Finally Formula One
Yep, you guessed it; Senna turned his back on the family business, and his young wife, and plunged even deeper into the world of Formula One racing. Like many young sports prodigies, their passion for their sport, along with the money unfortunately over rides everything, including family. Just consider Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. At the age of 2 he was regularly appearing on national television for his talent at striking a golf ball with his pint size kids golf clubs. Back in those days, there were no real children’s golf equipment – he had to make due with cut down adult clubs. Kids golf clubs were not available until he was a teenager, by then outgrowing his cut down clubs. He won well over 200 junior tournaments and at 11 he went the entire year undefeated (36-0). As an adult professional golfer, he is considered as one of the greatest. However, in 2010 his personal life blew up revealing the ugly reality behind the veil of his “family man” persona. Woods lost millions of dollars in endorsements, killed his reputation off the golf course, and the public watched as this extraordinary player who had been #1 for years sank to a #58 ranking in the world. Unlike Senna, Tiger Woods has slowly worked his way back to claim the #1 position in golf after a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March 2013. The victory moved Woods back to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time since Oct. 24, 2010.
An aside: Reading about these talented yet flawed people who seem to squander their lives unnecessarily, I thought about my alcoholic uncle who was a talented musician, but could never rid himself of his drinking demons. Up until recently I though alcoholism was a disease. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) as a “chronic relapsing brain disease”. But I have a different opinion now with the use of a new drug therapy to stop drinking. This new approach started in Europe where doctors are prescribing baclofen as the primary treatment for alcohol abuse. Apparently baclofen has been proven in humans to be effective for both alcohol and cocaine cravings. Clinical trials in Europe have shown 65% success treating alcoholics who are able to return to low-risk drinking levels or even abstinence when using the Ameisen method of titrated (not fixed) dosage of baclofen. This approach states that alcohol overindulgence is related to the same neurological reward pathways as gambling, sex, food, and porn. Addiction is in the brain, not the substance. What a different way of looking at and treating excessive drinking. I wish my uncle were alive today. He might have had a long and successful career. Likewise reading about Senna, I wonder if he had made just one different decision, his life would have been less destructive to not only himself, but also to all the other people within his orbit.
Unfortunately for Senna, his life did not turn out quite so rosy. With a £10,000 offer by the Formula Ford 2000 team, which probably helped make up his mind, Senna left his family and never looked back.
Oh, this is also when he decided that the name Silva was a little too common in Brazil. His mother’s family name of Senna may have seemed a little more original. My guess is that between the business and the name, his father wasn’t too happy for a while.
Anyway, for the Van Diemen team he earned British and European Formula Ford 2000 Championships in 1982 and then joined up with the West Surrey Racing Team for the British Formula Three Championship in 1983. The ensuing battle for the title saw Senna versus Martin Brundle, and by all accounts it was not a friendly competition.
Senna demonstrated — four times — his characteristic pattern of crashing while attempting to take the lead away from his British rival. Finally, in the most dramatic fashion one could imagine, Senna pulled ahead of Brundle for the very last race to take the title.
This race inspired much interest from the Formula One teams (for both Senna and Brundle), and our hero tested for Williams, Toleman, Brabham, and McLaren. In the end, his choice was made for him; both McLaren and Williams had no room on their team for 1984, and both Brabham’s star driver and sponsor already had someone else in mind (the ultimately mediocre Roberto “Super Sub” Moreno).
So Senna went to Toleman, with certain misgivings. His season with the team was full of ups and downs; on the bright side, he scored a World Championship point at each of the Grands Prix in Brazil and South Africa, and finished second at Monaco against the legendary Alain Prost. Many feel that he would have beaten the Frenchman had heavy rains not halted the race and complicated the final positions.
On the down side, Senna was unhappy with the Toleman team’s equipment, among other things. During his entire life, his only failure to qualify was at that year’s San Marino Grand Prix, due to tire and fuel system problems.
As soon as possible, he jumped ship and signed with Lotus. Toleman was none too happy (apparently he neglected to let them know beforehand), and suspended him just in time to keep him from competing in the Italian Grand Prix.