I first met Roland Ratzenberger back in 1982, I was racing in Formula Ford 2000 and he was working as a mechanic for German gentlemen drivers to finance his own first steps in Formula Ford 1600 in Austria. I was happy to learn that he’d won the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in 1986 and got a BMW factory touring car drive as a result. But trying to finance a season in British F3 failed, so Roland accepted to race in Japan as a well paid professional in Formula Nippon and sports car racing. With the support of Barbara Behlau, a Monaco-based sports manager, Ratzenberger was able to sign a deal with the new Simtek team at the start of 1994, hoping to raise money to complete the season as he went along. We had a chat in Interlagos about how that whole deal had come about and I couldn’t believe the story that got him the drive. He didn’t qualify for the Brazilian GP with the brand new chassis that hadn’t even seen a propore roll-out, but managed to get onto the grid of the Pacific GP at Aida. We last spoke on Saturday morning in the Imola paddock, he was cool, perhaps a bit more serious than usual. A couple of hours later I was among those assisting Roland being placed in a rescue helicopter. Little did we know, while ingeniously hoping for a positive outcome of the horrifying high speed crash he had suffered in practice for the San Marino Grand Prix, that our friend had left us upon impact at the Villeneuve bend.
Born: 4th of July 1962 in Salzburg, Austria;
Died: 30th of April 1994 at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy.