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Williams & Ayrton Senna: A Brief Partnership

By Andrew Hooper
May 20 2002

WilliamsF1 & Ayrton Senna
Ayrton SennaThe racing career of Ayrton Senna spanned several teams including Toleman, Lotus, McLaren, and Williams. Senna joined the Williams Team in 1994 after a long history of driving for McLaren. 

But his time with Williams was to be, sadly, so very short as he was to lose his life in an accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. For Senna the move from McLaren to Williams was to prove frustrating as the Williams FW16 was a car beset by problems. The first two races of the season resulted in retirements for Senna. In Brazil Senna spun off and in Japan, at the Pacific Grand Prix, he was forced into a spin after being hit by Hakkinen's McLaren. But improvements were made for the first European race at Imola.

Ayrton Senna
Senna's carFor the Williams Team and Formula One followers the San Marino Grand Prix was to become a weekend of tragedy. On the Saturday Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was killed while driving his Simtek-Ford. But on the Sunday as Ayrton Senna was leading the race he left the track and crashed heavily into the barrier.

Senna was to die later from the injuries that he received from the crash. The Williams team were devastated by his death. Frank Williams said "Everybody in the company was truly shattered by what happened."

Senna CrashNumerous theories as to what made Senna's Williams leave the track abound ranging from his steering failed, he ran over a piece of debris left on the track by another car, his tyres had lost pressure as a result of going cold running behind a pace car thus causing the car to bottom out going through the flat-out Tamburello corner. Even Senna's state of mind was discussed.

Senna was seen discussing Ratzenberger's accident with Professor Sid Watkins and was known to have become visibly upset by his death. Despite this Senna was to still race on the Sunday with tragic consequences.

Ayrton SennaWhat was to follow was to shock the world of Formula One. Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Adrian Newey, and several officials from the Imola circuit were all charged with involuntary manslaughter. This case was to drag on for years with several drivers, such as Damon Hill, giving evidence.

The case would finally be resolved with the courts announcing that Senna died as a result of the steering of his Williams failing. None of those who were on trial were found to be responsible for this failure. The tragedy of Senna's death was to have a lasting impact on the world of Formula One in the area of safety.

Design changes were enforced to ensure the driver was far better protected in the cockpit. These include the high padded cockpit sides that we see today on Formula One cars.

From my own point of view trying to lay blame for the cause of a motor racing accident is pointless. Measures to reduce the chances of an accident occurring should always be implemented. If an accident does occur measures should be taken to ensure that the driver has the best chance of survival.

For me the San Marino Grand Prix of 1994 was simply the weekend that the world lost its greatest Formula One champion, Ayrton Senna.

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