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F1 History 7

Ayrton Senna’s greatest drives

In the May issue of Motor Sport, we featured two milestones in Ayrton Senna’s career: his first Formula 1 test with Williams at Donington in 1983 and his great victory at the same venue 10 years later.

history  Ayrton Sennas greatest drives

May 1, of course, marks a much sadder anniversary, that of his death at Imola in 1994. But rather than focus on that dark weekend, we’ll be looking at some of his career highlights. To coincide with the Senna content in the magazine, we ran a poll asking what you thought Senna’s greatest drive was. Here’s the countdown of results.

5. 1988 Japanese Grand Prix (seven per cent)

It’s surprising that this race didn’t feature higher in readers’ estimations, as it was at Suzuka that Senna clinched his first World Championship. Starting on pole, he would stall on the grid. By the time he had bump-started his McLaren, he was down in 14th place. In changeable conditions on a slippery track, he came back to win the race and the title.

4. 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix (12 per cent)

It took Senna until 1991 to win his home Grand Prix, and he did so in dramatic fashion. Starting from pole (where else?) he carried his lead to the first round of pitstops, when a closing Nigel Mansell lost a lot of time, leaving him fourth. The order settled once the stops were finished and the Williams was coming up fast once again, but he was waylaid by a puncture, leaving Senna to cruise home.

That is until his gearbox started to give up the ghost. Mansell yet again began to demolish the gap as Senna lost fourth, then third and fifth gears, but the hapless Brit’s own ‘box began to deteriorate. The charge was taken up by team-mate Riccardo Patrese, but yet another gearbox failure left him stuck in second place. Unable to shift out of sixth, Senna won the race and had to be lifted out of his car.

3. 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix (15 per cent)

Senna’s first Grand Prix victory came in only his second race for Lotus at a sodden Estoril. Starting from pole (also a first) he drove away from the field, lapping every car but the Ferrari of second-place man Michele Alboreto, who was still over a minute in arrears. By Senna’s own reckoning, one of his greatest wins.


2. 1984 Monaco Grand Prix (16 per cent)

The statement of intent. For those who had not being paying attention to Senna’s exploits in British F3 the previous year, this was his coming out party. Dragging the largely unheralded Toleman up from 13th, he was catching Prost’s McLaren in the pouring rain when the race was red flagged. Yes, Mansell should’ve won (careless shunt aside) and yes, Stefan Bellof was even faster in the Tyrrell.  But that performance, in only his sixth Grand Prix, in an at-best-midfield turbo car, was special.

1. 1993 European Grand Prix (47 per cent)

This poll was a victory for the soaking Donington race almost as emphatic as Senna’s in the race itself. By now the story’s clear; in fifth place entering Redgate, he passed Schumacher, Wendlinger, Hill and Prost on the first lap, before winning a race that the otherwise dominant Williams team badly fumbled.

A great win, certainly, but as Nigel Roebuck once asked him, Senna’s best?  “No way! I had traction control! OK, I didn’t make any real mistakes, but the car was so much easier to drive. It was a good win, but compared with Estoril ’85, it was nothing…”

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history  Ayrton Sennas greatest drives

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7 comments on Ayrton Senna’s greatest drives

  1. chris b, 1 May 2013 21:20

    as far as i am concerned i agree with Senna, Portugal 1985 was awesome – all that power and so so clever a drive – one of the best races i’ve ever seen, and Donnington, frustrated i wasn’t there, but….not as great at some others,

    incidentally Alex i seem to remember Senna saying what he felt was his ‘greatest’ lap he’d accomplished, i think it was Monaco in practice and it was a surreal experience?

  2. Rich Ambroson, 2 May 2013 00:19

    I can absolutely see why Senna thought Estoril was a much more rewarding victory. No question.

    I would add the Brazilian GP of 1991. I so wanted Patrese or Mansell to win that one, but when Senna pulled through with a gearbox that was just about done, himself totally dehydrated and exhausted, even this Prost fan cheered for the man (and Brazilians everywhere) that day.

  3. pablo y pedro and kowalsky, 2 May 2013 09:00

    i was at estoril in 1985, and it never stoped raining during the race, Prost, a below average driver in the wet crashed in front of me at the end of the straight, “and that made me happy”, senna of course was masterfull, but let’s not forget mansell, that after starting from the back, ended up in the top six. Just imagine the race he did, running throug all that spray.

  4. Terry Jacob, 3 May 2013 06:26

    I always had the impression that the ’84 Monaco Gran Prix was red-flagged purely because Prost was being hauled -in embarrassingly fast by Senna rather than because of the weather conditions which I don’t remember reaching monsoon proportions .

  5. Pat Kenny, 3 May 2013 08:30

    It took me a while to decide between Estoril 85 and Suzuka 88. In the end I went with Suzuka. There cannot be any better measure of a driver than how they react to the pressure of being in the position to win the World Drivers Championship (particularly their first one). When your team mate, and championship rival ,in the same car was Alain Prost the pressure must have been immense. At first Senna cracked,seriously bogging down at the start and falling right down the field. I think it was how he reacted to that which marks this drive out as his best for me. Yes the McLaren was the best car (relative to the opposition) in history but he still had to catch and pass one of the true greats to secure his first championship that day. For that reason it shades Estoril for me.

  6. Steve W, 3 May 2013 13:08

    I voted for Estoril. All that turbo power in those conditions. No electronic gimmicks or gizmos to help you along. That translated to me that lowly me could never, ever even come close to doing something like that. I just don’t get that same feeling with today’s F1 cars…

  7. Carlos Sanchez, 6 May 2013 23:46

    I mean, with Senna, it is the most difficult thing to single out one or even a few, of his greatest drives along his phenomenal career as there where simply so many truly great performances!. Mind you, each and every time he raced we where assured that he would undoubtedly give us a great drive, Racing, Competing and positively putting up a fight against his opponents to the best of his ability, like I can dare to say an Alonso or Hamilton today. for absolutely none of this crap of driving at 70% to save tires and/or avoid overtaking until a) taking advantage of his pit stop or b) aided by DRS existed then, thank goodness, and so it was a GENUINE FORMULA ONE RACE. I witnessed this personally on 52 of his 161 Grand Prix contested and it still vividly remember so many episodes. Once in Monaco (where they say you can’t overtake…) coming out of the tunnel incredibly faster than the two cars ahead of him approaching the chicane he dealt with the first one on the left and subsequently dived to the inside of the second car to its right thereupon swerving left again to regain whatever racing line he could possibly manage to make the chicane, WOW!, Photographer Paul Henri Cahier and I just stared at each other in awe… And I would put Suzuka ’89
    among his great drives where Prost managed to set up his MP4 definitely better, but Ayrton gave his all to catch Prost who blocked the brazilian’s move, whereupon he still changed the damaged nosecone, out again passing Nannini, and winning the race, only to be robbed of Victory by the powers that were. Great Drive indeed!

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