May 1st, 1994. San Marino Grand Prix at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, more commonly known as Imola. Tamburello corner, a high speed left turn which hosted its share of accidents. Nelson Piquet, Gerhard Berger, Michele Alboreto, Riccardo Patrese, and Rubens Barrichello just two days prior, have had accidents right there, on that very corner. On the seventh lap of the Grand Prix, while in first place, just ahead of Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna’s number 2 Williams FW16, went off track and hit the concrete wall of the curve at 135mph. Ayrton Senna’s death remains the most recent, and certainly the highest profile, Formula 1 race driver death. There have been other deaths in Formula 1 since then however, specifically that of John Dawson-Damer and Fritz Glatz, each one of whom was driving a vintage Forumla 1 cars in exhibition races. The more recent death of María de Villota, who succumbed to her injuries more than a year after her accident during a test, is the only one involving modern Formula 1 vehicles. While there have been other F1 accidents, such as Felipe Massa’s in 2009 where a suspension spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car just ahead hit him in his helmet, Kubica’s tumble in Montreal in 2007, Mark Webber’s wild back-flip in Spain, the fact that there has not been a death in twenty years is a statement to the car design and engineering. For reference, in the 1960s there were fourteen Formula 1 deaths. In the 1970s there were ten deaths in Formula 1. That is an astounding, and currently unfathomable, average of more than one death per season. More recent motorsport deaths of Dan Wheldon, Allan Simonsen, or even Dale Earnhardt prove, however, that while motorsport has come a long way in terms of safety, it still remains an amazingly dangerous sport. Furthermore, deadly motorsport accidents are not limited to professionals in ridiculously fast or open cockpit cars. To date, there have been two incidences of deaths in the 24 Hours of Lemons race series, Cort Summerfield and Sidney Brayton. In both cases the cause was determined not to be related to the vehicle or directly to the race, but rather to the individuals. No matter what the cause was, the result was still the same and in the eyes of anyone sane enough not to participate in it, motorsport is still extremely dangerous.
“…And the main motivation to all of us is to compete for victory, it’s not to come 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th. I race to win as long as I feel it’s possible”
Given what Ayrton Senna said about his gokart racing days, he would love the idea 24 Hours of Lemons, Chump Car or other similar series. Don’t let the crazy Lemons themes fool you when the green flag drops, it is real racing, it is pure racing, and that is why it is so popular and it is why he would have loved it. The cars are not the fastest, heck many drivers are far from good, but it is pure racing, where both those crappy cars and those passionate people being pushed to their limits. While Ayrton was aware of the danger he went for every opportunity, even though it could have cost him dearly. Next time you strap yourself into a steel box on wheels and decide to push it to its limit, please remember Ayrton and the other people mentioned above. Anything can happen, anywhere, at anytime. Race like Ayrton, but don’t leave anything to a chance, it may take take precious seconds away from way you, but could save you years.
“If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs me my life, I hope it is in one go. I would not like to be in a wheelchair. I would not like to be in a hospital suffering from whatever injury it was. If I’m going to live, I want to live fully, very intensely, because I am an intense person. It would ruin my life if I had to live partially.”
– Ayrton Senna da Silva (March 21, 1960 – ∞)
Reading homework relating to the above quote: Trackday Diaries: Dreams of Michael. A very interesting article regarding intense people like Senna and Schumacher. The article speaks of race car drivers but its point can be applied to many people: artists, musicians, investors, inventors, and other athletes. You may ask yourself, why are we talking about, and even celebrating, Ayrton Senna so much? After all there are drivers that had more wins, more championships, more everything. But it is not about that, it is not about the numbers. Yes, it is about him doing the impossible on the race track. And it is also about the man, his passion, what he stood for, how he did things, how he lived, and certainly, in a tragic and almost theatrical way, his death, and finally his legacy. Those fortunate enough to have followed Formula 1 in the 1980s and early 90s say that it was, and still is, the greatest era of the sport. If you have not seen the documentary, please do. Two other interesting articles: