Hrmm… This is a particularly difficult subject for me. I was 16 years old at the time and as one previous poster has commented, being in Australia, meant that the race was on quite late at night (10pm on Sunday night from memory) so being an F1 fan in the 80′s & 90′s in Australia required some real commitment, now Ch10 have the commercial rights, the coverage has been far better, but races are still latish.
My father and my mother and I all watched the races religiously. Having a German background, our loyalty laid with the young up and coming superstar M. Schumacher, having watched him from the first race in Spa 91, we loved watching this kid shine. We all thought Senna was hard done by in the past and I have some vague recollections of drawing McLarens with Senna’s number on it when I was in primary school, so we didn’t have the same sort of rivalry with Senna than we did with the likes of Hill and Villeneuve.
In any case, on this particular night we were all watching as we had heard about the incidents of the 94 Imola weekend to that point. First being Rubinho’s off in Friday Practise. For me, it was tough for me to see that accident, I still remember the sound of the sickening metal thud as rubens was launched into the tire barrier and the car landed upside down.
Then obviously the terrible accident that beset Roland Ratzenberger in the Simtek. Being an Australian, I was keenly interested in this, because initially they weren’t sure what caused the accident and thought it may have been a failure on the car, and I was relieved when they decided not to race, as Aussie driver David Brabham was Ratzenbergers teammate at the time.
We were already sad about all of this news, we didn’t get coverage of Qualifying or Practise sessions, we just got information from the internet and tv news services. The race however didn’t get any easier and at the start, the accident between Pedro Lamy and JJ Lehto was massive, the latter whom only came back to F1 racing after having a broken neck/back from a testing accident pre-season. JJ was never the same racer, to this day I don’t know if it was the pre-season test accident that took it out of JJ or if it was this incident, I suspect the latter, given the events in which were to unfold.
My memory of the accident is extremely vivid. Sitting there watching Senna ahead from the on board shot of Schumi’s Benetton, then they were starting to take the flat out Tamburello corner, only to watch Senna go almost straight on into the wall. The director cut back to an outside shot as the accident unfolded, his car bouncing off the wall and skidding out, nearly re-entering the track. I then watched in disbelief as the rest of the field made their way through the debris.
It is interesting to read other peoples accounts of the accident, because the one image that encapsulates this entire accident is the image of senna lying motionless in the car, albeit a couple of head twiches.
As per previous posts, there was no reaction, it was an empty feeling. All 3 of us sat there staring blankly at the tv, we all knew this wasn’t going to end up ok. None of us spoke, until I asked my dad, do you think he will be alright?
The rest of the race was a blur, there was another incident in pitlane where a wheel had come off and injured mechanics and in the end Schumi won the race. But all of this didn’t matter, all we wanted to know was, how was Ayrton?
We didn’t get confirmation until we heard it in the news the next day. I remember my friend telling me at school, I was quiet and went numb.
For each fatality I heard in motorsport after that, I always remember that weekend. Imola in 1994 will always be etched in my memory. The last month or so has been extremely difficult for me.
I am very glad that I watched the Senna documentary a couple of months ago, I was so saddened by that documentary, he raced hard, he was ruthless on the track, and he will forever be missed by those who remembered him race.
For those finding it hard to get through these tough times, I always think of what my father told me when I first saw Rubinho’s Friday Practise crash. “You have to understand that these drivers choose to race, and they do it because they love to race.”
And after all these years, I believe it means that if you were going to die, wouldn’t you want to have lived life doing something that you truly loved? I believe that all race car drivers are pure at heart, because ultimately its not about the money, I’m sure they would all do it because of the love they have with what they do.
Sorry about the length of this post, but I am trying to write down exactly how I felt about that entire weekend, as for me, it isn’t as clear cut as “where were you when it happened.”