Following the recent death of Ayrton Senna, at Imola, FIA President Max Mosley made the following comment during a radio interview: “During the last 12 accident free years (he meant deathfree years, God knows there have been accidents), active suspension has only been with us for the last two.” I seem to recall that Mansell drove a Lotus 93, with active suspension, in the Brazil and USA Grands Prix, in 1983! And surely Lotus won the Detroit Grand Prix in 1986 using active ride suspension?
On Wednesday May 4, the BBC transmitted a tribute to Senna. Part of an FIA press conference was shown where Mosley stated that: . . Senna’s car hit the wall at the wrong angle!” I would like to know just what angle Senna should have hit the wall at, while moving at that speed? I would have thought that there was no “safe angle”.
I found the answer to this statement on page 495 of MOTOR SPORT, May 1986, where he stated in an interview: “It does not matter very much from the point of motor racing as a whole if a driver gets hurt.” Having lost employers, friends, and heroes to this sport, I thought that it mattered a great deal. Try telling that to the people of Brazil.
All first year students at law school are taught. “Never have a conscience.” It appears that Mr Mosley has learnt this lesson well. The BBC is not blameless, either. Having praised Senna and called him a friend, the Corporation could not resist replaying the accident time and again.
l am still at school, and never knew Ayrton Senna. I have only ever been able to watch his inspiring driving on TV. This was, however, more than enough to capture his dynamic presence. For someone l had never met, Ayrton’s death was still both a huge shock and a dreadful loss, which left those who admired and respected him reeling at the catastrophic accident at Imola on Sunday May 1.
I find it hard to express the feelings and thoughts that are going through my head now, and those which I experienced on the day of his death. Ayrton Senna, in his own personal way, enticed many to watch and rewatch the races in which he took part.
His style of driving was such that whenever he was racing you knew it was going to be exciting to watch. Of that there was never any doubt. There will be a huge void, which may never disappear totally. Ayrton was not only a hero in his native Brazil, but a hero for many people of all ages all over the world.
I, like thousands of others everywhere in the world, will miss Ayrton Senna. His talent and skill really did set him aside from other drivers. As someone wrote on a bouquet of flowers placed at the Williams headquarters, the team will find a replacement, but Formula 1 never will.
In the wake of the worst weekend in Formula 1 Grand Prix racing history there has been much speculation as to the events and circumstances which led to the two fatalities.
The decision this season by FIA, the sport’s governing body, to ban the so-called driver aids seems to be no more than purely circumstantial. Electronic aids such as active suspension and traction control were only effectively introduced over the past two seasons. Prior to this there had been 10 years of Formula 1 racing without a fatality. Motor racing is by definition a dangerous sport and the risks involved in Formula 1 are well documented. There has always been associated with the sport a catalogue of racing accidents and crashes.
There always will be. The reasons therefore for the reduced number of deaths over the past 15 years have not been due to a reduction in the incidence of accidents themselves, but due to other factors such as the improved safety cell incorporated into the monocoque chassis and, possibly most important of all, the introduction of sand trap run-off areas. There have been huge advances made in the design of the cars themselves and in particular in the monocoque chassis. The carbon fibre now used is extremely strong and has the ability of withstanding and even absorbing impact better than any metal alloy. It is rare for this chassis to disintegrate on impact, the only exception Martin Donnelly’s horrific accident at Jerez in 1990.
There would appear to be little more that can be done to improve the safety of the driver’s cockpit. The second significant improvement concerns not the cars but the circuits on which they are raced, in particular sand traps which are designed to bring an out-of control vehicle to a halt before any impact with the surroundings can occur. These sand traps have been most effective; potentially, the worst injuries arise when a racing car collides at speed with a barrier. The inquiry into Ayrton Senna’s death may reveal why his Williams-Renault seemingly left the circuit inexplicably at Tamburello, although it would be untrue to say that this led to his death. Granted it was a contributing factor to the circumstances, but the fatal injuries were caused by the impact suffered when the car hit the concrete wall at such speed.
Had there been a sand trap run-off area on the outside of the corner then the outcome may have been quite different. Then again, hindsight is an exact science and there was unfortunately no run-off area. Imola is undeniably a circuit of historical significance; and that’s where it should remain. Modem Formula 1 racing cars have become too fast for the circuit in its existing format. Without the introduction of safety legislation enforced by the FIA, the circuit should be excluded from the 1995 F1 calendar. F1 needs a rough equivalent of soccer’s Taylor Report aimed at the venues rather than the vehicles. The money that is poured into research and development is often justified by the fact that the technology eventually filters down to the production of normal family cars.
This can be illustrated by the advances made in chassis and suspension development and, most recently, traction control, which is now beginning to be fitted to mass produced cars. It seems ironic that the latest safety feature to be fitted to the mass market, the air bag, has bypassed Formula 1. Maybe the sport of Formula can still learn from the lowly manufacturers such as Vauxhall; such a device might well have prevented one, if not both, of the deaths witnessed in San Marino.
Ayrton Senna was without doubt one of the finest Formula 1 drivers ever. Although his death was tragic and premature, it has served as an untimely reminder of risks involved in motor racing. It would be even more tragic if no lessons were learnt from this.
It is only right that our sport should be paying its respects to the late Ayrton Senna at this time.
Amidst all the tributes, I just hope that poor Roland Ratzenberger’s career won’t be completely overlooked. He may not have been a world champion, but he was still a highly gifted driver, not to mention a gentleman. He will be missed.