Saturday, April 29, 2017

"Remembering" Ayrton Senna

March 21, 1960 - May  1, 1994
Ayrton Senna
Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
He was highly athletic, excelling in gymnastics and other sports, and developed an interest in cars and motor racing at the age of four. Senna also suffered from poor motor coordination and had trouble climbing stairways by the age of three. An electroencephalogram found that Senna was not suffering from any problems. His parents gave Senna the nickname "Beco". At the age of seven, Senna first learned to drive a Jeep around his family's farm, and learned the art of changing gears without the use of a clutch.

Senna's first kart was a small 1 HP go-kart, built by his father using a lawnmower engine. Senna started racing karts at Interlagos and entered a karting competition at the age of 13. He started his first race on pole position. Senna faced rivals who were some years older than him but managed to lead most of the race before retiring after colliding with a rival. Senna won the South American Kart Championship in 1977. He contested the Karting World Championship each year from 1978 to 1982, finishing runner-up in 1979 and 1980. He was the team-mate of Terry Fullerton in 1978, who Senna later felt was the rival he got the most satisfaction from racing against.

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. Despite this, Senna initially did not believe he would continue in motorsport. At the end of the season, under pressure from his parents to take up a role in the family business, Senna announced his retirement from Formula Ford and returned to Brazil. Before leaving England, however, Senna was offered a drive with a Formula Ford 2000 team for £10,000. Back in Brazil, he decided to take up this offer and returned to live in England. As Silva is a very common Brazilian name, he adopted his mother's maiden name, Senna. Senna went on to win the 1982 British and European Formula Ford 2000 championships under that surname.

In 1983, Senna drove in the British Formula Three Championship with the West Surrey Racing team. 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. In November that year, he triumphed at the inaugural Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix with Teddy Yip's Toyota powered Theodore Racing Team.

In 1983, Senna tested for Formula One teams Williams, McLaren, Brabham and Toleman. Peter Warr of Lotus, Ron Dennis of McLaren, and Bernie Ecclestone of Brabham made offers for testing in 1984 and presented long-term contracts that tied Senna to driving later on. During his test for Williams at the Donington Park circuit, Senna completed 40 laps and was quicker than the other drivers, including Williams' reigning World Champion Keke Rosberg. Neither Williams nor McLaren had a vacancy for the 1984 season, so Senna joined Toleman, a relatively new team, using less competitive Pirelli tyres.

Senna made his debut at the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix in Rio de Janeiro where he qualified 17th, but had the dubious honour of being the first retirement of the season when the Hart 415T engine blew its turbo on lap 8. He scored his first World Championship point in his second race at the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami with severe muscle spasms, replicating that result two weeks later at the Belgian Grand Prix.

After Toleman-Hart, Senna moved to Lotus-Renault the following year, winning six Grands Prix over the next three seasons. In 1988, he joined Frenchman Alain Prost at McLaren-Honda. Between them, they won all but one of the 16 Grands Prix that year and Senna claimed his first World Championship. Prost claimed the championship in 1989, and Senna his second and third championships in 1990 and 1991. In 1992, the Williams-Renault combination began to dominate Formula One. Senna nonetheless managed to finish the 1993 season as runner-up, winning five races and negotiating a move to Williams in 1994.

Senna has often been voted as the best and most influential Formula One driver of all time in various motorsport polls. He was recognized for his qualifying speed over one lap and from 1989 until 2006 held the record for most pole positions. He was also acclaimed for his wet weather performances, such as the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, and the 1993 European Grand Prix. He holds a record six victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, and is the third most successful driver of all time in terms of race wins. Senna courted controversy throughout his career, particularly during his turbulent rivalry with Alain Prost. In the Japanese Grands Prix of 1989 and 1990, each of which decided the Championship of that year, collisions between Senna and Prost determined the eventual winner.

Senna was killed in an accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. As Senna rounded the high-speed Tamburello corner on lap 7, his car left the racing line at around 191 mph (307 km/h), ran in a straight line off the track, and hit the concrete retaining wall at around 145 mph (233 km/h), after what telemetry showed to be an application of the brakes for around two seconds. The red flag was shown as a consequence of the accident. Within two minutes of crashing, Senna was extracted from his race car by Professor Watkins and his medical team, including intensive care anaesthetist, Giovanni Gordini. Initial treatment took place by the side of the car, with Senna having a weak heartbeat and significant blood loss. Because of Senna's poor neurological condition, Professor Watkins performed an on-site tracheotomy and requested the immediate airlifting of Senna to Bologna's Maggiore Hospital under the supervision of Dr Gordini. At 6:40pm, the head of the hospital's Emergency Department, Dr Fiandri made the announcement that Senna had died, but said the official time of death under Italian Law was 2:17pm, which is when he impacted the wall and his brain stopped working. Professor Watkins later said that as soon as he saw Senna's fully dilated pupils, he knew that his brainstem was inactive and that he would not survive.

It is believed that the right-front wheel and suspension was sent back into the cockpit, striking Senna on the right side of his helmet, forcing his head back against the headrest. In addition, a piece of the upright assembly, most likely a tie rod, penetrated the helmet visor, which was a new, thinner version, above his right eye. Senna sustained fatal skull fractures, brain injuries and a ruptured temporal artery.

The cause of the accident had been identified as a steering column failure. It is believed that the right-front wheel and suspension was sent back into the cockpit, striking Senna on the right side of his helmet, forcing his head back against the headrest. In addition, a piece of the upright assembly, most likely a tie rod, penetrated the helmet visor, which was a new, thinner version, above his right eye. Senna sustained fatal skull fractures, brain injuries and a ruptured temporal artery.

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. Contrary to airline policy and out of respect, Senna's coffin was allowed to be flown back to his home country in the passenger cabin of a VARIG McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 airliner, accompanied by his distraught younger brother, Leonardo, and close friends. The plane was escorted by fighter jets into São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport on Thursday 5 May 1994, where it was met by São Paulo's mayor, Paulo Maluf, and state governor, Luís Antônio Fleury. The coffin was carried by soldiers from the Policia da Aeronautical to a fire engine, where eight cadets from the Military Police Academy mounted guard as it carried the coffin on the 20-mile journey into the city. Leading the motorcade were seventeen police motorbikes, and 2,500 policemen lined the route to keep the crowds at bay.

An estimated three million people flocked to the streets of Senna's hometown of São Paulo to offer him their salute. This is widely accepted as the largest recorded gathering of mourners in modern times. Over 200,000 people filed past as his body lay in state at the Legislative Assembly building in Ibirapuera Park. After the public viewing, a 21-gun salute was fired by the 2nd Artillery Brigade and seven Brazilian Air Force jets flew in a diamond formation as the funeral procession made its way to Morumbi Cemetery. Many prominent motor racing figures attended Senna's state funeral, such as team managers Ken Tyrrell, Peter Collins, Ron Dennis, and Frank Williams, and driver Jackie Stewart. The pallbearers included drivers Gerhard Berger, Michele Alboreto, Alain Prost, Thierry Boutsen, Damon Hill, Rubens Barrichello, Roberto Moreno, Derek Warwick, Mauricio Gugelmin, Hans Stuck, Johnny Herbert, Pedro Lamy, Maurizio Sala, Raul Boesel, Emerson Fittipaldi, Wilson Fittipaldi, and Christian Fittipaldi. Neither Professor Watkins nor Jo Ramírez, the McLaren team coordinator, could bear to attend because they were so grief-stricken. Senna's family did not allow FOM president Bernie Ecclestone, a friend of Senna's, to attend the ceremony, after an altercation between Ecclestone and Senna's brother Leonardo at Imola regarding Ecclestone's misconstrued reaction to the news of Ayrton's death and the fact that the race had not been abandoned after his accident.

For the next race at Monaco, the FIA decided to leave the first two grid positions empty and painted them with the colours of the Brazilian and the Austrian flags, to honour Senna and Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger who had been killed in qualifying the day before Senna's death.

At the season's finale, the 1994 Australian Grand Prix, Schumacher won the world championship controversially following a collision with his rival, and Senna team-mate, Damon Hill. During the official FIA conference, the German went on to dedicate his title to Senna. Additionally, the first corner chicane at the Adelaide Street Circuit in Australia was renamed the Senna Chicane. The Brazilian having been on pole for the very first race at the circuit in 1985, as well as 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993. Senna also won the AGP in Adelaide in 1991 and 1993.
(Photo;"AyrtonSennaMemorialAtImola" by MyName (runmatze) - Own work)
Memorial at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, where Senna was killed.

In July 1994, the Brazil national football team dedicated their World Cup victory to Ayrton Senna, and collectively held a banner on the field after defeating Italy in the final. Senna had met various members of the squad, including Leonardo, three months earlier in Paris, telling them "this is our year". Throughout the rest of the 1994 season, Senna was commemorated in various ways.

In his home country of Brazil, the main freeway from the international airport to São Paulo and a tunnel along route to the heart of the city is named in his honour. Also, one of the most important freeways of Rio de Janeiro is named after Senna ("Avenida Ayrton Senna"). The main road in Senna's Portuguese resort at Quinta do Lago, Algarve, was also dedicated to him, due to the fact that his villa there was very near this road. A portion of the Interlagos circuit in São Paulo is named the "Senna Esses Chicane" in his honor. In the English town of Reading, Berkshire, where Senna lived for a short period of time, Ayrton Senna's name has been given to an avenue in the suburb of Tilehurst.

Senna was a devout Catholic, once saying: "Just because I believe in God, just because I have faith in God, it doesn't mean that I'm immune. It doesn't mean that I'm immortal". He often read the Bible on long flights from São Paulo to Europe. According to sister Viviane, Senna had sought strength from the Bible on the morning of his death after the events of the race weekend: "On that final morning, he woke and opened his bible and read a text that he would receive the greatest gift of all, which was God himself."

As his profile rose, Senna expressed concern over the widespread poverty in Brazil. After his death it was discovered that he had quietly donated millions of his personal fortune, estimated at around $400 million, to help poor children. Shortly before his death, he created the framework for an organisation dedicated to Brazilian children, which later became the Instituto Ayrton Senna.

Senna owned several properties, including an organic farm in Tatuí, Brazil, a beach house in Angra dos Reis, Brazil, an apartment in São Paulo, an apartment in Monaco, and a house in Algarve, Portugal.

Senna enjoyed a range of physical activities including running, waterskiing, jet skiing, and paddleboarding. He also had several hobbies, such as flying real and model planes and helicopters, boating, fishing and riding his favourite Ducati motorbikes. His private jet was a British Aerospace 125, and he also piloted his own helicopter between his residences in Brazil along with travelling to races.
(Photo;By Instituto Ayrton Senna (Flickr: Ayrton Senna 2)
Senna was close friends with McLaren teammate Gerhard Berger, and the two were always playing practical jokes on each other. Berger is quoted as saying "He taught me a lot about our sport, I taught him to laugh." In the documentary film The Right to Win, made in 2004 as a tribute to Senna, Frank Williams notably recalls that as good a driver as Senna was, ultimately "he was an even greater man outside of the car than he was in it."

To mark the tenth anniversary of Senna's death, on April 21, 2004 over 10,000 people attended a charity match in a football stadium near Imola. The game was organised by several devoted Italian and Canadian fans of Senna, bringing the 1994 FIFA World Cup winning team of Brazil face the "Nazionale Piloti", an exhibition team composed exclusively of top race car drivers. Senna had been a part of the latter in 1985. Michael Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso and many others faced the likes of Dunga, Careca, Taffarel and several of the team that won the World Cup in the United States ten years earlier. The match finished 5–5 and the money was donated to the Instituto Ayrton Senna. Viviane Senna, the president of the Institute, was also involved in the kick-off of this match.

Ayrton was the uncle of Formula One driver Bruno Senna, of whom he said in 1993: "If you think I'm fast, just wait until you see my nephew Bruno." Due to the death of his uncle, Bruno initially gave up motor racing at his family's insistence. He eventually raced in F1 between 2010 and 2012, in the latter year for the Williams team.

In April 2000 Senna was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. That year, the UK public also voted Senna's opening lap of the 1993 European Grand Prix, the 43rd in the list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.

He has been voted the best driver of all time in various motorsport polls, including F1 Racing Magazine's 2004 poll, and German newspaper Bild am Sonntag's poll of current drivers in 2010. In 2009, a poll of 217 current and former Formula One drivers conducted by the British magazine Autosport named Senna as "the greatest Formula One driver who ever lived". In 2012, BBC Sport journalists voted Senna as the greatest Formula One driver of all time, after naming their Top 20 greatest drivers in a countdown on their website. In 1993, a poll of F1 drivers gave Senna a near-unanimous vote as the best driver in F1.

Senna remains a national hero in Brazil and his grave attracts more visitors than the graves of John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley combined.
(Photo;"AyrtonSennaMormbiName" by Morio - photo taken by Morio)
Senna's grave, with the inscription "Nothing can separate me from the love of God"

Senna was often quoted using driving as a means for self-discovery and racing as a metaphor for life: "The harder I push, the more I find within myself. I am always looking for the next step, a different world to go into, areas where I have not been before. It's lonely driving a Grand Prix car, but very absorbing. I have experienced new sensations, and I want more. That is my excitement, my motivation."
(Photo: Ayrton Senna via photopin (license))

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