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INSIGHT: Joining Vettel’s run for the ages as F1 remembers Senna and Ratzenberger at Imola

Staff Writer

Mike Seymour
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Sebastian Vettel fronted a touching tribute to fallen F1 drivers Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in the build-up to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend, with the event coming some 30 years after both men were killed in accidents at Imola. F1.com was there to take part in it all as the paddock gathered for a lap of the track in their honour…

It speaks volumes that a significant number of the people who lined up in running gear on Thursday evening were not even born when Senna and Ratzenberger lost their lives doing what they loved most.

READ MORE: Who was Ayrton Senna and why is he regarded as one of F1’s greatest drivers?

Senna was the three-time world champion revered by millions back home in Brazil, while Ratzenberger was the newcomer from Austria hungry to prove that he had what it took to race with the best of the best in F1.

But both of their legacies were remembered in equal measure as drivers, team bosses and wider paddock personnel assembled at 1800 local time to pay their respects.

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Charles Leclerc pays his respects ahead of a track run featuring an array of tributes

It was a powerful sight as the current grid of F1 drivers took a moment next to Senna and Ratzenberger’s helmets, spent time with the former’s family – including niece Bianca – and held Brazilian and Austrian flags aloft under dark clouds.

Overseeing the tribute was four-time world champion Vettel, a massive fan of F1 history and someone who appreciates that the world of today is the result of the many years, and wide-ranging events, that have passed.

READ MORE: From his first win to that magical Monaco pole lap – 10 moments of Ayrton Senna brilliance

Every F1 driver was present, as were the F2 and F3 grids, with Vettel and his long-time press officer, Britta Roeske, ensuring that they all sported specially made Senna t-shirts and wristbands for Ratzenberger.

As each driver arrived on the grid, Vettel shook their hands and thanked them for turning up.

After a sequence of photos and an emotional moment of reflection, the tribute lap was under way, with a flood of yellow shirts heading from the start/finish straight down to the Variante Tamburello.

Ayrton Senna: The 2024 F1 grid on the champion lost 30 years ago

It was at this spot, prior to a chicane being installed, that Senna suffered his ultimately fatal crash.

Just as the drivers arrived and walked through a gap in the barriers to Senna’s dedicated memorial on the inside of the track – which is lined with an array of flags and messages from all over the world – the heavens rather poetically opened.

BEYOND THE GRID: Bruno Senna remembers his uncle and hero Ayrton Senna

Here, Vettel showed his class once more, making a speech under the rain-soaked trees that praised both Senna’s brilliance behind the wheel and Ratzenberger’s resolve to make it to the F1 grid.

He also pointed out to those stood in front of him that the many safety improvements implemented since that fateful weekend in 1994 are part of the pair’s lasting legacies.

Vettel had even arranged for padlocks to be given to the drivers, asking them to conjure up an image and add it to the catch-fencing tributes for eternity.

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Drivers add their padlocks to the catch-fencing and wear wristbands for Ratzenberger

From there, and during a brief break in the rain, the field moved on to Variante Villeneuve, at the exit of which came the accident which claimed Ratzenberger’s life.

There was no way the driver who has often been put in the shadows by Senna’s passing would be left out, with Vettel conducting another moment of remembrance at the side of the track, where a giant Ratzenberger banner could be seen.

IN TRIBUTE: David Brabham remembers his former team mate, Roland Ratzenberger, 30 years on from the Austrian’s passing

As per the arrival at Senna’s memorial, a second downpour arrived as the drivers posed for photographs with their Ratzenberger wristbands. A sign from above or merely a coincidence? That’s for you to decide.

While some of the crowd dispersed at this point, many ploughed on in the rain determined to complete the lap and make their own small tribute.

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Vettel runs through the rain as he spearheads the event in Senna and Ratzenberger’s memories

Vettel was a key figure throughout, at one stage storming past me with the Brazilian flag draped over his shoulders in an image I’ll never forget.

Eventually, amid clearing skies that brought beacons of light through the clouds, we took the chequered flag to end one of the most meaningful laps of the year.

READ MORE: Vettel to drive Senna’s McLaren MP4/8 in tribute to icon at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend

Rather than rushing off, Vettel stayed to pose for photographs with family members, as well as fellow runners, while waving to fans who had lined the track.

In a sport that moves so quickly, it was a poignant hour or so of remembrance, reflection and respect.

Senna and Ratzenberger may be gone, but they have certainly not been forgotten, and their legacies are shining brighter than ever.

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