Sunday 21st April 1985
The late Ayrton Senna won his first of 41 Formula One Championship victories driving a Lotus-Renault at the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril. Senna’s uncompromising driving style made him a hero to many and a villain to almost as many. Throughout his eight-year career, he established himself as the sport’s greatest qualifying racer, winning 65-pole positions. Qualifying is a measure of how far a driver can push himself without competition, and this quality was one of Senna’s trademarks, “Sometimes I try to beat other people’s achievements but on many occasions I find it’s better to beat my own achievements. That can give me more satisfaction. I don’t feel happy if I am comfortable.” It was his drive for perfection that made Senna such a great racer. But Senna’s drive often threatened the lives of his fellow drivers. And his unapologetic off-track demeanour was often seen by his detractors as inflammatory. Just before his death in 1993, Senna appeared to be softening to the public. Still competitive, he assumed a calmer, less antagonistic persona on the Grand Prix circuit. Always a pleasure for the press, Senna often delivered more thoughtful responses to questions than did his fellow drivers. In one of his most spiritual quotations Senna explains the relation of the racer to his public, “In many ways we are a dream for people, not a reality. That counts in your mind. It shows how much you can touch people, and as much as you can try to give to those people somehow it is nothing compared to what they live in their own mind, in their dreams, for you.” The tragic accident that cut short Senna’s career remains an object of mystery, and the investigation is not yet closed. Those close to Senna indicate that the Catholic driver had a premonition of his impending death. A haunting comment from the year before his accident reads, “If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs me my life, I hope it is in one go.” It is, arguably, the danger of F1 racing that makes its leading personalities such captivating figures. Like boxers they exist closer to death than do ordinary citizens, and they, thereby, achieve a stature that is larger than life. It is only fair to mention, however, that Senna’s death was just the second such fatality in F1 since the late 1970s.