As far as public memory goes, Ayrton Senna’s Williams-Renault F1 car is perhaps the most infamous car of all time.
At the third race of the 1994 F1 season, at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Senna, having not finished the two opening races of the season, declared that this was where his season would start in which to win the title. Senna had placed the car on pole for the 65th time, but he was particularly upset by two events. On Friday, during the afternoon qualifying session, Senna’s protégé Rubens Barrichello was involved in a serious accident when he slammed violently into the tyres at the Variante Bassa chicane, swallowing his tongue and suffering a broken nose and arm, which prevented him from competing in the race. The next day Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed in qualifying in a devastating accident when the front wing broke on his Simtek-Ford while going flat out at the fast Villeneuve right-hander bend and into the concrete wall.
Senna spent his final morning meeting fellow drivers, determined after Ratzenberger’s accident to take on a new responsibility to re-create a Drivers’ Safety group (i.e. Grand Prix Drivers’ Association) to increase safety in Formula One. As the most senior driver, he offered to take the role of leader in this effort.
Senna and the other drivers all opted to start the Grand Prix, but the race was interrupted by a huge accident at the start line when JJ Lehto’s Benetton-Ford stalled, and an unsighted Pedro Lamy rammed him in his Lotus-Mugen Honda at nearly full speed. On the restart Senna immediately set a quick pace with the third quickest lap of the race, followed by Schumacher. As Senna entered the high-speed Tamburello corner on the next lap, the car left the track at high speed, hitting the concrete retaining wall at around 135 mph (217 km/h). Senna was removed from the car by Sid Watkins and his medical team and treated by the side of the car before being airlifted to Bologna hospital where he was later declared dead.
What was likely to have happened was that the right front wheel had shot up after impact like a catapult and violated the cockpit area where Senna was sitting. It struck the right frontal area of his helmet, and the violence of the wheel’s impact pushed his head back against the headrest, causing fatal skull fractures. A piece of upright attached to the wheel had partially penetrated his helmet and made a big indent in his forehead. In addition, it appeared that a jagged piece of the upright assembly had penetrated the helmet visor just above his right eye. As track officials examined the wreckage of his racing car they found a furled Austrian flag — a victory flag that he was going to raise in honour of Ratzenberger.
Senna’s Williams-Renault was used for the ensuing investigation of his death and was later returned to Williams.
Source: © MSN Cars/India Syndicate