Wednesday, April 30, 2014

RETRO: San Marino GP weekend - 20yrs later, Day-2

The late Roland Ratzenberger. (Image source:
Following Friday's Free Practice-1, where Rubens Barrichello had crashed mightily, ultimately being ruled out of any further action that weekend, things were about to get worse.

Reportedly, Roland Ratzenberger, who was contesting just his second ever Grand Prix at Imola, was quite proud of showing off his newly acquired blue Porsche 911 Cabriolet, part of his statement of having made it to the pinnacle of motorsports, aka Formula 1.

Ratzenberger had made his name by winning the prestigious British Formula Ford Festival in 1986, then becoming a factory BMW Touring Car driver before joining the cadre of aspiring Gran Primo Piloto's in Japan's F3000 series, which included the likes of Eddie "Irv-the-Swerve" Irvine and Jeff Krosnoff just to name a few - with Roland having won  at Suzuka in '92.

Ratzenberger signed a five-race deal with the debutant Simtek Grand Prix team for the start of the 1994 season, as Simtek was originally formed by Sir maXXum, aka MAD-Max Mosley and Nick Wirth, as the latter would form his own F1 team with the backing of MTV late in 1993 after Mosley had sold his shares upon becoming FISA President in '92. (The FIA's predecessor...)

Saturday, April 30, 1994
As we know, the young Austrian driver, who reputedly fudged his birth year in order to be two years younger - was attempting to qualify for the San Marino Grand Prix's final grid spot, having gone off-track the lap prior to his death; subsequently damaging his front wing, which the next time round on the high speed portion of the circuit, where downforce was crucial, the wing failed, jamming itself underneath the front wheel and causing Roland to drive straight off the track to his immediate death!

Martin Whittaker, then FIA Press Officer asked Ayrton if he knew what happened? Explaining that Sid (Watkins) had just told him that Roland was 'Clinically Dead!' To which Senna just simply walked out...

Ratzenberger crashed at Villeneuve Curve at nearly 320kph! (314.9 km/h: 195.7 mph) And Senna refused to drive after telling Damon Hill & Patrick Head that Roland was Dead! When Frank Williams had asked him to continue in Qualie'...

Hill was actually still trying to decide whether or not to continue qualifying when Team Willy' (Williams) withdrew, as it would be Senna's very final Pole position - which he didn't care about!

Michael Schumacher was deeply disturbed over the tragedy, while J.J. Letho had driven from Monaco with Ratzenberger that weekend. "Heinz 57" (Heinz-Harald Frentzen) had raced with him at Jarma (in Sports Cars) and immediately left the circuit to return to his hotel room, where he said he didn't want to speak to anybody!

Absolutely amazed how emotionally distraught Senna was over Roland's death; positively convinced he seemed to be showing his true emotional caring self and even crying in front of Rubino, etc; far from the cold, calculating "Arrogant" who I'd christened him all those years ago.

Even funnier yet was that after I'd finally started reading this long dormant book, listening to Speed Freaks one Sunday evening when they were playing an Encore edition, their first guest interview just so happened to be with the bike builder Jesse James telling how he'd been hired as Senna's Bodyguard for the 1989 USGP at Phoenix, Arizona and how STUPID it was hosting a race there in Summertime! As your humble No Fenders scribe was there that weekend when it peaked at 104 degrees-f on race day; SHEISA!

James recalls being amazed at how Senna could totally "Chill." Being sound asleep 10mins before qualifying began, and then BOOM; P1! Like flipping a switch, while Jesse also couldn't believe how FREAKIN' LOUD! The Formula 1 cars were... (Jesse's now married to Alexis DeJoria; DAMN! Nice work Dude)

Senna's brother Leonardo flew to Senna's Portugal estate at  Quinta du Lago and then to Imola for the weekend at the da Silva's family request to convince Senna to dump his 21yr old model girlfriend Adriane, who Senna's Mum' claimed was nothing more than a "Peasant Girl!" While there's so much afterwards that appears that Senna was putting his house in order that fateful weekend...

One example stems from his private pilot who asserts that Senna sought him out in the paddock to sign those photographs he'd been asking about, where typically Ayrton would be 100% focused solely upon racing. Along with writing a personal letter to Roland's parent's before the start of the race  and sobbing in the back of the Driver's meeting when everyone else stood for a minute of silence in honour of Roland...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

RETRO: San Marino GP weekend - 20yrs later...

The affable Rubens Barrichello. (Source: images)
Anybody who's a fan of Formula 1 knows what happened on that horrible day May 1st, 1994, which I refer to as Black Sunday, when arguably one of the sport's greatest Formula 1 driver's life was taken from us, as three time world champion Ayrton Senna met his maker at Tamburello  corner at Imola that day...

And whilst countless stories and accolades will be written commemorating this twentieth anniversary, let's not forget the often overlooked Roland Ratzenberger, who lost his life the day prior, not to mention all of the other mania that occurred that dreadful weekend all those years ago.

Thus, from a book I'm reading at an overt Snail's pace, having been interrupted multiple times; when I first began reading The Life of Senna 'Wayback in early 2013, I decided to take notes of some significant passages from the controversial author Tom Rubython's fantastic yarn! As my notes sez' that the opening chapter's title says I-T all:

Life: 2:17pm Sunday 1st May 1994
(Such a powerful beginning! Title sez' it all)

Keith Sutton writes a very interesting forward to the book; Yeah, the very same person as in Sutton Motorsport Images these days, which you'll notice from time-to-time as the photographic credit of various F1 stories - usually on the Internets.

As the 20-something Sutton describes riding a train 8hrs to Brands Hatch circuit - courtesy of a free railway ticket, and upon a free weekend decided to go photograph up 'N coming Brazilians further, which in turn leads to his being approached by Ayrton and ultimately being offered the job of personal photographer.

Naturally Sutton took the job, which he held for three years, from Senna's beginnings in F3, and culminating with the pair's making it into Formula 1, where Ayrton served his rookie apprenticeship with the Minnowesqe Toleman Motorsport team, which then became Benetton.

Sutton notes the absurdity of it all, especially since its even a rarity for F1 Drivers today. As Sutton served as not only Ayrton's personal photographer, but press Officer and whatever else it took to get him noticed by the power brokers of the sport, i.e.; F1 team principals...

Friday, April 29, 1994
While I wasn't at Imola that weekend, nor did I watch any of it upon thy 'Telie, since I was thousands of miles away in "Sin City," which only seems appropriate now... Friday's first practice session was an ominous forbearing shadow of events to come.

As the weekend started off with the horrific looking shunt of Rubens "Rubino" Barrichello's Jordan 194 Hart V-10 when the Brazilian clipped a kerb at some 140 miles-per-hour at the Variante Bassa corner, launching 'Rubino's car skywards and striking the top of the corresponding tyre wall!

Damon Hill, who at the time was Ayrton's team-mate at Team 'Willy, (Williams ) in just his sophomore season as a fulltime Grand Prix driver was simply astounded over the Marshall's handling of Barrichello's accident. Simply manhandling the Jordan Grand Prix chassis that had come to rest upside down and crudely  tipping over the entire car with the Brazilian driver still strapped into the cockpit! As Hill notes that 'Rubino was unconscious at the time of this abrupt up righting of his stricken car.

Hill can clearly see Rubino's head flaying around and claims that these types of activities had led to neck & spinal injuries to both J.J. Letho and Jean Alesi in testing earlier that year! (Letho suffered neck injury, with Alesi suffering spinal damage)

While I know of Letho's injury, due to his being a Benetton racing driver, with Jos "THE BOSS" Verstappen substituting for him at the beginning of the year, I was unaware (or had forgotten) of Alesi's testing accident which occurred at Mugello whilst Alesi drove for Scuderia Ferrari and ironically, his back accident precluded him from participating in the Pacific and San Marino Grand Prix's that fateful year, with Italy's Nicola Larini deputizing for the injured Frenchman.

Ironically Senna himself notes that the cars are difficult and very dangerous to drive, saying "We'll be lucky if nothing serious happens."

Barrichello luckily escaped his horrific shunt with only chipped teeth, cut lips, a swollen and broken nose and injured arm; all of which were treated, with the Brazilian being airlifted to hospital as a precautionary matter. As Rubens would tell his countryman Ayrton, who'd come to check upon him after his accident, I'll watch the race from home in England Sunday morning. As obviously little did he know that his friend would be dead by that Sunday's afternoon!

While thankfully to Dr. Sid Watkins, fondly known in the F1 fraternity simply as "Prof" or "Sid," Watkins immediate arrival on the scene via the medical safety car saw him quickly save Barrichello's life as the stricken driver had swallowed his tongue!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Imola remembers Fallen Drivers...

La Circuit Enzo di Dino Ferrari, nee Imola, in the republic of San Marino, Italy will be hosting five days of ceremonies in tribute largely to three times world champion Ayrton Senna, along with the late Roland Ratzenberger, recognizing the twentieth anniversary of Black Sunday, when the last two Formula 1 drivers died during a race weekend...