Fox's 20th century: 1985-90: Ayrton Senna
Sunday 12 December 1999
There was no doubting his bravery. When he had fights with bigger boys he won, and his clumsiness left him after he took up karting. He was South American champion, and karting remained a passion long after he became Formula One world champion.
His car racing career began with the Van Diemen company of Norfolk. He was soon winning Formula Ford 1600 races. The stepping stones to becoming world champion took him through Formula Ford 2000 and on to thrilling British Formula 3 races against Martin Brundle. He made his Formula One debut in 1984 (with Toleman) and went on to achieve 41 grands prix victories and 65 pole positions. Who knows whether he was the greatest driver of all time, but undoubtedly he was the fastest.
A complex man, he was a devout Christian yet would openly talk of his hatred on the track of his rivals. He was at once humble and arrogant; immensely likeable at times, aloof at others.
After joining Lotus for the 1985 season, his first grand prix win showed all of his skills. The Portuguese race was run in torrential rain. He was on pole, next to Alain Prost. He confidently took the lead while most of the field struggled for grip. He was pursued by Michele Alboreto in a Ferrari, but after two thirds of the race he had a lead of nearly a minute. Yet Alboreto kept closing. Each time Senna felt threatened he accelerated and in a masterful exhibition won by over a minute.
He became a Marlboro McLaren driver with Prost and was world champion in 1988 with an amazing 13 pole positions. The following year, in the final race in Japan, Senna and Prost crashed together, leaving Prost as world champion amid controversy - no stranger to Senna (especially when racing against Nigel Mansell). Senna got his revenge in 1991, becoming world champion and keeping Prost in second place.
His death at Imola in 1994 remains unexplained. Yet before that last race he had been unusually circumspect. Roland Ratzenberger's death in practice shook him. Both crashes were terrible reminders that though motor racing had become safer it would never be safe. Senna never doubted that, nor his own mortality.
Latest in Sport
Angel Di Maria reveals wish to return to Argentina - but don't worry Manchester United fans...
Arsene Wenger 18th anniversary at Arsenal: His WORST signings XI during his time with the Gunners
FC Basel vs Liverpool: Champions League match preview
Robin van Persie reveals Louis van Gaal wants Manchester United to 'be more Dutch and pull on the same rope'
Manchester United risk Uefa row over plan to play lucrative midweek friendlies
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 3 Ed Sheeran dedicates song to David Cameron
- 4 Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand
- 5 35,000 walrus gather ashore on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...
£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...
Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...