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Had he been alive, he would have been 60 today, but even so, in his 10-year long Formula 1 career we got to witness talent like the world had never seen before
Ayrton Senna was arguably one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time. He was more fearless than anyone, he could take the car to its limits and beyond and he was a ruthless racer. Yet, off the track he was as compassionate as anyone. Senna had a signature move where he would place the car in such a way that if you turned in, you would crash into him and if you didn’t then he would take the position. His true talent was shown off in the rain though, while all drivers would be tip-toeing around to find grip, Senna would go guns blazing with a sixth sense for where the grip was, it was and still is magical to see. Here are five of his best moments of pure racing skill.
The fact is that Senna didn’t need to be racing in a Mclaren to show his talent. In the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix when he was a rookie racing in the uncompetitive Toleman, the rain came pouring down and Senna who was running thirteenth passed every single person in front of him except Alain Prost. He was catching Prost at four seconds a lap, but missed out on the win after the race was red flagged due to the terrible conditions. It was the first time the world actually witnessed how special Senna was.
After switching to a more competitive Lotus, he took his first victory in typical fashion. With the rain pouring down in Estoril, Senna managed to win by a gap of over a minute and he lapped every single person except the one in second place. It was only his second Grand Prix for Lotus and his 17th ever! “There were 20-odd exceptional talents out there that you could say failed miserably on that day -- and he didn’t. He brought it home convincingly,” said his race engineer, Steve Hallam.
In Japan in 1988, Senna was competing with teammate and arch rival Alain Prost for the championship. If Senna won the race, he would win the championship. Easy. Senna was on pole, Prost started second but Senna stalled his car at the start. He dropped to 14th place but clawed back up the ladder. Soon there was rain coming down on some parts of the circuit, coupled with Prost’s gearbox issues, Senna was catching him rapidly. Senna overtook Prost after a dogfight around the 30th lap and started lapping faster and faster after doing so. He managed to win by a lead of over 13 seconds, clinched the world championship title and got the lap record on the way too.
Despite his immense success in Formula 1, Ayrton had never won the Brazilian Grand Prix. Brazil was extremely dear to him, he would donate a lot of money to charity, his foundation still does, he was and still is a hero there. In 1991, Senna had his best chance yet. He was leading and there were just two laps left but then his gearbox failed, leaving him stuck in sixth gear. To add to his misery, the rain came down. Riccardo Patrese in second place was catching him fast, but Senna kept his head down and took the win. The team radio after the race is one filled with pure unfiltered ecstacy. He was so exhausted that he actually had to be lifted out of his car and supported all the way to the podium where he was barely able to lift the trophy! It is one of the all time great stories of perseverance and the never say die attitude that Ayrton was known for.
Donnington Park, 1993. Regarded by many as the single greatest lap in the history of Formula 1. Ayrton started the wet race in fourth and dropped to fifth after a poor start but by the third corner he was in his stride. Schooling Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Karl Wendlinger before taking the lead from Alain Prost, all this in half a lap! He overtook them on the outside, the inside, it did not matter to Ayrton what the conditions were. It was an absolutely manic race with ever changing conditions, Senna managed to win by a lead of over a minute after having made four pitstops! A lesser known fact is that Senna set the fastest lap of the race when he came into the pit lane but ended up not pitting, Donnington had an unusual layout where the pit lane was actually a shortcut, even with the speed limit.
Ayrton Senna died due to injuries sustained at the 1994 Italian Grand Prix at Imola. His car veered of at the Tamburello corner and went into the barriers, ultimately no one knows what caused it. We do know that he gave us some of the best moments of racing action and it is needless to say how hard it is to pick five of the best. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the documentary on him, or you can just binge watch one of his many great moments on YouTube. Once again, happy birthday, Ayrton.