanzo has now announced provisional dates for the next hearings, these are scheduled for May 13 - 14, Bernie Ecclestone to testify on the second day.

Senna's teammate in 1994, Damon Hill, will appear on June 2. The driver following Senna prior to the crash, Michael Schumacher, is scheduled to testify on June 20.

Whether Schumacher will be a witness for the defence or the prosecution is unclear.

The testimonies of the Williams three (Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey) are expected sometime in July.

The S Files

Senna tape puzzle

1997 May 15

At the trial hearing on May 14, Maurizio Passarini, accused the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) of withholding evidence. Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, the chief prosecutor said:

"I am certain that the pictures supplied by the FOCA are incomplete. Several details show this to be the case and I shall say so in the hearing."

He implied that he was considering bringing other charges in connection with the videotape.

During the court session the chief prosecutor made reference to the tape produced by the camera on Senna's car, which had inexplicably cut out at almost the precise moment his Williams-Renault left the track, 0.9secs prior to impact with the wall at the Tamburello curve.

He also questioned the 14 seconds of indistinct pictures and greyish lines which were apparent on the tape when the view switched from Senna's camera to Berger's.

It was at the onset of this period that the accident occurred. The explanation given for this interference, was to the effect, that the wrong button had been pressed.

It is the FOCA TV company that owns the copyright of the in-car pictures that it selects and supplies to the national television networks.

Twenty out of the twenty-six cars were carrying in-car cameras in '94 and the FOCA TV executives were able to watch four of them at any given time, the transmissions from three of these could be chosen to be relayed to the network broadcaster.

Lost time

The existence of the Senna in-car videotape was originally unearthed by Roberto Cabrini, a Brazilian journalist working for TV Globo. It was subsequently shown on Brazilian television and that version of the tape ended 12.8 seconds into the fatal lap.

Information taken from Senna's on-board computer confirmed the crash had occurred 14.2 seconds into the lap, so there was a period of 1.4 seconds before the impact with the wall at Tamburello. The tape sent to the Italian authorities ends 0.9secs before impact, so the 0.5secs of new footage remains unexplained.

FOCA employees, who were manning the control truck on May 1, Alan Woolard, director; Eddie Baker, producer; and Andy James, video switcher, testified at today's hearing.

They stated that it was pure coincidence that the videotape had ended just prior to the fatal crash.

The decision to switch the camera shot coming from Senna's car to that of Japanese driver Ukyo Katayama was taken approximately 10 seconds before, as Senna was leading the race and there was nothing of interest ahead of him.

But in fact the next shot on the tape was from Gerhard Berger's car not Katayama's, the chief prosecutor said, and it too showed an empty track. "What, if I might say so, is the point of the shots if they have not been tampered with?" he asked.

The wrong button was pressed, and that action mistakenly selected pictures from the camera on Berger's car and created the interference, which explains the 14 seconds of indistinct pictures between the last shot from Senna's camera and the first from Katayama's, was the given justification.

Passarini's claims that the videotape was supplied to the Williams team 15 days after the accident, but only received by the court on September 9, was met with the reply that the request had been interpreted as being for pictures of the impact, which did not exist.

In 1994, Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying that Senna's in-car videotape had been sent to Frank Williams two days after the tragedy.

Ecclestone, who was originally scheduled to testify, was not present at the hearing. He will now give his evidence by means of written questions and answers, exchanged through official channels, and known as an international 'rogatoire'.

Damon Hill is due to give evidence on June 2.

The S Files

Hill steers clear

1997 June 4

On Monday June 2, three years after the death of his team mate, Damon Hill was in Imola to give evidence regarding Senna's fatal crash.

Before chief prosecutor Maurizio Passarini could begin his examination, Michael Breen, Hill's lawyer, asked for the eviction of television crews from the courtroom. Time passed as those involved argued with judge Antonio Costanzo about their rights before they were finally removed.

Somewhere en-route, however, Hill seemingly left part of his memory behind, although he did confirm that alterations were made to the steering column of the FW16 Williams driven both by himself and Senna in the 1994 season.

Passarini wanted to know when exactly the steering column had been modified.

"I don't know exactly," Hill replied. "I think it was before we went to the first test, but I can't be sure."

Before the first race of the season, then?

"I can't remember the exact date. I seem to remember it being done before we ran the car. In other words, before it went to a racetrack."

Before the beginning of the championship then?

"Yes", a stony faced Hill replied.

When had he known about the modification?

"Because I don't know when it was done, I can't tell you. I was made aware that it had been done."

Did he remember who had informed him of it?


Passarini then asked if he would confirm that in 1994 the FW16 ran with power steering?

"Yes, it did."

He was asked if he could remember if the car had power steering in 1993?

"I don't remember."

Passarini then told Hill that by the statement he gave to him (Passarini) in June, 1994. the system was new for 1994.

"In the two previous races in 1994, did you race with or without the power steering?" asked Maurizio Passarini.

"I honestly don't remember."

"And at the San Marino Grand Prix, did you have a chance to talk to Senna about the car? As far as you know, did he complain about his car?"

"I don't remember," Hill replied, yet again…

Selective amnesia

Asked about the modifications, Hill said, "We found it very tight in the car, in my case, the problem was that there was very little room between myself and the steering wheel."

He could not remember whether Senna had complained about the handling of his car after the steering column modification, although he could remember details of a meeting he attended with the Williams team.

He said he reached his conclusion about the oversteer after replaying the video footage at a meeting with Williams engineers at the teams Didcot headquarters less than a week after the tragedy.

More than an hour was spent viewing the film from Senna's on-board camera and Hill was then invited to comment upon it.

He appeared reluctant to be categorical but remarked: "There are two distinct times where the car looks to be oversteering and the steering wheel is exactly the way I would expect to see it to correct oversteer."

Asked whether the apparent oversteer in Senna's car was due to low tyre pressure or the state of the Imola track, Hill answered:

"You cannot separate the two, my idea looking at it is that the car seems to oversteer when it crosses the place on the circuit where there are some marks."

Hill's testimony appears to support that of Williams defence lawyers who in March claimed that Senna's death was due to anomalies in the asphalt track surface.

Hill also undermined another of the prosecution's claims - that the FOCA had failed to supply the complete film shot by the camera inboard Senna's car - stating that the footage he saw during the meeting at Williams also ended before Senna's car left the track.

When faced with a bombardment of questions from state prosecutor Maurizio Passarini, Hill repeatedly answered:

"I cannot remember, it was too long ago."

However his memory returned when the chief prosecutor persisted with the prosecution teams' charges that a weld made to shorten the column snapped moments before impact.

"I came away from the meeting with the opinion that there must have been some other reason for the accident other than the obvious one that there had been a failure in the steering," Hill told the court.

Hill said that he had not experienced any problems with oversteer at the San Marino Grand Prix, but added that Patrick Head had told him to switch off his power steering as he waited on the grid, after Senna's accident, and the restart of the race.

The power steering could be activated from the cockpit.

"It was obvious at the restart that they wanted to be sure things were all right in the car. I didn't ask for a reason. I just did what I was told," Hill said.

Williams blunder

Tuesday June 3 brought a reconstruction by Michael Guttilla, director of vehicle simulation products at Mechanical Dynamics Motorsport Group, the company which developed the customised ADAMS software for the Formula 1 teams.

Williams engineer Diego Milen, claimed the reconstruction showed Senna's Williams had suffered from oversteer thus forcing him to correct the trajectory on two occasions. This eventually led to the car leaving the track and impacting with the wall at the Tamburello curve.

State prosecutor Maurizio Passarini challenged the simulation and the validity of the data presented, saying that the Imola track surface is of diverse gradients whilst those used in the reconstruction were flat. Therefore these facts would influence the outcome of a car travelling at 310 km/h.

Passarini also noted that in the reconstruction Senna was said to have achieved pole position in qualifying on the Saturday, whereas Senna achieved the best time on the Friday and had refused to continue qualifying on the Saturday due to the death of Roland Ratzenberger.

This blunder left the Williams representatives somewhat red-faced.

Defence lawyers acting for Sagis also challenged the validity of the data used in the reconstruction which they defined as arbitrary and not verified. And through Bendinelli they maintained Williams had obtained their data through unofficial sources.

The final element in the proceedings concerned the film furnished by the FOCA in April to the court.

The images in this version are of Beta format and therefore of superior quality to those previously supplied, which were of VHS format.

For the prosecution this film will prove extremely relevant because it could show the actions of Senna's hands moments before his car left the track.

Having testified earlier this year, Alboreto was reportedly shocked when he viewed these new images and, due to the improved quality, he noticed the sideways movement of Senna's steering wheel.

The next trial session will be held on June 25.

The S Files