Ayrton Senna’s death still haunts Adrian Newey

Ayrton Senna

The death of Ayrton Senna, almost 20 years ago, still sits uneasily with Adrian Newey, chief designer of the Williams FW16 used during the 1994 season. “What happened that day, what caused the accident, still haunts me to this day,” Newey told the BBC.

Controversy has shrouded the events of Senna’s death with Newey and Patrick Head brought before Italian courts to answer charges of manslaughter. The focus of the trial centred around the failure of the steering column in Senna’s car. While both men were originally acquitted in 1997, Head was later found guilty in a 2007 retrial. Head avoided a penalty due to the statute of limitations being passed.

Newey spoke about Senna’s death in revealing interview with The Guardian back in 2011. Then, Newey speculated that a puncture may have been the reason Senna left the track. “The car bottomed much harder on that second lap which again appears to be unusual because the tyre pressure should have come up by then,” he said. “Which leaves you expecting that the right rear tyre probably picked up a puncture from debris on the track. If I was pushed into picking out a single most likely cause that would be it.”

Newey didn’t repeat that theory in his recent BBC interview, saying “no-one will know” if a mechanical failure or driver error caused the crash.

“There is no doubt it [the steering column] was cracked,” Newey said. “Equally, all the data, all the circuit cameras, the on-board camera from Michael Schumacher’s car that was following, none of that appears to be consistent with a steering-column failure.

“The car oversteered initially and Ayrton caught that and only then did it go straight. But the first thing that happened was oversteer, in much the same way as you will sometimes see on a superspeedway in the States—the car will lose the rear, the driver will correct, and then it will go straight and hit the outside wall, which doesn’t appear to be consistent with a steering-column failure.”

Senna’s accident happened in only his third race for Williams, acknowledged as the premiere manufacturer in F1 at the time, coming off the back of repeat drivers’ and constructors’ championships in 1992 (Nigel Mansell) and 1993 (Alain Prost).

“I guess one of the things that will always haunt me is that he joined Williams because we had managed to build a decent car for the previous three years and he wanted to be in the team he thought built the best car—and unfortunately that ’94 car at the start of the season wasn’t a good car,” Newey admitted.

[Source: BBC Sport | Pic: Williams/LAT]