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Ayrton Senna – Life On The Fast Lane

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Whenever there is a talk about Brazil, most of us can’t help but start ranting about their huge success in the soccer arena. Of course some of the ignorant pervert types will rather immediately relate to their exotic samba dance. But a lesser known fact is that Brazil has had a successful stint at the Formula 1 Races too, with three F1 world champions who have all clinched the prestigious championship more than once. Football fans should remember that the Brazil national football team had dedicated its 1994 World Cup win to a certain Ayrton Senna. So who was he really? Ayrton Senna was a three-time Formula One world champion who is today widely regarded as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.

 

Ayrton Senna da Silva was born on March 21, 1960, into a wealthy Brazilian family. He never needed to race for money but his deep need for racing began with an infatuation for a miniature go-kart his father gifted him. As a boy, the highlights of Ayton’s life were watching his Formula One heroes in action on television. At 13 he raced a kart for the first time and immediately won. Eight years later he went single-seater racing in Britain, where in three years he won five championships. He then finally made his Formula One debut with Toleman-Hart in 1984. Deciding Toleman’s limited resources were inadequate for his towering ambition, Senna moved to Lotus-Renault the following year and won six Grand Prix’s over the next three seasons. Having reached the limits of Lotus too, he then decided the fastest way forward would be with McLaren where he joined Alain Prost in 1988. When McLaren-Honda won 15 of the 16 races, Senna beat his team mate Alain Prost eight wins to seven, to take home his first F1 Championship. Thereafter two of the drivers became protagonists in one of the most infamous feuds in racing history. In 1989 Prost claimed the title by taking Senna out at the Suzuka chicane. Then finally again in Japan in 1990, Senna’s frustration at losing the title to Prost the previous year, bubbled over as he deliberately rammed Prost out of the Japanese Grand Prix; and thereby recovered the crown he regarded as a birthright. He retained the title in 1991 and managed to finish the 1993 season as runner-up, winning five races. Some of his greatest performances came in his final year with McLaren, following which he moved to Williams for the ill-fated 1994 season.

 

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Ayrton Senna did realize his dream of becoming the three-time Formula 1 world champion by winning even before the end of the championships, and always at the Suzuka track. His innate speed and willingness to go right to the very edge forged Ayrton Senna into one of the greatest driver that ever sat in a F1 car. Though his tactics often bordered on the reckless, sometimes even worse than that, winning meant everything to Senna. He drove like a man possessed – some thought by demons. His ruthless ambition often provoked condemnation from critics. When Senna revealed he had discovered religion, Prost and others suggested he was a dangerous madman who thought God was his co-pilot. Even Senna confessed he occasionally went too far.

 

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As Ayrton Senna endlessly sought to extend his limits to go faster than himself, sadly the quest ultimately made him a martyr. On May 1, 1994, in the San Marino Grand Prix, as Senna entered the high-speed Tamburello corner on lap 7, his race leading car left the track at around 330 km/h and hit the concrete retaining wall at around 215 km/h. Within 2 minutes of crashing Senna was extracted from his race car and an on-site tracheotomy was performed before airlifting him to Bologna’s Maggiore Hospital, where he was declared dead hours later. Millions saw it happen on television. Senna’s death was a national tragedy for Brazil, and the government declared three days of national mourning. The world mourned his passing and during his state funeral in Sao Paulo an estimated three million people lined the streets to offer him their salute. Senna was buried at the Morumbi Cemetery in his hometown of Sao Paulo.

 

Apart from racing, Ayrton enjoyed a range of physical activities including running, waterskiing, jet skiing, and paddle boarding. He also had several hobbies, such as flying real and model planes and helicopters, boating, fishing and riding his favourite Ducati motorbikes. Ruthless and frequently misunderstood, Senna often did his best to hide a softer, highly emotional and compassionate side. After his death it was discovered that he had quietly donated an extremely large portion of his personal fortune estimated at around $400 million to help poor children. Beyond his driving genius Senna was also one of the sport’s most compelling personalities.

 

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As a tribute, in his home country of Brazil, one of the freeways of Rio de Janeiro and the main freeway from the international airport to Sao Paulo and a tunnel along route to the heart of the city was named in his honour. Between 1996 and 1998, Ducati also produced special Senna editions of their 916 superbike. Ducati was at the time owned by Claudio Castiglioni, a personal friend of Senna. In 2002, the MV Agusta F4 750 Senna motorbike was created, again by Castiglioni, now president of MV Agusta. On 25 July 2010, popular BBC motoring show, Top Gear paid an emotional tribute to Senna with Lewis Hamilton driving Senna’s original MP4/4, with which he won the 1988 title. A documentary film ‘Senna’ was released in 2010 which is definitely a must watch if you are a Senna fan or if you have never even heard of the legend.

 

Early in 1994 when questioned about his future he spoke, “I want to live fully, very intensely. I would never want to live partially, suffering from illness or injury. If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs my life, I hope it happens in one instant.” And so it did, on that ill fated day. Senna remains a national hero in Brazil and till today his grave still attracts more visitors than the graves of John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley combined.

 

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