Posts Tagged ‘mclaren


March 21, 2010 – Julien Ehrhardt and Ayrton Senna

March 21,2010.  My new son’s birthday.  Born at 4:18 p.m. to a stunned dad (who still can’t believe THAT could come out of HER) and a mom who was a champ through the whole thing.  Ten hours in labor is nothing for her side of the family.

But it wasn’t until I had posted a few pictures on Facebook, that a good friend and colleague, Eric Gilbert, art director at and more of a racing nut than I am (yes, it’s possible apparently), pointed out to me that March 21 is Ayrton Senna’s birthday.  He would have been 50 years old on the day my son was born.  I was elated and very very proud.  It was almost enough to call the birth certificate lady back into the room and change his middle name to Ayrton (my wife would have be so pleased, let me tell you.)

In my mind, and you won’t convince me otherwise, Ayrton Senna was the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, period.  Some say Fangio, others say Schumacher were better.  But Senna was the best in an era where the cars were getting faster and faster, but none of the electronic aids had come into the sport yet.  It was a time when drivers were still manually shifting (i.e. clutch and stick shift) and no traction control or other handling assistance had been invented.  It was the height of car control.  He was a master at going faster and faster, always on the edge but rarely tore the car up.  And he drove with his soul.  In 1994, he lost his life after crashing at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola.  To this day, the cause of the accident has still not been fully determined with theories ranging from a steering column failure to the car simply bottoming out over the bumps on the Tamburello corner.

I consider myself very fortunate to have watched Ayrton Senna race and remember fondly rooting for him while my dad supported Alain Prost, Senna’s French teammate at McLaren at the time.  You’d think I’d prefer the French guy, but he was too quiet for my tastes.  I much preferred Senna’s fiery character and fly by the seat of your pants style.  Plus, his famous yellow helmet, accented with green and blue (Brazil’s flag colors, his homeland) was just so cool, and contrasted against the white and red Marlboro McLaren Honda he drove.  He solidified my love of auto racing, which eventually led to my interests in photography.

I’ve heard many stories about his uncanny driving skills but this one is still my favorite:

Story told by Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering (Ayrton’s first race engineer with Toleman in 1984):
“Dallas was what I would call an ‘old-fashioned’ North American street circuit, delineated with concrete blocks. It was a very tricky circuit, and bumpy enough to make even Monaco look smooth: the drivers literally had to fight their cars all the way round as they skipped and jumped from bump to bump. I remember during the race, Ayrton hit the wall, and then later retired because of the damage. When he eventually made it back to the pits, he didn’t seem to understand how he could have hit the wall. It seemed to come as a complete shock to him that he had hit the wall, and his immediate reaction was “I know I didn’t make a mistake – the wall must have moved.” Remember, we were talking about a twenty tonne concrete block here, but he was so insistent that he persuaded me to walk round the circuit and take a look. When I did so, the wall had indeed moved – somebody had clearly clipped the previous block and in doing so, displaced the next one by only about 4cm. Instead of the transition from block to block being smooth, a 4cm difference had caught the rear wheel, broken it and punctured the tyre. That was when it really came home to me, the precision to which he was driving, and made me think he was a bit special… And remember this was a guy in his first season of F1, straight out of F3…”

The man was a prodigy going up the ranks in F2000, F3.  A living legend while in F1.  A god in death.  And my son has a small connection to the man who helped define my career and to a large extent, my life.

Ayrton Senna, March 21, 1960 - May 1, 1994

In 2009, I covered the Le Mans 24 Hours (a race held in my old backyard in France) where Ayrton’s nephew, Bruno Senna ran with the ORECA team.

Bruno Senna, right, speaks with teammate Stéphane Ortelli during practice for the Le Mans 24 Hours, Wednesday, June 8, 2009. Rainier Ehrhardt/