Top Stories from the News pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Thursday, May 5, 1994

After Senna's Death, Grand Prix Tries to Slow Down

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - The governing body of Grand Prix racing, under pressure to enhance safety after the deaths of the three-time world champion Ayrton Senna and another driver at last weekend's competition in Italy, said Wednesday that it was considering ways to reduce the speed of the racing cars.

But, in sidestepping for the most part the main issue - the crashes that killed Senna and an Austrian rookie driver, Roland Ratzenberger - the International Automobile Federation came out of its special high-level meeting with only three relatively limited safety measures intended to reduce accidents around the pit lanes.

"After five accidents this past weekend, including two deaths, one must be careful not to overreact," said Max Mosley, the federation's president. "We must not be tempted to force things onto the teams and create other things."

What killed Senna on Sunday at the Tamburello curve at Imola, Italy, and Ratzenberger 24 hours earlier, at the start of a curve just up the track, remain unknown. Senna died of extensive head injuries after his Williams-Renault hit the circuit's concrete wall straight on. Ratzenberger also died of head injuries after hitting the wall in his Simtek-Ford.

The Williams team said no decision on a replacement for Senna would be made until next week. He was to be buried in São Paulo on Thursday morning.

Mosley, quoted by Reuters, said Wednesday that Senna had reached a speed of 310 kilometers an hour (192 miles an hour) when he lost control of his car. "Why he lost control we don't know yet," he said.

Mosley said the exact reasons for the crashes would not be known until the Grand Prix governing body, known by its French acronym, FIA, and the drivers' teams were able to get the cars and equipment back from Italian authorities.

"The whole picture will not be known until the car is back with the teams and will be examined," he said, adding that it might be a month before more definite answers were available.

He and Simtek officials said Ratzenberger crashed during a qualification run after his car suddenly lost traction. The initial hypothesis is that a front wing on the car was weakened when he went off the track on the previous lap. He, too, crashed at about 300 kilometers an hour.

FIA said it would take urgent steps to cut the speed of Formula One cars. It did not announce how, although one of the most favored methods appeared to be the introduction of a system to restrict the rate at which fuel enters the engine, thus limiting power.

But doing that in a sport built on power and speed is sure to run into opposition.

The federation also said it would consider fitting cars with air bags and introducing other measures to restrict the head movements of drivers, protecting them from the sort of injuries that killed Senna and Ratzenberger.

Both the Ferrari driver Jean Alesi and the Benetton driver J.J. Lehto had neck vertebrae crushed in similar accidents during private test runs earlier in the season. The protective cell of a cockpit is so solid that it is only the neck of the driver that absorbs the shock of a crash.

Mosley said several other possible responses - including the cancellation of the Monaco Grand Prix on May 15 or even the whole season - were ruled out at the special meeting.

The measures that were enacted appeared to be ones intended to avoid a recurrence of the pit lane accident that occurred at Imola when a wheel flew off the Minardi-Ford driven by Michele Alboreto and hit four mechanics. They were not seriously injured.

FIA said these new safety measures would be instituted at Monaco:


Entries into and exits from the pits will be controlled by a slight curve to force cars to reduce their speeds.


No one will be allowed on the driving surface of the pit lanes except those directly involved in working on race cars at the time.


A draw will be arranged to determine in advance the order in which cars will make their pit stops. Stops made out of the designated order will be limited to emergencies and cars will not be allowed to take on fuel or new tires then.

"Let's see what happens in Monaco," Mosley said. "I don't think anyone can be worried about Monaco. It's a special circuit."

He said that FIA also wanted to take further steps to ensure spectator safety after several people in the crowd at Imola were injured by debris flung into the stands by an accident on the starting grid. Mosley said higher fencing would be considered, although the fencing at the track in Italy was already almost four meters high.

Mosley fiercely denied allegations, such as those by the former world champion Alain Prost of France, among others, that FIA had turned a deaf ear to driver complaints about safety. FIA, he said, has constantly worked to improve safety and has actively sought input from the Formula One drivers, who had mostly proved too busy to offer their help.

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