Ayrton Senna: 30 Years Without Magic

Today marks 30 years since Ayrton Senna tragically passed away in Imola. His legacy now lives on in the heart of every Formula 1 fan.

Ayrton Senna is one of the greatest drivers of all time, a legend in the entire world of motorsport. Since the beginning of his career, it had been obvious that he would leave a mark in history. From the first Monaco Grand Prix to the last lap in Imola, through his iconic rivalry with Alain Prost, Senna conquered it all.

He remains one of the most loved drivers, a true hero for many, a myth that escapes even death.

The before

When Senna arrived in Imola for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, he was already a three-time World Champion. He was already the King of Monaco, the only one with six wins on the city track. He was famous for his remarkable driving style; a complete driver, an incredible qualifier and insanely good in wet conditions.

His competition with Alain Prost had already come to an end during the 1993 season. Prost, driving for Williams, won his fourth Championship and decided to retire from Formula 1. In the meantime, there was a new star on track: the future World Champion Michael Schumacher.

Senna’s 1994 season didn’t start in the best way possible. He left McLaren for Williams, but the car was difficult to drive. It was too narrow in the cockpit area and it compromised the driving. Ayrton Senna made clear his concerns to the team, but the upgrades required some time. And so the season started with many problems for the Brazilian, who had to retire two times in a row.

The last ride

The San Marino Grand Prix already had a grim light. During the free practice on Friday, Rubens Barrichello had an incident; on Saturday Roland Ratzenberger lost his life at the Villeneuve corner. The whole F1 world was shocked, not knowing that something equally tragic was about to happen.

This last tragedy had an impact on Senna who appeared troubled. F1 doctor and Senna’s friend, Eric Sidney Watkins, warned him. He prayed the World Champion to quit, to retire. “What else do you have to do? You’re a three-time world champion, and you are obviously the fastest driver. Let it go and let’s go fishing” Watkins told him that afternoon.

But ‘Magic Senna‘ wanted to win. He wanted to race, despite all the difficulties that he was facing. They talked about how hard it was to drive the Williams and how Senna couldn’t feel in control of it at every corner. That night, the team made some changes to Senna’s car to adapt it following the driver’s needs. The steering column had been modified and lengthened.

It was the 30th of April 1994, a few hours before Ayrton Senna’s last ride.

Embed from Getty Images

02:17 pm, Tamburello, Imola.

On May the 1st 1994, Ayrton Senna was ready to give his all before the crowd of fans. The Austrian flag was at his feet, a homage to the life of Ratzenberger to show in case of victory.

The race started with a crash between JJ Letho and Pedro Lamy, which caused a Safety Car and lasted until the 5th lap. On lap 7, Senna crashed against the wall at the Tamburello at 200 km/h. It was 02:17 pm in Italy. The steering column collapsed, it was damaged and poorly built which means that Senna couldn’t turn the steering wheel. He had completely lost control of the car.

The sudden deceleration caused the Brazilian several head injuries and parietal damage. Not only that but one of the suspension arms came off and got stuck in his helmet.

Watkins was immediately on the track to give to the driver the first aid and decided to transport him urgently to the Ospedale Maggiore di Bologna. He passed away the same day, at the age of 34 years old. It was stated that he died upon impact.

The whole world grieved an incredible driver and an even more incredible man. The funeral was in São Paulo, Brazil, his hometown. The participation of the people was enormous, and the Brazilian government decided three days of mourning.

He now rests in the local cemetery of Morumbi. Ayrton Senna, the one who seemed immortal.

Since Ayrton Senna left us…

F1 has changed a lot since then. Motorsport is still dangerous, but from that day in May, it started to become safer for the drivers. Every single track was checked and modified where necessary. In particular, the Tamburello changed and it now has a chicane. These changes involved cars and regulations and, for 20 years after Senna, there was no mortal crash in Formula 1. This was until the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix with Jules Bianchi.

In 1997, the Municipality of Imola and the Sagis, the company that ran the circuit, commissioned a bronze statue of the driver in his memory. The statue is a few feet away from the point where Senna had his incident, and it’s visited by thousands of fans every year.

To honour the memory of her brother, Viviane Senna founded the Foundation Ayrton Senna, a charity organisation. The aim is to continue the charity that Ayrton started for Brazilian children who live in poverty. This way, they can have access to a better education and lifestyle. In 2004, the UNESCO recognised the work of the Foundation.

Senna is also the hero of many drivers on the grid. Lewis Hamilton has spoken on many occasions about how much Magic means to him and never failed to homage to him. When Hamilton reached Senna’s record of pole positions, the Senna family gifted him a replica of the helmet worn by the Brazilian in 1987. Moreover, at the 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix, he wore a jacket with the Brazilian flag colours and a drawing of Senna’s eyes.

On the occasion of the 30-year anniversary of his death, the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile of Turin created an exhibition called “Ayrton Senna Forever” with the memorabilia, the cars and race suits of the F1 legend.  For the same reason, in 2020, Netflix announced that a TV series called “Senna” about the life of the driver, in and outside a Formula 1 car was in the works. The trailer dropped today, a day before Senna’s death anniversary. The show will officially come out on the streaming platform in 2024.


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