Adrian Newey speaks on what caused Senna’s crash

F1 Fanatic round-up

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In the round-up: Adrian Newey gives a rare interview on the crash that killed Ayrton Senna.


Top F1 links from the past 24 hours:

Ayrton Senna’s death ‘changed me physically’, says Adrian Newey (The Guardian)

“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.”

Formula 1 teams agree to abandon 2013 rules revolution (BBC)

“The changes agreed will include… the retention of the moveable rear wing – or drag-reduction system (DRS) – that was introduced this season to make overtaking a little easier.”

Australian GP to stay at Albert Park – Govt (Super Sport)

“The Australian Formula One Grand Prix will remain in Melbourne’s Albert Park precinct as long as the state of Victoria continues to stage the race, state government officials said on Monday.”

Ferrari Driver Academy expands in the Orient (Ferrari)

“The Ferrari Driver Academy, the young driver programme launched by the Maranello Scuderia in 2009 will now oversee the Chinese Driver Series, the Asian series seen as a stepping stone to Formula 3 and GP3 for drivers coming from karting or junior formulae, with drivers competing in Formula Abarth cars.”

Follow F1 news as it breaks using the F1 Fanatic live Twitter app.

Comment of the day

Sebastian Vettel‘s ‘number one’ finger is now a permanent feature at the old A1 Ring. DaveW is not a fan:

The immortalisation of Vettelfinger is bizarre and I think Vettel will be embarrassed about, eventually. A generation from now people will wonder why on earth some guy imprinted the back of his hand with forefinger extended, and the explanation will not be credible. Because who does that? Is it an ironic homage to the American-style giant foam finger once popular at football games? Is it typical of an obscure Kung-Fu fighting style?

From the forum

Skett spotted an interesting programme with an F1 angle on the BBC.

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday to Ponzonha and Tenerifeman!

On this day in F1

Carlos Reutemann won the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder 30 years ago today.

But the weekend was marred by tragedy including the death of mechanic Giovanni Amadeo, who fell into the path of Reutemann’s car in the pits during practice.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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101 comments on “Adrian Newey speaks on what caused Senna’s crash”

  1. If it happened because of a puncture, why was the car’s black box wiped.

    1. Before you start laying in to me, I’m just think aloud :)!

      1. I thought it was decided the steering column failed, coupled with racing behind a Vectra for 5 laps which cooled the tyres and lowered the tyre pressures which in turn lowered the ride height which didn’t make the thing any more responsive.

        I think i’ll have a look and see what the facts say rather than trusting my old brain…

        1. I’d go with steering column. I dont think the car oversteered like he says. The onboard clearly shows the steering wheel moving downwards before the crash.

          1. look at that interview. Newey saw the same footage and he concludes it did not oversteer.

          2. Newey believes it DID oversteer, read the quote:

            “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?”

            I’m not quite sure where you got that idea he thought it didn’t oversteer from that, but I’d take the word of a F1 designer over some of the theories being floated around here.

          3. Sorry, Newey says you are right about the oversteering, but that does not fit with the steering column.

          4. The car did oversteer when it hit the bump. What I don’t understand is that williams say the steering was working after this…but the car went off in a straight line! Are they saying he was steering and the car didnt respond? it doesnt make sense.

        2. What Timi writes comes from Neweys thought on it in that interview Keith linked to. Newey thinks the most likely would have been a slow puncture as route cause.

          But he also adds that we will probably never know for sure.

        3. SennaNmbr1 (@)
          17th May 2011, 6:37

          Definitely steering failure. It’s quite hard to see, but if you watch an onboard video on Youtube, look at the yellow button on the steering column. As the car goes over a bump caused by a surface change, the yellow button turns downwards and to the left. Senna’s putting a lot of force into the wheel to turn left which is suddenly gone and the wheel goes all the way round.

          1. I know this is late, but if you watch this video, an extract from the Senna film (and is much higher quality), you can see both what you said about the button, and that the steering wheel appears much lower than it should do at the overhead shots at about 1:20-1:28, which would be consistent with what you said.

        4. Subaru_600BHP
          18th May 2011, 11:36

          im convinced it was the steering column, there is on board footage of Senna testing, and the sterring wheel was not moving nearly as much as it was on that fateful day.

        5. I was luck enough to attend the premier of Senna with 300 fans in London on the 3rd of May.

          Interestingly watching it brought memories flooding back of that Safety car incident.

          There is actually footage of Senna shaking his fist and driving up next to the safety car waving his arms.

          Martin Brundle spoke in the Q&A for a good ten minutes about Senna and how he know him, but he also said something quite interesting on the crash. He’d actually said that watching back the footage of the first lap after the safety car pulled off, he was amazed at how good the car was handling given so long after the s car.

          Martin said the drivers obviously had debated it over the following period, but Damon Hill was quite adamant that he did not believe the steering column had broken given the behaviour of the car.

          The film also focused on the fact that Sennas body didnt have a mark on it, other than the head injury (which makes it all the more tragic that the wheel and suspension reacted as it did when it hit the wall).

          Be prepared when you watch the movie in the cinema though, when those words Imola 1994 appear it made me feel physically sick.

    2. The car suddenly straightened out just before the crash… I believe it was a combination of reduced tyre pressures and steering column failure… I’ve watched the footage many times and it’s the only explanation I can find

      1. I came to the same conclusion craig. The way the car straightens out is no way due to oversteer.

        All that missing footage and black box wiping just confirms that in my mind anyway.

        1. It may seem counter-intuitive, but oversteer can sometimes lead to cars straightening out.

          It’s most common with Indycars on oval tracks, where cars are generally setup to understeer slightly to counter it. Normally, the racing driver response to oversteer would be to apply opposite lock, i.e. to turn into the slide. Sometimes, however, the car can unexpectedly regain traction and, if the front wheels are still in opposite lock, the car shoots straight into the wall. This happened to Nelson Piquet in practice for the Indy 500 in 1992. The car started to oversteer, Nelson instinctively turned the wheel right to correct it, the car regained grip and he went straight into the wall. Search Google images for “Nelson Piquet Indy 500” and you’ll see how bad a shunt it was. Nigel Mansell had a huge shunt at Phoenix in 1993 for similar reasons.

          I’m not suggesting this is what happened to Senna, merely that this may be what Newey is suggesting.

          1. Indeed. In the Senna case however there appears to be no initial oversteer whatsoever from the onboard footage, hence why I find Newey’s hypothesis hard to fathom.

          2. senna went to half throttle.. I’m thinking there was a steering column failure due to the yellow button footage, the bad weld etc. those two factors are too much to ignore

    3. Timi does raise a very good question that many ignore. The black box was handed to Williams intact and returned in a mangled state.

      1. That is the thing they did wrong after the crash they shouldn’t have handed the black box to the Williams.Still this days I haven’t found a single place where it is written clearly why that accident happened.As many says “SOME mysteries MAY NEVER BE SOLVED’

        1. Well the black box debacle indicates its not a mystery, but more that those that do know, don’t want us to know.

          1. Exactly, and newey would most likely be one of the few that knew what happened. Hence,why I don’t trust/like him. But that’s life

          2. Reading the interview, he looks honestly sad, but if he really was he would never hide a secret about Ayrton’s death.

        2. The black box wasn’t handed back to Williams. Williams engineers were allowed access to the car to retrieve it (they had to convince marshalls to allow them to do this) so nobody but them knew what state it was in before they analysed it.

          At least I think that’s the version of events in Tom Rubythorns book on it.

          1. Incorrect. Its well documented that “apart from a few scratches” the black box was fine when removed. It was however returned in a mangled state.

    4. were you the technician checking it? Or do you have a link or something to the report that this is what happened?

      1. On the whole black box thing here’s an extract from Wikipedia.
        During the trials,[8] Fabrizio Nosco, a Regional technical commissioner, testified that both of the vehicle’s black boxes were intact, except for minor scratches. He said “I have seen thousands of these devices and removed them for checks. The two boxes were intact, even though they had some scratches. The Williams device looked to have survived the crash.”. In a move that apparently breached FIA regulations, Charles Whiting, a FIA official, handed the black boxes to Williams before the regulating body’s own investigation into the accident. Williams claimed the black boxes were unreadable, and the boxes returned for the court proceedings were indeed unreadable, a full month after the accident.

  2. After ground effects were dropped because of cost issues, the wheel size will be changed and put off a year, meaning a big change after another big change. DRS will also be a permanent feature, which goes to show how much faith they have in the new rules curing the wake problem. Thanks for restoring my lack of faith in you, FOTA.

    At least the cars will look a lot nicer.

    1. Yeah FOTA don’t seem to be doing us any favors. I kind of hope Todt forces the ground effects rules through anyhow, but it seems doubtful.

    2. Agreed, although I am disappointed they are abandoning ground effects, I feel the late 90’s cars were some of the prettiest ever. Make those wings smaller and the cars will look great.

    3. Yeah, a shame they did not want to go into ground effect to save cost (and embaressment when Newey makes his car a second ahead of the rest).
      Does postponing the wheel size fit with Pirelli’s contract ending. If not that is plain stupid, as it is a very big change as well.

      I really dislike having DRS as a permanent feature.

      Lets see what Todt makes of it, although I am not putting too much hope into it.

      1. Yes, it’s been delayed until after Pirelli’s contract ends. Which suggests to me Pirelli won’t be staying. Boo.

        The stupid thing is, yes ground effects will be costly to transition to. But you don’t have to spend tens of millions on it. And say you have a budget of £40m and someone else has twice that; the second team is still going to spend more eking out tenths of a second no matter what the rules are. It just makes no sense.

        I know they also said it would be easier to meet the FIA’s targets of total downforce just by adjusting the wings, but the total amount of downforce isn’t the problem.

        1. I remember reading something were Pirelli said that they were keen on staying past 2013, so don’t loose hope just yet.

        2. These FOTA people are just playing with us. First they’ll suggest wild things and raise our hopes unnecesarily and then they’ll say, “you know it’s better to stay as we are.” Are we forced to keep seeing these ugly high nose, narrow track sledges forever?


          Just look across the Atlantic, you high-tech FOTA bigwigs, see how IndyCar is delivering on its promise.

      2. I didn’t mind DRS as a stop-gap (although I’ve had mixed feelings about how much its helped vs how artificial its made overtakes) till the aero of the cars could be sufficiently improved. The idea of it being a permanent feature is awful.

        1. Geordie Porker
          17th May 2011, 11:43

          Agree Matt – it was one of the saving graces of DRS that it was being introduced to solve an aero problem until the rules were changed. :( Hopefully Todt will show us all that he has a backbone and push the changes through anyway.

    4. Well, I’m not to fazed by this. Todt will push his rules through by force if he has to and I am very pleased if that happens.

  3. ‘retention of DRS’ means ‘keeping it,’ right?

  4. wow, stiking words from Newey

  5. I don’t think we should be looking too close into the fossilised finger of Vettel. I can’t see RBR leaving F1 any time soon and whether you like it or not, Vettel was the first man to give them their F1 driver championship. Who wouldn’t want to commemorate that?

    Good on them I say.

    1. Is the Vettel Finger the most hated gesture in sport? I really can’t think of a celebration that annoyed so many people!

      1. I hate when he says

        That’s what I’m talking about

        Every Australian knows he stole that from Shane Crawford.

        1. I hit mute anytime that he wins, just so I don’t have to hear him say that. It is absurdly annoying.

          1. Agree with you there. Its up there with the Queensland State of Origin players pulling out the “Queenslander” call… clowns

        2. Every Australian knows he stole that from Shane Crawford.

          The phrase is pretty standard in colloquial American English, and can be traced back as far as a Fats Waller song from 1929.

          1. Didn’t Hamilton use it in 2009 once with his first win that year. Before Vettel started using it?

          2. Hamilton used it when he won in Spa in 2008. So Shane Crawford stole it from him! :P

          3. He did indeed and I’m glad he dropped it because it’s just as annoying!

            I guess no-one’s perfect. Seb seems like a fantastic guy, massively talented, got to have a flaw somewhere!

        3. That’s what I’m talkin’ aboooouuut!!!!

        4. i hate it more when he refers to his team as ‘boys’

          1. Because he forgot to mention the girls too?

        5. Every Australian knows he stole that from Shane Crawford

          Maybe in AFL land, I had to google who that was.

          But it is the second most annoying thing he does, after the derivative double digits of doom. Well third actually after winning all the time.

        6. ‘That’s what I’m talking about’ was used extensively by a character in the UK Apprentice series in 2008, hence I believe why Hamilton says it at the end of Spa 2008.

          I know not when and why said Shane Crawford spoke it.

      2. In my opinion, any gesture he used would have annoyed people, simply because it was coming from him. If it had been a thumbs-up sign he’d been giving all this time, people would be complaining about it incessantly and calling him “thumb boy.” ;-)

        1. Gaston (@golarrazabal)
          17th May 2011, 2:17

          Haters gonna hate :p

        2. Agreed

        3. Not really. Saying “I’m #1” is a big statement that people don’t like because it smacks of too much arrogance. Punching your fist or giving a thumbs-up isn’t the same, it’s a much more humble gesture.

          Plus, Vettel was never exactly known for his legion of haters before the Finger came about.

          1. I don’t think “I’m #1” is a terribly controversial statement from someone who just won a race or pole position…

          2. Never said it was controversial. Just annoying.

          3. Plus, Vettel was never exactly known for his legion of haters before the Finger came about.

            The finger was always with Vettel, even back in the Formula BMW days. So, it would be more appropriate that the “legion of haters” came from his success.

          4. Never said it was controversial. Just annoying.

            I suppose your *exact* words were “big” and “smacks of too much arrogance,” whereas I would argue that it’s just an enthusiastic statement of fact — a fact that, yes, many people find very annoying. ;-)

        4. Yea pretty much hit the nail on the head there!

          He could give £10,000 to charity everytime he won and folks would still complain.

          Nature of the beast ;)

          1. “OOOOOH, guess he thinks he’s a BIG MAN, throwing his money around, pretending to care about the poor. What total arrogance!” ;-)

      3. Toby Bushby
        17th May 2011, 0:51

        The Schumi podium-jump, perhaps? :D

        1. His waving the fingers during the Italian national anthem… Showed really how he turned the sport into a parade… Still admire him for his acheivements and how he went about it I suppose…

          1. I should clarify that my above comment is a bit tongue-in-cheek.

          2. Now he knew how to celebrate!

      4. I really do not understand why the Vettel finger is annoying so many people. Many sportsman put up their index finger saying they are number one.

        Vettel does it, but for the past year or so he has proven to truly be number one. He is driving at a level no one else is even close to at the moment, so if he wants to put his finger up in celebration, good on him.

        If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but could we please get on to talking about real issues in F1 instead of bemoaning a good kid for his enjoyment of winning?

        1. I have never seen any other sportsman do the aggressive version he does. He turns his fist the other way round more like a punch then pulls an odd face too. I am also a frequent mute button hitter on his victory lap!

  6. The immortalisation of Vettelfinger is bizarre and I think Vettel will be embarrassed about, eventually. A generation from now people will wonder why on earth some guy imprinted the back of his hand with forefinger extended, and the explanation will not be credible. Because who does that? Is it an ironic homage to the American-style giant foam finger once popular at football games? Is it typical of an obscure Kung-Fu fighting style?

    Really, who cares if Vettel shows his finger as frequently as he does? Sure, people might find it annoying, but at least it’s unique. Formula 1 would be pretty boring if all the drivers were identical.

    1. And its sad to say, but something as miniscule as a raised finger is what will separate him.

    2. So we’re not all

    3. So we’re not allowed to dislike it just because it’s something unique? Please. If we find it annoying, we find it annoying. It being unique doesn’t stop it being annoying, or mean we should be happy that the drivers aren’t identical

      1. You’re allowed to dislike something, but I’m willing to bet you’d dislike it more if everyone was absolutely identical.

        1. Gotta agree with that

          1. The gesture itself doesn’t bother me at all. The fact that he’s won the Grand Prix so convincingly worries me, and the finger compounds my pain! :P

        2. Not at all. Most drivers who win a race just stand on the podium, you don’t see anyone complaining about that.

          People hate blandness, not similarity. There’s a difference.

          1. Maybe no one complains about that, but I’d rather see celebration than standing around.

        3. thats a mute point. you could say that to absolutely anything that annoys anyone!

          1. I’m sorry, I hate to be a pedant, but it’s a ‘moot point’.

  7. Some things are better left unknown. Would we really want to know if maybe Williams is in some way guilty of Senna’s crash? It wouldn’t do any good to an already troubled team I think. Plus, he died doing something he loved, winning.

    1. 1) The teams current state has nothing to do with it. If you wet your bed, you have to lie in it. Someone(s) messed up. The inconsistancies and contradictions during the inquiry at the very least indicates theres more to the story. I’m not pointing the finger or starting a conspiracy theory but I simply do buy the “could of, should of, would of” nonsense.


      Plus, he died doing something he loved, winning.

      I’d like to see that line used when Charlie Sheen overdoses.

      1. I might be wrong but that website has lifted that account of Senna’s last four days from Tom Rubythorns book ‘The Death of Senna’, right down to the details of how “endowed” his model girlfriend was.

        1. sorry this reply is meant for the post below…

  8. I read a good article about Senna last week
    Quite a lot of new things that I did not know.

    One point to remember is for Angelo Orsi who took photographs of Senna in the car after the crash. The Senna family asked him never to make them public and despite massive offers from various sources he has kept his word and the photographs remain locked away.
    I am thankful that he has kept his word, there are some things we do not need to see.

    1. You’re right, although I must admit I have a mordid sense of curiousity which wants to make me see such things

    2. what a brilliant article- thanks for sharing

    3. Why doesn’t he just destroy them then? I think we will see them come out one day, far in the future.

    4. Very very insightful article, one of the best I’ve read so far in this topic. Reading it was like being there. I’m really shocked now…. I used to have huge empathy in emotional situations.

      As for Newey – I think the part which should be highlighted is the latter one explaining the oversteering pattern which excludes the steering column failure, the bottoming-out and the fact that on the second lap tyres should have been warmer so it could have only caused by a slow puncture.

      How fatal…. A previous accident.. The new safety car rule.. The debris and the puncture… And of the rear right which carried the largest burden in Tamburello..

    5. Great article. Thanks for posting

    6. Very interesting and touching read.

    7. I just finished reading that article and I’m shivering. It’s a terrible thing to die while doing something you love. Thanks for the link Chalky.

  9. The immortalisation of Vettelfinger is bizarre and I think Vettel will be embarrassed about, eventually. A generation from now people will wonder why on earth some guy imprinted the back of his hand with forefinger extended, and the explanation will not be credible. Because who does that? Is it an ironic homage to the American-style giant foam finger once popular at football games? Is it typical of an obscure Kung-Fu fighting style?


    1. +1! :P

  10. Everyone knows the pest post-race celebration is Alex Wurz’s. Although we only saw if a handful of times, his ‘throwing up the horns’ was a brilliant deveation from the norm.

  11. I have never understood the generation-long focus on whether Williams or some of its employees is responsible for Senna’s death. As in, guilty of a crime. Is someone suggesting that Newey or someone else took such a perfuctory level of care in the preparation of the car, that he disregarded the risk that Senna could be killed? The idea that someone could be guilty of a criminal offense in the situation seems absurd—even to someone from a country lousy with lawyers and where accidents are never just accidents.

  12. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    18th May 2011, 16:26

    Remember one of his fingers (I don’t know if THAT one particularly) was almost severed in a fore-F1 race. So he probably celebrates with this sign he still has both hands complete :P… talking about fans I still miss Kimi (the one whose haters always complain about drinking the whole champagne bottle when he wins races)

  13. A ‘regional technical manager’ has seen thousands of F1 data loggers and can tell just by glancing at them that the internal data is fine?

    Please dont quote Wikipedia when trying to make a point, it works against you.

    Senna was killed by a vauxhall cavalier, Ratzenberger and (this is the important bit) by making his living in motorsport. You can keep your Beckhams and your Henmans, these guys are true sporting greats.

  14. I’ve never understood why, if data could be retrieved from the black box, driver data is routinely quoted in any discussion (e.g. newey stating that senna reduced to 50% throttle, consistent with an oversteer problem, and that he hit the brakes hard shortly afterward). Where does this data come from if not the black box?

    1. sorry that should say “if *no* data could be retrieved” above

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