Roland Ratzenberer is an oft-forgotten figure in the world of Motorsport, but his fate and that of F1 legend Aryton Senna are inextricably linked.
In a sport where events pass by almost as fast as the cars do, it’s easy to forget those that have come before – particularly those who were snatched away too soon. There are plenty of examples of world-famous drivers that became household names, but what of the ones who were snuffed out before they had a chance to burn bright? The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix has been cemented in Motorsport history as the race that claimed F1 legend Aryton Senna, but we often forget the driver whose time was cut short just a day before: Roland Ratzenberger.
Ratzenberger raced for the Simtek F1 team, and his place there – like that of many drivers – was one of persistence. Ratzenberger had done all that he could to put himself in the pinnacle of automobile racing, and had finally obtained his long-coveted seat in a Formula One car. Ratzenberger’s determination proved that the Austrian would go to any length to achieve his dreams of glory – a drive that would ultimately spell his doom.
Remembering Roland Ratzenberger pic.twitter.com/3JiCVvyYR1
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 30, 2017
Ratzenberger’s incident at Imola was the first to cast a plague of despair above the track at San Marino that year. The Austrian was out in Imola, qualifying for the weekend’s upcoming Grand Prix, and was running dangerously short on time. He was in contention for the last open grid spot, and he would do whatever it would take to get himself out among the rest of the championship hopefuls.
Yet, in his desperation, he went off the track and damaged his car’s front wing. Instead of pitting to remedy the issue, Ratzenberger pushed on in one final attempt to secure his prize, when the high speed and excessive downforce tore the remaining portion of the wing off, sending it under his car – forcing him to lose control and slam into the outside wall a 314.9 km/h (195.7 mph). Ratzenberger was immediately taken to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Although it would seem that Ratzenberger’s sad story would see its end, it was not to be. The next day Aryton Senna’s infamous crash occurred at Imola, taking the Brazilian driver’s life and casting a global squall of inquiry into the sport’s safety regulations. Although he never received the opportunity to show it, Senna had planned to offer a public display of support for his dearly departed Austrian driver – as evinced by the Austrian flag found tucked into Senna’s car after his crash. In one weekend, two of the world’s best drivers were stricken off the face of the planet.
Although the stories of Ratzenberger and Senna may seem to some as a cautionary tale of what happens when grown men decide to play with forces beyond their control, it is, in fact, a tale of how the most driven among us will give anything to achieve their dreams – and if they die trying? Well, at least they get to go out doing what they loved most: racing