From dating models to claiming walls 'move', a look at F1 legend Ayrton Senna's controversial life on his 25th death anniversary
Late F1 legend Ayrton Senna was well known not just for his extraordinary talent but also his very single-minded personality. He was an extremely confident racer who believed so much in his ability that any crash or failure was attributed to external factors including "moving walls".
He was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to a wealthy family who supported his dreams and aspiration to race and he started to drive karts from an early age. His earliest recorded race was when he was just four years old. By the age of 17, he had won the South American Kart Championship.
Senna had started his career with Toleman in 1984. His race engineer Pat Symonds remembers a very remarkable story from the US Grand Prix in Dallas in 1984 which describes Senna's personality both on and off the track. In 2014, Symonds shared with grandprix.com, "We were looking for a pretty good finish but then Ayrton hit the wall, damaged the rear wheel and the driveshaft and retired, which was a real shame."
"The real significance of that was when he came back to the pits he told me what happened and said 'I'm sure that the wall moved!' and even though I've heard every excuse every driver has ever made, I certainly hadn't heard of that one! Ayrton being Ayrton, with his incredible belief in himself, the absolute conviction, he then talked me into going with him, after the race, to have a look at the place where he had crashed — and he was absolutely right, which was the amazing thing!"
"Dallas being a street circuit the track was surrounded by concrete blocks and what had happened — we could see it from the tire marks — was that someone had hit at the far end of the concrete block and that made it swivel slightly, so that the leading edge of the block was standing out by a few millimeters," he continued.
"He was driving with such precision that those few millimeters were the difference between hitting the wall and not hitting the wall," he added. Senna's immense belief in himself and that he had a God-given talent is what led him to win three F1 driver's championship titles. However, this also led him to get into a lot of confrontations with people around him — both in his professional as well as personal life.
In 1992, he had developed a rivalry with Michael Schumacher which resulted in many disagreements and a physical altercation in a German GP practice. The next year, Senna got into another physical altercation with Eddie Irvine and punched him in the face. However, it is his relationship with Alain Prost which defines his F1 career rivalry list.
Alain Prost and Senna were teammates for two seasons in 1988 and 1989 at McLaren but had a total frenemy status. In 1988, Senna's attempt to overtake almost resulted in Prost crashing into the pit wall at 180mph. The next few months were intense and tensions peaked in 1989 when Senna needed to win to deny Prost from getting the title.
He also had a bitter feud with FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre whom Senna believed favored Prost. In 1993, the feud between Prost and Senna came to an end when Prost retired.
Meanwhile, Senna had tied the knot with his childhood sweetheart but the couple ended up getting divorced after a year in 1982 as he was too committed to his racing. According to his former wife, Lilian de Vasconcelos Souza, "I was his second passion. His first passion was racing. There was nothing more important in the world for him, not family, not his wife, nothing."
Senna went on to date several models and TV stars which included Elle Macpherson but he never got married again. When he passed away in 1994, he was in a relationship with Brazilian model Adriane Galisteu.
The F1 legend was a devout Catholic and donated many millions of dollars to poor people in Brazil. Shortly before he died, he also started the Ayrton Senna Institute which is dedicated to helping the less privileged. Despite his intense passion for racing and his feuds with various fellow racers, he was a man who had a heart of gold.
When it came to people's safety, Senna was always the first on the scene — in 1992, when driver Erik Comas suffered a serious crash, Senna got out of his car and ran to help the driver, risking his own life.
Senna passed away in 1994 in an accident while he was racing at the San Marino Grand Prix, Italy. At the time of the accident, he was 34 years old. He died when his car hit the concrete wall and was immediately airlifted to Bologna's Maggiore Hospital where he was declared dead. The Government of Brazil declared his death as a national tragedy and observed three days of national mourning.