For many Brazilians it is the first memory they keep in their memory, others directly buried their love for Formula One forever, but they all remember what they did on May 1, 1994, the day that Brazil’s last national hero died, the day that Ayrton Senna died.
“At this moment the doctor María Teresa Fiandri communicates to all the journalists here at the Maggiore hospital in Bologna that Ayrton Senna da Silva is dead, Ayrton Senna da Silva died, news that we would never like to give,” announced the reporter Roberto Cabrini in the Globo network.
The heart of the triple Formula One world champion stopped beating at 6:40 p.m. local time in Italy (1:40 p.m. Brasilia time) and with it millions of Brazilians fell silent, between disbelief and utter sadness.
It happened at the cursed Tamburello curve of the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit, from Imola, on the seventh lap of a San Marino Grand Prix that should never have been held.
In training that Friday, another Brazilian, Rubens Barrichello, suffered an impressive accident and a day later the Austrian Roland Ratzemberger died in a violent almost frontal collision with the protection barrier.
On Sunday, before getting behind the wheel of his Williams FW16 Renault, Senna harshly criticized the track, joining voices clamoring for the drivers’ lack of safety.
The Sao Paulo driver started from pole, but the breakage of the steering bar at the same point where it had been welded caused him to lose control of his car at almost 300 kilometers per hour and crashed into a wall of protection.
“Senna hit hard!” Exclaimed veteran journalist Galvao Bueno, on Globo’s live broadcast. It was 2:13 pm local time.
Senna, 34, only started receiving medical attention on the tarmac two and a half minutes later and 17 minutes later he was taken to the hospital by helicopter, although it was already late.
On impact, a piece of the front suspension shot like a projectile against his helmet, causing fatal injuries to his brain.
Bianca Senna, the pilot’s niece, is now in charge of keeping his legacy alive from the Ayrton Senna Institute, a dream of the Brazilian myth that came true after his death and which aims to improve public education in her country.
“He was more than a pilot, if he had only been a pilot he would not have won the hearts of so many people in the world. He fought hard to get what he got and it was not easy. People identify with that, with that battle to achieve their goals, “says Bianca in an interview with Efe.
When Ayrton won his first world crown, in 1988, she was a girl and admits that she did not follow her uncle’s careers much, “only the start because she knew she was going to win.”
The image he keeps of him is very different from that of the extreme pilot seen on the track: “He was very different, very affectionate, very joking, very loving and very dear.”
On May 1, 1994, Bianca was at a friend’s house, she began to watch the race and when the accident occurred she went straight home “to see what was happening and that was when her death was confirmed”.
The news was a real shock to the country. “Accident kills Ayrton Senna”, published the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper on its front page. “Brazil loses Senna,” headlined O Globo.
O Estado de Sao Paulo was more incisive: “Senna’s death shakes the country and surely causes outrage in F1.”
Even a 16-year-old student committed suicide days later at her home in the city of Curitiba, in the south of the country, to “meet” the deceased pilot.
But Senna’s death also united a country around her figure. In football, the irreconcilable hobbies of Flamengo and Vasco da Gama came together that Sunday at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro to sing together “Olé, olé, olé, olá, Senna, Senna!”
The government of then President Itamar Franco (1992-1994) decreed three days of mourning, while some of his ministers, sociologists and journalists tried to explain the “social vacuum” left by Senna.
The day after was a great wake throughout Brazil. Black flags hung in the windows, silence reigned, and fans gathered in front of Senna’s family home in Sao Paulo.
His mortal remains arrived the following Wednesday at Guarulhos airport wrapped in a Brazilian flag, were received with military honors worthy of a head of state, and veiled in the Legislative Assembly of Sao Paulo.
In silence, more than a million people said goodbye to the last national hero, forming a historic caravan that delayed the funeral for two hours, which was not lacking in great icons such as the French Alain Prost, the Englishman Nigel Mansell and the German Michael Schumacher, three of his greatest rivals on the track.
One of the most repeated banners that day was: “Senna is alive.” A quarter of a century later, his message and his legacy continue to inspire a country that does not forget its legend. EFE