I was 13 years old when Ayrton Senna died. At the time, his death didn’t really affect me. I remember catching the odd F1 race on tv, cheering on Ferrari, but never really getting attached to any one driver in particular. I suppose I was just too far removed from the realm of F1 for his passing to have as a profound effect on me as it did on millions of others around the world. As I grew older though and followed F1 more closely, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of references that were made to Senna, both from professionals and spectators alike. During the glory years of Scuderia Ferrari, 1998-2006, it seemed that Senna’s name was mentioned as often as Schumacher was breaking records. Still, Senna remained this intangible legend to me. It wasn’t until the advent of Youtube that I began digging around, looking for empirical evidence of what made this driver – this man – so great.
Well after viewing an abundant amount of footage over the years, my conclusions, my… accord with the millions of fans, had finally solidified. So, what then is it about Ayrton Senna? Well having seen the documentary, ‘Senna‘, recently released in the UK this past weekend, I think I can illustrate my reasons best with this clip from the film. We pick it up with Senna barreling out the tunnel, while leading the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix. You can really see the fervor in his driving until he unfortunately finds the barriers just before the tunnel again on the next lap. In it, we also get some insight on Senna’s philosophy on racing, striving for growth and enlightenment.
Just the other day I happened upon the Paolo Coelho blog. There, I read a post where Coelho responds to a question about what he would like written on his epitaph. He replies, “Paolo Coelho died while he was alive”. The answer seems rather obvious, however he explains that, “if the same pattern is repeated over and over again, you are not alive anymore. To die alive is to take risks. To pay your price”. From this I can say that Senna died very much alive. His relentless pursuit of perfection -to learn, to grow – pushed him outside of his comfort zone; his limit, the car’s limit, maybe even his “conscious understanding”. Some say that was his fatal flaw.
He was born in Brazil however, he matured on the racing circuits of the world. His greatest achievements and failures fell on his hands while competing. What he showed us and perhaps his greatest gift of all, was that he was living his life out on those tracks. For those who noticed, it was an influence that transcended culture and race, and won over the hearts of young and old alike. Myself included.
If you haven’t seen it already, I urge any F1 fan to go out and see the documentary.