Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Sky had added a new sports channel dedicated to Formula 1 racing and which in advance of the new season is showing wall to wall programmes on the shirt of the sport, covering seasons, famous races and drivers and the cars. It was therefore fitting that to mark the event Sky is also showing the midsummer 2011 documentary film on the life of Ayrton Senna the Brazilian racing driver who was killed on track in May 1994 aged 34 years. This is a film which merits being seen by all sports fans and indeed by those who may not be interested in motor racing or professional sports.

Senna was open about the fact that he came from a privileged background with his Italian background parents owning land and factories and resulted in establishing a genuine concern for the less fortunate, especially the education of children which continues to this day through his sister.

At the age of 21 he came to England to race in Go Karts which had been his love from an early age and has become the standards way for young drivers to learn their art. His stay was short lived because of pressure to work in the family business. Before returning home he was offered a contract to race Formula 3 cars and won the Formula Ford Championships in 1982 and then won the Formula championships in 1983. In 1984 he tested for a Formula 1 drive with a number of teams and commenced with a comparatively new team of Toleman and he amazed everyone coming second in the Monte Carol Grand Prix because of his skill in wet weather conditions having commenced 13th on the grid. He achieved two podium finishes and came 13th in the driving table at the end of the season. It was a performance bringing him to attention of major teams.

It is important that this is in the era before the use of technical wizardry both in the preparation and running of cars and in communication between the driver and the team regarding vehicle performance, race positioning and tactics. It was the skill of the driver in learning and driving the car which won races.

He moved to Lotus for the 1985 season and again in wet conditions he won his first race in The Portuguese Grand Prix, the second race of the season. He won again in Belgium also in the wet and this was followed by finishing 4th in the table a position is also held the following season with 55 points improving to third with 57 points the following season. He had become a recognised top rank driver but not yet in the frame for the world championship.

With the approval of World Champion Alain Prost he moved to the second car for McLaren Team but the good relationship was short lived and quickly developed into one of the fiercest rivalries there has been in motor sport. They won between them all but one of the sixteen races in 1988 with Ayrton winning his first World Championship, just. The rivalry commenced when Prost accused Senna of forcing him out of the lead as they approached the first corner at the start of a race.

Relations became strained to breaking point the following season when Senna needed to win a race for the championship and the cars touched and Prost crashed. Senna was forced into an escape lane but was able to continue and win the race. However Prost immediately complained to the Race Stewards after the incident and this led to the disqualification of Senna. There was a bad odour about the decision because was known to have a close relationship with the then head of Formula 1 Race who was also a Frenchman. Prost joined Ferrari for the following season.

There was a further confrontation towards the end of the following season also at the Japanese Grand Prix which was the location of the first clash. What happened is that Senna arranged with the race official that should he finish in pole position they would change the pole position because the nature of the track gave advantage to the second vehicle. The president intervened reversing the decision so Senna had charged holding the preferred line with Prost refusing to give way again crashing and was so incensed that he considered giving up racing. The outcome is that Senna won and took the championship and then again the following year, the year in which he also won the Brazilian race this turning him into the famous Brazilian of the decade and a legend since his premature death.

The problems commenced in 1992 because his car was outclassed by the new electronics used by the Williams Team result in a fourth position in the championship. Because of the reactions to the growing use of electronics the governing body made changes in 1994 after the cars had been redesigned. The impact was that they became unstable and Senna was one of several drivers who forecast there would be disasters.

His team mate Barrichello suffered a broken nose and arm after crashing in to the barrier. The Austrian driver Roland Rozenberger in his first season was killed outright after crashing into a concrete wall at maximum speed. It was then Senna turn to be involved in a major accident and there was devastating bad luck because he was uninjured except that the right suspension frame was sent stabbing back into the cockpit with a piece penetrating his helmet and causing fatal skull fracture.

Given the acclaim he had received in Brazil the death shocked the nation who saw in their young hero hope that the country would rise from its political problems and the poverty. There was three days of national morning. Some three million people descended on his home town for the funeral the largest recorded group of assembled mourners in recent times. Among the pall bearers were Alain Prost and Britain’s Damon Hill. For the next race the first two positions were empty painted with the Brazilian and Austrian Flag. Legal preceding followed the accident for years with McLaren investigated re possible manslaughter the more positive impact is that major changes were made to the cars and to the tracks to reduce the possibility of further fatalities.

Sienna was a devout catholic reading the Bible and able to quote from it and his beliefs led to development an extraordinary concern for the welfare of children in his homeland and to devoting the greater part of his personal fortune to their education and general help. When he first became famous is donated to those requested his help and personal appearance but he decided something more substantial was required any by the time of his death he had established what became the Instituto Ayrton Senna and managed by his sister with the advice of Bernie Eccleston Frank William Alain Prost and Gerhard Berger investing some $80 million in various ventures and which has led to the education over 100000 children. His spirit and endeavour therefore lives on in his homeland.

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