Senna, Pele and Fangio: Ayrton's 'electric' final Brazilian GP win


30 years ago, Ayrton Senna won his home grand prix for the final time, an F1 victory that provoked a storm of emotion at Interlagos

Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 Brazilian GP

Senna celebrates one of his greatest wins

Paul-Henri Cahier / Getty Images

Senna stood on the top step of the podium, Fangio handed him the winner’s trophy and Pele joined the afterparty: it was one of F1’s most dramatic and enduring scenes, celebrating a landmark victory from one of its greatest drivers.

The 1993 Brazilian Grand Prix saw Ayrton Senna spear through monsoon conditions in an inferior car to snatch the championship lead from arch nemesis Alain Prost in front his adoring home fans, it would be the final time he’d win in Brazil before his untimely death a year later.

Driving a well-balanced but underpowered McLaren MP4/8 against the one of the most technically advanced F1 cars ever in the form of the Williams FW15C, Senna’s ’93 season was one of fighting – and often overcoming – adversity – but it was also one marked by sadness and uncertainty, with all feeling that a remarkable era was coming to an end.

Three decades on, his team manager and close friend Jo Ramirez recalled the race to Motor Sport, saying Senna’s incredible performance and the “electrifying” atmosphere in Brazil was a high point punctuating a general atmosphere in the team that was “bad all year”.

2 Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 South African GP

Senna took the lead in Kyalami, but was soon reeled in Prost


Senna stays at sub-par McLaren

After labouring through 1992 with the MP4/7, an out-of-contract Senna had been desperate to secure a place at new champions Williams alongside the returning Prost for the following year. However, with bitterness still strong between the two, the Frenchman vetoed the move, leaving a furious Senna to decide between the chaotic and underperforming Ferrari squad or a McLaren team struggling to keep up with Williams and its works Renault engines.

The Brazilian would eventually plump for McLaren and its customer Ford power unit, but only after agreeing to do so on a race-by-race basis – and for the eye-watering sum of $1m per race.

All this set the scene for one of Senna’s greatest years in which he took five wins and finished second in the championship in spite of the power disadvantage – but Ramirez emphasises the stress it put on Woking.

From the archive

“At the time, [team boss] Ron [Dennis] had to be robbing banks – getting more and more sponsors and so on,” he remembers. “We were paying a million dollars per race!

“Ron was such a competitive guy though, for the sake of having the best he would do anything.”

Low expectations for Interlagos

With Senna eventually onboard, the opening round of 1993 at Kyalami was somewhat a microcosm of the season. The Brazilian leapfrogged polesitter Prost from second, but eventually fell back into the clutches of the faster Williams and had to settle for second.

Despite the obvious potential shown, Senna still wasn’t convinced. Ramirez remembers the tension rising at Interlagos as the team waited for its disgruntled star arrive.

3 Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 Brazilian GP

Uncertainty surrounded whether Senna would decide to race during each GP weekend in ’93

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“We still didn’t know if he was going to show up,” he says. “Eventually he came into the paddock and did qualifying. He finished third behind the Williams, but with Michael Schumacher in the Benetton behind – with the works engine – it wasn’t easy.”

Come race day, Senna again showed full commitment by rocketing into second place, but was hampered by a stop-go penalty on lap 25 for passing a backmarker under yellow flags.

From there he began one of his great fightbacks. As if things couldn’t get any more dramatic, the heavens then opened with a tropical downpour engulfing the circuit.

Most cars came in for wet tyres, but Prost stayed out, and immediately paid the price. Heading into the first corner, the Williams man lost control and smashed into Minardi’s Christian Fittipaldi – he was out.

After a safety car period to allow the downpour to pass, Damon Hill led Senna with the field setting off on an-already drying track.

In a typically masterful judgement, the McLaren made the call earlier than the Williams to go back to dry tyres. When Hill emerged from the pits after his switch, the Brazilian bore down menacingly before throwing his MP4/8 up the inside at Ferrardura.

Despite running on the soaking wet asphalt off-line, Senna showed beautiful car control to brake late and slingshot past, with the home fans sent into raptures.

Fangio – Senna’s only hero

From there the race was his – the memory is still vivid for Ramirez as ever.

“It was electric, the Brazilian tifosi, with the way they celebrate, are some of the best in the world,” he says. “It was one of those races, with a little bit of rain in the air, the atmosphere was perfect.”

“Of course, Juan Manuel Fangio was there to give him the trophy, that made it very special.”

5 Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 Brazilian GP

Senna pulls off his brilliant move on Hill

Grand Prix Photo

The five-time champion, who was then F1’s most successful driver, held a unique place in the heart of Senna.

“Ayrton never had any heroes except for Fangio, and Fangio said he saw himself in Ayrton. They got on really well. Fangio also gave me a reference for my first job in F1 with Maserati. He was very significant for both of us.”

From there, more South American sporting legends joined the celebrations.

“Of course that evening we have the most unbelievable party in a nightclub in Sao Paulo,” he says.

“If you can you imagine, we were then joined by Pele! Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the grand Pele! Incredible.

From the archive

However, the lightening of the mood didn’t last particularly long. In spite of Senna putting in arguably his greatest race at the next round for Donington’s European GP, he felt he was fighting a losing battle against eventual champion Prost.

“Imola was probably the worst, it was a big, big trouble to get him from Brazil,” says Ramirez. “I had to go to Rome to get him in the helicopter, and he only just made it on time before first practice.

“Put his overalls on, got in the car and crashed on the second lap. He just wasn’t in the mood.”

6 Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 Brazilian GP

Senna is congratulated by his idol Senna

Grand Prix Photo

Despite the dark atmosphere which had descended over McLaren, Senna still led the championship after Monaco, having won half of the six races so far.

“I remember, [Ferrari sporting director] Marco Piccinini saying to me, ‘Wow, a million dollars a race?! But then again, he’s delivering.’ And yes, he was.”

Senna’s search for a new challenge

With Prost set to retire the following year, as the ’93 season progressed it looked like Senna was headed the way of Grove – but Dennis and co still did everything they could to hang on to the talismanic Brazilian.

“It was such a big battle that year,” Ramirez says of the fight to keep Senna. “After the Hungarian Grand Prix, I got a lift with Ayrton in his private jet down to Monaco before we headed on our respective summer holidays.

“As I was going to the plane, Ron said, ‘You know what your job is? You just have to convince him, whatever it takes, to stop him talking to Williams and stay with us.’ That was my mission.”

Despite his best efforts to sway Senna’s mind, Ramirez found himself up against an immovable roadblock.

“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.’

“’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.”

Sure enough Senna was signed to Williams for a ’94 tenure which would end in tragedy, but as is well documented his short stay was not a contented one.

“We failed to keep him but you know, he was never really happy at Williams,” says Ramirez.

4 Ayrton Senna McLaren 1993 Brazilian GP

Ramirez, here with Senna at Brazil ’92, is convinced the Brazilian would have one day returned to McLaren

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“He would come to the McLaren motorhome to have his morning coffee, we were still friends.

“Ayrton asked me to get him a helicopter after the race [at Imola in ’94, which he would sadly never take]. He said, ‘At Williams I may be the best-paid member in the team but nobody does anything for you. I have to do it all myself.’

“It was that was very nice that we remained friends. Ron Dennis and I, we always knew that eventually he would come back to McLaren.”

Despite the hugely bittersweet memories from Senna’s final year at McLaren, Ramirez still says it has a special place in the mind of those at Woking – a year in which the Brazilian won five races to champion Prost’s seven whilst at a significant performance disadvantage.

“I always remember saying to Ayrton ‘OK, you didn’t win the championship, but you won the five races of the season when the hands and the feet made the difference. We didn’t have the best car, but you still won’. I was happy with that.”