Where a hero died
Twenty years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning, I was watching the San Marino Grand Prix live on tv and saw my favourite racing driver suffer a horrendous crash.
In a state of stunned disbelief I went to bed, and cried when I woke to hear he had died.
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Fifteen years later, Mike and I were planning our 2010 escapade to Europe. Italy was a ‘must’ destination on account of the grand prix at Monza – and this put us only a couple of hours away from Imola, home to Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari.
Home to the high-speed Tamburello curve where Ayrton Senna crashed his Williams into the wall at 233km/h, sustaining massive trauma from which he could not survive.
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Upon reaching the town we went directly to the circuit. It was late afternoon on a damp, grey day and light was fading. We weren’t sure where to go but eventually worked it out.
In the middle of the track is a public park. While the circuit itself is properly secured, there seemed to be free access around the infield and outfield.
Beside the circuit on the infield, near the crash site, was a bronze sculpture. Flowers had been placed on it. Through the fence, across the track, we saw the wall where Ayrton Senna crashed. Absorbent crash padding was fixed in front of the unforgiving concrete, one of the safety measures implemented afterwards no doubt.
An underpass took us to the outside of the track. The site of the crash aftermath was signposted by adornments strung up on the fence – faded signs, pictures, flowers, a t-shirt and of course a Brazilian flag. Scrambling up a small bank to become eye level with the track, we saw a bronze plate fixed to the circuit fence but there was a perimeter fence in the way. Mike’s eagle eyes spotted where the fence had been cut so we peeled it back and squeezed in as many others had obviously done before us. The place had a bit of a sacred feel about it, not just the fact it has become something of a shrine but also in the fading evening light it was a quiet and reflective time of day.
In the years after the crash, changes made to the track to improve safety included a reconfiguration of the Tamburello curve. However, other matters such as facility quality (politics and profitability too no doubt), saw Imola fall off the Formula One calendar after 2006.
I’m not sure I knew that because my close interest in F1 waned about 20 years ago today.