Roland Ratzenberger

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Roland Ratzenberger
Born (1960-07-04)4 July 1960
Salzburg, Austria
Died 30 April 1994(1994-04-30) (aged 33)
Bologna, Italy
Formula One World Championship career
Nationality Austria Austrian
Active years 1994
Teams Simtek
Races 3 (1 start)
Championships 0
Wins 0
Podiums 0
Career points 0
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
First race 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix
Last race 1994 San Marino Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
Participating years 1989–1993
Teams Brun Motorsport/Alpha Racing Team, Toyota Team SARD/TOM'S, Team Salamin Primagaz/Team Schuppan
Best finish 5th (1993)
Class wins 1 (1993)

Roland Ratzenberger (4 July 1960 – 30 April 1994) was an Austrian racing driver who raced in sports prototype, Formula Nippon, Formula 3000 and Formula One. He died during qualifying for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, the same event at which three-time World Champion Ayrton Senna died the following day.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Salzburg, Austria, Ratzenberger often claimed 1962 (rather than 1960) as his birth year, wanting to appear younger to extend his racing career. He began racing in German Formula Ford in 1983, and in 1985 won both the Austrian and Central European Formula Ford championships.[2]


In 1985, he entered the prestigious Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in England, finishing second. He returned in 1986, and won it before graduating to British Formula Three the following season.[2] While in the UK, he briefly gained fame for the similarity of his name to that of TV puppet Roland Rat, with whom he appeared in an edition of TV-am and whose branding briefly appeared on his car.[3]

Two years in British F3 yielded two 12th places in the championship with West Surrey Racing and Madgwick Motorsport. He also raced in other formulae than single seaters, once finishing second in the 1987 World Touring Car Championship driving a Team Schnitzer BMW M3.[2] In 1988 he entered the final few rounds of the British Touring Car Championship in a class B BMW M3 for the Demon Tweeks team.

In 1989 he entered the British Formula 3000 series, finishing third overall.[2]

Le Mans[edit]

The same year he raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time. The Brun Motorsport Porsche 962 he shared with Maurizio Sandro Sala and Walter Lechner retired in the third hour.

He raced in the next four Le Mans, with Brun again in 1991 and with the SARD team in 1990, 1992 and 1993. His highest finish came in 1993, when he, Mauro Martini and Naoki Nagasaka finished fifth in a Toyota 93 C-V.[2]

Racing in Japan[edit]

In the 1990s, Ratzenberger switched to Japanese racing. He won one race each in 1990 and 1991 in the Japanese Sports Prototype Championship with the same SARD team he drove for at Le Mans. He also returned to touring car racing in the Japanese Touring Car Championship, finishing seventh in 1990 and 1991 in a BMW M3.[2]

This paved the way for a return to Formula 3000 in the Japanese championship, with the Stellar team in the 1992 season. His year began poorly but, when the team upgraded their two year-old Lola for a new model, Ratzenberger won twice to finish seventh overall. He remained in the series in the 1993 season, finishing 11th.[2]

Formula One[edit]

In 1994, he finally achieved his ambition of becoming a Formula One driver, signing a five-race deal with the new Simtek team[2] run by Nick Wirth.

His campaign got off to a poor start at the Brazilian Grand Prix in Interlagos, where he failed to qualify. But he got onto the grid for the next round at the TI Circuit in Aida, Japan, as his experience of the track from his touring car days meant he was the only driver in the race who had driven at the venue before. He finished 11th.[2]


Ratzenberger, prior to his fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix

Ratzenberger was killed during qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix at the Imola circuit on Saturday 30 April 1994. He went off-track on the previous lap, damaging his front wing, but rather than come into the pits, he continued, since he was competing for the final grid spot.[4] The high speed on the straight, and therefore the high downforce generated, finally broke the wing off, sending it under the car. His car failed to turn into the Villeneuve Corner and struck the outside wall at 314.9 km/h (195.7 mph).[5]

Ratzenberger was pronounced dead on arrival at Maggiore Hospital in Bologna, having been airlifted there from the Imola circuit's medical centre, where he had initially been transferred to from the crash site by ambulance. The cause of death was a basilar skull fracture.

Villeneuve Curva, the location of Ratzenberger's fatal crash. Ayrton Senna was killed the next day at the bend before.

Ratzenberger was the first racing driver to lose his life at a grand prix weekend since the 1982 season, when Riccardo Paletti was killed at the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Ratzenberger was also the first driver to die in an F1 car since Elio de Angelis during testing in 1986.

Bernie Ecclestone persuaded the Simtek team to take part in the race the following day to overcome the shock. Out of respect, Ratzenberger's spot on the starting grid was left empty. Ratzenberger's team mate, David Brabham, retired after 27 laps.

Seven laps into the race, three-time World Champion Ayrton Senna was killed in another accident that brought the sport of Formula One under international scrutiny. The double tragedy was marked before the start of the next race in Monaco, with the front row of the grid left empty and the two slots painted with a Brazilian and Austrian flag.

While Ratzenberger's death was overshadowed to some extent by Senna's, barely 24 hours later, his death nonetheless had one lasting legacy. On 1 May 1994, during the customary drivers' briefing, the remaining drivers agreed to the reformation of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, with Senna, Gerhard Berger and Michael Schumacher as its first directors. The association subsequently pressed for improvements to car and circuit safety in the wake of Imola and other serious crashes during the 1994 season; in 2003, the FIA mandated the use of the HANS device, designed to prevent the type of injury suffered by Ratzenberger.[6]

When track officials examined the wreckage of Senna's racing car, they found a furled Austrian flag. Senna had planned to raise it after the race, in honour of Ratzenberger.[7]

FIA president, Max Mosley, attended the funeral of Ratzenberger, despite the overwhelming attention on Senna's funeral, both in the world of motorsport and worldwide. In a press conference ten years later Mosley said, "Roland had been forgotten. So I went to his funeral because everyone went to Senna's. I thought it was important that somebody went to his."[8] Other members of the Formula 1 community who attended were Johnny Herbert, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and Ratzenberger's compatriots Karl Wendlinger and Gerhard Berger: they were the only four F1 drivers who attended.[9]

Ratzenberger was supposed to drive later that year in the Le Mans 24 Hours for Toyota. Eddie Irvine took his place in the team, and Ratzenberger's name was left on the car (which would go on to take second place overall) as a tribute.

Ratzenberger is buried in Maxglan, Salzburg, Austria.

Racing record[edit]

24 Hours of Le Mans results[edit]

Year Team Co-drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
1989 Switzerland Brun Motorsport
Japan Alpha Racing Team
Brazil Maurizio Sandro Sala
Austria Walter Lechner
Porsche 962C C1 58 DNF DNF
1990 Japan Toyota Team SARD France Pierre-Henri Raphanel
Japan Naoki Nagasaka
Toyota 90C-V C1 241 DNF DNF
1991 Switzerland Team Salamin Primagaz
Australia Team Schuppan
Sweden Eje Elgh
United Kingdom Will Hoy
Porsche 962C C2 202 DNF DNF
1992 Japan Toyota Team Tom's
Japan Kitz Racing Team with SARD
Sweden Eje Elgh
United Kingdom Eddie Irvine
Toyota 92C-V C2 321 9th 2nd
1993 Japan Y's Racing Team
Japan Sard Co. Ltd.
Italy Mauro Martini
Japan Naoki Nagasaka
Toyota 93C-V C2 363 5th 1st

Complete Formula One results[edit]


Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 WDC Points
1994 MTV Simtek Ford Simtek S941 Ford V8 BRA
NC 0


  1. ^ Saj Chowdhury (30 April 2014). "Ayrton Senna anniversary: Roland Ratzenberger 'merits Imola plaque'". BBC Sport. Retrieved 30 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Who's Who: Roland Ratzenberger". 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-21. 
  3. ^ Image of Ratzenberger's racing car
  4. ^ "Remembering Roland" Biographies,
  5. ^ "10 most striking Formula One crashes ever". 2006-06-07. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  6. ^ Jeff Pappone (2011-02-17). "Fastest sport is slow to implement safety measures". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  7. ^ Longmore, Andrew (31 October 1994). "Ayrton Senna: The Last Hours". The Times. p. 30. Back at the track, in the shattered remains of Senna's car, they discovered a furled Austrian flag Senna had intended to dedicate his 42nd grand prix victory to Ratzenberger's memory. 
  8. ^ "Max went to Roland's funeral". 2004-04-23. Retrieved 2011-02-01. 
  9. ^ Majendie, Matt (2014-04-30). "Formula One's forgotten man: 20 years on from the death of Roland Ratzenberger". Retrieved 2014-06-14. 

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Johnny Herbert
Formula Ford Festival winner
Succeeded by
Eddie Irvine
Preceded by
Elio de Angelis
Formula One fatal accidents
April 30, 1994
Succeeded by
Ayrton Senna