20 Years On: Ayrton Senna

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May 1st marked the 20th anniversary of the death of one of Formula One’s greatest drivers, three time world champion and Formula One legend, Ayrton Senna.

The Brazilian driver died during the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. During the early stages of the race Senna was being chased by a young German driver by the name of Michael Schumacher. Seven laps into the race, there was a half second gap between Senna’s Williams and Schumacher’s Benneton, with both drivers pushing their cars to the limit, the fans had no idea what they were about to witness.

There was already a sombre atmosphere in Imola as one death had already occurred during qualifying, that of Australian rookie Roland Ratzenberger, after his front wing broke sending his Simtek-Ford at full speed into a concrete wall. Senna rushed to the scene of the accident in an official car, which he unlawfully commandeered but despite being called before stewards, was not punished.

Senna lost control of his car at the high speed Tamburello corner as the steering in his car failed, ploughing the car into a concrete wall at 145 mph (233 km/h). The race was instantly red flagged as stewards attended the car to clear up the debris from the accident and medics attended to Senna, who had remained motionless since the point of impact. He was transferred to Bologna Hospital where only a few hours later they confirmed the drivers death.

His death lead to the FIA bringing in more safety measures, which included improved crash barriers, redesigned tracks, higher crash safety standards and a cut to the engine power to ensure that there would not be as many fatal high speed crashes. Ayrton was looking into re-establishing  Grand Prix Drivers’ Association with McLaren driver and former team mate, Alain Prost, as an attempt to try and improve the safety measures in the sport at the time, including what car was used for the formation lap. Senna argued that the car was too slow for the F1 cars to achieve the right tyre temperature and pressure to safely drive at the speeds they drove at.

Senna will always be remembered as one of the true greats of the sport, inspiring many of the drivers we see on the grid now. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton who’s helmet is a tribute to the famous yellow helmet that the Brazilian wore throughout every racing series he competed in. He won the Drivers World Championship in ’88, ’90, and ’91 and was renown for his ability to simply dominate a race in wet conditions and his desire to win no matter what. To him, second place was considered a failure. He finished his career with 41 wins, 80 Podium finishes and 65 Pole positions. He also set a series of records including the most start/finish wins in a career, in which he completed the feat 19 times, and the most consecutive wins at a single circuit. That record being set when he won the legendary Monaco Grand Prix for five years straight between 1989 and 1993.

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