Boy racer Senna determined to prove different gear to a legendary relative

The nephew of the late Formula One champion tells Richard Rae about the struggle to take a front seat in motor sport

It is probably as well for Bruno Senna that he does not look too much like his uncle.

Not, he points out, that he is not intensely proud of the fact three times Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna is generally regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time.

"It would make things even more difficult for me. I'm a home type of guy, but when I do go out I prefer not to have people coming up to me. But maybe that will start to be a problem now. In Brazil, because I have won a couple of races the press is already very crazy."

He glances appreciatively around; pits aside, Croft circuit in North Yorkshire appears to be deserted.

"Of course, some people will always compare me to Ayrton. But they don't compare me to him when he was on his second year of racing, only when he was at the top of his career, winning grands prix. It would help if they would give me the opportunity to learn."

It is a statement of fact rather than a complaint. Bruno, the son of Ayrton's sister, Viviane, was 10 when Senna died at the wheel of his car at Imola in 1994. Already a talented go-kart driver - Senna once said that if anyone thought he was special, they ought to see his nephew - the sensitive nephew felt he had no choice other than to stop racing.

"I have to say I did not stop because of my own will, and it doesn't matter if my mother says, 'I never prohibited him from racing'. The truth is there was no more support, no one took me racing any more - but despite my age, I understood why. It felt the same when my father died in a motorbike accident [only two years later]. After that my grandfather said, 'No, you're not to ride'.

"For eight or nine years I tried everything else, all other sports. But when I was 17 I got my first road car, and I could travel to watch racing again. I saw guys I'd beaten when I was eight or nine, so I started working part-time for my grandfather in the family business while I was completing a business course at university, to get some money to race. But then my mother asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

"This was my opportunity. I said, 'Go back to racing'. She was surprised, she thought I'd stopped because I didn't like it. But I explained to her that day, and things were clear. I think maybe I waited too long, but for sure my grandparents wouldn't have understood."

And so, using his name, contacts and, it has to be said, the family fortune, he restarted a driving career. He was too tall now for karting, so family friend Gerhard Berger arranged a half-day test in a Formula Renault. Senna was, he says, "pretty quick" - fast enough for the family to stump up $100,000 (£54,500) to send him to the UK, where Berger organised a Formula BMW test. Again he was quick, paid Carlin Motorsport $80,000 for two weeks of testing and three races, and performed well enough to have stayed with the team for a full year.

Instead he chose to follow former Carlin engineer Anthony "Boyo" Hieatt to a new Formula Three team, Raikkonen Robertson Racing, set up by managers David and Steve Robertson with their Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen. It cost him, or rather the Senna family, $750,000 (£408,000) for a year.

It was, he acknowledges, a huge risk to take on vastly more experienced and, financially speaking, even hungrier young drivers, and a pattern was quickly established; he would be quick in qualifying, and struggle in races. He quickly realised his lack of experience made a big difference. "After a handful of races a driver knows a few situations, when there are five or 10 times that many, so I kept getting caught out, I'd make mistakes. It was a problem. But the guys with hundreds of races, they weren't getting any better, and I was."

Towards the end of the year he recorded three podium finishes in the last seven races. This season, helped by a decision to do some extra Formula Three racing in Australia, he has won the first two races of the British Formula Three season - despite a broken thumb - and has established himself as one of the favourites to win a championship won by his uncle in 1983.

He has not, he says, consciously modelled his style on any other driver, though Ayrton used to give him advice back on the kart circuit at the family farm. "Not much though. What I remember most is how focused he was - always training, training - and how competitive. Because I was so much lighter, I would be much quicker than him on the straights; he would catch me on the corners, but couldn't overtake me. He tried harder and harder, he told me, 'It's OK, you can take that corner flat'. I knew it wasn't. So he said he'd show me, and put his kart straight into the fence. So when we used to race on jet skis, he used to make sure I got the slowest."

Given the marketability of the Senna name, Bruno's early success this year has prompted potential sponsors to take an immediate interest, and already the talk is of an early move into Formula One - especially with Berger heavily involved with Dietrich Mateschitz's Red Bull organisation, which runs two teams in motor sport's top echelon.

Senna shakes his head. "I think I'm proving those who thought I had been too long out of racing wrong, but it is still too early to be sure. You have to be ready, and I need much more racing.

"If you think about it, I have still only completed 31 races in single seaters. Of course I am ambitious, but if I have a good season - and I probably will - the next step would be GP2. If that goes well, maybe the year after I will be ready."

The experienced Hieatt thinks that's about right. "Anybody who can win in British Formula Three, which is a tough championship, probably has the talent to compete in Formula One. Whether they have the talent to actually win grands prix is another matter, but given how far he's come in such a short time, you have to think that it's possible he's the real thing. Sure, he has a great name, but it's a heck of a burden as well. Living up to expectations will be some achievement - but so far, he's right there."

Fathers and sons with the drive to succeed

Graham and Damon Hill

Graham won the Formula One title in 1962 and 1968. Son Damon won in 1996.

Keke and Nico Rosberg

Keke was the 1982 world champion. Son Nico, from Formula Three, is 13th in the Formula One table.

Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve

Gilles died in the 1982 Belgian GP. His son Jacques won the world title in 1997.

Nelson and Nelsinho Piquet

Nelson won the world title in 1981, 1983 and 1987. Son Nelsinho is in British Formula Three.

Alain and Nicolas Prost

Alain won four world titles, in 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993. His son Nicolas currently races in Spanish Formula Three.

Niki and Mathias Lauda

Niki was Formula One world champion in 1975, 1977 and 1984. His son Mathias has not yet progressed from karting.

Nigel, Leo and Greg Mansell

The 1992 world champion's sons, Leo and Greg, compete in the British Formula BMW Championship. Last week dad bought the team.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own