Few racing drivers left such an indelible mark on motorsport as that made by Ayrton Senna. One of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time, the Brazilian won the world championships of 1988, 1990 and 1991 — before losing his life in an untimely accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
He was charitable, charming and often equated his love for driving with his passion for life. And no-one captured this relentless spirit quite like Jon Nicholson, a Formula One photographer who has worked with the likes of Damon Hill and David Coulthard.
Ahead of an upcoming exhibition at Augustus Brandt in Petworth, Nicholson has revealed a selection of images of Senna — one of which is believed to be one of the last images ever taken of the icon.
Nicholson was working with Damon Hill, documenting his time racing alongside Senna at the Imola Grand Prix, when these images were taken. The photographer kept them hidden for 24 years as he believed the day, and the accident that occurred on the track, were best forgotten.
But, on such an important anniversary of Senna’s death, what better time to remember and celebrate the life of one of the sport’s most legendary icons?
“Ayrton seemed very much at peace,” says Nicholson. “Although he was under immense pressure to deliver for the Williams team. He hadn’t scored any points in the first three races.
“I was in the debrief room with Ayrton, Damon and the two race engineers. Ayrton sat there saying to me how he didn’t want to race, that they were making him race. I mean really what could I do about that? I told him to go and see Bernie. Two or so hours later he too was dead and the dread, the horror, the absolute disbelief of what had happened really struck home…
“‘Looking at this picture now 25 years later it all comes flooding back what a tragic event it had been. I can’t help thinking ‘did he know what was going to happen?’ It’s a chilling image in some ways but also beautiful, he is calm and at peace.”
The image of Senna can be seen alongside Nicholson’s other pieces of works from his extensive travels and experiences around the world, in his upcoming exhibition ‘Pausing for breath. A retrospective’. The exhibition will run from 14 June-10 August 2019 at Augustus Brandt, Newlands House in Petworth
In our latest issue, we speak to Richard E Grant about his extraordinary life. Read the full interview here…