Motor Racing: Brazilian grief and anger over lost hero: Rik Turner reports from Sao Paulo on the sombre mood in Senna's homeland

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The Independent Online
'BRAZIL is in mourning. Our greatest hero is dead.' That was how a sports commentator on the country's largest television network, Rede Globo, began his programme yesterday lunchtime, summing up a nationwide outpouring of grief at the loss of Brazil's greatest sporting idol since Pele.

Brazil's President, Itamar Franco, decreed three days official mourning and cancelled all his engagements outside the capital, Brasilia, until tomorrow. Both the federal and Sao Paulo state governments offered planes to bring Senna's body home. The Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, said his ministry had contacted the Italian government to speed the bureaucratic process involved in releasing the body, but to no avail. The authorities in Bologna have insisted on an autopsy this morning, after which the transfer to Sao Paulo should take place.

The 34-year-old Senna's death in the San Marino Grand Prix on Sunday dominated the front-page news yesterday, and the TV networks interrupted their regular programmes with news flashes on when the body would be released and on plans for a public vigil on Wednesday. Millions of Brazilians will want to see Senna for a last time.

The Sao Paulo stock exchange reported a reduction in trading. 'The volume (traded) is equivalent to nothing at all. It is as if no one was in the mood to trade,' one dealer said.

Milton and Nede Senna, the Formula One driver's parents, saw their son's fatal accident on TV at his farm in Tatui, a hundred miles outside Sao Paulo, while his 21- year-old girlfriend, Adriane Galisteu, saw it in Portugal and rented a plane to fly to Italy, only to be overtaken by the news of his death as she was about to take off. She flew instead straight to Sao Paulo, as did Rubens Barrichello, Senna's compatriot who escaped serious injury when he crashed during practice at Imola on Friday. 'Senna was the first person to visit me at the hospital,' Barrichello said as he arrived home.

Senna's death is the main topic of conversation of Brazilians on the street. There is outrage at the lack of protective tyres on the Tamburello curve, where the driver met his death, mixed with a profound sense of loss.

'We've lost the joy of waking up early on Sundays to watch Ayrton win,' said one of Senna's fans at a news-stand. An Angolan student at Sao Paulo University, meanwhile, was buying copies of all the daily newspapers to send to her eight- year-old son, named Ayrton after the driver, at home in Luanda.

The local press criticised Max Mosley, president of the international automobile federation (FIA), for allegedly ignoring Senna's complaints about the rules which removed hi-tech equipment from cars this season. 'He was the victim of the new regulations that banned active suspension, traction control and electronic accelerators,' the Jornal da Tarde said.

Nuno Cobra, Senna's personal trainer, wept in a TV interview as he went over the accident. 'How can this be? A curve you take at 186mph with a concrete wall in front? No tyres, not even a gravel pit? It was criminal, and Formula One must be punished,' he said.

The Ayrton Senna Fan Club in Sao Paulo has increased security at its headquarters for fear of break-ins by fans avid for memorabilia. The club's director, Adilson Carvalho, said he hopes to stage an exhibition of photos, videos and other souvenirs, with the building then becoming a permanent memorial.

The Vatican newspaper yesterday criticised the decision to continue the San Marino Grand Prix after the death of two drivers, saying sport had suffered a fatal blow. 'The show at Imola went on despite everything and death itself was made into a brutal spectacle,' the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial. 'The roar of the motors and the spark of the sponsors prevailed over death, silencing man,' it said. The newspaper added that it was money which really drove the Formula One circuit and it condemned the influence of sponsors over the event.