On Un­cle Ayrton and help­ing Mclaren cre­ate a beast

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - TOBY HAGON

Ayrton’s nephew on grow­ing up with a le­gend and his own time in F1

BRUNO Senna was once faster than his triple For­mula 1 world cham­pion un­cle, Ayrton. It was when he was about eight years old, flat out in a go-kart in his home­land, Brazil.

Per­haps his child-weight ad­van­tage gave him the edge, some­thing that prompted a typ­i­cally Ayrton re­sponse.

“He ended up putting loads of bal­last in my go-kart … to the point where if I spun and went off the track I couldn’t restart it,” says Bruno.

As a broad smile beams, it’s clear the nephew of the triple world cham­pion still has plenty of af­fec­tion for the man who played a big role in his childhood. There was a 23-year age gap be­tween them; Bruno was just 11 when Ary­ton was killed at Imola in 1994. But his over­ar­ch­ing mem­o­ries are happy ones.

“It was quite funny to hang out with him be­cause he was su­per com­pet­i­tive,” laughs Bruno. “He was a lot of fun to be with, al­ways mak­ing pranks. This is the thing that stays with me most about him; at home he was like a su­per­re­laxed guy but still had that com­pet­i­tive edge.”

Ayrton even mod­i­fied his jet­ski to match the pace of Bruno on a stock ski. But Ayrton taught him race craft as much as pace.

“He was just try­ing to make you learn through ex­pe­ri­ence … even if it was push­ing you off a track when try­ing to over­take on the out­side.”

De­spite the tough love, “fun” is a re­cur­ring word in our pit garage at Sil­ver­stone for the launch of the Mclaren Senna, a car Bruno helped name – and de­velop.

“I saw this car on the clay in Novem­ber 2016. I was like ‘wow, this is amaz­ing’,” he says. “I went to my fam­ily and I said, ‘look, these guys at Mclaren are mak­ing this crazy car and I think it’s the right time to make a car with Ayrton’s name’.”

The re­sult is (for now; see side­bar be­low left) the fastest road-le­gal car on a cir­cuit.

“It re­ally en­com­passes Ayrton’s spirit, it’s un­com­pro­mis­ing … it re­ally brings the pas­sion, the driver into fo­cus,” says Senna.

While the Senna fam­ily got one of the run of 500 as part of the deal to use the name, Bruno bought another, the car­bon­fi­bre car from the 2018 Geneva mo­tor­show, com­plete with yel­low and green Brazil­ian flag high­lights.

He had in­put into the car’s track tun­ing, some­thing Ay­ton fa­mously did with the Honda NSX.

“I’ve driven that car specif­i­cally,” says Bruno of Senna’s NSX, re­mem­ber­ing a snaking road in 1992. “He sat in the driver’s seat and he did the throt­tle, brakes and gears while I steered on this moun­tain road in Por­tu­gal. It was su­per cool; I loved it, we were just go­ing flat out around some moun­tain roads.”

Senna ju­nior is now 34, a few months older than Ayrton when the world cham­pion raced his last lap at Imola in Italy.

Bruno was watch­ing with his fam­ily at home, although the grav­ity didn’t ini­tially hit him.

“You’re a kid … you never un­der­stand it un­til the fu­neral,” he says, solemn but seem­ingly ac­cept­ing of the loss.

The tragedy shook the Senna fam­ily, to the point where Bruno’s mother, Vi­viane, halted his pas­sion for mo­tor­sport.

She later re­lented, lead­ing to a brief stint in F1, some­thing that lacked Ayrton’s dom­i­nance.

“I was not held to the same stan­dards as other driv­ers, I was al­ways held against Ayrton’s stan­dards,” says Bruno. “Ev­ery­one ex­pected me to be as good or bet­ter than Ayrton. That’s not only very dif­fi­cult but also in­tan­gi­ble … un­less I had mir­a­cle drives it was never go­ing to be enough.”

Bruno says ex­pe­ri­ence and hind­sight al­lowed him to re­flect on a pe­riod that hurt and chal­lenged him men­tally.

“If I had un­der­stood that I would have prob­a­bly taken it a dif­fer­ent way and just did my job.”

These days Senna is lov­ing the chal­lenge of sports cars.

He squeezes in de­vel­op­ment work for Mclaren, some­thing engi­neers plan to fur­ther ex­ploit.

“Bruno is very good … and, from what I hear, ex­actly like his un­cle … the abil­ity to get the flavour of the car and trans­late that into en­gi­neer­ing speak; into how we can im­prove it,” says ve­hi­cle line direc­tor Andy Palmer.

As for Senna the car, it’s guar­an­teed to be a col­lec­tor, but it may not be the only time the Senna name is used on a car.

“If the right pro­ject comes along, why not?” says Bruno.

“I was al­ways held to Ayrton’s stan­dards. That’s dif­fi­cult”

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