His yellow helmet with a blue and a green stripe made history on the slopes and his genius marked a generation that learned with the Brazilian F1 champion Ayrton Senna, for many the greatest sports myth of the country, to proudly wave the flag of Brazil. .
When the pilot, just 34 years old, crashed into the wall of the Tamburello curve on the Italian circuit of Ímola on May 1, 1994, he not only silenced his native country. The accident shocked millions of people who saw on television, in real time, the sad farewell to the charismatic and controversial icon.
A quarter of a century later, his image is still associated with commercial brands and social campaigns; He is the last great Brazilian idol, for many even greater than the mythical King Pelé.
“We were living in the 80s, with hyperinflation, the military dictatorship had just ended; It didn’t make much sense to be proud of Brazil, but Senna went around the world carrying the flag as a symbol that made so many Brazilians proud, ”says Alexander Grünwald, a journalist specializing in motorsports.
In Grünwald’s view, Senna’s legacy was “to transform the sport.” His differential, in addition to being an exceptional driver, was to attend to other aspects such as physical and mental preparation, understanding the vehicle and technology and taking care of his image.
A poll conducted in 2014, on the 20th anniversary of his death, showed that 47% of the inhabitants of his hometown of Sao Paulo, the most populous in Brazil, considered Senna the biggest name in the national sport. Pelé came in second place, with 23%.
«Pelé lived a time when people listened to football on the radio or read it in the newspaper. They did not experience it with the same intensity and emotion. With Senna, it was Sundays with the family ”in front of the television, explains Grünwald.
On Wednesday, a “Senna Day” will be dedicated to him at the Interlagos racetrack, in Sao Paulo, with sports and cultural activities.
– Determination and dedication –
Three times world champion with McLaren (1988, 1990 and 1991), where he shone from 1988 to 1993, Senna won one GP out of three (35 victories in 96 races) with the British team.
His internationally famous rivalry with French teammate Alain Prost, who after so many public bickering, visibly moved, would help carry Senna’s coffin from his first years in the team.
That antagonism is perhaps the most controversial point in his biography, addressed in books and documentaries. «Of course it wasn’t perfect (…); it had rivalries on the track, but its positives outweighed its negatives, “says Fred Sabino, Formula 1 editor journalist.
“Determination” and “dedication” are the words that are repeated the most when those close to him evoke his career. They are also the values exalted by the Ayrton Senna Institute, which his sister Viviane founded in late 1994 to offer opportunities to children with few resources.
Documentaries and books show a Senna committed to a mystical point with his career. In interviews, the driver talks about his Catholic faith and how crucial it was for motorsports to maintain such strict mental work that, according to him, it sometimes allowed him to rise to another dimension while maneuvering.
In videos he is charismatic and smiling. Lean and handsome, at times he seemed genuinely exalted, joyous to tears, or stiff with tension. Other images show a young Brazilian upper class enjoying the pleasures of life as a champion of one of the most expensive sports in the world.
He had famous romances with Xuxa, a well-known television star, and with Adriane Galisteu, then a young model with whom he shared his last months of life.
– Before and after Senna –
Before Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi (champion in 1972 and 1974) and Nelson Piquet (three-time champion in 1981, 1983 and 1987) put Brazil on the world motorsport map. But there the line was cut off.
Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa, with eleven podiums each but without a world title, were the greatest Brazilian exponents of F1 in the last quarter of a century. Currently, there are none on the circuits.
“There were some successes after Ayrton Senna, we had about fifteen years of conquests, but the lack of internal structure of Brazilian motorsport did not allow that development,” explains Grünwald.
«Senna was the third driver in a line of champions (…). But in motorsports there is that cyclical thing. The names that came later ended up suffering a bit with the claims of a fanaticism that was used to victories, “says Sabino.
“Senna was the Brazil that worked, the great idol, a super hero (…) He ended up dying on the track, which also helped to consolidate the myth,” he adds. AFP