Why Brazil loved him
To many Brazilians, Senna communicated a vulnerability that they appreciated all the more because they knew he had to set his fears aside whenever he climbed into the cockpit. What sealed the love affair the country had with Senna was his willingness, or perhaps his need, to share the glory: after every win he would reach for a Brazilian flag and hoist it high above his head for the victory lap. His popularity was magnified by the contrast with his country’s sense of collective demise. As his career revvep up in the ‘80s, Brazil was headed the other way, descending into economic and political disarray, frustration and self-doubt. Senna, presidential adviser Augusto Marzagão said last week, "was the luminous flip side of the negative state in which lay the Brazilian soul." In short, his success was seen as proof that despite a 45%-a-month inflation rate, growing poverty and never-ending corruption scandals, Brazil could still come out a winner.
For seven frustrating years, though, Senna’s dream of a victory at home, in the Brazilian Grand Prix, eluded him. He finally won the race in 1991, but only after a cliff-hanger finish and typical heroics. He was leading comfortably, with only a few kilometres to go, when the gearbox of his car jammed. By the last lap only one gear was functioning, but Senna wrestled his McLaren-Honda to the checkered flag. So exhausted he could barely lift his arms, grimacing from the pain, he hoisted the trophy and the flag. Senna won in Brazil again in 1993 in equally dramatic fashion – this time against his archrival, the Frenchman Alain Prost. (Over the years, Senna’s flat-out duels with Prost, including several dangerous collisions, had fostered an enmity that Prost says did not ease until just before Senna’s death.) Prost and his teammate Damon Hill had been much faster in practice, and the fans knew that only a race-day downpour would give Senna, the acknowledged master of wet-track driving, a chance. Brazil prayed for rain. The next day, with Prost in the lead, the heavens opened. The Frenchman promptly crashed; Senna catapulted into first place and stayed there. As the race ended, the sun came out.
[Time International, Nº 20 (May 16, 1994), p. 36.