In Life Unbeatable, In Death Irreplaceable
It was 1993 that I got a taste of the sport of Formula One. Motorsport to me, started with Motorcycle Grand Prix with Kevin Schwantz having won the 500 CC Moto GP World championship with Aussie Micheal Doohan in fourth place. Began to follow that series and was a great fan of Michael Doohan who went on to win 5 consecutive world championships with Repsol Honda. He met with a serious accident in 1999 and retired from the sport. Valentino Rossi who was racing the 125 cc league at that time has now, in 2005 became a 5 time champion and is considering a move to Formula One.
Satellite Television had just then made inroads into India and Prime Sports began to telecast Formula One races. 1988 to 1993 was a golden era in Formula One. Never has one seen such fierce battles for world championships. Two of the greats during the late 80s and early 90s included Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. They were team mates at Mclaren Honda for 2 years and their dominance in the sport was such, that between the two of them they shared all but one of the wins (1988). They were competing with each other in each race. Its been nearly 13 years eversince, the world of F1 is yet to see such a battle. Such was their rivalry, that they never saw eye to eye, and have taken each other out on many occasions.
At the end of the 1993 season, World Champion Prost retired from Williams and Senna took his spot to partner Damon Hill. At the start of the season, Michael Schumacher's Benetton Ford was the best in class with the Williams of Senna a distant second.
Ayrton Senna was a KING of qualifying. He would drive out during qualifying in the last 1.5 minutes of the session and start his hot lap 10 seconds before the close of the session. It would take Senna just 1 hot lap to set pole position. Such was his focus and concentration and talent. His record of 65 pole positions is yet to be beaten 12 years after his death.
Monaco GP - A claustrophobic track which requires drivers to drive carefully under dry conditions, Senna would lap the field under wet. He still maintains a record of most wins in the principality of Monaco.
Failing to finish in the first two races in 1994 despite starting from pole position, Senna arrived at Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix. It was indeed a jinxed weekend and the darkest the Formula One circus has ever seen. During Friday's practice, Rubens Barichello, in his rookie year met with a serious shunt that kept him out of the race. He was Senna's protege.
On Saturday, Roland Ratzenberger met with a fatal accident that brought the Formula One world to shock. Senna took it upon himself to convince Prof. Sid Watkins (F1 Chief Neuro surgeon) to review the driver safety standards. Two accidents, one fatal made Senna think if he wanted to be in Formula One. Despite the death of Ratzenberger on Saturday morning practice, Senna, determined to do well in the race set pole position for the next days race, his third for Williams and third of the 3 races in 1994.
Sunday morning at the grid formation, Adriana Gilestu, Senna's then girlfriend recalls that Senna was unsure if he should race considering the events of the last two days. He nearly did not want to drive that day. But his close friend Gerhard Berger convinced him to do so. As so started the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix with Senna on pole and Michael Schumacher in second.
At the lights turned green, there was a huge accident at the back of the grid that took off literally the last four rows of the grid. Safety car was brought in and it took six laps under the safety car to clean the debris at the start -finish. The safety car dives into the pits at the end of lap 6. And the race is underway. Two corners later the pack headed by Senna approached the Tamburello corner, then a high speed left hander (now a slow left -right- left corner). Senna's car went off the track at approximately 190 miles per hour and rammed into the unprotected concrete wall. Pre 1994 there was no concept of tire barriers that we see today.
Generally after an accident, the driver gets out of the car ASAP to avoid an electrical fire. But Senna was unmoved, his car completely destroyed. Race was stopped. Prof. Sid Watkins was the first to arrive at the scene to attend on Senna who was then air lifted to the hospital in an unconscious state.
Causes for Senna's accident is still unknown. It is speculated that the front right tyre along with the attached suspension became loose on impact, hit Senna on the head, pierced his visor leading to severe frontal brain injury. Senna's battered helmet shows a puncture just above his right eye. It was also speculated that an unusually long safety car period had reduced the pressure in Senna's tyres, lowering the car, leading to sudden reduction of downforce and hence grip.
Race was restarted and Michael Schumacher won the ill-fated race. Senna was pronouced dead due to severe brain damage. Rules of Formula One changed after May 1, 1994.
His memorial service was attended by Formula One's greatest. Alain Prost who was Senna's advisory on track was there to see off his worst enemy with utmost respect for the man he loved to hate. Recently Michael Schumacher was inconsolable in a post race press conference after passing one of Senna's records, the only time I have seen Michael in the last 13 years emotional. Such was Senna's contribution to the world of F1.
In Brazil, Senna was a living God. The only other person to be worshipped was football ace Pele. After his death, Ayrton Senna Foundation was created that helps and works with the poor and needy of Brazil till date. On track, he was aggressive, unforgiving and drove to perfection. Off track he was a very quite and a religious man. His dual personality in his character was made evident when track officials found a bloodsoaked Austrian flag in Senna's cockpit. It was the flag that Senna was going to wave and raise on his victory lap in honor of Ratzenberger who had died on that track less than 24 hours ago.
To honor Aryton Senna's acheivement in F1 and Monaco GP (next race of the season), P1 was not occupied by anyone in the race of 1994.
An excerpt from Senna's newly release DVD "Official Tribute To Ayrton Senna". In his own words "On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit and you go for this limit and you touch this limit and you think, ok, this is the limit. As soon as you touch this limit,
something happens and you realise that you can suddenly go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and your experience as well, you can fly very high."
Indeed In Life Unbeatable, In Death Irreplacable.
Ayrton senna Da Silva (1960 -1994)
May 1, 1994, an evening I cannot ever forget.
My tribute to my greatest F 1 Driver of all times.