Ayrton Senna: The Black Weekend - Remembering the tragic weekend at Imola 20 years ago that saw the death of Senna and Roland Ratzenberger

The 20th anniversary of the Black Weekend sees the sport look back on Senna and Ratzenberger, the last two drivers to lose their lives in F1 behind the wheel

For 12 years the sport of Formula One had managed to avoid a fatality that previously had become all too commonplace.

And then came the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend at Imola - three days that will forever go down as the blackest in F1's history.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of Senna's death, here Ian Parkes looks back on the events of that fateful weekend:

Friday, April 29

Twenty years ago qualifying was held over two days, and it was in the first of the sessions on Friday the first serious accident occurred.

In his second season with Jordan, a 21-year-old Brazilian by the name of Rubens Barrichello, caught the kerb at the Variante Bassa, sending his car airborne, around three feet off the ground.

The Jordan then hit the top of a tyre barrier, with the force of the impact resulting in the loss of the front wing and both wheels on the right-hand side.

What was left of the car then barrel-rolled along the ground for 20 metres before resting at an acute angle on its right-hand side

 

Two marshals quickly righted the car, but it was apparent all was not well with Barrichello as he flopped inside the cockpit.

After being treated at the circuit medical centre, he was then taken to the nearby Maggiore hospital in Bologna, mercifully sustaining nothing more than a broken nose and a fractured arm.

As Damon Hill, then Senna's team-mate remarked at the time: "We all brushed ourselves off and carried on qualifying, reassured our cars were tough as tanks and we could be shaken but not hurt."

Saturday, April 30

Not since Riccardo Paletti at the Canadian Grand Prix of 1982 had a driver been killed over the course of a race weekend.

Twenty minutes into the final qualifying session, Roland Ratzenberger changed that statistic when he lost his life after slamming into a concrete wall.

In only his third grand prix of his debut campaign for Simtek, the 33-year-old Austrian had opted not to return to the pits after an excursion off track during which he damaged the front wing.

On the next lap, and after emerging out of the high-speed Villeneuve chicane on to a section of straight, the front wing became detached, rendering Ratzenberger a passenger as his car hurtled off the circuit at around 190mph.

The monocoque of the car, that had improved immeasurably in terms of its strength in previous years, remained relatively intact as it slid for almost 200 metres down the circuit before finally coming to rest.

Although attended to at the scene, and taken on to the Maggiore hospital, Ratzenberger died from his injuries, notably a fracture at the base of his skull.

Upon hearing the news, Senna broke down and cried, turning to close friend, the late Professor Sid Watkins, then the FIA's safety and medical delegate, for support.

Read more: Roland Ratzenberger remembered - Imola's forgotten tragedy
Senna's genius captured a generation that never had the privilege to see him
Dennis still struggles to speak about Senna

Sunday, May 1

At the start of the ill-fated race, JJ Lehto stalled from his fifth place on the grid in his Benetton, leaving him a sitting duck.

As the majority of the field flew past him, Lotus' Pedro Lamy ran into the back of the stationary Finn, spiralling off and into a wall.

Whilst neither driver was hurt, the hail of debris from the cars that had flown over the catch-fencing caused minor injuries to nine fans.

The incident resulted in the introduction of the safety car, which remained on track for four laps whilst the wreckage from the Lehto-Lamy crash was cleared.

At the head of the field having started from the 65th pole position of his career, on the second lap after the withdrawal of the safety car - and the seventh overall in the race - Senna was killed.

Senna's Williams left the track at the Tamburello curve at 190mph, travelling across the short run-off area and into a concrete wall, sustaining fatal head injuries.

Watkins, offering his reflections many years after the incident in the Senna documentary, said: "We got him out of the cockpit, got his helmet off and got an airway into him.

"I saw, from his neurological signs, that it was going to be a fatal head injury.

"Then he sighed and his body relaxed, and that was the moment - and I'm not religious - that I thought his spirit had departed."

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea