Friday, August 3, 2012

Roland Ratzenberger

Ratzenberger was killed during qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix at the Imola circuit on Saturday 30 April 1994. He went off-track on the previous lap, damaging his front wing, but rather than come into the pits he continued since he was competing for the final grid spot. The high speed on the back straight, and therefore high downforce, finally broke the wing off, sending it under the car. His car failed to turn into the Villeneuve Corner and struck the outside wall at 195.68 mph (314.9 km/h).

The cause of death was a basal skull fracture.

Roland Ratzenberger

He was the first racing driver to die at a Grand Prix weekend since the 1982 season, when Riccardo Paletti was killed at the Canadian Grand Prix, coincidentally at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. He was the first driver to die in an F1 car since Elio de Angelis during testing in 1986.

The day after Ratzenberger's death, three-time world champion Ayrton Senna was killed in another accident that brought the sport of Formula One under international scrutiny. The double tragedy was marked before the start of the next race in Monaco, with the front row of the grid left empty and the two slots painted with a Brazilian and Austrian flag.

While Ratzenberger's death was overshadowed to some extent by Senna's, barely 24 hours later, his death nonetheless had one lasting legacy. On 1 May 1994, during the customary drivers' briefing, the remaining drivers agreed to the reformation of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, with Senna, Gerhard Berger and Michael Schumacher as its first directors. The Association subsequently pressed for improvements to car and circuit safety in the wake of Imola and other serious crashes during the 1994 season; in 2003 the FIA mandated the use of the HANS device, designed to prevent the type of injury suffered by Ratzenberger.

When track officials examined the wreckage of Senna's racing car, they found a furled Austrian flag. Senna had planned to raise it after the race, in honour of Ratzenberger.

FIA President Max Mosley attended the funeral of Ratzenberger, despite the overwhelming attention on Senna's funeral, both in the world of motorsport and worldwide. In a press conference ten years later Mosley said, "'Roland had been forgotten. So I went to his funeral because everyone went to Senna's. I thought it was important that somebody went to his."

Ratzenberger was supposed to drive later that year in the Le Mans 24 Hours for Toyota. Eddie Irvine took his place in the team, and Roland's name was left on the car (which would go on to take second place overall) as a tribute.

Roland Ratzenberger is buried in Maxglan, Salzburg Austria.