As Formula One and the racing world prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of legendary driver Ayrton Senna, its reigning World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, has noted that while F1 has made increased safety advances since the tragedy, the sport is still not immune to another disaster.
Senna lost his life in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1, 1994, and he remains the last driver to die in an F1 Grand Prix. A day earlier, Austrian competitor Roland Ratzenberger had been killed at Imola in a wreck during qualifying for the race.
Since that dark weekend, F1 and the sport itself has undergone a safety revolution that continues to this day. Stronger chassis, wheel tethers, bigger runoff areas at tracks, and head and neck restraints are now the norm.
But even with all of that progress – and all of the progress to come in the future – the danger remains.
“Formula One is safer today but it is still not completely safe because there is still so much that can happen,” Vettel said according to a report from Australian news agency AAP. “…Unfortunately, it always took accidents and negative events for us to learn the most.”
A series of commemorations for Senna and Ratzenberger are scheduled to take place over a five-day span at Imola this week. The Associated Press reports that following a memorial mass on Wednesday, an F1 safety symposium will be held the next day – the exact anniversary of Senna’s death.
Vettel has recalled that moment as an event “where you exactly remember where you’ve been [and] what you’ve done.”
“I remember that I was watching television with my father and obviously as a child, you don’t really understand what’s going on, but just by the reaction of my father, I obviously got to understand that it was very serious and a big loss for Formula One,” Vettel told the AP.
“I think only later on and probably the last couple years, I managed to understand how big the loss was for the sport because I got to work with people that used to know him, [and worked] with him. He was the reason why my father decided to follow Formula One.”