ROME (Jun 3, 1997 – 12:31 EST)
Damon Hill, the world motor racing champion, said he did not believe the Williams team was responsible for the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994. Senna made two unusual “corrections” before the crash on the Tamburello bend, possibly due to a fall in tyre pressure, he told the manslaughter trial in Imola.
Mr. Hill, who gave evidence for three and a half hours, exonerated the Imola track officials who are on trial with three members of the Williams team, and appeared unable to shed further light on the cause of the champion’s death. Mr. Hill, who was Senna’s team mate at the time, repeatedly said: “I can’t remember, it was too long ago,” when asked to recall details of the crash at the track near Bologna, and the modifications to Senna’s car which preceded it.
Mr. Hill said he did not believe that either mechanical failure or the Imola track itself were responsible for the fatal crash three years ago, when Senna’s car hit the wall of the Tamburello bend at speed during the San Marino Grand Prix. The prosecution at the trial, which opened in February, alleges that three members of the Williams team contributed to Senna’s death “through negligence or fault” by modifying the steering column of his car to give him more room behind the wheel. The rewelded column snapped on impact and pierced his helmet.
Mr. Hill said he could not remember whether Senna had complained about the handling of his car after the steering wheel modification. But he said he did recall attending a meeting of the Williams team which tried to reconstruct the crash afterwards. “We examined every possibility — the steering column, the suspension, the aerodynamics, the underside of the car hitting the asphalt, everything.” He had left the meeting convinced that the theory that the modified steering wheel had caused Senna’s death was “not valid.” “There was no proof that it was the cause of the accident” he told the court. “There had to be something else.”
Mr. Hill said television pictures of the crash, including those from the camera mounted on Senna’s car, showed Senna making two unusual “corrections” on the approach to the Tamburello turn. These may have been due to a fall in the tyre pressures rather than the state of the track, Mr. Hill said.
(c) 1997 Copyright Nando
(c) 1997 The Times – 3/6/97.