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.

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!

The worst time of year to be a petrolhead.

The off-season for motorsports is always a barren time for petrolheads, the withdrawal symptoms driving many true fans to extraordinary lengths to simply get a second of the glorious engine note that can only come from a finely-tuned piece of engineering being thrashed to within a hairs-width of its tolerances. With the faffing around and shambolic handling of the WRC this year, there’s even been uncertainty over getting a fix of dirt and gravel action.

Football fans get their beloved sport pretty much all year round thanks to friendlies, tournaments, internationals etc so don’t truly appreciate how bad it is for us. There is no F1, no MotoGP, no Touring Cars and no WRC this year (well, there is but it’s pot luck on the coverage) – yeah there’s NASCAR but you have to pay for that, and even American friends we know admit that watching it on TV can cause a strong desire to watch some paint dry. It’s a different matter being there, and I’ve always said I’d like to experience a NASCAR event for real to get that sense of atmosphere, excitement and thrill that people enjoy.

What is it about the thought of motor vehicles being pushed to their limits? It’s the sound, that rasping sound of internal combustion and the vibrations you get in your chest as a car (or bike) shoots past. It’s the smells, being at a racetrack and getting that whiff of oil, carbon, petrol. It’s the thrill of seeing people pushing finely engineered machines to their limits. It’s the technology and the engineering itself, the genius of design and science with the best engineering solutions that exist. It’s the whole package.

The petrol withdrawal symptoms are so bad that F1 testing (yes, TESTING) is marked on calendars, counted down to, and then followed on Twitter, Autosport, blogs and more with a level of enthusiasm that is almost embarrassing in its anorak-yness (hey, a new word!)

What’s truly sad about testing is that it doesn’t tell you anything. The times are often irellevant as each team is doing different test programmes. The cars that have just been launched will bear little resemblance to the cars that will turn up for the first race (due to the endless push for performance, and the perpetual air of paranoia) so you can’t even get a full picture of what the cars are going to look like. Yes, you get a rough idea as a cars appearance will rarely change drastically but the front wing will change, the rear wing will likely change, elements on the bodywork will change, the diffuser may well change and so on.

The biggest sadness of this all, is that I am one of these people. I’m counting down to the first race in Australia. I’m looking forward to seeing what Sky are going to bring to F1 coverage. I’m following all the tests. I check Autosport more times a day than I check any other site (except twitter, but I use an app for that and that’s primarily to get the latest motorsports news the instant it’s out there!)

Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Mr Hartley and… I am a petrolhead.