It is often said that many great Formula One drivers were spectacular on their day; Gilles Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher, Stirling Moss. But to paraphrase Top Gear anchorman Jeremy Clarkson for want of greater eloquence, Ayrton Senna was always spectacular.
And in a great many ways, that was true. Watch the Brazilian plunging through the spray at Estoril in 1985, hurtling to pole at Monaco in 1988 or obliterating the field at Donington in 1993. Whenever and wherever he drove, Senna was on the limit every single lap; never did he drive one without devoting mind, body and soul to total excellence, as graphically illustrated by the pain-wracked face extracated from his McLaren after an against-the-odds win at Interlagos in 1991.
Commentators and analysists who were there often point to footage of the Brazilian’s car twitching and dancing around the track, a characteristic not uncommon in the 1980’s turbo monster era but one Senna frequently took to outrageous levels in his pursuit of glory. Search on the internet – it’s easily available. Then watch footage of MotoGP’s reigning World Champion, 21 year old Marc Marquez, battling rivals Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Watch him fighting anyone for that matter, watch him driving a lap and you will see his Honda squirming and bucking under the intense physical demand he places upon it.
Marquez rides his bike like Senna drove his cars; seemingly bent on destruction every single lap but always holding it together and reaping the rewards. He doesn’t have the same dark, brooding intensity the Brazilian posessed – but he’s very near the god-like status the late Formula One World Champion enjoyed in his native country. For at 21 Marquez already holds a world title and the scalps of MotoGP legends in his hands. Senna could be beaten, but only by an opponent who doggedly fought back against terrifying speed and aggressiveness. Martin Brundle pointed out that the Brazilian, when overtaking, would place his car in such a position that it was left up to the defending driver whether to avoid the inevitable crash.
Marquez manages this same feat of scaring his rivals out of the way. Camera angles can often prove miselading to a trackside or armchair observer, but there is no mistaking the ferocity and determination of a Marquez attack. He mirrors Senna in his physical indestructibility too, for as the Brazilian would often drive cramped and exhausted, so Marquez rides to victories after broken collarbones and fractured legs.
That he’s just 21 sends a clear signal to his rivals; he can only continue.