The Life Lessons I Learned from Ayrton Senna

Senna taught valuable life lessons in interviews. I learned a lot from him by reading and watching this material. And you can learn from it, too.

Nicolas Rufino dos Santos
Thoughts And Ideas
6 min readNov 8, 2022


You don’t have to like Formula 1 to like Ayrton Senna. In fact, you don’t have to like sports to admire him. Often, when a person excels in his or her professional field, we can use him or her as a reference for our lives, because he or she brings together inspiring values, attitudes, and behaviors and has expressed them as valuable lessons in some way.

One of the ways to express them is through interviews. The interviews Ayrton Senna gave are always instructive. You can learn from him all the time. The driver passed on several teachings in interviews that can be used by all of us, not just racers.

In this article I will show you valuable reflections that Ayrton Senna transmitted in interviews about life and self-knowledge. One of the benefits is that you will have the opportunity to read in English material that was only available in Portuguese.

1. Calm is as important as determination

In an interview in 1986, a journalist asked Senna what a Formula 1 driver needs to be a champion, what his mind should be like, and what is required. Senna answered:

“Well, first of all, you need a lot of calm, tranquility, and consulting. You need people that have your back, giving you tips, teaching you, trying to minimize mistakes, and taking it easy. The main rule is to know how to hold back. And this is a big problem, because young people want to do everything quickly, and I am just like that, on the inside. But, by making mistakes, I learned, and I am still learning, that once in a while you need to slow down, slow down, slow down a little, because you end up losing much more than you gained with too much momentum. — Ayrton Senna.

This lesson is very important. When we ask someone for advice on how to achieve a goal, we often hear that a lot of determination is needed. And this is true. But Senna added a caveat to this lesson: besides determination, it is necessary to be calm when working, because we will never achieve excellence in our activities if we work fast and in a hurry. Calm and tranquility are fundamental. And the irony is that the one who taught us this lesson was a racing driver.

Two years after this interview, Senna won his first title, in 1988, in Japan.

2. Love for the profession can be a great strength

In that same interview, Senna was asked about self-charging and how he demands of himself to achieve results. Senna said:

“The dedication I have for motor racing is so great, but with such pleasure, willingness, and love, ever since I was a kid, since my karting days, that I believe we are able to fight on equal terms. And it’s by believing in this that I try to get the most out of myself. And this starts right from when you are getting yourself ready psychologically. At the beginning of the year you have to train hard to prepare yourself physically to be well in the season. So, when I’m going to do 7–8 km a day — which is not easy, when you get to 3–4 km you are already asking for water — the biggest motivation is knowing that I’ll have a team of 200–300 people working and they are there believing in me. So I run 7–8 km and go for it. And this will to win is what keeps me going. It’s my biggest motivation. It’s what keeps me going in a Formula One championship. There is nothing else that gives me more motivation than that. So the love I have for my activity is what keeps me going and is the greatest strength I have.”- Ayrton Senna.

Senna pointed out that the achievement of goals begins in mental preparation, and that love for the profession can be a great driving force for the achievement of goals.

3. Self-control must always override the emotion of the moment

Before winning his first Formula 1 championship, a journalist asked Senna about the dangers of a racing driver’s profession. And Ayrton answered:

“I think a Formula 1 driver learns to live with it [fear] in a different way. Not letting emotions in a moment of danger take over self-control, the mastery, and in that way decrease the possibility of the risk or the lack of control.” — Ayrton Senna.

It is interesting how this lesson can also be learned and applied in various areas of life, not only for racing drivers.

I have already commented in a previous article about the importance of self-control, and in it I wrote that calm is the greatest expression of strength and self-control. Many times in life we get provoked in some way, either by indirection, innuendo, debauchery, accusations, among other tricks, and if we can maintain self-control in face of these situations, we will not fall into the trap of disturbing feelings such as anxiety and anger. And by not falling into these traps, we can reach our goals easier.

Roberto Otsu writes in his book “The Wisdom of Nature” that when water meets a stone in its path, it doesn’t waste time creating conflicts. The water goes around the stone and goes on with its life calmly.

In a fight, the person who is calm and in control of themselves can anticipate the opponent’s movements, and therefore has more chances of winning. The aggressive fighter, on the other hand, taken by hate, will get more and more beaten. Anger is a feeling that blinds the individual and prevents him from seeing what is really in front of him. Calm and silence mean personal safety and self-control.

4. Do everything with a lot of strength, determination, and love

At the end of a 1990 interview, Senna relied a valuable message to everyone:

“To all of you who have watched this program and who have seen so many other interviews of mine, whether it’s dad, mom, grandpa, grandma, child, or teenager…maybe I have passed on many accomplishments, many challenges, many dreams of a wonderful life, a life of success, a life of fun, and I really am privileged and have always had a very good life. But all that I have achieved was through dedication, perseverance, and a lot of desire to achieve my goals, a lot of desire for victory. Victory in life, not victory as a pilot. And to those of you who are watching now, I say: whoever you are, whatever position you have in life, at the highest or lowest social level, have a lot of strength, a lot of determination, and do everything with a lot of love and faith in God, that one day you will get there, somehow you will get there” — Ayrton Senna.

Ayrton talked about his desire to achieve victory in life, not only as a driver, and that’s why I wrote this article, because I think that this advice is good for life in general, not only for racing drivers.

In other interviews, Senna said important phrases, such as: “The important thing is to learn the most from each situation, to use that in the future,” and “There is a great desire in me to improve, to be better, that’s what makes me happy, and every time that I feel the pacing of my learning process start to slow down, that my learning curve is reaching a plateau or whatever, then that doesn’t make me happy, and that applies not only professionally, as a driver, but also as a man. I have a lot more to learn as a man than as a racing driver, because my career is not going to last many more years.”

I wrote an article in 2019 about Bruce Lee, and in it I stated that sports are not just a metaphor for life, but also valuable tools for self-knowledge. Even if you are not a professional athlete — as I am not — , you can listen to people like Senna, learn from him, and apply his knowledge to your life, whether in the professional area, or in many others.

But I have to remember that you have to adapt the lessons to your own context, because most people don’t live in a competitive environment like a racing driver, right? But the lessons that Senna said remain relevant.

I have already written about people that I consider to be references for me, and who taught me valuable lessons, such as Bruce Lee, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Lao Zi. But this article is very special to me because it is about someone from my country, a Brazilian.

May this text be a tribute to Ayrton Senna from Brazil!



Nicolas Rufino dos Santos
Thoughts And Ideas

PhD student in Administration - Ethics, Virtues and Moral Dilemmas in Administration. Florianópolis, SC, Brasil. Contact: