It’s been another year from that tragic 1st May 1994. Last year we commemorated 20 years from Ayrton Senna’s death, and today’s another year more, setting de 21 long years since the accident. We will review what happened in that black 1994 Grand Prix of San Marino, when two more stars went to heaven.
29th April 1994. That day one of the darkest weekends of the 65 years of sport started. It was the third event of the season, as both first races in Interlagos and Aïda were won by Michael Schumacher and his powerful Benneton-Ford. At the same time, Ayrton Senna started his new era in Williams after six seasons in McLaren. The Brazilian was out of points in the championship as he retired in the two precedent races.
Pressure was too much for Senna and Williams, both world champions overcome by two newbies, Schumacher and Benetton, who were leading with authority. That first day Senna already lead the free practice, but there the first fright of the weekend took place. Rubens Barrichello suffered a heavy frontal impact with his Jordan-Hart. After a huge flight the Brazilian left the car miraculously uninjured.
But that was just the start of two black days to this sport. Everything started the next day, 30st April 1994. When de qualifying session in Autodromo Dino Ferrari took place Ayrton Senna was able to set the pole position in front of Michael Schumacher’s Benneton and Gerhard Berger’s Benetton.
Although, the qualifying session in that Grand Prix of San Marino was marked by another sad incident. During the session, the Simtek-Ford driven by Roland Ratzenberger left the track at 320km/h, violently crashing onto the wall and leaving the driver unconscious. The Austrian lost his life while travelling to the hospital, leaving mourning in the Paddock before a race that was just about to be cancelled because of the tragedy.
Ratzenberger was a newbie driver not really known. He got to the F1 with Simtek, a modest team which also was having its debut that season. Results were not going on with them, as in the first race they could not start and in the second they could not get into the points but achieving a welcomed 11th place. Although, the Austrian was a good driver; he won several important races that allowed him to race in the Formula Ford Festival in Brands Hatch. Lately he ran in the Japanese Formula 3000 by winning some races as he also was present in up to five editions for the 24h of Le Mans, setting a good fifth place with a Toyota 93-CV in 1993.
Finally the tragic 1st May 1994 was to come. The starting grid was different from others. Smiles and wishes for the race to start were not present. Drivers sit in their cockpits for compromise and not for passion. The poleman was, perhaps, the one who wished it less. Ayrton Senna was one of the divers who was most against to racing that day.
Just after the lights went off, Benetton’s JJ Lehto stayed stuck in the grid and without being able to dodge him, Pedro Lamy crashed into him with his Lotus.
Safety Car was on track, something strange in that years. Senna was right after the Safety Car with Schumacher’s Benetton behind him and having to drive really slowly due to the low experience the Safety Car driver had. Tires were cooling and that was quite dangerous. Senna was moving his arms with the aim to complain about the Safety Car long presence.
When the Safety Car left the track and green flags were shaken, drivers went flat out. Ayrton got some seconds from Schumi. But when reaching Tamburello turn his Williams FW16 went straight at high speed, crashing onto the wall.
Senna was not moving, TV cameras showed the driver unconscious. Medical services got to the place of the incident and red flag was released. Fear was into every fan’s head, especially after Ratzenberger’s accident one day before.
Medics took him out of the car and attended him on the track until he was charged in a helicopter. But it was too late. Ayrton Senna was not there. São Paulo driver was hit by a suspension bar in his head that ended his life when 34 years old.
Michael Schumacher and Benetton-Ford won that race, when crossing the finish line at just a minute of Nicola Larini’s Ferrari, was in his unique podium in F1. Third place was for Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren, leaving without prize Karl Wendlinger, who was fourth with his Sauber-Mercedes.
The cause of the accident is, 21 years after, still unknown. There are many theories about it, but seems like the clearest one is that the direction bar of the Williams got broken after mechanics tried to move the wheel so the Brazilian felt better in the cockpit. Other theories talk about grip after the Safety Car or a pothole.
Ayrton is remembered with deep nostalgia. Especially after his achievements in competition. Senna’s debut was in Grande Premio do Brasil in 1984, driving a Toleman-Hart TG183B. He drove the same car for the whole season, and despite being a mid-down grid car, he was about to took the win from Alain Prost in the Monaco Grand Prix under the rain.
That race or two podiums in Brands Hatch or Estoril let him climb to Lotus, where he drove for three seasons. The victory did not have to wait for long, as he won the first Grand Prix in Portugal, imposing to Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari. Senna gathered enough experience in Formula One by staying in TOP5 in the championship for those 3 seasons.
His spectacular talent offered him a sit in McLaren, next to Alain Prost, a great driver yet world champion. The championship title reached Ayrton that year in Japan, after ascending fourteen positions in Suzuka. The fight between bot teammates went to more in the next year, 1989, when in Suzuka, both touched and Ayrton was able to get to the finish line, but he was disqualified for not running the last chicane when the incident happened and lost the championship in benefit for Alain Prost.
Prost moved to Ferrari in 1990, and both touched also in Suzuka during the start of the Grand Prix. Incident that gave the championship to Senna. 1991’s was also his after winning in Brazil and conquering the championship also in Suzuka, after Nigel Mansell’s Williams was unable to finish the race.
During 92 and 93 seasons the Williams’ dominance overshadowed the Brazilian. During that years he also made some great moves, winning imposible races like Donington Park’s, considered the best race start from a driver in Formula 1. After winning last race in Adelaida with McLaren, Senna moved to Williams to start a new era. This era finished too early in the worst condition it could do.
This is a memory to the most yearned Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian driver considered one of the best drivers ever after every show he have to all publics. Ayrton gave us 162 races, won 41 of them and got 3 world F1 titles. Difficult to forget.