Pierre Gasly on driving Ayrton Senna's first F1 car: 'It's pure racing'


Pierre Gasly took to Silverstone in Ayrton Senna's very first F1 race car, the Toleman TG183B – he describes the experience to James Elson

17 Pierre Gasly drives Ayrton Senna's T

Gasly hits the track in Senna's Toleman TG183B

Jakob Ebrey

They say never meet your heroes – but, when the car’s the star, that’s probably not the case.

Pierre Gasly proved just that when he recently drove his idol Ayrton Senna‘s very first Formula 1 machine, the Toleman TG183B, at Silverstone.

Speaking to Motor Sport at the track test, grand prix winner Gasly said the once-in-a-lifetime experience was “just an absolute thrill.”

The outing was organised for a Sky Sports F1 30th anniversary Senna tribute film, which will air during its Imola grand prix coverage this weekend. Fans will also have a chance to see the car as part of a Senna demonstration run at this summer’s Silverstone Festival.

Not only did Senna make his F1 debut in this very car, he also scored a point at his second race in Kyalami – as well as another at the very next GP in Zolder. Amid the adrenaline rush, the historical significance is clear for Gasly, who was also trying out a special tribute helmet which will be used at the Imola GP this weekend.

2 Pierre Gasly drives Ayrton Senna's T

Gasly will be running his special Senna tribute helmet this weekend

Jakob Ebrey

“It’s just exceeded my expectations – it’s my first ever time running in a car that was that was built before I was even born,” he said.

“It’s obviously a piece of history, just seeing how different it is to what I’m used to. No dash on the steering, just plain, so pure – gear stick, steering, clutch, brake, throttle, and that’s it!

“I just love the raw driving, no buttons, not looking at the dash – you’re just there, yourself and the track. It gave me a feeling which I’ve never experienced before.”

As well as being a quirky solution to the sudden 1983 banning of ground effect – the front wing radiator and double-rear wing arrangement tell you as much – the 183B is a visceral F1 beast coming from a more unreconstructed racing age, and the Frenchman said getting to grips with the 700bhp 1.5-litre turbo was one of the trickiest aspects.

12 Pierre Gasly drives Ayrton Senna's T

Frenchman didn’t hang about – but was aware of relative safety differences from then and now

Jakob Ebrey

“The turbo was quite particular, where it kicks in,” he commented on a car which weighs in at just 540kg, a third less than his own modern-day Alpine.

“I’ve always been used to paddle shifts. Today, for the first time, I had to use a H-pad gearbox, which is very unusual for me.

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“With the clutch, the way the car behaves in relation to the gear shifts is also quite different.”

Sky commentators Martin Brundle and Naomi Schiff were on hand to help with proceedings, with the former commenting that his old F3 nemesis‘s Toleman just looks like a “big Formula Ford car”.

Would Gasly like to be racing ’80s era of fire-breathing turbos and heroes like Senna, Prost and Mansell?

“I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t ever really attracted by classic old cars,” he admits. “I’m very into all the latest [road-going] hypercars.

“However this experience made me feel something unique. In my generation, anytime I’ve jumped in a car I’ve never really thought about safety – even if sometimes it’s thrown right in your face with some tragic events, generally these days things are a lot safer.

“I was thinking these last few days about jumping in that car, back then the safety was different. You respect the machine even more.

6 Pierre Gasly drives Ayrton Senna's T

Gasly compares notes with Brundle and Schiff

Jakob Ebrey

“I was pushing more and more, getting closer to the limit – but then you have this sense of [the relative] safety [or lack of] which comes to the back of your mind.”

The emotion is clear for Gasly in emulating Senna in some small way – so why did he latch onto the Brazilian, and not French hero Alain Prost?

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“Obviously, Alain Prost is one of the most successful and iconic F1 drivers of all time, and in France he’s a legend.

His and Ayrton’s rivalry is probably the most iconic in F1 – whenever you’d hear about Alain, Ayrton’s name would be mentioned.

“I started to watch documentaries and learn more and more about Ayrton.

“I really like this sort of personality that you had inside the car, but also outside the car: his value, his beliefs and what he was giving back to his community in Brazil.

“You could see how huge he was, when there was the tragic incident in Imola and how many people were impacted. You still see it now around the world at race tracks, people screaming his name.

“He was more than just a Formula 1 driver.”

It also isn’t lost on Gasly that he is now driving for a team whose lineage – via Renault, Lotus, Renault (the first time) and Benetton – owes itself to Toleman. It’s essentially the same team at which Senna started his career. A handful of people who were there at the start in the early ’80s are still working at Enstone today.

“You think about it, the legacy is really, really cool,” he says. “There are some original Toleman people here today, it’s crazy – I’m working with team members that actually worked on Ayrton’s car 40 years ago! It’s a lot of history.”

In what will be the biggest demonstration parade and display of Ayrton Senna competition cars even seen, the Toleman TG183B and many other of the Brazilian’s renowned racing machines, including McLarens, Lotuses and his pre-F1 examples, will run at this year’s Silverstone Festival (August 23-25) in celebration of the three-time world champion thirty years after his death. Full details and tickets can be found here