1st of May 1994. Its a date that is etched on the hearts and minds of the Formula 1 community. The events of that day changed the trajectory of Formula 1 forever. Ayrton Senna, arguably one of the most talented F1 drivers of his generation died.
Ayrton’s death capped off what is probably the worst weekends in F1’s history. Rubens Barrichello was injured when his car was launched into the barrier, Roland Ratzenberger was killed in an accident after his front wing failed pitching his car into the barrier at high speed. Incidents were not only confined to the drivers, a Ferrari mechanic was struck and injured by a loose wheel during a pit stop.
With so many images from that weekend in the conscience of Formula 1 fans young and old. Their was one that had always stuck in my mind.
In 1994, I would have been 12 years old, living in a small town on the west coast of Scotland. I got up early that morning and headed down the stairs . I jump into the living room and switched on the TV ready to watch the action. I don’t remember much of the race, in fact I had forgotten about the bad crash at the start when Pedro Lamy crashed into the back of J.J Letho’s Benneton.
My usual routine when watching a race was to play with the 2 F1 matchbox cars (to this day I’m still a fidget, nowadays the matchbox cars have been replaced with a smartphone), using Murray Walker’s commentary to keep me updated on the action. I would look up and watch periodically to see what was happening.
When Ayrton Senna flew around the Tamburello and smashed into the wall, I stopped fidgeting and watched the race, although I was young, I knew that it was not good situation. Even in 1994, it felt unusual for a driver not to just hop out the car. It would be a number of years before I was able to understand the magnitude of what had just unfolded..
As I sat transfixed watching the tv coverage and listening to Murray Walker, this was a time before the internet and twitter we relied on the TV crews and commentators to update us, I noticed something that caught my attention. It was an F1 car driving towards the accident scene, by this point the race had been halted and emergency personnel and vehicles were littering the track.
The answer to both these questions are the reason for the article.
The driver of the car was Erik Comas. It was Erik who had driven his Larousse to Ayrton’s crash site. This was not some kind of mistake or confusion, the truth was more tragic.
Erik Comas was active in Formula 1 from 1991 to 1994, by the end of his short F1 career he had started 59 races, achieving 7 points. He was not on the same level as Ayrton. Ayrton Senna showed throughout his career that regardless of where you were on the grid, you were a Formula 1 driver and had his respect.
Erik was driving for Ligier in 1992, during Friday practice Comas crashed heavily, knocking himself out. The accident was witnessed by Senna who was following closely behind in his Mclaren.
The Ligier car had been thrown onto the track, with the engine running and Erik’s foot pushing on the throttle, Ayrton had witnessed the accident, stopping his Mclaren and running to the stricken Ligier, he was able to cut the engine, stopping fuel pumping through the broken car. These quick actions reduced the chance of an explosion.
Erik believed that Ayrton’s actions saved his life.
The Aftermath of Ayrton’s Accident
Erik Comas was in the pits, he decided he had to return the favour from 2 years ago. Erik made his way to the accident site, now filled with emergency personnel, ambulances even a helicopter. The marshal’s can be seen on the TV waving their arms at the approaching car. Erik stopped his car for a few seconds then took off out of sight and back to the paddock.
“As I arrived, I understood that…there was a message…that Ayrton was a man who sort of radiated and there it felt like an atomic bomb just exploded at Tamburello. There truly was a very heavy atmosphere hanging over the area and without knowing any details, I knew it was very bad. A sort of paralysis came over me because there I was standing next to a man who two years earlier had saved my life and I couldn’t do anything to help him. That felt horrible.”Erik Comas on seeing the aftermath of Ayrton Senna’s accident
Erik knew that he couldn’t do anything to help Ayrton. No one could, but it was personal for Erik.
He retired at the end of the season.
Ayrton Senna passing away broke the heart of a nation, it broke the heart’s of the F1 community and effected one driver to the point that he just couldn’t continue.
Ayrton was the best of his generation and is held in such high regard within the F1 and sporting worlds. His death was a shock and its still a very emotional event in F1 history.
I miss you Ayrton