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Imola gets set to commemorate Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger
Posted By: Justin Hynes  |  30 Apr 2014   |  4:42 pm GMT  |  116 comments

Marking the 20th anniversary of his death at the circuit’s Tamburello corner, Imola will this weekend play host to a commemoration of the life and achievements of Ayrton Senna. Fittingly, tributes will also be paid to Austrian racer Roland Ratzenberger who was killed the day before Senna, in qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix.

It is expected to be a major event, with F1 racers past and present, including Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, in attendance, as well as team personnel from all eras and many thousands of fans.

Senna’s status as a legend of the sport is, of course, assured. Indeed, even before that fateful weekend in 1994, his three titles, 41 wins and a staggering 65 pole from, until then, 160 starts had already confirmed him as one of the sport’s greats.

It wasn’t just the Brazilian’s sublime abilities behind the wheel that made him and idol for millions, however. Senna’s lasting appeal is more complex than a simple list of record book statistics.

First there was his ferociously competitive nature, defined by what he called “an incredible desire to win”. Allied to this was a willingness to indulge that desire by frequently pushing himself right to the limit of his capability, and sometimes beyond it, attributes that often didn’t endear him to the sport’s authorities or his fellow competitors.

An insatiable will to win should be part and parcel of a champion’s make-up, however. What perhaps set Senna apart from other champions and certainly from his contemporaries was that behind the driven sportsman was a thoughtful and emotive individual deeply affected by his career, his racing, stardom and the riches that came with them. “We are made of emotions, we are all looking for emotions, basically,” he once admitted. “It’s only a question of finding the way to experience them.”

It was perhaps that duality, the contrast between hard-nosed, win-or-bust competitiveness and his fragile emotions, plus his ability to make his rarefied experiences intelligible to the outside world that made Senna more than just a champion or even a globally-recognised sports star and turned him into a legend.

The next four days at Imola are likely to bring back vivid memories of all those facets of the Brazilian’s personality and racing.

They will too allow Formula One to reflect on the legacy both Senna and Ratzenberger, who was killed at just the third race of his grand prix career, left behind.

The untimely deaths of both drivers gave rise to a concerted drive for better safety in Formula One, a movement that continues to this day. Indeed there is great merit to the argument that says that had it not been for the events of that terrible weekend in May 20 years ago, huge accidents like those suffered by Robert Kubica in Canada in 2007 and Felipe Massa in Hungary in 2009 might have altogether more tragic outcomes.

Meanwhile, as Imola prepares to open its gates to fans and Formula One stars alike for this weekend’s commemoration, we’d love to hear your favourite memories of Ayrton Senna or Roland Ratzenberger.

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German Samurai

A lot of people are bringing up the first lap of Donnington 1993 where Senna enjoyed the advantage of the best electronics package on the grid. The Benetton didn’t even have traction control, no semi-automatic gearbox, no active suspension.

Then people are bringing up the fact that Senna out-qualified Prost by 1.4 seconds at Monaco 88, but the McLaren had a massive advantage over the field and Prost was guaranteed 2nd on the grid without taking any risks. Senna on the other hand would pride himself on his one lap speed and take risks trying to get the fastest qualifying lap possible.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at qualifying for Donnington 93 since people keep bringing it up.

Schumacher out-qualifies his veteran teammate Patrese by 1 second, while Senna out-qualifies his teammate Michael Andretti by a mere 0.6 second.


There were some many great Senna memories from the early 1990’s, but I’ll stay with the very first race I remember:

1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, his car slowing on the last laps, that late shower, his screams on the radio after the chequered flag…

Then, so exhausted, he couldn’t leave the car without help and almost couldn’t hold the trophy. Then we learn he was losing all the gears and drove only with the sixth during the last laps.

If it is a moment to remember to any racing fan, of any age, from anywhere, imagine for an eight-year old brazilian kid.

Then you know your superhero doesn’t drive the batmobile: he drives a red-and-white McLaren…


I was 4 years old when Imola 1994 happened and I guess it’s played a huge role in shaping the safety of the sport for my generation and those born even later. The growth of the sport had been so huge over the 1980s that one death (let alone two) in front of a mass TV audience not used to it became unacceptable, and led to the next stage of safety developments. This mercifully had made the sport a lot safer even than in 1994 (which was part of an era which in turn a lot safer than in earlier times like the 1960s and 70s), though one must concede that F1 will never be 100% safe, as Felipe Massa’s near-miss in 2009 so nearly showed.

I’m glad that, as the event has drawn near, people have remembered Roland Ratzenberger along with Senna. A month ago, I was disappointed to see F1 Racing’s Imola 94 tribute contain three articles on Senna but none on Ratzenberger, but more recent coverage has I think been better and reflected on how dark the whole weekend was, not just race day (which was of course very dark in itself). Obviously it was a tremendously sad weekend in the sport’s long history.


My greatest Senna memory is Barcelona 1991 – Senna in the Mclaren side by side with Mansell, with sparks flying as they drag race down the main straight…he didn’t win that day, but he didn’t give up either…that image stands out as an example of the courage and commitment these drivers, these strangers who entertain us with thier speed and talent, show at every race

In fact, there are so many…

1988 qualifying and he blitzed Prost by 1.4 seconds

1988 Japan, stalling and dropping to 14th before reeling in Prost for the win and title

Monaco 1992 and he holds off the vastly superior Williams to secure the win

Donington 1993 absolutely sublime opening lap…

Estoril 1985 and the 1st win, by over a minute, in the wet, having lapped everyone up to Alborto in 2nd…

and then there are the moments which would be unnacceptable today…

Estoril 1988 and pushing Prost to the wall

Magny Cours 1991 and taking pole going backwards after deliberately spinning his Mclaren (neat trick though, and indicative of his absolute desire to win)

Silverstone 1993 and almost colliding with Prost with a single minded purpose of not having his rival pass…

and yet…and yet…after all was said and done, a quiet, introspective man, who wanted to do his best to uplift the poorest in his native country…who, on the morning of his death welcomed his old foe and greatest rival Alain Prost with the words “Welcome old friend, we miss you” as the Frenchman did commentary on the race…

as enigmatic as he was fast…he will always be a legend


It was 1984 when I started watching F1 regularly. By the time Senna joined F1 I was already a Prost fan. Its incredible how our heros in sport help shape our opinions because when I watched Senna in the wet I always thought – whats this guy doin hes going to wipe some people out- to some extent that still holds true- because we always want people to avoid those sticky situations and being on the very edge meant there was no scope for avoidance.Monaco 88 made me rebalance my view of what was possible because the speed difference to others was quite immense ( similarly several other occasions- particularly in the wet). It did not surprise me at all when I heard him say he “became almost detached from himself”, as I had experienced similar things in sport and training even work where I / those around me could not explain what happened. I think positive people with a constant passion to improve themselves can sometimes tap into something great something inexplicable.

What made Senna exceptional was his passion, to deliver the very best of himself not only on the track but also in the delivery of forthright words off track to improve F1. His actions and words in 1989 after being pushed off track- then coming back & beating Prost. to subsequently being disqualified for leaving the track, showed what a remarkable guy he was- I lost much respect for Prost as a man that weekend and that piece of ¥€¥ FIA president for his shameful political intervention on that race. I think the word that is often overlooked is passion because if you dont have this – you cannot reach those dizzy heights- Senna had that in bucket loads and reflected it in other things he did with charity.

I remember watching the race in 1994 .The coverage rightfully left us hoping for the best for the few minutes after. It was about 15 minutes in when hope was lost. It was very surreal after Rolands passing on saturday, and Rubens accident on Friday. It was disbelief that a high level sport could be so tragic all at once. It was a very empty feeling.

I have not read any books or seen the Senna movie & probably never will. Not sure I feel the need to “commercialise” my experience of his actual words and racing when he was here.


A bit like Hamilton today I had massive respect for his talent but found it hard to warm to him – I was a kid when I started watching F1 in the Eighties and remember an interview with first him and then Prost prior to one of the Monaco GPs and his intensity and slightly paranoid attitude had me rooting for Prost.

Total respect to the guy though especially for his generosity and charity work.


All deaths are very hard to take…

The greatest trait of Ayrton was his generosity. Sadly, this is something people are not generally characterized by. He really wanted to change things around him: from grand prix safety issues to helping children. He wanted to make the world a better place to live…


I remember Senna’s death vividly because I was watching it with my father, who had recently been diagnosed as terminally ill. When he crashed, he turned to me and asked: “Was that Senna?” I said yes and I can remember the butterflies in my stomach – it’s like a little movie that still plays now and then. For me that weekend and my father’s last few months are always linked. It was such a beautiful day in England that first Sunday in May and it all seemed somehow so unreal. I guess it’s like when people say they remember where they were when JFK, Lennon etc was announced, things get frozen in time.


For me, taking words from the Italian song “Marmellata#25” by Cesar Cremonini it says, “Ah! Da quando Senna non corre più…Non è più domenica! “Ah, when Senna no longer races, it’s no longer Sunday.”

Thanks for all the great Sunday mornings.



May 1st, 20 years back, I took my bicycle to a 12th grade summer tuition class for Maths. I had watched F1 on Star Sports (India) on & off, not very regularly in a friend’s house as we couldn’t afford cable bills then. There was quite a commotion in the tuition class that Senna just crashed and the accident could be fatal. Unfortunate to say that, this incident had triggered my interest in the sport and for the last 20 years I’ve enjoyed it as my favourite sport.


Maestro,you deserve to be praised.After you there is no one else.RIP


Some may vilify Schumacher for the way he conducted himself on the podium in ’94 at Imola, but I personally am saddened that he is unable to be a part of the remembrance for Senna and Ratzenberger this weekend, I’m sure it would have meant a lot to him as he idolized Senna to some extent. Can’t believe it’s been 20 years…


I don’t care much for celebrity nor do I ever forget that sport is just a game and in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really matter. That said, Senna was something more than just a sportsman, more than just a racing driver. An absolute icon of the 20th century. What a legend!!


I was too young to watch Senna live or during that time, I was born in 1992. However, when you look at YouTube videos, and the stopwatch, he was probably one of the greatest drivers you could probably ever see, and definitely the fastest.


Senna, Adelaide, Qualifying, Turn 1 chicane – you had to be there to absorb it. Fantastic.


Thinking of Ayrton and Roland today. I started watching F1 in 1997 so i missed Senna racing but ive since watched a lot of his races and he was amazing to watch both on and off the track.

Im sure Michael would have been there today to pay his respects to his hero.


20 years have gone by and I still struggle to comprehend the events of that weekend.

Roland and Ayrton: always remembered with respect and affection.

rob in victoria bc

Rest in peace Ayrton and Roland. You were what I wish l was.

And l think of Michael every day.

Craig in Manila

1985 Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide.

The first GP that I ever attended.

I was 17.

Standing on the fenceline on the Saturday and hearing (feeling) the cars coming for the first time.

Seeing the black’n’gold lotus with yellow helmet flash past at a million miles per hour.

Senna stuck the Lotus on pole :

– SEVEN TENTHS ahead of Mansell in the Williams Honda

– TWO SECONDS ahead of Rosberg in the other Williams and Prost in the McLaren

– THREE SECONDS ahead of De Angelis in the other Lotus

He was my hero from that day.

I remember watching Imola ’94 on TV late at night (from Oz), seeing the crash and the aftermath, and knowing from the tone of the commentators’ voices that it was bad.

To this day, F1 is still my favourite sport but, for me, it was never the same after that night. There would be no other hero.


Sounds like we lived the same experiences. I became a fan of Senna’s from the first Adelaide GP for the very same reason. I still remember hearing the news that he’d passed away over the 2 way on night shift in a mine in the Pilbara. I honestly couldn’t believe it.


My memory of Senna isn’t on the track, it’s of Adelaide 1987. My wife & I were staying in the same hotel as Senna & the McLaren Team, we got in the lift to go down to breakfast on the Friday morning & Senna was already standing in there.

We wished him Good Morning & despite us wearing Williams clothing he was charm itself, chatting away to us & signing our programmes for us. As we left the lift he bowed to my wife, kissed her hand then shook hands with me & hoped we would have an enjoyable weekend.

That chance encounter was all it took for both of us to become fans of his, although we still supported Williams. I still have that programme, framed & on the wall of my office.

Martin (England)

I dont doubt your story but Senna was driving for Lotus in 87 and he had a high regard for Williams as Frank gave him his first taste of F1 with a test in 83 and Senna had stayed at Franks before, they were friends.


It may have been 1988, it was a long time ago.

My memory is not what it was considering the first Gran Prix I attended was at Aintree in 1955


I was no fan of Senna, indeed in the years before 1994, I was a Prost supporter, but Senna’s death was still a significant moment in my life. He was the first person in my life to die, and the significance of him to any F1 fan means that him suddenly being taken was quite shocking, not least because he was the reference point as ‘the best’. It is easy to mythologise a personality like Senna, who was deeply spiritual, rather mercurial and certainly very charismatic. I don’t really buy into the hype and mythology built up around him since his passing and just as I remember his amazing talent and achievements, I also remember also often questionable behaviour in and out of the car. However there can be no doubt, in retrospect, that his passing marked a turning point in the history of the sport – the odd thing is that I think Senna detected that, if not in having a premonition of his death, then in appreciating the challenge that Schumacher represented and the anticipating the shifting of the balance of power in the sport’s commercial, political and competitive make-up.

On a more personal, but irrelevant (and blackly comic) point, in 1994 I took part in what must have been one of the first ‘Fantasy F1′ games, run by Top Gear magazine. For one of my drivers, I chose Alesi, who was ruled out of three races (including Imola) with an injury after a crash in testing. I chose Jordan as my chassis, and after Rubens’ crash on Friday in Imola, I remember saying to my mate “bloody hell, all my team seems to do is crash”. How bizarrely prophetic a couple of days later when you appreciate my chosen lead driver was – yes, Senna. And in a final twist, my engine was the Sauber-Mercedes, a team knocked sideways by Wendlinger’s awful crash at Monaco two weeks later. Needless to say, I’ve not done Fantasy F1 since!


Unfortunately I hadn’t caught on to F1 at the time (although I do remember hearing about Senna’s death), so all I really know about him is what I got from watching the Senna documentary.

Clearly he was a great driver and he was unquestionably one of the best, but there have been many drivers over the years who have had a lot of success in F1.

For me what made him a great person (as opposed to just a great driver) was how he used that success to lift up and help the people back in his home country.

He’ll always be remembered in F1, but I believe that the Senna foundation is his real legacy.


That’s a very good point Random, Senna has probably done more for poor young infants in Brazil than the Brazilian government…….

Do you know what, I regret that I never visited Silverstone when Ayrton was in his pomp. I would have loved to see him attacking the likes of Copse, Becketts/Maggots, Stowe et al with his usual full commitment. I’ve seen the likes of Mika, Michael, Kimi, Rubens, Lewis, Fernando, Jenson, Mark, Sebastian, Daniel, the Hulk etc manhandling the awesome mega fast Maggots/Becketts complex with great skill and courage, but I bet Senna flowing his car through arguably (along with Eau Rogue and 130R) the most daunting corners in Formula 1 racing must have been something special.


Here’s something you might be interested in:

James posted it quite a while back, but back then I don’t think you were gracing us with your presence yet so you might not have seen it 😉



Cheers Random.

Mind you, back in the late 80s/early 90s, McLaren used to test at circuits around Southern England and Wales such as Castle Combe, Pembrey, Thruxton and Brands Hatch. Oh to be a spectator even on a test day! I’m not sure if Senna himself tested the Macca at all these venues, although I’m pretty sure Ayrton and Prost were at Pembrey for a high downforce test prior to Monaco 1989 – it was also where Ron Dennis tried to solve their “spat” after Imola 1989.

kenneth chapman

am i the only one who is heartily sick of all the hyper ‘conspicuous compassion’ surrounding senna?

it seems endemic these days to flood the cyber universe with all this rubbish.

yes, senna was a gifted driver but the cult that has grown out of his demise is pathetic and symptomatic. people tend to forget that senna was a flawed character who’s actions would not be tolerated on the GP tracks/races of today.

he had very little respect for other drivers and was solely focused on getting a result even at the expense of other drivers races. people say he was ‘driven’,so that is supposed to make it OK! well not so IMO.


I didn’t watch Senna in those years as I was a little child, but I remember the news about him and his death. Recently I watched the documentary Senna and without knowing too much about him I could see a kind of depressing documentary, with the porpoise of elevating the image of Senna against the world and make Prost and French FIA look like the bad guys, but somehow I got the opposite, similar to your commentary, I had a good image of him just because of what I have heard, but I didn’t like what I saw in that documentary. The tunnel vision when he crashed in Monaco for example seems to me like an excuse, why not saying jut that he lost concentration?, that is normal and human, tunnel vision is like goddess. Nevertheless, I respect his discipline, effort and passion and the legacy that after him, security increased and we haven’t seen those tragic deaths anymore.

kenneth chapman

@ alex…you make some interesting observations there and in the main i concur.


Thankfully somebody thinking the same as me. Thanks kenneth.

kenneth chapman

@ dutch johhny…. and i thought i was the only one swimming against the tide. your comment is appreciated. thank you

kenneth chapman

@ dutch johhny…, am being attacked from all sides. hahaha


And yet this same individual donated huge amounts of money to poor children in Brazil without any fanfare.

Pretty easy to paint a very one dimensional picture about a very complicated individual.

kenneth chapman

@ benM…….so what? lots of people do things to help out but subsequently they are not portrayed as being ‘god like’.

FYI i have paid and supported the full education of a poor young balinese girl for many many years but i don’t shout it out. apart from my family you are the first one [ now plus all the other posters] that i have told. it means absolutely nothing in the totality of things apart from some fleeting personal pleasure.

this happens to be an F1 site and my comments were attributed to senna’s F1 involvement. senna was messed up in the head. he could be friendly/ easy going and charming when it suited him and then he could go out and deliberately drive into a team mate forcing him off the track. is this the kind of person you look up to? i am all for hard wheel to wheel racing but these actions are the work of idiots. definitely not sportsmanlike.

however,each to his own opinion but i don’t buy the ‘halo’.

kenneth chapman

@ littleredkelpie…. my reaction is far from being over the top and ridiculous.

you have missed the point entirely but then again so have so many!!.

i will simply state that by my observation the masses have been out in force eulogising the 20th year since senna died and my point is that senna was just another driver who was fast but flawed. the media use this event to promote a mythology by whipping up fervour amongst devotees to the extent of massive overkill.

i know that it is three weeks between races and that there is very little news of any import floating around. it is in some ways similar to the internet bombing when shumacher had his accident.

you use the term ‘ferocious’ in the sense that you appear to condone senna’s on track behaviour. sorry, but i reject that analysis. anyone can drive like a lunatic and that is the best way to describe some of senna’s actions. i take it then that you support maldonado et al and his style of driving then?


by any measure your reaction to the alleged deification of Senna is equally over-the-top and just as ridiculous.

I agree with you that today’s overly-sanitised F1 would be no place for such a strong personality as Senna (among others), but unlike you, I believe this is F1’s sad loss and one of the reasons it has become such a yawn to watch. Instead of ferocious competitiveness we are left to endure endless interviews with drivers who simply speak in cliches to avoid upsetting the sponsors and ludicrous on track contrivances (fake sparks, really???) as the keepers of the rulebook try to regain what has been lost. If F1 is no place for a ferocious competitor, then, what the hell is it?


I will never forget the day the great Ayrton Senna passed away. My dad being his No1 fan, woke me up from my slumber at around midnight the night of the grand prix (Australian time) with tears streaming down his face. He uttered the words, “buddy, Senna just died”. i myself sobed all night knowing what the world had just lost. Our hero, an icon. RIP Senna and Roland

German Samurai

He was certainly a very charismatic personality. Maybe the most. He’s a deity of sorts in F1. Almost mythical. It’s incredible the role charisma plays in shaping peoples perceptions in F1. It’s unlike any other sport.

Schumacher is widely hounded to this day as a “cheat” or “dirty driver” for what happened in the final races of 94 and 97 despite being low speed incidents (not excusing what happened). People were similarly appalled by his move on Barrichello in Hungary 2010.

Yet Senna is largely celebrated or excused for suicidal moves such as ramming Prost off the track at high speed at Suzuka 1990 or nearly forcing Prost into the pit wall at Estoril 1988. Senna was prepared to risk dying in order to gain a position. I don’t think this is something that should be ignored, excused or let alone celebrated in an era where safety was primitive. IMO this was most likely the manifestation of some kind of borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. Funnily enough these traits only added to the Senna mystique.

Schumacher in the final races of 94 and 97 made poor, spur -of-the-moment decisions that his detractors will often point to in order to diminish his accomplishments and ability.

Senna’s decision to take out Prost at high speed was premeditated. People excuse it to this day.

You see it today with Vettel vs Alonso. Alonso has made a point of creating a mystique and narrative around himself. Hamilton tries but he has no real charisma.

Vettel can do nothing right. Alonso can do no wrong.

Could you imagine Senna being told on the radio to move over because Prost had caught up to him? I couldn’t, and wouldn’t have wanted to see it.

kenneth chapman

@ german samurai…. the numerous instances that you have commented on are in total sympathy with what i have been stating for a very long time.

those very deeds are the work of a dangerous head case and no whitewash will alter that fact.

if anyone had been killed as a result would the world still proclaim senna as the ‘messiah’? hardly.

the fact that barrachello is still alive amazes me. shumachers move on him in hungary 2010 shows just how he came within a whisker of being sent down the ‘road to glory’. recently i reviewed the footage which was posted from a head on view that i hadn’t seen before. there is no light between the car and the wall….cms at the most!

moments like these send a chill down the spine and make me question the motives of people like senna/shumacher. why are they so revered when they have committed such despicable acts?


I was curious and made 2 screenshots when they came closest



Prost has a meter to the wall, Rubinho has some 10 centimeters


In 1989 Senna and Prost collided due to Prost turning in on Senna .Amazingly Senna still won the race .The then president of the FIA Jean marie balestre got senna unfairly disqualified on a stupid technicality thus handing the title to Prost.

In 1990 Senna ran prost off the track because despite him getting pole they refused to shift the pole position to the clean side of the track again courtesy Frenchman Jean marie balestre who always favoured Alain prost who was also French.

This coupled with his unjust disqualification the previous year and the drivers briefing the previous day where Senna was picked on provoked him to say that if Prost got ahead he would not back off at the first corner and he made good his words.

Senna did what he did because of his principles unlike Schumacher who only did it for his selfish greed . It is widely known in the F1 world that Schumacher cheated in 1994 with illegal traction control fuelling rigs etc .this cheating has been a recurrent theme throught his chequered career 1994,1997 2006 etc to brush this off as spur of the moment decisions is laughable and simply stupid

German Samurai

Well, there you go. Exactly like I said. Senna is celebrated for premeditatively ramming Prost off the circuit at high speed. It’s one of the most appalling acts you will ever see in professional sport, let alone F1.

And like I already said, Senna most likely had some kind of undiagnosed borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. His claims against Schumacher, against Prost, against the FIA are manifestations of this disorder in the form of a persecution complex. Senna was ungracious in defeat. All that mattered was that he won and how that was achieved was irrelevant.

That Prost in 1990 was able to take the championship down to the final races in the inferior Ferrari made Senna reach breaking point.


I dont think Senna is celebrated for the Suzuka move on Prost, far from it, he received a lot of criticism at the time and deservedly so. Senna is celebrated for all the amazing things he did in racing cars, but no one is perfect and has anentirely un blemished career.


@german samurai … your armchair psychiatry is one-eyed rubbish at best. Will the real narcissist please stand up!?

kenneth chapman

@ german samurai….i fully agree 100%. people just don’t wish to face reality when it comes to the manufactured mythology attributed to senna and to a lesser degree, shumacher.


Thanks for this terrific post Clyde as it sums up why he was so different. I will never forget his incident with Prost in 1989 & his determination to win was sensational. Equally his fight against the rotten politics that took it away from him. His leadership on the issues of the grid spot / politics and other track matters really set him apart. You could see in the press conferences that he was forthright and explained the principles that he followed.


How different those times were back then!

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