Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna may have won several world titles before his untimely death in 1994 – but he was a rubbish gardener, according to residents of the quiet Tilehurst close where he once lived.
With new movie Senna opening this month to rave reviews, neighbours living in Chelsea Close – including the man who moved into Senna’s house after he left for Monaco – have shared their memories of the Brazilian hero.
The life story of triple Formula 1 champion Senna – full name Ayrton Senna da Silva – is captured in the documentary directed by Asif Kapadia from his birth in Santana to his death at the San Marino Grand Prix at the age of 34.
It is a little known fact Senna lived with friends in a rented detached house in Chelsea Close, on the Potteries Estate, for a couple of years during the early part of his career in the 1980s. After his death, a street was named after him in Tilehurst – Ayrton Senna Road, off City Road – which ironically has speed humps, and the town is also home to a play area which bears his name.
Wayne Russell, managing director of animal cage specialists Allentown Europe, moved into Senna’s house in 1984, a short time after the then emerging star moved away.
Mr Russell said: “He left Tilehurst to go to Monaco – I don’t think I’ll be doing that – but when I got in, there was still his stuff everywhere. “There were bits of car and racing tyres and I used to get calls at strange times in the morning from people in Brazil talking in Portuguese.
“I don’t know if Senna decorated it, but the house was mostly plain and was well looked after, although it had this horrible orangey coloured bathroom.
“I once got an offer from a pub in Yorkshire that’s like a shrine to Senna, to buy the toilet seat, but I’d already thrown it out.
“He’d had the drive resurfaced really badly and he’d planted all these rose bushes at the front – I don’t know if he realised they would grow and have thorns.
“His gardening skills were pretty bad and the neighbours had to help him out.”
Mr Russell said he used to receive some of Senna’s mail, including Christmas cards from Formula 1 team bosses, until the racer’s death. He added: “I’m told he moved to Reading because it was equidistant between the two big racing teams – Williams [in Didcot] and McLaren [in Woking] – and he knew one day he wanted to race for them.” Senna went on to race for both. Ray Hawkins, 74, who lived opposite the racing driver in Chelsea Close, recalled how his late brother Walter reversed off his drive and smashed into Senna’s Alfa Romeo, which was parked on the street.
He said: “I can still remember the bang. My brother bashed into the side of it.
“There was no one around and he drove off and left me to sort it out and I put a note through his door. His [Senna’s] friend came round and told me not to worry about it. He said Ayrton had plenty of money and to forget about it. He thanked me for letting him know who had done it.” The retired delivery driver would often see his then relatively unknown neighbour out running and exercising. Mr Hawkins added: “As a person, he was a gentleman. He was brilliant when racing.
“He would overtake people on corners when no one else would.
“He was a popular and inspirational man and I was as shocked as anyone when he died, but I am sure it is the way he would have wanted to go, doing what he loved.”
Maureen Edwards, 56, who also lives in Chelsea Close, recalled seeing Senna out jogging. They would occasionally share small talk about his racing career. She said: “He wasn’t that famous then, just one of a crowd, and was always so busy, going here, there and everywhere, but we watched his races on TV and we would all support him.
“It was such a shame when he died. He was so good, but that is the risk they take.
“He will be remembered as one of the world’s greatest.”
Senna’s F1 career saw him race with Toleman, Lotus, McLaren and Williams, becoming World Champion in 1988, 1990 and 1991, before he was killed during the San Marinio Grand Prix in 1994. He was famed for his ruthless driving style which often led to feuds with other drivers, including former team mate Alain Prost and Britain’s Nigel Mansell. Mr Russell added: “I have to admit I was always a Nigel Mansell fan. As neighbours, we used to watch the Formula 1 and they would all be cheering on Senna because they knew him, but I would be there to support Mansell.”
Former Reading Evening Post editor and motor racing correspondent Dave Murray, who now runs Elcot Publications in Pangbourne, never met Senna but was also in awe of his driving. He said: “I used to cover Formula 3 at the time.
“It was obvious to anyone who saw him he was really talented and a genius at the wheel.
“Senna had absolute fearlessness and lightning reactions and a will to win that was beyond most Formula 1 drivers. It led him to be ruthless at times, but that made him worth watching.”
source: © getreading.co.uk