Senna: Remembering The Legend

It’s been 20 Years. I have have some hazy recollections of a 5 year old me watching the Evening News on ‘Doordarshan 1’ (Probably the only TV Channel in India back then).  I can still remember the visuals of a man being carried off in a stretcher.  And my Mom explaining to me in a faint sigh of disappointment that a famous Racing Driver had died in an accident. I wouldn’t understand the significance of that 2 minutes news report back then. Not until years later, I would come to know that that was one of the darkest moments in Formula 1 History.  In a country which followed no other sports back then except Cricket and Hockey, such a news making it to the Only National TV News Segment, is a sign of how much ‘That Man’  was revered.  A couple of years Later, with the coming of ESPN, The Indian Viewer would be introduced to Spanish Football and Formula 1.  Apart from being awed by the new phenomenon Michael ‘Shoe-Maker’, the new Indian F1 fans, after watching famous races’ reruns would be warming up to The Legend called  Aryton Senna. The Legend we could never witness racing.


 “And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further.With your mind power,your determination,your instinct,and the experience as well,you can fly very high.”– Aryton Senna 

French driver Erik Comas had a particularly nasty crash during the qualifying sessions for the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix. In a sport where every man is literally out for himself, it was expected that the drivers would just swerve around Comas’ wrecked Renault and continue their attempts at laying down a fast qualifying time. But not Senna.

Senna, not far behind Comas, was the first to arrive to the scene of Comas’ crash and, out of concern for his fellow driver, parked his McLaren and ran out onto the hot track, dodging other F1 cars. While this may seem like a odd entry for a number one position on a list like this — especially given Senna’s racing legacy — we feel that this small gesture shows that, while Senna was a great driver, he was an even better man.

Senna showed great concern for his fellow drivers right up to his final race. The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was particularly tragic: When friend and fellow driver Rubens Barrichello was involved in a horrific crash during qualifying, Senna disregarded official Formula 1 orders to stay away from Barrichello and “broke into” the hospital to remain by his friend’s side.

Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed during the following day’s qualifying session, prompting Senna to rally his fellow drivers to push Formula 1 officials to increase driver safety, a move which, video shows, irritated the F1 brass. On race day, Senna carried an Austrian flag in his Williams, planning to fly it in honor of the fallen Ratzenberger. Unfortunately, this would be the race where Senna himself would have his fatal accident.


May 1st 1994. 20 years ago, Formula 1 saw it’s last death on the circuit. Sadly it’s a tragic irony that the man who led the crusade for driver safety and rights in F1 had to die for his goals to be met. Meet the 3 times world champion, excluding the once when he was stripped off his championship in favor of the other drivers who were closer to the all powerful F1 bosses. Who knows what would have been if not for that fateful weekend. The 1994 season could have season could have seen a full year of Schumacher vs Senna! I was just 5 years old during that day which created shock-waves all over the world due to Senna’s death. Even India, which had got nothing to do with F1, Senna’s death was reported in the Doordarshan telecast. Such was the power and impact of Aryton Senna. I have very vague recollections of my mom explaining what has happened. Maybe that small 5 minutes conversation had a lasting impact on me. growing up I came across many news reports, articles and even some TV documentaries on the life and death of Senna. I am listing down some of the greatest senna moments.

Senna’s Win in Brazil.

Despite Senna’s numerous successes in Formula 1, it was years before he would win an F1 race in his home country of Brazil. Already a hero at home for proudly acting as a cultural ambassador for the then-troubled country, a win for Senna in Brazil was a dream for both the man and nation. And at the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, with two world championships then under his belt, Senna was poised to make a nation’s dreams come true.

Senna’s Revenge

Prost’s little hissy fit in Suzuka obliterated the already-strained relationship between himself, Senna and the McLaren team, so he left for Ferrari for the 1990 season. Senna remained on McLaren. In a repeat of the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, the outcome of the 1990 race in Suzuka would determine whether Prost or Senna would take home the driver’s championship that year.

A non-finish by Prost at Suzuka would give the driver’s championship to Senna. Senna managed to qualify on the pole position, with Prost qualifying second. But likely due to politics, Prost got the better starting position, putting Senna at a severe disadvantage. However, just as with every other race, Senna would take his line, regardless of where the other drivers were.

Prost got a slight advantage off the start, but in the very first corner of the race, Senna took what he felt was his line, and both cars wrecked and flew into the kitty litter, shattered beyond repair. Prost walked away disgusted with Senna, and Senna walked away with his second world championship.

Senna’s Monaco Debut

Senna’s first year in Formula 1 should not have been a competitive one. Signed to the uncompetitive Toleman team, Senna’s car was considered by many to be second-rate. Senna’s first few races with Toleman were uneventful, but it was the race in Monaco where Senna became a star.

Qualifying at a dismal 13th, Senna should not have had any chance to win on the tight and technical Monaco track, and his chances should have disappeared as soon as the first drops of rain started to hit the tarmac. But Senna thrived in these conditions, revealing his superhuman car-control skills by passing cars in impossible conditions, even gaining an unbelievable three seconds per lap on race leader Alain Prost. Right as Senna was about to take the lead, race officials decided to cancel the race — officially due to safety concerns, though it was probably because they didn’t want Prost to lose. Senna did get his first F1 podium, though — the first of 81 over his 10-year career.


The legacy of Senna has stayed on all these years. In case you haven’t seen this amazing documentary by Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey, do watch it.  Amazing Racer. Amazing Winner. Amazing Human Being.

“Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose.”- Aryton Senna 

Originally posted in on 5/1/2013