LONDON (AP) — Twenty years after Ayrton Senna's tragic death, Ron Dennis still struggles to speak about the special bond he shared with the Formula One great.
Dennis, whose McLaren cars took Senna to three Formula One world titles, rarely delves publicly into his memories of a man who "was so good for the whole time he was on the planet."
Senna's death left Dennis devastated and the McLaren CEO still regards it as a private and complex affair, preferring to keep his emotions to himself. But as the 20th anniversary of Senna's passing is observed this week at the Imola track where he had his fatal crash on May 1, 1994, Dennis remembered one of the most fruitful collaborations in the history of the sport.
Dennis signed Senna to McLaren in 1987 on a day he will never forget. As negotiations neared conclusion, Senna and the McLaren boss could not agree on the money.
"We were arguing over half a million dollars, and I came up with the idea of us flicking a coin to decide," Dennis said in an in-depth interview with McLaren Mercedes website. "But Ayrton's English wasn't so good at the time, so there was a five-minute conversation about the details. I had to draw pictures on a piece of paper. I just wanted to find a way forward. So the coin was thrown into the air, spinning. It landed and it went off like a rocket! You could hear it rattling under the curtains, I pulled them back and I won the bet!"
That episode speaks volume about Dennis and Senna's playful mindsets. It also marked the beginning of a five-year relationship, sometimes marred by feuds and disagreements, but mostly made of joy. During his time at McLaren, Senna triumphed in 35 grand prix races.
Senna left McLaren at the end of 1993 to join Williams and was killed in only his third race for the team when the 34-year-old Brazilian crashed on the seventh lap of the San Marino Grand Prix.
Over the years Senna drove for McLaren from 1988-92, the moments of fun Dennis shared with a man who was not exactly famous for his mischievous side have a special place in his heart. Driven and focused at races, Senna was indeed game for a laugh with people he knew intimately.
When asked about his fondest memory of Senna, Dennis mentioned a bet he won.
"He gave me an envelope once, I still have it at home," Dennis said. "The envelope's been opened, but when he gave it to me it had $10,000 in it, the result of a bet we made that I could not eat a container of chili in Mexico. Before he could pull the bet back, I wolfed it down. That was about the fourth time that he had lost a bet, a big one. And I can remember him giving the envelope of money to me, and saying he was never going to bet ever again, that I'd got him into betting and that it was not a good thing to do!
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