Imola 20 Years After Senna – Part 1

Senna movie pic eyesOn May 1 2014 it was 20 years since the death of Ayrton Senna, at Imola in Northern Italy during the San Marino Grand Prix. It also happened to be 59 years since Moss’ epic win in the 1955 Mille Miglia – strange how these dates coincide. Senna’s career coincided with my own teenage years and growing passion for motor racing and Formula 1 – infact, I can’t separate following motor racing from following Senna. With the recent release of the excellent Senna movie, a new generation of racing fans, and, remarkably, many people who are avowedly not racing fans or car people, are seeing what those of us following Formula 1 in the eighties saw: this guy is different.

Senninha

In the car, Senna was fearless, committed, more on the ragged edge than anyone or anything I had ever seen. Through my twenties, I took that as something of a mantra. In 2004, I visited Imola for the first time, aboard an Aprilia sportsbike, scaring the bejesus out of myself with it. Tamburello, the corner where the accident happened, had since been modified, however on the inside of the curve sat a bronze statue of a pensive Senna, and curiously to me at the time, a childrens playground – I knew nothing of Senninah and the charitable work he did in Brazil at that time, only the racing stuff. In the car park hard up by the grandstand, as I dismounted, one guy made reference to my helmet, which was a 1986 Senna replica I had had painted especially. Other than that, it was like any other day, a few people enjoying the park which the track bisects.

Senna tribute Honda CBR1000 / FirebladeIMG_20140501_150309_685Fast forward a decade, and there are four days of events at Imola and thousands of people thronging to commemorate Senna. A few weeks before, the social media worlds had buzzed with shared images of Senna “He would have been 53 today”, and at least two contemporary Formula 1 drivers have helmet designs inspired by Senna’s. The hotel where I stayed was the same one He had stayed at, and you could visit the room where He spent His Final Night. Can you say James Dean ?

As Senna’s star waxed, I really began to drill into the history of our sport. As he first locked horns with Prost, in the spring of 1988, it was 20 years since the passing of Jim Clark. Comment was made in Motor Sport, and as a teenager I realized that something special happens when twenty years has passed – 10 years is 30 to 40, or 50 to 60. 20 years is different: it is 25 to 45, young to middle aged, and that seems to make the twentieth anniversary significant. When Senna died in 1994, it had the same impact on the sport as the loss of Clark had in 1968. He was the fastest, the best, the leader. If he could go that way, well, what chance did anyone else stand ? So, back in 1994, I decided to make it to Imola for the twentieth anniversary – it would be fitting, since I would be 40. It so happened I had opportunity to go in 2004 too – I can still feel that Aprilia shaking between my legs – but somehow, I felt 20 years would be the real yardstick, and so it has proven.

Research online indicated that events would be taking place. At first the circuit homepage had a “announcement coming soon of Senna Commemoration weekend” – and what actually took place was four days of events, with every Tom, Dick and Luigi thrashing his tuner Civic, Fiat Coupe Turbo or sixties Ferrari round the track on some days, and a semi-pro racing series at the weekend. The atmosphere was more festival than maudlin, and that was far from the only thing which was remarkable about the experience – more on this to follow shortly.

Beyond the hype – Sam Posey on why Senna was so fast: