By Rafael Lopes
More than a homage, it was a celebration of the career of the greatest Formula One driver ever. Thousands of fans flocked to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, in Imola, northern Italy, to remember the feats and celebrate the life of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna. The homages of the “Ayron Senna Tribute 1994/2014” spanned five days, from April 30th to May 5th. All the revenue from ticket sales went to the Ayrton Senna Institute’s social projects – one of the driver’s greatest legacies.
The event officially started on April 30th, with a mass in memory of Ayrton Senna and Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger, who lost their lives on the weekend of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, at Imola. Initially scheduled to take place at the pit-lane, the religious service was moved indoors, to the garages, because of the possibility of rain. But that didn’t scare the fans away. The place was packed. Supporters came from everywhere – Italy, the UK, France, Chile, Malta… And they didn’t want to miss even a single minute of it.
Thursday, May 1st, 2014. The big day. More than 20 thousand people packed the Racing circuit, according to Imola’s Fire Department. Activities began early in the day, at 9:00 a.m, with Paula Senna (the champion’s niece) in attendance. Some of Senna’s iconic cars – including the 97T (1985), 98T (1986) and 99T (1987) Lotuses and the MP4/4 McLaren from his first world-title (1988) – were displayed in a space decorated with pictures by Keith Sutton, an award-winning British photographer who followed most of the Brazilian driver’s career. A mini-track with pedal-powered go-karts delighted the kids, while their parents attended talks by Formula One personalities, like Giancarlo Minardi and Emanuele Pirro.
However, the day’s highlight was still to come. Around 2:00 p.m. the event’s organizers opened the gates to the track, giving access to the public. A sea of people flooded the 4,909 meters leading to the Tamburello turn, where a celebration in honor of Ayrton Senna took place. Severel drivers were in attendance. Austrian Gerhard Berger – the Brazilian’s teammate at McLaren from 1990 to 1992 and a close personal friend – recalled the good times they shared. Spaniard Fernando Alonso and Finnish Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s current F-1 drivers, made sure to be at the celebration. Besides, obviously, former drivers like Andrea de Cesaris, Jarno Trulli, Pierluigi Martini, Ricardo Patrese and Emanuelle Pirro, all contemporaries of the three-time champion.
In a service conducted by Don Sergio Mantovani, considered “the priest of the drivers”, the audience said the Lord’s Prayer at the Tamburello turn. After that, at 2:17 p.m. (the exact time of the 1994 accident), a moment of silence was held, followed by long and spine-tingling applause. The audience saluted Ayrton by chanting “Ole, Ole, ole, ola, Senna, Senna”. The martial band wrapped up the ceremony with the Brazilian National Anthem. After all the sentiment, a little fun: Nazionali Piloti, the driver’s soccer team, faced Ferrari’s squad at the Estádio Comunale Romero Galli, a soccer field located inside the circuit. Final score: 3-0 to the red squad.
On Friday, the heavy rain that fell over the Emilia-Romagna region kept part of the audience away, but the show went on. A race called “Kart Memorial Senna 2014″ took place on an improvised track at the pit straight. The activities lasted more than 12 hours, and the main event was an endurance race: more than seven uninterrupted hours. At the end of the day, the award-winning documentary “Senna”, by British filmmaker Asif Kapadia, was projected at the press room.
The rain fell again on Saturday, the Tribute’s penultimate day. Fans, however, came back in force to witness a few touching moments. Two of the most iconic cars of Senna’s career took to the track: The 956 Porsche the Brazilian shared with Frenchman Henri Pescarolo and Swede Stefan Johansson during the 1,000 kilometers of Nürburgring, in 1984, and the 97T Lotus-Renault from the 1985 Formula One season. That was the car with which Senna won his first race in motor sport’s main category, at the Portuguese Grand Prix, in Estoril. It was driven by Swiss multimillionaire Fredy Kumschick, the car’s current owner.
Sunday, the last day of the “Ayrton Senna Tribute 1994/2014”, was marked by a bicycle race on the Imola track. They circled the track 20 times, totaling 100 kilometers. At the end, Italians Claudio Costabile (men’s race) and Barbara Pavani (women’s race) were the winners. Besides the competition, the circuit and the city of Imola hosted a parade of vintage cars. At the end of the event, the track was opened once again, so fans could pay their last respects on a weekend that will go down in motor sports’ history.
20 years after the fateful accident at Tamburello, Ayrton Senna’s achievements in Formula One remain in the fan’s memories. But the most impressive thing, over those five days, was to see so many children and teenagers at the event. Kids who weren’t able to see the Brazilian driver’s races at the time they happened, but who respect the legend and know how much he means to the sport and their parents. These five days marked a lot of people’s lives – just like Senna marked the lives of those who watched his races.