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GP Week : Issue 200
F1 >>> FEATUrE To Ayrton senna it was essential to have the trust and friendship of all those with whom he worked. As far as the people who prepared his car were concerned it was not difficult to like and admire a driver who they knew would always give the maximum. But Ayrton took his relationship with those people one step further, as many of the Honda personnel who were invited to travel on his private jet will remember. Among the McLaren staff who formed a close relationship with Senna were all of the engineers with whom he worked. Closest of all, though, was Jo Ramirez, the slim curly- haired Mexican who for 18 years would be the Operations Manager at McLaren, in charge (among other things) of ensuring that the team's personnel and equipment arrived at the correct place at the correct time. Ramirez first came to Europe from Mexico City in 1961, as a teenage mechanic working with his friend and fellow countryman Ricardo Rodriguez, whose promising career in F1 ended tragically when he was killed while practising for the 1962 Mexican GP. After a brief period living in Italy, Ramirez found employment in England, where he married an English woman. He was able to work for Pedro Rodriguez, elder brother of Ricardo, only for Pedro, too, to be killed at a sports car race in Germany in 1971. Ramirez decided to continue in racing and to stay in his adopted country. He vividly remembers his first meeting with Ayrton Senna, in 1981: "I was working for the F1 team owned by Emerson Fittipaldi and we were testing with Keke Rosberg at Silverstone," he says. "The team did not have enough sponsorship and was not doing very well, but naturally Emerson was taking a close interest in his fellow Brazilians. I had not even heard of this Senna guy, who was still racing in Formula Ford, when Emerson introduced us. "After they had talked and Ayrton had left us, Emerson told me that this kid from Formula Ford was going to be a great name in racing. Emerson would never have said something like that unless he believed it to be true, so naturally I followed Ayrton's career in later years." When the Fittipaldi brothers' F1 team collapsed in 1982, Ramirez was offered the job at McLaren. By the time Ayrton was ready to join the team in 1988, though, Ramirez had become a close friend and admirer of Alain Prost. The Frenchman discovered, as Ayrton did later, that Ramirez knew everything that was going on inside the team. If Alain had not recently been to the factory, he could always call Ramirez to check what was happening there. Anyone who knows of the intense rivalry which existed between Prost and Senna will ask how Senna allowed himself to become friendly with a man who was so close to his bitter rival. Prost made the change of allegiance easy by announcing in 1989 that he would be joining Ferrari for 1990. But another explanation is that Ramirez, like almost everyone at McLaren, was deeply shocked by the incident at Suzuka in the 1989 Japanese GP when Prost deliberately pushed Senna off the circuit: "I will always admire Alain," he says now, "but that incident at Suzuka definitely changed my feeling for him. I think I lost some respect for him on that day". Perhaps it was their shared Latin temperament which boosted the relationship between Senna and Ramirez. The driver knew that he could rely on Ramirez to look after the innumerable tiny aspects of being a driver, from making sure that there were hotel rooms and transport available for his friends at the races to carrying his helmet for him when he went to the starting grid. Close as he was to Ayrton, Ramirez does not believe that he completely understood the Brazilian: "His greatest quality was his will to win," he says. "I have worked with many great drivers but I never saw anyone who was as dedicated to winning as Ayrton was. That was the difference between him and Alain. Although Alain was unbeatable when he had got his car set up the way he liked it, Ayrton could be unbeatable in a car that was inferior or not well set up." Ramirez believes that Ayrton went to his death with a car that he did not trust. "He knew that he was born to be a leader, to be the fastest driver in the world. I sometimes used to wonder if that was a good attitude, because it is easy to have an accident when you are on the limit. But he always pushed hard, sometimes even pushing the car to do things that it was not capable of doing". "I am sure that is what happened at Imola. He put the Williams on pole position when he had already described the handling as unpredictable. And just before the accident happened Michael Schumacher, running just behind, said he could see that the car was unstable, handling badly. But Ayrton wanted to lead, to be in front. He was leading when he went to his death. That is how I will remember him." Ayrton's 'Man' at McLaren Remembering Ayrton Thursday May 1 - Sunday May 4 will see an Ayrton Senna tribute, hosted by the Imola circuit. On track and static displays will honour Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. For more information: http://www.formulapassion.it/ ayrton-senna-tribute/english/ n Sutton Images and the Ayrton Senna Institute are also co-hosting the official Ayrton Senna Exhibition, featuring a collection of images of Senna's career. Where? Proud Gallery, 161 King's Road, London SW3 5XP. Every day, 10am-7pm, through to May 5. More info: www.proud.co .uk Collector's item To mark the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's passing, Keith Sutton – in association with Boulle Mining Group and publishers F1 Elite Concept – will launch a limited edition high-quality book, printed on 30x30 photo-board, containing unmissable images of Ayrton's career (cover above) – simply called Senna by Sutton, the book will be launched at Imola, on May 1. Copies will be personally signed by Keith Sutton. For more info or to order a copy: firstname.lastname@example.org 26 GPWEEK.com // 26 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: