Ayrton Senna da Silva was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. He died in a car racing accident in 1994 at the age of 34.
Senna grew up Catholic just like most of his fellow Brazilians. But it was through his work on the race track that he became truly devout and close to God.
During a stellar performance at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1988, Senna botched his one-minute lead with a crash into a wall. The embarrassing failure caused the driver to turn to religion and he began reading the Bible every day. He said,
Somehow I learned from that experience and came closer to God.
Later that year he won his first world championship and claimed to have seen a vision of God at the finish line. His faith stayed with him right up until his death. After a fatal racing accident took the life of his friend, Senna wasn’t sure whether or not he would race on the day of his own fatal accident. But he opened his Bible and read, in the words of his sister, “that he would receive the greatest gift of all which was God, himself.”
And so it was true during his life, as in his death, the words that are written on his grave:
Nothing can separate me from the love of God.
Senna wasn’t involved in partisan politics and never went on tirades about government or politicians. But he was deeply aware of the great inequality in Brazil between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. He said,
Wealthy men can’t live in an island that is encircled by poverty. We all breathe the same air. We must give a chance to everyone, at least a basic chance.
For Senna, the best way to bridge that gap was through the education of children. He quietly donated millions of dollars of his personal wealth to impoverished children in Brazil, and right before he died, he spoke with his sister about his desire to create a more formal foundation to aid the cause. After his death she created the Ayrton Senna Institute to fulfill his goal of bridging the gap between rich and poor in his home country.
It might not be partisan politics, but it illustrates that Senna felt deeply the strong bond of humanity that is at the root of all politics. He might not be here to speak for himself, but his legacy lives on.