Senna feared a disaster: Second death in 24 hours turns the spotlight on Formula One cars' loss of high-tech aids

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AYRTON SENNA, three times Formula One motor racing world champion, died in an Italian hospital last night after crashing in the San Marino Grand Prix.

The 34-year-old Brazilian was the second driver to be killed at the track in 24 hours. On Saturday Roland Ratzenberger, a 31-year-old Austrian, died after a 200 mph accident as he attempted to qualify for his second grand prix.

In a newspaper article that appeared yesterday morning, Senna wrote that he was having handling problems with his car at Imola and was experimenting with aerodynamics. In Welt am Sonntag he also said Ratzenberger's accident had confirmed his fears about safety in Formula One this season.

Senna, driving a Williams-Renault, went into a concrete wall at Tamburello, a sweeping left- hand curve, at 180 mph, while leading on the seventh lap.

He received medical attention but a pool of blood was visible on the tarmac as he was pulled unconscious from the cockpit two minutes after the crash. He was taken 25 miles by helicopter to Maggiore hospital, in Bologna.

Doctors said Senna's forehead was crushed, causing widespread injuries that made surgery impossible. He was put on a life-support system but the hospital said there was no hope of survival. Later, Professor Sid Watkins, head of Formula One's medical commission, said the injuries had produced a deep coma and Senna was brain dead. The next bulletin confirmed he died at 6.40 pm local time.

Senna's car lost its right wheel and the front section was badly damaged. The crash's cause was unclear but Germany's Michael Schumacher, the race winner, who had been driving immediately behind him, said the car looked 'nervous' and that Senna had almost gone off the circuit just before. Some observers said the car appeared to hit a bump. Officials of the Williams team, based at Didcot, Oxfordshire, left without comment.

Another Brazilian, Rubens Barrichello, survived a huge crash on Friday with minor injuries. Ratzenberger also suffered severe head injuries. His accident, similar to Senna's, so affected Senna that he did not drive when qualifying resumed on Saturday.

At the start of yesterday's race, Pedro Lamy's Lotus-Mugen ran into the back of J J Lehto's Benetton-Ford, sending debris over a fence into the spectator area. Eight spectators and a policeman were hurt.

Later, the Minardi-Ford driven by Italy's Michele Alboretto lost a wheel as he left the pits and the car ran into mechanics. An English mechanic with the Lotus team, Neil Baldry, was knocked unconscious and kept in hospital with shock. A Ferrari mechanic suffered a broken leg and two colleagues had minor injuries.

Only two and a half hours before the race, Senna and several other drivers had discussed ways to improve safety. They planned to call a meeting of all the drivers at the next grand prix event - in Monaco on Friday week. Many drivers have complained that the removal this season of 'driver aids', such as active suspension and traction control, made cars more difficult to control. These were outlawed by the sport's governing body in the hope that removing some of the high-tech advantages of richer teams would make Formula One more competitive. More run-off areas and more steel and tyre barriers have been called for.

Imola has not been considered particularly dangerous but after three terrible crashes in the past three days, there are sure to be questions about improvements. It may be significant that it is the 'fastest' track so far this season.

The last Formula One fatality was eight years ago when Elio de Angelis of Italy died after a crash in testing. The last driver killed in a race was another Italian, Riccardo Paletti, at the start of the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix.

Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's impresario, said: 'We will look at all aspects of these tragedies to see if anything can be learnt. It is an on- going process.'

Obituaries, page 24

Race report, page 29

Senna's safety fears, page 32

(Photographs omitted)