THE Senna Files


1997 Sept 1 - Oct 3 : NewSfile #7

Alboreto: Senna knew of problem

1997 September 16

The trial into the death of Ayrton Senna reopened at Imola today when chief prosecutor Maurizio Passarini recalled a former witness - Michele Alboreto, ex-Formula One driver.

At a previous court hearing on March 17 1997 Alboreto had said, after viewing a VHS video of the crash, that he felt mechanical failure was the cause of Senna's failure to negotiate the Tamburello curve. He told reporters: "I hope this trial helps us understand what happened to Senna, because it still isn't clear."

Today in court Alboreto again told magistrate Antonio Costanzo "You don't go off on that bend (Tamburello) unless there is a mechanical failure."

He also stated that on circuits like Imola the stresses and strains subjected on the steering column would cause flexing -- "in the order of two or three millimetres."

Defend Senna's memory

Senna had already realised that something was wrong at the previous bend, Alboreto claimed, because he had lifted his foot on and off the accelerator.

He later told reporters: "I'm even more convinced that it was a technical problem that caused Senna to crash now I have seen the video."

"There is a tape which shows the flexing movement of the steering wheel was two to three centimetres. No steering wheel moves a few centimetres.

"Should the court accept this film as evidence it will prove that something was wrong with Senna's car.

"I hope this trial will come to the defence of a man, a great driver, who is no longer with us.

"Shortly after his death I heard ridiculous stories -- that the crash was caused by Ayrton fainting or because he was thinking about his fiancee.

"Senna deserves the recognition that he was not to blame for his own death. I don't want to see anyone go to prison, but his memory must be protected and I find it annoying when people attempt to defend positions which are indefensible."

Coulthard: Steering movement normal

Acting for Frank Williams and Patrick Head, lawyer Oreste Dominioni has asked for a testimony from David Coulthard who at the time of Senna's death was a test driver for the Williams team.

Coulthard gave a written statement saying that the amount of movement seen on the steering wheel of Senna's car was normal.

Coulthard's statement is in direct contradiction to that given by Alboreto.

Alboreto told reporters: "Coulthard has the prospect of a long career in Formula One."

Charges of manslaughter have been brought against six men including Williams team owner Frank Williams, chief designer Adrian Newey and Patrick Head technical director.

The S Files

Senna trial schedule

1997 September 16

The dates for the next trial sessions are September 22, 23, and October 3.

The S Files

Alboreto versus Coulthard

1997 September 17

David Coulthard, ex-test driver for Williams in 1994, has been asked to attend the Senna trial on September 22. Coulthard had been due to appear at yesterday's hearing, September 16, but failed to attend.

Williams' lawyer Oreste Dominioni maintained that as Coulthard would not be available until the end of the F1 season his written statement should be accepted.

Maurizio Passarini stated that as Coulthard resides in nearby Monaco he shouldn't have a problem with travelling 400 km in order to attend the trial. However if Coulthard's written deposition added nothing further to that already offered by the defence then it should not be admitted.

Dominioni requires the examination of both Coulthard and Alboreto as they are in direct conflict over the movement shown on Senna's steering wheel.

Alboreto's testimony, which was very direct and impassioned, stated that movement is allowed, considering the torsion inflicted by the arms of the driver and the composition of the material. Oscillation could depend on the distance from the support, but only by 2-3 millimetres, not by some centimetres. He added that this opinion was formed from his many years of experience of the Imola circuit and others around the world.

Coulthard supports the Williams' theory that the movement seen on the Betamax video was perfectly normal.The magistrate, Antonio Costanzo, accepted the testimony of Coulthard but only with the proviso that he appears in person.

Outside the courtroom Alboreto said he was convinced that Senna's crash was caused by mechanical failure and not driver error. He stated that he was semi-retired and that fact allowed him to speak freely.

He added: People involved in F1 don't want to be thought hostile towards the environment. No one will go to prison for this, and that is logical as the whole sport entails risks hardly avoidable. But this trial is obliged to at least defend the memory of two drivers, I talk also of Ratzenberger, they cannot defend themselves. It bothers me that in all this people are defending positions which are indefensible.

The chief prosecutor then staged a long dialectical duel with the Williams defence lawyers, engineers and Mike Gutilla, on the simulation elaborated by Williams which tried to prove that the behaviour of Senna's car was to that of the simulator.

Passarini using the images from Senna's in-car camera to prove that Senna steered to the right, recalled the famous yellow button on the steering wheel. Another Williams expert, Vitali, said the movements visible were not only circulatory as dictated by the force of the torsion.

Finally Stirano showed a video produced at the laboratory using a 1994 car taken from the teams' F1 museum. The film, which had a driver at the wheel simulating the same movements as those made during a race, according to the defence, showed a reconstruction of the oscillations of Senna's steering wheel before the accident, with the yellow button that moved in a springy compatible way conducive to the materials used and the imposed effort from the driver.

However the film did not impress Maurizio Passarini:

"The film shown today has the same value as the defendant who says 'I wasn't in that place on that night', said the state prosecutor. "It remains the comment of a defendant."

The written statement submitted by Coulthard said that the steering wheel in the McLaren which he drove in 1996 behaved similarly.

The next court hearing will be on September 22 with the testimony of David Coulthard (if he attends) and other consultants.

Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey are all scheduled to appear on October 3.

The S Files

Not the reactions of Senna

1997 September 23

The court reconvened Monday 22nd September for an afternoon session which was devoted to the counter-examination of the Williams computer simulation shown on September 16.

Maurizio Passarini introduced Professor Fanghella, University of Genoa, to question Williams' engineer Diego Minen.

Professor Fanghella said: My graphs showed that when superimposing the traces of the real telemetry onto those of the simulation there was a temporal difference of 1.5 secs. Regarding Tamburello, the responses in the sim do not relate to those of Senna.

In comparing the two graphs there were discrepancies of 25% 50% and in some cases 100%. The simulation captures only the course of the vehicle, not the corrections made by the driver. The steering wheel is not in relationship with the angle of the steering wheel in the program.

Minen replied: The relationship between the steering trajectory and the steering wheel is not comparable due to the unstable track surface. A phenomenon which happened only once but which, for Williams, is the reason that Senna left the track. The temporal difference in the telemetry real-simulation is of 1.2 secs and this is not relevant. It is impossible to quantify the angle of the steering applied by the driver by looking at the yellow button on the steering wheel.

The track officials

On Tuesday September 23 Federico Bendinelli and Roland Bruynseraede were questioned. Bendinelli is the director of Sagis the company which runs the Imola circuit, Bruynseraede was the FIA delegate present at Imola on May 1, the day Ayrton Senna lost his life. Georgio Poggi, circuit manager, was not well enough to attend.

State prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, maintains Senna's accident was initially caused by steering column failure, the secondary cause being his inability to brake sufficiently, this was caused by the raised edge of the track -- which prohibited the car's wheels from gripping the surface.

The first testimony came from Bruynseraede who granted the license to the Imola circuit in 1994. He stated that he had made an inspection of the track two months prior to the race, and those responsible for the circuit had always observed any demands made to improve safety -- which the FIA can make after each GP -- for the year following.

The last track inspection was made on the Wednesday preceding the race and nothing was found to cause concern. The FIA had never required alterations to Tamburello and I had never received complaints from the drivers regarding that part of the track. He added that in any case, he had not been involved in the bureaucratic procedures by which the Imola circuit obtained its licence from the FIA.

Bendinelli's testimony followed, he stated that the Imola circuit had been modified but all alterations were carried with the approval of the FIA.

He said that the FIA had never found fault with the angle at the track's edge neither before nor after Senna's crash. Adding that the Imola and many other circuits had modified their layouts after 1994 following a series of accidents.

"Critical situations were being created for the cars," Bendinelli stated, "most likely because of the abolition of active suspension.
"The FIA took remedial action with changes to the circuits, especially the faster ones and also to the cars."

The FIA felt that drivers were relying too much on computers and therefore the human element was being lost from the sport.

Senna welcomed the abolition of active suspension and was one of its most vocal opponents.

In 14 years he had received only one request to alter the circuit. This came from Alain Prost who in 1989 was acting as the drivers' representative. Prost requested that a grass verge at Tamburello be cemented over to allow drivers to brake more quickly and give more control should they exit the track at that point. The modifications demanded by the FIA were of common disposition and not solely aimed at the Imola circuit.

Bendinelli's lawyer, Roberto Landi, asked his client about the modifications to Tamburello.

"Tamburello is now different to previously," Bendinelli concluded "but the track gradient with the run-off area is the same as before the alteration." In the meantime Sagis has gotten three validations from the FIA.

Maurizio Passarini made a move against the Williams team, aiming at the written statement given by David Coulthard.

Coulthard has said he cannot participate in the trial proceedings until the current Formula One season is completed on October 26.

Passarini said on Tuesday that unless Coulthard is present at the trial session to be held on October 28, his statement should not be admitted as evidence.

The trial will resume October 3 with Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey in attendance.

On October 28 Couthard is expected to testify and October 31 should bring Maurizio Passarini's closing statements.

The S Files

Williams: No room at the inn

1997 October 3

It took only five minutes for judge Antonio Costanzo to adjourn today's session of the Senna trial after Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey failed to attend.

Lawyers representing the Williams 3 maintained that due to a ceramics trade fair being held in Bologna all hotel rooms in the Imola area were fully booked. Subsequently, their clients had found it impossible to secure accommodation.

The trial is set to resume on October 28 with David Coulthard scheduled to testify.

Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey should now appear on October 29.

Provisional trial dates

Negotiations between the parties concerned took in excess of two hours before provisional future trial dates were agreed upon.

On November 7 Maurizio Passarini will begin summing up the case for the prosecution.

Further sessions scheduled, primarily for the defence, are:

November 10 - 11 - 12, 14 - 17 - 18 and 21.

The S Files