Victory is a potent word, almost an aphrodisiac for living and cherishing the ‘great’ in life. For some people victory is the greatest taste of glory. People even regard it as a savior from the sufferings life imposes. And then there are those whose victories spell retribution for others for such lethally efficient is their path to claiming glories. Ayrton Senna, possibly the greatest Formula One driver the world has known personified this last league.
March 21 marks the 56th birth anniversary of the Brazilian. Though he left the F1 world and the mortal remains of whatever life offered outside the racing track a good 22 years ago, Senna’s legend refuses to fade away for in him lies F1’s greatest example of glory and also a reason of the gullibility of mortality.
The Right to Win
Arch rival to French racing legend Alain Prost and an undisputed icon who reigned amidst Nelson Piquet , Gerard Berger, Patrick Tambay and the inimitable Nigel Mansel, Senna was the king of the insanely competitive world of F1, regardless of the nature of the racing track and the length of the competition.
Would you believe it, he’d often say that he had a god-given ‘right’ to win.
Silly as it may sound, this inner belief that often gravitated toward complexities on the racing track would propel Senna to do the unthinkable on the race day. Complex because Senna was involved in what many called ‘manufactured racing incidents’ and unthinkable because only a man as solidly determined as Ayrton himself could extract the maximum from a car and furnish the average racing contest into being something subliminal, away and beyond the reach of several talented contemporaries during his reign.
The original Regenmeister
While there’s nothing wrong with the accolade bestowed on the German, but truth be told, Senna dominated race proceedings under rains and thunderous conditions long before Michael scavenged on his adversaries from the cockpit of his Ferrari.
Rains brought something special in Senna’s unparalleled driving. Under the rains, the aerodynamic functioning of the car is put to real test as the traction falls incredibly. Yet, instead of bowing down, Senna would come all guns blazing and put up a stellar show.
He showed it time and again during some spectacular racing contests at Monaco, Spa Francorchamps and Suzuka, in Japan.
The Emperor of Formula One
While no sports allows a legend to grow larger than itself, Senna’s legend soared F1 to great heights and his untimely death finds its fallacy to a somewhat flawed belief that an individual often clings on to: that “I” can do anything. Senna was no angel. Nor was he the divine shining light. And here lies his greatness.
In the mortal world cushioned under the fabric of technology and the extravagance of Formula One, Senna’s reach and commitment to his craft was exemplary.
His supremacy in a Formula One racing car and his abilities to do wonders in a lame racing wagon unfurled spectacles that united fans worldwide, not just in his native Sau Paulo, Brazil.
Winning his first grand prix way back in 1985 at the Portuguese Grand Prix, when the legend was merely 25 to finishing with 3 world championships, 41 race wins and 65 pole positions, Senna was F1’s poster boy for his exploits in the cockpit and a larger than life aura outside the racing car. Few knew him as a deeply religious man that he would eventually turn to be.
Downright honest, disheveled haired and with those intense penetrating eyes, Senna, who had the gait of a messiah loomed large on every circuit where his presence spurred many a emotion.
From Japan’s Suzuka to Brazil’s Interlagos, the legendary Brazilian commanded legions of fans for his daring and guile at Silverstone, Monaco and Donnington.
Senna’s approach to racing
Magnificent in his approach to driving in the pinnacle of the world of motor-racing, the triple world champion was lion-hearted in his appetite to succeed. Constantly finding ways to push himself to the hilt, Senna would often remark that he felt lonely in the cockpit of the racing car. The reason being simple: he would dominate from the start and take his car way ahead in lap times against a competition that had the likes of Prost, Mansell, Pirnoi and others.
Labeled controversial for those feisty aggressive moves he displayed over his rivals, most noticeably Prost, Senna’s antics in the attacking McLaren with whom he forged a commendable partnership are reminiscent of a hungry lion out on a prowl, one who would leave no stone unturned in crushing his opponents.
Obliterating the opponents
Ayrton showed signs of greatness through his unsparing downsizing of his F1 opponents and of his rivals on the circuit and of the tarmac. Senna is a name that instantly resonates power and greatness, quite possibly the finest concoction of genius a sportsman can ever bring to life.
In the terribly short span of 33 years that Ayrton spent on Earth, he lifted F1 to monumental heights. He was fond of entertaining crowds and would often go to lengths to interact and mix up with his supporters. Ever a vocal critique of nepotism and unfairness in the sport, Senna, the man and his craft were enough for audiences to engage in what would become a thrill-fest of nerves and unsparing competition. Even as he claimed multiple world championships and set numerous records of pole positions, there was this intensity about Ayrton that drew people to him.
After all, here was a man who worked immensely hard on his fitness, craft and even in developing his car, never quite withholding the passion that could have softened owing to him hailing from a reputed financial background.
A handsome young man with a gifted mind, Senna was racing exuberance at its very best.
During the tumultuous late 80s when Senna famously drove to his maiden victory at the Portuguese grand prix, people had begun to take note of a gusty youngster who had in him what it took to win at all costs, often risking his own safety on the tracks. This would be a non-negotiable feature of the icon and something that would continue to impress fans and on other times, distress rivals amidst tough times.
The rise and rise of Senna
Starting out on Toleman and driving Lotus(driving the 97T) on pure will and with gusto, Senna would taste exquisite success during his years at McLaren. With this car, he drove past the blitzkrieg called the Nurburgring (Germany) and zoomed past the Monaco street circuit taking history writers on elaborate re-working of stats and accolades.
His stellar drives at Monaco during rains and that unmatchable contest with Nigel Mansel are stuff of legends that few have come to match. Even the modern masters such as Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton, the latter holding Senna as his racing idol are adrift of the superman quality that Senna exuded.
The bitterness with Prost
In the matchless competition of Formula One where rivalries thrive on the knives edge, Senna vs Prost (1987 onward) was often more than a banner in racing circuits around the world.
Few rivalries in sport have fueled such passion and interest as that of Frenchman Alain Prost versus the insanely passionate Senna.
Known as ‘the professor’ for his clinical driving style, Prost combined forces with the Brazilian at McLaren where both often grinned and whined at each other in their temperamental drive to take the Britain based outfit to magnificent achievements.
Curtains at Imola
Senna of 1993 and 1994 was a different man than the one the world celebrated in the heydays of the 80s and early 90s.
Quite possibly at the lowest ebb of his career, the 1994 Williams racing car was a hefty disappointment for Ayrton who either race-retired or finished way below his usual excellent standards.
Ever a hungry racer determined to bounce back, he somehow managed to put the Williams FW16 on pole at the Italian Grand Prix at San Marino.
This was to be an ill fated grand prix that would signal an end to a magical career on the Sunday that fell on May 1, 1994. As Senna, in lead entered the Tamburello corner at high speed, he rapidly withered off the track toward the tarmac owing to a major breakage of the steering wheel column of his ominous Williams car.
Experts suggested that even at racing speed, this wasn’t a fatal corner. But, god: Senna’s inner voice had something else in mind.
The 34 year old legend skidded off the track and made way to the heavens, leaving behind a loving family, best friend Sid Watkins and millions of fans who idolized the world of Formula One racing thanks to Senna’s legendary feats.
The legend rises
Given a state honor by the Brazilian government, it’s most charming and indispensable icon was laid to rest by a funeral procession that saw ex Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello and teammate and rival, Prost as the pall bearers.
A world that thrives on role models also looms on irony. And it is no irony that Sau Paulo, Brazil’s industrial heartland and also the hub of steel manufacturing in the whole of Brazil is also the home of Ayrton Senna, quite possibly the most perfect amalgamation of courage and steely resolve in the iconic world of Formula One.
Senna hasn’t actually died. He’s just done his bit and watching the Raikkonen’s, Alonso’s, Verstappen’s and Vettel’s from above. Salute legend.