Roland Ratzenberger
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Roland Ratzenberger

Roland Ratzenberger
Roland Ratzenberger.jpg
Ratzenberger in 1994
Born(1960-07-04)4 July 1960
Salzburg, Austria
Died30 April 1994(1994-04-30) (aged 33)
Bologna, Italy
Formula One World Championship career
NationalityAustria Austrian
Active years1994
Entries3 (1 start)
Career points0
Pole positions0
Fastest laps0
First entry1994 Brazilian Grand Prix
Last entry1994 San Marino Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
TeamsBrun Motorsport/Alpha Racing Team, Toyota Team SARD/TOM'S, Team Salamin Primagaz/Team Schuppan
Best finish5th (1993)
Class wins1 (1993)

Roland Ratzenberger (German: ['ro:lant 'ratsn?b?r]; 4 July 1960 - 30 April 1994) was an Austrian racing driver who raced in sports prototype, British Formula 3000, Japanese Formula 3000 and Formula One. He died in a crash during qualifying for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, the same event at which three-time World Champion Ayrton Senna died the following day.[1] As a direct result of his death, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association was reformed.

Early life

Ratzenberger was born in Salzburg, Austria, on 4 July 1960. When he was seven, his grandmother took him to a local hillclimb race at Gaisberg. ?n 1969, the Salzburgring opened near his home.[2] As a teenager, he discovered that racer and Formula Ford team owner Walter Lechner was based nearby and, while studying at a technical school, began to hang around the workshop. On finishing his education at eighteen, he joined Lechner, who was at this time opening a racing school at the Salzburgring.[2]


Ratzenberger began racing in German Formula Ford in 1983, and in 1985 won both the Austrian and Central European Formula Ford championships.[3] In 1985, he entered the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in England, finishing second. He returned in 1986, and won it before graduating to British Formula 3 the following season.[3] While in the UK, he briefly gained fame for the similarity of his name to that of TV puppet Roland Rat, with whom he appeared in an edition of TV-am; the TV-am branding appeared for a time on his car.[4]

Two years in British F3 yielded two 12th places in the championship with West Surrey Racing and Madgwick Motorsport. He also raced in other cars besides single seaters, once finishing second in the 1987 World Touring Car Championship driving a Team Schnitzer BMW M3.[3] In 1988, he entered the final few rounds of the British Touring Car Championship in a class B BMW M3, racing for the Demon Tweeks team.

In 1989, he entered the British Formula 3000 series, finishing third overall.[3]

Le Mans

In 1989, he also raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time. The Brun Motorsport, Porsche 962 he shared with Maurizio Sandro Sala and Walter Lechner retired in the 3rd hour. He took part in the next four Le Mans races, with Brun again in 1991, and with the SARD team in 1990, 1992 and 1993. His highest finish came in 1993, when he, Mauro Martini, and Naoki Nagasaka, finished fifth in a Toyota 93 C-V.[3]

Japanese racing

In the 1990s, Ratzenberger switched to racing in Japan. He won one race each in 1990 and 1991 in the Japanese Sports Prototype Championship with the same SARD team he drove for at Le Mans. He also returned to touring car racing in the Japanese Touring Car Championship, finishing seventh in 1990 and 1991 in a BMW M3.[3]

This paved the way for a return to Formula 3000 in the Japanese championship, with the Stellar team in the 1992 season. His year began poorly but, when the team upgraded their two-year-old Lola for a new model, Ratzenberger won once to finish seventh overall. He remained in the series in the 1993 season, finishing 11th.[3]

Championship Auto Racing Teams

In 1991, Ratzenberger tested a Lola T91/00 for Dick Simon Racing at Willow Springs, in CART.[2]

Formula One

Ratzenberger came very close to securing a drive with the Jordan team for their inaugural season in 1991. Negotiations were at a very advanced stage when Ratzenberger lost the financial support of a "major sponsor."[5]

In 1994, he achieved his ambition of becoming a Formula One driver, signing a 5-race deal with the new Simtek team run by Nick Wirth.[3] Ratzenberger signed the contract after gaining the support of a German living in Monaco; negotiations lasted from late 1993 to early 1994. He was partnered in the racing team with David Brabham.[6]

His campaign got off to a poor start at the Brazilian Grand Prix in Interlagos, where he failed to qualify.

He got onto the grid for the next round at the TI Circuit in Aida, Japan, as his experience of the track from his touring car days meant he was the only driver in the race who had driven at the venue before. He finished 11th.[3]


Events leading up to the race

Ratzenberger was to take part in the San Marino Grand Prix, which would be his third F1 race overall, at the Imola circuit.

On Friday, 29 April, during the first qualifying session to determine the starting order for the race,[7] Rubens Barrichello, driving for Jordan, hit a kerb at the Variante Bassa corner at 225 km/h (140 mph),[8] and landed at the top of the tyre barrier, knocked unconscious by an impact measured at 95 g.[9] Barrichello was transferred to Maggiore Hospital in Bologna, having suffered a sprained wrist and broken nose, and did not participate in the race.[10]

The crash

Aftermath of Ratzenberger's fatal crash during Second Qualifying of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

On Saturday, 30 April, 1994, Ratzenberger participated in the second qualifying session. He went off the track at the chicane of Acqua Minerale, damaging his car's front wing. Rather than retire into the pits, Ratzenberger, at this point in time competing for the final grid spot, carried on.[11][12]

The high speed on the straight before the Villeneuve Corner, and the consequent high-downforce generated, finally broke the wing off, sending it under the car, which failed to turn into the corner and struck the outside wall at 314.9 km/h (195.7 mph).[13] The collision's strength forced the front wheel to penetrate the cockpit.[14] In addition to the injuries suffered by the driver from this, the extreme deceleration caused a rupture in his aorta in addition to a basilar skull fracture, each of these injuries individually being fatal.[15]

Ratzenberger was transferred by ambulance to the Imola circuit's medical centre, and onwards, by helicopter to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna. He was pronounced there dead upon arrival. The official cause of death was basilar skull fracture.

Villeneuve Curva, the location of Ratzenberger's fatal crash. Ayrton Senna was killed the next day at the bend before.

Ratzenberger was the first racing driver to lose his life at a grand prix weekend since the 1982 season, when Riccardo Paletti was killed at the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Ratzenberger was also the first driver to die as a result of a crash in an F1 car since Elio de Angelis during testing in 1986.

The race

Bernie Ecclestone persuaded the Simtek team to take part in the race the following day, the 1st of May, to overcome the shock. Out of respect, Ratzenberger's spot on the starting grid was left empty. ESPN SpeedWorld's race coverage on race day reported that the fastest non-qualifier, Paul Belmondo, had been offered the final position on the grid but had declined to take it, out of respect for Ratzenberger and on the grounds that he had not earned that race spot while Ratzenberger had.[16] Ratzenberger's teammate, David Brabham, retired after 27 laps.

Three-time world champion Ayrton Senna learned from friend and neurosurgeon Sid Watkins that Ratzenberger had died. When the two left the medical centre together, Watkins told the inconsolable Senna that he did not have to race ever again and suggested to Senna that he withdraw from the following day's race and go fishing with him. Senna responded by telling Watkins he could not stop racing and then went back to the garage, where he decided to withdraw for the remainder of that day's qualifying session. At the race, on the 7th lap, the second lap at racing speed after a stoppage,[17] Senna's car, going at a speed of 305 km/h (190 mph), could not take the turn at the Tamburello left corner, and, continuing in a straight line, struck an unprotected concrete barrier resulting in multiple fatal injuries.[18] When track officials examined the wreckage of Senna's racing car, they found a furled Austrian flag. Senna had planned to raise it after the race, in honour of Ratzenberger.[19]

The race was won by Michael Schumacher, with Nicola Larini and Mika Häkkinen in second and third positions respectively.[9] At the podium ceremony, out of respect for the deaths of Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, no champagne was sprayed.[9]


FIA president, Max Mosley, attended the funeral of Ratzenberger, while the world of motorsport and worldwide media were giving overwhelming attention on Senna's funeral. In a press conference ten years later, Mosley said, "Roland had been forgotten. So, I went to his funeral because everyone went to Senna's. I thought it was important that somebody went to his."[20] Other members of the Formula 1 community who went to the ceremony were teammate David Brabham, Johnny Herbert, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and Ratzenberger's compatriots Karl Wendlinger and Gerhard Berger: in all, only five F1 drivers attended the funeral.[21][22]

Ratzenberger was buried in Maxglan, Salzburg, Austria.[23]


Ratzenberger's name was left on the Toyota 94C-V that he was supposed to drive at Le Mans as a tribute.

Ratzenberger was due to drive later that year in the Le Mans 24 Hours for Toyota. Eddie Irvine took his place in the team, and Ratzenberger's name was left on the car (which went on to take second place overall) as a tribute.


On 1 May 1994, during the customary drivers' briefing, the remaining drivers agreed to the reformation of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, with Senna, Gerhard Berger and Michael Schumacher as its first directors. The association subsequently pressed for improvements to car and circuit safety in the wake of Imola and other serious crashes during the 1994 season; for 2003, the FIA mandated the use of the HANS device, designed to prevent the type of injury suffered by Ratzenberger.[24]

Personal life

In the winter of 1991, in Monaco, and after what motor sports writer Adam Cooper described as "a whirlwind courtship," Ratzenberger married the former partner of another driver, becoming also stepfather to her son from a previous relationship. They were divorced around the start of the 1992 season.[2]

Racing record

Complete British Touring Car Championship results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position - 1982-1990 in class) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap - 1 point awarded ?-1989 in class)

Year Team Car Class 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 DC Pts Class
1988 Demon Tweeks BMW M3 B SIL OUL THR DON
13th 26 4th

24 Hours of Le Mans results

Year Team Co-drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
1989 Switzerland Brun Motorsport
Japan Alpha Racing Team
Brazil Maurizio Sandro Sala
Austria Walter Lechner
Porsche 962C C1 58 DNF DNF
1990 Japan Toyota Team SARD France Pierre-Henri Raphanel
Japan Naoki Nagasaka
Toyota 90C-V C1 241 DNF DNF
1991 Switzerland Team Salamin Primagaz
Australia Team Schuppan
Sweden Eje Elgh
United Kingdom Will Hoy
Porsche 962C C2 202 DNF DNF
1992 Japan Toyota Team Tom's
Japan Kitz Racing Team with SARD
Sweden Eje Elgh
United Kingdom Eddie Irvine
Toyota 92C-V C2 321 9th 2nd
1993 Japan Y's Racing Team
Japan Sard Co. Ltd.
Italy Mauro Martini
Japan Naoki Nagasaka
Toyota 93C-V C2 363 5th 1st

Complete Japanese Formula 3000 results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 DC Points
1990 Team Noji International SUZ
1992 Stellar International SUZ
7th 19
1993 Stellar International SUZ
12th 6

+ Did not finish, but was classified as he had completed more than 90% of the race distance.

Complete Formula One results


Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 WDC Points
1994 MTV Simtek Ford Simtek S941 Ford V8 BRA


  1. ^ Saj Chowdhury (30 April 2014). "Ayrton Senna anniversary: Roland Ratzenberger 'merits Imola plaque'". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Cooper, Adam (May 2014). "This charming man". Motor Sport . Retrieved 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Who's Who: Roland Ratzenberger". 2006. Retrieved 2006.
  4. ^ "Image of Ratzenberger's racing car with TV-am branding". Archived from the original on 22 October 2007. Retrieved 2021.
  5. ^ Daniel Taslidzic. "Today would've been Roland Ratzenberger's 58th birthday: This is his story". Dvevnik Sa Putovanja. Retrieved 2019.
  6. ^ Cooper, Adam (30 April 2020). "Roland Ratzenberger: The inside story of the Imola weekend". Retrieved 2020.
  7. ^ Longmore, Andrew (31 October 1994). "Ayrton Senna: The Last Hours". The Times. UK: News International. Archived from the original on 13 January 2016. Retrieved 2006.
  8. ^ Hamilton, Maurice (1998). Frank Williams. Macmillan. p. 232. ISBN 0-333-71716-3.
  9. ^ a b c Rowlinson, Anthony; Straw, Edd; Kulta, Heikki; Watkins, Gary. "Imola 1994: Memories from Senna's rivals". Autosport. Archived from the original on 19 April 2019. Retrieved 2020.
  10. ^ David Tremayne; Mark Skewis; Stuart Williams; Paul Fearnley (5 April 1994). "Barrichello's great escape". Motoring News. News Publications Ltd.
  11. ^ Sam Tremayne. "A racer through and through - Ratzenberger remembered". Formula 1. Retrieved 2019.
  12. ^ "Remembering Roland" Biographies, Archived 24 October 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "10 most striking Formula One crashes ever". 7 June 2006. Retrieved 2007.
  14. ^ Campbell, Paul (1 May 2014). "From the Vault: the tragic death of F1 driver Roland Ratzenberger in 1994". Retrieved 2019 – via
  15. ^ "Race Car Deaths: The Medical Causes of Racing Deaths with Examples and Resulting Race Car Improvements". Retrieved 2019.
  16. ^ Collantine, Keith (30 April 2014). "How Ratzenberger's death stunned F1". RaceFans. Retrieved 2020.
  17. ^ Ciccarone, Paolo (27 April 2018). "Ricordando Senna. Quel giorno a Imola, con la morte in pista" [Remembering Senna. That day in Imola, with death on the track]. AutoMoto Italia (in Italian). Retrieved 2020.
  18. ^ Cascella, Paola (13 March 1997). "Senna Morte Al Computer" [Senna Death Of The Computer]. La Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved 2020.
  19. ^ Longmore, Andrew (31 October 1994). "Ayrton Senna: The Last Hours". The Times. p. 30. Retrieved 2020.
  20. ^ "Max went to Roland's funeral". 23 April 2004. Retrieved 2011.
  21. ^ Majendie, Matt (30 April 2014). "Formula One's forgotten man: 20 years on from the death of Roland Ratzenberger". CNN. Retrieved 2014.
  22. ^ Brabham, David (10 August 2018). "David Brabham Twitter".
  23. ^ "Roland Ratzenberger". Retrieved 2018.
  24. ^ Jeff Pappone (17 February 2011). "Fastest sport is slow to implement safety measures". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2011.

External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Johnny Herbert
Formula Ford Festival winner
Succeeded by
Eddie Irvine
Preceded by
Elio de Angelis
Formula One fatal accidents
30 April 1994
Succeeded by
Ayrton Senna

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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