Ayrton Senna: The Formula 1 star had a fatal accident 30 years ago

Ayrton Senna: The Formula 1 star had a fatal accident 30 years ago

It is the 30th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death. The accident in Imola was the low point of a black weekend in which two people died.

Michael Schumacher experienced the horror accident up close. The aspiring young star was driving directly behind the leader on that Black Sunday 30 years ago when he lost control of his Williams-Renault on the seventh lap of the San Marino Grand Prix and crashed into a concrete wall at an acute angle in the Tamburello curve . The Brazilian sat lifeless in the wreckage with his head tilted slightly to the side.

“Imola was a disaster. It couldn’t have been worse and there were very bitter days afterwards,” said Schumacher some time after the biggest tragedy in the premier class of motorsport in around four decades. For Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, the death of three-time champion Senna on May 1, 1994 was “as if Jesus had been nailed to the cross live.”

Senna crashed into the wall at 214 km/h

It was only around four hours after the terrible crash that Maria Teresa Sandri, the chief doctor at the Maggiore Clinic in Bologna, confirmed Senna’s death on the Italian broadcaster RAI at 6:05 p.m. Up until that moment there had still been hope that the 34-year-old racing driver could survive.

“I saw the accident because I was driving behind him,” said eyewitness Schumacher, who has been undergoing medical rehabilitation since a skiing accident in December 2013. “But I never thought it would be that bad.” When taking off, Senna raced at 321 kilometers per hour over the 5.04 kilometer long course. As the telemetry data showed, it crashed into the wall at 214 km/h. A broken steering column probably caused the accident. Apparently Senna himself requested their conversion. During the crash, he was badly hit by a front wheel that came loose and died from head injuries. Even after lengthy court proceedings, the exact circumstances were never clarified.

Schumacher thought about ending his career

With his three world championship titles, 41 victories and 65 pole positions, Senna is not only one of the most successful drivers in Grand Prix history. There was also a very special aura surrounding him. Hardly anyone could escape his charisma. “Senna was an incredibly charismatic guy, sensational in terms of driving, unbelievable in the rain. Simply an exception,” said three-time champion Niki Lauda to the specialist magazine “Auto, Motor und Sport” years after Senna’s death.

For Gerhard Berger, his long-time teammate at McLaren is “the most charismatic and the best racing driver” that he has met in his long career. “By far,” emphasized the Austrian. “No one was so smart, so ambitious, so focused. And I would even extend that to Michael Schumacher and today’s generation with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.”

Schumacher, who did not have a close personal relationship with Senna, also took his death seriously. “For a while I wasn’t sure whether I could and wanted to continue being a racing driver, whether I could continue driving like before,” he said two weeks after the horror weekend in Imola.

Ratzenberger also died on the black race weekend in San Marino

Senna’s death was just the sad low point of a terrible racing weekend. Rubens Barrichello miraculously survived a spectacular flight with his Jordan-Hart into a safety fence in the first qualifying session on Friday without any major injuries. On Saturday, Roland Ratzenberger had a fatal accident in the final training of what was only his third Grand Prix. Because of a broken wing on his Simtek Ford, the 33-year-old Austrian crashed head-on into the concrete barrier at 314 km/h in front of the Tosa curve.

At the European opener on Sunday there was the first loud bang at the start: the Portuguese Pedro Lamy crashed with full force into the stopped Benetton of the Finn JJ Lehto. Nine spectators were injured by flying vehicle parts. The race was neutralized behind the safety car – shortly after the restart the catastrophe happened to Senna.

But even after that, the third race of the season continued despite everyone’s dismay and horror after a 30-minute interruption. Schumacher achieved his third victory in the Benetton-Ford. “I can’t be happy about the victory in the slightest. Hopefully something like this never happens again,” said Schumacher at the subsequent press conference.

Finally, after Michele Alboreto’s pit stop on the 49th lap, four mechanics were injured when a wheel came loose. Spectators were also injured by a wheel flying over the roof of the stands.

Ayrton Senna looked serious and depressed

Senna was very upset by Ratzenberger’s death. The champ wanted to visit his colleague who was also flown to the Maggiore Clinic, but was forbidden from doing so. Before the race, Senna went to the scene of the accident. Senna seemed extremely serious and almost depressed all weekend.

After two retirements in the previous races, Senna was also under enormous sporting pressure. The clear title favorite moved to the world champion team Williams at the start of the season in order to complete his fourth World Cup triumph as the successor to his former teammate and intimate enemy Alain Prost. “I hope that the World Championships will now really begin for me in Imola,” he said before the Grand Prix in the “Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari”. Things were to turn out terribly differently.

What was improved afterwards: cars and courses safer

Michael Schumacher’s brother Ralf was on his way to Formula 1 when it happened. He had no doubts, he recalled in a dpa interview on the 30th anniversary of the terrible Imola weekend. It seemed somehow surreal, unimaginable. “It was just incredibly bad that something like that happened. It showed back then that there was still a lot to be done in terms of security,” he said.

Also because brother Michael got involved and was supported by the then World Automobile Association President Max Mosley and Ecclestone, Formula 1 significantly increased safety standards. “For those, like me, who then got into Formula 1, the subsequent improvements meant great luck. Be it the higher cockpits – the shoulders used to stick out – be it the Hans system or other changes “A lot happened there, thank God,” said Ralf Schumacher.

There were still serious accidents afterwards. Like Robert Kubica’s in Montreal in 2007. The car was just a wreck, three of the four wheels torn off, the front destroyed and the rear as well. Thanks to the safety cell, the Pole survived the crash almost uninjured, only sat out one race and won in Canada the following year.

Or Romain Grosjean’s fire accident in Bahrain. After 27 seconds, the Frenchman escaped the flames in 2020 and his car broke in two after hitting the guardrails. The fact that he survived was probably due to the increased safety in Formula 1. This also means that every serious accident is analyzed and processed in detail.

The last accident resulting in the death of a driver hit Formula 1 in Japan in 2014 when Jules Bianchi slipped his car under a recovery crane. He died as a result in the summer of the following year.

Source: Stern

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