34-year old Ayrton Senna was the man to watch when it came to fierce wheel-to-wheel battles in F1. Watching him race felt like witnessing the car fly through the circuit. The Brazilian Legend had an incredible career in motorsport which sadly ended at the San Marino Grand Prix on 1 May 1994.
The Williams racer had under his belt three world championships and 41 grand prix wins. Having scored the pole positions at Imola in the FW16 F1 car, Senna was leading the pack on Sunday’s race until he approached Tamburello on the 7th lap.
The approach was fast as one comes down right from the finish carrying excessive speeds. Senna was doing 307 kmph (191 mph) when he approached the corner and ran in a straight line off the track, crashing into the concrete retaining wall at 233 kmph (145 mph). Telemetry data indicated an application of the brakes for around 2 seconds.
The front of his F1 car was strewn around pieces and Senna was hardly found to be moving in his cockpit. The red flag was waved and Senna was extracted from the car by Sid Watkins head of the Formula One on-track medical team. He had to be treated on the spot as he was reported to have a weak heartbeat.
His temporal artery had ruptured during the crash, causing a blood loss of 4.5 litres! Because of the severity of his condition, Watkins performed an on-site Tracheotomy which involves making a cut on the anterior aspect of the neck and opening a direct airway through an incision in the windpipe to make way for the tracheal tube. This could’ve helped him breathe without the use of his nose or mouth.
Senna was then immediately airlifted to Bologna’s Maggiore Hospital under the supervision of intensive care anaesthetist Giovanni Gordini who was a part of the medical team. However, at 18:40, the head of the hospital’s emergency department announced that Senna had passed away.
It was revealed that Senna’s official time of death was 14:17 which was when he impacted the wall that caused his brain to stop functioning. Watkins later revealed that he had suspected this condition after witnessing Senna’s dilated pupils, which happens when the brainstem becomes inactive.
It is believed that the front right wheel and suspension were thrown back into the cockpit as a result of the impact, and struck Senna’s head on the right, forcing it back against the headrest. Despite the protection, he suffered a ruptured temporal artery, brain injuries and skull fractures.
Sadly, a furled Austrian flag was found in Senna’s wrecked F1 car. Senna wanted to raise it after the race at Imola in honour of Austrian Racer Roland Ratzenberger who had passed away a day before during qualifying.
After Roland’s death was announced officially, Sid Watkins said: “Ayrton broke down and cried on my shoulder.”
He tried persuading Senna to not race the following day by saying:
“What else do you need to do? You have been world champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let’s go fishing.”
Senna replied saying:
“Sid, there are certain things over which we have no control. I cannot quit, I have to go on.”
Since Senna’s crash, health and safety rules drastically changed in Formula One for good as it is one of the safest forms of motorsports in the world today.
Speaking of the race at Imola, Michael Schumacher went on to win the race later that day. He won the world championship for Benetton that year which was the first of his seven world championships.