Ayrton Senna: Pictures from Imola 1994

The Ayrton Senna documentary is now available for purchase on DVD in North America (finally!). Davin reviewed this movie here at StartingGrid during its theatrical release. While I agree with all the criticisms Davin had about the film overlooking Senna’s exploits in the lesser formulas and particularly Senna’s input in the development of the Honda/Acura NSX (a car equal to the Ford GT40 for its impact on the established exotic car makers), I cannot give this film anything less than an enthusiastic “two thumbs up”. What can I say?

Ayrton Senna is my hero and will always be the best driver that ever was to me. The Senna documentary is a great piece of film making that will hopefully share Ayrton’s Promethean driving talent with generations to come.

Let’s commemorate his memory with some pictures my friend Alan Dahl shot at Imola in 1994. Alan was there visiting an autocross friend who found himself working for Scuderia Ferrari as a computer programmer (talk about a dream job! “I’m a programmer for the Ferrari F1 team, you?”). I’ve shared some of Alan’s work before.

Senna P1 - photo by Alan Dahl

Ayrton Senna leading the San Marino Grand Prix, May 1, 1994 Photo by Alan Dahl


That lede photo may be one of the last ever taken of Senna. It appears to show the end of lap 6 (the first 5 laps were run under caution – behind the safety car) where Senna is powering out of Variente Bassa onto the starting line straight under full throttle ahead of Michael Schumacher and Gerhard Berger. He would reach nearly 200 miles per hour before the mechanical failure happened that pitched him off the track into a fatal crash at the Tamburello corner.

Red flag - photo by Alan Dahl

1994 San Marino Grand Prix Red Flag – photo by Alan Dahl

I was watching this race on television and remained hopeful that Senna was merely injured. According to Alan, that Senna was gravely injured was not evident at the track; they only found out when they got home and read the RAI teletext. The helicopter that landed on the track was out of view of most fans and the track hospital’s helicopter (visible in the photo below) did not move.

The ripples of Senna’s passing were immediate; I cried my eyes out and Ferrari pulled an emotionally distraught Gerhard Berger (a close friend of Senna’s) from his perfectly functional race car with the plausible deniability protecting excuse of “suspension damage” while Gerhard was in a podium finishing position. Berger’s teammate that day was Ferrari test driver Nicola Larini, who was filling in for Jean Alesi. Larini had extensive experience testing the Ferrari F1 car at Imola and knew the track better than anyone. Nicola Larini would finish second, the only podium finish of his F1 career.

Senna's Williams is removed from the track - photo by Alan Dahl

Senna’s Williams is removed from the track – photo by Alan Dahl

The race would eventually be won by Michael Schumacher who said he, “couldn’t feel satisfied, couldn’t feel happy” about the victory. This was Formula 1’s darkest day in the modern era. The drivers and fans all felt secure in the technology of the cars to protect the drivers. Senna’s crash was a shocking slap of the reality of the danger posed by driving a racing car at nearly 200 miles per hour.

Racing safety has improved markedly since Senna’s crash. While Senna hated the speed limiting chicanes added to classic race tracks in an effort to limit speeds (and is spitting from heaven at the thought of any chicane being named for him), he did appreciate the need to protect racing drivers as much as possible. While the HANS device I wear in my LeMons car may not have prevented Senna’s death, it has saved many drivers’ lives, which Ayrton Senna would be highly supportive of.
Imola Ticket Front - photo by Alan Dahl

If you are a racing fan, like the NSX, or appreciate the passionate pursuit of a man’s dream buy a copy of Senna. When anyone asks you why racing or wrenching on your project car is important to you, hand then this DVD.

8 thoughts on “Ayrton Senna: Pictures from Imola 1994

  1. Pingback: |Hero| Ayrton Senna’s Formula Cars | |StartingGrid.org|

  2. Thank you for this article and the pictures. Alan’s second picture is something I have never seen before. I didn’t know they stopped before the final chicane! I think Michael was the only driver who stopped on the grid.

    Imola 1994 will forever be seared into my memory. I expected the events to fade after nearly 20 years … but no 😦

  3. I was very impressed with the movie, Senna. Covering the loss of an icon can easily become a hagiography, but the documentary had a modest touch, and avoided the maudlin. Senna himself was the embodiment of the old sports footnote that there are skills that cannot be taught, and his religious beliefs empowered him. As I watched, I kept remembering the wonderful line spoken by Eric Liddell’s character in Chariots of Fire: ‘I know God made me for a purpose, but he also made me FAST, and when I run, I can feel his pleasure.’

  4. Thanks for the updates! It was really a tragic race which besides the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger and the huge crash of Barrichello during qualifying there was also a crash at the start that sent a tire into the stands injuring several and an incident where a tire came loose from a car in the pits, striking a Ferrari mechanic before heading down the pit exit and onto the track (I have a picture of the tire too some 15 feet in the air as it bounces down the pit exit).

  5. Pingback: |LeMons| Pujo! is a Steerable Smoke Bomb | | St@rtingGrid |

  6. Pingback: |Photo|- Thoughts while remembering Senna (21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994) | | St@rtingGrid | Automotive Lifestyle Blog

  7. The greatest driver in history. Was a kid when he tragically died, but I still remember it.

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