by Romano Lupi MONACO. Ayrton Senna’s iconic qualifying lap in the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix will be forever remembered as one of the greatest laps in Formula 1 history. The next day Senna retired due to an accident at the Portier corner while he was in command with a wide margin on his team-mate Alain Prost. However, with 8 victories and a good 13 pole (at the time an absolute record), the full extent of his ability was displayed when he realized the dream of winning the Formula 1 World title a race of advance, at Suzuka in Japan. Before his tragic death at the age of 34 at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, his brilliant career included three world championships and 41 victories. On the occasion of the upcoming 76th Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, which will take place from 24 to 27 May 2018, we recall that his love affair with the Monaco’s track began in 1984, with a dazzling display of driving talent during his explosive rookie season within the British team Toleman. Monaco’s narrow twists and turns are regarded as one of motorsport’s toughest tests. Senna seemed to relish the technical challenge and excelled when pushing his car to the absolute limit around the harbour’s winding streets when he secured his maiden victory on the street circuit while racing for Lotus in 1987.
The tight corners of Monaco are considered one of the most difficult motor sports tests. Senna adored the technical challenge of the Monaco harbour’s tortuous streets. He did not hesitate to take his car to the limit when he returned his first victory in the race with Lotus in 1987. The mastery of the Brazilian on the difficulties of the Monte Carlo circuit increased further after the first victory, and the full scope of his skills was asserted during the other 5 events from 1989 to 1993 “He proved he was the best by destroying everyone” said Lewis Hamilton when he passed Ayrton Senna’s all-time win record, the Brit clocking his 42nd victory to take him one clear of the Brazilian. After that session, Hamilton was presented with one of Senna’s old helmets, a gift from the late Brazilian’s family for equalling his record. Upon receiving the gift, Hamilton was speechless for a moment, before saying “I’m shaking. Ayrton, I know for many of you was your favourite driver and he was for me. He inspired me to be where I am today so to receive this that is the greatest honour.” Today, the challenge between Hamilton and Vettel for the victory of the F1 2018 world championship is about to pass also from Montecarlo. We will see again on the French Riviera the two champions in a race not to be missed on 24 June, in the resurrected French Grand Prix – Paul Ricard in Le Castellet. Hamilton on Mercedes, and Sebastian Vettel, the champion worshipped by the many Italians who flock every year in Monaco, on Ferrari, will try to conquer the pole position in Monaco, in the qualifying of the 26 May. In fact, overtaking in Monaco is an extremely difficult test, and the pole would favor the legendary Italian brand at the finish line. The Grand Prix de Monaco is the grand prix “par excellence”, which all the pilots have dreamed of winning on the Principality track. In fact, in Monaco overtaking is an extremely difficult test, and the pole would favor the legendary Italian brand at the finish line. The Grand Prix de Monaco is the grand prix par excellence, which all the riders have dreamed of winning on the Principality track. It is the slowest and also the most difficult of the Formula 1 World Championship. Winning in Monaco must be deserved because the slightest mistake on the streets of the Principality is fatal.
One of Ayrton’s unique and great qualities was that he was determined, he wanted to be the best and nothing was about to stand in his way. It was Senna’s infatuation with supremacy which contributed to the 1988 legendary qualifying performance, with the sport’s official website claiming: “he became a passenger on a surreal ride into the unknown.” Even Senna confessed he occasionally went too far, “…going, going, going, like in a tunnel…”It Is not mere victories that define the best drivers. The stories that unfolded along the way are equally important to the way racers are remembered. The greatest racers, it seems, have the ability to shape their own storylines. “Ayrton had such an evident natural talent,” says Ron Dennis, former founder and CEO of the McLaren group that was joined by Senna from 1988 to 1993. “He was physically fit to a level that caught so many of his opponents off-guard. He had an admirable obsession with being the best, a superiority for which he was both known and loved.”
Two weeks after Senna’s passing at Imola, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher assumed the mantel of Monte Carlo maestro by claiming the first of his five victories on the Mediterranean coast. But Senna’s Monte Carlo achievements look set to be beyond even F1’s most successful driver. Proof, if it was needed, that the Brazilian remains the king of Monaco. Twenty-four years after his death, Ayrton Senna’s name is almost as valuable as when he was alive. Research conducted in 2015 by the Boston Consulting Group suggests Senna is in the same league as tennis superstar Roger Federer and basketball legend Michael Jordan in terms of product endorsement potential. Another survey of Brazilian athletes who competed in last year’s Rio Olympics – many of them too young to have seen Senna race – ranked him as their biggest source of inspiration, above past and present idols such as Neymar and Pele. Today his name is making a difference in his home country of Brazil, where his passing devastated millions and led to three days of national mourning. Today, the Ayrton Senna Foundation, a non-governmental organisation founded by Ayrton’s sister Viviane a few months after his death, is helping millions of students in Brazil. Ayrton Senna is still one of the most valuable sporting brands in the world, a goldmine in terms of marketing and most of the money for the Foundation comes from managing Senna’s brand and legacy. Education is the foundation’s core business.
Over the past two decades, it has become one of the biggest NGOs in Brazil, helping 1.9 million children and training 60,000 teachers per year. One of the main projects run by the Ayrton Senna Foundation is the introduction of coding classes, as most public schools in Brazil don’t have computer coding in their curriculum. In fact, most schools are struggling to get kids to learn the basics, such as maths and Portuguese, as Brazil ranks among the worst countries in the world in school exams. Brazil has 50 million children in school, aged between six and 16. Only one in five end up graduating from high school. All others are lost along the way. Today, there are more and more computer labs in many small towns’ public school, where students make extracurricular activities, like learning Scratch, a piece of software developed by MIT experts that aims to teach kids how to code. The foundation invests heavily in research to come up with smart solutions that can be applied to many schools with low costs that Viviane Senna calls “vaccines”, especially with students from low-income families. In the past years, the foundation drew in about 1bn Brazilian reals (£250m; € 320m) for the NGO. And it’s all a family affair. While Viviane is the CEO of the foundation, her daughter Bianca is head of branding.“Usually companies have a philanthropic arm that helps society with social projects. We are the other way around. We are the only NGO I know that has a sports branding company inside it,” says Bianca.The strongest markets for Senna products are Brazil, France, the UK and Italy. The foundation does its best to fully explore the marketing potential, licensing hundreds of products with Senna’s face and name on it. It caters for two groups of consumers. The first are Formula 1 fans who buy products such as books, DVDs, helmets and collectible souvenirs.
The foundation licenses hundreds of Ayrton Senna-themed items, like these action figures
And then there are products for the general public who may not necessarily enjoy racing, but like Senna for his charisma and values. These include toys and comic books for children and a food line of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.
Senna’s name is used for a range of memorabilia
“The foundation has done outstanding work. And interest in Senna can be sustained, but not forever,” says Marketing specialist Marcos Machado, from TopBrands Consultancy . He says Senna’s tragic death while at the top of his game crystallised his image in the eyes of the public as a winner. But we have to be realistic. On the branding front, it must keep the interest in Senna’s name alive, a task that is likely to get harder as years go by. One day, Senna is going to be more of a distant memory than a real idol for young generations. You can keep his name alive, but not forever. On the racetrack, Ayrton Senna made a name for himself as a driver who could do things that seemed impossible. The foundation that now carries his name is trying to live up to that legacy.