Martin Brundle on Ayrton Senna: My Greatest Rival

In 1983 two drivers dominated British Formula 3. Martin Brundle remembers his firecracker season with a shrewd Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna celebrates winning the 1983 British F3 championship at Silverstone next to Martin Brundle

Mike Powell/Getty Images

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I could have chosen myself as my greatest rival. So much of sport is all in the head, every driver has his demons, the pressures, the insecurities, and I had those with Ayrton Senna when we battled for the British Formula 3 Championship in 1983.

There’s always a genius driver who comes along to spoil your day, and Senna’s reputation preceded him. He won the first nine races, and that started to do my head in. Then, when I won at Silverstone in June, and he crashed trying to keep up with me, I realised I could beat him in the same car on the same day. That race was a turning point and I won the next two rounds. We both had Toyota-powered Ralts, his run by Dick Bennetts with a good budget, mine by Eddie Jordan with virtually no money. I was still selling cars for a living.

I knew Senna was beatable but it became incredibly intense when I started winning. He was rattled, he started complaining about the stewards, convinced they had it in for him and were trying to nail him for his aggressive tactics. Things came to a head at Snetterton. He’d got alongside me coming out of Sear, drove half on the grass, and connected with my rear tyre. He went up in the air, landed, but kept his foot in, and T-boned me at the next corner which, ironically, is now called Brundle. He’d tried to have me off the road. There was a ruthless streak in him, but strangely, as we saw later, there was also compassion in him.

At Oulton in August, he crashed again trying to pass me, and landed on top of me, took us both out. That was the only race all year that one of us didn’t win. That month was triumph and tragedy. We’d won the F3 support race at the Österreichring, and then the Jordan transporter crashed on the way home. My mechanic Rob Bowden was killed. It was devastating. Senna won at Silverstone at the end of August, but then I won three in a row, and was ahead on points going into the last round at Thruxton.

I wish now I’d robbed a bank to buy a new engine. Ours were knackered by this time, and Thruxton is a power circuit. Meanwhile Ayrton had been to Italy, seen his new engine on the dyno, and brought it back himself for this last race. It was no contest, he won quite easily from pole. I’ve often thought I could have rammed him on the first lap and won the championship but that wasn’t my style. Clerk of the course Sid Offord, a man of considerable size, had come up to me on the grid, pointed at me, and said, ‘No monkey business.’ I’m sure it must have been on my mind. There’s no doubt, Ayrton was my toughest rival. I could beat him on my day but that’s the key phrase, on my day, because the great drivers have many more of their days, and he did have that natural talent, that sixth sense they all have.

I probably have to thank Ayrton for my F1 career and that epic season is still talked about years later. Ayrton got his drive at Toleman, Ken Tyrrell gave me my chance in F1, and now I often think that the whole experience of being a racing driver was a fact-finding mission for my TV career!”

Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle racing in the 1983 British F3 championship

Brundle and Senna head-to-head

Brundle vs Senna
7 Wins 12
3 Poles 15
5 Fastest laps 12
19 Podiums 14
123 Points 132


Figures from the 1983 British Formula 3 Championship