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Ratzenberger: Gone, but never forgotten

2014-04-25 07:24


MAX MOSLEY: 'Ratzenberger... was more tragic to me than Ayrton because he'd come up by his own efforts'. Image: AFP

LONDON, April 25 (Reuters) - Perhaps Roland Ratzenberger was always destined to be an understudy. As a Formula 1 driver and a man, however, he more than deserved his share of the limelight.

Twenty-fours hours after Ratzenberger was killed during practice for the 1994 San Marino F1 GP three-times F1 Drivers' champion Ayrton Senna was killed in a crash during the race and, in the outpouring of grief for the Brazilian which followed, the Austrian was almost forgotten.


Max Mosley, president of ruling body the International Automobile Federation at the time, told Reuters: "Ratzenberger... was more tragic to me than Ayrton because he'd come up by his own efforts and the help of his family.

"He'd no money, he'd done it by his own work, and he was a thoroughly good person. Ratzenberger's death would have been a very big thing except Senna's came the next day."

Mosley had to make a decision about which funeral to attend. "I went to Ratzenberger's funeral rather than to Senna's where all the great and good of F1 were because I felt somebody needed to support him and his family," Mosley said.

Ratzenberger, who died at 33, had to work hard to fulfil his dream of becoming an F1 driver. He started out in German Formula Ford in 1983 and after spells in British Formula 3 and Touring Cars he moved to Japan in 1990.

He enjoyed only moderate success in Formula 3000 but did enough to earn a five-year contract with the Simtek F1 team in 1994.


Ratzenberger failed to qualify for the Brazilian GP but was 11th in Japan before arriving at the Imola circuit in Italy. During Saturday qualifying the front wing of his car was damaged after he went off track but he carried on driving because he was so desperate to claim the last spot on the grid.

The front wing broke off and lodged under the car. Ratzenberger was unable to make the turn into Villeneuve corner, named after the late Ferrari great who had died 12 years earlier in Belgium, and piled into the wall at 314.9km/h.

His skull was fractured and he was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.

Twenty-four hours later Senna died. In the wreckage of his car investigators found an Austrian flag he had been planning to wave at the end of the race.

Former driver Johnny Herbert, a good friend of Ratzenberger, told Reuters: "It's always Ayrton, but then you can understand why it's always Ayrton because Ayrton achieved what Ayrton achieved.


"Roland is almost forgotten. Whenever I talk to people I never say Ayrton's weekend... it's always Ayrton and Roland. And I'd never forget that - I don't want other people to forget it either.

"We lost a really nice guy in Roland who worked very hard to get himself in that position of being an F1 driver. We got robbed of Ayrton but we got robbed of Roland the day before. A really nice guy. It was very rare to see him not smiling."

Herbert was adamant that Ratzenberger was not the journeyman driver he is often portrayed as. "He didn't have a background of money and the early days was Transit van and a trailer but he won one of the biggest races in a young driver's career, the Formula Ford festival, and then he did Japan.

"But he always produced the goods. Sadly we never really saw the best of Roland. He wasn't a journeyman type, he was a very talented man."

Former F1 champion Damon Hill also paid tribute to Ratzenberger. "He was someone I respected because he had pretty much followed a similar route to myself," Hill told Reuters. "He'd got into F1 at 31, quite late in his career, but he'd stuck at it.

"He'd clearly got talent but he didn't shine like a Senna or a (Lewis) Hamilton. He was a guy who loved being a racing driver. He was talented, able and very competitive."


Ratzenberger will also be fondly remembered for his personality. "He was a wonderful man," Herbert said. "He had a really nice, wicked sense of humour. You could always have a laugh and a giggle with him."

Ratzenberger finished only one F1 GP; Senna topped the podium 41 times, third on the "all-time" list, and will go down as one of the finest drivers in history.

Final word from Mosley: "It was desperately sad because he (Ratzenberger) hadn't had what Ayrton had. At least Ayrton had had the success, the brilliant recognition worldwide, the state funeral in Brazil and so on.

"Ratzenberger was just as dead and it was just as sad for his family but he'd never experienced all that."
Read more on:    max mosley  |  ayrton senna

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