The issues behind William’s removal of the Senna ‘S’.
For the first time in 27 years, Williams will not feature the famous Senna ‘S’ logo anywhere on their Formula 1 cars.
Written by Aiden Hover & Bruna Brito, Edited by Morgan Holiday
Jost Capito, the Williams team principal, has explained that the decision comes with a need to “move on in the future”, hinting at a desire to revamp Williams’ image heading into the new generation of Formula 1. The team has also announced the refurbishment of their museum with a dedicated area for Ayrton Senna. However, this decision comes as a shock to many who view the removal of the sticker as disrespectful and somewhat unnecessary despite the new museum. Capito also added that the Senna family were not consulted about the decision, adding further mystery to the removal of the sticker.
Since 1995, the nose cone of every Williams Formula 1 car has featured the Senna ‘S’ in honour of Ayrton Senna, who died whilst driving a Williams FW16 at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. The sticker was no bigger than a post-it note and acted as a small token of respect reminding anyone who saw it of the late Brazilian driver. It in no way interfered with the look of the car and never caused any issues with the team’s liveries, so its removal seems very unnecessary. Why go through the effort of removing something so small that means so much to so many?
One possible argument is that the team's new owners, Dorilton Capital, are attempting to distance themselves from the controversy of the past whilst not fully understanding the significance of the logo or the man it represents. Ayrton Senna to many was one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time as well as a truly exceptional man who deserves to be remembered as such - a fact Dorilton may be overlooking.
We all know the story of that fatal day, however, Senna’s accident was sadly not isolated that weekend. On Friday, fellow Brazilian Rubens Barichello got airborne in his Jordan travelling at 220km/h before suddenly colliding with a catch barrier, miraculously escaping with minimal injury. The same unfortunately could not be said for Roland Ratzenberger, who tragically lost his life following a crash on Saturday at the Villeneuve curve. The atmosphere around that weekend was mixed, to say the least, with many calling for the race to be cancelled, however, a cancellation was out of the question due to the financial penalty of doing so. Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, and Gerhard Berger, along with others decided to schedule a meeting the following week regarding safety concerns. Senna gave many interviews to Brazilian media speaking ill of the weekend, tragically foreshadowing what was to come. The race began on Sunday with Senna leading the way until his crash on lap 7 at Tamburello corner.
The nature of that weekend alone deserves to be remembered by fans of the sport today and Senna's logo on the Williams car achieved that. Formula 1 cannot afford to lose the memory of Imola 1994 and the lessons it learnt thereafter.
Regardless of the reason, the decision to remove the logo will do little to help the team’s already rocky reputation in Senna’s homeland of Brazil. Many rumours and reports from the time suggest Williams withheld information from prosecutors during the investigation into the crash - and whilst it’s important to reiterate this is not fact and is simply a rumour, it still gives an eerie feeling that the responsible parties were not being held accountable.
Directly after the incident, both Damon Hill (Senna’s teammate) and Schumacher mentioned how Senna’s Williams appeared to show strange movement on the track - leading to Williams even deactivating the hydraulic steering system on the Briton’s car out of precaution before the race was restarted. This suggested that the Williams mechanics already suspected this as a point of failure leading to Senna’s crash.
The tragic events at Imola that weekend transcended the world of motorsport and became a matter of global importance with the investigation of the incident going to court in Italy. It’s here where the distrust of many fans - particularly those in Brazil - began to arise as crucial information stored on the electronic system in Senna’s car was unreadable. Suspicions began to grow as Williams mechanics were the ones who recovered the data and could have easily manipulated it to avoid incriminating themselves. Again it is important to reiterate that these are simply rumours. Nonetheless, Williams claim that the data was damaged during the crash.
Furthermore, in 1995, public prosecutor Maurizio Passarini presented a 500-page report analysing the incidents of both Ratzenberger and Senna. In this report he blamed poor set-up of the steering column for Senna’s crash, adding that the point of failure was a faulty weld that had been made in order to adjust the positioning of the steering wheel at Senna’s request. This change had led to parts of the steering mechanism failing and then subsequently being forced through the cockpit and eventually into the path of Senna’s head upon impact with the wall. Williams, however, denied this, defending that the movement of the wheel was normal, using video footage of a prototype at the factory as evidence. Adrian Newey meanwhile, claimed that the crash was due to a puncture caused by on-track debris. Others blamed Senna for the mistake, putting the crash down to driver error as the investigation went on.
Regardless of the confusion that came out of the investigation, the report was used to accuse six people of involuntary manslaughter. Those six people were: team principal Frank Williams, technical director Patrick Head, Williams designer Adrian Newey, as well as Roland Bruynseraede, Federico Bendinelli, and Giorgio Poggi (who all represented the Imola circuit). However, all were acquitted of their accusations in November of 1997 with the cause of the crash finally being placed on a freak failure of the steering column with no evidence of negligence found - going against both the initial report which blamed a faulty weld and William’s own insistence that the steering column was perfectly fine. The muddy air around the case was evident with it being reopened three times, once in 1999, again in 2003, and finally in 2007, although nothing was added in any of them.
Years later, Newey would criticise the investigation, claiming it worked too hard to find blame instead of cause - a sentiment that was shared by many who view that both the investigators (who by the end of the investigation had risen far above just the Italian justice system) and Williams mishandled the situation and allowed personal glory to get in the way of a truthful investigation. Newey has also stated that whilst he doesn't feel responsible for Senna’s death, he does still feel a great amount of guilt.
So is removing Senna's sticker from the car just a move towards the new future, or an attempt to erase the bloodstains from Williams’ history?
Whilst this is a very pessimistic outlook on their decision, we feel as though it is important to remember the history of Williams and the lessons learnt from it - and removing Senna’s logo risks erasing the memory of a great driver and an even greater man as well as adding further muddiness to the investigation.
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