Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Ayrton Senna da Silva, the great F1 driver who's death 13 years ago is still a major event in Formula 1 and European sports history. Photo from ayrton-senna.com

I remember it like it was yesterday. May 1, 1994, a sunny Sunday morning on the west coast of the United States, and my eight-year-old self preparing to watch the Formula 1 grand prix to be shown. I remember Ayrton Senna's on-board camera, a few laps in, showing the last fateful images from his car on the track. Such an innocuous-looking accident, though the speeds at which he lost control in the corner do lend themselves to the end result: the death of one of auto racing's greatest talents, greatest champions, and greatest sportsmen.

the other image after the race that sticks in my mind is the ABC World News that night showing the scene back in Senna's homeland of Brazil, where auto racing is second only to soccer and Senna is still regarded as one of their greatest sporting heroes.

The last image from Ayrton Senna's car before his accident and death. Photo from ayrton-senna.com

His car, after impact. It is believed Senna died at impact.

I only fully realized what his life and death meant as I grew into my teens and became a more knowledgeable fan of Formula 1 racing. This came around when his death hit it's 10th-year anniversary in 2004 and Speed Channel showed a special episode of their historic highlights series on the race weekend. This was a black weekend for racing: Not only did Senna pass away in the race, but fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was lucky to only suffer a concussion in an accident in practice Friday, Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed in qualifying, and a couple more horrible accidents in the race (including one at the start) made this an ultimate low point for Formula 1 and the world of racing.

To draw an American analogy, it's as if Michael Jordan had passed away from a heart attack on the court at Madison Square Garden during a game. That's how important and influential he was to the world of auto racing, and how important his death was to a large part of the world.

here's a tribute video (complete with slightly cheesy/slightly corny rendition of System of a Down's "Lonely Day" as the background music) to that weekend, showing the horrific accidents that mark the weekend. I still wonder how different the racing world would be if he hadn't passed away.

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