Story of an Austrian flag

by Lorenzo Piccoli

An unassuming ordinary Austrian hardworker who made it to the world of F1 at the age of 34, Roland Ratzenberger was described as the happiest person in the paddock by those who met him. In 1994 he had finally achieved his dream to be part of the circuit, even though he had to pay participation to the races by himself with the savings he had made as a mechanic and a racer in the previous years. The beginning of his first F1 season could had been better, as Ratzenberger did not qualify for the first Grand Prix of the season in Interlagos, Brazil; but then he managed to get through and finish 11th in the second Grand Prix held at the TI Circuit in Aida, Japan.

On Saturday 30 April 1994 Roland Ratzenberger is trying to qualify for the San Marino Grand Prix at the Imola circuit, Italy. It is the early afternoon. Ratzenberger has gone off-track on the previous lap, damaging his front wing, but rather than come into the pits he has decided to continue since he is competing for the final grid spot. It is for this reason, and for the high speed on the straight before the Villeneuve Corner, he breaks his wing off sending it under the car. His car turns seven, eight times and then struck the outside wall at 314.9 km/h. It is one of the worst accidents in the history of F1.

Roland Ratzenberger was pronounced dead on arrival at Maggiore Hospital in Bologna: the cause of death was a basilar skull fracture. Very few people remember him today, even though Ayrton Senna hid an Austrian flag behind his vest and planned to raise it after the race in his honour. He never did: the next day, seven laps into the race, Senna crushed his car in the Villeneuve Corner and lost his life. When track officials examined the wreckage of Senna’s racing car, the only thing they could find was a furled Austrian flag.