San Marino Grand Prix, Imola 1994 – The worst weekend, part four
The worldwide release of Senna – The Movie has opened up a lot of memories, and it made me dig out a story I wrote a few years ago that ended up not being published. After the calamaties of the race weekend, it was front-page news worldwide, and headed the TV news broadcasts. But the news didn’t stop on Sunday. Here is part four of that weekend, my Monday.
Monday, May 2
After the tragedies at Imola that weekend, it was naturally all hands on deck at Autosport the morning after – and it was a Bank Holiday Monday. By that time I was working on other projects and not day-to-day on Autosport, but that press day they needed all the help they could get.
While they put a very difficult magazine together, I swapped roles with the news editor, Andrew Benson, who should have been at Silverstone reporting on the BRDC International Trophy F3000 race. He stayed in the office piecing together so much news from Imola and the repercussions. For me, as well as covering the race at Silverstone, I was briefed to get as many quotes from people about Ayrton Senna, something I really didn’t want to do with drivers about to race themselves less than 24 hours after his crash. I’m sure their minds were already in a strange place without a journalist talking to them about what had happened the day before.
The first driver I saw was another Brazilian, Gil de Ferran. He and I also “grew up” in racing, but I also knew he was a very, very good friend of Senna’s, and I didn’t want to ask him that question two hours before the start of his race, so I tried to avoid him. But he’d seen me, and called me over. We went into his motorhome and sat down, and didn’t say a word for what seemed ages.
Then he said: “OK, I know you were there yesterday. I want you to tell me everything you know and saw. We’ll sit here for 10 minutes, you talk, I’ll ask questions, and I’ll listen. After that, I don’t want to talk or hear about it again today, OK?”
We talked, and some of it was very deep. It really was a no-holds barred conversation. As I left I wondered how on earth, after what he’d just heard, he could put it out of his mind and climb aboard his car and race without thinking about the possible consequences.
He finished third, and for me that opitimised what I believed. I thought as a child I could be a racing driver, but then you see and observe someone who takes it up a notch. I could never have raced that day. It was hard enough just watching it let alone answering the graphic questions.
In second place that day was David Coulthard, who was the Williams test driver, and had worked through the winter with Senna and Damon Hill – he was naturally the favourite to be promoted to the drive. That was certainly a topic I didn’t even want to ask him about that day, and one he didn’t even want to think about.
The Scot did get the call to drive for Williams for the rest of the season alongside Hill, the start of his long and illustrious Grand Prix career.
The magazine came out on the Thursday, to reviews that were divided between black and white. The cover drew the strongest criticism with a very frank and bold headline. But difficult as it was putting it together for everyone involved, it remains the highest-selling copy in the weekly magazine’s 60-year history.
In all it was a weekend that many of us will never forget.
Barrichello talks about his memories in 2009
NASCAR’s tribute to Senna
F3000 Images: AntsPhoto
Click here to read part 1
Click here to read part 2
Click here to read part 3