In the history of Formula 1 there have been countless accidents, but few as tragic as that of Ayrton Senna. The 1994 San Marino prize in Imola, Italy, ended with the death of the three-time world champion pilot.
Ayrton Senna da Silva, born on March 21, 1960 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, started in the world of motorsport in 1984 at the Prize of his country. Just one year later, Magic Senna won his first tournament at the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix. From that moment on, the pilot began to sweep everything and managed to accumulate 161 titles in total. Despite her years at the top of motorsports, Senna’s career was plummeting.
In his tenth year of sports career, Senna was ready to claim himself on the tracks and in the Formula 1 prizes. The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was the race where he wanted to regain confidence by facing the new sensation of motorsport: the German Michael Schumacher .
San Marino 1994, the accursed prize
The most tragic race in the history of Formula 1 was the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. This was the third date of the season and the first race to be held in Europe. Senna was looking for his third pole of the year, but ended up being one of the three victims that would leave that GP.
The fateful weekend began on Friday, April 29, in free practice for the award and Rubens Barrichello’s accident. Senna’s compatriot and protégé lost control of his car and ended up crashing into the tire barrier. After the accident, he lost consciousness and was immediately transferred to a medical center where he received the necessary care. Barrichello left the hospital with a broken nose and arm, unaware that his case was only the prelude to the fatal accidents that would occur in the following two days.
On Saturday, April 30, the day of the qualifying round, it was Roland Ratzenberger of Austria who was responsible for the disaster. The Formula 1 rookie was participating in the third Grand Prix of his new career as a driver. Having signed with the Simtek team at the start of the 1994 season, Ratzenberger was fulfilling his lifelong dream of racing in F1.
While the rookie was trying to qualify for the Imola Grand Prix, he suffered a crash that sent him off the track and hit a concrete wall. The front wing detached from the car and the pilot could not avoid crashing at more than 300 km / h almost frontally against the barriers. Unable to control his car, the rookie ended up against the wall at the Villeneuve corner.
After the accident, Ratzenberger’s Simtek was surprisingly whole despite the severity of the crash, but he did not suffer the same fate. The Austrian suffered several injuries, including a fracture of the cranial base, which immediately took his life. Sid Watkins, a doctor for the International Automobile Federation (FIA), certified the death of the 33-year-old driver at 2:15 a.m. on April 30, 1994.
Following Ratzenberger’s death on Saturday, many drivers contemplated not running the race. However, the FIA had already signed a millionaire contract with Federico Bendinelli, representative of the owners of the Autodromo Enzo e Dino, to run the Grand Prix and they could not afford to lose so much money. So the remaining 25 drivers had no choice but to run the race.
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Unlike the Austrian, that Sunday, May 1, Senna would race one more Grand Prix in his eleventh F1 season. The Brazilian wanted to pay tribute to Ratzenberger by placing an Austrian flag on his car and in case of winning the race, or at least being on the podium, he would wave it. But he would never cross the finish line.
As expected, Senna was leading the test with Michael Schumacher very close. On the curve of lap seven of the race, the Brazilian icon crashed into the corner of Tamburello: the Brazilian driver’s Williams hit the wall at more than 220 km / h. Doctors entered the circuit and called for a helicopter to take him to the hospital. Senna was already gone. It was 2:17 p.m. on May 1, 1994.
The RAI, responsible for the television broadcast, broadcast Senna’s accident live and all motorsport fans watched it from their homes. After just 38 minutes after Senna’s accident, the race resumed and Schumacher won. All for the cruel whim of continuing the race. In fact, the only thing the FIA did to the dueling mood was not letting champagne be sprayed on the podium.
The death was not officially announced until 6:40 p.m., more than four hours after the accident. From leaving Imola to the Bologna Hospital, every effort was made to resuscitate Senna, but to no avail. The pilot was brain dead from the second impact when serrated pieces from the front wheel penetrated his helmet and produced multiple fractures at the base of his skull.
The death of Senna and Ratzenberger led to the reactivation of the Grand Prix Drivers Association and the implementation of changes in Formula 1. The accident not only involved new safety measures, but also made racing slower. For example, the layout on many tracks changed and buffer areas were incorporated to slow down cars before they hit the wall.
With regard to the pilot’s utensils, since 1994 the lateral head protections have been implemented in the cockpit to prevent a sideways shift in an accident. In 2003 came the Head and Neck Support System (HANS), a device that provides support to the head and neck in the event of an accident, and became mandatory in the helmets of all pilots.
It took 20 years for another driver to die from a race. In 2014, French driver Jules Bianchi crashed under a crane on lap 43 of the Japanese Grand Prix. Bianchi made it out of the Suzuka circuit alive and was rushed to hospital. But the diffuse axonal damage was too much for his 25-year-old body and he passed away on July 17, 2015, nine months after the accident.
The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix left a bittersweet victory for a young Schumacher, an injured pilot and two deaths, but Ratzenberger took one more thing. Although he was one of the fatalities, this award is best known for Senna’s death and on some occasions the Austrian’s accident is not mentioned. All this because of Senna’s place in the sport’s history and Ratzenberger’s fleeting moment on the slopes. It is understandable, if somewhat unfair, that the death of the Brazilian champion overshadows that of his lesser-known colleague. (GG) (The Spectator)