What happened to Ayrton Senna at Imola back in 1994 needs no further introduction as it has been widely documented on various mediums. But so much has been spoken about the man, the machine aspect might have been overlooked by some and we can’t help but wonder certain questions like was the car any good? If he weren’t involved in the crash, was another World Championship possible?
Welcome to another Throwback Thursday and on this edition, we will be looking into Ayrton Senna’s last chariot, the Williams FW16.
Wind the clocks back to 1994, Senna’s jump to Williams might not be a surprise as McLaren was losing their edge and with life-long rival Alain Prost finally left the team, an empty seat was up for grabs. In hand, Senna already had 80 podiums, 41 wins and three championships under his name and joining the team who had the superior car in the last couple of seasons seemed inevitable.
However, the 1994 season came with a number of changes and this had seriously affected the performance of the new FW16, designed by Adrian Newey. The superiority which the FW15C demonstrated in 1993 was all gone as driver aids like active suspension, traction control and ABS had been banned, robbing the FW16 the vital features it was designed around with in the first place.
Powering the FW16 was Renault’s 3.5L naturally-aspirated V10 RS6 engine that made 790bhp at 14,300rpm, with the addition of a fuel valve as refuelling was reintroduced for the 1994 season. It was paired with a 6-speed semi-automatic gearbox which was a revised version of the one used in the FW15C, and not forgetting being lighter as well.
Due to the regulation changes implemented by the FIA, the car also featured some revised bodywork such as a low profile engine cover and taller sidepods. The chassis was made out of carbon fiber and aramid and it featured an innovative rear suspension wishbone design.
Unfortunately for the FW16, it had seen a lot of revisions throughout its life span as the car was a handful to handle and plagued with reliability issues, particularly on the early stages of the 1994 season. Senna himself was not pleased with the car as he felt uncomfortable, tensed and stressed in handling it.
It may sound like a huge drawback, but this did not stop Senna in putting the car on pole position in the first three races of 1994, despite retiring on the first two. Teammate Damon Hill also fared very well in the car, finishing second in the Drivers’ Championship behind Michael Schumacher, with Williams collecting their seventh Constructors’ title.
Could Senna win the championship if not for the crash? With the FW16, it is hard to say. However, the revised and much faster FW16B was definitely a top contender as it had brought Hill so close to winning the championship, losing to Schumacher by only one point. The FW16B received a list of improvements such as a longer wheelbase, revised front and rear wing, and shortened sidepods.
Many speculated that Senna could give Schumacher a real challenge to the title if not for the fatal crash at Imola, but many also questioned the ability of the Brazilian to catch up as he was already 30 points behind. But one thing is for certain, the loss of Ayrton Senna at 34 years of age had hit the motorsports community so hard that his loss is felt even until today, showing he was more than just a talented hand behind the wheel.