top of page

Ayrton Senna - Maverick, Idol, Superstar, Legend, Mystic and Out-of-Body Experiencer

Updated: Aug 21

Ayrton Senna da Silva (21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994) was a notorious Brazilian racing driver. Senna reached 30 with two enviable laurels: the Formula 1 world champion, obtained in 1988, and the most beloved idol in Brazil. Before winning the title, a survey revealed that 71% of fans pointed him as the number 1 sportsman in Brazil. Of course, at the time, Senna's Popularity was not the result of chance alone: the country's soccer team was not doing so well. Nonetheless, his popularity was not the result of sympathy either. He was a maverick driver. At the time of the interview with Playboy, he led the Formula 1 championship and completed his hundreds of Grand Prix with a very rich collection of records: 46 pole positions, thirteen in the same season, and eight victories also in a single year, only a mention outstanding performance. It made him a worldwide superstar. He didn't let it drive his ego.

Despite the succession of glories and the million dollars in Formula 1 contracts, Senna remained discreet and dismissive of his success, saying: "Numbers are just numbers". That philosophy led him to be an example of compassion. It was only after Senna's death it was discovered that he had donated an estimated $400 million of his fortune to children's charities, a fact that, during his life, he had kept secret [1]. Despite his passion for Formula 1 and his drive to compete, this compassion was also exemplified on the track, where he saved the life of a fellow driver, Erik Comas [2]. Senna was indeed modest and restrained in talking about himself, which makes his honesty and recorded confessions in the Playboy interview referred to below one of the most interesting portray of Senna, providing insights into little-known aspects of his mind: he was a mystic. A mystic interviewed by Playboy!

Playboy – Brazilian Edition 181

Playboy – Brazilian Edition, 181. August, 1990

Senna was a Catholic, but certainly not like most Catholics in Brazil despite the prevalence of mysticism in Brazil's religions—a sort of syncretism in such a country. He didn't like the mess. He didn't like the cult and only liked attending the church when it was empty. Nonetheless, his mysticism was not affected by it. When he won the Japanese GP in 1988 and his first world title, he declared he saw God in the last two corners of the race. He described the experience in Playboy in the following terms: "I was thanking Him for the victory. God gave me a fighting championship, which I won in the penultimate race of the year, as every driver dreams of. It was a huge gift. Even though I was praying, I was super focused, preparing for a long, 180-degree turn, when I saw the image of Jesus. He was so big, so big... He wasn't on the ground. He was suspended, with his usual clothes, the usual colour, and a light around him. His whole body rose to the sky, high, high, high, taking up all the space. At the same time, I had this incredible image, I was driving a racing car, guiding it with precision, with strength, with... with everything... It's crazy, isn't it? It's maddening!". This experience was probably his first recounted Out-of-Body Experience (OBE), although he may not have seen it this way [3].

But Senna equally and more specifically described an OBE, not the least, one spontaneously achieved while driving (!) [4]. He testified the following from his experience:

"I managed to see myself from outside the car. There was a white line around the machine and my body, a kind of wave, which appeared to me as strength and protection". And while doing so, Senna said: "I entered another dimension. I felt incredibly peaceful and had the certainty that I was well-balanced, body and soul, whole. There was nothing left out, everything was round, in harmony".

Ayrton Senna OBE

His dedication and his relentlessness to continually achieve better were well known—a trademark of his persona and philosophy. But it was more than a simple life philosophy; it was a metaphysical pursuit of constantly surpassing one's limitations. Certainly, an inspiration one may see in Out-of-Body Experiencers (OBErs) who are constantly willing to overcome their limitations and their capacity to project. On that matter, he said: "On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit. And you then go for this limit, and you touch this limit, and you think, 'Okay, this is the limit'. And so, when you touch this limit, something happens, and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high".

Senna exemplified such will at the time-check for the 1988 Monaco race when he had already taken the pole. Still, Senna stayed on track to overcome its limits: "With each new lap, the difference to the other drivers increased, until I got to be 2 seconds in front - an eternity in a race. I was pushing myself at every lap, and I just entered another dimension. Because of speed, space and time, references had changed. I couldn't see the track; it had turned into a tunnel. The distinction between man and machine ceased to exist: "I merged with the car, we became the same thing". He then realized that he was: "no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension". He said on that matter that "he got scarred" because although he was "able to control the car, he was led by an unconscious" drive, possibly a type of subconscious automated control of the machine—a unique state of flow.

Senna's intuition extended beyond the tiny proprioceptive feedback from the machinery to the heart of the technology he was driving. But it seems to be only a subconscious capacity led by years of training and brain thinking. During one high-speed practice for Mclaren, he pulled his car into the pits and instructed the mechanics to replace his engine. Ron Dennis, the former role as owner, CEO, chairman and founder of McLaren Group, was not mused – this was a serious waste of time and resource, if not as he thought a "brain fade" on Senna's part. In spite of Senna's insistence, the point chief mechanic pointed out that all the electronic and mechanical sensors were showing perfectly normal readings. But again, Senna insisted; such was his authority within the team that they complied and after a lengthy inspection, the team found a tiny hairline fracture in one of the components. This condition could have resulted in a blown engine. Was it a simple perception? An intuition or an inspiration? Certainly, it is known in neuroscience that dedication to one’s work unlocks remarkable insights and experiences.

Senna's death was equally extraordinary in many ways. Senna predicted someone would die in the exact track place he died – the Tamburello corner of the Imola circuit [5]. Whether it was precognitive knowledge or a condition led by a true worry he expressed in his professional life with track safety, he died five years after the prediction. Sid Watkins, a world-renowned neurosurgeon and the head of the F1 medical team, who attended Senna post-impact, was with Senna when Senna passed away. He recalls the fact that "he looked serene", and after lifting him from the cockpit and laying him on the ground that "he sighed", and although he considers himself completely agnostic, he "felt his soul depart at that moment". Senna became a became Legend in Brazil. The legend continues at high speeds—flying above the skies this time.

Far from residing in the outdated, abstract, or irrelevant realm, Ayrton Senna's experiences reveal the profound fusion of non-ordinary states, human existence and experience. These narratives resonate with an appealing allure, calling our attention to the human spirit's timeless and incredible capacities when focused to such extreme, showing OBEs can be born from the most diverse conditions and finally underscoring how little we understand about such a phenomenon.

Rodrigo Montenegro

MSc. Neuroscience,

Sleep Consciousness Researcher,

PhD Candidate.


Playboy – ed. 181. August, 1990, Editora Abril, São Paulo - SP.

[1] The Ayrton Senna Institute, born after his accident and death at Imola in 1994, was Ayrton Senna's long-held dream to support children in a country where everyone did not have the chance to achieve whatever they wanted. His sister, who founded the organization in November of that year, realized his dream. [2] The Frenchman had crashed very heavily and was knocked unconscious. Senna was the only driver to stop. He ran from his car in front of traffic, shut off Comas's engine so it wouldn't catch fire, then held his head to stabilize his neck until the paramedics could arrive. [3] The experience is reminiscent of OBEs meeting with entities larger than life such as recounted in Near-Death-Like Experiences, although these are not usually experienced in the waking state. [4] It should noted that this is an extremely rate OBE occurrence, probably a consequence of driving with extreme fatigue, and it is not an experience that is recommended to have. [5] Senna did mention his worries to fellow driver, Gerhard Berger, to see what could be done in the name of safety at the Tamburello corner. Senna wanted to move the retaining wall of that part of the circuit further back, but there was a river just behind it. Senna told Berger that he feared someone would die in that spot.

bottom of page