[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