23 years ago today, on one of the darkest weekends in the sports history, Ayrton Senna passed away after a high speed crash at the Tamburello corner at Imola. He was 34 and was still at the peak of his career. Today, I take a look back on one of sports greatest drivers, and go through a spectactular career.
Senna began his career in 1984, driving for the Toleman team. Toleman had struggled in their early years in 1981-1982. At the end of 1983 saw a change in form, with Warwick and Giacomelli scoring 10 points for the team.
Senna had a good start to the season, scoring points in two of the first three races (finishing 6th in both). In Monaco that year, he got our first glance at how good Senna was in the wet, as he stormed from 13th to 2nd before the race was red flagged. It was not without controversy however, as Senna passed Prost before the line when the red flag came out, but the results were taken from the lap before. Senna also scored two more podiums, finishing 3rd in the dry at Brands Hatch and Estoril. Senna finished his first season in 9th, equal on points with Nigel Mansell’s Lotus
In 1985, he moved to Lotus. In his second race for the team, his wet weather skills were displayed once again. He took his first pole position in qualifying, and dominated the wet race by winning by over a minute over the Ferrari of Alboreto. Senna took seven poles that season, and scored another five podiums (including a win) to finish the championship 4th.A string of DNF’s cost him a chance to really challenge for the world title.
1986 saw him take another two wins, and he took 8 podiums and 8 poles on his way to finish the championship fourth once again. In his final season in 1987, he took another two wins and eight podiums, but only took a single pole in a season dominated by Williams. He finished the championship 3rd.
Senna moved to McLaren in 1988. In his first race for McLaren, he took a dominant pole. However he was disqualified after changing his flag after the green flag had been shown after the parade lap after the McLaren was stuck in first gear. Despite this, he tore his way from 21st to 2nd in 20 laps before being disqualified. Senna was dominant in qualifying, taking 13 poles. He won eight races and had 11 podiums on his way to beating Prost to the world championship by three points.
In 1989, Senna took another 13 pole positions and six wins. However, reliability put Senna on the backfoot, and he was 16 points behind heading into Suzuka. Having lost the lead at the start, Senna on a high downforce setup got the run out of 130R and tried to dive down the inside of Prost. Neither backed out and collided before the apex. While Prost got out of the car, Senna got the marshals to push him down the escape road, and he used this to restart his engine. Despite having to pit for damage, he still came out in second and only five seconds behind Nannini. Senna got passed Nannini, and took the win, taking the world title to the final race. However, he was later disqualified, giving Prost the world title.
Prost left McLaren for 1990, and joined Ferrari. Senna took another 10 poles this season, six wins and 11 podiums. Heading into Suzuka, he was leading the world championship by 11 points. Senna started on the dirty side of the grid. He complained to the stewards, as he believed pole should be on the racing line. He came across on Prost, taking both drivers out of the race. As a result, Senna won his second world title. Senna won his third and final championship in less dramatic style. He scored eight poles, won seven races and took twelves podiums. He won the world title by a comfortable 24 points over Nigel Mansell. 1991 also saw Senna win his first Brazilian GP, finishing the race stuck in sixth gear as it began to rain.
In 1992, Williams dominated the world championship, and Senna in his McLaren finished the championship 4th. He scored three race wins, but only had on pole position. He also took seven podium finishes. Eight retirements hurt this campaign, and he finished behind a future great in Michael Schumacher. In 1993, Williams once again dominated, with Prost winning his fourth world title. Senna had less retirements, and took five wins and seven podiums and added one more pole to his tally.
Senna joined Williams for 1994, hoping to benefit from the electronic driver aids which helped Williams dominate the world title for the previous two seasons. However these were banned. Senna believed that the removal of these features but no attempt to slow the cars down could mean the season would have a lot of accidents. Senna took the first three poles of the season. At all races, he either spun or crashed out. The last of which took his life.
Senna, who was clearly affected by Ratzenburger’s death and Barrichello’s crash, began making big plans to try and improve safety. Him and Alain Prost agreed to to meet before the Monaco GP to discuss ways to improve the sport’s safety. He also met with other drivers to discuss relaunching the Grand Prix Drivers Association in an attempt to improve safety. Many safety changes were implemented after his death. Downforce being reduced by about 15%, the height of the sides of the cockpits were raised and the wishbones were strengthened.
Senna’s career was short in comparison to the likes of Schumacher and most modern day drivers. However, his legacy will always be present in F1, and he will be remembered as one of the best in the sports history. Race in peace Ayrton.