The date of 23 April 1989 is well engraved in the minds of Formula 1 and Ferrari fans.
And above all of Gerhard Berger, who that day was engaged in the San Marino Grand Prix at the wheel of the Red, with which he crashed ruinously at the ‘Tamburello’ due to a failure of the front wing during the fourth lap, when the driver of Maranello had risen fourth.
A violent accident at a speed of about 290 km / h which, in a few seconds, practically silenced everyone, both those present in the stands and the TV commentators, because the gasoline lost by the 640 of the Austrian caught fire, enveloping the wreck in just a few seconds.
Berger had not been able to jump out of the car after the tremendous impact against the barriers and the possibility of him being burnt was now certainties in everyone’s mind and eyes.
Instead, the prodigious intervention of the men of the fire service, the famous ‘Lions’ of the CEA, averted the tragedy in a few seconds, as we had told in an exclusive interview with Dr. Domenico Salcito, present on the track in the medical car, who here we propose again.
33 years later, Berger returned to Imola as ITR Chief, bringing the DTM to the Enzo and Dino Ferrari. An opportunity to meet and re-embrace Fabio Nobis, who was in charge of the fire service at the time.
As told by the 66-year-old commissioner, who also carries out activities in Monza and Mugello, that episode was a real test of the courage and skill of his entire team, also going against the logic and regulatory practices.
“It was 1989 and I was already one of the people in charge of the fire extinguishers since I did my first race in 1978. From there I started working on the circuit and that day I was present in Imola for the Grand Prix”, says Nobis.
“I remember that day very well. Ferrari presented itself with some technical innovations that, however, no one imagined could be so dangerous in terms of potential fire, the worst thing that can happen in the race and which has not been seen for a long time.”
“Fortunately, all 180 marshals present on the circuit were ready for that eventuality, with 30 emergency vehicles ready to intervene. And on that occasion we showed it, even if no one had ever faced something like this”.
“It happened to me in Monza in the Ronnie Peterson accident, but it had been many years before and we didn’t think it could be repeated in such enormous dimensions. The fact is that together with the Federation and the circuit we had organized everything so that safety was at the highest levels “.
The accident of Gerhard Berger, Ferrari, on a monitor
Photo by: Motorsport Images
The complexity of the intervention was given not only by the flames, which, as mentioned, were released in a few seconds, but also by the fact that at that point the cars arrived at full speed after passing on the main straight.
“In the direction of the race the news immediately arrived that a car had ended up on the wall, but the flames did not go off immediately. A few seconds after the impact, we began to see the fire, which at first was not there”.
“Our employee immediately went into action, while a car that was stationed 100 meters away intervened to reach the accident site; in about 20-25 seconds from the blow to the wall we were on the spot, while the flames had enveloped the car”.
“At the time the provisions were to intervene immediately when certain things happened, while today we have to wait for the indications of the race director. Had it been so in those years, we probably would not have arrived in time. In such a situation, every second lost could have been lost. be fatal “.
Marshals rescue Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari 640 after an accident at the 1989 San Marino GP
Photo by: Ercole Colombo
As you can see from the videos on the web, on the spot the scene was almost apocalyptic, with the wreck of the Ferrari that was a ball of fire and heat, practically unapproachable except with the promptness of spirit and skills that those insiders were able to show. to the whole world.
“That type of fire was not seen in every race, but despite everything I remained calm, since my role was to talk to the person in charge on the spot and give him the directions. On that occasion, my men intervened automatically without him. I had to say nothing. In the end, if you think about it, 20 “may be many or few”.
“Just look at the videos that are on the internet, they were the same images that I had in front of me. Interminable seconds, those waiting for the intervention of the workers with the fire extinguishers, but they arrived quickly”.
“There was no time to think, 40” practically turned everything off. The first impression was one of amazement at the skill of the firefighting team, then there was concern for the pilot’s condition “.
Gerhard Berger with Fabio Nobis, CEA manager
Photo by: DTM
Despite everything, Berger got away with a broken rib and a few burns, but if it hadn’t been for the Lions of the CEA, the story would have been quite different.
Already after the accident, the now 62-year-old native of Wörgl did everything to meet the people who saved his life, but as Nobis explains, all privately to be able to look into the eyes of that Sunday’s heroes one by one.
And also last weekend, the opportunity to have his championship present on the banks of the Santerno was immediately taken to pay homage once again to the protagonists of yesterday and today of this fundamental service on the track.
“Gerhard wanted to meet the people who had saved him twice, one day inviting them to Maranello and the other when he worked for BMW and came to Brisighella for an event”.
“Our role is very simple: try to do the job as best we can. We don’t go looking for personal glories or headlines. And with Berger it was special, because he called us one by one in private to thank us, which for us it was the best thing, because he came directly to us without making public proclamations “.
Gerhard Berger with Fabio Nobis, CEA manager, and the fire service
Photo by: DTM