Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Long Lost Hero

Ayrton Senna Da Silva

Senna was born in Sao Paulo. At school he excelled in gymnastics, art and chemistry but found mathematics, physics and English difficult. The son of a wealthy Brazilian landowner, he developed an interest in motor racing at an early age. Senna was Catholic. A very religious man, he openly conflated his beliefs with his racing, something for which he was criticized as dangerous by Alain Prost, among others. He often read the Bible on long flights from Sao Paulo to Europe. Senna expressed concern over the widespread poverty in Brazil, and privately spent millions of his personal fortune on underprivileged children. Shortly before his death he created the framework for an organisation dedicated to Brazilian children, which later became Instituto Ayrton Senna.
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. Towards the end of his career Senna became increasingly preoccupied with the dangers of his profession. On the morning of his death he initiated the re-formation of the GPDA safety organisation, with which he would work to improve the safety of his sport. Shortly before his death, Senna spoke of Formula 1 saying "you are always exposed to danger, danger of getting hurt, danger of dying. This is your life, and you either approach it in a, in a professional, in a cool manner or you just drop it, leave it alone and don't do it anymore. And I happen to like too much what I do to just drop it, I can't drop it".

He was renowned for his close relationship with 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."
Senna was married once, for a short period of time and before his breakthrough in formula one, with Lilian de Vasconcelos. Even though he was a very private man, Senna had a high profile relationship with the Brazilian TV icon Xuxa. It was said that after Xuxa, an animal lover, saw Senna's photograph surrounded by dogs in a magazine, sensed an affinity and jokingly said: "Why someone like him isn't around?". One week later, in a incredible coincidence, Xuxa found a note in her dressing room that said: "Ayrton Senna called" with his phone number below. Curious and shy, she called him back: "Hi" she said. "Hi, most beautiful woman in Brazil" was Senna reply. They dated for two years, and they broke up in 1991, due to conflicts in their schedules. At the time, Xuxa was a rising star, and Senna was a formula-one champion who was constantly traveling. After their break up, Ayrton said in many interviews (such as for Playboy Magazine) that Xuxa was the only woman he wanted to marry after his first wife. That gave her the status of the love of Senna's life.

By the time of his death, Senna was dating Brazilian model Adriane Galisteu,with whom the Senna family never had a friendly relationship, even to this date. That was shown in Senna's funeral, where Galisteu was openly casted aside. The "widow" status was given by the family and media to Xuxa, who arrived at the funeral holding hands with Senna's sister, Viviane. After his death Galisteu wrote a book about her and Senna's relationship. Adriane has become a celebrity upon the death of Ayrton Senna, many saying because of it, and has kept that status ever since, working as a TV show host.

Senna began his motorsport career in karting and moved up the ranks to win the British Formula 3 championship in 1983. Making his Formula One debut with Toleman in 1984, he moved to Lotus-Renault the following year, and won six Grands Prix over the next three seasons. In 1988 he joined Frenchman Alain Prost at McLaren-Honda. Between them, Senna and Prost won fifteen out of the sixteen Grands Prix which took place that season, with Senna winning his first World Championship, a title he would go on to win again in 1990 and 1991. McLaren's performance declined in 1992, as the Williams-Renault combination began to dominate the sport, although Senna won five races to finish as runner-up in 1993. He moved to Williams in 1994, but suffered a fatal accident at the third race of the season at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy.

Senna is regarded as one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula 1. He was recognised for his qualifying speed over one lap and held the record for most pole positions from 1989 to 2006. He was among the most talented drivers in extremely rain-affected conditions, as shown by his performances in the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, and the 1993 European Grand Prix. He also holds the record for most victories at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix (6) and is the third most successful driver of all time in terms of race wins. However, Senna courted controversy throughout his career, particularly during his turbulent rivalry with Alain Prost, which was marked by two championship-deciding collisions at the 1989 and 1990 Japanese Grands Prix. Senna's first kart was a small 1HP go-kart, a gift rejected by his older sister Viviane. Senna entered karting competition at the age of 13. In 1977 he won the South American Kart Championship. He contested the Karting World Championship each year from 1978 to 1982, finishing runner-up in 1979 and 1980.

In 1981 Senna moved to England to begin single-seater racing, winning the RAC and Townsend-Thoreson Formula Ford 1600 Championships that year. As Silva is a very common Brazilian name, he adopted his mother's maiden name, Senna, and went on to win the 1982 British and European Formula Ford 2000 championships under that surname.
In 1983 he drove in the British Formula Three Championship with the West Surrey Racing team. Senna dominated the first half of the season but Martin Brundle, who drove 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 at Thruxton after a closely-fought and, at times, acrimonious battle. In November of the same year, he triumphed at the inaugural Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix with Teddy Yip's Theodore Racing Team.
Senna attracted the attention of Formula One teams Williams, McLaren, Brabham and Toleman, all of whom he tested for. Neither Williams nor McLaren had a vacancy for the 1984 season. His name was linked to Brabham's second seat, but Brabham's lead driver, double world champion Nelson Piquet, preferred his friend Roberto Moreno, while title sponsor Parmalat wanted an Italian driver. His only option was to join Toleman, a relatively new team, replacing Derek Warwick.
Senna made his debut at the Brazilian Grand Prix in Rio de Janeiro. He scored his first World Championship point in his second race at the South African Grand Prix, replicating that result two weeks later at the Belgian Grand Prix. A combination of tyre issues and a fuel pressure problem resulted in his failure to qualify for the San Marino Grand Prix, the only time this happened during his career. Senna's best result of the season came at the Monaco Grand Prix, which was affected by heavy rain. Qualifying 13th on the grid, he made steady progress in climbing through the field, passing Niki Lauda for second on lap 19. He quickly began to cut the gap to race leader Alain Prost, but before he could attack Prost the race was stopped on lap 31 for safety reasons, as the rain had grown even heavier. At the time the race was stopped Senna was catching Prost at 4 seconds per lap.
He took two more podium finishes that year - third at the British and Portuguese Grands Prix - and placed 9th in the Drivers Championship with 13 points overall. He did not take part in the Italian Grand Prix after he was suspended by Toleman for being in breach of his contract by signing for Lotus for 1985 without informing the Toleman team first.
Senna also raced in two high-profile non-Formula One races in 1984: The ADAC 1000 km Nurburgring where, alongside Henri Pescarolo and Stefan Johansson, he co-drove a Joest Racing Porsche 956 to finish 8th, as well as an exhibition race to celebrate the opening of the new Nürburgring, which was attended by several Formula 1 drivers, each driving identical Mercedes 190E 2.3-16. Senna won from Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann

Senna was partnered in his first year at Lotus-Renault by Italian driver Elio de Angelis. At the second round of the season, the Portuguese Grand Prix, Senna took the first pole position of his Formula 1 career. He converted it into his first victory in the race, which was held in very wet conditions, winning by over a minute from Michele Alboreto. He would not finish in the points again until coming second at the Austrian Grand Prix, despite taking pole three more times in the intervening period. (His determination to take pole at the Monaco Grand Prix had infuriated Alboreto and Niki Lauda; Senna had set a fast time early and was accused of deliberately baulking the other drivers by running more laps than necessary, a charge he rejected.) Two more podiums followed in Holland and Italy, before Senna added his second victory, again in the wet, at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Senna's relationship with De Angelis soured over the season, as both drivers demanded top driver status within Lotus and, after spending six years at the team, De Angelis departed for Brabham at the end of the year, convinced that Lotus were becoming focused around the Brazilian. Senna and De Angelis finished the season 4th and 5th respectively in the driver rankings, separated by five points. In terms of qualifying, however, Senna had begun to establish himself as the quickest in the field: his tally of seven poles that season was far more than that of any of the other drivers.
Senna driving for Lotus at the 1986 British Grand Prix.

De Angelis was replaced at Lotus by Scottish peer Johnny Dumfries after Senna vetoed Derek Warwick from joining the team, saying that Lotus were not able to run competitive cars for two top drivers at the same time. Senna later admitted "It was bad, bad. Until then I had a good relationship with Derek." Senna started the season well, coming second in Brazil and winning the Spanish Grand Prix by just 0.014s from Nigel Mansell - one of the closest finishes in Formula One history - to find himself leading the World Championship after two races. However, poor reliability, particularly in the second half of the season, saw him drift behind the Williams pairing of Mansell and Piquet, as well as eventual champion, Alain Prost. Nonetheless, Senna was once more the top qualifier, with eight poles, and he took a further six podium finishes that season, including another victory at the Detroit Grand Prix, and finished the season fourth in the driver's standings again, with 55 points.

Senna won his first World Championship in 1988. At his hands, the McLaren MP4/4.
In 1988, thanks to the relationship he had built up with Honda throughout the 1987 season with Lotus, and with the approval of McLaren's number one driver and then-double world champion, Alain Prost, Senna joined the McLaren team. The foundation for a fierce competition between Senna and Prost was laid, culminating in a number of dramatic race incidents between the two over the next 5 years. At the 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix, Prost got away slightly faster than Senna at the start but the Brazilian dived into the first corner ahead. Prost responded and went to pass Senna at the end of the first lap. Senna swerved to block Prost, forcing the Frenchman nearly to run into the pitwall at 180 mph (290 km/h). Prost kept his foot down and soon edged Senna into the first corner and started pulling away fast. Though Prost was angered by Senna's manoeuvre, the Brazilian got away with a warning from the FIA. Senna would later apologize to Prost for the incident. Ultimately, the pair won 15 of 16 races in the dominant McLaren MP4/4 in 1988 with Senna coming out on top, winning his first Formula One world championship title by taking 8 wins to Prost's 7 (Prost had scored more points over the season, but had to drop three 2nd places as only the 11 best scores counted).

Senna driving the McLaren MP4/5 in 1989.
The following year the rivalry between Senna and Prost intensified into battles on the track and a psychological war off it. Tension and mistrust between the two drivers increased when Senna overtook Prost at the restart of the San Marino Grand Prix, a move which Prost claimed violated a pre-race agreement. Senna took an early lead in the championship with victories in three of the first four races, but unreliability in Phoenix, Canada, France, Britain and Italy together with collisions in Brazil and Portugal swung the title in Prost's favor.
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. Senna had attempted an inside pass on Prost who turned into the corner and cut him off, with the two McLarens finishing up with their wheels interlocked in the Suzuka chicane escape road. Senna then got a push-start from marshals, pitted to replace the damaged nose of his car, and rejoined the race. He took the lead from the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini and went on to finish first, only to be promptly disqualified by the FIA for cutting the chicane after the collision, and for crossing into the pit lane entry (not part of the track). A large fine and temporary suspension of his Super License followed in the winter of 1989 and Senna engaged in a bitter war of words with the FIA and its then President Jean-Marie Balestre. Senna finished the season 2nd with 6 wins and one 2nd place. Prost left McLaren for rivals Ferrari for the following year.

In 1990, Senna took a commanding lead in the championship with 6 wins, two 2nd places and three 3rds. His most memorable victories were at the opening round in at Phoenix, in which he diced for the lead for several laps with a then-unknown Jean Alesi before coming out on top, and at Germany where he fought Benetton driver Alessandro Nannini throughout the entire race for the win. As the season reached its final quarter however, Alain Prost in his Ferrari rose to the challenge with 5 wins including a crucial victory in Spain where he and teammate Nigel Mansell finshed 1-2 for the Scuderia. Senna had gone out with a damaged radiator and the gap between Senna and Prost was now reduced to 11 points with 2 races to go.
At the penultimate round of the Championship in Japan at Suzuka (the same circuit where Senna and Prost had their collision a year ago), Senna took pole ahead of Prost. The pole position in Suzuka was on the right-hand, dirty side of the track. Prost's Ferrari made a better start and pulled ahead of Senna's McLaren. At the first turn Senna aggressively kept his line while Prost turned in and the McLaren ploughed into the rear wheel of Prost's Ferrari at about 270 km/h (170 mph), putting both cars off the track, this time making Senna the Formula 1 world champion. A year later, after taking his third world championship, Senna explained to the press his actions of the previous year in Suzuka. He maintained that prior to qualifying fastest, he had sought and received assurances from race officials that pole position would be changed to the left-hand, clean side of the track, only to find this decision reversed by Jean-Marie Balestre after he had taken pole. Explaining the collision with Prost, Senna said that what he had wanted was to make clear he was not going to accept what he perceived as unfair decisions by Balestre including his disqualification in 1989 and the pole position in 1990:

"I think what happened in 1989 was unforgivable, and I will never forget it. I still struggle to cope with it even now. You know what took place here: Prost and I crashed at the chicane, when he turned into me. Afterwards, I rejoined the race, and I won it, but they decided against me, and that was not justice. What happened afterwards was... a theatre, but I could not say what I thought. If you do that, you get penalties, you get fined, you lose your license maybe. Is that a fair way of working? It is not...At Suzuka last year I asked the officials to change pole position from the right side of the track to the left. It was unfair, as it was, because the right side is always dirty, and there is less grip — you sweat to get pole position, and then you are penalized for it. And they said, "Yes, no problem". Then, what happened? Balestre gave an order that it wasn't to be changed. I know how the system works, and I thought this was really s***. So I said to myself, "OK, whatever happens, I'm going to get into the first corner first — I'm not prepared to let the guy (Alain Prost) turn into that corner before me. If I'm near enough to him, he can't turn in front of me — he just has to let me through." I didn't care if we crashed; I went for it. And he took a chance, turned in, and we crashed. It was building up, it was inevitable. It had to happen." So you did cause it then, someone said. "Why did I cause it?" Senna responded. "If you get f***** every time you try to do your job cleanly, within the system, what do you do? Stand back, and say thank you? No way. You should fight for what you think is right. If pole had been on the left, I'd have made it to the first corner in the lead, no problem. That was a bad decision to keep pole on the right, and it was influenced by Balestre. And the result was what happened in the first corner. I contributed to it, but it was not my responsibility".

Senna won the 1991 United States Grand Prix in his McLaren MP4/6.
Senna also won the 1991 Monaco Grand Prix, in addition to winning the Brazilian and San Marino Grands Prix in between.
Nigel Mansell gives Senna a lift back to the paddock on the Victory Lap of the 1991 British Grand Prix, at Silverstone. Mansell had won the race, while Senna had run out of fuel.

Senna captured his third title in 1991, taking seven wins and staying largely clear of controversy. Prost, due to the downturn in performance at Ferrari, was no longer a serious competitor. He won the first 4 races. By mid-season, Nigel Mansell in the more advanced Williams was able to put up a challenge. There were some memorable moments, such as at the Spanish Grand Prix when Senna and Mansell went wheel to wheel with only centimetres to spare, at over 320 km/h (200mph) down the main straight, a race that the Briton eventually won. Quite a different spectacle was offered following Mansell's victory in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Senna's car had come to a halt on the final lap but he was not left stranded out on the circuit, as Mansell pulled over on his parade lap and allowed the Brazilian to ride on the Williams side-pod back to the pits. Though Senna's consistency and the Williams's unreliability at the season start gave him an early advantage, Senna insisted that Honda step up their engine development program and demanded further improvements to the car before it was too late. These modifications enabled him to make a late season push and he managed to win 3 more races to secure the championship, which was settled for good in Japan (yet again) when Mansell (who needed to win), went off at the first corner while running 3rd and beached his Williams-Renault into the gravel trap. Senna finished 2nd, handing the victory to teammate Gerhard Berger at the last corner as a thank-you gesture for his support over the season.

In 1992, Senna's absolute determination to win manifested itself in dismay at McLaren's inability to challenge Williams's all-conquering FW14B car. McLaren's new car for the season had several shortcomings. There was delay in getting the new model running (it debuted in the third race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix) and in addition to lacking active suspension the new car suffered from reliability issues, was unpredictable in fast corners, while its Honda V12 engine was no longer the most powerful on the circuit. Senna scored wins in Monaco, Hungary, and Italy that year, but finished a disappointing fourth overall in the championship, behind the Williams duo of Mansell and Patrese, and Benetton's Michael Schumacher.

Questions about Senna's intentions for 1993 lingered throughout 1992 as he did not have a contract with any team by the end of the year. He felt the McLaren cars were less competitive than previously (especially after Honda bowed out of Formula 1 at the end of the 1992 season). Joining Williams alongside Prost (who had secured a drive for the team for 1993) became impossible since Prost had a clause on his contract vetoing Senna as a team-mate, even though the Brazilian offered to drive for free. An infuriated Senna called Prost a coward in a press conference in Estoril. In December, Senna went to Phoenix, Arizona and tested Emerson Fittipaldi's Penske IndyCar.
McLaren boss Ron Dennis meanwhile was trying to secure a supply of the dominant Renault V10 engine for 1993. When this deal fell through, McLaren was forced to take a customer supply of Ford V8 engines. As a customer team, McLaren got an engine that was two specifications behind that of Ford's factory team, Benetton, but hoped to make up for the inferior horsepower with mechanical sophistication, including an effective active suspension system. Dennis then finally persuaded Senna to return to McLaren. But the Brazilian agreed only to sign up for the first race in South Africa, where he would assess whether McLaren’s equipment was competitive enough for him to put in a good season.

After driving McLaren's 1993 car, Senna concluded that the new car had a surprising potential albeit the engine was still down on power and would be no match for Prost’s Williams Renault. Senna declined to sign a one-year contract but agreed to drive on a race-by-race basis, eventually staying for the year, although some sources claim this was a marketing ploy between Dennis and Senna. After finishing second in the opening race in South Africa, Senna won in constantly changing conditions at home in Brazil and in the rain at Donington. The latter has often been regarded as one of Senna's greatest victories. He started the race fourth and dropped to fifth on the run down to the first corner, but by the end of the first lap was leading the race. He went on to lap the entire field in a race where up to seven pit stops were required by some drivers for rain/slick tyres depending on the conditions. Senna then scored a second place finish in Spain and a record breaking sixth win at Monaco. After Monaco, the sixth race of the season, Senna led the championship ahead of Prost in the Williams-Renault and Benetton's Michael Schumacher despite McLaren’s inferior engine. As the season progressed, Prost and Damon Hill asserted the superiority of the Williams-Renault car, with Prost securing the drivers' championship while Hill moved up to second in the standings. Senna concluded the season and his McLaren career with two wins in Japan and Australia, finishing 2nd overall in the championship. The penultimate race was noted for an incident where Jordan's rookie Eddie Irvine unlapped himself against Senna. The incensed Brazilian later appeared at Jordan's garage and after a lengthy discussion, he proceeded to punch the Irishman.

For 1994, Senna finally signed with the Williams-Renault team. Prost's contract clause forbidding Senna from joining Williams did not extend to 1994 and Prost retired with one year left on his contract, rather than face the prospect of being a team mate of his greatest rival.
Williams had won the previous two World Championships with vastly superior cars, and Senna was a natural and presumptive pre-season title favourite, with second-year driver Damon Hill intended to play the supporting role. Between them, Prost, Senna, and Hill had won all but one race in 1993. Benetton's Michael Schumacher had won the remaining event.
Pre-season testing showed that the Williams car had speed, but it was difficult to drive. The FIA had banned electronic driver aids, such as active suspension, traction control and ABS, to make the sport more "human". The Williams was not a well-handling car at the start of 1994, as observed by other F1 drivers, having been seen to be very loose at the rear. Senna himself had made numerous comments that the Williams FW16 had some quirks which needed to be ironed out. It was obvious that the FW16, after the regulation changes banning active suspension and traction control, exhibited none of the superiority of the FW15C and FW14B cars that had preceded it. The surprise of testing was the Benetton team, whose car was more nimble than the Williams although less powerful.
The first race of the season was in Brazil, where Senna took pole. In the race Senna took an early lead but Schumacher's Benetton was never far behind. Schumacher took the race lead for good after passing Senna in the pits. Senna refused to settle for second. While trying for a win, he pushed too hard and spun the car, stalling it and retiring from the race.
The second race was the Pacific Grand Prix at Aida where Senna again placed the car on pole. However, he was hit from behind in the first corner by Mika Häkkinen and his race came to a definitive end when a Ferrari driven by Nicola Larini also crashed into his Williams. Hill also retired with transmission problems, while Schumacher took victory again.
It was Senna's worst start to an F1 season, failing to finish or score points in the first two races, despite taking pole both times. Schumacher was leading Senna in the drivers' championship by twenty points.
Luca Di Montezemolo is quoted saying that Senna came to him the Tuesday before the Imola race and praised Ferrari for the battle against electronics in F1. Senna also told Montezemolo that he would like to end his career with Ferrari.
At the third race of the season, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Senna, having not finished the two opening races of the season, declared that this was where his season would start, with fourteen races, as opposed to sixteen, in which to win the title. Senna again placed the car on pole for the 65th and final time, but he was particularly upset by two events. On Friday, during the afternoon qualifying session, Senna's protégé, the then F1 newcomer Rubens Barrichello, was involved in a serious accident that prevented him from competing in the race. The next day Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed in qualifying.
Senna spent his final morning meeting fellow drivers, determined after Ratzenberger's accident to take on a new responsibility to re-create a Drivers' Safety group (i.e. Grand Prix Drivers' Association) to increase safety in Formula One. As the most senior driver, he offered to take the role of leader in this effort.
Senna and the other drivers all opted to start the Grand Prix, but the race was interrupted by a huge accident at the start line. A safety car was deployed and the drivers followed it for several laps. On the restart Senna immediately set a quick pace with the third quickest lap of the race, followed by Schumacher. As Senna entered the high-speed Tamburello corner on the next lap, the car left the track at high speed, hitting the concrete retaining wall at around 135 mph (217 km/h). Senna was removed from the car by Sid Watkins and his medical team and treated by the side of the car before being airlifted to Bologna hospital where 34 year old Senna was later declared dead. What had likely happened was that the right front wheel had shot up after impact like a catapult and violated the cockpit area where Senna was sitting. It impacted the right frontal area of his helmet, and the violence of the wheel’s impact pushed his head back against the headrest, causing fatal skull fractures. A piece of upright attached to the wheel had partially penetrated his helmet and made a big indent in his forehead. In addition, it appeared that a jagged piece of the upright assembly had penetrated the helmet visor just above his right eye. Any one of the three injuries would probably have killed him. As track officials examined the wreckage of his racing car they found a furled Austrian flag -- a victory flag that he was going to raise in honour of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger, who had died on that track the day before.
To this day, the cause of the accident has still not been fully determined with theories ranging from a steering column failure to the car simply bottoming out over the bumps on the Tamburello corner. Many court cases followed immediately afterwards, with Williams being investigated for manslaughter though the charges were later dropped.

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