The inside story of the new bronze Senna statue
You now doubt will have seen it by now. It was unveiled at the recent Autosport International show. It rather stole the show too, even as it sat among what is normally the event’s star attraction of the collection of modern Formula 1 cars.
The new life-size bronze statue of Ayrton Senna is the subject in question, created by the prominent F1 artist Paul Oz and his team to mark that this year is 25 years on from Senna’s untimely passing.
And if you haven’t seen the statue yet, you may on one level be forgiven for saying ‘hey-ho’. There is of course no shortage of Senna memorabilia out there. It means coming up with something that will stop observers in their tracks is not at all a simple task.
“That’s exactly it,” Oz says of this challenge. “I first started working with Instituto Ayrton Senna, five years ago was the first painting I did with Bianca [Senna, Ayrton’s niece and Branding Director at Instituto Ayrton Senna] which was then sold for charity, that was to mark 20 years.”
And since then Oz has been thinking. “How do I take it next level to mark 25 years, create something that no one else could create, not even in the same ballpark? And I think I’ve managed it.”
Quite. What he’s come up with was hardly likely. Its conception goes back to 1993, and the aftermath of a heavy Alex Zanardi crash in practice for the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. There then was chatter, in the name of safety, of neutering the famous Eau Rouge sequence, where the accident occurred, with a chicane.
Yet Senna, despite nearly colliding with Zanardi’s stricken Lotus, would have none of it. “If you take away Eau Rouge,” he said famously, “you take away the reason why I do this…”
And so Oz decided to make that quote the basis of his latest Senna work. Further the statue is far from standard, as it portrays the late great Brazilian in the body position he would have been in his F1 cockpit driving through Spa’s iconic downhill then uphill left-right-left Eau Rouge sequence.
“It just kind of popped in my head,” Oz notes of the idea. “Apart from being an excellent track with the most dynamic of anywhere in F1, this is most famous corner or section of track in F1.”
How do I take it next level to mark 25 years, create something that no one else could create, not even in the same ballpark? And I think I’ve managed it - Paul Oz
As befits a high-speed and ultra-challenging circuit, Senna frequently cited Spa as his favourite of all. He had no shortage of success there either, winning five grands prix at this venue including an unbeaten sequence from 1988 to 1991 inclusive.
“I’ve been trying to imply the dynamic of the car,” Oz continues on the statue; “any F1 fan can look at that and they know exactly what the car is doing, and the number of people who have actually told me that since we’ve unveiled it is phenomenal, because that’s what I’m trying to achieve and [that] people have seen that from it is phenomenal.
“It looked like he’d thrown it around the corner the body is twisted and contorted but then the helmet is straight, calm, facing at the apex.”
This all of course created its own challenge, given that Senna’s body at that moment would have been hidden from the eye; surrounded by McLaren carbon fibre. This meant Oz had to use a variety of means to ascertain the body shape, including hundreds of 2D images to create 3D modelling as well as the input of several experienced drivers.
“I was very careful to get the position right,” Oz outlines, “[we had] the 3D model that it was all based on, we used an actual steering wheel to make sure the hands were the right distance apart, yes you can’t see where his feet are in the car but I consulted several drivers like Jenson Button, Max Chilton, David Brabham, Karun Chandhok have all given me feedback, they’ve all driven that era of car so as to what height the feet should be, and then it’s just try and get a dynamic into it as I said.
“I do a lot of oil painting and when I’m oil painting I’m trying to imply movement and dynamic in what is fundamentally a stationary picture, so my aim with the bronze is to try and imply the same movement and energy and dynamic.”
And presumably it’s deliberate that Senna’s right foot is planted firmly down? “Of course, of course,” Oz confirms. “There’s only one way for Ayrton to be and that’s flat to the floor.”
The sculpture weighs in at some 160kg of raw bronze and its detail is incredible – Senna’s famous helmet design, his sponsors’ logos, even overall ripples, are present. So is, as Oz notes, a conspicuous sense of movement and stress as he accelerates hard and seeks to balance his dancing machine.
Just three life-size statues will be created, with one to be placed at the McLaren Technology Centre, another at the Instituto Ayrton Senna and the third is available for sale.
It’ll lighten your wallet rather with the asking price some £199,000, though if it helps 10 per cent of that goes to the Instituto Ayrton Senna to support its work.
As intimated this project has the Senna family’s blessing, and Oz explains that this is crucial for creating something of this ambition and distinctiveness.
“Bianca five years ago had said anything you want to do just let us know and we’ll support you, which to me is all I can possibly ever ask for,” Oz says, “because without limits it allows me to come up with crazy ideas like this and know that it’s going to be able to go somewhere.
“It’s eight months’ work, well over £100,000 to create bronze like this. Unless I’m able to then promote them and market them and also then fund raise for Instituto Ayrton Senna what would be the point, if I made that and then everyone goes ‘well no you can’t sell it’?”
Bianca [Senna] five years ago had said anything you want to do just let us know and we’ll support you, which to me is all I can possibly ever ask for - Paul Oz
While the art Oz produces is demand-led, this Senna project was very much a labour of love.
“My first memories of F1 were the black and gold Senna [Lotus] JPS,” Oz explains. “I had an Airfix model that I made when I was 11 of the black and gold 97T.”
The Airfix model furthermore planted the seeds which grew into what he does today. “Then after that I did the Williams FW14B in a little Airfix,” Oz continues, “I haven’t done one since, but I think that was clearly the start of it.
“When I went to university I studied Aerospace Engineering because I wanted to study car aerodynamics. Back in the early ‘90s there wasn’t an actual car design course or an aerodynamics course, it was a general engineering degree so I thought ‘I want to do aero, I need to do Aerospace Engineering’, so that was where my mind was.
“So it’s quite a relief 20 years later to be able to come out with crazy ideas like this and actually make them. It’s not the car, but in fact it’s everything expect the car – I’d never actually thought of that!”
In addition 41 smaller ‘windtunnel’ versions of the statue are available, and one of those will set you back a (relatively) mere £49,000. But if you can’t stretch that far then you have the compensation that one of the smaller statues will also be a presence in F1 paddocks throughout this forthcoming season.
“The windtunnel sized one is going to be shown in every F1 Paddock Club this year,” Oz outlines, “[and] there’ll also be a 3D headset of it so you can walk around and it’s going to be overlaid with soundbites about Ayrton Senna taken from commentary.
“The best thing about what I’ve managed to do in Formula 1 over the last couple of years is how it’s all worked together because with Liberty Media taking over everything’s become so much more engaging and interactive. At that point I was already live painting in Paddock Clubs but now I’ve got an open invite to every one and they’re trying to help, they’re trying to use me to make it more interactive, it’s absolutely perfect.”
The windtunnel sized one is going to be shown in every F1 Paddock Club this year, with Liberty Media taking over everything’s become so much more engaging and interactive - Paul Oz
Not that F1 is close to being the entirety of Oz’s output. “Probably about 60-70% of my work is F1 now,” he says, “I need to do other stuff to keep my mind active and a little bit of variety is always good.
“I’m currently working on a show to launch next summer, when F1’s shut down I’ve then got 19 gallery shows within six weeks to try and squeeze everything in when I’m not doing the F1 stuff. I’m creating a whole show celebrating the ‘80s, which I did four years ago, called ‘The ‘80s Kid’, and we’ve got ‘80s Kid 2 coming out this summer around the UK galleries.
“But in there there’s going to be a bit of motorsport. There’s going to be a Niki Lauda piece, Barry Sheene, and then there’s kind of a halfway-between stuff like Knight Rider and the A-Team van and Ghostbusters’ Ecto-1, so it’s still cars, still the same fanbase. That’s what I’ve realised in recent years as well, it’s the same people that like Star Wars and superheroes and Formula 1!
“So fundamentally I just create art work around everything that I love in the world and people seem to like it, so that makes it a whole lot easier.”