Senna and Adriane seemed settled, which may be a strange way to describe people who were constantly on the move, using private jets, helicopters and limousines to ferry them between the house on the Algarve at Quinta do Lago, the Rio beach house at Angra dos Reis, the São Paulo apartment on the Rua Paraguai and the da Silva family farm at Tatui.
‘I felt that, with Adriane Galisteu, Ayrton was having luck in life,’ Emerson Fittipaldi wrote after his death. ‘He had found his other half, and his maturity as a human being was visible.’
While Senna was alive, the discrepancy between his social background and that of Adriane, brought up by her mother in considerably less privileged circumstances, was allowed to carry no significance. When he was away, testing a car or fulfilling a sponsor’s requirements, Adriane took lessons in English, the lingua franca of the paddock, and jogged under the supervision of Nuno Cobra so that she would be able to run in the mornings with Ayrton, whose devotion to his physical fitness regime was absolute.
Cobra was a close friend of long standing, and something of a personal philosopher. ‘Life is passing you by,’ Adriane heard him telling Senna during the early weeks of 1994, as they trained on the running track of the University of São Paulo. ‘Seize it.’
In January Senna went to Estoril to try an updated version of last year’s Williams; the new FW16 would not be ready until the early days of March, three weeks before the first race of the season. In between there was plenty of opportunity to play on the jet-skis at Angra and the kart track at Tatui with his nieces Bia and Paulinha and his nephew Bruno, the children of Viviane and her husband, Flávio Lalli.
And there was time, too, for business matters, which were assuming a larger role in his life. ‘I am trying to find new activities, a source of motivation for when I’ve finished,’ he said. ‘I believe I will be able to find some real alternatives in business.’ In 1993, his million-dollars-a-race deal had ledForbes magazine to rank him third in their annual list of the highest-earning sports people. His off-track income, from Banco Nacional, other endorsements and his own ventures, would probably have doubled that. A videogame under his name sold 800,000 copies, for example; there was a range of leisure clothing. Now he moved into a higher gear, announcing that his company Senna Import was the new distributor of Audi cars in Brazil. Cavaro, an Italian bicycle manufacturer, launched a new carbon-fibre mountain bike bearing his name. There were collaborations with TAG-Heuer watches, Mont Blanc pens and Ducati motorcycles. And, closest to his heart, there was the launch of Senninha e sua turma (Senninha and his gang), a witty and well-drawn fortnightly children’s cartoon magazine devoted to the adventures of a boy racing driver bearing a close resemblance to Brazil’s real-life hero. Senninha also jet-skied, outwitted baddies, and, in edition number four, fell in love with a little blonde girl. The magazine, Senna said, was an expression of his desire to give something back to children; he had plans to direct the profits from some of these ventures into projects to help the street kids of São Paulo. In March he donated $45,000 to a charity for sick children at the behest of his old friend Professor Sid Watkins, the Formula One circus’s resident medical officer.
But when he sat in the new car for the first time during a test at Paul Ricard in February, he discovered something that disturbed him: the 1994 Williams did not have the inherent superiority enjoyed by its predecessors, and which had persuaded him to make such strenuous and protracted efforts to join the team. It was uncomfortably small in the cockpit, its handling was disconcertingly difficult to predict, and, as testing at Imola revealed, it was not as quick as Michael Schumacher’s new Benetton.
In 1992 and 1993, the combination of Patrick Head’s chassis, Adrian Newey’s aerodynamics and Bernard Dudot’s Renault engine had given Mansell and Prost what was practically a magic carpet. But their domination, and the costly spread of computer technology throughout Formula One, had led the FIA to bring in new regulations for 1994, banning the sort of devices that were horribly expensive, even by Formula One’s inflated standards, and were also perceived to reduce the driver’s contribution, thereby diminishing the sport as a human spectacle. So out went fully automatic gearboxes (including McLaren’s programmed job and Williams’s projected constantly variable transmission); out went the device called traction control, which matched engine revs to road speed and eliminated wheel spin, at great cost to the spectacle since almost any idiot could floor the throttle and turn the wheel; most crucially for Williams, out went the enormously complicated active suspension, which they had perfected while others struggled. There was the added complication of reduced petrol tankage, brought in to create a need for refuelling stops in order to increase the entertainment value for television: an idiotically irresponsible measure.
The new Williams was technically a more straightforward car, but it is in the nature of racing-car designers always to explore new solutions, and no solution to the problems set by a modern Formula One car can ever be called simple. From the day it first turned a wheel, the FW16 had its drivers and engineers worried.
Schumacher, by contrast, looked and sounded highly confident at Silverstone in mid-March, doing the final fettling work on his Benetton ten days before the opening round in Brazil. But he was not silly enough to overplay it when told that people were speculating about how he was now faster than Senna. ‘It’s nice to know people have that trust in me,’ he said mildly as a bright spring sun chased thunderclouds across the sky outside the Benetton motorhome and the yawp of a lone Tyrrell floated across the infield. ‘The only thing I can say is that I’ve got another year of experience. Hopefully we can push the Williams, sometimes stay close, sometimes win a race, but as for the championship, I think we’re still one more step away from that.’
Senna and Hill, he said, had ‘the best package’ for the season. ‘But that doesn’t mean that in some races where they don’t find the right set-up, we might find a very good set-up – and we’ll be very close, we’ll fight together, and then by strategies or stuff we’re going to win races. But too many bad things would need to happen to other teams for us really to have the chance to win the championship. Drivers like Senna or Hill, a team like Williams … they don’t make mistakes.’
His team were helpful to a lone observer that day, but when they were asked about the function of the three coloured buttons on the centre of the Benetton’s steering wheel, they clammed up in unison. It was curious, but it didn’t seem very important at the time.
A few days later Williams held a final test at Silverstone, and invited the media. Damon Hill, under pressure from the British newspapers to match the exploits of the departed Nigel Mansell, told the journalists that he had no intention of becoming another victim of what he called ‘Sennaphobia’: a clever description of the point at which respect for the maestro shaded into fear, inhibiting aggression. Hill had read his history books, and knew what had become of Cecotto, De Angelis, Dumfries and Michael Andretti, and how even Prost and Berger had been made to suffer. His team mate, he said, was just another racing driver, albeit a great one.
Senna went to Interlagos ready to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his arrival in Formula One, unsure of what was in store. ‘The cars are very fast and difficult to drive,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be a season with lots of accidents, and I’ll risk saying we’ll be lucky if something really serious doesn’t happen.’ It would be a more open championship this year, he added; he would have said that anyway, but this time he meant it.
At a post-qualifying press conference organized by Renault, just after wrapping up pole position a third of a second ahead of Schumacher, he shared the platform with Patrick Faure, the president of the French company’s sporting division, and launched straightaway into one of his sermons on the need to fight complacency. ‘We’ve seen today the gap being almost insignificant between our car and Schumacher’s,’ he said. Then he drew a deep breath, and turned towards Faure. ‘As far as the future season is concerned, it all depends on the development programme that both Williams-Renault and Benetton-Ford can do. I hope Mr Faure will keep on pushing the technicians from Renault to ensure that they continue the development of the engine, and also push Frank Williams and Patrick Head and all the engineers to get the new modifications in the development of the chassis.’ This, the sort of self-criticism normally confined to a locked motorhome or a debugged boardroom, was uttered before a single lap of the season had been run. It was in some respects a familiar gambit, and in the past an effective one. Renault and Williams were being put on notice that, notwithstanding their two consecutive championships with Mansell and Prost, they must now prepare themselves to deal with not merely different circumstances but also the requirements of an altogether more exigent character. Nothing less would do, he was saying, than total commitment.
What particularly concerned Senna was the car’s response to bumps, combined with its reluctance to hold its line on low-speed corners. Interlagos is a circuit with an abrasive, uneven surface, compared to the billiard-table tarmac of most grand prix tracks, and without its computer-driven electronic ride system the Williams was reacting badly. According to Hill’s post-season assessment, at this stage the car was ‘virtually undrivable’ in the slow corners. ‘And in the quick ones it threatened to turf you off the track at any moment,’ he added, pointing out that the problem was compounded by the narrowness of the footwell, which impeded the transfer of the right foot from accelerator pedal to brake.
Senna, anxious to disguise these problems from his rivals’ attention and to get on with stamping his authority on the season, took the lead from the start on Sunday afternoon, and built a small cushion while Schumacher was finding a way past Alesi’s Ferrari. By the time they made their first pit stops, however, Schumacher was only a second behind, and good work by the Benetton crew allowed him to leave the pits in a narrow lead which he soon extended to five seconds and then, after the second set of stops, to nine seconds. Senna had seemed powerless to do anything about it, but with twenty-five laps to go he launched an assault. Gradually the gap came down: 9.2 sec., 8.1, 6.3, 5.5, 6.2, 6.0, 5.0. But on the next time round, lap fifty-six, with fifteen left to run, he was coming out of Cotovello, a slowish uphill ninety-degree left-hander, when he put the power on in third gear and the back end of the car stepped out of line, snapping him into a halfspin. As the Williams came to a stop in mid-track, the engine stalled. Around the circuit, his home crowd looked on, appalled, cheated of the denouement they had been counting on. Senna popped his belts and stepped out, leaving the victory to Schumacher. On the TV monitors, an unsentimental readout told us that at the moment the spin started his heart had been beating at a rate of 164 per minute.
It looked like the most banal sort of error, something a beginner might do, or a driver from a lower formula experiencing the power of a Formula One car for the first time, not a triple world champion. Nevertheless he tried to take the blame. ‘There was nothing wrong with the car,’ he admitted. ‘It was my fault. I was pushing too hard.’ In the motorhome his words carried a different message, one conveyed to Didcot, where the Williams engineers continued to wrestle with the problem. Both he and Hill, who finished a struggling second to the elated Schumacher, needed the attentions of Josef Leberer, Senna’s travelling masseur and reflexologist, to ease away the strain of battling against their own cars’ evil tendencies.
Now they were paying for the late delivery of the FW16, for allowing Benetton precious extra weeks in which to test and refine the B194. But Senna had his suspicions that there was more to it than that. And at the second race, the Pacific Grand Prix on the new Aida circuit near Osaka in Japan, his thoughts darkened further. He took pole by a fifth of a second from Schumacher, but in the Saturday morning warm-up both he and Hill spun their cars at the same corner. In the paddock on race day, Senna lay on the floor of the Williams cabin for an hour, clearing his thoughts. His race, however, lasted only a few seconds. Schumacher got the better start, and led into the first corner. Behind him, Senna felt the impact of Hakkinen’s nose on his own gearbox. The Williams slewed sideways, presenting a wide target which was duly hit by Nicola Larini’s Ferrari, both of them ending up in the sand as Schumacher raced on to victory. Afterwards Senna stood and watched the two Benettons, noting the differences in the behaviour of the car of Schumacher and the apparently identical but much slower one of his young Dutch team mate, Jos Verstappen.
Trailing Schumacher in the championship by twenty points to nil, Senna pushed the team even harder. By comparison with the Benetton, the FW16 lacked grip in slow corners, its front wing was inefficient, and the way the air flowed beneath its body made it over-sensitive to changes in pitch (the fore-and-aft shifts of balance caused by accelerating and braking). It was a twitchy car, not trustworthy; ‘horrible’, in Hill’s word. Not, in fact, the kind of car to be taken by the scruff of its neck and overdriven in the manner of which Senna had shown his mastery the previous season with the underpowered but high-spirited and responsive MP4/8. But even this, in Senna’s eyes, didn’t quite explain the success of Schumacher and the Benetton, on the face of it nothing more than an exceptionally gifted and ambitious young pilot at the wheel of a carefully developed but perfectly standard combination of machinery (with a Ford engine certifiably less powerful than the Renault). That, Senna felt, shouldn’t have been enough.
All through the early weeks of the season there had been fears that someone would find a way of circumventing the new regulations, which had been devised to close up the performance gaps between the cars and put the racing back in the hands of the drivers. Before Interlagos, Mosley had threatened ‘draconian’ punishments: anyone caught cheating would be thrown out of the championship. But finding the limit of the rules is, after all, what racing-car designers are for, and no one was very surprised when Larini’s slip of the tongue in Japan led the FIA’s technical inspectors to discover some sort of a traction control programme hidden away in the Ferrari’s engine management software. What was a surprise, at least to the unworldly, was the reluctance of the authorities to impose the promised sanction. A slap on the wrist was felt to be enough. But then what value would a season without Ferrari have at the box office?
Senna’s thoughts were all on the next race, at Imola on 1 May, but ten days earlier he was fulfilling a patriotic duty at the Parc des Princes in Paris, kicking off a friendly soccer match between Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain, the club of Rai de Oliveira and Ricardo Rocha, two members of the Brazilian squad. Wearing a grey jumper and black slacks on a pleasant spring evening, he acknowledged the applause of the massed ranks of the city’s Brazilian exiles, all dressed in yellow and green, draped with the bandeira and playing samba tunes on drums and pipes. Sadly, their enthusiasm was rewarded with nothing more than a sterile goalless draw and afterwards the Brazilian coach, the endlessly patient Carlos Alberto Parreira, was pinned to the wall of the dressing room by the sixty-odd football reporters who had followed him across the Atlantic and now were keen to know, on behalf of the 150 million experts back home, how on earth he expected to win the World Cup with that bunch of deadbeats.
Senna slipped away into the night, to a dinner date at La Coupole with his friend António Braga. Both the racing driver and the soccer team were favourites to land a fourth world championship in 1994, and both were in trouble.
When he arrived at Imola by helicopter on the afternoon of the following Thursday, 28 April, it was to discover that Head, Newey and the Williams technicians had been hard at work. The front wheels had been moved back, as had the front wing, which had also been raised. Together, these changes improved the aerodynamic balance, although developments later in the season showed that there was still plenty wrong with the behaviour of the Williams at this stage.
The front cover of that week’s Autosport carried a picture of the Brazilian looking pensive and the banner headline: ‘Senna: Can he take the heat?’ A tabloid-style simplification, and something of an insult to a triple world champion, but a good indication of the degree to which motor racing, like most other modern sports with a television following, had grown to depend on a constantly rising level of hype. And, after a spin and a crash in two races, a question just about worth asking.
The Williams was a little better as a result of the work at Didcot, and that weekend he set the fastest practice time yet again, his third in three races that season, and the sixty-fifth and last of his career.
On the first day of qualifying his time was half a second faster than Schumacher’s, the day disrupted by a spectacular accident to Rubens Barrichello, whose Jordan flew through the air at 146 m.p.h. like a jet fighter before spearing the tyre wall at the Variante Bassa and rolling twice. When the young Brazilian regained consciousness in the pits, Senna was standing over him. Then, having ascertained that his compatriot was not badly injured, he returned to complete the practice session, and to spend most of the afternoon in an intense debriefing session with his race engineer, David Brown.
Some time during the Friday afternoon he saw his pilot, Owen O’Mahony, who had flown him into Forli airport in his $12m eight-seater British Aerospace HS125 jet. O’Mahony was surprised when Senna handed him three signed photographs of himself with O’Mahony. ‘I’d never had a picture of the two of us together,’ the pilot recalled five days later, as he stood in the arrivals area of São Paulo airport waiting for his employer’s coffin to arrive. ‘I’d been meaning to ask him for ages. And suddenly, in the middle of a grand prix meeting, he fished around in his briefcase and pulled them out. I don’t know why it should have been then.’
On Saturday afternoon, eighteen minutes into the second qualifying session, the Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger left the track at the Villeneuve kink, possibly as a result of damage sustained to the front wing of his Simtek when he went over a kerb on the previous lap. He was travelling at something approaching 200 m.p.h. when he hit the concrete wall bordering that part of the circuit, and suffered injuries that killed him instantly.
Ratzenberger was the thirty-second driver to be killed in post-war Formula One, but he was also the first fatality in twelve years, since Ricardo Paletti had died after driving straight into the back of another car on the grid at Montreal in 1982. That made Ratzenberger’s death all the more resonant to a generation of drivers who had never experienced such a loss, at least at that level. (By contrast, during Stirling Moss’s time in Formula One, from 1954 to 1961, seven drivers were killed at grand prix meetings.) Senna was particularly deeply affected, and when the session had been halted he commandeered a safety car to take him to the scene, where he examined the track and the wreckage before returning to the pits. There he was reprimanded by the race director, John Corsmit, for taking the car without asking permission. Corsmit was right, at least by the book: the car might have been needed elsewhere. But Senna’s mind was on other imperatives, and there was a lengthy argument. ‘At least someone is concerned about safety,’ he shouted at Corsmit. Those who were around Senna that afternoon remember a look they hadn’t seen in his face before; not surprising, since it was the first time he had needed to face up to the implications of the death of a Formula One colleague.
That night, at his hotel in Castel San Pietro, ten kilometres from Imola, he called Adriane twice, either side of dinner. She had arrived from Brazil at their home in the Algarve the previous day. In the first call, he told her that he didn’t want to race the next day. He had never said such a thing to her before. He was crying.
Later, after a meal with friends and a conversation with Frank Williams, who was staying in the same hotel, he called her again, and this time his voice was calmer and his attitude different. It was OK now, he said. He was going to race. His last words to her: ‘Come and pick me up at Faro airport at eight-thirty tomorrow night. I can’t wait to see you.’
The mellower mood was still in evidence the next morning, race day, when he was fastest in the warm-up session and then recorded a lap for the French television station TF1, for which Prost was providing commentary. Over the in-car radio link, Senna sent a greeting: ‘I would like to say welcome to my old friend, Alain Prost. Tell him we miss him very much.’ Later, he and Prost talked warmly in the paddock. ‘I miss you,’ Senna repeated to the rival who no longer represented a threat.
Senna and Berger had talked with Niki Lauda, now a special consultant to Ferrari, about the accidents and the issues they raised. They discussed the idea of holding a meeting at Monaco, the next race, to revive the old concept of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, a body set up in the mid-sixties at the instigation of Jo Bonnier, and whose initiatives had improved the security of circuits and cars in a relatively primitive era before withering during the eighties, partly as a result of its own success in reducing the level of danger. Later in the morning, at the regular pre-race drivers’ briefing, they stood and observed a minute’s silence for Ratzenberger. Acting at Senna’s behest, Berger raised a reservation about the use of a safety car, to be brought on to the circuit after accidents to pace the field until the track was clear. They were worried that making the cars hold station at low speed would allow their tyres to cool down, making them inefficient and possibly dangerous in the moments after racing resumed. Senna added a few words. He, Berger and Schumacher left the meeting deep in conversation.
Race time. And a few good examples of how a death does funny things to the memories of witnesses. Someone says that they saw Senna walking round the back of his car just before the race, looking at it suspiciously. Someone else, who knew him as well as anybody outside his family, says that even the way he pulled on his fireproof balaclava was different. Another points out, as if it were deeply significant, that he departed from his usual practice by taking his helmet off while the car was on the grid before the start at Imola, something he never did (wrong: he sometimes did). Damon Hill, on the other hand, says he was in a normal state of mental preparation for the race: ‘totally focused’.
Adriane was watching on TV in Portugal. ‘To me,’ she wrote in her awkward but touching memoir, ‘at that moment of tense expression and hands firmly gripping the car, he was just thinking. For the first time in his career, he felt the fragility of the machine and the fragility of the human being. A man had just died in front of him. A friend had hurt himself against the wall. Until then, the driver Ayrton Senna had sat in his car and driven on the limits. Suddenly other feelings had interfered in his life: surprise, fear …’
A fair guess, from a few hundred miles away. Nothing mysterious or mystical about any of it. But when the race started, the racing driver took over.
He led from the start, with Schumacher close behind. Before the field had all crossed the starting line, however, there was chaos. J. J. Lehto stalled his Benetton, and was hit from behind by Pedro Lamy. A wheel from Lamy’s Lotus was ripped off and flew into the crowd, injuring eight spectators and a policeman. As the twenty-four remaining cars howled round the back of the circuit, John Corsmit sent out the safety car.
This was what Senna and Berger had been anxious about. A measure borrowed that season from Indycar racing, the safety car’s job is to come in at the head of the field, just in front of the leader, slowing them down and circulating until crash debris has been cleared away and spilt oil covered up. In America, it serves the secondary function of allowing the field to bunch up, artificially enhancing the excitement. There is little doubt that this was in the minds of Mosley and Ecclestone when the FIA adopted the idea. Terrified of the danger of falling ratings after years of processional racing during the McLaren and Williams eras, they were looking for anything that might boost the thrill factor. Refuelling stops were one notion, only a decade after they had been banned on safety grounds; the safety car was another. But what worried Senna and Berger was that when the cars’ tyres cooled down, the lack of heat would lower the pressure inside the tyre, the rubber would contract, and the tyres’ diameter would be reduced. In cars running with a ground clearance so finely adjusted that a couple of millimetres could ruin the handling, this might be a critical factor.
For five laps, Senna trailed round behind the black saloon, Schumacher and the rest droning along in his wake. Out on the start line, course marshals worked fast to clear the debris from the cars of Lamy and Lehto. Then, with the field approaching the finishing straight at the end of the fifth lap, the safety car peeled off into the pit lane, releasing the racers to resume their combat.
As they entered Tamburello, the flat-out left-hander after the pits, Schumacher noticed that Senna was taking a tight line, the car jiggling on the bumps, sparks coming up from the magnesium skid-plates under the car. Nothing particularly extraordinary about that, although later it emerged that Senna had warned Hill of the bumps at Tamburello, telling him to stay wide.
They crossed the line at the end of lap six with Senna still in the lead, Schumacher close behind, Hill already five seconds further back, his car feeling twitchy on its cold tyres.
Schumacher with two wins and twenty points, Senna with nothing. People talking about Schumacher as the new Senna, maybe even faster and fitter than the old one. Ten years younger, for sure. Adriane knew Ayrton took him seriously, because of the way he referred to him only as ‘the German’, in the way he had spoken of Prost as ‘the Frenchman’ during their years of poisoned rivalry.
‘Our season starts here,’ Senna had told a television reporter before the race. Now, at 190 m.p.h. he went into Tamburello for the seventh time.
Frank Williams watched it from the TV monitor in the Williams pit. A helicopter-borne camera focused on the wreckage, as orange-overalled marshals fussed around the yellow helmet. Alone in all the world, the camera held an unflinching gaze.
‘Three minutes … five minutes …’ In his office at the Didcot factory many months later, strapped to the standing frame which he sometimes uses instead of a wheelchair, Williams recalled how it had seemed to last for ever. ‘Those good old Italian TV cameras never left him alone.’ A laugh with all the humour erased, a flash of his startling jade eyes. ‘Television is a major reason for the sport’s success, but it’s also a problem we have to face. When Ayrton was killed, it was immensely public. Terrible. But we can’t have it all ways.’
Even when eighty people died at Le Mans in 1955, the race went on. It always has. Damon Hill had to drive past the accident as it was happening, knowing that it was Senna, knowing that it was a big one, not knowing whether he was alive or dead.
I thought of something Phil Hill, the first American world champion, had said in the early sixties, when he drove his Ferrari past the scene of a bad accident involving a team-mate: ‘What did it do to me? Nothing. Do I sound callous? I used to go to pieces. I’d see an accident like that and feel so weak inside that I wanted to quit, to stop the car and get out. I could hardly make myself go past it. But I’m older now. When I see something horrible I put my foot down, because I know everyone else is lifting his.’
In the case of Senna’s accident, it was different. The red flags came out as the cars went through the Acque Minerali turn on the back leg of the circuit. They slowed, and Schumacher brought them to a halt at the entrance to the pit lane. Had they been told of Senna’s death then, probably none of them would have wanted to resume. Senna’s death was of another order. He was the best of them, and they thought him indestructible. Later, most of them would have the same response: if it could happen to him, it could happen to me. But, waiting in the pit lane for the instruction to go out and form up for the restart, they didn’t know.
They didn’t know because it hadn’t been certified on the spot. If it had, the Italian police would have taken charge and begun their investigations, questioning witnesses, impounding equipment and preventing the race taking place. Remember: ‘Television is a major reason for the sport’s success …’
Senna’s body was lifted from the crumpled Williams and laid on the ground, where Professor Watkins and his crew went through the motions of a tracheotomy to clear his airways, and cardiac massage to revive him. He was still officially alive when he was lifted away on a journey to the Ospedale Maggiore by a helicopter whose gentle, balletic take-off was caught by the camera in the TV chopper.
In the paddock, there was confusion and a babble of Chinese whispers. Had Professor Watkins told Ecclestone ‘It’s his head’ or ‘He’s dead’? And what had Ecclestone said to Leonardo da Silva, Senna’s brother? At 2.55 p.m., thirty-eight minutes after the crash, the race resumed. Berger led for a few laps to the wild cheers of Ferrari’s home crowd, and then pulled off: something wrong with the left rear corner of the car, his team said. Perhaps it was indeed so.
Schumacher won, commandingly, from Larini and Hakkinen. On the podium, still not really knowing what was going on, the three of them smiled and waved and gave the crowd a champagne shower, looking very young.
When she saw the accident, Adriane’s first thought was, ‘Oh good, he’ll be home early tonight.’ Then she realized it was serious. The radio told her that he’d regained consciousness. Her friend Luiza Braga, the wife of António, rang to say that a chartered jet was waiting on the tarmac to carry her to Bologna, a three-hour flight.
She was sitting waiting for take-off when António got through from Imola to say that Ayrton was dead. His heart had still been beating under artificial stimulation when Berger visited the hospital after the race, but there was no activity in his brain and at 6.40 p.m. the doctors decided that it was over. The jet taxied back to the terminal, and the two women drove off to the Bragas’ villa in Sintra, to make new plans for a flight to São Paulo.
Berger, too, went to São Paulo, and then back to Austria, to Ratzenberger’s funeral. As he crossed and recrossed the Atlantic, as he stood beside the graves of two colleagues and saw the faces of their bereaved families, he thought long and hard about retirement. On Wednesday of the following week he called a press conference.
‘I earned good money,’ he said. ‘I was driving in good teams, I was winning races, I had pole positions … basically, not a lot to prove. So what is the point to take still the risk? That was my question to myself last week. But the other side is, what is the rest of your life?’