Ayrton Senna: 29 Years of Immortality
Written by Sasha Macmillen
"I want to live fully, very intensely. I would never want to live partially, suffering from illness or injury. If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs me my life, I hope it happens in an instant."
And so proclaimed the late Ayrton Senna. In the eyes of many, the greatest Formula One driver of all time. Whilst he may not have the most titles, the most wins, nor the most poles, what he holds is a dear place in the hearts of millions, in Brazil and around the world. It's with the benefit of hindsight, that the tragedy of this quote is revealed, and the memory of the dark day that was the 1st of May 1994.
Three times a world champion, Ayrton Senna was revered by his Brazilian contingent, as an idol of pride in a time of difficulty. Touching his fans in Japan too, through his Honda connections, Senna is immortal in his legacy. A man who could only live life in the fast lane, with 100% commitment, had his life cruelly taken away on this day 29 years ago. A memoir of a cursed weekend, in which we also witnessed a horrific accident for Rubens Barrichello and a fatal crash for Roland Ratzenberger. An under-pressure Senna would recite his morning prayers, and doubtful over whether he would race, headed to the track.
Unaware of his fate that weekend, Senna was still superb. In a diva Williams car, Senna took his final pole position by over three tenths of a second, ahead of Michael Schumacher in a dominant Benetton. Also quickest in Sunday's warm-up, the Brazilian's mental fortitude was astounding, when later revealed discussions clearly revealed his concerns. Another worrying accident at the start of Sunday's grand prix brought out the safety car, but afterwards Senna was immediately on the pace, setting the third fastest lap of the entire race. An inch-perfect execution in precision, his twitchy Williams was tamed by the Brazilian's pristine driving, under pressure from Michael Schumacher. Little did he know that it would be his last lap.
On lap 7 of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna's car left the track at Tamburello, and hit the wall at 211km/h(131mph). The violence of the impact caused a piece of suspension to penetrate his helmet visor, causing fatal head trauma. Aside from his neurological state, Senna didn't have a broken bone in his body. If that piece of suspension impacted six inches either way, he would've walked away from the crash. To this day, 29 years later, the exact cause of the crash has never been determined, and likely never will be.
The shock of the moment was inevitable. Whether it be Murray Walker's cry of "Senna!" or Michael Schumacher's muted emotions, Formula One had been darkened. Juan Manuel Fangio stated that he knew Senna was dead immediately after seeing the accident. As news would broke later that evening of Senna's ultimate passing, shock grew to grief.
You would only need to watch footage of the Brazilian legend's state funeral, to understand the importance of the man to Brazilian people. Formula One legends and close friends attended, including Alain Prost as a pallbearer. The legacy he left in the sport of Formula One is immortal, enshrined in the tragedy of his death.
Yet from every grave negative, stems a positive. The changes implemented following the Imola weekend would hugely improve Formula One safety, with technical changes implemented by the FIA in response to safety concerns raised. Whilst the mystery of Ayrton Senna's death may remain forever, his memory deserves to be more than the story of it.
He deserves remembrance for the people he touched, and for the impact of his foundation. The Ayrton Senna Foundation educates millions of Brazilian children every year, in a country where inequality remains rife. His image and legacy have allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to have been pumped into Brazilian society.
He deserves remembrance for his qualities as a driver. Whether that be his masterful Monaco laps, or his brilliant overtaking manoeuvres, his driving will eternally be admired, as if it was his gift of god. 29 years on, we remember Ayrton Senna, eternally immortal.