Newey: What happened that day, what caused the accident, still haunts me

Adrian Newey stilled pained by the incidents at Imola in 1994

Adrian Newey still pained by the incidents at Imola in 1994

Nearly two decades have passed since Ayrton Senna died at Imola driving a Williams penned by Adrian Newey, and what happened on the 1st of May 1994 still pains Formula 1’s most successful designer.

“What happened that day, what caused the accident, still haunts me to this day,” Newey told BBC Sport.

He added, “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 Senna at Imola in 1994

Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994

“Ayrton’s raw talent and determination…he tried to carry that car and make it do things it really wasn’t capable of,” revealed the Red Bull design guru. “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.”

The cause of the accident at Tamburello in 1994 was caused by either a steering column failure or by driver error, of which Newey is adamant: “No one will ever know.”

“The steering column failure, was it the cause, or did it happen in the accident?” asks Newey.

“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.”

Ayrton Senna embarks on his final lap before tragically losing his life in an accident on lap six of the 1994 San Marino GP

Ayrton Senna embarks on his final lap before tragically losing his life in an accident on lap six of the 1994 San Marino GP

“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,” ventured the Englishman.

Of Senna the man, Newey recalled, “There was an aura about him, something that’s difficult to describe. He most certainly had a presence.” (GP247)

Subbed by AJN.

  • Mudzis

    Schumacher with Launch control, illegal fuel rig etc. still could not beat Senna in a bad Williams car. (Illegal pass during pitstop in Brazil, Senna on pole in Pacific, Senna leading in Imola).
    Schumacher is not even close to Senna in terms of greatness.

  • Greg

    Why does’nt Schumacher talk about what he saw in Senna’s accident??/

  • pfft


    Schumacher immediately bested senna in his first full season (1992). He and Senna raced hard and schu had passes than a more than senna had passed him (probably because senna waa faster over one lap and usually qualified ahead and schu looked after his race better. It was a battle that should have gone on for many years, with each pushing each other to higher levels.

    Poor Senna just kept throwing the car off the road in 94. I believe he was just pushing too hard. He had a reputation for throwing it away. That’s what happens when u give 110%.

    As much as I disliked senna’s cheating and spoilt brat attitude, hebwas tremendously fast. RIP

  • Stoner

    because Schumacher has always remained a cheat and a liar

  • pfft

    He and Senna had much in common. …

  • Tony Clifton

    The removal of the active suspension made the car very unstable.
    The balance of the car would alternate between oversteer and understeer during runs. The race was stopped after and incident at the start and the cars remain on the grid. Some say the tyre pressures dropped from the cooling tyres and lowered the car, which resulted in it bottoming out through Tamburello on the restart which resulted in the car being unable to brake. The real mystery was the Black Box. Charlie Whiting, an FIA official, (breached FIA regulations) and handed the black boxes back to Williams before the FIA investigation into the accident. The boxes when returned to officials were unreadable. Also the race itself should never have taken place. The death of Ratzenberger the previous day should have (according to Italian law) stopped the entire race weekend completely. Ultimately formula 1’s greed and lack of respect led to the death of Senna.

  • Marti

    Indeed Senna were a great but, Hakkinen out qualified him in his first MP4 – can`t remember exact details but
    Mika in the same machinery PROVED 2 B faster !!!

  • Sigh

    @ pfft
    you name say’s it all.. Pfft..
    what a sore looser you should be!
    have you even seen the races in the 90s?
    Everyone knew that Shumi used illegal traction control… he’s own team driver admitted it! and Senna never cheated.. it was his determination and precision that made fools like you think he was cheating! i still wonder whether you’ve seen a formula one race…

    Sigh this is what happens when Justin Beiber fans just start watching F1!!!

  • pfft


    I enjoy your turn around. I doubet you ever saw Prost, Senna, Mansell or Lauda race.

    No team driver (I assume you are referring to Jos the Boss) ever ‘admitted’ anything of the sort. Jos only claimes that Briatore wouldn’t discuss the matter with him.

    Jos is a known sore loser. He fractured the skull of an innocent man at a race track because his son was faster than Jos Junior. He can’t handle getting dumped by his girlfriend, either. He likes to hand out a few beatings.

    Senna was a proud cheater. He openly admitted to purposely smashing Prost off the track in 1990. He also reneged on deals at his whim. When Hakkinnen proved quicker in his first few outings, he was unceremoniously shuffled into a slower position.

    I don’t doubt that schumacher might have had tc in early 94, but the whole field had it in 1992 and schumacher was a rookie and nearly took second in the championship (just shy of Patrese in the all-conquering Williams). Senna overdrove his car and spun off, consistently broke gearsets by misjudging downshifts and gave away places (schumacher overtook him in his first ever wet race!) when under pressure.

    When he held it together, tho he won. He was the fastest but flawed. He never bested Prost, Rookie Schumacher showed his hand and Senna was still great. The fastest, but flawed. Perhaps you’ve been suckered in by the biased fiction of ‘Senna: the movie?’

  • Tony Clifton

    While there’s not doubting that T.C was buried in software the 94′ Benetton pre-Imola… (whether is was used or not the FIA could not prove. maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t) However it didn’t dampen the pace of Schumacher in the remaining races of ’94 or in ’95. Schumacher was talented no matter what people like to say to the contrary. Putting a Jordan in 7th place on the grid in his first F1 qualifying session proved this guy had pace. Spain ’96 where he lapped (but for one car) the entire field in the wet was a fantastic showcase of driving skill. As Stirling Moss said “It wasn’t a race. It was a display of brilliance.” While I myself feel Senna was the most naturally talented F1 driver (on parr with Jim Clarke maybe) I have no problem saying that Schumacher was also an extremely talented driver and without doubt the best driver of his generation. Love him or hate him the man could drive. It’s Funny before Imola, 50% of F1 fans hated Senna… People tend to forget than sometimes with genius comes ruthlessness. All champions have varying degrees of it. Some more than others. Senna and Schumacher had it in spades.

  • Sigh


    oh i see you know to read….
    ever shumi has said the best driver was senna! :P
    lol and here your arguing about senna cheating and all :P
    when nobody can help the way people think.. for you senna might have cheated but for many he was undoubtedly the best F1 driver ever that ever lived….
    I respect Schumacher very much just as you do.. but still he aint that great compared to Senna…

  • Paul Bould

    It was determined by Court the steering failure. if you link this news with Minardi last statement about something irregular in the RB’2013 makes me think of vettel as new Newey’s victim?

  • pfft


    We agree on some things. Schumacher did say that. I believe that Senna was faster than Schumacher. In the same team, I reckon Senna would qualify ahead of Schu every time (all things being even).

    In a race, it may be a different matter. 1992 was a good example of schumacher having a slower car, always qualifying slower and then battling for a good haul of points. Senna would qualify well and then overdrive. Smashing gear sets and flywheels by down changing too early. Crashing out after trying too hard, sliding off into gravel traps when under pressure and, sometimes when not under pressure. That’s why Prost always got more points over a season than Senna. Senna just threw it away too often…. even when in a good position.

    Senna was incredibly fast. I see a little of it in Hamilton. Jim Clark was, in my opinion, the best. He was a killer ona flying lap (like senna) but had a mechanical sympathy and deft touch that few drivers possess.

    My favorite memory of senna is lapping traffic at spa. Lapped drivers were nearly jumping out of his way when they saw him in the mirrors. He took no prisoners. RIP.

  • Tamburello_1994

    Senna is the greatest driver in the history of formula 1 .

    Schumacher is the most successful driver in formula 1 history.

    Each driver great in his own right.

  • AlsoRan

    I believe Senna was struck in the head and killed by one
    of his tyres.
    As in a plane crash, it is never just one action that triggers the crash, and in his case, a series of events that led him off track.

  • harry harris

    Hey Vettel … You better be careful with your car mate………

  • Go

    Pfft, with due respect you are not very knowledgeable.

    Senna did not miss downshifts in 1992. 92 was the first year mclaren used not a manual but a (very fragile) semi auto box which broke all the time. The 1992 mp4/7 was possibly the worst car mclaren have ever made together with mp4/24 and this years car. It was too heavy and had no torque (297lb/ft@14400). The v8 had it outmatched on all tracks bar hocknhm and monza.

    Hakkinen did outqualify senna on his first outing yes as Senna and hakkinen were running different spec hbv8 engines, but thereafter he outqualified senna never again.

    As for senna barging prost off at suzuka 90, i dont need to tell you who barged senna of and lost him the championship the year before on the same track. Senna never instigated such actions, only in hurtful revenge.

    As opposed to schumacher just tboning villeneuve and being disqualified from the entire 1997 world championship.. The hall of shame. Then stopping his car in monaco qualifying to stop alonso setting a faster time?

    Yes senna pushed the boundaries of sportsman ship in retaliation to others, schumacher simply had no sportsmanship, and 2010-2012 is a cosmic karma payback.

    I understand people starting to watch f1 as early as 1991 at the most, who have grown up idolising schumacher. Its natural.

    Its a shame that it had to be such a person to be their childhood idol, as opposed to a guy like senna.

    It was only discovered after Senna’s death that he had donated close to 100million $ to charity. Something he kept secret all his life.

    When schumacher decided to donate 10 million $ to the victims of the tsunami he got Willy Webber to organise a televised press conference to announce it.

    That right there, in addition to the on track antics I have seen of both men since 1987 resp. 1991 tells me all I need to know about their character.

  • Go

    In addition pfft, the whole field did not have TC in 1992, neither in 1993.. Hell, even the last manual gearshift f1 car was a 1995 forti I believe.

  • Go

    And to add to Neweys statement that the 16 was sorted by Imola (imola changes to 16), there’s crystal clear video footage of Senna talking directly to him and Dave Brown, saying the car was worse than at the previous gp.

  • Michael Schumacher

    I am the Greatest Driver of All Time!
    7x Word Drivers Champion ! ! ! ! ! ! !

  • Butterfly

    Every time there is a great controversy on his cars, Newey talks about the Senna crash.

  • Modesto vargas

    The steering column snapped and senna was going to win the championship that year for sure…

  • martin

    Well, that’s a shame that still nowadays Newey embarks himself in such an embarassing attempt of blaming Ayrton for his death… A verdict was released in a second trial, in 2007, and stated that Patrick Head was guilty of ommited control, for allowing a very poor yelding on the steering column, which presented fatigue cracks as soon as in the first laps of the race at Imola. There is always a responsible, and that technical job could have been done so much better, escpecially, because if not, a man’s life would be taken… as it happened to be.

  • Kyr

    As usually Senna fans are attacking Schumacher with no reason. Wonder why… Go get a life please.