On this day in 1994, Formula One took a hit that nobody expected.
That Sunday became the sport’s ‘darkest day’ after Ayrton Senna lost his life… he was undoubtedly one of the, if not, the greatest driver to ever grace the tarmac. Twenty-three years on, we’re going to look at some of his most memorable moments…
Joining the F1 ranks with the obscure Toleman team, not many expected fireworks so soon from the young Brazilian. It was in the sixth round of the season, however, in Monaco where Senna made his mark.
The Toleman was not a race winning car, and seldom a points-winning car either – in the teams five season history they only achieved three podium finishes, all courtesy of Ayrton, but the one remembered most to this day was Monaco. A race where overtaking is a scarcity in the dry let alone the wet, Senna was overtaking McLarens, Lotus’ and was chasing Alain Prost and quite possibly would have passed him had the race not been stopped due to the weather conditions.
Senna switched to the better-funded and well-equipped Lotus outfit for the next season. It was at Portugal where Ayrton inevitably took his first grand prix win in similar conditions to Monaco in 1984. Not only did Ayrton take his first win, he won by a scarcely believable one minute and two seconds!
Senna would go on to take six victories for Lotus between 1985 and 1987 building up his reputation as one of the fastest drivers on the grid. At the end of of his final tenure at the Norfolk-based outfit, Senna finally got the call up he had been waiting for…
Senna took his first McLaren victory on the 1st May (1988) at Imola, the first of eight wins that season en-route to an astounding drivers’ title in his debut year with the team, seeing off the great challenge of “The Professor” Alain Prost, himself a two-time world champion.
The Brazilian, equipped with the title he so desired, was ready to fight again for the 1989 season. Prost had the same mentality.
What happened in the 1989 season will forever live in Formula One folklore…
Senna took six victories over the 1989 season whilst in close on and off track warfare with team mate Alain Prost, the season went on with the pair battling until the reached the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix. The battle boiled over for millions to see.
Alain went to the stewards immediately after the clash and Ayrton was controversially disqualified from the race for not completing full race distance. Prost took the title, leaving Senna to debate whether he wanted to quit Formula One. In the aftermath of the incident, Prost and McLaren parted ways after irreversible damage to the team.
“Escape roads are not for escaping through, they are in fact for stopping in, turning round and going out of.” – Ron Dennis said sarcastically
1990 was a new season for Senna, he was determined to get ‘revenge’ for what happened in 1989. Again, Senna took six victories in the season, fighting Prost, now driving for Ferrari. The F1 circle headed for Suzuka once more, and Senna was “f**ked by the system” as he claimed pole, before then being forced to start from the dirty side of the track.
Senna knew that if Alain didn’t finish the title would be his…
Senna took the title from Prost, and yet he wasn’t overly pleased with how the title was won. He wasn’t happy with himself.
In 1991 Ayrton took seven victories in the season whilst Ferrari sacked Prost. With his rival nowhere to be seen, Ayrton breezed past the field to take his third title. However his finest moment was winning the Brazillian Grand Prix, his dream, whilst his car was stuck in gear! Many call this his greatest every victory.
1992, in stark contrast, was a struggle for McLaren – their dominance had come to an end as the team left Honda and partnered with Ford. Senna didn’t take the title, he had only managed three victories over the season.
This was repeated the following season – a slight struggle for McLaren and for Ayrton, with the Williams team signing Prost. Williams had a far superior car and Prost said his one condition to join Williams is that “I do not want Ayrton as a team mate”. Over the season Senna took five victories but Prost took his fourth title.
Little did anyone know that the 1993 Australian Grand Prix would be the last time Senna or Prost would stand on the podium, it was also Ayrtons 41st and last Formula One win.
Senna parted ways with McLaren at the end of the 1993 season, heading to Williams as Prost left the sport. However the technology that had helped Williams dominate in previous years was banned, Williams struggled massively. Senna then believed that the Benetton team were using banned launch control but there was nothing came of it.
April 29th 1994, F1 opened it’s track action in Imola and was immediately rocked by a massive crash from Rubens Barichello, who literally flew into the barrier. Relief all around later as it was discovered that only a broken nose was suffered.
April 30th 1994, qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix. Formula One was again rocked and this time hard as Roland Ratzenberger crashed and lost his life, the first F1 death in 12 years. Senna was hit hard by this and on race day his team noticed he didn’t seem the same.
May 1st 1994, Senna was leading behind the safety car after a crash at the start. Senna led the pack onto lap 7, however that was the last time Ayrton would pass the pit wall. Flat out through Tamburello corner, Senna’s Williams bottomed out for a split second, leaving the car heading for the concrete wall. Brakes fully on however this wasn’t enough.
Senna collided with the wall and a piece of debris then flew up and hit him in the head, knocking him unconscious. Has the debris went six inches higher or six inches lower, Ayrton would have walked back to the pits and got into his spare car for the restart.
Four hours later Ayrton Senna passed away, shocking the F1 world to its core. Not only was death still a factor, but it happened to the greatest.
To this day, Ayrton Senna is massively missed. Not only by F1, but by the world. Senna was proud to be Brazillian and waved the flag with pride during an extremely difficult time for the country.
In total Ayrton took 41 wins from 161 Grand prix, achieved 80 podium places and scored a total of 614 points. Add this to his 65 pole positions and 19 fastest laps, it shows why Ayrton will forever be one of Formula One’s finest ever. Rest in peace, Ayrton.
Here is an Ayrton Senna tribute, to show just how great Senna was: