Imola 1994 and the question: “Who was Roland Ratzenberger?”

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Imola 1994 and the question:





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Film tip: Roland Ratzenberger’s “Long Road to Short Happiness” by Peter Levay


In times of the corona crisis, which affects us all over the world, we all have a lot more time to think about all sorts of things and to do things that are always put off. Not only social contacts, the loss of one or the other job, but also our entire public life comes to a standstill. This also includes attending major events such as concerts, soccer or motorsport.

How to save yourself from this difficult time with digital races, podcasts and Skype interviews. The official Formula 1 channel on YouTube currently shows classic races from days gone by. These included the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, ​​which Michael Schumacher won with his inferior Ferrari; the title fights in Adelaide in 1986 and in Jerez in 1997; but also crazy, because unique races in which only six cars crossed the finish line happened at the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix.

Certainly some exciting races will be uploaded in the next few weeks, which should bring the history of Formula 1 closer to the fan.

Certainly a race will remain in the archives for reasons of piety: The Grand Prix of San Marino in Imola, from May 1st, 1994. One of the most catastrophic race weekends that modern Fomel 1 has ever seen. For the younger of our readers who don’t know what happened then, here is the weekend’s balance sheet:

Friday, April 29: Rubens Barichello accident

In Friday’s qualifying, Rubens Barrichello (later teammate of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari) was catapulted into the fence because he was simply too fast in a chicane. Of course, these were secured with a double stack of tires. But what does this precaution do if the bolide uses the sloping curbs as a ski jump and hits just above the tire stack?

The low-altitude flight could have ended 30 centimeters higher in the fully occupied grandstand. Unthinkable what consequences that would have had. With a multiple rollover, Barrichello was thrown back and he miraculously suffered only minor cuts in the face.

Everyone who saw the pictures at the time was terrified. The entire Formula 1 circus saw the mild consequences of the accident as a sign of the indestructible safety in which Formula 1 was at that time.

Saturday, April 30: Roland Ratzenberger accident

The Saturday qualifying was almost 15 minutes old, when you saw a completely destroyed wreck rolling out on the screens. It was the Simtek by Roland Ratzenberger from Austria. He was on a fast lap and tried to qualify for his third race in Formula 1 with technically inferior material.

Then part of the front wing broke and made sure that he had no downforce at the fastest point of the course on the front wheels and that his vehicle became unmanageable. The impact on the concrete wall must have occurred at around 300 km / h. The rushing doctors could no longer help him.

Sunday, May 1st: Starting accident

At the start of the race, J.J. Lehto (teammate of Michael Schumacher in the Benetton) cut off his engine and gestured wildly with his arms to warn vehicles behind. Pedro Lamy in the Lotus didn’t see the obstacle and crashed almost head-on into the rear of the Benetton. A start-up accident like it had happened before. Both drivers got out unharmed.

The tragedy of this impact, however, was two ripped off wheels that flew into the audience in the grandstand along with their suspension. Nine spectators were injured, one so severe that he was reportedly in a coma for several weeks. To this day, he suffers from the consequences of this accident due to the severity of the head injuries.

Sunday, May 1st: Ayrton Senna accident

The race is neutralized behind a much too slow safety car until it is started again with the green flag. Ayrton Senna is in the lead, with Michael Schumacher close behind. In lap seven, the Williams-Renault hits the uneven road surface several times in the Tamburello curve, which makes the car unstable and unmanageable.

The inevitable impact in the concrete wall is the result. The Williams is thrown back onto the hard shoulder. The whole world holds its breath and waits for Senna to get out. But a broken wheel with its suspension hit Senna so hard on the head that he suffered irreparable brain injuries.

The race was restarted after a 45-minute break.

Sunday, May 1st: Michele Alboreto accident

The newly started race received hardly any attention, as they feared for the life of the three-time world champion Ayrton Senna from Brazil. News kept coming from the Bologna hospital. On the one hand there was talk of Senna’s clinical death, and then again of hope for recovery.

Another misfortune happened at the pit stop of Michele Alboreto, in which a detaching rear wheel cleared away several mechanics from Ferrari and Lotus like cones. Broken legs and bruises are the result. Back then there was no speed limit in the pit lane. The race continued and Michael Schumacher won.

Imola 1994: Ayrton Senna’s death overshadows everything else

Formula 1 cost two lives this Imola weekend. To this day, only three-time world champion Ayrton Senna is spoken of. Experts agree that ultimately only his death led to the revision of Formula 1 safety.

But what about Roland Ratzenberger, the second victim from back then? Is his death worth less because he only started his third race?

Those who knew Roland Ratzenberger better and witnessed and followed his story do not find this unequal treatment to be justified. The achievement of getting into Formula 1 with the prerequisites that Ratzenberger had deserves the highest recognition.

Roland Ratzenberger from Salzburg always dreamed of becoming a racing driver. The nearby workshop of Walter Lechner magically draws in and brings him closer to his goal when he can move his racing cars from time to time with a lot of work as a mechanic.

He has no money, so he has to seize the opportunities that come his way. In 1982, Ratzenberger moved to Germany because he was able to earn money as an instructor at the ISA Racing driving school and was able to take his first steps in Formula Ford. He stayed in Germany until 1985 and saw his first victories.

If you want to make a name for yourself in the world of motorsport, you have to go to England. Ratzenberger finally made his breakthrough thousands of kilometers away from home. In 1986 he won the Formula Ford Festival in Brands Hatch with a sheer margin. The Schnitzer team from Freilassing became aware of Salzburg’s “neighbors” and offered him a work contract for 1987.

Ratzenberger has only one goal: Formula 1

But touring cars are only an intermediate stage. He has to move formula cars, otherwise the path leads anywhere else, only not to Formula 1. With financial support from ATS, it is possible to compete in some Formula 3 races. He has been driving this series for two years, parallel to the touring cars. In the touring cars, he earns the money he spends in Formula 3.

1989 was the turning point in the Austrian’s career: his involvement in the English Formula 3000, at that time the last hurdle for Formula 1, brought him on a completely wrong path. In the middle of the season, it will be brought to Japan for the sports cars, but it will move even further away from Formula 1 based in Europe.

Because he makes good money, he can afford to continue the series in England. He commutes back and forth between Japan and England almost every other weekend. He has to do this effort in order not to lose contact with important people in Formula 1.

From 1990 Ratzenberger only drove in Japan, but instead three series: Formula 3000, sports cars and the touring car championship. He wins this straight away. Ratzenberger is a hero in Japan, his larger-than-life posters hang at petrol stations and fans adore the likeable racing driver from Europe. No reason to give up this secure source of income.

But Ratzenberger wants to go to Formula 1.

At the last minute, a door opens with the Simtek team of newcomers. You rely on his services as an experienced pilot alongside David Brabham.

The position of Ratzenberger in the first two races, or whether he dropped out, does not matter in the opinion of many of his companions. The only thing was that he wanted to prove to everyone that he belongs in Formula 1.

And to this day it is part of the history of Formula One.

The long way to short happiness: Now watch the emotional film about Roland Ratzenberger and Imola 1994 on Amazon Prime Video (sponsored link)!

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