Few drivers in Formula One history emotionally moved fans the way Ayrton Senna Di Silva did. He was a marvel. And it was 26 years ago today that we lost him in the Tamborello corner at San Marino.
I don’t know about you, but it feels like it just happened. The shock never left me. Of course, Senna was a different kind of driver. Deeply spiritual, the Brazilian believed he had a divine right to win every race he entered.
His technique was strange. He could make a F1 car dance in the rain like no other. He was adverse to the politics of F1, constantly challenging the powers that be — and fought battles that in many cases were only in his mind. The outspoken three-time World Driver’s Champion, was quick to counter criticism from anyone — including Jackie Stewart, a revered driver from years gone by.
The years he battled with Alain Prost were some of the most dramatic moments in F1. They genuinely hated each other, both as teammates and adversaries. Two world championships ended in the two crashing each other. Senna had no heroes and no fear.
Below is classic video from the documentary Senna (which can be seen in its entirety on Netflix) during the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix. He would later say he had an “out of body” experience as he powered the iconic McLaren MP4/4 through the tight corners of the Cote d’ Azure circuit in the tiny principality.
Six years on, the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix would be the darkest weekend in memory. Beginning with a horrific accident by then-rookie Rubens Barrichello. Fortunately the fellow countryman of Senna would recover from his injuries.
In qualifying, the Simtek of Roland Ratzenberger would crash heavily into the barriers at the Villeneuve kink and kill the young F1 rookie instantly. He suffered a basilar skull fracture — an injury since addressed by the mandated use of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device.
In the race, a crash Pedro Lamy and JJ Leto at the start launched a tire into the packed grandstands, injuring nine people. After a safety car period, the race resumed on lap 5. It was two laps later that Senna, battling with a young Michael Schumacher, mysteriously left the circuit at Tamborello. A front right suspension arm pierced the Brazilian’s helmet visor as the Williams glanced the concrete wall hard.
Watch the video above. Take it in. Take a moment to reflect. Then carry on.