Formula One: F1 pays tribute to Senna, 30 years after tragic death

AFP , Saturday 18 May 2024

Thirty years after he perished during the opening laps of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna's name, reputation and legacy continued to reverberate at the beautiful Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on Saturday.

Formula One drivers pay tribute
Formula One drivers pay tribute to the late Formula One Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna at the Tamburello turn, at the Dino and Enzo Ferrari racetrack, in Imola, Italy, Thursday, April 16, 2024. AP

 

Remembered for his bold aggressive racing and reflective humanity, Senna continued to stand as an inspirational example for the current grid of Formula One drivers and the many fans of the sport who flocked to the circuit for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Most of those who still revere him were not born when he died including three-time world champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull and both McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, the trio who topped Saturday's qualifying times in Imola.

Yet they and many others turned out in the rain on Thursday evening to run a lap of the tragic track, where popular Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger also died, just 24 hours before the three-time champion Brazilian speared into the wall at Tamburello.

A special event to pay tribute to both Senna and Ratzenberger had been organised this weekend by four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, now retired, but still seen by many as a leading figure of consciousness in the sport.

His invitation to the drivers to join him in marking the occasion was accepted unanimously. The lore of the tragedy of Imola '94, of its shock, the reaction and the legacy of improved safety conditions was known and understood.

The modern drivers stood respectfully by the two helmets of their predecessors, mingled with members of the Senna family and posed with the flags of Austria and Brazil.

For some, it prompted bleak memories of that black day, May 1, 1994, when seasoned veterans of the newsroom, reporters of long years of experience, were unable to hold back their tears or file their stories.

It was a weekend of horrors with spectacular collisions on every afternoon, each more shocking than the one before.

For F1, it was the end of one era that accepted the sport's dangers and fatalities as part of the job and the start of a new time for safety-consciousness.

Senna, who had always campaigned for driver, car and circuit safety, paid for the progress with his own life.

Emotions rise again
 

A man with an infinite eye for detail, who remembered the first name of a reporter's son after being requested to dedicate an autograph to him at a prize-giving 12 months previously, Senna had a rare sense of care and humanity.

And this was why Vettel and his organising team gave out t-shirts and wristbands to remember him and Ratzenberger – and why fans packed into see the statute of Senna inside the track at a dedicated area of memorial where flags and messages from all over the world were on display.

Vettel made a speech, gave padlocks to the drivers so each one could think of an appropriate Senna memorial image and then put it in place in the nearby catch-fencing.

Further round the lap from Tamburello, Vettel led another ceremony to remember Ratzenberger, who died in his car at the Variante Villneuve.

Even after 30 years, the emotions rise again. When Ratzenberger died, the paddock was stunned and many drivers were conflicted about racing on in that Saturday’s qualifying session.

One was Damon Hill who, having lost a close friend on Saturday, lost his Williams team-mate Senna on Sunday. He had the mental strength to survive and thrive, winning the drivers world championship for Williams in 1996.

This weekend, he was back as a commentator for television

On Saturday, after Verstappen sped through the chicane at Tamburello, built to replace the long, high-speed arcing corner that claimed Senna's life, Vettel went out for a demonstration drive in the McLaren MP4/8 car that was most associated with the Brazilian's successes and titles.

The Italian fans of Ferrari, the team based at Tamburello only 50km away, applauded in recognition of the power of Senna's legacy.

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