FEBRUARY 24, 1997

Senna - the trial begins

THE legal battle over what caused Ayrton Senna's death at Imola in May 1994 began last week in a converted dance hall in the town not far from the racing circuit.

Judge Antonio Costanzo spent three hours listening to legal arguments over whether or not the prosecution had correctly conducted its investigations, lawyers for Roland Bruynseraede and Adrian Newey arguing that both were not informed by examining magistrate Maurizio Passarini that they were under investigation until after they had been interviewed.

The trial was then adjourned until February 28 with Passarini due to begin the case for the prosecution on March 5 and the first witnesses expected to be called on March 11. The judge has chosen to have only two sessions of court each week.

Passarini will argue that Frank Williams, Adrian Newey and Patrick Head are guilty of involuntary manslaughter because of a faulty weld in the steering column which, he claims, broke as Senna went into Tamburello Corner. Defense lawyers say that the breakage was a consequence of the crash rather than the cause of the crash. Passarini is also arguing that Bruynseraede, Federico Bendinelli and Giorio Poggi are guilty because there was not sufficient run-off area at the corner.

Bendinelli was the only one of the accused to appear in court last week and told reporters that no-one was responsible for what was a freak accident. A lawyer representing the Senna family - Giovanni Carcaterra - was in court but said he was only following the case as an observer.

After nearly three years in which the Williams team has stayed silent faced with constant accusations as a result of leaks from the investigation which have blamed Williams for a steering failure, there are suggestions that there is now a concerted publicity counter-attack going on, designed to put forward other possible explanations for the crash which killed Senna.

Last week both the Sunday Times in London and the French magazine Paris-Match ran the same story which included a photograph of Senna's car just seconds before the crash, showing it about to run over a piece of wreckage. There were suggestions that low tire pressures and bumps on the track combined to smash the FW16 heavily into the track causing Senna to lose control, and there was a theory that Senna might have blacked out before the crash because he had told friends that sometimes he held his breath in the opening laps of a race to increase his level of concentration.

The article was written by a Sunday Times journalist and by former F1 journalist/Williams team manager Peter Windsor.