It has a deeper meaning than similar driving ability or comparable speed. It means receiving a ticket to that exclusive circle of talented men who with their hands at the wheel are capable of going beyond the technical capabilities of their car. And it's a passport to an even more restricted group of drivers who fly in the face of danger because, in any given moment, danger is simply not an issue: thinking it about it just doesn't make any sense. Yet it's not just that. Being compared to Senna conjures up a feeling of something otherworldly. It suggests a certain kind of motivation, of going so fast, beyond every rational limit, that it can only be justified by some distant, hidden connection.
Senna knew that the questions regarding some of his behaviour on the track were about more than his lap times. Asking him for an explanation for certain driving exploits came naturally. And he played with it: he would look you in the eye with that often-distant gaze and would answer with an almost embarrassed smile, as if to say:"How could I ever explain it to you?".
Right now, the ‘new Senna’ is Max Verstappen. The boy from the Red Bull team - whose talent became so apparent so quickly that he made his Grand Prix debut before he was old enough to have a driving licence – won in Spain at his first race with Red Bull, finished the 2016 World Championship with an incredible performance in Brazil on a wet track, and has been pushing the limits ever since in 2017, despite some very bad mechanical luck.
But let's leave Max Verstappen in peace for now: he's still very young, with the whole world ahead of him, and he will write his own story. Let's get back to Senna. Why him? Why, when the history of Formula 1 racing is packed with great personalities and high speed drivers, is this Brazilian champion, 23 years after his decision to join Williams and his death, still stuck in the head of motor racing enthusiasts? The answer, very briefly, and simply: because he didn't want to race, he had to race. He didn't want to win, he had to win. Since he was a boy, his entire personality was consumed by this single objective. Starting with karting where, like most drivers, he gained his first track experience, soon winning at every level. He passed through the pre-Formula 1 junior formulae before making his F1 debut in a Toleman in 1984. Though the car was hardly a bolt of lightning, Senna pulled off a near miracle at Monaco, gaining several seconds a lap on Alain Prost, who had dominated the season with McLaren. It needed a chequered flag unveiled early by an over-zealous race director, to rob him of a victory that would have immediately catapulted him into the history books.