Vettel pays tribute to Senna, Ratzenberger in 1993 McLaren

How F1 is honouring the 30th anniversary of Senna's death at Imola (1:32)

Nate Saunders explains how Ayrton Senna is being remembered at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. (1:32)

IMOLA, Italy -- Sebastian Vettel was fighting back the tears after driving Ayrton Senna's 1993 McLaren around the Imola circuit as a tribute to the late Brazilian, as well as Austrian Formula One driver Roland Ratzenberger.

Both Senna and Ratzenberger died in separate accidents across two days of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

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Tributes to both drivers have been made throughout this weekend's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, which marks just over 30 years since the accidents.

Four-time champion Vettel, who retired from F1 at the end of 2022, has worked in collaboration with Senna's family to honour the two drivers, leading a track run with members of the paddock on Thursday and driving a demonstration lap in the McLaren MP4/8 ahead of Sunday's race.

For his last lap in the McLaren, Vettel held the Brazilian and Austrian flags out of the cockpit.

Asked if he had a tear in his eye as he jumped out of the car on the Imola grid, Vettel said: "Definitely. I don't know, it's difficult to put in words -- it was one of the strongest emotions I've felt behind the wheel despite being alone on track and not even racing. Incredible.

"When I got the flags out it was so powerful. We had a very strong and emotional moment on Thursday when we ran the track and another one today.

"It's overwhelming and I'm happy that I had the courage to address my idea and come forward and invite the Senna family on the idea. We only got positive feedback and it seemed like the right thing to do.

"Ayrton is a driver that will be remembered, but we need to make sure we actively do so. That weekend as well, Roland lost his life -- two drivers who are sort of colleagues of mine but I never had the chance to meet them. It means so much more than just racing."

Holding the Austrian flag carried a special significance for Vettel as Senna had planned to make the same tribute to Ratzenberger, who died during qualifying the day before the 1994 race, had he finished the grand prix.

"Obviously the Brazilian flag was clear because it was something he used to do after the races, but I know the same story [about the Austrian flag]," Vettel said. "I was thinking about whether it was the right thing to do to finish the job, but I don't think it will ever be finished and it's not about finishing.

"But to try to make people remember, it felt very special when I got both flags out. It was a very special and very meaningful weekend for me, sharing that with people in the grandstands because there were a lot of Brazilian flags out there as well."

Vettel said honouring Senna's legacy was important for F1 because the Brazilian stood for more than just racing during his career.

"I think it is very important," Vettel said. "Firstly, to understand the risk that drivers were prepared to take at that time, losing their lives doing something they loved, but more so if you look at Ayrton and his story, sure he has been very successful doing championships and races and some incredible stats that stand to this day, but also the incredible compassion and courage he had to speak his mind.

"The strong will to speak up, develop and look after things in his country. Pushing education, trying to fight poverty... In many ways he was ahead of the game as a person of that time, but also as a racing driver in particular.

"Therefore, I think it's very important and powerful story to share especially with young drivers coming up, or drivers that don't remember or weren't born at the time and will take over in the future in another two, three, five or ten years to be inspired by those stories."