Remembering the greatest Formula One driver of all time
Ayrton Senna was the sport’s most thrilling drawcard
On paper, Ayrton Senna is not the greatest Formula One driver in history.
In fact, he would be fourth behind Michael Schumacher (seven championships), Juan Michael Fangio (five), Alain Prost, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel (all with four championships each). With his three championships, the Brazilian is tied with four other drivers.
So, according to the stats, he wouldn’t be hugely important to the sport or even all that memorable (not that winning a championship is something to scoff at). But in reality he was and continues to be one of the most revered (and controversial) drivers in the sport’s history. As an ESPN article noted: “Senna could divide opinion as a man, but unite it as a driver.”
Monday was the 24th anniversary of Senna’s death. He was the last driver to die on the track during a Formula One race (during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix), and his tragic crash resulted in F1 safety standards improving drastically.Senna was known for his fiery and aggressive driving style, his absolute genius behind the wheel in the rain (he was also known as The Rainman), his fierce overtaking, and his agility.
His record of six wins at the Monaco Grand Prix saw him nicknamed the King of Monaco and the record still stands. No one could navigate the famous curves of the track better than Senna – it’s thrilling and scary to watch just how fast and agile he was. Watch this short video for evidence:McLaren’s refusal to have a number one-number two-driver policy (like Ferrari did in the Schumacher-Barrichello days) saw Senna clash intensely and regularly with French teammate Prost, himself an iconic driver. Prost and Senna had such a bitter rivalry and were both so extremely competitive that they crashed into each other during races a number of times. Prost once called Senna “a man without value”. The drivers clashed so often that Prost’s contract forbade any team he was in from signing Senna at the same time he was signed.
One of Senna’s most famous quotes summed up his driving philosophy: “Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose.”Off the track, Senna often challenged the FIA (the international motorsport governing body) over many things, including the safety standards of the sport. On the day of his death, he had held a meeting with other drivers about safety concerns after the death of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger and the serious crash of Senna’s protégé, Barrichello.
He’s an idol to many an F1 driver (including reigning champ Lewis Hamilton, whose helmet is inspired by Senna’s famous yellow, black and green helmet). He was also revered by his countrymen and an estimated three million people lined the streets of Sao Paulo during his funeral procession. Prost and Senna reconciled before the latter’s death, and Prost was one of the pallbearers at Senna’s funeral.In 2010, Senna was the subject of an award-winning documentary by Asif Kapadia titled Senna. Kapadia is the same director who made the heartbreaking and definitive Amy Winehouse doccie Amy (2015). You don’t need to be an F1 fan to enjoy the Senna film. If you enjoy skillfully told and well-researched biographical documentaries, this is one to add to your list.Senna and Prost represented the last days of Formula One as a dangerous sport. Since then, the sport has become a bit less about a driver’s capabilities and more about the technology that assists them during a race.
This isn’t to say skill isn’t required to be in the top tier of motorsport today – that’s hardly the truth – but it’s just not as thrilling to watch.
Long live Senna.