Ayrton Senna da Silva, the three-time Formula One (F1) world champion, is born on this day in 1960, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Senna’s celebrated career was cut short in 1994 when he died at the age of 34 following a crash at a Grand Prix race in Italy. At the time of his death, he was considered by many to be the world’s best F1 driver.
Senna was raised in Brazil in a well-to-do family and as a boy became involved in kart racing. He made his Formula One debut in 1984 and went on to win the Grand Prix world championship in 1988, 1990 and 1991. During his career, Senna had 162 Grand Prix starts and 41 Grand Prix wins. His career-win record was, at the time, second only to that of his rival, the French driver Alain Prost, who had 51 wins in 202 starts. (Germany’s Michael Schumacher, who competed from 1991 to 2006, now holds the record for most wins, with 91 victories in 250 starts.) Senna also had a career total of 65 Formula One pole positions (the starting spot given to the driver who has the fastest qualifying times for a race).
Senna died on May 1, 1994, at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, after his car slammed into a concrete wall at high speed. The crash was seen by millions of people on live television and came just one day after Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger had been killed during a qualifying event for the San Marino Grand Prix. A state funeral for Senna was held in his native Brazil, where the driver was “a hero of the same stature as the soccer star Pele,” according to his 1994 obituary in The New York Times. Known as an intense, ambitious figure, Senna was one of the world’s highest-paid athletes of his era and at the time of his death had a personal fortune reportedly worth $400 million.