1997 Oct 30 - Nov 28 : NewSfile #9
Senna trial: The final countdown
On May 1 1994 Ayrton Senna was leading the San Marino GP when
suddenly his car veered inexplicably off the track. The Williams-Renault
crossed over both the grass and concrete run-off strips before
finally impacting with the concrete wall on the Tamburello curve.
Generally acknowledged to be the greatest racing driver
of all time Ayrton Senna was now dead.
Autopsy reports stated that a piece of the Williams' front
suspension, broken off during the impact with the wall, caused
a fatal blow to Senna's forehead. The piece was never
Italian law necessitated an official investigation into the
cause of Senna's fatal crash. The world waited. In 1996 charges
were finally brought against six people by the Italian justice
State prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, contended that a substandard
modification had been made to the steering column in Senna's
Williams. The column then suffered from metal fatigue brought
about by poor workmanship. This suspect modification finally
led to a total failure of Senna's steering column as he entered
the Tamburello at over 190 mph.
Unable to steer due to a useless steering wheel and unable
to brake sufficiently due to the design of the track surfaces,
the track edge acting like a launching ramp, even Senna's
skills could not save him from, what proved to be, a fatal impact
with the Tamburello wall.
Passarini brought charges against Frank Williams, Williams
team boss. Patrick Head, Williams technical director. Adrian
Newey, Williams chief designer. Federico Bendinelli, director
of Sagis, the company which held the Imola race. The FIA representative
at the race, Roland Bruynseraede, and circuit manager Georgio
The Senna trial began on February 20 1997.
The S Files
Senna not guilty
1997 November 7
On the day that heralded F1 race fixing allegations
in the world's press against the Williams and McLaren teams,
Maurizio Passarini, after nine months of legal action into the
death of Ayrton Senna, gave his closing statement to the court
The state prosecutor began with a recall of the events leading
to the fatal crash, again focusing on the steering column modifications
made by Williams. He referred to the events of that tragic 'Imola'
weekend, the death during qualifying of Roland Ratzenberger,
the initial accident at the start, the deployment of the safety
car and the race restart.
Passarini said that driver error must be excluded. Two investigations
from independent laboratories arrived at the same conclusions.
The steering column had signs of fatigue for 3/4 of the circumference
and for 40% of the section.
Reference was made to the testimony given by defence witness
McLaren driver David Coulthard regarding the normality
of the 2cm of oscillations shown on a Williams'
Almost certainly with a view to undermining comments made
earlier by Frank Williams, Passarini made a point of highlighting
the fact that after the race restart, Senna clocked what would
prove to be the third fastest lap of the race.
In March Stefano Stefanini, the head of Bologna's traffic
accident unit, testified that Senna with a fully loaded
car clocked 1min 24.887sec, only two drivers bettered it
- and that was at the end of the race.
Last week, after his appearance in court, Frank Williams speculated
that a loss of tyre pressure, due to the cooling of the tyres
whilst following the safety car, could have caused Senna's loss
Passarini also introduced the multi-media evidence showing
the behaviour of the car, telemetry information and Senna's last
moments at the wheel.
The 'black box' mystery
The state prosecutor also made it clear that he was unhappy
with some aspects of the defence, for example the contents of
the black box data recorder that was installed in Senna's
Williams-Renault. This box was said to have been smashed
during the accident and therefore the vital information it contained,
In March Fabrizio Nosco, the engineer who removed the two
black boxes from Senna's car after the crash, testified
that "apart from a few scratches both boxes looked to be
Passarini said that Senna's data recorder contained 20 memory
chips, but only two were damaged. The two being those whose data
would have been retained even when the power supply failed.
"It must be a coincidence, but it makes you wonder if
someone was very jealous regarding its contents," he said.
F1, lies and videotape
In a surprise move the state prosecutor announced that certain
officials from the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA)
are to be investigated over alleged false testimonies. The investigation
will be carried out by the attorney's office in Bologna.
Passarini has, in the past, commented about the problems encountered
by the prosecution in obtaining the final footage from Senna's
in-car camera. He claimed that the responses given by the FOCA
employees were 'disconcerting or downright comic, if not tragic.'
Bernie Ecclestone, at one time thought to be called as a witness,
is not directly concerned with this investigation.
Passarini did indicate however that letters received by the
legal authorities from Ecclestone would be examined to see if
there was a separate case to answer.
This could relate to the film taken from Senna's on-board
camera. The Williams team were provided with the footage within
a week of Senna's death whereas it took over 6 months for Passarini's
office to obtain the tape.
"This is typical of the disdain with which the Formula
One world has treated this enquiry," Passarini said.
Another FOCA employee, public relations executive Francesco
Longanesi Cattani, may also face investigation.
Later Passarini told reporters that those primarily involved
were Alan Woolard FOCA TV director, Eddie Baker FOCA TV producer
and Andrew James FOCA video switcher. These three individuals
were manning the control truck on May 1 1994 and were responsible
for working the video camera on Senna's car.
In order to allow the enquiry to commence, Passarini has asked
for their testimonies to be forwarded to the attorney's office.
Head of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) Max
Mosley and the FOCA maintain that the last second of Senna's
crash was never filmed as the coverage was switched to another
Passarini has always contended that the footage supplied from
Senna's in-car camera was incomplete because it stopped nine
tenths of a second before Senna's fatal impact. He said that
nine minutes had been spent following Senna's Williams and therefore
it was comical to believe that it was 'sheer coincidence' that
FOCA's TV staff decided to switch shots 0.9 seconds prior to
He did not believe the testimonies given by the FOCA television
employees who maintained that the car camera was switched from
Senna's vehicle to that of Gerhard Berger's by chance. A moment
later Ayrton Senna was dead.
The state prosecutor maintains that the camera was still running
at the time of the crash and believes the missing footage would
have proved his case: that the steering column snapped whilst
Senna was still on the track.
Four out of six cleared
In an apparent U-turn Passarini recommended that all charges
against Frank Williams, Roland Bruynseraede, Federico Bendinelli
and Giorgio Poggi be dropped.
As both Frank Williams and Federico Bendinelli merely dealt
with the administrative side of the business they could not be
held directly responsible for the crash which took the life of
Ayrton Senna, said Passarini.
Although safety standards at Tamburello were questionable,
Poggi and Bruynseraede did not commit any crime. Senna was killed
not by his car's impact with the Tamburello wall but because
a piece of suspension pierced his helmet causing fatal head injuries.
The question now is whether, if his car had been travelling at
a lower speed, Senna would still have died. As this issue is
in doubt, charges against Georgio Poggi and Roland Bruynseraede
should be dropped, declared the state prosecutor.
Also a lawyer, Federico Bendinelli said afterwards: "I
was convinced the circuit bore no responsibility for what happened,
and neither did Frank Williams. His position was the same as
mine. I was calm and confident from the start."
Head and Newey guilty
Passarini said however that both Patrick Head and Adrian Newey
should be convicted as they were both ultimately responsible
for the design changes made to Senna's car. The fact that Senna
asked for modifications doesn't reduce the responsibility of
the accused. A recommendation was made that the court should
award one-year suspended sentences to both defendants. The maximum
sentence is five years.
"Newey and Head designed the steering column modifications
badly and especially did not check how the plan was put into
execution," Passarini said.
Adrian Newey left Williams earlier this year to join McLaren.
It is high unlikely that the presiding judge, Antonio Costanzo,
will go against Passarini's recommendations although under Italian
law he is fully entitled to do so.
Giovanni Calcaterra, a lawyer retained by the Senna family
said: "I can't take a positive or negative position regarding
the prosecution's summing up. Now it's for the sentence to give
an exhaustive answer as to what happened to Senna."
The court sessions continue with the summing up of the defence
cases on November 11-12-14-18.
The prosecution replies will be heard on November 21.
The last court session is due to be held on November 26, with
the final ruling due mid December.
The S Files
Defence: closing statements
1997 November 19
Tuesday November 11 heralded the start of the summing up sessions
by the various defence lawyers.
Lawyer Manrico Bonetti, nephew of track director Georgio Poggi,
said that after a long career, which started in 1973 as a track
inspector, Poggi was due to retire after the Imola race on May
1 1994. He maintained that Poggi was a scrupulous executive and
there was a limit to his responsibilities. He asked therefore
for a full acquittal.
On Wednesday November 12, Roland Bruynseraede's lawyer, Causo,
said that the prosecution had a team of experts whose personalities
had strongly conditioned the investigation.
He argued that if the prosecution's case were to be believed
then the Imola track was in breach of the regulations and would
have to be demolished and rebuilt.
Landi, representing Sagis, concluded that Bendinelli and Poggi
have had operational roles since 1980. Then the jobs to the circuit,
requested and designed by Nosetto, were already approved and
under construction. Their activities have always been subject
to scrutiny by the FIA.
Thursday November 14 brought Adrian Newey's defence lawyers
Lanzi and Stortoni into action. They argued that Newey was not
directly involved with the alterations to Senna's steering column.
The prosecution, they maintained, should have taken into account
the actions of the two technicians who were responsible for the
steering modifications, namely Young and Fisher.
Stortoni said that the prosecution feels that although Newey
had not worked on the modifications directly he was ultimately
responsible. But, there is no proof that Newey ordered that job.
So much so that when Williams held an internal investigation
over the cause of the accident he (Newey) wasn't even asked to
attend, he said.
The job on the Williams was divided into sections and certainly
a co-ordinator existed. But there must be the principle of trust
between professionals, the principal excludes the examination
by the chief designer.
Our orientation accepts the connected risk to the activity
of motor racing, said Stortoni.
The final session for the defence came on November 18 with
closing statements from Head's lawyers, Dominioni and Gandossi.
Dominioni's strategy was to try and dissect the prosecution's
case. He launched his lengthy attack, against the prosecution's
technical advisors, saying that Passarini had never asked them
whether a lack of stability in Senna's car, caused by the track
surface, could have caused the fatal crash.
Dominioni told the court: "Passarini's reconstruction
of the incident which cost the life of Ayrton Senna has no basis
in proof, it is unfounded and those accused must be cleared."
He said that the steering column of Senna's was the same as
Damon Hill's, both having been designed prior to the start of
the 1994 racing season.
From the testimony of Allgass, one of the prosecution's experts,
it emerged that he (Allgass) couldn't say whether a part constructed
with the safety equal to a coefficient of 1 could have broken,
The fatigue on the piece denounced by the prosecution should
have been revealed at 350 thousand cycles (a cycle is any fit
application which provokes wear on the part); but the steering
column, inspected after the first two GP's of that season, had
experienced 27 thousand cycles, a value clearly lower than the
The question then is: when and why, because up to the last
control check with the penetrating liquids this had not been
"Unfortunately, in life exists the unpredictable, the
unforeseen event and the inexplicable," he said.
There are contradictions within the prosecution's case, above
all those of Forghieri over the pressures of the tyres. The experts
tell of two undulations, that then become one and at the end
three, but they don't mention the more important one at the time
of 11"24 that caused the problem with Senna's car, as shown
by the telemetry.
On the fundamental point of the tyre pressure, the experts
called by the prosecution have relied on presumptive evaluations
and not actual data. Goodyear disagree with Forghieri. The reconstructions
done by the prosecution are wrong. The temporal logic and dynamics
of the incident, that began at the time of 11"24 in consequence
of a violent collision on the track, caused one swerve of the
car, and resultant oversteer as Senna tried to correct.
Here the prosecution maintain that the steering column broke
because the Williams veered to the right, and in the 60 metres
off the track Senna didn't try to steer. Not because the wheels
didn't react to the steering, but because Senna with great clarity
kept the wheels straight to achieve the best possible braking.
It is useless to compare the Friday session times with those
of the accident because conditions were unequal. As Senna's on-board
camera was not of fixed rigidity the film cannot be relied upon
due to optical illusions.
Alboreto accused Coulthard of not speaking the truth regarding
the oscillations of the Williams' steering wheel, he is in turn
unreliable and prejudiced.
I therefore ask for the acquittal of Williams and Head for
they have not committed any crime. The incident didn't occur
through the breaking of the steering column.
Dominioni said that the cause of Senna's fatal loss of control
was still unknown. He reiterated the theory given by Frank Williams,
who earlier had stated that Ayrton Senna's crash could have been
the result of a combination of cold tyres and the uneven track
The response of the prosecution to the summing up of the defence
case will be heard on November 21, followed by the defence response
to that on November 26.
The S Files
It's almost over
1997 November 28
Maurizio Passarini replied to the defences' closing statements
at the penultimate session of the Senna trial held on November
The state prosecutor told the court that the Tamburello curve,
even though subjected to alterations in 1989, was still a very
dangerous place which exposed the cars to a strong mechanical
stress. The modifications previously undertaken should have encompassed
the elevating of the shoulder by 30-40cm to conform to the regulations.
Passarini disproved the objections raised by the Williams
defence by saying that it was untrue that the prosecution's experts
had not considered the theory of instability, which in
1 out of 50 cases could account for a car leaving the track.
All aspects of the track had been examined he said, and everyone
was aware that the underside of the car had been subjected to
violent contact with the ground.
The state prosecutor maintained that Williams' reconstruction
of the incident must be discounted. He claimed that their data
was disproved by the telemetry, which did not show that Senna,
whilst trying to correct an over-steer problem, had under-steered.
In fact quite the opposite, what impressed about Senna's car
was the factor that with the diminution of the lateral acceleration,
the torsion applied to the steering column reached zero which
signified that Senna had abandoned using the steering.
Passarini said that this was not to achieve an optimum braking
level however, but because, at this point, the steering column
broke. If the steering column was performing normally then this
should have been shown by the telemetry.
It is permissible to have doubts over when and where Senna's
steering column was modified, he said, but pointless to say that
the steering column on Hill's car was of the same standard. It
is not a valid defence to say that this breaking is considered
an unpredictable phenomenon and that there is not a causal link
between the incident and the death of the driver.
The breaking of the steering column was the main cause, without
this the car would not have left the track. Because of the senior
positions held by Head and Newey at Williams, they cannot claim
to be exempt from the responsibilities of quality control.
Adrian Newey's lawyer brought the day's proceedings to its
conclusion arguing that the main point of their defence was unassailable.
The nine month trial into Ayrton Senna's death drew to a close
on November 26 1997.
State prosecutor, Maurizio Passarini, again repeated his request
for Adrian Newey and Patrick Head to be found guilty of manslaughter,
having now dropped charges against Federico Bendinelli, Giorgio
Poggi, Roland Bruynseraede and Frank Williams.
Asking for the acquittal of their respective clients, the
various lawyers for the six accused gave their final statements.
Judge Antonio Costanzo retired to consider the verdict which
should be announced at 13.30 GMT on December 16 1997.
The S Files