Friday marked 26 years since the passing of Ayrton Senna da Silva at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix held at the Imola Grand Prix circuit, an event that would change Formula 1. Drivers had died before, and have done so since (though those numbers have declined sharply), but never has the death of one individual had such huge ramifications for an entire sport. Let’s also not forget that Roland Ratzenberger was killed whilst qualifying for the same race the day before and that Rubens Barichello was very lucky to escape with only minor injuries after his car was launched from a kerb into the catch fencing at the same event. The omens were awful that week were awful, the race itself was restarted after Pedro Lahmy smashed into JJ Lehto’s stalled Benetton, flinging pieces of the cars over the fencing.
Enough has been written about Senna’s accident over the years. I remember it happening, I was about 6 weeks shy of my tenth birthday at the time, I remember the news broadcast that followed, I remember it being my Dad’s birthday, but I don’t really recall it sinking in and having an impact on me. I remember kids making jokes about it at school and that for the rest of that season I didn’t really pay any attention to what was going on until Schumacher hit Hill in Adelaide and claimed the first of seven World Championships.
It’s funny when you talk to Formula 1 fans, the stats say Schumacher was the greatest driver of all time, and Hamilton is closing that gap, but Schumacher isn’t remembered in the same light as Senna, or Clark, or Fangio, there’s always a caveat that he was a cheat etc, and Senna’s indiscretions are normally forgotten. The man was a genius at driving an F1 car, Donington 1993 shows that, but when pushed, as he was by Alain Prost, and especially if was made to feel like he was fighting an unwinnable battle, he wasn’t above playing dirty.
This where I say that I actually missed out on those peak battles with Prost and Mansell, I watched F1, Motorsport was always a staple weekend viewing in my household growing up, but I don’t remember much of anything before the age of six and I was normally also usually playing with LEGO or making my own versions of what was happening on TV with the toy F1 cars I had, I couldn’t say I really paid everything any proper attention. But after 1990? I have some fond memories of Senna, the above Donington race being one, him rushing to the aid of Erik Comas in 1992 not to mention him driving the absolute arse off a McLaren that had lost its front of the field status to Williams. But, my fondest memory is Estoril in 1993, again, the McLaren was pretty poor that year, he was “supposed” to be in the Williams, history tells us that he was willing to waive his salary just to drive it, but he wouldn’t get to do that until the following year. So, Estoril, 1993. I’d begun to really like Ferrari driver Jean Alesi and the two would spend race fighting hard for race position (not the first time the young Alesi had found himself fighting the multiple World Champion and showing just how good he was), well, I’ll let the footage speak for itself: