David Brabham on the death of Roland Ratzenberger

David Brabham on the death of Roland Ratzenberger

30 April 2014 – 20 years ago today, Roland Ratzenberger died at Imola. The Austrian tried to qualify for the San Marino Grand Prix in his Simtek, but crashed at the Villeneuve corner. The accident would later be considered to be a prologue to the events that occurred 24 hours later. GPUpdate.net spoke to David Brabham, Ratzenberger's team-mate at the time.

If Ayrton Senna would have just stepped out of his Williams on Sunday, Ratzenberger's accident would have been much better remembered in the world of Formula 1. Ratzenberger was the first driver to lose his life at a Formula 1 event since Riccardo Paletti crashed into the stalled Ferrari of Didier Pironi at Montreal. His car caught fire, while Paletti was trapped inside. After this horrific accident, 12 years would pass without a fatality during a Grand Prix weekend.

That period ended abruptly on the 30th of April 1994. During Friday practice Rubens Barrichello suffered a scary accident but the morning after, the Brazilian was all smiles on the paddock. "Other than Rubens's accident, everything seemed to be fairly normal to be honest", said Brabham. "I remember Roland was complaining about his brakes on the Friday, so the team asked me to jump in the car to verify what the brakes were like because of my experience with the car and the carbon brakes. After a few laps I came in and also confirmed that the brakes weren't very good at all and that they needed changing. When the team changed the brakes Roland's times were a lot closer to mine.

"Rubens's accident was obviously horrible and one that frightened a lot of people, but no one really thought much more other than it was just a bad accident. We were pleased to see that Rubens was okay and that he wasn't severely injured."

During his qualifying run, Ratzenberger damaged his front wing in a short excursion through the gravel. He decided not to change the wing and kept on going. After Tamburello, the wing came loose and got stuck underneath the Simtek. From that moment on, Ratzenberger was a passenger. The car hit the concrete wall at the Villeneuve corner travelling just under 315 kilometres an hour. Ratzenberger didn't stand a chance.

"I was actually out on track at the time, so although I didn't see the accident I saw him when I went around the car just as he had stopped", Brabham said. "I knew then by just witnessing what I saw, that he was gone."

The images are stuck in everyone's minds. The red-and-white helmet of Ratzenberger leaning lifeless on the side of the cockpit. In the Williams garage, Ayrton Senna turns away from the monitors in disgust. Doctor Sid Watkins is powerless to help the Austrian. For the first time in 12 years, a driver is killed in an official Formula 1 session. The garage doors close at Simtek. The session is resumed but none of the drivers will be happy with their grid position. They'd rather go home, away from Imola. But there was a race waiting.

"To be honest, a lot of what happened that weekend doesn't seem to be much in my memory bank, because you had the feeling of being so incredibly numb by the fact that you just lost your team-mate, something that I have never experienced before", Brabham said. "Everybody was in a state of shock particularly the Simtek team, because we were a small team and none of us had ever experienced losing someone so close to us before. The whole paddock and the Formula One world was also in a state of shock, as no one had died for 12 years before Roland's death."

The Simtek team, however, decided to race anyway: "At the end of the Saturday in the evening, I was asked whether or not I would like to continue the weekend and do the race or not. Of course at the time I was in a state shock and I really didn't know what to do. I decided that I would make my decision the next day after having done the warm-up. We did the warm-up and as I came into the pits I sensed the teams mood had slightly lifted and the black cloud that surrounded the team seem to have lifted slightly.

"Having seen this, I decided to do the race for the team to help them get back on track, plus it was my way of showing respect for Roland, as he was a racer and he would have wanted us to keep racing. 20 years is a long time, but one thing is for sure I will never forget that weekend."

Later, on Sunday afternoon, the medical team at Tamburello look into the cockpit of the mangled Williams #2. They find an Austrian flag.

Ivo Pakvis
Twitter: @ipakvis

related

Comments

Latest News
Full
Compact

  1. Monday 20 October 2014

  2. Force India confirms Hülkenberg for 2015 10:08

    Force India confirms Hülkenberg for 2015

    Force India has confirmed that Nico Hülkenberg will continue to race for the team next season. Hülkenberg, 27, returned t...

    F1
  3. Silverstone, Le Mans back on FR3.5 calendar 09:19

    Silverstone, Le Mans back on FR3.5 calendar

    The World Series by Renault package, which includes Formula Renault 3.5, will return to Silverstone and Le Mans next...

    FR 3.5
  4. Sainz Jr. elated by championship success 07:22

    Sainz Jr. elated by championship success

    Red Bull youngster Carlos Sainz Jr. hailed his "incredible" season after he succeeded Kevin Magnussen as Formula Renault 3.5...

    FR 3.5
  5. Video of the Day: Mercedes celebrates title 05:04

    Video of the Day: Mercedes celebrates title

    Mercedes celebrates its first Formula 1 Constructors' success at its bases in Brackley and Brixworth.

    F1
  6. Sunday 19 October 2014

  7. DTM champion Wittmann gets Toro Rosso test 20:39

    DTM champion Wittmann gets Toro Rosso test

    Marco Wittmann will receive a Formula 1 test with Toro Rosso as his reward from BMW for winning this year's DTM...

    DTM
  8. Verstappen ends F3 season in third place 17:11

    Verstappen ends F3 season in third place

    Future Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen has finished his sole FIA Formula 3 European campaign in third place after losing...

    F1
  9. Kubica: Formula 1 return would be a dream 14:30

    Kubica: Formula 1 return would be a dream

    Robert Kubica says he has not yet given up on the prospect of returning to Formula 1 at some point in the future and will...

    F1
  10. 13:38

    Latest FR3.5 photos: Sunday at Jerez

    FR 3.5
  11. Dominant Rowland wins FR3.5 finale at Jerez 13:37

    Dominant Rowland wins FR3.5 finale at Jerez

    Oliver Rowland claimed victory in the final race of the Formula Renault 3.5 season as he controlled proceedings throughout...

    FR 3.5
  12. 09:20

    Latest MotoGP photos: Sunday at Phillip Island

    MotoGP
  13. Márquez 'not on the limit' before crash 09:19

    Márquez 'not on the limit' before crash

    World Champion Marc Márquez says he was not riding on the limit when he crashed out of the lead in the Australian Grand Prix...

    MotoGP
  14. Rossi wins incident-packed race in Australia 06:50

    Rossi wins incident-packed race in Australia

    Valentino Rossi claimed his second win of the year in an incident-packed Australian Grand Prix after World Champion Marc...

    MotoGP
  15. Video of the Day: Pedrosa on Phillip Island 03:00

    Video of the Day: Pedrosa on Phillip Island

    Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa chose his fondest Phillip Island memory ahead of Sunday's race at the track.

    MotoGP
  16. Saturday 18 October 2014

  17. 13:52

    Latest FR3.5 photos: Saturday at Jerez

    FR 3.5
  18. Stevens wins, Sainz Jr. clinches title 13:51

    Stevens wins, Sainz Jr. clinches title

    Carlos Sainz Jr. clinched the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 championship at the very first corner of the final round in Jerez...

    FR 3.5
  19. Ecclestone: Las Vegas targeting Formula 1 race 09:32

    Ecclestone: Las Vegas targeting Formula 1 race

    Bernie Ecclestone says a Formula 1 race could be held on the streets of Las Vegas in the future. Ecclestone has long seen...

    F1
  20. 07:54

    Latest MotoGP photos: Saturday at Phillip Island

    MotoGP
  21. Márquez flies to pole position in Australia 06:21

    Márquez flies to pole position in Australia

    MotoGP World Champion Marc Márquez claimed pole position for the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island ahead of Ducati...

    MotoGP
  22. Video of the Day: Bottas let loose in FW18 05:07

    Video of the Day: Bottas let loose in FW18

    Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was given the opportunity to drive the FW18, Damon Hill's World Championship-winning car...

    F1
  23. Friday 17 October 2014

  24. Button will only stay in F1 with 'competitive' car 16:13

    Button will only stay in F1 with 'competitive' car

    Jenson Button could move to endurance racing if he fails to land a competitive Formula 1 seat for 2015. Fernando Alonso,...

    F1
  25. Andretti: Vettel can return Ferrari to the front 16:03

    Andretti: Vettel can return Ferrari to the front

    Former F1 World Champion Mario Andretti believes that Sebastian Vettel has what it takes to galvanise Ferrari and end the...

    F1
  26. Status GP takes over Caterham GP2 team 14:23

    Status GP takes over Caterham GP2 team

    Status Grand Prix has acquired the Caterham GP2 outfit from ex-F1 team boss Tony Fernandes. The squad will continue to...

    GP2
  27. Pirelli changes Brazil tyre nomination 12:15

    Pirelli changes Brazil tyre nomination

    Pirelli has altered its tyre nomination for next month's Brazilian Grand Prix, amid fears over safety. After initially...

    F1
  28. Fong, Nissany to test Sauber F1 car 11:36

    Fong, Nissany to test Sauber F1 car

    Adderly Fong and Roy Nissany will test a two-year-old Sauber Formula 1 car in Valencia next week. The team has set aside...

    F1
  29. Video: Räikkönen clinches 2007 title 11:32

    Video: Räikkönen clinches 2007 title

    Kimi Räikkönen celebrates his 35th birthday on Friday. To mark the occasion, look back at the moment the Finn clinched the 2...

    F1
  30. Räikkönen says he could continue into 2016 11:21

    Räikkönen says he could continue into 2016

    Former World Champion Kimi Räikkönen says he will "probably" remain at Ferrari for another two seasons, reaffirming that he i...

    F1
  31. 09:08

    Latest MotoGP photos: Friday at Phillip Island

    MotoGP
  32. Lorenzo fastest at Phillip Island despite fall 09:07

    Lorenzo fastest at Phillip Island despite fall

    Jorge Lorenzo set the standard on the opening day of practice for the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, despite...

    MotoGP
  33. Sainz Jr. will not change approach for finale 07:19

    Sainz Jr. will not change approach for finale

    Carlos Sainz Jr. has vowed to approach this weekend's Formula Renault 3.5 season finale at the Circuito de Jerez as he would...

    FR 3.5
  34. Video of the Day: Button's top four races to win 05:16

    Video of the Day: Button's top four races to win

    McLaren driver Jenson Button names the four races he would most like to win in a single season.

    F1
  35. Thursday 16 October 2014

  36. McLaren plans 'major' late-season upgrade 16:34

    McLaren plans 'major' late-season upgrade

    McLaren is planning to introduce another "major upgrade" package before the end of the season. Having applied a raft of...

    F1
  37. Video: Wolff drives FW36 at Silverstone 13:53

    Video: Wolff drives FW36 at Silverstone

    After some free practice running earlier in the season, Williams development driver Susie Wolff gained more experience at...

    F1
  38. Mercedes to bring back 'Stars & Cars' event 13:51

    Mercedes to bring back 'Stars & Cars' event

    Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to revive its 'Stars & Cars' event after a six-year break. The German manufacturer,...

    F1
  39. New Ferrari boss vows to take risks 11:20

    New Ferrari boss vows to take risks

    Ferrari's new Chairman, Sergio Marchionne, has vowed to take risks to return to the front of the F1 grid. Marchionne, the...

    F1
  40. Ricciardo to demo Formula 1 car in Austin 10:38

    Ricciardo to demo Formula 1 car in Austin

    Daniel Ricciardo will give a Formula 1 demonstration in Austin ahead of the United States Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver...

    F1
  41. Häkkinen: Honda success will take time 10:24

    Häkkinen: Honda success will take time

    Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen says it would be a "small miracle" if former team McLaren found itself at...

    F1
  42. Mark Sutton: Story behind the shot - Russia 07:23

    Mark Sutton: Story behind the shot - Russia

    Especially for lovers of motorsport photography, GPUpdate.net is this season running a feature series entitled Story behind...

    F1
  43. Video of the Day: Zanardi in 'Adrenalin' film 05:04

    Video of the Day: Zanardi in 'Adrenalin' film

    Alex Zanardi, a two-time CART Champion and ex-Formula 1 driver, features in the new 'Adrenalin - The BMW Touring Car Story'...

    Misc
  44. Di Montezemolo: Alonso leaving Ferrari 00:17

    Di Montezemolo: Alonso leaving Ferrari

    Fernando Alonso is to leave Ferrari at the end of the current season after five campaigns on board, Luca di Montezemolo, who...

    F1
  45. Wednesday 15 October 2014

  46. 16:14

    Book F1 tickets and join the action live!

    F1
more news