THE Senna Files


1997 Jun 25 - Aug 31 : NewSfile #6

Senna Trial: The Black Hole

1997 June 25

A TV special entitled "Senna Trial: The Black Hole" was transmitted yesterday by the Italian station Italia 1.

The program produced by Alessandro Mischi, Giorgio Teruzzi and Luca Budel analysed the evidence presented so far in the trial, the 13th session of which resumed today at Imola.

The TV program detailed the various phases of the investigation which included:

Incongruities (the 14 seconds of interference) in the video images transmitted from Senna's in-car camera and those of Berger's.

Film of a Damon Hill pit stop taken on May 1 1994 which depicted two Williams technicians, one of whom apparently removed something from the front of Hill's car, possibly a sensor.

Williams were later fined $10,000 for infringing regulations which maintain that flameproof overalls should be worn in these circumstances.

The infamous I don't remember testimony given by Damon Hill at the trial session on June 2.

The existence of a super-witness, namely a French engineer, who immediately after Senna's crash was responsible for downloading the telemetry data contained within the Renault black box.

Presumably a Renault employee, this individual who was said to be known to the state prosecution, has not revisited Italy nor attended any further Grand Prix, and has not yet testified.

The S Files

Williams: Steering column was perfect

1997 June 26

The trial continued on Wednesday June 25 with testimonies regarding the modifications made to Ayrton Senna's steering column.

Witnesses were called by the Williams' defence lawyers, the first and most significant being Tony Pilcher, in charge of production for the Williams team.

Pilcher was asked by Dominioni if he was involved with the manufacture of modified parts for the steering column assembly, Pilcher replied that he was responsible for the production.

This modification is thought by the prosecution to have caused the accident in which Ayrton Senna died.

Professor Stortoni, the lawyer representing Adrian Newey, then raised an objection asking whether Pilcher was under investigation, this was overruled by the judge.

Dominioni then continued by showing two drawings of the steering assembly to Pilcher who explained:

The original drawing was dated February 3 1994. It shows the steering column of the FW15 to be 905mm long. This was elaborated from the plans of Alan Young and was given to him (Pilcher) on March 10 1994 for production.

As Senna requested a modification, the new column measurements were to be 917.3mm and two new elements were introduced. The assembly consisted of nine components each manufactured simultaneously by different departments at Williams.

The assembly was produced to specified standards, and inspected to assure conformity between drawing and product. If the part failed inspection procedures it would either be reworked or discarded.

The same procedure also applied to the quality of the workmanship, if satisfactory the piece and its components would be placed in the stores.

Each item would carry a label of identification, and from there would be withdrawn for fitment to the car by the technicians. Williams produced three column assemblies and the modifications were executed immediately after March 10, to be in time for the Grand Prix of Brazil.

All the manufacture was contained at the Williams factory.

The defence strategy was to show that the steering column modifications had not been performed in a rash or hasty manner and that Senna's steering column was the same as Hill's. Pilcher's testimony supported this.

Maurizio Passarini then questioned Pilcher regarding the dates of the modifications and the materials used.

Pilcher testified that at least 2-3 days were required for that type of modification.

The parts were machined from two types of compatible steel, T45 and EN14.

Other Williams witnesses were Max Nightingale, responsible for the aerodynamics and hydraulic steering. Williams first utilised the power steering system in the 1994 season.

He (Nightingale) was asked about the tests performed after the Senna incident with respect to the steering and suspension.

Nightingale said: Patrick Head had asked for the tests to be performed. Our data was based on the high peaks of Senna's telemetry, which were probably due to bumps on the track. These are incompatible with a break otherwise they would have reset. As a precautionary measure the power steering was disabled on Hill's car after Senna's crash.

The testimony of Simon Wells, responsible for the hydraulic tests, followed.

Wells testified that he had not found any signs of stress on the steering of Damon Hill's car, but he had not carried out a test.

Passarini then accused Wells "of being a technician who conducted an examination that he is unable to accomplish."

There has been no confirmation of the report contained in the TV program "Senna Trial: The Black Hole" and broadcast on June 24 by the Italian TV station Italia 1.

The program stated: A mysterious Mr. X (presumed to be a French engineer) would know the truth about the crash in which Ayrton Senna died.

Maurizio Passarini would make no comment when asked about this news, and the Williams lawyers said they had no knowledge of the program.

Roberto Causo, the FIA lawyer was more forthcoming saying that the French engineer only transported the box from Imola to Paris.

Dates for the next hearings have been amended as follows:

The June 30th session is cancelled, the next session will be on July 3.

The S Files

Williams engineers testify

1997 July 4

On Thursday July 3, in the first of this weeks Senna manslaughter trial hearings, Williams' engineers Gary Woodward and Richard Stanford testified for the defence. They maintained that the crash in which Ayrton Senna died was not caused by steering column failure.

Gary Woodward who was responsible for the anterior mechanics of Senna's car, and therefore the steering column, testified that the column in Senna's Williams-Renault was carefully checked before the race.

Woodward said: After each GP the cars are subjected to a crack-test, using penetrating liquids to identify any fractures in the suspensions or steering columns.

The steering columns are replaced halfway through the season. The tests carried out after the Japanese GP found no defects in Senna's car.

At that point Maurizio Passarini asked him if he was aware of the modifications made to Senna's steering column and Woodward replied: Steering column modifications, which complied with the rules, were made to Senna's car. All three cars suffered the same modifications prior to the race in Brazil.

Simon Scoins, a Williams electronics engineer responsible for the downloading of telemetry, admitted he had taken the Williams black box from Senna's car after the crash.

Scoins said: I was shocked when I lifted the material cover from Senna's car. The Williams data recorder was above the gearbox, 180cm from its natural position. Three of the four connectors were disconnected or damaged, I carried it to the garage where I attempted to connect it. It was useless. I tried inserting the ram card but without success. I have no knowledge of the Renault data recorder.

Composite materials specialist Brian O'Rourke, a long-standing member of the Williams team, testified: As the right front wheel of Senna's car hit the wall, the violent impact caused a torsion on the steering column, causing it to break.

Strange oscillations

On Friday July 4 Maurizio Passarini introduced the enhanced Betacam video images.

These images were taken from Senna's in-car camera and according to the prosecution show anomalies regarding Senna's steering column.

Two fixed points were shown located on Senna's steering wheel: a yellow button and a V mark, the first with a distant radius 83mm from the center of the steering wheel, the second of 55mm.

Relative arcs showed the shift of the points indicated with reference to two moments in the race, the period behind the safety car and the first lap of the restarted race.

Then Passarini produced a new video regarding the evidence. The circumference traced from the yellow button was relative to the movements of the chassis, whereas just before the crash the yellow button lowers to the level of the V, which is a deflection of 28mm.

Dominioni introduced a video brought from the factory: the steering of Senna's car showed it had a flexibility of 15mm.

Forghieri exploded: Any pilot would have refused to drive with steering in that condition.

The next trial session is scheduled for July 9.

The S Files

Senna could not have survived

1997 July 9

In the last Senna trial hearing prior to the summer recess it was war in the courtroom between the prosecution and the Imola track defence lawyers.

Witnesses were Roberto Nosetto and Professor Antonio Dal Monte, prosecution; for the circuit Minelli, Marchionna, Saliti (general secretary of the Csai) and Muscioni (inspector and member of safety for the FIA).

Roberto Causo, defence lawyer for the FIA delegate Roland Bruynseraede (present in court for the first time) attacked the conditions with regard to the concrete run-off area and the escape route from the track at the time of the crash.

Nosetto, who in '80 to '89 was director of Santerno (the company responsible for the circuit) explained:

There were two rules, that of the Csai of '62 and an international one which had evolved with time. The wall at Tamburello into which Ayrton Senna crashed met the standard. It was constructed of resilient cement, made to absorb any impact at an angle not exceeding 30 degrees. Senna's impact was 22 degrees.

In 1989 when he (Nosetto) finished his administration, to the rear of the grass border, a course layer of wide cement was constructed measuring 9-13 metres. This area was to allow for emergency manoeuvres.

The prosecution then asked Nosetto about the way in which Senna's Williams-Renault left the track: Leaving the circuit the Williams flew, in the sense that that the front wheels rose and fell leaving tyre tracks which could be seen. It then crossed over the grass/cement areas, with a breaking distance of 38.5 meters which happened in 0.6 secs.

On the track the deceleration was of 4 G, on the grass/cement of 0.8 G.

Lawyer Roberto Landi then intervened saying:

The word 'flew' is misleading. Better to say 'a slight lifting'.

Professor Dal Monte stated: The Williams lost ground adhesion. The average gradient of the track then was +3.1%, the average of the escape shoulder +2.1%. At Tamburello there was not a way of escape as denoted by the regulations. There was not enough space to reduce the speed of the car.

Nosetto said: The escape area should have had the same inclination as the track. There could be some undulations provided that the ideal line of track continuation was consistent, without gradients, and with a maximum radius of 50 metres.

Then the defence lawyers for the Imola circuit produced a CD, based on the telemetry data, full of diagrams with which Giavotto reconstructed the real and optimal breaking times.

According to this presentation Senna hit the wall at 188km/h against the 216km/h calculated by the experts for the prosecution.

In ideal conditions Senna would have crashed at 167km/h, against the 140km/h estimated by the prosecution.

But in both cases the front right wheel of Senna's car would have become detached, hitting his head at the same point, and with enough force to kill.

The S Files

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