Formula One’s return to Imola conjures Ayrton Senna memories for Lewis Hamilton

F1 Lewis Hamilton Senna
Luca Bruno - Pool/Getty Images

IMOLA, Italy — Lewis Hamilton was a 9-year-old karting driver when he learned his idol Ayrton Senna died after crashing into a concrete wall during the 1994 F1 San Marino Grand Prix.

More than a quarter of a century later, Hamilton still has vivid memories of when his father broke the news as the pair repaired his kart.

“I remember I had to walk away from my dad, because my dad would never let me cry in front of him,” Hamilton said on Friday while preparing for his first Formula One race on the Imola track where Senna lost his life.

“I had to go to a different place, and it was not so easy,” the six-time series champion added, his voice quavering with emotion.

“But I remember trying to challenge that sadness into adrenaline and I think I won that weekend. But the following weeks were tough.”

This weekend’s Emilia Romagna GP marks the first F1 race at Imola since 2006, when Hamilton raced in GP2 at the circuit. He returns as F1′s new holder of most grand prix wins, after eclipsing Michael Schumacher last weekend by winning a record 92nd race in Portugal.

Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was also killed during the 1994 race weekend in a high-speed crash.

Senna was a three-time F1 champion and considered among the series’ greatest drivers.

Lewis Hamilton inspects the track with his team ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy. (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images).

“It’s just something we’ll always remember,” said Hamilton, who was given one of Senna’s race helmets by Senna’s family at a Brazilian GP. “I went around today, and it was a really special lap just going around seeing this historic track, passing the hard reminder of where Ayrton crashed.

“It is very surreal still for me when I go to places, where you drive through the tunnel in Monaco or you drive at the British GP where you know that the greats in the past have raced at those places,” the Mercedes driver added. “That’s heartwarming to know that I was able to be here and do what he was doing 26 years ago.”

Mercedes can clinch a record seventh consecutive constructors’ title on Sunday unless Red Bull outscores it by 34 points — something Red Bull hasn’t done in more than four years.

“I remember when we debated in 2014 internally what we could set as a target,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. “And we said, ‘Winning a championship would be fantastic.’ And (engineering director) Aldo Costa said, ‘We are not ambitious enough. We should write down that our aim is to win multiple championships.’

“If someone would have told us back then that it would be seven I would have clearly thought he would need some support. And here we go, we have achieved it.”

Inserted into the revised calendar due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this race will be held with an abbreviated format.

No practice was held Friday, leaving only one practice session on Saturday (which was led by Hamilton) before qualifying.

No fans will be allowed in due to rising virus cases in Italy.

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.