Red Mist: What if Ayrton had walked away from it?

The image above is nothing new — I have seen it before and it always made me think. What if?

Being a pragmatist I will always tell you ‘if grandma had balls, I would not be here’. There should be no if, but today on what should have been Ayrton’s sixtieth birthday, bugger it, let’s consider what would have happened…

Imola was red-flagged, Ayrton spent an hour in the medical centre and went straight home. He’d put it on pole and drive away from Michael Schumacher at the next race at Monaco, in Spain, end second to Schumacher in Canada and take French and British GPs too, but retired on the first race in the FW16’s B specification in Germany.

But from there, Senna mastered the grooved tyres to score five wins in a row to take the title on the fourth of those races at Monza, end second to Schumacher in Japan and gift Damon Hill the win in Australia.

The reigning four-time world champion went on to win the ’95 season opener in Brazil and the next two races in Argentina and San Marino, where he referred to his big crash the year before. Schumacher won three of the next four races to set up an intense title fight as the German persevered to take the title in spite of Senna winning the final in Brazil.

A highlight of that season was Senna and Schumacher’s clash at the Lesmos at Monza when the German tried to take Senna with two laps to go, Ayrton closed the door and the drivers came to blows after, earning both a ban for the following Portuguese Grand Prix.

Nigel Mansell was drafted in to replace Senna at Williams and won. At the end of ’95 Ayrton married Adriane Galisteu in a humble ceremony in Sao Paolo, pledging the money he had saved on a lavish affair to his and sister Viviene’s new Senna Foundation.

With Schumacher at Ferrari, Senna raced to an untroubled fifth title in ’96, his biggest challenge being teammate Damon Hill and Schumacher in an improving Ferrari and later in the season, Jacques Villeneuve in the Benetton.

A highlight of Aytron’s year was the birth of son Milton in September. 1997 proved a more difficult year with Villeneuve drafted into the second Williams as the two fought hard with Schumacher before the German’s diabolical move on Senna went wrong in the Jerez season finale to hand Senna title number six.

But with Renault out at Williams, world champion Senna made the bold move to join Ferrari alongside his arch-rival Schumacher for 1998 in a move most compared to his controversial shift to McLaren to partner Prost ten years prior. Then 37 years old, some doubted Senna would be able to make it work at a Ferrari built around the young German.

The Ferraris, however, had another challenge in Mika Hakkinen and McLaren, but Schumacher and Senna ended up working surprisingly well together and while Senna missed out to the Finn by a point in the end, he proved he was still very much on the F1 pace.

Schumacher, Senna and Hakkinen picked up where they left off in 1999, but Schumacher’s Silverstone shunt opened the way for Senna to fight Hakkinen off to a record seventh world title, although he had to overcome Schumacher’s stand-in, Brazilian compatriot Rubens Barrichello to pull it off.

With Schumacher back on form, most believed 2000 would be the German’s year, but wily Senna delivered his eighth title through pure consistency as he won three races in San Marino, France and a hugely popular victory at Monza, while Schumacher and Hakkinen took five and four wins respectively. Senna paid tribute to Alain Prost in his philosophy in taking his eighth and final title that many rated his finest.

Mellow and greying, Ayrton was however far more impressed by the latest addition to his family, daughter Viviene, whom he managed to get home from Monza to witness the birth of.

With Schumacher in Imperious form, Senna won again in an incredibly emotional third round at home in Brazil in 2001 and announced that he would retire at the end of the season, but he’d win once more at Magny Cours — his 101st victory out of what would be 290 starts, off which he also scored 123 pole positions and just 27 fastest laps.

Senna stayed at Ferrari as a consultant for six years while also running his foundation in Brazil as he contributed to managing Schumacher to four more world titles, but his record eight titles, 101 wins and 123 poles remain unbeaten before.

Ayrton moved into politics, where he was mayor of Sao Paolo in 2008 and 9, before seeing son Milton won a world karting title before racing in Europe where he found success in Formula 3 and GP2 before moving into F1 with Williams in 2017 and on to McLaren in 2019.

*Tragically, of course, Ayrton died in that Imola crash on that fateful 1 May 1994. In reality, he won world championships in 1988, ’90 and ’91, took 41 GP victories, an incredible 65 pole positions and set 19 fastest laps in 161 F1 starts. Today would have been Ayrton’s 60th birthday — as the article above suggests, what could have been…? We miss him dearly.