COMPETING IS IN MY BLOOD
The Life of Ayrton Senna
>He was already a heroe of the third millennium< Lucio Dalla
Suddenly it became some degrees colder indeed. But this had not anything to do with the temperatures outside in spite of the fact that late summer nights in Spa can be as cold as in winter. The men coming through the back entrance of the Honda McLaren pit all wear blue jeans and chequered shirts like woodcutters do - they must have bought them somewhere in a supermarket during the seasonal sale. Japanese like those things when staying in Europe for a while. The engineer working this early evening is Steve Nichols, who had been enticed away from that subterranean factory in the US American state of Utah by John Barnard; Hercules Inc. working nearly exclusively for the Pentagon had produced the first carbon fibre monocoque in history for McLaren and Nichols had been the one, who had put this technology into Formula One. The McLaren mechanics wearing their red and white, proper uniforms of sponsor Marlboro (that are exclusively made by German manufacturer BOSS) are working disciplined as ever to prepare the three MP4 chassis with their Honda V10 engines for the coming race. Hundreds, maybe thousands of data, graphs and symbols can be seen at the monitor screens and every little change the mechanics make at the cars without their bodyworks is not only stored at once by the electronic system, it is broadcast to Tokio via satellite, where a staff of engineers is working constantly. The powerful McLaren president Ron Dennis, who once had started his career as an apprentice at the Cooper Maserati of Jochen Rindt in the mid sixties has not yet come, is somewhere on his way to Spa going by his private jetliner or the factory owned helicopter, surely not standing in a traffic jam on a motorway. And for this reason I have got the opportunity to watch superelectronic live for more than half an hour. Honda and McLaren are the NASA of Formula One and the pit, clean like a modern operation theatre, is Houston/Texas. Suddenly the mechanics stop joking and talking about private affairs. The man in the centre of Japanese technicians, the one and only non-Asian, outstanding by the shining-blue baseball cap of his personal sponsor NACIONAL, a Brazilian bank, that also makes his private business, is like his boss Ron Dennis "always at work", as the German news magazine DER SPIEGEL wrote some years ago. He says hello, friendly but with a low voice, seems to be in a little fear of entering the pit (he is really so shy in spite denying that fact), but now he is consequently following his way because the McLaren control station will be his place of work from now on and there will be a job to done until one o`clock in the morning. The son of Spanish enterpreneur Milton da Silva and his Italian wife Neide Senna has been a millionaire since born on March 21st, 1960 in Sao Paulo; Ayrton himself, with an income of 23 millions US-$ per year was the best paid empolyeč of the world until Michael Schumacher will join the Ferrari team.
>The nature of man is destructive< Ayrton Senna da Silva
Somewhere in the future, when we have written a lot more chapters in the history book of Grand Prix racing, we will have to recognize: Ayrton Senna was not only the fastest man in this business, he was the best we have ever seen. In our time, in which many people have forgotten for what is worth fighting for (and being involved in so many unneccessary conflicts by the same reason), Ayrton Senna is the perfect example for those ones, who do not want to take part in the collective destruction of fundamental values of society. The parallelism to Jim Clark and the sixties is obvious, but the world of today is in a much deeper process of erosion than 30 years before.
His answers to the difficult questions of today sound like those of a classical philosopher, but those people who can not understand them (or simply have not got the will to do so) his mistakes he had made without doubt are welcome to put unbelievable hatred into the international press. High on the top, at the summit of best performance and near to technological perfection, the air that you breathe is very, very rare. Criticism on professional competence, easily refutable by facts, is nearly impossible and for this reason the denying of the dignity of man is the most perfidious kind of hostility.
Ayrton Senna suffered under those circumstances, more than one time and not without his own participation, and he was not able to fight against them. His end symbolizes the temporary breakdown of the base of the Grand Prix system itself, technologically and psychologically, de facto and de iure. All means of protection, the objective as the subjective ones, collapsed in an extremely quick manner but at the same time foreseeable. The bounds of ethic responsibility were exceeded long before the FW16 crashed into the concrete wall of the Tamburello. All factors in the Grand Prix system do exist in a mutual process of interdependence. Itīs analysis only can be reached in a very professional manner and not in every case. The strategy of the balance of power of mechanical engineering, aerodynamics and electronics on the one hand, the temporary dimension of the technological development and the use of the material resources on the other, gave the security to the system that prevented fatal accidents for more than a century. Of course, they could never been excluded completely , but the risk of them was able to be reduced extremely during the last ten or fifteen years. When turbopower had been banned from Grand Prix racing it had been done step by step, well-balanced and well- regulated and, of course, without pressure from outside.The prohibition of electronic control systems like active ride suspension, traction control, ABS etc. was done because Formula One of today is in hard competition on the world market with the American CART series with itīs completely different history and structures. The process of decisionmaking was influenced by commercial and political pressure, not by the estimation of the consequences of modern technology that is surely a difficult business at all. Of course, Grand Prix drivers were on the way to become slaves of their computers depending on their race engineers changing the set up of the gearbox each lap. To give back the drivers championship to the drivers - that was the aim of F.I.A. boss Max Mosley, a lawyer of more or less conservative spirit, and he could be sure to be in the headlines. Real humanity the public conceeded at the first look could not been recognized when discussing the details of the package of arms control carried through without any compromise. The engine power and, caused by the refuelling stops being brought back at the same time, the real performance of the cars was increased to those areas, where the drivers were absolutely not in control of them at any time Mosley wanted them. A real technical fault or a driver`s error was exactly not needed to bring catastrophe to the tracks. But somebody warning of this kind of rendered independent technology was considered as an industry-lobbyist, a crazy high tech freak having blind belief in science being silly at least. The effect, pschychologists call lightning conductor, that subjective self-protection being taken from statistics and historic experience that makes a Grand Priver enter his cockpit in spite of the well-known risks, had been withdrawn itīs base, if there is really such a one actually. Within 24 hours the end (with Roland Ratzenberger) and the top (Ayrton Senna) of the grid was hit, the whole profession had been taken way itīs ideal basis and the door for further accidents had been opened by this reason. In the life of human beings there are often events developing a remarkable, exceptional self-propulsion. For this reason known forms of explanation do not succeed. In Imola 1994 the things were driven away from the possibility of critical judgement as it was proved by the television commentary of John Watson and Allard Kalff - not only but even so. This was not the repression of two racing drivers however involved in a journalistic situation, not the professional overacting of mourning and at, at least, not a deficit in competence of judging causal relationships - there was a new, never to be seen form of reality, surmounting the bounds of imagination that put clear live pictures into a situation of being absolutely non topical. To express it in another way: The viewer watched in details what happened, but he got no information in fact, in the case of Senna less than in that of Ratzenberger the day before.
After the death of Roland Ratzenberger Ayrton Senna went to his place of accident, tried to talk to the marshals and to get information at first hand as he had ever done. The stability of any institution can be examined on the reaction on possible criticism during situations of crisis. The world`s automobile association prefered formal positions as ever when lawyers are short of real arguments and Senna was sent a warning because he tried to explore the death of a fellow only some hours before he died himself. Ayrton Senna had lost the belief in justice forever.
Nearly like a real family. Senna with engine shop boss Osamo Goto (left above wearing glasses) and the Japanese technicians in an Honda advertisement in 1989.
In some cases he himself had shaken his credibility and some traps he ran in were made of his own. Sennas words were terrifying clear, direct and extremely abstract, lead by principles and a self-confidence firm as a rock and that made a lot of people simply frightened. Popular leaders like Nigel Mansell have got much easier conditions. Sennas ability to reduct things onto the momentary substancial left enough room for interpretations. And these were, depending on the situation, extremely negative often denying the truth. Abysmal hatred and and extreme hostile images ( and these were often drawn of Senna) have got their origins in prejudices. And if these things are existing in our heads and our hearts, determining thinking and feeling, that clichč emerges and was published about Senna until the edge of excess: in cold blood, the opposite of fair, greedy for power, eccentric till megalomania. The popular like the published opnion (being two different things, sometimes, not always, depending on each other) was devided into different parties of deepest implacability their magnitude only can be speculated on. Jackie Stewart, no doubt sensitive and a good diplomat, familiar with the worldwide media system and itīs effects, absolutely not against Senna (the opposite was the reality) once compared him with Hitler. I hope, Stewart has modified this statement meanwhile. Indeed, Senna had more collisions (that can not be the mistake of one driver alone!) than other champions in the history of Grand Prix racing who dominated a whole epoque - having a look at that numerically. But none of them was in such a keen competition Senna was confronted with. Men like Fangio and Clark, like Stewart and Lauda, were actually autocrats and outstanding. Senna was not. And he was not able to do so, because the constellation of his struggle was a one never to be seen in history. Alain Prost was a rival of absolute the same value. The bounds of human abilities, we shall take them as a given factor, were touched faster and more often than ever before. Senna made less mistakes than others, but the consequences were much more serious under those circumstances.
His sense of responsibility was a different one that made him, only him, reaching those limits man is set by nature. Senna found himself often in a position where two straight lines really do cut themselves in the endlessness and for him that was self-evident day by day. His environment often reacted with stupidity, the officials with extraordinary punishment and public humilation, because they were not able to follow his ideas being themselves caught in a very simple way of thinking. Nevertheless the only thing to be done by them was to listen to him. Senna was a danger for every powerful position. The gentlemen at the top of the F.I.A. who, full of fear, took away his license twice because of little faults, hoping to discipline him with each of the half year probations, lost the all-time struggles as well as Ron Dennis , for many people Britainīs best manager. Surely, Senna demanded much money for his work , very much money in fact, but first of all he was interested in the task itself, when his distinct sense for injustice was more than hurt he was prepared for immidiate retirement.
It was only a question of time, may be two and a half or three years, when Ayrton Senna had broken the record of 1993 retired Frenchman Alain Prost. But Senna alone had brought this performance into a dimension nobody was able to reach during the second millennium. Seventy or more Grand Prix victories would have been possible. Everybody knew that. Alain Prost, too.
For the really successful ones Grand Prix racing as an occupation is not only a calling, it is a profession. The modern Formula One driver does credit an abstract reasoning, an absolute clearness in his definitions but flexibility in reflecting things because conceptions change very fast in a time of radical technological development and differences express theirselves only in finest shades. The statement of the drivers, that`s accuracy only could be proved by the lap time as an indicator far into the eighties, nowadays are compared with those data transmitted by the telemetry and analyzed by the computers in the pit. The congruency of subjectiveness and objectiveness was also the aim of Fangio, Stewart and Lauda. Really done was it at least by Senna who mastered both in a perfection never to be seen: The analysis and the transformation into driving. In an invironment like that there is no room for wishful thinking motivated by social romanticism. and for the so often demanded looseness at all many people have got a perfect hiding place for their professional incompetency and their lack of seriousness.
In Monaco 1988 Senna kead Prost, who had not attacked anymore, by nearly a minute. Ron Dennis had radiowed him that message into the cockpit and that he should, shortly before the end, take things a little more easy and relaxed. Senna, this throughout soldier-like character we could imagine wearing the uniform of an high-ranking officer, obeyed the order, slowed down to bring the car home as careful as possible. But Senna was not able to find concentration more and more. First he made some little mistakes before crashing into the barrier down at the harbour where the left front wheel broke off. "I have crashed", he radiowed Dennis his sadest disappointment of his career into the pit. Something he had done wrong basically in this difficult process of decision-making influencing a Grand Prix during the race itself. Senna was confronted with a lot of questions he did not know to answer. Viviane, his sister, mother of three children, but also an educated psychologist, was able to help him.
His nephews he idolized and who ever saw little Bruno at the age of seven speeding by motor-boat over the Senna owned lake, wearing the bright yellow helmet, doing the craziest things with the wet-bike, might imagine what kind of character Senna had been when being a boy. A lot more mature than others. And more ambitious. Fixed to only one target, without any compromise.
In the lionīs cage. At the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix held at Barcelona-Montmelo in a direct duel with lionheart Nigel Mansell in the Williams Renault.
To lead the life of a normal citizen he once tried after all. He began studying industrial management, became an executive in one of the factories owned by his father and he married, too. For this reason he, being only interested in racing since his early childhood, even interrupted his career but only for some months. That was at the age of twenty, when he was not able to see any further perspective for the rest of his life, felt himself captured in marriage and the bureaucracy being present everywhere and then he decided to make that step forward that might have brought him onto the top of Grand Prix racing forever. That his marriage had been divorced and for this reason the dream of a family of his own was gone the believing catholic was not careless about and his private life was often discussed in a very bad way. His lack of physical fitness was speculated about as well as about his opinions on the burning social problems of his homecountry. That was not clever indeed. Senna did a lot of good action and kept silence - in contrast to many people to name themselves prominent persons or simply wanted to be ones. Senna was sensitive and exceedingly charming. The collective system of McLaren and Honda was the base the discipilined workoholic could show his individual capabilities better than anybody else. The first Formula One car Senna had driven was a Williams, the FW08, during a test session at the Tom Wheatcroft owned Donington circuit in autumn 1983 where he celebrated his greatest victory ten years later when winning the Grand Prix of Europe at Easter 1983 before changing to Williams Renault after six years with McLaren International. The question how Senna accustomed to collective structures would have harmonized with the personified team of Frank Williams will not be answered forever.
"Racing, competing is in my blood. It is a part of me, it is a part of my life. It stands up than anything else."
"1989 I was rub by the system. I won 1989 in Suzuka. That one in 1989 I won and it was taken away. I miss one victory in my career and I will never forget that. I was prevented to go to the podium by Balestre. And the result was the 1990 championship. We faught all the time, myself and Prost, when we came to the last race and pole position was on the wrong place. We agreed before qualifying that pole position was on the outside and then Balestre gave the order not to change after qualifying. I found myself on the wrong side. I was so frustrated that I promised myself that after the start if I would loose the first place I would go for it in the first corner, regardless of the result. 1991 Nigel was working properly, it was a good race exciting for everyone and I hope it will stand as an example for the future for myself and everyone competing." This is in Sennas own words, the summary of three drivers` worldchampionships, expressed at Suzuka 1991, where he let Gerhard Berger win to say thank you for all the perfect cooperation and great rival Nigel Mansell congratulated so enthusiastic - a clear statement of a great sportsman and true gentleman.
Austrian Gerhard Berger was not only a team mate to work together with perfectly during the three common McLaren years they shared, he was a faithful friend. Nobody can express better, what happened at 1st May, 1994 in Imola near Bologna in the North of Italy. "It was like the sun dropping from the sky."
Further informations, especially about the accident, you can find at: www.ayrton-senna.com
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