Ratzenberger remembered with fondness
Saturday 24 April 2004
The small helmet-shaped pin badges, with their red and white stripes, are subtle, but they are apposite reminders that there is as much resolve here in the paddock at Imola to remember Roland Ratzenberger as there is Ayrton Senna.
In a black weekend matched only by the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in 1960, when Stirling Moss crashed very heavily in practice, breaking his legs, and British racers Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey died in separate race accidents, the deaths of Ratzenberger and Senna here 10 years ago shook motorsport to its core. But inevitably there has been a tendency for the quiet Austrian, who was killed when his Simtek crashed in qualifying on the Saturday, to be overshadowed.
The tall, curly-haired racer with the unusual name typified the spirit that makes men race cars. Without access to lots of money, he painstakingly parlayed his talent and determination into drives in Formula Ford, Formula Three and Formula 3000 before success in international sportscar racing at last helped him to graduate to Formula One in 1994. Three years earlier his plans to race with Eddie Jordan's graduate team had foundered when his sponsor withdrew at the last minute, and then with the little Simtek team he failed to qualify first time out for the Brazilian race, but finally he achieved his life's ambition to race in the big league in the Pacific Grand Prix at TI Aida.
Ratzenberger was delighted simply to be on the foothills of the major league. His infectious smile and sense of humour helped him achieve the rare status of a man without enemies in the paddock. Everyone liked him.
The pin badges were made specially by his close friend, the photographer Keith Sutton, in memory of some similar badges that Ratzenberger had handed out to check-in staff at the airport on the way home from TI Aida. He had been delighted when they had recognised him as a Grand Prix driver and upgraded him to first class.
"Whilst Roland would never have compared his talents to Ayrton's, I believe his desire and enthusiasm for the sport he loved were the match of anyone else in the paddock," Sutton said. "He showed that determination and hard work could allow you to fulfil your dreams." Ratzenberger was chasing his dream when fate reached out for him, but, a decade on, his friends remember him as fondly as they do Senna.
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