"And suddenly, I realized that I was no longer driving that car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension." This is just one of the famous quotes by the legendary Ayrton Senna, who left us 25 years ago. He was a different kind of driver, simply out of this world. He would find grip where others couldn't, and could always find a gap to overtake his rivals. Throughout his career, he proved that he was a different driver, not aiming to be 'good', but to be 'the best'.
Just like many other F1 drivers, Senna started his career in carting, and at the age of 21, he moved to Formula 3, where he raced for Van Diemen team with a Formula Ford 1600. His talent really stood out back then, and he even won the Formula 3 Championship in his third season.
Even though he was successful, he didn't believe he would stay in motorsport. But, he proved himself wrong in 1983, when he started testing Formula 1 cars for Williams, McLaren, Brabham and Toleman. Next year, Senna received a contract to join Formula 1. Just before the season, Williams and McLaren didn't have a vacant seat for the young driver, and Brabham's main sponsor (Italian dairy company Parmalat) wanted an Italian driver to drive for Brabham. So, Senna's only choice was to have a go in Toleman.
This was a relatively new team in F1, and were not so fast when compared to others. During his debut at the 1984 Brazilian GP, Senna came in 17th in the qualifications. Unfortunately, during the race, the turbo in his engine blew up, and he was forced to retire.
But during the next race, at the South African GP, he scored his first World Championship point, which he repeated two weeks later at the Belgian GP. That season, he came in 9th in Driver's Championship, scoring two more podiums at the British GP and Portuguese GP.
The most notable race of that season was the Monaco GP. The heavy rain caused the drivers to be careful...except for Senna. He qualified 13th, but drove like a madman during the race. He overtook some serious drivers, such as Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda, René Arnoux, Nigel Mansell and a few others. The only driver he could not overtake was Alain Prost, but that was because the race was stopped on the 31st lap due to bad weather. This was Senna's best performance in his debut season, and by that time, everyone knew his name.
The next year, he raced for Lotus, with a 97T model, which had an output of 1.000 HP. During the 1985 season, he claimed 7 pole positions, but he did not finish many races due to the unreliable engine of his car. But still, that did not stop him to end up 4th in the season's overall standings.
In the next two seasons, Senna remained with Lotus, driving the 98T (in 1986) and 99T (in 1987). His 98T was very similar to his first Lotus (design-wise and engine-wise), and he claimed 8 pole positions with it. During his final season in Lotus, he raced a yellow Camel 99T, which featured a new V6 engine from Honda. This was a turning point for the Brazilian, as he developed a relationship with Honda that helped him get a seat in McLaren.
The 1988 season was just insane. After moving to McLaren, Senna showed that he and his teammate Alain Prost were very similar in terms of driving skills and competitiveness. And so it started-the season of one of the biggest teammate rivalries in F1 history.
This was the time of pure insanity; the best team on the grid and two of the best racing drivers that could not really stand each other on the track. Moreover, this season was great for Senna because he won his first F1 championship, despite Prost scoring more points. Due to unreliability of F1 cars back then, only 11 of the best scores (out of 16) were calculated for the final scoring, making the Frenchman 2nd in the overall standings.
The following year, the duel between the two McLaren drivers was getting more and more intense, but Prost was faster and claimed his 3rd championship, 16 points ahead of Senna. But, in 1990, Prost received an offer from the Prancing Horse, and after years of driving for McLaren, he became a Ferrari driver. At that point, Senna's new teammate was Gerhard Berger. Even though Berger had some talent, he could barely keep up with the mighty Brazilian, and Senna won two more championships in a row (1990 and 1991).
Despite having the best cars on the grid, McLaren was facing huge competition the following years. Benetton signed a deal with a future legend himself Michael Schumacher and Williams presented a new car with active suspension, which allowed their cars to corner better. Unfortunately, McLaren's cars were unreliable and kept Senna away from winning more championships.
In 1994, Senna signed a contract to be a Williams driver, which was amazing for him since Williams was the fastest team at the time. But, even before the season started, Senna felt that something was wrong. He wasn't happy with the new Williams car, as he once stated: "It's going to be a season with lots of accidents, and I'll risk saying that we'll be lucky if something really serious doesn't happen".
This is probably because rules changed for the 1994 season, as FIA banned traction control and ABS. The Williams FW16 was still fast, but Senna experienced certain discomfort in it, saying: "I have a very negative feeling about driving the car and driving it on the limit and so on ... Some of that is down to the lack of electronic change. Also, the car has its own characteristics which I'm not fully confident in yet."
In the first two races, he didn't score any points. That meant that Senna's time would begin at the third race-the San Marino Grand Prix. The race weekend started tragically. On the Friday session, Rubens Barrichello had a huge accident and suffered a broken arm. The following day, a rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger lost its front spoiler and crashed into a concrete wall at 310 kph. He died instantly.
During the race day, Senna was in the lead. The safety car went out due to a crash at the start of the race. When the safety car pulled away, the Brazilian set the fastest time on the 6th lap. Unfortunately, on the 7th lap, everything went wrong. While entering the Tamburello corner at over 300 kph, Senna's Williams went off the racing line and hit a concrete wall at around 230 kph.
Despite a medical team arriving at the scene of the crash, there was nothing that they could do. He suffered significant blood loss and fatal skull fracture. According to the doctors, he died the moment he hit the wall.
It was later announced that Senna had an Austrian flag in his car, and he wanted to raise it in honor of Roland Ratzenberger. In 2007, an Italian court found that the accident was a result of a poorly designed steering column.
Over 3 million people came out on the streets of Sao Paolo to say goodbye to their hero and Brazil declared a 3-day mourning. I believe that I'm not wrong when I say that many F1 fans still haven't gotten over the death of this driving god.
Now, this tragedy is a part of F1 history. This is a story of a man who was from a different dimension and had only one goal in sight-to win.
Ayrton Senna. Gone, but never forgotten.