Remembering Roland

Many years ago, Jim Hughes and I had a Formula 1 blog called Fun-1. The goal then was to try and be sarcastic, bitchy, and portray a sport that was almost, not quite unlike, Formula 1. We had a lot of fun with it, but as F1 became more soap opera, it started to read a little bit too much like real news.

But one of Jim’s posts always stuck with me, and with all the tweets popping up today (May 1st), I wanted to revisit that post. One hunt through backups and archives later, and it gets a re-post here:

Today is the tenth anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola. So what has happened in Formula 1? Are the cars safer, slower, is the driving cleaner? Yes, No and definitely not – Michael’s outrageous punting off of JPM at Imola is graphic evidence of how low F1 driver standards have sunk in the past decade.

I watched both accidents at Imola ten years ago (I also watched Berger’s accident at Tamburello a few years previously), Ayrton’s didn’t affect me. Maybe I was still in shock, but I never liked the guy. Sure he was exquisitely fast, but his general attitude to racing – if in doubt punt your rivals off – was abhorrent to me, imagine your grief if Michael was killed today? Rightly or wrongly that’s  pretty much how I felt about Ayrton.

Roland Ratzenberger was a different matter; he was one of the good guys. I’d seen him race at Le Mans a few times, and he was no muppet paying for a seat. I believe he was Toyota’s first non-Japanese works driver, which in those days said a lot, even if Toyota’s current approach to employing drivers is somewhat surreal. Just wanting Schumi lite never mind being willing to pay him millions is rather odd…

Watching a driver (or any human being) being given heart massage  on live television is not an everyday sight, and it’s not one I want to see again. But that’s what I saw after Roland’s accident and it was very moving and disturbing. Later in 1994 I went to Le Mans and one of the SARD Toyotas had four drivers’ names painted next to the door, but only three drivers at the circuit; Eddie Irvine, Jeff Krosnoff and Mauro Martini. This is the car that Roland was supposed to have been driving.

90 minutes from the end of the race it was leading, when it slowed and stopped just past me on the pit straight with a broken gear linkage. Krosnoff got out of the car, went around the back and manually selected third gear. He then set off on a slow lap of the 9 mile circuit before pitting for the linkage to be replaced. The car lost 13 minutes and dropped back to third place, 15 seconds behind the second placed car. Irvine cut this lead at a rate of three seconds per lap, and I’ve never seen so many people willing a car to go faster. Irvine took second place on the penultimate lap, but the lead car was a lap ahead, and “Roland’s” team had to settle for second place.

Roland, Ayrton, rest in peace.

One Response to “Remembering Roland”

  1. Akito says:

    The early 1990s, Ratzenberger had built a racing career in Japan. His performances fascinated Japanese motor racing fans.
    Yes, he was supposed to drive later that year(1994) in the Le Mans 24 Hours for Toyota. His friend’s Eddie Irvine took his place in the team, and Roland’s name was left on the car (which would go on to take second place overall) as a tribute. Eddie Irvine, Mauro Martini, and Jeff Krosnoff (All of them had participated in the Japanese F3000 Championship) said after the race, ‘If Roland were here, we would have won easily’.