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NOVEMBER 11, 1996

What happened to the Senna Inquiry?

TWO and a half years after the death of Ayrton Senna and six months after the last whispers about the inquiry into the accident, there has still been no official action taken by the Italian authorities and it looks increasingly likely that the Italians will let the matter rest.

The investigating magistrate Maurizio Passarini was appointed to look into the accident the day after Senna's death and he instigated a technical investigation under Professor Enrico Lorenzini of the school of engineering at Bologna University. Lorenzini used three groups of technical experts which included former F1 designer Mauro Forghieri, engineers TommasoÊCarletti and Jean-Claude Migeot, former Ferrari team boss Roberto Nosetto and former F1 driver Emanuele Pirro - who worked as McLaren's test driver when Senna drove for the team in 1988 and 1989. Adrian Reynard was also involved on behalf of the Senna Family.

The experts are divided on what had caused the accident but Lorenzini's 500-page technical report was finally delivered to Passarini in February 1995. This is believed to have suggested that the most likely cause of the crash was steering failure. The Williams team received a copy of that report and refused to accept its findings, arguing that the steering could easily have broken when the car hit the wall and demanding the right to examine the wreckage which has been impounded in Italy since the accident.

Passarini's investigations dragged on until December 1995 when he delivered his 600-page report to the judiciary, apparently recommending that charges of manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter be brought against members of the Williams team and with representatives of the SAGIS SpA company - which runs Imola and promotes the San Marino GrandÊPrix.

Such charges would not be without precedent. Back in February 1981, following an investigation by magistrate ArmandoÊSpataro, F1 driver Riccardo Patrese and Gianni Restelli, the starter of the Italian GP were charged with manslaughter in relation to the death at Monza in 1978 of Ronnie Peterson. Both were cleared of the charges in a Milan court later that year.

Nearly a year has passed since Passarini's report was filed and it seems that the judges have concluded that there is not enough conclusive evidence for a trial to take place. The decision has probably been influenced by political matters as the FIA is believed to have warned the Automobile Club of Italy that if Williams ran into legal trouble over the accident it would have to campaign to change Italian law if it wanted international motor racing to continue in the country.

Faced with such possibilities it seems that the Italians have concluded that the best course of action is to quietly forget about the report.