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Ayrton Senna: 30 years on, an undisputed Monaco Grand Prix legend

30 years after his death, Ayrton Senna is still a household name © Sutton Image
30 years after his death, Ayrton Senna is still a household name © Sutton Image

Ayrton Senna, who died on 1 May 1994 at Imola, was an undisputed Formula 1 legend whose untimely death shocked the world.

30 years ago, the 1994 Formula 1 San Marino Grand Prix took place at Imola, a track renowned for its fast and dangerous turns. A Grand Prix in which two drivers were killed in as many days: Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna.


Two tragic deaths…

On the Saturday, during qualifying, the driver Roland Ratzenberger went off the track and crashed into the wall on the 3rd bend. The impact was extremely violent and the Austrian died instantly. The session was suspended and everyone was in shock, but nonetheless Formula 1 and the FIA decided to go ahead with the Grand Prix the following day.

Several drivers were reluctant to race following the crash, but they decided to take part in the Grand Prix in memory of Ratzenberger. As a chill ran through the paddock, Senna conferred with his team. He was extremely reluctant to compete in the race.

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This was one of his last F1 seasons and no one would have blamed him for not wanting to take the risk of racing, but he climbed into the cockpit on the Sunday after all.

The race started, with Senna in pole position, and he immediately opened up a huge lead on Schumacher, in second, in the early laps. In the sixth lap, at the first turn on the track, Senna lost control of his Williams and hit the concrete wall of the Tamburello corner, at nearly 300 kph.

Senna taking part in the last Grand Prix of his life in Imola in 1994 © X/ F1

The unresponsive Senna could be seen in his car, as the emergency services rushed on to the track as quickly as possible. The live images shocked the entire world. All the spectators held their breath, and Ayrton Senna was rushed to hospital in Bologna.

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The accident permanently scarred Formula 1 fans, leaving them with an indelible and horrific image of a legendary driver, the victim of a steering column snapping at the worst possible point on the circuit. The race was suspended, but the officials said nothing about the accident, wanting the race to get back underway. The Grand Prix restarted, and was won by Michael Schumacher followed by Larina and Hakkinen.

Everyone understood how serious the accident had been, however news of Senna’s death had still not come through when the prize ceremony was held, in sombre mood. The drivers, stunned by the crash, decided to forego the traditional champagne celebrations.

There were 12 non-finishers and 3 non-starters at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix . The track has been in use again, since 2020, for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The Tamburello corner was modified, with the addition of a slow chicane and a wide gravel pit to stop the cars.

Monaco, Ayrton Senna’s garden

Competing in his first Monaco Grand Prix in 1984, Senna raced in his humble Toleman and dazzled everyone with his talent. Starting in P13, he proved a real tightrope walker in the rain in Monaco and impressed everyone with his speed. He was faster than everyone by two seconds per lap, nearly taking the top step on the podium, which went instead to his future team mate Alain Prost.

Senna, second in his first Monaco Grand Prix, in 1984 © X/ F1

He finished an unexpected second, emerging as a serious contender for the Formula 1 championship. His first triumph in the Principality came two years later, in 1989, and he still the holds the record for the number of Monaco Grand Prix victories, with six wins to his name.

Nine starts and six wins, including five in a row (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993), which is unequalled in Formula 1, especially in Monaco. He was a magician on the track, hence his nickname «Magic Senna», as part of a competitive but stellar duo with Prost at McLaren. As shown by his fabulous qualifying lap at the 1990 Grand Prix, where he beat all his competitors by more than a second and a half.

Senna, celebrating what would be his final victory in the Principality, in 1993 © X/ F1

Senna’s career was full of other great moments like that; iconic comments, rivalries, skirmishes and especially incredible overtaking made him a firm favourite with the fans. The crowds would go crazy for him at every Grand Prix; he was respected by everyone, he was charismatic, he was quite simply Ayrton Senna.

To mark the 30th anniversary of Senna’s passing, Odoxa, a French market research company, polled 1,005 people, including 298 Formula 1 fans about the Brazilian driver.

8 out of 10 French people still remember the tragedy

Respondents consider Ayrton Senna the 2nd best driver in F1 history with 17% of the votes, behind Michaël Schumacher (32%) and ahead of Alain Prost (16%).

His accident has had such an impact on people that 90% of F1 fans consider that the event led to significantly improved driver safety.

76% of F1 fans consider his rivalry with Alain Prost as the greatest in the history of Formula 1 and 69% as one of the greatest in the history of sport in general.