The events that played out on my TV screen in the early morning hours 18 years ago today were ingrained forever into my mind, as they were for millions of Formula 1 fans around the world.

Ayrton Senna’s heavy crash from the lead of the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola at first looked like just another unlikely bump in the road of his surprisingly slow start to the season for Williams-Renault; then, it became clear that things were more serious; then, bizarrely, impossibly, grave. The images on my screen were plain enough, but still surreal – all the more so as they followed the shocks we had experienced earlier that weekend, of Roland Ratzenberger’s tragic death in qualifying the day before, and Rubens Barichello’s near-tragic wreck in practice on the Friday. But this was Ayrton Senna, the master of the art. Such things couldn’t happen to him…could they?

Senna’s records have been recounted in detail so much that one tends to skip over the numbers – the 65 poles, the 41 wins, the three World Championships – without fully processing the impact they had on the sport and his contemporaries. Even the fact that his records have been broken hasn’t diminished Senna’s place in the minds and hearts of those of us who were privileged to watch him working his magic. And now Asif Kapadia’s masterful film Senna has enabled more recent arrivals to F1 fandom to gain an understanding of Senna’s skills as well as his forceful, engaging charisma.

For it’s the aggregate of all those things that made Senna more than a great racer, more than a star, but a hero for me and countless others. We recognized his flaws – he could be churlish when thwarted by mechanical failures or when he thought he was being unfairly treated or denied his due, but we gave him more leeway than we might have others in the same circumstances, since we recognized it as another part of the passion that he brought to all aspects of his profession.

For young racers, too, particularly from his Brazilian homeland, Senna was both model and mentor, as Tony Kanaan relates in his personal remembrance of Ayrton in the next issue of RACER magazine. The June RACER, which begins mailing to subscribers at the end of this week, explores the conception of heroism in motorsports in a series of recollections by racers of their heroes, as well as analysis of how and why our sport’s icons have gained their unique places in history.

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