Ayrton Senna's legacy of safety 20 years on from his death
Tributes pour in for the Brazilian great as F1 fraternity marks his death at Imola
THIS week sees the 20th anniversary of the death of Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna and tributes to the great Brazilian driver have been pouring in. The three-time world champion died in a crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix on 1 May 1994, at the age of 34.
There is no F1 race this weekend but the Imola circuit will host four days of tributes to both Senna and Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger, who died in qualifying on the same track a day earlier. Drivers past and present will attend a service at Tamburello corner, where Senna lost control of his car and crashed at 190mph.
He is described as "one of the most revered sportspeople of all time" by the Daily Mail, and his contemporary, British driver Nigel Mansell, told the BBC that Senna would be remembered as a "true thoroughbred racer" who would leave "no stone unturned" in his quest for victory.
"I was blessed to drive against so many great drivers but Ayrton certainly stood out most among them," he added. Damon Hill, Jackie Stewart and Frank Williams, who believes he would have become president of Brazil, have also paid their respects.
In Brazil, Corinthians, the football team he supported, took to the field in yellow and green helmets (the colours Senna wore) ahead of their match against Paulista yesterday.
His greatest rival, Alain Prost, the man Senna famously ran off the track in the final race of 1990 to ensure he won the title, described him as an "exceptional guy" but told Autosport he did not want to "celebrate" the anniversary. The pair were involved in a bitter feud by the time Senna died, although Prost now insists that the pair shared a deep respect and could even be described as "friends".
Senna drove on the "limit of control" says Richard Williams in The Guardian and his "greatest moments were some of the finest ever witnessed in the sport". He fitted the Hollywood model of the F1 driver, but that is not all. "Something else, something more mysterious, captivated not just the fans who continue to revere his memory but later generations of drivers to whom he represents a permanent reference point."
However, his greatest legacy may be the improved safety standards in the sport. "When Senna died, there was outrage. Politicians in Italy, the home of Ferrari and perhaps the most F1-obsessed country in the world, called for the sport to be banned," writes Daniel Johnson in the Daily Telegraph. "His death was a crystallising moment, which enabled the agenda of safety to be truly embraced."
The sentiment is echoed by Kevin Eason in The Times, who recalls the fate of Senna's heir, Michael Schumacher, currently in a coma in a hospital in France after a ski accident.
"It is the saddest testimony to the remarkable improvements to safety in F1 that the most high-profile, life-threatening injury to befall a driver in recent times happened on a ski slope," he says. ·