May 1, 2019


The Ayrton Senna Episode (re-release): Celebrating the greatest driver in Formula 1 history and the cautionary tales of driven individuals

by Peter Attia

Read Time 13 minutes

To celebrate the life of the legendary Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, 25 years to the day of his tragic death, we are re-releasing this bonus episode. In this episode, Peter and med school colleague (and brilliant psychiatrist) Paul Conti reminisce on their favorite moments in Formula 1 history, their deep admiration for the late Ayrton Senna, and the remarkable careers of their favorite drivers. Paul also helps to illuminate the psychological components that made the luminary drivers great, and the cautionary lessons we can take from their incredible lives.

We discuss:

  • Who is Ayrton Senna? [3:47];
  • How Senna’s death changed the sport [9:52];
  • The 80s & 90s: a remarkable era of Formula 1 [12:57];
  • Hypothesizing what caused Senna’s fatal crash [17:47];
  • Comparing Stewart and Senna, their incredible bravery, and what lessons we can learn from them [23:32];
  • Best documentaries on racing, and some of Senna’s best moments [31:02];
  • Gilles Villeneuve, Stefan Bellof, and some of the other greats [39:17];
  • Why Senna is widely acknowledged as the best of all time [46:17];
  • Great rivalries and personalities [49:32];
  • Rendezvous, a high-speed drive through Paris [56:52]; and
  • More.


Highlighted links:

The following links are some of Peter’s all-time favorites:

Articles about Ayrton Senna’s legacy:

Qualifying lap at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix – The best single lap in F1 history:  Remember Senna

Possibly one of the most nuanced docs (BBC): BBC Ayrton Senna Documentary

Articles/videos about Ayrton’s tragic death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix:

F1 drivers speculate on cause of Senna’s fatal crash: Ex F1 Pilots Talk about The Cause of Ayrton Senna Fatal Crash

Pure gold!: Punta Taco – Ayrton Senna

Recent articles/videos remembering Senna on the 25 anniversary of his death:


Ayrton Senna [3:45]

  • Ayrton Senna is considered by many to be the greatest driver in Formula 1 history
  • Tragically died in a crash on May 1, 1994
  • Paul and Peter both greatly admired him as a driver, and as a person
  • Peter named one of his sons, Ayrton

What did Paul love about Senna?

  • Not aware of anyone who has been more single-minded about achievement
  • Moved the bar even higher for the definition of achievement
  • Senna had exceptional physical stamina, training, controlling oneself mentally, honed reflexes, and the ability to multitask the mind and body to the very limit
  • But at the same time, he was extremely humble
  • He complimented his passion for driving with his intense passion for the suffering people of his home country of Brazil
  • He did not broadcast this, but Senna had big plans to help the educational system in Brazil

What caused Senna’s downfall?

  • He felt an extreme sense of responsibility to be the best for his country, and to make things better for them
  • Paul believes Senna was a model for the best in us, but also a model for how we can have so many good qualities but be responsible for our own downfall
  • He died, in the context of that drive, the inability to step back from the brink, his need to be better than everyone (not in an arrogant way), but in a way to feel self-worth (probably due to some trauma) that tends to isolate us, and create a feeling that there is never time to rest
  • Peter: I get the sense that he felt the weight of a nation on his shoulders
  • Paul: that has to be a shared responsibility . . . if you take that on yourself, you will cause your own demise

Lessons we can learn from Senna’s life

  • Those blessed with ability and perseverance can cause their own downfall if they don’t recognize our limits
  • Emblematic of the dangers that we can represent to ourselves and the need for compassion for ourselves
  • Had Senna lived until 90, how much more could he have done for Brazil?

How Senna’s death changed the sport [9:50]

{end of show notes preview}

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