Senna began his motorsport career in karting, moved up to open-wheel racing in 1981, and won the 1983 British Formula Three Championship. He made his Formula One debut with Toleman-Hart in 1984, before moving to Lotus-Renault the following year and winning six Grands Prix over the next three seasons. In 1988, he joined Frenchman Alain Prost at McLaren-Honda. Between them, they won all but one of the 16 Grands Prix that year, and Senna claimed his first World Championship. Prost claimed the championship in 1989, and Senna his second and third championships in 1990 and 1991. In 1992, the Williams-Renault combination began to dominate Formula One. Senna nonetheless managed to finish the 1993 season as runner-up, winning five races and negotiating a move to Williams in 1994.
Senna has often been voted as the best and most influential Formula One driver of all time in various motorsport polls. He was recognised for his qualifying speed over one lap, and from 1989 until 2006 he held the record for most pole positions. He was also acclaimed for his wet weather performances, such as the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, and the 1993 European Grand Prix. He holds a record six victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, and is the fifth-most successful driver of all time in terms of race wins. Senna courted controversy throughout his career, particularly during his turbulent rivalry with Prost. In the Japanese Grands Prix of 1989 and 1990, each of which decided the championship of that year, collisions between Senna and Prost determined the eventual winner.
Senna was born in the Pro-Matre Maternity Hospital of Santana, a neighbourhood of São Paulo. The middle child of wealthy Brazilian landowner and factory owner Milton da Silva and his wife Neide Senna da Silva, he had an older sister, Viviane and a younger brother, Leonardo. He was left-handed.
The house where Senna spent the first four years of his life belonged to Neide's father, João Senna. It was located on the corner of Avenida Aviador Guilherme with Avenida Gil Santos Dumont, less than 100 meters from Campo de Marte, a large area where they operated the Aeronautics Material park and an airport. Senna was highly athletic, excelling in gymnastics and other sports, and developed an interest in cars and motor racing at the age of four. He also suffered from poor motor coordination and had trouble climbing stairways by the age of three. An electroencephalogram (EEG) found that Senna was not suffering from any problems. His parents gave Senna the nickname "Beco". At the age of seven, Senna first learned to drive a Jeep around his family's farm and gained the advantage of changing gears without the use of a clutch.
Senna attended Colegio Rio Branco in the São Paulo neighbourhood of Jardins and graduated in 1977 with a grade 5 in physics along with other grades in mathematics, chemistry, and English. He later enrolled in a college that specialised in business administration, but dropped out after three months. Overall, his grades amounted up to 68%.
Senna's first kart was built by his father using a small 1-HP lawnmower engine. Senna started racing at Interlagos and entered a karting competition at the age of 13. He started his first race on pole position, facing rivals who were some years older than him; despite this, he managed to lead most of the race before retiring after colliding with a rival. His father supported his son and Lucio Pascal Gascon soon managed the developing talent.
Senna went on to win the South American Kart Championship in 1977. He contested the Karting World Championship each year from 1978 to 1982, finishing runner-up in 1979 and 1980. In 1978, he was the teammate of Terry Fullerton, from whom Senna later felt was the rival he got the most satisfaction racing against also because of the lack of money and politics at that level.
In 1981, Senna moved to England to begin single-seater racing, winning the RAC and Townsend-Thoreson Formula Ford 1600 Championships that year with the Van Diemen team.
Despite this, Senna initially did not believe he would continue in motorsport. At the end of that season, under pressure from his parents to take up a role in the family business, Senna announced his retirement from Formula Ford and returned to Brazil. Before leaving England, however, Senna was offered a drive with a Formula Ford 2000 team for £10,000. Back in Brazil, he decided to take this offer and returned to live in England. As da Silva is the most common Brazilian surname, he instead adopted his mother's maiden name, Senna. Senna went on to win the 1982 British and European Formula Ford 2000 championships. For that season, Senna arrived with sponsorship from Banerj and Pool.
In 1983, Senna drove in the British Formula Three Championship for the West Surrey Racing team. He dominated the first half of the season until Martin Brundle, driving a similar car for Eddie Jordan Racing, closed the gap in the second part of the championship. Senna won the title at the final round after a closely fought and, at times, acrimonious battle with the Briton. In November that year, Senna also triumphed at the inaugural Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix with Teddy Yip's Toyota-powered Theodore Racing Team.
In 1983, Senna tested for Formula One teams Williams, McLaren, Brabham, and Toleman. Peter Warr of Lotus, Ron Dennis of McLaren, and Bernie Ecclestone of Brabham made offers for testing in 1984 and presented long-term contracts that tied Senna to driving later on. During his test for Williams at the 3.149-km (1.957-mi) Donington Park circuit, Senna completed 40 laps and was quicker than the other drivers, including Williams's reigning World Champion Keke Rosberg. Neither Williams nor McLaren had a vacancy for the 1984 season. Both Williams boss Frank Williams and McLaren boss Ron Dennis noted that Senna insisted that he got to run their cars before anyone else (other than their regular drivers such as Rosberg) so that he would have the best chance of a good showing by having a fresh car.
Peter Warr actually wanted to replace Nigel Mansell with Senna at Lotus, but their British-based title sponsor, Imperial Tobacco (John Player & Sons), wanted a British driver. Senna, however, was determined to drive that season and certainly on his own terms. Senna's test for Brabham occurred at Paul Ricard in November 1983, and he set lap times two seconds slower than the team's lead driver, Nelson Piquet, who allegedly gave Senna the nickname "the São Paulo taxi driver". Senna impressed the Brabham team and was linked to their second seat. However, the team's main sponsor, Italian dairy company Parmalat, wanted an Italian driver. Brabham's second car was eventually shared by brothers Teo and Corrado Fabi, while Piquet convinced Ecclestone to sign his friend Roberto Moreno as the test driver. Consequently, he joined Toleman, a relatively new team, using less competitive Pirelli tyres. Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto, a former Grand Prix motorcycle racing world champion, was his teammate. During 1984, Senna hired Nuno Cobra to assess his physical condition. Senna had been worried about his condition due to low weight.
Senna made his debut at the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix in Rio de Janeiro, where he qualified 17th, but had the dubious honour of being the first retirement of the season when the Hart 415T engine blew its turbo on lap 8. He scored his first World Championship point in his second race at the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami with severe muscle spasms, replicating that result two weeks later at the Belgian Grand Prix.
A combination of tyre issues and a fuel-pressure problem resulted in his failure to qualify for the San Marino Grand Prix, the only time this happened during his career. Toleman decided not to run both cars during Friday qualifying at Imola due to a dispute with tyre supplier Pirelli (Toleman were in the process of switching from Pirelli to Michelin). Senna then suffered a fuel-pressure problem in the wet Saturday session at Tosa (the furthest point on the circuit from the pits) and did not have enough time for it to be fixed to allow him to make the grid. Senna's best result of the season came at the Monaco Grand Prix, the first wet-weather race of the season. Qualifying 13th on the grid, he made steady progress in climbing through the field, passing Niki Lauda for second on lap 19. He quickly began to cut the gap to race leader Alain Prost, but before he could attack Prost, the race was stopped on lap 31 for safety reasons, as the rain had grown even heavier. At the time the race was stopped, Senna was catching Prost by about 4 seconds per lap (while the Tyrrell-Ford of Stefan Bellof was catching both at the same rate). Senna passed Prost when Prost stopped in front of the red flag, before the end of the 32nd lap. According to the rules, the positions counted were those from the last lap completed by every driver, lap 31, at which point Prost was still leading. Senna's second place was his first podium in Formula One. The popular belief was that with Prost's McLaren-TAG having major brake troubles (they were regularly locking up due to not generating enough heat in the conditions), the premature ending of the race had robbed Senna of his maiden Grand Prix win.
Renowned throughout his career for his capacity to provide very specific technical details about the performance of his cars and track conditions long before the advent of telemetry, this characteristic led Senna's first F1 race engineer, Pat Symonds, to regard the US Grand Prix in Dallas as the initial highlight of Senna's debut season, instead of the more popular Monaco, where Senna and Toleman scored their first podium finish. This is by reference to the following recollection given by Symonds in an interview in 2014, to mark the 20th anniversary of Senna's death:
The car was reasonably competitive there, so we expected to have a good race but Ayrton spun early in the race. He then found his way back through the field in a quite effective way and we were looking for a pretty good finish but then he hit the wall, damaged the rear wheel and the driveshaft and retired, which was a real shame. The real significance of that was that when he came back to the pits he told me what happened and said "I'm sure that the wall moved!" and even though I've heard every excuse every driver has ever made, I certainly hadn't heard of that one! But Ayrton being Ayrton, with his incredible belief in himself, the absolute conviction, he then talked me into going with him, after the race, to have a look at the place where he had crashed. And he was absolutely right, which was the amazing thing! Dallas being a street circuit the track was surrounded by concrete blocks and what had happened – we could see it from the tyre marks – was that someone had hit at the far end of the concrete block and that made it swivel slightly, so that the leading edge of the block was standing out by a few millimetres. And he was driving with such precision that those few millimetres were the difference between hitting the wall and not hitting the wall. While I had been, at first, annoyed that we had retired from the race through a driver error, when I saw what had happened, when I saw how he had been driving, that increased my respect for the guy by quite a lot.
That season, Senna took two more podium finishes—third at the British and Portuguese Grands Prix—and placed 9th in the Drivers' Championship with 13 points overall. He did not take part in the Italian Grand Prix after he was suspended by Toleman for being in breach of his contract by signing for Lotus for 1985 without informing the Toleman team first. Senna became the first driver Lotus had signed not personally chosen by team founder Colin Chapman, who had died in 1982.
Senna also raced in two high-profile non-Formula One races in 1984: the ADAC 1000-km Nürburgring where, alongside Henri Pescarolo and Stefan Johansson, he co-drove a Joest Racing Porsche 956 to finish 8th, as well as an exhibition race to celebrate the opening of the new Nürburgring before the European Grand Prix. Notably, this race involved several past and present Formula 1 drivers, including Stirling Moss and past World Champions Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme and Alan Jones, driving identical Mercedes 190E 2.3–16 sports cars. Alain Prost started from pole position, but Senna took the lead in the first corner of the first lap, winning ahead of Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann. After the race, Senna was quoted as saying, "Now I know I can do it." Senna was a last-minute inclusion in the Mercedes race, taking over from Emerson Fittipaldi.1985
Senna was partnered in his first year at Lotus-Renault by Italian driver Elio de Angelis. At the second round of the season, the Portuguese Grand Prix, Senna took the first pole position of his Formula 1 career. He converted it into his first victory in the race, which was held in very wet conditions, winning by over a minute from Michele Alboreto and lapping everyone up to and including 3rd placed Patrick Tambay. The race was the first 'Grand Slam' of Senna's career, as he also set the fastest lap of the race.
He would not finish in the points again until coming second at the Austrian Grand Prix, despite taking pole three more times in the intervening period. (His determination to take pole at the Monaco Grand Prix had infuriated Alboreto and Niki Lauda; Senna had set a fast time early and was accused of deliberately baulking the other drivers by running more laps than necessary, a charge he rejected, though the accusations would continue in Canada when drivers accused him of running on the racing line when on his slow down lap forcing others on qualifiers to move off line and lose time). Two more podiums followed in the Netherlands and Italy, before Senna added his second victory, again in wet conditions, at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Senna's relationship with De Angelis soured over the season, as both drivers demanded top driver status within Lotus and, after spending six years at the team, De Angelis departed for Brabham at the end of the year, convinced that Lotus were becoming focused around the Brazilian. Senna and De Angelis finished the season 4th and 5th respectively in the driver rankings, separated by five points in the quick but unreliable 97T. In terms of qualifying, however, Senna had begun to establish himself as the quickest in the field: his tally of seven poles that season was far more than that of any of the other drivers (Renault's V6 qualifying engines were reported to be producing over 1,000 bhp (746 kW; 1,014 PS)).1986
De Angelis was replaced at Lotus by Scotland's Johnny Dumfries after Senna vetoed Derek Warwick from joining the team, saying that Lotus could not run competitive cars for two top drivers at the same time. Senna allegedly pushed for his former flatmate and fellow Brazilian Maurício Gugelmin to join the team as a pure number two driver, but the team's major sponsor John Player & Sons (JPS) insisted on a British driver which led to the signing of Dumfries. Senna later admitted "It was bad, bad. Until then I had a good relationship with Derek." Senna started the season well, coming second in Brazil behind the Williams-Honda of Nelson Piquet, and winning the Spanish Grand Prix by just 0.014s from Piquet's teammate Nigel Mansell in one of the closest finishes in Formula One history to find himself leading the World Championship after two races. However, poor reliability, particularly in the second half of the season, saw him drift behind the Williams pairing of Mansell and Piquet, as well as defending and eventual champion, Alain Prost. Nonetheless, Senna was once more the top qualifier with eight poles, with a further six podium finishes included another win at the Detroit Grand Prix, thus finishing the season fourth in the driver's standings again, with a total of 55 points.
After winning the Detroit Grand Prix – which took place one day after Brazil was eliminated from the 1986 FIFA World Cup – Senna asked a trackside supporter for the Brazilian flag and he drove one lap waving it. Thereafter, he repeated this ritual every time he won a race. Senna also had a brief foray into rallying where he tried out a Vauxhall Nova, a MG Metro 6R4, a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and a Ford Escort on a stretch of land closed to the public.1987
Team Lotus had a new engine deal in 1987, running the same turbocharged Honda V6 engines as Williams had used to win the previous year's Constructors' Championship, and with them came a new teammate, 34-year-old Japanese driver, Satoru Nakajima. The team guaranteed Senna contractually preferential treatment over Nakajima in the allocation of equipment. Senna started the season with mixed fortunes: a podium at the San Marino Grand Prix was tempered by controversy at the following race at Spa-Francorchamps, where he collided with Mansell, and afterward in the pits an angered Englishman grabbed Senna by the throat and had to be restrained by Lotus mechanics. Senna then won two races in a row, which helped him take the lead in the World Championship: the ensuing Monaco Grand Prix (the first of his record six victories at the Principality) and the Detroit Grand Prix, his second victory in two years at the Michigan street circuit and the first ever for an active suspension F1 car. As the championship wore on however, it became evident that the Williams cars had the advantage over the rest of the field, the gap between the Honda-engined teams made most obvious at the British Grand Prix, where Mansell and Piquet lapped the Lotuses of Senna and Nakajima who finished 3rd and 4th respectively. Senna became dissatisfied with his chances at Lotus and at Monza it was announced that he would be joining McLaren for 1988. Senna finished the season strongly, coming second in the final two races in Japan and Australia, however post-race scrutineering at the final race found the brake ducts of his Lotus to be wider than permitted by the rules and he was disqualified, bringing his last and most successful season with Lotus to a sour end. Senna was classified third in the final standings, with 57 points, with six podium finishes and only one pole position. This season marked a turning point in Senna's career as, throughout the year, he built a deep relationship with Honda, one which would pay big dividends, as McLaren had secured Williams's supply of Honda's V6 turbo engines for 1988.
In 1988, due to the relationship he had built up with Honda throughout the 1987 season with Lotus, and with the approval of McLaren's number-one driver and then-double world champion, Alain Prost, Senna joined the McLaren team. The foundation for a fierce competition between Senna and Prost was laid, culminating in a number of dramatic race incidents between the two over the next five years. However, the experienced pair also quickly realized, despite their personal rivalry, they had to work together, especially in testing, to keep ahead of their main opposition from Ferrari, Williams, Benetton, Lotus, and March.
One notable incident of the year was at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Senna outqualified Prost by 1.4 seconds and led for most of the race before crashing on lap 67. Instead of returning to the pit lane, Senna went back to his apartment and did not contact the team until he walked into the pit garage as they were packing up later that night. As the television cameras had not captured his crash, team boss Ron Dennis did not know what had caused his DNF until then, though Prost speculated that judging from the tyre marks, it appeared as though Senna had clipped the inside barrier at Portiers, which pitched him into the outside guard rail. At the 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix, Prost made a slightly faster start than Senna, but the Brazilian dived into the first corner ahead. Prost responded and went to pass Senna at the end of the first lap. Senna swerved to block Prost, forcing the Frenchman to nearly run into the pit wall at 290 km/h (180 mph). Prost kept his foot down and soon edged Senna into the first corner and started pulling away. Though Prost was angered by Senna's manoeuvre, the Brazilian got away with a warning from the FIA. At the postrace team debrief, Prost voiced his anger at the move which prompted Senna to apologize to Prost for the incident. Ultimately, the pair won 15 of 16 races in the McLaren MP4/4 in 1988 with Senna coming out on top, winning his first Formula One world championship title by taking eight wins to Prost's seven. Prost scored more points over the season, but had to drop three second places as only the 11 best scores counted.
However, the biggest incident of the year happened at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. With two laps remaining, Senna held a five-second lead over the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto, who were closing in on the McLaren (Prost had earlier retired with a badly misfiring engine). Going into the Rettifilo Chicane, Senna closed on the Williams of Jean-Louis Schlesser (standing in for a sick Nigel Mansell). Schlesser steered wide, attempting to give Senna room to lap him, losing then regaining control to avoid going into the sand trap. Unfortunately, Senna did not give the Williams room and took his normal racing line. Subsequently, Senna's McLaren was T-boned and ended up beached on a curb with broken rear suspension. Ferrari would go on to an emotional 1–2 finish, the first in an Italian Grand Prix since the death of the team's founder Enzo Ferrari. This would prove to be the only race McLaren did not win in 1988.
During the season, Senna rewrote the record books. His eight wins beat the old record of seven jointly held by Jim Clark (1963) and Prost (1984). His 13 pole positions also beat the record of nine held by Nelson Piquet (1984).
The following year, the rivalry between Senna and Prost intensified into numerous battles on the track and a psychological war off it. Tension and mistrust between the two drivers increased when Senna overtook Prost at the restart of the San Marino Grand Prix, a move which Prost claimed violated a prerace agreement (Senna denied the existence of any agreement, though Prost's story was backed up by John Hogan of the team's major sponsor, Marlboro). Senna took an early lead in the championship with victories in San Marino, Monaco, and Mexico. Senna also achieved the feat of leading every lap of those races which was not equalled until Sebastian Vettel in 2012. Senna also managed to win in Germany, Belgium, and Spain. However, unreliability in Phoenix, Canada, France, Britain, and Italy, together with collisions in Brazil and Portugal, swung the title in Prost's favour.
Prost took the 1989 world title after a collision with Senna at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan, the penultimate race of the season, which Senna needed to win to remain in contention for the title. Prost had managed to leave the grid faster than Senna by removing the gurney flap from his car, which was unbeknownst to Senna. This reduction in aerodynamic downforce made Prost's car faster on the straights, but slower through corners- a clever choice to make it even harder for Senna to pass on a circuit already difficult on which to pass. On lap 46, Senna had finally come next to Prost and attempted a pass on the inside at the last chicane. Prost turned right into the upcoming corner, cutting Senna off and tangling wheels with him. The collision caused both McLarens to slide to a standstill into the escape road ahead. Prost abandoned the race at that point, whereas Senna urged marshals for a push-start, which he received, then proceeding with the race after a pit stop to replace the damaged nose on his car. He took the lead from the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini and went on to claim victory, only to be disqualified following a stewards meeting after the race. Senna was disqualified for receiving a push start, cutting the chicane after the collision with Prost, and for crossing into the pit lane entry which was not part of the track. A large fine and temporary suspension of his FIA Super License followed in the winter of 1989, and an irate Senna engaged in a bitter war of words with the FIA and its then-president, Jean-Marie Balestre, whom he blamed for his disqualification in Japan. Senna claimed that Balestre had forced the race stewards to disqualify him so his fellow Frenchman Prost could win the championship, though the stewards of the meeting denied that Balestre forced their decision, claiming that he was not present when the decision was made. Senna finished the season second with six wins and one second place. Prost left McLaren for rivals Ferrari for the following year.
In 1990, Senna took a commanding lead in the championship with six wins, two second places, and three thirds. With Prost gone to Ferrari, he also had a new teammate in Austrian driver Gerhard Berger. Among his victories were the opening round in Phoenix, in which he diced for the lead for several laps with a then-unknown Jean Alesi before coming out on top, and in Germany, where he fought Benetton driver Alessandro Nannini throughout the race for the win. As the season reached its final quarter, however, Alain Prost in his Ferrari rose to the challenge with five wins, including a crucial victory in Spain where he and teammate Nigel Mansell finished 1–2 for the Scuderia. Senna had gone out with a damaged radiator, and the gap between Senna and Prost was now reduced to 9 points with two races remaining.
At the penultimate round of the championship in Japan at Suzuka, where Senna and Prost collided the previous year, Senna took pole ahead of Prost. Before qualifying, Senna had sought assurances from the organisers to move pole position left onto the clean side of the racetrack. After qualifying, FIA president Balestre denied Senna's request, leaving Senna to start on the dirty right side, thus favouring Prost on the left. In addition, as revealed by F1 journalist Maurice Hamilton, the FIA had warned that crossing the yellow line of the pit exit on the right to better position oneself at the first corner would have not been appropriate, further infuriating Senna. At the beginning of the race, Prost pulled ahead of Senna, who immediately tried to repass Prost at the first corner. While Prost turned in, Senna kept his foot on the accelerator and the cars collided at 270 km/h (170 mph) and spun out of the race, making Senna world champion.
Following the second championship-deciding collision in two years, Jackie Stewart interviewed Senna at the 1990 Australian Grand Prix (where Senna won pole and led for 61 laps before gearbox trouble forced him to slide off into a tyre barrier) and brought up a number of controversial collisions in which Senna had been involved over the last few years, stating that Senna had made more contact with other cars and drivers in the last four years than all the champions before him. An irritated Senna questioned how someone like Stewart, himself a triple world champion, could ask questions like he did, knowing the pressure under which drivers raced.
A year later, after taking his third world championship, Senna explained to the press his actions of the previous year in Suzuka. He maintained that prior to qualifying fastest, he had sought and received assurances from race officials that pole position would be changed to the left, clean side of the track (where the racing line was), only to find this decision reversed by Jean-Marie Balestre after he had taken pole. Senna said that he was not going to accept what he saw as unfair decision-making by Balestre, including his 1989 disqualification and the incorrect pole position in 1990 (though some in the F1 paddock noted that the pole position at Suzuka was actually on the same side of the track it had been since F1 returned to Japan in 1987, and many privately wondered why Senna was suddenly making a fuss about it, considering he had been on pole there in both 1988 and 1989, when he was also fighting Prost for the championship). Senna stated that no matter what happened, he would not yield the corner and that Prost taking his normal racing line would result in an accident. Prost would later go on record criticising Senna's actions as "disgusting", saying that he seriously considered retiring from the sport after that incident.
In 1991, Senna became the youngest ever three-time world champion, taking seven wins and increasing his pole position record to 60 from 127 events. Prost, because of the downturn in performance at Ferrari, the likes of which littered the team's history, was no longer a serious competitor. In preseason testing, Senna made public misgivings about the car's competitiveness with the new Honda V12, stating that the engine was not as powerful as the prior year's V10. Senna won the first four races as his rivals struggled to match his pace and reliability. By midseason, Nigel Mansell in the Williams-Renault was able to put up a challenge. Before the Mexican Grand Prix, Senna was injured in a jet-skiing accident near São Paulo for which he required stitches on the back of his head. During qualifying for that Grand Prix, he attempted to take the banked 180-degree Peraltada corner (Mexico City circuit's fastest corner) faster than normal, ending up spinning off the track and rolling over the car after crashing into a tyre barrier. At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Senna's car had come to a halt on the final lap, but he was not left stranded out on the circuit, as race-winner Mansell pulled over on his parade lap and allowed the Brazilian to ride on the Williams side-pod back to the pits. During the Spanish Grand Prix, Senna and Mansell went wheel-to-wheel with only centimetres to spare, at over 320 km/h (200 mph) down the main straight, a race which the Briton eventually won.
Though Senna's consistency, the car's competitiveness and the Williams's unreliability at the beginning of the season gave him an early advantage, Senna insisted that Honda step up their engine development program and demanded further improvements to the car before it was too late. These modifications enabled him to make a late-season push, and he won three more races to secure the championship, which was settled in Japan when Mansell (who needed to win), went off at the first corner while running third and beached his Williams in the gravel trap. Senna finished second, handing the victory to teammate Gerhard Berger at the last corner as a thank-you gesture for his support over the season. Senna was planning to move to the Williams team for the 1992 season, but Honda's CEO, Nobuhiko Kawamoto, personally requested that he remain at McLaren-Honda, which Senna did out of a sense of loyalty.
That year, as had been the case in 1988 and 1990, Senna won the prestigious "International Racing Driver Award" granted by British magazine Autosport annually. The award was presented by Stirling Moss and Senna was interviewed on stage by Formula 1 commentator, Murray Walker. During the interview, Senna confirmed that at the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) gala dinner in Paris the day before, under the auspices of Jackie Stewart, Senna had gifted one of his helmets to his renowned foe, Jean-Marie Balestre, because of the sincere atmosphere that presented itself.
In 1992, Senna's determination to win manifested itself in dismay at McLaren's inability to challenge Williams's all-conquering FW14B car. McLaren's new car for the season had several shortcomings. A delay occurred in getting the new model running (it debuted in the third race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix) and in addition to lacking active suspension, the new car suffered from reliability issues and was unpredictable in fast corners, while its Honda V12 engine was no longer the most powerful on the circuit. During practice for the second race of the season in Mexico on a circuit Senna was heavily critical of, his car hit a bump that caused a loss of downforce and hard crash into a concrete retaining wall. He had to be extricated from the car by circuit doctors; although he raced the next day, albeit retiring from the race due to gearbox failure. Senna scored wins in Monaco, Hungary, and Italy that year. During qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, French driver Érik Comas crashed heavily and Senna was the first to arrive at the scene. He got out of his car and ran across the track to help the Frenchman, disregarding his own safety in an effort to aid a fellow driver. He later went to visit Comas in the hospital. His actions won universal praise from those in Formula One and seemed to soften his hard-nosed image. Senna finished fourth overall in the championship, behind the Williams duo of Mansell and Riccardo Patrese, and Benetton's Michael Schumacher.
Senna's relationship with Schumacher had deteriorated throughout 1992. At the Brazilian Grand Prix, Schumacher accused Senna of 'playing around' while attempting to overtake Senna, who had a problem with his engine. At the French Grand Prix, Schumacher collided with Senna, resulting in Senna's retirement. Senna later confronted Schumacher, who admitted responsibility for the accident. At a test session for the German Grand Prix, Senna and Schumacher had a confrontation in the pits, with Senna grabbing Schumacher by the collar and accusing him of endangering him by blocking him on the track.
Questions about Senna's intentions for the upcoming 1993 season lingered throughout 1992, as he did not have a contract with any team by the end of that year. Ferrari had offered him a contract which Senna discussed with Niki Lauda, but decided to decline the offer. He felt the McLaren cars were becoming less competitive than in previous years, especially given Honda's decision to abandon the sport at the end of 1992 and McLaren's lack of active suspension relating to rival Williams.
Given this scenario, Senna secured an IndyCar testing session with the support of conpatriot and Penske driver, Emerson Fittipaldi. In December 1992, in fact, Senna visited Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Arizona, to test a 1992 Penske PC-21 racer. Unlike the more advanced F1 cars, this IndyCar was powered by a turbo Chevrolet-Ilmor V8, had a traditional transmission with clutch pedal and iron brakes, and was markedly heavier due to its bigger physical size in comparison to a smaller Formula One car. To familiarise himself, Senna initially ran 14 relatively slow laps before completing a further 10 laps on the same tyres and setting a best time of 49.09 seconds. By comparison, Fittipaldi had set a best time of 49.70 seconds, which he later improved to 48.5 seconds, only by using the new 1993 Penske PC-22 at his disposal during this test session.
For 1993, attempts by McLaren boss Ron Dennis to secure a supply of the dominant Renault V10 engines failed. Similarly, Senna's offers to drive for Williams-Renault for free also failed, given that Alain Prost (who was returning to the sport after a sabbatical year) succeeded in obtaining the inclusion of a clause in his contract with Williams vetoing Senna from joining as a teammate. Faced with this, during a press conference at the season-opening test session at the Estoril Circuit in Portugal, an infuriated Senna called Prost a coward, leading to some commentators stating that what Prost had done was no different from Senna vetoeing Derek Warwick from joining Lotus in 1986.
By this time, McLaren was forced to take a customer supply of Ford V8 engines, which were two specifications behind that of Ford's then factory team, Benetton. McLaren hoped to make up for the inferior horsepower with mechanical sophistication, including an effective active suspension system – though the system itself proved difficult at times, especially for new teammate Michael Andretti. With this plan, Dennis finally persuaded Senna to stay with McLaren. The Brazilian, however, agreed to do so only for the first race in South Africa, where he would assess whether McLaren's equipment was competitive enough for him to put in a good season. After driving McLaren's 1993 car, the McLaren MP4/8, Senna concluded that the new car had a surprising potential, albeit with a Ford V8 engine down on power relative to Prost's Renault V10. Senna thus extended his deal with McLaren on a race-by-race basis instead of a full-year contract, ending up staying for the whole of 1993 in any event. Reportedly, this engagement was on a $1 million per race basis and, despite midseason testing with a Lamborghini V12 proved encouraging, with McLaren then signing an engine supply deal with Peugeot for the 1994 season, it all proved insufficient to continue to retain Senna past 1993.
In the opening race in South Africa, Senna finished in second place after surviving a collision with Schumacher. Senna won in changing conditions in Brazil and Donington. The latter has often been regarded as one of Senna's greatest victories, in the process setting a record for the fastest lap in an F1 race driving through the then speed-unrestricted pit lane. He was fifth at the first corner and led the race at the end of the first lap going on to lap all but second place in a race where up to seven pit stops were required by some drivers for rain or slick tyres. Senna then scored a second-place finish in Spain and a record-breaking sixth win at Monaco. After Monaco, the sixth race of the season, Senna unexpectedly led the championship from Prost in the Williams-Renault. As the season progressed, Alain Prost and Damon Hill asserted the superiority of their Williams-Renault cars, while Senna suffered mechanical failures in Imola, Canada, Britain, Hungary, and Portugal. Senna won the penultimate race of the season in Japan, which was marked by an incident involving Jordan's rookie Eddie Irvine, twice unlapping himself against Senna. Immediately after the race, Senna attended at Jordan's garage and, following a lengthy and heated discussion, punched the Irishman in the face.
The season concluded in Australia, with what would be Senna's 41st and last F1 career win, as well as the last win for an active-suspension F1 car (ironically, 1987 had the first victory for such cars also at the hands of Senna in Monaco). The win in Adelaide was an emotional one due to Senna ending his successful career with McLaren and defeating his biggest rival, Prost, for the last time. Because of the Frenchman's imminent retirement from the sport, Senna surprised the F1 community by openly welcoming Prost on the top step of the podium, which many considered a sign of pacification between the duo. Overall, Senna finished the championship second to Prost.
During Tina Turner's after-race concert in Adelaide, Senna surprised everyone, including Turner, when he appeared on-stage midway through the night. With the crowd cheering, Turner admitted she was a fan of the Brazilian and resang her hit "The Best" as a tribute to Senna and his Australian Grand Prix win earlier in the day.
For 1994, Senna was able to finally join the Williams team given the retirement of Prost and was reportedly paid a $20 million salary. With Prost's retirement at the end of 1993, and Williams's consequential lack of a defending World Champion carrying race number 1 for a second year running, Senna would race in 1994 with number 2 and teammate Damon Hill would race with number 0 for the second year in a row.
Rule changes for 1994 had banned active suspension, traction control, and ABS. During preseason testing, the new Williams FW16 car exhibited none of the superiority of the FW15C and FW14B cars that preceded it, and Senna found himself in close running with the Benetton B194 of Schumacher. Senna expressed his discomfort with the handling of his car, stating, "I have a very negative feeling about driving the car and driving it on the limit and so on ... Some of that is down to the lack of electronic change. Also, the car has its own characteristics which I'm not fully confident in yet." Senna further added, "It's going to be a season with lots of accidents, and I'll risk saying that we'll be lucky if something really serious doesn't happen."
The first race of the season was at Interlagos in Brazil, where Senna took pole position. He took an early lead, but Schumacher's Benetton was never far behind. Schumacher took the race lead for good after passing Senna in the pits. While trying for a win, he pushed too hard and spun the car coming out of Junção on lap 56, stalling it and retiring from the race. The second race was the inaugural Pacific Grand Prix at Aida, where Senna again placed the car on the pole. However, after being beaten to the first corner by second-qualifier Schumacher, he was hit from behind in the first corner by Mika Häkkinen and his race came to a definitive end when, while spinning backwards into the first corner's gravel trap, the Ferrari driven by Nicola Larini T-boned the Williams. Both drivers retired with front-suspension damage. Hill also retired with transmission problems, while Schumacher took the victory again.
It was Senna's worst start to a Formula One season, failing to finish or score points in the first two races, despite taking pole position both times. Schumacher was leading Senna in the Drivers' Championship by 20 points. In occasion of the 20th anniversary of Senna's death, Ferrari president Luca Cordero di Montezemolo revealed that, on 27 April 1994, he had held discussions at his home in Bologna with Senna about a future Ferrari engagement.
The 1994 season was the subject of sweeping rule changes, most notably banning the use of electronic "driver aids" such as active suspension, anti-lock brakes, traction control and launch control. From the start, suspicion of foul play mainly involving the Benetton team was said to have troubled Senna. For example, instead of returning to the pit area after his first lap retirement at the Pacific Grand Prix, Senna opted to stand near the first corner and watch the cars complete the race to see if he could detect whether any now banned traction control system was being used. He returned to the Williams box after the race suspicious that the Benetton car was illegal. Indeed, in an interview for the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's death, his then teammate, Damon Hill, revealed that Senna had "concluded that there was, what he regarded, as unusual noises from the engine" with "special tweak" giving Benetton an advantage.
The season ended at the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide, where the first-corner chicane at the Adelaide Street Circuit was renamed the "Senna Chicane". Schumacher went on to win the driver's world championship title controversially after a collision that forced his retirement and that of his rival, and Senna teammate, Damon Hill. At the official FIA conference after the race, the German dedicated his title to Senna.
Senna died aged 34 after succumbing to fatal injuries sustained during his final race at the San Marino Grand Prix, on 1 May 1994.
The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was held on the "Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari" circuit located in Imola, Italy, between 28 April, and 1 May 1994. Senna stayed in room no. 200 at the Hotel Castello in Castel San Pietro Terme.
The European leg of the F1 season, starting at Imola, was traditionally considered the beginning of the yearly competition. Senna, who did not finish the two opening races of the season, declared that this was where his season would start, with 14 races, as opposed to 16, in which to win the title. Williams brought modified FW16s to Imola in an attempt to improve the car's handling.
On Friday, Senna placed the car on the pole for a then-record 65th and final time, but he was upset by events unfolding that race weekend. Senna complained about the FW16's handling and reported that the car's performance was generally worse after the engineers' latest adjustments. During the afternoon qualifying session, Senna's compatriot and protégé Rubens Barrichello was involved in a serious accident when his Jordan became airborne at the Variante Bassa chicane and hit the tyre-wall and fence. Barrichello suffered a broken nose and arm, and withdrew from the event. Barrichello reported that Senna was the first person he saw upon regaining consciousness.
During Saturday qualifying, Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger was killed after the front wing of his Simtek-Ford broke entering the 310 km/h (190 mph) Villeneuve corner, sending the car into a concrete wall. Senna immediately visited the accident scene and medical centre. There he was met by FIA Medical Chief Professor Sid Watkins, who suggested to a tearful Senna to retire from racing and go fishing (a hobby they both shared), to which Senna replied that he could not stop racing. Senna was later called in front of the stewards for commandeering an official car and climbing the medical centre fence, and a row ensued, although Senna was not punished.
Senna spent his final morning on the Sunday talking to former teammate and rival Alain Prost to discuss the re-establishment of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, with the aim of improving safety in Formula One. Prost had retired from the sport at the end of the 1993 season, and was now a media presenter. As the most senior driver in competition, Senna offered to take the role of leader, starting from the next race in Monaco. During the drivers' briefing, concerns had been raised about the mainly promotional use of a Porsche 911 lead car for the warm-up lap, with organizers agreeing to abandon the practice. It is said that Williams Chief Engineer Patrick Head had pranked Senna on the grid by advising him that the lead car would not be excluded from the warm-up lap after all.
At the start of the Grand Prix, Senna retained the lead from Schumacher, but proceedings soon became interrupted by a startline accident. JJ Lehto's Benetton-Ford had stalled and was hit by the Lotus-Mugen Honda of Pedro Lamy. A wheel and debris landed in the main grandstand, injuring eight fans and a police officer. The safety car, a sporty version of the Opel Vectra medium family saloon, was deployed for several laps. The Vectra's slow pace was later questioned because of the consequential drop in tyre pressures on the Formula One cars. Senna had pulled alongside the Vectra and gestured to the driver, Max Angelelli, to increase his speed. On lap 6, the race resumed and Senna immediately set a quick pace with the third-quickest lap of the race, followed by Schumacher.
As Senna rounded the high-speed Tamburello corner on lap 7, his car left the racing line at around 307 km/h (191 mph), ran in a straight line off the track, and hit the concrete retaining wall at around 233 km/h (145 mph), after what telemetry showed to be an application of the brakes for around two seconds. The red flag was shown as a consequence of the accident.
Within two minutes of crashing, Senna was extracted from his race car by Watkins and his medical team, including intensive care anaesthetist Giovanni Gordini. Initial treatment took place by the side of the car, with Senna having a weak heartbeat and significant blood loss (around 4.5 liters). Because of Senna's poor neurological condition, Watkins performed an on-site tracheotomy and requested the immediate airlifting of Senna to Bologna's Maggiore Hospital under the supervision of Gordini.
At 18:40, the head of the hospital's emergency department, Maria Teresa Fiandri made the announcement that Senna had died, but said the official time of death under Italian law was 14:17, which is when he impacted the wall and his brain stopped working. Watkins later said that as soon as he saw Senna's fully dilated pupils, he knew that his brainstem was inactive and that he would not survive.
The right-front wheel and suspension are believed to have been sent back into the cockpit, striking Senna on the right side of his helmet, forcing his head back against the headrest. In addition, a piece of the upright assembly, most likely a tie rod, penetrated the helmet visor, which was a new, thinner version, above his right eye. Senna sustained fatal skull fractures, brain injuries and a ruptured temporal artery.
As later revealed, when the medical staff examined Senna, a furled Austrian flag was found in his car—a flag that he had intended to raise in honour of Ratzenberger after the race. Photographs of Senna being treated on the track by emergency medical personnel were taken by Senna's friend and Autosprint's picture editor, Angelo Orsi. Out of respect, those photographs have never been made public.
On 27 April 2014, as part of commemorating Senna on the 20th anniversary of his death, a three-journalist panel composed of Murray Walker, Maurice Hamilton, and David Tremayne interviewed by Sky Sports' Simon Lazenby concurred that, at his final F1 grand prix race, Senna was under extreme pressure due to:the serious crash of his young compatriot, Rubens Barrichello during Friday practice, whom Senna visited in hospital;
the death of F1 rookie Roland Ratzenberger during Saturday qualifying;
being 20 points behind in the Drivers' Championship;
suspicion of the rival Benetton B194 car using an illegal traction control system;
the poor performance of his Williams FW16;
family disapproval of his then-girlfriend, Adriane Galisteu.
Senna's death was considered by many of his Brazilian fans to be a national tragedy, and the Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning. The Italian Air Force offered to fly the coffin back to Brazil, but the Senna family wished that it return home in a Brazilian plane. Contrary to airline policy and out of respect, Senna's coffin was allowed to be flown back to his home country in the passenger cabin of a VARIG McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 airliner, accompanied by his distraught younger brother, Leonardo, and close friends. The plane was escorted by fighter jets into São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport on 4 May 1994, where it was met by São Paulo's mayor, Paulo Maluf, and state governor, Luís Antônio Fleury. The coffin was carried by soldiers from the Policia da Aeronautical to a fire engine, where eight cadets from the Military Police Academy mounted guard as it carried the coffin on the 20-mile journey into the city. Leading the motorcade were 17 police motorbikes, and 2,500 policemen lined the route to keep the crowds at bay.
An estimated three million people flocked to the streets of Senna's hometown of São Paulo to offer him their salute. This is widely accepted as the largest recorded gathering of mourners in modern times. Over 200,000 people filed past as his body lay in state at the Legislative Assembly building in Ibirapuera Park. After the public viewing, a 21-gun salute was fired by the 2nd Artillery Brigade and seven Brazilian Air Force jets flew in a diamond formation as the funeral procession made its way to Morumbi Cemetery. Many prominent motor-racing figures attended Senna's state funeral, such as team managers Ken Tyrrell, Peter Collins, Ron Dennis, and Frank Williams, and driver Jackie Stewart. The pallbearers included drivers Gerhard Berger, Michele Alboreto, Alain Prost, Thierry Boutsen, Damon Hill, Rubens Barrichello, Roberto Moreno, Derek Warwick, Maurício Gugelmin, Hans Stuck, Johnny Herbert, Pedro Lamy, Maurizio Sala, Raul Boesel, Emerson Fittipaldi, Wilson Fittipaldi, and Christian Fittipaldi. Neither Sid Watkins nor Jo Ramírez, the McLaren team coordinator, could bear to attend because they were so grief-stricken. Senna's family did not allow FOM president Bernie Ecclestone, a friend of Senna's, to attend the ceremony, after an altercation between Ecclestone and Senna's brother Leonardo at Imola regarding Ecclestone's misconstrued reaction to the news of Ayrton's death and the fact that the race had not been abandoned after his accident. FIA President Max Mosley instead attended the funeral of Ratzenberger, which took place on 7 May 1994, in Salzburg, Austria. Mosley said in a press conference 10 years later, "I went to his funeral because everyone went to Senna's. I thought it was important that somebody went to his." Senna's grave bears the epitaph "Nada pode me separar do amor de Deus", which means "Nothing can separate me from the love of God" (a reference to Romans 8:38–39).
A testament to the adulation he inspired among fans worldwide was the scene at the Tokyo headquarters of Honda, where the McLaren cars were typically displayed after each race. Upon his death, so many floral tributes were received, they overwhelmed the large exhibition lobby. This was despite the fact Senna no longer drove for McLaren and that McLaren in the preceding seasons did not use Honda power. Senna had a special relationship with company founder Soichiro Honda and was beloved in Japan, where he achieved a near mythic status. For the next race at Monaco, the FIA decided to leave the first two grid positions empty and painted them with the colours of the Brazilian and the Austrian flags, to honour Senna and Ratzenberger.
Italian law requires that accidents resulting in a fatality must be investigated for any criminal culpability, with the associated scene of the accident secured and the activities that led to the fatality, suspended forthwith. Senna's death was thus the subject of criminal proceedings in Italy, which saw key Williams team members investigated and charged with manslaughter. The original trial in 1997 concluded with acquittals on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. This prosecution culminated with verdict no. 15050 handed down by the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation on 13 April 2007, which stated: "It has been determined that the accident was caused by a steering column failure. This failure was caused by badly designed and badly executed modifications. The responsibility of this falls on Patrick Head, culpable of omitted control". Head, however, was never arrested because the Italian statute of limitation for manslaughter is 7 years and 6 months, and the final verdict was pronounced 13 years after the accident.
The criminal charges focused on the car's steering column, which was found to have sheared off at a point where a modification had been made. The prosecution alleged that the column had failed causing the accident and the Williams team conceded to this failure, but only as caused by the impact at the Tamburello corner. Senna had not liked the position of his FW16's steering wheel relative to the seating position and had asked for the former to be changed. Head and Adrian Newey satisfied Senna's request by having the existing column cut and extended with a smaller-diameter piece of tubing, which was welded together with reinforcing plates. The modification was carried out in this manner as there was no time to manufacture a new longer steering column in time for the race.
Senna was a devout Catholic, once saying: "Just because I believe in God, just because I have faith in God, it doesn't mean that I'm immune. It doesn't mean that I'm immortal" (1989). He often read the Bible on long flights from São Paulo to Europe. According to sister Viviane, Senna had sought strength from the Bible on the morning of his death after the events of the race weekend: "On that final morning, he woke and opened his Bible and read a text that he would receive the greatest gift of all, which was God himself."
As his profile rose, Senna expressed concern over the poor in Brazil. After his death, he was discovered to have quietly donated millions of his personal fortune (estimated at around $400 million) to help poor children. Shortly before his death, he created the framework for an organisation dedicated to Brazilian children, which later became the Instituto Ayrton Senna (IAS).
Senna was often quoted as using driving as a means for self-discovery and racing as a metaphor for life: "The harder I push, the more I find within myself. I am always looking for the next step, a different world to go into, areas where I have not been before. It's lonely driving a Grand Prix car, but very absorbing. I have experienced new sensations, and I want more. That is my excitement, my motivation."
Towards the end of his career, Senna became increasingly preoccupied with the dangers of his profession. On the morning of his death, he initiated the reformation of the GPDA safety organisation, with which he had intended to work to improve the safety of his sport.
Senna owned several properties, including an organic farm in Tatuí, Brazil (where he built a go-kart track in 1991), a beach house in Angra dos Reis, Brazil, an apartment in São Paulo, Brazil, an apartment in Monaco, and a house in Algarve, Portugal. In 1994, the latter residence is where Senna let his last girlfriend, Adriane Galisteu, stay for the start of the European leg of the F1 season. The pair had met the year before at an hospitality event by McLaren sponsor, Shell, as part of the Brazilian Grand Prix for which Galisteu had to audition through a model agency, to work as a hostess.
Senna enjoyed a range of physical activities including running, waterskiing, jet skiing, and paddleboarding. He also had several hobbies, such as flying real and model planes and helicopters, boating, fishing, and riding his favourite Ducati motorbikes. His private jet was a British Aerospace 125, and he also piloted his own helicopter between his residences in Brazil along with travelling to races. For his 29th birthday in 1989, the Brazilian Air Force gifted Senna a flight on one of their jet fighters (a Dassault Mirage III), which bears commemorative livery and is now exhibited at the Aerospace Museum of Rio de Janeiro.
Senna was close friends with McLaren teammate Gerhard Berger, and the two were always playing practical jokes on each other. Berger is quoted as saying, "He taught me a lot about our sport, I taught him to laugh." In the documentary film The Right to Win, made in 2004 as a tribute to Senna, Frank Williams notably recalls that as good a driver as Senna was, ultimately "he was an even greater man outside of the car than he was in it."
Senna was married to Lilian de Vasconcelos Souza from 1981 until 1982. Vasconcelos, whom he had known since childhood, had difficulty adapting to her husband's racing life in England. Vasconcelos later said: "I was his second passion. His first passion was racing... There was nothing more important in the world for him, not family, not wife, nothing." Though he did not have much of an income early in his racing career, Senna insisted on supporting his wife with no help from his father out of a sense of pride. The marriage ended in divorce. Senna then courted Adriane Yamin, daughter of an entrepreneur from São Paulo, who was 15 years old when they began the relationship in 1985 and often chaperoned by her mother during meetings with Senna. They were briefly engaged, but the relationship was broken off by Senna in late 1988. Senna dated Brazilian TV star Xuxa from late 1988 until 1990. He then dated Christine Ferracciu, who lived with him at his homes in Monaco and Portugal, on and off between 1990 and 1991. Senna also had an affair with American model Carol Alt, and briefly dated models Marjorie Andrade and Elle Macpherson. At the time of his death, Senna was in a relationship with Brazilian model, and later TV personality, Adriane Galisteu.
One of the most extravagant claims involving Senna's past partners was made by Edilaine de Barros, a former model better known as Marcella Praddo. She alleged that the couple dated from 1992 to 1994. Weeks after Senna's death, de Barros' child, Victoria, was born and claims that Senna was the father were soon made but abandoned following rejection of those claims by the Senna family. Years later, after joining a religious sect, the former model was convinced to sue against the estate of Senna. In 2000, DNA tests of hair and saliva samples given by Senna's parents conclusively proved that he was not the father of de Barros' child.
In his early years in Formula One, Senna was the subject of a smear campaign orchestrated by Nelson Piquet, ranging from Senna being regarded a taxi driver to being homosexual given his failed marriage. According to a 1990 interview by Brazilian edition of Playboy, Senna declared that he lost his virginity at 13 years of age to a prostitute arranged by his cousin, and he also insinuated having had a relationship with Piquet's would-be wife (hence Piquet's acrimony).
Formula One driver Bruno Senna is the nephew of Senna (being his sister Viviane's son) of whom he said in 1993: "If you think I'm fast, just wait until you see my nephew Bruno." Due to the death of his uncle, Bruno initially gave up motor racing at his family's insistence. He eventually raced in F1 between 2010 and 2012, in the latter year for the Williams team, which was a decision that, reportedly, had a significant emotional impact on the Senna family and was seen by some as a signing only resulting from Bruno's big name and the money it could bring.
In the late 1980s, to take advantage of the close relationship Honda had formed with Senna, the Japanese company asked him to help fine-tune the Honda NSX's suspension setting during its final development stages. Test runs were conducted at various circuits, including five sessions with prototypes at the Suzuka Circuit where chief NSX engineer Shigeru Uehara and his team were present to gather Senna's direct input. Senna found the prototype NSX initially lacked chassis stiffness to the level to which he was accustomed, so the final production version was further reinforced to his satisfaction.
Senna reportedly had access to three of these cars: a black 1993 NSX in Brazil, which he ordered to his specifications, bearing license plate BSS-8888, which represents his initials for "Beco" – his childhood nickname – "Senna da Silva" and 8 to commemorate his first F1 championship in 1988; a red one with licence plate SX-25-59, which was loaned to him by Honda Portugal; a black one purchased by Antonio Carlos de Almeida Braga, who was a close personal friend, manager, and mentor of Ayrton Senna.
Senna was also instrumental in bringing Audi cars into his native country, both as an import and manufacturing business. Audi entered Brazil in 1994 via Senna's company, Senna Import, founded in 1993. Sales began in April that year, just a month before his untimely death. In 1999, Audi Senna was created as a joint venture of Audi with Senna Import. Aside from the black NSX mentioned above, Senna's other personal car in 1994 was a silver Audi 100 S4 Avant.
In the early 1990s, Senna developed his own merchandise brand represented by a logo with a double S, after his full surname, "Senna da Silva". This logo is meant to represent an S chicane on a racing circuit. The Senna brand was on apparel, watches, bicycles (Carraro), motorcycles and boats. Hublot, TAG Heuer, and Universal Genève have created limited-edition watches to honor Senna, both during his lifetime and after his death.
Many safety improvements were made in the sport following Senna's and Ratzenberger's deaths and Barrichello's crash. These include improved crash barriers, redesigned tracks, higher crash safety standards (such as larger sills along the driver cockpit) and major cuts to engine power. The Tamburello corner and other parts of the Imola circuit were altered for 1995. This was despite calls for action in 1989, after a serious high-speed crash in which Senna's friend, Gerhard Berger, suffered burns to his hand. No action took place after that crash because, following an inspection by Senna and Berger, they ended up siding with officials who had, for years, claimed that the wall could not be moved further back due to a river nearby. Revised on-track medical procedures also saw personnel hold up curtains at crash sites, to prevent the public from viewing distressing images as had occurred on live television with Senna.
In July 1994, the Brazil national football team dedicated their World Cup victory to Senna, and collectively held a banner on the field after defeating Italy in the final. Senna had met various members of the squad, including Ronaldo and Leonardo, three months earlier in Paris, telling them "this is our year". Throughout the rest of the 1994 season, Senna was commemorated in various ways. Damon Hill, along with Michael Schumacher, dedicated their individual success to Senna with Hill's victory in the Spanish Grand Prix and Schumacher's world-championship victory in the Australian Grand Prix.
A few months before his death, Senna had discussed with his sister the foundation of a charitable organization, based on a desire to contribute to those less fortunate in a more organised and effective manner. After his death, Viviane Senna set up the IAS in his honor, which has invested nearly US$80 million over the last 12 years in social programs and actions in partnership with schools, government, NGOs, and the private sector, aimed at offering children and teenagers from low-income backgrounds the skills and opportunities they need to develop their full potential as persons, citizens, and future professionals. The foundation is officially advised by Bernie Ecclestone, Frank Williams, Alain Prost, and Gerhard Berger. The Senninha ("Little Senna") cartoon character, born in 1993/94, was another means by which Senna extended his role-model status in favour of Brazilian children.
In his home country of Brazil, the main freeway from the international airport to São Paulo and a tunnel along route to the heart of the city are named in his honour. Also, one of the most important freeways of Rio de Janeiro is named after Senna ("Avenida Ayrton Senna"). The main road in Senna's Portuguese resort at Quinta do Lago, Algarve, was also dedicated to him, because his villa there was very near (but not on) this road. A portion of the Interlagos circuit in São Paulo is named the "Senna Esses Chicane" in his honor. In the English town of Reading, Berkshire, where Senna lived for a short period of time, an avenue in the suburb of Tilehurst was named after him.
In April 2000, Senna was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. That year, the UK public also voted Senna's opening lap of the 1993 European Grand Prix, the 43rd in the list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.
In 2004, a book called Ayrton: The Hero Revealed (original title: Ayrton: O Herói Revelado) was published in Brazil for the 10th anniversary of his death. Senna remains a national hero in Brazil and his grave attracts more visitors than the graves of John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley combined.
In addition, to mark the 10th anniversary of Senna's death, on 21 April 2004, over 10,000 people attended a charity match in a football stadium near Imola. The game was organised by several devoted Italian and Canadian fans of Senna, bringing the Brazil team that won the 1994 World Cup to face the "Nazionale Piloti", an exhibition team composed exclusively of top race car drivers. Senna had been a part of the latter in 1985. Michael Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso, and many others faced the likes of Dunga, Careca, Taffarel, and several of the team that won the FIFA World Cup in the United States 10 years earlier. The match finished 5–5 and the money was donated to the IAS. Viviane Senna, the president of the IAS, was also involved in the kick-off of this match. That same weekend, Bernie Ecclestone revealed that he still believed Senna was and remained the best F1 driver he had ever seen.
Since his death, Senna has been the subject of several songs (either wholly dedicated to him or simply referring to him) including by: Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla (song titled "Ayrton") and rock band The Rock Alchemist (tribute song "Live or Die"); Jazz pianist Kim Pensyl; Japanese jazz-fusion guitarist and T-square bandleader Masahiro Andoh (references in songs such as "Faces" and subsequent revisions, like "The Face"); Chris Rea (on his song "Saudade"); Spanish band Delorean (2009 extended play entitled Ayrton Senna); British acid jazz band Corduroy (1994 song "Ayrton Senna").
Between 1996 and 1998, to pay tribute to Senna, the Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati produced three special "Senna" editions of their 916 superbike. Ducati was at the time owned by Claudio Castiglioni, a personal friend of Senna who was an avid Ducati owner and endorsed the release of this 916 in March 1994. In 2002, under the presidency of Castiglioni, MV Agusta also released the special-edition F4 750 Senna motorbike followed by the F4 Senna 1000 in 2006. In both instances, each edition was limited to 300 units and, just like with the Ducati, all profits from sales were donated to the Ayrton Senna Foundation. In 2013, Ducati also released a special edition of their new top-of-the-range sportbike, the 1199 Panigale S Senna. In 2014, the IAS commissioned a commemorative Vespa that was auctioned for charity. It was custom-painted in the colours of Ayrton Senna's helmet by Alan Mosca, the son of Senna's helmet design creator, Sid, based on more than 50 "T5 Pole Position" models of the PX125 scooter that Ayrton won as part of the award to Formula 1 polesitters introduced by Piaggio in 1985.
The organisers of the former Formula One Grand Prix street circuit in Adelaide, South Australia, renamed the first chicane the "Senna Chicane" in his honour in 1994, and also a road in the Adelaide suburb of Wingfield is named "Senna Road". A shortened version of the Adelaide circuit (which remains the site of Senna's last Formula One win) and the chicane remain in use for local motorsport events, and a commemorative concrete plaque installed in 1995, bearing Senna's signature and hand prints, is also located there. The Adelaide circuit was said to be a favourite of Senna's, and he was reportedly unhappy about the upcoming shift of venue from Adelaide to Melbourne in 1996. Other motorsports circuits have similarly named sections of their track after Senna, such as the Circuito de Jerez in Spain, and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canada.
He has been voted the best driver of all time in various motorsport polls, including F1 Racing magazine's 2004 poll, and German newspaper Bild am Sonntag's poll of current drivers in 2010. In 2009, a poll of 217 current and former Formula One drivers conducted by Autosport magazine named Senna as "the greatest Formula One driver who ever lived". In 2012, BBC Sport journalists voted Senna as the greatest Formula One driver of all time, after naming their top 20 greatest drivers in a countdown on their website. In 1993, a poll of F1 drivers gave Senna a near-unanimous vote as the best driver in F1.
In 2006, the Japanese public ranked Senna 22nd in a survey of their favorite persons in history. The results were part of The Top 100 Historical Persons in Japan program broadcast by Nippon TV on 7 May that year.
In 2007, Prince Albert of Monaco unveiled a plaque in honour of Senna in a ceremony that was attended by Vivane Senna. An exhibition also took place that showcased Senna's victories around Monaco, along with his helmets that were borrowed from Senna's family and a selection of McLaren cars raced by Senna that were brought over from Motegi.
On 21 March 2010, on the day that would have marked Senna's 50th birthday, the football team Corinthians played a tape in memory of Senna which was also part of the theme played at the São Paulo Motor Show.
On 25 July 2010, the BBC motoring show, Top Gear paid an emotional tribute to Senna with British Formula One World Champion, Lewis Hamilton driving Senna's original MP4/4, with which he won the 1988 title. This was prior to the release of the documentary named after him. In this documentary broadcast only once by the BBC, Senna is named the number one driver ever, by fellow racing drivers.
A StudioCanal, Working Title Films, and Midfield Films documentary film Senna was released in 2010 to critical acclaim.
Since Senna's death, every Williams F1 car has incorporated a small Senna 'S' logo in its Formula 1 car to honour their former driver and in support of the IAS. A revised logo was featured in 2014 for the 20th anniversary of Senna's death.
In July 2013, Honda released a video of an audio-visual tribute on the Suzuka circuit in the dark, titled "Sound of Honda – Ayrton Senna 1989". Using the telemetry and sound of the Honda-powered McLaren MP4/5 driven by the Brazilian driver, Honda recreated the then lap record lap of 1:38.041 minutes by positioning speakers and lights along the 5.8 km track and activating them in synchronization with the race car's position during that lap. In May of that year, Honda also reconfirmed its return to the sport as McLaren's engine supplier from 2015, with both companies again leveraging on Senna's legend as part of their advertising campaign since.
On 25 October 2013, a holiday PlayStation 3 bundle with Gran Turismo 6 was announced which is dedicated to his memory, with some of the proceeds of this bundle going to help the IAS. This was not the first time that Senna was immortalized in a video game since, in 1992, Sega launched "Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco GP II" for its game consoles at the time. Apart from featuring advice from Senna himself, the tracks included Senna's own farm circuit in Tatuí, São Paulo and it was based on the 1991 F1 World Championship (albeit, with fictitious rival drivers and teams due to licensing restrictions).
In March 2014, during the Brazilian Carnival celebrations, the samba group Unidos da Tijuca paid tribute to Senna in one of their parades in Rio de Janeiro. The group showcased his McLaren car along with other characters associated with speed, such as Sonic, The Flash, and Usain Bolt. The school won the coveted trophy for the best parade of 2014.
On 21 March 2014, Google had a special Doodle to honor Senna's 54th birthday that day.
In occasion of the 20th anniversary of Senna's death, on 29 April 2014, in partnership with the IAS, the Brazilian regional airline Azul Linhas Aereas paid tribute by baptizing its Embraer ERJ-195 (registration no. PR-AYU (cn 19000434)) with a new name and livery. The airplane, which was formerly called "Azultec", has been renamed "#sennasempre" ("Senna always") and features the IAS logo on the rear side of the fuselage and the graphics of Senna's F1 helmet at the front, making it appear as though it is wearing the iconic helmet.
Tributes were also made at the Imola circuit to mark the 20th anniversary of Senna's death. On 1 May 2014, thousands of fans from around the world gathered at the Tamburello corner, at the exact scene where Senna suffered his fatal crash 20 years earlier, to hold a minute's silence. Various current and former F1 drivers were in attendance, including: Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen; Ferrari Driver Academy member Jules Bianchi; Senna's close friend and McLaren teammate, Gerhard Berger; and the Italians Jarno Trulli, Ivan Capelli, Pierluigi Martini, Andrea de Cesaris, and Emanuele Pirro. Flowers and other cherishable items were also placed around the statue of Senna, situated directly adjacent to the Tamburello corner.
In May and July 2014, the Republic of San Marino issued 70,008 commemorative EUR 2,50 stamps as well as 8,000 silver proof coins in Eur 5,00 denomination. In December 2014, a French company also produced 520 commemorative coins designed by a Brazilian artist.
In February 2015, international footballer Alessandro Del Piero inaugurated the "AYRTON" exhibition held in Turin until May 2015. It is a tribute to Senna curated by, and with tickets proceeds going to, the IAS.
In July 2015, an update to Angry Birds Go! added Ayrton Senna as a playable driver.
Various Madame Tussauds's wax museums around the world exhibit a full-sized figure of Senna in racing overalls.
On June 10, 2017, after qualifying on pole for the Canadian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton was presented with a Senna helmet that had been worn by Senna during a race. It was given by Senna's family in recognition of Hamilton's 65th pole position, matching Senna's tally.
In his karting days, Senna's helmet consisted of a plain white background with notable features absent. He experimented with several designs to satisfy him, such as a white, yellow, and green helmet, before settling on a design by Sid Mosca that included a yellow background with a green stripe surrounding the upper visor and a light metallic blue stripe surrounding the lower visor (both stripes are delineated in the other stripe's color) that was first seen in 1979; Mosca also painted helmets for Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet.
According to Mosca, the blue and green stripes symbolised movement and aggression, while the overall yellow colour symbolised youth; the three colors were also identifiable with the Flag of Brazil. The helmet never had significant changes, apart from sponsorship. One such change was that Senna would occasionally alter the stripe from blue to black. The tone of yellow changed a number of times, while usually a rich sunburst yellow, in 1985 and 1986 in some races, he used a fluorescent neon yellow colour. In 1994, the helmet was a lighter, paler yellow to complement the blue and white of the Williams car. He used a number of helmet brands throughout his career. From 1977 to 1989, he used Bell (Star – '77 to '82, XFM-1 – '83 to '89), from 1990 to 1991 Honda's own Rheos brand, 1992 to 1993 he used Shoei (X-4) and for 1994 he returned to using Bell (M3 Kevlar). The helmet worn by Senna in the fatal race was returned to Bell in 2002 and was incinerated while family members watched.
His nephew Bruno wore a modified version of his helmet design (a yellow helmet with a green and blue stripe) during his Formula One career, but the stripes are shaped after an S rather than being straight, under the chin area it has a green stripe, and it has a blue rounded rectangle in the top area. Bruno sported a modified helmet design for the final three races of the 2011 season to honour the 20th anniversary of Ayrton winning his last world championship.
At the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello incorporated part of Senna's helmet design into his own. For the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix, another variant of Senna's helmet was used by Lewis Hamilton and by Barrichello too. Hamilton used the design with permission from Senna's sister Viviane and the helmet was later sold in support of the IAS. At the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix, Hamilton again varied his helmet design (this time, the rear only given FIA restrictions on design changes in force from 2015) accompanied with a Twitter announcement stating "Just for you, Brazil!! A tribute to the greatest".
Outside of motor racing, Brazilian cyclist Murilo Fischer wore a helmet based on Senna's helmet colour scheme of yellow with green and blue stripes on stage 11 of the 2015 Giro d'Italia, which finished on the Imola circuit.
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)
‡ Half points awarded as less than 75% of race distance was completed.
† Driver did not finish the Grand Prix, but was classified as he completed over 90% of the race distance.
Senna holds these Formula One records: