IMOLA, Italy: Thousands of Formula One fans on Thursday commemorated the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death at the scene of the sport’s darkest day in Imola in Italy as tributes poured in for the late Brazilian master driver.
Brazilian flags were hung on a fence at the Tamburello corner where the triple world champion’s Williams careered off into a concrete barrier on lap seven at 190mph (307km/h) in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Much-loved by enthusiasts for his passion and ambition, Senna is considered one of the greatest racing drivers of all time and his death at the age of 34 prompted extensive changes to make Formula One less risky.
“I was here at the Variante Bassa chicane and we watched Ayrton veer off on the giant screen. Our hearts sank when they told us the news,” said one fan, 31-year-old Marco, who wore a crash helmet like Senna’s.
Brazilians also came for the emotional Imola gathering, with 39-year-old Daniela from Belo Horizonte saying: “What moves me about Senna was his humility, his enormous charisma. He is in our hearts like family.”
Renato, 57, from Minais Gerais in Brazil, said: “What I liked about Ayrton was his will to win.
“He proved that a Brazilian could be internationally known and that was a great encouragement for us.” A giant banner nearby read: “Ayrton Forever”.
Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, a two-time world champion, remembered Senna as his boyhood idol.
“I would watch the news and it would always be him winning Formula One in his yellow crash helmet. He will always remain immortal,” the 32-year-old said.
The anniversary brought back the sense of bewilderment and loss from Senna’s death -- 24 hours after Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed and two days after Rubens Barrichello was injured also at Imola.
The Senna commemorations were made all the more poignant as another great F1 driver, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, continues his fight for life after the German’s skiing accident on December 29. In a tragic irony, it was Schumacher who went on to win the Imola race 20 years ago when it controversially went ahead despite Senna’s deadly injuries. AFP