Newey speaks for first time about how Senna’s death almost made him quit
Red Bull Racing
Newey speaks for first time about how Senna’s death almost made him quit
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 May 2011   |  11:33 pm GMT  |  72 comments

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

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The facts speak for themselves. First, after Ratzenberger’s death, according to Italian Law, the race should’ve been cancelled, so blame the organizers, Berniem, and Max. Second, blame Williams and the FIA (Charlie Whiting) as Williams had 2 team persons removed both of the only-scratched black boxes on Whitings authority immediately after the chasis was broought back to the paddock; a full month later, the crash video is missing, all the data is missing, and the boxes were smashed as if by a hammer. Sir Frank, Patrick Head, Mewey, and the rest of those Williams team members have their places reserved for them in Hell for murder! They made a great “well we’ll never know” cover-up of a story to save all their asses!


The trial in 2007 has already proved that the accident was caused by steering column failure which was caused by poorly designed modification. And the responsibility has fall on Patrick Head.



The easiest way would be to use a simulator and use the data, steering input ,speed, steering angle calculate the car trajectory, and see what happens when you brake a steering column or the back steps out and compare results. Mcclaren, Ferrari even Williams have the technology to do it now.


Tamburello was always a flat-out corner. Was Senna “over-driving”..I’d read a comment in an interview with Damon Hill (can’t recall the magazine) that Senna has warned him that the Williams was nervous over the bumps through Tamburello, and advised a slightly different line through. Senna however stuck to the “traditional” line, showing his commitment to taking pole and trying to win. The FW16 was a dog in the bginning of the season. Had Senna walked away from that accident, we could be sure he would have developed the car and most likely been crowned champion. Sadly, this was not to be. Senna’s death is shrouded with a mystique very much like the man himself was…we will never know. Telemetry does show that he was fighting to regain control of the car, and had slowed it down considerably before impact. Does it show catastrophic failure or a genius who overstepped his mark? Something happened that day in that car, and it robbed us of a man at the height of his powers. I was never a Senna fan, but boy, is he missed. watching him get every ounce of performance from a a car was watching a magician at work.Ayrton Senna da Silva…RIP


Regarding The last comment… Just because a particular corner is always taken flat out does not mean that it can’t be overdiven under specific circumstances… If you have a particularly poor handling car to begin with (which Senna did by all reports)subject to both oversteer and understeer (as he states in the film) coupled with Senna’s proclivity to go flat out pushing or exceeding the limits of other mortals because of his brilliance and exceptional reflexes it’s possible that taking that corner flat out on that day at that time in the race was overdriving… In that type of car you may get away with it for a time but one small driving error or one unexpected problem (perhaps a slow rear tire deflation from debris)at that speed and control is gone and you become a passenger… In fact I would argue that Senna practically always overdrove every time he raced… That is not a criticism but rather an acknowledgement that he drove on the ragged edge of car control getting more out of a car than anyone else could… He was Senna…


Any suggestion that Senna “overdrove” that corner are hilarious.

The corner was always flat out in any car with little effort required from the driver.

Dougie Smythe

So Senna went off the track. Lots of F1 cars go off the track. But what did the damage to the suspension that eventually went thru’ his helmet and killed him was that the fact that he crashed hard onto a concrete wall. I cannot believe it; a concrete wall just off a F1 track? If there had been some sort of tyre safety barrier before the concrete wall, Senna would have lived. Senna was killed by the concrete wall at Imola.

Senna is my F1 hero, and his death put me off F1 for many years.


Does anybody know is there is any merit to the theory that that the power steering locked or jammed or simply failed mometarily when the pressure surged and then dropped? What could have caused that ?

Ambient Sheep

There’s a far longer version of the interview, but without the detailed analysis of the crash, here:

which also includes the startling revelations (at least to me) that Newey was expelled from public school, and that Head was found guilty of manslaughter in 2007 but couldn’t be arrested as the Italian Statute of Limitations had timed out.


James, another poster has brought up the whole business of Schumacher, Benetton, and traction control. From all of my research, and the official FIA releases, all I’ve ever found was the “Option 13,” which you’re no doubt familiar with, that supposedly allowed launch control. The FIA hearing never mentioned traction control, but this always gets brought up, often by fans who do not support Schumacher, and seek to marginalize his talent. I’m aware that Senna apparently suggested that the Benetton had TC, and this idea is cited in countless internet discussions, but was there any real truth to this? Again, the FIA documents I’ve tracked down only mentioned launch control. Any knowledge would be appreciated.

Matt Devenish

Forgive me for quoting without source, but I recall F1 Racing doing an interview with Mosley, either just after he announced his decision to step down as President and then reversed it a month later in 2004/5 or just before he actually did stand down in 2009.

One of the questions was to do with Benetton and the now infamous “option 13” and did he have any regrets. The jist of his reply was that with hindsight the FIA shouldn’t have returned the evidence to the team, which rendered any future charge impossible, whether or not Benetton did actually use it in competition or not. Reading between the lines, I think there was a tremendous amount of pressure (not least coming from Bernie, who was far too involved with Flavio at the time) to draw a line under the 1994 season.

Benetton fully admitted its presence, but vehemently denied it was ever used. Would that excuse stand up today? If McLaren were found to be using a modified version of the standard ECU, but then claimed they were actually using the same software as everyone else, would the FIA return the evidence and forget all about it? I’d fully expect a penalty similar to ’07’s spygate. But the time, the FIA administration and stakes are all far greater and different now than they were almost twenty years ago.


Very interesting Newey comments.

Anyone who has seen the video from Schuey’s following car can certainly convince themselves that the rear of Senna’s car was lower than usual, and that the strat of the accident was ‘self-steer’ following grounding. Notwithstanding the possibility of lower TP’s due to slower running behind the safety car just prior to the accident, while that may have been a factor I was never convinced it was the whole story. A slow puncture does fit the bill. But would it have provided sufficient deflation to cause the accident without Senna noticing it. I think probably yes.

I was v. surprised that AN commented on the start of a fatigue failure in the steering column. Don’t forget that the col had been modified just before the race at S’s request. It would be interesting to know where that crack had started. If it was related to the mods it must have precipitated quickly, if not – was there no superficial crack testing as part of the pre-race prep?

Either way, nobody’s fault.

It’s obvious that immediately after an incident like this everybody associated with the car design/prep will feel bad, but at the end of the day they did nothing to intentionally cause the failure. It may have been an unfortunate error or something completely untraceable priior to the start of the incident, BUT it wasn’t deliberate and if it was sometheing that was missed – it was for a reason.


the official theory states that the car bottomed out due to low tyre pressures (be it due to the restart or perhaps a slow puncture), this caused the back end to slide.

those who question this say ‘well why did the car go straght into the wall rather than slide into it sideways’, the answer to this is simple. as senna corrected the rear re-gained traction & basically turned the car in the direction the wheel was pointing which was to the right.

this sort of thing happens a lot in indycar racing on ovals. the rear slides, driver corrects only for the rear to regain traction & turn the car into the wall.

the conspiracy theories surrounding all the missing onboard footage, damaged black boxes & broken steering columns never made any sence to me.

why would the team, the fia & fom need to bother covering something such as a car failure up?


Does it truly matter what happened? The man is gone, let him rest in peace.


Certainly, Senna’s death was due to the unimaginably unfortunate trajectory of the right front wheel. But having seen the Williams unexpectedly leave the track and head for the wall we cannot rest until we know the reason for the loss of control. Not persuaded by the weight of a well-reasoned argument, not calmed by the opinion of the honourable and peerless Adrian Newey but convinced by what our eyes have not yet seen: revealing footage. Abe Zapruder, where are you?


Another quote from McRae’s interview with Newey: “… because once a team gets run by an accountant, it’s time to move.” Sounds like Williams now, doesn’t it?


What ever became of the on-car footage seconds before impact? I’ve heard it said that it was lost due to a circumstantial glitch. True??


The debate rages on about what caused the crash and I suppose it will never end. I dont think its that important to know what caused the crash. We know for sure it was one of the following things; steering column failure, puncture, bottoming out, suspension failure, brake failure or a stuck throttle.

I know not all of these apply to Sennas case as it has been proven he did brake etc.. But the point is that all of these failures had occured many times in the past and have occured many times since then. Im not saying thats acceptable but these are thoughbread racing cars under constant development, things break.

As Jo Torrent states at the top of the page it was sheer bad luck that killed Senna, had that accident happened another 1000 times he would have walked away. If that same set of circumstances happened today we would probably have another fatality, although the chances have been greatly reduced by the introduction of higher cockpit sides and wheel tethers. But the fact stands that things like wheels flying is and always will be very dangerous, as we were sadly reminded in 2009 with Henry Surtees and Felipe Massa.

For what its worth I dont think steering column failure caused the crash, I agree with Newey in saying it just doesnt look like a steering failure.

What is worth remembering is that at the start of the 94 season the Williams was a horrible car to drive, Williams had pionered (I think) and used active suspension for several years and had some of the most sophisticated driver aids in the field. They were struggling to make the car competitive without them. As history shows they sorted it out before the end of the year as Damon Hill won races and came very close to the championship (with a little help from the penalties Benneton got).

For those first few races though only Sennas sublime skills gave him pole position. Damon Hill also said the car was twitchy and nervous and was never within half a second of Sennas pole laps. Damon Hill was no slouch of a driver but half a second of laptime is the difference between the limit and over the limit.

Quite simply Senna was driving that car far faster than it was capable of going and as far as Im concerened he lost control. You then factor in other things like his emotional state about Ratzenbergers death the day before and Barrichellos crash on the Friday. His anger at Bennetons apparent use of driver aids, of which Senna was conviced. Add in his awful start to the season and I think you end up with a man who was not in a good frame of mind.

Until we get that final 2s of on board footage though (which I am convinced exists) we will never know what happened.

RIP Senna, I cannot wait to see this fim


Great movie but too biased point of view. I don’t like Prost but I don’t think he was treated fairly


From the second Ayrtons FW16 veered right and into the wall it is blatantly obvious the car suffered steering column falure BEFORE THE CAR LEFT THE TRACK!!! Absolutely no doubt about that, and all the possible various causes that have been mooted around all this time about the car bottoming out, low tyre pressure, a puncture or even running over debris on the track are all part of the smokescreen designed to get Wallys off the hook before they ended up in the Italian courts!! Had Ayrtons steering been fully functional as the car left the track, then he would have tried to spin the car around and go into the wall BACKWARDS, which would have been the only thing he would have been able to do to lessen the impact that he knew was coming!!! The fact that he was turning the steering wheel to the left, but this was having no effect on the front wheels proves conclusively that the steering column was already disconnected from the steering rack!!!! Maybe 1 day Williams will grow a pair and finally admit to the world what most engineers already know….that steering column failure WAS the cause of the cars sudden change of direction!!! Even the telemetry shows the sudden drop in steering pressure in the system from over 600psi to 0psi within milliseconds of the cars change of direction!! Why would low tyre pressure only affect Ayrtons car but not the following 20 odd cars after they had ALL been following the SC for 7 laps? And why at almost 200 mph did Ayrtons car not spin around as he approached the wall, and with the brakes full on, even though he was turning the steering wheel hard left? The answer my friends is because the column and the front wheels were no longer connected to each other!!! Ayrton was a passenger in a runaway car for the last 2 seconds of his life because of a miscalculation fabricating the modified steering column. Maybe after welding the column somebody ground away too much of the excess material, thereby weakening the column before it was fitted to the car, or maybe thicker tubing was required to ensure the part was strong enough to cope with the demands on it, but either way it was the modification that failed at the worst possible moment. I also remember reading an article which stated that immediately after the crash, Patrick Head was heard muttering “steering power, steering power” , on the pit wall whilst he was looking at the telemetry!!! The real cause of the crash is no mystery to all the engineers in the pit lane at Imola that day..and no mystery to me either!


This post has exactly the CORRECT information anyone needs about what happened. The only serious explanation anyone can deduce was steering failure.

If you see photo’s of the wall thickness of the repaired tube that was used to extend the column it is easy to see how it failed.If a larger diameter tube had been welded around the original column then it may have lasted longer but with the heat from the weld destroying the properties and strength of the steel this would still be a bad move even on a non stressed component.

I hope the truth will be admitted one day by those that know. The last seconds of the camera footage would have shown what happened more clearly. I am guessing someone has the footage somewhere still regardless of what’s been said.


I know it will never be proved one way or another and this is only my opinion, but If those last few seconds of footage had been saved I’m pretty sure we would have seen the steering wheel break in his hands. I know Coulthard said the video showing the vertical movement of the wheel was normal but I still think the way the car went off points towards a loss of steering rather than just the car bottoming. I think the car did bottom out and this was the final hit that snapped the column fully. The car just goes off too straight, surely if Senna was braking like the evidence showed he would have been steering fully left too, yet on the external video that captures the crash it looks like the wheels are not turning left away from the wall.


Disagree. If the car bottomed out and the bakc slide out then the back would have started going right of the car. Senna we know changed his throttle to correct and so I’m guessing he also counter steered right.

If the steering had been lost and the back had stepped out then the car would have spun either left or gith depending on where the forces were going.

The car didn’t which means there was no sideways force on the car (very unlikely) or Senna was correcting the slide with the steering, ergo the steering must be still working.

I sitl think the same thing as when I first aw it, the car bottom out, slid right and Senna corrected (what Newey said supports this) and he went into the wall.

The car was badly setup and was run a bit too low as they tried to adjust from the active suspension that the car was designed for.


I watched the Senna trailer at the cinema on Sunday night. The moment when the in-car footage shows Senna approach, and begin to leave the road at, Tamburello corner is extremely frightening to see, even if it was barely a second before the trailer cut away. I even spoke out at the time of watching as it is so clear the car has lost some control.

Reading as we all have the various possible reasons for over- or understeer, it is incredibly interesting to hear Newey himself comment on the circumstance and his own feelings. It’s impossible not to rate the guy, he’s been so successful, yet he always seems reserved and cautious in his approach.

James, I would love to know whether you feel this approach by Newey is in some way attributed to Senna’s death, and that he may have been more reckless and determined to succeed in his youth? I’m certainly not placing blame, but as Newey mentions his physicality and questioning of his career in the aftermath, I’m keen to know what implications these have had in his methods.

Michael Grievson

Aweful accident. Lets not forget Roland Ratzenburger lost is life that weekend and I believe Reuben’s almost did as well

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Senna died because of a freak event in which the wheel of his car hit him on the head.

The cause of the accident is most likely steering column failure. All the evidence points to this and some of the worlds best engineers without a vested interest in the outcome of this case have supported this.

The car stepped out because there was a nasty bump mid way through tamburello and the Senna has no steering force to counteract this.

James, will you ever be writing a book on this watershed event for f1?


a very small but interesting comment was made by david brown in the 1994 autocourse summary of williams season.He made the comment that after years of using the highly sophisticated active suspension the team really struggled to return to a conventional system and had to relearn how to set up a conventionaly sprung car at the begining of the year and only felt comfortable with the car by the sixth race or so.Remember how many times senna and hill spun or half spun at interlagos and aida.Hill took the rather sensible route of developing with the car, senna (and this is a mark of his genius)was able to ring the cars neck and get pole laps out of it using his skill to adapt to the cars eratic handling.This was his undoing at imola the caotic start and pressure from schumachers traction controlled benetton contributed to him losing control at tamburello,he was overdriving in my opinion relying on his skill base but just went over the edge on a corner that had no room for error. call it fate and circumstance mixed together.


paul says:

“This was his undoing at imola the caotic start and pressure from schumachers traction controlled benetton contributed to him losing control at tamburello,he was overdriving in my opinion”

Yes! Schumacher! Arrest this man!

Sigh… I recommend you a book, “The life of Senna” by Tom Rubython. It has some great chapters too, but for some reason, it seems to talk even more about Schumacher and the whole traction control saga. The book may add fuel to your views and you may find it a very good reading.

Senna´s death was hard to swallow for many. Now almost 20 years later, it´s time to look back to it in a less emotional way. Of course, the Benneton had some “suspicious” software and I refuse to believe they didnt use it. But they past scrutineering. Thats it. It was Williams that failed to take the corner… possibly in combination with a punctured tyre, as Newey speculates.

Although, I must agree that Senna was overdriving. But by overdriving, I mean

Senna´s decision to race that car in the first place. His decision not to set it up in a way which would give him a safer, easier ride( but surely, significantly compromising laptimes). But he wanted to race more than be safe. So if we believe the “cold tyres plus evil to drive car” theory, the driver played his part even before leaving the starting grid.

Vassilis Tsakiroglou

[mod – extract of long comment] My conclusion is that there is no conclusion, a definite and crystal clear one at least. However, you can argue forever about understeer or oversteer before FW16 went straight to the wall, but there is a certain point when Senna could not turn the wheel anymore and surrenders to the centrifugal forces of Tamburello. My view is that moment the steering column snapped in his hands, it’s kind of pushing against a closed door which suddenly opens -and that’s all there is to it. After a decade of research, I had to give up trying to unearth the truth, but still I had to believe in an explanation, so as to be able to sleep a bit easier at nights. So, I believe that the column broke and caused the accident, but utterly it was Senna who was responsible for that by insisting on a modification to the steering column.

I have spend ten years of my life studying every possible source of information about Senna’s life and death. I have travelled lots of times to Italy so as to meet people from CINECA, the University lab that undertook the task of reconstructing the accident, and of course to interview Mr. Passarini. I have watched thousands of times the video footage that CINECA screened during the trial in Imola together with techical minded people,


James. Did Williams ever get the car back to inspect?


Black boxes with telemetry data gone?

I would like to know if Barachello’s crash resulted in telemetry data being lost to see how reliable the blackboxes were at the time.

How many times had the black boxes failed in crashes in the prior 3 years before 1994? I have a hard time believing that devices designed to be used under F1 forces didn’t survive this crash. That would really be worth investigating.

And am I alone at the repulsion of events continuing after a death of a participant? This race is but one example unfortunately and could have stopped the unfortunate Sunday with that decision. I’m absolutely repulsed by the Giro that’s on now for example.


I remember there was frustration because it was impounded and they eventually had a chance to inspect it, I think. Its 17 years ago now!


frank statement from the honest man, & RIP Ayrton


At the risk of sparking a conspiracy, I would have thought the sudden change of direction at full speed would cause the same sort of oversteer we saw when Senna went off. Newy is right, it wasn’t straight on relative to the corner, but the car steered right, towards the wall. I always thought this was as a result of the car losing traction, and the physics of the steering column becoming detached at full throttle would likely lead to some oversteer.

I am glad to hear Newey speak on the subject; I can’t imagine how aware he must have been from that moment on that every driver stepping into his cars was trusting him with their lives.

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