Ayrton Senna da Silva (21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994) was a Brazilian racing driver who won three Formula One world championships for McLaren in 1988, 1990 and 1991 and is regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time. He was killed in an accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix for Williams. This short article is a brief look into the man whose name is still synonymous with motor sport.
This is the face of one of the greatest drivers in motorsport history.
By now, we all know of his talent and determination to win, but he was more than just a gearhead with a penchant for driving fast. He was a philanthropist, a hobbyist, and above all, a true legend; a cut above the rest, as they might say. This gallery is my tribute to him; a small history lesson for those that are curious to know more about him.
In the beginning...
Senna was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. At the age of four, he seemed to show an interest in cars and motor racing. By the age of seven, he learned how to drive a Jeep around his family's farm and learned how to change gears without using a clutch. When he was 13, he started racing karts, and by the late 1970's he was professionally racing them in the Karting World Championship.
A career in Formula 1...
By 1984, the British-based Toleman Formula One team had signed on Senna to race for them. He proved himself to be a worthy driver, and he would later go on to race for Team Lotus from 1985-1987, Honda/McLaren from 1988-1993, and Williams/Renault for 1994.
The Honda/McLaren days...
These are arguably the most famous years of his career. Between 1988 and 1993, he would gain more victories with this team than any other team he had ever raced with. It was also in these years that he had cemented his status as one of the absolute best drivers in the world of motorsport. (Him and Alain Prost also had quite a feud back then as well...)
He did more than just race, y'know...
He not only liked to fly model airplanes, he also flew real ones too. He even flew helicopters, rode motorcycles, and drove boats. Basically, if it had an engine and could move, Senna could drive or fly it.
He even helped in the creation of one of my favorite cars.
He was a key figure in helping Honda (whom by 1990 he had established an excellent relationship with) tune the suspension systems for the NSX sports car. He worked closely with the engineers to fine-tune the car's handling capabilities, and it is said that he is responsible for why the NSX has such great handling. Honda eventually gave him two NSX's as a token of their appreciation.
*Senna is also responsible for convincing Audi to sell cars in Brazil. He worked with Audi to form the Audi Senna organization, which was an exportation agency responsible for bringing Audi cars into Brazil.
April 30, 1994.
Roland Ratzenberger (4 July 1960 - 30 April 1994) was an Austrian race car driver. He had a successful career in LeMans racing, and he eventually proved himself to be a worthy driver. In 1993, the newly-formed Ford/Simtek F1 team signed him on as a driver, and he started racing F1 cars in 1994.
A rather short career...
Ratzenberger died on 30 of April 1994, while qualifying for the 1994 San Marino Gran Prix championship. The front wing of his F1 car broke off, was sent under the car, and he wasn't able to steer in time for a turn. The car was sent flying into a wall. This was only his third professional race in Formula One. (Seriously. He only got the chance to do three races before he died. None of them bode any victories for him, either. What really hurts about this is that he had always dreamed of becoming a Formula One driver, and yet he never actually got much of a chance to do that.)
*Out of respect to Ratzenberger, I've decided not to post photos of his crash here. I don't want to sensationalize this post, and the images are a bit gruesome.
May 1, 1994.
On the morning of 1 May 1994, there was a decision during the customary drivers' briefing to form the Grand Prix Drivers Association, which is basically a trade union for Formula One drivers. Senna, as well as fellow F1 drivers Michael Schumacher and Gerhard Berger were appointed as the organization's first directors.
During the race, which was the first actual race of the 1994 San Marino Gran Prix, Senna died when his car went off the track in a corner and collided head-first into a wall. This was eventually attributed to a steering column failure. Later, a furled Austrian flag was found in the cockpit of his car - it was soon found out that he intended to fly the flag at the end of the race in honor of Ratzenberger. (Senna had also immediately visited Ratzenberger's accident scene and the medical center where he was sent to.)
*Out of respect to Senna, I've decided not to post photos of his crash here, for the same reasons I decided not to post photos of Ratzenberger's crash.
The loss of a hero, and the legacy he provided.
Senna's death was treated as a national tragedy in his home country of Brazil, and the Brazilian Government declared three days of national mourning. This was not only because Senna brought great fame to Brazil and was one of their most idolized people, but also because he was a major philanthropist. Over the course of his lifetime, he donated millions of dollars of his own fortune to Brazil in order to help impoverished children. An estimated three million people attended his public funeral, the Brazilian military conducted a 21-gun salute, and the Brazilian air force even flew overhead in a diamond formation in his honor. The pallbearers not only included his family, but numerous motorsport officials and F1 drivers as well.
Meanwhile, in Japan, due to Senna's relationship with Honda, people began leaving floral tributes to Senna in the lobby of Honda's world headquarters building. The amount of floral tributes eventually grew until the lobby was overwhelmed. Later, when Brazil won the FIFA World Cup in 1994, they held up a banner in Senna's honor.
Some time after his death, his sister Vivane formed the Instituto Aryton Senna (the Aryton Senna Institute), which is a charity dedicated to helping poor and impoverished youth in Brazil. There were also many new safety regulations put into place, including the development of the HANS safety system for race cars.
To this day, he is remembered as a champion, a philanthropist, and a legend. He was someone who genuinely cared about other people, and he was a talented individual. These are the reasons why this man is one of my Idols, and I honestly think that no race car driver will ever be able to replace him. He was truly a cut above the rest, and he will always be missed by us all. May you rest in peace, Mr. Senna.
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