In the long and storied history of Formula One racing, there are few people more influential, important, popular and legendary in the sport than Ayrton Senna. Senna was a staple at or near the front of races from the mid 80s to early 90s. Unfortunately, Senna passed away in a crash while he was racing (and leading) in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. However, his legacy lives on over two decades later and will continue to live on forever.
Ayrton Senna was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil to a fairly wealthy family and from a young age, showed he was athletic. But instead of going the traditional route of soccer, like most Brazilian children, he took an interest in auto racing. At the ripe age of 7, he was already driving the family jeep around. He got his start in competitive racing at the age of 13 when he began to race go-karts. From the late 70’s to early 80’s, he dominate the racing scene and eventually moved to England for a better shot at becoming professional.
Once he moved to England in 1981, he moved from karting to open wheel racing. And after only a few short years with open wheel experience, he won the British Formula 3 championship in 1983. This gained him access to the prestigious Formula One racing circuit the following year, and he finally realized his dream. Over the next few years, he won a few Gran Prix’s here and there, But in 1988, his career really took off.
After a move to Mclaren-Honda, he and teammate Alain Prost won 15 of the 16 Grand Prix’s that year and Senna would win his first World Championship. After this win, Senna had the attention of every race fan and he didn’t squander it at all as he went on to also win the 1990 and 1991 World Championships as well. After a few issues with vehicles and his team led to some less than perfect 1992 and 1993 seasons, Senna looked to be back with a vengeance in 1994, but then the unthinkable happened.
On May 1st 1994, during the San Marino Grand Prix, when Senna was leading the pack, he came into a turn on lap 7 too fast (over 190 mph) and his car veered off track and directly into a concrete wall. It was later announced that Senna had died instantly upon impact with the wall, hitting it at nearly 150 mph.
As expected, this news sent shockwaves through the racing industry and people were mourning the losses of one of the best racers ever, who was only 34 years old and still in the prime of his career. But some good did come from this crash (and others like it). The fatal crashes in Formula One led organizers to add a ton of extra security measures for racer safety such as better barriers, helmet improvements and cuts to engine power.
While Senna has been long passed away, his impact on the sport of auto racing will never go away.