Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Ayrton Senna Remembered and More
This week’s roundup is dominated by tributes to Ayrton Senna, the three-time Formula One world champion who lost his life on 1 May 1994.
The Brazilian’s impact on F1 has been reflected by the profiles of those who have shared their memories: Family members, teammates, colleagues, superiors, rivals and current drivers have been eager to explain just what Ayrton Senna meant, and continues to mean, to them.
Damon Hill and Sir Frank Williams describe the Brazilian’s characteristics in the short time that they spent with Senna at Williams while Bruno Senna, Ayrton’s nephew, has outlined his pride at having returned the Senna name to F1.
Four of the current grid’s five world champions discuss Senna’s legacy and how he inspired them to pursue a career in F1, while we finish with injury news concerning one of those drivers.
Damon Hill Recalls Emotions of Imola 1994
As the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death approaches, Damon Hill, the Brazilian’s teammate, has been recalling the events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.
Senna was leading the race on Lap 7 when his Williams-Renault left the track at the high-speed Tamburello corner and ploughed into a concrete wall.
Speaking to Phil Duncan of the Daily Mail, Hill has explained how he came to learn of his teammate’s death and how the loss of the three-time world champion affected not only the Williams team but the entire F1 community.
I didn’t see the crash because I was a few lengths down the road (in fourth position).
I saw Ayrton’s car bouncing back off the wall, and it was never going to be a light tap if you went off at Tamburello because it was very serious to go off there. But that said, I didn’t get any sense that he wouldn’t have walked away from it.
I was told by Ann Bradshaw—the Williams press officer at the time—that it was serious and from that I deemed that he was in some sort of danger, but I think it was pretty clear he was already dead.
The team had lost their star driver and the sport had lost a major star, a character, someone who people knew really well and got to know over time so from a personal point of view it was very, very upsetting.
On top of (Roland) Ratzenberger’s accident (the previous day), the whole weekend was a dreadful one, and it forced a lot of reflection and self-analysis because I don’t think anyone wanted to carry on with motor racing if it was going to be like that; just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong that weekend.
I really hope and pray we never have a weekend like Imola ever again. It was horrible, but the sport has come an enormously long way since then. It changed the emphasis of Formula One in many different ways. It has now become more of a tactical game, one of skill, and less about courage and man versus himself.
Bruno Senna Proud of Uncle but Eager to Create Own Identity
Bruno Senna has also paid tribute to Ayrton, his uncle, in the week of the 20th anniversary of the three-time world champion’s death.
Senna, who like Ayrton drove for the Lotus-Renault and Williams-Renault teams over the course of a three-year Formula One career between 2010 and 2012, has explained to Kevin Garside of The Independent how his uncle is remembered by the family and his impact on Brazil.
The 30-year-old said:
It is not easy for family members; it is a more personal thing. But I am aware that most people feel that they had almost a personal relationship with Ayrton because he was regarded so highly.
It is a matter of pride that people not only remember him but that they do so strongly and vividly. It is a special case of him being able to touch people and to represent something to them so strong that 20 years on it is still there, still relevant, something they still care enough about.
People can’t believe it has been 20 years. It doesn’t feel that long. These things are hard to explain but it proves that some live longer than their own life periods.
I always try to keep the happiest of memories of Ayrton and the man he was and what he represented. I try to keep those things alive inside me instead of the tragic side, which is easy to focus on at times like this.
We are all very proud of Ayrton because of the person he was. He was a patriot. This is something that separates Ayrton not only from Brazilian figures but quite a few international sports figures too.
He was always trying to show that he was Brazilian, and proud to be so. Not many people have identified themselves with that, considering how many difficulties there are in Brazil, the differences between the poor and the rich, etc.
Brazil is still very much a Third World country when it comes to the social side, even though it is a very strong economy. That he was proud of the association, proud to be Brazilian, is still an example to us all.
On the pressures of carrying the Senna name, Bruno added:
It will be impossible for me to disassociate my image from Ayrton’s completely. First of all, that is not something I would like. In a certain way I race in tribute to Ayrton. Of course, I do it not because of him but because I love to race, but I am aware that people think of Ayrton still when they see the colours of my helmet. This is one way that I can always pay tribute to Ayrton, always be close to him in a certain way.
With time and results, especially away from Formula One, it is a little bit easier to create my own personality, let’s say, where people see that I’m not trying to be Ayrton. That has always been clear to me but not necessarily to everybody else.
At different stages of your career, graduating up the ranks, trying to understand who you are, it is hard to be completely free of the past when you have my surname, but as life goes on it becomes more straightforward to understand who I am and what I am able to do.
Williams Believes Senna Could Have Had Political Career
Sir Frank Williams, Senna’s last team principal, believes the F1 legend could have gone on to have had a successful political career had he survived at Imola two decades ago.
Williams played a significant role in the Brazilian’s career, handing Senna his first test in a Formula One car at Donington Park in 1983 before signing him to replace Alain Prost, Senna’s greatest rival, 11 years later.
Since Senna’s death, the Williams team have honoured the three-time world champion by placing a tribute graphic on the nose area of each of their cars, with the Senna “S” replaced for this year by a 20th anniversary logo.
And Williams, who survived a road car accident in 1986, has been quoted by Ian Parkes of the Daily Mail as saying of Senna:
Ayrton was very intelligent, and inside he was tough. (He had) immense brainpower, charm, charisma, and determination like you wouldn't believe, all the things that made him a true world champion. He knew what he wanted and he knew of the various people inside the company who could deliver, and he went after those guys and got them onside. He got the best out of everybody.
That's what he was good at, and as a racing guy he was extraordinarily special. When he first started we got on famously. He knew I was a big fan, and he appreciated that. All in all he was a remarkable individual. He was certainly on his way to becoming a president of Brazil. He had politics in mind, and if he had done so he would probably have walked it.
Current World Champions Praise Senna's Influence
As well as figures of Senna’s era, Formula One’s current stars have explained how the Brazilian influenced them as they progressed through the ranks.
Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button—who have eight world championships between them—have touched upon the impact of Senna’s death on F1’s safety standards, while explaining what the loss of the three-time title winner meant to them as youngsters.
Vettel, a four-time world champion, believes that the sport cannot become complacent in terms of safety, despite the fact that no driver has died in an F1 car since Senna’s demise 20 years ago.
The German told Adelaide Now:
Formula One is safer today but it is still not completely safe because there is still so much that can happen.
You must never feel too safe.
Unfortunately it always took accidents and negative events for us to learn the most.
There is always the possibility that something strange can happen with serious consequences.
Hamilton, Alonso and Button, meanwhile, have all been quoted by Ian Parkes of the Daily Mail in paying their respects to Senna.
Hamilton, who wears a Senna-esque yellow helmet—complete with green foam padding—said:
When I was a kid I had all the books, all the videos, he was the driver I looked up to, way before I even started racing. He kind of inspired me to be a driver, and of course, on the day of his passing, his death was...it was very difficult for me to show my emotions in my family so I went off to a quiet place and it was very difficult for several days...your hero's gone.
Alonso explained how the influence of Senna was unavoidable, even in Spain, a country with little F1 coverage and motorsport heritage at the time, stating:
He was an inspiration. I remember some of the races we could see in the news in Spain, because we didn't have the TV coverage of Formula One, but yeah, I remember I went to school—on my book, I didn't have (pictures of) girls, obviously I was too young to have girls on the book, but I had Ayrton there and the same in my room.
I had a big poster of Ayrton, and even my first go-karts were in the colours of Ayrton's McLaren because my father also liked him. It was a very sad moment (when he died).
Button has recalled how the news of Senna’s death impacted a karting event in Italy that weekend, saying:
I was 14 years old, still very young obviously, but I was racing in Italy that weekend, karting. I had just started racing there so it was a massive shock. Basically the kart meeting was over as soon as we heard the news from Imola. A horrific day for everyone, but sometimes it takes something like that—a terrible tragedy—to really change the sport for the better, and in terms of safety for us guys, it's had a very big impact.
McLaren Declare Jenson Button Fit for Spanish Grand Prix
In current matters, McLaren have dismissed speculation that Jenson Button could miss next month’s Spanish Grand Prix due to injury.
The 2009 world champion has been a frequent competitor in triathlons in recent years, but mysteriously pulled out of a Canary Islands competition last weekend.
Formula One drivers in the modern era tend to have contract clauses which prevent them from partaking in strenuous activities after former Lotus driver Robert Kubica was ruled out of the entire 2011 season following a rallying crash in pre-season.
A McLaren spokesman, however, has stressed that Button’s preparations for the Spanish Grand Prix have been uninterrupted. The representative told Autosport’s Jonathan Noble:
Jenson decided not to complete the Canary Islands triathlon, but he is fit and well and has, contrary to a few rogue media reports, no injuries of any kind.
Indeed, he is driving in our simulator today (29 April) and is looking forward to participating in the forthcoming Spanish Grand Prix.