In these days of private jets, it’s rare for journalists to share a flight with an F1 driver, let alone have the chance to chat. I captured this moment on the asphalt of Santiago de Compostela Airport on the day after Ayrton Senna had won his third F1 race, the 1986 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez. The track’s comparatively remote location meant F1 folk were having to use the same charter flight, one which needed to refuel in north-west Spain prior to completing the journey to the UK.
While waiting outside the aircraft, Senna spent time chatting with Michael Tee, son of Wesley J Tee, former proprietor of Motor Sport. Michael, who later founded the LAT photographic agency, was deputy chairman of Championship Sporting Specialists dealing with sponsorship for five F1 teams, including Lotus.
Senna was accustomed not to only seeing Tee in the Lotus motor home, but also being familiar with his role as a trackside photographer. Senna took the opportunity to quiz Tee about what he observed during a dramatic race which finished with Senna holding off Nigel Mansell’s Williams by 0.014sec.
Discovering how the Williams FW11 compared to the Lotus 98T was typical of Ayrton’s relentless search for any means of improvement, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. This productive use of Senna’s travel time was not new.
The day after his impressive first win in Portugal the previous year, Ayrton had been on the same flight as Denis Jenkinson. Never having had a conversation with Motor Sport’s legendary correspondent, Senna was nonetheless aware of Jenkinson’s knowledge and took the opportunity to ask his opinion about previous world champions and what made them special. Rarely impressed by what racing drivers had to say, ‘Jenks’ came away with new-found respect for Senna’s focus.
His self-serving priorities can be seen to a lesser degree with his Tacchini clothes; a personal sponsorship deal arranged during his time with Toleman. Ayrton had insisted on continuing with the Italian fashion company despite having become the standard bearer for John Player Team Lotus and its aggressive black and gold branding. Few at Lotus were likely to argue with his demands after the Jerez victory. Judging by the intensity of this discussion, however, the man himself clearly believed there was always room for improvement.