Ayrton Senna: Remembering the Man, and the Driver
Formula 1 has had its share of superstar drivers, but none of them can quite eclipse the impact of one man – Ayrton Senna. Twenty years ago on May 1, 1994, Senna passed away after an accident at the San Marino Grand Prix. He’s known for being an uncompromising and talented racer, but behind his winning personality, there was more to the man. Senna grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and began his motorsport career in go-karts. In 1981, he moved to England to race in Formula Ford 1600, which he won, before winning the Formula Ford 2000 title in 1982, and the British Formula Three Championship in 1983. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take Senna long to impress in Formula 1 either. VIDEO: See the trailer for the documentary "Senna"
The Brazilian raced for Toleman in 1984, catching attention early with a second place finish at the rainy Monaco Grand Prix. It was clear that his talent was worthy of a top drive, which he was granted by Lotus for the 1985 season. Senna took home his first pole position and race win wearing Lotus’ black and gold.
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But it was the McLaren years that brought Senna into the spotlight. In 1988, he and teammate Alain Prost won 15 out of 16 races in the McLaren MP4/4, with Senna securing his first F1 World Championship at the end of the year. Prost however wasn’t to be outdone and reclaimed the title after a hugely controversial accident involving Senna at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix.
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The rivalry continued the following year, with the championship once again coming down to Japan, but if Prost failed to finish, Senna would be named World Champion. The pair connected at the first corner and Senna was awarded the title. Senna claimed his third championship at McLaren in 1991, but the following two seasons were overshadowed by the dominance of back to back wins by Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost at Williams.
Senna left McLaren for Williams at the beginning of the ’94 season, however Williams’ championship-winning active suspension was banned by the FIA before the season began. This made the FW16 chassis skittish and at the Imola Circuit on May 1, Senna could wrestle it no longer. On lap seven, Senna lost control and fatally crashed into the barriers.
His death sent shockwaves through the racing world, which sparked the redesign of many F1 tracks, crash structures, and cars in the quest for safety. Since that fatal weekend (which also claimed the life of MTV Simtek's Roland Ratzenberger), there have been no fatalities in Formula 1.
But perhaps more impressive than his 41 wins and three championships, was Senna’s passionate heart. The same man who forced Prost off-track in 1990 stopped to save Erik Comas after a crash left him unconscious in 1992. And further off the track, he donated millions of dollars to help improve the lives of Brazil’s underprivileged children.
He was an enigma: a man who would give 110 percent to take the win, but never forgot where he came from. Ayrton Senna – 20 years gone, but still a champion.
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