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On This Day: Senna dies at Imola

On This Day: Senna dies at Imola

F1 News

On This Day: Senna dies at Imola

On This Day: Senna dies at Imola

Formula 1 lost one of its icons in the most tragic of circumstances on this day 25 years ago as Ayrton Senna died at the San Marino Grand Prix. The Brazilian great passed away after a sickening crash at the Tamburello corner at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola.

The event was already laced with tragedy after the death of Roland Ratzenberger during qualifying. The Austrian's damaged Simtek left the track at 190mph at the Villeneuve Corner and smashed into concrete barriers, causing a fatal skull fracture. Senna's protégé Rubens Barrichello had also escaped unharmed from a huge crash on the Friday as the track's dangers were made apparent.

Senna, one of the sport's most vociferous campaigners for driver safety, was badly shaken by both incidents - he was reportedly the first face Barrichello saw when he regained consciousness in the medical centre.

Following Ratzenberger's incident, Senna was again quick on the scene, inspecting the shredded car after Ratzenberger had been taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

When back in the paddock, Senna was told of Ratzenberger's demise by F1's medical chief Sid Watkins, who tried to convince the Brazilian not to take part in the race.

In his memoirs, Watkins recalled telling Senna: "What else do you need to do? You have been world champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let's go fishing."

But Senna said he was unable to quit and lined up first on the grid, ahead of the Benetton of Michael Schumacher.

There was more drama off the line come race day as Pedro Lamy ploughed into the back of the stalled Benetton of JJ Lehto, bringing out the safety car - only the third time it had been used in F1 at this point - with Senna previously a critic of how the process made tyres and brakes too cold.

Upon the restart, Senna maintained the lead over Schumacher for the first lap, but he left the track at Tamburello on his second, hitting concrete walls at approximately 130 mph.

The huge impact gave way to immediate visual proof. Senna's Williams had been near demolished, with the right side of the car almost completely ripped away.

Senna suffered multiple fatal head injuries as elements of the chassis slammed into him. Watkins was among the medical staff quickly on the scene and said of Senna: "He looked serene. I raised his eyelids and it was clear from his pupils that he had a massive brain injury. We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did, he sighed and, although I am not religious, I felt his spirit depart at that moment."

He was transferred to intensive care by helicopter, but was confirmed dead later that evening. When marshals inspected the wreckage of his car they discovered an Austrian flag that Senna had carried with him, intending to tribute Ratzenberger as he crossed the line.

Schumacher won the race, with another champion-in-waiting, Mika Hakkinen, on the podium. No champagne was sprayed and the German bullishly said after the race: "It's not a good feeling, I can't feel happy. What happened this weekend... I've never seen something like this. Not just one thing, so many things. I hope we learn from this, we have to use this - things like this shouldn't happen without taking the experience from it."

Indeed Senna's passing was a catalyst for further improvements in cockpit safety that continue to be developed to this day.

Ratzenberger and Senna were the first drivers to lose their lives at an F1 event in 12 years. In the quarter of a century since, only one driver - Jules Bianchi - has died as a result of injuries suffered during an F1 event.

As much as his legacy as a driver means Senna remains one of the most cherished grand prix drivers of all time, former FIA chief Max Mosely told of the wider impact his untimely death had: "That Imola weekend was the catalyst for change on the roads that has literally, without question, saved tens of thousands of lives."

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