Two decades after his death, let us remember Ayrton Senna, a Formula One driver who transcended the sport with a consummate ease. A name that commanded the respect of fans across the globe, this month marks the anniversary of his untimely passing. A victim of a fatal crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, the Brazilian’s misfortune came less than 24 hours after the death of Roland Ratzenberger, an Austrian who also fell victim to the treacherous Italian course.
Rather fittingly, mass tributes have poured in for both drivers, while a memorial service was held for both men at the start of the month. An emotional affair, numerous fans lay down floral tributes at the foundation of the bronze statue of Senna, a triple world champion. Appropriately and respectfully, the statue sits near the section of the circuit where Ayrton crashed.
The infamous incident was the last time a Formula One driver has died as a result of a crash on a Grand Prix circuit. Senna was vital in the initial success of F1, a sport which, especially in the Brazilian’s era, was renowned for participant fatalities. His premature death led to a rapid development in the level of safety for each and every driver. Unfortunately, however, it is a familiar story of reactive responses when proactive thinking was really required, and one cannot change history, neither for Ayrton Senna nor for Roland Ratzenberger.
Senna was laid to rest in the Morumbi Cemetry, a beautiful burial site located in the city of Sao Paulo. The boy from Brazil was not the most triumphant driver in the sport, even though he did win three world titles and more than 40 races. Before the rise of Senna came Juan Manuel Fangio, a driver who won five world titles throughout the 50s, and then came Alain Prost, a man who would prove to be Senna’s greatest ever rival. Prost won four titles and 10 more races than the Brazilian, just before the reign of the sport’s greatest ever driver, Michael Schumacher, a legend who secured seven titles, over 90 victories and a staggering 68 pole positions, while Senna made an impressive 65.
Much like what David Beckham did for football, Senna did for F1. It was his individuality and temperament that transcended his professional achievements. I recently read about a couple of recent studies carried out by Repucom, a sports marketing research firm. The first focused on Senna while the other addressed the thoughts of current drivers. And both, thankfully, showcased the appeal that Senna’s legacy still endures.
In the first six months of last year, well over half a million people in key South America and Europe mentioned Senna’s name on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Actually, many internet users in Latin America and Europe mentioned the star’s name more than any other Formula One participant, including current drivers like Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Ask around and many agree that it was Senna’s introspection and his radiant persona that contributed to strength of his legacy.
Interestingly enough, the second most popular F1 star in Repucom’s study was Lewis Hamilton, a British driver who has captured one world title and 25 races, including the last three leading into last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Ayrton Senna was a true legend. A man dedicated to his profession that nothing, seemingly, could ever stop him. Senna was beautifully enigmatic, cunning, unrelenting and seldom vulnerable. Once sat behind the wheel of a racing car, he exhibited a ‘magic’ that was as rare as it was spectacular.
Sadly, 20 years ago, while representing Williams-Renault, a brand-name that Senna helped catapult to fame, F1 lost one its brightest stars. Senna was leading the San Marino GP, a race that was restarted, when all of a sudden his FW16B inexplicably veered off course. Shocking footage aired world-wide, it showed just how Senna’s car crossed over a grass verge and concrete run-off area. This all occurred before the Brazilian impacted with a concrete wall on the Tamburello bend.
On Sunday, 1st of May, 1994, the world lost a true legend.
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