Brazilian, 21/3/60 - 01/5/94, World Champion 1988/90/91
Of all recent Formula One drivers, Ayrton Senna's name is that mentioned in the most reverential tones. In part this is due to the tragic circumstances of the Brazilian ace's death in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, at Imola, following a high speed collision. But there can be no doubt that in his Formula One career Senna established himself as one of the most outstanding natural talents ever to race. He could find speed where others simply could not, especially in adverse conditions and in the technical challenge of the ultra-tight Monaco circuit. But his uncompromising nature and occasional ruthless tactics often came in for criticism too.
Senna was born into an affluent family in Brazil and it was quickly clear that racing was his future. After karting and Formula Ford he moved to Europe in the early 'eighties, making his grand prix debut with Toleman in 1984 and showing his promise with a brilliant drive to second place in that year's rainswept Monaco Grand Prix. In '85 he moved to Lotus and took victories in Portugal and Belgium to finish the season in fourth place. He took two wins each in '86 and '87, still driving for Lotus, but then in 1988 his big break came with a move to McLaren, with Alain Prost as his team-mate.
The intense rivalry between the two men created some epic battles, with Senna pipping the Frenchman to the title in 1988 with eight victories against seven, in a season completely dominated by McLaren. In 1989 the championship was decided in controversial circumstances following a collision between the two McLaren team-mates at the Japanese Grand Prix, effectively giving the title to Prost. But in 1990, with Prost driving for Ferrari, a near re-run of the previous season's crash saw Senna emerge the victor and take his second drivers' championship. And in 1991 he made it three with another dominant season, six victories giving him the title from Nigel Mansell by 24 points. In 1992 McLaren had lost competitive advantage against the resurgent Renault powered Williams, and Senna could only manage fourth place as Mansell walked away with the Championship. And in 1993 he found himself in the uncomfortably familiar position of being runner up to Prost, the Frenchman having taken a drive for the Williams team to win his fourth world championship.
1994 looked to be Senna's year. He was offered a drive for the ultra-competitive Williams team (usurping old rival Alain Prost in the process) but the season got off to a poor start as he spun out of the race at Brazil, and then was eliminated at the Pacific Grand Prix at Aida in a collision. He went to the third race of the season, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, determined to claw back some of Michael Schumacher's 20 point lead. He died after leaving the track at very high speed while pushing hard in the lead. Formula One racing had lost one of its brightest stars, rivals and fans around the world united in shock and grief.
Senna's name continues in the Senna foundation, a charitable trust based in his native Brazil.