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?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003