Born: 21st March 1960 in Sao Paolo Brazil.
Died: 1st May 1994 at Imola Race Circuit, Bologna, Italy, Age 34.
Ayrton Senna: 161 GP starts
Ayrton Senna: 41 Grand Prix wins
Ayrton Senna: 65 GP Pole Positions
Ayrton Senna: 3 F1 World Championships
Ayrton Senna was a legend in his own lifetime. A man so dedicated to his profession that nothing, it seemed, could ever stop him. Senna was charismatic, strong-willed, forceful and seldom vulnerable. Behind the wheel of a racing car he exhibited a ‘magic’ rarely, if ever before seen. Looking for a crack in Senna’s armour became a hobby for some people. It proved an unrewarding pastime.
Ayrton Senna da Silva was born on March 21 1960 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. As Ayrton grew so unfortunately did his lack of co-ordination. To help this condition, when Ayrton was four, his father Milton gave him a one horsepower kart. Ayrton never looked back! Unable to legally race karts until the age of thirteen Ayrton won his first competitive race on July 1 1973. Championship titles followed in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1981.
In the winter of 1980, Ayrton Senna da Silva left his beloved Brazil for England and by August 1981 had clinched both the Townsend Thorensen and the RAC Formula Ford 1600 championships. He had also adopted his mother’s maiden name of Senna, for ‘da Silva’ was a common name in Brazil and ‘Senna da Silva’ too long to fit on a pit board! Being pursued by his father to give up motor-sport, money was desperately needed if he was to continue racing. Attempts to gain sponsorship failed and in October Senna announced his retirement. Back in Brazil things did not improve, after spending four months managing his father’s building company his desire to compete had grown even stronger. Now his father gave him a choice, business or motor sport, unsurprisingly he chose the latter.
He returned to England in February 1982 to compete in both the European and Pace Petroleum Championships. Out of the twenty seven races contested by Senna he achieved sixteen poles, twenty three fastest laps and amassed twenty two wins. His first ever Formula Three event was a sign of things to come. He out-qualified the field, set the fastest lap time and subsequently won the race. 1983 Marlboro British Formula Three Championship, competing in twenty one races Senna finished the year with thirteen wins, fifteen pole positions and yet another title.
In 1984 driving for the Toleman team, a future Formula One legend made his debut. Ayrton Senna ended his first season with 13 World Championship points – 9th in the driver rankings. Joining Lotus in 1985, the first year he took seven pole positions and races in both Portugal and Belgium. 1986 eight poles with victories in Spain and the U.S. During 1987 Senna had negotiated a three year contract with McLaren-Honda, he finished his last season at Lotus ranked 3rd in the Championship.
1988 saw him partnering World Champion driver Alain Prost. In 1987 John Watson, a former McLaren team driver, asked Senna how he would approach Prost. His answer: I will make sure I am fitter than him. I will be more motivated and I will make sure that I can drive faster, more consistently and for longer. I will beat him! He was as good as his word for this was the year that brought Ayrton Senna thirteen pole positions, eight GP wins and his first World Championship title.
Much to the delight of the world’s media, in 1989, the stormy relationship between the two team-mates came to a head in Japan. Due to the points situation Senna must take the last two races to win the Championship. Although starting from pole Alain beat him into the first corner, but with only six laps to go Senna made his move. He came alongside Prost, who did not concede and turned into the corner. The two cars collided and slithered to a halt. Prost left his car but the marshals pushed-started Senna’s McLaren and he retook the lead to win the race. Later disqualified for missing the chicane Senna was outraged. Alain Prost was now World Champion and would join Ferrari for the 1990 season.
Out of the fourteen races so far contested Senna had six wins to Prost’s five. At the Japanese GP Senna was fastest in qualifying. Pole position on the grid was designated on the right-hand side of the circuit and Senna felt that this gave Prost, in second place, an advantage. After heated discussions ‘pole’ was changed to the left but later that decision was rescinded. An unhappy Senna remarked: If Prost gets the best start, I’m warning him, he’d better not turn in on me because he won’t make it. At the start Prost was first away but Senna kept coming. As the Ferrari turned in to the right-hand bend it collided with Senna’s McLaren. The Championship was decided, Ayrton Senna had gained his second World Title. In 1991 Senna qualified on pole eight times, won seven GP’s and his third World Championship. The McLaren-Honda was outclassed by Williams-Renault in 1992 and Senna struggled throughout the year. He finished fourth in the Championship having taken only one pole position and three wins.
Senna considered taking a sabbatical for the 1993 season but McLaren were very persuasive and a pay-by-race deal was finally agreed upon. He continued to dominate winning his sixth Monaco GP. Adelaide was the last race of the season, Senna claimed both pole position and the win. His last drive for McLaren had made them the most successful Formula One team in history with a record 104 wins. Ending the season runner-up in the World Championship he looked forward to a new year, a winning car and a fresh challenge… Ayrton Senna was set to join Williams.
Sadly the 1994 Williams-Renault was to prove far from ideal but Senna put the errant machine on pole not only in Brazil and Japan but Italy also. He was leading the restarted San Marino GP when suddenly the FW16B veered inexplicably off the track. Television pictures beamed world-wide showed Ayrton Senna’s car crossing over a grass verge and concrete run-off area before finally impacting with a concrete wall on the Tamburello bend. On Sunday May 1 1994 millions of people witnessed the death of the best racing driver in the world and the world still weeps…