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The end.

part II.

When the cars went out for the warm-up on race morning, it was the first time I had been on the circuit since knowing the outcome of Roland's accident. It was terrifying to go past the point where he had crashed. You could suddenly imagine the force of the impact because you were actually traveling at the same speed he had been doing before he went off. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't give it a second thought because, even though speeds reach 200 mph, it is not a part of the circuit where you come close to the limit; it is not a place you would worry about. You are relying entirely on the car and, in the light of Roland's accident (probably caused by a failure of the nose wing mounting), it brings it home that sometimes you are just a passenger, putting your faith in the components. Drivers can accept the penalty of making a mistake; there is always the hope that they can do something about retrieving the situation and that the penalty is not too severe. At least it's their mistake. However, it feels very uncomfortable placing all your trust in the machinery - but there is no alternative. It is rather like being on an airplane; you are at the mercy of the pilot and the integrity of the equipment. You are powerless to do anything about your situation. At least I had the consolation of driving for Williams Grand Prix Engineering. I knew they would always do the best job possible. I knew, too, that Ayrton was out to dominate proceedings on race day. He had been fastest during the warm-up and I was next, 9/l0ths of a second slower. I was happy with the car and I knew exactly what I'd had to do to set that time. So it was clear that Ayrton must have tried very hard indeed to set his time. It seemed to me that my team-mate was playing a psychological game here because, when you know that someone is almost a second a lap faster, it can demoralize you before the race has even started. I was not too worried because I was happy with the pace I was running at; I knew I could keep that up throughout the race whereas I didn't think Ayrton could. It was going to be a very interesting race. All of this kept my mind focused on the job but, when we went to the pre-race drivers' briefing, the previous day's tragedy proved to be just beneath the surface of everyone's consciousness. There was a minute's silence for Roland and the atmosphere was heavy with more than the usual pre-race tension. The talk of a drivers' meeting about safety to take place before Monaco rang alarm bells with the Formula One organizers. Whenever drivers group together there is the potential for trouble. Well, we were all together now, in the pre-race drivers' briefing as usual, and we weren't happy. But there was very little that could actually be achieved right then. Gerhard Berger raised one seemingly insignificant but relevant point about safety. But what he did not reveal was that he had put up to it by Senna. Ayrton didn't want to be the first to raise the point for fear of appearing to be the only person concerned about the problem, yet, typically, it was he who pressed it home. One of the things which had upset Ayrton in Japan had been the introduction of a pace car during the final parade lap leading to the start. He felt that it was nothing more than a gimmick and contributed nothing else than making the cars run far too slowly and therefore less able to put heat into their tires. When other drivers backed him up, the officials agreed without hesitation to abandon that idea. A small victory had been won, but it was nonetheless significant. This was evidence of a failure to consult the drivers on important issues. There are certain matters which only the drivers are qualified to comment on an this strengthened the view that we should get together and express our fears in an attempt to have things changed and make the racing a little bit safer. As the race approached, I'm sure most drivers were able to put those thoughts to the back of their minds. I think everyone felt -as they had done for the previous twelve years- that the dangers had been reduced considerably, to the point where death was but a slim possibility. And, in the aftermath, it was felt that Roland's crash had been one accident in a decade and it was unlikely to happen again for a while. You could claim that it is stupid to act like that. But that's the way people think. In any case, I'm sure Ayrton had other things to occupy him at this stage. Pressure had been coming from all directions. The media had been making a point about how the winner at Imola nearly always goes on to take the championship; that Ayrton had failed to score a single point in the first two races (something he had never experienced before in his ten years in Formula One); that Michael Schumacher was the coming man and had a twenty-point lead over Ayrton; that this was a crucial race because Schumacher and Benetton were favorites to win the next round at Monaco. I think all of that had impressed itself upon Ayrton. The warm-up had shown he was in a fighting mood. He had pole position and he was raring to turn the tide. Some people have attempted to infer that Ayrton was not in the right frame of mind for the race, but I cannot say anything more than that, to me, he seemed tota11y focused. It must have been difficult completely to ignore the events of the day before, even for a man such as Ayrton, but when a race is about to start your mind can be on one thing only - winning. Sure enough, he made a good start but we only got as far as the Acque Minerali chicane at the top of the circuit when the red flags came out and there were signs that the safety car was being brought into play. The safety car had been a fairly recent innovation, a means of slowing the cars as it formed behind an official car and circulated at reduced pace until whatever problem on the track had been sorted out. In this case, when we got to the start/finish area, we could see there had been a collision. J.J. Lehto, starting from the second row, had stalled and had been hit from behind by Pedro Lamy who had performed some sort of extraordinary maneuver from the penultimate row and crashed into the back of the Benetton. I had been warned on the radio that there was a lot of wreckage on the track but I was not aware that a wheel and parts of a car had cleared the fence and gone into the enclosure, injuring a number of spectators. There was debris everywhere and it was difficult to avoid it, which was a worry. The aim of the safety car is to keep the show going without bringing the race to a complete halt. But my feeling was that this should only have applied during a race once it was up and running. In this case, we hadn't even done a fill lap at racing speed and it was difficult to see why the race could not have been stopped and re-started, as permitted by the rules. The net result was that we were forced to go round at what can only be described as a snail's pace for five laps. Anyone who has worked with Ayrton will tell you how much time and effort he put in to making sure his tire pressures were absolutely right. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he could tell, to within half a pound psi, whether the car was balanced or not. This is a critical area because every racing car is sensitive to tire pressures. While we wait on the grid during the final fifteen minutes or so, the tires are wrapped in electric warmers and these ensure that the temperatures are maintained, even during the minute or so after the blankets have been removed and we wait for the green flag. But the problem is that, during the subsequent parade lap, the pressures and temperatures drop due to the fact that you are not running quickly enough to generate sufficient heat in the rubber. And, as Ayrton had pointed out, this business of running the Porsche pace car in Japan only made matters worse. During the first few laps of the race, therefore, the car does not handle particularly well until the heat gets back into the tires and the pressures come up. And at Imola, the problem was compounded when we had to do five laps behind the safety car. Certainly, my car was more difficult to drive than usual during those first few laps after the re-start. To be honest, I hadn't helped matters by messing up the re-start slightly when the safety car pulled off. It so happened that, on the two occasions when the safety car had been used in the past, I had been leading. The trick is to drop back and give yourself a free run once the car disappears but, when you are in traffic, as I was at Imola, it is not possible to see exactly where the safety car is. It is best to stick with the guys in front but, in this instance, I had dropped back too much and, when Ayrton and Michael took off at the re-start, I was already about five seconds behind. But I had learned an important lesson. At Imola, there is a tight chicane just before the start/finish straight. When I slowed for the chicane, the brakes and the tires were cold. I locked up my left-front wheel and, for a terrible moment, I thought I was going to slide off the road before I had even started the first flying lap. That alerted me to the problem caused by the five slow laps behind the official car. I spent the first lap trying to cope with the car and concentrating on catching Gerhard Berger's Ferrari ahead of me in third place. I could see up ahead that Ayrton was leading Michael and they were quite close. There is no question that Ayrton was highly motivated to beat Michael and I'm sure he was finding it frustrating not to be pulling away during those first few laps. When I came through Tamburello for the second time, there was dust and debris and a car going sideways across the grass. I could see that it was Ayrton. At the time, I was busy dodging wheels and a nose wing that was flying through the air. I was pretty occupied as I went by but, once I'd got past the scene of the accident, I was concerned for Ayrton's safety. It had obviously been a very big shunt; you don't have a small one on that corner. My initial thoughts were that Ayrton and Michael had tangled and one of them had been pushed off. The race had been stopped and we pulled up at the pit lane entrance. Everyone was asking about what had happened but we had no information. One report suggested Ayrton had been moving. Then they said he was out of the car. But, either way, it was very possible that he was seriously hurt. I was anxious to find out precisely what had taken place. And why. I went over to Michael Schumacher and asked him what he had seen. He explained that Ayrton's car had been bottoming a lot and he'd almost lost it at Tamburello on the previous lap. In his opinion, the same thing had happened again but, this time, Ayrton didn't catch it and went off. I asked Michael if he had seen any hint of trouble, perhaps with the suspension, or the tires; something like that. He said he hadn't seen any problems at all. I took all of that on board and made a note to be careful in the early stages when the tire pressures might be low and perhaps the car is bottoming too much. But I still knew nothing about Ayrton's condition. It is one of the less savory aspects of motor racing that it is not considered to be a good idea to tell the whole truth at the time of an accident in order to get the show over with and send people home none the wiser. Slowly, however, word trickled through that Ayrton's condition was quite serious. I just couldn't believe that this was happening. I thought that perhaps he'd hurt himself badly and he would be out for a couple of races. That was as much as I knew; that was as much as I would allow myself to think. I tried to concentrate on the race and motivate myself with the thought that it was very important that I get a result for the team. There was nothing I could do about Ayrton. The only thing was to do my job to the best of my ability. Despite making a reasonable start, that plan was wrecked halfway round the first lap as I tried to take second place off Schumacher. He was trying to get past Gerhard Berger and I don't think he realized I was so close. The Benetton chopped straight across in front of me and accidentally took a nose wing off. That meant a pit stop for a replacement and the task of rejoining at the back of the field. It sounds callous, perhaps, but my thoughts were either, `Things just aren't going our way this year', or `My God, this just gets worse Throughout the race, I just kept thinking that this was a job which had to be done. Nothing more than that. Much as I felt like it, there was no way I was going to pull in because that would have been completely the wrong thing to do. The only answer was to try to better the situation the team found themselves in and get the best result I could. Looking at it coldly, it was what I was paid to do and that was about as much enjoyment as I got out of it. One point for sixth place was hardly brilliant. It was something after a climb from last place - but what value was that in the context of everything which had happened over the weekend? I was pretty shattered by the end of the race. I spoke to Frank and he explained that Ayrton was not in good shape. I just wanted to get away from the circuit; just get in the car and go. Georgie and I could have had a lift in the helicopter if we wanted to wait. But I just wanted to leave as soon as possible. We did that, even though it meant sitting in a traffic jam for ages. We missed our first flight but I was only worried about how Ayrton was going to pull through all of this. When we reached the airport a member of the team was waiting to tell us that Ayrton was dead. I had briefly considered that as a possibility but put the thought out of my mind by reflecting on what I had learned about his condition. I had been told that he had serious head injuries and it seemed likely to me that he might never drive again. But that's about as far as my thinking had gone. To learn that he was dead was like having someone turn off your power supply. I was completely shaken; totally shattered. Georgie and I drove off and stopped at a restaurant where we sat down to think about it all. And you ask yourself over and over again, `Is it worth it?' That's the bottom line at the end of a weekend like this; always the same question, `Is it worth it?' It was not a new sensation for me. I can remember playing in the front room at home when the newsflash came through that Jim Clark had been killed. I knew that he was my Dad's friend and, when my Mum came into the room, I could see she was shocked. I didn't really understand what had happened. But I knew it was bad. Throughout that period of my life there were occasions when my father had to go to the funerals of friends. It was, without wishing to sound macabre, a gradual introduction to the reality of motor sport, admittedly at a time when the safety standards were nothing like they are now. I remember thinking, `Hang on, why is Dad doing this? It doesn't make sense.' And yet he carried on. He did not give up because of the accidents and he drove through what was probably one of the most dangerous periods of Grand Prix racing. The irony was, of course, that he did not actually die in a racing car. And that itself was something which I had to cope with. He raced cars, faced the obvious dangers and yet he died in an airplane. Where was the logic in that? It was part of the learning process where I discovered that bad things happen in life, even if you don't put yourself at risk. Horrible things occur all the time. To me, it seems the real tragedy would be to stop doing something you enjoy. There is no reward without risk. James Hunt died of a heart attack and yet who is to say that he did not live more, cram more into his forty-six years than most people manage in a lifetime? I don't pretend to know the answer. Probably the easiest thing is to do is carry on and convince yourself that you're doing the right thing. So I forced myself as much as possible to think about giving up and doing something else. Nothing definite sprang to mind but I knew I could do all the things which I had been forced to abandon for the sake of motor racing; weekends off, skiing, more time with the children, see my friends more often; that sort of thing. And yet I knew that, since an early age, I had always wanted to challenge myself I needed those punctuations in my life where I had to face up to a severe test and the fact is that few things can offer that sort of opportunity. There are times when I feel totally happy with myself It may not last long. It might be for a few hours, it could even be for a fill day but, quite often, it is only a matter of minutes after I've done something that I'm really proud of. But those moments are addictive. Once you've had one, you need them again and again, like hitting a good golf shot. You subconsciously think of the time when you've had enough (maybe after the highest high) and will give up, completely fulfilled. Until then, you continue to risk all for that fleeting moment. It may be different for other drivers. In fact, I can't begin to know how people such as Philippe Streiff and Martin Donnelly, put out of racing through serious injury, must feel. How much would they give to get back into a racing car? Or are they simply happy to be alive? It is not the sort of question you can put to them but it is something you need to ask yourself. There was almost too much time to think about everything during the days which followed. I deliberately chose not to watch television or look at newspapers the following day. I did not see the video of the accident until Tuesday, by which time I had decided that I really ought to find out what had happened. Then I learned that Ayrton's funeral would take place in Sao Paulo. The last thing I wanted at that point was to go to Brazil; given the choice, I would have gone away with my family and cut myself off until it was all over. I was not a close friend of Ayrton because I had only really known him for a few months. But the fact was that I had to face certain things: I had to find how and why Ayrton had crashed and it was important to show my loyalty as his team- mate. I knew I had to go to the funeral. I'm glad now that I did. I discovered just how much Ayrton meant to Brazil. The funeral was almost presidential; quite extraordinary. Thousands of people lined the streets and many ran alongside the cortege. It was a very long way and I saw one person run almost the fill distance before falling into a hedge with exhaustion. There was a twenty-one-gun salute carried out with great military precision, a fly-past, a number of dignitaries, including the president of Argentina and the Japanese ambassador. Ayrton's family had requested that the drivers present escort the coffin as far as they could to the graveside, where there was a rifle salute. Overhead were four or five helicopters; it was a television spectacular of sorts but I couldn't hear any of the service because of the racket from above. I thought it rather sad that the family couldn't be left in peace during those final minutes. The furor over why he crashed was still raging in the media but, even though I was a member of the team, I was not aware of any animosity. In fact, it seemed to me quite the opposite. I was touched, particularly by the children who would have grown up knowing nothing but the success which Ayrton Senna brought to Brazil. It was obviously very difficult for them to understand what had happened to their hero. I remember being approached for my autograph by two fans as I left the hotel to go to the funeral. They said that Brazil would be watching me now - and that just choked me with emotion. I suddenly realized that they loved motor racing and, because Ayrton had chosen Williams as his team, it had become their team as well. It was not that I was stepping into his Ayrton's shoes or anything like that; it was just that Williams had become a part of their life and, by association, I was a part of it too. I thought it was a truly generous thing for them to say. All this was a lot for me to take on board. I had been looking forward to racing under the protective umbrella of Ayrton Senna. If I came second to him in a race then I could say I had done a good job - provided he wasn't too far ahead. But suddenly I was discovering the kind of responsibility he had been carrying all these years. He had been expected to win all the time. Being this person Ayrton Senna must have been a burden even if he did choose to carry it in the first place. In the short time that we had worked together, I had come to understand that he was a pretty special driver, an instinctive driver. If you gave him a car which wasn't quite perfect, he could still make it go very quickly; in fact, I don't think he knew any other way. I remember being intrigued by the way he would describe how the car handled. He would put his hands up in front of his face as if he was looking through the steering wheel, almost as if he was aiming the car. He had a very, very good ability to recall sensations and talk about the car repeatedly so that the engineer understood exactly what he was trying to say. It was in abstract terms. He wouldn't say the rollbar was too stiff. He would talk about sensations; refer to the road doing this or such and such a corner doing that, things I didn't even consider. He seemed to be able to see in minute detail exactly how the road changed. If a car was not capable of winning, Ayrton could make it win. In the Brazilian Grand Prix, for instance, he had a car which was a bit off the pace of Schumacher's Benetton. Yet he was able to stay with Michael and I was astounded that he had been able to do that with a car which, if it was anything like mine, simply wasn't handling. At one stage they were about to lap me. Michael came through and I thought I had better get out of Ayrton's way. But, almost before I had taken the decision, he dived past me and nearly went off. He was heading towards the grass and just managed to slither through. He had completely messed up the corner but, to him, the important thing was to get by; he wasn't going to lose any time hanging around waiting for me. It was as if he was being sucked towards the end of the race; as if you had attached one end of an elastic band to the start line and wound the rest up for the number of laps - and then just let him go. His desire to win was simply overwhelming. And judging by the remarkable scenes at his funeral, he was doing it for a nation he loved, a nation which loved him.




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