Monday, 17 October 2011

In Life Unbeatable. In Death Irreplaceable. Ayrton Senna

Hi again folks.

Seen as though we're two weeks away from the next UFC; I thought it would be a good time to explore another one of my major loves. Specifically F1. At the time of writing this I find myself pondering about some of the great drivers and people that have been taken away from us in race crashes. It's rare these days but less than 24 hours ago tragedy struck in the Las Vegas 300 and Indycar lost one of it's brightest stars in Dan
Wheldon. Whilst he didn't have a full-time drive this year he was an ultra talented guy who left his mark on both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (winning the Indy 500 twice) and the Indy Racing League championship (by winning it in 2005). Every time I see or hear about a fatality in motorsport my mind can't help but wander back to that horrible weekend in 1994 when we lost Ratzenberger and Senna.

Being a nine year old kid at the time I barely understood what dying meant yet alone that sports people could die in action. At that time I was still only about 3 and a half years into my love affair with motorsport. My first experience of F1 that I can remember was the infamous Suzuka showdown of 1990 when Senna crashed into Prost at the first corner to effectively end that year's world championship.

With that moment I started to follow the sport actively and due to it I've seen some heart wrenching moments as well as some incredible action. I can still remember watching BBC for what seemed like hours as the helicopter hovered above the scene of the accident all the while expecting to see Senna get out up and wave to the crowd to indicate he was alright as I'd seen with numerous other drivers involved in crashes. Sadly this was young naievety on my part as the blood on the track and the doctors trying to recuscitate him escaped my attention whilst I read through the News of the World detailing the Ratzenberger accident. No words I can use will ever do justice to explain the impact that this had on my mind at that age. It was because of those two accidents that I started looking at motorsport history (remember this was before the internet so my Dad's wallet was hit badly whilst I looked for "input" Johnny 5 style) and a lot of things that had never entered my childish brain. The reality of that Imola situation wouldn't dawn on me until I realised that there was no coming back from this and he was gone. Murray Walker's description of covering that race still haunts me a bit as he described it perfectly by saying they never left him alone. If you want an understanding of what he meant here's an example of the race footage on that fatal day.

I use this as an example as out of a horrible situation there can be some light. Thanks to these two accidents Formula 1 became a safer sport. The FIA started to put in ever stricter safety rules for the designs of the cars and developed new testing methods so that they could ensure drivers where as safe as possible when on the track. Obviously we'll never make motorsport completely safe but there's been huge leaps in that field and the fact we've not seen another F1 fatality since then is a testament to this.

With the release of the recent Senna movie I found my love affair with the legend of Ayrton re-ignited and myself re-reading the excellent Senna biography "The Death of Ayrton Senna" by Richard Williams. It also gave me a chance to wind back to some of the amazing moments I got to witness when Senna was at his peak. These include but where not limited to his amazing drive to 2nd in Monaco in 1984 ironically although up to that date it was his finest performance he was racing with a damaged car having rattled the barriers. Would he have finished the race? Would Bellof who was running faster at the time the race had stopped got past him? We'll never know.

Who can forget the terrifying qualifying performance at Monaco in 1988. Senna later revealed he felt like he was having an out of body experience. At one point he was over 2 seconds faster than Prost in the same car. Here's a clip from the Senna movie with audio from Senna describing the out of body experience he had.

The two moments of pure genius that stand out for me more than any are his amazing drive to the title at Suzuka in 1988. Senna had stalled on the grid and managed to get his McLaren bump started rolling down the hill towards the first corner. From there he lit up the track passing cars just about everywhere to get on Prost's back and eventually overtake him. On that day Senna says he saw God as he crossed the finish line. He never described what god looked like but it's another thing that moulded the man's iron will.

The last amazing moment to show Senna was still at the height of his powers at 33 was the European Grand Prix of Donnington in 1993. On this day the rain allowed Senna to beat the more technologically advanced cars around him including the dominant Williams cars. Senna made a mockery of the field that day and lead from the first lap despite dropping back to 5th or 6th. If you're unfamiliar with him I recommend watching the Senna movie. As a little taster check out the Top Gear tribute from last year and if you enjoy this it's well worth catching the flick.

To this day that man is still my hero. His philosophies and kindness off the track live on today and are an example that should be followed.

In life unbeatable. In death irreplaceable.
RIP Ayrton Senna 1960-1994

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