The Brazilian football squad makes its Copa America debut in saturday night, against Ecuador, but the country’s main rival in the competition – as always – remains Argentina. That’s football, though. In motor sports, things are much different, especially because of Ayrton Senna, an athlete that was very dear to both nations.
The fact that Ayrton Senna is so celebrated in Argentina has a lot to do with Juan Manuel Fangio, an Argentine and five-time F1 world champion, who “adopted” Senna as his heir on the track.
The friendship between both drivers was made clear in several moments in Formula One. From the advice Fangio gave Senna in 1989, after the controversial decision of the championship, to the hug they shared on the podium of the 1993 Brazilian GP, when Ayrton won for the second time at Interlagos.
At the Fangio Museum, located in Balcarce, birthplace of the Argentine driver, more than 400 km away from Buenos Aires, both idols can be seen on a panel that stands between a Brazilian and an Argentine flag.
But the admiration of the Argentine people for Senna goes beyond that. In 1995, when the Oscar y Juan Gálvez Speedway was reopened to Formula One races, the Buenos Aires track had a “Senna S”, similar to the one at Interlagos, in honor of the driver. Interestingly, the race was won by Damon Hill, who had inherited Senna’s cockpit at Williams.
Argentina’s greatest sports star, soccer player Diego Maradona, has also made clear his affection for Ayrton Senna. In his autobiography, he mentions that Senna is his greatest idol in sports. In the late ´80s and early 90’s, by the way, sports fans in Argentina had a very specific TV schedule, on Sundays: they watched Senna’s race and, right after that, changed the channel to watch Napoli’s match – the Italian team for which Maradona played.