May 1, 1994. It’s a day that will be etched in the memories of not only Formula 1 fans, but sports fans worldwide for a very long time. That was the day Ayrton Senna lost his life in a tragic accident at the Imola circuit in San Marino, Italy.
I was 18 years of age at the time, and like many Aussie fans was up watching the Channel 9 coverage, hosted by Darryl Eastlake and Alan Jones.
On the Saturday of the race weekend the sport had already lost young competitor Roland Ratzenberger who was killed when his SIMTEK crashed at the same venue.
The following day on lap 7 of the Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna’s Williams ran straight off the track at Tamburello corner at around 300km/h. The car struck a concrete barrier just two seconds later.
Vison of the accident is fresh in the mind of many following the popular Senna film/documentary last year.
After spinning briefly the car came to a stop still in the run-off area of the turn – Senna was motionless in the car.
World-renowned neurosurgeon, Formula 1 Doctor and a man who had become a close friend of Senna’s, Sid Watkins, was at the scene a short time later and reported that “He looked serene. I raised his eyelids and it was clear from his pupils that he had a massive brain injury. We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did, he sighed and, although I am not religious, I felt his spirit depart at that moment”.
In a time before the internet was available to everyone at home, and well before the 24 hour news cycle on TV and even Radio, we here in Australia along with many around the world were left to wonder – deep down knowing his fate.
I lived on the Central Coast of NSW and worked in Sydney City. The long commute on the train was an empty one, then on arrival at Central to change trains I saw a man across on the next platform reading the Telegraph Mirror newspaper, shouting the headline “SENNA COMA”.
It was a sick feeling.
Hours later during a break I walked past a newsagent, only to see the newspaper billboard at the front of the shop had been updated to the even more sickening “SENNA KILLED”.
Like many at the time, my heart sank – we’d lost a true champion.
He was a fierce competitor who earned respect as a racer early and still today questions remain as to how great he might have been. That opportunity was cut short.
His nephew Bruno now races for the same team his famous Uncle last drove for – Williams F1. The young fella has a big shoes to fill, and fortunately there isn’t a lot of pressure on him to be that driver.
Since Senna’s death safety has become of paramount importance, with many of the design features of both the cars and tracks leading to a much safer sport – something every modern driver can be thankful for.
Anyone who has not seen the Senna movie/documentary should find time to do so, it’s a fantastic look into the life of the man both behind the scenes and behind the wheel.
RIP Ayrton Senna & Roland Ratzenberger.