Claire Williams relives the day Ayrton Senna tragically lost his life in one of her dad's cars


It’s been 25 years since Ayrton Senna was killed in a car etched with his family's name, and Claire Williams has relived the tragedy of Formula One's darkest day.

"About a year later I remember being in a pub," she explained. "I don't know how he knew who I was, but a complete stranger came up to me and said: 'Your dad is a murderer'.

"It hadn't really sunk in about how people might feel about the accident. That's not what happened but I guess some people are ignorant."

A Brazilian idol, a renown name in the world of sport, and one of Formula One’s most promising names – Senna’s life was taken instantly following an off-road collision with a concrete wall.

The incident occurred during the seventh lap of the San Marino Grand Prix, and the same weekend that Austrian Roland Ratzenberger also lost his life.

Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of Senna's death in Imola – this was the last time a driver was killed during a F1 race. 

However, in July 2015, nine months after his crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix - 25-year-old Jules Bianchi also lost his life. 

Claire’s father – the founder of Williams, Sir Frank Williams, in 1997 had his manslaughter charges vindicated. To date, the actual cause of Senna’s death remains unknown.

"Frank never spoke to anyone about it," Claire Williams, the current boss of the British team, said.

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"That isn't his personality. He isn't one for therapy, or having long conversations. He internalises and keeps it all in. That is how he has been brought up, but you can see the pain in his eyes every time he thinks about the accident."

The race was only Senna’s third for Williams – he was dubbed a ‘dream signing’ for Sir Frank and his team.

"Ayrton was a God in our house and had been for many years, decades even," said Claire.

"Frank had a love-affair with Ayrton. He got into his heart, got into his mind, and he always wanted to put him in his race car.


"Dad's wish then came true, but it ended in the worst possible way."

Frank Williams remains the team principal, but his title is now largely in name only.

The 77-year tetraplegic has been consigned to a wheelchair for more than three decades after a road accident in 1986. He no longer travels to races, leaving his daughter Claire in charge. Yet on that fateful day in May, she was a 17-year old schoolgirl, preparing for her mock A-Levels.

“I was watching the race in my bedroom,” she says. “Dad was obviously away, and mum [Lady Virginia Williams] was watching it downstairs.

“It was just a horrific accident, and it felt as though something suddenly came over the house. It was really odd.


“Quite quickly, my mum came upstairs. I was due to go back to boarding school ‪at 6pm that evening, and mum said you are going now. I knew then that something serious was going on.

“I was put on a train and sent away. My parents preferred to shelter us from it. They did that with dad’s accident and they did so with Ayrton’s death, too.”

Unfortunately for Frank Williams, Senna’s death was not the first in one of his cars.

In 1970, 28-year-old Piers Courage lost his life in the Dutch Grand Prix. His death happened as a result of his car’s suspension or steering breaking.

This caused his car to go straight on and not around the bend, it then rode up one of the course’s dunes.

The impact of the crash caused the front wheels to break off – one of which hit Courage on the head, ripping his helmet off and as a result led to his death.

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