Widely regarded as one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time, Senna won three Formula One world championships for McLaren in 1988, 1990 and 1991, as well as a slew of other victories in various races.
His death during a race in 1994 led to widespread global mourning and was considered by many Brazilians to be a national tragedy. Almost three million people gathered in São Paulo during his funeral, the largest gathering of mourners in modern times.
On May 1st 1994 during the San Marino Grand Prix, the unthinkable happened and 34 year old Ayrton Senna would never race again. It was a black ending to a horror weekend, Senna’s death following a lucky escape for Rubens Barichello and the death of Roland Ratzenberger.
During his 10 years as a Formula One driver, Senna had been very successful starting 161 Grand Prix’, 65 of which starting from pole position. He held three world championships and had a total of 41 wins. He was not always liked, but was the most respected driver on the circuit.
Senna was trying to re-form the ‘Drivers Association’ to give Formula One drivers more power to force safety changes. He was very concerned about the issue of safety in racing, and the death of Ratzenberger brought the danger of his sport very close to him. Nobody had died in Formula One while Senna was racing in it which may have allowed him to put his own mortality to the back of his mind.
Those who knew Senna well said how he had been deeply affected by the death of Ratzenberger, and how he was not himself before the race. In a phone call to his girlfriend the night before, he indicated that he did not want to race the next day, but had to because it was his job. And his job costed his death.
The reason for Senna’s death has never been finalised. A court case and intensive investigation failed to highlight any one overriding contributing factor for which blame could be laid. Frank Williams and two of his engineers faced manslaughter charges, as did two track employees. Nothing could be proved and the charges were dropped, luckily for the sport, avoiding setting a dangerous precedent.
Death, too, plays its part in the iconography. When Senna was killed at Imola in 1994, his helmet pierced by a suspension arm as he smashed into the wall at the Tamburello corner, he was frozen in time at the age of 34.
Via BBC / On This Day / Corporate Dispatch / Courier