This year marks 19 since the horrific, black few days at Imola in 1994, and the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger during the San Marino Grand Prix weekend. Ratzenberger was killed Saturday, April 30, in qualifying, with Senna’s fatal accident on May 1 during the race.
May 1 is poignant for other reasons; the day was also Senna’s first win for McLaren, at Imola, 25 years ago today in 1988. With the all-conquering McLaren MP4-4 Honda, Senna and teammate Alain Prost dominated the season with 15 wins from 16 races between them. It was the first win for Senna before he captured his first World Championship.
In 1994, both Senna and Ratzenberger were destined for new, great horizons before the weekend. Senna switched to Williams after his final years at McLaren were dispiriting thanks to a down-on-power engine, while Ratzenberger was due to compete for Toyota in that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Test driver David Coulthard and 1992 World Champion Nigel Mansell filled the second seat at Williams the remainder of the year, with Mansell winning his final Grand Prix at Adelaide in the season finale.
Ratzenberger’s place at Le Mans was taken by then-Jordan rookie Eddie Irvine, and the team finished second with Irvine, Mauro Martini and the also late Jeff Krosnoff. As a tribute, Ratzenberger’s name still was displayed over the cockpit.
Senna, of course, was set to pay tribute to Ratzenberger during the San Marino race. An unfurled, blood soaked Austrian flag was found in his Williams after the accident.