The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend will always remain one of Formula One’s darkest and most powerful memories. Two drivers horrifically lost their lives in the sport’s modern commercialised era and the overwhelming tragedy was a catalyst for a new culture of safety in motorsport.
There is little doubt that Ayrton Senna’s death was one of the single most significant moments in Grand Prix history. The shock of losing a champion in his prime on live TV in such dramatic fashion transformed Formula One into the world’s leading news story.
The sport’s attitude to safety and risk management has never been the same.
Regardless of Senna’s enduring legacy, the ultimate price paid by Ayrton for his racing passion was exactly the same as that paid by Roland Ratzenberger.
The young Austrian was taking part in just his third Formula One meeting at Imola after long journey through the lower categories. Ratzenberger started racing professionally as a 23 year old and competed throughout the UK and Europe before chasing more success in Japan. He took part in all manner of Japanese series, including Formula 3000, Formula Nippon, sports prototype racing, and even the local touring car championship.
Ratzenberger’s progress through the ranks is typical of many aspiring drivers who dream to compete in Formula One. Roland realised his Grand Prix ambition in 1994 when he signed with the lowly Simtek outfit. He failed to qualify for the season’s first race in Brazil but had a stronger showing at Aida thanks to his experience in Japan. Ratzenberger was fighting hard during qualifying to make the San Marino grid when his car left the track.
Death in motorsport does not discriminate against youth or experience. Let today be a reminder that Formula One should never grow complacent against the ultimate danger of racing.
Roland Ratzenberger. 4 July 1960 – 30 April 1994
Ayrton Senna. 21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994
This page was written by Martin Porter and posted by James Wilson