To lovers of the popular sports, this name Ayrton Senna da Silva will almost simply strike you as strange. Not in Motorsports, the history of this game continues to stand up for this man.
Born on the 21st of March 1960, São Paulo, Brazil, Ayrton Senna da Silva professionally known as Senna, a maternal middle name he used for some kind of individuation owing to the commonplace of da Silva as a surname in Brazil, began his Motorsports career in karting , moving up to wheel racing in 1981 and winning the 1983 British Formula Three Championship.
In 1984, he made his formula One debut with Toleman Hart, before moving to Lotus Renault the following year and winning Six Grands Prix over the next three seasons. In 1988, he joined Prost at McLaren Honda. Between them, they won all but one of the 16 Grands Prix that year, and Senna claimed his first Championship. He would go on to claim his second and third Championships in 1990, 1991, and 1992, whereupon the Williams – Renault combination began to dominate Formula One. Senna nevertheless finished the 1993 season as a runner up, winning five races and chalking a move to Williams in 1994. Recognized for his qualifying speed over the lap, and from 1989, until 2006 he held the record for most pole positions.
Famous for his wet weather performances; a halo that gained further glow in the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, the 1993 European Grand Prix and the1994 Monaco Grand Prix. He holds a record 6 victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, he’s the 5th most successful driver of all time in terms of race wins and has won more races for McLaren than any other driver. Senna was renowned throughout his career for his capacity to provide very specific technical details about the performances of his cars and track conditions long before the emergence of telemetry.
In 1994 the San Marino Grand Prix was held on the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit located in Imola, Italy, between 28 April, and 1 May 1994. The European leg of the F1 season, starting at Imola, was traditionally considered the beginning of the year competition. Senna, who did not finish the two opening races of the season, declared that this was where his season would start, with 14 races, as opposed to 16, in which to win the title. Williams brought modified FW16s to Imola in an attempt to improve the car’s handling. During the afternoon qualifying session, Senna’s compatriot and protégé Rubens Barrichello was involved in a serious accident when his car became airborne at the Variante Bassa chicane and hit the tyre-wall and fence. Barrichello suffered a broken nose and arm, and withdrew from the event. Barrichello reported that Senna was the first person he saw upon regaining consciousness.
During Saturday qualifying, Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed after the front wing of his Simtek-Ford broke entering the 310 km/h (190 mph) Villeneuve corner, sending the car into the concrete retaining wall at high speed. Senna immediately visited the accident scene and medical centre. There he was met by FIA Medical Chief Professor Sid Watkins, who suggested to a tearful Senna that he should retire from racing and take up fishing (a hobby they both shared), to which Senna replied that he could not stop racing. Senna was later called in front of the stewards for commandeering an official car and climbing the medical centre fence, and a row ensued, although Senna was not punished. Senna spent his final morning on Sunday talking to former teammate and rival Alain Prost to discuss the re-establishment of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, a driver’s union, with the aim of improving safety in Formula One.
Prost had retired from the sport at the end of the 1993 season and was then a media presenter. As the most senior driver in competition, Senna offered to take the role of leader, starting from the next race in Monaco. During the drivers’ briefing, concerns had been raised about the mainly promotional use of a Porsche 911 lead car for the warm-up lap, with organizers agreeing to abandon the practice.
At the start of the Grand Prix, Senna retained the lead from his chief rival Michael Schumacher, but proceedings were soon interrupted by a startline accident. JJ Lehto’s Benetton-Ford stalled and was hit by the Lotus-Mugen Honda of Pedro Lamy. A wheel and debris landed in the main grandstand, injuring eight fans and a police officer. The safety car, a sporty version of the Opel Vectra medium family saloon, was deployed for several laps. However, the Vectra’s lack of speed proved detrimental to the racers, as the slower pace allowed the tyres of the Formula One cars to cool, thus decreasing their pressure. Senna pulled alongside the Vectra and gestured to the driver, Max Angelelli, to increase his speed. On lap 6, the race resumed and Senna immediately set a quick pace, completing the third-fastest lap of the race, followed by Schumacher.
As Senna rounded the high-speed Tamburello corner on lap 7, his car left the racing line at around 307 km/h (191 mph), ran in a straight line off the track, and hit the concrete retaining wall at around 233 km/h (145 mph), after what telemetry showed to be an application of the brakes for around two seconds. The red flag was shown as a consequence of the accident. Within two minutes of crashing, Senna was extracted from his race car by Watkins and his medical team, including intensive care anaesthetist Giovanni Gordini.
The initial treatment took place by the side of the car, with Senna having a weak heartbeat and significant blood loss from his temporal artery being ruptured. At this point, Senna had already lost around 4.5 litres of blood, constituting 90% of his blood volume. Because of Senna’s grave neurological condition, Watkins performed an on-site tracheotomy and requested the immediate airlifting of Senna to Bologna’s Maggiore Hospital under the supervision of Gordini.
At 18:40, the head of the hospital’s emergency department, Maria Teresa Fiandri made the announcement that Senna had died, but said the official time of death under Italian law was 14:17, which is when he impacted the wall and his brain stopped functioning. Watkins later said that as soon as he saw Senna’s fully dilated pupils, he knew that his brainstem was inactive and that he would not survive. The right-front wheel and suspension were believed to have been sent back into the cockpit, striking Senna on the right side of his helmet, forcing his head back against the headrest. A piece of upright attached to the wheel had partially penetrated his helmet and made a large indentation in his forehead. In addition, it appeared that a jagged piece of the upright assembly had penetrated the helmet visor just above his right eye. Senna sustained fatal skull fractures, brain injuries and a ruptured temporal artery, a major blood vessel supplying the face and scalp. According to Fiandri, any one of these three injuries would likely have killed him.
It was later revealed that when the medical staff examined Senna’s vehicle, a furled Austrian flag was discovered; he had intended to raise it in honour of Ratzenberger after the race. Photographs of Senna being treated on the track by emergency medical personnel were taken by Senna’s friend and Autosprint’s picture editor, Angelo Orsi. Out of respect, those photographs have never been made officially public.
1st May 1994 did not go away without Ayrton Senna and a big chunk of Motorsports excitement, at least in the 90s. Followers of Motorsports, largely those who have lived through the years of Senna’s dominance can hardly manage a glimpse of the sport without waking memories of the fatal passing of such a great performer. Fortunately for some Brazilians who had affixed so much passion on Motorsports because of the Senior football team’s then over 20 years failure to win the World Cup, the hurts and disappoinment were immediately doused by The Celeçao’s success at the USA 1994 World Cup the next month.
Source: Nana Kweku Bosomtwi