Motorsport

F1 mourns Senna's death

2014-05-01 19:51
Ayrton Senna (Gallo Images)

Imola - Thousands of Formula One fans on Thursday commemorated the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's death at the scene of the sport's darkest day in Imola in Italy as tributes poured in for the late Brazilian master driver.

Brazilian flags were hung on a fence at the Tamburello corner where the triple world champion's Williams careered off into a concrete barrier on lap seven at 307km/h in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Much-loved by enthusiasts for his passion and ambition, Senna is considered one of the greatest racing drivers of all time and his death at the age of 34 prompted extensive changes to make Formula One less risky.

"I was here at the Variante Bassa chicane and we watched Ayrton veer off on the giant screen. Our hearts sank when they told us the news," said one fan, 31-year-old Marco, who wore a crash helmet like Senna's.

Brazilians also came for the emotional Imola gathering, with 39-year-old Daniela from Belo Horizonte saying: "What moves me about Senna was his humility, his enormous charisma. He is in our hearts like family."

Renato, 57, from Minais Gerais in Brazil, said: "What I liked about Ayrton was his will to win.

"He proved that a Brazilian could be internationally known and that was a great encouragement for us."

A giant banner nearby read: "Ayrton Forever".

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, a two-time world champion, remembered Senna as his boyhood idol.

"I would watch the news and it would always be him winning Formula One in his yellow crash helmet. He will always remain immortal," the 32-year-old said.

The anniversary brought back the sense of bewilderment and loss from Senna's death -- 24 hours after Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed and two days after Rubens Barrichello was injured also at Imola.

The Senna commemorations were made all the more poignant as another great F1 driver, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, continues his fight for life after the German's skiing accident on December 29.

In a tragic irony, it was Schumacher who went on to win the Imola race 20 years ago when it controversially went ahead despite Senna's deadly injuries.

Dozens of enthusiasts queued up at Imola to drive their own cars around the Enzo and Dino Ferrari track, which has not been a Grand Prix circuit since 2006.

A square named after Senna was also inaugurated on Thursday at Imola and a Catholic priest on Wednesday led a memorial service on the spot where Senna crashed in images that were relayed around the world.

Thursday's ceremony was the culmination of a week of events in different parts of the world to remember the enduringly popular 1988, 1990 and 1991 champion.

In one arresting sight, players from the Corinthians football club in his hometown of Sao Paulo paid tribute by wearing Brazilian flag crash helmets before kick-off in a match against Nacional-AM on Wednesday.

The 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, who drives for Mercedes, said he was "an incredible legend".

"You like to think that one day you may be recognised as someone that was able to drive similarly to him".

Damon Hill, Senna's teammate at Williams, told the BBC: "The Japanese and the Brazilians saw him as a god. His passion was undeniable and I sincerely believe he wanted to make the world a better place".

Senna's sister Viviane, told AFP this week that her brother's legacy was alive and well through the Ayrton Senna Institute which she chairs.

"Ayrton really wanted Brazil to work, for everyone to have a chance and from this dream the institute was born," she said.

"Currently, we are working with more than two million children and training some 75 000 teachers per year across around 1 000 cities around the country."

Senna's death prompted major reforms, including the overhaul of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association. Engine capacities were reduced and tethers to help prevent wheels flying off following accidents were introduced.

The HANS device to protect drivers' heads and necks were made compulsory, and run-offs were improved.

As evidence that the improvements put in place worked the last F1 fatality in a grand prix was Senna.

Read more on:    ayrton senna  |  f1
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