May 1, 1994 was the day Ayrton Senna died. The young Brazilian passed away in a tragic crash at the infamous Tamburello corner in the San Marino Grand Prix at the Imola Grand Prix track, leaving a void in the world of motorsport that no one can fill. He is a Formula One legend that is revered by millions, worshipped by thousands and missed by all. While today marks his 23rd death anniversary, fans and motoring enthusiasts see it as a day to celebrate the person he was, and the philosophy he stood for. Here are 10 facts about the legend ‘Ayrton Senna de Silva’ that you need to know about.
Ayrton Senna at the 1989 Monaco GP
1. Master of Monaco
Ayrton Senna holds the record of winning the Monaco GP six times. But that’s not the only record. Senna managed to do so it six consecutive times between 1989 and 1994, the year he passed away. While that is an incredible feat by itself, Senna’s worst finishing position at Monaco was third in his entire career span. In addition, he famously missed out on winning the 1984 race, had to retire because of a blown engine in 1985 and infamously crashed in 1988 while comfortably in the lead in the Monaco GP.
Despite the transmission failure, Senna still won the 1991 Brazilian GP by 2.9s
2. Senna won the 1991 Brazilian GP without shifting
Brazil was his home country and he really knew how to leave his mark there. During the 1991 Brazilian GP, Ayrton Senna’s transmission failed towards the end of the race, losing out on the third, fourth and even fifth gear. The legend that he is, drove lap after lap with the transmission stuck in sixth gear and managed to retain his lead despite the issue. Mind you, the F1 cars back then actually used a manual gearbox with a sequential shifter. By the end of the race, Senna was so exhausted that he had to be physically helped out of the car by the track marshalls.
Ayrton Senna held Erik Comas’ held upright till the paramedics arrived
3. Senna saved driver Erik Comas
During practice for the 1992 Belgian GP, Erik Comas crashed his Ligier heavily in Spa at the Blanchimont corner and lost consciousness. Ayrton Senna was the next driver on the scene and stopped his McLaren to help out. He turned off Comas’ engine and held his head upright until medical personnel arrived, making sure his airway was clear. While Comas missed that race, Senna’s timely attention managed to save him from critical injuries or even death.
Ayrton Senna drove the NSX and gave feedback to the engineers on the car’s performance
4. Senna helped in the development of the Honda NSX
Much like today, Honda had a partnership with McLaren, but was a lot more successful at the time. Senna gave his inputs in the design and engineering of the original NSX, which included driving and giving feedback about the car. The Suzuka Circuit in Japan was his playground during the NSX testing, one of the many tracks he mastered during his career.
Ayrton was concerned about the safety levels on the curve years prior to the crash
5. Senna wanted Tamburello modified as he feared someone would die there
The Tamburello corner was infamous for its crashes, much before Senna passed away at the curve. That was a strong concern which bothered the Brazilian driver. Five years before his fatal crash, Senna had predicted that someone would die in the exact place. Ayrton went with his fellow driver Gerhard Berger to see what could be done to make Imola’s Tamburello a safer corner. Together, they investigated the surroundings and wanted to move the retaining wall back, but the Santero river prevented from doing so. Senna told Berger then that he feared someone would die in that spot. Little did he know it would be him!
Ayrton Senna’s coffin was wrapped in the Brazilian flag with his helmet on it
6. Senna’s funeral was among the largest in history
There is no simpler way of putting it, Senna was loved by all and at his funeral, millions lined up to pay their last respects at his closed coffin wrapped in the Brazilian flag. A scene from the funeral, especially with Alain Prost leading the pallbearers at Senna’s final resting place truly still brings out an emotional side for most. Brazil also marked a national holiday for Senna on the day.
The two legends were at loggerheads, but made peace the evening before Senna’s death
7. Senna made peace with rival Alain Prost just before death
It was the rivalry of the legends back in the ’80s with world champions Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at constant loggerheads. In fact, both won a much disputed world championship title after crashing into each other. Prost had even prohibited Williams from signing Senna as his teammate. Such was the dislike. However, Senna and Prost spoke only after the latter’s retirement. Just a day before Senna’s death, another driver Roland Ratzenberger passed away in a crash during qualifying and it was then that Senna made peace with Prost in order to discuss improved safety into the sport in the future.
Senna and Berger would often play pranks on each other
8. Senna had an amazing sense of humour
Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger were thick as friends and would often play pranks on each other. In one such incident, Berger replaced Senna’s passport photo with what has been described as an equivalent of the male genitalia. Given Senna’s immense popularity globally, passport officials would seldom check his passport. But on a trip to Argentina, the objectionable image resulted in Senna being held by the officials for 24 hours. Instead of taking offense to the prank, Ayrton played one of his own and superglued all of Berger’s credit cards together.
Ayrton Senna started karting at the age of 13
9. Senna’s first kart was made from a lawnmower
Ayrton Senna was born into a wealthy family and developed an interest in motorsports at the age of 4. At the time, he was growing up at his grandfather Joao Senna’s house which was just 100 metres from the airport. By the age of 7 years, he had already learnt to drive a jeep at the family’s farm. Incidentally, his father built his first kart with the engine from a lawnmower. What’s uncertain though is if the lawnmower engine was indeed a Honda!
The Senna tribute on the 2017 Williams F1 car
10. Every Williams F1 car still carries a Senna tribute
Since his death in 1994, every Williams F1 car produced has carried Senna’s face or logo to remember the legend. You can see the Senna tribute on the 2017 Williams car as well.
Even 23 years after his death, Ayrton Senna is still one of the most valuable sports brands in the world and lives on in the form of the Ayrton Senna Foundation, the NGO that was created months after his death by his sister Viviane and carries out educational activities for the underprivileged in Brazil. A legacy that will live forever!