Donald McRae, the award winning writer from the Guardian, has done it again with a groundbreaking interview with Adrian Newey, the design genius behind Red Bull’s current domination of Formula 1.
But the quotes which catch the eye are not about Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber, they concern the death of Ayrton Senna, 17 years ago this month, in a Newey designed Williams-Renault car.
“The little hair I had all fell out in the aftermath,” Newey told McRae for an article in today’s Guardian. “So it changed me physically. It was dreadful. Both Patrick Head and myself separately asked ourselves whether we wanted to continue in racing. Did we want to be involved in a sport where people can die in something we’ve created? Secondly, was the accident caused by something that broke through poor or negligent design? And then the court case started.”
Newey’s words come as Senna is being widely reconsidered by fans from the time and by a new generation discovering him for the first time thanks to the documentary film “Senna”, which opens in the UK in two weeks time.
There is an intense scene in the film near the end, where an obviously agitated Senna tells Newey and engineering colleague David Brown that the car is suffering from a “changing balance” in the corners, one he is struggling to control. The car had been updated after failing to work in the opening three races of 1994 and Senna says that the car is “worse” if anything.
One of the central mysteries of Senna’s death is what caused his accident. The film is inconclusive on the matter, leaving it open as to what caused the steering column to break- was it the cause or the effect? And Newey’s testimony in the Guardian is in line with that,
“The day after the race was a Bank Holiday Monday and some of us came in to try and trawl though the data and work out what happened, ” Newey adds. “They were dark weeks. The honest truth is that no one will ever know exactly what happened. There’s no doubt the steering column failed and the big question was whether it failed in the accident or did it cause the accident? It had fatigue cracks and would have failed at some point. There is no question that its design was very poor. However, all the evidence suggests the car did not go off the track as a result of steering column failure.
“If you look at the camera shots, especially from Michael Schumacher’s following car, the car didn’t understeer off the track. It oversteered which is not consistent with a steering column failure. The rear of the car stepped out and all the data suggests that happened. Ayrton then corrected that by going to 50% throttle which would be consistent with trying to reduce the rear stepping out and then, half-a-second later, he went hard on the brakes. The question then is why did the rear step out? The car bottomed much harder on that second lap which again appears to be unusual because the tyre pressure should have come up by then – which leaves you expecting that the right rear tyre probably picked up a puncture from debris on the track. If I was pushed into picking out a single most likely cause that would be it.”
Read the Guardian article HERE