In the annals of Italian motorsport, there have been numerous serious or fatal crashes at top-level meets in top-level international motorsport meet involving world-class stars.
The legendary Monza speedplant was sadly home to many, most notably in 1928 as over twenty (it is unknown if it was 20 or 27) spectators were killed when a car lept into the grandstands at the five-year old circuit during the traditional race meet. Three star drivers were killed in the same race meet in the south banking (runs parallel to the Parabolica) in the September 1933 race meet there. In 1961, the run from Vialone to Parabolica at Monza led to a crash between Jim Clark and Wolfgang von Trips that led to the death of the Count and 15 spectators dying (it also led to von Trips' teammate, the new F1 world champion Phil Hill, skipping his home race, F1's first run at Watkins Glen).
In 1973, officials refused to clean up the track (no kitty litter used as you'd see) following an oil spill late in the 350cc class at the Nations Grand Prix, leading to two stars of international motorcycle racing, Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini, dying when they ran past that oil slick at Curva Grande on Lap 2 of the 250cc class race (motorcycles did not use the chicanes just installed for F1; that was changed by 1976). In 1978, Ronnie Petersen was killed in a crash at the start of the Formula One meet. And in 2000, a corner worker was killed by debris during a crash at Della Roggia.
This was just Monza. The terror of motorsport and stars also struck other notable circuits.
At Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli (renamed for the Italian rider who was killed at the MotoGP 2011 Shell Advance Grand Prix in Sepang; the Ferrari F1 team lays flowers in Turn 11 at Sepang where he died), reigning MotoGP world champion Wayne Rainey was paralysed when he crashed when he crashed his motorcycle in Misano corner, then the first corner (the circuit was reversed in 2007) during the Italian MotoGP round in September 1993. The first race winner in history of the modern 600cc formula of Moto2 was killed that season when a three-bike crash occurred, and officials did not follow the proper way to treat severely injured riders, which usually is to stop the race. (NOTE: Under current FIM nomenclature, MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 refer also to the former 500cc, 250cc, and 125cc classes when they were two-stroke motorcycles; under modern 4-stroke classes they are 1,000cc, 600cc, and 250cc. There were also 80cc and 350cc classes in the past, but are no longer used.)
But of all terrifying tragedies in Italian motorsport, we come Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to the place that sadly, 20 years to the day, we mark a trio of horrific incidents in Formula One, and that is at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola.
On April 29, during the first of two 60-minute sessions, Rubens Barrichello's SASOL Jordan was launched by high kerbing in the Bassa chicane into the tyre barrier, and was concussed, done for the day.
But on Saturday, the second qualifying session, Roland Ratzenberger's MTV Simtek (a first-year team) running desperately to avoid being the only car to not make the field following Barrichello's medical disqualification, damaged a wing at Acque Minerale, the chicane that precedes the right-hander that leads to a straight cut by Variante Alta (the high chicane), into the double Rivazza corners. The front wing eventually failed at Villeneuve (a kink before Tosa) and led to a massive crash where Ratzenberger would die of a basal skull fracture (a symptom where Atlanta-based sportscar driver Jim Downing was developing what is now a mandatory piece of safety equipment in most motorsport today).
And Sunday would turn out to be troublesome. After a crash at the start, the race went under caution for a few laps before Ayrton Senna pulled ahead of Michael Schumacher on the restart. At 2:17 PM CET (8:17 AM ET), suspension failure on the Williams erupted, and the car headed straight-on into Tamburello, resulting in the crash that killed undoubtedly one of motorsport's greatest superstars.
Thursday morning at 8:17 AM EDT (2:17 AM CET), we pause to remember twenty years to the tragic death of a motorsport legend. And sometimes you wonder after further documentaries on other contemporary racers of the era why Ayrton Senna da Silva was such a superb driver, but reckless.
“He was a great racer, and it was a shame to see him go like the way he did.”
Yes, Dale, it was a shame in an era when many contemporary racing drivers of his era hung up the helmet and have been able to have successful lives outside of motorsport. Today's successful drivers can hang up the helmet and make five-figure salaries on the speaking circuit today. Contemporary racers who have hung up the helmet have become authors, and can easily make thousands per speech on the speaking circuit, in addition to successful business ventures. Drivers often reunite at old racers' reunions with vintage cars often, some even collecting their own cars.
But we imagine. What if Ayrton Senna had lived? Would he be on the speaking circuit and part of vintage F1 car reunions? Would he have been influential in more parts of industry?
We shall never know. It's been twenty years.
Adeus Ayrton. ◙