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. Friday 20 January 2017

  2. 17:02

    New: Follow GPUpdate on Instagram!

    F1
  3. Video: FE's di Grassi tries Virtual Reality 15:32

    Video: FE's di Grassi tries Virtual Reality

    Lucas di Grassi scours the show floor at CES for the hottest new tech, from drones to VR headsets.

    FE
  4. Eriksson stays in Formula 3 with Motopark 13:15

    Eriksson stays in Formula 3 with Motopark

    Joel Eriksson will contest a second European Formula 3 season with Team Motopark in 2017. Swedish racer Eriksson, 18, took…

    F3
  5. Ecclestone: My F1 future now up to Liberty 11:32

    Ecclestone: My F1 future now up to Liberty

    Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that there are no guarantees over his future in the sport, as Liberty Media's…

    F1
  6. 10:26

    Gallery: Ducati's 2017 team presentation

    MotoGP
  7. Ducati presents 2017 MotoGP contender 10:24

    Ducati presents 2017 MotoGP contender

    Ducati has officially presented its bike for the upcoming MotoGP championship, in which it will field new arrival Jorge Lorenzo…

    MotoGP
  8. Magnussen: Renault faces long recovery 09:54

    Magnussen: Renault faces long recovery

    Haas driver Kevin Magnussen believes that his former team, Renault, faces a long road to recovery before it can fight…

    F1
  9. MotoGP eyes series for British youngsters 08:20

    MotoGP eyes series for British youngsters

    MotoGP organisers have raised the idea of a British-based championship for young riders, following the success of other junior…

    MotoGP
  10. Video of the Day: Countdown to RB13 05:10

    Video of the Day: Countdown to RB13

    Red Bull Racing gears up for its RB13 with this video of ongoing work at its factory in Milton Keynes.

    F1
  11. Thursday 19 January 2017

  12. Liberty offers teams chance to invest in F1 18:06

    Liberty offers teams chance to invest in F1

    Liberty Media has confirmed that it has offered Formula 1 teams the opportunity to invest in the sport, following the FIA giving…

    F1
  13. Ericsson hails Wehrlein's arrival at Sauber 15:02

    Ericsson hails Wehrlein's arrival at Sauber

    Marcus Ericsson has welcomed new team-mate Pascal Wehrlein to Sauber and believes that the "highly-rated" Mercedes protégé…

    F1
  14. Rossi regards Viñales as 2017 title threat 14:30

    Rossi regards Viñales as 2017 title threat

    Valentino Rossi believes that new Yamaha team-mate Maverick Viñales has the ability to fight for the MotoGP championship from…

    MotoGP
  15. Wolff: Bottas deal keeps 2018 options open 13:52

    Wolff: Bottas deal keeps 2018 options open

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the manufacturer's decision to recruit Valtteri Bottas on a one-year deal allows the team to keep…

    F1
  16. 13:23

    Gallery: Movistar Yamaha 2017 launch

    MotoGP
  17. Video: Rossi meets new team-mate Viñales 12:37

    Video: Rossi meets new team-mate Viñales

    Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi meets new team-mate Maverick Viñales ahead of the new MotoGP season.

    MotoGP
  18. 12:18

    Overview: 2017 GP3 Series driver line-up

    GP3
  19. Mercedes signs Russell to junior scheme 12:17

    Mercedes signs Russell to junior scheme

    Rising British star George Russell has joined Mercedes' young driver programme, and will graduate to the GP3 Series with ART…

    F1
  20. Yamaha unveils 2017 YZR-M1 in Madrid 11:36

    Yamaha unveils 2017 YZR-M1 in Madrid

    Movistar Yamaha has unveiled its 2017 YZR-M1, which Valentino Rossi and newcomer Maverick Viñales will ride in this year's…

    MotoGP
  21. AVF signs Isaakyan for V8 3.5 campaign 10:07

    AVF signs Isaakyan for V8 3.5 campaign

    AVF has recruited Matevos Isaakyan for this season's Formula V8 3.5 championship. Isaakyan, 18, placed ninth overall in the…

    FV8 3.5
  22. Massa: Fan response instrumental in return 10:02

    Massa: Fan response instrumental in return

    Felipe Massa says the response from Formula 1 fans, once it became clear he could continue in the sport this season, played a…

    F1
  23. 09:42

    Galllery: Márquez rides RC213V on snow

    MotoGP
  24. Räikkönen honoured in native Finland 09:12

    Räikkönen honoured in native Finland

    Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen was appointed as an ambassador for sport in his native Finland during a ceremony held in the…

    F1
  25. Video of the Day: 2017 rule changes 05:34

    Video of the Day: 2017 rule changes

    Red Bull provides an overview of the regulation changes being introduced for the 2017 season.

    F1
  26. Wednesday 18 January 2017

  27. FIA approves Liberty Media F1 takeover 17:41

    FIA approves Liberty Media F1 takeover

    The FIA, motorsport's governing body, has approved the takeover of Formula 1 by Liberty Media, following an extraordinary…

    F1
  28. Video: Inside Mahindra's testing garage 15:02

    Video: Inside Mahindra's testing garage

    Follow Mahindra as they head to Barcelona to prepare their machines for Buenos Aires.

    FE
  29. Rosberg labels Bottas a 'great solution' 12:14

    Rosberg labels Bottas a 'great solution'

    Retired World Champion Nico Rosberg reckons Mercedes has found a "great solution" by replacing him with Valtteri Bottas, whom he…

    F1
  30. Red Bull's Gasly to race in Super Formula 10:02

    Red Bull's Gasly to race in Super Formula

    Red Bull-backed GP2 Series champion Pierre Gasly will follow in the footsteps of McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne by racing in the…

    F1
  31. AJ Foyt switches to Chevrolet power 08:40

    AJ Foyt switches to Chevrolet power

    AJ Foyt Racing will switch to Chevrolet engines for the 2017 IndyCar season. It will mark the first time since the latter…

    Indy
  32. IndyCar announces new Firestone deal 08:20

    IndyCar announces new Firestone deal

    IndyCar has announced a multi-year contract extension with tyre supplier Firestone. Firestone, a subsidiary of Bridgestone…

    Indy
  33. Liberty stockholders approve F1 takeover 07:55

    Liberty stockholders approve F1 takeover

    Liberty Media's plans to acquire Formula 1 have taken another significant step forward after stockholders voted in favour of its…

    F1
  34. Lauda: Bottas can be as fast as Rosberg 07:42

    Lauda: Bottas can be as fast as Rosberg

    Mercedes Non-Executive Chairman Niki Lauda believes that Valtteri Bottas can be as fast as the driver he replaced, retired World…

    F1
  35. Video of the Day: Valtteri Bottas fan Q&A 05:32

    Video of the Day: Valtteri Bottas fan Q&A

    Valtteri Bottas answers questions posed by fans on the first day of his new job at Mercedes.

    F1
  36. Tuesday 17 January 2017

  37. Pigot retains road, street deal with ECR 15:17

    Pigot retains road, street deal with ECR

    Spencer Pigot has retained his road/street track deal with Ed Carpenter Racing for 2017. Pigot, who won the feeder Indy…

    Indy
  38. Video: Márquez rides MotoGP bike on snow 15:02

    Video: Márquez rides MotoGP bike on snow

    Marc Márquez rides his MotoGP bike on snow at the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel for a promo video.

    MotoGP
  39. Fittipaldi joins Binder at Lotus for 2017 12:55

    Fittipaldi joins Binder at Lotus for 2017

    René Binder and Pietro Fittipaldi will form Lotus' Formula V8 3.5 line-up in 2017. Austrian racer Binder, 25, contested his…

    FV8 3.5
  40. Bottas sees 'no problem' with Hamilton 10:33

    Bottas sees 'no problem' with Hamilton

    New Mercedes signing Valtteri Bottas says he expects to develop a constructive relationship with Lewis Hamilton during their…

    F1
  41. Newey boosted by expected Renault gains 09:24

    Newey boosted by expected Renault gains

    Red Bull technical chief Adrian Newey is optimistic that Renault has made a "good step forwards" with its power unit, as the…

    F1
  42. Video: Felipe Massa returns to Formula 1 09:02

    Video: Felipe Massa returns to Formula 1

    Felipe Massa talks about reversing his retirement to return to Formula 1 with Williams for 2017.

    F1
  43. Why Bottas is the right choice for Mercedes 08:10

    Why Bottas is the right choice for Mercedes

    Valtteri Bottas will link up with Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in Formula 1 this season, following champion Nico Rosberg's shock…

    F1
  44. Video of the Day: Valtteri Bottas Q&A 05:32

    Video of the Day: Valtteri Bottas Q&A

    Valtteri Bottas speaks about his move from Williams to Mercedes for the 2017 season.

    F1
more news