Ayrton Senna, a legend that still lives to this day
Today, May 1st, we sadly mourn one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers who have ever competed in the pinnacle of motorsport. His name was Ayrton Senna, and we'll go through his magnificent, inspiring career, talking about that fatal crash in Imola, as well as what he meant for his country and how he still influences today's motorsport generation.
His life and first races
Senna was born in a neighborhood near São Paulo on March 21st, 1960. Starting from a very young age, the Brazilian showed his interest in cars. He won the South American Kart Championship in 1977, and from 1978 to 1980 he competed in the Karting World Championship, being runner-up in 1979 and 1980.
In 1981, Ayrton had to take one of the toughest decisions for a young boy living in Brazil: leaving his family and moving overseas to Europe. Despite that, Senna believed in himself and knew he was talented. Therefore, he went to England, where he began his single-seater racing career. That season, he won the RAC and the Towsend Thoresen Formula Ford 1600 with the Van Diemen team.
However, Senna's family wanted him to take a role in their business, and the future world champion announced his retirement from Formula Ford and went back to his hometown. During that time, he received an offer to drive in the Formula Ford 2000, which he accepted. Then, in 1982 he won the British and European Formula Ford 2000 championships.
Formula 1 debut
In 1983, Senna competed in the British Formula 3 championship, winning the series at the last race. During that same year, he participated in Formula 1 testing with Williams, McLaren, Brabham, and Toleman. After showing his talent being extremely fast in testing, Senna was determined to race in Formula 1 in 1984. However, neither Williams nor McLaren had available seats. The Brazilian tried to sign a contract for Brabham and Lotus, but there was nothing to do for him because the sponsors of the above-mentioned teams wanted either British or Italian drivers.
Finally, Senna managed to get a seat by signing with Toleman, a new team that wasn't as fast as McLaren or Williams but could get Ayrton's career started. He retired from his first race in Brazil but then scored points both at the South African GP and Belgian GP, where he crossed the line in sixth.
A magician under the rain
He achieved his best result of that season in Monaco, where he showed for the first time one of his greatest talents: driving under torrential rain. He started P13, overtook Niki Lauda on lap 19 to get P2, and was gaining 4 seconds per lap on the leader Alain Prost. However, before he could get to him, the race was suspended for safety reasons. Despite that, everybody remembered that performance very well, understanding that Senna was not just a normal driver, but had something magical. By the end of the season, the Brazilian scored two more podiums and arrived 9th in the standings.
In 1985, Senna joined Lotus, and that same year he also got his first pole position and victory at the Portuguese GP. The Brazilian finished 4th in the standings that season, losing many points due to reliability issues, but he demonstrated his talent anyway, especially in qualifying.
In 1986, Senna still showed his superiority in qualifying and finished 4th in the championship since the car still showed reliability issues. The following season, he finished 3rd in the championship, but he announced that he would be joining McLaren in 1988.
McLaren and the three championships
In his first year with the team, the fierce rivalry with Alain Prost began. The latter is still remembered as one of the most famous rivalries in Formula 1. Despite the friction between the two, Senna finally managed to win his first championship with eight wins that year. The tension between the two teammates got even higher in their second season together, with the peak being the Japanese GP, during which they collided. At the end of that year, Prost got the better of his teammate and won the championship.
In 1990, Senna took his revenge on Prost, who joined Ferrari. At the Japanese GP, where Prost ended his rival's chances of winning the championship the year before, Senna crashed into the Frenchman in Turn 1. That meant the Brazilian mathematically won his second championship. It's also worth noting that that move raised a lot of controversies.
Senna became a three-time world champion one year later, being the youngest driver to do so. However, things became tougher in 1992 as his McLaren was not competitive enough to keep pace with the Williams. After trying to find a seat at Williams, Senna decided to keep racing with McLaren, which tried to improve its car with the hope to extend the Brazilian's contract. Senna kept racing for them, and at the end of the season, he finished runner-up, but he wasn't happy anymore at McLaren due to the lack of performance.
In 1994, Senna joined Williams, but the FIA banned active suspensions, ABS, and traction control. Therefore, the new car was incredibly difficult to drive, and Senna admitted that it was dangerous to push it to the limits. It wasn't the start to the season that the three-time world champion wanted, as he failed to score points in the first two races.
May 1st, 1994
Then, one of the most tragic weekends in Formula 1 arrived. Three people lost their lives between April 29th and May 1st at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari situated in Imola: Roland Ratzenberger, a marshal, and the legend Ayrton Senna.
After a brutal crash by Rubens Barrichello on Friday, the death of Ratzenberger on Saturday, and a marshal losing his life due to debris at the start of the Grand Prix, unfortunately, things got even worse. After an early safety car, the race restarted, and on lap 7, at 2:17 P.M. the Williams of Ayrton Senna was approaching the Tamburello corner traveling at 310km/h. At that moment, the steering column broke down, and the car became uncontrollable: the Brazilian hit the brakes, and his car slowed down to 211km/h, but it wasn't enough. After only 2 seconds, the car hit the wall frontally. During the impact, a suspension of the car broke with the tire still attached and hit Senna in the head, causing him a severe head injury. Also, the chipped arm of the suspension penetrated the helmet through the visor, seriously hurting Ayrton in the right frontal lobe, just above the eye.
The three-time world champion was seating unconscious in his car. The red flag was exposed, and the medical team tried to help Senna. After the desperate attempts made by the doctors, at 3:00 P.M. the helicopter landed on the track, and Ayrton was brought to the Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna. At 6:37 P.M. another cardiac attack affected Senna. Three minutes later, the sad news that Ayrton Senna had passed away was announced to the press.
That day, one of the greatest drivers left millions of fans speechless and incapable of processing what had just happened. That tragic incident marked the end of one of the darkest weekends in Formula 1.
Senna, more than just a driver for Brazil
Senna was not just a simple driver, he was much more, especially for his country, Brazil. Many fans back in South America considered his death a national tragedy, and three days of national mourning were declared after his death. 3 million people showed up through the streets of São Paulo in his honor. Not only that, even many drivers participated in his funeral. He was considered a personification of patriotism and pride by Brazilians, that lived in a difficult political moment and didn't have much to cheer about. It was a sort of relief seeing him win.
Senna, a legend that still lives
Finally, Senna is still considered to this day one of the best drivers and is seen as an example and a hero thanks to his competitive spirit, and his pursuit of perfection. Not only that, though, but also for what he did regarding safety in Formula 1, pushing to improve safety measures in the sport to prevent more people to lose their lives. Moreover, it was later discovered that Senna donated millions of dollars to help poor children, showing he truly was a kind and caring person.