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Ratzenberger, Senna died during same weekend

4/22/2004

IMOLA, Italy -- Walk around the Imola
circuit to Tamburello corner on a sunny April morning and there
is nothing to jog the memory that this was where Ayrton Senna
died a decade ago.

One could stroll past without noticing.

But clamber over the tire wall and through an aperture in
the wire mesh fence and there is no forgetting -- the bunches of
faded flowers, the framed photographs, a bronze plaque and
graffiti spanning 10 years of grief.

"In a black and white world, you brought color to our
days," reads one. "I would willingly give my heart for yours to
beat again," declares another.

"Against this wall your life was taken away, against this
wall our dreams were ended." A scrawl points the finger of blame
-- "Williams Assassini".

And slightly further away there is another, the surname
misspelt but equally heartfelt: "Ratzemberger. They have all
forgotten you but I have not."

Formula One is paying homage to its fallen heroes at the San
Marino Grand Prix this weekend on the 10th anniversary of the
deaths of three times champion Senna and Austrian Roland
Ratzenberger.

The Brazilian, charismatic and controversial, is the name
that everyone remembers after an accident that sent a shockwave
around the world and took away one of the greatest drivers to
grace a racetrack.

Ratzenberger, desperately trying to qualify for only the
second grand prix of his career, has become something of a
forgotten man outside the immediate confines of Formula One.

Senna's loss was felt even by strangers with little more
than a passing interest in the sport. Ratzenberger had none of
the fame but all to offer.

He was a racer with a passion for motorsport, funding his
early efforts by working as a mechanic before he won the Formula
Ford festival at Brands Hatch in 1986 against the likes of
Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine.

"The sad thing was that the Formula One world didn't get to
know him," Nick Wirth, his former Simtek team boss, told
Autosport magazine years later.

"What level he would have reached I wouldn't like to say but
I don't think it's important really. His dream was F1.

"He'd be top of the list if you were going out for a drink,"
he added. "He had a lot of self confidence but not in a nasty
way. He wasn't conceited, he wasn't arrogant. he was just a
great, great guy."

Max Mosley, president of the International Automobile
Federation (FIA), has similar recollections.

"He was forgotten but actually I went to his funeral rather
than Senna's because everybody went to Senna's and I thought it
was important that somebody went to his," he told Reuters.

"He was a really excellent person.

"And the other thing that was so admirable was the way his
family, who were obviously distraught, completely accepted that
that was what he liked to do and wanted to do and they weren't
going around trying to blame anyone."

Ratzenberger's death, the first in Formula One for 12 years,
came in the Saturday qualifying session when his Simtek ploughed
into the wall at the right-handed Gilles Villeneuve sweep into
Tosa at around 300kph.

Earlier he had gone off the track at Acqua Minerale,
damaging the front wing. Instead of coming into the pits,
apparently satisfied that all was well, he pressed on with
catastrophic consequences.

His death deeply affected Senna, whose own fatal crash the
following day eclipsed everything. The Brazilian commandeered a
course car and turned up at the scene of the accident.

"Ayrton was beside himself," recalled Formula One chief
medical officer Sid Watkins in his book 'Life at the Limit'. "He
had not been close to death at a circuit before. ... Ayrton broke
down and cried on my shoulder."

By Sunday evening questions were being asked as to whether
the race should have been stopped, with Brazilians blaming
Formula One chief Ecclestone and Mosley's FIA.

"There is absolutely no question the race should have been
stopped out of respect," Senna's former rival and television
commentator Martin Brundle told the Times newspaper this week.

"Yet until this moment I've never even thought whether the
race should have begun at all after Roland Ratzenberger's death
in qualifying the previous day.

"For me that was just different. Qualifying had finished
when we learnt that Ratzenberger had died. It wasn't during the
race. We weren't all waiting for the restart and being told the
guy's all right when he's not.

"Anyway, let's not beat about the bush. It was Senna. That's
not to minimize Ratzenberger's life.

"It's an interesting point. Should we have abandoned the
whole weekend for Ratzenberger? Yes, we should have. And I
suppose if we had, Senna would not have died."