Ayrton Senna: Tribute to a legend
Ayrton Senna was one of the greatest drivers in the world, which makes it no surprise that even after 20 years of his death, he is still widely remembered and revered. Thus, commemorating his 20th death anniversary on 1st May 2014, here is a look at his career and why Senna enjoys the status of a legend.
Ayrton Senna, born in Brazil in a wealthy family, got hooked to racing when he started racing karts. In Brazil, during his adolescence he won several races before moving to the United Kingdom in 1981 to further realize his racing ambitions in open wheel racing. There, he slowly moved up the ranks and in 1983 clinched the prestigious British Formula 3000 title, narrowly beating Martin Brundle, who was later going to join him on the Formula 1 grid. This championship success was enough to garner the attention of influential eyes in Formula 1. During this time he tested for several teams like Williams, Brabham, McLaren and Lotus, but after talks with them failed, in 1984 he finally made his Formula 1 debut with a much newer team, Toleman.
Although the team wasn’t competitive, he still impressed with some splendid performances. His main highlight during this time was the Monaco Grand Prix, where he came in second, just behind Alain Prost. For the next three years, he was signed by Lotus, a team which he revived after having faced failure since the death of Colin Chapman, it’s owner in 1982. Here he impressed even more, getting several poles, podiums and wins. These performances, along with his fledgling relationship with Honda, proved instrumental in his signing with McLaren in 1988.
1988 marked the beginning of one of the biggest and greatest rivalries in 1988, between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. After some great duels between the two, Senna finally won his first world championship. That year at the Monaco Grand Prix, he remarkably out-qualified his teammate, the then double world champion Alain Prost, by an astonishing 1.4 seconds.
Senna was widely known for driving on the limit, something which was evident from his stellar performance at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, where he described his experience as above normal conscious level, something out of instinct.
“I was already on pole and I was going faster and faster. One lap after the other, quicker, and quicker, and quicker. I was at one stage just on pole, then by half a second, and then one second…and I kept going. Suddenly, I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my teammate with the same car. And I suddenly realized that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was kind of driving it by instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel, not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit for me was a tunnel. I was just going, going – more, and more, and more, and more. I was way over the limit but still able to find even more.
Then, suddenly, something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and I realized that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are. Immediately my reaction was to back off, slow down. I drove back slowly to the pits and I didn’t want to go out any more that day. It frightened me because I realized I was well beyond my conscious understanding. It happens rarely, but I keep these experiences very much alive in me because it is something that is important for self-preservation.”
Such an explanation of driving experience would not be believed from anyone else, but Senna, as when one saw the way in which he handled the car, especially through the on-board camera, one would easily believe what he said and be in awe of his skill.
1989 was a much more turbulent season for the teammates as there was conflict and tension between them both on and off the track. The season ended controversially when they collided at Suzuka, which ended Senna’s title challenge and Prost became the champion. Prost finally left the team in 1990 to join Ferrari and in his place Gerhard Berger was brought in. Berger was a more light-hearted person than Senna and helped in cooling down the environment within the team. As has been humorously quoted by Berger himself:
“He taught me a lot about our sport, I taught him to laugh.”
The season was tuning out to be very well for Senna as he got six victories and was leading the championship. But Prost had closed up that gap with five wins and was just 11 points behind Senna with two races to go. At the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, Senna complained about pole position being on the dirtier side of the track which gave an advantage to the driver in second place, but the FIA, led by it’s President Jean-Marie Balestre, did not pay heed to it.
At the start of the race, Prost went ahead of Senna and at the first corner as Senna tried to overtake, Prost turned in. Senna didn’t stop, accelerating the car, and they hit each other and retired from the race. This meant that another championship had been decided by a collision between them, but this time the beneficiary was Senna, who clinched his second world title.