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Senna out to cast off Ayrton's shadow


Senna comfortable with extra pressure

By Andrew Benson

Sixteen years after the death of one of the sport's greatest icons, the Senna name is poised to make a return to Formula 1.

Bruno Senna, the son of Ayrton's sister Lilian, will make his F1 debut in 2010 with the new Campos team, and inevitably memories of his late uncle will come flooding back.

Bruno bears a striking resemblance to Ayrton, especially around the eyes and mouth, and at the age of 26 he has already proved that he shares some of his intellect as well.

I have done something like 5,000 interviews in my life, and maybe 99% of them have mentioned Ayrton

Bruno Senna

Bruno Senna is an unusually engaging interviewee - all the more so given that he has faced the same questions over and over again throughout his short racing career.

He is under no illusions that, as his debut in Bahrain next March draws closer, the subject of Ayrton and his legacy, and what that means to Bruno, will come up again and again.

But he has never hidden from his famous name, and he addresses what it means to him with patience, equanimity and considered eloquence.

"I started my first race with a film crew on my backside," he says, "so since the beginning there has been a lot of pressure, a lot of expectation, a lot of demand.

"It has been a constant in my life - I have always had more attention on me than others on my level.

"I know that in F1 the proportion will be much higher. I am not unaware of that. But I believe I am prepared for it. Every driver who goes into F1 has huge pressure on their back and I believe I can cope with that.

"I have done something like 5,000 interviews in my life, and maybe 99% of them have mentioned Ayrton.

Bruno Senna prepares to drive his uncle's 1988 McLaren at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
Senna drove one of Ayrton's old McLarens at the Goodwood Festival

"In a way it is bad that they are all asking me about Ayrton, but I believe that as people know me better this will also die down a little bit.

"I believe the best way of creating my own identity and success is to achieve results. F1 is the biggest showcase for that."

Bruno is open about the fact that the Senna name has helped him attract interest and sponsorship. But it has been a hindrance, too.

Like so many future F1 drivers, he began karting as a boy, but Ayrton's death, when Bruno was 10, was followed shortly afterwards by that of his own father in a motorcycle accident, and he was forced to stop his nascent career.

He did not take it up again until 10 years later, and he arrives in F1 with comparatively minimal experience in the lower categories of the sport, as explored in a previous BBC Sport interview - to the extent that his already strong CV becomes even more impressive.

It might, then, be tempting to see his graduation to F1 as him fulfilling his destiny, but Bruno himself is more down to earth about it than that.

"No," he says firmly, "I prefer to think of it as something I have really wanted, and that I have worked hard for. Because even though I have worked for less time than other drivers who have achieved it, it has still been really hard work.

"It has been very demanding, and if I did not love it I would just give up because you lose so much of your privacy and the normal life that everyone likes to have. If you don't really like it, it's not worth it."

The fame part of it for me is quite annoying - but I have to sacrifice my privacy for my passion

Bruno Senna

For a man so apparently at ease in the public eye, it comes as a surprise to learn that Bruno is a fundamentally shy man - a dichotomy he shares with his uncle.

"The fame part of it for me is quite annoying," he says. "I don't thrive on being famous because I lose my privacy.

"I have been raised by my grandfather (Ayrton's father, Milton da Silva), who is the shyest person in the world. It is all a bit outside of my normal operational window, so I have to learn how to live with this and I will sacrifice my privacy for my passion."

It is clear Bruno does not lack determination - a quality that is a necessity for all top F1 drivers, but one which, in its extreme, famously led Ayrton into controversy.

Bruno, though, says he is a less antagonistic character.

"I would say I am more measured," he says, "a bit more neutral in many ways, but I have a strong competitive side and that takes over when I am on the track.

"When I am outside the car I am more polite, less controversial. In the car I am always trying to achieve as much as I can and hopefully it won't cost too much."

Bruno Senna and team boss Adrian Campos
Senna knows he and his team have a steep learning curve in 2010

His determination, though, will be needed in 2010 as he embarks on a debut F1 season with a new team who have as much to learn as their driver.

Had history taken a different course, Bruno might already have made his debut in very different circumstances.

He impressed greatly in a test for Honda last winter, and looked set to join them alongside Jenson Button, only for the Japanese manufacturer to quit F1 and leave the team - which became world champions in their new guise of Brawn - scrabbling for survival.

With minimal testing before the 2009 season, team boss Ross Brawn opted for the experienced Rubens Barrichello, rather than take a chance on a new boy.

So Bruno, who says he understands the decision and bears no ill feeling towards Brawn, had to wait for his debut.

He admits that starting with a new team is not ideal, but insists it was his best option.

"This year, differently from last year, we had quite a few options," he says.


"Some options were better, some were not as good, but the fact is that Campos offered us quite a good deal.

"[Team boss] Adrian [Campos] knows me and is very confident in what I can do inside and outside the car.

"He decided to invest in me, and say: 'We will give you a free drive, and we can work together to find sponsors', which is in my interest as well.

"He knows that in the car I can do good things.

"It is a pretty unique situation this year in that most of the teams are asking for sponsorship or partnership from drivers, and most of the teams were dependent on that. And they were coming a bit late.

"They were going to decide on their drivers towards the end of the year. I didn't want to be in their hands, to be waiting for them to decide, so I made the calculated-risk decision of going with a new team.

"But we have great confidence that Campos will have the right things from the start."

Bruno Senna in his Le Mans Series sportscar
Senna raced in the Le Mans sportscar series in 2009

Bruno says their ambition is to be the best of the new teams - a goal shared by the other three debutants - but he says he is optimistic that Campos will provide him with the right platform to make an impression.

"My objective is always to make the best of the situation I am in," he says.

"Obviously if I can land a big-team drive after my period with Campos then it would be great but for sure it won't be automatic.

"I will have to work very hard for it, and my objective now is to work very hard with them achieve the goals we have set and show people what I can do, because that is how my career will go up."

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see also
In-depth interview - Bruno Senna
18 Nov 09 |  Formula 1
Senna seals F1 drive with Campos
31 Oct 09 |  Formula 1
Keeping Senna's name alive
21 Apr 04 |  Formula 1
Senna remembered
01 May 09 |  Formula 1
A death that shocked the world
21 Apr 04 |  Formula 1

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