Ayrton Senna: Lewis Hamilton 'inspired' by three-time F1 world champion

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Brazilian's fatal crash

Lewis Hamilton has felt a lifelong connection to Aytron Senna and attributes his own driving style and success to his early years of watching the three-time world champion on television.

Thursday marks 20 years since Senna lost his life following a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix, with fans and Formula One drivers past and present paying tribute to the Brazilian and also to Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger, who was killed at the same track on April 30, 1994.

Imola is being opened to the public from Thursday through to Sunday, with a parade taking place to mark the lives of both Senna and Ratzenberger, while talks on how safety measures have improved in the sport have also taken place.

It is testament to the measures implemented since May 1, 1994, that Senna, who was 34, remains the last driver to die over the course of an F1 weekend.

And for Hamilton, who leads the current drivers' championship having won three of the opening four rounds of the 2014 season in his Mercedes, Senna holds a special place in his development.

"A lot of the way I drive today is inspired by the way I saw him drive," Hamilton wrote on his online blog.

"It was the fact that Ayrton Senna was just an out-and-out racer that was most important to me.

"I can really identify with that. It's exactly how I feel I am. That's why I feel I have had that connection with him since I was a kid. People say I have an aggressive style and sometimes I don't think that is all just me.

"I think it's partly because I watched Ayrton Senna when I was young and I thought 'This is how I want to drive when I get the opportunity'. And I went out there and tried it on the kart track. And my whole approach to racing has developed from there.

"I remember the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix 20 years ago when he crashed and it was very difficult for me to show my emotions in my family so I went off to a quiet place.

"I was only nine, and it was very difficult for several days to really understand the magnitude of what had happened... Your hero is gone."

 

The Sao Paulo native was truly a sporting superstar at the time of his death, and has attained almost demigod status in his home country.

In 1988, four years after his F1 debut, Senna joined McLaren as team-mate to Alain Prost, and from there, one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport played out.

Senna pipped the Frenchman to the title that year, saw Prost take it ahead of him in 1989, and was then crowned champion in each of the following two seasons, becoming the then-youngest three-time champion in history in 1991 at the age of 31.

Senna joined Williams for the 1994 campaign, with Prost deciding to retire as he refused to be his team-mate again.

The Brazilian made his worst start to a season with two retirements in the opening two races. The third race, which proved to be his last, was at Imola. Senna, who was leading at the time, crashed on lap seven, smashing into a wall at the Tamburello Curve and sustaining fatal head injuries.

Michael Schumacher, currently fighting for his own life following a skiing accident in December, took over the mantle of Formula One's next superstar.

Since then his fellow German Sebastian Vettel has surpassed Senna's title haul having won the last four drivers' championships.

Despite that, the Red Bull driver refuses to compare their respective achievements.

"Senna's death was obviously a huge loss for Formula One," he told German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

"It is very difficult for me to make any comparisons, especially because there are decades between my situation today and his time.

"It is quite clear that he would have been guaranteed to be celebrating many more successes. He still had some time in Formula 1 in front of him, which is also a part of the tragedy.

"As such his three world titles , 41 victories and 65 pole positions are indeed numbers that are there, but it would still have come to so much more.

"Therefore, it is not fair to say that I had just now surpassed my fourth world title, his record or something. I think everyone should leave their own footprint."

Senna may have been a Williams driver at the time of the fatal crash but won his three world titles with McLaren, and then-team boss Ron Dennis this week paid a fresh tribute to the Brazilian.

Asked why Senna was remembered so fondly two decades on from his death, he told McLaren's official website: "I think it's because he was so good for the whole time he was on the planet.

"I also think he's remembered because he was just so unbelievably competitive. He was great, but he had good, human values. He had a few lapses in his life, but he was incredibly principled. And he was a good human being.

"I can see no positives from the fact that he had an accident and lost his life, but it means that you didn't see his decline. There are lots of drivers that stay in the sport too long and tarnish their greatness."

PA

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