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Ayrton Senna thirty years later: what he meant to OMP

The 1st of May is not a day like any other for the Formula 1 community. Everyone thinks of Ayrton Senna, and of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. This time, the date has even more significance, because it marks exactly 30 years since the Brazilian ace passed away. Ayrton at that point was probably not only the driver, but the most famous and popular athlete on the planet. OMP had the pleasure and privilege of equipping him at the height of his triumphs, by working side by side with him. On 1 May 1994, therefore, our brand lost more than just a testimonial. However, he left us a legacy of incredible human capital, advice and experience, as well as the joy of 19 victories and two world titles celebrated together, in 1990 and 1991.

The collaboration with Ayrton began during the 1990 season in an almost unbelievable fashion. Roberto Percivale, one of the three brothers who founded OMP, blitzed to the Monaco Grand Prix paddock and managed to seal an exclusive agreement. The contract was signed on Thursday, a day that in the Principality was dedicated to the first free practice and qualifying sessions. On Friday, Formula 1 in Monte-Carlo did not take to the track, allowing the miracle to happen. Roberto Percivale hurried back to the recently-opened OMP base in Ronco Scrivia, some 200 kilometers away; the tailor-made suit for the standings leader, and 1988 world champion, was made in just twenty-four hours. On Saturday morning the race kit was delivered into the garage. On Sunday, in his first race by wearing OMP, Ayrton claimed a fantastic victory after starting from pole position. On the podium, his red McLaren suit had our yellow and black logo displayed on the belt. As icing on the cake, third place went to team-mate Gerhard Berger, also outfitted by OMP.

Step by step, the technicians and tailoring department at Ronco Scrivia developed innovative solutions thanks to Ayrton's feedback. It was his idea to move the stitching of the gloves from the inside to the outside, making them flat and visible. The aesthetics perhaps were a little compromised, but the driver could have a stronger grip on the steering wheel, reducing pressure and pain in his fingers, especially as Formula 1 cars still had a lever gearbox. Not surprisingly, from the first meeting with Ayrton what caught the eye were his hands, full of calluses.

“I started following Ayrton from 1991. I used to communicate with the McLaren team or the driver by fax, as emails did not yet exist, and in this way we were exchanging messages and pictures to fine-tune the products. At the closest race venues, I used to head to the track for in-person meetings and checks,” says Luigi Rossi, now Marketing & Communication Director of Racing Force Group and at the time a member of the OMP technical department.

“Ayrton had an uncommon sensitivity, he felt things that most other drivers didn't, such as a label or a seam moved by a few millimeters", Rossi recalls. “The suit remained more or less unchanged in its basic parts, as Ayrton was always satisfied. For example, he wanted the collar made of knit, because it was softer. The balaclava and underwear also had flat seams on the outside, he wanted them everywhere. The true secret of his gloves, however, laid in the material of the palm. We did a very intensive search on the industry to find a very rubbery leather that gave an incredible grip on the steering wheel, especially for the time. The right glove was also more padded, for being used with the stick gearbox”.

OMP launched a glove model derived from this work onto the market that could only be named “Ayrton”. It stayed in the catalog for many years and was also chosen by other drivers, in Formula 1 as well as other series, including the World Rally Championship. Today’s top of the range gloves of OMP, such as the new ONE Evo FXs used in the 2024 season by the drivers of the Aston Martin F1 team, retain the external stitches.

For 1994, Ayrton made a deal with Williams, which rose up as the most competitive team in the field. It promised to be an invincible partnership. During the first winter tests, it was weird to see him in a blue suit, and no longer a red one, still made by OMP. Unfortunately, Ayrton's fairytale ended tragically on that 1 May, with the crash at Imola. His departure was a tremendous shock for all OMP employees, as well as for Formula 1 as a whole. However, his sacrifice, together with that of Roland Ratzenberger who had passed away only the previous day on a tragic weekend, was fundamental in giving momentum to the improvement of motorsport safety standards. Since 1973, this has always been the mission of the OMP brand.