The Senna Saga
Invariably the winter months, when there in no Formula One racing, are enlivened by some inconsequential drama whipped up into a fury by the weekly comics and the media in general This winter was no exception and I was interested to follow the saga of Ayrton Senna da Silva and his terms with Team Lotus. It ran for a full three months and everyone had his say, except oddly enough, Senna himself. Readers in all the magazines voiced their opinion of the brilliant young Brazilian racing driver, many of them never having seen him actually driving, or at best only watched him on television. The whole point at issue seemed to be, who was to take the number two car at Team Lotus for 1986. There was never any question as to who was the number one at Lotus; that was Ayrton Senna. There were numerous suggestions for the number two car, which boiled down to Derek Warwick, Mauncio Gugelmin and Johnny Dumfries, and each had his supporters. Let me say here and now, much as I like and admire Derek Warwick, that if he was as good as his supporters would have us think, then he would already have been snapped up as number one for Team Lotus, and it would have been Senna who was vying with the other two.
When all the shouting was over, Lotus team manager Peter Warr, asked one journalist the simple question “if you had to choose between Ayrton Senna and Derek Warwick as your number one driver, to win races, who would you choose?” Last year Senna won two Grand Prix races, scored innumerable pole-positions and led a whole string of races, only to be let down by Lotus or Renault. Warwick has yet to win a Grand Prix, doesn’t figure on pole-position and you can count the number of times he has been in the lead without using the fingers on one hand. So what does all this mean? It means that as a driver Warwick is no competition for Senna, yet Senna was said to have vetoed Warwick’s inclusion in the team. A lot of people jumped to the conclusion that Senna was worried that Warwick would beat him and rob him of points towards the World Championship. I say that is utter rubbish.
When Senna joined team Lotus I asked him whether he would not have rather joined the Scudena Ferrari, and his reply was that as a Brazilian the name Lotus meant much more than Ferrari. When I queried this he simply pointed out that it was Team Lotus that had made Emerson Fittipaldi World Champion. He was so happy that Team Lotus had asked him to drive for them, and hoped to emulate his fellow-countryman and to do his best for Team Lotus. Without question he did his best for them, but he found them wanting and during 1985 he lost a lot of certain victories due to Lotus mismanagement. Lotus engineering letting him down or the Renault engine failing. These frustrations were bad enough when they lost him races, but on top of that there were similar occasions during practice and qualifying, which the television viewers never see, or hear about. At all times Senna was totally confident that he could make the fastest lap, but he needed the machinery to do it with, and there were times when mechanical or electrical problems sidelined him for most of a qualifying session, leaving the way open for others to claim the pole-position which he rightfully considered could have been his. He was very patient and philosophical about it all, until about two-thirds of the way through the season when such troubles began to make him a little irritable, but he controlled himself admirably.
When he joined Lotus he signed up for 1985 and 1986, and the thought of breaking his contract never occurred to him. When the Lotus-Renault was right, it was superbly right, as he demonstrated so often. His team-mate in 1985 was a good runner, but not in the winning or leading class and at the pace at which he raced the Lotus was reliable. Driven harder, it might not have been. Regardless of statistics it seemed pretty obvious to anyone observing closely, that Team Lotus was unable to field two really strong entries. Certainly not in the manner of McLaren International, or towards the end of the season, Williams-Honda. If Senna is to win all the races in 1986 Team Lotus need to provide a better track-record than it did in 1985 for its number one car, and if Senna has doubts about its ability to do this, who can blame him! There is no question of Warwick s ability, he is in the top eight in Grand Prix racing, and knows what he wants from a racing car and can use it if given the right things. If Senna is to get the undivided attention of the Lotus management and engineers, which he needs if he is not to suffer another string of failures, he doesn’t want the number two driver causing diversions, however unwittingly. Therefore a raw recruit who will not drive fast enough to strain the engineering resources of Team Lotus would seem a reasonable idea.
If you were a Brazilian and had a Brazilian friend who would not only do everything you told him, but would follow you faithfully and had proven ability at Formula 3 level, surely you would want him as your “trouble-free” team-mate. Certainly you would want him in preference to an equally talented British driver who you barely knew and with whom you had nothing in common. If you are English and reading this, put yourself in the position of driving for a Brazilian team, having to learn Portuguese in order to communicate with anyone in the team, having to live in Brazil when you loathed leaving England and having no-one to talk to in your own language when things were going wrong.
Just driving a racing car is not all there is to being a racing driver. Can you blame Senna for wanting his fellow-countryman to join him in Team Lotus?
Through all this the support for Warwick has been splendid, for everyone likes him, we would all like to see him win races and he has always been one of the bright spots in Formula One. Warwick comes from solid Hampshire stock and the mud on his boots is real Hampshire mud, even if it does have a smattering of Channel Island dust on it at times. That he didn’t get the number two Lotus is a great pity and no reflection at all on his ability as a racing driver, and had it not been him at the centre of this winter saga, I doubt very much whether there would have been anything like as much controversy. The support he has had from all directions is very heartening, and more than bears out that the cheers he got when he passed Pironi on Paddock Bend in his Toleman days, were genuine cheers of true support. Most people will tell you that if they could re-write motor racing history, they would have Derek Warwick winning a British Grand Prix in an all-British Toleman car powered by a Hart engine. A lovely dream, but it didn’t happen.
At the end of the Senna saga young Johnny Dumfries got the job as number two driver for Team Lotus, a great day for him and a wonderful chance, but what a pity it had to be almost overshadowed by the rantings and ravings of both the knowledgeable and the unknowledgeable, to say nothing of the very poor public relations management of John Player Team Lotus.
As I have just said, a lot of us would have loved to have seen Warwick win a Grand Prix with the all-British Tolernan-Hart. That now cannot happen, not because Warwick is not driving for them but because Toleman has sold out lock, stock and Rory Byrne to the Italian Benetton knitwear firm. The 1986 Toleman cars, designed by Byrne and built at Witney, near Oxford, are to be called Benettons and all the drawings for the 1986 Toleman which were detailed TG186 have been altered to B186. Having been caught before by this sort of thing (remember the Talbot Formula 1 car?), the new Rory Byrne cars will still be Tolemans in my book. What will change irrevocably is the engine manufacturer. The Benetton-owned Toleman team has forsaken Brian Hart’s all-alloy four-cylinder engine and is using the “customer” version of the four-cylinder BMW engine, as used last year by Arrows and Brabham.
The Brabham team has brand new cars for 1986, numbered BT55, and once again Gordon Murray has produced a very startling machine. BMW Motorsport in Munich designed a new four-cylinder engine canted over 72 degrees, so that Murray could take full advantage of a lower overall height to design what must be the lowest racing car ever built, if you exclude some of the 750 Motor Club specials. It is a good thing that someone introduced wire intercoms between the driver and the engineer, otherwise there would have been problems for 6 ft 2 in Murray to talk to Riccardo Patrese and Elio de Angelis when they are seated in the cars. An interesting feature on the BT55 is the use of a gearbox with seven speeds in it, all mounted compactly in a transverse plane, ahead of the final drive. It has all been designed by Californian Pete Weissman, who built a slim gearbox unit for the Brabham team in the days of ground-effects. At somewhere like Monaco the Brabham drivers will probably only use three, or possibly four, of the seven available speeds, but it does mean that the car can have a “starting gear” and a super high top gear for the back straight at Monza, for example, and a perfect set of five ratios in between to keep the BMW engine up on peak torque output.
It is going to be strange not to see Nelson Piquet in the blue and white Brabham, after so many years, but I suppose we will soon get used to it, and I feel sure we cannot fail to see him well to the fore in the Williams-Honda. Another thing we are going to have to get used to is not seeing the gaudy Williams-Honda sideways on, with wheels up the kerbs, going like the hammers-of-hell, whether it is first or last. Rosberg has forsaken the Williams team and joined McLaren International and unless the fiery Finn changes his ways, which is unlikely, we are going to have to become used to seeing one of the smooth and immaculate red and white McLaren-Porsche cars in some pretty unruly attitudes, with the ebullient Rosberg sawing away at the steering wheel. The other one will be going as smoothly and precisely as ever, with reigning World Champion Alain Prost at the wheel. There are many people who will miss the wily Niki Lauda this year, assuming he really does stick to his word about retiring, but there are plenty of interesting things to make up for this loss.
In France Guy Ligier’s team is still on the receiving end for Renault V6 engines, and his engineers have designed a totally new car, the JS27, which ever-faithful Jacques Laffite will be driving but a big surprise is the signing of Rene Arnoux as number one driver. The “freaky” little Frenchman was paid-off by the Scuderia Ferrari at the beginning of the 1985 season and forced to “disappear” from Formula 1 for the rest of the year. He is now free to join in again though not with Ferran, and should enliven the Ligier team quite a bit, providing he has not lost the urge to drive hard. Why he was put out to grass for the whole of 1985 is something we have never been told and in Formula 1 today, with so much big-business manipulating going on, it would be a waste of time trying to elicit the truth from anyone. It could be race, religion, bad habits, personal vendettas, social affairs or any of the other diseases of our time. It will be interesting to see how he gets on.
The Formula One Cast
Up at the front of the field there is going to be some pretty serious racing, with a bunch of hard-chargers whom it would be best to remain on friendly terms with. Prost and Rosberg (McLaren). Picquet and Mansell (Williams), Alboreto and Johansson (Ferran), Senna (Lotus), de Angelis and Patrese (Brabham), and Arnoux (Ligier). For second string there will be Fabi (Toleman), Brundle (Tyrrell), Laffite (Ligier) and the “rabbits” and new-boys at the back will have to scuttle along a bit. Unknown quantities at the moment are Jones and Tambay (in the, Beatrice-Lolas) and, of all things, Andrea de Cesaris in a Minardi. D.S.J.