The late Roland Ratzenberger. (Image source: 1.bp.blogspot.com)
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...
To continue reading, see; RETRO: San Marino GP weekend- 20yrs later, Day-3