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Anthony Rowlinson

Why Senna's flame burns ever brighter

It's a journalist's duty, we're told, to be impartial and dispassionate, to interrogate facts, separate lies from truth, analyse knowledge as presented, then convey said information to a reader, viewer or listener.

But then along comes Ayrton Senna, a man, a driver, who channelled emotions in a manner never previously experienced and who touched a million souls - right there - in such a way that they felt connected with their hero, for all that he knew nothing of their existence.

Senna destroyed impartiality almost from the beginning, possessing as he did an ability to make the rational irrational and the cool heads hot. For the media, he was dynamite and his influence went far, far beyond their (our) petty squabbles.

A few sporting greats do this without trying, as do the great political leaders, or era-defining musicians, artists and thinkers. It's how they conjure an ardent worldwide following when operating at their peak and why, when removed from their field through death, political upheaval, or the waning of their powers, they remain as iconic points of reference for future generations.

Twenty years after his death, Ayrton Senna occupies such a spot, remaining as vivid a figure for any F1 follower as he was on 1 May 1994, and as he had become over the preceding seasons of polarising brilliance.

Indeed, as Richard Williams, author of The Death of Ayrton Senna argues on page 44, Senna's eminence has grown in the post-Imola decades, leaving him untouched and untouchable, as a totem of everything a racing driver could ever be.

This is not to say that Senna was a model racing driver, for his conduct often showed an overarching degree of arrogance (excused by supporters as spiritual conviction). If that were his only legacy, he'd be an ill-remembered figure, not a feted demi-god. But can anyone posit that there has existed a better racing driver than Senna? I, for one, doubt it - and I'm not alone.

Take Richard West, the former Williams commercial director who was the last man to interview Senna on that saddest of days. Sharing his remarkable story of 1 May (p50), West recalls how Senna galvanised all around him to perform at their best, not by the power of his reputation, but by the force of his deeds. The void he left, West tells us, was immense.

These emotions seem to have been experienced by anyone who felt anything for the man. And as we assess the fall-out from the 2014 Australian GP and prepare for a year of 'he said, she said', perhaps this is the right moment to reflect on why we fall in love with F1 and remember the fallen hero(es) who imbue our sport with a soaring spirit that transcends on-track competition.

"Only connect" wrote EM Forster in Howards End, making reference to one of the few constant points of value in human existence. There could be few better epitaphs, 20 years on, for a racing driver who connected like none before or since.

ANTHONY ROWLINSON
EDITOR
@Rowlinson_F1R