The late Ayrton Senna was one of the greatest drivers in motorsport history. He was also a humble Christian man who openly confessed his love for God.
Ayrton loved racing and professed that he felt close to God as he drove competitively, a gift which he was convinced God had given him. Arguably the best driver in Formula One at the time, Senna was tragically killed in a crash whilst leading the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. He was three times world champion and a national hero in his native Brazil. Such was the depth of feeling following his tragic death that the Brazilian government declared three full days of national mourning.
Senna was one of the most dominant and successful Formula One drivers all time and is considered by many as the greatest racing driver ever.
He began his motorsport career in karting. Moving up Formula 3 in 1981, he won the British Formula 3 championships in 1983. He made his Formula One debut in 1984 winning six Grands Prix over the next four seasons. In 1988, he joined Frenchman Alain Prost at McClaren-Honda and between them, they won all but one of the 16 Grands Prix that year. Ayrton won his first World Championship in 1988 while Prost won the championship in 1989. Between them they dominated the event up until Senna’s death in 1994.
In many ways Ayrton was a modest man who loved his God and his country. He saw racing as his way of following God’s will. He attributed his success at racing and his ability to relax before a highly competitive adrenaline-filled event to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Senna was also a generous man and donated millions to combat poverty in his homeland. He was clearly a man with a big heart and a compassion for the suffering.
It is believed that he was reluctant to drive in his final race, sensing something auspicious, but that he was given a passage from there Bible encouraging him to drive anyway. Strange as it may sound, some of his closer Christian friends believed that despite his ill-feeling, Ayrton felt strongly that God still wanted him in the race. Perhaps in a similar way the fact that the evangelist Stephen in the Book of Acts knew that he was to speak certain challenging things before a hostile crowd, even though they could (and did) result in his death. Senna probably didn’t know that he would die that day, but he knew that death is not the end, it is just the beginning of an eternal life with God in heaven. Perhaps he was aware that despite his young age, his mission on earth was complete.
But there was another side to Ayrton Senna which his critics love to promote. We are all flawed people, and Ayrton was not perfect. He was ‘Ayrton Senna, warts and all’ to put it in a nutshell. He could be temperamental and at times argumentative. He was a passionate and determined man brimming with confidence in his abilities, which he believed to be God-given, and that caused controversy on some occasions.
However, those closest to Ayrton Senna remember him fondly as a generous and compassionate man of great faith. A man of huge talent who gave the ultimate glory to God instead of taking it for himself. Brazil is a nation with extremes of wealth and poverty, and Ayrton was extremely generous with his winnings. He had a strong desire to help those in need, and especially his own countrymen.
Please excuse the pun, but we need to ask what drove this man? Ayrton Senna said that he could “see God” when he was ‘in the zone’ – when he was racing to the limits of his ability. Senna has been voted the best and most influential Formula One driver of all time in numerous motorsport polls. He strongly believed that life is about acknowledging and serving God with whatever talents we have been given, and his talent was motor racing. He lived and died for God, and he lived and died racing.
Ayrton’s grave was inscribed with the words, “Nothing can separate me from the love of God.”
Story by Ralph Burden
* Photo attribution: Creative Commons License Share-Alive 3.o