But what fascinated me was when I asked him about going to the scene of Martin Donnelly’s brutal accident in Jerez, at the end of September, and the laps he did when the session resumed after the terrible evidence had been swept away, along with Martin’s promising career but not, thankfully, his life.

I’ve always believed Ayrton went to the scene because he needed to learn all he could about F1, even the bad stuff, and that he then went out to smash Jerez, to prove it could not destroy the human spirit. Had he been proving something to himself?

He took 37 seconds to answer; I later timed the tape. You had to strain to hear his voice, and his eyes were moist. The atmosphere in that room was electric.

“For myself,” he said eventually. “I did it because anything like that can happen to any of us. I knew it was something bad, but I wanted to see for myself. Afterwards, I didn’t know how fast I could go.” He paused, then added, “Or how slow.” Somehow the fact it was Ayrton Senna saying them added so much gravitas to those extra words.

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Did he have to be brave to do that? Now his eyes were swimming.

“As a racing driver there are some things you have to go through, to cope with. Sometimes they are not human, yet you go through it and do them just because of the feelings that you get by driving, that you don’t get in another profession. Some of the things are not pleasant, but in order to have some of the nice things, you have to face them.”

Well, he sure faced them that day. And whatever harsh test of courage and honour he had put himself through, he passed. I never admired him more than I did in those moments. No interview I have ever done, before or since, was as moving or insightful as that one.


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