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postheadericon Dedicated to ayrton senna

Dedicated to Ayrton Senna

It all happened for me one day during one of many stays in South America, more specifically while in Santiago, Chile when I woke up early on a Sunday morning in order to take advantage of the early light to get some good shots of my neighborhood. It was this place and time of the day that was ideal for me; who was a photographer way back then in 1992.

It was on that Sunday in May after shooting a role of film that I decided to go home and catch the Formula one race on television; the Monaco Grand Prix which I had heard so much about but had never seen. If truth be let out I was not a car racing fan at the time as I really knew very little if anything about car races other then the fact that they bored me stiff specially after having seen the American Indy and NASCAR races which like other American sporting activities that include baseball simply held no entertainment for me what so ever.

With regards to formula one this after having seen four races that season even I could see was something different from what I had known before. For instances it was not cars doing laps around a circle as was the case in America but a circuit and I could see a lot to gather my passion and I perhaps would have even become a great fan of the sport had it not been for the one factor. There was one man, “Nigel Mansell” driving for a team called “Williams Renault” who had not only won all four races that season but had lead them all from start to finish. It was not so much that I had anything personal against this English driver but for me who was not a fan of the sport yet and far less one of his the fun of seeing one man win so easily over the rest held no joy for me.

It was on that Sunday while watching this formula one race that I witnessed again how Nigel Mansell was leading this race which like all the others that year he had lead from start to finish but on this occasion he was leading over Ayrton Senna Da Sylva who found himself in second place. I after having watched four races had learnt that in this sport a two second lead was a big deal in fact sort of like in slalom were half a second is a huge deal though Mansell was not two seconds ahead of Senna but 30 seconds which for all intensive purposes might as well have been an eternity specially since only nine laps were remaining on a course were overtaking was extremely difficult.

With regards to Ayrton Senna I had heard in the four races that I had watched that year that he was one of the best but in truth I saw nothing in him that would have suggested this. He only had eight points in the standings which was far less then Mansell who already had forty and though I knew he was world champion from the year before I could not figure out what made people praise him as they did. I at that point was willing to turn to another channel were a football match from the Italian “Serie A” was due to begin because even with what was my limited knowledge at that time I could see that Mansell was almost a sure thing to win that day.

In recalling this day the only reason I turned on this race was because I wanted to watch something before watching the “calcio” as we Italians call it and because I knew it took place on the streets of Monaco where I had once driven a car myself so it was with this in mind that I tuned in to this race but I will never forget that moment when I was about to turn the channel thinking it was over and perhaps if my old TV set had had a remote control I would have done so quicker. All I remember was a scream naturally in Spanish coming from the set “Ayrton Senna has taken first place”, this statement making me freeze as I wondered how that was even possible but as my eyes turned back to the screen the image only confirmed what had been announced.

Senna was in first place because for some reason which I had not really been paying attention to which I would find out later; Mansell had gone in to pits because he had blown a tire that for some strange reason took his pit crew 39 seconds to fix (the norm being far less). This was all the break that Senna needed to take first place but taking first place was one thing holding on to it with Mansell and his Williams Renault which like many were saying was by far the best car in the world at that time was a different matter. True Senna had a nine second lead and it was not so much that I wanted to see him win but or that I wanted to see Mansell loose but I had had enough of watching a one man’s domination so it was unwillingly in fact that I started pulling for Senna to win more because I wanted to watch somebody else win for a change.

Mansell was gaining as his engine was clearly stronger, despite his having only ten cylinders in comparison to Senna’s twelve but in spite of this he was quickly getting closer to the point were he even gained an almost incredible five seconds in one single lap. The lead had been cut to under a second this putting Mansell so close to Senna’s car to make one think that at any second he could overtake him; as it seemed that he with three laps to go was practically breathing down Senna’s neck. Mansell was going much faster, this point there was no arguing but despite it all he simply could not pass Senna who was doing what even an untrained eye like mine at the time could see was a masterful job of blocking Mansell of from passing him. I could even see the despair in Mansell who was also a great driver (though not as great) with a far superior car doing everything he could to overtake but no matter what steps he took this driver who a few months ago I had not even heard of always managed to simply stay one jump ahead.

Comedy was even to be found at how Senna managed to keep from being passed as in truth he practically spent that last three laps with Mansell’s front bumper touching his rear bumper and there were even those moments in which he was almost side by side but try as Mansell might he just could not pass as Senna simply would not allow it. The final lap came and as Senna’s car crossed the finish line in first place (with Mansell, side by side a fraction of a second behind) it blew its engine but this was no longer of consequence for the race was over. Senna had won the Monaco Grand Prix for the third time in a row and forth in his career but how he had managed to block of this car which was going so much faster then his with a car that was about to break down was something that made me admit “Ok, he is as good as they said he is”.

Upon seeing this Brazilian cross the finish line I cheered like I had rarely done for any sport that was not football not only that he had won but the manner in which he had done it. Naturally with a blown engine a car will not go to far and in a tremendous show of sportsmanship Nigel Mansell allowed Senna to ride on his car to the podium where he received his first place trophy with champagne being poured on him by Mansell (second place) and Ricardo Patrese (third place). Patrese being an Italian driver also from the Williams Renault team. As a foot note I remember that on that day a young driver from Germany; Michael Schumacher came in fourth.

There are moments in sports those who are fans will never forget. This holding true no matter what sport we follow but to me this was one of them. Technical information concerning the new sport or at least new to me that had caught my passion which I read about after that Monaco Grand Prix was that unlike Indy racing; in this sport not all cars were equal and sometimes the difference between one racer’s car and the next was really enormous as was the case between Senna’s car and Mansell’s that season.

Regarding Senna I also did my homework; finding out that he was from Sao Paolo and that at the relatively young age of 31 was already a three time world champion in Formula One who had won a career total of 33 races which placed him in second only to Alain Prost’s 44 on the all time list. Concerning his relationship with Alan Prost; this was far from being friendly as Prost had crashed in to Senna during the last race of the 89 season which be virtue of eliminating both drivers guaranteed Prost (who was slightly a head in the point standings) the driver’s title. Senna however would not be outdone and it was the year that followed that he would return the favor by crashing in to Prost in another collision that would take both out of the final race however on that occasion it was Senna who was leading in the point standings.

By the time of the next Grand Prix without much room for doubt I had become a great fan of Senna’s as I saw him being to his sport what Jordan was to basketball, or Maradona was to football, or Louganis to diving. Naturally if the issue by his fans this he had millions not only in his native Brazil where his popularity rose even above that of Pele (a football player whose greatness was almost equal to Maradona’s) but all over South America where he was idolized.   

The next race; the Canadian Grand Prix came with Senna managing to win pole position but this was a feat he would only do once that season and as for the rest of the season much to my disappointment I would only see Senna win two more races and finish in fourth place in the driver’s championship behind Mansell in first, Patrese in second and Schumacher in third. Despite this however Senna did win three races that season; this number being second only to Mansell’s nine races which broke the record for a single season which had been held by Senna with eight.

With the 92 season over with as well as the year I moved back to the States where I continued to watch F 1 in the 93 season that would see Senna’s team McLaren change engines from Honda (who withdrew from Formula one) to Ford which not by chance was also being used by the Benetton team which Michael Schumacher was a driver for. The 93 season also brought along with it other changes such as Mansell leaving Williams to be replaced by Prost while Senna’s teammate Berger was replaced by Michael Andretti ( Indy champion as well as son of 1978 F 1 champion, Mario Andretti). Senna’s team was using new engines but rather then shorten the gap between themselves and the Williams team they in fact widened it for now not only were their engines not as strong as those of Williams but theirs were not even as powerful as those of Benetton who had it in their contract with Ford that they had exclusive rights to Ford’s most advanced engines. This meaning that Mclaren would constantly be getting Ford’s second best engines after Benetton had finished with them.

The season started with the first race taking place in South Africa where Senna took second place to Alain Prost’s first place, while Schumacher took third though. At one point during the race Schumacher had been in second place only to be passed by Senna when both came in to pits. Senna however like all great ones was not one to lament so as the season continued he went on to win the next two races and three of the next six. One of these being again Monaco like he had done the previous year and another being in his native Brazil where once again he proved to by the master of wet conditions but however with the technological difference being enormous Alan Prost, another great driver in his own right (finishing his career with 51 wins and four world titles) would not be denied the 93 world title despite what could be classified as Senna’s gallant effort.

Prost in his Williams Renault went on to win seven out of sixteen races that year which clinched him the world title for the forth time while Ayrton Senna in what I would call perhaps his finest season considering all his disadvantages would go to win five races and finish in second place (which to Senna personally meant very little after having been three time world champion) a head of both Damon Hill (also of Williams Renault and F 1 champion in 96) and Michael Schumacher (future seven time world champion) who in fact baring the Williams cars had the best car in F 1.

Senna after the 93 season moved over to Williams Renault which prompted the retirement of Alain Prost from Formula One as he did not wish to be second driver to Senna. To me at the time it seemed almost a certain that Senna would be world champion in 94 after all he had the best car though Benetton with their Ford engines had truly shortened the gap in the off season between themselves and Williams. Schumacher then at the age of 25 was a already a great driver but he had not been able to beat Senna in the previous season despite having the more advanced car.

The 94 season would turn out to be the last however for the man who had become an idol of mine as a blown engine would see him leave the first race of the season while being in second place after having been passed by Schumacher in pits though not in racing conditions. The second race like the first would see Senna win pole position but again not the race as a first lap collision on the very first turn would see Senna knocked out of the race which Schumacher like the previous race would go on to win. The season was shaping in to a strange one as Senna twice had managed to get on pole but had not managed to finish either race due to first mechanical difficulties and then a crash.

It was after those two first races that San Marino came which is known as the fastest race in Formula one. Perhaps there was something that weekend in Italy but what ever it was an Austrian driver named Ratzenberger was killed that weekend during practice. The third race like the first two of that season saw Senna start from pole position with Schumacher in second place but unlike the previous two Senna kept his lead till another mechanical failure as had been the case during the first race saw him crash in to concrete wall at a speed of 320 kilometers per hour. The sight was one my mind will never get rid of: seeing Senna crash with his car almost exploding as it hit that wall; the force of which left Senna unconscious as he was taken to hospital by helicopter where he arrived in a coma after which he passed away. I must admit tears was my reaction as I heard the news that Senna had died for he in the two years I had known of him had become an idol to me not only because he could win races in Formula won in spite of having a car which was at least as far as 92 and 93 far inferior to those of his rivals but for his competitive nature which placed winning above everything.

To many Senna was a man who was winner though one who was aloof, selfish, arrogant and self-centered however to those whose opinion be such I say that they have the right to think as they see fit but I also say to them to look at how he once could have one a race as he was in first place and on the last lap with the driver’s championship already his rather then rack up another win for himself allowed his team mate Gerhardt Berger to get the victory. They might also consider how after the 92 season he congratulated Mansell for having won; claiming Mansell had been the better driver who deserved to win and making no reference to how he had had the better car which he did not use as an excuse.

Many might ask if I believe Senna to have been better then Schumacher and to those that do I would say that with Formula One being a sport in which perhaps 85 percent of winning depends on the car and so few on the driver it would be hard to say but I in my never humble opinion would say that he was as good. Schumacher naturally won more races and world titles but then again Schumacher did race more years (almost twice as many) and without having to face such strong competition from the likes of Prost, Mansell, Piquet or Lauda. I for my part ask what would have happened and how great Formula One would have been if Senna and Schumacher would have gone on to hold the great rivalry that should have been had Senna lived on.    

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