Fast Thoughts: Senna in Theory

All of last week I tried and tried to draft up something to say about Senna in the build up to the 25th Anniversary of his death. I wrote a piece about how he inspired me, something about his legacy to drivers and a small piece about his flaws. Bin, bin, bin. The life of a journalist eh?

So why is it only now, after the pomp and circumstance of his and Roland Ratzenberger’s anniversary, that I feel now is the right time to say something? Not only do I feel there is a lot of pressure to write something up in the eye of the storm of remembrance I also I consider myself someone who, from time to time needs a jolt of enlightenment to the system to get something down.

Its why I’m writing this in a busy café in South London rather than at home in silence. I work best when surrounded by busy people. What some would call a loud café I call a perfect writing and working environment and one phrase has caught my eye as I make some notes for my exam in a couple of weeks.

In 1985 David Harvey did a study of the basilica of Sacre Coeur. The building was, in his view, a building of “perpetual remembrance”. His aim was to “[peel] away the layers of meaning that had accreted to it”. He wanted to find out what people choosing to remember ad what of its, “violent, contradictory…history” were they choosing not to remember?

“violent, contradictory and largely hidden history”, the words Harvey uses to describe the Sacre Couer could easily be ascribed to the Brazilian hero.

Some might question this comparison, ‘violent? How?’. Suzuka 1990 and his deliberate collision with Alain Prost, endangering both their lives and Suzuka 1993 when he punched Eddie Irvine in the face for un-lapping himself whilst battling with Damon Hill late in the race.

And contradictory? In 2010, a year before the Senna documentary was released Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson did a piece on Senna on what would have been his 50th birthday. The segment analysed his driving style, key moments and his psychological approach. Its this last point that draws the most interest.

Martin Brundle describes it as ‘The Paradox of Ayrton Senna’.

He was clearly a fantastic human being and he cared about people in Brazil he cared about racing drivers, he was mortally hurt when Ratzenberger died the day before he died the he would crash Alain Prost off the race track and put both their lives at risk“

So what does this all mean for Senna himself? What has he become? In short he has become what Harvey said the Sacre Coeur had become, a monument of perpetual remembrance, with a violent, contradictory but nonetheless exciting history. All racers and all fans aspire to be in some way like Senna, they draw inspiration from him in the same way architects of have drawn inspiration from the Sacre Coeur.

Beyond that he is a martyr to racing, a man claimed by the merciless turns of the tarmac. A man who has accrued more greatness in death, than in life.


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