Ayrton Senna: The Legend
What can one say about arguably the greatest driver of all time? Ayrton Senna was a complex individual; compassionate and deeply philosophical off track; unforgiving on it. A man who was able to continuously push not only his own personal boundaries, but also those of his car and the sport as a whole.
Ayrton Senna was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 21 1960. His motorsport career started in karting, as with most Formula One drivers, with a move to open-wheel racing in 1981 where he won his first British Formula 3 title in 1983. The following year Ayrton Senna made his Formula One debut and went on to start in 161 grands prix, winning 41 and claiming a total of 65 pole positions.
These are the numbers behind the great man. But he was of course so much more. Beyond his immense driving ability, Ayrton Senna was Formula One’s most captivating personality with an ability to enchant a crowd or charm but a lone fan with his spellbinding voice and deep brown eyes. There wasn’t as much as a murmur when he spoke at press conferences as his deep intensity and passion for his livelihood shone through in his words.
On the track was a different story however; Ayrton Senna was ruthless, even considered dangerous at times as his raw competitiveness saw him attempt manoeuvres that others would not dare. His commitment was undeniable, brazenly on display with every lap of practice, qualifying and the race itself. It was even said that Ayrton Senna cared more for winning than living; combined with his immense talent this made the Brazilian impossible to beat on his day.
Despite popular belief, Ayrton Senna believed it was fear that completed him as a driver, using it to control how far he was willing to push the limits.
“For me, this research is fascinating. Every time I push, I find something more, again and again. But there is a contradiction. The same moment that you become the fastest, you are enormously fragile. Because in a split-second, it can be gone. All of it. These two extremes contribute to knowing yourself, deeper and deeper.”
He was even quick to admit when he pushed too far. Monaco qualifying in 1988 being a prime example: “Suddenly, it frightened me,” Ayrton said, “Because I realised I was well beyond my conscious understanding. I drove back slowly to the pits and did not go out anymore that day.”
The weekend of his death was indeed a tragic one. Ayrton Senna took his final pole position on the Saturday afternoon during a final qualifying session at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. That same day fellow competitor Roland Ratzenberger lost his life in a high speed incident at the end of the back straight. Ayrton Senna visited the scene of the accident himself, after which he was unable to take further part in the session – a decision that demonstrated his compassion and the depth of his feelings surrounding such a tragedy.
“I want to live fully, very intensely. I would never want to live partially, suffering from illness or injury,” said Ayrton Senna. “If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs my life, I hope it happens in one instant.”
And it was in an instant that his Williams bizarrely speared off the Imola track and hit the concrete wall at Tamburello corner. Ayrton Senna was declared dead just a few hours later at Bologna’s Maggiore Hospital.
His funeral was a state affair in Brazil, attended by many and mourned by many more around the world. Frank Williams said, “Ayrton was no ordinary person. He was actually a greater man out of the car than in it.” A fitting statement for the legend of Formula One.
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