- Category : Racing Driver
- Type : GE
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Vessel of Love 1
Ayrton Senna da Silva (21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994) was a Brazilian racing driver who won three Formula One world championships. He was killed in an accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. He remains the last driver fatality in Formula One.
Senna began his motorsport career in karting, moving up to open-wheel racing in 1981, and winning the British Formula 3 championship in 1983. He made his Formula One debut with Toleman-Hart in 1984 before moving to Lotus-Renault the following year and winning six Grands Prix over the next three seasons. In 1988, he joined Frenchman Alain Prost at McLaren-Honda. Between them, they won all but one of the 16 Grands Prix that year and Senna claimed his first World Championship. Prost claimed the championship in 1989, and Senna his second and third championships in 1990 and 1991. In 1992, the Williams-Renault combination began to dominate Formula One. Senna nonetheless managed to finish the 1993 season as runner-up, winning five races and negotiating a move to Williams in 1994.
Senna has often been voted as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time in various motorsport polls. He was recognised for his qualifying speed over one lap and from 1989 until 2006 held the record for most pole positions. He was also acclaimed for his wet weather performances, such as the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, and the 1993 European Grand Prix. He holds a record six victories at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, and is the third most successful driver of all time in terms of race wins. Senna courted controversy throughout his career, particularly during his turbulent rivalry with Alain Prost. Both the 1989 Championship won by Prost and the 1990 Championship won by Senna were decided by collisions between the pair at those years' Japanese Grands Prix.
Early life and career
Senna was born in the Pro-Matre Maternity Hospital of Santana, a neighbourhood of São Paulo city. The middle child of wealthy Brazilian landowner and factory owner Milton da Silva and his wife Neide Senna da Silva (whose family is of Italian lineage), he had an older sister, Viviane and a younger brother, Leonardo.
The house where Senna spent the first four years of his life belonged to João Senna, Neide's father, and was located on the corner of Av Aviator Gilherme with Gil Santos Dumont Avenue, less than 100 meters from Field Mars, a large area where they operated the Aeronautics Material park and an airport. He was highly athletic, excelling in gymnastics and other sports, and developed an interest in cars and motor racing at the age of four. Senna also suffered from poor motor coordination and had trouble walking up or climbing stairways by the age of three. An electroencephalogram found that Senna was not suffering from any problems. His parents gave Senna the nickname "Beco". At the age of seven, Senna first learned to drive a Jeep around his family's farm and gained the advantage of changing gears without the use of a clutch.
Senna attended Colegio Rio Branco in the São Paulo neighbourhood of Jardins and graduated in 1977 with a grade 5 in physics along with other grades in Mathematics, Chemistry and English. He later enrolled in a college that specialised in Business Administration but dropped out after three months. Overall, his grades amounted up to 68%.
Senna's first kart was a small 1 HP go-kart, built by his father using a lawnmower engine. Senna started racing karts at Interlagos and entered a karting competition at the age of 13. He started his first race on pole position. Senna faced rivals who were some years older than him but managed to lead most of the race before retiring from a collision with a rival. His father supported his son and Senna was soon managed by Lucio Pascal Gascon. Senna won South American Kart Championship in 1977. He contested the Karting World Championship each year from 1978 to 1982, finishing runner-up in 1979 and 1980. He was the team-mate of Terry Fullerton in 1978, who Senna later felt was the rival he got the most satisfaction from racing against.
In 1981, Senna moved to England to begin single-seater racing, winning the RAC and Townsend-Thoreson Formula Ford 1600 Championships that year with the Van Diemen team. Despite this, Senna initially did not believe he would continue in motorsport. At the end of the season, under pressure from his parents to take up a role in the family business, Senna announced his retirement from Formula Ford and returned to Brazil. Before leaving England, however, Senna was offered a drive with a Formula Ford 2000 team for £10,000. Back in Brazil, he decided to take up this offer and returned to live in England. As Silva is a very common Brazilian name, he adopted his mother's maiden name, Senna. Senna went on to win the 1982 British and European Formula Ford 2000 championships under that surname. For that season, Senna arrived with sponsorship from Banerj and Pool.
In 1983, Senna drove in the British Formula Three Championship with the West Surrey Racing team. He dominated the first half of the season until Martin Brundle, driving a similar car for Eddie Jordan Racing, closed the gap in the second part of the championship. Senna won the title at the final round after a closely fought and, at times, acrimonious battle. In November that year, he triumphed at the inaugural Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix with Teddy Yip's Toyota powered Theodore Racing Team.
Formula One career
Senna tested for Formula One teams Williams, McLaren, Brabham and Toleman. Peter Warr of Lotus, Ron Dennis of McLaren, and Bernie Ecclestone of Brabham made offers for testing in 1984 and presented long-term contracts that tied Senna to driving later on. At his test for Williams at Donington Park, Senna completed 40 laps and was quicker than the other drivers including Keke Rosberg. Neither Williams nor McLaren had a vacancy for the 1984 season. Warr actually wanted to replace Nigel Mansell with Senna at Lotus, but the title sponsor, Imperial Tobacco, wanted a British driver. Senna, however, was determined to drive that season and certainly on his own terms. Senna's test for Brabham occurred at Paul Ricard in November 1983 and he set lap times two seconds slower than the team's lead driver, Nelson Piquet who gave Senna the nickname "the São Paulo taxi driver". Senna impressed the Brabham team and was linked to their second seat, but Piquet convinced the main sponsor Parmalat to sign Roberto Moreno. Consequently, he joined Toleman, a relatively new team, using less competitive Pirelli tyres. Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto was his team mate. During 1984, Senna hired Nuno Cobra to assess his physical condition. Senna had been worried about his condition due to low weight.
Senna made his debut at the Brazilian Grand Prix in Rio de Janeiro. He scored his first World Championship point in his second race at the South African Grand Prix with severe muscle spasms, replicating that result two weeks later at the Belgian Grand Prix. A combination of tyre issues and a fuel pressure problem resulted in his failure to qualify for the San Marino Grand Prix, the only time this happened during his career. Senna's best result of the season came at the Monaco Grand Prix, the first wet weather race of the season. Qualifying 13th on the grid, he made steady progress in climbing through the field, passing Niki Lauda for second on lap 19. He quickly began to cut the gap to race leader Alain Prost, but before he could attack Prost the race was stopped on lap 31 for safety reasons, as the rain had grown even heavier. At the time the race was stopped Senna was catching Prost at 4 seconds per lap. Senna passed Prost when Prost stopped in front of the red flag, before the end of the 32nd lap. According to the rules, the positions counted were those from the last lap completed by every driver, lap 31, at which point Prost was still leading. Senna's second place was his first podium in Formula One.
Still in 1984, Senna took two more podium finishes that year—third at the British and Portuguese Grands Prix—and placed 9th in the Drivers Championship with 13 points overall. He did not take part in the Italian Grand Prix after he was suspended by Toleman for being in breach of his contract by signing for Lotus for 1985 without informing the Toleman team first.
Senna also raced in two high-profile non-Formula One races in 1984: The ADAC 1000 km Nürburgring where, alongside Henri Pescarolo and Stefan Johansson, he co-drove a Joest Racing Porsche 956 to finish 8th, as well as an exhibition race to celebrate the opening of the new Nürburgring, which was attended by several Formula 1 drivers, each driving identical Mercedes 190E 2.3–16. Senna won from Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann. After the race Senna was quoted as saying, "Now I know I can do it."
Senna was partnered in his first year at Lotus-Renault by Italian driver Elio de Angelis. At the second round of the season, the Portuguese Grand Prix, Senna took the first pole position of his Formula 1 career. He converted it into his first victory in the race, which was held in very wet conditions, winning by over a minute from Michele Alboreto. He would not finish in the points again until coming second at the Austrian Grand Prix, despite taking pole three more times in the intervening period. (His determination to take pole at the Monaco Grand Prix had infuriated Alboreto and Niki Lauda; Senna had set a fast time early and was accused of deliberately baulking the other drivers by running more laps than necessary, a charge he rejected.) Two more podiums followed in the Netherlands and Italy, before Senna added his second victory, again in wet conditions, at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Senna's relationship with De Angelis soured over the season, as both drivers demanded top driver status within Lotus and, after spending six years at the team, De Angelis departed for Brabham at the end of the year, convinced that Lotus were becoming focused around the Brazilian. Senna and De Angelis finished the season 4th and 5th respectively in the driver rankings, separated by five points in the quick but unreliable 97T. In terms of qualifying, however, Senna had begun to establish himself as the quickest in the field: his tally of seven poles that season was far more than that of any of the other drivers.
De Angelis was replaced at Lotus by Scot Johnny Dumfries after Senna vetoed Derek Warwick from joining the team, saying that Lotus were not able to run competitive cars for two top drivers at the same time. Senna later admitted "It was bad, bad. Until then I had a good relationship with Derek." Senna started the season well, coming second in Brazil and winning the Spanish Grand Prix by just 0.014s from Nigel Mansell—one of the closest finishes in Formula One history—to find himself leading the World Championship after two races. However, poor reliability, particularly in the second half of the season, saw him drift behind the Williams pairing of Mansell and Piquet, as well as eventual champion, Alain Prost. Nonetheless, Senna was once more the top qualifier, with eight poles, and he took a further six podium finishes that season, including another victory at the Detroit Grand Prix, and finished the season fourth in the driver's standings again, with 55 points.
After winning the Detroit Grand Prix, two days after Brazil was eliminated from the 1986 FIFA World Cup, Senna asked a supporter for the Brazilian flag and drove one lap waving the flag. Thereafter, he repeated this ritual every time he won a race. Senna also had a brief foray into rallying where he tried out a Vauxhall Nova, a Austin Rover Metro 6R4, a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and a Ford Escort on a stretch of land closed to the public.
Lotus had a new engine deal in 1987, running the same Honda engines as Williams had used to win the previous year's Constructors' Championship, and with them came a new team-mate, 34-year-old Japanese driver, Satoru Nakajima. The team guaranteed Senna contractually preferential treatment over Nakajima in the allocation of equipment. Senna started the season with mixed fortunes: a podium at the San Marino Grand Prix was tempered by controversy at the following race at Spa-Francorchamps, where he collided with Mansell and was confronted by the angered Englishman in the pits afterwards. Senna then won two races in a row: the ensuing Monaco Grand Prix (the first of his record six victories at the Principality) and the Detroit Grand Prix, his second victory in two years at the Michigan street circuit, to take the lead in the World Championship. As the championship wore on however, it became evident that the Williams cars had the advantage over the rest of the field, the gap between the Honda-engined teams made most obvious at the British Grand Prix, where Mansell and Piquet lapped the Lotuses of Senna and Nakajima. Senna became dissatisfied with his chances at Lotus and at Monza it was announced that he would be joining McLaren for 1988. Senna finished the season strongly, coming second in the final two races in Japan and Australia, however post-race scrutineering at the final race found the brake ducts of his Lotus to be wider than permitted by the rules and he was disqualified, bringing his last and most successful season with Lotus to a sour end. Senna was classified third in the final standings, with 57 points, one pole position and six podium finishes. This season marked a turning point in Senna's career as, throughout the year, he built a deep relationship with Honda, one which would pay big dividends, as McLaren had secured Williams' supply of Honda's V6 turbo engines for 1988.
In 1988, thanks to the relationship he had built up with Honda throughout the 1987 season with Lotus, and with the approval of McLaren's number one driver and then-double world champion, Alain Prost, Senna joined the McLaren team. The foundation for a fierce competition between Senna and Prost was laid, culminating in a number of dramatic race incidents between the two over the next five years. One notable incident of the year was at the Monaco Grand Prix where Senna outqualified Prost by 1.4 seconds and led for most of the race before crashing on lap 67. Instead of returning to the pitlane, Senna went back to his apartment. At the 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix, Prost made a slightly faster start than Senna but the Brazilian dived into the first corner ahead. Prost responded and went to pass Senna at the end of the first lap. Senna swerved to block Prost, forcing the Frenchman to nearly run into the pitwall at 290 km/h (180 mph). Prost kept his foot down and soon edged Senna into the first corner and started pulling away. Though Prost was angered by Senna's manoeuvre, the Brazilian got away with a warning from the FIA. Senna would later apologize to Prost for the incident. Ultimately, the pair won 15 of 16 races in the McLaren MP4/4 in 1988 with Senna coming out on top, winning his first Formula One world championship title by taking eight wins to Prost's seven. Prost scored more points over the season, but had to drop three second places as only the 11 best scores counted.
The following year, the rivalry between Senna and Prost intensified into numerous battles on the track and a psychological war off it. Tension and mistrust between the two drivers increased when Senna overtook Prost at the restart of the San Marino Grand Prix, a move which Prost claimed violated a pre-race agreement. Senna took an early lead in the championship with victories in San Marino, Monaco, and Mexico. Senna also achieved the feat of leading every lap of those races which was not equalled until Sebastian Vettel in 2012. Senna also managed to win in Germany, Belgium and Spain. However, unreliability in Phoenix, Canada, France, Britain and Italy, together with collisions in Brazil and Portugal, swung the title in Prost's favour.
Prost took the 1989 world title after a collision with Senna at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan, the penultimate race of the season, which Senna needed to win to remain in contention for the title. Senna had attempted an inside pass on Prost who turned into the corner and cut him off, with the two McLarens finishing up with their wheels interlocked in the Suzuka chicane escape road. Senna then got a push-start from marshals, pitted to replace the damaged nose of his car, and rejoined the race. He took the lead from the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini and went on to claim victory, only to be disqualified by the FIA at the insistence of Prost who ran into the race marshals' office after seeing Senna rejoin the race. Senna was disqualfied for cutting the chicane after the collision with Prost and for crossing into the pit lane entry which was not part of the track. A large fine and temporary suspension of his Super License followed in the winter of 1989, and an irate Senna engaged in a bitter war of words with the FIA and its then President Jean-Marie Balestre. Senna finished the season second with six wins and one second place. Prost left McLaren for rivals Ferrari for the following year.
In 1990, Senna took a commanding lead in the championship with six wins, two second places and three thirds. Among his victories were the opening round in Phoenix, in which he diced for the lead for several laps with a then-unknown Jean Alesi before coming out on top, and in Germany where he fought Benetton driver Alessandro Nannini throughout the race for the win. As the season reached its final quarter however, Alain Prost in his Ferrari rose to the challenge with five wins, including a crucial victory in Spain where he and teammate Nigel Mansell finished 1–2 for the Scuderia. Senna had gone out with a damaged radiator and the gap between Senna and Prost was now reduced to 11 points with two races remaining.
At the penultimate round of the Championship in Japan at Suzuka, where Senna and Prost collided the previous year, Senna took pole ahead of Prost. Before qualifying Senna had sought assurances from the organizers to move pole position onto the clean side of the racetrack. After qualifying FIA president Balestre denied Senna's request, leaving Senna to start on the dirty side and Prost on the clean side. At the start Prost pulled ahead of Senna, who immediately tried to re-pass Prost at the first corner. Prost turned in and the cars collided at 270 km/h (170 mph) and spun out of the race, making Senna world champion.
A year later, after taking his third world championship, Senna explained to the press his actions of the previous year in Suzuka. He maintained that prior to qualifying fastest, he had sought and received assurances from race officials that pole position would be changed to the left-hand, clean side of the track, only to find this decision reversed by Jean-Marie Balestre after he had taken pole. Senna said that he was not going to accept what he saw as unfair decision-making by Balestre, including his 1989 disqualification and the incorrect pole position in 1990. Senna stated that no matter what happened he would not yield the corner and that Prost taking his normal racing line would result in an accident. Prost would later go on record slamming Senna's actions as "disgusting", saying that he seriously considered retiring from the sport after that incident.
In 1991 Senna became the youngest ever three-time world champion, taking seven wins and increasing his pole position record to 60. Prost, because of the downturn in performance at Ferrari, was no longer a serious competitor. In pre-season testing, Senna made public misgivings about the car's competitiveness with the new Honda V12 stating that the engine was not as powerful as the prior year's V10. Senna won the first four races as his rivals struggled to match his pace and reliability. By mid-season, Nigel Mansell in the Williams-Renault was able to put up a challenge. Before the Mexican Grand Prix, Senna was injured in a jet skiing accident near São Paulo for which he required stitches on the back of his head. During qualifying for the race, he crashed into a tyre barrier and his car rolled over. At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Senna's car had come to a halt on the final lap but he was not left stranded out on the circuit, as race-winner Mansell pulled over on his parade lap and allowed the Brazilian to ride on the Williams side-pod back to the pits. During the Spanish Grand Prix Senna and Mansell went wheel to wheel with only centimetres to spare, at over 320 km/h (200 mph) down the main straight, a race that the Briton eventually won.
Though Senna's consistency and the Williams's unreliability at the beginning of the season gave him an early advantage, Senna insisted that Honda step up their engine development program and demanded further improvements to the car before it was too late. These modifications enabled him to make a late season push and he managed to win three more races to secure the championship, which was settled for good in Japan (yet again) when Mansell (who needed to win), went off at the first corner while running third and beached his Williams-Renault into the gravel trap. Senna finished second, handing the victory to teammate Gerhard Berger at the last corner as a thank-you gesture for his support over the season. Senna was planning to move to the Williams team for the 1992 season, but Honda's CEO, Nobuhiko Kawamoto, personally requested that he remain at McLaren-Honda, which Senna did out of a sense of loyalty.
In 1992, Senna's determination to win manifested itself in dismay at McLaren's inability to challenge Williams's all-conquering FW14B car. McLaren's new car for the season had several shortcomings. There was delay in getting the new model running (it debuted in the third race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix) and in addition to lacking active suspension, the new car suffered from reliability issues, was unpredictable in fast corners, while its Honda V12 engine was no longer the most powerful on the circuit. Senna scored wins in Monaco, Hungary, and Italy that year. During qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, French driver Érik Comas crashed heavily and Senna was the first to arrive at the scene. He got out of his car and ran across the track to help the Frenchman, disregarding his own safety in an effort to aid a fellow driver. He later went to visit Comas in hospital. Senna finished fourth overall in the championship, behind the Williams duo of Mansell and Patrese, and Benetton's Michael Schumacher.
Senna's relationship with Schumacher had deteriorated throughout 1992. At the Brazilian Grand Prix, Schumacher accused Senna of 'playing around' while attempting to overtake Senna, who had a problem with his engine. At the French Grand Prix Schumacher collided with Senna, resulting in Senna's retirement. Senna later confronted Schumacher, who admitted responsibility for the accident. At a test session for the German Grand Prix Senna and Schumacher had a confrontation in the pits, with Senna grabbing Schumacher by the collar and accusing him of endangering him by blocking him on the track.
Questions about Senna's intentions for 1993 lingered throughout 1992, as he did not have a contract with any team by the end of the year. Ferrari offered him a contract which Senna discussed with Niki Lauda but decided to decline the offer. He felt the McLaren cars were less competitive than in previous years, especially after Honda left Formula 1 at the end of 1992 and preseason testing with a Lamborghini V12 unit proved fruitless. Joining Williams alongside Prost (who had secured a drive for the team for 1993) became impossible, since Prost had a clause on his contract vetoing Senna as a team-mate, even though the Brazilian offered to drive for free. An infuriated Senna called Prost a coward in a press conference in Estoril. In December, Senna went to Phoenix, Arizona and tested Emerson Fittipaldi's Penske IndyCar. McLaren boss Ron Dennis meanwhile was trying to secure a supply of the dominant Renault V10 engine for 1993. When this deal fell through, McLaren was forced to take a customer supply of Ford V8 engines which were two specifications behind that of Ford's factory team, Benetton. McLaren hoped to make up for the inferior horsepower with mechanical sophistication, including an effective active suspension system. Dennis then finally persuaded Senna to return to McLaren. The Brazilian, however, agreed only to sign up for the first race in South Africa, where he would assess whether McLaren's equipment was competitive enough for him to put in a good season. After driving McLaren's 1993 car, Senna concluded that the new car had a surprising potential, albeit the engine was still down on power and would be no match for Prost's Williams Renault. Senna declined to sign a one-year contract but agreed to drive on a race-by-race basis, eventually staying for the year.
In the opening race in South Africa, Senna finished in second place after surviving a collision with Schumacher. Senna won in changing conditions in Brazil and Donington. The latter has often been regarded as one of Senna's greatest victories. He was fifth at the first corner and led the race at the end of the first lap going on to lap all but 2nd place in a race where up to seven pit stops were required by some drivers for rain or slick tyres. Senna then scored a second-place finish in Spain and a record-breaking sixth win at Monaco. After Monaco, the sixth race of the season, Senna unexpectedly led the championship from Prost in the Williams-Renault. As the season progressed, Prost and Damon Hill asserted the superiority of the Williams-Renault car, with Prost securing the drivers' championship while Hill moved up to second in the standings. Senna concluded the season and his McLaren career with two wins in Japan and Australia, finishing second overall in the championship. The penultimate race was noted for an incident where Jordan's rookie Eddie Irvine twice unlapped himself against Senna. Senna later appeared at Jordan's garage and after a lengthy and heated discussion, punched the Irishman in the face. For the 1994 season, Senna had offers from McLaren, Williams, Benetton, and Ferrari, the team he believed was the soul of Formula 1, and to which he planned to move to in 1996 before retiring in 2000. According to his manager, Julian Jakobi, a deal was in the works with Ferrari who had already offered Senna, the most sought after driver, a groundbreaking $22 million a year.
For 1994, Senna finally signed with the Williams-Renault team on 11 October 1993 after Prost had decided to end his career. Senna was paid $1 million for each race with $20 million for the season. Rule changes for 1994 had banned active suspension, traction control and ABS. During pre-season testing the new Williams FW16 car exhibited none of the superiority of the FW15C and FW14B cars that preceded it, and Senna found himself in close running with the Benetton B194 of Schumacher. Senna expressed his discomfort with the handling of his car, stating "I have a very negative feeling about driving the car and driving it on the limit and so on ... Some of that is down to the lack of electronic change. Also, the car has its own characteristics which I'm not fully confident in yet." Senna further added, "It's going to be a season with lots of accidents, and I'll risk saying that we'll be lucky if something really serious doesn't happen."
The first race of the season was in Brazil, where Senna took pole. In the race Senna took an early lead but Schumacher's Benetton was never far behind. Schumacher took the race lead for good after passing Senna in the pits. Senna refused to settle for second. While trying for a win, he pushed too hard and spun the car coming out of Junção on lap 56, stalling it and retiring from the race. The second race was the Pacific Grand Prix at Aida where Senna again placed the car on pole. However, after being beaten to the first corner by second qualifier Schumacher, he was hit from behind in the first corner by Mika Häkkinen and his race came to a definitive end when the Ferrari driven by Nicola Larini also crashed into his Williams. Hill also retired with transmission problems, while Schumacher took victory again.
It was Senna's worst start to an F1 season, failing to finish or score points in the first two races, despite taking pole both times. Schumacher was leading Senna in the drivers' championship by twenty points.
Senna's third and final race of the 1994 season, the San Marino Grand Prix, was held on the "Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari" circuit located in Imola, Italy. Imola had traditionally been considered the beginning of the F1 season proper, on European soil. Senna, who did not finish the two opening races of the season, declared that this was where his season would start, with fourteen races, as opposed to sixteen, in which to win the title. Williams brought modified FW16s to Imola in an attempt to improve the car's handling.
On Friday, Senna placed the car on pole for a then-record 65th and final time, but he was upset by events unfolding that race weekend. Senna complained about the FW16's handling and reported that the car's performance was generally worse after the engineers' latest adjustments. During the afternoon qualifying session, Senna's compatriot and protégé Rubens Barrichello was involved in a serious accident when his Jordan became airborne at the Variante Bassa chicane and hit the tyre-wall and fence. Barrichello suffered a broken nose and arm and withdrew from the event. Barrichello reported that Senna was the first person he saw upon regaining consciousness.
During Saturday qualifying, Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed after the front wing of his Simtek-Ford broke entering the 190 mph Villeneuve corner, sending the car into a concrete wall. Senna immediately visited the accident scene and medical centre where he was met by FIA Medical Chief Professor Sid Watkins. Watkins suggested to a tearful Senna to retire from racing and go fishing (a hobby they both shared), to which Senna replied that he could not stop racing. Senna was later called in front of the stewards for commandeering an official car and climbing the medical centre fence, and a row ensued, although Senna was not punished.
Senna spent his final morning talking to former McLaren teammate Alain Prost to discuss the re-establishment of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association in an attempt to improve safety in Formula One. As the most senior driver, Senna offered to take the role of leader, starting from the next race in Monaco. During the drivers' briefing, complaints were raised about the use of a Porsche 911 lead car for the warm-up lap, and it was agreed to abandon the practice.
At the start of the race, Senna retained the lead from Schumacher but proceedings soon became interrupted by a startline accident. JJ Lehto's Benetton-Ford had stalled and was hit by the Lotus-Mugen Honda of Pedro Lamy. A wheel and debris landed in the main grandstand, injuring eight fans and a police officer. The safety car, a sporty version of the Opel Vectra medium family saloon, was deployed for several laps. The Vectra's slow pace was later questioned because of the consequential drop in tyre pressures on the Formula One cars. Senna had pulled alongside the Vectra and gesticulated to the driver, Max Angelelli, to increase his speed. On lap 6, the race resumed and Senna immediately set a quick pace with the third quickest lap of the race, followed by Schumacher.
As Senna entered the high-speed Tamburello corner on lap 7, the car left the track at around 191 mph (307 km/h), hitting the concrete retaining wall at around 145 mph (233 km/h), after what telemetry showed to be an application of the brakes for around 2 seconds. The red flag was shown as a consequence of the accident. Within two minutes of crashing, Senna was extracted from his race car by Professor Sid Watkins and his medical team. Initial treatment took place by the side of the car, with Senna having a weak heartbeat and significant blood loss (approximately 4.5 litres). Because of Senna's poor neurological condition, Professor Watkins performed an on-site tracheotomy and requested the immediate airlifting of Senna to Bologna's Maggiore Hospital, where he was declared dead hours later. Watkins later said that as soon as he saw Senna's fully dilated pupils, he knew that his brainstem was inactive and that he would not survive.
It is believed that the right-front wheel and suspension was sent back into the cockpit, striking Senna on the right side of his helmet, forcing his head back against the headrest. In addition, a piece of the upright assembly, most likely a tie rod, penetrated the helmet visor, which was a new, thinner version, above his right eye. Senna sustained fatal skull fractures, brain injuries and a ruptured temporal artery.
It was later revealed that, as medical staff examined Senna, a furled Austrian flag was found in his car—a flag that he had intended to raise in honour of Ratzenberger after the race. Photographs of Ayrton Senna being treated on the track by emergency medical personnel were taken by Senna's friend and Autosprint's picture editor, Angelo Orsi. Out of respect, those photographs have never been made public.
Senna's death was considered by many of his Brazilian fans to be a national tragedy, and the Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning. The Italian Air Force offered to fly the coffin back to Brazil, but the Senna family wished that it return home in a Brazilian plane. Contrary to airline policy and out of respect, Senna's coffin was allowed to be flown back to his home country in the passenger cabin of a VARIG McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 airliner, accompanied by his distraught younger brother, Leonardo, and close friends. The plane was escorted by fighter jets into São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport on Thursday 5 May 1994, where it was met by São Paulo's mayor, Paulo Maluf, and state governor, Luís Antônio Fleury. The coffin was carried by soldiers from the Policia da Aeronautical to a fire engine, where eight cadets from the Military Police Academy mounted guard as it carried the coffin on the 20-mile journey into the city. Leading the motorcade were seventeen police motorbikes, and 2,500 policemen lined the route to keep the crowds at bay.
An estimated three million people flocked to the streets of Senna's hometown of São Paulo to offer him their salute. This is widely accepted as the largest recorded gathering of mourners in modern times. Over 200,000 people filed past as his body lay in state at the Legislative Assembly building in Ibirapuera Park. After the public viewing, a 21-gun salute was fired by the 2nd Artillery Brigade and seven Brazilian Air Force jets flew in a diamond formation as the funeral procession made its way to Morumbi Cemetery. Many prominent motor racing figures attended Senna's state funeral, such as team managers Ken Tyrrell, Peter Collins, Ron Dennis, and Frank Williams, and driver Jackie Stewart. The pallbearers included drivers Gerhard Berger, Michele Alboreto, Alain Prost, Thierry Boutsen, Damon Hill, Rubens Barrichello, Roberto Moreno, Derek Warwick, Mauricio Gugelmin, Hans Stuck, Johnny Herbert, Pedro Lamy, Maurizio Sala, Raul Boesel, Emerson Fittipaldi, Wilson Fittipaldi, and Christian Fittipaldi. Neither Sid Watkins nor Jo Ramírez, the McLaren team coordinator, could bear to attend because they were so grief-stricken. Senna's family did not allow FOM president Bernie Ecclestone, a friend of Senna's, to attend the ceremony, after an altercation between Ecclestone and Senna's brother Leonardo at Imola regarding Ecclestone's misconstrued reaction to the news of Ayrton's death and the fact that the race had not been abandoned after his accident. FIA President Max Mosley instead attended the funeral of Ratzenberger which took place on 7 May 1994, in Salzburg, Austria. Mosley said in a press conference ten years later, "I went to his funeral because everyone went to Senna's. I thought it was important that somebody went to his." Senna's grave bears the epitaph "Nada pode me separar do amor de Deus," which means "Nothing can separate me from the love of God" (a reference to Romans 8:38–39).
A testament to the adulation he inspired among fans worldwide was the scene at the Tokyo headquarters of Honda where the McLaren cars were typically displayed after each race. Upon his death, so many floral tributes were received that it overwhelmed the large exhibition lobby. This despite the fact Senna no longer drove for McLaren and that McLaren in the preceding seasons did not use Honda power. Senna had a special relationship with company founder Soichiro Honda and was beloved in Japan, where he achieved a near mythic status. For the next race at Monaco, the FIA decided to leave the first two grid positions empty and painted them with the colours of the Brazilian and the Austrian flags, to honour Senna and Ratzenberger.
The cause of the accident had been identified as a steering column failure. Italian law demands that any unusual incident be investigated. Many court cases followed immediately afterwards and the judgment went on for years, with Williams being investigated for manslaughter. The last word from the Italian Court of Appeal was on 13 April 2007. In verdict no. 15050, the Court ruled thus: "It has been determined that the accident was caused by a steering column failure. This failure was caused by badly designed and badly executed modifications. The responsibility of this falls on Patrick Head, culpable of omitted control". Patrick Head was not arrested; in Italy the statute of limitation for manslaughter is 7 years and 6 months, and the final verdict was pronounced 13 years after the accident.
Senna was a devout Catholic, once saying: "Just because I believe in God, just because I have faith in God, it doesn't mean that I'm immune. It doesn't mean that I'm immortal" (1989). He often read the Bible on long flights from São Paulo to Europe. According to sister Viviane, Senna had sought strength from the Bible on the morning of his death after the events of the race weekend: "On that final morning, he woke and opened his bible and read a text that he would receive the greatest gift of all, which was God himself."
As his profile rose, Senna expressed concern over the widespread poverty in Brazil. After his death it was discovered that he had quietly donated millions of his personal fortune (estimated at around $400 million) to help poor children. Shortly before his death, he created the framework for an organisation dedicated to Brazilian children, which later became Instituto Ayrton Senna.
Senna was often quoted using driving as a means for self-discovery and racing as a metaphor for life: "The harder I push, the more I find within myself. I am always looking for the next step, a different world to go into, areas where I have not been before. It's lonely driving a Grand Prix car, but very absorbing. I have experienced new sensations, and I want more. That is my excitement, my motivation."
Towards the end of his career, Senna became increasingly preoccupied with the dangers of his profession. On the morning of his death he initiated the re-formation of the GPDA safety organisation, with which he had intended to work to improve the safety of his sport.
In the late 1980s, to take advantage of the close relationship Honda had formed with Senna, the Japanese company asked him to help fine-tune the Honda NSX's suspension setting during its final development stages. The tests were conducted at Suzuka Circuit with chief NSX engineer Shigeru Uehara and his engineering team present to gather Senna's direct input. Senna found the prototype NSX initially lacked chassis stiffness to the level he was accustomed to, so the final production version was further reinforced to his satisfaction.
Senna was also instrumental in bringing Audi cars into his native country, both as an import and manufacturing business. Audi entered Brazil in 1994 via Ayrton Senna's company, Senna Import, founded in 1993. Sales began in April that year, just a month before his untimely death. In 1999, Audi Senna was created as a joint venture of Audi with Senna Import. Senna's personal car in 1994 was an Audi S4.
In the early 1990s Senna developed his own merchandise brand represented by a logo with a double S, after his full surname, "Senna da Silva". This logo is meant to represent an S chicane on a racing circuit. The Senna brand was on apparel, watches (TAG Heuer), bicycles (Carraro), and boats. TAG Heuer and Hublot have created limited edition watches to honor Senna, both during his lifetime and after his death.
Senna owned several properties, including an organic farm in Tatuí, Brazil, a beach house in Angra dos Reis, Brazil, an apartment in São Paulo, an apartment in Monaco, and a house in Algarve, Portugal.
Senna enjoyed a range of physical activities including running, waterskiing, jet skiing, and paddleboarding. He also had several hobbies, such as flying real and model planes and helicopters, boating, fishing and riding his favourite Ducati motorbikes. His private jet was a British Aerospace 125 (BAe HS125), and he also piloted his own helicopter between his residences in Brazil along with travelling to races. He was left-handed.
Senna was close friends with McLaren teammate Gerhard Berger, and the two were always playing practical jokes on each other. Berger is quoted as saying "He taught me a lot about our sport, I taught him to laugh." In the documentary film The Right to Win, made in 2004 as a tribute to Senna, Frank Williams notably recalls that as good a driver as Senna was, ultimately "he was an even greater man outside of the car than he was in it."
Senna was married to Lilian de Vasconcelos Souza from 1981 until 1982. Vasconcelos, whom he had known since childhood, had difficulty adapting to her husband's racing life in England. Vasconcelos later said: "I was his second passion. His first passion was racing... There was nothing more important in the world for him, not family, not wife, nothing." Though he did not have much of an income early in his racing career, Senna insisted on supporting his wife with no help from his father out of a sense of pride. The marriage ended in divorce. Senna then courted Adriane Yamin, daughter of an entrepreneur from São Paulo, who was 15 years old when they began the relationship in 1985 and often chaperoned by her mother during meetings with Senna. They were briefly engaged, but the relationship was broken off by Senna in late 1988. Senna dated Brazilian TV star Xuxa from late 1988 until 1990. He then dated Christine Ferracciu, who lived with him at his homes in Monaco and Portugal, on and off between 1990 and 1991. Senna also had an affair with American model Carol Alt, and briefly dated models Marjorie Andrade and Elle Macpherson. At the time of his death Senna was in a relationship with Brazilian Adriane Galisteu.
Ayrton was the uncle of Formula One driver Bruno Senna (Viviane's son), of whom he said in 1993: "If you think I'm fast, just wait until you see my nephew Bruno."
Many safety improvements were made in the sport following Senna's and Ratzenberger's deaths. These include improved crash barriers, redesigned tracks, higher crash safety standards (such as larger sills along the driver cockpit) and major cuts to engine power. The Tamburello corner and other parts of the Imola circuit were altered for 1995. This was despite calls for action in 1989, after a serious high-speed crash that saw Senna's friend, Gerhard Berger, suffering burns to his hand. No action took place after that crash because, following an inspection by Senna and Berger, they ended up siding with officials who had, for years, claimed that the wall could not be moved further back due to a river nearby.
In July 1994, the Brazil national football team dedicated their 1994 World Cup victory to Ayrton Senna, and collectively held a banner on the field after defeating Italy in the final. Senna had met various members of the squad, including Leonardo, three months earlier in Paris, telling them "this is our year". Throughout the rest of the 1994 season, Senna was commemorated in various ways. Damon Hill along with Michael Schumacher both dedicated their individual success to Senna with Hill's victory in the Spanish Grand Prix and Schumacher's world championship victory in the Australian Grand Prix.
A few months before his death, Senna had discussed with his sister the foundation of a charitable organization, based on a desire to contribute to those less fortunate in a more organised and effective manner. After his death, Viviane Senna set up the Instituto Ayrton Senna in his honor, which has invested nearly US$80 million over the last twelve years in social programs and actions in partnership with schools, government, NGOs, and the private sector aimed at offering children and teenagers from low-income backgrounds the skills and opportunities they need to develop their full potential as persons, citizens and future professionals. The foundation is officially advised by Bernie Ecclestone, Frank Williams, Alain Prost, and Gerhard Berger. The Senninha ("Little Senna") cartoon character, born in 1993/94, was another means by which Senna extended his role model status in favour of Brazilian children.
In his home country of Brazil, the main freeway from the international airport to São Paulo and a tunnel along route to the heart of the city is named in his honour. Also, one of the most important freeways of Rio de Janeiro is named after Senna ("Avenida Ayrton Senna"). The main road in Senna's Portuguese resort at Quinta do Lago, Algarve, was also dedicated to him, due to the fact that his villa there was very near (but not on) this road. A portion of the Interlagos circuit in São Paulo is named the "Senna Esses Chicane" in his honor. In the English town of Reading, Berkshire, where Senna lived for a short period of time, Ayrton Senna's name has been given to an avenue in the suburb of Tilehurst.
In April 2000 Senna was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
In 2004, a book called Ayrton: The Hero Revealed (original title: Ayrton: O Herói Revelado) was published in Brazil for the tenth anniversary of his passing. Senna remains a national hero in Brazil and his grave attracts more visitors than the graves of John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley combined.
In addition, to mark the tenth anniversary of Senna's death, on 21 April 2004, over 10,000 people attended a charity match in a football stadium near Imola. The game was organised by several devoted Italian and Canadian fans of Senna, bringing the 1994 FIFA World Cup winning team of Brazil (who dedicated their 1994 FIFA World Cup win to Senna) to face the "Nazionale Piloti", an exhibition team composed exclusively of top race car drivers. Senna had been a part of the latter in 1985. Michael Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso and many others faced the likes of Dunga, Careca, Taffarel and several of the team that won the World Cup in the United States ten years earlier. The match finished 5–5 and the money was donated to Instituto Ayrton Senna. Viviane Senna, the president of the institute, was also involved in the kick-off of this match. That same weekend, Bernie Ecclestone revealed that he still believed Senna was and remained the best F1 driver he had ever seen.
Since his death, Senna has been the subject of songs by Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla, Jazz pianist Kim Pensyl, Japanese jazz-fusion guitarist and T-square bandleader Masahiro Andoh (on songs such as "Faces" and subsequential revisions, like "The Face") and Chris Rea (on his song "Saudade"). The Spanish band, Delorean, released an extended play entitled Ayrton Senna in 2009. The Italian rock band The Rock Alchemist paid tribute to Senna in the song "Live or Die".
Between 1996 and 1998, to pay tribute to Senna, the Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati produced special Senna editions of their 916 superbike. Ducati was at the time owned by Claudio Castiglioni, a personal friend of Senna who was an avid Ducati lover. In 2002, the MV Agusta F4 750 Senna motorbike was created, again by Castiglioni, now president of MV Agusta. The production was limited to 300 bikes, and all profits from sales went to the Ayrton Senna Foundation.
In 2009, it was announced that Senna's nephew Bruno would be making his Formula One debut in 2010.
The former Formula One grand prix circuit in Adelaide, Australia, renamed its first chicane the "Senna Chicane" in honour of his memory. This track—which remains the site of Senna's last Formula One win—is still used for local V8 Supercars racing after the move of the F1 grand prix to Melbourne. There is also a street named after him in the Adelaide suburb of Wingfield. The Adelaide street circuit was said to be a favourite of Senna's, and he was reportedly unhappy about the upcoming shift of venue from Adelaide to Melbourne in 1996.
He has been voted the best driver of all time in various motorsport polls, including F1 Racing Magazine's 2004 poll and one involving current drivers as published by the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag in July 2010. In 2009, a poll of 217 current and former Formula One drivers conducted by the British magazine Autosport named Senna as "the greatest Formula One driver who ever lived".
In 2007, Prince Albert of Monaco unveiled a plaque in honour of Senna in a ceremony that was attended by Vivane Senna. An exhibition also took place that showcased Senna's victories around Monaco along with his Helmets that were borrowed from Senna's family and a selection of McLaren cars raced by Senna that were brought over from Motegi.
On 21 March 2010, on the day that would have marked Senna's 50th birthday, the football team Corinthians played a tape in memory of Senna which was also part of the theme played at the São Paulo Motor Show.
On 25 July 2010, popular BBC motoring show, Top Gear paid an emotional tribute to Senna with British Formula One World Champion, Lewis Hamilton driving Senna's original MP4/4, with which he won the 1988 title.
A StudioCanal, Working Title Films and Midfield Films documentary film Senna was released in 2010 to great critical acclaim.
On 20 November 2012, BBC Sport named Senna as the greatest Formula One driver of all time, after naming their Top 20 greatest drivers in a countdown on their website.
In his karting days, Senna's helmet consisted of a plain white background with notable features absent. He experimented with several designs to satisfy him such as a white, yellow and green helmet before settling on a design by Sid Mosca, that included a yellow background with a green stripe that surrounded the upper visor and a light metallic blue stripe surrounding the lower visor (both stripes are delineated in the other stripes color) that was first seen in 1979 with the design having been created by Sid Mosca who also painted helmets for Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet. According of Mosca, the blue and green stripes symbolised movement and aggression, while the overall yellow colour symbolised youth. The helmet never had significant changes, apart from sponsorship. One such change that was Senna would occasionally alter the stripe from green to black. The tone of yellow changed a number of times, while usually a rich sunburst yellow, in 1985 and 1986 in some races he used a fluorescent neon yellow colour. In 1994 the helmet was a lighter, paler yellow to complement the blue and white of the Williams car. He used a number of helmet brands throughout his career. From 1984 to 1988 he used Bell, from 1990 to 1991 Honda's own Rheos brand, 1992 to 1993 he used Shoei and for 1994 he returned to using Bell.
His nephew Bruno bore a modified version of his helmet design (a yellow helmet with a green and blue stripe) during his Formula One career, but the stripes are shaped after an S rather than being straight, under the chin area it has a green stripe and it has a blue rounded rectangle in the top area. Bruno sported a modified helmet design for the final three races of the 2011 season to honour the 20th anniversary of Ayrton winning his last world championship. At the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello incorporated part of Senna's helmet design into his own. For the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix, another variant of Senna's helmet was used by Lewis Hamilton and Barrichello. Hamilton used the design with permission from Senna's sister Vivane with the helmet being sold off in support of the Insituto Ayrton Senna foundation.