Many people ask me what drew me to racing in general, and I always remember and look back with fondness at that first time when I really found the excitement and attraction of motorsport. It was thanks to Ayrton Senna back in 1988, when he was driving that wonderful Marlboro-liveried McLaren-Honda MP4/4 around the streets of Monte Carlo before plunging into the barriers just before the tunnel.
Back then as an impressionable 11-year-old, there was no need to worry about the political issues that may have dominated the sport, the inter-team rivalries and the fact that one team was dominant above all the rest, including Maranello’s “Prancing Horse.”
That sound of a V6 turbo engine and the screeching of the rubber when the limit of the car was being forced over the edge were the only two things that truly mattered at that point in time. But seeing that helmet colour scheme made me wonder about the man behind the visor, so I asked my father about it, and he told me who he was.
That man was a fiery character, whose emotion clearly ran down his sleeve, and whose work rate behind that steering wheel outshone anyone else. As per the “Senna” documentary, the car “being made to dance” by Senna was nothing further from the truth, and captivated me to keep on watching.
So Formula One then became a part of my weekend alongside my father, as we watched the likes of Prost, Mansell, Patrese, Berger et al fight tooth and nail across the globe. This part of my life was great, as finishing school on a Saturday (yes, I did say it right, Saturday) meant qualifying day and a fun-filled afternoon in front of the television. Race day was just heavenly, as the sounds of engines were hitting my ears with high volume in the living room, listening to Murray Walker and James Hunt provide that wonderful banter that made it even more enjoyable!
I supported Ayrton all the way through to the moment his passing came at that fateful day in Imola on May 1st. Qualifying didn’t really have that wonderful adrenaline-fuelled feeling, especially with what happened to Roland that day. That was the first time I had experienced seeing something so violent on that screen since starting to watch Formula One that would ultimately lead to tragedy. Rubens’ accident the day before was also rather unsettling, as it could have been so much worse. It was beginning to dawn on me at that point that the weekend was one to never be forgotten, and for all the wrong reasons…
Race day came and the news about Roland was not sitting well on anyone’s stomachs, even mine, sitting in a 4-bedroomed house in the Essex countryside. I was happy to see that Ayrton had gotten off to a good start ahead of Michael Schumacher. That was until a few laps in, and a certain corner called Tamburello. The cheers from me stopped, as the severity of the impact was fierce and abrupt and the room was immediately silent.
I watched as Professor Sid and the medical team did their best to keep him alive after Ayrton was extracted. My eyes were almost popping out of my head, hoping that everything would just be all right. I didn’t even listen to the family members around me at that point, as I waiting to hear what had happened.
After he was ushered to the local hospital, the race for me was dull, as I didn’t have anything else on my mind apart from Ayrton. Later that day, the BBC Evening News came on and there was breaking news from Imola, where Murray relayed the tragic news that Ayrton had died.
I was inconsolable at that point, as tears started to stream down my face, and I ran upstairs. My father also helped by giving me a comforting hug that was well-needed. It was a day has sat with me ever since that day, so as the 20th anniversary approaches, I look back at the good times, such as seeing him race at Silverstone back in 1991, his epic win at Donington in 1993, his pole positions, wins and his three championship titles, all with McLaren.
But one rainy day in April last year, I was honoured to be able to speak to a member of the Senna family that has followed his own path and was driving for Aston Martin Racing in the WEC last season.
To meet Bruno himself and ask him for a brief interview, was a feeling that almost made me rather speechless in the process. But for him to say the following: “Ayrton’s a legend, isn’t he?” made it all the more sense of what has now become a big part of my life on a day-to-day basis, where the paddock feels like a second home to me.
To the man that helped fuel my love of racing, I just have two words to say:
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Octane Photographic.