The 1st May is a date etched into the memory of all F1 fans who watched the sport in the early 90’s. It was the day when a freak accident robbed us of the greatest driver the sport has ever seen.
I don’t need to document the events of that day here, there are plenty of in-depth recollections online from people who were there or who knew Ayrton. If you can, go and google them and read them – and then watch the beyond superb docu-film “Senna” that came out a couple of years ago.
I was 20 at the time and I can remember watching the events unfold. I can remember where I was. I can remember Steve Ryder doing an amazing job, handling the situation with a sensitivity that was beyond anything seen before. For 5 years afterwards I couldn’t watch the sport, except for the odd race, and even now there are times when I’ll see or hear something during a race that’ll bring back the memories.
Last week there was a segment on the F1 Show on Sky F1 that featured both Bruno Senna and Nicholas Prost. It was scary just how much they resemble their uncle and father respectively. It was like looking back in time and it brought memories flooding in. Races where we saw sublime driving and competition, underhand tactics that would change F1 forever, politics and strategies that made Kasparov look like an amateur and where we were witness to the best driver at one with the best that motoring engineering could deliver.
Today is a day that leads me to pause in sadness, but also to smile at the great memories I have of watching Senna drive. It’s a day that reminds me of a JPS Lotus t-shirt from 1985 (and as an aside – tobacco sponsorship never made me want to smoke) and the love for motoring, for petrol, for engineering that was birthed.
The greatest legacy left by Imola 1994 – which, we mustn’t forget, also saw the death of Roland Ratzenburger and the horrific crash for Rubens Barrichello – could be argued as being the fact that we’ve not seen another driver fatality in Formula One since that day. But then I listen to others speak about Senna, I see the tweets of people who share their memories and how he inspired and changed them and I wonder if he didn’t leave a deeper legacy. Oh, he wasn’t a saint – don’t get me wrong there… he could teach Schumacher and Vettel a thing or two about dirty racing – but he was an inspiration and an icon.
Tragically we’ve seen fatalities in other areas of motorsports, and there’s still a need for the lessons and safety technology to be embraced by lower formulae, but motor racing today is massively safer than it was 19 years ago. Let’s hope that we can go the next 19 years without any motorsport tragedies.
Ayrton Senna: Sorely and forever missed – but never forgotten.