Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1994: Roland Ratzenberger – The forgotten man
Ever since news broke out about Michael Schumacher’s horrific skiing accident – many journalists and media outlets have been comparing the stark dangers of a life lived on the edge and drawing comparison with what will be the twentieth anniversary of the crash that killed Ayrton Senna.
Throughout the world people will be remembering a great driver, his achievements and his legacy – and yet I have heard barely any mention of Roland Ratzenberger who was killed barely 24 hours before.
A friend, Anthony, and I would either watch motor-sport together or watch Eurosport’s coverage of qualifying and talk on the phone for the hour and dissect everything as it transpired.
John Watson’s commentary droned on about different lap-times as the session progressed and suddenly the screen changed to a Simtek slowly spinning to a halt. It was quite obvious that the driver was unconscious and the savagery of the accident was shown by the hole in the monocoque.
The replay showed the dark blur spear off the circuit throwing up a cloud of earth. Mercifully the impact was hidden by the curvature of the concrete barriers before the rebounding out of control vehicle spun slowly to a stop at Tosa.
As our phone conversation progressed the medical team arrived and began immediate work on the driver. Discussing the scene, Ant made me pause as he added something sobering to my words:
“They haven’t fitted a neck brace?”
“It’s not good. They always fit the brace in case of a damaged spine. To remove him from the car without it means that the spine is the least of their problems.”
I’d seen Gilles Villeneuve’s and Riccardo Paletti’s fatal accidents on the news and highlights programmes in 1982 when I was thirteen years old – possibly too young to appreciate what these accidents truly meant.
I’d read about Elio De Angelis’s fatal crash and around the same time Etilio Bettega and Henri Toivonen perished exactly a year apart during successive Tour de Corse rallies.
But this was the first time I had watched it happen live. It was heartbreaking and I had never met this man or seen him compete live. Our phone conversation continued in auto-pilot but when I saw them give a cardiac massage whilst he lay on the track… I switched off the TV.
Later forensic analysis showed the cause of the accident was a broken front wing. It had sustained damage on the previous lap when Ratzenberger negotiated his way through the Aqua Minerali chicane and touched a kerb. On his qualifying lap he passed the pits and accelerated through Tamburello and down the adjoining straight to Villeneuve corner.
The increasing downforce caused the wing to collapse and fold under the front wheels causing a loss of steering and braking input from the driver. Telemetry showed the impact speed as 195mph.
FIA President Max Mosley attended the funeral of Ratzenberger saying: “Roland had been forgotten. So I went to his funeral because everyone went to Senna’s. I thought it important that somebody went to his.”