The day Ayrton Senna dressed up as a hero and saved another driver’s life: the dramatic story that shook Formula 1

The day Ayrton Senna dressed up as a hero and saved another driver’s life: the dramatic story that shook Formula 1

Ayrton-Senna assists Erik Comas after his terrible impact (TV capture)

Ayrton Sene is unforgettable for his three championships in the Formula 1, his exploits, his charisma, but also for his strong commitment to safety and the concern of his colleagues in this regard. One of the most memorable examples happened 30 years ago when he saved the life of Erik Comas who had an accident in the Spa-Francorchamps racecourseduring training Belgian Grand Prixwhere this weekend the Máxima resumed its activity after the European summer break.

Comas was a promise of French motorsport and was born on September 28, 1963 in Romans-sur-Isère, a medieval city in the south-east of his country. He was national karting champion (1983) but also in the promotional categories, Formula Renault (1986), the single-brand Renault 5 Turbo (1987), Formula 3 (1988) and in what was the prelude to F1, Formula 3000 (1990). In 1991 he made his debut in the Máxima with Ligier, due to his merits and good support from sponsors.

“Last year was difficult because the team was in the midst of a reorganization, but I think for me it was the best way to start. In fact, it was a political election. I’m in F1 thanks to Elf , who has been my sponsor for ten years since karting. And Renault was also important, since my first job in 1981 and 1982 was as a Renault salesman in a dealership,” he said in an interview with Grand Prize in March 1992.

1992 was the last year Senna drove a Honda-powered McLaren, which was retired at the end of the season.  It was the combination that brought the Brazilian star to fame (Getty Images)
1992 was the last year Senna drove a Honda-powered McLaren, which was retired at the end of the season. It was the combination that brought the Brazilian star to fame (Getty Images)

In 1991 he joined Guy Ligier’s French team, which was no longer the one who knew how to be the protagonist in the late 70s and early 80s. Érik couldn’t do much with a car without potential. The following year, expectations were renewed with Renault as a motorist and he was able to add his first points for his two sixth places in Canada and Germany and fifth place in Great Britain.

On Friday August 28, 1992, during free practice at Spa, Comas began his flying lap, the one where the drivers seek the limit in order to later achieve an optimal time in qualifying for the race. Arrived at Blanchimont, fast on the left, he lost control of his car, the JS37, a few 290 kilometers per hour. The car flew over the short escape route and hit the barriers. In the crash, the right front wheel came off, hitting Erik’s helmet and knocking him out. Due to the violence of the incident, the monopost bounced and ended up in the middle of the track. Comas stayed on full throttle, and the danger increased as the temperature rose, which had no air intake; a fire or explosion was imminent, the driver motionless inside the car.

But Comas had an angel named Senna, who walked a few seconds behind him and was a privileged witness to the incident. When he passed the Ligier, he heard the engine running between 7,000 and 8,000 rpm and saw the unconscious Frenchman. The Brazilian immediately parked his McLaren MP4/7A, ran towards Erik’s car and risked his life because due to poor visibility he entered the cloud of dust and with the risk that other cars arrive at high speed. Over Comas’ car, he was crossed in the middle of the track and Ayrton came close to death to help Erik. He arrived at his car and cut the engine to avoid a fire. So, he placed his head straight so that the pressure would not damage the vertebrae.

The brutal accident of Érik Comas and the rescue of Ayrton Senna whose reaction saved his life

At that time Sid Watkins he was F1’s chief medical officer while also working as a doctor at the Royal London Hospital (Whitechapel Hospital) in London. Una eminencia como neurocirujano qu’servió en la category entre 1978 y 2004 y luego fue presidente del Comité de Seguridad de la Federación Internacional del Automóvil (FIA) hasta 2011. an accident. The doctor taught him the basics. “When I arrived Senna was on his knees holding Comas’s head, properly I should add. When we took over Ayrton said to me: ‘I made sure his breathing was good and I told the stewards not to remove his helmet so you can examine the damage. “He was a good student.”

In the testimonials recorded by the portal GP today, the Frenchman said: “I had the inconvenience of being the first to pass this curve (Blanchimont) and I went straight into the guardrail. I watched the video afterwards because I couldn’t remember anything that happened. My right front wheel hit my helmet and I lost consciousness, but I still had my foot on the accelerator. The car bounced off the track.”

“In the footage I saw Ayrton pull over as soon as he heard my car was still accelerating. The engine was still running between 7000 and 8000 RPM. He took off his seat belts and drove down the track towards me between the oncoming cars that have slowed down because they saw the yellow flags.Senna reached the cockpit (where the pilot is) and looked for the main switch to turn off the engine. At that time there was a risk of fire because the car had lost a lot of oil and fuel.. An explosion was likely, but he prevented it and saved my lifeadded Comas, who after being helped by Senna and Watkins, was taken to the medical center where he was found to have a concussion and bruises, and did not race in Belgium. He recovered and returned the next day to Italy.

Ayrton Senna and Sid Watkins (doctor in charge of F1 for 26 years) after the Ratzenberger crash.  The Brazilian was the only driver to attend the scene (File: CORSA).
Ayrton Senna and Sid Watkins (doctor in charge of F1 for 26 years) after the Ratzenberger crash. The Brazilian was the only driver to attend the scene (File: CORSA).

One year and nine months later in the Enzo and Dino Ferrari Imola Racecourse It was the worst weekend in history. the terrible blow Rubens Barrichello against the defenses by which the Brazilian revealed that he was dead five minutes and the tragic clashes of Roland Ratzenberger, Saturday, and Ayrton Senna, SundayThey were very hard blows. Comas recalled that “on May 1, 1994, for the first time in my career, I sat next to Senna at the drivers’ meeting. We were all in shock over the events of that weekend and what happened there didn’t seem real. There had already been a drama with Roland (Ratzenberger).”

Senna was beaten by everything that happened and it was he who made the comment that something had to be done to avoid this kind of accident. We were all touched by the death and I think our feeling was that we would miss someone on the grid for the race,” he revealed.

Ayrton had his fatal accident. The race was stopped with a red flag to help the Brazilian and due to a communication error in Larrousse, the team for which Comas raced that year, the driver returned to the track believing the race was restarted. He reached Tamburello Curve where he encountered the helicopter and the attendants and doctors trying to save the life of Ayrton, whose agony was unrelenting. Érik stopped his car, got out and froze a few meters from the body of the triple world champion in 1988, 1990 and 1991.

Érik Comas arrives at the scene of Ayrton Senna's tragic accident at Imola 1994 (Capture TV)
Érik Comas arrives at the scene of Ayrton Senna’s tragic accident at Imola 1994 (Capture TV)

Comas’ account of this moment was dramatic: “Ayrton was a person who somehow gave off something and when arriving at the place it was as if an atomic bomb had exploded in Tamburello. There was a very heavy atmosphere in the area and even without knowing the details I knew it was something very bad. I was paralyzed, because I was there, next to the man who had saved my life two years before, and I couldn’t do anything for him. It’s something that made me feel terrible. He saved my life, but I was too late to save him.”.

“I’m not a doctor and anyway he was in worse condition than me, his accident was different from mine, but being close to him at the time felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do for him. help and it was such a horrible experience and I kept it to myself for so long that After ten years, I can barely begin to talk about it. It’s something I’ve buried inside for a long time“, he confessed.

I’m ashamed and a little guilty for not having reimbursed what he did. It’s hard to accept that someone who saved your life two years ago is now just a few feet away from me, seriously injured. I wanted to leave the car and go there to help somehow, but the doctors wouldn’t let me,” he said.

Video made at Interlagos Autodrome, São Paulo, Brazil, where Érik Comas remembers and thanks Ayrton Senna

And he repudiated the celebration on the podium: “It was a big scandal what happened there and I heard it from other people. I didn’t see it because I was going to the airport. It was one of the biggest scandals in history, especially since a lot of people were hypocrites at the time.. Everyone knew what the situation was around Ayrton at the time. The story of the post-race ceremony was covered up by the FIA. At that point, they did everything to cross the line and lose their own credibility.

“It was hard for me to realize that I I was the last pilot to have seen Senna before his death. For me, the book of F1 was closed at the time.” At the end of this season, Érik leaves the category, but continues his campaign and is Super GT champion in Japan in the GT 500 division, in 1998 and 1999 with a Nissan Skyline GT-R. He then competed four times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and his best result was a second place in 2005 in a Pescarolo C60. And he won the titles of the Italian (2015) and European championships ( 2017) historic rallies.

Comas often appears at a race or special event and is warmly welcomed by fans. He could have had a longer career in F1, but this retirement from the category after the Senna tragedy was a correspondence with the driver who saved his life 30 years ago and became a hero beyond his exploits. sportsmen. This is one of the stories that has forever marked motor racing and which is remembered as much if not more than the race itself of this 1992 Belgian Grand Prix where a certain Michael Schumacher, aboard his Benetton, took the first of his 91 victories in the category.


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