Ayrton Senna said it was difficult to have friendships in such a competitive environment like Formula 1. But he had good friends on and off the racetrack. During his ten years in auto racing’s top category, Senna experienced emotional events on the track and behind the scenes. Like his family, his closest work friends also remember the good humor of the Brazilian driver.
Perhaps his best friend on the Formula 1 circuit was the Austrian Gerhard Berger, whom Ayrton Senna raced with on the McLaren team for 3 years – 1990, 1991 and 1992. Together they featured in some great tales.
Berger tells one of these stories in his book Na Reta de Chegada: “In Australia in 1990, it was a couple of days before the race. After dinner, we started to throw people into the pool, clothes and all. As I was good at protecting myself, I escaped but many people got wet. Ayrton Senna took off so that we couldn’t get him but later on when I went to his room, he clumsily threw a cup of water at me. For a Tyrolean, this was nothing but it was his way of showing that he wanted in on the game too. And this is what happened. With a hose, we improvised an extension to the fire extinguisher and pushed it under his door at three in the morning. We invited some people to watch and when we pressed the lever, Ayrton Senna flew out the window like a rocket. Inside the room, it looked like a bomb had exploded. The hubbub woke up many people who began to yell at Senna for making so much noise. He was terribly embarrassed.” In another story, also in Australia, Gerhard Berger tells about another prank played on Ayrton Senna: “In Port Douglas, in Australia, Ayrton Senna found his room full of toads; toads in the bed, toads in the dresser drawers, toads in all the pockets of his clothes. ‘You’re a twit’, he told me the next morning. ‘I spent half the night catching toads and putting them outside’. ‘And what about the snake?’, I asked. He didn’t sleep well for the next two nights.”
Armando Botelho entered the career of Ayrton Senna at the end of 1981, when Ayrton lived the moment of uncertainty if his career in Europe continued. A cattle rancher, Armando was a great friend of Milton da Silva, Senna’s father, and believed in the driver’s desire to continue winning in motorsport.
As Botelho had a lot of time available and felt a great affection for Ayrton, he decided to accept the mission of getting sponsors so that the driver would dispute the Formula Ford 2000 title in 1982 and pursue his career. From there, Armando and Senna became great friends and partners. The businessman helped a lot in the pilot’s contracts with the F1 teams (Toleman, Lotus and McLaren) and also in the advertising actions.
Botelho passed away in 1989, just on the weekend when Senna won the German GP. After hearing the news, the pilot dedicated the victory to his great friend, who was a true advisor in his life.
An important person in the life of Ayrton Senna was the Japanese photographer, Norio Koike, who went with him everywhere whether on the track or off. An introvert, Norio took thousands of photos of Senna. It seemed that the camera was an extension of his body. In 1994, Norio had bought a new camera, a Nikon F5, to continue shooting Senna. Unfortunately the accident occurred and Norio lost the motivation to photograph other people with that camera. The new camera was given to Leonardo Senna, Ayrton’s brother as Norio no longer wanted to use it. In addition to this, Norio gave more than 40 thousand photos to the family.
Principal commentator for Formula 1 races on TV Globo, Galvão Bueno travelled the world covering world auto racing’s top category. In addition to having a professional relationship, Senna and Bueno became friends off the track. Senna affectionately nicknamed him “parrot”, joking about the profession of the commentator.
The renowned English neurosurgeon, Sid Watkins was the Formula 1 official doctor for 27 years, from 1978 to 2005. He was responsible for coordinating the team that administered first aid in the case of a serious accident on the track. Watkins met Ayrton Senna when the Brazilian arrived in the F1, but their relationship carried on away from the tracks. Whenever they could, they would go fishing together; an activity they both enjoyed. In Formula 1, he was better known as Professor Sid or simply Prof. He died in 2012 at the age of 84.
“Ayrton and I went to his farm in Brazil. He gave me his room and that night there was a terrible storm. The electricity was out and the phones were down but I needed to phone my wife in Scotland. I told Ayrton that I needed to find a phone and he said, “OK”. We took his 4×4 and drove to the nearest city, about 30 miles away. The roads were full of mud. We arrived in the city and while I tried to make a call from a public phone, Ayrton was surprised by a large group of kids asking for autographs. He stayed there, calm as always, signing autographs for 30 minutes. He was a remarkable man”. Professor Sid Watkins – Formula 1 Medical Chief
The physiotherapist Josef Leberer was hired by McLaren in 1988, the same year that Ayrton Senna joined the team. He was responsible for keeping the drivers in good physical and mental shape. He became great friends with Senna, and designed a new training program and diet for the Brazilian. He was responsible for preparing the meals the way the driver asked. Over the course of his career, Leberer witnessed many important moments in the life of Ayrton Senna including his three world titles. Today he continues to work in the F1.