A successful career in karting is now part of a driver's preparation for Formula One. All current drivers and 29 of the last 30 F1 champions began by racing karts. Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton had karts at four years of age, while Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel both started at three. If karting is now such an important part of a driver's career, how much is the kart that Ayrton Senna raced to fourth place in the 1981 world karting championship worth as memorabilia?
It's now more than two decades since Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna died during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Few sportspersons can perform with such singularity of purpose and mastery of their craft that they raise goosebumps a quarter century later and Senna was one.
That Senna died prematurely is an understatement. Many feel he would have gone on to best all others on the all-time greats list, and his ability to produce one blisteringly fast lap when it counted was legendary, as was his uncanny ability to drive at the limit in the wet. When the track was so slippery that it required supreme control, Senna could take an uncompetitive car and embarrass the rest of the world.
Niki Lauda, as a three-time champion and still one of the key components of the winning Mercedes-Benz team, is well placed to make the call on the best ever, having been an integral part of the sport for more than four decades. His opinion: "He was the best driver who ever lived."
Senna learned those skills in a kart. His dad built him his first kart at the age of four, although he didn't start competition until the age of 13. Once he got started though, he quickly progressed through Brazilian, then South American and then World championship racing. He learned his racecraft and honed his skills in a kart, winning countless titles and first gaining international recognition in the sport.
Karting offers by far the most bang-per-buck of any form of motorsport, and though they are driven differently to open wheelers, they're close enough to help develop nearly all the skills you'll need at a later date if you make it all the way to Formula One.
As with any other sport, the earlier you get started, the better. Motorsport greats Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel all learned how to go fast in a kart long before they found themselves in an open wheeler.
Indeed, the last World Formula One Champion who didn't start in karting was Damon Hill, who made a late start to motorsport, going motorcycle racing at 21 years of age. Though he was a late starter, he does appear to have had somewhat of a genetic advantage, as his father Graham twice won the World Formula One Championship.
Prior to Hill, you need to go back to Niki Lauda (1984), Keke Rosberg (1982) and Alan Jones (1980) to find a champion who didn't start their career in karts.
Absolute success (an outright world title) in both spheres however, seems to have eluded everyone, though McLaren's Fernando Alonso did win the Junior title.
Riccardo Patrese won the 1974 World Karting Championship (Eddie Cheever was second), but didn't go on to win a Formula One title.
Endurance Racing great Tom Kristensen has won the Le Mans 24 Hour race nine times, but the best he could do in karting was a second in 1987 and a third in 1991. Jan Magnussen won the world karting title in 1990, Jarno Trulli in 1991, and Vitantonio Liuzzi in 2001, but all of them failed to capture a world F1 championship. Jenson Button won a Formula One title but the best he finished at the World Karting Championships was second in Formula A in 1995.
Indeed, the two drivers that battled out the 2014 World F1 title both existed in the very top echelon of karting and even in the same team during their karting years, as the above image shows. Lewis Hamilton was the European Karting Champion in 2000, but did not win a world title. Nico Rosberg also went on from karts to reach the pinnacle of motorsport.
Two-time F1 Champion Fernando Alonso began racing karts at three years of age, and won a Junior World Karting title but not an open title. Four-time F1 champion Sebastien Vettel also began racing karts at three years of age, finishing a best of sixth in the world karting championship before moving on to open wheelers.
Formula One fans may spend hours looking through the Facebook page entitled When F1 drivers used to be karting drivers, but the closest a Formula One champion has ever come to winning a karting championship was, as you may have guessed, Ayrton Senna.
When in 1994 a journalist asked him who he felt had been his toughest opponent, Ayrton Senna replied: "You don’t know him; his name is Terry Fullerton and I fought against him in karting."
A few years before, after his first Formula One world title, the Brazilian stated in a press conference that his biggest regret was that he had "never won the World Karting Championship."
Senna finished second in the world karting championship in 1979 and 1980, fourth in 1981 and the kart he drove in the 1991 championship event is up for auction in Paris and the big question is what will it fetch?
Normally, the former items of world-beating sportspeople command a significant premium at auction, and premature death creates a scarcity of memorabilia which causes prices to rise, and ex-Senna gear in particular has done exceedingly well at auction.
Some recent Senna memorabilia sales
Which brings us back to Ayrton Senna's kart.
If Bonham's estimated sale price of €24,000 to €28,000 for Ayrton Senna's 1981 DAP KART is accurate, it will be one of the cheapest Senna memorabilia items ever sold. That's US$27,000 to US$32,000 given the favorable USD exchange rates at present.
The kart finished fourth in the World Karting Championship in 1981. It is as much a part of his history as the F3 car that sold for five times the kart's estimate, and indeed, as much part of announcing the sublime talents of the Brazilian to the world as the Toleman which has an undisclosed price, but rest assured it is at least an order of magnitude greater. This is a potential bargain.
Ayrton's kart will go under the hammer in Paris on February 5 at the annual Les Grandes Marques du Monde au Grand Palais.
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