Sunday 1st of May 1994, Imola, San Marino Grand Prix, 2.15pm:
Ayrton Senna crashed at high-speed into a wall. He died that day, he was 34 years old.
The whole weekend was premonitory, starting from the free practice session on Friday. During that session, a young Brazilian driver, Rubens Barrichello lost the control of his car, which literally took off and crashed into a tyre wall. When the rescues arrived next to the young driver, he was unconscious. The crash already affected Ayrton Senna because he was a good friend of Barrichello and considered him as his protégé. Despite the roughness of the crash, Barrichello had only a broken nose and a twisted wrist. But the worst had yet to come. The next day, during the qualifying session, another horrible crash happened. An Austrian driver named Roland Ratzenberger crashed his car into a wall. Apparently this crash was caused by the loss of an aerodynamic element of his car, one lap before the accident happened; the impact of the car into the wall was very rough. Ratzenberger was not as lucky as Barrichello, he died. He was 32 years old. Ayrton Senna was again really shocked. After this crash happened, he took a car from the head office of the circuit and went on the track to see where Ratzenberger died and to understand better what just happened.
After this death, everyone was wondering if the F.I.A. (International Automobile Federation) would cancel the Grand Prix. According to the Italian law, if any death occurs on a circuit, in that case they should immediately cancel the event. This would have meant no more race, the circuit would have been closed and they would have been forced to open an investigation...This was totally unimaginable.
Thereby, to avoid cancelling the race, the FIA declared that Ratzenberger died during his transfer to hospital, and not on the track. After that, Senna was about to retire from the race, he didn't want to race. During an interview he confessed that he had negative feelings, that he was not comfortable with pushing the car to the limits, and also because of what happened for the past two days, he was not confident. But after all he decided to race.
Sunday, 2pm, the nightmare kept on going...Right after the start of the race, a collision involved several cars and the track was full of cars fragments, tyres were flying all over the place. But that was not enough to stop the race and cancel the Grand Prix. The security car came out so the marshals could clean up the track. When the race started again, Senna was leading. It was the first real race lap, and that is when the accident happened. In the middle of a curve, Senna’s car went straight to the wall at a very high-speed.Everyone knew it was him. And everyone was wondering how it could have happened.
According to the telemetry data of his car, Senna did try everything to avoid hitting that wall.
Right after the crash, an investigation has opened, to clarify the reasons of this fatal crash. A lot of hypotheses were claimed. Was it a driving error? Was it debris left on track that could have damaged his car? According to the results of the investigation, the crash was caused by the breakage of his car’s steering column. It was Senna himself who asked his mechanics to change it a few days earlier, which they did. It was only 3 years later that a trial has opened. Six persons were charged for manslaughter against Senna, including the founder of the Williams Team, Franck Williams, and after about 10 months of trial, all of them were acquitted.
The truthful reason of Ayrton Senna's fatal crash still remains a mystery. And even 20 years later many questions remained unanswered. Nevertheless, many people agree that this Grand Prix should have never been raced.