By Jayme Monsanto, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – If Formula One legend Ayrton Senna were still alive, he would have turned 50 last Sunday. Born on March 21st 1960, Senna was the most successful F1 driver ever to come out of Brazil, winning the World Championship three times, and a total of 41 races throughout his career in the toughest motorsport discipline.
Senna had his first contact with racing at just three years old, receiving a one horsepower go-kart from his dad built out of a lawnmower engine. That toy was to mark the beginning of an all-too short yet brilliant career that included international Kart Championships, Formula Ford and Formula 3 titles. But it was in Formula One that Senna’s name would become legend.
After winning the 1983 Formula 3 title Senna attracted the attentions of several F1 scouts, and it was with the small Toleman team that he made his debut in 1984. At the end of that season, Senna left Toleman to drive for Lotus, where he would remain until 1987, when he moved to McLaren. It was with that team that Senna would claim his three World Championship titles, in 1988, 1990 and 1991 and mark his dominance of the sport during those four golden years.
It was on May 1st 1994, leading the San Marino GP in Imola, Italy, in a Williams, that Senna’s car’s steering wheel column broke. He was speeding at over 300 km/h when he hit the concrete wall of the Tamburello corner. Swiftly lifted out of the car and taken from the circuit to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna, he would tragically later die there from his injuries, aged just 34.
The Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning for the death of the legendary driver, and his funeral was attended by millions of people who wanted to give Senna their last goodbye, whilst tens of millions more watched it on TV.
Today, sixteen years after the fatal accident that took the driver’s life, the legend still endures, and not only because of his great accomplishments on the track, but because 2010 sees the return of the Senna surname to F1. Ayrton’s nephew, Bruno Senna, begins his F1 career this year, driving for new team Hispania.
What’s new for the 2010 Season
In addition to the Bruno Senna debut, the biggest surprise of 2010 is the comeback of Michael Schumacher, the greatest winner in F1 history. Schumacher won the World Championship seven times before retiring at the end of the 2006 season, and now he returns with the Mercedes GP team which replaces the Brawn team bought by Mercedes-Benz at the end of the 2009 season.
The 2010 F1 season kicked off on March 14th with a great victory for Ferrari at the Bahrein Grand Prix. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was the winner, in his first race for Ferrari, and he was followed by teammate Felipe Massa in second, whilst Lewis Hamilton of McLaren was third.
Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing, who started in pole position, finished 4th. Germans Nico Rosberg and the mighty Michael Schumacher, of Mercedes GP, finished in the 5th and 6th positions respectively.
Bruno Senna’s debut with Hispania was sadly interrupted in the 17th lap, when his car suffered a mechanical failure and he had to retire from the race.
The biggest change for 2010 in terms of rules is the ban on refueling during races. The new F1 cars now have much larger fuel tanks and as such are considerably heavier, forcing drivers to change strategies and pay extra attention to tire and brake conservation. The often dangerous pit stops are now much quicker and less frequent.
Another adjustment in the regulations is the new points system. Until 2009, the top eight drivers scored 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point respectively. This year, with new teams added and the total number of racers increasing to 24, the top 10 will earn points. The winner gets 25 points, the second placer scores 18, while the third placer gets 15 points. The following seven score 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 point respectively.
Other changes worth noticing are that reigning champion Jenson Button joined McLaren at the end of last season, while his ex Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello went over to Williams. Fernando Alonso was hired by Ferrari, joining Brazilian Felipe Massa in the team. Last but not least, another Brazilian debuted in F1 this year. His name is Lucas di Grassi, driving for the new Virgin team, though he also failed to complete the Bahrein Grand Prix.
The Australian Grand Prix, the next race of the season, takes place on Sunday, March 28th in Melbourne, Australia.