IMOLA, Italy (Nov 8, 1997 – 00:29 EST) – The Italian state prosecutor leading the probe into the death of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna called on Friday for manslaughter charges against Formula One team chief Frank Williams to be dropped.
Almost nine months after the Senna trial first started, Maurizio Passarini also asked for manslaughter charges against three track officials to be shelved.
In a dramatic about-face, Passarini told the court during his summing up that Williams, one of the most successful team directors in racing history, should be let off “for not having committed the offense.”
However, the prosecuting magistrate refused to drop manslaughter charges against the two remaining defendants, Williams’ technical director Patrick Head and former team designer Adrian Newey.
Passarini said their error had been “microscopic” and asked the judge to hand them one-year suspended sentences — one of the lightest sentences available for manslaughter.
A verdict is not due until mid-December, but legal sources said it was highly unlikely that a judge would find a person guilty if the prosecutor had said there was no case to answer.
Senna, a three times world champion, died during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix when his Williams’ car hurtled off the track and into a concrete wall at the Imola race track.
The prosecution alleges a poor weld on Senna’s steering column snapped just as the Brazilian ace was entering the notorious Tamburello curve, causing him to lose control of his car. Lawyers for Head and Newey reiterated on Friday that their clients were not to blame.
“The request for a guilty verdict for the Williams’ technicians seems based on conjecture, arbitrary data and numerous hypotheses,” lawyer Oreste Dominioni told reporters.
“It seems to me that the prosecuting magistrate has abandoned his initial position and that his accusations have been greatly weakened,” he added.
Williams told the makeshift courtroom in this northern Italian town last week that he was not in charge of technical operations at his team.
“I occupied myself with the business side of the company. Formula One eats money,” he said, adding that he did not know when the steering column was re-welded, nor who had done it.
Passarini said on Friday he had evidence Williams knew that alterations were going to be made but added that the British team chief had not been in a position to halt the changes.
On the other hand, Newey and Head had planned the modifications and had not checked to see how the work had been carried out, Passarini said.
Williams said last week the steering column was cut and re-welded after Senna asked for more space in the cockpit, but did not think it snapped before the car hit the wall.
He told reporters that a number of reasons had probably led to the crash, including the fact the underbelly of the car was too close to the road, that the wheels did not have sufficient grip and that the track was bumpy.
Imola race track director Federico Bendinelli, circuit manager Giorgio Poggi and race director Roland Bruynseraede were originally charged with manslaughter for letting the Grand Prix go ahead on an allegedly dangerous circuit.
Nando.net – 7/11/97.