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Senna's 'secret'? A theory as to why he was so quick


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#1 BrawnsBrain

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 02:28

I read with great interest the Senna interview posted on this forums the other day, and it had me thinking for a long time about his strong religious beliefs. There has also been a lot of discussion lately about whether there is such a thing as a super driver, or if the current crop of F1 stars are just 'normal guys' like me and you, or indeed if there is even such a thing as talent. I look to Senna to put that particular argument to rest.

I believe a combination of Senna's unusual mind and his spirituality had the effect of overriding the usual reflexes in response to a 'what if' moment, for want of a better word. For example, with the car on the limits, often the mind finds an internal limit it believes or estimates to exist in reality when in fact, in all physical practicality the car has a larger margin before hitting it's actual limit. The driver can't feel this limit, can't trust it and can't sense it - but it is there.

Senna overcame this barrier, because his concentration and focus was such that his consciousness simply switched off and allowed his automatic subconsciousness to take over completely. This is what he describes as happening before his Monaco crash in 88 and the 'pin prick' of awaking from his subconscious state.

An example, albeit a corny one, is that of a karate chop on a piece of wood. As the old adage goes, if you believe your hand will pass through the wood, you will break the plank in half easily. On the surface this appears to be new-age baloney. But in practicality it makes sense - if you overcome the fear of hurting your hand then this has the effect of maintaining the pressure as your hand hits the plank. The natural reflex to recoil as your hand hits the wood, or as you feel pain, is overcome.

Senna's belief in a Christian God and Jesus may seem crazy to agnostic or atheists like us, but I think it had the effect on Senna of overcoming the natural primeval human fears and reflex actions associated with danger, and driving a car close to it's limits.

This reminds me also of another Brazilian, one Filipe Massa at Monaco, taking it far too easy in damp conditions. Race engineer Rob Smedley analysed the telemetry and told him he was being 'a wimp' and to push harder. Massa couldn't believe he had any more margin remaining, but the telemetry, the physics said otherwise. He simply had to close his eyes, have faith in what the car was capable of and let his subconscious take over, rather than to listen to his rational conscious mind, and even his racer's instinct for the feel and balance of his Ferrari.

Or maybe Senna's secret was a more earthly one. I remember him suggesting his prayers and visions of Jesus left him relaxed, smiling and laughing at the start of a race, completely free of nerves. He also suggests that sex the night before a race gave him a 'who cares?' gung-ho attitude to racing the next day. :smoking:

Which is understandable, considering he was dating with Xuxa at the time. :love:

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#2 Alfisti

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 02:35

He just knew where the grip limit was, end of story.

#3 Kooper

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 03:23

Originally posted by BrawnsBrain
.....

Senna's belief in a Christian God and Jesus may seem crazy to agnostic or atheists like us


Can't speak for no one on this board but myself, but I am a Christian. Think of me as you want...

...but I think it had the effect on Senna of overcoming the natural primeval human fears and reflex actions associated with danger, and driving a car close to it's limits


I don't think Senna's religious beliefs had anything to do with his speed. I think he had incredible God given talent and a great belief in his own abilities + he drove some great cars.

#4 primer

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 04:11

Originally posted by BrawnsBrain

I believe a combination of Senna's unusual mind and his spirituality had the effect of overriding the usual reflexes in response to a 'what if' moment


:rolleyes:

He was able to feel the available grip slightly better than his peers and thus able to extract maximum performance, most of the time.

#5 27GV

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 04:20

Originally posted by BrawnsBrain
He also suggests that sex the night before a race gave him a 'who cares?' gung-ho attitude to racing the next day. :smoking:

Which is understandable, considering he was dating with Xuxa at the time. :love:


Much of the paddock probably did in the 70s and 80s, I mean that's generally what happens when a bunch of guys driving fast cars rolls into town :smoking: and the others had attractive girlfriends and wives.

#6 Craven Morehead

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 05:24

I tink he was just better than most of the others. End of.

#7 fastlegs

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 05:39

Originally posted by BrawnsBrain
I believe a combination of Senna's unusual mind and his spirituality had the effect of overriding the usual reflexes in response to a 'what if' moment, for want of a better word. For example, with the car on the limits, often the mind finds an internal limit it believes or estimates to exist in reality when in fact, in all physical practicality the car has a larger margin before hitting it's actual limit. The driver can't feel this limit, can't trust it and can't sense it - but it is there.


One will never know if in deed that was the case.

One thing that is certain was the amazing talent he had.

#8 denthierry

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 05:53

funny how i open the forum this morning, with the list of threads appearing and i see the Senna name appearing 3 times in the top of the list. It's been 15 years since he's gone...
I see none about Schumacher, or about his "mistery" whatsoever though...

Senna such a legend. :cry:

#9 Galko877

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 06:07

Do we really need a seperate thread for this?

#10 Galko877

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 06:13

Originally posted by denthierry
funny how i open the forum this morning, with the list of threads appearing and i see the Senna name appearing 3 times in the top of the list. It's been 15 years since he's gone...
I see none about Schumacher, or about his "mistery" whatsoever though...

Senna such a legend. :cry:


There are at least two threads on the opening page of this forum with Schumacher's name (MS returns to racing..., Vettel the next Schumacher) - and interestingly you also felt the need to bring him up here ;) -, but I get your point and I agree that there's no mistery about Schumacher, he is too down-to-earth to have some kind of mistery around him.

I personally find Senna's psyché incredibly interesting, but the interview I translated didn't really make me like him, to be honest. Interesting? Yes. Likable? Well, matter of taste.

#11 jgm

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 07:47

It's interesting that for all his legendary speed Senna set fastest laps in Grands Prix on only 19 occasions - the same number as Damon Hill. Senna started 162 Grands Prix, Hill 122.

#12 rolf123

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 08:13

Overall, I think Senna the driver combined with Senna the human makes for the most incredible racer in F1, at least in the last 20-30 years.

But on pure driving alone, I would put Schumacher narrowly ahead (I'm a fan of both). In terms of man and machine working together and taking it to the limit, Schumi just edges it - remember those races in later years where he really had to go on the limit for 10, 15 laps in a row - it was mesmerising to watch.

Don't forget that Senna's Monaco qualifying experience was an exception. He normally drove without the assistance of "God".

#13 Christian Szymczak

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 08:17

I don't know if I would put a such a spiritual spin on it, but I see what you are driving at. What I do think is that he was able to achieve very high levels of concentration and to "be the car" as Happy Gilmore would put it.

#14 Lifew12

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 08:23

Originally posted by Galko877


I get your point and I agree that there's no mistery about Schumacher, he is too down-to-earth to have some kind of mistery around him.



It's nothing to do with him being 'down to earth' rather that he's still on the Earth.

#15 potmotr

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 08:33

Originally posted by jgm
It's interesting that for all his legendary speed Senna set fastest laps in Grands Prix on only 19 occasions - the same number as Damon Hill. Senna started 162 Grands Prix, Hill 122.


That is quite interesting.

I think the key to Senna's skill was the fact he worked at it so damned hard.

You watch that documentary about McLaren from 1993 and Senna is totally intense and driven 100 percent of the time.

I don't believe all this talk of a gift.

I think Senna started working hard from a very young age and wanted it so much more badly than many others so honed his skills to the point where he was quite awesome.

#16 MegaManson

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 08:49

The only credible theory is that he was a better driver than those around him

I doubt religion or faith had anything to do with it he is simply talent wise one of those phenomenons that come along only 2 or 3 times in a lifetime

#17 MegaManson

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 08:51

Originally posted by potmotr


That is quite interesting.

I think the key to Senna's skill was the fact he worked at it so damned hard.

You watch that documentary about McLaren from 1993 and Senna is totally intense and driven 100 percent of the time.

I don't believe all this talk of a gift.

I think Senna started working hard from a very young age and wanted it so much more badly than many others so honed his skills to the point where he was quite awesome.


Hard work can only take you so far, people who are the best at what they do have a GOD GIVEN talent

When I was a kid even if I spent 20 hrs a day singing into a mirror I would never have been as good as Freddie Mercury

Even if I spent 20 hrs a day playing snooker I would not even be 1,00000th of the player Ronnie O Sullivan is

Even if I had spent 20 hrs a day kicking a ball when I was a kid I would not be as talented as Diego Maradona

Hard work helps for sure but you need a god given talent in the first place

#18 potmotr

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:04

Originally posted by MegaManson

Hard work helps for sure but you need a god given talent in the first place


I disagree.

Application is everything.

Personally, I find the suggestion that 'Senna's Secret' was some old beared deity leaning out of the clouds in the Sao Paulo sky to and fire a thunder bolt of talent at a keen youngster banging around a kart track a bit fanciful.

:)

#19 MegaManson

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:09

Originally posted by potmotr


I disagree.

Application is everything.

Personally, I find the suggestion that 'Senna's Secret' was some old beared deity leaning out of the clouds in the Sao Paulo sky to and fire a thunder bolt of talent at a keen youngster banging around a kart track a bit fanciful.

:)


Natural talent then as opposed to god given lol

Some people are just born genius' no amount of hard work and effort would get someone up to that standard, hard work and effort just makes a natural talent all the more awesome

Examples I gave like Maradona, O Sullivan, Mercury they were gifted with a natural talent that no mere mortal would ever be able to replicate with hard work

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#20 potmotr

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:11

Originally posted by MegaManson

Examples I gave like Maradona, O Sullivan, Mercury they were gifted with a natural talent that no mere mortal would ever be able to replicate with hard work


OK, lets meet halfway. That natural gift is nothing if it is not honed and grown with masses of hardwork.

Just look at Jan Magnasson.

#21 MegaManson

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:13

Originally posted by potmotr


OK, lets meet halfway. That natural gift is nothing if it is not honed and grown with masses of hardwork.

Just look at Jan Magnasson.


This bit I fully agree with :up:

#22 SpamJet

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:18

There was an article in the Times ages ago stating that Senna had 3 tenths of second reaction time advantage over most drivers, I think that may be a big part of his secret.

#23 B Squared

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:22

"You watch that documentary about McLaren from 1993 and Senna is totally intense and driven 100 percent of the time." potmotr

Please correct me if I'm mistaken, but wasn't 1993 the year that Senna lobbied for the Williams drive for free? And followed that up by working on a race by race contract (1 million $ per race) with McLaren and spent the down time in Brazil? Intense and driven to look out for Senna is what I remember. No doubt about his talents, never cared for his sometimes questionable tactics.

Brian

#24 Henri Greuter

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:23

Originally posted by denthierry
funny how i open the forum this morning, with the list of threads appearing and i see the Senna name appearing 3 times in the top of the list. It's been 15 years since he's gone...
I see none about Schumacher, or about his "mistery" whatsoever though...

Senna such a legend. :cry:



May 1 is coming up, that's why....
And Schumacher doesn't have such a date and event within his career.



Henri

#25 RoutariEnjinu

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:24

I'm going to regretting getting involved in this thread, but...

3.5Bn years of Evolution for surviving in the natural world, and someone is then born with a specific "snooker talent"?

That just sounds like a none explanation to me. Or a simple and comfortable, hard-question defuser at best. I don't think it's that simple.

"I just think he was better" isn't an answer to the question. That's a statement, and no doubt one the OP agrees with. The topic is musings on why he was better, not if he was better.

"Able to feel more grip" is also vague and overly simplistic. How do you know? Do you think this is something you couldn't learn and get better at? You see it only then leads to the question of why could he "feel more grip" but not others?

Things like singing or running are comparitively "simple" physics, where you're only going to be as good as your physical body.
The point with motor-racing, and in particular Ayrton, is that we don't put his driving down to him having stronger arms, or down to him being the physically fittest, or having the best body.
From memory of a documentary, I think I recall he was criticised for being scrawny at first, then he went on a big fitness drive. He was classed as a cut above before this.

The point is, to turn a wheel, or to push a pedal, or flick a button, isn't the amazing thing or deciding factor, and for the sake of argument, we could consider these basic motor skills as near equal as makes no difference between the best and the worst of drivers.

Unlike say leg proportions, or ease of building muscle for a runner, or vocal chords and throat size/geometry(? no idea :lol: ) in a singer.

For sake of argument let's assume 'God given', and 'luck of the genetic lottery' are two ways of saying the same thing.

There's no doubt Senna was 100% commited and worked very hard. He also admitted he was useless in the wet until he made a point of learning, and taking his kart out every time it rained. If you didn't know this, would you say his wet weather driving was a "gift"?

I think it was because he was good at learning and analysing himself, and he put in the effort. It's apparent from the things he said he was a very introspective man. Very self-aware.

Some people think such analysis is "unweaving the rainbow", and belittling his "talent", where-as I think the opposite. I think saying it was nothing but a "god-given" "gift" is an insult, and is ignorant, although I suppose somewhat comforting to your own ego.

And from my own experience in life, acheiving things I didn't think I could ever do, I think the idea of him having a natural talent for racing, just like you may have a "natural" talent for snooker, but then ALSO putting in the hardwork of bettering that talent is a cop-out.

#26 MegaManson

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:26

In the time I have been watching F1 there has been 4 geniuses

Gilles, Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton and that is out of hundreds of drivers that have raced during that time so there is something that puts those drivers above all the others, hard work is a factor for sure but I stand by my point that a natural gift is something those 4 have over other drivers, hard work just makes them make the most of that gift

#27 Henri Greuter

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:31

Originally posted by Henri Greuter



May 1 is coming up, that's why....
And Schumacher doesn't have such a date and event within his career.



Henri


For those who take that reaction of me as an insult I can add:

Just like, when you go to the Nostalgia Forum, you see Jimmy clark being mentioned more often again around April 7.
And Gilles in the days before and around May 8.

Henri

#28 rolf123

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:39

Originally posted by SpamJet
There was an article in the Times ages ago stating that Senna had 3 tenths of second reaction time advantage over most drivers, I think that may be a big part of his secret.


Typical media BS thinking that being a good racing driver is about reaction times. Besides, 3 tenths advantage would give everyone a reaction time of something like 0.4 minimum which I don't believe either.

Nearly all humans average at 2 tenths.

Racing is less about reaction times and more about timing, anticipation, belief, keeping cool, tactical awareness and "feel for the road" (too loose a term, can probably be more precise than that).

#29 ex Rhodie racer

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:43

When I first read the opening post I was inclined to dismiss the suggestions that Senna´s religious beliefs played a big part in his success. However, on reflection, I believe BB has a very good point. Not that religion per se can make you go faster, but it can condition the mind and allow certain restrains to fade into the background. So it´s not really about religion, but rather mental conditioning, and in Senna´s case this was brought about by his strong religious beliefs.
The mind is the single most powerful thing we have. If you can make it work for you, irrespective of how you achieve this end, you will have an enormous advantage over the rest.

#30 Jakob

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 10:07

Originally posted by potmotr


OK, lets meet halfway. That natural gift is nothing if it is not honed and grown with masses of hardwork.

Just look at Jan Magnasson.


Maradona politely disagrees with you.

#31 pUs

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 10:12

Originally posted by denthierry
funny how i open the forum this morning, with the list of threads appearing and i see the Senna name appearing 3 times in the top of the list. It's been 15 years since he's gone...
I see none about Schumacher, or about his "mistery" whatsoever though...

Senna such a legend. :cry:


One of them is still alive, the other isn't

#32 Phucaigh

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 10:59

Originally posted by MegaManson

Gilles, Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton and that is out of hundreds of drivers that have raced during that time so there is something that puts those drivers above all the others


:eek: all christian of Catholic faith as is Alonso :eek:

#33 Scotracer

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:04

Maybe Senna thought "f**k it even if I die I'm going to heaven" so he pushed that bit harder ;)

It is quite a paradigm shift such that Europeans call religious faith unusual (and of course I'm an atheist).

#34 MichaelPM

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:08

He had OCD, he would press the trottle and turn the wheel repeatidly out of frustration for not getting it perfect. Just a coincidence his actions followed the tracks.

#35 aditya-now

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:35

Originally posted by MegaManson
The only credible theory is that he was a better driver than those around him

I doubt religion or faith had anything to do with it he is simply talent wise one of those phenomenons that come along only 2 or 3 times in a lifetime


Well, Senna himself said that in certain moments he was breaking through to another dimension of consciousness, and once he was driving "above the car and above my yellow helmet, which I saw beneath me"....

In a ten page interview printed in Heinz Pruller´s yearbook of 1991 Senna explains how the faith in God gives him strength to overcome natural barriers.

At least Ayrton himself was of the same opinion as the OP.
Of course, an opinion not shared by many here on this BB.

#36 aditya-now

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:37

Originally posted by pUs


One of them is still alive, the other isn't


That´s a very sensitive statement, isn´t it?

Luckily for Michael he did not have to sit in a Williams on May 1st, 1994, and withstand a much better handling Benetton, probably equipped with electronic driving aids...

#37 BrawnsBrain

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:42

I just found interesting the link between his religious believes and his speed, and the stuff he said he experienced out on track:

- An out of body experience, floating above his car which was protected by a white line.
- Seeing Jesus standing on a corner!
- Going so deep into his sub consciousness at Monaco that he scared himself into giving up and coming into the pits
- The infamous crash whilst leading the race at Monaco.

As others have said, mind conditioning and religion is the key point here. You can have talent and you can work hard but without the right frame of mind you won't be as fast. We have seen it before - for example I don't for a moment think that a driver is made slow after he breaks his leg - Schumacher broke his leg and won 5 world championships afterwards - but many observed Johnny Herbert as never being the same again after his accident in F3, it depends on how your mind is after the nasty accident, whether you can push like before, knowing that someone or something is protecting you.

Re: talent debate... I still side on the 'talent' aspect being real and tangible. Whilst great singers have great voices and others do not no matter what their mind is like, racing seems to be very much about what goes on in your head - but here is the clincher for the talent argument - even the physical aspects of your brain structure if I may put it as crudely as that, are important. Yes even reaction times. The ability to be sensitive to the shift of weight in the car, plus many many other things. Some brains are more apt at feeling those senses than others - from birth.

#38 SpamJet

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:45

Originally posted by rolf123


Typical media BS thinking that being a good racing driver is about reaction times. Besides, 3 tenths advantage would give everyone a reaction time of something like 0.4 minimum which I don't believe either.

Nearly all humans average at 2 tenths.

Racing is less about reaction times and more about timing, anticipation, belief, keeping cool, tactical awareness and "feel for the road" (too loose a term, can probably be more precise than that).


The article was about sportsman having certain physical traits that gave them an advantage in there given sport, e.g James Cracknall huge lung capacity, Senna fast reactiona times. It didnat say thats what made him great.

Humans average between 0.5 and 1.0s depending on age, physical state.

Dont y0u think having fast reactions would help with better timing, better anticipation, quicker tactical planning etc....

#39 klip150

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:51

Originally posted by BrawnsBrain
... Senna's belief in a Christian God and Jesus may seem crazy to agnostic or atheists like us, ...


you should say "like me". "Us" contain myself and is not right.

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#40 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:53

I can't see how anyone with reaction times of a second is even alive :lol:

#41 as65p

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:01

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
I can't see how anyone with reaction times of a second is even alive :lol:


:clap:

I was beginning to wonder what holds you back. I mean, a Senna thread without Ross, unthinkable!

Oh, I see you've been busy with the nephew...

:)

#42 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:08

Since you won't be able to have your way with Ayrton's grave are you going to write love letters to Bruno?

#43 as65p

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:23

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
Since you won't be able to have your way with Ayrton's grave are you going to write love letters to Bruno?


Oh my, still pissed after all these years. Evidently you're the one to seemlessly transfer your feelings within the Senna family.

Don't assume that other people think along the same (and frankly not exactly intellectually flattering) lines.

:wave:

#44 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:33

I don't give the Sennas any thought unless they come up in conversation. Like you say, don't assume everyone else is thinking along the same lines as you.

#45 mikejaeger

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:34

Originally posted by BrawnsBrain
I read with great interest the Senna interview posted on this forums the other day, and it had me thinking for a long time about his strong religious beliefs. There has also been a lot of discussion lately about whether there is such a thing as a super driver, or if the current crop of F1 stars are just 'normal guys' like me and you, or indeed if there is even such a thing as talent. I look to Senna to put that particular argument to rest.

I believe a combination of Senna's unusual mind and his spirituality had the effect of overriding the usual reflexes in response to a 'what if' moment, for want of a better word. For example, with the car on the limits, often the mind finds an internal limit it believes or estimates to exist in reality when in fact, in all physical practicality the car has a larger margin before hitting it's actual limit. The driver can't feel this limit, can't trust it and can't sense it - but it is there.

Senna overcame this barrier, because his concentration and focus was such that his consciousness simply switched off and allowed his automatic subconsciousness to take over completely. This is what he describes as happening before his Monaco crash in 88 and the 'pin prick' of awaking from his subconscious state.

An example, albeit a corny one, is that of a karate chop on a piece of wood. As the old adage goes, if you believe your hand will pass through the wood, you will break the plank in half easily. On the surface this appears to be new-age baloney. But in practicality it makes sense - if you overcome the fear of hurting your hand then this has the effect of maintaining the pressure as your hand hits the plank. The natural reflex to recoil as your hand hits the wood, or as you feel pain, is overcome.

Senna's belief in a Christian God and Jesus may seem crazy to agnostic or atheists like us, but I think it had the effect on Senna of overcoming the natural primeval human fears and reflex actions associated with danger, and driving a car close to it's limits.

This reminds me also of another Brazilian, one Filipe Massa at Monaco, taking it far too easy in damp conditions. Race engineer Rob Smedley analysed the telemetry and told him he was being 'a wimp' and to push harder. Massa couldn't believe he had any more margin remaining, but the telemetry, the physics said otherwise. He simply had to close his eyes, have faith in what the car was capable of and let his subconscious take over, rather than to listen to his rational conscious mind, and even his racer's instinct for the feel and balance of his Ferrari.

Or maybe Senna's secret was a more earthly one. I remember him suggesting his prayers and visions of Jesus left him relaxed, smiling and laughing at the start of a race, completely free of nerves. He also suggests that sex the night before a race gave him a 'who cares?' gung-ho attitude to racing the next day. :smoking:

Which is understandable, considering he was dating with Xuxa at the time. :love:



There's nothing mythical about it, he had the car set up to such a degree, that he new what it was going to do in any given situation before it actually did it.

#46 as65p

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:40

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
I don't give the Sennas any thought unless they come up in conversation...


Yeah, and after that point it all becomes a bit of blur, right? :p

BTW I just googled you for the first time: is it true that you watched you first race in 1996? In the context that's quite... uhmm, let say, remarkable.

#47 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:42

No, it's simply the first year I saw an F1 race as a live broadcast.

#48 RoutariEnjinu

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 12:50

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
I can't see how anyone with reaction times of a second is even alive :lol:



































LOL

#49 as65p

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 13:02

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
No, it's simply the first year I saw an F1 race as a live broadcast.


Okay. I still assume that you didn't follow F1 during the Senna years?

Getting all emotionally worked up watching some guys drive in circles every other week is arguably already a bit unhealthy, yet doing the same about non-contemporary people really takes it to a different level.

Intriguing stuff...

#50 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 13:11

So why do you do it?