On This Day in #F1: 1st May 1994 – Ayrton Senna

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1994: Ayrton Senna Anniversary

“Do you mark those two lines between your eyes, and those thick brows, that instead of rising arched, sink in the middle, and that couple of black fiends, so deeply buried, who never open their windows boldly, but lurk glinting under them, like devil’s spies?” – Emily Bronte

I cried…

It’s often said by people of a certain era that they remember exactly where they were when they heard that JFK had been assassinated. I missed that historic moment because I was five years away from entering this world. The 11th September 2001 was this generations ‘JFK’ moment and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre left indelible memories on witnesses the world over.

I myself was in a house in Stanmore, London, setting up a VPN for a customer and was called by a friend to watch TV. I watched a tower burning as a plane came into view and I watched live as the second tower was hit. No doubt people all over the world will come to say they also remember where they were…

Taken by author at 1986 Brands Hatch Tyre Test

Taken by author at 1986 Brands Hatch Tyre Test

I could write all the happenings of the dark weekend or write about different legacies and views on Ayrton Senna. It would be easy to find different information which explains the minutiae of the accident but we all have the ability to type it into search engines or read it here. I have written a number of On This Day articles and historic features – and enjoyed the research and re-learning of history immensely but for a few months I have been at odds on how to proceed with this anniversary.

It goes beyond facts and figures – it’s an unwelcome re-immersion into a state of being that goes beyond mere words. It’s like recollecting buried emotions similar to a death of a family member and there is no other way but head-on. Ultimately this was always going to have to be personal.

On 1st May 1994, I was sitting alone at my fiancee’s house whilst she and her parents had gone to a local nursery for plants for the garden. I remember the safety car pulling in and Senna flying on his first lap through. The seventh lap I watched as his car speared off the racing line as viewed from the camera on Schumacher’s Benetton.

I held my breath as accidents here were never small casual events. Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari had shockingly erupted in flames merely five years before but his injuries were light. Nelson Piquet and MIchele Alboreto had had sizeable accidents here too but as the camera angle changed and I watched the remains of the car grind to a halt a feeling swept through me that this was the weekend’s final act playing out in this tragic living opera.

Through tear strained eyes I saw that famous yellow helmet twitch and disbelievingly I prayed that the commentator’s words of it being a good sign manifested themselves into reality. Something inside suggested things would never be the same again.

Senna came into my life during a F3 race in 1983, I was fourteen years old and a victim to bullying at school. He became my hero and I followed his progression avidly from then on. In 1984 he entered Formula One and I hoped that he would one day join Ferrari. Another hero came into my life around this time, another introspective, mysterious genius called Prince – therapy would probably explain my admiration of people on the fringes.

Taken by author at 1986 Brands Hatch Tyre tests

Taken by author at 1986 Brands Hatch Tyre tests

I followed Senna passionately – saw him both race and test in England and Italy throughout his career and saw his high wire act redefine what was possible on the edge of adhesion. There was something organic about his wet-weather prowess and his speed on qualifying tyres defied physics. Treated as an exile by the British media made me respect his ambition even more so. I also lived through the Mclaren period watching my hero driving for the ‘enemy’ and rejoiced when he finally left the team to join Williams.

Sitting in front of the TV that day, I wept – beyond the ascent of the helicopter and on into the afternoon.

My father, an unsung hero, had passed away a few months before and he had been taken back to Italy. It had been the first time that I ever experienced loss. That evening, in my diary, I wrote one line. “Ayrton Senna died today. I’m all alone now.”

Senna was described as arrogant, enigmatic, mysterious, introspective – in fact, in literature he would be described as the perfect embodiment of a Byronic hero – tortured, brooding, dark and a dangerous anti-hero. And yet all these masks concealed a heart of true virtue.

In later years I celebrated Schumacher being part of the Ferrari squad as he was the stand out driver of his generation, but he raced with his head – Senna raced with his heart and I feel truly blessed that I had the privilege of watching him.

He showed us the world we live in isn’t black and white or even grey, it’s the most exquisite colour palette imaginable and it’s accessible to all of us.

A video that closes with the majesty of Purple Rain.

25 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 1st May 1994 – Ayrton Senna

  1. Very poignant and personal view of Senna’s death.

    I make this statement in the knowledge that I’ll likely get slammed for it. I viewed Senna’s death as a tragedy – the loss of one of the greatest drivers of all time and a waste of a human life. But I didn’t shed any tears as I believed then as I believe now that drivers understand the risks associated with what they do. I’m sure Senna knew. Maybe that’s why I feel somewhat inoculated from it.

    I grew up following F1 when drivers were routinely killed and seriously injured during races. Then, rarely did a year go by with a death or serious injury. Now as in 1994 Von Trips, Clark, Rindt and others are largely unknown except for grainy images in Movietones. I’ve actually seen two drivers killed at a racetrack, Ricardo Paletti and Manfred Winkelhock and it’s numbing. I don’t know how team personnel could go to races in those days with the knowledge that one of their drivers had a good chance of being killed, but they did and I continued to follow the sport too.

    I think part of what made Senna’s death was so shocking, especially to the younger fans at that time, was they believed what the experts had told them – that deaths in F1 were a thing of the past. Technology had made it safe. The last death in an F1 race was 12 years before. April 30 and May 1 1994 proved them wrong.

    • What made it so unbelievable was that he was the greatest. If the greatest ever could die than there was something really wrong. That’s what I think shook the world the most…

      • I can’t help but notice the parallels with Jim Clark’s death here.. Jackie’s safety campaign then meant things were much safer by the mid-80s.. and then again with Senna’s death, the cars have taken another huge leap forwards such that 13 years later Kubica could survive a truly astonishing crash in Canada and be racing 1 month later.

        • Thank you Carlo – very touching
          I was also struck with the link to Jim Clark – for both it was said that if it could happen to him………

  2. I totally agree with the prince senna link. They are both geniuses. What they do and did is from a level that no other did before them nor after them. To think it’s been 20 years already is something that blows my mind. Time went so slow when it happend. And yet now time went so fast. He truly was the right foot of God.

  3. Thank you Carlo . . .
    I don’t need to read any other reports after this one . . .
    Most of what will be said, by others, has already been said.
    You have brought a new dimension.
    Now it’s all been said.
    Now we can forget the death – and remember the man.
    Thank you.

    • My pleasure BJF. I struggled with this for some months, I hope that came across. It actually took longer to write than any other article I have written. My words should give insight into my admiration but this week has been a complete saturation of Senna, which I expect will be repeated in 5 years time and then every tenth anniversary thereafter.

      I hate to say it but to me Imola has become a motor-racing Graceland..

      I have written a further article for the 14th May, but I promise after that I won’t write another Senna article this year.

  4. Nice and true words Carlo, a lot is written those days about what Senna ment for the sport, but the really special thing about him is what he ment for some people, including myself. It still hurts immensely every moment i’m dealing with F1 and that’s virtually every day. The only thing that helped at the time and still helps is the acknowledgment that at least we have been lucky enough to see, understand and (if really lucky) experience what it means and looks like to be dancing on the limit…

  5. Lovely article but why insult/link Ayrton with a reference to a silly song by Prince or am I missing something here? Sorry I just don’t get the relevance but maybe I’m ignorant to the meaning of purple rain or something!

    • Dave – I would have hoped my article would have made the connection clear. The video was broadcast by the BBC and includes a guitar riff from Purple Rain at the end of it. I didn’t add the music, it was on the video itself from 3m 50s onwards. Ultimately it’s about my two ‘heroes’ in the same video.

  6. I don’t want today to become JUST a recollection of Senna related stuff (I was about 15 months old when he died, so have no memories etc to be sad over), but thought this was worth putting in:

    McLaren remember Senna

  7. I was just out of college when he passed. I was laying on the couch of my parent’s house watching the Grand Prix at around 5:30 am, (I live in Los Angeles), and when I saw him crash, I thought “dammit Schumacher’s gonna win again!” I fell asleep because the crash didn’t look bad and there was no point in watching if Senna was out. Later that morning my dad told me he was sorry that Senna had died, and I thought he was joking with me! One of my heroes was gone and the other (my dad) would follow 20 years later. They both taught me what is possible when you never give up. Obrigado Ayrton, gracias Dad.

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