Formula 1

San Marino GP Imola 1994 Why Ayrton Senna died? That was his accident

Ayrton Senna died of injuries suffered in the accident on lap 7 of the Grand Prix of San Marino (Imola) in 1994. On the 20th anniversary of that fateful event, we recall the reasons why the life of Ayrton went out and why could not avoid going against the wall.

  • Special 20th anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna

Thursday May 1 are met 20 years after the death of Ayrton Senna; two decades since the legendary Brazilian driver, three-time F1 world, died at the Tamburello curve Imola circuit during the race of San Marino GP 1994.

How Ayrton Senna died? Why his Williams FW16 went straight into the wall on lap 7? 

We will discuss the most important theories, because it is still really what happened inside the car of Senna unknown.

Weekend tragic

In Friday's qualifying, Rubens Barrichello he suffered a serious accident at the Variante Bassa to 225 km / h. Jordan Hart crashed into the tire defenses, he rose, took over several times and ended with the cabin down, with Barrichello unconscious. Fortunately, only he had a fracture and was out of the race.

Instead, the Austrian Roland Ratzenberger He was not so lucky. Saturday, 20 minutes after starting the qualifying round, his Simtek-Ford He crashed into the concrete barrier nearly head and died almost immediately.

And output accident safety car

Finnish Lehto (Benetton-Ford), who started 5th stood and Portuguese Pedro Lamy (Lotus-Mugen Honda) from position 22 ° could not avoid wrecking his car in front of the main grandstand (6:50 minute). The Car tires and debris slightly injured nine people public.

After the accident the safety car left the track. As you can see in the video, this car was not like today; was a Opel Vectra.

After 5 laps behind the safety car and on lap 6, Ayrton Senna passed relatively normally by the Tamburello curve (in the video looks like a flat bottom rubbing against the asphalt to go through that curve, striking sparks) followed closely by Michael Schumacher. But on the next lap, at the 7, Senna went straight into the wall.

Theories of the possible causes of the accident

Theories why Ayrton Senna could lose control of his Williams are several:

Breakage of the steering column

This theory was in the Italian prosecution was based on the trial of Frank Williams (Team Manager), Patrick Head (Technical Director) and Adrian Newey (Designer); who they were accused of manslaughter.

According to the Italian prosecutor Maurizio Passarini, Senna he was uncomfortable steering wheel position (Ayrton did not score in the previous two races), therefore He asked the team to modify. Instead of making a new piece, existing equipment he cuts and welded a section of smaller diameter material to lengthen.

A report presented by the prosecution determined that fatigue cracks occurred material in most (60%) of the steering column until it broke. Williams admitted these cracks, but between 20% and 40% of this material, a percentage that could keep the address without breaking. 

Viewing the images of the race (at the end), the output of Ayrton seems caused by loss of direction, as seen not swerve or "lash" any. Casually, Camera images "on-board" Senna disappear around the track get away rather than at the time of the crash against the wall, eliminating the possibility of seeing the state of the steering wheel and the steering wheel by the possible breakage of management.

At that time, the three team members Williams They were acquitted because they can not be demonstrated if management broke before or after the accident. But in 2007 the Italian Court of Appeals ruled that the accident was caused by wear of the steering column. Rupture of this was caused by a bad design and bad changes made. He only culprit was Patrick Head by omitting proper controls. 

Head was not arrested because in Italy the statute of limitations for murder is 7 years and 6 months, and the final verdict was delivered 13 years after the accident.

loss "ground effect"

This theory is in the National Geographic documentary on Ayrton Senna's death is based.

After the departure of the safety car for the accident at the start, all riders had to roll slower, which could cool the tires. And when the tires are cold, not only lose adhesiveness, but also lose pressure and contract.

The theory is that the low flow velocity behind the safety car tires deflated, as calculated 25%, which He lowered the flat bottom of the car at 4 or 5 mm

This meant that the car grazed the asphalt (striking sparks) and the airflow passing underneath was cut. A higher air velocity lower pressure and, therefore, greater "ground effect" or downforce. To cut the flow, Williams lost grip and went straight. In addition, proponents of this theory argue that the bottom of the Williams FW16B became a kind of skate that prompted him to keep his path straight to the impact against the wall.

But why on lap 6, we see that also touches the asphalt, and where the tires are colder than 7 not out?


This theory is in which he believes Adrian Newey. This is what he said in an interview The Guardian:

Nobody will ever know what happened exactly. There is no doubt that the steering column failed, but the evidence suggests that the car left the track as a result of a broken steering. Why he came skidding rear axle? The car grazed the asphalt hard several times in the second round, which seems unusual, because the tire pressure has already had to be correct in that momento.Pero a puncture on the right rear wheel (Tamburello is left, therefore, both wheels on the right side receive greater weight than internal), it is very likely the remains of plastic that were caused by the accident.


According to the autopsy, Ayrton Senna died instantly. He had multiple injuries at the base of the skull, severe respiratory failure, frontal collapse (which caused internal bleeding), rupture of the temporal artery and cardiac arrest.

The suspension bar linking the drive wheel spring-damper assembly (push-rod) is what he pierced the helmet visor, and strongly he pressed Senna's head against the back of the cockpit. It was this that caused compression fracture of the skull base.

Race of San Marino GP 1994