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Ayrton Senna

Comas: 'Senna saved my life' after 1992 crash

As F1 doctors assisted Ayrton Senna and prepared him for him to be transported to hospital by helicopter, the roaring V8 of a Larrousse could be heard in the background. Behind the wheel was Frenchman Erik Comas - a man who owed his life to Senna.

Imola '94 start
Interview
To news overview © XPB Images

The lives of Ayrton Senna and Erik Comas are intertwined. Intrinsically linked.

One, a three-time F1 world champion and revered star. The other, a talented driver who never got the chance to compete for a top team.

Comas looked up to Senna, his idol, but they were never to become friends. The Frenchman put the Brazilian on too high a pedestal for that, he concedes, in an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.

"I put up that barrier for myself. After all, he was my idol, someone who was one step bigger than anyone else in every way," the former Ligier and Larrousse F1 driver contends.

It was an admiration formed a decade before the infamous and tragic weekend at Imola in 1994. At the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, in just his sixth race, Senna stunned the F1 establishment in the pouring rain, tracking down the McLaren of Alain Prost in an unfancied Toleman, finding a way past his future rival before the red flag brought proceedings to a halt - allowing Prost to win on count-back.

"That was the first time I saw him [Senna] in action. We were on top of the rocks on the side of the La Rascasse turn; we had no money for more. Senna didn't win that race, but from then on he was my idol," says Comas, who would first meet Senna in late 1990, as a fresh F3000 champion. "He congratulated me and that impressed me so much. He really delved into those junior categories."

That was the prelude for an F1 career spanning four years, one that never provided Comas the opportunity to duel directly with Senna - the Ligier and Larrousse cars were not competitive enough for that. But yet the pair shared a unique moment on track, an encounter remembered by many.

I ran back crying and told the team I would never drive F1 again

- Erik Comas

Spa-Francorchamps, 1992: Comas crashes heavily in free practice for the F1 Belgian Grand Prix, losing consciousness from the impact. His foot remains stuck to the gas pedal.

Senna, driving past the wreckage, notices the imminent danger and stops his McLaren on the track a few dozen metres away. He gets out and, risking his life, runs back to the Ligier as other cars approach.

Senna kneels down at Comas' stricken car, turning it off, and crucially, cutting off the fuel supply to the engine. The danger of an explosion doing nothing to deter the icon.

Comas remembers nothing of the accident, its aftermath nor of the day after. He had to be told of what had happened.

A day later, Comas sought out Senna in McLaren's hospitality to thank him. He does not remember that either: "I have tried to find pictures of that, but without success, unfortunately.

Whilst it will never be known if Senna's intervention was a life-saving one, Comas believes it was.

"Of course, you can never say that with 100 per cent certainty, but I was in a car with 170 litres of gasoline on board. For me, it is clear that he saved me."

Fast-forward nearly two years, to 1 May 1994, the day of the San Marino Grand Prix.

As the red flags fly for Senna's serious accident at the high-speed Tamburello corner, Comas encounters a wall of rescue vehicles and marshals, having recently emerged from the pits.

A little further on, the ambulance helicopter is already waiting. "I didn't know what had happened when I got there," he said. "But I saw Senna lying there, while there was a weird kind of energy.

"It was a kind of radiation that made it clear to me that Senna wasn't going to make it. That made such an impression. I ran back to the team crying and I immediately shouted that I would never drive again.

"The team advised me to finish another test first, and then make that final decision. I finished the season, but after that, it was enough."

Whilst it is sometimes suggested Comas had wanted to return the favour to his hero, the Frenchman dispelled that myth. "Senna was first on location after my crash, but it's not like I wanted to do the same back at that time," he remarked. "When I got there it was also clear to me that there was nothing I could do.

"I had sustained damage myself during the race and came to the pits to have that damage repaired. In the time it took the team to repair that damage, Senna had his accident, but we didn't know that.

"When the car was ready, I was sent out onto the track to drive to the newly formed starting grid. And yes, I saw that the light was red, but I went anyway. I knew I had to go."

			© XPB Images
	© XPB Images

That day left a lasting impression on Comas, turning into a deep wound. For 10 years, he was unable to speak about what had happened, especially about the experience at Imola.

"It changed my life," he said. "Again a little later, I was able and allowed to visit his grave in Brazil. For a while then it was him and me."

Comas does not find solace in the continued pursuit of safety within F1, a movement heavily influenced by the death of Senna, saying: "That is a process that had always gone on. F1 became safer and safer, but that doesn't bring back the deaths."

The Frenchman confirms he would have sat down with Senna to discuss the issue had it not been for the three-time champion's untimely passing.

"On the Sunday morning at Imola, I first sat next to him at the drivers' briefing and he asked me to come to London after the weekend to talk about safety," Comas recalls.

The veteran of 63 grand prix explains that fateful day in Italy is not the defining memory he has of Senna.

"He was the ultimate rain master, think Estoril '85, think Donington '93," he said. "He brought F1 to men, but also to women. After all, he was also a beautiful man to look at, but apart from that also very kind and always elegant. Ayrton Senna is my idol."

Comas his thanks to Senna (Instagram March 21, 2024)

"The fact that I was the last one to greet you, in the Tamburello corner, on that damned May 1, 1994, doesn't seem like a privilege, but it's not a shame either. The last goodbye was painful, very painful. God's will changed my life forever. I had never had to deal with death before, but yours just didn't seem possible; you, number one; you, my idol! Ten years had to pass before I could talk about it, and 20 before I could get to your grave.

"Today, after 30 years, the day is inexorably approaching when I will see you again, but with each passing day, I know very well that I am still in the world, and I owe that only to your courage and generosity on August 28, 1992, at Spa, when you saved my life. I was not yet 29 at the time. Today I have doubled the length of my existence.

"On May 1, 2024, the world will commemorate your death, the tragedy, the shock. For me, nothing was ever the same again. On this May 1st, I will think of you as I always have, since the day and the hour I was touched by your departing soul.

"I always think of you in the flesh, because somehow since 1992 you are still part of my daily life. A big hug, dear Ayrton, my saving angel. With great affection and until eternity."

Erik

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