Ayrton Senna the F1 Legend
The romantic F1 was over forever that 1st of May 1994. We would like, together with you and some photos, to live again a magical story related with the most important pilot and to do not forget never ever. In the rich burial ground of Morumbi in between building packed with poor people, it is not necessary anymore to line-up to pay one’s respects to Ayrton. No more notes, no more banners or relics placed on the tree growing closer to his tombstone. Viceversa, the sorrow remained while he is resting in peace. Senna left us in a crash at Imola, one track he loved very much and where he has been the fastest pilot many times. He collected a pole 8 times over 11 times he races overthere whereas this was the place where for first time he could not achieve a qualification during 1984 with a Toleman. The only time along his spot career. The day before his last race, he achieved another pole who was going to be his last one. It is bizarre but he was connected with this circuit somehow or other.
May has never been a friendly month for racing pilots, in fact more than any other month along a racinf season collected a long list of dramas and despair. When that tragedy happened, May just started and suddenly his Williams refused to turn like if playful destiny wanted to make it. A technical problem! This was going to be the final conclusions of a deep investigation. The bloody driving wheel broke when the car was traveling on the fastest point of the circuit while pilot started to realize what was going on and tryed to push on the driving wheel with all one’s might to move the tyres. Then a brutal impact. A hoorible crash. Terrible. Finally, the silence and eternal peace…
After many years, it is difficult to retain a clear memory of him. There are still his fans, many but inconsolable. Some people are starting to forget the champion but his legend, his fights or exploits are living day after day. His career was built step by step winning great challenges creating a legend about the best pilot who ever raced around the F1 circus. Some of his achievements are so incredible that they look romanticized but no way, they are real. Senna lived a life that it looks to come out from a movie and we will cover in this article some of the most important moments as well as some of those situations people do not know too much about. Pretend to watch a movie and start with the first shot of this amazing story. We are with a little boy using an helmet colored yellow with a green stripe crossing it, driving a kart. When he was racing, he wanted to get just the number 42. This was painted by Mr. Sid Mosca, the same man who has painted his helmet and who persuaded him to paint another stripe, this time blue to remember a flag of Brazil. Those colours were never changed again. He came to Europe during 1978 and they noticed him very soon when with a normal kart he started to show a natural way to be fast and an aggressive attitude during races. Finally, he did not win too much if compared to his value.
One day, Senna met Chico Serra, a Brazilian Formula Ford 1600 champion with a Van Diemen in the 1979. Chico told him to give a try and to follow his same path. During the month of November 1980, at Snetterton, Senna drove his first single-seater and performed some laps. A couples of years later commented that experience:
I did not have too much fun because that car was pretty difficult to drive. I thought I cut a s*** figure…
Ralph Firman, who was the owner of Van Dieman, was astonished and he immediately rushed to give on of his official cars to race along next season. When Senna started the season, things started to work-out pretty fine: just after third race, he got his first victory. At the end of 1981, the results were wonderful: after 20 races, Senna got 12 victories, 5 second places, one third, one fourth and one fifth place (during his coming-out!) and no drop-out of any race. Two championship, three poles and ten fastest laps were obtained too. Does not look a movie?
If you think this was nothing special, you should carry on reading. In 1982, even if he was getting a success after another, Senna did not want to live in U.K. Anymore. He wanted to come back in Brazil, to stay with his people. Somehow, they persuaded him to stay and his father decided to place side by side a real guardian angel: Mr. Armando Botelho Teixera.
Today, we would call him a manager. He will be important to take the right decisions along Ayrton Senna’s career. He died, when he was just 49 due to a liver cancer in summer of 1989.
Once he moved to Formula Ford 2000, life should have been tougher, on the contrary everything went off well. During the British championship, he raced 19 times and he won 14 of them. In the European championship, he raced 9 times and he achieved 8 pole position and 6 victories ! At the end of that season, he also raced one time on a F3 and he did pretty good: pole, fastest lap and victory.
Anyway, main scene was another. At Zolder, during one European race, exactly when his idol Gilles Villeneuve lost his life (Ayrton had two idols,Villeneuve for his bravery and Lauda for his logic). He tried to talk with Nelson Piquet, the Brazilian ace of F1. A disaster because Piquet did not give any regard. Ayrton left the track shouting to his friend Dennis Rushen that one day he will defeat him and he added another phrase:
What a bastard!
That is the beginning of an unfortunate and difficult relationship !
That year there was another important event: if you do not believe it, ask to Eddie Jordan who created a F3 team 12 months before and making his first season during 1982. One day, he decided to test some young pilots. Senna said yeas and he gave a try at Silverstone. That was his first time on a single-seat on Formula Three. James Weaver was doing nothing special with that car during the season. On that small circuit, he made just three laps and he made the record, he was the first pilot to get below 53 seconds ! Jordan said about that day:
He made few different changes at the set-up, so effective to our car that Weaver was able to win next three consecutives races: Donnington,Jerez and Nogaro. Before he had not managed to do anything at all!
That year ended with Ron Dennis, yes him, the tough boss of McLaren who went on a pilgrimage to the house of this young pilot. He went to Reading, to give him an opportunity to race next season of F3 at one’s own expense. Dennis was asking him to sign a clause where Senna was agreeing to become one of his pilot in F1 in the future. Ayrton did not agree. After studying all the options, Senna decided to choose the F3 racing team of West Surrey Racing owned by New Zelander Mr. Dick Bennetts. A team who won many championships and allowed the Sweden Stephan Johansson to win the British championship.
That season he met a real competitor who was very good at racing his second season in F3: Martin Brundle. It did not matter, his season was overwhelming: it is just the 8th of May and Senna won is eight consecutive victory beating the previous record of seven consecutive raced won by Emerson Fittipaldi (1969) and Nelson Piquet (1978). But he decided to do not stop there and he won two times more moving this record to 10 consecutive victories. The final result of that season was epic: 187 lpas performed, 185 leading! He won the British championship, 12 victories over 20 races, 15 poles and 13 fastest laps. It could be enough, but not for him. He moved to Macau and he decided to challenge all the best pilots of any other championship. He arrived on this street circuit of Asia just one day before the qualyfing: he drove, he saw and he won. Exactly, he got the pole position, he won the race and he performed the fastest lap. In the final list he finished before Roberto Guerrero and Gerard Berger.
One day, someone asked what was his main secret. His answer has been:
There is no turn where it is impossible to overtake. It is just necessary to be ready to do anything when it is the best moment to do so.
A guy like that can not be missed by British team managers. He was called by everybody to test a F1: first one was Williams team, followed by Mclaren. This was the 28th of October at Silverstone, with everybody watching him carefully. Ayrton did not care. Few laps and he blocked the time at 1 minute 13 seconds and 8 decimals. If it does not mean nothing to you, remember that this time was lower than qualification time achieved by Lauda during the GP of same year.
He gave this few words about that day:
The McLaren was easy to drive, its control wheel is more gentle than my F3. It was just a pity I did very few laps, a bit more of time some change in its set-up and I could stop lap-time to 1 minute and 12 seconds. The problem was that I was not comfortably seating in that cockpit…
His final destination should have been at Brabham were Bernie Ecclestone wanted him, no matter what. If it did not happen there was one reason and Senna explained it:
Bernie was looking for me, but Piquet gave his veto to this proposal. I am not disappointed or mad because I would have done something similar if I was him
19th of December, by surprise, he signed for Toleman a little team:
Ideal to make a bit of experience
It was obvious there were not many chances to get anyway with this team, unless it was starting to rain… It happened one day at Montecarlo, when it was pouring with rain that they still remember over there. Toleman was a bad car, its turbo engine was extremely rough but when things are impractible what matter is heart, talent and feeling in your hands when driving. Senna became ninth after first lap of that GP of Montecarlo hit by heavy rain then he overtook Laffite. At the 7th lap he overtook Winkelhock, at 6th lap did the same with Alboreto driving a Ferrari. At 12th lap another step: fifth after going over Rosberg (Williams), at 14th lap was fourth (overtaken Arnoux and his Ferrari), at 16th lap he was third because even Mansell (Lotus) was overtaken. He is on podium. But he did not have enough. At 19th lap he overtook Lauda (McLaren) and he was behind Prost who is just there with an apparently impossible gap to cover: 34 seconds and 355.
At this point the director of this movie exagerated, he wanted one with an unforgettable story. He asked Ayrton the impossible and this unknown Brazialian accepted this role. He got closer to the leading car in a blink of an eye, like if he was operated by remote control and the other restrained, not only by the rain, the low visibility but the fear to crash into a barrier. Senna was almost behind Alain when the race director, Mr. Jacky Ickx decided to stop the race because too dangerous. Just few meters and Ayrton was going yo take the lead. Everybody believed that was only a present to Prost. In reality, that victory gave half points because they did not traveled the minimum distance and it cost to Alain Prost the world championship at the end of that season. If he was finishing the race at second place, but with the minimum distance traveled, the french as going to become the champion of 1984 instead of Lauda who won it. That day, the rain selected his race God. The legend started to shape up, many started to remember his first race was won when it was raining, his first championship in F. Ford arrived after a wet race and now there was Montecarlo. It was not enough! A year later came Portugal.
Yes, Portugal! We were in 1985, Toleman was a closed story. Ayrton moved to Lotus team, one with a big glory but during last two seasons they were without any victories. Senna left Alex Hawkridge’s team for a simple reason:
If you do not race to win, any time spent in F1 it is just a waste of time
Second race of the 1985 season was at Estoril. Saturday, track was dry, Senna achieved his first pole position getting not so far to beat the time Piquet obtained the previous year. During the race, he faced again a track flooded with rain. His speed can be explained in this way: he gave one lap of difference to anybody ! Just Alboreto was not lapped with his Ferrari, he was capable to finish second but at more than one minute from the leader. Many people thought to see Jim Clark again racing. How is it possible to be so fast under the rain ? Senna simply said:
I remember my first race with a kart under the rain. It was a disaster, I aroused pity. I did not achieve nothing while the other pilots were overtaking me anywhere and at any turn. I was surprised because, with a dry track, I was very fast. So I started to train just with a wet track: anytime it was raining, I was driving and driving until I started to understand how to do it properly. The water was not an enemy anymore. We began to understand each other
That season was a surprise. He got a final fourth place in the world championship list, with two victories (Portugal and Belgium) and seven pole positions but with a final polemic. Lotus wanted to hire the British Warwick but Senna did not agree and he called out a clause on his contract allowing him to veto this proposal to have a team mate not welcome. Peter Warr, team principal of Lotus got mad and British media started to attack the Brazilian pilot but he did not give up :
This team is not big enough to have two competitive cars. During 1985 me and Elio (He was talking about De Angelis), we lost some opportunities to make some nice performance because our team could not please us. Here there is one main pilot and this is me
Later he came back to this subject and even less diplomatic:
The true is, Lotus signed a contract with me during 1984, where they stated during 1986 any priority was going to be given to me. If I was making any dispensation, I would have lost my bargaining power forever. It was a matter of principle. What you have to learn once you get in F1, it is to be able to say no. No to many interviews, no to many meeting request by sponsors, no to any deregulation. Answering yes is easier, but very soon you will pay the price. You must learn to say no,no,no.
If British mainstream media drop him, the love of one nation exploded and this was Brazil. This situation was created like in a movie on the occasion of GP of Detroit in 1986. Before the race, when they were playing world cup of football in Mexico, Brazil football team was eliminated on quarters finals and at penalties against Michel Platini and his France.
In Brazil, you know, football is a religion. Sunday, on the North-American track there were many yellow and green flags but their owners were quite sad and depressed. Finally, a boy of 26 years old, with a yellow and green helmet won the race leaving two French (Laffitte and Prost) behind. It was a quick and we unexpected revenge. At the finish line people inavded the track and one person gave Senna one Brazilian flag. Ayrton stopped, picked it and he came back to the box. That footage was broadcasted worldwide. Brazil became mad about F1: SALVE AYRTON SENNA DE TODOS NOS.
After this amazing race, the movie faded out for a while. Lotus contained to race with him along another year but the final balance of three consecutive seasons, even if it was going to be a great for anyone else, it did not keep a promise. Six victories, fifteen pole positions, two fourth places and one third place, they do not give a real idea of the value and skills of this Brazilian pilot. Inevitably at the end of 1987, a divorce was made and finally Senna landed to McLaren face to face with Alain Prost, his real rival. Alain was the pilot to beat to prove who was the best among them.
The season of 1988 it was a continous challenge among them, helped by a very competitive car. “The Teacher” pulled out all his experience and class while “The Magic” his talent and bravery. There was the leadership inside the team and this is going to explain the first official clash between those two aces. This happened on the final line of Estoril when Senna forced Prost over on box wall making him closer to hit the signal table. Both cars were at 270 km/hrs and their tyres hit together. At the end of that race, Alain shouted loud and clear:
If this is what we need to do to win, I do not like at all!
He was right but Ayrton wanted to give a clear message that he was the one setting the rules, who is imposing oneself, the one not scared by anyone and anything. The world championship was made-up anyway at Suzuka, two races before the end of that season. During that moment, Prost was leading by 90 points versus 79 points owned by Senna. The start of this race, it was once again like in a movie. Ayrton’s car stopped on the pit-lane with its engine cut out. Everybody avoided him and Senna also was lucky enough to be on a track where the final line was going a bit downhill. Ayrton gave a try but he could not start his engine, he gave another one and like in an american movie, a miracle just happened: his car slowly started to move. He was in the last position.
Do you remember Montecarlo 1984 with a heavy shower rain ? Right, here it is not raining but something similar was done. After one lap he is in eight position, on second lap he overtook Patrese and Nannini while a lap later Boutsen. Prost was leading the race and running very fast because he was under pressure since Capelli with a March and just 40 litres of fuel on board, he was trying to impress his main Japanese sponsor: the Leyton House. At fourth lap Senna overtook Alboreto while fifteen laps later did the same with Berger. Soon the blue shape of Capelli was in sight and left behind without many problems:
were starting to double some pilots and I knew if I was fast enough to
catch Prost, I could use that situation to overtake him
He did it! Just at lap 27. The two McLarens were one behind the other and in front there was the Andrea De Cesaris‘ Rial. In front of the box turn, Ayrton risked it all. He went in between the Box wall and the two cars of Prost and De Cesaris in an area where there was just enough space to let a car in. Prost was blocked by that slower car when he became aware, it was too late. Ayrton won the race and he was F1 world champion for the first time:
I had a vision of God and he showed me the way. I had very clear signals about his willing and his power. Someone will not believe me and they will laugh about it but I have to say the true. I drove knowing he wanted me to be the champion and, once I was fully focused, I made a turn and I saw his figure in the sky and I knew I was going to get it. It was a fantastic connection with God
The crux of the matter of God was dominant until 1990. This was the subject of many venomous words given by his critics. After performing a pole with a record time and a victory at Montecarlo during 1990, Senna told to a friend:
I felt during practice there was a problem with my car and it was unbalanced as well as without any possibility to win. Berger’s car was experiencing the same problems. A victory at Montecarlo was very important to me so I talked to Him, with God who knows everything and he is able to see in our hearts. But you can not ask without praying and that is what I did. Once I finished the warm-up, Sunday morning, I got out of the car while at the same time I had a vision and an important feeling. I was out of the car but I was feeling anyway like a part of it, I could see a white line joining each others and it was going into another dimension, I found a personal peace and one perfect balance between my body and my soul. During the race I came out of my box with the same car it was giving problems in the practice and with clear defects… Now it was perfect! Or it might be they were still there but they did not bother me anymore. After race finished, Berger came to me to talk about those well known problems. I smiled him without going into details. I knew he could not understand it…
From a long period of time, they are talking about a movie related with his life. They say Antonio Banderas could be the main actor. It is very difficult to say if they will do it but it is pretty much clear the problem is not the story. You can see there are many stories to be told about Ayrton and his career. From first world championship until the final minute at Imola all memories are clear but the real story similar to a movie it was experienced during the 1980 when the fairy tale of a boy who everybody wanted to see champion becuase he was changing anything into gold, it was lived. There is no person into F1 who is not taking out the hat when they talk about Ayrton.
When GP of France was still over there at Castellet, a group of Journalists decided to go with Jackie Stewart to the “Signes turn”, a terrible right turn at the end of a long straight line. They went there to test who was the bravest and braking later than anybody else. This virtual challenfe was won everytime by Senna. A kind of ritual ceremony, it was nice to live every year. The ’90s gave other two championship to Ayrton and certainty, before year 2000, Juan Manuel Fangio’s record of five F1 world championship was beaten.
Instead, it did not happen and we all know the reason. The wall of Tamburello, it is there as a monument to the sacrifice of the most important pilot of modern time to testify one era just ended tragically, that day of May. Senna left us, while Piquet, Mansell and Prost do something else than driving.
One day, on March 1994, during a phone conversation, Senna underlined:
Everybody is talking about my track records, about my pole positions, my world championship but the life of pilot is not just that. There is business too. You are not complete if you can not manage your own business. I am the only pilot capable to race with four different cigarettes corporations: Jps, Camel, Marlboro and now Rothmas. If we think I do not smoke, is not this one my real record ?
He was not only a magic pilot but also a great anchorman and a comedy actor now and then. If there was a movie about him this would be a perfect ending with him rising to the sky driving his car as a champion he has always been.
We miss you Ayrton and we will never forget you.