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Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, 30 years on

Three decades have passed since the untimely passing of both three-time World Drivers’ Championship winner Ayrton Senna and rookie Roland Ratzenberger at Imola’s San Marino Grand Prix.

Both were at opposite ends of the grid, but the loss of their lives across the weekend were profound and led to changes still utilised by the sport to this day.

For Senna it was his third event with Williams after leaving McLaren at the end of 1993 to replace bitter rival Alain Prost after retiring from Formula 1.

The advantages Williams had during its all-conquering 1993 season including active suspension, anti-lock brakes, traction and launch control were all banned at the beginning of the season, while re-fuelling was introduced for the first time since 1983.

Senna had been a critique of the electronic aids during the 1993 season, but predicted 1994 was to be one ‘with a lot of accidents’.

Ratzenberger had got his chance with the new Simtek team partnering Australian David Brabham, at the Nick Firth-led squad sponsored by MTV.

Racing primarily in Britain after leaving his native Austria, Ratzenberger was winner of the famous Formula Ford Festival, third in British Formula 3000, was a factory Toyota driver at Le Mans as he focused on Japan prior to his stint in Formula 1.

Getting his chance at the relatively unusual late age of 33 was Ratzenberger and it started in Brazil when he failed to qualify, but heading to Imola he was coming off an 11th in the Pacific Grand Prix at TI Circuit in Aida, Japan.

Senna meanwhile had endured a tough start to the season as the Williams proved difficult to handle, while controversy surrounding the Benetton squad concerning the application of driver aids left the Brazilian with a lot on his mind.

Entering Imola he had failed to score points, so the pressure was on to open his account.

This didn’t get off to the best start when Brazilian protege Rubens Barrichello crashed during Friday practice and was knocked unconscious. Swallowing his tongue during the incident, quick action from the medical team saved his life as he arrived in the paddock on Saturday afternoon sporting a broken nose, cut lip and bandaged arm.

Worse was to come when during qualifying the front wing of Ratzenberger’s Simtek failed and led to hard hit at the fast Villeneuve kink at more than 180mph. Injuries sustained by Ratzenberger included a basal skull fracture as he was pronounced dead at Bologna’s Maggiore Hospital soon after.

Qualifying continued as Senna took pole and aimed to pay tribute to Ratzenberger after winning the race by flying the Austrian flag in his honour, but this failed to occur.

Sunday’s race started poorly when JJ Lehto stalled in his Brabham and was hit by Pedro Lamy’s Lotus sending a wheel into the crowd injuring four spectators in addition to a policeman.

After a short safety car period, Senna led going into lap 7 when he lost control at the ultra-fast Tamburello and hit the wall at 218km/h. The impact broke the suspension of the Williams and this hit Senna in the head.

Although medical teams led by Dr Sid Watkins arrived on the scene quickly, Senna was pronounced dead on arrival to the same hospital as Ratzenberger.

Fellow driver Erik Comas exiting the track during the resulting red flag period and drove to the scene in hopes of saving Senna, just like the Brazilian did for him at Spa in 1992.

Both have been honoured during the last 30 years and no further fatalities occurred in Formula 1 until Jules Bianchi in 2015 after hitting a recovery truck and being placed in an induced coma at the Japanese Grand Prix, in October 2014.

Changes immediately made included reductions to the front wing, raised end plates, smaller diffusers, raised side pods for improved head protection, strengthened front wishbones, cockpit lengthened, airboxes removed and use of pump fuel to counter concerns surrounding the overall pace of Formula 1.