Widely considered to be the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, Ayrton Senna da Silva was born in São Paulo, Brazil. He came from a well off family and demonstrated interest in automobiles and Motorsport from a very young age. Even though he came from a privileged background he rose through the ranks of motorsport due to his determination, tenacity and sheer speed.
Senna's first kart was built by his father using a small 1-HP lawnmower engine. Senna started racing at Interlagos and entered a karting competition at the age of 13. He demonstrated his potential from an early age as he started his first race on pole position, facing rivals who were some years older than him; despite this, he managed to lead most of the race before retiring after colliding with a rival.
Learning the Art of Speed
Senna loved Karting. Even after he was a well established racing car driver, he regularly Karted. In later years he even said that he learned the most about driving during his Karting days.
He competed and won the South American Kart Championship in 1977. He then went on to competing in the Karting World Championships from 1978 to 1980, finishing runner-up 1979 and 1980. Compared to his illustrious career, he never managed to become Karting World Champion. In 1978, he was the teammate of Terry Fullerton, for whom Senna had a lot of respect and later felt was the rival he got the most satisfaction racing against also because of the lack of money and politics at that level
In 1981, Senna moved to England to begin single-seater racing, winning the RAC and Townsend-Thoreson Formula Ford 1600 Championships that year with the Van Diemen team. The following year he went on to win the 1982 Formula 2000 Championships. In 1983, he moved to the British Formula Three Championship. He dominated the first half of the season until Martin Brundle, driving a similar car for Eddie Jordan Racing, closed the gap in the second part of the championship. Senna won the title at the final round after a closely fought and, at times, acrimonious battle with the Briton.
The total domination of the lower categories put the motorsport world on notice. He was approached by top tear F1 teams that ensured his ascension to Formula 1.
The Arrival of the King
In 1984 the legendary Brazilian made his Formula 1 debut. Even though he had tested with big teams like Mclaren, Williams, Brabham and had very strong performances. He decided to go with Toleman, a relatively new team with a car that was not very competitive. He did this so that he was in control of his career and his finances.
Senna was a notch above the rest when it came to driving in changing or wet weather conditions. His reputation as a"Rain master" started to gain traction during the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. The Monaco Grand Prix is considered to be the most difficult track on the Formula 1 callender and with his Toleman, Senna managed to only secure 13th on the grid during qualifying. However, during the race as the weather condition got worse the Brazilian manged to cut through the field like a hot knife through butter. He overtook much faster cars and managed to secure second place during the grand prix. Many believe that if the race was not stopped early due to dangerous driving conditions, he would have won the race.
He further showed potential of a future world champion during a promotional race held by Mercedes in the Nurburgring. The race consisted of past and present world champions and some of the most legendary names in Formula 1 history. All the drivers had the same car and the same set up. Ayrton Senna the youngest and the least experienced driver on the grid went on to win the race and proved to the world that he belonged among the greats.
Following his stunning performances in 1984, he was signed by lotus for the 1985 season. He got his first pole position and first win in the same year at the Portugese Grand Prix. He stayed with the team till 1987 earning 6 wins for the team.
The Mclaren years
Following his stellar performances in Toleman and Mclaren, Ayrton moved to Mclaren. Mclaren is where Senna won his three world championships and was pared with his biggest rival, Alain Prost (Four time world champion).
The 1988 season laid the foundation for the biggest rivalry in Formula 1 history. One notable incident of the year was at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Senna outqualified Prost by 1.4 seconds an unheard of number in such a short track. he also One notable incident of the year was at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Senna outqualified Prost by 1.4 seconds an unheard of number in such a short track. He led for most of the race before crashing on lap 67. At the end of the season the pair won 15 of 16 races in the McLaren MP4/4 in 1988 with Senna coming out on top, winning his first Formula One world championship title by taking eight wins to Prost's seven.
The following year, the rivalry between Senna and Prost intensified into numerous battles on the track and a psychological war off it.Prost took the 1989 world title after a collision with Senna at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan, the penultimate race of the season, which Senna needed to win to remain in contention for the title. Prost had managed to leave the grid faster than Senna by removing the gurney flap from his car, which was unbeknownst to Senna.
In 1990, Senna took a commanding lead in the championship with six wins, two second places, and three thirds. As the season reached its final quarter, however, Alain Prost in his Ferrari rose to the challenge with five wins, including a crucial victory in Spain where he and team mate Nigel Mansell finished 1–2 for the Scuderia. Senna had gone out with a damaged radiator, and the gap between Senna and Prost was now reduced to 9 points with two races remaining. At the penultimate round of the championship in Japan at Suzuka, where Senna and Prost collided the previous year, Senna took pole ahead of Prost. Before qualifying, Senna had sought assurances from the organisers to move pole position left onto the clean side of the racetrack. After qualifying, FIA president Balestre denied Senna's request, leaving Senna to start on the dirty right side, thus favouring Prost on the left. At the beginning of the race, Prost pulled ahead of Senna, who immediately tried to repass Prost at the first corner. While Prost turned in, Senna kept his foot on the accelerator and the cars collided at 270 km/h (170 mph) and spun out of the race, making Senna world champion.
In 1990, through Senna's consistency, the car's competitiveness and the Williams's unreliability at the beginning of the season gave him an early advantageIn 1991, Senna became the youngest ever three-time world champion, taking seven wins and increasing his pole position record to 60 from 127 events. Prost, because of the downturn in performance at Ferrari, the likes of which littered the team's history, was no longer a serious competitor.
Ayrton did not manage to win a world championship after 1991. However, he had stellar performances with a less competitive Mclaren. The best example of his ability to push the car beyond its limits came in Donnington 1993. Senna started the race in fourth place under changing weather conditions. He dropped to fifth as the lights went green. However, by the end of the first lap he had overtaken everyone ahead of him and was leading the race. The people he overtook were no slouches either, they had a total of 12 world championships between them.
Move to Renault: The loss of a legend
For 1994, Senna was able to finally join the Williams team given the retirement of Prost. Rule changes for 1994 had banned active suspension, traction control, and ABS. Senna expressed his discomfort with the handling of his car. 1994 was Senna's worst start to a Formula One season, failing to finish or score points in the first two races, despite taking pole position both times.
Senna died aged 34 after succumbing to fatal injuries sustained during his final race at the San Marino Grand Prix, on 1 May 1994. His death followed the death of Roland Ratzenberger, who died during qualifying the day before. His death had a major impact on Senna, as later stated by friends and family close to him.
To this day Williams F1 teams racing car has Senna's logo in the front of their car as a sign of respect.
All around the world Ayrton Senna was known as a Formula 1 hero and a rain master. He was ruthless on track but he was compassionate too. In 1992 when fellow driver Eric Comas crashed his car. Senna risked his own life and jumped out of his car to turn Eric's engine off, potentially saving his life.
He was known as a very charismatic individual who did not have the arrogance of other F1 drivers off the track. After his death, he was discovered to have quietly donated millions of his personal fortune to help poor children. His organisation the IAS has donated over $80 million to help the people of Brazil.
Senna's death was considered by many of his Brazilian fans to be a national tragedy, and the Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning. The Italian Air Force offered to fly the coffin back to Brazil, but the Senna family wished that it return home in a Brazilian plane. An estimated three million people flocked to the streets of Senna's hometown of São Paulo to offer him their salute.
Senna left his mark and will forever remembered as one of the greatest drivers to ever live. He inspired future world champions like Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamliton. Even the great Michael Schumacher considered him to the best driver of all time. His enigmatic character will forever be remembered and the world will not see his like again.
The boy from Sao Paulo that became the king of speed