“It you don’t go for a gap that exists, you’re no longer a racing driver” : No better words can express the true purpose of racing. Forget about the glamour, forget about the money, forget about the politics, and just concentrate on one thing :

“We are competing to win”. Welcome to the very first, and very special installment of Richland’s “Road of Nostalgia”, where I will be your guide in telling stories about some of the most respected and revered drivers, that have put their own individual mark on the history of the fastest sport on four wheels, Formula One.

On what would have been his 52nd birthday, Richland has decided to pay its very own tribute to the man, that brought a character all his own to F1, as well as having one of the most public of rivalries ever documented with Alain Prost. I am, of course, talking about the late Ayrton Senna, who was taken way before his time, on that fateful day of May 1st 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix, whilst leading from Michael Schumacher.

Born in Santana, a neighbourhood in Sao Paulo exactly 52 years ago, the young Brazilian showed a very keen interest in racing and cars, being a true petrol head at the age of four. Starting his career in karting at the age of 13, he won the South American Karting Championship in 1977, as well finishing runner-up in the Karting World Championship in 1979 and 1980.

Ayrton made the decision to move to our shores in 1981, and experienced his first taste of single-seater racing, picking up the RAC and Townsend-Thoreson Formula Ford titles that very year, but with pressure coming from his family to take a role in the family land owning business, he moved back to Brazil, unsure if he would ever compete in racing again. But when the offer of £10,000 for a drive in the Formula Ford 2000 series was too good to turn down, Ayrton gladly returned, with him also adopting the name Senna, which was his mother’s maiden name, before winning both British and European titles.

Then he competed in British F3 against current Sky Sports F1 HD commentator and racing driver, Martin Brundle, as the two had a great rivalry on the track, with them both competing in similar cars, as Eddie Jordan had his own racing team at that point in F3. I also remember that Ayrton’s car ended up going on top of Martin’s, as Senna always tried to go for any opportunity that presented itself.  The Brazilian ended up wining the title at the final round of the season, with Brundle being very close to taking the title after a great surge forward in the latter part of the season. Senna also went on to win the inaugural Macau F3 Grand Prix that very same year.

But in 1984, it was the year that Ayrton really exploded into the world of Formula One, most notably when after being offered contracts by Lotus, Williams  and McLaren after testing for all these teams, he decided he wanted to get into the sport on his own terms, and ended up joining Johnny Cecotto at Toleman. No one could predict what would happen after his difficult start in the sport. It was in Monaco that year, that he would make himself known to all, especially after his amazing drive around the streets of the Principality to finish second after qualifying 13th, with the race being stopped on lap 31. Ayrton really showed his true skill in  wet weather, and was catching Prost at a rate of three seconds per lap in a very uncompetitve car.

But his career was further progressed by joining Lotus the following year, on his talent alone, and his talents in the rain were once again showcased in Estoril at the Portugese GP in 1985, when he won from Pole Position in his second race for the team, before enduring a spate of non points finishes until Austria, even though he secured three pole positions in this period. Further podiums in Italy and Holland, before securing another win in the wet at Spa. His relationship with team mate Elio de Angelis soured as the season went on, with the Italian leaving the team at the end of the season for Brabham, being ultimately convinced that Senna was favoured by Lotus. His achievement of 7 poles that season showed how quick he truly was, outclassing many of the field in that respect.

Scot Johnny Dumfries joined the team the following season, with Derek Warwick being vetoed by Senna, as the Brazilian felt that Lotus could not field and run two competitive cars at the same time, and felt out with the now-BRDC President. Ayrton started the season off well, finishing second in Brazil, and winning just 0.014 seconds ahead of Nigel Mansell in Spain, then leading the championship. But with poor reliability striking the team again, Ayrton finished 4th in the drivers’ standings and qualified on pole eight times that season.

Lotus ended up using Honda engines for the 1987 season, and a new team mate in the form of Satoru Nakajima, whose son Kasuki would race for Williams in more recent times. Ayrton had mixed results, starting with podiums and then a controversial incident involving Mansell, where the two collided and the Briton confronted him in the pits afterwards. This was then followed by what would be the first of his six wins at Monaco, followed by his second consecutive win in Detroit, but with the Williams once again showing their advantage over the field, especially when Senna and Nakajima were lapped at the Britsh GP. This then forced Ayrton to make the decision of joining McLaren for 1988, which as we all know, changed history.

Between 1988 and 1991, Ayrton was the dominant force in F1, especially as Honda joined the Woking-based squad as engine supplier. Ayrton had built on his relationship with the Japanese powerhouse whilst at Lotus, and with the approval of Prost, he was allowed to race for them.  This then started the foundation, of what was to be an epic rivalry between the two fierce competitors over the next half-decade. 1988 was a truly dominant year for McLaren, with both drivers between them winning all bar one of the 16 races that season, with Ayrton winning the title in respect of the wins, as Alain had to drop three second places, due to the FIA only counting the top 11 finishes per driver.

’89 was a role reversal, with Prost winning his third title at Suzuka that year, after the much publicised scandal surrounding the collision between the two rivals at the Casio Chicane in the latter sages of the race, with Senna using the escape road after being assisted by the marshals to rejoin. He then pitted, had his nose cone replaced on his McLaren MP4-5, and chased down Alessandro Nannini like a wild animal, passing the Italian just a couple of laps before the finish. As he crossed the line, Prost ran to the stewards’ office and insisted the Brazilian be disqualified, which happened, as well as Senna having his SuperLicence suspended over the winter and fined a substantial amount. This then led to a very irate champion driver engaging in a bitter argument with the then FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre. Ayrton finished second with 6 wins and 1 second place, with Prost not able to stay at McLaren, as he joined the Prancing Horse for 1990.

1990 was another great year for both Senna and McLaren, with the Brazilian taking a dominating lead in the championship, with 6 wins, two seconds and three third place finishes, with most notably with great wins in Germany & Phoenix. As the season neared the final stretch, Prost came back fighting, securing five wins himself, with a notable win in Spain, where the Frenchman and his team mante Mansell secured a 1-2 finish for Ferrari, as Senna had suffered a damaged radiator during the race. This meant that going into Suzuka, there was just 11 points separating the two.

But controversy once again was the headline of the day, with Senna securing Pole Position,Balestre gave the go ahead to swap it to the other side of the grid, citing no real explanation for his reason, but everyone had the inkling that he wanted the title fight to go to the final round, so Prost had a chance at winning. Senna was notably annoyed at this, especially with his choice of words as per the documentary. It was obvious that Prost would have an advantage, and when the lights went out, the Ferrari jumped ahead into the lead, with Senna not backing down, taking a very aggressive line into turn one. At 170 miles per hour, Prost turned into the corner, with him connecting with his arch-nemesis, putting them both in the gravel, handing the title to Senna.

Prost was so outraged by the champion’s actions, that he told the French press that he was so disgusted, he wasreally considering punching the Brazilian in the face, but couldn’t bring himself to do so, and even had considered retiring after that particular incident. In 1991, Ayrton captured his third title, with Nigel Mansell, now driving for Williams-Renault being his main opposition, with Alain Prost being sacked by Ferrari mid way through the season, for criticising the car. This event then made the Brazilian the youngest three-time world champion in Formula One History, a record we could possibly see broken by one Sebastian Vettel in the years to come.

This was the last time that Ayrton would really be at the top of the tree, when it came to winning and dominating seasons, but there were glimpses of pure brilliance, especially as he won his sixth and final victory at Monaco in 1993, as well as overtaking six cars on the first lap to lead a very wet European GP at Donnington Park, and winning the final race of 1993 in Australia, where it would be the last time anyone would see Ayrton and Alain on the podium for the final time, before the Brazilian’s untimely death at Tamburello. And controversy was never far away, especially with the fisticuffs session between him and young driver Eddie Irvine, who was punched in the face, after a heated discussion

But beyond his racing career, Ayrton was passionate, opinionated and deeply religious, and conveyed this every time he spoke. Including when he openly talked about God in many exerpts from the documentary, which put a lot of doubt among many of his rivals it seems, especially Alain. He also wore his heart on his sleeve, and was very outspoken, and felt it right to do so. This may have trod on a lot of toes, but it was the way he felt, and people should respect the opinions of others, no matter what they think or feel.

Ayrton was also a very charitable individual, with the Instituto Ayrton Senna helping children in poverty-strickenfamilies get the help they needto help build a brighter Brazil, having helped over 11 million so far, ensuring that their future, and the future of generations to come are kept off the streets. He had also quietly donated a large portion of his $400m fortune towards the charity, as well as had instigated the re-formation of what we now know as the GPDA safety organization, which was done on the morning of his death, as Ayrton planned to help improvements in safety in the sport he loved, but also feared.

source: © richlandf1.com