On this day in auto history – May 1st

Sat 1st May 2021

It was on this day in 1994 that the world of motor sport and the state of Brazil was sent into mourning following the tragic death of the great Brazilian Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna.

The 34-year-old, three-time World Champion died from injuries sustained in a high-speed accident whilst leading the San Marino Grand Prix for Williams at Imola, Italy.

Senna’s car had gone off track, slid across a long grassy area and hit a concrete wall at 135 mph causing him to sustain fatal skull fractures and brain injuries.

An icon in his native Brazil, Senna’s death was treated as a national tragedy and an estimated three million people lined the streets in tribute when his coffin was transported from the airport to his home city of Sao Paolo.

Under Italian law, the Williams team was the subject of criminal proceedings with a number of key personal placed on trial for manslaughter.

Eventually, several years later, it was determined that the accident was caused by a steering column failure and team owner Frank Williams and members of his technical team were acquitted.

Senna’s death - and that of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger who had died the previous day in qualification - were the first fatal accidents to occur in Formula One for 12 years.

Following enhanced safety measures introduced in the wake of the tragedy, it would be another 21 years before Jules Bianchi became the next Formula One driver to die of an accident on the track.