Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian F1 racing driver, is widely regarded as the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time. Even though he passed in 1994, his legend, and more importantly his legacy, lives on in the world of racing. There is much to know about Senna, and while some facts are legendary, some are less known. Here is a list of things many may or may not be aware of.
The Legendary Drive in Monaco.
In the pouring rain of the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, several champions and well reputed drivers spun out or crashed. But a Brazillian kid, a rookie to the sport, kept on a path, and went around all the other drivers. Soon he was on the tail of Alain Prost by several seconds. Prost stopped his car however, arguing that it was too rainy to keep driving.
Not the fastest driver that day!
As huge of an accomplishment as it was driving in the race almost flawlessly in a wall of rain, the race had an equally fast driver named Steffan Bellof, who trailed Senna the entire way, slicing through wrecks and traffic on his tail the entire time.
The Master of Monaco.
Senna won the race in the streets of this principality six times. For perspective, no other racer has come even close to accomplishing that.
The King of Chess.
Senna used to play chess with Sir Frank Williams, his team’s owner, learning and becoming adept at thinking 5 moves ahead of his opponent, becoming a fantastic chess player.
Racing before shifting was an adapted skillset, when Senna would race through Monaco, he would handle the sharpest right hand turn by cutting the steering wheel, shifting from third to second gear using his left hand, straightening the car out immediately and continue driving. Try doing that move in your street car around the neighborhood sometime!
He’d Rather Crash.
Senna was a very aggressive racer, so aggressive in fact, that he would position his car in such ways that his opponent would have a choice of either crashing into him or allowing Senna to pass. Most often, the choice was to let him pass, except in the case of Alain Prost.
Senna’s philosophy of driving was a deep rooted belief that racing was a chase of limitations. He saw the race as an attempt to catch up to the limit, and then attempt to surpass it. He said that when he reached the limit, he realized he was not a conscious driver any longer, he was operating solely on instinct, and felt as if had surpassed into another dimension.
Unwittingly Foresaw the Place of His Own Death.
Accompanied by his fellow racer Gerhard Berger, Senna went to inspect the safety of the Tamburello corner. To make the turn a little bit safer, they wanted to have the retaining wall moved back, but that was going to be a problem due to the presence of a river. Senna said he feared that this place would end up costing someone their life. As fate’s cruelty would have it, the person who did die there 5 years later, was Senna himself.
No Shift Win.
In 1991, Senna won the Brazillian Grand Prix after his transmission began to fail, stripping him for third, fourth and fifth gear. Stuck in sixth gear for the back part of the race, Senna willed his car around the course and to the finish line. He was so spent after that he needed to be assisted in exiting the car.
Senna spent time in Japan assisting Honda, who also built engines for Senna’s McLaren, to refine the Acura NSX, and helping it become a fantastic vehicle.
Erik Comas, a French racer, once crashed on a track with Senna. Senna, the only driver who stopped to help, ran over to Comas’s car, in front of traffic, and shut off the engine to prevent the car from catching on fire. He also held Comas’s head in place to stabilize it until the paramedics were able to arrive on the scene.
The Greatest Lap.
Senna was known for driving the single greatest lap in history, when in 1993 he passed world champion greats like Alain Prost, Damon Hill, and Michael Schumacher as if they were novices. The catch: the weather conditions were horrible, but Senna drove like it was a dry day out.
Made in Brazil.
Not long before his demise, Senna went to Ingolstadt under contract with Audi in order to import the A3. Over the next few years Audi Senna Ltda. built an A3 producing factory. The factory is still active today, but is now fully owned by Auid.
The Flag In the Car.
When Senna died, an Austrian flag was found in his car. He was planning on waving the flag at the end of the race in memory of fellow racer Roland Ratzenberger, who died just the day before during qualifiers.
Face of Honor.
Every race car produced by Williams for F1, still bears Senna’s face or his logo, honoring his memory since his death.
His Death Saved Lives.
Senna’s death rocked the F1 circuit to its core, pushing car makers and race track operators to implement multiple new safety measures which have assuredly saved racers’ lives since.
Largest Funeral in Brazil.
Three million people flooded the streets to celebrate the fallen race hero. Brazil formally declared multiple days of mourning.
His Funeral Was Skipped. Max Mosley, the former FIA President ended up skipping Senna’s funeral. As Roland Ratzenberger perished just the day before, with so many attending Senna’s funeral, Mosley wanted to make sure at least he attended Ratzenberer’s.
Senna often said that his nephew was a better driver than he was, but after Senna’s passing his sister forced her son to step away from the sport. He returned years later, but could have achieved so much more had he stayed with it.
The Ghost of Suzuka.
While helping develop the NSX, Suzuka was Senna’s personal playground. While it was only one of the many tracks he learned to master, Honda’ tribute was original and spectacular when they “resurrected” Senna’s “ghost” for a drive around the track.
Inside Out Knowledge.
Senna would need to know his vehicle to the granular expert-like level. It is the only way he would agree to race in it.
Being a celebrity known by most, when traveling internationally, Senna was rarely asked for his passport. However, when Gerard Berger replaced his passport photo with a picture of male genitalia as a prank, the passport did get a look. This caused Senna to be held in Argentina for 24 hours. As a comeback, Senna decided to superglue all of Berger’s credit cards together.
After his death, financial records revealed the Senna had donated $400 million to an array of children’s charities, a fact he kept completely quiet while he was alive.