Saturday, April 14, 2012


I don't remember when I first heard of Ayrton Senna, but it must have been sometime in 1998. Maybe I came across his name while reading old Formula 1 magazines on a slow day at the office, or maybe one of my colleagues told me about him.

In 1998 I was in Paris working for ICN, which was a subsidiary of Rothman's. ICN's raison d'ĂȘtre was to promote Rothman's (Winfield) Williams's Formula 1 team. Ayrton Senna died while driving for the Williams team about 5 years before I started working for them.

He was one of the best Formula 1 drivers of the 20th century--he might have been the best if he hadn't died on the track. Perhaps I was curious about him because in 1998 I was working for a team where neither driver (Villeneuve and Frentzen) was a contender for the title (despite the fact that they'd won first and second place the previous year). Michael Schumacher of Ferrari and Mika Hakkinen of McLaren won almost every race that year. Hakkinen struck me as a man with no personality at all and Schumacher had too much--I remember him almost punching David Coulthard in the face after their vehicles crashed into each other. Neither drove for "our" team. So the idea of a man who drove a Williams car and who could have given who could have given Schumi something to chew on if only he hadn't died was tantalizing.

I remember when my boss went on a mad cleaning fit and insisted we throw everything old out. One of my colleagues paused in the act of tossing out a binder of slides. "C'est Senna." she explained. From then on we examined all the slides before tossing them--hoping to relieve the monotony of cleaning by finding something of value. No one else found Senna slides.

A few night's ago I found that Netflix was suggestiong that I watch Senna--a documentary made about Ayrton Senna in 2010. I wondered if I should watch it--after all I wouldn't watch a movie about a Red Sox player from 1993--would I? But I once knew and cared a great deal more about Formula 1 as a sport then I ever have about Baseball. Besides--baseball is rarely fatal Formula 1 was. Senna was one of two who died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix and one other was injured. I remember reading Damon Hill describing how he passed by the wrecked car of his team mate Senna right after the accident. How the Hell do you keep driving after that? Michael Schumacher won the race. I always wondered how he felt about that.

Many people complained that the changes made to some of the circuits in Formula to make them more safe made them boring.At the time (1998-99) I was inclined to agree with them. After watching this movie I think differently. The most interesting parts of motor sports are passing and accidents--but accidents shouldn't be fatal. Watching Senna gave me a chance to see the F1 world before they put some of these safety regulations in place.

Watching the movie also helped me remember how much I enjoyed watching the races. And I felt nostalgic seeing the Rothman's Williams Renault uniforms. They changed the uniforms the year I started in F1. The team was now Winfiled Williams and Winfield was a wanna-be Marlboro so the color of the uniforms changed from blue to red. But all in the pictures we had around the office of drivers who'd actually won a race the driver was wearing the old blue and white uniform.