“There are no small accidents on this circuit” – On this day, in 1994, Ayrton Senna suffered a fatal crash in Imola.
“I have no idols. I admire work, dedication, and competence.”
This is Ayrton Senna for you, the three-time Formula 1 world champion, and arguably the greatest-ever to compete in the sport.
Born in Sao Paulo to a wealthy landowner Milton da Silva and his wife Neide Senna da Silva, he was named Ayrton Senna da Silva. He developed a keen interest in motor racing by the time he turned four. From then on, he went on to compete and win several karting championships, including the South American Kart Championship in 1977.
In 1983, Senna won the British Formula Three Championship, catapulting him to a Formula 1 debut in 1984 with Toleman-Hart. The following season, he moved on to Lotus, ably competing for them in three seasons, but failing to win a world title.
The year 1988 saw Senna move to McLaren, to partner Alain Prost, the reigning world champion. What followed for the next five seasons is a stuff of legend – the iconic rivalry between the two taking F1 by storm. Senna went on to win three world titles, with Prost moving on to Ferrari during this dominant phase of the Brazilian.
A sporting icon and forever a legend of this team.
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) May 1, 2021
1994 was the fateful year that saw Senna move to Williams Renault, after realizing McLaren was just falling short of his race-winning ambitions. The San Marino Grand Prix in Imola was the third race of that season and was incident-filled.
Rubens Barichello had crashed during practice and had to visit the hospital for treatment. Then came Saturday qualifying, which took away Roland Ratzenberger’s life. The hugely popular Austrian died due to a front wing failure. He crashed straight into the Villeneuve corner with a speed of over 300 kms/hr. He died of a skull fracture, but his death was largely overshadowed by what happened the day after.
The triple-champion Ayrton Senna was advised not to participate in the race but chose to do so, knowing it was his to lose. The Brazilian had started on pole ahead of Michael Schumacher in his Bennetton and was running away with the race. But as he approached the now-infamous high-speed Tamburello corner, he skid off the racing line at over 300 kmph and hit the concrete wall.
What followed next are some of the most iconic scenes in Formula 1, one that would remind the current generation of the horror Romain Grosjean fireball crash in Bahrain last season. Grosjean survived, Senna couldn’t.
Senna and Ratzenberger’s deaths prompted calls for a major safety overhaul of the sport, which led to no death recorded for two decades, before Jules Bianchi’s crash in Suzuka.
The other late triple champion Niki Lauda summed up Senna legacy’s – “God has had his hand over Formula One for a long time. This weekend, he took it away.”