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GP Week : Issue 201
19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Formula One is a forward-looking sport, always working to the next race, the next lap, the next new component to strap on the car. Moments fly by in milliseconds, and the timesheets from the last session are yesterday’s news before they’re even printed. But every once in a while the sport celebrates its rich history, taking the time to look back on years gone, to reflect on those people and places that defined eras. One such moment took place in between the Chinese and Spanish Grands Prix, when 25,000 fans (and a handful of journalists) converged on the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari – more familiarly known as Imola – to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. The four-day celebration of their lives kicked off with a special Mass held on Wednesday evening, and which was attended by Ratzenberger’s parents. The service – held entirely in Italian – was strangely moving, even for those of us who couldn’t understand it. The press conference room where the service was held was filled with fans of all ages, from small babies wriggling in their mothers’ arms to elderly men stooped over their canes, genuflecting en masse as tears ran down their faces. It was the mix of people present that made the commemoration so special. After several years in F1 I have become accustomed to the rarefied confines of the paddock, an environment designed expressly to keep the passion of the fans as far from the professionals as possible so that those with jobs to do can get them done. It’s efficient, from a work point of view, but it can also be rather soulless. Part of the charm of those four days in Imola was the way the event had been expressly designed to be suitable for all the family. While the adults explored exhibitions of Senna’s photographs and memorabilia – photos by GPWEEK’s own Keith Sutton – small children raced pedal-powered go-karts around a miniature track, played in Ferrari simulators, and listened as their parents told them just who Ayrton Senna was and why he should be remembered. On a personal level, there were two moments from the weekend that will stay with me forever, both from 1 May. The first came as I walked up towards Tamburello with a Brazilian colleague, leaving the pits early so we could secure good spots for the official minute’s silence to be held at 2.17pm. The track was about to be opened to the fans, but for the moment we had Imola to ourselves, no one in sight as we left the pit lane. As we walked along the racing line there was not a sound to be heard but the wind whispering in the leaves, and all along the way we were buffeted by the spring blossom blown from the trees. We walked in total silence until we reached the 100 metre marker, at which point we both stopped and turned to each other, saying as one ‘f**k, we’re seeing the last things he saw’. At that exact moment, a marching band struck up the Brazilian national anthem, and we walked the rest of the way to Tamburello, choking back tears. After the official minute’s silence was over, another colleague and I elected to walk up to Villeneuve so that we could pay personal tribute to Ratzenberger, who had been largely ignored in the official celebration. When we got there, we found Keith and Mark Sutton standing with Margit and Rudolf Ratzenberger, who were about to begin a minute’s silence for their son. It was a small tribute, but the most powerful moment of the weekend. With no fanfare and no photocalls, simply a group of people who wanted to celebrate the life of the ‘other’ man to die at Imola that weekend, Roland’s minute of silence was heart-breaking. Far from the TV cameras, the driver quotes, and the 25,000 fans only two corners behind us on track were two proud parents expressing their love for their missing son with quiet dignity. THE PARENTS AND THE PASSION OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER