Motor racing may be on hold around the world right now due to the coronavirus outbreak, but 21 March 2020 remains a significant date in the motorsport calendar as it marks 60 years since Ayrton Senna was born.
To mark what would have been the late three-time Formula 1 World Champion’s 60th birthday, we delved into the archive to find out how Senna inspired our current generation of Honda racers.
In this interview, first shared in July 2018 ahead of the 24 Hours of Spa, the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup runner-up Esteban Guerrieri opens up about his early memories of Senna, and the influence the great man had on his own racing career.
Esteban takes up the story: “I’ve always been a fan of Senna. He’s an icon to many, many people of course, especially in South America, and he’s always been an inspiration to me.
“When I was five years old I started driving go karts and when I was seven I started racing them. I remember really enjoying watching racing and F1 in those years of the early 90s, and I didn’t really understand how Ayrton was winning so much but it fascinated me. Looking back now I didn’t understand what it was to be racing at that level, but I knew I liked it, and especially Ayrton.
“As a kid I think he was my hero because he was winning – you always look up to the fastest guy. But the more interested I got, the more I learned about his personality and this is something that became even more special about Senna to me, and that I really learned a lot from and always try to put into practice in my life.
“I heard Ayrton in an interview saying that to be a Formula 1 driver you need to speak English and to know about computers. At that time I was going to school just from 8 o’clock to 12 o’clock, so short days. When I heard Ayrton speak about English, I was seven years old when I said to my Mum ‘I don’t want to go to this school any more, I want to go to a school where they teach me English. Look, Ayrton Senna said that to be a Formula 1 driver you need to learn English, so I need to change school.’
“She understood and made it happen and when I was eight I changed school. I started going to a school from 8 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Imagine that – at eight years old I chose to spend more time at school – that was how much belief I put into Ayrton and how much I trusted where my own racing path would take me, even then.
“During all the extra school hours I was learning English. Of course that has been very useful, and that was one of the first things that I took on board from Ayrton; the first thing I remember hearing him say that I really absorbed.
“I remember when I was nine and I actually started to understand racing itself. I was sitting in front of the TV and watching the whole race to understand all the small details, but that was 1994 when he was killed. That was a big impact for me because I was just getting to really understand how important and good he was.
“After that, I really started to read and watch even more about Senna.
“He was really the first guy to give importance to the physical aspect of racing, so I also took on board that fitness was very important. When I was about 11 or 12 I started training really hard, even though I was still in go karts. Senna had said it, so I listened and understood it was important.
“Everything I was seeing or reading about him, I was trying to put into practice in my life, and this is why he became my inspiration. Still now I have the same approach, and if I see someone else doing a better job I try to understand why so that I can improve.
“I was focused myself on trying to come to Europe. When I was 14 or 15, in the mornings my Mum would say ‘wake up Esteban, let’s go to school’ and I was really tired and I’d say ‘Ok I go to school today but the moment I have a chance to go to Europe you will let me go, ok?’ She would laugh and say ‘Ok sure, but now we have to go to school, ok’. Then when I was 16 I had the chance to come to Europe so she had to let me go!
“You have to work hard, but I believe that anything that people want to do is inside them. If you really feel it inside, somehow it will happen. For me, racing in Europe was something I knew was going to happen. There was no doubt. In my mind it had already happened, and that’s why I was saying this to my mother before school.
“This is another thing I learned from Ayrton. His connection with faith was very big, but when I was a kid I couldn’t understand fully when he was talking about his faith. Now I understand much better what Ayrton meant about faith, and this is something that has been and always will be very important in my life.
“I shared the video of Ayrton driving the NSX at Suzuka on my social channels because it’s such a great thing to be able to watch and to see the very beginnings of this car.
“Now, here at Spa for the 24 hours, it’s like rewinding the clock a little bit. Every time I sit on a table with Riccardo Patrese he’s kind enough to tell stories of Ayrton so I keep asking “what happened with Ayrton in this race” and so on.
“It’s kind of magical to have a person like Patrese racing with us this weekend. It’s great to get to know him and he is a wonderful guy, and him telling us all these stories about Ayrton and racing together is teaching me even more about him – it’s incredible to be able to listen to this and for me I feel very fortunate to be able to benefit from his experience.
“Connecting the NSX with Ayrton in 1989/90 and now with the fact that I am driving the Castrol Honda Racing NSX GT3, with the NSX name back at Spa after 25 years, I feel like we’re bringing back a little piece of history. I’m incredibly proud and honoured to be a part of this project with Castrol and Honda and have the honour to continue the legacy of one of the greatest drivers in history, and I feel a lot of very strong emotion in me.”