|Born||March 21, 1960|
São Paulo, Brazil
|Died||1 May 1994 (aged 34)|
|Formula One World Championship Career|
|Status||Deceased (Race crash)|
162 ( 161 starts)
|First Race||1984 Brazilian Grand Prix|
|Last Race||1994 San Marino Grand Prix|
|First Win||1985 Portuguese Grand Prix|
|Last Win||1993 Australian Grand Prix|
Ayrton Senna da Silva (born 21 March 1960 in São Paulo, Brazil – died 1 May 1994 in Bologna, Italy) was a Brazilian racing driver and three time Formula One world champion (1988, 1990 and 1991). He died when he crashed heavily at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix and remains to this date the last Formula one driver to die behind the wheel. He was the uncle of Formula one newcomer Bruno Senna of whom he famously said in 1993: "If you think I'm fast, just wait until you see my nephew Bruno".
Ayrton Senna started his motoring career at age 13 when his sister Viviane gave him a kart that she had rejected as a present, Ayrton then began participating in karting competions throughout Brazil. In 1977 when he was 17 he won the South American Karting Championship which opened him up into higher karting grades where he moved into the World Karting Championship where he contested from 1978-1982. In his second and third years he came runner up in the championship but he never managed to win the championship though.
In 1981 he moved to England where he participated in the British Formula Ford 1600 Championships where he won the two championships that were played that year. The following year in 1982 in took another step forward moving into the Formula Ford 2000 European Championships where he again won the championships.
In 1983 he moved to the Formula 3 British Championship with the West Surrey team where he dominated the first half of the season but another future F1 driver Martin Brundle closed the gap down racing for the Eddie Jordan Team however Senna managed to clinch victory in the end at the final showdown at the Thrixton Race Circuit.
Senna had gained the attention of a lot of Formula One teams where in 1983 he had tested with McLaren, Williams, Brabham and Toleman. Senna tried to gain entry to F1 with one of these teams however favourites Williams and McLaren were full, he was expected to move to the Brabham team however they opted with Teo Fabi instead so Senna's only option was to race with the Toleman team partnering Johnny Cecotto.
Senna would make his F1 debut at his home country at Brazil for Round 1 where he qualified 16th of 26 in his first race however he failed to finish the race at the Rio de Janeiro circuit. The next race shined more brightly for Senna as he scored his first F1 points at South Africa finishing 6th which he replicated again at the next race in Belgium. However in San Marino he dismally failed to qualify for the race due to fuel pressure problems during qualifying. Senna's highlight of the season was the Monaco Grand Prix where he qualified 13th on the grid but in a very wet race Senna climbed his way up the field with great speed and finally managed to get to second place behind race leader and future arch-rival Alain Prost where he began gaining on him with 4 seconds a lap however he failed to get the victory as the race was stopped due to the weather conditions, however finishing second with only a mid pack car in conditions as horrific as these were was a true show of a future champion. After a couple of retirements Senna managed to get another podium in Britain where he finished third.
After this race teammate Cecotto was sacked after he failed to exceed his younger teammates performances, a replacement was not found until Italy. Senna then struggled over the next couple of races with the car's poor reliability, not wanting to remain with Toleman past this season Senna signed with the Lotus team in secret for the 1985 season, however when Toleman found out about this that he was keeping secrets from them and breaching his two year contract with the team, the team suspended him from the next race in Italy, where he was replaced by Pierluigi Martini for the race, the team had also found a new teammate to accompany him for the rest of the season that being of Stefan Johansson. When he returned to the team at the European Grand Prix his relationship was considerably strained, he failed to finish in the race but the last race of the season at Portugal Senna made another podium finishing in third position.
Glad to be rid of Toleman, Senna embarked on a more competitive and stronger year at Lotus F1 for 1985. Senna partnered Italian Elio de Angelis in the season. Senna failed to finish at his home race in Brazil but at Round 2 at Portugal he scired his first ever pole position which he materialised into his first race win. The Lotus was quick through the season but it's realibility was poor. Over the next 7 races Senna failed to score any points, half of them due to realibility issues. However he did manage to get 3 pole positions in his time. One of them at Monaco where he infuriated drivers like Niki Lauda and Michele Alboreto when he decided to run more laps than was necessary to gain pole, Senna later denied these accusations. On his return to the points Senna finished 2nd at Austria followed by two 3rd place finishes at the Netherlands and Italy and then won a race again in the wet in Belgium. A 2nd place finish was to follow in Europe however the last two races he failed to finish. Senna had gained a lot of popularity in the Lotus camp but not from teammate de Angelis who thought the team was favouring Senna and walked out on the team at the end of the season.
De Angelis was replaced by Johnny Dumfries for 1986 at Lotus, At the 1st race at his home Grand Prix Senna came second at Brazil and then winning the next race just over 0.014 seconds ahead of Nigel Mansell, Senna was now leading the championship but it was not to last Senna's poor car reliability showed over the next couple of races and although finishing on the podium 7 times after Portugal and another win in Detroit it was not enough to be in a title fighting position.
For 1987, Senna partnered 34 year old Japanese debutant Satoru Nakajima at Lotus. The year did not start off well for Senna in Brazil as he retired with engine problems at his home race. However at the next race at San Marino Senna was on pole and throughout the race Senna fought with Nigel Mansell for the lead of the race, however it wasn't one he was to win. Belgium saw another retirement when he crashed with rival Mansell when battling for the lead again however things brightened soon after as he won in Monaco and then the next race in Detroit, however only managed 4th in France followed by two third places at Britain and Germany. Hungary he was second, however only finished 5th at Austria. In Italy he was second after a tight battle for the lead with Nelson Piquet, Portugal was a disappointing 7th after having to pit due to losing his front wing, 5th in Spain then retired in Mexico when he spun off due to a stuck clutch, he was second in Japan and then second again for the last round of the championship in Australia but was then disqualified because of an illegal brake duct on the car. Senna finished the championship in third between Mansell and Piquet with 57 points, but he clearly outmatched teammate Nakajima who only took 12.
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 five years. At the 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 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).
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 1989 swung the title in Prost's favour.
Prost took the 1989 world title after a collision with Senna at the Suzuka 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 second with six wins and one second place. Prost left McLaren for rivals Ferrari for the following year.
In 1990, Senna took a commanding lead in the championship with six wins, two second places and three thirds. His most memorable victories were at the opening round in 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 race for the win. 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 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 two races remaining.
At the penultimate round of the Championship in Japan at Suzuka (the same circuit where Senna and Prost had their collision a year before), 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 licence 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 shit. 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 fucked 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".
Prost would later go on record slamming Senna's actions as "disgusting" and that he seriously considered retiring from the sport after that incident.
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. Senna won the first four races. By mid-season, only 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 (200 mph) 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' unreliability at the beginning of the season 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 three 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 third and beached his Williams-Renault into the gravel trap. Senna finished second, 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 determination to win manifested itself in dismay at McLaren's inability to challenge Williams' 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. During qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, French driver Érik Comas crashed heavily and Senna was the first to arrive at the scene. He got out of his car and ran across the track to aid the Frenchman, disregarding his own safety in an effort to aid a fellow driver. He later went to visit Comas in hospital. Senna finished 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 One 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. The Brazilian, however, 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 fluctuating 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 or 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 second 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 expected 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 Anti-lock braking, 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 (politically careful) 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.
The weekend was marred with crashes, as Rubens Barrichello had a terrible accident on Friday, was affected Senna deeply. Then, on Saturday, Roland Ratzenberger was killed, the first to die in a Formula One car since Elio de Angelis in 1986, and the first to die at a race meeting since Ricardo Paletti at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix.
Senna was distraught, and visited the place were Ratzenberger died, and he told Professor Sid Watkins he felt he could not race.
But Senna did race. And after seven laps, two at full pace (JJ Lehto had stalled at the start, and Pedro Lamy crashed into him), Senna exited at the Tamborello corner at 205 mph (330 km/h), went straight on and crashed into the wall at 135 mph (217 km/h). Part of the suspension hit him on the head, causing fatal skull fractures. He was declared dead just hours later.
F1 Career HistoryEdit
Numbers not in brackets are the championship points scored, while numbers in brackets refer to the total points scored. Before 1990, excluding 1981 to 1984, not all points scored counted towards the championship.
|Front Row Starts||87|
|Distance Raced||37937.010 km|
|Distance Led||13430.435 km|
|Complete Formula One results|
|3rd||DNQ||Did not qualify|
|5th||Points finish||DNPQ||Did not pre-qualify|
|14th||Non-points finish||TD||Test driver|
|NC||Non-classified finish (<90% race distance)||DNS||Did not start||more symbols|
- ↑ Only 610 of Senna's 614 points counted towards the World Drivers' Championships, since only the best 11 points finishes in a season were counted between 1985 and 1990
- ↑ Race stopped after 31/76 Laps. Half points awarded
- ↑ Only a drivers' best 11 results counted towards the Drivers' World Championship. Senna scored 94 points during the season, of which 90 counted towards the Championship standings.
- ↑ Race stopped after 14/81 Laps. Half points awarded
- ↑ Fatally injured in a heavy crash at turn 2 on lap 6.
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