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Bruno Senna Has Big Shoes to Fill

Bruno Senna - a chip off the old block?

Bruno Senna - a chip off the old block?

Bruno Senna, the nephew of Formula 1 great Ayrton Senna, has secured a ride with the fledgling Campos team for 2010.  Senna finished as runner-up on the GP 2 feeder series this year.  He also filled out his schedule by racing in sports cars.

While he carries a burden by bringing the Senna surname back to Formula 1, he is anxious to establish his own identity. As reported in The Guardian, young Senna said, “I hope in a short time that everybody remembers me for being Bruno, myself, and not for my uncle’s surname. I’ve learned to live with it and although it helped to interest sponsors and contacts, to be in Formula One as a driver you need to have talent.”

This is a tall order.  As every fan of Formula 1 will remember, the late Ayrton Senna was one of a kind.  When he and “the Professor,” the great Alain Prost, were team mates at McLaren, Senna was favored by engine supplier Honda, as the Brazilian was seen as something of a latter day samurai warrior, so great and focused was his commitment to winning, and so fierce was his driving style.

Even this year, at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, so great was the reverence for Senna, who was killed 15 years ago at Imola, that track marshals were seen wearing facsimiles of Senna’s distinctive yellow, green and blue helmet livery.

Although Lewis Hamilton wears a knock-off of Senna’s helmet scheme, the one driver in recent years who has come closest to matching, if not surpassing, Senna in ability and attitude is Michael Schumacher.  When Schumacher was a boy, he watched Senna racing karts, and he wondered who was the driver in the yellow helmet who was so much faster than all the others.  It was Senna.

When he was older, Schumacher began to emulate Senna’s driving style.  It should be remembered that Senna’s idea of blocking was to aim his car directly at his opponent’s.  He acted on the assumption that the other driver would give way.  If he didn’t, the incident would end in tears.  Senna never gave in, and his rivals all knew it.  Most of the grid lived in terror of seeing the famed yellow helmet in their mirrors.  Senna took no prisoners.

Schumacher was much the same.  He won his first title in 1994 by deliberately ramming into the car of his rival Damon Hill at the Australian Grand Prix, nearly overturning himself.  He disabled both cars, ensuring his crown.  At the time, he was criticized for his aggression, but it was nothing more than Senna would have done.  Senna won his own second title by deliberately crashing into his rival Alain Prost, in turn one, lap one, at Suzuka, in 1990.   A year later, he admitted to what he had done, and was shocked that anyone could find fault with the tactic.  After all, he was Senna.

Though it has not been widely publicized, Aytron Senna was Schumacher’s role model and idol.  This was plainly evident at Monza in 2000, when Schumacher tied Senna’s runner-up record for all time race wins.  When asked during the post-race, world feed interview for his reaction to the fact that he had matched the great Brazilian in race wins, Schumacher broke down and wept.  It was the only time in his career, publicly, that he was so moved.

Nevertheless, as all serious fans of the sport know, had Ayrton Senna lived to race several more years (he died at age 34 at Imola) the Formula 1 record books would undoubtedly look different than they do today.  While Michael Schumacher might or might not have had the same number of titles to his credit, it’s almost certain that such names as Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen wouldn’t have been so graced.

Which is all in a manner of saying that Bruno Senna, like every young driver who has joined the Formula 1 circus as part of a dynasty, has his work cut out for him.  One hopes that the weight of the Senna name doesn’t prove too burdensome, and that he can find his own way.

Image by Nuvolari 72, licensed through Creative Commons.

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