Catherine Hiles
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20 Years Gone, Never Forgotten: Remembering Ayrton Senna

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of one of Formula One’s most loved drivers. Ayrton Senna da Silva, a native Brazilian, was the winner of three Formula One world championships, and an exceptional race driver who is to this day sorely missed by his fans across the globe.

Remembering Ayrton Senna

Image by Instituto Ayrton Senna

Who Was Ayrton Senna?

You might not have the faintest idea who Ayrton Senna was, or even give a hoot about Formula One. While I’m in no way an avid Formula One fan, I used to watch the Grand Prix and other races with my dad when I was younger, and always enjoyed singing along to the F1 theme music (any British readers know the tune I’m referring to?). Ayrton Senna’s name was all over the place, and I came to associate it with a great racing driver who pretty much kicked the competition’s butt right from the get-go. Senna was born to a wealthy Brazilian family in 1960. When he was four, his father gifted him with a mini go-kart, and Senna’s obsession with racing began. As a child, Senna devotedly watched Formula One racing, and considered the drivers at the time his heroes. It was only natural that he would want to become a famous race car driver himself.

Remembering Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna driving a Kart during his childhood – image from Instituto Ayrton Senna

Senna’s Racing Career

Senna won his first race in a go-kart at age 13. At 21, he began single-seater racing in the U.K. and won five championships in three years. Following this, he moved into Formula One in 1984, signing with the Toleman team. From there, he moved to the Lotus team from 1985 to 1987, then the McLaren-Honda team from 1988-1993. McLaren-Honda is inarguably where Senna really came into his own as a driver, immediately entering into fierce competition with the team’s established superstar, Alan Prost. Over the following years, the rivalry between Senna and Prost grew, with each driver trying to out-race the other. Ayrton Senna won his three Formula One world championships while driving on the McLaren-Honda team. He remained with the team until 1994, when he signed with the Williams-Renault team. Senna was famously quoted as saying “I want to live fully, very intensely. I would never want to live partially, suffering from illness or injury. If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs my life, I hope it happens in one instant.” Ironically, it wasn’t long after this statement that Senna was involved in a fatal crash during the Santa Marino Grand Prix.

Remembering Ayrton Senna

Senna’s grave. Translation “Nothing can separate me from the love of God.” Image by Morio.

Senna’s Sudden Death

On May 1, 1994, Ayrton Senna’s car ran off the track at 191 mph headlong into a concrete wall. The car hit the wall at 145 mph. Senna was rescued from the wreck quickly, but suffered severe blood loss and had an extremely weak heartbeat. FIA Medical Chief Professor Sid Watkins took quick action, performing a tracheotomy by the side of the car, and requesting Senna to be airlifted to the nearby hospital in Bologna. Unfortunately, due to the severity of his injuries, Senna was declared dead a few hours later. Although 20 years has passed, Aryton Senna still lives on as a legend in the world of racing. Along with names like Schumacher, Prost, and Vettel, Senna will continue to live on in the eyes of his fans as a true legend in the world of Formula One racing.