Roland Ratzenberger

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Roland Ratzenberger
Roland Ratzenberger.jpg
Ratzenberger in 1994
Born(1960-07-04)4 July 1960
Salzburg, Austria
Died30 April 1994(1994-04-30) (aged 33)
Bologna, Italy
Formula One World Championship career
NationalityAustria Austrian
Active years1994
Entries3 (1 start)
Career points0
Pole positions0
Fastest laps0
First entry1994 Brazilian Grand Prix
Last entry1994 San Marino Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
TeamsBrun Motorsport/Alpha Racing Team, Toyota Team SARD/TOM'S, Team Salamin Primagaz/Team Schuppan
Best finish5th (1993)
Class wins1 (1993)

Roland Ratzenberger (German: [ˈroːlant ˈratsn̩bɛrɡɐ]; 4 July 1960 – 30 April 1994) was an Austrian racing driver who raced in various categories of motorsport, including British Formula 3000, Japanese Formula 3000 and Formula One. Having had sporadic success throughout the lower formulas, Ratzenberger managed to secure an F1 seat in 1994 for the new Simtek team, at the unusually old age of 33. He was killed in a crash during qualifying for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix just three races into his F1 career. The weekend would become notorious for also seeing the death of Ayrton Senna, a three time world champion, during the race the following day.

The Grand Prix Drivers' Association was reformed as a direct result of Ratzenberger's death, while the weekend as a whole led to a markedly increased emphasis on safety in the sport.

Early and personal life[edit]

Ratzenberger was born in Salzburg, Austria, on 4 July 1960. When he was seven, his grandmother took him to a local hillclimb race at Gaisberg. Ιn 1969, the Salzburgring opened near his home.[1] As a teenager, he discovered that racer and Formula Ford team owner Walter Lechner was based nearby and, while studying at a technical school, began to hang around the workshop. On finishing his education at eighteen, he joined Lechner, who was at this time opening a racing school at the Salzburgring.[1]

In the winter of 1991, in Monaco, and after what Adam Cooper described as "a whirlwind courtship," Ratzenberger married the former partner of another driver, becoming stepfather to her son from a previous relationship. They were divorced around the start of the 1992 season.[1]


Ratzenberger 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 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in England, finishing second. He returned in 1986 to win the event, before graduating to British Formula 3 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; the TV-am branding appeared for a time 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 cars besides 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, racing for the Demon Tweeks team. The next year, he entered the British Formula 3000 series, finishing third overall, and also 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 would take part in the next four Le Mans races, with Brun again in 1991, and with the SARD team in 1990, 1992 and 1993.[2]

In the 1990s, Ratzenberger began racing primarily in Japan. 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] During the latter year, Ratzenberger tested a CART Lola T91/00 for Dick Simon Racing at Willow Springs.[1]

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 once to finish seventh overall. He remained in the series in 1993, finishing 11th. That year, he achieved his highest finish at Le Mans, as he, Mauro Martini, and Naoki Nagasaka finished fifth in a Toyota 93 C-V.[2]

Formula One[edit]

Roland Ratzenberger on his last day (30 April 1994) at Imola during the San Marino Grand Prix. Later that day, Ratzenberger was killed during qualifying.

Ratzenberger greatly desired to race in Formula One, especially as former rivals in F3000, such as Eddie Irvine and Johnny Herbert, managed to reach the top level while he did not.[4] He came very close to securing a drive with the Jordan team for their inaugural season in 1991. Negotiations were at a very advanced stage when Ratzenberger lost the financial support of a "major sponsor."[5]

In 1994, he achieved his ambition of becoming a Formula One driver. After gaining a sponsor in a wealthy German woman, who negotiated a deal over the 1993-4 winter, Ratzenberger signed a five-race deal with the new Simtek team, partnering David Brabham.[4] With a very uncompetitive car, Ratzenberger failed to qualify for the first race at Interlagos. However, the next round at the TI Circuit in Aida went much better, as he not only managed to qualify, but finish in a very commendable eleventh place, even considering that he was the only driver who had raced at the venue before.[6]



The San Marino Grand Prix at Imola would have been Ratzenberger's third race in Formula One. During the first qualifying session on Friday 29 April, he asked the more experienced Brabham to test his car out; the Australian vindicated Ratzenberger's assessment of the brakes, which had been troubling him at the previous races.[4] According to Brabham, the issue was soon resolved to the satisfaction of both.[6] The session was overshadowed when Jordan driver Rubens Barrichello hit a kerb at the Variante Bassa corner; his car, travelling at 225 km/h (140 mph), was sent airborne, and collided with the tyre barrier.[7] Having received injuries to his nose and arm, Barrichello was transferred to a nearby hospital, and took no further part in the weekend.[8]

The next day, the second qualifying session proceeded as normal. Early in the session, Ratzenberger went off the track at the Acqua Minerale chicane.[9] With his sponsor in attendance for the first time, and at the halfway point of his contract, he decided to carry on, after checking the car to the best of his abilities.[4] Unknown to him, the minor incident had damaged his front wing; as he tried to turn into the high-downforce Villeneuve corner, it broke and became lodged under the car, which crashed into the outside wall at 314.9 km/h (195.7 mph).[10]

Ratzenberger was transferred by ambulance to Imola Circuit's medical centre, then by air ambulance to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna where he was pronounced dead upon arrival. He had suffered three individually fatal injuries: a basilar skull fracture, which was named as the official cause of death; blunt trauma from the front-left tyre penetrating the survival cell;[11] and a ruptured aorta.[12] 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 as a result of a crash in an F1 car since Elio de Angelis during testing for the 1986 Formula One season.

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

Bernie Ecclestone personally delivered the confirmation of Ratzenberger's death to the stunned Simtek team. Grieving, Brabham made the decision to compete on Sunday:[13]

Everyone was in a state of shock. Nobody could comprehend what had happened ... I don't remember much until the evening when the team sat me down and told me that the decision was up to me whether we continued to race ... I thought I have to pick this team up and continue what we're doing. I decided to race, really for the guys.

Ayrton Senna commandeered an official car to hurry to the medical center; he learnt of Ratzenberger's death from friend and neurosurgeon Sid Watkins. Watkins suggested to the inconsolable Senna that he withdraw from the following day's race and go fishing instead, and asked him if he wanted to stop racing. Senna famously responded "I cannot quit, I have to go on," and, having returned to his garage, decided to withdraw for the remainder of qualifying.[7]

Ratzenberger's spot on the starting grid was left empty. Paul Belmondo was reported to have been offered the final position on the grid but had declined, out of respect for Ratzenberger and on the grounds that he had not earned that race spot.[14]

Race and aftermath[edit]

During the seventh lap of the race the following day, Senna's car ran wide at the Tamburello left-hander and struck an unprotected concrete barrier at 233 km/h (140 mph), resulting in multiple fatal injuries.[15] 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.[16] The race was won by Michael Schumacher, with Nicola Larini and Mika Häkkinen in second and third positions respectively, while Brabham retired after 27 laps.[17] Out of respect for Ratzenberger and Senna, no champagne was sprayed at the podium ceremony.[17]

The death of Senna, a three-time world champion, near-completely overshadowed Ratzenberger's: while all active Formula One drivers attended Senna's funeral, only five (Brabham, Herbert, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and Ratzenberger's compatriots Karl Wendlinger and Gerhard Berger) attended Ratzenberger's.[18] FIA president Max Mosley was also in attendance, noting in an interview ten years later:[19]

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.

As a tribute, Ratzenberger's name was left on the Toyota 94C-V which he intended to drive at Le Mans.

Ratzenberger was buried in Maxglan, in Salzburg.[20] Due to drive later that year in the Le Mans 24 Hours for Toyota, Ratzenberger's name was left on the car as a tribute, with his friend Eddie Irvine taking his place at the wheel.


During the customary pre-race drivers' briefing on 1 May 1994, the remaining drivers agreed to the reformation of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, with Senna, Berger and Schumacher intended to be its first directors. The reformed association subsequently pressed for thorough improvements to safety after the Imola crashes and others during 1994; for 2003, the FIA mandated the use of the HANS device, designed to prevent the type of injury suffered by Ratzenberger.[21]

Racing record[edit]

Complete British Touring Car Championship results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position – 1982–1990 in class) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap – 1 point awarded ?–1989 in class)

Year Team Car Class 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 DC Pts Class
1988 Demon Tweeks BMW M3 B SIL OUL THR DON
13th 26 4th

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 Japanese Formula 3000 results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 DC Points
1990 Team Noji International SUZ
1992 Stellar International SUZ
7th 19
1993 Stellar International SUZ
12th 6

† Did not finish, but was classified as he had completed more than 90% of the race distance.

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


  1. ^ a b c d Cooper, Adam (May 2014). "This charming man". Motor Sport . Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Who's Who: Roland Ratzenberger". 2006. Retrieved 21 December 2006.
  3. ^ "Image of Ratzenberger's racing car with TV–am branding". Archived from the original on 22 October 2007. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d Cooper, Adam (30 April 2020). "Roland Ratzenberger: The inside story of the Imola weekend". Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  5. ^ Daniel Taslidzic. "Today would've been Roland Ratzenberger's 58th birthday: This is his story". Dvevnik Sa Putovanja. Retrieved 26 April 2019.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ a b Chowdhury, Saj (30 April 2020). "Remembering Roland Ratzenberger". BBC Sport. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  7. ^ a b Hamilton, Maurice (1998). Frank Williams. Macmillan. p. 232. ISBN 0-333-71716-3.
  8. ^ David Tremayne; Mark Skewis; Stuart Williams; Paul Fearnley (5 April 1994). "Barrichello's great escape". Motoring News. News Publications Ltd.
  9. ^ Sam Tremayne. "A racer through and through - Ratzenberger remembered". Formula 1. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  10. ^ "10 most striking Formula One crashes ever". 7 June 2006. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 30 December 2007.
  11. ^ Campbell, Paul (1 May 2014). "From the Vault: the tragic death of F1 driver Roland Ratzenberger in 1994". Retrieved 20 December 2019 – via
  12. ^ "Race Car Deaths: The Medical Causes of Racing Deaths with Examples and Resulting Race Car Improvements". Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  13. ^ Saj Chowdhury (30 April 2014). "Brabham on Ratzenberger and Senna". BBC Sport. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  14. ^ Collantine, Keith (30 April 2014). "How Ratzenberger's death stunned F1". RaceFans. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  15. ^ Cascella, Paola (13 March 1997). "Senna Morte Al Computer" [Senna Death Of The Computer]. La Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  16. ^ Longmore, Andrew (31 October 1994). "Ayrton Senna: The Last Hours". The Times. UK: News International. Archived from the original on 13 January 2016. Retrieved 28 October 2006.
  17. ^ a b Rowlinson, Anthony; Straw, Edd; Kulta, Heikki; Watkins, Gary. "Imola 1994: Memories from Senna's rivals". Autosport. Archived from the original on 19 April 2019. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  18. ^ Majendie, Matt (30 April 2014). "Formula One's forgotten man: 20 years on from the death of Roland Ratzenberger". CNN. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  19. ^ "Max went to Roland's funeral". 23 April 2004. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  20. ^ "Roland Ratzenberger". Archived from the original on 28 June 2020. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  21. ^ Jeff Pappone (17 February 2011). "Fastest sport is slow to implement safety measures". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 19 February 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  22. ^ "Roland Ratzenberger race results". Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  23. ^ a b "Roland Ratzenberger Results". Motorsport Stats. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  24. ^ "Complete Archive of Roland Ratzenberger". Racing Sports Cars. pp. 2. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  25. ^ "Roland Ratzenberger". Motor Sport. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  26. ^ "All championship race entries, by Roland Ratzenberger". ChicaneF1. Retrieved 5 May 2022.

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by Formula Ford Festival winner
Succeeded by
Preceded by Formula One fatal accidents
30 April 1994
Succeeded by