The Myth at Monaco


The myth to whom I refer is none other than the legendary Ayrton Senna. Unfamiliar with him? Well, I don’t blame you. Unless you have followed Formula One for decades, or have taken an interest in the history of the sport recently - like me - you’re naturally unfamiliar with him. However, Ayrton Senna has been established as one of the fundamental cornerstones in the Formula One mythos. 

I had always been drawn to Formula One. I love fast cars, and nothing says fast quite so well as an open-wheel single seater in a Formula One Grand Prix (unless we’re talking MotoGP or World Superbike, but motorcycles are a horse of a different color). However, I did not truly get into the sport of Formula One until I immersed myself in it while doing research for the principal male character in my first novel. Jackson Tregaron, my hero- pardon me while I put my hand to my head and swoon- is a Formula One race car driver for the McLaren team. And, in order to give credence to his character, I had to thrust myself into the nuances of the sport. And, that, my darling chicks, is how I ended up discovering Ayrton Senna. 

Ayrton Senna in his Toleman racer. 

Ayrton Senna in his Toleman racer. 

There is a lot to be said about him. In his ten year career, he surpassed many records and set a few of his own, several of which are still standing. However, my favorite Senna moment is from his rookie year at the Monaco Grand Prix. Termed Senna’s arrival race, the legendary F1 racer made his mark here, letting the world know who he was and what to expect during his career- unfortunately cut short by his untimely death on track in Imola, Italy. 

That mizzly day in June ’84, however, Senna was in fighting form. In truth, he entered the Monaco Grand Prix behind the eight ball. A rookie driver for Toleman, a team with a poor showing in their three years in F1, no one expected much of him. In fact, he had only finished two of the five previous races that year. 

That day, he started on the grid at the 13th position. Now, it’s important to note that the Grand Prix at Monaco is raced on the streets- I discussed this in more depth in my previous post. These streets, which have not changed since the first Grand Prix in 1929, are very tight, making passing that much more difficult. (It’s difficult enough as is. Throw in tight chicanes, hairpin turns, and the tunnel, and it’s just that much more difficult.) 

But Senna was not daunted by the difficulties. He seemed to embrace them, rising to the challenges. And those challenges were many. Not only was he driving a car for a team that was having engine difficulties, but it was raining that day in Monaco. Well, I’ll say it was mizzling. (Don’t you just love that word? And it’s an old word. My OED has it’s earliest usage listed as 1490. So, don’t go attributing this word’s peregrination to Snoop Dogg. Though mizzle may sound like it belongs with fo’ shizzle my nizzle, I assure you, it’s origins are much earlier than the 1990s.)

Anyway… Senna started on grid in the middle of a mist that couldn’t make up its mind to be a drizzle. When it comes to racing in the rain, there are two types of drivers- those who manage it, sometimes equitably, other times, not, and those who thrive at it. Ayrton Senna was one of those who thrived at it.

The warm-up lap was run. Every car stood on grid, waiting for the five red lights to go out (the signal to start the race). The seconds mounted. The anticipation built. Each driver watched, poised to jump off the line and embark on the 78 lap race. 

When the lights went out, there was no one who would have prognosticated how that race would have ended. Perhaps some commentators would have assumed the race would be ended early due to the weather. However, none of them could have dreamed of placing Senna- pole #13 with a lackluster team- in the position in which he ended. 

The race lasted 31 laps. In those 31 laps, Senna mustered all the power out of his Toleman and raced into second place, passing such greats as Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg. Actually, when the race was stopped on the 32 lap, Senna had just passed Alain Prost, taking first. But that’s not how F1 works. If a race must be stopped, the winner is determined from the last lap that all drivers have completed. On that day, that lap was lap 31, and Prost had been in first. But, from 13th to 2nd, in an inferior vehicle, on the tight, twisty streets of Monte Carlo, is nothing to turn one’s nose up at. (Although Senna himself had some choice words to say about not winning- I am not designed to come second or third. I am designed to win. and Being second means to be the first of the ones to lose. Both statements definitely indicate that he wasn't that pleased at his ranking.)

Nevertheless, Ayrton Senna had arrived and, with his showing at the ’84 Monaco Grand Prix, he’d told the F1 world that he was the next great. And, he wasn’t lying. In fact, he won the Monaco Grand Prix a whopping six times- a record that has yet to be broken, not even by the inimitable Michael Schumacher. (If you’re interested in knowing more about Ayrton Senna, I would check out the well crafted documentary Senna. It really gives scope to the man as well as the sport.)

Senna jubilation at the conclusion of the 32nd lap of the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. 

Senna jubilation at the conclusion of the 32nd lap of the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. 

The ’84 Monaco Grand Prix was the first race I ever watched that excited me to the blood and bone. This fait accompli by Senna so impacted me, I was inspired to fashion one of the races in my novel after it. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a Monaco Grand Prix. Although, I don’t think I gave my driver such seemingly insurmountable odds. I love Jackson, but he’s not Ayrton Senna, although he might think of himself in that light, I don’t. But, you know characters. They have minds of their own. 

Furthermore, the very first race Penelope Ultrecht, my female protagonist, attends in my novel is in Monte Carlo. Through her eyes, we experience all the events leading up to the main event- the practicing, the qualifying, the parties, the pomp, the circumstance, the anticipation that practically percolates through the atmosphere. And, of course, there’s Jackson, who’s quite something on his own, all tall, dark, and debonair. Nothing says romance like a dark haired Adonis who just happens to race in F1 for a living. And then there’s his teammate, the incomparable Horatio Tines replete with blown out mohawk, diamond studded tooth, and dragons tattooing flames of fire down his back in lines of Norse poetry, to say nothing of the custom made Spyker he drives around in. After all, if one must create two Formula One race car drivers, why not have a little fun while doing it? (If you want to know more, you'll just have to wait for the publication of my book- I say that will glee, and a lot of hope.)

Monaco is one of the most important races in F1. (By the by, the Monaco Grand Prix is this weekend!!!) It’s the one the world loves to watch. It embodies everything we love about F1- fame, fortune, and fast cars. All within the idyllic landscape of the perfect Mediterranean climate. What’s not to love? And on that mizzly day in early June ’84, Senna added more clout to the pastiche that is the Monaco Grand Prix. It may be called his arrival race, but in many ways, it’s mine, too. 

What about you? Is there an athlete whose performance at one point in his/her career inspired you? Maybe it’s not even an athlete. Maybe it’s a musician or singer or actor or writer or person of business. Let me know what galvanizes you, what excites you, what inspires you.