Wednesday, 30 April 2014

San Marino 1994 - The weekend that changed Formula One forever Part 3


The San Marino Grand Prix on Sunday 1st May 1994 should have been like any other Formula One race weekend however, following the death of Simtek's Roland Ratzenberger during qualifying the day before there was an extremely dark shadow cast over the paddock at the Imola circuit. 

Brazilian Ayrton Senna was on pole position for the Williams Renault F1 Team having secured his third consecutive pole position for the Grove based team. Senna had endured an extremely difficult start to his Williams career and was yet to score a championship point and when the formation lap for the San Marino Grand Prix had concluded and Senna lined up at the front of the grid, the Brazilian would have been hoping to deliver Williams their first win of the season as Michael Schumacher had been dominant for Benetton in the opening two Grand Prix of the season. 

There was chaos from the moment the lights went out as there was a massive crash on the start line. The safety was brought out as a result of the accident. Senna led the field on lap 7 from Michael Schumacher when he hit the concrete wall at the Tamburello corner at approximately 190MPH. 

Following Senna's death, the president of the FIA, Max Mosley asked the Brazilian's good friend and the Formula One doctor Professor Sidney Watkins to lead a study into all aspects of safety in Formula One everything from trackside safety to car design and as a result of both Senna and Roland Ratzenberger's deaths the Formula One chassis was redesigned and the crash structure was strengthened. 

Since that horrendous weekend in San Marino 20 years ago there have been no driver fatalities in Formula One. 

Ayrton Senna made his Formula One debut at the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix with the Toleman Formula One team. Unfortunately for the home favourite he retired from the race following a problem with his turbo. Senna went on to score his maiden Formula One point at the next race in South Africa.

The 1984 Monaco Grand Prix proved to be a breakthrough race for Senna as the race was affected by appalling weather conditions. The race was stopped and when the red flag's came out Senna overtook Alain Prost on the line to take the chequered flag and what he thought was his first ever win. However it was not to be. It was a great result for the Brazilian however as he scored a podium in only his sixth Formula One start.

Senna picked up his second podium finish later in the season at Toleman's home race at the British Grand Prix in Silverstone where he finished the race in third place behind race winner Niki Lauda and Derek Warwick. 

Senna also picked up a third place finish at the season ending Portuguese Grand Prix. The Brazilian finished the 1984 season in 9th place in the Driver's championship collecting 13 points. The Brazilian's performances in his debut season were noticed by the Lotus Renault team and they signed him for the 1985 season and in only his second race for the team in Portugal he started the race from pole position and went on to secure his maiden Grand Prix victory.

He took a hat trick of pole position's in Portugal, San Marino and Monaco and finished on the podium six times on his way to 4th in the 1985 Driver's championship.

In 1986, Senna once again finished the championship in 4th place taking two victory's in Spain and the United States. 

In 1987, Lotus made the move from Renault to Honda power and this change saw Senna finish the season in third place behind champion Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell making it a Honda powered top three in the championship.

In 1988, Ayrton Senna brought Honda power to McLaren, teaming up with Alain Prost and took eight victories on his way to winning his first world championship finishing the season on 94 points.

In 1989, Senna finished the season runner up to team mate Alain Prost and started every race that season on the front row of the grid. However his relationship with Prost deteriorated dramatically and in 1990 following Prost's departure from the team, joining Ferrari Senna was partnered by Austrian Gerherd Berger who McLaren chairman Ron Dennis has revealed helped the Brazilian to bring out his humorous side as the pair used to play practical jokes on each other.

Senna took six victory's in 1990 and finished the season as champion just ahead of former team mate Alain Prost. 

In 1991, Senna won his third Driver's championship and won seven Grand Prix including his home race in Brazil and finished the season just ahead of Nigel Mansell's Williams Renault.

The 1992 season proved to be a tough one for Senna as the Brazilian finished the season in 4th place, three points behind Formula One newcomer Michael Schumacher who was driving for Benetton. In 1993, Honda opted to pull out of Formula One leaving McLaren to team up with Ford. Despite the engine change Senna went on to finish the season in 2nd place behind Alain Prost and managed to score five victory's for the team before opting to sign for the Williams Renault F1 Team where he joined Damon Hill.

Ayrton Senna was an incredibly talented driver and although he only won three world championship's during his Formula One car he is regarded as the one of the greatest driver's to have raced in Formula One. It was extremely sad that we never got to see how many title's the Brazilian could have won had he survived the crash in Imola. 

One this is for certain AYRTON SENNA was a legend of Formula One and INSPIRED  a generation of driver's and not just in Formula One!! WE WILL NEVER FORGET AYRTON OR ROLAND.

©Ben Johnston 2014

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