How Ayrton Senna will be remembered at Imola, 30 years on


Inspired helmet designs, ground-shaking demo runs and a Monaco parade to remember: how the motor sport world is paying tribute to the late, great Ayrton Senna

21 Pierre Gasly drives Ayrton Senna's T

A familiar site: Senna's iconic lid design, incorporated into that of Gasly's

Jakob Ebrey

For a decade until April 1994, there was rarely a grand prix that didn’t feature a car topped with a bright yellow helmet harrying opponents, slicing around corners on the visibly raged edge, or pulling away into the distance.

This weekend, 30 years on from the tragic 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Pierre Gasly will revive memories of Ayrton Senna’s enthralling talent, as he wears a close replica of the Brazilian’s iconic helmet during the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP weekend.

The one-off design made its debut earlier this month when Gasly drove Senna’s first F1 car — the Toleman TG183B — around Silverstone. it was filmed by Sky Sports F1 and the feature will be aired during its Grand Prix coverage this weekend, as one of a number of tributes to commemorate both Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, three decades after their fatal Imola crashes.

Four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel will return to Imola in racing overalls for a demonstration run in Senna’s 1993 McLaren MP4/8 — a car that the German now owns.

Pierre Gasly Senna helmet Imola GP

For Senna

Pierre Gasly/Alpine

“It was just an incredible feeling and sensation to be just be able to to drive in Ayrton’s first Formula 1 car,” Gasly told Motor Sport. “I really liked his sort of personality that he had inside the car, but also outside the car: his values, his beliefs and what he gave back to his community in Brazil.

“When there was the tragic incident in Imola and you saw how many people were were impacted, you could see he was more than a Formula 1 driver. He was an icon worldwide, and even 30 years later when we go back to Brazil you can still see the impact on the crowd. Every year we go back there you can hear people screaming his name. It’s just very unbelievable the legacy he’s left behind in our sport but also worldwide and in Brazil.”

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Vettel will be driving Senna’s last race-winning machine, the McLaren MP4/8 this weekend. It was far from the most successful car the Brazilian ever drove but that didn’t stop him from producing some truly historic moments while sat in its cockpit. Although Senna took just a single pole position across the 1993 campaign, he still scored a remarkable five victories in Brazil, Donington, Monaco, Japan and Australia and finished second in the drivers’ championship behind the dominant Williams FW15C of career-long rival Alain Prost.

“Ayrton Senna was not only a driver who I valued highly for being one of the best racing has ever seen, but also a man of great compassion,” said Vettel via Instagram. “It’s been 30 years since his accident and I would like to pay tribute to Ayrton.

“I will be in Imola for the Grand Prix to drive his car, the McLaren MP4/8. I hope to see you on Sunday, May 19.”

Away from the circuit itself, local fans will be able to attend the MAGIC art exhibit at the San Domenico Museum, which features 94 black and white photos of the Brazilian that narrate some of his most unforgettable achievements as well as highlight his “human side”. The official poster of the Emilia Romagna GP weekend also features some Senna flair, with the colours of the Brazilian flag woven into an illustration of the track.

McLaren Senna MP4/8 1993

Senna’s final winning machine will roar again at Imola

Grand Prix Photo

Imola’s weekend-long Senna tributes come after the Monaco parade last Saturday. Gabriel Bortoleto, a member of the McLaren driver academy and F3 champion of 2023, was put behind the wheel of the machine that started it all: Senna’s very first go-kart which he drove to a South American title in 1977 and is now owned by McLaren team boss Zak Brown.

Behind Bortoleto came fellow McLaren junior Cristina Gutiérrez, in the hot-seat of Senna’s title-winning Formula Ford 2000 car (the 1982 Van Diemen RF82), and former F1 driver Eddie Irvine — who raced against Senna from 1993-1994 — in the Brazilian’s 1983 Martin Brundle-beating Ralt RT3 F3 car.

The rest of the field was made up of Senna’s greatest F1 hits: the almost Monaco-winning 1984 Toleman TG183B, the 1985 Lotus 97T — with which he won his first grands prix in Portugal and Belgium — and finally the McLaren MP4/5B: a six-time race victor which Senna controversially used to deliberately crash out title-rival Alain Prost at the 1990 season finale in Japan in order to claim his second world championship.

Former F1 drivers Stefan Johansson (Senna’s first F1 team-mate) Thierry Boutsen and Bruno Senna (the Brazilian’s nephew) were the respective pilots of each car and put on a dazzling display — a fitting tribute to Senna who remains the most decorated Monaco GP winner of all time, having found the top step on six separate occasions.

Senna Toleman 1984

Senna's Toleman returns to Monaco

ACM/Philippe Magoni

Bortoleto Monaco Historic 2024

Bortoleto travels down the Monaco pit-lane in Senna's go-kart

ACM/Jean-Marc Follete

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