Emotional tributes to Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger on display in Imola

The Brazilian and the Austrian racers both suffered fatal accidents at Imola 30 years ago


Thirty years on from the heartbreaking deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, Formula 1 has paid tribute to the tragedy-struck pair with RB and Ferrari among the teams an emotional gesture to the drivers, which will appear on their cars for the weekend.

The legendary driver and the rookie both died in separate accidents at the Imola circuit following high-speed collisions with concrete barriers on a weekend when both of their lives could have been saved with proactivity.

The disaster stunned F1 into silence and mourning and led to a series of revolutionary safety changes, but it cannot bring both drivers back to life and they are remembered annually on their death dates and whenever the sport returns to Imola.

For 2024, RB have decided to run stickers of the pair in their memory to highlight how we will never forget them and how their legacies still remain three decades on from that fateful weekend in Italy.

A Roland Ratzenberger tribute sticker is applied to the Visa Cash App RB cars ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
A Roland Ratzenberger tribute sticker is applied to the Visa Cash App RB cars ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Ferrari put Senna tribute sticker on car ahead of 2024 Emilia Romagna GP at Imola
Ferrari put Senna tribute sticker on car ahead of 2024 Emilia Romagna GP at Imola | Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

What happened at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix?

The darkest weekend in the history of the sport had warning signs as soon as the very first practice session when Rubens Barrichello suffered a broken nose and sprained wrist in a big 140mph crash that saw his car roll several times after going airborne before hitting the tyre barrier.

But F1 decided to continue racing and then the first devastating loss of life came just one day later when Ratzenberger’s Simtek car broke its front-wing and went straight on into the concrete wall of the Villeneuve Curva, leaving him critically injured with brain trauma. It’s thought the crash killed him immediately

The Austrian had sustained a basal skull fracture, despite the survival cell largely holding firm, after slamming into the wall at 195mph for a force of over 500g. For reference, Max Verstappen’s 2021 British Grand Prix crash at Copse hit 51g, 10 times less than the force Ratzenberger experienced.

The 33-year-old was airlifted to Maggiore Hospital, but was pronounced dead eight minutes later with three injuries capable of killing him: a basilar skull fracture, trauma from a tyre impact and a ruptured artery to his heart. Nonetheless, F1 still decided to continue racing.

The next day, Senna, who had visited Barrichello in hospital and broke down crying at the news of Ratzenberger’s death, started the Grand Prix from pole and led the opening seven laps from Michael Schumacher until he went off at Tamburello.

The race had already been marked by an opening lap crash involving a car stalling on the grid before being rear-ended, leaving a police officer and eight fans injured as the sport continued to ignore the warning signs of death that weekend.

Then it finally claimed Senna’s life when his car failed to turn into the 190mph corner before striking another concrete barrier at a speed of 131mph, as he desperately attempted to brake to save his own life.

The three-time world champion, regarded as the best driver on the grid, suffered injuries. A ruptured temporal artery, skull fractures and other brain injuries and he was pronounced dead at 18:40 local time. Italian law considers that he died immediately.

Senna had an Austrian flag in his car, which he had planned to unfurl at the end of the race in tribute of Ratzenberger’s death

Brandon Sutton
Brandon Sutton
Brandon is an alumni of an NCTJ and BJTC Liverpool John Moores University course, and has been with Total-Motorsport.com for over a year now. He enjoys covering all forms of motorsport but particularly focuses on Formula 1, and Brandon loves to debate various topics of the sport and other interests, especially if that topic doesn't have an open/shut answer such as the GOAT debate.
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