March 21, 1960 – F1 World Drivers’ Champion Ayrton Senna da Silva is born

Brazilian F1 driver Ayrton Senna da Silva, commonly known as Ayrton Senna, was born on this day in 1960. During his career he would rack up numerous championships and miles of controversy. After racing karts for several years, he made his Formula One debut in 1984 with Toleman-Hart. After a stint at Lotus, he joined McLaren-Honda In 1988, becoming teammates with Alain Prost. Though racing for the same team, the two would become rivals on the track.

Senna won his first World Drivers’ Championship in 1988, while Prost earned his third the following year. Senna again won in 1990 and 1991, while Prost wouldn’t snag the trophy again until 1993. The rivalry hit its highs during this time. The Japanese Grand Prix of 1989 and 1990 became the championship deciding race each year. Whoever performed better between the two, Senna and Prost, would win. The end, or beginning for that matter, of either race could not be predicted.

Above: Senna racing karts in Brazil at age 13. By Instituto Ayrton Senna – CC BY 2.0 Top: Senna at the 1991 US Grand Prix. By wileynorwichphoto – CC BY 2.0.

The 1989 Japanese Grand Prix remains one of the most infamous races in Formula One history. Senna took pole position with Prost in second. Prost jumped Senna at the start and was leading into turn one. Senna fell back and positions remained unchanged. On lap 46 out of 53, Senna, desperate to pass Prost to keep his championship hopes alive, tried to overtake the Frenchman at the last chicane but Prost closed the door and the two collided. Prost stated that he did not believe he was responsible for the collision and complained about that Senna’s overtake was dangerous in attempting to go for a gap which was no longer there. After the collision, Senna had stopped off the track and waved the marshalls over to give him a push-start – within the rules if a car is deemed to be parked in a dangerous position. Senna re-entered the race via a run-off-road and made it back the pits for a new front wing, managing to re-take the lead in the final few laps, crossing the line first. A long period of silence ensued with podium regularities conducting without Senna. Senna was disqualified for re-entering the track illegally, meaning he was ruled out of winning a second title.

“The 1990 Formula One season saw an intense constructor rivalry between Ferrari and McLaren-Honda, with Senna still at the helm of his Honda-powered McLaren and Prost newly seated in a Ferrari for the first time. Similar to the 1989 season, the championship came to its head at Suzuka. After Prost had mounted a significant title challenge in his Ferrari by claiming three consecutive mid-season wins at Mexico, France, and in the British Grand Prix. The championship would solely be between Senna and Prost for the third consecutive season. Senna, heading into the penultimate race of the calendar at Suzuka knew that any finish ahead of Prost, or if the pair were to crash out, he would be crowned world champion.

Senna, despite securing pole position, was distressed, complaining that the inside line whereby the pole sitter starter was on the dirtier side of the track. Senna protested with FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre that pole position should start on the racing line, however Senna’s pleas were ultimately rejected. An infuriated Senna vowed to attempt to take the lead no matter the cost heading into turn 1. Subsequently, Prost, starting on the other side of the track jumped Senna. Heading into turn 1 Senna dived down the inside of Prost’s Ferrari, colliding and taking both drivers down the gravel and out of the race. Senna was crowned champion.SOURCE

Tragedy struck on May 1, 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix when Senna died in a crash while leading the race. At the time of his death, he held a record six victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, and was the fifth-most successful F1 driver of all time in terms of race wins.

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