Adrian Newey has admitted that he is still troubled by the circumstances surrounding the death of Ayrton Senna, who was killed at the wheel of one of his racing cars 19 years ago.
Senna, revered by Formula One fans as one of the sports all-time greats, sustained fatal head injuries following an accident at the infamous Tamburello corner, at the Imola circuit during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Newey was the Chief Designer at the Williams team at the time of the Brazilians death and faced manslaughter charges alongside the team’s Technical Director, Patrick Head, and Team Principal, Frank Williams, with prosecutors blaming the team for a poorly welded modification made to the steering column of Senna’s FW16, which was found to have cracked following the accident.
All three men were acquitted of any wrongdoing, but Newey has acknowledged that “no-one will know” if the failure of the steering column was to blame, or if it was an uncharacteristic driver error which claimed the life of the three-time world champion.
“What happened that day, what caused the accident, still haunts me to this day,” said Newey, in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The steering column failure, was it the cause, or did it happen in the accident?
“There is no doubt it was cracked. Equally, all the data, all the circuit cameras, the on-board camera from Michael Schumacher’s car that was following, none of that appears to be consistent with a steering-column failure.
“The car oversteered [when the rear tried to spin] initially and Ayrton caught that and only then did it go straight.
“But the first thing that happened was oversteer, in much the same way as you will sometimes see on a superspeedway in the States – the car will lose the rear, the driver will correct, and then it will go straight and hit the outside wall, which doesn’t appear to be consistent with a steering-column failure.”
Newey also expressed his regret at a failure to supply Senna with the car that the triple world champion was expecting in his short time at Williams.
The Brazilian left Mclaren, where he had won 35 races and three world championships in six years, to join the team of the moment, Williams, with expectations of dominating the field following the Grove-based squads back to back constructors’ titles in 1992 and 1993.
However, the Brazilian found the team’s 1994 challenger, the FW16, which had been stripped of its predecessor’s technological aids, a difficult car to drive.
Despite this, Senna took pole position in each of his three starts for the team, the last of which would be his 65th and final pole at Imola.
Speaking of Senna, Newey said: “There was an aura about him, something that’s difficult to describe. He most certainly had a presence.
“I guess one of the things that will always haunt me is that he joined Williams because we had managed to build a decent car for the previous three years and he wanted to be in the team he thought built the best car – and unfortunately that ’94 car at the start of the season wasn’t a good car.
“Ayrton’s raw talent and determination… he tried to carry that car and make it do things it really wasn’t capable of.
“And it just seems such a shame and so unfair he was in that position. And then, of course, by the time we did get the car sorted, he wasn’t with us any longer.”
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