25th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death
We look back on a motor racing legend who was voted world’s greatest driver by his F1 peers
May 1 2019 marked the 25th anniversary of the death of legendary Formula One driver Ayrton Senna.
An idol to millions and regarded as one of the best drivers of all time, the Brazilian died after crashing in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola while leading in his Williams-Renault.
In a celebrated career spanning 10 years, Senna won the F1 championships for McLaren in 1988, 1990 and 1991 but it was his qualifying speed that really cemented his legend.
Until 2006 he held the record for most pole positions, at 65. He is still in third place, behind Lewis Hamilton on 84 pole positions and Michael Schumacher on 68, while he is the fifth-most successful driver of all with 41 race wins.
The Brazilian holds a record six victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, and was particularly revered for his wet weather skills, highlighted in famed performances such as the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix and the 1993 European Grand Prix.
Senna made his F1 debut with midfield runners Toleman in 1984. His rookie season netted him three podiums, the most defining moment being his second place at the rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix where he was hauling in race leader Alain Prost by around four seconds a lap when the race was stopped early for safety reasons.
Spotting his talent, Lotus snapped him up the following year and he took his first victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix, the second round of the season.
After six wins with the fast but unreliable Lotus, Senna moved to McLaren in 1988 to begin an illustrious partnership that delivered three world titles and 35 race wins. In 1991 Senna became the youngest ever three-time world champion.
Senna had a bitter rivalry for a number of years with four-times world champion Prost, who was his McLaren team-mate in 1988 and 1989. The feud, depicted in the 2010 Senna documentary, led to a number of acrimonious race incidents between the two, although they later reconciled and Prost was a pallbearer at Senna’s funeral.
Senna moved to the Williams team in 1994, where he qualified on pole in the first two Grands Prix but retired from both races. He also lined up first for the fateful San Marino GP, the third race of the season and one the darkest weekends in F1 history when it also claimed the life of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger in a qualifying crash. Senna was leading the race when his Williams speared off the track at the high-speed Tamburello corner and crashed into the wall.
It was a tragedy that rocked the sport.
The Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning and Senna’s funeral was attended by many prominent motor racing figures, while an estimated 3-million people took to the streets Senna’s hometown of São Paulo to offer their respects.
The Imola tragedies heralded sweeping safety measures in F1 and only one driver, Jules Bianchi in 2014, has since suffered a fatal accident.
Perhaps Senna’s most lasting legacy is that he was voted the greatest Formula One driver of all time in a 2009 Autosport survey of 217 F1 drivers.