Twenty-five years on, we remember Ayrton Senna, an icon of our sport Formula One.
A Brazilian Racer, Hero, and a Legend of Formula One died 1st May 1994 in a racing crash that left FIA with the desire to explore more safety measures for the sport.
Life and Times of the legend.
Ayrton Senna da Silva (Brazilian Portuguese: 21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994) was a Brazilian racing driver who won Formula One world championships for McLaren in 1988, 1990 and 1991, and who is widely regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. He died in an accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix for Williams.
Senna began his motorsport career in karting, moved up to open-wheel racing in 1981, and won the 1983 British Formula Three Championship. He made his Formula One debut with Toleman-Hart in 1984, before moving to Lotus-Renault the following year and winning six Grands Prix over the next three seasons. In 1988, he joined Frenchman Alain Prost at McLaren-Honda. Between them, they won all but one of the 16 Grands Prix that year, and Senna claimed his first World Championship. Prost claimed the championship in 1989, and Senna his second and third championships in 1990 and 1991. In 1992, the Williams-Renault combination began to dominate Formula One. Senna nonetheless managed to finish the 1993 season as runner-up, winning five races and negotiating a move to Williams in 1994.
Senna has often been voted as the best and most influential Formula One driver of all time in various motorsport polls. He was recognised for his qualifying speed over one lap, and from 1989 until 2006 he held the record for most pole positions. He was also acclaimed for his wet weather performances, such as the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, and the 1993 European Grand Prix. He holds a record six victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, and is the fifth-most successful driver of all time in terms of race wins. Senna courted controversy throughout his career, particularly during his turbulent rivalry with Prost. In the Japanese Grands Prix of 1989 and 1990, each of which decided the championship of that year, collisions between Senna and Prost determined the eventual winner
Early life and career
Senna was born in the Pro-Matre Maternity Hospital of Santana, a neighbourhood of São Paulo. The middle child of wealthy Brazilian landowner and factory owner Milton da Silva and his wife Neide Senna da Silva, he had an older sister, Viviane and a younger brother, Leonardo. He was left-handed.
The house where Senna spent the first four years of his life belonged to Neide’s father, João Senna. It was located on the corner of Avenida Aviador Guilherme with Avenida Gil Santos Dumont, less than 100 meters from Campo de Marte, a large area where they operated the Aeronautics Material park and an airport. Senna was highly athletic, excelling in gymnastics and other sports, and developed an interest in cars and motor racing at the age of four. He also suffered from poor motor coordination and had trouble climbing stairways by the age of three. An electroencephalogram (EEG) found that Senna was not suffering from any problems. His parents gave Senna the nickname “Beco”.At the age of seven, Senna first learned to drive a Jeep around his family’s farm and gained the advantage of changing gears without the use of a clutch.
Senna attended Colegio Rio Branco in the São Paulo neighbourhood of Higienópolis and graduated in 1977 with a grade 5 in physics along with other grades in mathematics, chemistry, and English. He later enrolled in a college that specialised in business administration, but dropped out after three months. Overall, his grades amounted up to 68%.
Death of Ayrton Senna and 1994 San Marino Grand Prix
Senna died aged 34 after succumbing to fatal injuries sustained during his race at the San Marino Grand Prix, on 1 May 1994.
The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was held on the “Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari” circuit located in Imola, Italy, between 28 April, and 1 May 1994. Senna stayed in room no. 200 at the Hotel Castello in Castel San Pietro Terme.
The European leg of the F1 season, starting at Imola, was traditionally considered the beginning of the yearly competition. Senna, who did not finish the two opening races of the season, declared that this was where his season would start, with 14 races, as opposed to 16, in which to win the title. Williams brought modified FW16s to Imola in an attempt to improve the car’s handling.
On Friday, Senna placed the car on the pole for a then-record 65th and final time, but he was upset by events unfolding that race weekend. Senna complained about the FW16’s handling and reported that the car’s performance was generally worse after the engineers’ latest adjustments. During the afternoon qualifying session, Senna’s compatriot and protégé Rubens Barrichello was involved in a serious accident when his car became airborne at the Variante Bassa chicane and hit the tyre-wall and fence. Barrichello suffered a broken nose and arm, and withdrew from the event. Barrichello reported that Senna was the first person he saw upon regaining consciousness.
During Saturday qualifying, Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed after the front wing of his Simtek-Ford broke entering the 310 km/h (190 mph) Villeneuve corner, sending the car into a concrete wall. Senna immediately visited the accident scene and medical centre. There he was met by FIA Medical Chief Professor Sid Watkins, who suggested to a tearful Senna that he should retire from racing and go fishing(a hobby they both shared), to which Senna replied that he could not stop racing. Senna was later called in front of the stewards for commandeering an official car and climbing the medical centre fence, and a row ensued, although Senna was not punished.
Senna spent his final morning on the Sunday talking to former teammate and rival Alain Prost to discuss the re-establishment of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, with the aim of improving safety in Formula One. Prost had retired from the sport at the end of the 1993 season, and was now a media presenter. As the most senior driver in competition, Senna offered to take the role of leader, starting from the next race in Monaco. During the drivers’ briefing, concerns had been raised about the mainly promotional use of a Porsche 911 lead car for the warm-up lap, with organizers agreeing to abandon the practice. It is said that Williams Chief Engineer Patrick Head had played a prank on Senna on the grid by advising him that the lead car would not be excluded from the warm-up lap after all.
At the start of the Grand Prix, Senna retained the lead from Schumacher, but proceedings were soon interrupted by a startline accident. JJ Lehto’s Benetton-Ford had stalled and was hit by the Lotus-Mugen Honda of Pedro Lamy. A wheel and debris landed in the main grandstand, injuring eight fans and a police officer. The safety car, a sporty version of the Opel Vectra medium family saloon, was deployed for several laps. The Vectra’s slow pace was later questioned because of the consequential drop in tyre pressures on the Formula One cars. Senna had pulled alongside the Vectra and gestured to the driver, Max Angelelli, to increase his speed. On lap 6, the race resumed and Senna immediately set a quick pace with the third-quickest lap of the race, followed by Schumacher.
As Senna rounded the high-speed Tamburello corner on lap 7, his car left the racing line at around 307 km/h (191 mph), ran in a straight line off the track, and hit the concrete retaining wall at around 233 km/h (145 mph), after what telemetry showed to be an application of the brakes for around two seconds. The red flag was shown as a consequence of the accident.
Within two minutes of crashing, Senna was extracted from his race car by Watkins and his medical team, including intensive care anaesthetist Giovanni Gordini. Initial treatment took place by the side of the car, with Senna having a weak heartbeat and significant blood loss (around 4.5 liters). Because of Senna’s poor neurological condition, Watkins performed an on-site tracheotomy and requested the immediate airlifting of Senna to Bologna’s Maggiore Hospital under the supervision of Gordini.
At 18:40, the head of the hospital’s emergency department, Maria Teresa Fiandri made the announcement that Senna had died, but said the official time of death under Italian law was 14:17, which is when he impacted the wall and his brain stopped working. Watkins later said that as soon as he saw Senna’s fully dilated pupils, he knew that his brainstem was inactive and that he would not survive.
The right-front wheel and suspensionare believed to have been sent back into the cockpit, striking Senna on the right side of his helmet, forcing his head back against the headrest. In addition, a piece of the upright assembly, most likely a tie rod, penetrated the helmet visor, which was a new, thinner version, above his right eye. Senna sustained fatal skull fractures, brain injuries and a ruptured temporal artery.
As later revealed, when the medical staff examined Senna, a furled Austrian flagwas found in his car—a flag that he had intended to raise in honour of Ratzenberger after the race. Photographs of Senna being treated on the track by emergency medical personnel were taken by Senna’s friend and Autosprint’s picture editor, Angelo Orsi. Out of respect, those photographs have never been made public.
On 27 April 2014, as part of commemorating Senna on the 20th anniversary of his death, a three-journalist panel composed of Murray Walker, Maurice Hamilton, and David Tremayne and interviewed by Sky Sports’ Simon Lazenby, concurred that, at his final F1 Grand Prix race, Senna was under extreme pressure due to:
The serious crash of his young compatriot, Rubens Barrichello, during Friday practice, whom Senna visited in hospital;
The death of F1 rookie Roland Ratzenberger during Saturday qualifying;
Being 20 points behind in the Drivers’ Championship;
Suspicion of the rival Benetton B194car using an illegal traction control system;
The poor performance of his Williams FW16;
Family disapproval of his girlfriend, Adriane Galisteu.