While Brazil cheered Emerson Fittipaldi’s wins in F-1 (in 1972, he became the country’s first world champion), a kid from São Paulo walked anonymously around the go-kart track of Interlagos. Ayrton Senna started his career in go-karts with a curious story, known by many fans: before his first official race in São Paulo, in July 1973, the driver raced for the first time as a nine-year-old kid, in Campinas, against much older and experienced competitors. The grid was randomly determined, and Senna took the spot number 1– his first pole-position in a career marked by many.
Young Ayrton got very excited with the result, but his father, Milton, thought the whole thing was crazy: “Can you imagine that? A rookie on the front, they’re gonna run the kid over”, he thought, while trying to convince his son to start further back on the grid. But it was impossible: Senna got his way and stayed at the pole-position, holding the first spot for much of the race, until a more experienced driver took him out of the race. Milton saw the crash and ran towards his son, thinking: “they’ve killed the kid!” Fortunately nothing happened and Ayrton walked away unscathed, just very displeased with the adversary’s behavior.
The kart racing days hold another well-known story about the passion and dedication of then-anonymous driver Ayrton Senna – and this one takes place in the rain. After a lousy performance on a wet track, at the very start of his career, the young driver decided he would be the best under these conditions. He was so determined that as soon as it started raining, he would run to the go-kart track. The world would soon witness all this passion and talent at F-1 circuits.
Young Ayrton Senna’s talent and dedication were already known in the kart scene, as Lucio Pascual Gascon, better known as Tchê, the driver’s first go-kart coach, could attest. His driver skills also received compliments from Angelo Parilla, one of the best international go-kart manufacturers. “I had never seen a driver like him”, he said about Ayrton Senna.
With several go-kart titles, Senna started drawing attention from experts – but remained unknown by the so called mainstream media. Respected magazine “Quatro Rodas” highlighted the young Brazilian driver’s potential in an article at the beginning of the ‘80s, but a little mistake made clear that the promising driver “Airton” Senna – as mistakenly spelled by the reporter – still had a long way to go. With his victories in England, the driver became known by the specialized press, and the Silverstone track was nicknamed “Silvastone” – a pun with Ayrton’s last name.
Senna was the F-3 champion at the time, a stamp of quality that gave its bearer the credentials necessary to seek a spot in F-1. Naturally, a few teams gave the young Brazilian driver the chance to test in their cars, and Ayrton debuted with the previous year’s champion team, Williams. Senna was already considered the next Brazilian potential star, following the path opened by Emerson Fittipaldi and brilliantly traveled by Nelson Piquet, who would become F-1 champion in 1983. Knowing that Senna’s debut would be relevant to Brazilian sports, TV Globo recorded the driver’s first test at Donnington Park circuit, in England. “Today’s the day!”, said Senna to the network’s cameraman and to reporter Reginaldo Leme. It was, indeed, a historic day: the driver set a new record for the track, and started showing the F-1 world he had potential to become a champion.
After a few laps, Senna had already equaled Williams’ test driver Jonathan Palmer’s time, 1min01s7. During his 83 laps, he kept getting better and better, reaching the track’s record of 1m00s5 – “The best the team had ever achieved at Donnington Park by more than a second”, said Reginaldo Leme at the time, covering the story. On Senna’s sixth F-1 race, Monaco Grand Prix, the world was introduced to what Brazilians already knew: it was just a matter of time until the young Toleman driver, now 24, became one of the F-1 greats. Under heavy rain, Senna started at the 13th place and overtook several rivals, dramatically closing the gap between him and Alain Prost, the race leader. In a controversial move, race control stopped the competition at the 32nd lap.
Senna actually finished the lap first, but under red flag conditions only the previous lap’s results are considered, and victory went to Prost. It was the first time that Formula One’s greatest rivals shared a podium and the first time the world saw what Senna was capable of. A few months later, at the start of the 1985 season, at the Portugal Grand Prix, the Brazilian driver would get his first win, also under rain, driving a Lotus.
The McLaren years brought Senna not only his three world titles (1988, 1990 and 1991), but also the confirmation of his name as one of the biggest in motor racing. Thanks to his three titles conquered in Suzuka and the successful partnership with Honda, the Brazilian became a huge idol in Japan. At the time, scenes of mass hysteria over Senna’s presence were common also in Brazil, where 1991’s epic victory took legendary proportions, with a huge crowd taking over the track – a scene repeated in 1993. During this time, Senna inspired a whole generation of drivers: Fernando Alonso had his go-kart painted white and red, copying the Brazilian’s livery. Lewis Hamilton painted his helmet yellow to match his idol’s look.
In Australia – 1993’s final race – Senna had a sublime win, even driving an admittedly inferior McLaren. The Brazilian had already proved his skills in other races that year, like during the historic European Grand Prix, under rain, and in Donnington Park. But after Adelaide’s race singer Tina Turner made a tribute that would live in history, by singing “Simply the best” and inviting the driver to the stage.
Ayrton Senna’s conquests will live forever in the fans’ memories, but the Brazilian driver’s status as a star took a different meaning when the Star Registry named star number 5 2942-1502 in the international astronomy database “Senna”.
It’s part of the Auriga constellation (Greek for “chariot rider”). To see it, you have to set the coordinates of a common telescope to RA (right ascension) 6h53min55,43s and Dec (declination) 37o 56’09.276, between the constellations of Andromeda, Taurus and Gemini. The Senna star is visible from December to March, when the northern constellation reaches its zenith. It’s also a period of rest for the Formula One world, when we can take our time to better admire the brightness of a star that left so many amazing memories on the track.
source: Ayrton Senna Official