Ayrton Senna was the most complex character to ever sit behind the wheel of a Formula One car.Â Often a sensitive, spiritual man away from the track but always the most ferociously aggressive competitor on the tarmac, the enigmatic Brazilian caught the imagination of millions, including those with even the faintest interest in sport.
A three-time world champion, Senna represented the Toleman, Lotus, McLaren and Williams teams, securing 65 pole positions and 41 grand prix victories until his premature death in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.Â Thirty years on from his F1 debut, here are the many highs and lows of Sennaâ€™s career, all of which added to the legacy which endures to this very day.
Senna made his grand prix debut on home soil at Rio de Janeiroâ€™s Jacarepagua circuit, where he made an instant impression.Â Behind the wheel of Tolemanâ€™s TG183B, an updated version of the teamâ€™s 1983 car, the Brazilian qualified almost two seconds faster than team-mate Johnny Cecotto, albeit in 17th place.Â A turbo problem meant Senna became the first retirement of the 1984 season after just eight laps, but even if his first race weekend was cut short, he had shown flashes of the brilliance that would soon make him the most revered competitor in the sport.Â The 1984 Monaco Grand Prix was one of the most disappointing days of Sennaâ€™s life, but despite being cruelly denied what would have been a certain victory, the raceâ€™s effect on his career prospects means it can only be classed as a high.
Having started 13th, Senna, in just his sixth grand prix, thrived in wet conditions to make it up to second place by Lap 19, by which point only Alain Prost stood between him and the lead of the race.Â As the rain pelted down, Senna got faster and faster, reeling in Prostâ€™s McLaren at a rate of three seconds per lap.Â Sensing his position was under threat, Prost, the championship leader at the time, began gesticulating at the race officials in the hope of having the race stopped, with Jacky Ickx, the clerk of the course, giving into the Frenchmanâ€™s demands at the end of Lap 31.Â Prost, though, stopped his car before the red and chequered flags as Senna came through and crossed the finish line, celebrating on his slowdown lap in the belief that he had won his first grand prix.Â His elation was short-lived, however, with the running order of the lap prior to the raceâ€™s suspension used as the official result, meaning Prost was classified as the winner after all.Â Senna was forced to wait for his maiden victory a while longer, but his performance that day left the paddock in little doubt the Brazilian had what it took to become world champion.
Toward the end of his debut season, Senna discovered the pitfalls of the business side of Formula One.Â Unlikely to achieve success with Toleman, the Brazilian had agreed to join Lotus-Renault for the 1985 campaign as he continued his climb up the F1 ladder.Â Although his Toleman contract was due to run until the end of 1986, his deal with the Witney-based outfitâ€”according to Tom Rubythonâ€™s book,Â The Life of Sennaâ€”contained a ÂŁ100,000 buy-out clause, allowing Senna to switch teams at the end of his rookie season.Â The move to Lotus had been common knowledge long before it was announced, writes Rubython, but the switch was confirmed before Senna had invoked the buy-out clause, leaving the Brazilian in breach of his Toleman contract.Â The team responded by benching their star driver for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where Sennaâ€™s replacement, Pierluigi Martini, failed to qualify.Â Toleman managing director Alex Hawkridge, according to Rubython, later said: “I wanted to teach him (Senna) a lesson. I knew that stopping him from racing was what would hurt him most, but I wanted him to leave us knowing that there is a price to pay for everything you do in life, It shook him rigid.”
Senna responded in the only way Senna could: scoring a podium finish in his final race for the team in Portugal.Â The 1985 season began poorly for Senna, having been out-qualified by Elio de Angelis, his new team-mate, on his Lotus debut before retiring in front of his home crowd.Â The Brazilian, however, soon put that right at the second round of the year in Portugal.Â Senna secured the first pole position of his careerâ€”over a second quicker than fourth-placed De Angelisâ€”and followed that up with his maiden win in torrential rain.Â Just as he did in Monaco the previous year, Senna made a mockery of the opposition, reinforcing his status as a master of wet conditions by pulling away at the front with ease.
Despite a brief off-track excursion of his own, the Brazilian took the chequered flag over a minute ahead of second-placed Michele Alboreto and a lap in front of the rest.Â It was the first of many.Â After a six-season stay at Lotus, De Angelis left to join Brabham for 1986, leaving a vacancy alongside Senna.Â The team were keen on signing Derek Warwick, who was left without a seat following the withdrawal of the works Renault team from F1, but Senna was less enthusiastic.Â With Warwick regarded as a potential future world champion, the Brazilian was concerned that his status as Lotusâ€™ No. 1 driver would come under threat given the British driverâ€™s links with Renault, who remained Lotusâ€™ engine supplier.Â And so, according to Tom Rubythonâ€™sÂ The Life of Senna, the Brazilian “threatened to walk” if Warwick was signed, with Lotus chief Peter Warr giving in to his star driverâ€™s demands.
Lotus went on to sign Johnny Dumfries for â€™86, and the gulf in class was obvious: While Senna scored two wins en route to fourth in the driversâ€™ standings with 55 points, the Scot recorded just three points in total all year.Â Vetoing Lotusâ€™ signing of Warwick was an early example of a selfish Senna flexing his political muscle, but it was a move he probably didnâ€™t need to make at that stage of his career.Â The first Spanish Grand Prix at the Jerez circuit felt like a walk in the park for Senna, as he converted pole into a largely untroubled lead.Â Yet that all changed at the halfway stage when Nigel Mansell, whose opening stint of the race was compromised by an unreliable fuel readout, caught and passed Senna on Lap 39 after the Lotus driver found himself stuck in traffic.Â With free air, Mansell was seemingly on course for victory until his tyres developed blisters, leaving him vulnerable to Senna, who duly retook the lead.Â Instead of limping to the finish for the final 10 laps, Mansell took the gamble of pitting for fresh Goodyears, dropping him to third but giving him a potentially crucial advantage on new rubber.
The Williams soon disposed of second-placed Alain Prost and set about reeling in Senna, who by this point was struggling with tyre troubles of his own.Â Although Mansell once again caught up with the Lotus, ready to complete the decisive pass on the final lap, Senna, in his efforts to retain the lead, weaved here, there and everywhere, crossing the line 0.014 seconds in front of his Williams counterpart in one of the closest finishes in F1 history.
The United States Grand Prix of 1986 was Sennaâ€™s fourth career victory and his first on a street circuit.Â After setting pole, the Brazilian lost the lead to Nigel Mansell on Lap 3 but soon recovered his advantage when the Williams developed brake problems,Â above.Â With Mansell out of the picture, Senna began building a decent lead of his own but a puncture forced him to pit on the 14th lap, dropping the Lotus to eighth.
Not for the last time in his career, Senna came out fighting and passed Michele Alboreto, Stefan Johansson, Rene Arnoux, Alain Prost and Jacques Laffite in the space of just 16 laps to recover to second behind Nelson Piquet.Â Piquetâ€™s tyre stop promoted Senna back into the lead, and although the Williams driver lit up the timing screens in his bid to reclaim first place, the Lotusâ€™ mechanics swift work in the pit lane allowed Senna to consolidate his position before Piquet crashed out.Â Despite encountering dramas of his own, Senna still managed to win by a comfortable margin, taking the chequered flag over half a minute ahead of Laffite.
The 1987 Belgian Grand Prix was temporarily suspended due to a crash toward the rear of the field, with Senna jumping both Williamsâ€™ of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell at the restart to take the lead into Turn 1.Â Senna led Mansell for much of the opening lap until Mansell tried a move around the outside of the Lotus at Spa-Francorchampsâ€™ Fagnes corner.Â Both drivers, naturally, were unwilling to give an inch and made contact, spinning off the track. Senna was out on the spot while Mansell soon retired after circulating at the back for a few more laps.Â But that was just the start of it.
According to Tom Rubythonâ€™sÂ The Life of Senna, Mansell “stormed down to the Lotus pit, where he pushed Senna against the wall and zipped his overalls up to his nose,” before later saying: “I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever felt more angry in my life.”
Sennaâ€™s response was priceless.
“When a man holds you round the throat, I do not think that he has come to apologise,” he said, according to Rubython.
A fortnight after their wrestling match in the garage at Spa, Senna and Mansell did battle again at Monaco.Â And this time it was the former who came out on top, claiming the first of his six wins at the principality.Â Mansell secured pole by over half a second from Senna and led relatively comfortably from the Brazilian, who was struggling to keep up with the Williams.Â A turbo problem on Lap 30, however, evaporated Mansellâ€™s lead of 11 seconds, with Senna completing a simple pass on the British driver on the run toward the Tabac corner before the Williams headed for retirement.Â Since both drivers were in a league of their own all weekend long, Senna was left to take an easy win in his 50th grand prix appearance and the first victory for a car with active suspension.
In his four previous F1 appearances in Brazil, Senna had retired on three occasions and finished on the podium just once (1986).Â That trend seemed likely to change when the home hero qualified on pole by over half a second on his McLaren debut, but disappointment once again followed on race day.Â A gearbox failure on the parade lap forced Senna to switch to the spare car and start from the back of the grid, but the Brazilian made his way back up to second in just 20 laps.
His progress was halted when a flat battery resulted in his Honda engine stalling, pushing Senna back down to sixth before he was disqualified from the race for using the spare car.Â To make matters worse, it was his new team-mate, Alain Prost, who took the win and the early initiative in the title race, celebrating in Sennaâ€™s own backyard.Â After getting his 1988 season back on track at Imola, where he won from another comfortable pole position, Senna went fastest again in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.Â But this was no ordinary qualifying session.Â Senna entered something of a trance as he danced his MP4/4 through the principalityâ€™s streets, ultimately ending the session an unprecedented 1.4 seconds quicker than Prost in the same car.
Twenty-four hours after his out-of-body experience in qualifying, Senna was brought back down to earth with a considerable thud after crashing out of the Monaco Grand Prix.Â The Brazilian had led the race from the start and, with a gap of almost a minute to second-placed Prost, was on course for his second consecutive win at Monaco.Â However, a radio message from the team instructing him to slow down and coast to the chequered flag, coupled with Prostâ€™s vastly improved pace, shook Senna out of the equilibrium he had held since Saturday.
The Brazilian, just 11 laps from the finish, clouted the outside wall at the Portier corner, terminally damaging his McLaren and gifting the win to his team-mate.Â Senna was so appalled by his mistake that he, according toÂ ESPN F1, “went straight home to his nearby apartment and was found hours later sobbing about the missed opportunity.”
McLarenâ€™s MP4/4 could have and should have won every race of the 1988 season, but the team were ultimately forced to settle for 15 victories out of a possible 16.Â Senna, having broken Jim Clarkâ€™s long-standing record of nine poles in a single season, and Prost again locked out the front row of the grid for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.Â Despite losing the Frenchman to an engine failure on Lap 34, McLaren could still rely on the Brazilian, who led from the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto.
With just two laps remaining, however, Senna had an unnecessary collision with a backmarker, Jean-Louis Schlesserâ€”who was deputing for Nigel Mansell, sidelined with chickenpox, at Williamsâ€”at the Rettifilo chicane, gifting Berger victory.Â The Prancing Horseâ€™s win was poignantâ€”it was the first race in Italy since the death of the teamâ€™s founder, Enzo Ferrariâ€”but for McLaren and Senna, it was the one that got away.
Prior to his Monza misdemeanour, Senna had won six of the eight races following his Monaco mistake and was in a position to claim his first world championship at the Japanese Grand Prix.Â His weekend got off to the best possible start with yet another pole, but it almost turned to disaster when he stalled at the start, dropping him to 14th and giving Prost, his only title challenger by that point, the lead.Â On a dampening track, though, the Brazilianâ€™s recovery drive was majestic.Â Senna made up six places by the end of the first lap and, despite a damp track, was up to second by Lap 19, hunting down Prost, who was troubled by gearbox issues. The inevitable pass occurred at the sweeping Turn 1 on the 27th lap.
As rain began to fall in the latter stages of the grand prix, Senna started waving his arms in a failed bid to have the race stopped as his team-mate, still in second, had done four years earlier.Â In a year of many experiences and adventures, the Brazilian had a religious experience as he closed in in his maiden crown.Â “As he crossed the line he looked upwards, thanking God,” wrote Tom Rubython inÂ The Life of Senna. “Later he told journalists that he had seen God at the moment he became champion.”
Whether he had actually seen God will be debated forevermore, but there was no doubt that Senna, a champion at last, deserved the 1988 title.Â The Senna-Prost rivalry can be traced backÂ to a Mercedes exhibition raceto mark the opening of the new Nurburgring circuit in 1984, but it was at the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix where things turned nasty.Â Prior to the race at Imola, Senna had proposed that the McLaren drivers should not race each other until they had reached the Tosa, with Prost agreeing and slotting into second at the start.Â When the race was suspended after three laps due toÂ Gerhard Bergerâ€™s fiery crash, however, the plan went out the window.Â Upon the restart, Sennaâ€™s poor getaway allowed Prost to jump into the lead and the Frenchmanâ€”under the impression that the pre-race agreement still stoodâ€”offered no defence as Senna pulled alongside and crept past at Tosa.Â Senna went on to win the race by 40 seconds, but had lost the trust of his team-mate. Their relationship would never be the same again.
After winning in San Marino, Monaco and Mexico, Senna was denied the chance to take his fourth consecutive victory when a rare Honda engine failure forced him to retire from the 1989 United States Grand Prix.Â Yet there was still reason to celebrate at the Phoenix circuit.Â Â In claiming his fifth straight pole of the season, Senna had set the most pole positions of any driver in Formula One history, eclipsing two-time world champion Jim Clarkâ€™s 21-year record of 33.Â The Brazilian would remain the most frequent pole-sitter in F1 history with 65 until the 2006 San Marino Grand Prix, when Michael Schumacher took his 66th pole. The seven-time world champion ended his own career with 68 poles to his name.
Another year, another title-deciding race at Suzuka. But this one didnâ€™t end in Sennaâ€™s favour.Â The Brazilian took pole by 1.7 seconds but immediately relinquished the lead to Prost, whoÂ managed to retain the lead for a large chunk of the race,Â unlike the previous year.Â Ahead of the grand prix, the Frenchman, as perÂ The Independent, had vowed not to open the door and allow Senna to bully him out of the way. He followed through with his promise when the Brazilian made a move at Suzukaâ€™s final chicane on Lap 46.Â Prost slammed the door shut as Senna dived down the inside, creating a clumsy accident as both McLarens, their wheels entangled, slid to a halt.
While Prost almost instantly jumped out of his car, Senna got going again and despite losing time due to the collision and the subsequent front wing change, won the race, keeping his championship hopes alive.Â Until, of course, the stewards got involved and disqualified the Brazilian not for causing a collision, or even for relying on the help of the marshals to detach his car from Prostâ€™s, but for using the escape road to rejoin the track.Â It was a pitiful excuse andÂ not the first nor the last example, it must be said, of the FIAâ€”led by a Frenchman in Jean-Marie Balestreâ€”making a decision in favour of Prost.
Martin Donnellyâ€™s near-fatal accident in qualifying for the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix was Sennaâ€™s first brush with tragedy and led to the Brazilian showing the compassion he would display four years later at Imola.Â In the McLaren garage at the time Donnelly was thrown from the cockpit of his Lotus, Senna rushed towards the scene of the accident to observe and learn about the dangerous side of F1 and, perhaps more importantly, to understand how such situations were handled.Â By the time the Northern Irishman was taken to the medical centre, there were less than eight minutes of the Friday qualifying session and, quite understandably, most drivers opted to sit out the remainder of the session.
Senna wasnâ€™t among them, however.
The Brazilian strapped himself back into his McLaren and set the fastest time of the day by over a second, which almost stood as a tribute to his injured competitor.Â It may have been a year on from Senna and Prostâ€™s title-deciding collision at Suzuka, but the emotions were still incredibly raw when F1 returned to the circuit for the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix.Â Senna was further incensed when his attempt to have the pole position grid slot moved to the cleaner side of the trackâ€”presumably fuelled by his lacklustre starts from pole in the â€™88 and â€™89 racesâ€”was turned down ahead of the race. The Brazilian stormed out of the pre-race driversâ€™ briefing.Â On the eve of the race, Senna threatened to take Prost out of the race if the Frenchman, now driving for Ferrari, once again benefited from starting on the cleaner side.
As per Tom Rubythonâ€™sÂ The Life of Senna, he said: “If on Sunday, because Iâ€™m in the wrong place, Prost jumps the start and beats me off the line, at the first corner Iâ€™m going for it. And he had better not turn in ahead of me, because he is not going to make it.”
Senna remained true to his word, punting both himself and Ferrari out of the race within seconds in an act of revenge against both the FIA and his former team-mate.Â Perhaps the most striking part of the incident was what happened after both cars came to a stop in the Turn 1 gravel trap.Â Rather than exchanging words or waving their arms, as you would expect to see particularly in the modern era, Senna, the new world champion and Prost, the defeated challenger, simply walked back to the pits merely yards apart.Â Both men, you suspect, knew it simply had to be done.
Despite setting three consecutive pole positions in 1988, â€™89 and â€™90, a Brazilian Grand Prix win continued to elude Senna, whose progress on home soil was always hindered by anything from mechanical problems to collisions.Â Pole No. 4 came in 1991, and just like his previous Brazilian GP appearances, his car threatened to betray him.Â This time it was the gearbox at the root of his problems, with the loss of fourth gear followed by the absence of third and fifth, meaning Senna was forced to drive the closing stages of the race stuck in sixth gear.Â With rain starting to fall at Interlagos, the challenge facing the local hero was made even more difficult, but Senna, sapped of energy, somehow did it. In obvious pain, he had to be lifted from the car and almost required help in lifting the winnersâ€™ trophy aloft, although the discomfort was a small price to pay for an overdue home win.Â It may have been a long time coming, but it was worth waiting for.
Up until the 1991 Mexican Grand Prix, Senna had come to be renowned as a fearless racer.
Competing alongside drivers who were brought up to believe that contact with another car could lead to serious injury and even death, Sennaâ€™s highly aggressive, in-your-face style of driving almost rewrote the rules about racing in Formula One.Â His premeditated collision with Prost at Suzuka the previous year had highlighted the Brazilianâ€™s willingness to put himself in a position where it could hurt, but his crash in practice at Mexico was when F1 bit back.Â Having won four of the five previous races in â€™91, Sennaâ€”although unmoved by the accidentâ€”could only qualify and finish third at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and did not return to the top step of the podium for two months.Â For a driver who prided himself on pushing boundaries and seeing no limits, this crash proved F1 did have limits and how they needed to be respected.
For all their on-track battles and in-garage scuffles, there was a strong respect between Senna and Mansell, which was obvious at various points during their head-to-head title scrap in 1991.Â The Williams driver gave the Brazilian, who had run out of fuel on the slowdown lap, a lift back to the Silverstone pits after his British Grand Prix win in July to create one ofÂ the most enduring imagesÂ in the sportâ€™s history.Â The two almost came as close two months later at the Spanish GP, where Senna and Mansell hurled down the Circuit de Catalunya pit straight with their wheels separated by mere centimetres.Â After the tense, sometimes ugly Senna-versus-Prost years, it was stimulating to see two drivers whose styles were very similar fighting hard but fair at the summit of F1.Â The title once again came down to a race at Suzuka, but in truth, the 1991 event didnâ€™t compare to the drama of the previous three years.
Needing only second to take the championship ahead of Mansell, Senna let his team-mate, Gerhard Berger, take pole and take off into the lead as he focused on blocking his Williams rival, who required a win to keep his title hopes alive.Â All hopes of a win ended on Lap 10 when Mansell, in his relentless pursuit of Senna, pushed too hard at Turn 1 and spun into retirement.Â With the title in the bag, Senna turned his attention to winning the race and soon passed Berger.Â However, the Brazilian handed his friend a first McLaren winÂ as they approached the line,Â as a reward for Bergerâ€™s efforts in aiding Sennaâ€™s championship assault.Â The battle was sacrificed, but the war was well and truly won.
Sennaâ€™s links to Honda were so strong that he knew of the Japanese manufacturerâ€™s plan to withdraw from F1 at the end of 1992 even before Ron Dennis, McLarenâ€™s team principal.Â According to Tom Rubythonâ€™sÂ The Life of Senna, the Brazilianâ€”knowing Hondaâ€™s absence would signal the end of the teamâ€™s glory daysâ€”advised Gerhard Berger to get out of there.Â McLarenâ€™s performance relative to Williamsâ€™ FW14B at the start of the â€™92 season, though, confirmed the team were entering a downward spiral.Â According to Rubython, McLaren had planned to run an updated version of their â€™91 car for the first three races of the year, but Mansellâ€™s landslide victories in the opening two events forced the team to introduce their new machine a round earlier, at the Brazilian GP.Â It made little difference.
Senna qualified over two seconds behind Mansell, who along with team-mate Riccardo Patrese lapped the entire field in the race.Â Meanwhile, Berger retired after four laps and Senna after 17, confirming what they already knew: It was going to be a long season.Â If the early stages of 1992 had taught McLaren and Senna anything, it was that chances to win were going to be in short supply throughout the season and any opportunities had to be maximised.Â Mansell had won each of the opening five races of the year and, with another pole at Monaco, was likely to extend his run to six after establishing a comfortable lead.Â As he tackled the tunnel with six laps to go, the Williams driver suffered what he (wrongly) believed to be a puncture and crawled back to the pits, where his mechanics were unprepared.Â The time lost handed Senna, who had passed the second Williams of Riccardo Patrese at the start before narrowly avoiding a crash with Michele Alboreto, the lead.
Mansell, upon emerging from his stop, relentlessly hunted down the Brazilian, shattering the lap record on two consecutive laps as he made his way up to the rear of the McLaren.Â Senna, in an inferior car with much older tyres, would have been a sitting duck at any other circuit, but produced a masterclass in defensive driving to resist Mansellâ€™s charge and claim a fifth Monaco win in six years.
In Friday qualifying for the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix, Senna put into practice all he had learned from Martin Donnellyâ€™s crash two years earlier.Â Erik Comas, the Ligier driver, had suffered a horrendous accident at Spa-Francorchampsâ€™ high-speed Blanchimont corner and came to rest in the middle of the circuit.Â The yellow-helmeted McLaren was the first car on the scene, and its driver parked on the edge of the track before jumping out of the cockpit and running toward the Ligier in the direction of oncoming traffic.Â Sennaâ€™s bravery in such circumstances was admirable, and so too was his medical expertise.
Professor Sid Watkins, F1â€™s resident doctor and a close friend of the Brazilian, was quoted in Tom Rubythonâ€™sÂ The Life of SennaÂ as stating: “Weâ€™d talked about what to do for a driver in such circumstances but only once or twice. Yet when I arrived at the scene Ayrton had done everything we had discussed, and he had done it perfectly.”
McLaren risked losing both their prized assets at the end of 1992, as Honda pulled out of F1 and Sennaâ€™s contract with the team had expired.Â Gerhard Berger had managed to act on his team-mateâ€™s advice and secure a return to Ferrari, but Senna, whose hopes of joining Williams-Renault were ended by the returning Alain Prostâ€™s efforts to block the moveâ€”the subject of a rantÂ by the Brazilian at the 1992 Portuguese GPâ€”was between a rock and a hard place.Â He could either put up with another difficult season at McLaren, now a Ford customer team, or try stomaching a year without racing by taking a sabbatical.
According to Tom Rubythonâ€™sÂ The Life of Senna, Ron Dennis was aware of Sennaâ€™s dilemma and offered “an insulting lowball offer” of “$5 million, plus performance bonuses,” with the Brazilian insisting he wanted “a minimum of $15 million, which was $1 million less than he had earned in 1992.”
Their stand-off continued until McLaren listed Mika Hakkinen, the young Finnish driver, as Michael Andrettiâ€™s team-mate on the official entry list for â€™93, which forced Senna into settling for a race-by-race deal.Â As Rubython writes, Senna still managed to squeeze $1 million out of McLaren to race in the season-opening South African GP alone, but the situation was far from ideal.Â The man with more pole positions than anyone else was starting fourth, but he put that right by the end of the opening lap.Â Senna actually dropped to fifth at the first corner of the wet 1993 European Grand Prix, the only F1 race to be held at Donington Park, and what followed was mesmerising.Â Michael Schumacher was passed on the exit of Redgate, while Sauberâ€™s Karl Wendlinger was barged out of the way in the Craner Curves.
Damon Hill was muscled aside on the entry to McLeans, and Alain Prost had no answer at the Melbourne Hairpin.Â The race was won after just 10 corners, even if it did last another 75 laps, by which point Senna had lapped everyone but Hill.Â How could a man who once sprinted across the track to help a fellow competitor come to punch another driver?Â It was just one of the many contradictions of Sennaâ€™s wide-ranging personality, but the Brazilian had garnered a reputation as a fighter both on and off track in the early â€™90s.
The McLaren driver had grabbed Michael Schumacher around the throat in testing ahead of the 1992 German GP and took things a step further with a debutant by the name of Eddie Irvine following the penultimate victory of his career at the 1993 Japanese GP.Â Senna was unimpressed by Irvineâ€™s efforts to unlap himself in the latter stages of the race and found the Jordan driver to discuss the incident,Â above.Â The cocky Ulsterman, as you would expect, gave as good as he got, with Senna landing a punch on Irvine, knocking him off a table, as he turned to leave.
Senna converted pole to victory, securing the last of his 41 careers wins, but the 1993 Australian Grand Prix is most fondly remembered for what happened after the chequered flag.Â The Adelaide event was Alain Prostâ€™s final appearance in F1, and the new world champion was given a poignant send-off by Senna before heading for retirement.Â After years of dismissing Prostâ€™s attempts of reconciliation, Senna offered his hand to the Frenchman in parc ferme, congratulating the four-time title winner on a glittering career, before continuing his gestures of goodwill during the podium ceremony.Â Senna lifted Prostâ€™s arm into the air as he received his trophy for second place and hauled the Frenchman on to the top step of the podium.Â It was the most beautiful way to bring the ultimate F1 rivalry to a close. Little did they know as they embraced, it was the last time either man would stand on the podium.
Senna was a troubled soul as he went into the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.
He was without a point after the first two races of the year, guilty of overdriving the new Williamsâ€”stripped of its technical gizmos of the previous yearâ€”and his family were disapproving of his new girlfriend.Â He was moved by the accident suffered by Rubens Barrichello, his countryman, on Friday, and was shaken by the death of Roland Ratzenberger, on Saturday.Â It was at the scene of Ratzenbergerâ€™s crash when Professor Sid Watkins, his friend, advised him to “give it up and letâ€™s go fishing.”
He refused. He couldnâ€™t walk away. He couldnâ€™t let go.
He set pole position and led the race until Lap 7, until his car left the road and struck the concrete wall at Tamburello.
He died, aged 34, on May 1 1994.