Senna brought Vettel close to Formula 1
“My father was a big fan of Senna, he admired him a lot. I was born in 1987, so I can’t remember his entire career. But the first real memory I have of Formula 1 was when Ayrton won his home race in Brazil in 1991.”
Vettel remembers that race so well because Senna’s victory was special.
“After the race, he was physically so exhausted because he had lost some gears during the race and he still continued on,” the Heppenheimer recalls.
“I still remember how they had to help him on the podium. Since then, I’ve been racing with my father every other Sunday.”
Vettel also remembers Senna’s fatal accident in Imola in 1994 as well: “I was very young. It’s hard for me to understand that he had a fatal accident at that time. We were sitting in front of the TV for a long time. As a kid, you do not realize what’s really happening. That’s why I noticed how a young German made it to the top of Formula 1 – Michael Schumacher. From then on, he was my hero.”
Vettel: “It must have been magical”
Though, Senna stayed in Vettel’s heart anyway – and in his closet. The toy McLaren of 1993 was the German’s first model car at a time when was driving cart.
Vettel: “It was the car with the number 8. It wasn’t a particularly good car, but Ayrton won five races with it. It was solely due to his driving skills.”
The older the former Red Bull and now Ferrari star got, the more he studied his former role model.
“I talked a lot about him to engineers and technicians who worked with Ayrton, one of whom was Giorgio Ascanelli, our former technical director at Toro Rosso, who was at McLaren back then. Ayrton’s qualifying laps, in particular, must have been magical.”
Ascanelli once compared Vettel with the legendary Brazilian in an interview with SPORT BILD in 2011: “I’m very fortunate,” said the Italian, “because twice in my life I experienced perfection, once with Ayrton Senna, the other time with Sebastian Vettel. Both have been given something special by birth.”
Vettel does not like comparisons. Certainly not those with the greatest of times. “It’s flattering,” he admits. “I do not like that, I know Ayrton from the stories, and I can only say that I’ve never met a person like him.”
What was so special about the Brazilian? According to Vettel, it was a mix of talent and personality. “It was not his successes that left a profound impression on me, but the person behind it all,” says Vettel.
“He had incredible talent in the car, but he was also a very modest guy, so he took that attitude into the race car and that made him stronger than the others.”
Only his sudden death prevented him from becoming the best and most successful racing driver of all time.
Vettel: “He won three titles, 41 victories and 65 poles, but he could have been even more successful because he had so much more to give, so it’s not fair to say anyone broke Ayrton’s records.”
In 2012 Vettel himself cracked a 20-year-old Senna record. In India, he was the first driver since Senna to have led all laps in three consecutive races.
25 years after the horror weekend in Imola Sebastian Vettel also wants Roland Ratzenberger to be remembered. The Austrian died just one day before Senna, on 30 April 1994, in a fatal accident. With his Simtek, he crashed into a wall and broke his neck.
Vettel: “Everyone always thinks of Senna, but we shouldn’t forget Roland either! Thanks to him, too, Formula 1 has become as safe as it is today.”
*This article was first published in German at autobild.de/motorsport.