Measuring Senna’s legacy, 30 years on

May 1, 1994 will forever be a date etched into the memories of racing fans around the world – even if it’s not a day you actually remember.

I was five at the time of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, and didn’t watch Formula 1 yet. My dad did, but the only memory I have of that day is of being kept out of the living room so I wouldn’t see what was on the television (or more likely, totally misunderstand the worrying atmosphere in the room as a young child).

So I can’t pretend to have incredible recollections of watching Ayrton Senna, or of what he meant to me as a racing fan at that time. But even without that direct link to him, Formula 1 as a sport is completely intertwined with his legacy. And the 30th anniversary of his death provides numerous examples of how his importance to F1 and fans around the world has endured over the past three decades.

In many ways, the sport is now unrecognizable from the one he left behind. The day after the anniversary marks the start of the third Miami Grand Prix weekend, and a very different type of event to the majority of those on the calendar in 1994. After an explosion in popularity in the United States, it’s one of three North American races, where one takes place on Las Vegas Boulevard and the other draws in nearly half a million spectators.

Yet even as a different image of F1 is being portrayed compared to 30 years ago, Miami will be acknowledging the importance of Senna. The race has commissioned a mural by Brazilian street artist Kobra to honor the three-time world champion, and will be unveiling it outside race control this week.

It might seem inconsequential, but small undertakings like those keep the memory of a driver like Senna alive and front of mind, and ensure his name is one that is heard and seen by the newest generation of fans who might otherwise be far more detached from the sport’s history.

Where Miami may be a sign of how much the sport has changed, at Imola there’s almost an air of how things have also remained the same.

The anniversary will be marked today by a major event at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, where the circuit will be open to the public for a number of initiatives that will commemorate both Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, who was killed one day earlier, just a few corners further on from Senna’s crash at Tamburello.

As a five-year-old I might not recall the fateful race weekend at Imola, but I certainly have a much closer connection to it as a result of a similar tribute event that was held there to mark the 20th anniversary back in 2014.

There was a significant Ferrari influence, but once again the track was open to the public and thousands made their way onto the circuit to gather at Tamburello, wave flags and chant Senna’s name. The passion for a driver who had been gone for two decades was unmistakable, as was the respect for the memory of Ratzenberger.

Three decades on from Senna’s death, the wall at Imola’s Tamburello corner continues to serve as a shrine to the three-time world champion. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

At that time, perhaps it was the juxtaposition of remembering screaming V8s, V10s and V12s on iconic old-school racetracks compared to the first year of the V6 turbo hybrid era that heightened the emotion even further. Senna was a symbol of not just an immense talent lost, but a time lost, too.

It felt like F1 had moved on from Imola back then in 2014. The circuit seemed a long way from being a consideration to host races again in future, and almost damaged by the losses of the past. But as the sport balances the presence of new city destinations and historic venues, its subsequent return to the calendar always instigates discussions and evokes memories of Senna and Ratzenberger and 1994 on each visit.

The tragic circumstances of a crash broadcast live on television, claiming the life of a driver who was arguably the greatest to ever do it, and immortalizing him at a time when he was still clearly able to perform at the top of his game, all add to the legend of Senna.

Today, just as at the 20th anniversary event, fans want to feel connected to the Brazilian, who was an idol of two of the best of all time who are currently still on the grid — Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso — and his influence referenced by many more.

The blistering one-lap pace, the immense self-confidence, the stunning performances in the wet, the iconic sayings — “If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver” — are all aspects that add up to what many think a great F1 driver should be.

But it’s also all of that added to the fact that he did have his faults, too. That iconic quote was part of a defense against what was clearly a collision that was predominantly his fault at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix in 1990, that confirmed him as world champion once again. His almost unbelievable qualifying lap in Monaco in 1988 was followed by a race-ending error while comfortably leading.

Senna embodied a passion for Formula 1 and racing that made him so appealing to so many around the world. You didn’t need to see him race at the time to know that.

At Interlagos in 2019, Bruno Senna drove Ayrton’s MP4/4 for a number of demonstration laps, and while I try not to sensationalize certain things, the entire pit lane reverberating to the sounds of that car and echoing to the Senna chants from the grandstands gave me goosebumps.

Whether it’s the unveiling of a mural in Miami or the gathering of thousands at Imola, such tributes offer further chances for new fans to discover Senna, or existing ones to feel part of something related to him.

Thirty years on from his death, the Brazilian remains an icon, and his influence is still inescapable.

Story originally appeared on Racer