Vettel shows class in leading Senna/Ratzenberger tribute at Imola – Motorsport Week

Every time Formula 1 visits the historic Imola circuit, it cannot escape the tragic weekend of 1994. 30 years on, the untimely deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna were keenly felt throughout the Imola paddock and tributes were in abundance.

Leading the tributes on a commemorative run of the Imola circuit on Thursday evening was none other than Sebastian Vettel, who even in retirement, continues to be a leading example to drivers in all categories in handling oneself with class and dignity. Drivers and personnel across F1, Formula 2 and Formula 3 joined Vettel in his tribute, with commemorative Senna shirts and Ratzenberger wristbands along with Brazilian and Austrian flags on display to honour the two. The group posed for photographs at the start/finish line before setting off on the emotional lap of the circuit.

Upon reaching the iconic bust of Ayrton at the Tamburello corner, Vettel spoke to the gathering paying tribute. “I think [Senna]’s an incredible driver, he stands for so much with the results and the achievements that he had,” Vettel said to the crowd gathered at Senna’s statue. “But on top of that, apart from the incredible level of skill and the races he pulled off, he stands for so much more. He had compassion, he stood up for his country, was a leading figure, a voice, trying to fight the lack of education, trying to fight poverty. A guy that, basically like all of us, has the gift, skill, determination, will to win, but realized that there’s more to life than just sitting in the car and driving faster than everybody else. The idea with the run, and thanks for joining, is really to remember his legacy, but also Ratzenberger, who died the day before on Saturday, making the Imola Grand Prix in ’94 a very dark moment in time, two drivers losing their lives. Their deaths paved the way to make cars safer. For us, it’s still benefits that we have today, for them risking their lives and losing their lives.”


Vettel and company then each added a padlock to the Tamburello fencing, further paying tribute to the legend of Senna. Keen for Ratzenberger’s memory to be upheld, Vettel led the group of remembrance to Variante Villeneuve to pay further respects to the Austrian.

The importance of honouring Ratzenberger cannot be underestimated, for the Austrian spends too much time in Senna’s shadow. Speaking to on April 30, the 30th anniversary of Ratzenberger’s untimely demise, his team-mate in 1994, David Brabham said: “Obviously Ayrton going put Roland in the shadows – they were two very different people with different careers and different impacts amongst global fans – but it’s great that people still want to remember him, because he was also part of the fabric of F1 at the time. He was still a driver, still on that grid, and he lost his life doing what he loved. For me, Roland had a lot of talent. It’s a shame that we never got to see what he was really capable of.”

Vettel’s words and sentiment were echoed by Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman sported a Senna tribute helmet in Italy this past weekend, not long after driving the Brazilian’s Toleman F1 car of 1984 around Silverstone. Despite being born two years after Senna’s death, Gasly holds the Brazilian in high regard.

“I always admired, I will say, the style of racing, but also the person [Senna] was – the values, the way he was caring about his community,” Gasly said. “And, you know, he’s one of the biggest champions of our sport and I think it was important to pay tribute, especially on this year 30 years after the incident, it was important to me to pay tribute to one of the best of all time.”


Then come Sunday, Vettel treated the Imola crowd to another emotional Senna/Ratzenberger tribute. Driving the McLaren MP4/8 in which Senna claimed his final GP wins in 1993, Vettel toured the Imola circuit, flying a Brazilian and Austrian flag for the crowd to see, ensuring the Senna and Ratzenberger names reverberated around the iconic venue amid cheers and joy.

“To be here 30 years on, drive Ayrton’s car, remembering both Ayrton, but also Roland, [it’s] certainly very emotional,” Vettel said after the demo run. “It’s so great to see so many people, so much joy and excitement they have when they see the car. When I brought the flag out, I think it was exploding when it comes to emotions. So, yeah, really special. I was shouting their names under the helmet, and certainly one of the most emotional moments I’ve had behind the wheel.

“Ayrton, on that Sunday, 1st of May, he had the Austrian flag in his car. So, it just felt like not just something that he was always doing, holding up the Brazilian flag, but also getting the Austrian flag in there. Definitely thinking of the two. So, great to bring the car back and great to keep those memories alive and remember people like Ayrton and Roland.”

As ever, Vettel continues to be a shining example of F1 at its best, turning the sport’s darkest moment into a moment of beautiful remembrance 30 years later.

Thank-you Sebastian.

The advancements in safety in F1 can often be taken for granted in the modern age, but 30 years ago, the dangers of motorsport were plain for all to see. As such, the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix will sadly be remembered for two tragic losses, one, a legend of the sport, and another, an F1 dream that ended too short after it had just begun.

Rest in peace, Ayrton and Roland.

Gone, but never forgotten.

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