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 6 May 2016

  2. Video of the Day: MotoGP rider 'hand jive' 05:26

    Video of the Day: MotoGP rider 'hand jive'

    MotoGP riders explain their shared hand-coded language in this special Alpinestars video.

    MotoGP
  3. Thursday 5 May 2016

  4. 16:32

    Book F1 tickets and join the action live!

    F1
  5. Doornbos: Red Bull acted to keep Verstappen 15:52

    Doornbos: Red Bull acted to keep Verstappen

    Robert Doornbos says he "1000 per cent" understands why Red Bull opted to replace Daniil Kvyat with Max Verstappen, in order to…

    F1
  6. Folger set for MotoGP debut with Tech 3 15:47

    Folger set for MotoGP debut with Tech 3

    Jonas Folger will join Tech 3 Yamaha for the 2017 season, with an optional one-year extension. German racer Folger, 22, has…

    MotoGP
  7. Video: Verstappen's message to fans 15:39

    Video: Verstappen's message to fans

    Max Verstappen sends a message to his fans after confirmation of his switch from Toro Rosso to Red Bull.

    F1
  8. Overview: Kvyat vs Ricciardo at Red Bull 15:02

    Overview: Kvyat vs Ricciardo at Red Bull

    Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen will step up to replace Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull from the Spanish Grand Prix, in a straight seat…

    F1
  9. Pirelli announces Silverstone compounds 14:21

    Pirelli announces Silverstone compounds

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli has announced its compound selections for July's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, with the…

    F1
  10. 14:02

    Photos: Verstappen visits Red Bull factory

    F1
  11. Marko: Kvyat could not cope with Ricciardo 13:26

    Marko: Kvyat could not cope with Ricciardo

    Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko has explained the reasons behind the call to replace Daniil Kvyat with Toro Rosso's…

    F1
  12. Button questions Verstappen/Kvyat swap 11:24

    Button questions Verstappen/Kvyat swap

    Jenson Button has questioned Red Bull's decision to replace Daniil Kvyat with Max Verstappen from the Spanish Grand Prix…

    F1
  13. Verstappen's Red Bull deal 'long term' 10:58

    Verstappen's Red Bull deal 'long term'

    Jos Verstappen believes that his son, Max, will benefit from an earlier-than-planned promotion to Red Bull, which comes as part…

    F1
  14. Tost welcomes Kvyat back to Toro Rosso 10:08

    Tost welcomes Kvyat back to Toro Rosso

    Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost says that the outfit is "more than happy" to welcome back Daniil Kvyat, following Red Bull's…

    F1
  15. In photos: Verstappen's F1 journey so far 09:53

    In photos: Verstappen's F1 journey so far

    Max Verstappen is preparing to take the next step of his burgeoning Formula 1 career at the Spanish Grand Prix, where he will…

    F1
  16. Verstappen describes 'amazing opportunity' 09:03

    Verstappen describes 'amazing opportunity'

    Max Verstappen has expressed his excitement at the "amazing opportunity" to step up to Red Bull from the Spanish Grand Prix…

    F1
  17. Verstappen replaces Kvyat at Red Bull 08:40

    Verstappen replaces Kvyat at Red Bull

    Max Verstappen will replace Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards, with the Russian driver returning to…

    F1
  18. Video of the Day: Rosberg vs Lauda 05:26

    Video of the Day: Rosberg vs Lauda

    Nico Rosberg takes on Niki Lauda in a game of table tennis. Watch on to see who comes out on top...

    F1
  19. Wednesday 4 May 2016

  20. Rossi: Le Mans usually suits Yamaha 15:14

    Rossi: Le Mans usually suits Yamaha

    Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi is hopeful of claiming back-to-back MotoGP victories at this weekend's French Grand Prix, given the…

    MotoGP
  21. Sauber admits to 'really difficult time' 13:39

    Sauber admits to 'really difficult time'

    Sauber has admitted that it is going through a "really difficult time", as it attempts to keep up with the costs involved in…

    F1
  22. Mercedes writes open letter to fans 11:55

    Mercedes writes open letter to fans

    Mercedes has written a lengthy open letter to its fans in an attempt to silence recent conspiracy theories regarding the 2016…

    F1
  23. Video: Repsol Honda previews Le Mans 11:12

    Video: Repsol Honda previews Le Mans

    Repsol Honda engineers Ramón Aurín and Santi Hernández preview the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

    MotoGP
  24. Michelin eager to impress on home soil 10:32

    Michelin eager to impress on home soil

    MotoGP tyre supplier Michelin says it is "very important" that this weekend's French Grand Prix goes smoothly for the brand…

    MotoGP
  25. Mark Sutton: Story Behind the Shot - Russia 09:46

    Mark Sutton: Story Behind the Shot - Russia

    Especially for lovers of motorsport photography, GPUpdate.net's race-by-race series, Story Behind the Shot, continues throughout…

    F1
  26. Turvey in for Berlin, no debut for Hanley 09:27

    Turvey in for Berlin, no debut for Hanley

    Oliver Turvey will race for NEXTEV TCR at the next round of the Formula E season in Berlin. Turvey was set to miss the May 21…

    FE
  27. Video of the Day: Prost on e.dams Renault 05:16

    Video of the Day: Prost on e.dams Renault

    Having had its advantage slashed by rivals Audi Sport Abt, e.dams Renault chief Alain Prost explains its recent struggles.

    FE
  28. Tuesday 3 May 2016

  29. Sauber to skip post-race Barcelona test 17:04

    Sauber to skip post-race Barcelona test

    Sauber has confirmed that it will not participate during the in-season group test sessions which take place during the week…

    F1
  30. Force India encouraged by VJM09 pace 14:44

    Force India encouraged by VJM09 pace

    Force India Chief Operating Officer Otmar Szafnauer says the outfit can draw encouragement from the pace of the VJM09 despite…

    F1
  31. STR: Russia a 'huge opportunity missed' 13:38

    STR: Russia a 'huge opportunity missed'

    Toro Rosso Technical Director James Key says that the outfit's failure to register a point at the Russian Grand Prix was a "huge…

    F1
  32. Pirelli begins 2017 tyre testing at Fiorano 13:02

    Pirelli begins 2017 tyre testing at Fiorano

    Pirelli has commenced its 2017 tyre testing programme with Ferrari's Jean-Éric Vergne behind the wheel of the F14-T, the…

    F1
  33. Márquez hoping to confirm Honda gains 12:42

    Márquez hoping to confirm Honda gains

    MotoGP championship leader Marc Márquez is eager to confirm the gains Repsol Honda has made with its RC213V across recent…

    MotoGP
  34. Arrivabene adamant Ferrari will keep fighting 11:26

    Arrivabene adamant Ferrari will keep fighting

    Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene maintains that the outfit is still in the hunt for the World Championship, despite…

    F1
  35. Pirelli reveals Spanish GP tyre selections 10:59

    Pirelli reveals Spanish GP tyre selections

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli has revealed the tyre compound selections which drivers have made for next weekend's Spanish…

    F1
  36. McLaren: Points finish reflects progress 10:40

    McLaren: Points finish reflects progress

    McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier is confident that the outfit has "turned the corner" after Fernando Alonso and Jenson…

    F1
  37. Sauber pair positive despite more struggles 09:48

    Sauber pair positive despite more struggles

    Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr were left content following the Russian Grand Prix, despite the team failing to…

    F1
  38. Renault to hold Silverstone filming day 09:02

    Renault to hold Silverstone filming day

    Renault will hold a Formula 1 filming day at Silverstone this Friday, with free admission for spectators. Race drivers Kevin…

    F1
  39. Video of the Day: IndyCar Space Camp 05:16

    Video of the Day: IndyCar Space Camp

    Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi recently attended the US Space & Rocket Center's Space Camp.

    Indy
  40. Monday 2 May 2016

  41. Winners and Losers: Russian Grand Prix 16:42

    Winners and Losers: Russian Grand Prix

    Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead with a seventh straight victory while Lewis Hamilton completed a Mercedes 1-2.…

    F1
  42. Mann back with Coyne for Indy 500 14:57

    Mann back with Coyne for Indy 500

    Pippa Mann will take part in the Indianapolis 500 with Dale Coyne Racing for the fourth consecutive season as part of the team's…

    Indy
  43. Haryanto says he had 'nowhere to go' 14:18

    Haryanto says he had 'nowhere to go'

    Manor driver Rio Haryanto says that he was left with "nowhere to go" as he became the third retiree of the first-lap drama in…

    F1
  44. Manufacturer 'reluctance' delays 24th entry 13:44

    Manufacturer 'reluctance' delays 24th entry

    MotoGP's field will not increase to 24 bikes in 2017 due to what the championship has described as a "reluctance" from…

    MotoGP
  45. Button: Sochi complex needs changes 13:36

    Button: Sochi complex needs changes

    Jenson Button reckons officials need to look at revising the Turn 2/3 complex at Sochi Autodrom after another dramatic start to…

    F1
more news