As you probably know, the decision in the Senna Trial was given six months ago, but the court’s reasons have only just been released . The Gazzetta dello Sport, the daily sports broadsheet of Italy, carried a report on the judgement which was also published at http://www.rcs.it/lagazzetta under the headline “IL PROCESSONE”. For those who can’t read Italian but are interested, this is a summary by an English lawyer (me – see CV) of the judgement as the Gazzetta reported it. The Gazzetta didn’t comment much, and gave a lot of quotes, so this should be accurate unless either the Gazzetta badly misunderstood something, or I did.
The accused were Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Adrian Newey, Roland Brunserayede, Federico Bendinelli and Giorgio Poggi.
The judgement seems to have been as follows:
- The accident was caused by the steering column, which broke.
- It broke because it had been “modified”.
- The accident was not caused by any defect in the racetrack.
- Because of (3), the FIA inspector Roland Brunserayede and the officials Federico Bendinelli and Giorgio Poggi were not responsible for the accident.
- Frank Williams was not responsible for any technical affairs, and therefore could not be responsible for the failure of the steering column.
This left Patrick Head and Adrian Newey, who were also acquitted, apparently for two reasons:
- The modification of the column was not routine, but that did not mean either Head or Newey should have got personally involved. The modification was done by experts and Head and Newey were perfectly
entitled to leave it to them.
- Even if one or both of them was responsible for deciding to modify the steering column, that did not mean the accident was his fault. They had made the decision as carefully as they ought, i.e.
(as an English lawyer would put it) neither of them was negligent.
The substance of the decision therefore seems to be (though the Gazzetta doesn’t say so) that the modification was done properly and for sensible reasons and the fact that the part broke was just one of those things. However, it may have been that it was thought to be someone’s fault, just not any of the accused. It’s hard to tell.
I am not totally convinced by the court’s account of the facts – I thought the theory that the car had a slow puncture, bottomed out over a bump and went flying was simpler, more plausible, and quite adequate to explain the accident – but I haven’t seen the technical evidence, and after all, that is what the court is there for. It was up to them.
Cygnet Formula One – 15/6/98.