What I learned from Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna. Photo by Stefano Chiacchiarini / Shutterstock

30+ years ago, I had a dream — to become a Formula 1 race car driver. Since there were no active motorsports in my country Israel back then, I decided to save enough money to go to the famous Jim Russell Racing School in the UK.

The year was 1991. I completed a week-long intensive training course in a single-seater Formula car, received my racing license, and won my first ever race. Wow, what a sensation it was!

I felt that I was on the right track to achieving my dream. I saved more money and returned to race with the school racing club. I took another podium finish and wanted more, but as I knew only too well, racing isn’t a cheap hobby.

I made a barter deal with the school and became their agent, convincing my fellow countrymen and women to participate in the school racing courses, and I would get free racing in return. What a sweet deal!

I was lucky enough to be present at the 1993 European Grand Prix in Donington Park, and see in person what was later called “The lap of the gods” by the legendary Ayrton Senna who drove for the McLaren team at the time.

Senna went from 5th place after the start, to 1st in the opening lap on a wet track, something that was considered inconceivable in Formula 1 terms. He overtook other F1 World Champions like Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, and Alain Prost.

Donington Park was the location of my school and racing club at the time.

A week after I witnessed my hero, Senna, performing this dream lap, I listed for yet another club race.

In this circuit, there is this infamous steep downhill corner called “The Craner Curves” where you need to accelerate flat out at top speed to keep the car balanced. G-Forces are at max. It feels like you’re free-falling while someone is squeezing you hard against a concrete wall.

The track was wet, and in the practice session I drove downhill in The Craner Curves, imitating Senna… and lost control. The little Formula race car flew over the wet grass onto the gravel trap and crunched heavily into the safety wall.

Adrenalin pumping… Blackout… All I remember is jumping out of what was left of the car.

I was physically unhurt, as I tried to comprehend what just happened. But on the way back to the pits, I was mentally devastated. Oh boy! I thought, my dream had crashed dead right then with the car.

John Kirkpatrick, the racing school director, called me to his office and said two things:

1. “You are going to pay for the damage.”

2. “Jump into the spare car and complete your qualifying session. You have a race tomorrow!”

Kirkpatrick knew that putting me back in the driver’s seat right after the crash would regain my confidence in racing, which otherwise might be lost forever. It took me many years to realize that.

I learned two things:

1. Anxiety can kill your dreams.

2. Resilience is something you should master if you want to achieve your goals.

Anxiety can put us in a state of mind that hinders our ability to do things we desire.

In many cases what blocks us is a struggle with our fear of the outcome. It can be the outcome of a very important meeting with a client, investors, a test, or an interview for a dream job.

In this kind of situation, I repeat to myself Nike’s powerful slogan: “Just Do It”! I repeat and embrace it.

The second thing I do is try to trust my ability to be resilient in case of a bad outcome.

Deep inside I ask myself: What is the worst thing that can happen? Whatever it is, I will overcome it and recover.

The minute that event starts, all my fears vanish, and good things usually occur. After all, I’m here to succeed in achieving my goal.

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