On This Day in #F1: 30th April 1994

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1994: Roland Ratzenberger – The forgotten man

ratzenberger01Ever 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?”
“No. Why?”
“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.”

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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.

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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.”

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10 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 30th April 1994

  1. Very nice tribute to the forgotten one of Imola 94.

    “But this was the first time I had watched it happen live.” (fatal crash)

    I saw Paletti crash, burn and die from 75 yards away. Absolutely horrifying.

      • Unfortunately I was to see, at a considerable distance, another fatality which involved an F1 driver, Manfred Winkelhock at Mosport in a Porsche 962 during a 1000Km endurance race.

  2. RIP. still remember that weekend like it was yesterday. We all had a good idea of Senna as a person, but as the years passed I have seen more insight into the person Roland was. He was a genuine great human being and our world is less without him.

  3. strange how things like that mark us so deeply

    I remember that whole weekend, the conversations I had, the places

    in that Friday I was going to a resort at the inner São Paulo state, some 300 km from São Paulo city, when news came on radio to inform about RB crash, and all the aftermath

    being almost a teen and already an enthusiast, I got desperate and tried to find some TV to watch when we stopped at a restaurant roadside

    then, at the resort, Saturday morning, watching the qualifying, this happened
    needless to say, I was broken, as we went to breakfast area with those images in the mind

    past the breakfast, we went to the city center, when the news about RR passing were made official

    even more strange, in that same weekend a large Brazilian weekly magazine came out with Senna and his then girlfriend on its cover

    anyway, I remember that I remained the rest of that Saturday discussing F1 and its serious crashes

    then, that awful accident with Senna
    when I remember that shit wkend, it makes me emotional even today
    it’s tough

  4. Indeed the forgotten man. Like you I watched it on Eurosport. Fortunetly they learned some lessons quickly on how to cover such events. No one expected those lessons to have to be implemented the next day. There is a tribute to Roland here in the UK on tonight. RIP Roland.

  5. The moment when you saw the way his head rolled around in the cockpit is one of the most horrifying things I ever witnessed. It’s sad how something so beautiful can become something so ugly in a matter of seconds.

  6. It’s interesting that there wasn’t a criminal investigation by the Italian authorities into RR’s death, since his crash, too, was caused by “car failure?”

    • The reason there wasn’t an investigation was simply because the car had been in perfect health before Ratzenberger damaged the wing on a kerb at Aqua Minerali. It was a driver error. With Senna they had to investigate to find the cause of loss of control so the team was deemed culpable.

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