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Was Ayrton Senna the Greatest F1 Driver of All Time?

Automotive racing is one of the most revered, fantastic, and dangerous sports of all time and the Formula 1 series is home to what some consider the highest echelon of drivers from all over the world. And while it’s easy to look at statistics and rankings throughout the years and know who is the leader of the pack, it’s hard to pick just one driver as being “the greatest.” One of the most famous F1 drivers, Ayrton Senna, made more than a name for himself on and off the track and had a storied racing career that abruptly came to an end. He was definitely one of the best drivers to sit behind the wheel of a race car, but was he the greatest of all time?

Ayrton Senna’s career is more than just statistics

If you haven’t seen the documentary entitled Senna, which details the racing career of the late, great Ayrton Senna, then we can recommend it enough. By the end of it, you will most likely be shouting from the rooftops that he was the greatest there ever was and possibly even be shopping for Senna merchandise. And although he did indeed have an amazing career filled with amazing, and almost physics-defying race highlights and maneuvers, some will argue that Senna was not the greatest F1 driver of all time.

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Senna posing with his team
Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna (1960 -1994, centre) and his Austrian teammate Gerhard Berger (right) pose with the rest of the McLaren team at the Mexican Grand Prix at the Mexico City circuit, 24th June 1990. (Photo by Sutton/Getty Images)

According to a story posted by the Bleacher Report, if we were to go off statistic alone, the Ayrton Senna wasn’t the best driver, Michael Schumacher was. During his career, Schumacher took part in and won more races during his career and even had the most poles. But as the story says, “statistics tell only the shallowest of tales. They don’t tell us how a driver won, only that they did.” And we couldn’t agree more.

The statistics don’t say that Senna’s career was cut short, or how many losses were due to car failures, or that he was one of the best drivers in the rain and would have most likely won more races had he lived. But unfortunately, the statistics do live on and will continue to do so, even though Senna’s career was more than just a set of numbers.

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Senna can’t really be compared

Now that we know that we can’t only rely on statistics, especially considering you would have to factor in overall driving skill between driver throughout the years. As the Bleacher Report stated, when comparing to Senna to Juan Manuel Fangio, for example: “To say that Fangio is better than Ayrton Senna is ridiculous. I can’t say that any one of them was better than the other unless they were driving the same car at the same time, which is impossible.”

Additionally, Formula 1 is still going and there will always be better drivers lining up at the starting grid every year, so would we have to look more closely at Senna’s accomplishments in order to come to a conclusion. There are some prime examples of his daring feats plastered all over the Internet, including the time he went from fifth place to first place in one lap during the race at Donington Park in 1993 or his courageous display of driver skill when racing in the rain. And there was even a time when he stopped his car in the middle of a race to check on Eric Comas, who had just crashed, to make sure that he was OK.

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senna driving on track
1988: Ayrton Senna of Brazil in action in his McLaren Honda during the Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa circuit in Belgium. Senna finished in first place. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

Ultimately, there is a multitude of accomplishments throughout his career and his life that go way beyond the 41 wins and 65 pole positions that he obtained. He was a man with enough determination, legendary skill, and more compassion than many others he shared the track with. And that’s why we think, just like many others, that Ayrton Senna was the greatest F1 driver of all time. Even if the statistics say otherwise.