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Remembering Senna

Now that Michael Schumacher has retired, the discussions on whether he was the greatest driver ever have started. Some would doubt that he deserves to be amongst the truly great, others point at his record as incontestable proof of his superiority. There being little of note happening in the F1 world today, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take another look at the man who set the standard for the modern champion. Before we assert anything about Michael, we really need to remember Ayrton.

Ayrton

Let’s start with a short video that illustrates something any champion needs to be called “great” – character. Here is Senna’s reaction to Erik Comas’ nasty accident in a practice session. And then there’s dealing with adversity – as in Ayrton’s explanation of the facts of life to a young Michael Schumacher who has just taken him out of the race.

Everyone knows the story of the wet race at Donington in 1993 where Ayrton demonstrated how to drive in the wet – but do we remember how he struggled that year in a McLaren vastly inferior to the Benettons and Williams? Here is how a great champion does his utmost to hold faster cars back in such circumstances.

It is even true that greatness rubs off on others at times – if you could pass Ayrton, you made yourself an immediate reputation. Consider the case of Jean Alesi, whose passing manouver over Ayrton in Phoenix gave him a reputation for speed that was not to fade until his days with Ferrari. Everyone quickly forgot that Alesi was being lapped and really shouldn’t have been messing with the leaders at all.

Most of all, however, we want our champions to be human. Here is a tribute video to Ayrton in which he is caught laughing (yes, actually laughing!) on several occasions. The flag-waving is what got that form of celebration banned in the end, of course!

That was Ayrton Senna – Brazil’s finest but also F1′s, a fierce competitor and yet a man of character and compassion. In his day he was the fastest man on the track, even in cars that were less than the best. His record may not be as impressive as Schumacher’s but the statistics do not tell all. Enough said.

6 Responses to “Remembering Senna”

  1. I agree, Clive. Senna was the best. He was as much of a “professor” as Prost and (almost) as exciting a driver as Mansell. Schumie is a dog compared to him :-)

  2. To watch Senna in a race, any race, was to watch a master at work – there was something indefinably perfect about his driving that is impossible to describe. On rare occasions, Hakkinen looked the same, but I have never seen any other driver so consistently demonstrate that complete, confident control that Senna had. Not even Schumacher.

  3. That video of him fighting off a faster car is just incredible! He’s still in my mind the greatest F1 driver we’ve ever seen.

  4. What can I say? I agree…

  5. Schumacher is a great driver – no question about it. Committed, occasionally daring, ruthless and excellent in the rain. But no one says about Schumacher, “Well, he’s not a god.” Because the clarification is unnecessary. With Senna, an astonishing number of people who have watched him drive seem to think that the clarification is needed.

    It’s easier to end the argument, though, by noting that when the two drove side-by-side, it was blatantly obvious that Senna was the quicker by a relatively staggering margin, even down on horsepower and chassis capability.

    I also believe – although I’m not certain – that Schumacher drove his *entire career* with effectively the same team (Bennetton moved en masse to Ferrari, I think). The impact of that consistency should never be discounted, particularly when noting that he never had a competitive #2.

    Schumacher’s fantastic, probably among the greats – but placed next to Senna’s incandecsent talent, he’s just another mortal on the grid.

    cdg

  6. I agree completely, Christian. Schumacher’s talent was flawed by his willingness to win through fair means or foul. Senna was the master, so secure in his superiority that he had no need to stoop to dirty tactics. I doubt we will ever see his like again.

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