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How can you possibly describe levitation to anyone and not have them look at you with abject disbelief? Look, I’m not advocating taking up a new religion or changing your pharmaceutically supplied ‘legitimate’ drugs for the more intoxicating ‘illegal’ ones. After all, the government backed industry wouldn’t want its customer base eliminated. All the same, I witnessed levitation at Silverstone in 1991 and at the time the sight left me breathless, speechless and shaken to the very core. My friend and I had travelled up for the weekend and had practically walked around the circuit when Saturday qualifying was about to start. Finding a position on a manmade hillock located near the exit of the Becketts complex – we settled in for the hour. Ant, as always, prepared his camera to record the cars whilst I enjoyed the hot summer day.
Twenty five years ago - the qualifying hour on the Saturday was open with however many laps each driver wished to run. The race cars, the spare cars, spare engines and unlimited tyres were available to every competitor and it was a choice how they utilised their equipment. Nigel Mansell in the ever-improving Williams FW14 lay down a marker for his weekend ambitions; another British pole and victory. Of course Senna was fighting to maintain a decreasing point gap for the title and was visually entering areas of his psyche to compete against the faster car. The Brazilian accelerated on to the race track and the partisan crowd watched as he slowly prepared the car for its assault on the top position. No sooner had he taken pole from Mansell than the British driver emerged for another run. This continued throughout the hour with their respective team-mates falling further behind. As the time approached 2pm, Senna emerged for his final attempt and despite all the cars on track – the crowd paused as they watched genius transcending physics.
The leading edges of his front wing trailed showers of sparks throughout the lap. As the Mclaren entered Maggotts it seemed as though the car was powered by cascades of fireworks. The left-right-left combination showed no alteration in the vehicle’s poise and the scintillating display remained constant throughout. As Senna turned into the final right hander of the new Becketts complex you could see his will visibly twist the car through the air and plant it in preparation of a full assault down the Hangar straight. I’d heard of his transcendence during qualifying for the 1988 Monaco GP but here we were witness to this in visual form. Fairy tales rarely come true and the mesmerising performance was put into perspective by the determination of the Lion Heart as he propelled his Williams to pole position - 0.679 ahead. There was no doubt that Mansell was committed to succeed but the car sailed serenely through the same corners that had witnessed Senna seemingly bend carbon-fibre to his will. Silverstone celebrated a British winner on the Sunday with Senna’s Mclaren-Honda running out of fuel during the last lap. Over the years drivers have played the part of a taxi service to their fellow comrades but was there ever a more iconic picture than this?