May 1st 1994, Mugello
Race Track. I remember
the moment as if it was
yesterday. I was at a
Porsche Club Race, the
drivers were ready to align for the start
when the news from Imola arrived in the
paddock. Ayrton Senna crashed at the
Tamburello corner in Imola on his
Williams and died. I remember the atmosphere
and the goose bumps going through
my back and the tears on most of faces,
including mine, for the loss of the best F1
driver this century has had. Some drivers
refused to start their race and on the
podium there was no celebration by the
winner. The day before another F1 driver
Ratzenberger lost his life on the same circuit.
It was one of the most terrible weekends
in F1 history.
Senna streaked through the sport
like a comet, an other-worldly superstar
whose brilliance as a driver was matched
by a dazzling intellect and coruscating
charisma that illuminated Formula One
racing as never before.
He drove like a man possessed -
some thought by demons. His ruthless
ambition provoked condemnation from
critics, among them Prost who accused
him of caring more about winning than living.
When Senna revealed he had discovered
religion Prost and others suggested
he was a dangerous madman who thought
God was his co-pilot. "Senna is a genius,"
Martin Brundle said. "I define genius as
just the right side of imbalance. He is so
highly developed to the point that he's
almost over the edge. It's a close call."
Even Senna confessed he occasionally
went too far, as was the case in
qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand
Prix, where he became a passenger on a
surreal ride into the unknown. Already on
pole, he went faster and faster and was
eventually over two seconds quicker than
Prost in an identical McLaren. "Suddenly,
it frightened me," Ayrton said, "because I
realised I was well beyond my conscious
understanding. I drove back slowly to the
pits and did not go out anymore that day."
He said he was acutely aware of
his own mortality and used fear to control
the extent of the boundaries he felt compelled
to explore. Indeed, he regarded racing
as a metaphor for life and he used
driving as a means of self-discovery. "For
me, this research is fascinating. Every
time I push, I find something more, again
and again. But there is a contradiction.
The same moment that you become the
fastest, you are enormously fragile.
Because in a split-second, it can be gone.
All of it. These two extremes contribute to
knowing yourself, deeper and deeper."
His death has left an emptiness
that F1 drivers and passionate still feel
after 15 years.