F1 Newsround - 16/Mar/1997   HomeContentsHelp

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Senna Trial Continues...Arrows Fined...F1 to be Floated...F1 Viewing Figures Drop...

Disagreement over Steering column’s position in Senna Trial. Senna made no mistakes

(Imola 11 March 97) The trial over the death of Ayrton Senna resumed today, with prosecutor Maruizio Passarini attempting to establish from the first witness, that an improperly modified steering column and a poorly laid track surface was the cause the fatal accident. Mario Casoni, the driver of one of the first emergency vehicles to arrive at the Tamburello curve, testified that, on arrival, he noticed the steering shaft ‘dangling from the cockpit’. Frank Williams' defense attorney, Oreste Dominioni, noted that in a conflicting statement made in 1994, the witness said he saw the steering column on the ground. Professor Syd Watkins, the Official Formula 1 medic in charge who was in attendance at the scene, said that he removed it, setting it on the ground after finding it loose as he attempted to activate the steering wheel quick–release in the cockpit. It was widely photographed at this point.

The fact that track conditions being a possible cause of the accident was not properly eliminated in the official investigation, was put forward by the defense attorneys.

‘Expert’ witness Stefano Stefanini, head of the accident unit of the Bologna Police, said a metal plate had been added to the rear suspension and had cracked long before the race started. The prosecutor Passarini said: "I call him not because I want to show that the rear suspension caused the accident, but to show that the cars are highly sophisticated, and yet when there's a problem, it gets solved with a metal plate."

In a move seemingly aimed at denouncing popular opinion that Senna’s tyres, cooled by the enforced slow lap behind the pace car immediately prior to the resumption of the race, could have been a contributing factor in the accident, Passarini tried to clear these as the cause by showing the final lap time the Brazilian did before the crash. "It was a very good time," said Stefanini, adding that only two drivers managed to better it -- Senna's teammate Damon Hill and future world champion Michael Schumacher -- and that at the end of the race.

Traffic police superintendent Marcello Gentili was asked about the trajectory taken by Senna's car and signs of braking on its way to the concrete wall at Tamburello. Gentili said there was a 21cm angle between the track and the trackside and there were intermittent signs of braking. The prosecution case also rests on its assertion that an angle between the asphalt and the trackside prevented Senna's car from braking properly.

As the trial resumed, Italian Pierluigi Martini was called to testify as a former Formula One driver who knew the Imola circuit and its Tamburello curve well. "A driver like Ayrton Senna didn't go off the track at that point unless there was a problem." Martini said. He told the court that drivers took the curve at 300km/h and that there was a small dip in the middle of the track which disturbed the cars. "Myself, Senna and others were there two weeks before the race and the circuit officials were very efficient, and had the asphalt smoothed out, which was the only thing they could do." However he added that the bump effect was perfectly normal and common to every racing circuit in the world. He felt he could not say that the Tamburello bump had caused Senna to leave the track. Passarini's case is based on his conviction that Senna's modified steering column had failed under stress, causing him to veer off the curve. But Dominioni has denied the steering broke before the crash, and has pointed to the track's asphalt surface saying that it had not been fully investigated. The case continues.

Non neutral Arrows fined

Stewards fined the Arrows team $5000 because Hill's car could not be put in neutral after he stopped in the first practice session of the Australian Grand Prix. This also explains Hills lengthy stay on the track after his Arrows Yamaha coasted to a halt with throttle problems on the parade lap for the race itself. He was just trying to get the wheel back and make sure that the car was not in gear.

Hill has better luck with Arrows

Silverstone (12th March 97)Damon Hill spent Thursday(12th) at Silverstone testing his Arrows-Yamaha before the team moved to Paul Ricard where the World Champion will continue running on Sunday and Monday. Pedro Diniz will also be in action at the French circuit where he is expected to drive on Tuesday. Hill completed 52 laps at Silverstone trying new engine mapping and "a lot of bits and pieces" according to team manager John Walton. His fastest lap was 1m 24.5s. Arrows are set to implement a series of modifications to the air box and chassis in time for the next race in Brazil. The performance of the Yamaha engine was unexpectedly good in Melbourne with Pedro Diniz at one point, fastest driver through the speed trap. The TWR modified C specification engine should hopefully be ready for the start of the European round of races. TWR has also hired designer Tino Belli, amid rumors that they will release current designer Frank Dernie. Belli drew the Fondmetal F01 car and although not a particularly auspicious addition to his CV, it did show promise before funding ran out.

....... and will fight on

After his disastrous debut with his new TWR team at the Australian Grand Prix, Damon Hill has said that he will battle on even though things are not looking to bright with his new team. "I knew the moment I did not have the opportunity of going to a top team my life would be difficult. There will be a new champion this season - I know that. But I'm not one to walk away from a difficult situation," said Hill. "We have got one race behind us and now we have to press on with our testing. There is a lot of work to be done." Finally in what must be the greatest show of misguided faith by any driver, ever, he concluded, "As I said before, this weekend has shown the team has great potential."

Williams test at Paul Ricard

(14th March 97)After their disappointing season opener at Melbourne, Williams team drivers Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen will be out testing from Sunday 16-Wednesday 19 March at Paul Ricard. This is a routine scheduled test planned from the outset in conjunction with Renault and will be the team's only outing prior to the Brazilian GP on 30 March. According to Patrick Head the team will evaluate a power steering system which the FW19’s will probably run from Brazil onwards. "We could have introduced this system in Melbourne, but we wanted to give it a bit more mileage," he said. "So in order to be on the safe side, we postponed it to Brazil." The biggest concern for Williams in Australia was the braking performance, and brake component testing will be part of the programme at Paul Ricard. Commenting on the race Villeneuve said: "It was both frustrating and annoying to throw away all our good work, but I think we showed everybody we have a great car".

McLaren, Jordan and Lola at Silverstone testing

Australian GP winner David Coulthard will be testing the McLaren MP4/12 spare car at Silverstone on Monday (17th), carrying out routine development work in preparation for the Brazilian GP.

Both Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella will be testing on Monday and Tuesday (17th & 18th) as part of the team's preparation for the South American races. The team is still working to establish why a circlip in a driveshaft worked loose to cause Schumacher's retirement from the Australian GP.

Following their inauspicious debut in Melbourne last weekend where they both failed to qualify their cars within the 107% ruling, Ricardo Rosset and Vincenzo Sospiri will also be at Silverstone on Monday and Tuesday with the new Lola-Fords. "We won't be testing any modifications," said a team spokesman. "What we need is miles and miles of testing."

No changes for Sauber

The Sauber team will spend its time between Melbourne and Interlagos checking the data gathered from the Australian GP and analysing the results. Technical director Leo Ress explained; "As the cars were running almost perfectly on race day, we will not touch one part. There is no test planned before the race in Brazil. Real testing will start when we come back to Europe after the South American tour."

Minardi test at Monza

After what can only be described as a successful outing in Australia, Both Minardi drivers Ukyo Katayama and Jarno Trulli are expected to test the new M197 at Monza next week, probably on Wednesday. They will be concentrating on aerodynamic development work in addition to improving the Magneti-Marelli electronic system on the Hart V8 engine.

Ecclestone to Float Formula One

President of the FIA Max Mosley and several top Teams are expected to take a slice of the action when Formula One comes onto the stockmarket in August. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has contacted US investment bank Salomon Brothers to prepare the company for a flotation in London and New York. The float is expected to personally make Ecclestone a billionaire. Ecclestone is keen to join the US market to promote the sport in what is seen as one of the few major countries without a regular Grand Prix.

Sky deal rumours with Ecclestone

BskyBroadcasting may challenge ITV’s new coverage of Formula 1 next year by introducing a new digital multi choice service as pioneered by German station DSF in 1996 and introduced to potential customers this year by FOCA president Bernie Ecclestone. Digital technology is utilised to provide viewers with a choice of five selectable channels giving on board views, lap times, pit stop activity and constantly updated slow motion highlights, at the press of a button.

It has been suggested that if Sky was to purchase the rights now, then Ecclestone would look favourably on them when the main live contract comes up for renewal in five years. "Digital TV will revolutionise the broadcasting of Grand Prix events," said Ecclestone, "We can expect to see a further increase in the number of broadcasts."

Formula One TV ratings falling. FIA makes it official

In a statement issued last week by the FIA announcing ‘Another record breaking year for Formula one viewing figures’ it was proclaimed that, ‘Forty-one billion television viewers watched Formula One in 1996. The 17 races were covered by 52,588 broadcasts reaching 202 countries’. The statement went on to say, ‘The total number of viewers is equivalent to eight times the world's population’. A fascinating mixture of mind boggling facts and figures followed mentioning also the increase in popularity of Ecclestones’s newest venture, multi channel digital TV(see separate story). Max Mosley, President of the FIA, confirmed that "The total number of broadcasts and number of countries now watching Formula One continues to increase year-on-year. Formula One motor racing is now firmly established as the number one televised sport in the world".

Well then, was it only last year in January 1996 that the FIA announced in a remarkably similar statement, ’FIA Formula One World Championship draws record breaking television audiences’? The press release provided more than a touch of Deja vu for 1996 in its familiarly worded phrases. ’More than eight times the world's population watched Formula One motor racing on television last year. The FIA Formula One World Championship broadcast figures reached world-wide, record-breaking proportions in 1995. Forty-five billion viewers tuned into coverage of the 17 Grands Prix over the season. No other event comes anywhere close to achieving these record-breaking figures.’ Which is quite true and also includes the ‘record breaking’ 1996 Formula one coverage. Max Mosley also brought a ring of familiarity in his 1995 statement. "The number of countries who now cover Formula One has increased by more than a quarter in the last season. The FIA Formula One World Championship is the ultimate televised sport world-wide."

Formula One has lost 4 billion viewers somewhere and it can’t all be the fault of the BBC. When one bandies about with such preposterously large figures, true demographics can never be accurate but looking at this from a sponsor’s point of view, around 4 billion viewers less is a lot of potential consumers that they are paying increased rates for per head.

Perhaps the teams should complain to Mr Ecclestone to do something about last years ‘dreadful’ ratings before Sponsors and advertisers smell a rat and start reducing their budgets or moving over to the latest official ‘sport’, Ballroom Dancing. 20 million would buy an awful lot of sequins.

Chris Richardson

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