Ayrton Senna's final F1 win: 'I could see the emotion in his eyes'


Ayrton Senna's last F1 win was delivered in some style – his McLaren team manager and close friend Jo Ramirez recalls the heady day to James Elson

3 Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 Australian GP Adelaide

Senna, clearly moved by the occasion, celebrates with Prost at Adelaide '93

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The expression on each driver’s face was doleful, yet slightly relieved too.

It was over – not just the stress and strain of the ‘93 F1 season, but an entire era: Prost vs Senna.

Standing together on the podium for the final time in Adelaide, these two greats suddenly looked like old friends – years of bitterness seeping away seemingly in moments.

It wasn’t the newly anointed champion Alain Prost who won out that day though, but Ayrton Senna, having dragged the nimble yet underpowered McLaren MP4/8 to another victory.

This would be the Brazilian’s last win before his death at Imola, 30 years ago today – it’s a race his former McLaren team manager and close friend Jo Ramirez remembers as “fantastic, one of the best grands prix I have even been too,” on the basis of sheer emotion.

Ayrton Senna McLaren MP4:8 1993 Monaco GP

Senna hustled the MP4/8 hard in 1993, but still felt limited by the engine’s power – lack of

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A brilliant win in typically crushing Senna style, that Adelaide race was a resounding crescendo following what had been a discordant season for driver and team.

After being vetoed by Prost as a team-mate at Williams-Renault, Senna found himself suffering the apparent indignity of driving for a McLaren squad that didn’t even have a works engine deal after Honda’s withdrawal at the end of ’92.

“I don’t think Ayrton ever lost the motivation” Jo Ramirez

He would therefore drive the technologically advanced but-down-on-grunt MP4/8 – if he even bothered to show up.

The Brazilian had brooded on whether to campaign ‘93 at all, but was eventually moved by McLaren boss Ron Dennis’s offer of a $1m-a-grand-prix, race-by-race offer.

However once he hauled himself behind the wheel, Ramirez says “I don’t think he ever lost the motivation”. It was just getting him in the car that was the difficult bit.

Right from lights-out at the first round in Kyalami, Senna had shown what he and the MP4/8 could do – and not do.

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Leaping into the lead ahead of a hesitant Prost and spinning Williams ‘junior’ Damon Hill, Senna clung on until the Renault’s 100bhp advantage brought the inevitable and allowed his nemesis to win.

However, the Brazilian still came home second, and things would get even better at the next round – his home race in Interlagos.

Senna took advantage of hugely changeable conditions to take a sensational win while Prost crashed out, before claiming another famous victory by dominating a rain-soaked Donington to now lead the championship from the Williams man, 26 points to 14.

Still though, the Brazilian would moan and groan his way through these early races, and Ramirez says it was the only time he and the three-time champion came to verbal blows after the team was pushed to the limit.

Yet again dragging his feet over whether to race, this time before Imola and in relation as to whether Ford would permit McLaren to use an engine on parr with the works Benetton team, Senna turned up at almost the very last minute (15 minutes to be precise) before the first practice session after taking a red-eye flight from Sao Paolo to Rome – and then promptly put the car in the wall.

3 Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 San Marino GP Imola

Senna turned up late to Imola – with predictable results

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Ramirez, who had arranged the Brazilian’s flight-plus-private-jet-plus-helicopter to make it in time, had had enough.

“I’d never had a confrontation with Ayrton before that year,” he remembers. “We were all running behind because he arrived so late – I remember shouting at him: ‘It’s all your ****ing fault! We would have been OK, we didn’t have to be like this!'”

Senna would retire from the race with hydraulic issues, but Ramirez admits he found it difficult to remain angry with one of his closest friends in the paddock.

“At the end of it, when he realised he’d buggered up that particular weekend, he smiled when we were having a glass of something – I think that was his way of saying ‘Yes, I’m sorry, I’ve been a son of a bitch’.

From the archive

“But I think if he hadn’t been that way [so demanding of getting what he wanted on-track], Ayrton wouldn’t have been so good in the car.”

Another consumate win in Monaco though would mean Senna led Prost in the championship a third of the way through with a car and engine package which was clearly inferior.

“For sure we were getting more and more excited that we could be in the running for the title,” says Ramirez. “But we enjoyed [showing what the team could do] with a less powerful car.”

Amid a run of poor results and retirements Senna would ultimately cede to the tide, as Prost pulled clear due to a series of wins in the mid season, with the Frenchman clinching the title with two races to spare.

Meanwhile the Brazilian was moving closer to the switch he had his heart set on – the Williams-Renault, F1’s best car. Prior to ’93’s penultimate race, Senna would be announced as the retiring Prost’s replacement at Grove for the following season.

Ayrton Senna Mika Hakkinen McLaren 1993 Australian GP Adelaide

McLaren’s end-of-era team picture in Australia – Ramirez can be seen at the back, sat on Senna’s right rear wheel

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Ramirez had been tasked by Dennis to persuade Senna not to sign for Williams, but knew he was on a fool’s errand.

“I gave all the arguments I could give to Ayrton, the plans, the new car etc. But the one thing I had no answer to was when he said ‘Look, I want to win races not just with McLaren,’ Ramirez told Motor Sport.

“’I want to win races and championships with other teams. I want to have a more complete career. Fangio won five world championships with four different cars. I want to be like him.”

The announcement almost appeared to act as some kind of release in the Brazilian. He delivered his fourth win of the year in Japan at the championship’s penultimate race, before serving up a vintage Senna weekend in Adelaide to sign off at McLaren.

Ayrton Senan McLaren 1993 Australian GP Adelaide

Brazilian delivered a brilliant pole lap in Australia

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Before that ’93 Australian GP, he hadn’t been on pole since Montreal the previous year, 18 months before.

However, Senna dug deep Down Under to break Williams’ 24-race pole streak with a 1min 13.371sec round the street circuit, almost half a second faster than Prost.

The lap was something to behold, and ahead of the race Ramirez says the event had a heady and surreal feeling to it.

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“For me it was one of the best grands prix of my life, very emotional,” he says.

“When we were just about to start the race Ayrton was sitting in the car and called me over. He actually just wanted to talk to me, but he didn’t want it to get picked up by the team intercom.

“Ayrton grabbed my arm very hard and pulled me into the cockpit. He said he found it very strange doing this for the last time in the McLaren.

“I said ‘I don’t have to tell you how important this race weekend is for us.'”

The pole was the first for a Ford-Cosworth in ten years, the first since Keke Rosberg’s Brazilian GP pole for Williams in 1983. Senna’s Suzuka win had hauled McLaren up to 103 race wins in total, equal to Ferrari. If Senna clinched victory in Australia, it would make McLaren F1’s most successful team in terms of GP wins.

“I said to Ayrton ‘If you win this, I’ll love you forever!’ I could see his eyes were wet. I was worried during the race I might have made him too emotional!”

Ramirez needn’t have fretted. Over a second ahead by the end of the first lap, Senna would pull away tour by tour. Apart from ceding the lead on lap 24 to Prost for a tyre change, the soon-to-be ex-McLaren man would lead the entire race and take a famous win.

Ayrton Senna takes his victory lap after the Australian F1 in Adelaide

Senna on his victory lap in Australia, 1993


“As he stepped from the cockpit, he embraced Ron Dennis and the ever-loyal Jo Ramirez, and Ron said something to him,” wrote David Tremayne in his race report for Motor Sport.

“‘He told me it’s never too late to change your mind!’ said Ayrton. ‘But anyway he said he was happy for me. And so was I, and I said that we must keep the good times, the good moments, and let’s finish that way, with the good things…”

“It was fantastic,” says Ramirez. “We celebrated afterwards in a local restaurant, an Italian trattoria, nothing expensive but with the whole team.

2Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 Australian GP Adelaide

Senna was clearly delighted with his final McLaren win

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“I gave him one of his steering wheels from that year and made a little speech saying ‘Six years with McLaren: three world championships, 35 race wins – see if you can beat that with another team! But if you can’t, come back, we’ll always be open for you.’

“Either way, with Ron we thought ‘He’s not going to like Williams, he’ll come back, he’ll be back…'”