LONDON: Gerhard Berger can joke about how he plagued Ayrton Senna with frogs, and tossed the Brazilian’s briefcase out of a helicopter over Monza, but there comes a point in every tale where the laughter stops.
Triple world champion Senna died after crashing at Italy’s Imola racetrack 25 years ago on Wednesday and Berger is wary of too much focus on the pranks that framed their friendship.
“We had hard racing at the time. Really hard,” the Austrian, a winner of 10 grands prix and survivor of a fiery crash at Imola in 1989, said at a recent lunch.
“And then just to remember frogs, you feel no good. I’m happy to tell (the story) sometimes, but in general when I think about Ayrton I like to think about this era – maybe the best era in Formula One.”
The well-polished practical jokes played by the pair, McLaren team mates from 1990-92, are very much part of the legend, however, and still raise a laugh when Berger relates them.
The Austrian once said he taught Senna how to laugh, and the Brazilian showed him how to drive.
An old favourite is the tale of how Senna’s passport photograph was replaced with a pornographic image, then unwittingly presented to immigration. Questioned later by police, Berger blamed Senna’s old rival Alain Prost.
The frogs appeared during a holiday in Australia with Senna, McLaren boss Ron Dennis and then-wife Lisa.
“I went running in the evening and there was this golf course and these big things jumping around. So I went to the concierge, gave him $100 and said bring me some,” grinned Berger.
“He brought me a whole bag full. I think 50. So I asked Lisa Dennis to help me. We had dinner and I picked up Ayrton’s room key and we went to his room and put these bloody frogs everywhere.”
Berger’s follow-up, when a furious Senna confronted him the next morning, was to enquire: ‘And where did you find the snake?’.