Top 10 Races: Ayrton Senna
Yesterday (May 1st) marked the 20th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s tragic death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. To celebrate the three-time world champion’s incredible career, here are Richland F1’s top 10 drives by the Brazilian.
10) Slimmest of margins
Senna’s winning margin over Nigel Mansell at the 1986 Spanish Grand Prix is still one of the closest ever recorded in Formula 1 history. The duo battled throughout the race, with Mansell eventually taking the lead before having to stop for a fresh set of tyres.
With Senna conserving his Goodyear rubber and fuel at the front, the Brit rapidly closed in on the Lotus driver in the closing stages and was right behind him at the final corner. It proved to be a drag race to the line but despite Mansell initially thinking he had won, it was in fact Senna who took the chequered flag in first place – but only by 0.014 seconds.
9) A brilliant battle
The 1990 Formula 1 season kicked off in style at the Phoenix street circuit. Senna lined up on the grid in fifth place after rain on Saturday saw the order decided entirely by times set on Friday. Jean Alesi took the lead at turn one despite starting the race from fourth. Senna had moved up to second by lap nine, but it took him until the 34th tour to try and overtake the young Frenchman.
He didn’t get through at his first attempt but swiftly perfected the pass on the following lap. Despite Alesi’s best efforts to retake the position, he couldn’t find a way through and eventually backed off to conserve his tyres. Senna crossed the finish line eight seconds ahead of the Tyrrell driver after slowing his pace in the closing stages to protect the McLaren MP4/5B’s engine.
8) Recovery drive
The 1986 United States Grand Prix was a far from straightforward race for Senna, but he managed to recover after an early puncture to take his fourth career victory in Formula 1. He started from pole position but lost the lead briefly to Mansell on lap three, before regaining the top spot five laps later.
A slowly deflating tyre led to an early stop that dropped him to eighth. However, he soon made his way back through the order and had moved back up to first by lap 41. He eventually took the chequered flag 30 seconds clear of his nearest challenger around the tricky Detroit street track.
7) The final victory
Senna stood on the podium for the final time at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, which took place around the streets of Adelaide. It was his last race for McLaren before moving to Williams for the 1994 season. He had taken his first pole position of the year on Saturday and moved into an early lead when the race eventually got underway after two failed starts.
His advantage increased consistently during the first and second pit stops, as the two Williams drivers battled behind. He won the race by nine seconds from Alain Prost, who was competing in the last F1 race of his career, and Damon Hill.
Senna was the master of Monaco, winning the iconic race six times. His toughest fight for victory took place in 1992. Mansell looked set to dominate the Grand Prix at the wheel of the Williams FW14B before a suspected puncture forced him to pit with just a few laps remaining.
He emerged behind Senna, who put in an incredible defensive drive to hold on to first place in the closing stages. He eventually took the chequered flag two tenths clear, breaking Mansell’s run of five consecutive race wins.
5) World champion
Senna secured the first of his three world titles at the Suzuka circuit in 1988 after a brilliant recovery. He started from pole position, three tenths ahead of his McLaren team-mate Alain Prost and 1.5 seconds faster than Gerhard Berger in third, but stalled on the grid.
Thanks to the sloping start/finish straight he was able to bump-start the car but by then he had dropped down to 14th. In changeable and slippery conditions, he managed to steam through the field to take the lead from Prost on lap 27 after the Frenchman was blocked by a car he was trying to lap.
4) Making an impression
Senna should not have scored podium finishes in his first season in F1, but he did just that. He qualified in 13th place for the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix in the uncompetitive Toleman but put in a stunning drive in torrential rain to move up to second place by lap 19.
The Brazilian started to close rapidly in on the race leader Alain Prost but just as he took the lead on lap 42, it was red flagged due to the weather conditions. Because of the stoppage, the results were taken from the previous lap, so he finished in second. He may have missed out on the race victory, but it is still regarded as one of his greatest ever drives and really was a statement of intent.
Despite Senna’s incredible success, it took him until 1991 to register his first race win on home soil after taking the chequered flag at the Interlagos circuit in first place.
It should have been an easy victory. He started from pole position and held a clear lead early on. Nigel Mansell closed the gap on several occasions, particularly in the latter stages after Senna’s McLaren started losing gears, before he was forced to retire his car with gearbox problems of his own.
Riccardo Patrese took up the charge but despite closing to within 2.9 seconds by the end of the race; Senna was able to take the win despite having to drive with only sixth gear in the closing stages. The incredible struggle to keep the car going and under control meant he had to be lifted from his McLaren MP4/6 and driven to the podium in the medical car.
2) The first win
Senna secured the first of his 41 F1 race victories at the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, following an impressive debut season for Toleman in 1984. Driving in his second race for Lotus, he took pole position (also the first of his career) and easily moved away from the chasing pack.
He ended up winning the race, which took place in atrocious weather conditions, by over one minute from Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari. He finished over one lap ahead of his more experienced team-mate Elio de Angelis.
1) Donington Domination
The first lap of the 1993 European Grand Prix is arguably the greatest the sport has ever seen. Senna, driving the less favoured McLaren-Ford, qualified in fourth place for Donington Park’s only F1 race and dropped to fifth at the first corner.
However, in wet and challenging conditions, he quickly passed Michael Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger before swiftly catching the Williams duo of Damon Hill and Alain Prost. He found a way ahead of the former at McLeans before taking the lead into the Adelaide Hairpin.
He crossed the line to start the second lap at the front of the field and was unchallenged to the chequered flag. It was one of the most dominant displays in Formula 1, as he lapped everyone up to second-place man Hill to take his second win of the year.
Images via Wikimedia Commons
Jack Leslie is a freelance motorsport and Formula 1 journalist. He has been part of the Richland F1 team since the very start and made his F1 paddock debut for the website at the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix. Jack also writes for Car Throttle, RumbleStripNews, Formula1Blog, PureF1 and F1 Plus, as well as running a popular blog.