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Senna memorial event report – A very special day draws big crowd in Imola
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Senna memorial
Posted By: James Allen  |  01 May 2014   |  12:09 pm GMT  |  43 comments

[Updated] A large crowd of fans and a host of drivers and engineers turned out today for the event in Imola today to remember Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, who died 20 years ago in the ill fated San Marino Grand Prix weekend.

There were speeches and tributes from current and past F1 drivers and a minute’s silence at the Tamburello corner at 14-17pm local time, the exact spot and moment when Senna crashed in the early stages of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

This event, organised by Italian website F1 Passione, was all about sincere tribute and emotion. It was slightly chaotic, especially as thousands of fans tried to get close to the podium where the drivers were speaking at Tamburello, but it was a genuine tribute to a great man.

It drew thousands of fans from around the world and from all over Europe. It is a Bank Holiday in Italy, so there was a large turn-out of Italian families across generations.


“I had to be here for this special event, I’m a great fan of Senna,” said Brian from Malta, who sports a Senna tattoo on his arm.

“It’s one big family, everyone is here for one thing: to remember the great Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. Yesterday I met his (Ratzenberger’s) parents, very nice people.”

Another fan, Mattias from Split in Croatia said, “We are here to celebrate our hero. He was more than a racer. Racing was his whole life. There are so many fans here, his death will not be forgotten.”


A Mass was held to commemorate the two drivers, attended by Ratzenberger’s parents. Senna’s niece Paolo came over from Brazil to represent the family.

Ferrari has sent its two race drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen to participate in the memorial at 1-30pm Italian time. Ferrari test driver Pedro de la Rosa and Marussia’s Jules Bianchi were also present.

“It’s a moment to remember a great champion, who was an idol to me,” said Alonso. “I was a kid, racing in karts and I always watched the races seeing Ayrton Senna with the yellow crash helmet winning races, in car number one. When you are a kid that makes a big impression on you.

“He made a huge impression on my generation as the best driver and also clearly on all the people here today.”

Senna’s friend and team mate Gerhard Berger was there, along with other former F1 drivers like Riccardo Patrese, Jarno Trulli, Pierluigi Martini, Ivan Capelli, and Emmanuele Pirro.

“Even if this is a sad moment to remember what happened here 20 years ago it is also a great moment; to come back here to Imola, ” said Berger. “In my generation we had so many good times here.

“We are happy to be here and to give all respect to our friend Ayrton, who I’m sure everyone here agrees, is the best race driver of all time.”

Aldo Costa, who designed the current Mercedes F1 car made the journey along with many of the great Italian engineers of F1 history like Mauro Forghieri and Gianpaolo Dallara.

There was a large turn out of media from around the world. Tatiana Cunha of the Folha de Sao Paolo newspaper from Senna’s home town said,

“It’s amazing, there is nothing happening today in Brazil but here in Italy everyone is here, families, kids all celebrating a Brazilian hero. It’s really touching.

“People feel like he is still around. We published a research paper today and still today he is the athlete that Brazilians admire the most, 20 years after his death. He is still the top sportsman in Brazil.


“He represented a Brazil that could win in a time when Brazil wasn’t good economically and football wasn’t doing well.

We always felt that we were the underdogs of the world and Senna made us feel different. He made us feel we could win and that we could believe in ourselves.”

* Listen out TONIGHT to our bumper 90 minute BBC Radio 5 Live special on Senna, with audio from Berger, Raikkonen, Ron Dennis, Adrian Newey and more – 7-30pm to 9pm UK time on BBC Radio 5 Live or via BBC 5 Live website

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43 Comments
  1. No.1 says:

    A true great.

  2. Paddy says:

    Fantastic piece James. Most touching were the words from Tatiana Cunh, about how Brazil felt “the underdogs of the world”, Senna was more than just a race driver. People that would never care for formula 1 in the emotional sense that us the fully fledged fans do were brought into that by his dramatic manner as well as his dramatic style. Equally tragic is this ongoing mess of Michael Schumacher, a man who still in fifty years will be compared with Senna. Thoughts with Rolands, Ayrtons and Michaels families in their dark days.

  3. Rich B says:

    god bless senna, he was the greatest.

    god bless roland, nobody tried harder and smiled so much.

  4. goferet says:

    Oh that’s a surprise, I would have thought there would have been tributes in Brazil too on this anniversary.

    Now, the tifosi came out in full force today to celebrate the life of F1′s favourite son (in addition to remembering Roland’s short career). This proves to me Senna was really great for despite never having driven for Ferrari, he’s well liked in Italy.

    As for Brazil, it appears flair is a way of life in the country for not only did Senna drive with flamboyance but that’s also how the great Brazilian football teams play and also how the Sambas are conducted >>> So yeah, Brazil rocks.

    Anyway, RIP Senna and Roland, till we meet again.

    1. Gaz Boy says:

      RE Goferet: Indeed – also don’t forget flair for building fantastic race tracks too!
      The present day Interlagos is great, but the old 5 mile track……….my god, what a circuit! When you look at the old Interlagos, it looks like a diagram of a small intestine, twisting in and out of itself. Sorry to use a metaphor about the human bowel, but netherless its a pretty good analogy of the compact, twisting nature of what was one of THE great circuits. Very bumpy, and very little run-off, but netherless a wonderful track.
      And of course, during the early to mid 70s, a certain young local lad from Sau Paulo used to go to Interlagos and watch his hero Emerson Fittipaldi, and that young Paulista lad said to himself, “When I become an adult, I will be a winning F1 driver………..”

      1. Graham says:

        You’re spot on regarding the old Interlagos circuit. My family lived in Brazil throughout the 1970′s. I attended the 1979 race, won by a Ligier (I can’t remember who was driving; Jaques Lafitte?) I was seated on the main straight about 15 rows back from the start line. You could see almost the entire circuit from the grandstand at that position. The previous winter (July – 1978), a test run by Emmerson in his latest Copersucar brought out nearly as many locals as attended the Grand Prix! Such was Brazilian pride in supporting their own. My best memory of that 1979 race was Nicki Lauda’s Brabham-Alfa Romeo V12. What a gorgeous car; notwithstanding it was about as useless as mammaries on the male bovine. Kind of like the old BRM H-16.

      2. Gaz Boy says:

        RE Graham: The old turn 1 and turn 2 at the original Interlagos were incredible; they were flat out banked corners that led onto the old mega long back straight which then fed into the equally daunting and quick Turn 3.
        I bet the sight of Andretti, Fittipaldi, Reutemann, Peterson, Arnoux, Pironi, Villeneuve, Scheckter, Hunt, Jonsey, Reggazoni, Jabouille, Depaillier, Nelson, Niki the Rat, and Jolly Jacques Laffite (yes, he did win – a Ligier 1-2 in fact with Laffite leading home Depaillier) must have been a memory burning sight!

      3. goferet says:

        @ Gaz Boy

        Am not sure whether track designers are necessarily merged from the host country.

        My guess is Bernie hired a mercenary like good ole Tilke.

      4. Spectreman says:

        @goferet

        The track construction started in 1938, inaugurated in 1940, when Bernie was 9 or 10 years old. I’d guess probably designed by some Italian immigrant (Italians form the largest demographic group in São Paulo – more than half the population has at least one Italian grandparent).

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aut%C3%B3dromo_Jos%C3%A9_Carlos_Pace

      5. goferet says:

        @ Spectreman

        Oh I see…

        Thanks!

  5. AlexD says:

    I regret that I did not know F1 when he was racing…………………

  6. Robert in San Diego says:

    I was very sad when Senna died, I could not believe it. He had a very fast Schumacher after him, and now we are waiting with baited breath for his recovery. I actually cried when Jim Clark was killed (I was very young).

    So many greats with so little time with us. What great memories they brought us.

  7. Sujith says:

    Great driver. The reason why I became a fanatic follower of F1. I was lucky to be a part of Formula 1 since the late 80s to witness this Legend. A true legend who had no equal!

  8. Rod says:

    Very nice article. Thanks.

  9. George says:

    Some reflections.. It’s as if he came naked, this is who I am, this is my self and I will stop at nothing to achieve. A post yesterday referred to mysticism, and this has tapped something that sums up what I feel, a raw humane spirituality that would expose him self and be willing to do that; a practical example being I remember seeing film from the ‘ Dark Old Days ‘ of the FIA, speaking against powerful opposition what had to be said which others probably couldn’t or wouldn’t say. Others have driven more laps, won more races and championships, earned more, had the chance to say more but no one has even remotely equaled what Senna achieved. Its not just what he won, but how he did what he did and Who he was doing it; we loved that and loved seeing it in action and I believe it is that authentic rawness we miss. Others win, and others succeed, but no one has done it the way he did and probably never will. Our privilege is to have seen and appreciated what we have.

    Ill finish with a line from the Beatles song Across the Universe ;
    Limitless undying Love, which Shines around me like a million suns, it calls me on and on across the universe . .
    Blessings Roland & Ayrton

  10. Chromatic says:

    Sad times, but I hope these Senna commemorations bring some sense of pride and unity to Brazilians ahead of the world cup this summer, instead of the strife they seem to be going through

  11. flesh says:

    Whilst I fast approach my 50th birthday I sometimes in quiet reflection think about how different the world would be if we all had the opportunity to devoted our lives to the thing we were best suited to.so many people the world over would have different careers would the world be a better place or would it be same problems just different people responsible for them. but in my moments of reflection I think equally about the people that have given me and so many others so so much pleasure from doing the thing they were just born to do ayrton senna was one of these people from his first breath until his last he devoted his life pursuing the thing that made him happy in that car in that moment his life made sense. I don’t believe for one moment he had any idea whatsoever the depth of feeling this world had for him he knew love, adoration, respect but did he truly understand why I doubt it. he was not that self interested or vain. his humility was as profound as his ability to drive an f1 car and his legacy is as much about the way you do something as much if not more than the thing you actually do we all miss you ayrton

    1. kenneth chapman says:

      @ flesh… i have to ask the question in reference to your statement, ‘his humility was as profound as his ability to drive an F1 car’.

      if so then how do you account for the fact that he deliberately drove his car into prost and took him off the track. that action alone could’ve quite easily resulted in a death.

      is that the action of a driver who understands the meaning of humility? i doubt very much if he could even spell the word!

      1. Spectreman says:

        @kenneth chapman

        I agree, and that’s only one example amongst many showing that humility was not one of Senna’s virtues. He was incredibly fast, period. I have nothing else positive to say about him.

    2. flesh says:

      @ Kenneth chapman you make a valid point and I agree as a driver he was guilty of many questionable acts which given the nature of f1 could of resulted in serious injury or something far worse. but I have no doubt these acts were bore out of total frustration and emotional turmoil no desire to hurt anyone whatsoever does this excuse what he did no of course not but in the heat of battle we are all capable of stupidity. but given the effort he made for people far less fortunate than himself and his deep desire to be a normal person in the not so very normal world of f1. there was no ayrton A list celebrity the way he conducted himself in his personal life and his pious nature could be a valuable lesson to an awful lot of sportsman and people in general. I would hate to think that when I take my last breath and depart this mortal coil certain people would only remember me for some of my stupid mistakes. real humility is to acknowledge we are no more than what people perceive us to be and if we work hard to create a positive view from others by being the best we can and admitting I am floored but I shall never cease to be so much more than I am for me that was his nature

      1. kenneth chapman says:

        @ flesh… we all see things differently and we are all free to voice an opinion. what senna did off track was nothing more than many people do on a daily basis. to infer that this made him somewhat special has no relevance to what we are discussing.

        on the other hand he had absolutely no moral concerns with taking another driver out of contention by driving him off the track and in the case of prost deliberately driving into him!

        are these the actions of a ‘moral’ person? no. they are the actions of narssistic maniac. his so called spiritualism is another of the great media myths. he professed to be in communication with god, if i recall correctly. that alone should qualify him for a room with padded walls.

        no one argues with the fact that he was blindingly fast and drove some magnificent races but to deify him is to avoid any sense of the rational, IMO of course.

      2. BoogWar says:

        65 pole positions in 10 years. That has to say something. Don’t you find it incongruous that even though he might have had more racing incidents than most, that NO ONE was hurt by any of his ‘entanglements’? If you are a pragmatist / atheist / scientist…whatever the odds against having all those incidents, and I mean those involving other racers on track, should have resulted in quite a few serious injuries / deaths being on his conscience as well. But that side of the ledger remains unbalanced. As a scientific man, as I think you are, Mr. Chapman, why is that?

        He is known to stop his race to assist another racer in peril, and while he is not alone in this regard, at the time of his death he was carrying an Austrian flag in honour of a fellow racer who died the day before. I wonder often why there was this duplicity in his character too, but then I remembered how focused real racers are. The eyes of a racer just after he’s strapped and just before a race are really intense. He knows the risk, he knows what can happen. During an event, that throttle pedal actually pushes back and it’s that singularity of purpose hat keeps the foot planted. The two sides of Senna’s persona are not mutually exclusive, but it occurs is rarely enough that when this type of duality surfaces in someone people sit up and take notice. Think about it…

        As you say he did and said some things that could be looked upon as narcissistically dangerous. But if u look at him holistically then this singularity bled over into his extraordinary generosity. That’s why, I think, he is so adored by the world. They say his funeral remains the largest gathering of people ever assembled. Now I don’t know if Senna is to be canonized, deified or demonized, but if one has polarized the opinion of so many, I would say, hey, he did something right.

      3. kenneth chapman says:

        @ boog war…in response to your question para 1, simply coincidence/pure luck that no one either died or was seriously injured.the fact that he did it at all tells you a great deal about the mental make-up of senna.

        his so called ‘religiosity’ is in direct conflict with his on track actions whereby his manic self belief overuled any sense of fair play and treatment of his fellow drivers.

        obviously to be a successful F1 driver one needs to have the ‘killer instinct’but metaphorically not figuratively. in my opinion senna exhibited a personality disorder which would not be tolerated today, neither should it have been when he was driving either.

        i also tend to separate out the on track persona with the off track persona. the messages have been blended to suit the senna cult, once again just my opinion.combining them just compounds the enigma.

        as for the largest gathering of people ever assembled, that is just another myth. ever heard of the ‘kumb melah’in india or ‘ramadan’ in saudi arabia. now those events are big, big and even bigger.

        yes, senna was an extraordinary fast driver, in his era. that is it. ultimately your opinion is as valid as anyone elses. all cool.

  12. Sebee says:

    Is this true?

    >
    I had done my homework and Ayrton Senna, at that time, had been involved in more collisions with other drivers than the combined total of all the world champions since 1950. 

    1. James Allen says:

      That’s along the lines of what Jackie Stewart asked him

      1. Scuderia McLaren says:

        Maybe we should be praising and admiring the Pastor’s and Romain’s of the world?

    2. kenneth chapman says:

      @ seebee…. so based on that fact then senna was a lot worse than maldonado and grosjean?

      1. Sebee says:

        I just read that bit, wasn’t sure it was Mr. Steward who did this stat, but as James mentioned it is his.

        It is simply interesting. And you have to admit it that it does show a certain lack of respect for other drivers, especially cconsidering safety and injury/death odds back then. We admired it with Senna and now we slam anyone who is wreckless on track to other drivers.

        Wonder how many driver error crashes not involving other drivera (barriers, run off) Senna had.

  13. Jonathan says:

    Sorry to say it, but to me it seems wrong to hold the ceremony at Tamburello. No doubt people were wandering around retracing Senna’s last moments, like tourists. There is a dangerously fine line between commemoration and disaster tourism.

    If it’s true that no memorial events took place in Brazil, then that is very sad. Brazil should have been the focal point. It was where Senna grew up and where he is buried. Imola 1994 was just one brief moment in his life.

  14. Sufyaan says:

    Started following F1 in 98 and after noticing Senna being mentioned often, the path of research/reading began!

    Can’t help but think that if Schumacher was well, he’d have been there. Keep fighting Michael

  15. johnpierre says:

    James

    Incredible…. I have no words to describe what I am feeling after just finished reading your piece. The effect Senna had/still has In people hearts and minds, just incredible.
    -jp-

  16. shaboopi says:

    Great to see people remembering a true great. Ironically I feel Formula One has lost a little of its epic nature because of safety standards now, which is great, we don’t want death… But the drivers now can never be compared to the past. When Senna pushed he did so in an era when major accidents were always on the mind. That will always have more weight than the drivers now who have so much run off area and safety they can afford to drive more carelessly. I wonder who would be champion nowadays if the danger was as high as before…

  17. ilpaul says:

    Imola 1994 was the last Grand Prix I attended live and the mixed feelings that always rised when I think about that weekend prevented me from attending F1 events since then.
    Living less than 50km away from the circuit I started going to Imola for the Grand Prix in the early eighties when I was a child. In 1994 I attended saturday session at Acque Minerali grandstand and the plan was to come back to the circuit the day after and watch the race from Rivazza’s hill.
    That saturday late afternoon was a kind of a shock: I remember my eyes being caught by the unusual Simtek’s purple livery and, as it was pre-internet, pre-texting and so on and no information was available at the grandstand, I just noticed that, when the qualify session was resumed, there were no Simtek running and eventually discovered about Roland death watching the news at home.
    That gave me a deep unpleasant feeling, I didn’t feel about going to the race the next day thinking that something similar could happen again so I decided to watch the race on TV and everybody know how the story went.
    Sorry for being so personal but I just wanted to share my experience with that sad weekend that changed F1 history.

  18. Nick says:

    Great driver and awesome speed and talent.

    BUT …. he was a contradiction in many ways. Yes he did a lot by setting up a foundation to look after the disadvantaged in Brazil, campaigned for greater safety, but then he deliberately drives Prost off the road at 250+ kh/hr (on full tanks) in an act of complete recklessness and disregard for his own safety and that of others. How can anyone really celebrate a person who would do such an act which could have, but for pure luck, not been tragic (and criminally wilful). It’s hard to reconcile him, particularly when he talked endlessly about strong values and doing the right thing.

    The day should be a reminder of the tragic events of 1 May, the loss of a great driver in his prime, and that of a talented rookie, but also that the push for safety should always be a priority, so we don’t have to watch drivers (or spectators as what happened that day) die on live tv. But the loss of a ‘hero’ ….??

    He was a great F1 driver and super talented and I admired him for that (he was my favourite driver too). But I sometimes find it hard to reconcile his behaviour with what I expect from a ‘great’ champion.

  19. aveli says:

    very few athletes affected people in the magnitude senna did. walker and his friends at sky should take note. all those emotions combined can easily raise the atmospheric temperature by at least 1 celcius.

  20. Eff1ohsaurus says:

    I was a las of 15 when I watched Senna spear of the circuit and hit the wall, along with all the millions of TV viewers…

    I was not a fan of his at the time, having been a Prost fan since I started watching F1 in 1984…seeing this man they called Senna beating my hero was hard to take…

    However…he had raw talent, and even at 15 I could understand that this driver, this champion, was someone special…i think we all agree he had the ability to make and F1 car dance. With Senna, you KNEW when he was on…the car would be skating, sliding, dancing to the tune of the maestro at work…

    That day, 20 years ago, was the 1st time i cried about the death of a celebrity, or sportsman. I am sure i was not alone and such was the impact which Senna had…

    There non other like him, and i doubt very much that in today’s politically correct and media astute world of F1, we will see another like him…

    RIP Ayrton Senna Da Silva…your fans miss you, and F1 will never forget you; your legend is immortal…

  21. Elie says:

    Long may the memory of Senna & Roland Ratzenberger live. That weekend changed F1 forever

  22. Robert Gunning says:

    Last night I promised myself if I achieved a podium position at Buckmore Park Kart Circuit I would provide a dedication to Senna. Luckily I finished 3rd (only my second podium finish).

    http://www.buckmore.co.uk/content.php/00920?eve_ref=10001

    P.S I was thinking of Roland Ratzenberger, also.

  23. Xman says:

    Senna had a choice at the steps of heaven that day. Live on and see others die, or be a martyr and save the loves of future drivers.

    We all know what he would have wanted.

  24. Matijas Nediljko says:

    Hi mr Allen.
    I am the guy You interviewed and mentioned on Your text above. We are met in the front of the media press room and I also have “media pass”.
    So far I was on 36 F1 races alive, was also on 2011 Red Bull ring opening, 2012 Monaco Historic and 2013 Zandvoort Historic.
    It was great weekend in Imola.
    Best regards from Matijas, Split, Croatia.
    I will be at the Monaco GP this year for 8th time in a row and maybe we could drink some beer if You also be there.

    1. James Allen says:

      Great to meet you

      Thanks for talking on BBC Radio 5

  25. Stephen Ferrari says:

    Anyone know if there is/will be any tv coverage of this?

  26. Darren Lin says:

    He will be remembered as one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula 1.

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