Imola disasters led to safer F1 world

The start of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix

The start of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix

Former grand prix driver Martin Brundle says more lives would have been lost if the FIA did not seek to undertake sweeping safety reforms following the infamous 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

The world’s governing motorsport body was jolted into action due to the loss of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna on consecutive days at Imola.

Compounding the tragedy, two weeks later Karl Wendlinger was in a coma in hospital after a serious crash at Monaco in his Sauber.

Then at the next race in Spain, Andrea Montermini, the replacement for Ratzenberger at Simtek, suffered lower leg injuries in a heavy shunt.

Brundle, who survived an horrific accident at the Australian GP at Albert Park in 1996, said he owes his life to the improvements since Senna and Ratzenberger perished.

“He (Senna) left a legacy and there are many drivers walking around including me are walking around because of his accident, as cruel as that seems,” Brundle told

Max Mosley, the FIA boss of the day, ordered  immediate changes to vehicle regulations.

FIA crash tests

FIA crash tests

In response an Advisory Expert Group was charged with the task of a myriad of areas pertaining to driver safety.

These included cockpit design and other areas of a grand prix car, circuit barriers, size and length of run-off areas, pit lane safety and general spectator safety.

A reduction in downforce and constructors required to build ever stronger tubs were all implemented.

New helmet designs and the introduction of the HANS (Head and Neck) device would also be introduced down the track.

Circuit design and safety car procedures all came in for a review with changes also ushered in to improve both areas.

The legacy following the double deaths at Imola in 1994 led to higher degrees of car, driver and circuit safety than ever before.

Lateral crash tests were introduced in 1995 a few years ahead of the first black boxes or accident data recorders were put in F1 cars.

Higher cockpit sides, wheel tethers and improvements to run-off areas were brought in later in the 1990’s.

The advancements are not lost on nephew Bruno Senna who told that motor racing today is vastly different from what it was 20 years ago from a safety viewpoint.

“I think Ayrton has left a legacy for sure,” Bruno Senna told

“In motor racing he left a legacy of improved safety in the category and since he left us we have got better and safer cars, circuits and equipment.

“There has been a massive push in terms of safety since he died. Motor racing is very different in that respect today compared to when Ayrton was racing.”

Formula 1 remains fatality free since that horrendous weekend at Imola.


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