2 minute read

Ayrton Senna: 1960-1994: Race Car Driver

Outstanding Kart Career

Karting is a fertile seeding ground for racing car drivers, and many future F1 champions got their start as children, in races on European karting tracks. Senna was able to race karts legally when he turned 13, and won his first race. It was held at a karting track at Interlagos, and the young rookie driver beat several karting veterans to the finish. Senna won the 1977 South American Kart Championship, and set his sights on Europe and the World Championships at the famous Le Mans circuit in France.

At a Glance . . .

Born Ayrton Senna da Silva on March 21, 1960, in Sao Paulo, Brazil; died on May 1, 1994, in Bologna, Italy; son of Milton da Silva (a businessman and landowner); divorced.

Career: Race car driver. Won first Kart race, 1973; won South American Kart Championship, 1977; proved himself a contender in international Kart racing, 1978-80; won two Formula Ford series, 1981; won 22 races and Formula Ford Championship, 1982, and British F3 Championship, 1983; joined F1 Toleman team, 1984; joined Lotus team, 1985; driver for McLaren team, 1988-93; drove three races for Williams team, 1994.

Awards: Numerous awards and championships, including South American Kart Championship, 1977; Formula Ford 1600 series and Formula Ford 2000 series, both 1981; Formula Ford Championship, 1982; British F3 Championship, 1983; F1 World Championship, 1985; F1 World Championship, 1988, 1990, 1991; fourth place, F1 World Championship, 1992; second place, F1 World Championship, 1993.

Senna placed sixth overall in his first race at Le Mans, a respectable finish for a rookie driver. He finished second in the 1979 championship at Estoril in Portugal, and placed second in the 1980 championship at Nivelles in Belgium. He never took the Karting World Championship, a fact that rankled him.

Senna and his wife, Liliane Vasconcelos, moved to England so he could race 1600cc cars for the Van Diemen team in the Formula Ford series. Senna, believing he would be paid for his efforts, was shocked to discover his family was still expected to cover the high cost of his racing. He took eighth place in his first race in the series, at Brands Hatch, and took third a week later at Thruxton. He proved his mettle under difficult race conditions, including racing in rain. Van Diemen gave the hot young driver its newest car, and Senna won both the Formula Ford 1600 and Formula Ford 2000 series.

Faced with limited opportunities for sponsorship, Senna announced his retirement due to lack of funding. Frustrated, he returned to Brazil to work for his father's building supply business. After just four months, Senna regretted his decision and chose to return to racing. His wife, used to a life of comforts, saw the financial struggles that could lie ahead and chose not to accompany him. Senna's father agreed to co-sponsor his son, along with a Brazilian bank, for one more year of racing. The investment paid off; Senna won 22 races and the 1982 championship.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Paul Anthony Samuelson (1915– ) Biography to Bessie Smith (1895–1937) BiographyAyrton Senna: 1960-1994: Race Car Driver Biography - Outstanding Kart Career, Charged Into Formula One, Proved His Mettle In The Rain, Carved History With Mclaren