Conspiracy theorists love to point out that sometimes, conspiracy theories turn out to be true. Well, of course they do. Conspiracies are often discovered. One famous one surrounds the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, which resulted in the deaths of two drivers, including that greatest of all motorsports heroes, Ayrton Senna.
It was one of the worst races ever held. In qualifying, driver Rubens Barrichello was knocked into a coma in one of the most horrific crashes ever seen. Later, F1 rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed when he plowed into a tire barrier, dying from a basal skull fracture. All this before the race even started.
And once it did start, it got worse. An accident on the starting grid sent tires over the fence and into the spectators, injuring nine people. Two laps later, Senna, leading the race, went off the track and hit the wall, dying from a suspension bar that penetrated his helmet. This caused a long delay, sending shockwaves throughout the racing world. And then the race restarted again, and still the mayhem continued. A tire flew off a car in the pit lane, sending four mechanics to the hospital. The whole race weekend has been frequently described as a kind of bad dream, it just didn’t seem real.
But racing is a dangerous sport, and we should expect such things to happen. So where was the conspiracy?
The tiny nation of San Marino is small enough that it didn’t have its own race track, and so the race was actually held in Imola, Italy. Italian prosecutors ended up leveling manslaughter charges against six people, three of the heads of Senna’s team and three directors of the race and the circuit. All were eventually acquitted, but two of the cases dragged on for eleven years.
It seems silly to charge people with manslaughter when someone dies in a racing accident, doesn’t it? Formula One even threatened Italy with pulling all future races, saying that they wouldn’t race there if they had to be liable for criminal prosecution for accidents.
But it wasn’t as simple as that.
Italy has a law stating that when anyone is killed in a sporting event, that event is cancelled to allow for an investigation. Finished. Done. No exceptions. But let’s see, after Ratzenberger’s death, the event continued. And it even continued after Senna’s death. How could that be? The race weekend should have been cancelled when Ratzenberger died. If it had been, the spectators and the mechanics would never have been injured, and Ayrton Senna would have survived.
The allegation is that Formula One and the medical staff conspired to keep the deaths of both Ratzenberger and Senna secret until they had physically left the circuit in medevac helicopters; the law applies to deaths inside the confines of the venue. Both men’s times of death are listed after they left the track. So far as I’m aware, no legal action has followed this particular thread; prosecutors can’t really second guess the attending physicians who were there. But there have been conflicting announcements by doctors. Some have said both men died instantly, some have said both were still breathing until after they left the circuit. Basal skull fractures almost always cause instant death, and Senna’s head injuries were extensive, traumatic, and not survivable. The blood loss alone was rumored to have filled the footwell of his car.
Millions of dollars would have been lost by multiple parties had the race been cancelled. The track administrators alone stood to lose $6.5 million.
That circumstances favored theoretical conspirators does not prove a conspiracy took place. As I often say, every tragedy benefits someone somehow. Did this one happen?
source: © skepticblog.org by Brian Dunning