In practice for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna was driven to a previously inaccessible level of performance by his desire not just to beat, but to destroy team-mate Alain Prost. Two seconds a lap quicker than Prost at one stage, Senna subsequently recalled attaining a mental state in which his subconscious mind had gained control, and in which he sensed the opportunity to go even faster, but feeling vulnerable, he decided to step back:
"Suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was kind of driving by instinct, only I was in a different dimension. I was way over the limit, but still I was able to find even more. It frightened me because I realised I was well beyond my conscious understanding."
There is a common suggestion that Senna believed he had a religious experience that day. One can hypothesise that as Senna concentrated with laser-like intensity on the rhythm of driving through the unwinding tunnel of barriers at Monte Carlo, he induced himself into a trance-like brain-state, and that what scared him was the feeling of an imminent loss of self-identity, the same feeling commonly induced by many shamanistic religious rituals. In particular, by looking at brain scans conducted on religious devotees engaged in meditation, one can hypothesise that the part of Senna's parietal lobe responsible for the conscious sense of self was shutting down:
Broadly speaking, the left-hemisphere side of this region deals with the individual's sense of their own body image, while its right-hemisphere equivalent handles its context — the space and time inhabited by the self. Maybe, the researchers thought, as the meditators developed the feeling of oneness, they gradually cut these areas off from the usual touch and position signals that help create the body image.
"When you look at people in meditation, they really do turn off their sensations to the outside world. Sights and sounds don't disturb them any more. That may be why the parietal lobe gets no input," says [Andrew] Newberg [a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia]. Deprived of their usual grist, these regions no longer function normally, and the person feels the boundary between self and other begin to dissolve. And as the spatial and temporal context also disappears, the person feels a sense of infinite space and eternity.
The mystical aura which surrounds Senna's achievements in the sport, and raise them above the achievements of Michael Schumacher in the minds of many, can be attributed in large part to what Senna believed he experienced that day at Monaco, and the vivid manner in which he was able to communicate those experiences. Whilst Senna's beliefs were in a sense delusional, those delusional beliefs may well have been directly responsible for permitting him to access levels of performance denied to other drivers.