Tamil Nadu and parts of the world which watch Tamil films celebrate today as May Day but more importantly as their “Thala” (Boss in colloquial Tamil) Ajith Kumar’s birthday. Ajith, a huge film star and an automobile racer, considers Ayrton Senna his idol, so much so he wears a yellow helmet in tribute. Coincidentally, Hugo Boss, or just “Boss” as it is famously known, was a sponsor on Senna’s Helmet.
It is on this very day 19 years ago that the three time world champion was killed in the fateful accident while he was leading at the San Marino Grand Prix. He was even advised to withdraw from the race that day, even the sport entirely, and to go fishing instead, after Roland Ratzenberger crash the previous day during qualifying. To this, Senna replied that he could not stop racing. These were the worst of several accidents that took place that weekend and were the first fatal accidents to occur during a Formula One race in twelve years. These incidents became a turning point in the safety of Formula One, prompting the implementation of new safety measures and the re-formation of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association.
As of today Senna’s crash remains the last to claim the life of a Formula One driver. In the beginning of 1994, he voiced his concerns over the FW16 saying “I have a very negative feeling about driving the car and driving it on the limit and so on. Therefore, I didn’t have a single run or a single lap that I felt comfortable or reasonably confident. I am uncomfortable in the car, it all feels wrong. We changed the seat and the wheel, but even so I was already asking for more room. Going back to when we raced at Estoril last September, it feels much more difficult. Some of that is down to the lack of electronic change. Also, the car has its own characteristics which I’m not fully confident in yet. It makes you a lot more tense and that stresses you.”
During the 7th Lap, Senna was off the racing line at the Tamburello corner, and ran straight off the track and collided with an unprotected concrete barrier. He exited the track at about 310 km/h and was even able to bring down the speed to about 218 km/h in less than 2 seconds before crashing into the wall. The impact, tore off the right front wheel and nose cone, and spun the car to a halt. After the car came to a halt, he remained motionless in the cockpit. The right front wheel seems to have shot up upon impact, entered the cockpit and hit the right frontal area of his helmet. The force of the wheel’s impact seemed to have thrust his head back against the headrest, causing fatal skull fractures. A portion of the suspension which was attached to the wheel had partially penetrated his Bell M3 helmet and caused trauma to his head. It also appeared that a jagged piece of the assembly had penetrated the helmet visor just above his right eye. Senna was using a medium sized 58 cm M3 helmet with a new thin Bell visor. Once the car stopped, his helmet was motionless and was leaning slightly to a side.
Dr Sid Watkins, Senna’s friend and a world-renowned neurosurgeon, also the Formula One Safety and Medical Delegate, and the head of the Formula One on-track medical team, later said “He looked serene. I raised his eyelids and it was clear from his pupils that he had a massive brain injury. We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did, he sighed and, although I am not religious, I felt his spirit depart at that moment”.
Senna, a devout Catholic, once said “Just because I believe in God, just because I have faith in God, it doesn’t mean that I’m immune. It doesn’t mean that I’m immortal”. But he has become immortal in the minds of millions of fans and will always be revered as one of the greatest ever Formula One racers of all time.