What Happened On This Day May 1 In F1 History?

From the first motor racing death of Renaud de Montaignac de Chauvance in 1898 to the death of a legend, Ayrton Senna at the 1994 Imola Grand Prix.


By Ben Bush
Updated on May 28, 2024

Ayrton Senna death at Imola 1994
Ayrton Senna's Williams after his fatal crash at the 1994 Imola Grand Prix.

What happened on this day, May 1 in Formula 1 history? Find out interesting facts and stories about Formula 1 on this day.


On May 1, 1898, Renaud de Montaignac de Chauvance, the Marquis de Montaignac was involved in motor racing’s first fatal accident when he lost control and inadvertently caused a crash that killed his mechanic. After swerving and forcing another car off the road, he then lost control of his own car, which rolled, leading to his mechanic’s instant death and his own several hours later. De Chauvance accepted full responsibility for the tragedy before his death.


Desmond Titterington was born in Belfast on May 1, 1928. He began his racing career in Ulster before advancing to European circuits and joining Ecurie Ecosse. His success in a Jaguar led to a Formula One race for the Connaught team at the British Grand Prix on 14 July 1956, he scored no championship points. He also competed in several non-Championship Grand Prix eventually retiring from racing to focus on his business, relocating to Scotland amid increasing local tensions in Ireland. He died in Dundee, Scotland, aged 73 on 13 April 2002.


Geoff Lees was born on May 1, 1951. A Warwickshire, England native, he struggled with un-competitive Formula One cars despite self-financing his way into the sport. He competed in 12 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, debuting on July 16, 1978. He did not earn any championship points. During his F1 career, Lees found himself in less competitive cars, and after limited success, he relocated to Japan in the early 1980s. There, he had a fruitful career in the Japanese Formula Two series, clinching the 1983 championship and achieving eight wins. He also competed for various Japanese teams in sports car racing championships, securing three titles in the Fuji Grand Champion Series in 1986, 1988, and 1989, and winning the C-class title in the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship in 1992. Lees earned great respect in the Japanese racing community. He also raced multiple times at Le Mans, with his highest finish being sixth place in 1990.


On May 1, 1955, F1 driver Mike Nazaruk, who raced exclusively in the Indianapolis 500, which was a part of the F1 calendar in the earlier seasons, died in a Sprint Car race accident at the Langhorne Speedway after his car crashed through a fence and rolled multiple times. Advised against racing due to illness, Nazaruk insisted on competing for financial reasons. His daughter poignantly reflected on the perils of racing, recalling her grandfather’s similar fate.


Emerson Fittipaldi clinched the 1972 Spanish Grand Prix win in a Lotus, propelling him to the top of the 1972 drivers’ championship alongside Denny Hulme, who retired during the race due to gearbox issues.


The 1983 San Marino Grand Prix on May 1 saw challenging conditions with over half of the starting grid unable to finish due to a deteriorating track. Patrick Tambay emerged victorious amid frequent pit stops and a faltering field. Riccardo Patrese lost an early advantage by missing his pit stop but managed to challenge Tambay until a critical spin-off.


Six years prior to his untimely death, Ayrton Senna clinched a dominant win on May 1 at the 1988 San Marino Grand Prix, leading from start to finish. Despite starting issues, his teammate Alain Prost secured second place, with both McLarens outpacing the field. Senna managed a brake issue that caused smoke to enter his cockpit. Nelson Piquet, who finished third, remarked on the unlikelihood of challenging the McLarens, referencing a Brazilian saying about enduring hope: “We have a saying in Brazil,” he shrugged. “Hope is the last thing that dies.”


The darkest weekend in F1 history culminated in the death of Ayrton Senna on May 1 at the 1994 Imola Grand Prix. A weekend that would profoundly impact Formula 1, sparking significant safety reforms. On the morning of his final race, Senna convened a meeting with fellow drivers to push for enhanced track safety, following the fatal crash of Roland Ratzenberger the previous day. Senna, who had earlier predicted a dangerous season under the new regulations, was deeply shaken by Ratzenberger’s death. Despite advice from Professor Sid Watkins to withdraw, Senna felt compelled to race, stating the inevitability of his participation. Tragically, on the seventh lap, he collided with a concrete wall at 160 mph and died instantly.

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About The Author

Chief Editor

Ben Bush

Ben is our chief editor specialising in F1 from the 1990s to the modern era. Ben has been following Formula 1 since 1986 and is an avid researcher who loves understanding the technology that makes it one of the most exciting motorsport on the planet. He listens to podcasts about F1 on a daily basis, and enjoys reading books from the inspirational Adrian Newey to former F1 drivers.

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