Remembering Senna

Ayrton Senna

At 14:17 on the 1st of May 1994, the Williams Renault car of the greatest driver in Formula 1 history went off at the Tamburello curve at the San Marino GP in Imola. Motor racing had lost its brightest light, in a tragic finale to its blackest weekend following the horrendous crash experienced by Rubens Barrichello and the fatal crash involving Roland Ratzenberger (as well as the injuries sustained by spectators as a result of a start line incident)

It’s now 20 years later and the thought of Senna brings about a bitter-sweet melancholy amongst many motorsport fans. We remember the amazing skill, the knife-edge racing and the unnatural ability to get more out of the car than anyone would have ever believed. We remember the proud patriotism and compassion that still sees the Senna foundation working hard amongst to poor and underprivileged of Brazil. Yes, we also remember the ruthlessness of a driver who would see the smallest sliver of daylight as an opportune gap for an overtake – oh, he was no saint when it came to racing but he was (and remains) THE best.

I remember watching the race. I was at home from university for the weekend (it was my mums birthday), and I sat down to watch the race hoping that better luck would befall my racing idol and that he would get his maiden victory in the Williams. I was just shy of 21 at the time. With technical details being less common in the TV coverage of the day I can’t pretend to have had some amazing insight that made me thing the tyre pressures were too low because of the safety car’s lack of speed, but I do know that I watched the restart with a great sense of unease. This was a weekend that had already seen so much tragedy that it felt wrong for the race to be continuing.

If only Ayrton had taken up the offer from Professor Sid Watkins to go fishing instead. But he was a racer so that wasn’t an option.

On only the second racing lap of the race Ayrtons car failed to take the 190mph Tamburello Curve, evidence would show he managed to slow it down to about 135mph by the time the car hit the wall. The moment etched forever in the memories of millions of fans.

I watched, horrified but transfixed. Praying and wishing that he would climb out of the car, take off his helmet, and give a wave to the crowd. I was sure I saw him move, as were millions of fans all over the world. It later transpired that this was probably caused by a muscle spasm and that he was already gone.

When the news broke, later that day, that Ayrton had died as a result of the crash I just wept. Even though the doctors and medics tried to revive him, the official time of death lists his passing as the time he crashed at the circuit.

I stopped watching F1 and wouldn’t start until the future Mrs Hartley got me back into it in 1999. Even now, 20 years later, I cannot ponder too long on that weekend without welling up again.

In the midst of the tears I smile though as I remember watching him race. Portugal ’85, Brazil ’91, Monaco ’88 and ’92 – and then there was, of course, Donington ’93. He was a genius behind the wheel, one with the car and the circuit. He was unbelievably strategic and tactical, positioning his car just right and driving with intellect that would often (but not always) be working in tandem with the fire and passion of the competitor he was.

RIP Ayrton Senna. The greatest of them all.


A legend is born


In the world of MotoGP there’s been many great riders. Arguably the best of these would be Valentino Rossi (and yes, I admit that I’m a fan!) – a man who has managed to smash records, race hard, win when the odds were against him and yet all the while remain one of the most likeable guys out there.

Whilst I can argue the case for his legendary status, I cannot argue with the fact that the day is approaching when he will hang up his helmet and inevitably find a new way to fuel that adrenaline addiction. Before that happens though, we are able to enjoy the sight of Rossi taking on the youngster with the potential to break all of VR46’s records. I do, of course, refer to the Smiling Spanish Assassin Mr Marc Marquez.

When he hit the premier class last season he shook the establishment and seriously put several riders on notice with his crazy lean angles, insane cornering, mad overtakes, and on-the-limit riding. All the while leaving viewers holding their breath expecting to see the #93 bike flying across gravel traps and into barriers.

Week after week went by, with records being smashed all the while – and the season ended with the rookie lifting the World Championship. With a huge grin on his face of course.

This season, we have been rewarded with the sight of Marquez storming to pole in the first 3 races and taking victory when the flag fell. That’s not to say he’s had an easy run. Whilst Austin wasn’t the most thrilling of races the opener at Qatar and last weekends return to Argentine were certainly up there as great races. The Argentine race in particular showed just what Marquez is made of after he ended up dropping to 5th and even 7th before riding his way through the field and then chasing down an on-form Lorenzo. And then just to top of how good he is, he then proceeded to build up a decent lead over the former champion who was eventually caught by Pedrosa to give Honda a nice 1-2.

It’s still early days – but we may well be witnessing the rise of the next legend in MotoGP racing.

A legend lost, a legacy remains


The 1st May is a date etched into the memory of all F1 fans who watched the sport in the early 90’s. It was the day when a freak accident robbed us of the greatest driver the sport has ever seen.

I don’t need to document the events of that day here, there are plenty of in-depth recollections online from people who were there or who knew Ayrton. If you can, go and google them and read them – and then watch the beyond superb docu-film “Senna” that came out a couple of years ago.

I was 20 at the time and I can remember watching the events unfold. I can remember where I was. I can remember Steve Ryder doing an amazing job, handling the situation with a sensitivity that was beyond anything seen before. For 5 years afterwards I couldn’t watch the sport, except for the odd race, and even now there are times when I’ll see or hear something during a race that’ll bring back the memories.

Last week there was a segment on the F1 Show on Sky F1 that featured both Bruno Senna and Nicholas Prost. It was scary just how much they resemble their uncle and father respectively. It was like looking back in time and it brought memories flooding in. Races where we saw sublime driving and competition, underhand tactics that would change F1 forever, politics and strategies that made Kasparov look like an amateur and where we were witness to the best driver at one with the best that motoring engineering could deliver.

Today is a day that leads me to pause in sadness, but also to smile at the great memories I have of watching Senna drive. It’s a day that reminds me of a JPS Lotus t-shirt from 1985 (and as an aside – tobacco sponsorship never made me want to smoke) and the love for motoring, for petrol, for engineering that was birthed.

The greatest legacy left by Imola 1994 – which, we mustn’t forget, also saw the death of Roland Ratzenburger and the horrific crash for Rubens Barrichello – could be argued as being the fact that we’ve not seen another driver fatality in Formula One since that day. But then I listen to others speak about Senna, I see the tweets of people who share their memories and how he inspired and changed them and I wonder if he didn’t leave a deeper legacy. Oh, he wasn’t a saint – don’t get me wrong there… he could teach Schumacher and Vettel a thing or two about dirty racing – but he was an inspiration and an icon.

Tragically we’ve seen fatalities in other areas of motorsports, and there’s still a need for the lessons and safety technology to be embraced by lower formulae, but motor racing today is massively safer than it was 19 years ago. Let’s hope that we can go the next 19 years without any motorsport tragedies.

Ayrton Senna: Sorely and forever missed – but never forgotten.

Proud to be British!

What a year to be British in fact the Queens speech this year is going to need to be an hour long for Her Majesty to be able to capture the year in words!

There’s a self-deprecating negativity that seems to ooze from the pores of most British people when it comes to anticipating large events. “It’ll be a disaster”, “Just hope it doesn’t turn into an unintentional farce”, “We’re Doomed!” and so on. The run up to the Olympics were no different with predictions of huge gridlock and traffic chaos, threats of strikes, nightmare weather just days before, and major cock-ups by a security company that I wouldn’t trust to guard over my dustbins let alone a worldwide jamboree of sporting excellence.

The news might try to fill us all with doom’n’gloom and the tabloids might like to sensationalise the headlines by making us believe that it’s all down to the latest scapegoat to grab their eyes. But despite all this we’ve had a year where we’ve been able to stand tall and proud, where we can loudly sing out the national anthem and where we’ve talked about truly inspirational stories and people.

Perhaps it comes from our grey, wet, weather. Perhaps we’re just the kind of people that can’t believe that we can genuinely stand as equals with the big boys, but we’ve always liked to support the smaller teams and the underdogs. Perhaps it’s just an inherent humility – it’s just not British to blow ones own trumpet you know.

Well I say stuff that. With the Jubilee earlier this year, the Torch Relay then putting a spark in peoples eyes, and then the most amazing showcase of Britain with the 2012 Olympic Games I am just bursting with pride at being British.

I confess I am a proud patriot anyway, and I get goosebumps whenever I hear Elgar played or see the Red Arrows fly-by or watch the Last Night of the Proms but this year has caused me to stand taller and prouder than ever before.

The year kicked off with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and with the Queen, and the other Royals, visiting as much of the UK as possible and embracing so many different elements of culture to bring relevance to “the yoofs” whilst also bringing the pomp and circumstance that we also love and enjoy.

It’s quite something when you look at our Royal family and realise just how famous they are around the world, and how much they actually do for the UK. There’s no other Royal Family out there that comes close and, with Princes William and Harry, the future looks very nicely sorted.Forget the scandals that the media likes to rake up – the Royals are genuinely Brits who we can, and should, be very proud of.

Then, of course, there’s been the biggie – London 2012. The Olympics and The Paralympics.

For 6 weeks (after the initial fiasco with G4S and the usual British pessimism) the news was bright and cheery each day. We celebrated. Offices resounded with chatter of “Did you see….?” and Kleenex shares went through the roof as the nation collectively shed tears of pride and joy every time we saw another victory or heard another glowing report about the organisation, the games makers, the venues – even the WEATHER played along. For once our kids were presented with real inspiration and examples instead of the z-list celebrities who feel that they need some trashy scandal to ensure they get enough exposure.

Those with tickets to the games were eyed with glowing green eyes of envy and the London 2012 website was probably refreshed more than eBay when it offers a unique crisp that looks just like Elvis.

KingsGate (our Church) hosted a special evening where there was food, music and the opening ceremony on the big cinema screen. Over 1000 people crammed in to watch Sir Danny Boyle’s (it’d be criminal if he didn’t get a knighthood!) wonderful “Isles Of Wonder” presentation and we all cheered, laughed, cried, sang – and yes, we did all stand when the National Anthem was played. Being unable to be in the venue itself, this was the next best thing and was a joyous experience. He successfully wrapped the essence of British-ness in Union Flag printed paper and tied it off with nice red, white and blue ribbons to be delivered to a world that, whilst not always understanding ever element, appreciated the humour and uniqueness of the audio/visual feast that was unfolding before their eyes.

During the event itself all you heard were compliments on the volunteers who made up the “Games Makers” and they were touted as being one of the great highlights of the event. I know there were some who had come from abroad to volunteer (which I find amazing) but the majority were British and there’s still pride to be had in the whole block of volunteers who served with a smile and with no complaints.

The clever usage of iconic venues around London served to deliver a huge profile boost to these tourist attractions, whilst also presenting them in somewhat unexpected ways (be honest, you would have logically expected Horseguards Parade to host the show-jumping rather than Greenwich wouldn’t you?)

Even the sun blessed us with its presence over the majority of the 5 weeks, and the crowds brought their own sunshine as they cheered on Team GB, ParalympicsGB and every other competitor. As the commentators were heard to remark quite frequently – it’s a good job they didn’t put a roof on the Olympic Stadium as it would surely have been blown away by the roars that came from the 80,000 crowd.

Although we were initially gutted not to get tickets to the Olympics, we did manage to somehow secure a set of tickets on two consecutive weekends to see the Paralympics – with Athletics in the Olympic Stadium and Boccia in the Excel on the first weekend and then a general access Olympic Park Ticket for the weekend of the Paralympic Closing Ceremony which we doubled-up with the “Our Greatest Team” victory parade on the Monday.

It was phenomenal. The organisation genuinely *was* superb. The games-makers really were as friendly and brilliant as the news made out. The Tube system worked amazingly well without any major issue. Everything was signposted and guided so there was no travel-related stressed. And the venues were beyond amazing.

When we were in the Olympic Stadium we were sat just above the cauldron and could see everything. Yes we had to dodge a few 747s as we were that high up in the stadium, but you didn’t feel removed from the action and you could still see everything going on – and you could even see the facial expressions on the athletes faces.

Outside the stadium we noticed a Anna Sorokina, a Russian athlete who had just taken the Silver in the Women’s Javelin F12/13. We just had to ask for a photo and if we could see the medal itself and she was so friendly. To add the cherry on the cake, a passing games-maker came and offered to take the photo so we could all be in it together. There was such an approachability to everything and everyone. We spotted one of the ParalympicsGB coaches and he was there chatting to fans quite happily and there are many other stories from other people about how welcoming everyone was. I mean even the McDonalds staff at the worlds largest McDs were super friendly and chatty, despite still having queues well out the doors even with the superb efficiency they were working under.

Heavily laden with enough souvenirs to open our own museum, so many photos you could wallpaper the whole of Buckingham Palace, and a vast treasure of lifelong memories, we were of mixed emotions when we got home after the victory parade.

Normality is sinking back in (very slowly it has to be said), but there’s still the odd mention of the Olympics here and there – and when there is you can see the smiles on faces and the glimmer in peoples eyes as they recall when we, as a nation, truly showed the world how Great Britain really is.

I’ve always been very proud and patriotic – but this year I’ve been almost bursting with pride. Long may it continue.

Wake up and smell the Petrol

The testing is done. The wait is nearly over. The lights on the gantry will soon be flashing – 1,2,3,4,5….

Oh yes folks, the F1 season is so tantalisingly close it’s almost within touching distance. If that’s not enough, there’s the start of the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) this weekend at Monza. Woo Hoo!

Now, irrespective of whether or not you feel let down by the BBC over the whole F1 coverage farce – the fact is that we now have 2 big players in the world of F1 coverage this year. Sky bring their usual big, brash and huge-budget approach to the table whilst the BBC will endeavour to deliver the intimate, personable, approach that has endeared them to millions of fans. The team we have grown to love over the past 3 season has split over the two channels, giving room for some great motorsports commentators and experts to step into the limelight (Crofty, Ben Edwards, Gary Anderson to name but three) – and that gives the fans possibly the biggest challenge… who to watch?

When the races aren’t live on the beeb, it’s a straightforward answer – Sky of course. But when both channels have the race… that’s a toughie. I really like Martin Brundles commentary, and Crofty is brilliant… but likewise, I really like Ben Edwards (having listened to him do BTCC for years now) and DC was a great “expert voice” in the box. Jake, EJ and DC make for a brilliant anchoring trio and feel like you could sit down with them and just have a laugh… Sky, well we don’t know yet but it’s likely to be a bit more sterile I suspect but with plenty of flash, resources, presence and quite probably with more access that the BBC have had (money opens many doors!)

The beeb will be keeping the only true F1 theme tune, whilst Sky have gone with a rather more sedate affair (I seriously hope it’s a grower as it definitely lacks punch and presence.) There’s also the fact that the F1 forum has been a true gem of broadcasting, giving a lot of insight into the drivers and teams as well as giving them all a bit of personality – something that the formal interviews and press conferences can strip away.

Practice sessions are less of a conflict, with Crofty and Ant Davidson doing the honours for Sky I really can’t see any competition coming from 5Live with James Allen and Jaime Alguersuari (who really deserves a race seat, not a box seat!)

One thing that Sky do offer, that the BBC cannot compete with, is the added coverage. Being on a dedicated channel there is so much scope for analysis, insight, features, history and much more.

No matter where we end up on race day, one thing is for sure – it’ll be great to have F1 back and, despite our daughters wish to see less F1 (she’s even suggested we skip it this year!!!) I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of the sport rather than less.

I can’t wait!