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Famous Like Me > Racing driver > S > Ayrton Senna

Profile of Ayrton Senna on Famous Like Me

Name: Ayrton Senna  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 21st March 1960
Place of Birth: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Profession: Racing driver
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna da Silva (March 21, 1960–May 1, 1994), better known as Ayrton Senna, was a Brazilian racing driver who won the Formula One world championship three times. His life, character and the circumstances of his death have caused his story to approach what could arguably be termed a modern legend. A spectacularly talented and ruthless driver and a complex character who fascinated Formula One fans the world over, his death in 1994 is still mourned, particularly in Brazil.

Early life

Senna was born in São Paulo. As the son of a wealthy Brazilian landowner, he quickly developed an interest in motor racing. Encouraged by his father, a racing enthusiast, Senna got behind the wheel of his first kart at the age of four. He entered karting competition at the legal age of 13. In 1977, he won the South American Kart Championship, and was runner up several times in the World Championship but never won.

Heading for Europe in 1981, he entered the British Formula Ford 1600 competition, which he won. He also adopted his mother's maiden name, Senna, as da Silva is a very common name in Brazil. In 1982 Senna combined the British and European Formula Ford 2000 Championships, winning both. In addition to winning the prestigious and high-profile Macau Grand Prix, Ayrton saw off the challenges of Martin Brundle in the 1983 British F3 championship and secured a seat with the Toleman-Hart F1 team in 1984. His talents did not go unnoticed, especially after he impressed at the Monaco GP where he started at 13 but soon was picking his way through the field, in the wet and in a circuit not known for overtaking, he had overtaken race leader Alain Prost on the 31st lap when the race was ended due to the conditions. F1 regulations meant that the order at the 30th lap were to be considered as the finishing order, meaning Senna only placed second, despite this, it was an impressive first podium for the Brazilian. The next year, Senna joined the Lotus team and won the Portuguese Grand Prix, his first Grand Prix victory, on April 21, 1985 at Estoril, Portugal under treacherous conditions.

Senna in the Mclaren MP4/6 in 1991

McLaren career

In 1988 Senna joined the McLaren team with Alain Prost as his team mate. The foundation for a fierce competition between Senna and Prost was laid, culminating in a number of dramatic race incidents between the two. The pair won 15 of 16 races in 1988 with Senna coming out on top, achieving his first World Drivers Championship. The following year their rivalry intensified into battles on the track and psychological war off it. Prost took the championship after the infamous Suzuka chicane incident. For the following year, 1990, Prost moved to Ferrari, but their rivalry continued, culminating in the notorious 'professional foul' committed at the beginning of the title-deciding Japanese Grand Prix in 1990.

For this race pole position had incorrectly been designated on the 'dirty' side of the track. Senna made a request to officials that it be repositioned, but after achieving pole position he found the placement unchanged. At the start of the race Prost pulled ahead but when attempting to take the first right-handed corner he found Senna plowing into him. Telemetry showed Senna made no attempt to decelerate as the corner approached. Both drivers were removed from the race, meaning that Senna won the championship. Senna later hinted that it was payback for Prost taking them both out the year before in the 1989 Suzuka chicane incident. For many, however, it was an act of breathtaking cynicism and one for which Senna received much criticism. He was accused of introducing a "video game" mentality of "win at all costs" into the sport, an accusation later repeated against his successor Michael Schumacher.

On the track Senna could be ruthless, showing extreme determination and precision. This was especially so in qualifying, a discipline he mastered like none before to produce a record 65 poles. Senna still holds this record for number of pole positions, eleven years after his death.

Senna also won the Monaco GP six times, a record in itself and a tribute to his skills which earned him the title "Master of Monaco".

Wet weather driving

Senna in the Mclaren MP4/6 in 1991

In F1, wet weather racing is considered to be a great equaliser. Speeds must be reduced and car superiority in power or grip is eliminated. The rain demands great driver car control, ability and driving finesse.

The 1984 season was Senna's first in F1. He came into a field of competitors from whose ranks 16 world championships would be reaped. Participating as an unknown rookie in a low level, non competitive car, the Toleman TG184, Senna had racked up three 16th places and a 13th place.

He started the first wet race of the season, the Monaco Grand Prix (a notoriously difficult circuit for racing, as it is run on regular streets) in 13th place. The race was terminated after 31 laps due to monsoon conditions deemed undriveable. At the time the race was stopped, Senna was classified in 2nd place, and catching up to race leader Alain Prost, at 4 seconds per lap.

In 1993, at the European GP at Donington Park, Senna drove for the McLaren team. The MP4/8, although one of the front running cars, was considered inferior to the leading Williams FW-15C of Prost, and the Benetton B193 (which used a factory Ford engine) driven by Michael Schumacher and Riccardo Patrese. Some maintain that the Williams FW-14B and FW-15C were probably "the most technologically advanced cars that will ever race in Formula One".

The start of the wet-weather 1993 European Grand Prix, by way of its uniqueness, is frequently referred to in racing lore as the best-ever lap. Starting from fifth on the grid, Senna was first before the end of the first lap. Examples of wet weather car control such as this gained Senna the title "The Rain man" in numerous F1 publications in the early 90's.


Senna in 1994

Starkly contrasting to Senna's intense and unyielding will to win on the track, his exploits off it were humane and compassionate. In 1992 at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium when during Friday free practise Erik Comas had crashed heavily on the back straight other drivers drove past the wreckage at high speed. Senna could be seen jumping out of his car and while endangering his own life, sprinting down the track to the wrecked car to reach inside and hit the electrics kill switch, to prevent a possible fire.

In 1993 again at Spa-Francorchamps when Alessandro Zanardi crashed his Lotus heavily at Eau Rouge corner, Senna could again be seen jumping out of his car to help the injured driver.

Fellow Brazillian F1 driver Mauricio Gugelmin tells of an episode in 1988 where Senna and Nelson Piquet, another champion, had developed an altercation. It had started when tongue-in-cheek remarks made by Senna to a reporter had been taken out of context. Having been asked why he had not been readily available to the press for a few weeks, Senna had responded that, as Piquet had just been crowned World Champion he had receded to give the press time to talk about Piquet. Piquet, who was infuriated by these comments, told the press to ask Ayrton why he did not like women. Mauricio Gugelmin expands: "He [Senna] was at my house when they called and told him Piquet's answer, wanting more of him. Even my wife was angry with that and said to him: 'Ayrton, tell them to ask Piquet's wife if it is true', referring to Catherine, who was Ayrton's girl before Nelson's. And Ayrton refused: 'No, I don't do this. If he doesn't respect anybody, I do. I don't do this to any woman.'" After Senna's death it was discovered that he had donated millions of dollars to children's charities, a fact that he during his life, had kept very secret.


In 1994, Senna finally left the ailing McLaren team for the top team at the time, Williams-Renault. He failed to finish his first two races, despite taking pole position at both events. On May 1 1994, he took part in his third race for the team, the San Marino GP. Senna took pole position yet again, but would not finish the race.

That weekend, he was particularly upset by two events: On the Friday of the Grand Prix, during the morning session, Senna's protégé, the then newcomer Rubens Barrichello was involved in a serious accident that would keep him out of the race. Senna visited Barrichello in the hospital (he jumped the wall in the back of the facility after being barred from visitation by the doctors) and was then convinced that safety standards had to be reviewed. On Saturday, the death of driver Roland Ratzenberger in practice forced the issue and even caused Senna to consider retiring. Ironically, he spent his final morning in meetings with fellow drivers, determined by Ratzenberger's accident to take on a new responsibility to re-create a Driver's Safety group to look at safety changes in Formula One. As the most senior driver, he was asked (and accepted) the role of leader in this effort.

He was leading the race on Lap 7, after an early accident had caused the safety car to go out. On his second lap after the safety car retired, Senna's car left the track in the Tamburello curve and struck the concrete wall. Telemetry shows he left the track at 186 mph and managed to slow the car to 135 mph in less than two seconds but it was not enough. The FIA and Italian authorities still maintain that Senna was not killed instantly, but rather died in hospital, to where he had been rushed by helicopter, although the medics had performed an emergency tracheotomy before moving him. Many believe, however, that this was not the case, and the only reason why Senna was not declared dead on the scene is because this would have caused the race to be cancelled. The FIA dismisses that conception as an unfounded conspiracy theory.

Professor Sidney Watkins M.D., F.R.C.S., O.B.E. a world-renowned neurosurgeon and Formula One Safety Delegate and Medical Delegate, head of the Formula One on-track medical team, who performed an on site tracheotomy on Ayrton Senna, reported:

“He looked serene. I raised his eyelids and it was clear from his pupils that he had a massive brain injury. We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did, he sighed and, although I am totally agnostic, I felt his soul departed at that moment.”

Senna was 34 years old. The lack of information on the cause of death led to much speculation. At first it was said that one of the car's tires had become loose on impact and had hit him on the head, which would have caused the fatal trauma. Later, some speculated that this had not been the case, but that the quick change in speed had caused Senna's head to move forward violently, causing trauma to the brain. This second theory was quickly abandoned, as images of Senna's battered helmet seemed to indicate that some sort of puncture had occurred at the top of the visor, just over his right eye. This led to the now most commonly accepted theory that one of the car's suspension bars had came loose and impacted with Senna's head. In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

In 2001, a television documentary called "Going Critical: The Death of Ayrton Senna" was screened on the UK's Channel 4 as part of an ongoing series on disastrous malfunctions. The programme considered the available data from Senna's car to reconstruct the sequence of events that led to the fatal crash. The programme concluded that an unusually long safety-car period had reduced the pressures in Senna's tyres, thereby lowering the car. As the car entered the Tamburello bend, it bottomed-out and the loss of the ground effect led to a sudden reduction in downforce, and hence grip. As Senna instinctively corrected the resultant slide, the downforce and grip suddenly returned, and Senna effectively drove off the circuit. The programme came to the conclusion that if Senna's reactions had actually been slower, he might have survived the crash.

Senna in the MP4/8 at Monaco in 1993

There are other factors - Senna did not like the position of the steering column relative to his seating position and had repeatedly asked for it to be changed. Another factor was the F1 ban on computerized active suspension aids that had propelled the Williams car to the championship the year before. Now Senna found himself in a car with his team's engineers struggling to cope and adapt to the ban. Patrick Head and Adrian Newey agreed to Senna's request to shorten the FW-16's wheelbase, but there was no time to manufacture a shortened steering shaft. The existing shaft was instead cut, shortened, and welded back together with reinforcing plates. Many surmise, based on video evidence of Senna turning the wheel left and right with no movement of the front wheels, that steering failure was the ultimate cause of the crash.

Senna's helmet

The Williams team was entangled for many years in a court case with the Italian prosecutors over manslaughter charges, but they were found not guilty and no action was taken against Williams. In 2004, the case was re-opened, but closed again in 2005 when there was no new evidence.

His death was considered by many of his Brazilian fans to be a national tragedy, and three days of national mourning were declared. Senna is buried at the Cemitério do Morumbi in his hometown of São Paulo.

Off the track, Senna was a deeply religious and compassionate man. After his death, his family created the Ayrton Senna Foundation, an organization with the aim of helping poor and needy young people in Brazil and the world. As a result, Senna continues to impact the world today and has become a beacon of hope to millions of his countrymen and an example of professionalism and humanity to those who remember him.

In 2004 (when, ten years after his death, the Brazilian media revisited the entire life of Senna), a book called "Ayrton: The Hero Revealed" (original title: "Ayrton: O Herói Revelado") was published in Brazil. The book recalls several passages of Senna's career, and adds a lot of never written before information about his personal life. As the title suggests, the book "reveals" the human side of a hero.

As well, to mark the 10th anniversary of Senna's passing, on April 21, 2004, over 10,000 people attended a charity match in a soccer stadium near Imola. The game was organized by several devoted Italian and Canadian fans of Ayrton, bringing together the 1994 World Cup winning team of Brazil to face the "Nazionale Piloti", an exhibition team comprised exclusively of top race car drivers (of which Senna was a part in 1985). Michael Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso and many others faced the likes of Dunga, Careca, Taffarel and many of the team that won the World Cup in the USA ten years earlier.

That same weekend, Bernie Ecclestone revealed that he still believed Ayrton Senna was and remained the best F1 driver he'd ever seen.

Perhaps the unique duality of his character was most evident at the moment of his death. As track officials examined the wreckage of his racing car they found a furled, bloodsoaked Austrian flag. A victory flag that he was going to raise in honour of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger, who had died on that track the day before.

At his memorial service one million people lined the streets to give him their salute.

"On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit and you go for this limit and you touch this limit and you think, ok, this is the limit. As soon as you touch this limit, something happens and you realise that you can suddenly go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and your experience as well, you can fly very high." - Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna
Nationality Brazilian
Active years 1984 - 1994
Team(s) Toleman Hart, Lotus, McLaren, Williams
Race starts 161
Championships 3
Wins 41
Podium finishes 80
Pole positions 65
Fastest laps 19
First Grand Prix 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix
First win 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix
Last win 1993 Australian Grand Prix
Last Grand Prix 1994 San Marino Grand Prix

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Ayrton Senna