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Of A Lone Furled Flag: Ayrton Senna

Modified 16 Sep 2012, 16:00 IST

Ayrton Senna moments before his fatal accident.
San Marino Grand Prix, Imola, 1 May 1994

For a 6 year old, it was officially the best month ever! May – the month that spelt invigorating freedom from those dreary books, math home-work, cranky teachers and all those other juvenile ‘torments’.

Now for this particular 6 year old, a Sunday in May meant much more! Dad being home the entire day slotted in on reason three, strawberry ice-cream for dessert came in a close second, and then somewhere way ahead in the pole position stood that one raison d’être that made her Sundays in May almost sacred – THE FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX!

She’d sit glued to the telly, eyes wide in anticipation – tense calm as the five lights switched to green, the nerve-racking skirmish for an early pole, the roar of cars as they zipped past each chicane, blurred streaks of colour whizzing by, the decisive chequered flag, the frothy champagne and exuberance – oh it was two hours of unadulterated high-octane ecstasy!

May 1st, 1994:

The San Marino Grand Prix!

She watched in eager expectation as the cars were rolled out onto the tracks in a flurry of last-minute bustle; and then she caught sight of him!

That determined swagger, his characteristic yellow helmet tucked under his arm, tousled brown hair, those intense brooding eyes, together with that zeal for speed and the most number of wins – he was her role-model! She vowed (in her 6 year old way) to grow up to be just like him!

It was a re-run of one of those usual Sundays in May, or so she thought. Never could she have fathomed what lay ahead in time!

He made his way down the tracks of Imola to the fated blue and white Williams that stood at the start of the line-up. She watched with bated breath, as the engines were revved up and the five lights languidly went out.


What happened the next few moments were quite a blur! But it went down on the pages of history as one of the blackest Sundays witnessed for the Formula One fraternity.

And for a 6 year old, seated somewhere on the other side of earth, her world stood still and a stunned silence was all that lingered…

Ayrton Senna: Speed Racer

Ayrton Senna da Silva – a name that echoes through the hallowed portals of Formula One fame.

It was his 4th birthday that proved to be a life changer. A personalized go-kart built by his father transformed an often introverted child into a deeply passionate lad…and thus begun his tryst with destiny!

It wasn’t long before this young Brazilian left blazing trails wherever he went. Winning his first race at the age of 13, he streaked through other events, finally stepping into the Formula One circuit in the year 1984.

Statistics you ask?

World Championships – 3, Grand Prix Entries – 162 (161 starts), Grand Prix wins – 41, Pole Positions – 65…


Most consecutive number of pole positions (between the 1988 Spanish Grand Prix to the 1989 United States Grand Prix), most number of poles at the same Grand Prix (9 at the San Marino Grand Prix), most number of consecutive starts from the front row, enough to render quite a few speechless in awe.

As Ron Dennis eloquently put it:

“His skills, craft, subtlety, and courage were of such magnitude that he dwarfed his generation of drivers”

This was a man who exhibited an unrivalled panache for racing; a man whose brilliance as a driver was matched by dazzling intellect and scintillating charisma that made him one of sport’s most compelling personalities. Not only was he intensely dedicated while in action on the tracks, but this commitment seeped into his everyday life as well. This was a man who was fervently passionate in everything that he set out to do. Slight in build and yet captivating in appeal, he possessed a potent personality that could hold an entire media room mesmerized as he spoke.

Senna’s coruscating career and magnificent accolades stand a testimony to his superlative driving genius.

However, if there was one incident that stands out as evidence to his magnitude as a human being – it would be at the ill-fated San Marino Grand Prix; and if time were to stand still at that precise moment – it would be just after the dreadful crash.

April 30th 1994 witnessed the tragic death of Austrian rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger in a devastating accident during the qualifying. Death had re-visited the tar, 12 years after the sad demise of Riccardo Paletti.

Immensely troubled, Senna spearheaded the re-establishment of the Grand Prix Driver’s Association in an effort to increase safety, a day before the San Marino Grand Prix. Unknown to him, this would soon prove to be quite an ironic attempt.

It was a resolute Senna that sat in the Williams the next day. As the green lights went out, there was a massive start line pile-up that precipitated a five lap safety car interlude. On lap 6, the race once again commenced. At the start of lap 7, Senna opened a small gap ahead of Schumacher. However, as he veered past the doomed Tamburello corner, his car unexpectedly speared out of control and slammed heavily into a concrete wall alongside.


Ayrton Senna was killed instantaneously.

On inspection of the mutilated wreckage, a bloodstained crimson and white furled Austrian flag was found in his car – a flag intended to be raised in honour of Ratzenberger on completion of the race.

Senna: Bidding Adieu

Frank Williams once said:

“Ayrton was no ordinary person. He was a greater man out of the car than in it.

Ayrton Senna – driver extraordinaire, an enigma, a man who’d experienced dizzying heights of fame. Yet he remained a compassionate, sublimely remarkable person that the entire world loved and admired.

Close to two decades after, that same wide-eyed 6 year old girl sits to pen down a chronicle in memory of not just one of the finest drivers in the history of Formula One racing, but a truly laudable individual – Ayrton Senna, you continue to live on in memories that never fade…

Published 15 Sep 2012, 14:32 IST
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