He was 30 years old, Ayrton Senna died on the Imola circuit, the Brazilians pay him a vibrant tribute

He was 30 years old, Ayrton Senna died on the Imola circuit, the Brazilians pay him a vibrant tribute

Statue of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna at Imola, Italy, the circuit where he lost his life. MAXPPP – Franck Dubray

Thousands of fans are expected around his grave this Wednesday, May 1. 

Thirty years to the day after the death of Ayrton Senna, Brazil pays tribute on Wednesday to one of its greatest idols, national pride whose aura will is comparable to that of the "King" Pelé.

Fans of the three-time Formula 1 world champion (1988, 1989 and 1991) are expected throughout May 1 in front of his grave in a cemetery in Sao Paulo (south-east), his hometown, where he was buried in 1994, at the age of 34, after his tragic accident on the Italian Imola circuit.

Repeated tributes

Like every year since his death, a foot race is organized on the Interlagos circuit, also in Sao Paulo, where he won twice at the end of career, in 1991 and 1993.

Programs paying tribute to the man who gives his name to many streets in Brazil have multiplied in recent days on local televisions.

A traveling exhibition entitled "I, Ayrton Senna da Silva – 30 years" opens its doors on Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro, after passing through several other Brazilian metropolises. In this exhibition, visitors can hear the pilot's voice recounting the defining moments of his life and career using artificial intelligence.

Bronze statue

On the splendid Copacabana beach, an emblematic site of Rio, many walkers take photos as usual in front of the bronze statue of the pilot, which immortalizes him arms raised and brandishing a flag of Brazil.

Among them, Joao Paulo Bertoloni, 30 years old, who was a baby when Senna died.'I didn't get to see him live, but my family was always a fan of his. My father, my grandparents… Everyone talked to me about Senna. At the time, Brazil stopped on Sundays to attend its races", says this business leader.

Marilane Mattos, 66, perfectly remembers the moment she saw the Imola accident live on television, on 1er May 1994. "It's horrible, it still makes me sad today. But I prefer to remember the good times (…). He was a simple guy, a guy like us, she confides, after a selfie in front of the statue in Copacabana.

The great rivalry with Prost

Beyond sporting exploits, the legacy of Alain Prost's great rival remains alive in Brazil through the Ayrton Senna Institute, which was recognized in 2004 by the Ayrton Senna Institute. Unesco for its educational projects intended for children from disadvantaged neighborhoods.

"Ayrton always said that if you wanted to change things, you had to start with education" , declares Viviane Senna, sister of Ayrton and president of the institute, in a video recently published on social networks. Founded six months after the pilot's death, the institute says it has benefited some 36 million students in 3,000 Brazilian cities.

Senna has "restored self-esteem to Brazilians"

For the Brazilian writer Ernesto Rodrigues, author of the biography "Ayrton, the hero revealed", Senna left his mark because he "restored self-esteem to Brazilians" at a time marked by political and economic crises. When he won his world titles, Brazil was just emerging from a military dictatorship and experiencing a period of hyperinflation. "His legacy has been largely preserved. He gave his name to important avenues throughout the country. Every time his name is mentioned, it gives Brazilians a lot of pride, concludes the biographer.

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