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Sports

Memorial marks 20 years since Ayrton Senna’s death

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-01

Twenty years to the day after Formula One legend Ayrton Senna was killed in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, a memorial service is being held at the Italian driving circuit near Imola where he crashed to mark the tragic day.

The service is taking place at the Tamburello corner where Brazilian Senna, the iconic three-time world champion, careered off into a concrete barrier at 190mph (307km/h) on lap seven. Ayrton Senna da Silva was airlifted to Bologna hospital, but was pronounced dead at 6:40pm local time on that ill-fated Sunday.

Thursday's ceremony comes after a week of commemorative events to mark the tragic accident that claimed the life of the driver regarded by many as the greatest of all time, and which ushered in a raft of changes to improve F1 safety.

The Senna anniversary is made all the more poignant as another great F1 driver, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, continues his fight for life after a skiing accident on December 29. Strangely, it was Schumacher who went on to win the Imola race 20 years ago.

Senna's death was the sport's blackest time, coming just 24 hours after Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed and two days after his fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was injured.

‘An incredible legend’

The week has been marked by a series of emotional tributes to Senna, who won the Formula One world championships in 1988, 1990 and 1991 and is widely regarded as the greatest racing driver of all time.

In his native Brazil, the adulation of Ayrton Senna transcends sports. He is honoured along with greats such as Pele.

"He was an incredible legend," said 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton. "You like to think that one day you may be recognised as someone that was able to drive similarly to him."

"On my schoolbooks I didn't have pictures of girls, obviously I was too young but I had Ayrton there and the same in my room," said 2005/06 champion Fernando Alonso.

Senna was an outspoken and charismatic world champion, who is remembered not just for his sporting prowess but also his sharp tongue. He talked compellingly about the sport as well as religion, life and death.

“Life would be very boring without feelings, without emotions. And there are some feelings that only we [Formula One drivers] can experience. It's a fortunate and unique position to be in, but it's stressful at the same time. Either winning, or breaking a record, losing, going through a corner at a speed that a few seconds before you didn't think you could, failing, feeling luck, feeling anger, enthusiasm, stress or pain — only we can experience the feeling and level of it,” he once famously said of racing drivers.

His death changed F1

His commitment to the sport was such that fellow driver Alain Prost accused him of caring more about winning than living.

Senna's death prompted extensive changes within the sport, including the reform of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association. Engine capacities were reduced and tethers were introduced to help keep wheels from flying off following accidents.

The HANS device to protect drivers' heads and necks also became compulsory, and run-offs were extended and improved.

Since the reforms were put into place following Senna’s death, there have been no other F1 fatalities in a grand prix.

Imola is opening its door to F1 fans from Thursday through Sunday when as well as the Tamburello corner ceremony there will be a parade, a presentation on current F1 security and a F1 drivers' charity football match.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-05-01

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