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Written by Bruna Brito, Edited by Aiden Hover

Ayrton Senna, to many, is the greatest Formula One driver of all time. Today, March 21st, 2021, marks what would have been his 61st birthday. Ayrton Senna competed in 161 Grand Prix and won 41 of them as well as starting on pole position for 65 of them. Whilst on his way to winning the World Driver’s Championship 3 times, he would lead 2982 laps and achieve 19 fastest laps to become the legend that we all love today. To celebrate our hero’s birthday, we at DIVEBOMB have written a brief biography detailing the Brazilian’s storied life.

Ayrton Senna (Photo Credits: PA Images)

Born in the neighborhood of Santana, in São Paulo, Brazil, Ayrton Senna da Silva, quickly got to know the world of speed thanks to the influence of his father, Mr. Milton, who had Senna in go-karts at only four-years-old. It was here where the sound of an engine first awoke a passion within the future icon. At the age of nine, he was already driving Jeeps and at thirteen would make his first debut in official competitions. Here he achieved several second positions, but he would not give up and, in 1977, achieved his first victory. Ayrton had found his true passion.

Senna used the number 16 in the Kart Credit: Flickr Instituto Ayrton Senna

Senna’s development as a driver is very inspiring, spending countless hours training. In 1981, Ayrton began his career in the more prestigious categories, moving to Europe. Here he won the British Formula Ford 1600 championship, with twelve victories out of twenty races. It was during this time that the Brazilian first began using the Senna name in official race entries.

Senna’s Formula Ford car was personalized with the name A. da Silva, Credit: Flickr Instituto Ayrton Senna

In 1983, Ayrton won the British Formula Three championship with the Dick Bennets team, achieving thirteen wins from twenty-one races – nine of them coming in a row. He also triumphed at the Macau Grand Prix with Teddy Yip’s Theodore Racing Team. He was in top form and would let nothing distract his focus from racing.

“I don’t know how to drive in a way that is not risky. When I have to overtake, I will overtake. Each driver has his limit. Mine is a little above the others.”

The athlete began his Formula One career in 1984, with Toleman. In only his third Grand Prix, in South Africa, Senna scored the first of what would be 614 points earned throughout his lifetime. It would be in Monaco during the same year that Senna would earn the name, “The King of Monaco,” as he finished the race in second despite starting way back in thirteenth.

Ayrton moved teams for the 1985 season, joining Lotus which would be a more suitable environment for his immense talent. The first year with the team, saw mixed fortunes with some victories, but a lot of frustrations as he frequently retired with technical issues. However, during this time, he began to show why he would eventually be known as the “King of Pole Position,” as he took his first pole in the second round of the season in Portugal. He would convert this into his first Formula One victory. Senna would achieve another six pole positions during the year and would finish the season in fourth, having briefly led the championship.

The following year, Johnny Dumfries partnered Senna at Lotus. The season started well for the São Paulo native, with second place in his home city. He would finish the season in fourth and would continue at Lotus for the 1987 season. The team had a new engine supplier in Honda and it was here that one of the most dominant relationships in sport was born. Honda and Senna would go on to do great things as their relationship grew deep, but the 1987 season was one of mixed fortunes. He finished the year in third with only one pole position and six podiums.

Ayrton Senna in his Lotus, 1986, Interlagos, Brazil. (Photo Credits: Ayrton Senna Website)

In 1988, Senna followed Honda to McLaren to partner the Frenchman, Alain Prost. That year, the pair won fifteen out of the sixteen races as the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 proved to be one of the most dominant cars in history. It was also this year that Ayrton Senna won his first world title, following an intense battle with Alain Prost which led to the deterioration of the pair’s relationship. In 1989, adversities between the drivers reached a new level with the controversial incident during the Japanese Grand Prix. Prost crashed into Senna at the chicane knowing that if Senna did not finish the race, he would become World Champion. Senna managed to keep his car running, however, but was disqualified from the race for missing the chicane and so Prost won the 1989 title. The pair came together again in 1990 as Prost, now driving for Ferrari, received the same treatment as he had served to Senna the year before at the Japanese Grand Prix, leading to Senna becoming champion for the second time. Senna was champion again in 1991 following Prost’s firing from Ferrari and another dominant McLaren.

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost crashing out at Suzuka 1989

The 1992 season was dominated by Williams and their FW14B. McLaren and Honda were no match for the Williams-Renault partnership, allowing Nigel Mansell to win the championship. The McLaren MP4/7A suffered many shortcomings that year as it experienced relentless technical problems. For 1993, Ron Dennis attempted to get the all-conquering Renault power unit into his McLaren cars but ultimately failed. This led to Senna approaching the Grove-based team to win a seat of his own, replacing Mansell who had joined IndyCar. Senna’s attempt failed however as Alain Prost took the vacant role and had a clause in his contract that prohibited the team from negotiating with the Brazilian. Despite a struggling car, Ayrton won five races, including his home Grand Prix in Interlagos.

Senna waves the Brazilian flag after winning at home in 1993

Following Alain Prost’s retirement at the end of the 1993 season, Ayrton Senna signed for Williams to compete for them in the 1994 season. Senna was so excited to be part of the British team that he supposedly offered to compete without any salary, but it was eventually agreed that he would be paid twenty million dollars. Come Pre-season testing, however, Senna would learn that the new Williams was clumsy and hard to drive as the team clearly struggled following the banning of electronic driver aids. Despite this, Ayrton Senna would achieve pole position at the opening round in Brazil but would retire from the race following a close battle with Benetton’s Michael Schumacher. He would retire from round two in Japan as well. Unfortunately, on May 1, 1994, Senna drove the car for the last time. Whilst leading the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, he lost control of the car at Curva Tamburello and collided with the concrete barrier at over 200 km/h.

What happened after that day, as both a Brazilian and a motorsport fan, I can not describe it. Ayrton Senna’s memory is still very much alive and he serves as an icon that inspires an entire nation, along with many people all around the world. He was truly a man of the people and a man of Brazil, so we say, Senna Sempre. Senna for all time.

Senna preparing for the San Marino Grand Prix, in 1994 (Photo Credits: Ayrton Senna Website)

Today, Ayrton Senna da Silva would be 61 years old. Happy birthday, champion!

To learn more about his career and life, visit the official website of Ayrton Senna. To make a donation to the Ayrton Senna Institution that supports children to access education, click here.

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To read a stunning interview we at DIVEBOMB did with legendary touring car driver, Andy Priaulx, click here.


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