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With Ayrton in mind - the F1® paddock on Senna

01 May 2014

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's passing, we asked those in the current Formula One paddock for their thoughts on the legendary Brazilian driver - some knew him, some worked with him, some even raced against him, while some were barely schoolboys when he died. Here's what they had to say (more quotes will be added throughout the week)...

Niki Lauda, Mercedes team non-executive chairman

"He was the best and most charismatic race driver F1 has ever had. An unbelievable character. He had personality, he was fast and he had charisma - no wonder that he won everything."

Stefano Domenicali, former Ferrari team principal

"I was born in Imola and was there in 1994, already working for Ferrari. I remember the silence of that tragic moment that was all around the city. It was unbelievable. At a venue with over 100,000 people watching there was just the noise of the helicopter. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Ayrton Senna was an icon of Formula One and it seems like all this happened yesterday and not 20 years ago. After his accident the Formula One world took on another approach to safety. Ayrton had an incredible personality, and of course he was very fast, but to compare him with drivers today - or drivers from other different ages - is difficult as you would have to take the car, the situation and a lot of other aspects into account. The more you go back in racing history - let's say 40 or 50 years - the more it might appear that those guys where geniuses - or crazy - for driving in those conditions. So hats off to them. And Ayrton will always be part of that fantastic heritage that Formula One has."

Romain Grosjean, Lotus

"Thinking of Ayrton, it brings back the first few races I watched in Formula One in 1993 and 1994: the battle with Alain Prost in 1993 and then, of course, that 1st of May in 1994. I was watching the race on TV and at eight years old I didn't really quite understand what was going on - that one of my idols would never race again. When I close my eyes I still see unbelievable images of the onboard camera from his crazy qualifying laps."

Ron Dennis, McLaren group CEO

"On the racetrack, Ayrton was passionate about motor racing - and it was his life to the exclusion of many, many things that other people enjoy on a regular basis. He was completely dedicated and completely focused. He derived tremendous satisfaction and gained uplifting emotional experiences from racing and winning. He was completely unique in the sense of how much of an adrenaline rush he used to get. Ayrton did not really have a bad side; he was a caring guy, he was a team player, and he was prepared to admit he was wrong when he was wrong - and those are unusual qualities for a Grand Prix driver."

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari

“Senna’s death was an incredibly sad moment for the world of Formula One. I remember the day, even though I was still at school back then. And even though I don't remember much about him as a person because of my young age, I always thought that he was a great driver and a reference for many who followed on later - including me.”

Johnny Herbert, former F1 race winner

“Speed. Ayrton was synonymous with speed. When you saw him in qualifying or in the race you saw a master at work. It was always on the edge of the car - and that was what I always used to love about Ayrton. Take Alain Prost: he was different, he was about calculation. His was a very different way of racing. Ayrton - a master behind the wheel.

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India

“Ayrton was an idol to me - and I am sure to many others who tried to emulate him. The aura he had and what he was representing - his commitment and dedication to the sport - that was very unique. He brought that commitment and dedication to a new level. He was one of the greatest drivers of all time.”

Helmut Marko, Red Bull motorsport consultant

“The yellow helmet of Senna - that is a picture that I can call forward when closing my eyes. He was a driver with such a huge level of commitment - in all his races - and somebody who acquired an unbelievable charisma over the years. On the driving side you probably would find one or another driver who could match Ayrton, but charisma is something that you either have or you don’t have. But it would be unfair to compare today’s drivers, as they have a completely different socialization to back then. Today they grow up with their IT gadgets so they have never developed that down-to-earth race fanaticism - that fighting for every inch and sacrificing everything for it. It is a different generation. If I were to pick three attributes for Senna it would be speed, charisma and ruthlessness.”

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One group CEO

“Ayrton was reasonably complicated. I always thought that he had a bit of a conflict going on inside with all sorts of things. Obviously his results speak for themselves - the world knows that. As a friend, he was super - somebody I could trust. He was very close to my family. He was a nice guy.”

Valtteri Bottas, Williams

“Thinking of Ayrton Senna, visually it’s the car from 1994 with the Rothmans colours and the yellow helmet sticking out. On the human level, a very talented driver whose career was cut short much earlier than it should have been as there were many more things that he could have achieved. For me he was professional and showed direction to many other drivers that followed. He also showed that even though you’re talented you can still work hard and do even better than you would on natural talent alone. He carried professionalism to a higher level.”

David Coulthard, former F1 race winner

“The first memories I have of Ayrton was when I was a kid watching television. What springs immediately to my mind was his qualifying lap in Suzuka in 1988 when he was driving for McLaren: there you really could see how talented he was. Then my mind goes to the time when I worked with him as a test driver - watching him and how precise he was with the engineers taught me a lot. His work ethic really stood out for me. In reality there were two Ayrtons - one in the car and one outside the car. When in the car he was focused, ruthless and dedicated. Outside it he was gentle, giving and precise - there was none of the ruthlessness that he showed when in the car.”

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull

“My dad was a big Senna fan. Born in 1987 I personally don’t remember the first couple of years Ayrton was racing, but the first memory I have of him was when he won his first home GP in Brazil in 1991. He was completely destroyed after the chequered flag - he had lost gears during the race and in the end he had to be lifted up to the podium. Later I was watching F1 races nearly every Sunday, and it was difficult for me as a kid to understand that a racing driver had an accident and died. His death was a big loss to the sport. Unfortunately I never got to know Ayrton. He had lots of races where he was outstanding. He had an incredible talent in the car and seemed to be a very humble and special guy. It seemed that he took this personal side into the car, which probably made him stronger and this is why people remember him so well.”

Martin Brundle, former F1 driver

"Senna was for many a synonym for qualifying. Seeing him on a qualifying lap - either in your mirrors or from the pit wall - was electrifying: his very distinctive helmet colour and his very distinctive style in the car. He had a gift - a sixth sense - for where the grip on the track was. I'd already realised that in F3, because he seemed to already have that understanding before the corner - not in the middle of the corner or after the corner - of where there was going to be grip. He had that special gift of driving a race car - it was natural for him. I raced against him something over 11 years.

"Once in F3 at Silverstone, it was pouring and I was leading into Stowe and he went down on the outside of me. Stowe was a very fast corner back then and he went so fast on the outside that I thought, 'Good, he's crashed I don't have to fight Senna today'. But he went completely around the outside of the corner and came out in front of me and I was really amazed as he must have found some grip out there. That sums up for me the feel that he had.

"But there was also a great paradox about him - something confusing. He could be so aggressive, as I saw in F3 and in F1 - ready to put his car in a position and leave you to decide if you're going to have an accident that day. His mentality was to try psychologically to get ahead of you. But then if a driver was having an accident he was the first guy to run back and help them, whether it was Eric Comas or Martin Donnelly… he was the first driver to run out and see after Roland Ratzenberger in Imola. He had that really caring, human side to him which didn't match his aggression. He could go from the warm caring person to the cold calculating guy within a blink. That I never fully understood. He was religious to some extent… When looking back I feel privileged having raced against him, but back then he was just another driver to beat.

"When looking at the last 20 years, I've seen drivers with talents in different ways but I don't think I've seen another Ayrton. Probably the closest was Michael Schumacher, but Senna was driven by the heart and Schumacher by the head. Schumacher was the more complete driver, but Senna had more natural talent. But of course we are talking tiny percentages, as these two were some of the best drivers that ever sat in a racing car in. Kimi (Raikkonen) has speed, but he doesn't have Senna's application. Senna was also smart in politics. He was one of the few guys who could control Ron (Dennis). So no, we haven't really seen another Senna yet."

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

"I think Senna is a benchmark for all drivers, the best of his generation. In Spain there wasn't much F1 on TV back then as there was not the interest in the sport there is now. For me, as a kart racer, I was interested in all motorsport and ever since I was a child his name meant a lot to me."

Eric Boullier, McLaren racing director

"Magical. I was following the Prost-Senna battle very carefully when both were driving for McLaren. It was very interesting to see someone analytical like Prost having to cope with somebody sublime like Senna. Probably Kimi (Raikkonen) comes closest to that today. He can also be sublime and magical - sometimes."

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes

"Ayrton Senna - there's an icon of our sport. If you think about Formula One you think about Ayrton Senna - and vice versa. He was one of only a few who have shaped our sport and his death was a huge loss and tragedy."