|First race||Brazilian Grand Prix||Jacarepaguá||March 25, 1984||Race results|
|Last race||San Marino Grand Prix||Imola||May 1, 1994||Race results|
When debating who was the greatest driver to ever grace Formula One, it's hard to argue against the man who won three world titles, 41 races and 65 pole positions. Ayrton Senna could divide opinion as a man, but unite it as a driver.
The mercurial Brazilian developed an obsession with a small go kart at the age of four, and won his first race at the age of 13. Having won the South American Karting Championship at 17, he competed in the World Karting Championship before moving to Britain to contest single seaters in 1981. He won his third race, and went on to win a Formula Ford championship, but then returned to Brazil at his parents' request. Racing came before the family business though, and he returned to Britain to continue his success; winning the 1983 British Formula Three Championship which earned him tests with Williams, McLaren, Brabham and the relatively new Toleman team.
In 1984 he moved in to Formula One with Toleman, and finished second at Monaco in conditions so bad that the race was stopped before the 75% mark. It was enough time to highlight the phenomenal talent though, and he went on to finish on the podium in two of his three finishes that season. Feeling Toleman couldn't match his ambitions though; Senna bought out his contract and moved to Lotus in 1985. It didn't take him long to secure his debut victory, taking pole position at the second race of the season in Portugal and excelling in torrential conditions once again to win by over a minute. A late season run of five consecutive podiums - including a win in the wet in Belgium - helped Senna to fourth in the championship, but it was his tally of seven pole positions that marked him out as the quickest man on the grid.
Over the next two seasons with Lotus he took another four wins, but his title challenge faded towards the end of 1987 and after finishing third in the championship he made what was to prove a highly successful move to McLaren. His debut with the team brought pole position, but a gearbox failure caused him to switch to the spare car after the parade lap, and despite coming through from the back of the grid to second at one point, he was disqualified half way through the race for the car change. He soon made amends though, going on to win eight of the remaining 15 races to take the world championship ahead of his team-mate Alain Prost, who won seven.
It was the start of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport. The following year the two were vying for the title again, but this time Prost had the edge, and turned in on Senna at the chicane in Japan to end the Brazilian's championship chances. Prost moved to Ferrari and Senna entered in to a war of words with the then FIA president Jean-Maire Balestre, which came to a head in Japan again twelve months later. Senna qualified on pole, but claimed Balestre blocked a move to switch the grid slot to the cleaner side of the grid. Call it revenge or a statement to Balestre, when Prost got the expected better start from second place, Senna drove him off the track at turn one, sealing his second world title.
1991 was less controversial, as a battle with Mansell led to images like the pair centimetres apart at 200mph in Spain, and Senna hitching a lift back on Mansell's Williams after the Briton had won at Silverstone. Senna wrapped up his third title, again at Suzuka, but endured a frustrating year in 1992 as his car was difficult to handle and unreliable. He ended that season having yet to commit to a team due to the disappointing progress of McLaren. He was desperate to join Williams, but the presence of Prost made it impossible - with the Frenchman having a contract clause preventing Senna from becoming his team-mate. Having called Prost a coward, he drove for McLaren on a race-by-race basis. A strong start saw him leading the championship, but a poor mid-season put him well out of contention, and Prost had long since wrapped up the title before two late wins saw Senna finish second.
With the clause in Prost's contract expiring, Senna moved to Williams in 1994, and Prost promptly retired. Senna's new car was quick but difficult to drive, and despite putting it on pole at each of the first two races, he failed to finish while Michael Schumacher took maximum points in his Benetton. Then, at Imola, Senna led Schumacher after an early safety car period. He pushed hard immediately after the restart, and as he took Tamburello corner on the second lap, the car veered right and hit a concrete wall. The world watched as the car came to rest. Senna moved slightly, then sat peacefully, as the fastest driver to have ever lived died doing what he did best.
Strengths and weaknesses
Outright speed saw him take 65 pole positions, while he was also dominant around Monaco, winning five times. Immense in the wet, he was as close to the complete driver as Formula One has seen. His desire to go quicker sometimes pushed him too far, as he even said he scared himself when once setting pole at Monaco, and he could cross the line between hard racing and dangerous.
Beating Alain Prost to the 1988 World Championship in equal machinery in his first season at McLaren.
Being disqualified from the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix for cutting a chicane after Prost had turned in on him, which saw Prost take the title.
"I continuously go further and further learning about my own limitations, my body limitation, psychological limitations. It's a way of life for me."
Prost after the 1990 clash in Japan: "What he did was disgusting...He is a man without value."
When leading in Suzuka in 1993, Senna lapped Eddie Irvine, but then Irvine unlapped himself as Senna struggled to pass Damon Hill. Despite going on to win the race, he went to see Irvine. The pair had an argument and Senna punched the Irishman in the face.
January 10, 2015
© Maurice Hamilton
March 20, 2014
January 12, 2012
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