The day Ayrton Senna died was two weeks before my wife and I were to be married. She had a little cottage in Somerset and we were down there decorating. We stopped working to watch the race, we watched right through to the end and it was clear by the time of the podium that something was very seriously wrong, although I don’t recall his death being known to the viewers at that time.
We were both big Senna fans, having met him during our first holiday together at the 1992 Monaco GP. The next day we travelled up to Silverstone for a Bank Holiday F3000 race. The route goes past where the Williams factory used to be in Didcot, so we stopped off and bought some flowers to leave at the gate. We were surprised to see maybe 40-50 other people there to do the same.
During the minute’s silence at Silverstone, the ice cream vans and stalls all turned their generators off. The place was packed but completely silent. I think that was when the enormity of it hit home.
It was a sunny Easter Sunday and I’d gone with my family to a resort by the Douro river, just outside Oporto, my hometown.
It was a family tradition to watch the race on TV. The excitement of hearing my dad shouting “They’re on the grid, it’s going to start!” was followed by running through the hall to find my spot in the couch together with my Dad, Mom and sister. There were only two TV channels in Portugal back then. Then it happened. The Portuguese commentator was Senna’s friend and his voice couldn’t hide the worry.
Senna was a hero of mine and things were rather sombre after the death of Roland Ratzenberger on the Saturday. We never could have imagined a similar fate befalling the great Ayrton Senna. The race went from bad to worse with the crash of JJ Lehto and Pedro Lamy – TV footage showing debris and wheels clearing the fencing and heading into the crowd.
The safety car was obviously going too slow and this was clearing irritating Senna. When the restart happened you could see that Ayrton appeared to be on the ragged edge through Tamburello. The next time round the car didn’t make it. When the car came to rest we really expected an angry Senna to emerge. But the body language of the fire marshals told a different story. I remember Murray Walker mentioning that his head had moved, which was a good sign (unfortunately this was quite the opposite) and the BBC footage went to the pitlane.
I was at Imola that day and I saw Ayrton Senna crash from a spot very close to where Roland Ratzenberger perished.
In those days an entry ticket was cheap and easy to come by, but I discovered that the parents of a colleague owned the house on the inside of the Tosa hairpin. I was sitting on the window sill of the bedroom just inside the Villeneuve kink looking back towards Tamburello. We were waiting for the safety car to pull in. When it did I saw a car career off and hit the barriers.
At the time we thought it was Senna and our fears were confirmed by the TV. In fact, those images still haunt me because Italian TV played everything in graphic detail until Senna was taken away. Jonathan Loader
As MD at Donington Park, I always paid my respects every May 1st, to the statue Tom Wheatcroft had erected to Ayrton, with Fangio, outside the Museum. Every year, and movingly, I met Brazilians who had travelled to Donington especially to be there on that day, and to see the Senna display. The awe and respect in which the man is rightly held was further underlined on a racing weekend at Imola where, every day, there were fresh flowers on the memorial there at trackside.
I was driving on the M2 with my wife and two children, both of whom had been competing in a ballroom dancing competition in Folkestone, when my mobile phone rang and a friend simply said: “Senna’s dead”!
I pulled onto the hard shoulder and it took me another 15 minutes or so to compose myself to complete the rest of the very sombre drive home.
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