A TRIBUTE TO AYRTON SENNA 20 YEARS ON
The current crop of F1 drivers is special. Sebastian Vettel, a four time world champion at the age of 26 can press the ‘dominate’ button at any moment, when the car is there for him. Lewis Hamilton is the master of pace, as shown by his blistering record of pole positions. Fernando Alonso is regarded as a once in a lifetime talent and has shown incredible skill with his thought process and daring moves while racing. But 20 years ago, there was one man who had all these attributes.
The 1988 Monaco Grand Prix was when the world really first say Ayrton Senna’s sensational talents. That year, McLaren (Ayrton’s team) won 15 out of the 16 world championship races, a record that remains unbeaten to this day. But that weekend, Senna beat his teammate and arch-rival Alain Prost to pole position by a scarcely believable 1 and a half seconds. This may seem like a tiny margin to those unfamiliar with motorsport but pole positions are generally decided by tenths of a second so to consider Senna beat his teammate, one of the best drivers of his generation, by over a second in the same car was quite astonishing. Senna completely dominated the race but when he was told to slow down by his team, he lost concentration and crashed out.
Senna came from Sao Paulo in Brazil and was from a wealthy background. He had the ideal upbringing for someone aspiring to become a professional racing driver. However, he did not buy his way into the sport, as is the case a lot in modern times. Senna had sensational speed and attention to detail, with a ruthless streak thrown in for good measure. He took a marvellous second place in Monaco in 1984 in one of the slowest cars on the grid, a Toleman. This was done in a monsoon with a broken front suspension rod.
Senna was a highly spiritual man, who regularly had religious experiences while driving. The previously mentioned Monaco qualifying lap was from “a different dimension” in Senna’s own words. He claimed he saw God as he won his first world championship and would read a passage from the bible before each race.
His home country, Brazil, is one which was and still is rife with poverty. While other sportspeople would be ashamed to show their nationality and background, Senna embraced it. A regular feature in Formula One was to Senna driving his victory lap waving a Brazilian flag. Later in his career, Senna donated millions to charity in Brazil to help provide education to less fortunate children. The Instituto Ayrton Senna is still running to this day and has given thousands of poor children a chance they otherwise may not have gotten
Let me get this across: Senna was not the flawless driver and person I may have portrayed so far in this piece. He would risk his and other drivers’ lives to win, as shown in the 1990 Japanese GP. He knew that if Prost, now driving for Ferrari, did not finish the race, he would be world champion. At the first corner, Senna went for a gap that wasn’t there and took them both out in a high speed collision. Prost had used the same tactic the previous year, but at a much slower corner.
On May 1 1994, Ayrton Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix. In Friday Practice, Jordan driver and fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello had been launched up by a kerb and thrown into a barrier, a crash that very nearly cost him his life. Simtek driver Roland Ratzenberger was not so lucky the next day as his crash took his life instantly. These events shook Senna and those that were around him that weekend report that he was not in a good state of mind whatsoever. When Senna hit the wall at Tamburello, that was it. There was no coming back as the impact caused suspension to rip through his skull and crush the front of his brain.
Senna’s death did so much to improve driver safety and his legacy has inspired many great drivers, but the day of his death was a dark one for motorsport, the like of which we never want to see ever again.