Friday, 1 May 2015

Special Feature - Ayrton Senna - 21 years after a terrible day for Formula One

On May 1 1994, the darkest weekend in Formula One history ended with the death of a legend of the sport.

The weekend of the San Marino Grand Prix started as we all know with a horrendous accident involving Rubens Barrichello in his Jordan. Despite the massive impact of the crash the Brazil survived the crash and went on to become the most experienced driver in Formula One history.

On Saturday, the sport suffered its first fatality since 1982 when MTV Simtek driver Roland Ratzenberger tragically lost his life. Ratzenberger had just started his Formula One career and was a very promising and talented driver and his death sent shockwaves through the sport. Ayrton Senna debated with his Williams team as to whether or not he would race on the Sunday.

The Brazilian who joined the Grove based outfit from McLaren over the winter of 1993 had been shaken by the accident suffered by his countryman Rubens Barrichello during Friday Practice.
The triple world champion had endured a tough start to his time at Williams Renault however the San Marino Grand Prix weekend was in Senna’s eyes the start of his season. The struggled in practice on the Friday however managed to put the car on pole position for the race on Sunday.

The Brazilian started the race alongside Benetton’s Michael Schumacher. Following a serious accident at the start of the race, the Safety Car was deployed and two laps after it returned to the pit-lane on lap 7 of the race, Senna’s Williams left the circuit at the Tamburello corner at 190mph and hit the concrete wall at that corner at approximately 135mph as the Brazilian managed to slow the car down just prior to the accident.

Senna was regarded by many myself included the best driver in the history of Formula On. The Brazilian won three world champions with McLaren Honda in 1988, 89 and 91 and would undoubtedly gone on to win more championships.

When it came to racing in the wet, Senna was the best and he showed this at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix when he finished the race in second place just behind McLaren’s Alain Prost. I never had the opportunity to meet Ayrton Senna, however at the 2010 Italian Grand Prix I had the pleasure of meeting his nephew, Bruno who was an absolute gentleman.

Ayrton Senna’s death lead to incredible changes within Formula One today it is now at the fore-front of safety in motorsport. 

© Ben Johnston 2015

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