Born March 21, 1960.
For those, who do not know who Ayrton Senna is (or, rather was), it is time to get acquainted. He was a Formula I race driver; and not just a race driver he was. Senna defined the art of Formula I racing and died on the track in 1994. That has marked the last death till date on a Forumla I race track – after which serious focus has been laid on safety in Formula I racing, which include higher sills for the driver cockpit, crash protection, redesigned race tracks and major cuts to engine power… Blah Blah!
But, this is not the reason why Senna is considered great. Senna was a living legend. Today, Formula I racing is a sport where the success of a team depends on the entire team, than just one racing driver. While, during the time, when Senna used to race, the cars were much more powerful – with turbo chargers, 1200 bhp of power, and very little electronics to aid the driver. Thus, a lot of what a team was capable of putting on to the track, was dependent on the driver.
Senna raced in Formula I from 1984 to his death in 1994. And in those ten years, Senna won the World Championship 3 times! If someone is to go by mere numbers, the number of races won by Michael Schumacher are far more, but for those who know about Senna, they know he was in a different league altogether.
During qualifying laps, the difference between two consecutive drivers is usually between 1/10th to 3/4th of a second. While for Senna, this difference was an unbelievable 1.5 seconds, and that too with the legendary Alain Prost behind him on a track like Monaco. Of the 162 races in his Formula I career, Senna started at the pole position in 65, finished at the podium in 80, and has 19 fastest laps to his credit. Needless to mention 41 wins!
If you look at one of Senna’s races, you’ll be amazed that even when he was going in a straight line, his car appeared to be “dancing” because of the sheer amount of power that he kept pushing on to the wheels. He would take the dancing cars with a sixth sense around corners, and spin them around with God given energy that clearly defied the laws of physics for the onlookers. His precision was mind boggling. They say, that an average Formula 1 driver will keep about 1-foot distance between the tyres’ and the wall while navigating a corner. A precise driver could manage to reduce that distance to 6 inches. But Senna, would drive at great speed with that distance measuring anything as precise as 3 inches or less.
They say that cars in those days, had so much power, you could literally bend the chassis during acceleration. But Senna was always bending the chassis around the corner, which just gave him more speed, more precision and made him absolutely stunning. And when it rained, it was even easier to see Senna’s skills as a perfect racing driver. At Donnington in 1993, Senna was in trouble at the start. But when it started to rain, Senna created one of the most legendary races of all times, where he gained from fifth position to first in just one lap!
What made Senna truly legendary was his sheer love for perfection. He would go into the finer details before every race, that would ensure everything was perfect. And while racing, he was not willing to compromise against any of his opponents. Those, who have raced against Senna say that, he would often get into a locked position, and leave it up to them to decide to have an accident or not. And eventually, if the opponent did not give up, Senna would actually let the accident happen.
Before I move into the tail end of my post, I would like to share that in 1992, when Eric Comas crashed his car on the track, Senna stopped his car and risked his own life while running across the track to help. People did know Senna for having a great heart and for being passionate about people.
Still, his strive for perfection reached its peak in 1990 at the Japanese Grand Prix, where it had been pre-determined before the race began, that Senna would win the World Championship only on the given condition if his arch-rival Alain Prost, failed to finish the race. The race started with Prost in the lead and Senna a close second, but at the first corner itself (just as the race had taken off), Senna made sure that Prost would fail to finish – taking both his own car and Prosts’ down at the same time.
After the crash, Senna said, “You either commit yourself as a professional racing driver, who is designed to win races. Or you come second, or third, fourth or fifth. And I am not designed to come third, fourth of fifth. I race to win.”