Ayrton Senna’s legacy lives on 26 years after his passing. Between April 30th and May 1st the motorsport community revives and reminisces the 1994 San Marino GP, perhaps the most dreadful weekend in the modern era of racing. Tributes and events are religiously carried out, as in the Stations of The Cross before Easter. First Roland Ratzenberger. Then Ayrton Senna. This resembles an actual ritual, which never loses its meaning “against the siege of the battering days”.
A pilgrimage to Imola is not uncommon, especially with an event going on, as well as articles, documentaries, songs, anecdotes from the lucky personalities who had the chance to get acquainted with Ayrton Senna personally are expected to colonize the internet for the day.
And it appears rather striking to notice that youngsters born after his death feel deeply connected to him, although they were not fortunate enough to witness his on-track deeds.
Even at the Curva del Tamburello you may find some evidence, as children sometimes attach their drawings to the fence or leave handwritten messages. Every F1 fan might, in fact, agree that there has always been a cult behind the figure of Ayrton Senna.
The triple world champion through his godlike achievements and his mystical aura raptured crowds and entire generations. His charisma pervaded and delighted the souls of thousands of enthusiasts, who eventually perpetuated and enforced the cult of Senna. In the contemporary F1 culture, having a rough idea of Senna’s achievements and most memorable races is mandatory for young people, as sort of a knockout question to detect real hardcore fans. Diving into his career and philosophy became as important as knowing about the current grid. Furthemore, his personal and intimate relationship with the divine added a hint of sacredness to his figure throughout his career and after his tragic demise. 1994 was a watershed year for motorsport from a safety-oriented standpoint, as what happened at Imola served as a cautionary tale to prompt a significant leap in that regard.
But what lies behind the cult of Senna? I would sum it up in two meaningful quotes, defining his character and racing persona.
Senna blitzed the opposition at Monaco 1988 qualifying, recounting that he drove in a deep trance state, clocking a scorching pole lap of 1’23’’998, nearly one second and a half faster than his teammate’s.
“I was already on pole, then by half a second and then one second and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel. Not only the tunnel under the hotel but the whole circuit was a tunnel. I was just going and going, more and more and more and more. I was way over the limit but still able to find even more”.
“Then suddenly something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and realised that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are. My immediate reaction was to back off, slow down. I drove slowly back to the pits and I didn’t want to go out any more that day. It frightened me because I was well beyond my conscious understanding. It happens rarely but I keep these experiences very much alive inside me because it is something that is important for self-preservation.”
Senna’s philosophy revolves around the pursuit of greatness and finding the limit. Elevating his spirit to reach higher has always been his intention and ultimate goal, as it exudes from the following quote.
“And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high”.
The versatility of his words and messages makes them applicable to our daily life, to the contemporary era of motorsport. Hence, this is what makes Senna eternal and why his cult is only destined to grow.