It was 20 years ago today that Simtek Formula One driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed trying to qualify for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari when he went nearly straight on into the barrier at high speed. And the sport was forever changed.The day before Ratzenberger’s fatal accident, 21-year-old Rubens Barrichello had a frighteningly violent crash that could’ve been just as catastrophic. Then, on race day, the unimaginable happened: Ayrton Senna, the nearly-immortal 3-time World Champion careened off the road at the turn in to Tamburello at about 190 mph. Telemetry showed that Senna had slowed the car down to 135 mph in two seconds, but the angle and force that he hit the wall were too much to overcome that day.
Due to these events, and Senna being such a high profile figure in racing, the sport was forced to take a hard look at ways to make safety a priority like never before. In the months and years that followed, driver head and neck restraint systems and higher cockpit sides became mandatory, as well as FIA crash frontal crash tests. Racing is still dangerous, but it has become much more manageable since that day in Imola. Ironically, NASCAR had to learn these lessons after it lost the great Dale Earnhardt several years later due to a basilar skull fracture. NASCAR now mandates head and neck restraints as well.
SkySportsF1 has begun airing a series of programs commemorating Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger called “The Last Teammate” through May 2, which it is collectively calling Senna Week. Damon Hill and David Brabham were brought in to give their thoughts on the race weekend and insights into their teammates.[youtube id=”EFUZuMBPq9o” width=”633″ height=”356″]
On the anniversary of that tragic weekend, let us pause to remember Roland: a true racer chasing the ultimate dream. pic.twitter.com/o12W6xElDP
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) April 30, 2014
Tweet us your favourite Senna moment for our “Fan’s Top 5 Senna Memories” commemorating his 20th Anniversary tomorrow pic.twitter.com/3beYYDE2UE
— Team McLaren (@TeamMcLaren) April 30, 2014
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) April 30, 2014