The Scrutineering Bay is Badger’s way of taking a hot Grand Prix racing topic and getting people from the Sett involved to put their opinions across. From predicting races, arguing stewards decisions to just deciding who was/is/will be the best, anything is fair game!
With the release of the documentary Senna in cinemas last Friday, The Bay is going all retrospective this week. Seeing as everyone involved with Badger is an F1 fan, knows about Senna and has an opinion, what better question to ask than:
Was Ayrton Senna the greatest of all time?
The parcipants in this week’s debate are myself, Craig Normansell, Jimmy Von Weeks, Adam Millenueve and starting the whole thing off, being a little gushy and nostalgic, is POP’s own Tessa Tarossa;
Many moons ago I decided to do my GCSE Statistics coursework on “Who is the best F1 driver of all time?”. My statistical answer came out = Michael Schumacher. Even at the time I knew that this mathematically-derived answer couldn’t possibly be true! Michael Schumacher simply could not be the greatest of all time. Numbers alone just don’t cut the mustard when it comes to deciding such things. But if it wasn’t him, then who was it?
Not Prost – at Silverstone one year in the 90’s my mother spotted the French driver close-by in the paddock, and tried frantically to alert my father who was apparently oblivious. Prost, however, thought the entire scene was hilarious and started laughing. So you see, someone who can be so easily overlooked just cannot be the greatest either.
Ayrton Senna, on the other hand, was treated with a sort of quasi-mythical reverence in my house. People only ever whispered his name and then trailed off into an awed silence. I may have been only 6 when Senna tragically died, but I knew without question that this indeed was the greatest F1 driver of all time.
Up next is Jimmy;
Firstly, Ayrton Senna is probably my favourite driver of all time. He transcends mere sport, seeming to posses an otherworldly quality, which, added to his supreme ability behind the wheel, made him, the ultimate symbol of F1 greatness.
But was he truly the greatest, or did his untimely death transform Senna from one of the sport’s top drivers in to the mythical figure he is today. Because to my mind his tragic accident at Imola 17 years ago does not simply add to Senna’s mystique: it is a key reason for it.
Like anyone who goes out at their peak Senna never had a chance to fade, to see his powers wane or truly take a hammering from the younger generation. Be it a musician who throws their life away at 27 without making a bad album or a racing driver cut down in his early thirties, less than a year after his finest drive, the result is the same: we look at a perfect, unblemished piece. We also tend to paper over some of their misdemeanours.
Senna wasn’t perfect: to drag up just one of the black marks on his copybook we can turn to the title-deciding Japanese Grand Prix of 1990, when he ran Prost clean off the road, basically cheating his way to the world title (remember: I am a Senna fan).
This seems to be largely forgotten today (though maybe the attitude in France is a touch different). Would that be the case had he lived?
Perhaps he was the greatest. But just as you can’t judge two drivers who raced in different eras of the sport nor can you compare a driver who lost his life at the peak of his powers with those who survived to grow old and slow (and in the case of one unnamed star, too large to fit inside a grand prix cockpit). As such there can never be a definitive judgement.
Here’s Adam’s points
In short; Yes.
Now, that’s easy to say and quite a popular response, but I’d like to back it by saying that Senna’s attitude of ‘going for the gap’, his ability to out-drive a car, and finally his off-track personality, for me make him the greatest. Yes, of course there have been other drivers that could overtake just as well (probably not as consistently mind) and out-drive the car they’re in, but Senna just had it all.
When I was a teenager, I used to dislike him, because I was cheering on ‘our Nige’ for years and Senna could always beat him, but as I learnt more about F1 (and possibly matured a little) I used to be just amazed by his speed and style – all F1 drivers should go for gap, that’s why I have a soft-spot for Kamui and Lewis nowadays (and have been frustrated with Jenson’s sit and wait approach).
So yes, he is the greatest – of course his premature death does promote him to being a legend in a strange way, but regardless – I would love it if he continued in 1994, it would have been an epic season with the rise of Schumacher (and his car’s illegal traction control, ahem), but sadly we were robbed and that moment on May 1st 1994 is still with me from my teenage years, needless to say I may have had to dry my eyes while watching the recent film.
And finally it’s my go;
A sporting great is one that outgrows their chosen discipline either through popularity or charisma. One’s I can think of off the top of my head would be Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and David Beckham – all names I can put in an F1 article and for people to instantly recognise them. Thanks to the way Senna lived his life, which F1 fans knew before the new documentary, and now in more detail, he had already achived an entry into that elite group.
He was fast and ruthless before Schumacher made it his trademark. But unlike the German, Senna could cause an accident, be punished for it and still claim to be the victim. And people would buy into it hook, line and sinker. He also brought religion into a sport that for so long had put failures or successes down to luck and nothing else. All of a sudden there was a Brazilian racing driver talking headily about a higher power willing him on. It was unheard of.
He was also my first exposures to several things in life as a child growing up; riotous success, crushing disappointment, moments of genius, and tragic loss. As F1 was a staple in my house growing up, so were the best driver’s in the world, and for a period of years, Ayrton ruled that roost.
Was he the greatest though? Looking at it statistically, he falls well short, but Senna brought so much more than the need to break records. He brought a humanity that no-one else has ever matched. For that, he was my greatest driver.
There you have it folks, Badger’s thoughts on the great Brazilian! As ever, we want to know your opinions too, so feel free to add them below.