Motor Racing / British Grand Prix: Senna committed to a broader vision: The McLaren team are in the firing line for a change as Williams take charge of the Formula One championship: Brazilian hiding behind the famous yellow and green helmet

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The Independent Online
HE SITS almost motionless, seemingly oblivious to the feverish activity about him, alone in a world of his own creation. He responds only to his engineers, with the occasional, slow nod of the head, and then reaches up a gloved finger to wipe his eye. Otherwise he is still, silent, his concentration total.

Soon the grid will be cleared, the ritual over, and Ayrton Senna will be launching his McLaren-Honda into another race. Not so long ago he would have expected to win, but circumstances have changed and the chances are that he will not. It must be difficult for a man like Senna - if there is a man like Senna - to come to terms with this new reality.

'There is no point even to think about it,' he says. 'We have to keep trying to improve, to keep pushing, but we can all see that they are too strong for everyone right now.'

'They' are Williams-Renault, the team who have stolen McLaren's thunder this season and go into tomorrow's British Grand Prix at Silverstone with six wins from eight races. Nigel Mansell has laid personal claim to all those Williams victories, while Senna has one of McLaren's two. The World Championship, won three times in the past four years by the Brazilian, is surely destined for Britain for the first time in 16 years.

There are those within McLaren who suggest Senna might be a little too resigned to his fate. They say he is less inclined to prolong the team debriefing, going over minute details time and again to the point where Alain Prost was once driven to mock yawns.

Senna reasons that if nothing is to be gained by prolonged discussions then he might as well give all of them a break. The car is currently not good enough and until essential changes are made there is effectively no scope for improvement.

More relaxed he certainly is. It is almost as if he is relishing a 'sabbatical' from the high drama and tension of the championship contest proper. He talks about things other than motor racing. Recently he turned up at the women's final in the French tennis championships. More surprisingly still to those who are close to him, he appeared at ringside for Chris Eubank's title fight in Portugal.

He now has a home in Portugal, as well as his farm in Sao Paulo, his beach house up the coast towards Rio, and his apartment in Monaco. The plane, the boats and cars are essential toys. Senna likes money, earns plenty of it (an estimated pounds 10m a year from his racing) and spends plenty of it. He regularly raids New York for electrical and computerised gadgets. He hit a lighting shop like a swarm of locusts and left it bare.

His organisation is currently working on a Senna range of merchandise, everything from key rings to cars. However, they have yet to find a manufacturer willing to build and market a 'Senna' model. His employees now number more than 20: management, secretarial and even a personal press officer.

Intelligent, articulate in four languages and thoroughly professional, he has become an on-screen ham, changing character according to the requirements of the customer. In one session, sitting in the same chair, wearing the same clothing, breaking the flow only for a sip of water, he taped a television commercial, a sponsor's blurb and a charity appeal. In Japan he is fronting a road-safety campaign, although he caused some consternation with the organisers there and embarrassment among his own people when he was caught by police doing 120mph on the M25 a couple of weeks ago.

Does not all this extra-curricular activity confirm the suspicion that he has lost some of his appetite for racing, the 'motivation' we hear so much about in the pits and the paddocks of the Formula One circuits? He is 32, unattached, has three world championships and 34 grand prix victories, after all. There really is another world out there, he is discovering it for the first time and perhaps he likes what he has found.

'Of course it gets more difficult to maintain the motivation,' he says. 'Not only for me but for the team. Every year it gets harder. Especially when you have had so much success. It is very demanding physically and mentally. It is very stressful. You have to give yourself to it.'

So is he contemplating throwing in the towel and exploring more of this outside world? 'Throw in the towel and do what?' he asks. 'When I have lost my motivation and feel I am no longer good enough to compete at the level I want to compete at, then I will stop. But that is not the situation.'

Evidence of that is still before us. At Imola he gave so much of himself to take third place he had to receive medical attention in his car after the race. At Monaco he grasped a rare opportunity to deny Mansell, and so again in Canada to take pole position and repel the Englishman in the opening stages.

'If I have to, I will push myself like that,' he says. 'I will go over the limit if that is what's required. That is the way I am. It comes from inside of me. It makes me keep pushing, pushing. If 100 per cent is not good enough then you have to give more than 100 per cent and that commitment can give you pain. Even if I can't win the championship, I will give that commitment in the races.'

It may take more than Senna's undoubted genius and commitment to obstruct Mansell's course tomorrow. 'We should have big improvements after this race but this year is Mansell's big opportunity. He has always been good. You can see that if you look back over many years. For various reasons he has not won the championship but unless Williams have a lot of problems from now on, it will be very difficult to stop that.

'I have had a lot of success and I hope to have the opportunity of more in the future. There is time. We will see . . .'

(Photograph omitted)