I would never downplay Ayrton Senna’s achievements or his place in history. But in my view, there is another driver who I feel deserves to be talked about on the same level as him and whose memory should be thought of more significantly in terms of what F1 is about.
Like Senna, Clark was undeniably the greatest driver of his era. Like Senna, Clark made the gap between himself and other drivers in terms of raw ability abundantly clear. There is a real argument to be had as to which of the two was the most talented racing driver of all time.
What is more striking about Clark, though, is his accomplishments outside of F1. He jumped into almost every type of race car and would win almost immediately. This, despite the fact that he did not have the kind of developmental experience his youth as Senna had (and that his family paid for). Clark jumped into race cars as a 20 year old and got his first F1 World Championship in seven years as a racer. This was at a time before money had completely taken over racing all over the world and the guys who went racing were true enthusiasts, and it was possible for someone with a natural gift to take it up late in life and make it to the very top in a matter of years.
Jim Clark was the epitome of a pure racer. F1, in the end, is about racing, and the state of F1 has always been strongly linked to state of racing generally in the world. Every racing series in the world is where F1 is at the moment. The days when racing was at its peak in popularity were the days when Jim Clark was winning F1 World Championships, dominating the Indy 500, touring car and sports car races, and seizing the public imagination. Yet, at the same time, he was a mild-mannered gentleman who had the deepest respect for his competitors.
Racers were the daredevils who fired up the subversive feelings in us in times of cultural convservatism in Western societies, exploding on the scene at the same time as rock and roll. Racing needs to get back to striking some nerve in the public consciousness to get people interested as it did during the 1960s, and it needs a figure to capture the affection of the public. Racing needs another Jim Clark.
- Gaz Boysays:
“Racers were the daredevils who fired up the subversive feelings in us in times of cultural convservatism in Western societies, exploding on the scene at the same time as rock and roll”
I don’t want to sound like a smart arse, although I probably will, but Senna was a product of the 80s. Western society in the early 80s – particularly in Britain, the USA and (then) West Germany – turned its back on rock n roll, socialism, beards, long hair and normally aspirated engines in favour of Thatcherism, turbo engines, electronic music, materialism, rampant consumerism and a general “Me, me, me” culture. I want a nice car (preferably turbocharged!), I want a big house (Senna used to live in Esher, Surrey, one of the most affluent and expensive areas in Britain and Western Europe) and I want LOADS OF MONEY! (And Senna did indeed make LOADS OF MONEY!).
Although Senna was a Brazilian, he was in many ways a Thatcherite in an ideological sense in that he believed in the primacy of the individual and believed an individual could – and would make a difference. He also believed in materialism, wanted to earn the highest salary he could – for himself – and believed in absolute self determination.
Senna was in the forefront of the Thatcher/Reagan revolution, as was grand prix racing and the music industry in many ways. The days of a single collective identity have gone, not just from motor racing, but Western society too. Both motor sport and the West have embraced individualism, materialism and success at all costs, Senna didn’t want to be a loser, he wanted to be a winner, and he would try to win no matter what cost (ask Alain Prost).
I don’t wish to sound like a socio-economic historian, but the reason Senna chimes with today is that he was actually a pioneer of the primacy of the individual and dog eat dog capitalism that is the reality of today, including grand prix racing. Senna realised that if you wanted success, you had to be selfish and ruthless to get it…………nobody today will give you anything easy.