Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the loss of a legend, Ayrton Senna de Silva. The three-time Formula 1 World Champion died on this day, 1st May 1994, at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, in Imola, Italy, where he had been leading the San Marino Grand Prix for Williams before leaving the track at the Tamburello corner.
Senna’s memory is revered by fans worldwide, and I personally recall memories from my childhood of watching his battles with his old adversary Alain Prost unfurl on television alongside my dear Dad, also now departed. This is how I came to be a McLaren fan, and for me, one of the greatest things was being able to examine those cars he drove up close at the McLaren Technology Centre and at events such as Goodwood Festival of Speed, especially the MP4/4, my favourite car ever.
So, with that in mind, when my husband and booked a holiday to Lake Como during 2015, it didn’t take me long to start connecting the dots. We were flying to Milan, we were near Monza…that wasn’t too far in the grand scheme of things from Maranello, and therefore Imola. We had a hire car, it surely wasn’t that far to drive? I consulted Google Maps. 3.5 hours.
It sounded plausible to organise a road trip, just one day out that I could sneak some of my motorsport passion into? I bribed hubby with a promise of a drive in a Ferrari – you can hire them for a few hours in Maranello, and I highly recommend – and he was in.
Today, I wanted to share that with you. It’s something I tweeted at the time, but it occurs to me that many fans all over the world might not ever get to take this journey, so I hope that by reading this, you share in the experience, or perhaps feel inspired to make the journey yourself one day.
We headed off early on the chosen day, it was bright and sunny and a relatively easy journey, motorways all the way. The traffic was good, apart from queues at the tolls, but that is pretty standard. We stopped at a Service Station in Parma, and I wasn’t disappointed to see that it was full of ham – some clichés are just compulsory!
We reached the turn-off for the town of Imola and followed the signs to the circuit. On arrival, we headed for the visitors centre and took a look around the museum they have there, which had an exhibition of race suits and driver helmets.
We chatted to the lady on reception who gave us a map to follow, and directions to follow to where the memorial to Senna was situated. Naively, until this point, I hadn’t realised that the surrounding park that the circuit sits within is open to the public, and even has tennis courts, houses and restaurants within its ground.
We headed under an underpass into the Parco Delle Acque Minerali di Imola, and first, took a look inside the main grandstand – Tribuna Ayrton Senna.
It stands opposite the distinctive building adorned with DEKRA sponsorship, and the newly rebuilt pit buildings.
We then proceeded along the clearly signposted footpath through the park to the Ayrton Senna Monument, passing alongside the track. We could see across to where tributes and flags were hung on the other side of the track, where the accident itself had happened, and continued along the path on the interior of the track.
There, in a peaceful part of the park, with dappled shade from the overhanging branches, we came across the bronze monument to Ayrton Senna. I found it very emotional, and I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear – such a beautiful, peaceful place. There sat Ayrton, head bowed, facing the track, holding a single red rose.
We sat alongside the memorial on the benches that they have placed in the park and took in the surroundings. It was overwhelming to see the hundreds of items that fellow fans had brought to hang on the fence there, and I took the time to read them. People from all countries, but as you would expect, many Brazilian tributes amongst them.
I felt that I should have considered this, and wanted to leave something as part of my pilgrimage too, so I took my Team McLaren pin badge from my camera case, and attached it to a Brazilian flag that was hanging there.
Not much, but just a sign of respect to a fellow Team McLaren member, a legend who once drove for us, a hero who won championships for us, who may not be with us now, but will never be forgotten.
Ayrton Senna Sempre.