Ayrton Senna On The Very Edge

Bereft of Honda power yet still supernaturally fast, Senna here is zooming for his record-breaking sixth and last win at the 1993 Monaco Grand Prix.

We may be able to see a beautiful integrity in the uncompromising and dauntingly competent stance of today’s cars, wide and low and sticky with rubber, clean and complex as a surgical theatre, a blare in the ears and a blur in the eyes and a fireproofed gauntlet flung in the face of relevance.

Ayrton Senna On The Very Edge

L. J. K. Setright’s words from his 2002 book Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car read as if written specifically to subtitle Senna’s driving.

Ayrton Senna On The Very Edge

The year is 1993, the season is still early, and after his win in Monaco, Senna would be leading his great rival Alain Prost in the championship. No longer teammates as during the tumultuous end of the 80s under Ron Dennis at McLaren, Prost would strike back with four wins in a row, enough to earn his fourth world title and deny Senna his.

The McLaren, armed with a Ford instead of a Honda in the rear, is a focused blur of Marlboro colors, taking a corner with no margin left to spare.

No wonder, as it was on this very circuit five years earlier that Ayrton Senna experienced and described the sensation of flow, that peculiar mental state where a person’s skills and challenges are in perfect harmony:

I was already on pole, then by half a second and then one second and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel. Not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit was a tunnel. I was just going and going, more and more and more and more. I was way over the limit, but still able to find even more.

Ayrton Senna On The Very Edge

Described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, my fellow Hungarian with the rather impossible name, flow is a precarious state of mind, prone to disruption by self-awareness, and rather frightening to comprehend from any other state of mind, as Senna himself learned during his pole run in Monaco:

Then suddenly something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and realised that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are. My immediate reaction was to back off, slow down. I drove slowly back to the pits and I didn’t want to go out any more that day. It frightened me because I was well beyond my conscious understanding. It happens rarely but I keep these experiences very much alive inside me because it is something that is important for self-preservation.

Ayrton Senna On The Very Edge

Self-preservation would elude him. At the much-maligned 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, 343 days after his last win in Monaco, Ayrton Senna crashed into a concrete wall and died.

Photo Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport