Exactly twenty one years ago, at the San Marino Grand Prix, Formula One lost its most precious driver- Ayrton Senna.
Ayrton Senna was a true icon of the sport. Hailing from Brazil, he took the F1 world by storm. He joined a small team Toleman in 1984. It was a sub-par team, that offered nothing good in particular to Senna. It was like housing a beast inside a rat hole.
But those days a lot of drivers did this. Join a small team, perform to the level of the car and leave without making any mark. There are a certain rare breed of drivers who perform so above what their car offers them, and Senna was the leader of such a pack. At his first Monaco Grand Prix in 1984, the circuit that offers no chance of error, probably the most difficult circuits to drive on, he made a jump from 13th to 2nd place within the first 19 laps in torrential rain. He ultimately finished second thus securing his first podium of his career in the limping Toleman.
Monaco was always Senna’s favourite. He was a master of the track like no other. The track was challenging, with tight corners and cramped straights. Overtaking here was difficult. Yet there was something in Senna that made him adapt to Monaco so easily. He won there six times in his career more than any other driver. Watching any of Senna’s Monaco victories raises your nerves so much, as he smoothly and gently glides his car into each corner. It was as if the circuit was imprinted in his mind.
Senna was a talent like no other. He was a master of rain. Driving in rain is again probably the most difficult thing for a racing driver. Blinded by the big spray from the car ahead, driving with next to zero visibility. While ordinary drivers fear such a situation, Senna loved them. In the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, he secured his first pole and victory of his career in torrential rain, lapping everyone in the field except the driver running in second, who was also more than a minute adrift.
“Fear is exciting for me”- Ayrton Senna
Hailing from Brazil, a country which was going through dark and negative times, he was a source of inspiration to all the Brazilians that there is still good left in country. Brazil loved him, and he loved it back. Waving the Brazilian flag at every race victory was like a trademark of Senna. “Senna Senna Ole Ole Ole… Senna Senna Ole Ole Ole Ole” imagine this chant being sung by nearly 300 thousand Brazilian fans shouting at the top of their voice in praise of just man- their hero Ayrton Senna. Senna represented the little good of Brazil during that time, and certainly to the country he was a true hero.
Until 1991 he hadn’t won the his home race, which was probably the most meaningful race of his career. He was on pole at the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix leading comfortably in the race as well. Then the worst possible thing happened. With several laps to go, his gearbox got stuck in sixth gear. It was impossible to drive the car now, but Senna didn’t stop. He continued driving the car in sixth gear with several laps to go and ultimately won the race. He was screaming and shouting in the cockpit after the race ended. It was his most heroic moment. Brazil was shouting and celebrating along with him.
The loss of Ayrton Senna left an irreplaceable hole in the F1 fraternity. Even after 21 years of the incident, we still mourn the grave accident. We still imagine what would it be like if the car that Ayrton was driving would have gone six inches lower or six inches higher on the concrete wall, would he have survived? We still ask ourselves this question as to how many championships he would have won if he was still alive? Will anyone ever be able to replicate his genius?
His death had a sever impact on Brazil. He was the idol of Brazil. He was their joy. Entire Brazil mourned the death of the country’s shining star. Brazil was synonymous with Senna and the little good that the country had at that time, was no more. People lined hours and hours to have a glimpse of his coffin. Thousands of people hanging on walls and trees, trying to have a last glimpse of their hero. He was more than just a formula one racer to the nation.
It might be a bold statement to say, but he was the GOD of motorsports. He was and will be the finest driver of the sport. To every fan of the sport, he will always be young, always be fast, fearless, bold, a true champion. Every fan will keep on worshiping him, will keep on remembering him, will keep on singing “Senna Senna Ole Ole Ole… Senna Senna Ole Ole Ole Ole”, through the years, watching his races off the internet, watching his Monaco wonders or the mastery of rain or his battles with Prost. He will always be the benchmark of how a Formula One driver should be. How a driver should attack, how he should defend. He was a champion unlike others, always pushing, pushing for the gap.
Thank you Ayrton Senna, you’ve given us all to last a lifetime.
Gone, but never forgotten.
By being a racing driver you are under risk all the time. By being a racing driver means you are racing with other people. And if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver because we are competing, we are competing to win. And the main motivation to all of us is to compete for victory, it’s not to come 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th. I race to win as long as I feel it’s possible. Sometimes you get it wrong? Sure, it’s impossible to get it right all the time. But I race designed to win, as long as I feel I’m doing it right.”- Ayrton Senna