What are your memories of Roland? When did you first come across him?

David Brabham: As we were coming up through the ranks, he was ahead of me – he was older than I was. Obviously, I knew of him because he was doing well wherever he was going, whether it was sportscars or single-seaters [including winning the 1986 Formula Ford Festival], touring cars.

I think everyone loved his story because he had nothing, he had no support from the family, they were dead against it. That didn’t deter him; he would sleep in his car because he couldn’t afford to stay somewhere. He put everything into his racing, and his dream was to get to Formula 1.

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If you saw the way he went about his racing in the junior categories, you probably thought there was no way he’s getting to F1, but he did through hard work, dedication and sheer utter focus to get there. He didn’t care how he was going to get there, it was just he was going to get there, and that’s the bit that I think everyone loved about him.

How highly did you rate him behind the wheel?

DB: As a team-mate, you’ve got to remember the situation. We were Simtek, a brand-new team. Nick Wirth was 28, I was 28 as a driver and Nick was the designer, the team boss, the aerodynamicist, he did all of that at a young age. So, we were quite up against it in the world of Formula 1.

When I knew Roland was going to be my team-mate I was like [Brabham rubs his hands together], brilliant, because we needed someone with experience to really help the team. It was about getting the team from being green as hell to an established team. Everyone was chipping in and helping one another, and to have someone like Roland who was fast, was well-experienced, was hungry – they were all the ingredients we needed.

Brabham welcomed Ratzenberger's arrival at the start-up Simtek team run by the youthful aerodynamicist Wirth

Brabham welcomed Ratzenberger’s arrival at the start-up Simtek team run by the youthful aerodynamicist Wirth

Photo by: Sutton Images

What was he like as a person?

DB: He was a nice guy, but there was an edge to him as well. He was a competitor – he wanted to do well. Outside of being a racing driver he was a great guy to be around. Super-fit – he was much fitter than I was, and he dragged me along a bit with the fitness, and I helped him on the driving aspect of a Formula 1 car and carbon brakes, so we helped each other quite a lot. Obviously [the crash] happened and it’s a shame we never got to see the potential of Roland.

What are your memories of the aftermath of Roland’s fatal crash on the Saturday at Imola, and how tough it was for you and the team to keep going on the Sunday?

DB: We were thrown into a situation that none of us had ever experienced before, and it was on the world stage, so all eyes are looking at you and you’re wary of that too. So, to make the right decisions was difficult because you just wouldn’t know what the right decisions were.

“I kind of sensed that if I was to stop and not race it would go flat again and it would be hard to pick up”
David Brabham

I was under no pressure to race, I was obviously concerned about the car – Roland’s front wing fell off, so it’s like, ‘Well, is my front wing going to fall off as well?’ I had to put a leap of faith in the team and I felt that, if I did the warm-up, I would kind of know whether I could race or not.

If I look back now, was I in the place to race? No. I did it because, after the warm-up, I sensed a lift in the team, very minor, but I kind of sensed that if I was to stop and not race it would go flat again and it would be hard to pick up. I just thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to race.’ It’s not because I wanted to race, it’s because I did it for the team to keep that faith and that momentum going.

With Ayrton Senna’s fatality on the Sunday and Karl Wendlinger’s serious accident in Monaco, it seemed like it was one bad thing after another. Did it make you question why you were racing?

DB: I’d say no, but I know it did affect my driving, I think it did everybody. Even the junior categories, I know talking to a lot of team bosses around that time, particularly Brazilian drivers, they were off pace because the effect Senna going had on them was huge. I think it took a lot of people time to adjust, as it did me, but you keep pushing and you know you’ve got these things in your head and you’re trying to break through them and clear them.

F1 never got the chance to see what Ratzenberger could do when he crashed fatally at Imola

F1 never got the chance to see what Ratzenberger could do when he crashed fatally at Imola

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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After a few races, it started to feel OK but during that period when you had that weekend [at Imola] and then you had Wendlinger, everyone’s looking at each other going, ‘What the hell is going on?’ I don’t think we’d experienced in our lifetime anything like that before. It was more like my dad’s days – my mum and dad were very practical about it.

I thought my mum would be a little bit different, but she said, ‘Well, it’s racing, you’ve got to crack on.’ She lived that every bloody weekend – every time Dad went out to race, she didn’t know if he was going to come back, and they went to lots of funerals. They saw life from a different perspective, so I touched a bit of that through that weekend as a lot of people did.

The good that came out of that: we’ve saved a lot of lives since then. If there was one purpose in that whole process it was like their sacrifice created more safety in the future because the turnaround was swift and fast, and that momentum is still there today.

PLUS: How Senna continues to improve lives in Brazil 30 years after his death

All the advancements from the cars, the tracks, the safety equipment we wear today, have saved many drivers’ lives and probably marshals and spectators. It’s created a much safer environment.

Ratzenberger will be remembered as F1 returns to Imola this weekend

Ratzenberger will be remembered as F1 returns to Imola this weekend

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images