Ayrton Senna – The Man, The Myth, The Legend…
Time – it’s split into eras, eras in turn define periods of time, and in F1 there is always the question of who is the best of ALL time; while there is no definitive answer it is widely perceived that Ayrton Senna was the of HIS time.
Born in Santana, Sao Paulo, he took 3 F1 World Titles – but his future was snatched away.
We only have the past, where he started his racing karts in 1973 and started on pole in his first race. By 1977 he was South America’s Karting Champion and competed in the World Championship 5 times.
1981 saw the start of single seater car racing as Ayrton moved to England in the Formula Ford 1600 Championship. He won it, but retired and planned a return to Brazil due to family pressure.
Before he left he was offered Formula Ford 2000 drive for 1982 worth £10,000 – he took it, won the title and moved to Formula 3 with the now legendary West Surrey Racing.
1983 saw a titanic battle with Martin Brundle for the title, culminating in a reckless overtaking manoeuvre at Oulton Park that almost had disastrous consequences for Brundle – Senna now had a reputation as a “win at all costs” driver, it was the first glance of his maverick style, and a flawed brilliance.
He joined the F1 ranks in 1984 with the uncompetitive Toleman team and in his 3rd start race he announced himself to the world. In torrential rain in just his 3rd Grand Prix he took a phenomenal 2nd behind McLaren’s Alain Prost, losing only on countback after a red flag saw the race end early – Senna had arrived.
A move to Lotus brought a first win in Estoril in 1985, another incredible display of car control and wet weather mastery as he lapped the entire field apart from 2nd placed Michele Alboreto.
5 more wins in his 3 years at Lotus saw him secure a move to McLaren, period defined thrice:
-A rivalry with Alain Prost
-3 World Titles
-His complicated personality and fierce desire
Winning half the races in 1988 saw him take his first world title, it was no surprise – but 1989 would bring plenty of those, and with them, controversy.
An apparent violation of a gentleman’s agreement with Prost turned into bad blood, a simmering feud that came to a head at Suzuka. The Brazilian was on a charge, hunting down his French team-mate who was leading – Senna knew he had to win to keep his title hopes alive…
THAT lunge, the contact, the marshals, the pit stop, the charge past Nannini, the win… the disqualification.
Senna felt robbed of what he felt was HIS title.
1990 – We com e back to “time” – what Senna felt was HIS time.
With roles reversed and Prost now at Ferrari, Senna made his time count – illegally. Back at Suzuka, if Prost didn’t finish Senna was champion and Senna made sure it was his day.
At turn 1, a moment in time, a deliberate strike by the McLaren into the side of the Ferrari.
Both were out of the race, Senna was Champion in shameful circumstances.
Again, the flaw in his genius was under scrutiny.
His genius was cemented with titles in 1990 and 1991, incredible performances at Interlagos and Donington will be remembered forever – as will his 1994 joining of Williams.
A poor start to the season in a car that had lost its active suspension advantage saw 0 points from 2 races as the circus aimed for Imola and that fateful weekend.
We all know what happened next.
After the death of Roland Ratzenberger on Saturday, Ayrton Senna died on May 1st 1994.
The Maverick was gone.
It was a moment in time of seismic proportions for F1 – everything changed thereafter.
He is regarded as the greatest of his time, maybe the best of all time
The Ayrton Senna Foundation helps children get into sport in Brazil
The Ayrton Senna Institute helps youngsters into the business world.
For the majority though his legacy is memories – snippets of time to be remembered forever. Moments, seconds, minutes, even hours of pleasure.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article, words were provided by Rich Hoit and images by Gary Hawkins.
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