Ayrton Senna’s death happened 21 years ago today on May 1, 1994. The world of Formula One is taking the time to mark the somber anniversary of the tragic accident, which took the life of one of the most talented drivers in the history of the sport.
Senna was in the prime of his career when his Williams spun out of control in a curve and killed him. Millions of fellow Brazilians watched the images on their television screen stunned and later on turned out to bid him farewell when his body was brought back for his funeral, one of the largest the nation has ever seen.
Ayrton Senna’s death was certainly a shock to fans and foe, but what made it even more tragic was that the conditions during the San Marino Grand Prix at the Imola Circuit had worried the driver so much that he had lobbied Formula One to cancel the race. The conditions were so bad all weekend that Senna’s compatriot Rubens Barichello narrowly escaped with his life after a nasty accident.
However, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was not as lucky and was killed during qualifying April 30, 1994. Senna was so affected by the incident that he broke down in tears and seriously discussed his future in the sport with his close friend and the late F1 medical delegate Professor Sid Watkins.
But the veteran driver — who had retired early in the previous two races that year — decided to go ahead and participate in the San Marino Grand Prix, which went on despite an accident involving JJ Lehto and Pedro Lamy. Ayrton Senna was leading from the start when seemingly, out of nowhere, his car left the track during the seventh lap at the Tamburello at about 191 mph and hit the concrete barrier at 145 mph.
The red flag was raised, indicating an accident. Despite immediate attention from the medical teams stationed at the track, Ayrton Senna later died from severe injuries to his head. In the dramatic footage, fans watched in horror as the Brazilian’s limp body was pulled out of his Williams and rushed away to the hospital.
Ayrton Senna’s death is one of the darkest days in F1. The Brazilian brought fans hours of some of the best driving they had ever seen, and his famous rivalry with Alain Prost is what legend is made of.
Ayrton Senna’s death prompted the sport to change things in the car and helmet safety area. To this date, no other F1 driver has been killed during a race. Senna was 34-years-old at the time of his tragic death.
[Photo by Mike King/Getty Images]