The anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death has come and gone but the recent film bearing his name has most F1 fans taking a moment to consider the reality of Senna’s impact on F1 and the vacuum he left upon his untimely death. One person intimate with that fateful day was Red Bull’s Adrian Newey. Newey was then working for Williams and had designed the car in which Senna perished.

An interesting article at the Guardian was posted today by Donald McRae in which Newey reflects on the dreaded day of Senna’s death as well as offers his thoughts on what may have caused it. There were many years of litigation following Senna’s death but the Williams team was exonerated of blame. Here, Newey explains why he thinks the champion perished.

“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? The car bottomed much harder on that second lap which again appears to be unusual because the tyre pressure should have come up by then – which leaves you expecting that the right rear tyre probably picked up a puncture from debris on the track. If I was pushed into picking out a single most likely cause that would be it.”

This is just a snippet but it is an interesting article so go check it out. A nice round of golf applause for Mr. McRae for a fine story.


An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.

  • Very interesting. Was too young when he died and didn’t watch F1, but after watching the movie, I was stunned. I am a massive Schumacher fan as you well know, but the movie gave me a whole new appreciation for Senna and everything he stood for. The guy was an absolute god. I find his quotes and whole philosophy on things just amazing.

    • He was an amazing person who happened to be an amazing driver too. :)

      • Williams4Ever

        So Manish Pandey and Asif have hijacked you from Prost fan camp now???

    • Williams4Ever

      The guy was an absolute god. I find his quotes and whole philosophy on things just amazing.
      >> biggest accolade to makers of the movie, who selected “appropriate footage” and did brilliant job of editing…

  • The onboard footage from Schueys Benetton does show an odd crash.
    I don’t want to point fingers, or start a war of words here, but can we agree Neweys car’s are always ‘fragile but fast’? And Senna take every car he drove beyond its limit?
    This combination was eventually and unfortunately going to end in a crash.
    With a bit of bad luck thrown in, history was wrote.

    • No – can’t agree to that fiction – You’ll have to make a strong case if you want to get agreement. For instance, I would agree that Senna, at Imola, was probably driving the car beyond it’s limits. His Season had started with two poles but also two DNF’s (one Driver error, one crash – nothing to do with the design) – something that had never happened to him before. At Imola he once again took pole and, being the racer he was, he was desperate to achieve victory even though the Bennetton was probably better on race pace. Senna was a guy who wouldn’t accept second if first could be achieved, unlike today’s championship where they race to achieve the position they need (why take 1st if 4th will do?) Senna couldn’t – it just wasn’t his mindset.

      The question of blame doesn’t come into it. Let’s face it the italian courts really wanted Williams and if there was any way they could have found them guilty they would have. Racing accident – whatever the ultimate cause, whether puncture, reduced tyre pressures, steering column failure, Senna’s own mindset over the course of the weekend, whatever – you are seeking my agreement without making any argument.

      Newey’s designs have dominated F1 for three decades – hardly fragile. His Williams design was compromised in ’91 by early engine and gearbox failures – not a design flaw. Bulletproof in ’92, ’93, and ’96. ’94 Constructor’s title.

      Enforced gardening leave prior to joining McLaren meant that the first total Newey design came out in 1998 – ’98 & ’99 Bulletproof, nearly right in 2000.

      He’s been there or thereabouts since – and since he joined Red Bull in 2005 we’ve seen constant improvement in his cars – to the point where Vettel won the championship last year. Design is Newey’s baby, the rest of it, while under his control is subject to technical faults as are all cars – but Newey’s designs have never deserved the label “fragile”

      • mark h

        As I understand it, ultimately the Italian courts did find Williams guilty, albeit in one of the more spurious and meaningless verdicts in their (already abysmal) legal history. So much time had elapsed that punishments were waived. It wasn’t really Italy that ‘wanted Williams bad’, it was the prosecution team that saw political mileage in bringing in such a high-profile case.

        The entire trial was a joke, an extremely sad one for that matter, from start to finish. And it would never have even happened but for Italy’s ridiculous law stating that unnatural death cannot be an accident. (A law that begs the question why F1 teams are willing to race there today, if you think about it.)

      • mark h

        As for the fragile-or-not Newey car debate, I do think that too much emphasis is placed on his later years at McLaren – let’s face it, THOSE designs were fragile!

        Williams (remember Patrick Head was there to keep him in check) and early McLaren showed little such evidence. Early Red Bull models, though? Hard to tell with DC binning so many, but I remember getting that impression, rightly or wrongly.

      • Rich T

        Absolutely. No question about it, Newey cars most definitely are fragile. Initially at least.

        His designs are on the bleeding edge. Newey designs are such that he can, if need be, for want of a better way of expressing it, ‘wind them back a notch’ as opposed others whose designs are close to the limit but never on it. As such, Newey cars are inherently fragile. They hit the track that way. And until something breaks that requires modifying, they will remain as designed.

        • tobytubes

          To paraphrase Colin Chapman:
          “If it breaks, it’s too light. If it’s still working at the end of the race, it’s too heavy”

          • Williams4Ever

            Yeah can’t expect anything else from the controversial designer, for whom the drivers were nothing more than crash test dummies…

  • tobytubes

    With regards to the Senna crash, I believe that the accusation of the steering column failing and causing the crash has been disproved (data loggers showing the torque through the steering column, throttle position etc) and the car grounding out (and loss of downforce under the car) caused it.

    As for Newey, I think every credit to him, especially for admitting the steering column was rank bad design and could have failed at some point. It’s obvious that his reaction to Senna’s death (and that of those around him) was only what might be expected of any decent human being.

    As for fast and fragile, try a certain Mr. Chapman’s designs (and the deaths in those cars) for a clear perspective on safety in F1 design.

  • Schumi is Human

    The Senna family never blamed Williams or Newey for Senna’s death.
    Newey’s explanation of the crash sounds perfectly plausible. Regarding Senna was an accident involving serious consequences was waiting to happen is incredulous. Up to this time Senna had accidents but no serious racing injuries whatsoever. Senna was a God. Absolute commitment. Absolute passion.

  • Tony Greene

    Strange that neither Senna’s nor Clark’s accidents have ever been explained without a shadow of a doubt.

  • Sorry to harp back but RichT you still haven’t actually come up with any argument supporting your position – simply your personal opinion. MarkH only relates the “fragile” tag to later McLarens which is valid to a certain degree but has to be put in the context of a resurgent Ferrari team.

    The MP4-15 & 16 were relatively strong cars finishing second in 2000 and 2001 – the Mark 17 wasn’t great but had to perform in modified form for two seasons ’02 & ’03 due to the fragility of the Mark 18 series which (if I remember correctly) failed the crash test originally and then suffered poor reliability. At this stage I think we can say that Newey’s motivation was questionable given the America’s Cup rumour and the Jaguar poaching attempt and his defection in 2005 to RBR gave him a fresh challenge and perspective which culminated in the 2010 title.

    To bring a team to a championship winning design within 5 years of joining has to count as a show of genius.

    As for Williams4ever’s remark – probably libellous, certainly defamatory, and not really worth responding to other than to say it’s unfortunate that such a remark rounds off what was otherwise an interesting debate (wouldn’t mind but I normally like reading W4E’s comments).

    • Williams4Ever

      @BAZL – Glad to know that you like reading my comments and I really appreciate your kind words.
      About Senna – I have never challenged the Brazilians Driving capabilities. But having followed the sport from start of 80s and later reading books on F1 and motorsports, I am reaching at conclusion that the Brazilian did change what was a pure sport to a cut-throat win at all cost death march. I used to blame Michael Schumacher for being unsportsmanlike, but I don’t blame him anymore, all he, Alonso, Hamilton have been doing is following the footsteps of the Brazilian.

      The Senna Documentary is meant to be tribute to the great Brazilian driver, but one can’t help but notice the irony that opening short the Brazilian talks about Karting as Pure racing, no politics and nothing. And cut two, the Post Monaco race which he came second after the race was stopped due to extreme conditions, he is shown to talk about Politics. Actually watching the documentary back-back on Netflix, first thought that came to my mind was Death glorifies the Human deeds and puts them in a folklore, something that happened with Senna. More I think of him, there wasn’t much difference between him and another tainted genius Bobby Fischer, who was God on the 64 squares, but paranoid, divisive person, who had that similar attitude of “Entitlement”…
      Documentary makers while trying to glorify the Great Brazilian driver, unknowingly have shown that flawed side of his personality…

      Thanks again for kind words and good to know that there are F1B readers who patiently read through my lengthy posts :)

      • Williams4Ever

        PS – If you are referring to my comment about Colin Chapman, I was referring to Jochen Rindt and the Lotus 72 episode. Make sure you watch This documentary –

        • Haven’t seen the Senna movie yet as it only opens here in July. With regards to comment – I must apologise. Given the fact that the thread related to Newey I mistakenly attributed your comment as being in relation to him. Humbling myself before you in a most self-deprecating manner! Lower, Lower, Lower…WHAM there’s the floor!

          • Williams4ever

            Hey it’s ok, Did you watch that documentary?
            And sorry for all the spoilers on Senna..

  • groitswitch

    regarding the fragility of Neweys design, anyone remember when Vettels suspension just snapped(on both sides) under braking.
    The wheels literally fell off….
    if the cars werent a little on the fragile side they simply wouldnt win- period.

    • Schmorbraten

      That was Buemi in China 2010, I think


    Put aside the reason which caused Senna’s accident (could it be the steering column’s fracture or an unxepected loss of downforce on the front axle or whatever we can think of) I’d be rather focused on a point which has been totally ignored by media and bloggers: Senna entered Tamburello curve at around 190 mph and reportedly slammed into the concrete wall at around 135 mph.
    Assumed that Senna had his steering wheel in his hands due to the column fracture I desume he couldn’t anyway down shift to reduce his speed.
    Consequently he just could go hard on the brakes:
    but,as we can see from every footage of the event,
    he didn’t lock wheels.Neither we can see smoke from tyres nor could anyone see black stripes on the track’s surface.
    I was watching the San Marino GP on italian TV and I perfectly remember that in the early seconds right after the crash,a well known italian journalist (Bepi Cereda who passed away years ago)of the italian TV staff attending the race,claimed pretty amazed – I wonder how is it…there are no braking signs on the track..-
    This side of the event has rarely been talked over…I’d ask Newey how is it possible going hard on the brakes without locking wheels, a definately extreme situtation ???
    I suggest taking a glance at former accidents at the same curve : quite a different visual effect by locked wheels.