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Senna: The Charismatic F1 Driver
Every era has that one driver who seems to be better than the rest. Even with equal adversaries, they leave a mark behind. There have been many, like Jim Clark, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and many more since F1 races started in 1950. Senna is a name that stands out in memory. Why?
Maybe because of the unfortunate end to the legend’s career. Perhaps because of his ruthless driving exploits or maybe because of his charisma. It could be all of the above. This generation and the last would know Senna because of having seen him drive, and therefore, the apparent admiration. But to be counted among greats is more than just admiration.
I have confessed before that I am a Schumacher fan, and he has frequently mentioned Senna. I have watched hours and hours of YouTube videos of Senna, as much as I watched the Senna movie. I’ve got to admit that the course of F1 would have been very different if Senna had been alive.
Run Up to the 1994 Imola Race
Senna had seen the thick and thin of competition, and who would be better competition than your own compatriot in an equal car? Alain Prost remained the main title contender against Ayrton Senna ever since he joined the McLaren team in 1988.
Considering he was a teammate, the assumption was that there would be soft competition. Not with Senna at the wheels, though. Here is a video talking about the Senna-Prost rivalry.
In hindsight, if not for the rivalry between Senna and Prost, F1 would have been boring in those years. As a comparison, consider the all-dominating 2002 and 2003 years of F1 where Schumacher and Barrichello had record runs to the finish line. It had become boring because there were no other cars to challenge the Ferraris and there was no rivalry between Schumacher and Barrichello.
So, the Senna-Prost rivalry was good for F1 but sad for them as individuals (maybe). That changed in 1993 when Prost retired and Ayrton eventually moved to Williams in 1994.
The 1994 season was something of a mixed bag. Senna had no real competitors for the first time. There was no Alain Prost, no Nigel Mansell and no other past masters on the track. Of course, a rookie Schumi was the only competition.
But that was not all. The active suspension which allowed Williams to be unbeatable in 1993 was to be removed in 1994 as part of the FIA dictum to do away with driver assists. That dictum included traction control.
While this was just a regulation change, it was not so easy for the Williams team, which now was lagging behind in aerodynamics. Despite having a powerful engine, the unsettled aerodynamics meant that the car would be an unstable unit which had to be driven with caution. Senna even spoke about it, but the sheer delay in rectifying the car was a bad omen.
The car was so bad that the champ Senna couldn’t prevent himself from retiring from the first two races of the season. Both were won by Schumacher.
Senna’s Last Race-Imola 1994
For all the rivalry that existed between Senna and Prost, the 1994 season saw them melt away. Senna was once again friends with Prost. The proof of that was in the 1994 Imola practice where Senna called out Prost while driving through the circuit. Prost by then was commentating for a French T.V. channel.
Here’s the video. Watch from 0:38.
So that settled the friendship once and for all.
That race day, however, would change F1 forever. The race started on the backdrop of already having lost a driver to an accident, the Austrian Ratzenberger. Barrichello was also injured in a freak accident during practice.
In hindsight, if these were taken as signs and and the race was aborted, we probably would have Senna still with us. But then, on that day, no one had the luxury of hindsight.
The race started with Senna leading Schumacher. For a brief period, the cars were behind the safety car. Then once the safety car departed, the race resumed, only to be stopped after a lap.
This race would be the last of Senna on an F1 track. Senna’s loss was immense, and fans around the world mourned his death. The very fact that fans have not forgotten Senna can be seen in any of the comments section of YouTube videos dealing with anything remotely to do with Senna. That was the impact he had on F1 and fans across the globe.
Note: The crash is also the point where, metaphorically speaking, the baton is passed on from Senna to Schumacher, as Schumacher passed Senna for the last time and became a legend himself.
The reason for the crash was dubbed to be the car bottoming out and losing traction (official version) as oppose to the steering column being broken because of an error in fixing the steering column properly (unofficial version). This difference of opinion remains a topic of discussion even today.
The F1 greats and F1 staff had different opinions back then, favoring both the official and unofficial versions. Have a look.
Incidentally, even Gerhard Berger went off that corner in 1989 and his car was engulfed in fire. So, it is difficult to overlook his opinion that the only way someone could go off was because of mechanical failure as against bottoming out.
The sad part, though, is that no matter what we prove, we aren’t going to get Ayrton back!
Back to the Heavenly Abode
Senna was a great driver and the only one to have raced against another great—Alain Prost—and prevailed. Senna won the 1988 championship against Alain and almost did it again in 1989. So, he was indeed a legend going against a legend.
We will for sure miss Ayrton. As Michael said, the lessons learned from the crash should not be forgotten. While we won’t forget the lessons, we won’t forget Ayrton either!
© 2019 S K