Ayrton Senna (21/03/60 - 01/05/94)Written by Ζήσης Βουργάνας
Translated by Giannis Binas
Ayrton Senna da Silva was born on the 21st of March, 1960, in a wealthy enough family and his love for fast cars began at the age of four, when his father bought him his first kart.
Ayrton Senna da Silva was born on the 21st of March, 1960, in a wealthy enough family and his love for fast cars began at the age of four, when his father bought him his first kart, with which he practiced at the kart circuit that his father had built next to their house.
His father was dropping water on the track quite often, so that young Ayrton would learn to drive under unfavorable conditions.
Aged thirteen, he had his first race and, in fact, won it.
In 1977, at the age of 17, he conquered the South American Kart championship, while, in the next three years, he comes very close to winning the world championship too, reaching second place.
1981 was the year that Ayrton would go to Europe and specifically to England, in order to compete in single-seater races.
There, he won the Formula Ford 1600 championship at his first year with Van Diemen.
However, in the end of 1981, his father wanted to pull him out of racing, in order to assume their family business.
His racing career seemed to have reached an end but soon enough, good news came from England for the youthful Brazilian.
He received an offer to race in Formula Ford 2000 next year and, in fact, with a payment of 10,000 pounds.
He returned to Brazil initially but racing is what the Brazilian wanted.
Coming back to England, he changed his name from Da Silva to Senna that was his mother’s maiden name and continued his racing career.
In 1982, he won both the British and the European Formula Ford 2000 championships.
In 1983, he competed at the British Formula 3 championship, where after a big fight with British Martin Brundle, he managed to conquer the championship on the last race.
In the same year, he participated in the famous Macau race too, which he also won.
It was high time for Formula 1, testing for Williams in the beginning and later with McLaren, Brabham and Toleman. Peter Warr (Lotus), Ron Dennis (McLaren) and Bernie Ecclestone (Brabham) offered Senna multi-year contracts that bound him for years but did not secure a driver’s position for 1984.
Senna wanted to race and wanted it immediately.
In the end, he signed a two-year contract with Toleman and the Formula 1 chapter had just begun.
He debuted at his home country’s race and managed to score his first point from his second race already, at South Africa, where he finished sixth.
He did the same two weeks later, at the race of Belgium.
At San Marino, problems with tires and the fuel pump were enough to make the Brazilian watch the race from the pits, as he wasn’t able to qualify for the first and last time of his career.
The race of Monaco was the one that made everyone talk about the Senna phenomenon and the rest of the drivers to mumble.
Starting 13th and under very harsh conditions, Senna overtook first class names to finish second, as the race was interrupted before overtaking the leader, Alain Prost, whom he had started to approach.
The Brazilian had turned the whole world’s attention and the teams’ heads at him.
Besides Monaco, he achieved two other podium places, finishing third in G. Britain and Portugal.
He ended the season in 9th place overall with 13 points.
During the same year, he also participated in two other races, outside Formula 1.
The first one was ADAC 1000km Nurburgring, where he competed alongside Stefan Johansson and Henri Pescarolo with a Joest Racing Porsche 956.
They finished 8th, as they had a problem on the final laps, missing a podium place.
The second was at the same track, but this time he raced with a Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 against Formula 1 world champions, everyone racing with the same car.
Senna participated in that race ‘by chance’, as ke covered Emerson Fittipaldi’s place after a proposal by Fittipaldi himself.
He was the only ‘rookie’ to participate with the top notch names ready to devour him.
That didn’t seem to bother him at all, since he emphatically won the race, finishing in front of Niki Lauda.
After the end, he stated: “Now I know that I can do it”.
In 1985, Ayrton bought out his contract with Toleman and moved to Lotus.
As soon as the second race (Portugal), he took his first pole position, while he also won the race which was conducted in the rain.
He managed to take the most pole positions than anyone else during that season (7), won two races (Portugal and Belgium), had 6 podium finishes and ended the championship 4th.
His team-mate, Elio de Angelis, finished one place behind the Brazilian.
The Italian left the team at the end of the year, because the people of Lotus seemed to show a preference for the Brazilian, which he didn’t like at all.
In 1986, Elio de Angelis’ position in Lotus was covered by Johnny Dumfies.
Senna favored him instead of Derek Warwick, saying that Lotus wasn’t in a position of having two competitive cars for two top drivers.
The Brazilian later admitted that it was a really uncomfortable decision, as he was a friend to Britishman.
The season started with a second place.
Subsequently, he won at Jerez with a difference of just 0.014 from Nigel Mansell but the progress of the season was not equivalent.
He won one more race (in Detroit), took 8 pole positions and had 6 podium finishes.
He ended the championship, once again, in 4th.
After the end of the race of Detroit, Senna asked from a spectator to give him the Brazilian flag he was holding, so that he would celebrate his victory that way; holding the Brazilian flag during the victory lap.
In 1987, Lotus came to an agreement with Honda for the supply of engines.
The team would thereafter have the same engines as Williams… or so they thought.
Senna’s team-mate would now be Satoru Nakajima, who came along with the engines.
Ayrton won two racves in a row, in Monaco, his first at the princedom, and Detroit, for a second year consecutively.
The follow-up was not the same though, as Williams was calling the shots, with Honda giving them the edge in engines.
The difference between the two teams using the Japanese engines was evident and culminated in the race of Great Britain, where the two Williams lapped Senna’s Lotus.
Fleeing the team was already on the Brazilian’s mind and the announcement of his transfer came in Italy.
His next stop was the team of McLaren, which apart from Senna’s services, had also secured Honda’s engines for the next season.
That was actually good news for Senna, who had formed a very good relationship with the Japanese after cooperating with them for a year.
The year ended with two podiums at the last two races; however he was disqualified from the last one, in Australia, as, after the established inspection, Lotus’ break ducts were found larger than permitted.
The final assessment was two wins, one Pole Position, eight podium places and third place in the championship.
In 1988, it was high time to celebrate a world championship title.
At the first race of the championship that was held in Brazil, Senna faced some problems with the car just before the start.
As a result, he had to race with the spare one.
After quite a long time though, the marshals waved him the black flag and his debut with the new time was far from ideal, especially in his home country.
At least, McLaren-Honda was unstoppable and Senna’s only rival was the two time world champion, “the professor” Alain Prost.
The two of them had plenty of fights in the circuits, with Ayrton going a bit too far in Portugal, at the point where Prost reached his side to overtake him.
The Brazilian moved to his side at 290km/h and pushed him towards the pit wall, luckily without any contact.
The exact opposite had happened at the start, with Prost pushing Senna to the grass, with a lot less km/h however.
Senna was reprimanded by FIA and himself later apologized to Prost, who was very annoyed, nevertheless.
The glass between their relationship had already started to crack; a glass that eventually broke.
Senna smashed every previous pole position record, conquering 13 as opposed to Prost’s 2.
Both of them, took 15 out of 16, losing only once to Gerhard Berger with the Ferrari in Great Britain.
Ayrton won 8 races, had 11 podium finishes and, of course, celebrated his first title.
The Brazilian had then entered the club of people, who have won a Formula 1 world championship.
1989 marked the final breach on the relations between Senna and Prost.
Their quarrels on the circuits were continuous, while, out of them, a psychological war was raging between the two.
The race of Suzuka was the climax of their battle.
Senna had to win in Japan and Australia in order to be in a position to challenge for the championship.
Prost was first, with Senna right after him and making a move at the last ‘S’ of the circuit.
Prost moved towards Senna and they collided. The result was a retirement on the spot for Prost. Senna on the other hand, continued racing after the track’s marshals pushed him, changed his broken front wing and eventually managed to win the race… or at least that’s what he believed.
After the end of the race, he was disqualified, because when he returned to the track, he did so skipping the ‘S’ (!).
The Frenchmen, Alain Prost and Jean Marie Balestre were, meanwhile, cooking the accounts to put an end to his claim on the championship.
According to Balestre, Senna must have backed up immediately, move opposite to the direction of the other cars and return to the circuit.
On top of that, he considered skipping the ‘S’ such a dangerous move that he took away his super licence.
Any relation between Senna and Prost had turned to pieces, with Prost having signed with Ferrari for the next year as they couldn’t co-exist under the same roof.
Senna finished second in the championship after all, with 13 pole positions, 6 wins and 7 podium places.
In 1990, the clash went on, with both drivers visiting once again the “crime scene”, where, by a weird coincidence, things got really ugly again.
The pole position at the Suzuka circuit was positioned on the other side of where it was ‘supposed to’, since, instead of being at the cleaner side of the track, it was at the dirtier one.
Senna then asked from the race stewards to change its place, as, like he said, “there is no reason to give a fight for the first place, when the advantage is with the second”.
The stewards agreed and the place of pole changed, which meant that the poleman would start from the cleaner side of the track.
The session ended with Senna having recorded the first time and Prost the second.
Then, FIA’s president Jean Marie Balestre, rejected the aforementioned decision and brought the pole position back to the dirtier side, following the same path (of ‘cooking’) that he had carved a year earlier at the same track.
The race of the both of them lasted just a few meters, as on the green lights, Prost who was starting from the cleaner side, shot ahead.
Reaching the first corner, Senna moved to the inside line and rammed Prost, sending both drivers off the track with the Brazilian automatically clinching the championship.
One year later, Senna stated about the incident, that he wanted to make clear he wouldn’t accept another unfair decision from Balestre, after the one of 1989.
This way, Senna conquered his second world championship, with 10 pole positions, 6 wins and 11 podium places.
1991 began with Prost not posing a threat due to an uncompetitive Ferrari and with Williams looking for a bit of speed and a bit of reliability.
Senna, after winning in the USA, reached the second race, the one of his home country, ready to win it as he always wanted but he hadn’t yet managed to. Misfortune though, made another appearance.
Being comfortably first, suddenly, the MP4/6’s gearbox stuck on 6th gear.
Senna started to be 4” per lap slower than the second Riccardo Patrese and it seemed that the win was about to slip through his hands one more time.
But the Brazilian, in a matter of 3 laps, managed to find out a way to move fast even with one gear in the transmission, matching the Italian’s pace.
The rain that started to fall at the final laps, worsened things, but at that day Senna had decided that he would celebrate in Brazil for the first time.
Crossing the finish line, he couldn’t hold himself and burst into cries.
A dream of his had turned real.
The crowds entered the circuit to celebrate with Senna having stopped on the track, not having any strength to continue driving any more.
It was necessary for the safety car to reach the spot, in order to transport him to the pits.
Suffering from cramps in the hands from the superhuman effort, Senna ascended to the podium holding the Brazilian flag.
His hands were so weak, they couldn’t hold the winner’s trophy, but he found the courage and with a second effort he raised it in front of the Brazilians cheering.
It was the most important win of his career and the most emotionally charged.
Two more wins followed in Imola and Monaco.
However, things started to change, as Williams and Nigel Mansell became a real serious opponent.
Williams seemed to be the leading team at the middle of the season and ''il Leone'' was Senna's rival for the championship.
In Mexico, Senna had a difficult moment, as he had a crash at Peraltada:
Mansell won at Great Britain and Senna ran out of gas at the final lap of the race.
As the British were on the victor’s lap, he stopped at the spot where Senna had retired and called him to get on the Williams to drive him back to the pits.
A gesture showing that battles must begin with the green lights and end at the checkered flag.
Senna congratulated him for his win and they reached the pits on the Williams.
At the race of Spain, Senna gave proof of his driving abilities, when, having lost control of the McLaren at the last corner, he put reverse on the go to get off the way of Schumacher, who was following.
Reaching Japan, Mansell could remain at the game of the title only by winning and Senna needed a good strategy to take it away from him.
The Brazilian was on pole, but McLaren’s other driver, Gerhard Berger, was the one to turn first at the first corner with Senna and Mansell right at his back. There, Senna showed his wits and how ha can manage such a case.
Moving slower than Burger, he was holding back Mansell, who watched Berger and the championship slip away.
Then the mistake came and the Williams parked at the sand trap.
Senna started making fastest laps, the one after the other, quickly reaching and passing Berger, to lead the race.
At the last lap, at the team’s prompt, Senna moved aside and let Berger pass him and win the race, saying like this a big thanks to him for his help towards the team and Senna.
Second place was enough to get his third title.
The last race, in Australia, was a parody that lasted merely 14 laps, as due to the downpour, the track had turned into a lake that looked like a single-seater junkyard.
In this mayhem, Senna won again, ending the year the same way he started it; the top place of the podium. Senna took 8 pole positions, 7 wins and had a total of 12 podium places.
1992 was a pretty bad year for the Brazilian, as the Williams with the active suspensions were untouchable, winning both championships like a landslide. Senna, found himself fighting with the 1991 single-seater initially, and next with one that was by far inferior to the competition.
In Mexico, he had, like the previous year, a serious crash, with a foot injury as a result.
In Brazil, he had the new car; however, engine problems forced him to lose 3 places (3rd to 6th) in a lap, in a train of 12 cars behind him - he finally retired, being really angry.
In Spain, he repeated what he had done in the same place the previous year:
Watch on 5:20
The Monaco race was one of the most fascinating of the year, as Mansell, who had the lead by quite a margin, had a flat tire, resulting in him losing a lot of time as well as the lead of the race.
The fight between the two in the last laps, had spectators and viewers on the tip of their toes, with the “master of Monaco” Ayrton Senna shutting all the gaps, not granting any opening to Mansell.
He did celebrate his fifth win at the Princedom, matching Graham Hill’s record.
At the next race (Canada), Senna took the only pole position of the year but had a retirement in the race.
He had two more retirements in the next two races, as in France he was hit by Schumacher on the first lap and in Great Britain he had a problem in transmission.
Another coincidence in that year was that he retired at the exact same spot as the previous one.
The next win came in Hungary, at the same time when Mansell was celebrating the world championship.
At Belgium, Senna revealed his human face for another time, when Eric Comas had a serious accident during Friday’s practice.
The Brazilian was the first to pass from there, stopped his car and ran towards the French, who was unconscious inside the Ligier, with the engine still working and his foot giving full throttle.
Senna immediately switched off the engine and kept his head steady till the medical unit arrived.
Comas later stated that Senna saved his life that day, for he acted swiftly and correctly by switching off the engine, avoiding that way the worst that could come from a possible explosion, which, according to the French, was only a matter of time to occur.
Senna ended the year taking only one pole position, 3 wins and had 6 podium places, while he classified 4th in the overall standings.
In 1993, after a year of absence, his bitter friend (Alain Prost) returned, taking Mansell’s place in the out-of-this-world Williams.
Senna’s efforts to get a place behind Williams’ steering wheel were leading to nothing, as Prost had set a term in his contract, according to which, the Brazilian wouldn’t come to the team.
Senna hadn’t yet signed with any team and seriously considered going to CART, where Nigel Mansell had already signed for 1993.
He actually ran some testing with Penske, the team with which his friend, Emmerson Fittipaldi, was racing.
It didn’t satisfy him though.
He wanted to race in Formula 1.
Ron Dennis convinced him to try out the new car, which was now equipped with the customer Ford V8 that was 2 generations behind Benneton’s factory one, since Honda had withdrawn from Formula 1, in the end of 1992.
Eventually, at the last moment, he signed with Mclaren for one sole race, taking the place of Mika Hakkinen.
He finished second at the inaugural race of South Africa and signed for the next race too, that was held at his home country.
There, when the sky started pouring with rain, the “rain master” wiped the ground with Damon Hill’s Williams that on dry conditions was 2 seconds faster per lap and took his second win in his home, making the Brazilians dace samba on the streets.
The spectators entered the circuit and surrounded his single-seater, so that he would have to return to the pits with the safety car.
On the podium, Ayrton had one of his finest moments.
Juan Manuel Fangio was there for the awards, a man whom the Brazilian esteemed deeply, wanted to equal his championships and with whom they hugged.
That win made Senna sign with McLaren for another race.
The next one was the European GP, held at the Donington circuit.
Senna there performed his greatest performance.
From 5th at the first corner, he moved to the lead in less than a lap, winning the race with ease, with Hill second and almost one lap behind.
He had such a comfortable margin that he passed through the pit lane just to greet his mechanics and return to the track.
On that lap, he did the fastest lap of the race (back then, there wasn’t a pit lane speed limit).
That way, by signing for every race separately, he continued to the GP of Monaco, where he succeeded in winning for a sixth time, setting a win record that stands to this day.
After that race, he signed for the rest of the season, however, without believing he could challenge Williams and Benetton on the next circuits.
At Great Britain, Senna retired the usual way (he stayed out of fuel during the last laps, like ’91) and even on a very familiar spot (exactly the same where he retired in ’91 and ’92)!
Moreover, since he already had too many coincidences in his career, during the Belgian GP qualifying (yet again), Alex Zanardi had a major accident on Eau Rouge.
Michael Andretti was close to the incident and slowed down, unlike Senna who was following.
In order to avoid Andretti, he exited the track, parking the McLaren next to Zanardi’s Lotus. He immediately jumped off his car and ran towards the Italian to assist him.
He also won the last two races in Japan and Australia (where he also took the pole position on a lap that Dennis was shouting at him to slow down for he was staying out of fuel), having signed with Williams for 1994.
A truce with Prost that was retiring from action came in Australia too.
Alongside prost, a big part of Senna was leaving too, for as much as he would now deal with rivals of the new generation, headed by… Schumacher.
With a third, in terms of capacity, car, he took 1 pole position, 5 wins and had 7 podium places, finishing the championship in 2nd.
Senna left McLaren after 6 years to race for Williams, in 1994, commencing a new chapter in his career; unfortunately, a chapter with 3 rows only.
A Williams was destined to be the first and last F1 single-seater the Brazilian would drive.
The last coincidence of his career…
He was a driver that when driving, was giving the impression of being possessed.
His merciless ambition generated plenty of bad criticism; including Prost’s who stated that he is more interested in wining rather than staying alive.
When Senna announced he had found faith in God Prost and many other regarded him as a lunatic that though was beside him when he was driving.
Senna himself had confessed that not a few times, was crossing the limit, like in Monaco, in 1988, when he became a co passenger into his own fanaticism.
Already holding the pole, he had continued making laps trying to reach the maximum, until he was 2 seconds faster that Prost in exactly the same car.
''I was kind of driving it by instinct, only I was in a different dimension.
It was like I was in a tunnel, not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit for me was a tunnel.
I was just going, going - more, and more, and more, and more.
I was way over the limit but still able to find even more.
Then, suddenly, something just kicked me.
I kind of woke up and I realized that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are.
Immediately my reaction was to back off, slow down.
I drove back slowly to the pits and I didn't want to go out any more that day.
It frightened me because I realized I was well beyond my conscious understanding.
It happens rarely, but I keep these experiences very much alive in me because it is something that is important for self-preservation.''
He was a man that loved children very much.
He gifted a lot of millions from his fortune and after his death, approximately 400 million dollars, to aid the children in poverty of Brazil.
In the beginning of 1994, he talked about his future, saying:
''If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs me my life, I hope it is in one go.
I would not like to be in a wheelchair.
I would not like to be in a hospital suffering from whatever injury it was.
If I’m going to live, I want to live fully, very intensely, because I am an intense person.
It would ruin my life if I had to live partially.''
And that’s what happened on May 1, 1994, San Marino, where his leading Williams veered off its course at the Tamburello corner and ended up on the concrete wall.
The whole planet watched what happened on television and the world was mourning the loss of a legend.
Thousands attended his funeral at Sao Paulo, next to his coffin, where, among many other drivers, was Alain Prost too, with whom he had formed a close and friendly relationship during the latest period of time.
In fact, at San Marino, Senna had sent a message to his friend, Prost, through the radio.
Ayrton was not a typical kind of human. Frank Williams stated that “he was an even greater man outside of the car than he was in it”.
We kept Erik Comas’ statement for the end.
When Senna’s accident occurred and the rest of the cars stopped at the start line and switched off their engines, the French ordered to restart his own and ran to the incident:
“Ayrton saved my life and I came too late...”
March 21, 1960 – May 1, 1994
Active years in F1: 1984 - 1994
Teams: Toleman, Lotus, McLaren, Williams.
Races: 162 (161 starts)
Championships: 3 (1988, 1990, 1991)
Points: 610 (614)
Pole Positions: 65
Fastest laps: 19
God Speed Ayrton you will be missed.
- Ayrton Senna
- Mika Hakkinen
- Michael Schumacher
- Alain Prost
- Ron Dennis
- Juan Manuel Fangio
- Nigel Mansell
- Frank Williams
- Elio de Angelis
- Johnny Damfies
- Derek Warwik
- Satoru Nakajima
- Gerhard Berger
- Jean Marie Balestre
- Erik Comas
- Alex Zanardi
- Michael Andretti