Do you remember that smell? The one when you first fell as a kid, on to concrete. Iridescent black. Then stars. Then that smell? Metallic scent in the top of your nostrils, the one you could also taste.
I hadn’t fallen but that very feeling, that very smell is my abiding memory from Mayday evening, 1994, when the BBC’s Moira Stuart told millions of us that Ayrton Senna was clinically dead in a Bologna hospital room. Like millions of others, I could not process those words.
I was then, and still am a huge Ayrton Senna Da Silva fan. I first saw him racing in 1981 in that delicious Van Diemen RF81. I saw nine of his Grand Prix’s. I was lucky enough to meet him briefly in 1993 when I hitchhiked to the Italian Grand Prix and somehow spent the weekend in the McLaren pit garage as an uninvited guest.
Watching in awe as he donned his balaclava and helmet just yards from where I stood was magical and surreal. This was just days before he and Frank Williams did the deal for 1994, setting in motion the eventual tragic end to an astonishing career.
I have known and spoken to many people who worked with Senna. People whose lives he touched throughout an astonishing career. All of them speak of the immense reverence and charisma he possessed. The latter of these traits being off the clock.
Since 1st May 1994 the Senna legacy, some would say myth, has grown enormously, fuelled by the simple fact he did not grow old, did not get slower.
Since the excellent ‘Senna’ film came out in 2012, there has been a trend to deify the Brazilian and cast him as some sort of Godhead figure both within the sport and actually beyond it. There are thousands, in fact millions of people worldwide who believe that the ‘Senna’ film is all they need to know about the man. Senna often played by his own rules during his career, so perhaps it is only apt that this be the case.
He was a brilliant and charismatic racing driver, we all know that. What he most certainly wasn’t was a deity or a saint.
His complex and paradoxical nature; his contradictions and some of his downright brutal decision making processes were questionable and should remain so, irrespective of his tragically young death.
Suzuka 1990 is the obvious and most high profile example. What he devised and executed on the run down to the first corner, at 160mph, ensured his unfettered desire to win at all costs became complete. It remains one the most vengeful and blatant acts of sporting toxicity ever fulfilled.
So how to reconcile the man who could do this, endangering himself and 25 other professionals so recklessly, just six weeks after showing so much genuine compassion and concern for a critically injured Martin Donnelly at Jerez? The answers don’t exist and are entwined in the endless, lost and genius fuse box of his mind.
Imola 1994. There was no weird premonitions beforehand, no real intention to quit afterward and probably no other reason for the accident than a complex combination of mechanical and aerodynamic factors. There was no divine or pre-ordained date with destiny. He was by all accounts a spiritual and religious man, but one who just happened to have a remarkable natural gift.
I hope that all of his fans remember the man and not the myth this Thursday. He deserves to be remembered as the sporting colossus he was. We won’t see his like again.
The true sadness are the ‘what if’s’?
What would he have done with his life these last two decades; how many titles would he have and how would he have coped with Michael Schumacher?
Like millions around the world today, I cannot help humming, singing or just mouthing…….
‘How I wish, how I wish you were here.’