It’s the morning after basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s life was cut short in a tragic helicopter accident that also took the life of his young daughter Gigi and seven other souls.
Witnessing, as an outsider – I’m not a fan of basketball, and must admit to knowing precious little about Bryant prior to last night – the global outpouring of grief for a man who clearly meant more to people than simply his ability to put a big old ball in a basket, started me thinking about the equivalent in our sport: Ayrton Senna.
Winner of three F1 World Championships, 41 Grand Prix and, until recently, held the record for the number of pole position starts (65), Senna is regarded by many people as the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time.
When he was killed at the wheel of a Williams on lap seven of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, it propelled him from mere sportsman, albeit a great one (in the true sense of the word) to bona-fide Demi-God.
All his humanly foibles were forgotten, and he’s come to represent all that is good and pure about our sport, and for some people about mankind as a whole.
We still grieve for him, and lament his passing 25 years on.
What could Senna have achieved had he lived?
Dozens more Grand Prix wins and multiple world championships, before retiring and a lengthy career in a political or humanitarian role most likely (have I just stumbled into the Ayrton Senna martyrdom trap? Perhaps he’d have focussed solely on making as much money as possible in the non-recyclable single-use plastics industry – we just don’t know!)
One of the more interesting (not-so-likely) outcomes I’ve read recently is how he’d vowed to join Formula 1 minnows Minardi before retiring.
For those of you young enough not to remember Minardi, think Marussia or HRT and you won’t be far off.
Team owner Giancarlo Minardi first met a young Senna when he was racing in Formula Ford in the UK. Having spotted he was something special, he allegedly offered the young Brazilian an absolute stack of cash to join his small F1 team.
Senna had his eyes on a bigger prize, and politely declined, but the two remained close friends throughout their time in Formula 1.
According to Minardi, this mutual bonhomie led to Senna telling him that once he’d matched Juan Manual Fangio’s tally of five F1 world championships he’d join his team for a year before retiring ‘to make them great’.
Sadly, Senna’s career would be cut tragically short and we’d never see what he’d choose to do next, whether it be to join Giancarlo Minardi or to rack up the titles elsewhere.
Minardi would eventually be bought out by Red Bull, becoming Toro Rosso in the process.
Four time World Champion Sebastian Vettel scored its one and only victory at Monza in 2007.