Born in São Paulo, Brazil, the son of a wealthy Brazilian landowner, he quickly developed an interest in motor racing. Encouraged by his father, a racing enthusiast, young Ayrton got behind the wheel of his first kart at the age of 4. He entered karting competition at the legal age of 13. In 1977, Senna won the South American Kart Championship.
Heading for Europe in 1981, he entered the British Formula Ford 1600 competition, which he won. He also adopted his mother's maiden name, Senna, as da Silva is a very common name in Brazil. In 1982 Senna combined the British and European Formula Ford 2000 Championships, which he both won. In addition to winning the prestigious and high-profile Macao Grand Prix, Ayrton saw off the challenges of Martin Brundle in the 1983 British F3 championship and secured a seat with the Toleman-Hart F1 team in 1984. His talents did not go unnoticed, especially after he impressed at the Monaco Grand Prix under wet and difficult conditions. The next year, Senna joined the Lotus team and won his first Grand Prix at Estoril, Portugal under treacherous, wet conditions.
In 1988 Senna joined the McLaren racing team with Alain Prost as his team mate. The foundation for a fierce competition between Senna and Prost was laid, culminating in a number of dramatic race incidents between the two F1 protagonists.
On the track, Senna could be ruthless at times, showing extreme determination and precision, especially in qualifying, a discipline he had mastered like no one before (resulting in a record 65 poles). In the wet, Senna was unchallenged, and in 1993 at the European Grand Prix at Donington Park, Senna demonstrated his exceptional wet driving skills by humiliating his opponents at the wheel of an inferior car. Senna won the Monaco Grand Prix six times, a record in itself, and a tribute to his skills.
In 1994, Senna finally left the ailing McLaren team for the top team at the time, Williams-Renault. He failed to finish his first two races, despite taking pole position at both events. In his third race, the San Marino Grand Prix, Senna yet again took pole position, but would never finish the race. He went off the track in the Tamburello curve and did not survive the injuries sustained by the subsequent frontal collision with a concrete retaining wall. He was 34.
Among his achievements:
In a recent documentary, the reason for Senna's death was highlighted dramatically, revealing that the reason for the wishbone failiure that eventaully impaled his head in the impact was caused by a dangerously low car setup. William's have been entangled for many years in a court case with the Senna family, but the case has recently been settled and no action was taken against Williams.