Ayrton Senna: Memories and Mementoes from a Life Lived at Full Speed by Christopher Hilton – Review
By Liam Bird
I can remember it as if it were yesterday. We were sitting in my parents’ living room, my uncle and me; him on the armchair, me on the arm of the sofa. It was Sunday May 1st 1994, the San Marino Grand Prix, the first European Formula 1 race of the season.
At the start of the race Ayrton Senna took the lead from the then up-coming Michael Schumacher, but proceedings were soon interrupted. The Benetton-Ford of JJ Lehto had stalled and was hit by Pedro Lamy’s Lotus-Mugen Honda. The safety car was deployed for several laps – something that because of its relatively slow-pace was later questioned as it caused the tyre pressures on the Formula 1 cars to drop. With the debris cleared, on lap 6 the race resumed, Senna immediately set a quick pace with the third-quickest lap of the race, followed of course by Schumacher. Then followed the rest of the speeding pack.
As Senna rounded the high-speed Tamburello corner on lap 7 his Williams FW16 left the racing line at around 190 mph. It hit the concrete retaining wall. It was 2:17pm. The race was immediately red flagged. Ayrton Senna was dead. The world was in shock. And Formula 1, indeed all motorsports, would never be quite the same again.
Much has been written about Ayrton Senna ever since; biographies, interviews and what-ifs abound. And if he wasn’t already, Senna instantly became a legend. He was the enigmatic Brazilian hero with the ability to outdrive and outwit all around him. Well, nearly all. Senna’s battles with sometime McLaren teammate and all-time arch rival Alain Prost are the stuff of sporting folklore – they’re tales for some that will never grow old.
In Ayrton Senna: Memories and Mementoes from a Life Lived at Full Speed the well-respected motoring writer, author, and former sports journalist Christopher Hilton (now sadly also deceased) attempts to explain what is was that made Ayrton Senna quite so unique. By drawing together the thoughts and experiences of fellow Formula 1 drivers, team managers and members of the period, plus interviews with the extended Senna da Silva family, together with a host of never-before-seen photos and documents from their own private collection – including letters written by Ayrton himself – Hilton explores and tries to explain what drove the shy boy they called Beco to excel beyond all others.
“Celebrates his ongoing legacy”
Was it his innate ability to drive around any mechanical problem? Was it his extraordinary self-belief? Was it his spirituality? Or was it simply because Ayrton Senna had a limit that surpassed that of his contemporaries? This was after all that man that once most eloquently said: “Each driver has his own limit. Mine is a little above the others”.
Part biography, part a review of a life lived to the full, and also, annoyingly perhaps, part an advert for the Senna Foundation (especially so in the latter chapters – a proportion of the purchase price goes to the children’s charity now run by Senna’s sister Viviane), this is a book that celebrates Senna, his all-too-short life, and his ongoing legacy.
Did Ayrton Senna really deserve all the praise he was rewarded with? Wherever your allegiances lie, what can’t be denied is just how influential he was on the world stage as well as on the track. This is a book for the collector, it’s also one for the fans too. Will we ever see the likes of an Ayrton Senna again?
‘Ayrton Senna: Memories and Mementoes from a Life Lived at Full Speed – An Interactive Journey’ by Christopher Hilton is published by White Lion Publishing, £35