Ayrton Senna (partially lost on-board video of fatal Formula One crash; 1994)

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Picf7 1.jpg

The final frame from Ayrton Senna's fatal crash.

Status: Lost

During the 1994 Formula One San Marino Grand Prix, held in Imola on the 1 May 1994, arguably one of the greatest racing drivers of all time Ayrton Senna crashed into the Tamburello corner at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari whilst driving his Williams FW16 car. The accident, which was broadcast around the world on live television, had occurred on the seventh lap of the race. Senna's car left the racing line at 190 mph, ran in a straight line off the track and struck an unprotected concrete barrier. The right front wheel shot up upon impact and entered the cockpit, striking the right frontal area of Senna's helmet. He was more or less killed instantly, but remained on life support for many hours afterward due to Italian law.

Senna's death was considered by many of his Brazilian fans to be a national tragedy, and the Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning. For many years afterwards the Williams F1 team remained entangled in Italian criminal court proceedings. The reason behind the accident has never been fully understood, with a wide range of theories from a broken steering column - which had been made longer at Senna's request by welding an extra piece onto it ahead of the race - to low tyre pressures due to a long period behind the safety car.[1]Many believe however that the steering column broke, causing Senna to veer off the track.

Ayrton Senna's Last Lap - Imola 1994 .

Footage[edit | edit source]

Footage of the final lap from Senna's on-board camera cuts out before his car hits the wall, and the footage showing the accident itself has never been officially released. According to the Senna Files website, the in-car footage transmitted from Ayrton Senna's car was supplied by the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) to Williams Grand Prix Engineering in May 1994. Maurizio Passarini, the chief prosecutor in the Senna manslaughter trial, said he had requested the footage from Senna's car on 9 May 1994 but the FOCA representatives understood the request as 'shots of the impact', which did not exist. The videotape was finally received by the Italian authorities on September 9 1996, and the image above was the last frame shown before the footage cuts to static.

The version initially shown on Brazil's TV Globo reportedly ended 12.8 seconds into Senna's fatal lap. The data from the cars computer memory is said to have indicated that the crash had occurred at 14.2 seconds, therefore 1.4 seconds were missing. The video viewed in the courtroom showed a gap of 0.9 seconds. The FOCA claimed that the film cut out because their television director had decided to cut to another shot.[2] An analysis of the on-board camera video was submitted by the non-profit consortium Cineca, which tracked the movement of the steering wheel during the race. Having rotated in a fixed arc during the previous laps, during the final seconds a yellow button on the wheel moved several centimeters away from its normal trajectory, with the steering wheel tilting in its own plane, indicating a breaking steering column.[3]

The FOCA employees who were manning the control truck during the race were director Alan Woolard, producer Eddie Baker, and video switcher Andy James. During the hearing they argued that it was a coincidence that the videotape had ended just prior to the fatal crash, as the decision to switch the camera shot coming from Senna's car to that of Japanese driver Ukyo Katayama was taken approximately ten seconds before, as Senna was leading the race and there was nothing of interest ahead of him. The next shot on the tape however was from Gerhard Berger's car and not Katayama's, the chief prosecutor said, and it too showed an empty track. The reason given for this was that the wrong button had been pressed, and that action mistakenly selected pictures from the camera on Berger's car and created the interference, which explains the fourteen seconds of indistinct pictures between the last shot from Senna's camera and the first from Katayama's. Claims that the videotape was supplied to the Williams team fifteen days after the accident, but only received by the court on September 9 1996, was met with the reply that the request had been interpreted as being for pictures of the impact, which did not exist. In 1994, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying that Senna's in-car videotape had been sent to Frank Williams, the head of the Williams team, two days after the event.[4]

The on-board footage of Senna's final lap prior to the crash was released in December 1994 as part of Duke Video's Formula 1 World Championship review. The footage prior to the crash was again included in the 2010 film, Senna. In both instances the footage of the crash was not included and is now believed to be lost forever.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ESPN - Puncture a likely cause for Senna's accident - Newey Last retrieved 27 June 2017.
  2. The Senna Files: Senna's Last Shot? Last retrieved 27 June 2017
  4. The Senna Files: Lost Time Last retrieved 27 June 2017