Ayrton Senna da Silva was definitely one of the greatest drivers in Formula-One history. He titled three-time Formula One champion until his car smashed into a concrete wall during the early laps of San Marino Grand Prix. Senna’s tragic accident still casts a long shadow into many person related to F1 even today.
“He was the professional driver ever known to me.” – Alain Prost
He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth on March 21, 1960 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His intension to the automobile had already been started at his childhood, and he had played with the broken engine and machine at father’s garage. Milton da Silva – Senna’s father had him start the Kart racing at age 4. Milton hired the technical trainer to his son learn his racing skill called “art” later.
Senna had a strong inclination toward the kart, and at Kart-entryable age he’d like to go Great Britain as the Mecca of motor sports. It was 1973 when he had entered the full-season into Kart racing. After the first win on July 1, he got the title such as the domestic championship and the South-America championship one after another, and in 1978 he challenged the World championship at Le Man and Estoril or so. Ayrton stepped up his stage to Formula-Ford at Great Britain in 1981 so that he could try to enlarge his experience due to his well-seasoned in his lower category. He entered to the race from Van Dimen and won as early as the 3rd round. As a result, he took the title of season with no sweat as a brilliant driver in 12 wins out 20 races.
At his entry into Formula-Ford a young incomparable-driver got married with a childhood friend, Lilian. She made every effort to support a spouse activity of his racing life, traveling all over the world, however, a bride insisted on going back home because the England climate didn’t agree with her and her patience with husband enthusiasm over the race was running out. Besides, Senna da Silva was not satisfied with a cold treatment such as no-offer of supporting his racing operation in spite of his sprint in rookie year. Therefore, he had been frustrated in both the wife’s complaints and his treatment, and then at last he determined to stop his race activity and return to Brazil during that off-season. However, he came back again to the circuit next season, postponing his married life to the racing sprit.
In 1982 Senna returned to England, persuading his father, who was against his son’s profession, to back up his racing activity, and at once he recorded an unprecedented achievement with 21 wins out of 27 races. He challenged the first step Thruxton T.V. to Formula-Three at the end of year, succeeding in title with pole-position as new record to finish. In 1983 British young driver also titled this year in the intense competition with Martin Brundle by only nine points, going on to title Macao Grand Prix naturally with pole-to-win.
“He was the remarkable driver. Once race started, he had never taken any mistake during the race. In spite of his low experience, he had amazing skills to set up his machine.” – Martin Brundle
It was time that the stage of Brazilian driver stepped up to the prestige of motor sports Formula One at last. Some top ranked teams such as Brabham, Lotus, McLaren contacted him to obtain this young driver, but, it was the new face like him that he could accept Toleman’s offer to joining Formula-One. People said later that despite Brabham’s efforts to welcome, Senna could not join Brabham because Nelson Pique didn’t like to be compared with the fellow countryman and new face driver due to Senna’s high reputation among F1.
In 1984 as early as the second race he succeeded in getting a point with uncompetitive machine at South Africa Grand Prix, besides, we could not help recognizing his high potential at Monaco Grand Prix. Starting from 13th position on the grid, this rookie worked his way up to 2nd place, passing even Niki Lauda thanks to the hard rain in spite of another drivers’ retire. The red flag suddenly lost his first win due to the top runner Alain Prost’s claim of dangerous condition for the race.
His driving skill in the rain condition was beyond human power. He learned its skill very hard because at Kart age he experienced the humiliation which many following cars passed him one after another in the rain.
“I felt my ridiculous race by myselft. Everybody passed me easily right and left, and at the braking and cornering. Since that day, I imposed myself to beat my weakness. Once raining, I took my machine outside and continued to practice and practice for many hours in parking space near my house. Unless I was satisfied with my drive how I ran the kart, I could not help running. The rain soaked my body and paralyzed my hands on the steering wheel. But as long as I was not able to overcome its situation I had to run, run, and run.” – Ayrton Senna
1984 Monaco GP showed many people concerned his remarkable and high-leveled driving skill, so Peter Wore, Lotus team manager who had already given his attention to this young driver at F3 era, forcibly obtained Brazilian rookie driver, disregarding the contract between Senna and Toleman team and the engine supplier Renault’s wish to receive English driver Nigel Mansell not Brazilian driver. That was why Ayrton Senna transferred into Lotus next season, and he did the first win at Portugal GP in his 16th grand prix from debut. The number of his wins was 6 during this team until leaving to McLaren in 1988.
Japanese motor manufacturer Honda came back to Formula One in 1983 as their second challenge and supplied their turbocharged engine to Lotus in 1987 with Senna’s strong wish. In 1988 Honda changed their partner from Lotus to McLaren so that the most competitive engine and team was born in Formula One history at last. At the same time Ayrton Senna also joined McLaren team, becoming the team mate of the two-times champion Alain Prost. As a result, they showed us their brilliant performance, winning 15 races out of 16. Ayrton Senna titled the first crown, edging out his team mate French champion driver.
Since this season Brazilian driver and French driver developed the all-out battle such as the collision accident at Japan Grand Prix in 1989 and 1990. In 1989 the first year of the natural aspiration engine started due to the technical regulation change of ban on the turbocharged engine. It seemed that McLaren Honda lost their competition than last season, but, actually McLaren’s two drivers only challenged the title in this season same as 1988 season. Senna lost season’s title in 1989, but, he succeeded in regain the title as two-times champion, and he titled two consecutive seasons in 1990. Nobody knew the last title for him as three-time champion driver.
His driving skill was almost in another world. His record line of cornering was always on the limit next to get off the track. We have to notice not only his driving skill but also his setting-up skill of the machine. He always argued the setting up of his machine with team engineers, reporting his machine’s action accurately to them to request the perfect setting. He got always right.
“His brain could simulate his all operations on the track such as RPM of engine, gear position, braking point, steering or so with the error by less than a hundredth second. He could adjust himself perfectly in line with his analysis so that he actually ran in 0.6 second faster if he said that he was able to run faster by 0.6 second. Besides, he could memorize all data for the process and condition of his machine. His memory was perfectly same as the telemetry data!” – Yoshitoshi Sakurai
McLaren Honda led the season from beginning to mid-season in 1991, however, in second half season Williams led the championship gradually. It seemed to be old-fashioned that more powerful engine is always better, so everybody thought well-designed machine including chassis to be more competitive. McLaren always depended on the powerful engine. That was why they completely lost their advantages in 1992. Even the genius Brazilian driver could not cover a large gap of machine performance between MP4/7 and FW14 with the most competitive unit, active suspension system. To make matters worse, Honda’s announcement on September hit and kicked him that he lost his best partner beyond business until the end of 1992 season. Senna wanted Williams’ seat next season with the outstanding performance because he knew well that he was not confident with challenging to title four. To his surprise, the driver who had already reserved Williams’ seat next year was Alain Prost.
Brazilian top driver strongly asked McLaren to keep more powerful engine like Lotus age he asked Lotus to obtain Honda engine when his team began to lose Renault turbocharged V6 engine’s competition.
But McLaren failed to obtain Renault engine and had no options without Ford V8 customer version. It didn’t have enough power to beat Williams but the light-weight and compact size engine was suitable for new McLaren MP4/8. And they developed high-tech active suspension as well. Therefore McLaren lost power but recovered more competitive machine than last year in 1993. Despite Senna’s five victories with his remarkable skill, he could not catch up with French comeback ex-champion driver Alain Prost who drove the monster machine Williams FW15.
Ayrton Senna fulfilled his dream of joining Williams team instead of Alain prost who said officially his outgoing, seeking the competitive machine to title four with leaving McLaren which was with from 1988 to 1993 and won thirty-five victories. Actually Frank Williams, team owner of Williams, offered Senna to be the champion in the future before his joining Formula One, finding out his ability and giving him the opportunity to drive Formula One machine in 1983 off-season.
Everybody was convinced that he easily succeeded in titling four with the most competitive machine Williams FW16, however, Williams was ironically losing their domination until last season due to the technical regulation change of ban on the high-tech equipment as a symbol of strong Willimas. As proving this situation, although starting from pole position at three consecutive races, Michael Shumacher was very closed in him.
During the first qualifying run for San Marino GP the session stopped only in seventeen minutes because Brazil’s Rubens Barrichello lost control of his Jordan Hart car and was stupefied with hard crash. And in final qualifying session Austrian Roland Ratzenberger died after chasing at over 300kph. This accident of the first fatality in Formula One since 1983 overshadowed in the paddock. Senna went to his accident scene, taking the safety car, and shouted “Oh, my God!” That night his girlfriend asked him to stop his race the final session next day. But he was absolutely under pressure to win this race because he still had no points this season after two races, falling behind German driver.
Ayrton ran into the Tamburello curve after six laps at 310kph ahead of Shumacher, and he smashed into a concrete wall at between 210-220kph. The race is stopped again. We could know his crash by three cameras and telemetry data recorded on his machine. The picutre of his on-board camera captured clearly him to make every effort to steer the left to avoid the fatal crash, bending his head back on track. Even his desperate operation could not happen the miracle. The picrure of RAI’s camera on the track side screened the smash of Senna’s FW16 to the concrete wall, being like not reducing speed. At the impact, the left-rear suspension was broken, and broken shaft part of the suspension reached Brazilian hero’s skull, piercing through his green-and-yellow helmet. Prof. Sid Watkins, the grand prix doctor, did emergency windpipe-incision operation to Senna on site, however, three to four hours later after Ayrton Senna was taken to the hospital in critical condition, and finally his death was announced officially.
The terrible news of the death of Formula One hero ran about world, especially it was hard to imagine the depth of feeling in his homeland of Brazil. During the soccer match between Brazilian well-known teams at the Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo, the game was naturally suspended after the announcement of his death at Imola so that players started silent prayer to him. Besides, a large audience began to pray for the souls of Brazilian hero’s death with a burst of applause and cheers “Ole Ole Senna!” Itamar Franco, ex-President of Brazil, declared at once three-days official mourning, announcing his funeral to be almost the state funeral. Three days later after his death his cold body returned his home with the escort of Brazil Air Force fighters, and the crowd of his funs saw Brazilian hero off along the street to the Brazilian statehouse and paid their respects over a week.
Ayrton Senna da Silva died at the age of thirty-three with 41 victories, three World championships, 65 pole positions and 19 fastest lap in 161 races. The greatest driver of Formula One rests in peace at the Morumbi.
|Ayrton Senna da Silva
|March 21, 1960
|May 1, 1994 (aged 34)
|First Pole Position
|First Fastest Lap
Photo by Jake Archibald