Updated: Thursday, 01 May 2014 20:17 | By Agence France-Presse

Thousands mark Senna's death at Imola

Thousands of Formula One fans gathered for a commemoration on Thursday at the Imola circuit -- 20 years to the day after Brazilian champion Ayrton Senna was killed here in the sport's  darkest day.


Thousands mark Senna's death at Imola

Ayrton Senna pours champagne over himself to celebrate his victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, on March 28, 1993 - by Julio Pereira

Dozens of enthusiasts drove their own cars around the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit to mark the tragic anniversary of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were due to attend a ceremony later on Thursday for the man seen as one of the greatest drivers of all time.

"Our hearts sank when they told us the news," said Marco, a 31-year-old Italian Formula One fan who was at Imola as a young boy on the day of the crash.

Marco wore the same type of helmet that Senna had on that day and was taking his car around the circuit.

Daniela, 39, from Belo Horizonte in Brazil said: "What moves me about Senna was his humility, his enormous charisma. He is in our hearts like family".

Another Brazilian fan, 57-year-old Renato said: "His will to win was what I liked about Ayrton.

"He proved that a Brazilian could be internationally known and that was a great encouragement for us."

Marco, 34, who wore a chequered flag around his shoulders, said simply: "He was the best driver ever".

A Catholic priest led a memorial service on Wednesday at the Tamburello corner where the triple world champion's Williams careered off into a concrete barrier on lap seven at 190mph (307km/h).

He was airlifted to Bologna hospital but was pronounced dead at 18:40 local time on that ill-fated Sunday.

Thursday's ceremony comes after a week of commemorative events held to mark the tragic accident, which ushered in a raft of changes to improve F1 safety.

Football club Corinthians from Sao Paulo, the city where three million people turned out for Senna's funeral, paid tribute to their local hero by wearing crash helmets with the Brazilian flag colours before kick-off in a match against Nacional-AM on Wednesday.

The Senna anniversary is made all the more poignant as another great F1 driver, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, continues his fight for life after the German's skiing accident on December 29.

Ironically, it was Schumacher who went on to win the Imola race 20 years ago.

- Incredible legend -

Senna's death, 24 hours after Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed and two days after his fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was injured, was F1's blackest weekend.

And all this week emotional tributes have been paid to the 1988, 1990 and 1991 champion.

"He was an incredible legend," said 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton.

"You like to think that one day you may be recognised as someone that was able to drive similarly to him," added the Mercedes driver.

"On my schoolbooks I didn't have pictures of girls, obviously I was too young but I had Ayrton there and the same in my room," said 2005/06 champion Alonso.

Senna's sister Viviane, told AFP this week that her brother's legacy is alive and well through the Ayrton Senna Institute which she chairs.

She recalls a conversation she had with him weeks before his death when he told her how he wanted to contribute to a better future for Brazil by helping to open up opportunities for children.

She said: "Ayrton really wanted Brazil to work, for everyone to have a chance and from this dream the Institute was born.

"Currently, we are working with more than two million children and training some 75,000 teachers per year across around 1,000 cities around the country."

Senna's death prompted extensive changes, including the reform of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association. Engine capacities were reduced and tethers to help prevent wheels flying off following accidents were introduced.

The HANS device to protect drivers' heads and necks were made compulsory, and run-offs were extended and improved.

As evidence that the improvements put in place worked the last F1 fatality in a grand prix was Senna.

Latest Photo Galleries on xinmsn