SPORTING HEROES: AYRTON SENNA
By Steve Wade
Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian born F1 driver, was born on March the 21st 1960. After starting his racing career in South American Karting he moved to England in 1981 and contested the single seater racing championships before moving up to F3 in 1983 and winning the event after a close fought battle with Martin Brundle.
After joining the F1 circuit in 1984 he joined Lotus-Renault in 1985 and soon established himself as a driver of great promise, winning twice in ’85 and gaining a reputation for being one of the quickest around.In 1986 he again won twice in the season before finishing 4th for the second year in succession in the driver’s championship. He followed this up in ’87 with two further wins and a 3rd position finish in the championship.
By that time the Honda-Mclaren team were dominating the sport and Senna secured a move to them in 1988 with the full approval of Alain Prost, the team’s number one driver and double world champion. This was the start of a fierce rivalry between the two on the track, leading to a series of dramatic incidents over the next five seasons.
To emphasise the domination of the Honda-Mclaren team: they won 15 of the 16 sixteen races in the ’88 season and probably would have collected all 16 if Senna had not collided with a back-marker when in the lead with two laps to go in the Italian grand prix at Monza. Incidentally Senna’s collision led to Ferrari finishing first and second in the race following the death of Enzo Ferrari in August of that year.
In 1989 despite winning six times Senna finished second to his team mate Prost in the driver’s championship, again illustrating the team’s complete dominance over its rivals. A series of incidents on the track between the two led to a dramatic falling out and Prost, the reigning champion, left to join Ferrari for the following season. This left Senna as the number one driver for the following two seasons and two more Driver’s Championships for the Brazilian but only after some fierce competition out on the track, especially from the improving Williams team and their British driver Nigel Mansell.
Williams went on to dominate the 1992 and ’93 seasons with Senna still managing to finish 4th and 2nd respectively in the driver standings. Senna finally got the invitation to join the Williams team in 1994 after the retirement of Prost and started the season alongside Damon Hill.
Senna made his worst ever start that year and found himself 20 points behind Michael Schumacher in the driver ranks after the German had won the first two races of the season. This was the background when Senna came to the San Marino grand prix that year. The race was cursed from the beginning with Rubens Barrichello lucky to escape with his life after his car became airborne and crashed into the tyre wall and fence on the first practice day. Worse was to come on the Saturday qualifying when a young rookie driver named Roland Ratzenberger was killed after his car lost control and smashed into the retaining wall coming into a 190 mph corner.
After a start line accident held up the race, a resumption on lap 6 had Senna leading as he went into a high speed corner on lap 7 but his car left the racing line and hit a wall at 145 mph. He died almost immediately.
After his body was flown back to Brazil, an estimated 3 million people lined the streets to pay their respects which is still considered the largest recorded gathering of mourners in modern times. A national hero, he will always be remembered as one of the greatest drivers of all time.