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Ayrton Senna and Gilles Villeneuve
Senna Biography
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I first saw Ayrton Senna on a rainy Sunday afternoon in 1987. I was nearly 5 years old and was immediately interested in him. I became a Senna fan that day, and I still am.

Ayrton was born Ayrton Senna da Silva on 21st March 1960 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His father Milton was a wealthy industrialist who gave Ayrton his first kart when he was 4 years old. Although he encouraged his son to race, Milton didn't give him any help on the money side, causing Ayrton to get some sponsorship.
 
Ayrton won his first kart race at the age of 8, first time out! He went on to become South American kart champion twice, but missed out on the world championship. In 1981, Ayrton moved to Great Britain to race in FF1600, which he completely dominated. In 1981, he also won the FF2000 championship as easily, but couldn't find the support he needed to continue racing, so went home to Brazil to work on the family ranch. Encouraged by his parents, Ayrton came back in 1982, even more determined to succeed, and again dominated the FF2000 championship, this time gaining sponsorship from a Brazilian bank, Nacional, who would sponsor him for the rest of his career.
 
In 1983, Senna moved up to F3, and broke all the records by taking 9 straight wins at the start of the season before his great rival, Martin Brundle responded with a series of wins in mid season. There were one or two contentious moments between the two, most famously at Snetterton, where Brundle tried to pass, Senna refused to budge and the two crashed. Senna recovered to take the F3 championship in the final round. Around the same time there was a celebrity race at the Nurburgring in Germany which he entered. Among those present were Juan Manuel Fangio (who Ayrton greatly admired) Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart and Emerson Fittipaldi. Amazingly, Senna beat them all which got him a lot of good press and interest. The big time was now at the doorstep, and Ayrton tested a Williams F1 car at Donington Park, along with other tests for McLaren, Toleman and Brabham. Senna signed for Toleman (now the Renault F1 team) for 1984.

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Although the Toleman wasn't the most competitive car ever built, it was good enough for Ayrton to show his amazing ability behind the wheel. He very nearly won the wet Monaco Grand Prix, and took podium places at Brands Hatch and Estoril. Before the 1984 Italian Grand Prix, Senna secretly signed for Lotus for 1985.

The Lotus 97T was the best car Lotus had produced since 1978, and Senna arrived at the right time. He took his first pole position in Portugal, the second race. On race day there was torrential rain, and Senna simply blew everyone else away to take his first win by more than a minute! He won again in Belgium later in the year, and finished the season with 38 points. In 1986, Senna won two more Grands Prix, in Spain (in one of the closest finishes in history, just beating Nigel Mansell) and Detroit, but Lotus were starting to fall behind in the technology race.

John Player Special was replaced by Camel as Lotus' main sponsor in 1987, and with it came Honda turbo engines. Senna hoped the most powerful engine in F1 would give him a chance at the title, and early season form seemed to back his opinions, but as the season wore on, Williams with Piquet and Mansell began to dominate, leaving Senna a frustrated third at the end of the season. Senna, fed up with the on-off competitiveness of the Lotus team signed for McLaren for 1988, taking the Honda engines with him.

 

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At a Glance

DoB: 21/3/60

Star Sign: Aries

Height: 5'9''

Wins: 41

Pole Positions: 65

Fastest laps: 20

Points: 620 (includes points lost from 'best finishes out of so many race seasons')

Teams: Toleman, Lotus, McLaren, Williams

 

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McLaren was at the time considered Alain Prost's team. The Frenchman had won championships in 1985 and 1986 for the team, and was known for his wily, intelligent driving. Senna joined and it soon became obvious that the two men were fiercely competitive. The Mclaren MP4/4 was so superior to anything else on the grid that 1988 turned into a private battle for the championship. Prost took the win in the first race while Senna was disqualified for changing cars after the race had started. Senna responded by winning the next race, and taking pole at Monaco. His pole lap was a stunning 1.5 seconds faster than Prost in the same car! Senna himself felt he was having 'an out of body experience' when driving the lap. Senna was famously leading the race with a few laps left, when he mysteriously crashed on the corner into the tunnel. He was so upset with himself that he hid himself in his apartment until hours after the race had finished.

Senna won 8 races in 1988, San Marino, America, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium and Japan to win his first world championship. He could have won a 9th race at Monza, but was knocked out of the race 2 laps from the end by Jean-Louis Schlesser, who was making a one-off appearance for Williams.

Senna and Prost had developed a bitter rivalry during 1988, and it became so bad that in 1989, Prost won the championship by taking Senna out of the Japanese race. Senna had won 6 races, but had had poor reliablity. Prost had the better finishing record and more podium finishes, but had only 4 wins. Prost accused Mclaren of favouring Senna and Senna suspected Prost was secretly getting Honda to undermine his engine reliability before he moved to Ferrari for 1990. Ayrton also suspected that Jean Marie Balestre, head of the FIA wanted Prost to win as he was a Frenchman. Senna was NOT amused......

So, with Senna at McLaren and Prost at Ferrari there was a titanic battle for the 1990 championship, Prost won five races while Senna won six. Senna again had some reliability problems in the mid-season, giving Prost a chance to close the points gap, but Mclaren turned the situation around before Prost could get ahead in the championship. In Japan, the world title was up for grabs between the two, but Senna wasted no time in winning the championship by ramming Prost off the track at the first corner as revenge for 1989.

Senna's new team mate, Gerhard Berger became Senna's best friend and the two drivers inflicted all kinds of torture on each other. Ayrton had a carbon fibre briefcase, Gerhard tested it's indestructibilty by throwing it out of the helicopter they were travelling in! Senna responded by putting frogs in Berger's hotel room. Berger then put butter in Senna's best shoes, causing Senna to turn up in trainers for a sponsor's function. Senna then got hold of Berger's wallet and superglued all of his credit cards together. Senna said he rarely watched TV as he felt it would damage his eyes. He did however enjoy watching Arnold Schwarzenegger films and Star Trek. He enjoyed all kinds of music from classical to rock, particularly liking Queen, Tina Turner and Status Quo.

1991 was the season that Ayrton won his third and last title. Williams now had Mansell driving for them again, after two years with Ferrari, and had developed the most sophisticated F1 car ever. Senna managed to hold off Mansell for the championship, along the way winning his first Brazilian Grand Prix. Ayrton really had to fight for the win though, as the car was jammed in 6th gear and with rain falling, he was losing time to Patrese every lap.

Ayrton won 7 races to clinch the championship, but in 1992, McLaren were off the pace with it's new car and Senna did what he could. He did hold off Mansell to win a thrilling Monaco Grand Prix and helped McLaren finish second in the constructors' championship, but at the end of 1992, Honda pulled out of F1 leaving McLaren with Ford V8 engines for 1993. For Senna this was made even worse by the fact that Prost was back in Mansell's place at Williams, out for his fourth world championship.

Prost won in South Africa, but spun off in Brazil in a sudden rainstorm where Senna took the win, then came Donington, and Senna's greatest ever drive. The race was wet and dry and Senna, having qualified fourth was swamped at the first corner, but then he simply swept past Schumacher, Wendlinger, Hill and then Prost at the final corner of the first lap. Prost lost the plot completely and was lapped on his way to third, while Ayrton totally dominated and won by a lap from Hill! It was his most memorable, and probably his best win of all. Prost went on to take the championship in '93, but Senna ran him close, taking five wins. The MP4/8 although having a tiny Ford V8 customer engine, was a very nimble and reliable car. He also tested an Indycar for Penske, and was on the pace of the front running drivers!

Prost announced his retirement at the end of '93 and Senna signed for Williams in his place for 1994. There was also an offer from Ferrari for '94 that Senna seriously considered. In hindsight Senna should have taken the Ferrari offer.

There had been a number of rule changes for 1994, including the banning of driver aids and re-introdution of refuelling stops. Ayrton felt that they placed unnecessary danger on drivers and pit crews. The Williams FW16 was a tricky car with a tendancy to oversteer, and neither Hill or Senna could get a handle on it. Ayrton muscled it to two pole positions, but retired from both races while Schumacher took advantage and won .

As the teams gathered for the San Marino Grand Prix, Ayrton was definately on the backfoot. He suspected the Bennetton Schumacher was driving was not legal (this was proved correct later in the season when banned software covering traction and launch control was discovered by the FIA.) and he was shaken by the nasty crash Rubens Barrichello had in Friday qualifying. Worse was to come. On Saturday, the Austrian Roland Ratzenberger, driving only his second race for Simtek had a fatal accident. There had not been a death in F1 for 12 years, and there were major concerns for the race on Sunday. Senna qualified on pole, but the race was restarted after a crash which caused wreckage to go into the crowd. Then on lap 7, Senna, who was leading smashed into the wall at Tamburello at 180mph. Later that day he died, and F1 lost it's greatest driver. The cause of the crash has never clearly been known. Some people think the steering column snapped, while other think that the tyre pressures were not high enough.

Since Ayrton died, his reputation has grown and he is now considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest driver who ever took part. F1 at the moment is an all Ferrari and Schumacher affair, and while I'm a big fan of both, F1 has never been the same since Senna died.

Ayrton was deeply religious, friendly, approchable and good humoured. He was single minded about winning, ruthless on track, and was loved by his fans but respected by his critics. He did a lot of work for charity, even setting up his own charity to help under priveleged people in Brazil called the Ayrton Senna Foundation, which is still ongoing, being run by his brother. To me, Senna was THE greatest, and I think those that were able to see him race are very lucky, as there will only be 1 Ayrton Senna. ''In life unbeatable, in death irriplaceable.''

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