Senna, a man who really cared – published – SuperSport – Motorsport
– 30 April 2014.
Ayrton Senna da Silva: is his legacy to be recalled in statistics
or memories? Numbers on a page or emotions stirred? Sporting
supremacy or rare humanity?
The stories of his on-track talent, the utter determination and
all-consuming passion are well chronicled. Indeed, 161 Grands Prix,
64 pole positions and 87 front row starts reflect all that. To cap
it all off 42 Grands Prix victories and three world titles – in
1988, 1990 and 1991.
His fierce rivalry with McLaren-Honda teammate Alain Prost, concern
for drivers’ safety and the humility that was so visible with
children and ordinary motor racing fans confirm the passion and
personality of a man whose death 20 (now 21) years ago, in 1994,
will be remembered again, and so vividly, on 1 May.
That afternoon, at Imola, capped a tragic, black weekend at the San
Marino Grand Prix, where he started his final race from pole
Saturday’s qualifying had brought the brutal death of Austrian
Roland Ratzenberger, a shock that sent a shudder of apprehension
and misery through an overcrowded paddock.
Friday had seen Senna rush to the bedside of his prot, Rubens
Barrichello, then only 21 and in his second season of Formula One,
after he had survived a massive airborne crash during afternoon
practice. It was the first huge shock. And Sunday delivered more.
But in this anniversary year, as Honda prepare their comeback, it
is Senna the man that many, including this correspondent, will
remember: the smiles, jokes and kindnesses that were a part of his
unique charisma along with the intensity and single-minded passion.
Memory can play tricks on us, but not when so many remember the
same things at the same place.
In a rush at the Hungaroring in 1987, he stopped to answer a
question with a serious frown. In Lotus overalls, he smiled and
then ran on to catch lost time.
Later that year, at Monza, he shuffled shyly in slanting
late-summer sunshine as he stood with Prost at a McLaren
announcement to confirm the formation of a dream team – Prost and
Senna, McLaren and Honda.
In Paris, where the sport’s ruling body celebrated 500 Grands Prix,
he agreed to sign, for my son, a menu printed for the occasion.
‘Joshua? How do you spell that?’ he asked after mistaking the name
for George, more common in English at the time. He duly signed and
And then after another championship season was over, passions
spent, in Adelaide. Inside the David Jones department store,
descending by floors, I walked into a scene to behold – Senna, who
had been at the centre of a stormy season, contemplating a pile of
stacked trunks in the luggage area.
“Hey, you again!’ he grinned. “I don’t always agree with you. But
I respect what you write and your opinion, your view.” A
warm handshake and even warmer smile followed. “So, how is
The memory endorsed the warmth of this man’s heart.
“What are you doing? What do you want all these trunks for?’ he was
To answer, he produced a piece of paper on which was a list of
names and shoe sizes. It was a very long list, including
the identity of at least 75 people who worked for him, in
his organisation to help the poor and underprivileged people of Sao
“I need these big cases,’ he explained. “To pack the shoes for my
people, I come here myself and choose the shoes. They are put
in them and then we send them back to Brazil. Everyone has a
pair chosen by me.”
He smiled again. Not at his own satisfaction, but at the prospect
of delighting a compatriot on the other side of the world.
It was a simple story of Senna’s way of living, an insight into
the man and a memory that has helped construct a lasting legacy of
his individuality. He cared.
And that is why at other times and other places, he was seen to
boil with rage, pour forth with profanities, take risks that
others could not understand or drive with such sublime sensitivity
and speed that he appeared untouchable and unequalled.
Consumed by passion in racing, he embodied that spirit which
the greatest champions have always articulated for motor sport.
Consumed by compassion, in other parts of his life, he is
still remembered by some of us for that most important quality.
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