Tag Archives: Ayrton Senna

The Prof

The Motorsport world  is today mourning one of the most enigmatic characters ever to have been involved in Formula One.

Professor Eric Sidney Watkins sadly passed away yesterday following a battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his family at the King Edward VII Hospital in London.

The Prof, as he was affectionately known, devoted twenty six years of his life as the FIA Safety and Medical delegate, head of the on-track Medical team and was also a first responder in the event of a crash.

Sid, as he was also known, would be on hand to provide his extensive medical knowledge to both the paddock and the FIA after a chance meeting with Bernie Ecclestone in 1978.

Circuits were hostile towards his appointment to begin with, their initial reaction was that he was there to monitor their performance and facilities. His impact on the sport would not have to wait long however, during the 1978 Italian Grand Prix Ronnie Peterson was involved in a crash in the first lap, his car subsequently catching fire.

Peterson’s fellow drivers James Hunt, Patrick Depailler and Clay Regazzoni were first on scene and managed to pull him from the wreckage. Watkins however, was delayed in getting to the scene to provide much needed medical assistance, Italian Police  had formed a cordon around the scene of the accident and weren’t allowing anyone through.

Following a delay of nearly twenty minutes, an Ambulance finally arrived on scene, much to Watkins’ annoyance. The delay in Peterson receiving medical treatment and the Ambulance arriving to take him to hospital, sadly led to Peterson’s death the following day.

Thanks to Watkins’ insistence, his incident would significantly change the sport from the very next race. He would demand that Ecclestone provided not only better safety equipment, but also an anaesthetist, Medical Car and helicopter to assist in the swift evacuation of seriously injured drivers.
In addition, Watkins himself would be carried in the Medical car for the first lap, so that he could be on hand swiftly in the event of an incident in the opening lap.

He would once again be on scene for the serious accident involving Gilles Villeneuve at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, quickly inserting a tube to maintain his airway. Villeneuve was taken to University Hospital in Liege, but after Watkins had spoken to Villeneuve’s wife, it was agreed that the respirator be switched off and sadly Villeneuve died.

Later that year at the Canadian Grand Prix would see Watkins deal with yet another fatality. On the first lap of the race, Riccardo Paletti crashed into the stalled Ferrari of Didier Peroni. Watkins arrived within sixteen seconds of impact, but on lifting Paletti’s visor, he would see the signs were not promising, Paletti’s pupils were blown.

As Watkins clambered over the wreckage, the ruptured fuel tank ignited. By the time the fire was extinguished, Paletti was discovered to be without a pulse and the delay in him being extracted from the wreckage, coupled with smoke inhalation and impact injuries from the crash, he was later pronounced dead at The Royal Victoria Hospital where he had been airlifted.

In 1985 at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Watkins was presented with a silver trophy during the drivers briefing; the inscription read ‘To the Prof, our thanks for your invaluable contribution to Formula One. Nice to know you’re there.’

Following Nelson Piquet’s crash during practice for the 1987 San Marino Grand Prix, Watkins would declare him unfit to participate further in proceedings. Understandably, Piquet was not happy at this decision, fearing that any loss of points would impact his possibility of winning the title, despite it only being the second race of the season.

Piquet would dispute Watkins’ decision with officials, in the hope of being allowed to compete. Confident in his decision to exclude Piquet from the remainder of the weekend, Watkins threatened resignation if he was overruled. His decision was upheld and Piquet sat out the race, later admitting it was the correct decision.

Thankfully, there were no further fatalities in Formula One since the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix, until that fateful weekend at San Marino in 1994.

During Friday Practice, Rubens Barichello’s car hit a wall at Variante Bassa which turned him upside down. Knocked unconscious by the impact and his tongue blocking his airway, Barichello’s life was in the hands of Watkins and his team. After a short stay in hospital, Rubens would return to the track the following day with nothing more than a broken nose and a cast on his arm, his injuries ruling him out of further participation in proceedings.

Events would take a further turn for the worse on the Saturday however. Roland Ratzenberger’s Simtek failed to negotiate the Villeneuve Curva, causing him to collide head-on with the opposite wall. He sustained a basal skull fracture from the force of the impact and would later be pronounced dead at the local hospital.

By this time, Watkins had formed a strong bond and friendship with Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna. On hearing the news of Ratzenberger’s death, Senna was said to be distraught. Recalling the occasion in his memoirs, Watkins said “Ayrton broke down and cried on my shoulder.”

Whilst consoling his friend, Watkins tried to persuade Ayrton not to take part in the race the following day. He asked of Senna “What else do you need to do? You have been world champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let’s go fishing,” (a passion they both shared) but Ayrton was insistent, saying, “Sid, there are certain things over which we have no control. I cannot quit, I have to go on.”

At this stage, Senna had taken it upon himself to fight for driver safety in the sport. He spent the morning of the 1st May 1994 meeting with fellow drivers in the hope of re-establishing a drivers group.

Another huge accident occurred on the opening lap when JJ Lehto stalled his Bennetton-Ford, resulting in Pedro Lamy’s Lotus-Mugen Honda colliding with him. But Watkins was perhaps about to undergo the greatest test of his career.

Following the Safety Car as a result of the earlier crash, the remaining cars circulated at a slower pace than perhaps was thought as safe. As the race resumed, Senna set a very quick lap.

On the second lap however, Senna’s car left the track at Tamburello whilst traveling at around 140 mph. The crash, as everyone watching could see, was a bad one and the race was red flagged at 2:17pm local time, Watkins arrived on scene shortly after to treat his friend.

Administering his initial treatment, Watkins knew the signs were not good, but continued to battle for his friends life, administering a tracheotomy and requesting the immediate airlift of Senna to the local Maggiore Hosptial in Bologna, where his death was later confirmed.

Later speaking of his experience, Watkins said he knew as soon as he saw Senna’s fully diluted pupils that his brain stem was inactive and that he would not survive. He also said that, despite not being a spiritual man, he felt “his spirit depart at that moment” when Senna apparently drew his last breath.

Later the same year the FIA Expert Advisory Safety Committee was set up, of which Watkins was appointed its Chairman. He continued to work tirelessly towards the safety of Motorsport in general right up until January 2005, when he announced his retirement from the various medical positions he held with the FIA, but wanted to continue as President of the FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety.

There have been no further fatalities in Formula One since the death of Ayrton Senna in May 1994, largely to do with the tireless efforts towards safety of Sid Watkins.

Tributes have continued to flood in following the announcement last night.

“This is a truly sad day for the FIA family and the entire motor sport community,” said Jean Todt, FIA President.

On Twitter, Rubens Barichello said “It was Sid Watkins that saved my life in Imola 94. Great guy to be with, always happy, thanks for everything you have done for us drivers. RIP.

Jenson Button, also on twitter, said “Motorsport wouldn’t be what it is today without you. Thank you for all you have done, we as drivers are so grateful.

My thoughts and condolences go to his family and all those whose life he had an impact upon.

Silverstone – Home of the British Grand Prix

Straddling the Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire borders, a few miles from Brackley and Towcester, the Silverstone circuit is synonymous with British Motorsport.

Long being associated as the ‘home of the British Grand Prix’, the circuit first hosted the event in 1948 and has been held there each year consecutively since 1987.

The infrastructure we see today, lies on the original site of RAF Silverstone, which was opened in 1943. The Airfield’s three original runways in the classic World War II triangle format, still lie within the outline of the current track.

Originally used to launch Wellington bombers during the war effort, the circuit first had its exposure to Motorsport in 1947 when an impromptu race was organised that September. Living in the nearby village of Silverstone, Maurice Geoghegan was aware that the airfield was out of use at the time, and suggested to a group of friends they held a race over a two mile circuit.

Geoghegan himself ran over a stray sheep that had wandered on to the airfield during the race, his car being written off in the process; sadly the sheep didn’t fair much better and was killed. In the aftermath, the informal event was affectionately known as the Mutton Grand Prix.

In the following year, the RAC (Royal Automobile Club, Great Britain) took a lease on the airfield where they would layout a more formal racing circuit. The first two races they held there were on a rudimentary circuit, made up of two of the runways and tight hairpin bends, the layout of which was set out by hay bales.

1949 saw a switch to the perimeter track for the International Trophy meeting, the same arrangement would be used for the 1950 and 1951 Grands Prix. In 1952 however, there was a significant change to the original layout with the start line being moved between Woodcote and Copse corners; this would remain largely intact for the following 35 years.

The track would undergo a major redesign in between the 1990 and 1991 races in a bid to transform it from ultra high speed to a more technical, and hopefully safer one. The new layout appeared to be a hit. It’s first outing in 1991 would see one of the most memorable races at the circuit for several years, with the added bonus of Brit Nigel Mansell winning the race.

On his victory lap, Mansell stopped to pick up a stranded Ayrton Senna, who’s McLaren had run out of fuel on the final lap, and give him a lift back to the pits on the side-pod of his car.

Further modifications to the circuit were required, as with most circuits, following the tragic deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola in 1994, in order to reduce speed and increase driver safety.

Silverstone’s importance in the Formula One World Championship is without doubt, in most peoples eyes. However, it certainly has not been a smooth ride for the circuit over the last decade or so.

Sir Jackie Stewart, President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) and owners of the circuit since 1971, announced in September 2004 that the British Grand Prix would not be included in the provisional 2005 race calendar, and if it were, the likelihood was that it would not be held at Silverstone.

This would be the beginning of a very public battle between the BRDC and Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One rights holder.

In a turnaround however, it was announced on 9th December that agreement had been reached that the circuit would host one of the flagship races on the calendar until 2009, after which the race would switch to Donnington.

Ecclestone categorically stated that he would only negotiate the future of F1 at Silverstone post-2009, if the BRDC gave up its role as promoter of the event; stating that he wanted “to deal with the promoter rather than the BRDC. It is too difficult with the BRDC because you get no guarantees with them. We’ve said that unless they can get the circuit to the level expected from so-called third-world countries we are not prepared to do a deal. A new pit and paddock complex is the minimum redevelopment required”.

Following this, one can understand the indignity of fans and enthusiasts alike. When you consider that eight of the twelve competing teams are based here in the UK (the majority of which are in close proximity to the circuit itself); notwithstanding the 40,000 odd additional jobs the sport brings to Britain, along with an influx of around £50 million to the economy on Grand Prix weekend alone.

His (Ecclestone’s) actions were described as dictatorial, inflexible and sometimes arrogant. Damon Hill later likened the relationship between Ecclestone and the BRDC as that of Aladdin’s Cave: “The genie says give me the lamp and Aladdin says get me out of the cave and I’ll give you the lamp. You’re in this constant cycle whereby in order to get our plans implemented we need to have a Grand Prix contract, and in order to get the Grand Prix contract we have to have our planning.”

Redevelopment of the circuit was approved and on 1st August 2007 it was announced that new grandstands, pit facilities and a development centre would be built. This, however would be the start of yet another bout between the BRDC and the Formula One ‘supremo’.

On 4th July 2008 it was announced that Donnington would host the British Grand Prix from 2010. The Leicestershire venue was struggling at this time to secure the required funding, and there began a see-saw of decisions in favour of the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire circuits being the ‘venue of choice’ for the British Grand Prix going forward.

Max Mosley, then FIA President, announced during an interview with the BBC that it was “highly likely” that the British Grand Prix would return to Silverstone in 2010, this was confirmed by a BBC News report in October 2009 that Donnington had failed to secure the required £135 million required to stage a Grand Prix and that Donington’s bid ‘looks over’.

To add to the controversy surrounding the two circuits’ battle to secure a long-term contract to host the British Grand Prix, the BBC went on to report that Ecclestone had offered the race to Silverstone, but that the terms of the offer were purportedly the same as those Silverstone had originally rejected.

Ecclestone’s previous ‘Donnington or nothing’ stance was influenced, not only by the British Government’s unwillingness to intervene, or the Leicestershire venue’s inability to raise the required funding, but was actually attributed to a restructuring of the BRDC, allowing an easier way of negotiating with them over future commercial rights.

Once again, it seems the ‘supremo’ got his way, however unorthodox his actions appeared. It is worth remembering though, that the infrastructure of Silverstone has been significantly improved; that can only be a good thing for the ‘home of Formula One’, the Sport and more importantly the fans. Even if Donnington appeared to be the victim of the whole debacle.

It remains to be seen what will happen when Silverstone’s current agreement expires in 2026, or indeed in the meantime for that matter; but one thing is for certain: the venue will continue to have an influence on the Formula One World Championship for the foreseeable future, at least.

Grand Prix Legends – Alain Prost

Prost followed the usual trend, and entered Motorsport via Karting, he progressed through the ranks winning both the French and European Formula Three Championships, joining the McLaren F1 team aged 25 (1980).

On his debut in Argentina, Prost scored a point, finishing in sixth. He remains only one of a very small number of driver’s to score in their first race. Despite a promising start to his career, and having two years left to run on his McLaren contract, he decided to leave for a drive with Renault in 1981.

Prost was joined by compatriot Rene Arnoux to produce an all French line up. But Prost would retire from six of the first seven races. It would be at his home Grand Prix, fittingly, that Prost would score his first victory with Renault. Two more retirements would follow in Britain and Austria; he would finally place fifth in the Driver’s Championship in his first season with the French marque.

His second season with Renault began well with wins in both South Africa and Brazil, but that was as good as it got. He did however improve on his previous attempt by finishing fourth.

During their time together at Renault, Prost and Arnoux’s relationship was not the greatest to say the least, but after the French Grand Prix that year it would decline further. Prost, who finished second to Arnoux, believed that he had reneged on a previous agreement where Arnoux would support him in the race.

Arnoux left Renault in 1983 to be replaced by Eddie Cheever. Prost secured a further four wins that season, but his relationship with the team and fans worsened. Prost believed the team were too conservative in the development of the car, and conversely, Renault blamed Prost for not winning the Championship for them. He was fired from the team just two days after the South African race, from which he retired.

He would return to the McLaren fold for the 1984 season to partner double World Champion Niki Lauda. Prost won his first race in Brazil on rejoining McLaren; and would go on to win six further races that season. Despite only winning five races, teammate Lauda would pip him to the Championship by just half a point.

The culmination of the 1984 Championship would be down to the foreshortening of the Monaco Grand Prix. Due to heavy rain, the race was stopped at the end of lap 32. Prost led the grid from Pole, and went on to win the shortened race. Because 75% of the scheduled laps had not been completed, only half points were awarded. If only the decision to Red Flag had been left a little later, Prost would probably have gone on to win the Championship that year.

Prost became the first Frenchman to win the Driver’s Championship in 1985; driving the McLaren MP4/2B TAG Porsche V6 (pictured above). Winning five of sixteen races that season; despite a Disqualification at San Marino for a car that was 2Kg underweight after scrutineering. Prost won by a huge margin of 20 points.

In 1986, Prost would be joined at McLaren by Keke Rosberg, replacing Niki Lauda, who had decided to retire from the sport at the end of the ’85 season. Prost would go on to successfully defend his Title, although the challenge from the Honda powered Williams cars was significant.

The 1986 season wasn’t without difficulties for Prost, he almost managed to run out of fuel at San Marino, but managed to coax the car over the line to victory. It was however, his actions at the German Grand Prix that would be noteworthy. Running in fourth, Prost had again managed to run out of fuel in the finishing straight on the final lap. To the delight of the crowd, Prost hopped out of the cockpit and tried to push the car over the line, but it was too far and he ended up finishing sixth.

The 1987 season would see Prost win three races, but more importantly, he would overtake Jackie Stewart’s record for the most Grand Prix victories, with 28 wins. Despite this, he would finish the season in fourth place, thirty points behind Champion Nelson Piquet.

In 1988, Prost convinced Team Principal Ron Dennis to sign Ayrton Senna to McLaren. This helped in persuading Honda to move engine supply from rivals Williams to McLaren, and would see the pair have the most successful season in recent history. Between them, Prost and Senna dominated and won fifteen out of the seasons sixteen Grands Prix; a record which remains unequalled to this day.

Prost scored 105 points in 1988, but only the eleven best results counted towards the Championship, so only 87 points were counted. Senna would score 94 points, with 90 points counting towards the Championship and became Champion despite not scoring the most points that year.

The McLaren dominance would continue into 1989, and would see the relationship between the two drivers deteriorate to out and out hatred. Prost had accused Senna of “Dangerous Driving” and even accused the team of favouring Senna with set-up and the resources he was offered.

The embittered pair literally came together at the Japanese Grand Prix. Prost had turned into Senna’s path as he went to pass him for the lead, and the team mates collided into the final chicane on lap 46. The Frenchman got out of the car, and the marshals separated the two, but had inadvertently put Senna’s car in a dangerous position. In pushing Senna forward to move him from danger, Senna managed to bump start the car and continue the race to win. But he was disqualified for missing the chicane, and later fined $100,000 and given a suspended six-month ban.

Prost’s accusations of favouritism towards Senna within the team would compound his exit, and he resigned in July 1989. He was promptly snapped up by the Scuderia, joining Nigel Mansell for the 1990 seas0n.

Alain would finish his first season with Ferrari in second place in the Championship, and took the place of lead driver as reigning World Champion, much to the disgust of Mansell. But Prost had seen Mansell as a threat to his superiority, and had convinced the Ferrari engineers to switch their cars (as detailed here).

The Prost/Mansell relationship had deteriorated significantly for Mansell to leave the team in 1990 to rejoin former employer Williams, and Prost was joined at Ferrari by compatriot Jean Alesi. Prost had failed to win a race in 1991 and blamed the team for their inferiority, publicly criticising the team by describing the car as “handling worse than a truck”.

He was fired prior to the end of 1991, and would go on to take a sabbatical in 1992. But he would return in 1993 to the Williams team, where he won his fourth and final title. But he was regularly challenged by Damon Hill, and ex-team mate Senna. Prior to the Portuguese race that year, he announced he would retire as the World’s most successful driver in the sport’s history.

Grand Prix Legends – Nigel Mansell CBE

Like most Legends, Mansell’s schooling was in karting. With substantial success, in 1976 he moved into Formula Ford. His accomplishments there were also outstanding; winning six of the nine races entered that year.

With 42 races and 33 wins in 1977, he became British Formula Ford Champion, but an accident during qualifying at Brands Hatch saw him break his neck. This resulted in six months in hospital, with Doctors fearing quadriplegia, telling him he would never drive again.

Mansell made an astonishing recovery, and was later spotted by Colin Chapman’s Lotus, being given a tryout with the team. Shortly before that could happen, he was involved in another accident; he collided with Andrea de Cesaris, cartwheeling his car and suffering from broken vertebrae, resulting in another lengthy stay in hospital.

Masking his obvious discomfort with painkillers, Mansell performed well enough in his tryout to be offered the test driver role by Chapman. His debut was in the 1980 Austrian Grand Prix, but his car suffered a fuel leak in the cockpit, and was left with first and second degree burns to his buttocks.

During his four years with Lotus, Mansell suffered with reliability issues. Starting 59 races, he only finished a total of 24; his best being third place.

Throughout his Lotus career, Mansell developed an affinity with Chapman. Sadly, Chapman died suddenly from a heart attack in 1982; Mansell was understandably shattered; “the bottom dropped out of my world. Part of me died with him. I lost a member of my family.” He said in his autobiography.

Mansell’s relationship with Lotus after Chapman’s death was strained to say the least. Replacement Peter Warr and he never saw eye to eye, and Warr even contemplated letting Mansell go; but, Lotus’ sponsors at the time, John Player Special intervened and Mansell stayed. Warr was famously quoted as saying “he will never win a Grand Prix as long as I have a hole in my arse”.

However, after 72 Grand Prix starts, Mansell won his first race in the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in his first season with Williams; following that up with a win at Kyalami in South Africa. Six race wins followed in both 1986 and 1987; his efforts in 1986 saw him voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Williams lost the Honda deal to McLaren in ’88, and Mansell had an appalling season; but he was being watched by Enzo Ferrari and was in fact the last driver to be personally selected by Enzo to drive for Ferrari. Something Mansell was immensely proud of.

On his Ferrari debut, Mansell won the Brazilian Grand Prix; in doing so, he became the first driver to have won a race with a semi-automatic gearbox. Teamed with reigning World Champion Alain Prost in 1990, Mansell would again suffer with reliability issues.

Arriving for the British Grand Prix, Mansell complained his car was not handling the same as it had in the previous race. Making his feelings known to his mechanics, it turned out that Prost felt Mansell had a superior car and they were swapped without Mansell’s knowledge. He later retired from that race, and announced his retirement from the sport.

However, Frank Williams stepped in yet again at the end of 1990, bringing Mansell back into the fold. But he would only agree to return to Williams subject to a list of demands. The main demand being that he would be number one driver. By signing, Mansell became the highest paid British sportsman; earning a staggering £4.6m per season.

1992 would be the pinnacle of his career. With fourteen Pole Positions, and nine wins; the highest number of wins in a single season, he would be crowned World Drivers Champion at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Mansell fell out with Frank Williams after he omitted to tell Mansell he had signed Prost for the 1993 season. Not wanting to re-live the poor relationship they endured during their time with Ferrari, Mansell declared enough was enough and his retirement was sealed.

With no suitably competitive teams to drive for, Mansell opted to go stateside, joining the Newman/Haas CART team. With five wins and several podiums, Mansell won the 1993 CART Championship. He would be the only driver in history to hold both the Formula One World Championship and CART Championship’s simultaneously.

After a poor season in 1994, Mansell was said to have worn out his welcome in America, and decided to return to Formula One after the untimely death of Ayrton Senna; rejoining Williams for the last four races of the season.

In 1995, Mansell lost his Williams seat to Coulthard. He subsequently signed for McLaren, but did not get on well with Ron Dennis. But Dennis had to sign him as McLaren’s sponsors wanted a World Champion; Schumacher had already been signed, and Mansell was the only other option.

Having to miss the Brazilian and Argentinean Grands Prix because his car wasn’t right, Mansell finished at Imola in tenth. He retired at the following Spanish Grand Prix and also decided to retire from the sport for good.

He was quoted as saying that he didn’t want to ‘make up the numbers’, and with little hope of the McLaren being competitive that year, he would never race a Formula One car competitively again.

The amount of times he was written off medically, and came back from adversity; Mansell proved everyone wrong. He demonstrated he had what it takes mentally and physically to overcome all adversities. This truly is the epitome of a legend.

Grand Prix Legends – Ayrton Senna

Many in the world of Formula One regard Ayrton Senna as possibly the greatest racing driver of all time. His legacy was sealed after his untimely death in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix. He remains the most recent Formula One racing driver to have lost their life at the wheel.

Senna was encouraged from a very young age by his father, entering the karting scene from the age of four. However he was too young to compete as local regulations stipulated a minimum age of 13, so he was encouraged to race on made up tracks in streets and car parks.

From there he progressed through several disciplines, culminating in the 1983 British Formula 3 Championship. After his Formula 3 success, it wasn’t long before he grabbed the attention of several Formula One teams, and after some negotiations he was signed by the British Toleman team (later to become Benetton, then Renault).

With six wins and several podiums in his first four years at the top, the majority with Lotus; Senna was soon making an impact on the world of Formula One. The turning point in his career however, was when he joined the McLaren team in readiness for the 1988 season.

Senna’s arrival at the team was blessed by the then double World Champion Alain Prost however; it would be the beginning of a bitter rivalry between the two drivers. It seemed that Senna had indeed made the right decision in joining McLaren; eight wins in his first season secured him the elusive World Driver’s Championship.

Astoundingly, McLaren won fifteen of the sixteen races in 1988, a feat that has yet to be equalled by any constructor. Ironically, Senna was actually leading the race at Monza, but collided with a back marker and failed to finish.

He would be pipped at the post for the Championship in 1989 by teammate Prost, but the relationship had deteriorated to the point where Prost had decided to leave McLaren for Ferrari. In 1990 and 1991 Senna secured back to back titles and was proving to be a formidable force in Formula One.

Famously, McLaren suffered a decline in performance from then on and in 1994 Senna made the move to Williams, something he had set his sights upon. But his season began poorly with two starts and two retirements, hardly ideal.

Senna arrived at Imola still positive however, and declared that his season would start there, confident enough of his ability to secure the title, despite only having fourteen races with which to achieve his goal.

San Marino 1994 was perhaps one of the worst races in Formula One history, in terms of safety. On the Friday afternoon, Senna’s protégé Rubens Barrichello suffered a violent crash into the tyres at Variante Bassa, causing him to swallow his tongue, and breaking his arm and nose in the process, ruling him out of the race.

Things did not improve on the Saturday. During Qualifying, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed after the front wing of his Simtek-Ford failed as he was going flat out at the Villeneuve left-hander, ending up in the concrete wall.

Senna was concerned about the safety at the track and at other Grands Prix, and spent his final morning talking with fellow drivers about how their safety could be improved. Senna took it upon himself to instigate the setting up of the Grand Prix Driver’s Association, proffering himself as leader.

Despite their concerns with regard to safety, the drivers all agreed to start the race on the Sunday. But their concerns were vilified it seems. There was a huge accident on the start line, JJ Lehto’s Benetton-Ford stalled at the lights, and an unsighted Pedro Lamy in his Lotus-Mugen Honda collided with Lehto’s car at full speed.

Disturbingly, a wheel from Lamy’s car was propelled into the grandstand, causing injury to eight spectators and a Police officer. The race was not stopped, but was run under the control of a Safety Car.

As the Safety Car peeled off, the race re-started and Senna was showing fantastic pace, setting the third fastest lap of the race, closely followed by Schumacher. On the next lap, Senna went into the high-speed Tamburello corner and his car left the track, colliding with the concrete retaining wall at around 135 mph.

The medical team managed to remove Senna from the wreckage, and began to treat him next to the wreck before an airlift could be arranged. Unfortunately, Ayrton Senna was declared dead a little later at the Bologna hospital he had been taken to.

The right front wheel of Senna’s car catapulted up and entered the cockpit of the car, the debris impacting the right frontal area of Senna’s helmet above his right eye, killing him almost instantly.

Upon further investigation of the wreckage, Senna was concealing an Austrian flag in the cockpit of the car that he had planned to unfurl on the podium after winning the race, paying homage to his fellow racer Ratzenberger.

I suppose that was the true measure of the man, the legend that he already was, thinking of someone else before himself. Who would know what he could have achieved, had he continued racing. Unfortunately, we will never know.

A true legend was taken from us on that day, someone who would more than likely have shaped the world of Formula One as we know it today, had he still been here. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to have shed a tear watching that race on that fateful day.