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GP Week : Issue 200
F1 >>> FEATUrE It is hardly believable that 20 years has passed since that horrible weekend at Imola which culminated in the death of one of Formula 1's greats – Ayrton senna. The weekend was already bad enough – Rubens Barrichello's huge crash on Friday, from which he had escaped almost unharmed, then Saturday's qualifying crash which claimed the life of F1 newcomer Roland Ratzenberger. The events of that weekend, the lead-up, and everything that followed have been documented in excruciating detail ever since; and Senna's story has formed the basis for a hit doucmentary film. There is little new to add to the tale. On any other day, Ayrton would have walked away from that crash but, as the movie concluded, Ayrton just ran out of luck. Here, 20 years later, we simply seek to remind GPWEEK readers – some of whom were quite young in 1994 – of the man, his talents and his personality, via the thoughts and anecdotes of a few people who knew him well at various times through his career. By sheer chance, I can include myself in that group. In 1978, I was employed by Zip Karts in the UK to be crew chief/mechanic for 'The Man' in karting – Brit Terry Fullerton (whom, yes, Ayrton named as his greatest motorsport rival ever in the movie). 'TF' was the best, and we won everything we entered for most of that year – including the first ever major international win for Angelo Parrilla's Italian engine manufactureres, DAP. As the September World Championships approached, TF went down to Parma for some pre-event tyre testing and, when he returned had something prophetic to say: "I think we've got a problem. Angelo's got this Brazilian kid who's turned up and he's f***ing fast!" (TF was always succinct!). "He's never driven on (the new) Bridgestones and yet he's bloody quick ..." Terry Fullerton feared no-one and, back then, was indisputably Numero Uno. For him to say that was quite something and, as it turned out, hit the nail on the head. Andsoitbegan–a tremendous karting rivalry, a young star of the future taking on the established king. By the following year, I'd moved on from crew chief to founding editor of Kart & Superkart magazine, so was able to watch this contest develop up close. There were some classic head-to-heads and I like to think that Ayrton learned a bit from TF that developed him before he moved on to cars. At 17, the intensity, confidence and focus was already there. At times, it was almost over-confidence, and Ayrton had some spectacular shunts. He was, however, fast, brave and single-minded. Twice he finished a tantalising second in the World Kart Championship before Formula Ford beckoned. We all reckoned that if he had the breaks, he'd do pretty well in cars ... and that turned out to be an understatement! Chris Lambden Managing editor F1 commentator and former star Martin Brundle has written the foreword to Keith sutton's forthcoming limited edition 'senna by sutton' photographic tribute book, which sums up his relationship with Ayrton: When Ayrton Senna came to England in 1981, I became aware that he and Keith (Sutton) had become friends and were working together. But the closeness of their relationship didn't prevent Keith taking an interest in my career, of course, not even during that tough but memorable 1983 season when we were fighting for the British F3 title. Naturally I had noticed Ayrton Senna's meteoric rise through the classic British lower formulas but I was still somewhat surprised in early 1983 to be constantly asked "Can you beat Senna?" His reputation clearly preceded him, even at that early stage, and as he won the first nine races of that Formula 3 season it was easy to see why. Then, at Silverstone, I outqualified him and outraced him in the European F3 round. That weekend, Senna's only weakness was revealed. In his mind it was simply not possible that somebody else using the same equipment could be faster. There followed a sequence of outrageous races where we crashed, either together or separately. How he failed to break any bones in the accident at Cadwell Park I will never know. He won the championship on the final day. But I think we had done more than enough to impress the right people in Formula 1, because in 1994 we had both been competing in the World Championship for 10 years. At Interlagos in March 1994, Keith asked us to pose together for his camera. I am of course delighted to have a copy of that photograph (above) to remind me of our rivalry, and of Ayrton. I can't say I knew him very well on a personal level in those days, but on a professional level I did. Throughout that 1983 season we fought each other hard, but always within the limits. What impressed me at once was his professionalism and commitment. For such a young man, Senna's sixth sense astounded me. He always knew the correct thing to do. Wet or dry, he knew where the grip was. Was such talent hereditary or was it God-given? Regardless of the situation, it was obvious from the beginning, from the first moment, that he was something special. He seemed to know by instinct where the limit was – not after the corner, but before. It was as if he was able to anticipate the reaction that would be required – in qualifying, at the start, in traffic or in rain. He was a truly remarkable ability, fully deser ving of those three F1 World Championships and more. Sadly for me, we never did become close friends. Nevertheless, it was certainly a privilege to have known him as a man. I am glad, too, that I experienced his skills from the ultimate grandstand seat: another race car. Senna and Brundle came to blows in Formula 3 on several occasions ... 23 GPWEEK.com // 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: