Adrian Newey reflects on Ayrton Senna loss and an internal struggle
Watch the Sky F1 exclusive as Adrian Newey remembers Imola 1994 and pays tribute to Ayrton Senna, a great man with an infusive aura
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 18/12/17 5:46pm
Adrian Newey has opened up on the emotional turmoil following the death of Ayrton Senna in one of his cars, with the design legend admitting he considered quitting Formula 1.
Newey, now at Red Bull, was Williams' chief designer when the three-time world champion was killed after crashing the FW16 at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, running straight on at the Tamburello curve and into the barriers.
To this day, no full explanation has been provided - with theories ranging from a steering column failure, to a slow puncture, to driver error on a bumpy Imola circuit in a car that was difficult to control.
And, following the launch of his new book How To Build A Car, Newey spoke to Sky F1 about that fateful race.
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"The whole Imola weekend was a horrible weekend," Newey told Sky Sports' Natalie Pinkham. "23 years later, it still feels quite raw and immediate. It was an extremely difficult time.
"I'd never thought about the question: 'If somebody was hurt, or worse still, passes away in a car that I'd been responsible for, how would I feel?'. Then suddenly this happens.
"If you're in that situation, and you don't question your involvement - if it happens once it can happen again - then you're a fool. Both Patrick [Head, Williams co-founder] and I separately went through this internal struggle afterwards of: 'Is this really what I want to be doing?'.
"For me, this has been my life, it's what I've always wanted to do and something I've been lucky to end up doing - but there's a catch there. There was a bit of soul searching to be done."
Thirteen years of litigation and on-off trials followed, with Newey eventually cleared. "I will always feel a degree of responsibility for Ayrton's death but not culpability," he wrote in his book.
Newey has gone on to break F1 records, becoming the only designer to win constructors' titles with three different teams. But the passing of a man he respected, and a driver he admired even before Senna's move to Williams in 1994, has always hung over Newey.
"Ayrton was a great man," he explained. "People talk about somebody having an aura about them - and it's very difficult to quantify why you would feel that. Is it because of what they've achieved, or the personality?
"Whatever it was, Ayrton had that aura where if you were with him or talking to him - his enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and energy was infusive.
"The little time I spent with Ayrton was very memorable. I still think if that hadn't happened that day, perhaps he'd be President of Brazil now.
"I suppose the immediate thing was the sense of waste."
Extracts from How To Build A Car
"I remember snippets. Ayrton sitting perfectly normally in the car, upright with his head against the headrest - but not moving. I can recall seeing Sid [Watkins, former race doctor] and the medical crew arrive. I remember seeing Ayrton being pulled out of the car, motionless on a stretcher. All this on the monitors, of course. Over the radio, Damon [Hill] was calling for information: 'What the hell's happened? How is he? What's happened?
"But we didn't know. The only information we had came from what we saw on the screens lining the pit wall. Our driver on a stretcher. No movement. No information.
"Another thing I remember, something burnt into my brain, is the noise from the spectators. The horns, klaxons and tambourines. All this excited frenzy of noise that carried on despite the terrible tragedy unfolding at Tamburello. The sound, a trademark of Italian Grands Prix, still to this day sends shivers down my spine.
"The race began again and we were forced to refocus. The helicopter took Ayrton to hospital. Schumacher won, Damon finished sixth.
"The news came through at the airport. Ayrton was dead.
"In the aftermath of Ayrton's death we at Williams were zombified. I can't describe it. You feel as though your lips are moving and your legs are taking you places, but you're not particularly conscious of the words that are coming out of your mouth, or why you've gone from A to B. Life is viewed as if through a screen.
"People ask me if I feel guilty about Ayrton. I do. I was one of the senior officers in a team that designed a car in which a great man was killed. Regardless of whether that steering column caused the accident or not, there is no escaping the fact that it was a bad piece of design that should never have been allowed to get on the car.
"I think now, If only we'd had more time. By Imola, I understood the problem. I just needed time to develop the wind tunnel model and then the parts to go on the car, to give Ayrton a car that was worthy of him. Time denied us all that chance."
Adrian Newey's book, How To Build A Car, is now available. RRP: £9.99.
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