Ayrton Senna da Silva, the origins of the Brazilian champion, from karts to Formula 1

2021-04-21 18:09

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Ayrton Senna da Silva, the origins of the Brazilian champion, from karts to Formula 1

"He was not human, he was an extraterrestrial. He had a symbiosis with the mechanical vehicle, karting or Formula 1, which I personally have only seen


"He was not human, he was an extraterrestrial. He had a symbiosis with the vehicle, karting or Formula 1, which I have only seen in two drivers in the history of motorcycling. The first was a gypsy, in the good sense of the word, named Tarquinio Provini. With a single-cylinder Morini 250cc, he shook the empire of the Rising Sun until the last race of the World Championship. The second was Gary Hocking, who in his first race with a competitive bike - MZ 250cc 2T - made the idols look like the motorcycle Circus, a group of fans from Sunday gathering".


"I believe that Ayrton lived on credit with life and with the world. I think that the inner anger that was harboring within him was generated and fueled by the lack of human justice towards him. I am convinced, and it seems to me that in an interview on Brazilian television in 1992, he confirmed it, that his greatest regret - when he was already three times Formula 1 World Champion - was that he did not become world kart champion. He could certainly have won the kart championship three times, so desired and deserved".


"I was lucky because when Ayrton won the last race of the Karting World Championship in Estoril, raising his arms to the sky in the last three laps while tens of thousands of people cheered him, it was not my turn to tell him that he hadn't won. It was Achilles who had to do it. He got off the kart, kissed my brother, kissed the mechanics, kissed me... He had reached seventh heaven, had been fulfilled in his greatest wish, he knew he was the best and had proved it on the track if ever there was any need. We knew that he was on equal points and that he was second for a new regulation bordering on ridicule".


"It was my brother's turn to tell him, and he burst into tears of anger and despair. He cried like an eighteen-year-old boy who realizes he has suffered an injustice. For the second time in his life, he was in credit. He asked why and my brother explained to him that the Cik had changed the regulations. This is because it continued to haunt him over the years, continuously. Why was my claim to the Nivelles world championship not accepted? Why was he cheated of his first Formula 1 victory in Monte Carlo? Why? Why? His life was all about chasing why".


What you have just read is an extrapolation from the letter written by Angelo Parilla on May 1st, 1994, the day of the accident that deprived us of one of the greatest drivers in the history of motorsport, Ayrton Senna da Silva.


In these paragraphs, Parilla focuses on Ayrton's extraordinary talent and underlines the enormous emotionality of the Brazilian, who bursts into tears when incredulous, learns that he has not won his first karting championship for the absurd changes to the rules. Ayrton for the first time suffers a wrong regulation at the age of 18, in the Karting World Championship.


It is not a factor to be underestimated, because this episode will create the circumstances that will lead him to lash out many years later against Balestre and the FIA, simultaneously becoming the protagonist of the longest and most spectacular sporting rivalry in the entire history of Formula 1 with Alain Prost.


At that moment, Senna was still far from his arrival in Formula 1, but until then he had already had the opportunity to experience first-hand the cruel world of Motorsport, which has given him countless joys, but which has also been able to be cruel until the end.


The story of Ayrton Senna da Silva begins on March 21, 1960, in Santana, a neighborhood located in the north of Sao Paulo in Brazil, where Milton da Silva, a wealthy owner of a metallurgical company and a cattle farm in Dianopolis, and Neide Senna, celebrate the birth of their second child. Ayrton is a child who initially creates some concern for his parents, as he seems to have physical problems that do not allow him to walk regularly, but after several checks, the doctors assure that their son is fine.


Nicknamed Beco since he was a child, Senna immediately showed a great passion for cars, he draws them and often plays with models; a little less for school, despite attending the Rio Branco college, one of the most exclusive in the capital. He excels in some subjects such as gymnastics, art and chemistry, but struggles in other, generally more boring, subjects such as mathematics or physics.


At the age of four, little Ayrton can increase his passion for engines. His father gives him a proto-kart equipped with a micro-engine, ideal for covering his very first kilometers as a driver. Over the years, however, Milton's homemade kart begins to hold tight.


When he was only seven, Beco was already capable of driving the Jeep on the family farm, and not being able to reach the clutch pedal he has even learned to change gears by listening to the engine revs.


The following year, Beco can finally drive a real kart and taking advantage of a track adjacent to the Interlagos racetrack, he begins to run non-stop. The young Ayrton becomes for everyone the child who never stops. However, we have to wait another five years to see him on the track against other riders. It is exactly July 1st, 1973.


Ayrton is thirteen years old and the youngest of all, a factor that perhaps pushes him to give even more the maximum, as he gets the pole and remains in the lead of the race before retiring for a contact. It doesn't matter, because little Ayrton da Silva proves to have what it takes, so much so that the following week comes his first victory.


Milton realizes this and decides to entrust the reins of the situation to Lucio Pascal Gascon, or more simply Tchè, a former mechanic who boasts working experience with people like Emerson Fittipaldi.


Tchè shapes Ayrton's talent, helps him grow, becomes his second father. The two spend all the time together, to the point that Ayrton does not accept that he is interested in other drivers, answering any calls instead of him, and dismissing whoever he had called with an "I'm sorry, but there is no". In his workshop in Brazil, Gascon still keeps a short but meaningful letter written on September 16th, 1979, by Ayrton for him:


"You are responsible for my life, you have taught me everything I know, you have helped me a lot".


It is precisely in this period that, listening to the ridicule of a competitor against him, Ayrton understands that he must learn to go fast even in wet conditions. It happens that, competing in a race in adverse weather conditions, Ayrton is unable to keep up with the best:


"He will also be good in the dry, but on the wet...".


The declaration follows the gesture of the hand that indicates the inability of Ayrton, who witnessing that scene decides to train whenever the climatic conditions allow him to try on a wet track. This is how Ayrton learns that to brake the vehicle he has to downshift two gears instead of one, and accelerate one gear less when exiting the corners. A technique that will help him for the rest of his career.


At fourteen, with the number 42 always imprinted on his kart, Ayrton has already won the kart championship in Sao Paulo, so he can broaden his horizons by aiming for national and international competitions.


Antonio Hermann, a valid kart driver at the time, remembers:


"Once Senna came to race with the older ones, we used imported tires, while he, being a junior, of national manufacture. We were a little annoyed by this guy who won everything. Me, Chico Serra and the other senators decided to give him a lesson. That day it was raining and Senna was starting from the bottom. It would have been my turn to wait for him to give him a spin. I remember that at the second corner I was looking for him on both sides, I was just waiting for him to join me. Then in the faster corner, he passed me to the outside. I just had time to figure out who he was and he had already disappeared. That day Ayrton won the race and from there we became great friends".


In 1977 he made him the South American kart championship, then later he dedicated himself to the world championship, where things will not go exactly as he hoped. Ayrton disputes five editions, finishing second and mocked in 1979 in Estoril and in 1980 in Nivelles.


It was in 1979 that the sports drama Parilla talks about in his letter took place. Failure to succeed in the karting championship is a worry that has remained in Senna's mind forever. A worry that paradoxically allowed him to continue his sporting career, since, as stated by the Tchè:


"If Ayrton had succeeded (to win the kart championship), he probably would have stopped, he would have returned to Brazil and would never race again. He has confirmed it to me many times".


Whether Ayrton had stopped or not, we cannot know, even though he in all likelihood would not have resisted that much without the bewitching charm of competition. A counter-proof, among other things, comes when the parents ask him to abandon racing to devote himself to the family's entrepreneurial activities. Senna so suffers a period characterized by boredom and nostalgia for the track, which will lead Milton to retrace his steps to see the smile on his son's face. Before that happens, the young Ayrton drops out of business economics.


By now he has decided: he wants to give all his attention to racing, also thanks to the economic support of his father which for now persists, although Milton is already worried about the road his son's passion is taking. The family immediately says no to Ayrton, not to even think about it, but then his mother proposes a deal: if he had been able to finish the school year in style, then he would have had the opportunity to go to Italy. Ayrton respects the pact, and the family gives in.


Thanks to an Italian who emigrated to Brazil, Mario Milla, Ayrton's father comes into contact with Angelo Parilla, owner of a kart team. Ayrton, accompanied by Tché, moves during the periods in which he is engaged in the Kart championship, between May and September, to Milan, at Parilla's house. From the second year, he is a guest at the house of the brother of the team's boss.


His father covers the expenses for food, lodging and travel. The first year, Milton pays the equivalent of $ 10.000, the second 5.000, while the third year Parilla makes young Ayrton run for free.


Upon arriving, Ayrton barely speaks a few words of English. Indeed, Ayrton does not speak at all in Milan. And he doesn't talk to anyone, not even his parents on the phone. But he eats, and a lot. Parilla will say, a lot of time later:


"Still with the luggage in hand and tired from the journey, we decided to take him to eat in a restaurant near his home. Ayrton ate a plate of carbonara, a Florentine and a salad. So, since he didn't drink wine and didn't smoke, I ventured to ask him if he wanted coffee. Ayrton said no, but if it was possible, he would have gladly eaten another plate of carbonara".


Initially, Senna and the new teammate Fullerton do not like each other, they do not like each other at all, they are the opposite of each other, but over time they begin to talk and respect each other, even becoming friends.


As soon as he arrived in the team, the little boy from Brazil is whipped by his team, who makes him run in the beauty of 50cc engines, and then gives them to Fullerton who can freely take him to the limit. Exhausted, Ayrton plans to return to Brazil. Nobody talks to him, he just has to drive fast.


But the Tché convinces him to stay. Only after a whole week of running in, is he allowed to go at maximum pace, and surprisingly, after a handful of adaptation laps, he begins to run stronger than Fullerton, the boy considered at that time the number one in absolute.


Ayrton amazes everyone for his extraordinary speed and for his sensitivity which allows him to be an extremely fine tester. Parilla's story is emblematic, recalling when Senna at the end of a race pointed out to him that one front tire was bigger than the other. Parilla seemed unconvinced, but at the insistence of his driver he decided to check and was amazed when he realized that one of the two tires was only one millimeter larger than the other:


"The most amazing moment of my whole life".


Parilla will later state. By imitating and then emulating Fulllerton's driving style, Ayrton uniquely revolutionizes kart driving technique, taking advantage of the fact that he is left-handed.


In fact, with his right hand, he manages to partialize the kart's intake even when cornering, while the others can only do it on the straights when the right hand goes on the carburetor and the left remains on the steering wheel.


In 1981 Ayrton took two important steps in his life: heedless of the perplexities of his parents, in February he married Lilian Vasconcelos Sousa, with whom he decided to move to England, to take another step in his sports career, that is to abandon the kart to devote himself to single-seaters, despite still trying to win in 1981 in Parma, arriving however fourth because in possession of a kart with a 127 cm³ engine against the new 135 cm³.


Ayrton immediately asks Emerson Fittipaldi for advice, but he has just left Formula One and has no desire to return to the European racing scene; Chico Serra introduces Ayrton to Ralph Firman, owner of Van Diemen, and discusses a contract for him to race in the Formula Ford 1600.


To race, Ayrton sells the car, the computer, the boat, and everything in his possession. Contracted by the Van Diemen team, led by Ralph Firman, Ayrton competes in Formula Ford 1600, where everyone has to bow to his overwhelming power from the first race at Brands Hatch.


On the historic British circuit, the rain comes out, the perfect condition to enhance Ayrton's abilities, who manages to beat everyone easily: twelve wins, eighteen podiums and a swept championship. But not all that glitters is gold. Ayrton shows serious personality problems. In this case, there is excessive hostility towards his colleagues, both on and off the track.


It is no coincidence that he is defined by many as a dangerous driver, and on more than a few occasions he is involved in some fight. If things go well on the track, on a personal level Ayrton shows some problems: the marriage with Lilian lasts just nine months, probably due to total dedication to racing, combined with the difficulties of adaptation to his wife's life in England, as she confirmed:


"We were both children playing mum and dad. It's true, I didn't adapt abroad and I knew that Beco wouldn't change his plans for anything in the world".


Originally, despite going against the wishes of the family, Ayrton married Lilian in February 1981, a few days before leaving for Eaton, where he lives in a small rented house. But divorce already arrives in October.


Towards the end of 1981 everything seems to be falling apart: forced to return to Brazil to deal with the divorce, Senna misses the prestigious race at Brands Hatch of the Formula Ford Festival. Tommy Byrne replaces him, manages to win the race and raises some doubts about the actual merits of the Brazilian regarding his dominant season.


Furthermore, Milton is determined to interrupt his son's career by asking him to return to Brazil to work with him. Ayrton accepts, but the distance from the tracks is unbearable for him, to the point of starting to race in karting again to fight boredom. The young Ayrton is looking in vain for financial support in Sao Paulo, but at that moment all the necessary support is granted only to the other Brazilian driver on the rise, Nelson Piquet.


Aware of his son's discontent, during a family reunion, Milton gives in and eventually changes his mind, allowing Ayrton to return to Europe to resume racing in February 1982, as long as his career is managed step by step by one of his friends, as well as work colleague, named Armando Botelho Teixeira, who will remain at Senna's side until 1989 when he passes away.


In February 1982, Ayrton moved to Norwich, North London, to an apartment consisting of two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, rented for a fee of one hundred and sixty pounds a month, together with the Brazilian driver Mauricio Gugelmin and his cousin Zeca. Ayrton asks his new roommate to allow him to park his kart under his tent rather than on the roof of his pickup. The reason is to avoid any acts of sabotage, more than just paranoia in those days.


Ayrton, in the period that will take him to Formula 1, not being able to cook, limits himself to washing the dishes at home, and to offer dinner in a small Italian restaurant to Mauricio and his cousin when at the end of a won race he received £ 80 or £ 100. In this period, Ayrton is very cheerful with his compatriots, so much so that, Mauricio will say, one had to be careful when having lunch because he took advantage of other people's distractions to take what was on the flatmates' plates.


Since the British Formula 3 championship has already begun in February 1982, Ayrton calls Ralph Firman and asks him what he thought of competing in the Formula Ford 2000 championship. The answer obviously can only be positive.


In 1982 then, at the wheel of a Van Diemen RF 82, Senna took part in the Formula Ford 2000 championship, winning both in the English one (fourteen wins, seven pole positions and fourteen fastest laps out of nineteen races) and in the European one (six victories, eight poles and six fastest laps out of nine races held).


Personality problems continue to appear more than they should do, on some occasions Ayrton also gets fines, but these are overshadowed by his extraordinary performances, such as the one at Snetterton, where he manages to keep the lead and win despite brakes not working.


At the end of the season, he takes the chance to compete in an off-season British Formula 3 race, driving for West Surrey Racing. Once again Ayrton will be talked about, obtaining victory, pole position and fastest lap. That season, that of 1982, was simply terrific for him.

In this season, the name Ayrton Senna was born. Until then, Ayrton took his father's surname, da Silva, as customary, but on the advice of his friend Chico Serra, who considered that surname too common, Ayrton, although initially hesitant, decides to adopt his mother's surname, Senna.


Going into 1983, there is a queue to grab the talent of Brazilian, and waiting for his turn is also Ron Dennis, whose lively eye did not let the exploits of the young Brazilian talent escape.


He looks for him in the pits, together with the director of Toleman Alex Hawkridge, in Zolder, on May 8, 1982, just as Gilles Villeneuve flies away following the terrible accident that involved him.


In this period Ayrton meets Nelson Piquet. The young Brazilian looks for his compatriot to ask him for advice, but Nelson is shocked by what happened to Gilles, a great friend of him, so he hardly pays any attention to him.


Ron offers to finance his participation in the upcoming Formula 3 championship, a whopping $ 250.000 in exchange for a three-year unilateral option with McLaren, but Ayrton, in the second meeting which takes place in an anonymous house in the North London countryside, refuses because he wants the certainty of being able to drive a Formula 1 in the following years. A promising young man, but still young, giving an ultimatum like that to Ron Dennis was unbelievable stuff, but Ayrton is this, take it or leave it. Ron Dennis had only a taste of the many and troubled negotiations that he will have to enter into with Senna over the years.


Toleman, a small team on the rise in Formula 1, also intends to finance Ayrton's career in Formula 3 until he reaches the super-license necessary to race in the highest category, but even in this case there is a denial.


Ayrton finds the money thanks to financing from the Banerj bank and the jeans company Pool, covering 40% of the expenses. The rest is granted to him by his father, Milton, for a total amount of $ 250.000. Ayrton will reimburse his father by returning the money, also paying him his interest, in 1986.


However, the problem remains of getting the first installment equivalent to 73.000 dollars out of Brazil, since the exchange of money would lead to a loss equal to one fifth of the value. Fortunately for him, his friend José De Azevedo decides to help Ayrton, leaving Brazil stuffed with banknotes, and then landing at Heathrow. The flight, arriving five hours late, makes Ayrton impatient and worried, hoping to have the money as soon as possible.


Collected the money, Ayrton receives an offer from Willy Maurer to race in Formula 2 but ultimately chooses to join Dick Bennett's West Surrey Racing Team, to participate in the British Formula 3 championship. In this season during the strengths and weaknesses of the Brazilian ace are highlighted once again.


With nine wins out of nine races in the first part of the season, the title now seems a pure formality: one hundred and eighty laps in the lead on one hundred and eighty-seven courses are mind-boggling numbers.


He even beats Piquet's record for consecutive victories, but in the second half of the season Ayrton proves unable to manage the races, he wants at all costs to win, win and win, never settling for lower places. Martin Brundle, Eddie Jordan's driver, instead, recovers in the classification thanks to the consistency of results.


It all starts at Silverstone on June 12th, when the English Formula 3 championship runs with the European championship, and because of this, the tires manufacturer is one that the drivers do not know. Brundle wins, while Senna goes off the track on lap eight while dueling with his future teammate in Lotus Dumfries. It is even worse at Cadwell Park, as Senna, already on pole position, destroys the race and does not participate in the race.


At this point the tension between Ayrton and Dick Bennett skyrockets, given that the owner of the team, seeing that the young Brazilian at least initially made no mistakes, had canceled the insurance. Now Ayrton finds himself incredibly having to pay the repair costs.

Even in Snetterton, Ayrton and Brundle come into contact after the young Brazilian tries an impossible overtaking; then Ayrton makes a complaint before the sports court, but the latter does not grant him the reason.


Senna returns to win at Silverstone, in a side race, in front of the eyes of the Formula 1 managers but returns to contact with Brundle at Oulton Park. At this point, everything is going to be decided at the last race of the season.


On October 27th, 1983, in Thruxton, Ayrton realizes that it is time to also win by cunning, not only by taking advantage of his unparalleled speed. To have an optimal oil temperature from the first lap to be able to escape, Senna partially closes the air intakes of the radiator, using adhesive tape. By doing so he manages to gain a handful of fundamental seconds during the first laps of the race, where he would have started from pole position.


The problem arises when it is necessary to remove the tape, otherwise excessive overheating could cause the engine to break, which would be tantamount to losing the championship. During the race everything goes as planned, Ayrton has a great start and runs away, but then it's time to peel off the tape. Ayrton loosens his belts and tries to reach out to detach him, but without succeeding, almost risking ending up off-piste. Lucky for him, the engine of his car holds up, and when he gets under the checkered flag, he can finally celebrate victory and title.


The following month, Ayrton also took the coveted victory at the Macau Grand Prix. Despite not knowing the track, the Brazilian decides to adjust his car by zeroing down the aerodynamic load, to have a lot of speed in the straights, compensating with his driving in the slow corners.


In this circumstance, Ayrton meets Gerhard Berger, a capable Austrian pilot who will become a great friend of him, and Piero Martini, since his mother, seeing Ayrton at the airport, exclaims:


"That's Senna, who won the race only because, racing for Teddy Yip, he will have had who knows which tires and who knows which engine".


Ayrton, hearing the exclamation of Piero Martini's mother, smiles and replies:


"Madam, be careful when you speak because I understand Italian well".


At the end of 1983, Senna is twenty-three, he has won almost everything he could win, proving that he is ready for the maximum expression of motoring. Numerous Formula 1 teams have their eyes on the Brazilian ace, for whom a winter full of negotiations awaits him. The time has come for him to take the big leap into Formula 1.


McLaren, Williams, Brabham and Lotus are the names of the major teams that show interest in Ayrton Senna during the 1983 season, in view of the following one in 1984.

While he is engaged in head-to-head in British Formula 3 with Brundle, Ayrton begins contacts with all the teams listed above with a certainty: next year he will race in Formula 1, and the premises suggest that he will do so by driving for a top team.


On Tuesday, July 19th, 1983, the first test session arrives in Donington with a Formula 1 car, the Williams FW 0SC Ford, World Champion in 1982 with Keke Rosberg. Senna completes eighty-three laps scoring excellent times, and also provides excellent indications on a technical level, confronting directly with Frank Williams.


Ayrton even sets the record, but the Formula 1 single-seaters are neither karts nor Formula 3 cars, so Ayrton physically accuses the large number of laps performed, especially around the neck, the part that is usually most stressed. However, Frank Williams is visibly surprised, as he later states:


"I have to say that Senna is impressive. I was especially surprised that he found his pace so fast, reaching a competitive speed in a very short time. It didn't seem like he was in trouble. He repeated the lap several times, never getting upset every sometimes he set better and better times, even if he was very uncomfortable in the car, with the seat prepared for Laffite, which is lower than him. He had never driven anything so fast, but no one would have noticed. I consider this test simply as a long-term investment. It is not possible to have him on the team with us next year, due to our current situation. I believe Bernie Ecclestone will make him an offer for next season. Ayrton has come to talk to us some time ago, asking us for our opinions, because everyone offered him contracts for four hundred years, as always happens. I told him that I could not recommend him but that, if it had been of any help to know what racing in Formula 1 actually was, he would I was able to drive one of our cars as many times as he wanted. No, it wasn't a philanthropic gesture. I hoped that in the future he would remember how I had treated him correctly".


A couple of months later, on October 27th, 1983, Philip Morris invited the British Formula 3 championship winner to test a Formula 1 car with his main team, McLaren. Then Senna is invited to Silverstone, in the company of Brundle himself and Stefan Bellof, under the watchful eye of Ron Dennis.


The British team principal immediately showed himself to be severe and intimidating towards Senna, given that after only one lap he was called back to the pits to get a scrubbed because guilty of having pushed to the maximum already on the first lap, regardless of the low temperatures. Back on the track, Ayrton doesn't let himself be conditioned too much, he makes a few warm-up laps and then sets amazing times, well beyond the reach of Brundle and Bellof. He laps in a time of 1'14"300, despite having a pain in his right leg caused by the seat, before the engine starts to fail due to a damaged valve:


"The McLaren is easy to drive, with a lighter steering than my Formula 3 Ralt. I am sure that if I had done more laps, I would have set a time of less than 1'12, because I was uncomfortable, with my leg crushed, which reduced the sensitivity of the foot on the accelerator. Since I know this track well, it was not difficult for me to obtain this performance".


At the end of the day, Ron Dennis commented:


"The riders have shown themselves to be mature, considering their age and limited experience. The times achieved would have allowed everyone to be at the start of the British Grand Prix. Ayrton Senna da Silva's time trial is impressive, considering the weather conditions, but compared to Brundle and Bellof he had the advantage of having already tested a Formula 1 car".


In short, two excellent test sessions, for two teams that aspire to the best. Ayrton should therefore be satisfied, and there should be no problem finding a free seat for the 1984 vintage in the Formula 1 world championship.


The problem is that they both already have seats occupied for 1984: Williams has Keke Rosberg and Jacques Laffite; McLaren signed Alain Prost immediately after the end of the championship, returning from Renault to replace John Watson, and new partner of Niki Lauda. Therefore, for Senna, there is no possibility of racing for McLaren or Williams.


However, two weeks later, Ayrton is back on track at Silverstone for his third Formula 1 test, this time with the Toleman. On a cold day with a fast track, Ayrton drives his first turbo car making seventy-two laps on the TG183 and lowers his time down to 1'11"54, about a second less than that of Dereck Warwick, recorded during the British Grand Prix. Senna is even slightly affected by problems with the six-speed gearbox, assembled that same day in place of the traditional five-speed. The whole Toleman team can only be enthusiastic about Senna. Hawkridge in particular and designer Rory Byrne, who states:


"This is the driver for us, we must have him for 1984".


But during the test carried out at Silverstone with McLaren, on the side of the track, arrived in disguise, there is also Herbie Blash, Sporting Director of Brabham, whom Ecclestone sent on purpose to see the young drivers in action. Blash takes the times with his personal stopwatch, and that lap in which he gives up the valve on the engine, which McLaren counts as 1'14"300, he counts it as 1'13"800, a time even better than the one he set by Lauda with the same car in the British Grand Prix.


Just during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Ayrton went to look for Piquet in the BMW motorhome, and they talked with his compatriot for about three hours. Right now, Nelson confides to Senna that Patrese would be joining another team next year and that an opportunity would open up, and he added:


"I've been here for a while now, I've already been world champion and I'll probably leave. You could become number one here".


Subsequently, Senna will declare that he confessed to Piquet in these terms:


"Ecclestone made it very clear that he wanted me on his team for 1984 and I talked to Nelson about it to find out if he had anything against him. He said no, and even gave me advice on how to negotiate with Bernie. If he intended to stop me, and I think it was, I don't condemn him. In his place, I probably would have done the same thing".


Actually, Nelson simply wanted to warn him and advise him to be very careful about the contracts that Bernie Ecclestone would have offered, an old fox who cannot be trusted, given that at the time he fooled Piquet himself, who in the year in which he won his first title, 1981, he earned a pittance, reinforced only by the victory of the World Cup.


But Senna interprets it all in a conspiratorial way, aimed at removing him from Brabham since according to him Piquet fears a direct confrontation with him. In the tests carried out on November 14th at the Paul Ricard circuit with Brabham, Senna achieved excellent times, beaten only by Franco Baldi, who, however, has from his past experience in Formula 1.


Taking advantage of the Michelin tire testing at Paul Ricard, Brabham made available a BT52B/BMW Turbo to test the possibilities of various candidates for Formula 1, namely Baldi, Martini, Guerrero and Senna. The track is extremely slow. Piquet manages to complete a lap in 1'05"900, Senna instead loses control of the car in his fastest lap and gets only 1'07"900, the same time as Baldi.


But Ecclestone was still bewitched by the guide of the Brazilian, so the signing on the contract seems only a formality. This is true until the main sponsor of Brabham, Parmalat, is involved in the affair, which, as established by contractual agreements, pushes for an Italian driver to join Piquet, and their first choice is Piero Martini. Ecclestone tries everything to get around the technicality that tied his hands, but in the end, he has to succumb and give up signing Senna.


Almost as if to damage Parmalat, Ecclestone will not hire Piero Martini, but the brothers Fabi, Teo and Corrado, who will alternate during the season. Ecclestone, therefore, offers Ayrton a paid season in ATS, but the Brazilian refuses the offer. Lotus would remain, but also the team of Peter Warr, the successor of the patron Colin Chapman who passed away the year before, defies the race to Senna for sponsorship reasons; Imperial Tobacco requires a British driver, so the pair from 83 remains unchanged, with Mansell alongside Elio De Angelis.


Without even realizing it, Ayrton finds himself empty-handed, with no contract to sign, especially without that of Brabham, a team to which he had given absolute priority. The possibility of becoming a Formula 1 driver for 1984 still persists, but it is no longer what he imagined, behind the wheel of one of the fastest cars on the grid.


There is Toleman, the small and modest Toleman, founded in 1977 but active in the circus only since 1981. A team that did not collect any points in the first two years in Formula 1, but some room for improvement came towards 1983 final when Derek Warwick scored points for four consecutive races.


Derek himself, however, has just left the team that made him debut to emigrate to France to join Renault, who was orphaned of its top driver Prost. Alex Hawkbridge had long ago tested the ground for Senna, but the exorbitant demands of the Brazilian, who in the meantime had eyes only for Brabham, had dissuaded him.


When Ayrton finds himself short of alternatives, it is Hawkbridge who has the knife on the side of the handle, and the offer he proposes to Senna is quite different from the one made by the Brazilian some time ago: three-year contract, but without for the first year of financial compensation, with the possibility of putting personal sponsors on the suit, only after the necessary approval of the team. In the following years there will be the introduction of a salary ranging between 300.000 and 500.000 dollars, with a bonus of 30.000 for any points earned.


Senna is at least able to insert a buy-out clause, or the possibility of freeing himself from his contractual obligations at any time through a small penalty to be paid. The Brazilian, accompanied by lawyer Tony Clare and Hawkbridge, in the presence of the owner of the team, Ted Toleman, and Chris Witty, commercial director of the team, sign a contract that paradoxically does not fully satisfy either of the two parties, but it does not matter. What matters most to Ayrton is that he entered the world of Formula 1 on December 19, 1983, the day the contract was signed, at the age of twenty-three. On the strength of the new contract, a little later, Ayrton leaves the house where he lived with Gugelmin, and moves to Reading, west of London.


For him and his teammate, Johnny Cecotto, the situation certainly cannot be said to be exciting: the Toleman has the Hart engine, a dinosaur of technology for that period, still with mechanical injection and widely among the slowest and least reliable in the championship. Furthermore, Pirelli supplies the tires, among other things one of the main sponsors of the car, but not comparable in terms of performance to Michelin and Goodyear.


His official debut comes on the weekend of March 25, 1984, in his homeland, Brazil. On the Jacarepaguà circuit, things do not start in the best way for Ayrton, who shows up with personal sponsors on the suit, to be precise Marlboro and Monroe, without having first informed the team, as foreseen by the contract.


Alex Hawkbridge and Peter Gothin, the team's sporting director, are not magnanimous and argue harshly with him. Senna is shocked: he did not expect such rigidity from his team and starts to cry with anger. He knows he's in the wrong, but he expected a little more reasonableness.


The race weekend did not go well, with Senna and Cecotto sailing in the rear. Ayrton's race, started from sixteenth place, lasted just eight laps, after which a turbo problem forced him to retire. Not exactly the debut anyone could wish for.


On the Kyalami circuit, things go in another direction: Ayrton qualifies in thirteenth position, but in the race he manages to finish in sixth, spared from any technical problem (Cecotto instead retires due to gearbox problems), except for the loss of the nose of his Toleman in the final part of the race, and good at capitalizing on the numerous withdrawals.


It is the first Formula 1 race concluded for him, not at full speed, as Lauda laps him three times, but the seventy-two he completes is enough to physically exhaust him. Ayrton is exhausted, his neck aches, as well as all the other muscles, so at the end of the first run, he collapses from fatigue and is taken to the medical center where he is placed under observation for a few hours.


The power of Formula 3 is not comparable to that of Formula 1, for which adequate physical preparation is required. For this reason, when he returns to Brazil he decides to rely on Nuno Cobra, a well-known Brazilian athletic trainer who will upset Senna's physical condition through aerobic exercises aimed at improving physical endurance. Nuno Cobra will tell, a few years later:


"When Senna arrived, he was a frail and delicate boy, he could barely make two laps of running on an athletics track. A few years later he had transformed into a super athlete, capable of running for fifty laps on a four-hundred-meter track, all at the same time and keeping the same heart rate".


To improve physical endurance, Nuno Cobra teaches him to perform 'the octave', a particular workout with the bar that involves the pectoral, abdominal, triceps, biceps, lumbar, deltoid and back muscles.


It takes Ayrton about a year to do this particular exercise, but when he gains affinity, he starts doing up to fifteen consecutive octaves for five sets. In addition to this exercise, the Brazilian driver adds the daily walking run.


Thus, while Ayrton begins to heal the mind and body, in Zolder, in the third race, Ayrton ends seventh, but the disqualification from the World Championship inflicted on Tyrrell months later due to the illegal use of a liquid containing lead shot which increased the engine power, allows the Brazilian to climb to sixth place.


These are the first points that the team conquers but, despite the encouraging result, it is evident at Toleman that to concretely reverse the trend, big changes must be made, on all tires. This is what Ayrton and South African designer Rory Byrne think. But switching suppliers is not easy.


Thus, Alex Hawkbridge decides to blame Pirelli for the poor performance of the car and accuses the Italian manufacturer of not having reimbursed the cost of $ 250.000 for testing the Kyalami. In reality, the payments of these sums are always made two months after the receipt of the invoice and the non-repayment is only a pretext for breaking off relations.


Hawkbridge wants the Michelins, the tires on which the new car was designed, which will soon make its debut. Meanwhile, in Imola, almost as a protest, on Friday the cars of Senna and Cecotto remain in the garages.


Ecclestone, president of FOCA, mediates between the two sides until an agreement is reached to race for the weekend. A weekend that does not last long for the Brazilian and Toleman, given that for the first and only time in his career the Brazilian driver fails to qualify, finishing last behind Piercarlo Ghinzani's Osella, also excluded, due to some power problems.


Meanwhile, after a series of discussions between the lawyers, Toleman and Pirelli find an agreement to end their collaboration relationship, therefore, as a consolation, Ayrton will be able to benefit from Michelin tires from the French Grand Prix.


Not those of the current season, however, as Ron Dennis uses a contractual clause with Michelin to prevent Toleman from using new tires. Consequently, they have to make do with the 83 tires, which in Dijon are mounted on the new TG184, equipped with a double rear wing. The failure of the turbo, however, expelled both drivers from the French race, who in any case were not in such interesting racing positions. Regarding the problem related to the tires, Ayrton confessed in those days:


"I feel a strong frustration. It is a pity that Formula 1 often has to deal with political problems like these. I really like to drive and I would like to be able to do it without other worries. I had excellent relations with those of Pirelli and will continue to have them too now that I'm no longer running on their tires. I don't complain about how things are going, but I'm not under the illusion either".


And he adds:


"Now I would like to finish other races in the top six places. Getting on the podium seems impossible to me. Right now, all the teams are reaching an excellent level of development. Then I am waiting for circuits like Monte Carlo, on which our car is all from to discover".


Davide Scotto di Vetta

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