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. Thursday 26 May 2016

  2. 19:02

    Latest F1 photos: Thursday in Monaco

    F1
  3. Button 'lucky' in drain cover incident 18:53

    Button 'lucky' in drain cover incident

    Jenson Button says he felt "lucky" to escape unharmed after his car struck a drain cover during first practice for the Monaco…

    F1
  4. Rosberg expecting 'very close' battle 16:24

    Rosberg expecting 'very close' battle

    Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg is expecting a "very close" fight with Red Bull at the Monaco Grand Prix, given the times posted in…

    F1
  5. Sirotkin flies to GP2 pole in Monaco 16:19

    Sirotkin flies to GP2 pole in Monaco

    ART driver Sergey Sirotkin secured pole position for ART Grand Prix during GP2's qualifying session after a stunning final lap…

    GP2
  6. Vettel: Ferrari better than practice display 15:34

    Vettel: Ferrari better than practice display

    Sebastian Vettel is adamant that Ferrari has a competitive car at the Monaco Grand Prix, despite a low key start to the…

    F1
  7. Ricciardo 'in a good window' after first day 15:07

    Ricciardo 'in a good window' after first day

    Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo says he is in "a pretty good window" after topping the first day of practice for the Monaco…

    F1
  8. 14:34

    Monaco Grand Prix: Full Practice 2 results

    F1
  9. Ricciardo puts Red Bull on top in FP2 14:32

    Ricciardo puts Red Bull on top in FP2

    Daniel Ricciardo put Red Bull at the top of the timesheets during Thursday afternoon's second free practice session for the…

    F1
  10. 12:52

    Follow second practice for the Monaco GP!

    F1
  11. 10:37

    Monaco Grand Prix: Full Practice 1 results

    F1
  12. Hamilton edges out Rosberg in FP1 10:35

    Hamilton edges out Rosberg in FP1

    Lewis Hamilton edged out Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg during Thursday morning's first practice session for the Monaco Grand…

    F1
  13. Bianchi family sue over 'avoidable' death 10:23

    Bianchi family sue over 'avoidable' death

    Jules Bianchi's family has announced that it will be taking legal action in the UK against the FIA, the Formula One Group and…

    F1
  14. Pirelli announces Germany compounds 08:58

    Pirelli announces Germany compounds

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli has announced its compound selections for the German Grand Prix, with the red-marked Super Soft…

    F1
  15. 08:52

    Follow first practice for the Monaco GP!

    F1
  16. Wehrlein downplays 2017 Mercedes chance 08:36

    Wehrlein downplays 2017 Mercedes chance

    Pascal Wehrlein has insisted that he is not thinking about a Mercedes seat in 2017, despite Nico Rosberg being out of contact at…

    F1
  17. GP2 confirms Monaco qualifying groups 08:02

    GP2 confirms Monaco qualifying groups

    GP2 Series organisers have confirmed the qualifying groups for this weekend's second round of the season in Monaco. Under GP2…

    GP2
  18. Video of the Day: Räikkönen looks to Monaco 05:08

    Video of the Day: Räikkönen looks to Monaco

    Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen discusses the challenges of the Monaco Grand Prix ahead of this weekend's event.

    F1
  19. Wednesday 25 May 2016

  20. 18:04

    Latest F1 photos: Wednesday in Monaco

    F1
  21. Bianchi family unveils foundation for youngsters 18:03

    Bianchi family unveils foundation for youngsters

    The family of Jules Bianchi have unveiled a foundation created in his name, the Jules Bianchi Society, in order to support young…

    F1
  22. Hamilton: Crash reaction reflects maturity 16:26

    Hamilton: Crash reaction reflects maturity

    Lewis Hamilton believes that the way both he and Nico Rosberg reacted to their collision at the Spanish Grand Prix reflects the…

    F1
  23. Bottas hopes to end Monaco drought 14:39

    Bottas hopes to end Monaco drought

    Valtteri Bottas is confident that Williams can implement the lessons learned across the past few seasons as he chases his first…

    F1
  24. Ricciardo, Magnussen get Renault upgrades 14:04

    Ricciardo, Magnussen get Renault upgrades

    Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen will receive upgraded Renault engines this weekend, after the B-spec power unit was sampled…

    F1
  25. Ericsson: Monaco best Sauber chance so far 13:30

    Ericsson: Monaco best Sauber chance so far

    Marcus Ericsson believes this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix provides Sauber with its best opportunity of a top 10 finish so far in…

    F1
  26. Pérez: Tyre degradation hurting race pace 11:56

    Pérez: Tyre degradation hurting race pace

    Sergio Pérez believes tyre degradation is the reason why Force India cannot currently match the likes of rivals Toro Rosso and…

    F1
  27. Rabat has successful shoulder surgery 10:46

    Rabat has successful shoulder surgery

    Marc VDS has confirmed that MotoGP rookie Tito Rabat has started rehabilitation process following his crash at last weekend's…

    MotoGP
  28. Canamasas keeps Carlin seat for Monaco 10:18

    Canamasas keeps Carlin seat for Monaco

    Sergio Canamasas will once again compete for Carlin at the second round of the GP2 Series in Monaco, as championship organisers…

    GP2
  29. London ePrix set for season three change 10:09

    London ePrix set for season three change

    This season's Formula E finale around Battersea Park in London has been given the green light, though the championship will need…

    FE
  30. Preview: Monaco Grand Prix - Round 6 07:46

    Preview: Monaco Grand Prix - Round 6

    Max Verstappen became the youngest Formula 1 winner after Mercedes' duo clashed at the Spanish Grand Prix. But what will happen…

    F1
  31. Video of the Day: Red Bull filming day 05:28

    Video of the Day: Red Bull filming day

    Go behind-the-scenes with Red Bull during a team filming day at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

    F1
  32. Tuesday 24 May 2016

  33. 16:34

    Book F1 tickets and join the action live!

    F1
  34. Video: Indy 500 qualifying highlights 15:12

    Video: Indy 500 qualifying highlights

    Watch highlights of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, in which James Hinchcliffe claimed pole.

    Indy
  35. Allison hails Ferrari test progress 13:52

    Allison hails Ferrari test progress

    Ferrari Technical Director James Allison reckons the team made solid progress with the handling of the SF16-H during the…

    F1
  36. Boullier: Monaco should suit McLaren 13:22

    Boullier: Monaco should suit McLaren

    Eric Boullier is confident that Monaco will suit McLaren's Honda-powered MP4-31 "more than other circuits", as the partnership…

    F1
  37. Video: Formula E dream driver line-ups 11:36

    Video: Formula E dream driver line-ups

    A selection of Formula E drivers reveal which motor racing stars they would love to go karting with.

    FE
  38. 'Negativity' hurts Sauber's investor search 11:02

    'Negativity' hurts Sauber's investor search

    Sauber team boss Monisha Kaltenborn believes that the negativity surrounding Formula 1 is making it increasingly difficult to…

    F1
  39. Williams hopes for Monaco improvement 09:55

    Williams hopes for Monaco improvement

    Williams technical chief Pat Symonds hopes that the outfit can deliver an improved showing at this year's Monaco Grand Prix…

    F1
  40. Wolff: Mercedes must 'hit back hard' 09:06

    Wolff: Mercedes must 'hit back hard'

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says that Mercedes must "hit back hard" at this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix, following a double…

    F1
  41. Grosjean helmet pays tribute to Bianchi 08:50

    Grosjean helmet pays tribute to Bianchi

    Romain Grosjean will pay tribute to the late Jules Bianchi with a special helmet in Monaco. Grosjean's design features a…

    F1
  42. Video of the Day: Indianapolis 500 preview 05:10

    Video of the Day: Indianapolis 500 preview

    A host of IndyCar drivers look ahead to this weekend's centenary edition of the prestigious Indianapolis 500.

    Indy
  43. Monday 23 May 2016

  44. Force India still looking to maintain fifth 15:22

    Force India still looking to maintain fifth

    Force India team boss Vijay Mallya says the outfit is still looking to maintain fifth position in the championship standings…

    F1
more news