Roland Ratzenberger July 4th 1960 - April 30th 1994
“I can not allow any accident. Our annual budget is equal to the salary of Gerhard Berger. We have no money to fix cars. “
– Roland Ratzenberger , 1994
Ayrton Senna wanted victory at Imola in 1994, not so much for himself as for the Roland Ratzenberger. In his Williams cockpit they found the Austrian flag that he wanted to raise in Roland’s honor. Unfortunately, a tragic accident forever take him away.Portal ayrton-senna.net honors and devotes one page to Roland Ratzenberger, the talented Racer who lived for its dreams.
On July 4th 1960, the United States celebrated Independence Day and had just added the Hawaiian star to the national flag, confirming the presence of a 50th state; while thousands of miles away in the city of Salzburg Austria, Roland Ratzenberger was born.
Ratzenberger was a relatively late starter in motor racing and was only getting his stride in his early-mid twenties when he himself in German Formula Ford in 1983. Fearing that his age could potentially get in his way, Ratzenberger would often inform teams that he was two years younger than he actually was, to make him more attractive to owners and sponsors alike and it was a tactic that worked fairly often. With forays into Austrian and Central European Formula Ford championships, he built himself a reputation as a likeable and hard working; if not the most formidable challenger in a given field.
With a couple of years racing behind him, Ratzenberger decided this was the best opportunity to enter the famous Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. The Austrian only needed two attempts to take a win at the race – claiming second at his first attempt and then winning in 1986 and it was enough to see Ratzenberger move up to British Formula 3.
Ratzenberger would become a popular figure during his brief time in Formula 3, as the Austrian gained minor fame when his children’s TV namesake Roland Rat invited the driver onto TV-am for a guest appearance.
It was not enough to push the Austrian on and two years in the Formula 3 Championship only brought rewards of a pair of 12th places overall. Roland would then spend the next few years, moving between British Formula 3000, the World Touring Car Championships and the British Touring Car Championships. As his thirtieth birthday approach, Ratzenberger’s Formula 1 dream was all but extinct.
When the 1990’s started, it seemed as if Ratzenberger had nicely settled into a career of sportscar racing. Five attempts at the Le Mans 24 Hour Race had resulted in a best finish of fifth overall for SARD Racing in their Toyota 93 C-V, while also tackling the Japanese Sports Prototype Championship for the same squad. His stints in the Far East would see Ratzenberger join Formula Nippon for the 1992-93 seasons, finishing 7th and 11th respectively and picking up a pole position and a victory at Suzuka in the process. However, where some drivers would disappear completely in the motor racing minefield that is Japan, Ratzenberger occasionally “asked” journalists to ensure stories of his eastern exploits would make motorsports news back in Europe – even though he was thousands of miles away, Roland was keeping himself in the European fram.
The 33-year-old was signed by Simtek Racing in a five race deal to compete in the 1994 Formula 1 World Championship – against all odds, the Austrian had achieved his dream; however it did not have a good beginning. The Simtek S941 arrived very late, having to be completely reworked once active suspension was banned at the end of the 1993 season, leaving Wirth to produce a fairly basic and overweight car twinned with a Ford engine that was low on power. Come the first race of the season, Ratzenberger failed to qualify.
As the Grand Prix circus ventured to Aida for the second race of the year, Ratzenberger excelled at a circuit he knew well from his Formula Nippon days. The Austrian would line up last on the grid, some 1.8 seconds slower than his teammate David Brabham, but would bring the car home in 11th place, albeit some five laps down on eventual race winner, Michael Schumacher.
Then there was Imola…
Remembering Roland Ratzenberger
Impact on Ayrton Senna
He lived for his dream
The 1994 Formula 1 season has gone down in history as one of the most exciting, yet tragic in the history of the sport, but Roland would not live to see it. The rest of the year was filled with brilliant drives, controversies and fantastic developments. Nigel Mansell would make a historic return from Indycar and David Coulthard would emerge from his reserve driver role – both would drive in Senna’s place at various points in the season. At Simtek, money continued to be tight and the heavily damaged chassis’ would only increase the cost and the pressure on the owners of the fledgling squad. Following Montermini’s brief drive for the team, Simtek propped up their second seat with drives from Jean-Marc Gounon, Domenico Schiattarella and the woeful Taki Inoue. By the middle of the 1995 season, Simtek had disappeared from Formula 1.
His death shocked the whole Formula 1 community – coming just 24 hours after the intervention of Professor Sid Watkins saved Rubens Barrichello from swallowing his tongue, so saving his life, post accident. After Roland’s fatal crash, pit lane crews were described as ‘being a white as sheets’ with everyone being very emotional. Williams mechanics were hugging Jordan mechanics, as the F1 world absorbed the first on track driver death for 12 years, the first since Riccardo Paletti at Montreal in 1982. The Simtek team ran the rest of the season with ‘For Roland’ on the air box. Eddie Irvine took his ’94 SARD Le Mans seat and drove with Roland’s name on the car out of respect.
By all accounts, Roland was warm, enthusiastic, intelligent and immensely popular; he was more a person than a racing driver and was most definitely not a corporate body that compete in the series today. He had achieved his dream of getting to Formula 1 and was tragically killed before he could fully reap the rewards.
Twenty years on, Ayrton Senna will be remembered for the genius he was. His legion of fans will make their pilgrimage to his grave in Sao Paolo and leave mementos, flowers and flags. But there is another grave, in Maxglan. And we shouldn’t forget about it.
sources [formulaspy.com | sidepodcast.com | the42.ie]
“When I saw him I remember giving him a bit of a hug and saying, ‘You’ve made it’. He said: ‘It’s been a little bit tougher for me than you!’ He was probably the very last one who had been his own mechanic, working on his Formula Ford car, who got to F1.”