Sports

A champion in every way

An immortal on the track, Senna's passion for humanity is also part of his legacy

Ayrton Senna da Silva: Is his legacy to be recalled in statistics or memories? Numbers on a page or emotions stirred? Sporting supremacy - or rare humanity?

The stories of his on-track talent, the utter determination and all-consuming passion are well chronicled.

Indeed, 161 Grands Prix, 64 pole positions and 87 front-row starts reflect all that. To cap it all off, 42 Grands Prix victories and three world titles - in 1988, 1990 and 1991.

His fierce rivalry with McLaren-Honda teammate Alain Prost, concern for drivers' safety and the humility that was so visible with children and ordinary motor racing fans confirm the passion and personality of a man whose death 20 years ago, in 1994, will be remembered again, and so vividly, today.

That May 1 afternoon at Imola capped a tragic, black weekend at the San Marino Grand Prix, where the Brazilian started his final race from pole position.

Saturday's qualifying had brought the brutal death of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger, a shock that sent a shudder of apprehension and misery through an overcrowded paddock.

Friday had seen Senna rush to the bedside of his protege Rubens Barrichello, then only 21 and in his second season of Formula 1, after he had survived a massive airborne crash during afternoon practice. It was the first huge shock. And Sunday delivered more.

But in this anniversary year, as Honda prepare their comeback, it is Senna the man whom many will remember - the smiles, jokes and kindness that were a part of his unique charisma along with the intensity and single-minded passion.

Sister Viviane Senna, who now chairs the Ayrton Senna Institute, says the values her brother transmitted to Brazilians earned him a mythical status she believes is deserved.

"He turned in incredible performances in this sport, making him one of the all-time best, though I don't think that is enough to explain his ongoing importance 20 years later," she said.

"What is remarkable is the way he won, performance aside. He did so adhering to values which people still admire - discipline, tenacity, persistence, passion, courage... I think Ayrton rose above the celebrity fray.

"He is in a mythical category, transcending time and space."

On the lasting heritage of Ayrton, Viviane said: "There are two heritages - the one of the values I spoke about and also his great passion for Brazil. He wanted to contribute to making it a prosperous country and not just for a few.

"Ayrton really wanted Brazil to work, for everyone to have a chance and from this dream the institute was born."

Perhaps most important of all is that Senna cared.

And that is why at other times and other places, he was seen to boil with rage, pour forth with profanities, take risks that others could not understand or drive with such sublime sensitivity and speed that he appeared untouchable and unequalled.

Consumed by passion in racing, he embodied that spirit which the greatest champions have always articulated.

Consumed by compassion in other parts of his life, he is still remembered by so many for that most important quality.

Senna cared. - AFP.


What is remarkable is the way he won, performance aside. He did so adhering to values which people still admire — discipline, tenacity, persistence, passion, courage... I think Ayrton rose above the celebrity fray. He is in a mythical category, transcending time and space.

— Viviane Senna, on her brother Ayrton