Ayrton Senna’s 54th Birthday: Google Doodle celebrates what would have been Formula One great’s birthday

'A mythic figure in his own lifetime': Formula One pays tribute to Senna, 20 years on

Almost 20 years after he died in a horrific crash during the San Marino Grand Prix, Google’s latest Doodle will honour what would have been Ayrton Senna’s 54th birthday.

The three-time Formula One world champion was just 34 when he died on 1 May 1994, when his race-leading Williams car ran off the track at Imola into a concrete wall.

Born into a wealthy family in Brazil on 21 March 1960, the future great of the sport was a Formula One fan from an early age, winning his very first go-karting race at the age of 13.

Senna came to Britain eight years later to enter single-seater racing championships, winning five in three years.

In 1988, racing for McLaren-Honda, Senna took his first Formula One driving title and began his feud with fellow legend Alain Prost.

Outside of the sport, Senna often said he despaired over the situation faced by the world’s poorest people. By the time of his death, it was estimated he had given around $400 million to charities supporting underprivileged children in Brazil.

 

According to his profile in the Formula One Hall of Fame, in the year he died Senna said about his own future: “I want to live fully, very intensely. I would never want to live partially, suffering from illness or injury.

“If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs my life, I hope it happens in one instant.”

In recent weeks the sport has been preparing to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of one of its greatest stars.

The British world champion Damon Hill, speaking to the Guardian on Saturday, described Senna as a “philosophical, layered character”.

Hill believes he would not have won his title if the Brazilian had still being alive, saying: “I was uncomfortable when I won the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year [in 1994 and 1996]. As a racing driver I wanted to be at the front but I was thrown into that situation. It was highly unlikely I would've held Ayrton at bay.”

And of the man himself he said: “He really was a mythic figure in his own lifetime. The Japanese and the Brazilians saw him as a god. His passion was undeniable and I sincerely believe he wanted to make the world a better place. Ayrton was heroic in that sense because he felt deeply and compassionately and he was struggling as to how best he could use his position to help people.”

Keith Sutton, a photographer who worked closely with Senna throughout his career, is having the images presented at Proud Chelsea to mark the 20th anniversary of his friend’s death.

“From the moment I first photographed him I knew I was witnessing an incredibly charismatic and talented young racing driver who would one day go on to become one of Formula One's legends,” Sutton said.

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