It’s funny, but the torturous images of Senna’s final race at Imola really do seem (in my mind at least) as antiquated as the 20 years that separates them from this week. I say ‘funny’ because the memories of his final race win in Adelaide seem vividly recent.
Being the final race on the Formula 1 calendar, Adelaide was always a party. Outside of Monaco, it was probably the only place on the planet you could be distracted from negotiating a beer at the neighbouring pub (not that I was yet at drinking age!) by the sound of a frustrated Jean Alesi negotiating a burnout after a spin in his V12 F93A. You really were that close to the action.
Being lucky enough to be working in a support race team category also gave you the rarefied opportunity of pit-lane access whenever your race was on. Of course once you’d had access it was hard to shake the bug and I was guilty of slipping in and out a few times outside of my designated race. Being the final race of the year, security was a little laissez faire to say the least. Simply answering the question “Are you an official?” with a confident “yes” was sometimes enough to grant you the keys to the kingdom.
And I do mean kingdom. No offence to Leo Sayer, but having George Harrison dispense a suspicious wink in your direction as a young kid kind of spoils you from being awestruck in future brushes with pop-stardom; as did the following run-in with a certain Brazilian.
Being a Mansell man, I’d never really had an affinity with Ayrton Senna. I’m the first to admit that. Being young I’d yet learnt to differentiate the difference between contemptuousness and begrudging respect. Perhaps Senna’s beguiling combination of talent and knavery was still unpalatable for my unrefined sporting opinions.
That changed when the man himself stepped out of a mini-van escorting the top three drivers to their press-conference after qualifying – Senna scoring his 62nd career pole. Positioning myself amongst a small crowd of eager onlookers and had now come face-to-face with… Ayrton. My misguidedly dim views on the man vanished within seconds of receiving the same grin I’d received from Harrison. Yep. I really was that shallow, but human contact does that for you. If eyes are the window to the soul, I at least understood that this was a guy with more charm and charisma than the entire paddock. He knew his worth and used it to devastating effect.
The encounter coloured my impressions of his win – the last of his career – on Sunday. Much more than the 33.8 second advantage he held over his opposition at the fall of the flag was my increased admiration of his sublime talent over superior equipment. After recently watching the Senna film, it’s weird to know that somewhere amongst the podium crowd shots is a 16-year-old having his motorsport perceptions shaken forever.
Helping my team pack up that evening, I wasn’t able to watch Tina Turner pull the now former McLaren driver out on stage as she sang Simply the Best. I could only hear it in the distance, unaware of what was taking place. For that reason I thought the song slightly cheesy.
I don’t anymore.