Ayrton Senna – A rare interview with the much missed legend

Formula One World Championship

This interview was first published by Grand Prix 247 on 21 March 2014.
Since the day that Ayrton Senna was stolen from us, on 1 May 1994, so much has been written and regurgitated about the man many consider the greatest racing driver of all time, that finding something out of the ordinary about the legend is rare.

However, there is an element within Grand Prix 247 who are relentless Ayrton fanatics and have uncovered a gem of an interview – a study – with the sorely missed Brazilian.

On the occasion of his 54th birthday we present this rare interview conducted by Doctor Jacques Dallaire, on 2 June 1991. Die-hard Senna-ites perhaps have it bookmarked and memorised verbatim! But for those who have not, this fascinating read is for you…

Ayrton Senna and Dr. Dallaire worked together over a span of several years during the Formula One triple-world champion’s illustrious career. This interview was conducted in the Human Performance International (HPI) Laboratory on Isle Notre Dame (Montreal, Canada) following the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix.

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Forward by Jacques Dallaire, Ph.D.

My late colleague, Dr. Dan Marisi and I had been working with Ayrton since his first year in Formula One with the Toleman team (in 1984) and over the years, we had many informal discussions with Ayrton concerning racing, the challenges that racers faced on and off the track, and life in general. In 1991, we decided to sit down and put some of the pieces together and as an afterthought, we decided to tape it as well. It was a freewheeling and open discussion on a number of topics that I hope can provide those who have an interest in Ayrton’s life and accomplishments with some greater understanding regarding what made him ‘tick’… in his own words. This document represents a verbatim transcript (with all of its grammatical errors, etc) of the interview that we conducted. On the heels of the exceptional new Senna documentary, I thought that it could provide further insight into both the complexity and the simplicity of the man many consider be one of the greatest race car drivers who ever turned a wheel. I hope you enjoy it!

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The Interview

Could you discuss the variables, characteristics, or qualities that you feel would identify a Formula 1 racer… or those qualities that separate the more successful racers from the less successful ones?
Ayrton: There are many qualities needed for a driver.

Why don’t you identify those qualities that come to mind?
Ayrton: Well, I think first of all the ability or opportunity one has to start doing something (but everything has to be related to me).

Good, that’s what we want.
Ayrton: So, the opportunity in our life to start doing something when we are young… a hobby, fun and things like that. If you have these opportunities you develop that in your character, your personality, as you grow up.

Stages as you grow…
Ayrton: You have to be growing and changing physically, mentally, everything… stretching up to a proper human being. Then it becomes part of you and not something that suddenly starts to be in your life. You should start really young… it is in you. I believe this is the most important factor because this way you are always going to have the basics for doing what you’re doing. Even if you later are 20, 30, 40 years old with all the experience you have at that time it almost may not count for very much… you almost stop there but, I think at critical moments where it’s really a mind work not a body work. How you face your profession, how you face the different difficulties you go through, the questions that come up in your mind…why you’re doing it, how you’re doing it, you try to analyze it…critical questions that come eventually to your mind after you’re doing it for awhile. You always have kind of an instinct, an automatic answer because it’s in you. As much as you try to rationalize and think about the answer it’s really a question of just…because it’s there. It’s been part of you right from your existence – let’s say if you start at 4 or 5 years old.

Formula One Drivers

OK, what about that individual that does start young, that does have the opportunity and still doesn’t make it? There’s still something that if you had the opportunity…
Ayrton: What I mean is that this is one aspect of course. If you had this opportunity when you were that young you surely will find people who are just with it or not with it.

Yes, whatever “with it” is.
Ayrton: Yes, it is in their mind…already part of their makeup or not. This includes both the physical and mental aspects…not only one. If it is in you and you have the opportunity to start and develop yourself, of course you will go further than other people.

What we hear you saying is that you have to have a situation like putting a good seed in good ground. If you haven’t got it in you to begin with and you’re not placed in a good environment at an early enough age, nothing will work.
Ayrton: Well, it may work but not to the same level as someone who has that. So, you will eventually find that the difference between coming first or second is that, depending on what level you’re talking about and what activity you’re talking about, that might represent simply the difference between winning or not.

Let’s switch to self-confidence. Belief in yourself. How important is that to a racer…does it affect a driver?
Ayrton: I think self-confidence is very important. There are different ways of being self-confident – positive self-confidence or being confident in a negative way. I believe there are moments where self-confidence is the key to trigger a system to go one way – adding – when one goes on stronger, stronger, stronger. Sometimes if it is not used properly, it will be actually a negative thing for your performance.

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Do you mean “ego” in a negative way?
Ayrton: Yes. I think if you mix up self-confidence with an ego that doesn’t allow your feet to keep on the ground, then you have a negative effect.

Yes, thinking you are able to walk on the clouds.
Ayrton: Yes, it is a question only of having an occasion or time when you have a big fall.

So if you have that positive self-confidence instead as opposed to the negative self-confidence you can begin to accumulate, to progress, etc. Is it critical to be a champion? We don’t suppose you can put percentages on it?
Ayrton: I believe if you are confident and you use it in a positive way, as confident as you can be you can never yet be sure that its going to happen. So as confident as you can be you always must consider the competition being technically as realistically as possible and sometimes even try to be a little pessimistic – not pessimistic, it’s not the right word but to value somebody else’s potential performance higher than actually could be so you give some margin which can then motivate and create the right attitude for yourself toward being harder on yourself and with your own people to lift your own performance as a precaution for a missed evaluation of something or somebody else or to have a better margin of …. which will give you the ability to operate in a more natural manner instead of operating in a critical area. Because you can operate up, up, up and then you come to a critical area which you can still do but in that critical area you are vulnerable and fragile to some of your own weaknesses, your own difficulties.

10/10ths – That line.
Ayrton: If you can just be below that line and still have a good performance but not allow that line to come near to you…to avoid getting problems or overstepping.

How critical do you think the physical preparation is for the driver and where do you think the greatest impact of physical preparation is felt when you are driving the car…assuming you think it is important?
Ayrton: Well, you can have all the things we’ve been talking about, your mind, you can have the desire, the will to achieve and to do it but if your body doesn’t function, doesn’t follow it, you’ll be only part of it. You’ll not be a total.

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Can’t argue with that.
Ayrton: So, if you can experience your limitations in body and mind as precisely as possible and have the right approach to it and the right people to give you assistance, to evaluate and to go deep into it and then identify the areas where you have to improve and work and you can improve your body in different things. Different people require different things. If you lift up these weak points and get strength in it – automatically your mind is going to go up. If you know that you are not so strong here, there and there. That is in your mind always there and you know beforehand some events where it will hurt you, that it’s going to be critical, that it’s not going to be so good. As much as you can try, you’re going to go through those difficulties and you know your mind. If you then work on those points and identify, even outside the racing car, you identify where you were when you start working on it and then how you progress and how you improve week after week, month after month, year after year. You keep all this data. Catalog and compare time after time in different situations then you can actually not only feel or see differences in your body or whatever, you can also look at numbers at you’re your performance being very high or very low. Time after time you can see how much you improved and can relate back to when you were driving (a given performance that you were then when you were driving) what were the problems you faced as you raise the level when you drive. How was it related to you? You start to relate one thing to the other. Continuously. And as you improve it, your mind gets stronger too because you know you are better at that time than the other occasions and so on – you are stronger – you are in a position to cope with those difficulties much better. You can clear those difficulties even if you do get a bit hurt or feeling something but you can go through in a good level in a cautious, a very controllable manner or not. This works in your mind positively before you do anything. Before you do anything you know before you start the race or start to drive the car, you know OK, this is where I am, my target is there and I know that from where I am to achieve the target my difficulties are going to be those and I know you can get through those – how hard its going to be – but I know I can do it. It all works together. You work on your mind to motivate yourself to go and do lots of things which are tiring, boring, stressful… whatever. You have to sacrifice sometimes leisure times to go do some things that are necessary; but even though they are necessary the may not be what be what you would really like to be doing for leisure, right?
But to you, it’s a question of commitment and a question of choice… you choose what you want. If you choose the right thing you’re going to get benefits later. I you choose the wrong thing now, you know already when you’re choosing it that in a month, 3 months later, 6 months later, you’re going to pay for that. It’s all in there. It’s all with you. It’s only a question then of you having the right approach to it. Being responsible for yourself, responsible to the people you’re working with, responsible for the position you have achieved and determined… having a clear target in mind where you want to go and how you want to achieve it. That way you can go through all the thinking and all the program points – good points and bad points, difficult ones, boring ones – but the target is there.

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You could have written the theory books. That’s the theory we call the A.C.T. model. It’s based on cybernetics which is Greek for “steersman” – you steer toward the target all the time.
Ayrton: So you know doing it that way, you find the energy, the willpower, the patience and the determination – more than anything – the determination to work for it and to work hard for it. As you work and as you do it, you can see it moving then you got to grab it and put it back into your system, to reenergize, and to instigate yourself to do it again. It goes and comes back to you. You have to give first, not having much, so you have to have the initiative and even go through some of the moments that you can’t do it. You try and you stop, in the process. Just for example, you start jogging and you aim for, say 4 kilometers, 8 or 20, and if you are not prepared, you’re either going to slow down through the running or you’re going to even stop. Depending on how you approach it. If you approach it fast – too fast, whatever – so this is very bad when it happens because it’s a feeling of defeat.
But, even so, even if it happens, as long as you have the target there then you go back to it and you step down and restart from a lower level. Then you have to be patient to make up the pace again. Then you reinforce those bases and you pick it there and try again and eventually then you can do it. I’m describing exactly what I do. Then you go through it and you do it maybe like here but you just do it. The feeling that you get from not being able to do it and then working on it really feeling not so good because it’s difficult. Then it is the strength you either have or you don’t. So it’s the ability, I think in the end, to use the natural things you have of course in you, in your character, your personality and the things. Then you decide to do and as you’re doing it – as you’re performing – be able to pick up the important points on the way. To put it back into the beginning of the whole process. To push you and use it. It’s a boulder going up and up.

This…what you’re doing, is called a negative feedback loop.
Ayrton: Yes. Then you just keep going and you keep going, keep going. Your target is there and then you find the right way of stimulating it from time to time.

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Stimulating the target or yourself?
Ayrton: Stimulating you to get to the target. That can go from all those things I told you to a mixture of love – for what you’re doing and for yourself as well as some… I don’t know the word in English, but it is when somebody tries to push you down, somebody tries to, in a way damage you or destroy you, so you get a bad feeling for that person. Something that doesn’t make you feel good. But there are moments that even that kind of feeling which was around – I grab it – and I put it in the system. I put it in the system as a stimulant, together with the feeling of love.

It’s a motivation for you…
Ayrton: Yes, so you use everything.

Would it be like revenge? Somebody does something bad or negative to you and you use that to, not necessarily get back at the person but to accomplish your targets, your goals, to go beyond…
Ayrton: Well, I use that as stimulation. To make myself better, stronger to then beat them.

Does it then make you more intense about what you want?
Ayrton: Yes…More goal oriented.

Let’s switch now to stress management? Do you recognize stress or tension in yourself before a race or during a race? How do you know you’re under tension, and if you do, how do you handle it?
Ayrton: I think the more you do your activity, the more you learn. The more you use your experience of analyzing things and relating things and you learn and you get to use it for improving. As much as improving your strength, as much as to understand your weaknesses more and more to deal with that the best way possible. This is happening with me all the time. I’m learning all the time about my own qualities and my own defects. I’m trying to learn how to cope particularly with the critical things – my limitations.

Do you think you’re overly hard on yourself?
Ayrton: I am pretty hard on myself. This is my nature.

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Yes. Let’s just shift a little bit. Should young drivers be particularly hard on themselves?
Ayrton: I don’t know if they should or they shouldn’t, in all honesty. I believe that may differ from person to person.

OK. Can you turn off negative thoughts when you want to? Turn off negative emotions, tensions, anxieties and stress and problems in order to drive… and if so, how?
Ayrton: The better you know yourself, the better equipped you will be to cope with it. I think the key to everything is the ability you have and create for yourself to know your own self better and better.

Yes. We remember you telling us this last year. We were sitting down in your hotel room and you were saying that with the experience you have had in many, many races, you know what the best emotional set or tension level, or aggression level is for you and you go to that level because you know it is best for you. Like you’re saying, know yourself. That’s the first stage…we always talk about awareness of what’s happening and then practice to accommodate the best position for yourself. That’s the way we express it.
Ayrton: Yes, that’s precisely it…to know yourself exactly. If you know your limitations, you identify them clearly, you may still find yourself dealing with them, not when you really want to find in the situation. Then you have to tell yourself to change that moment, at that given moment, to change your approach to it and to position yourself differently. Look at it differently and do it differently in order to bring down, let’s say, the stress you are going through, then energy expenditure you are giving at that moment which is over without efficiency. Do you understand?

Yes…
Ayrton: So you bring it back. As you’re moving, moving sometimes you find yourself just overdoing it. You’re giving too much for what you’re getting. So you then have to see yourself and change yourself in that situation and if you know where the line is where you operate best, you put yourself back on that line to operate on the best efficiency.

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Fine. How do you do that? Once you know yourself and you know where the best line is for your operation, it’s the most effective but how do you go there? It’s one thing to know and it’s another thing to be able to go there. Did you have to practice that?
Ayrton: I think just by doing it, by doing it, eventually time after time, sometimes you get it by chance but then you get another time again and it’s common to you are able to relate. With me it’s the ability I can have to relate different situations, different days, different years, different things. How they happened…what was the result of it? How it happened. All the way, not just the final judgment. From the beginning to the middle and all the way and to identify it. Then you go through it once, twice, and three times – if you try to relate things you will find the common things in there. Which are the key ones and then use those key things to bring it to the best let’s say. Be what ever it is but be the best. That’s what you have, to have the best of what you have of what you are. That’s what it takes.

You are very analytical…
Ayrton: Yes.

Not everybody is that analytical?
Ayrton: Yes.

But we understand what you’re doing…
Ayrton: I learned it really works for me. By doing it, I learned that it works positively for me. It only makes me stronger.

How do you remember it though? You said week to week, month to month, year to year. This situation to that situation. Do you rely on your memory to tell you how you felt and what led up to that moment?
Ayrton: Yes, because they are all feelings. In the end they are all feelings that I need. They are my personality. They are around my body… it’s there, but they are flowing through my body. It is the result of the ability that I have to see, identify, get the message through, the effect that the message has in my mind and my body how do I react to it and how do I process all of that and how do I react to it.

And how you recall it…
Ayrton: Yes.

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You must have a phenomenal memory.
Ayrton: No. I think I have a good memory, but only when it is particularly in the system. Then I have a very good capability of recalling. Only when I’m functioning, somehow, in this area. When I’m not functioning in this area, if I’m functioning in a different atmosphere, a different environment, then it doesn’t work. My recall ability is not that good.

It’s the importance of the function, of what you’re doing and driving is extremely important. So everything that happens registers.
Ayrton: Exactly!

If you play billiards or soccer, it’s not as important. Have you ever experienced, prior to a race in preparation or during a race, what they refer to as brain fade, lapses of concentration…you’re just not there for a while? If you do, how do you get back?
Ayrton: Yes, I have experienced that. Not once, several times. But I experience and I also got the consequences of it. I experienced it, I saw it, and I didn’t pay enough attention. So I saw it happening, I felt it, I thought to myself – be careful. And yet I allowed to go back to that position, that situation again minutes later on – or laps later. Then, as I was vulnerable, I got the consequences of it which was heavy then and that marked me. It made a mark…you know, a scar.

It shook the system.
Ayrton: Exactly! When it happened then, I went away from it completely and then a different day, a different atmosphere, I went back to it. I tried to understand how and why. I managed to identify it very clearly, recall it, how I saw it coming, I identified it. I thought to myself, be careful and immediately after I went back to the same situation again and then it happened again and the consequences were there. So I was able to recall everything, identify everything, and then I kind of stepped down again and went back and restarted again in a different way. I was doing everything the same but with one major light behind my head saying “you be careful – remember – just pay attention, just concentrate, don’t allow it to go down”. All the time.

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Do you talk to yourself?
Ayrton: Yes. And that is what I was doing during the race consistently.

Mind-talk. You did not go da-da-da-tada…
Ayrton: No. At some stages even talking. Continuously doing and just pushing it, and pushing it, and pushing and pushing. I went through it. Then I went to another race… the same thing again. The same thing again to a lower degree of course. Because it was already more in there.

Imprinted…
Ayrton: And I kept doing it and doing it but to a moment that then I allowed it to go by itself again. At one stage in the race, I felt the need to go back to it, a small reminder. Saying “OK, be careful, pay attention and concentrate and hold it alert – be alert”. By doing it that way, it’s like this all the time. Every time I do it, there is a stage in the race – it’s in me – because it’s maybe one of my weaknesses. I know already when it comes there, there is an alert that goes on in me, automatically and then I trigger the response to grab it back.

To go get the recall…
Ayrton: Exactly.

Yes, but you see it’s because you do not forget – you remember those things that are important for you to remember and you act upon it. Those people who are not successful do not remember and/or do not act upon it. That is the difference. What you’re talking about is what we call self-talk or mind-talk. That’s good, and we encourage that kind of thing. The theory says we are guided by our most dominant thought. If your most dominant thought is “this is the point in the race that I have to watch – this is the point I have to stay with it”, if this is your dominant thought, your behavior will act according to your dominant thought. That’s it… very nice. Alright. Can you ever achieve 100% concentration during a total race? Is that a possibility or impossibility?
Ayrton: I don’t see it as impossible. But I never reached 100% so far. As much as I try, and I try to raise my own level. It’s part of what I am… if I am already higher than anybody or if I am equal, I am always aiming for more from myself.

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A Professional goal…Bingo!
Ayrton: I don’t think I have been there at all. I think I have had situations where I was pretty high, but even so, afterwards thinking about every single moment that I could, I was able till to identify some places or parts where I could have done better if I was better prepared… more alert. Qualifying is a different situation. A little shorter perhaps so you can stay with it.

Qualifying is a sprint…
Ayrton: Exactly. Qualifying is different all around. It is a sprint. You work completely different. You work out of the car for an hour and a half, get into the car, and the pressure – having to perform – wanting to perform to the limit, to the maximum. To do that, then you must throw yourself into it.

Do you prepare differently for qualifying compared to a race? Do you look for a different level? Remember you said you try and find a line or the level that’s right for you. Is there a different level for qualifying than for racing?
Ayrton: No. My level is always the same for qualifying and for racing. It’s a different level but it’s my maximum under the circumstances. So my preparation is always aiming for my maximum. Whatever the condition is. Whatever the situation is. It requires a different commitment let’s say, to achieve a qualifying performance and a race performance to extract the maximum from you and the machine.

That’s right. Right at the edge of the envelope. That leads us to the fear factor in racing. We know the answers to some of these but… is there a fear factor in racing and how might one handle or cope with the fears, the risks, the dangers, etc.?
Ayrton: There is certainly the fear factor. It depends how you face it. It can be good, it can be bad. For me it is particularly important and I face it in a manner where you establish some limits and in the end use a self-preservation feeling. Without triggering a feeling of going too cautious…backing off. It’s very fine that line to go one way or the other. It’s often in the back of my mind – that feeling. I cope with it and use it most of the time for self preservation. As much as I at times, let it go a little further just to slow myself down a little bit.

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That self preservation feeling – that fear factor – just to slow you down.
Ayrton: I allow it to go even a little bit further to really give a margin. I don’t allow it to go too far in order to slow myself down too much, that’s for sure.

How do you stop it then? How do you disallow it? Do you talk to yourself again or…?
Ayrton: Yes, of course and also again, person to person is different depending on your education, depending on your lifestyle, depending on the experiences you have had in life. It depends on what you believe you should be doing, who you believe you are. It depends if you have faith. It depends how that faith is part of your life. How do you approach it. With your spiritual side relating to your religion.

These are the things that help you cope though…is this what you’re saying?
Ayrton: Yes. These are part of me the whole time in everything I’ve described to you.

It’s part of your nature…
Ayrton: It’s part of me and it’s something that also I developed a lot over the past three years particularly. I learned a lot and look for it a lot and I went into it a lot. It has helped me immensely to cope with everything – the good things and the bad things – and to do better what I do.

That’s interesting. You know we’ve heard that many times if we can just interject. We’ve heard it many times from people who deal with high performance athletes. That the spiritual side is important. Whether you call it love of God, of self and others, how ever you define it – it’s extremely important. I personally can’t live with it that much but everybody else…
Ayrton: I think it’s natural that you think rationally about things if you have a good mind, you know, and if you have some good people you can share from time to time about experiences and things to recall and analyze all the things I’ve been describing to you. It is as difficult as can be in the natural course of behavior. Then the other aspect we were talking about that you were saying is difficult to see and to visualize and to relate to – I understand perfectly because unless you experience it yourself… who tells you or tries to share with you whatever, you have to experience it yourself because you are the only one who feels it. You are the only one that knows in your heart what that means. What that does to you.

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It’s not a logical response… it’s an emotional response.
Ayrton: Exactly! So it’s something that once it happens, you just don’t let it go without paying attention. When it happens, you have to ask for it yourself first.

To be receptive?
Ayrton: Yes, otherwise it doesn’t work. So once you are open and you are prepared enough for that, and you do it and you get an answer. Because you may not get an answer to it. And you get an answer…

You’re comfortable…
Ayrton: Exactly! It’s a feeling that brings you peace. Brings you a feeling that you are total. From that point on, automatically you create in you a greater ability to go back to it, deeper… further and further. And as you do it, it works again more and more and you may experience unbelievable things which, again, you can hear people saying, you can hear people talking about and not making sense to your eyes, but what you see is not what is happening. From where you are, you are outside of it. What you’re listening to me talking or what you see in my behavior is not what is happening exactly in me. Therefore it is difficult for you to perceive and accept this… I understand.

Not for me… I understand people who…
Ayrton: No, no…many people. I think most of the people are looking exactly for that in life. For different reasons the people are not getting there but hose who are looking for it and have already gotten some feelings for it, some fulfilling moments can’t live without it anymore.

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That’s good. Then you are to be envied for that sense of peace, that sense of fulfillment, of completeness or wholeness, however you want to describe it. We know it would be very secure.
Ayrton: And that can make you so strong. Stronger than anything you can talk about and describe and analyze…

I hear you and I understand that and I believe you totally. I just can’t go there yet…
Ayrton: I understand.

But I used to be there Ayrton. I think I did when I was younger, much younger. When I was very strong in the church.
Ayrton: I think it all comes down to the need for it. It is really the need for it that triggers the system for you to open up more and to be more receptive. It’s the need. Once you then get that situation, you will need it when you are not in such a good mood, when you are in a fantastic mood, when you are experiencing the good and the bad and also fantastic things. Then it becomes part of you, you know. But in order for you to get to that point, you have to need and be receptive – but first you have to need. Once you need, then you may open, you may receive… be able to receive.

That’s very interesting and we know exactly where you’re coming from. OK, let’s shift a little bit here. Timing, anticipation, hitting the turn in point, the apex, the right line at the right time, etc. We were going to ask you how important timing is in racing. We don’t know of any sport or activity where timing is not critical, especially when you’re driving at speed. Have you found anything that influences, from within you that is, from within your mind and body, that influences your timing or changes it? Obviously if you’re in traffic or wet conditions or your car is acting a little funny it might influence your timing. But inside you, because that’s what we’re dealing with – the human factor – is there anything in you that influences your timing better or worse? Your precision?
Ayrton: Yes, sure. When I’m able to work in that band that I consider to be the right one. Then everything flows. If I’m higher than that or below that then things are not right.

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You used the words “everything flows”. We talk about flow-state, harmony…
Ayrton: When I say everything flows, it’s all the strong points of view, all the real qualities that you have that take over above anything else. Take over above anything else and therefore, the weaknesses that you have diminish immediately. You give space for the good things in you to take over the vulnerable ones, the weak ones. Everything either goes this way or that way. There are times that it’s a critical moment where you are able to shift to the critical direction or not.

Do you find yourself in complete harmony with the car?
Ayrton. Yes.

Everything is just perfect?
Ayrton: It just flows. With less effort which again is the key. Once you go back to use less effort and you’re doing better and better – you use less effort again – and you’re doing better and better – less effort and better and better…

It’s a cycle. Does time change for you? Do you feel a sense that time slows down or speeds up in those instances?
Ayrton: I think your capabilities get bigger in that situation. As I said, your qualities increase by a lot so your sensitivities increase, your reactions become more precise, your decisions are faster and more correct. They are all going close to the maximum or toward perfection, basically.

Formula One World Championship

Can you turn that on when you want to…that flow? Sometimes…all the time?
Ayrton: There are moments that I can.

Moments you can. Do you remember anything, from your experiences, that you need to do or that have to be there for you to sometimes turn it on?
Ayrton: The Challenge…

The challenge. You have to clearly see the challenge and that’s one of the conditions that allows you to get into flow. What else besides challenge?
Ayrton: The challenge to a certain goal. You have the target and it’s the challenge to achieve the target and the motivation you can give yourself to do that. That is the key…

Theoretically, we could talk about you becoming so focused on the goal, the target, the challenge, that you lose yourself in the action. When you lose yourself, flow starts…
Ayrton: Yes.

Almost like automatic pilot… When are the conditions that you could get into this flow? You told us the challenge, the target, etc. to get in…
Ayrton: If you’re not at peace with yourself.

If you’re not at peach with yourself. Do you mean spiritual peace or do you mean other kinds of not being at peace with yourself? Like distractions, tensions, arguments, frictions, that kind of thing?
Ayrton: Yes, frictions, arguments… that kind of thing doesn’t help.

OK. How important is the feel of the car? We know it’s important…where do you feel the car? The reason we’re asking this is because it has to do with a concept we call proprioception. Timing and proprioception, the awareness, the sensitivities? Where are you sensitive, first?
Ayrton: Where do you feel the car?

How? Through what part of your body are you most sensitive?
Ayrton: There are two – two places. One is a physical place. You feel the car in the center of your body and it’s here (near the center of gravity) but where you really identify the car is here (in the head). It’s the balance – your balance. It’s whatever you feel – the vibrations, the G-forces… It’s the feeling you have when you’re sitting there, you’re driving, that the car is suddenly loosing direction. It changes attitude…It’s not one thing because if you go like this – it’s one thing, the whole, the car is one thing, it’s not the front or the rear going – when the center is going all together. When you feel that suddenly the front is going there and the rear is here, or the front is here and the back is going there – so, it’s around here.

Formula One World Championship

Is it visual or is it just a feel with the head and the…
Ayrton: It’s a feel in the head linked with the vision. It’s together, not only this. It’s the feeling of the balance, I think, in the head with the vision associated.

OK. We understand. The inner ear plays a very important role in that equilibrium because there is fluid in there and the way the fluid moves…it sloshes around – it moves little nerve endings that give you a sense of what’s happening with the attitude of the car. It is linked to vision. OK. At a very young age, why did you get involved in racing? What turned you on to racing?
Ayrton: I started doing it for fun and I liked it and I carry on doing it for fun.

You certainly don’t need the money, so it’s got to be something else…
Ayrton: Well, I carry on doing it for all the years until I was 21 because I like it. I like the competition. I like the challenge. I like the feeling of speed, the thrill and I kept doing it, kept doing it until I decided to try professionally of course.

OK, tell us this. If you don’t win, like today, do you still like it? Did you like it today? You had the challenge, you had the…
Ayrton: I would have liked it a lot more if I had finished the race and finished first of course. My target is the championship.

That’s a long range goal.
Ayrton: Exactly. You have the short one, the immediate one, and the optimum one. My short target today was to win or come top three because of the championship. The top three was because of the championship, to win was for the championship but also for my own pleasure – personal…

Formula One World Championship

Competitive instincts?
Ayrton: Exactly! But my target, finally, is the championship.

These are the kinds of things, the challenges, the competition, the fun, the speed…these are the things that keep you in racing?
Ayrton: Not only because through racing I get to know myself better and better. Getting to know myself better and better is something that is important for my profession, my career but, really, in fact – hopefully – getting better and better as a man. It’s something that is kind of demonstrating for myself how strong I am in certain things and how weak I am in other things. It has become an exercise for me and a way of living and aiming for the following day and for a better day for myself.

It sounds like a constant refining of Ayrton Senna.
Ayrton: Exactly! Yes!

Do you ever have, if that’s the situation, do you ever have any problem maintaining a high level of enthusiasm or motivation?
Ayrton: There are moments, yes there are, because once – just racing, racing, it becomes eventually repetitive. Some situations become repetitive and then the feelings you get from it are not the same anymore. So for that reason there are moments that you have to look for something else together with what you are doing. You have to look for another reason why you want to do that and how you want to continue doing that. Why? The motivation will continue…

Do you always find it?
Ayrton: What is the best way, for me, to get to know myself better – to extend my own limitations by doing it and I am identifying continuously my limits and then working on those limits to see whether I have improved or not.

1983 F1 Testing

This is motivating for you?
Ayrton: Yes.

This keeps you enthusiastic?
Ayrton: Exactly!

This refining process…It’s a very mature and responsible attitude.
Ayrton: That basically keeps me going. I think, once you win, if a driver wants to win his first race, first pole position, first championship – once you do that – you lose some of your…

You’ve achieved your goal. You have to reset your goals.
Ayrton: Yes, so how do you do it?

Well, you do it again, then you go for records, for…
Ayrton: No, no, no. It doesn’t work that way for me. OK. That’s all you can do, as you’re doing it you can do it again and again and again. You can establish your records and so on. Establishing records, for me, are more a consequence of doing it time after time – the right things…

What do you think Ayrton, when you’re finished driving, we assume you will look for the same kinds of challenges?
Ayrton: I will not find them.

You don’t think you’ll find anything else that compares?
Ayrton: No. I don’t think I’ll find anything that can match what I’m doing now. Simply because what I’m doing now is my life time and anything I do after this is going to be, if it is not related to motor racing or beating someone, is not going to be there.

Is it less intense?
Ayrton: Yes, of course. I think automatically too, I will need to compensate for the stress I have exposed myself to these years, all these years, afterwards. I know the stress I’m exposed to now, continuously, and this design… this personal design to do better and better and better is – to keep pushing yourself to go higher – it can eventually break you down. You know…damage you.

It’s taking a lot out of you now?
Ayrton: Yes, so automatically, I see as a natural course that eventually I’ll have to compensate a little bit for it in order to bring back later, after some time there, some balance to my life.

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