April 24 is Samurai Day in Brazil – a good time to revisit a little known story about Ayrton Senna’s life – the day he was gifted a samurai helmet.
It was 1988, a few months before he won his first F1 title. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon to see mailmen dropping hundreds of letters from fans in front of Senna’s office, in São Paulo.
Eliete, Senna’s secretary, used to screen the driver’s correspondence, since Senna obviously didn’t have the time to sort through all the mail due to his commitments on the track.
But one of the gifts stood out: an authentic samurai helmet. It was a gift from Minaea Uchida, and as soon as Senna saw the fan’s present, he made sure to take the helmet home and keep it in a safe place, especially because he identified a lot with the values represented by the samurai in the Japanese culture: discipline, skill and loyalty, qualities that marked not only his career but also his character.
As a three-time F1 world champion, Ayrton Senna secured his three greatest achievements as a driver at the Japanese Grand Prix, a country where he was treated like a hero. The Japanese public loved Ayrton Senna so much it was, and still is, common to see homages from Japanese fans to the Brazilian, who drove many racecars powered by Honda engines – the Lotus, in 1987, and the McLaren, from 1988 to 1992.