Bruno Senna was once faster than his triple Formula 1 world champion uncle, Ayrton. It was when he was about eight years old, flat out in a go-kart in his homeland, Brazil.
Perhaps his child-weight advantage gave him the edge, something that prompted a typically Ayrton response.
“He ended up putting loads of ballast in my go-kart … to the point where if I spun and went off the track I couldn’t restart it,” says Bruno.
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As a broad smile beams, it’s clear the nephew of the triple world champion still has plenty of affection for the man who played a big role in his childhood. There was a 23-year age gap between them; Bruno was just 11 when Ayrton was killed at Imola in 1994. But his overarching memories are happy ones.
“It was quite funny to hang out with him because he was super competitive,” laughs Bruno. “He was a lot of fun to be with, always making pranks. This is the thing that stays with me most about him; at home he was like a super-relaxed guy but still had that competitive edge.”
Ayrton even modified his jetski to match the pace of Bruno on a stock ski. But Ayrton taught him race craft as much as pace.
“He was just trying to make you learn through experience … even if it was pushing you off a track when trying to overtake on the outside.”
Despite the tough love, “fun” is a recurring word in our pit garage at Silverstone for the launch of the McLaren Senna, a car Bruno helped name – and develop.
“I saw this car on the clay in November 2016. I was like ‘wow, this is amazing’,” he says. “I went to my family and I said, ‘look, these guys at McLaren are making this crazy car and I think it’s the right time to make a car with Ayrton’s name’.”
The result is (for now; see sidebar below left) the fastest road-legal car on a circuit.
“It really encompasses Ayrton’s spirit, it’s uncompromising … it really brings the passion, the driver into focus,” says Senna.
While the Senna family got one of the run of 500 as part of the deal to use the name, Bruno bought another, the carbonfibre car from the 2018 Geneva motorshow, complete with yellow and green Brazilian flag highlights.
He had input into the car’s track tuning, something Ayrton famously did with the Honda NSX.
“I’ve driven that car specifically,” says Bruno of Senna’s NSX, remembering a snaking road in 1992. “He sat in the driver’s seat and he did the throttle, brakes and gears while I steered on this mountain road in Portugal. It was super cool; I loved it, we were just going flat out around some mountain roads.”
Senna junior is now 34, a few months older than Ayrton when the world champion raced his last lap at Imola in Italy. Bruno was watching with his family at home, although the gravity didn’t initially hit him.
“You’re a kid … you never understand it until the funeral,” he says, solemn but seemingly accepting of the loss.
The tragedy shook the Senna family, to the point where Bruno’s mother, Viviane, halted his passion for motorsport. She later relented, leading to a brief stint in F1, something that lacked Ayrton’s dominance.
“I was not held to the same standards as other drivers, I was always held against Ayrton’s standards,” says Bruno. “Everyone expected me to be as good or better than Ayrton. That’s not only very difficult but also intangible … unless I had miracle drives it was never going to be enough.”
Bruno says experience and hindsight allowed him to reflect on a period that hurt and challenged him mentally.
“If I had understood that I would have probably taken it a different way and just did my job.”
These days Senna is loving the challenge of sports cars.
He squeezes in development work for McLaren, something engineers plan to further exploit.
“Bruno is very good … and, from what I hear, exactly like his uncle … the ability to get the flavour of the car and translate that into engineering speak; into how we can improve it,” says vehicle line director Andy Palmer.
As for Senna the car, it’s guaranteed to be a collector, but it may not be the only time the Senna name is used on a car.
“If the right project comes along, why not?” says Bruno.