Simply the best

If Alain Prost becomes World Champion in 1989, I will be happy. This does not mean that I consider him to be the best driver.

Nor does it mean that I shall be unhappy if Ayrton Senna takes the title for I believe Ayrton to be the greatest driver on this earth and he has certainly deserved the acclaim.

I think of Ayrton as a firework, a rocket which is launched from a milk bottle with a tremendous whoosh of power, has a swift and spectacular rise, yet fails to explode at the top of its trajectory. This image is unrelated to his driving skills. You never see the explosion of color and light in him - as a person. Generally, as a result of this reticence to reveal himself, Senna is not liked. He is considered arrogant by the people who create images - the press.

A measure of his unpopularity was the press office at Monza, which erupted with joy as Ayrton braked for the Parabolica on lap 45 of the Italian GP. His McLaren-Honda smoked as it turned into the corner then spun lazily round on its own oil. The leader - the greatest driver in the world - was out; his World Championship chances took another dive. Generally, the press were happy.

Those same raucous cheers had been heard in Montreal and in Silverstone where Ayrton had retired similarly. The crowd reaction, inspired by what they read in the press, is the same.

Public persona rarely reveals the real man and I have no doubt that behind his uncaring, dispassionate, facade, there is a nice guy in Ayrton Senna. I would just like to see it.

I prefer to think of it as shyness, a world-weariness at being constantly questioned and a belief that, frankly, it doesn't matter what people think. What he achieves on the track, he believes, should speak for itself.

Perhaps Ayrton believes that no-one has any right to see what he is really like. True, we have no right to intrude, nor indeed would many wish to, but not all questions are an intrusion.

"The true artist," wrote George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, "will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at 70, sooner than work at anything but his art."

Senna is an artist - at the height of his powers. In the years to come, we will remember him with awe yet not with fondness.

It is often argued that public relations is part of the job of being a modern racing driver. Professionalism and sponsors dictate that this must be so. I mentioned just such a thing to Dennis Jenkinson, scribe for more Formula 1 seasons than I have years on this earth, on Sunday evening at Monza.

"Who says so?" He fired back waspishly. "Who says that a driver must be a PR man? The press says so! That's who."

"No," I snapped back. "The sponsors are putting in so much money, the drivers owe it to them."

"The sponsors will always go for the fastest man," said Jenks quietly.

I do not agree. Single-mindedness is all very well, but to dismiss the people who pay the bills, to treat them with destain is foolish. The rich carpet of money they provide can be pulled out from beneath Formula 1's feet when they please.

Alain Prost, a much more overtly affable - and therefore more promotable - individual, is still upheld by some as the greatest, yet he hasn't been able to hold a candle to his Brazilian team mate this year. He is, however, a lot easier to understand, a lot more human.

"People refer to the fifties as the Golden Years," wrote Stirling Moss in the seventies. "I think now they were the passionate years. Now the guy gets into the car and does a fantastic job and he earns his money and this is great; but there's no real passion, no real fire."

"I'd like to be remembered for having contributed to motor sport, not as a driver, but as a person."

Motor racing is a passionate sport, generally involving very passionate and colorful people. Ayrton may not care about such things, but it strikes a chill to see a man who drives which such fire and passion, emerge from his car with such an icy coolness to the people around him.

Last year we hoped that success would calm Senna, make him more relaxed, less zeroed-in on winning everything at the expense of everything else. It hasn't happened.

Ayrton is a great champion - one of the greatest - but he may not be remembered as one. That isn't right, it isn't fair, but it is the way of the world.

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