Ayrton Senna, Lotus, Estoril, 1985

Senna scores first F1 win in Estoril deluge

1985 Portuguese Grand Prix flashback

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Today is the 25th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s first win in Formula 1.

Despite atrocious conditions, which F1 cars would not be allowed to race in today, the Brazilian dominated and won by more than a minute.

Senna on pole

Senna’ first race for Lotus at home in Brazil ended in retirement with an engine problem.

The fault continued to dog the team when they arrived at Estoril in Portugal for the second round of the championship. Senna had to switch to the spare car during practice until that one stopped with a clutch problem, further hindering his preparations for the race.

He shrugged off these problem to top both qualifying sessions, beating Alain Prost to pole position and out-qualifying team mate Elio de Angelis by 1.1 seconds. It was the first time Senna had ever started a race from pole position – another 64 would soon follow:

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1985 Portuguese Grand Prix grid

Row 11. Ayrton Senna 1’21.007
2. Alain Prost 1’21.420
Row 23. Keke Rosberg 1’21.904
4. Elio de Angelis 1’22.159
Row 35. Michele Alboreto 1’22.577
6. Derek Warwick 1’23.084
Row 47. Niki Lauda 1’23.288
8. Andrea de Cesaris 1’23.302
Row 59. Nigel Mansell* 1’23.594
10. Nelson Piquet 1’23.618
Row 611. Stefan Johansson 1’23.652
12. Patrick Tambay 1’24.111
Row 713. Riccardo Patrese 1’24.230
Alfa Romeo
14. Eddie Cheever* 1’24.563
Alfa Romeo
Row 815. Manfred Winkelhock 1’24.721
16. Thierry Boutsen 1’24.747
Row 917. Gerhard Berger 1’24.842
18. Jacques Laffite 1’24.943
Row 1019. Francois Hesnault 1’25.717
20. Philippe Alliot 1’26.187
Row 1121. Stefan Bellof 1’27.284
22. Martin Brundle 1’27.602
Row 1223. Jonathan Palmer 1’28.166
24. Mauro Baldi 1’28.473
Row 1325. Pierluigi Martini* 1’28.596
26. Piercarlo Ghinzani 1’30.855
Osella-Alfa Romeo

*Started from the pit lane

Turmoil at Toleman – and Ferrari

Johansson took over from Arnoux at Ferrari
For the second race in a row Toleman were absent from the paddock. The team, which Senna had driven for in 1984, had not been able to find a tyre supplier for the new season.

That left Stefan Johansson and John Watson without drives. Fortunately one had just become available – at Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari had dropped Rene Arnoux just one race into the Frenchman’s third season with the team.

Rumours abounded over whether this was a consequence from Arnoux’s poor performance throughout much of 1984, or something more salacious. The official line – that Arnoux had not fully recovered from leg surgery over the winter – was widely ignored.

Toleman agreed to release Johansson from his contract and Ferrari has its first ever Swedish F1 driver.

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Crashes and spins

Senna drew away from the chasing pack on the wet track
As rain began to fall before to race started Brian Hart, who had built engines for Toleman the year before, told anyone who would listen that Senna was going to run away with the race.

Sure enough, Senna led the field away on a damp track. No-one threatened him for the lead in the opening laps and behind him there was chaos.

Keke Rosberg stalled his Williams on the grid and one by one the cars dodged around him. Jonathan Palmer failed to swerve quickly enough and clipped the FW10 with his Zakspeed. Palmer was out with broken suspension, but Rosberg managed to get going and re-join the race.

Ferrari newcomer Stefan Johansson had a baptism of fire. Riccardo Patrese knocked him into a spin just a few laps into the race. Then Johansson spun on his own, damaging his front wing. Later he pitted to have his sticking front-left brake un-jammed.

For some drivers the abject conditions were too much – particularly those on Pirellis. Both Ligier drivers and Nelson Piquet all retired because their Pirelli wet weather tyres were hopelessly uncompetitive. Piquet made half-a-dozen visits to the pits, and even changed into a dry pair of overalls during one of them.

Too wet to race – but they did

Tambay raced his Renault through the field
As the rain started to fall more heavily, Senna pulled further away from the chasing de Angelis and Prost. Occasionally the McLaren driver moved to pass the Lotus, but de Angelis kept him at bay.

By half-race distance the rain was at its worst, forming deep pools on the track. The drivers struggled to keep their cars under control on the straights. But 25 years ago there were no safety cars and the race carried on – in spite of danger to drivers and marshals that would be completely unacceptable today.

By now Rosberg’s race was over. The lumpy power delivery of his Honda turbo engine caught him out at the Parabolica, his Williams snapped out of control and hit the barrier. The steering wheel spun in his hands, breaking his thumb. The car finally came to a halt at the exit of the fast turn that led the cars onto the main straight.

A team of marshals worked to push the stricken car from the racing line clear. With another car parked up at the inside of the turn from another accident, oncoming drivers had to weave through the wreckage with very poor visibility.

On lap 30, while chasing de Angelis down the main straight, Prost’s McLaren snapped out of control. It spun down the straight and rear-ended the barrier. Prost climbed out of his cockpit and retired.

While this was going on Senna had his hands out of the cockpit, waving at the race organisers and urging them to stop the race because of the atrocious conditions.

This had more than a hint of irony about it – Prost had done the exact same thing at Monaco the year before in similar conditions while Senna was bearing down on him. On that occasions the organisers took a controversial decision to stop the race and thereby hand victory to Prost.

This time the race kept going. But still Senna pulled away inexorably, drawing further ahead of the chasing pack with every lap.

Perfect win

De Angelis brought the other Lotus home fourth
Senna’s drive was relentless. Only in the closing stages did he ease up the pace, by which time he had lapped almost everybody. De Angelis wasn’t able to make it a one-two for the team – he was passed by Michele Alboreto and Patrick Tambay and finished fourth.

Nigel Mansell took fifth after an eventful race. Like Rosberg, he’d been caught out by the Honda’s power delivery, hitting a barrier on his way to the grid. This was his second crash of the weekend having been hit by Eddie Cheever in a bizarre incident during practice.

He had to start from the pit lane after repairs to his car, but battled through the field to take two points for fifth place. He was busy fighting off Stefan Bellof’s Tyrrell as they crossed the line, and lost control of his car on the straight, hitting the barriers once again.

Fortunately he missed the crowd of Lotus mechanics who had broken onto the track to celebrate with Senna while cars charged past in plumes of spray.

Senna’s win was his first of 41
His maiden victory could not have been more emphatic. He took pole position, set fastest lap, led every lap and won the race. Alboreto was the only other driver to complete the race distance of 67 laps – shortened from 70 under the two-hour time limit – and even Mansell in fifth place was two laps behind.

While commentators rushed to heap praise on Senna, the man himself insisted it had not been a perfect drive. But years later he described it as being more special than even one of his most celebrated victories:

The big danger was that the conditions changed all the time. Sometimes the rain was very heavy, sometimes not.

I couldn’t see anything behind me. It was difficult even to keep the car in a straight line sometimes, and for sure the race should have been stopped.

Once I nearly spun in front of the pits, like Prost, and I was lucky to stay on the road. People think I made no mistakes but that’s not true – I’ve no idea how many times I went off! Once I had all four wheels on the grass, totally out of control, but the car came back onto the circuit.

People later said that my win in the wet at Donington in ’93 was my greatest performance. No way! I had traction control OK, I didn’t make any real mistakes, but the car was so much easier to drive. It was a good win, sure, but compared with Estoril ’85 it was nothing, really.
Ayrton Senna

1985 Portuguese Grand Prix result

112Ayrton SennaLotus-Renault672hrs 00’28.006
227Michele AlboretoFerrari671’02.978
315Patrick TambayRenault661 Lap
411Elio de AngelisLotus-Renault661 Lap
55Nigel MansellWilliams-Honda652 Laps
64Stefan BellofTyrrell-Cosworth652 Laps
716Derek WarwickRenault652 Laps
828Stefan JohanssonFerrari625 Laps
924Piercarlo GhinzaniOsella-Alfa Romeo616 Laps
Not classified
9Manfred WinkelhockRAM-Hart50
1Niki LaudaMcLaren-TAG49Engine
23Eddie CheeverAlfa Romeo36Engine
2Alain ProstMcLaren-TAG30Spun
25Andrea de CesarisLigier-Renault29Tyres
18Thierry BoutsenArrows-BMW28Electrics
7Nelson PiquetBrabham-BMW28Tyres
3Martin BrundleTyrrell-Cosworth20Transmission
21Mauro BaldiSpirit-Hart19Spun
6Keke RosbergWilliams-Honda16Spun
26Jacques LaffiteLigier-Renault15Tyres
17Gerhard BergerArrows-BMW12Spun
29Pierluigi MartiniMinardi-Ford12Spun
22Riccardo PatreseAlfa Romeo4Spun
10Philippe AlliotRAM-Hart3Spun
8Francois HesnaultBrabham-BMW3Electrics
30Jonathan PalmerZakspeed2Suspension

Did you see this race?

Were you at the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix? Did you watch it live? If so, please tell us about it in the comments.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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63 comments on “Senna scores first F1 win in Estoril deluge”

  1. A great race from the days when being a Formula 1 driver was a man’s job! I’d like to see an 18 or 19 year old modern F1 driver jump in that Lotus 97T in a monsoon and try lap half as quickly as Senna did that day…

    1. Yes, because being a real man involves recklessly subjecting yourself and others to unnecessary danger, and because drivers have mysteriously gotten less and less talented as you have gotten older and older.

      And, lest you forget, that man who so outclassed any modern F1 driver ended up being cut down in his prime by the same ever-so-manly danger you seem to love.

      If you want F1 when it was a REAL man’s job, try about ten years before this race, when it was a man’s job to burn alive in his car while marshals stood by helplessly, have his legs crushed like bread sticks inside an overgrown aluminum can, or have his head sliced off by a stretch of too-high armco or shattered inside his helmet by a fire extinguisher.

      Yes – those were the days!

      Here’s a hint: For those pining for the good old days of F1, the rose color on your glasses isn’t tint; it’s blood.

      1. PeriSoft – bit of an over reaction there!

        I don’t think GeeMac was suggesting it was better back in the day in terms of safety, but that driving a car was more challenging in terms of requirement upon the driver.

        All the things you are referencing are due to lack of development in technology in safety and circuit design. What GeeMac is suggesting that driving a 1000Bhp turbo car, without any electronic aids or semi automatic gear boxes in the torrential rain required a high level of skill to drive than perhaps the cars of today.

        He was no way endorsing a more dangerous period of racing.

        1. Driving a car faster than anyone else always requires a high level of skill. As Senna pointed out, he could win in dominating fashion despite not making any mistakes. For a driver to do the same now, in the dry, with nearly flawless cars prepared almost perfectly, requires a level of consistency and precision that just wasn’t necessary then.

          Suggesting that it’s somehow easier for Vettel or Hamilton to dominate in the dry because the conditions and vehicles aren’t as flamboyant is absurd. And suggesting that it therefore isn’t a “man’s job” is even more ludicrous.

          Therefore, the only conclusion I can draw from the reference to “a man’s job” is that the OP means what everyone else in the known universe means when they say that: “It was dangerous.”

          1. That certainly wasn’t what I had in mind (and had you spotted the sarcasm in that line, I may not have had to post a further comment).

            My point is simply this. Driving a 1000bhp Lotus, without traction control, without several hundred pounds of downforce on a track that has far more water on it than we would ever see today, with tyres that had more in common with wooden chariot wheels than our modern Bridgestone tyres is a feat worth writing home about.

            Driving a 750bhp, rev limited, modern aero dependant F1 car on wide open safe Tilkedromes is still a tough task, but it’s child’s play compared to what they had to deal with in 1985. Nigel Mansell drove a Jordan through the streets of London a few years back and insisted that the car just wasn’t powerful enough to make it difficult to drive.

            I doubt any of our modern drivers (Lewis, Seb, Fernando, M Schumacher, who will all no doubt be added to F1’s list of all time great champions, and who regularly make me leap from my seat in amazement at what they do on the track) would not have been able to do as good a job as Senna did that day.

      2. Wow. I like a bit of sensationalism but… Just wow.

        1. Any modern driver will tell you that the car he is in plays a major part of how good he is (IE Button). Back in the days of 1000hp turbos and manual gearboxes, the driver played a larger role.

          1. And how did de Cesaris qualify in front of Piquet or Berger???

            The car was always the most important factor and always will be.

    2. I think if Michael Schumacher or Fernando Alonso had come to F1 in the 80’s, or the 50’s for that matter, I think they would have given Senna and Prost, or Fangio and Moss a run for their money – because they are great drivers. I mean Schumacher has raced and beaten Prost (Estoril 1993), Senna (Spa 1992, in the overall 1992 championship, Estoril 1993, and in the first 1994 races), and Mansell (Spa 1992). But just because that was in the 1990’s and not in the 1980’s with 1000hp he’s not as good a driver? How does that make sense? It’s seems to be more logical that if he could beat them in the 90’s that he could beat them in the 80’s as well. In addition I’d like to mention to those who keep throwing Mansell’s name around that he won his world championship in ’92 with a car that had traction control and active suspension. I don’t think that makes him any less a great driver, but one should stop to think about that before they shoot down Schumacher or Alonso.

  2. I even didn’t born by then!!!!!!!!

    1. me neither.bring back the PORTUGUESE GP not on estoril but on Algarve

      1. I agree – Estoril in its current form is not worth having back.

        But that Algarve circuit looks terrific. See here: Could F1 make a return to Portugal at the Algarve International Circuit?

        1. I not only watched that race live on TV, but have it on tape! Yes. VHS to you kids. Ask your grand-da! LOL

  3. Markus Winkelhock is among the non-classifiers. did he race in F1 back then???

    “9 Markus Winkelhock RAM-Hart 50”

    1. No that should be Manfred, his father, as on the grid line-up. Changed it now.

    2. I think it was Manfred Winkelhock was it not.

    3. It should be Manfred – father of one time Midland racer Markus and brother of Joachim, who failed to pre-qualify an AGS seven times in 1989 before becoming a successful touring car and sportscar driver.

      Manfred was killed in a sportcar race later in 1985.

  4. Plus, the Estoril circuit was a lot more demanding in 1985, regardless of the rain. I watched the MotoGP race there last year and was disappointed to see how neutered it had become.

    1. So, what’s the difference between the new & the old Estoril anyway?

      1. Turn one was tightened into a slow bend after Estoril lost the Portuguese Grand Prix. And it still has the horrible Saca-Rolhas chicane they put in in 1994 to slow the cars before Parabolica.

        1. im portuguese.being sincere i hate estoril and i dont love portimão(acceptable venue for f1 but no economical interest).but i think saca-rolhas is the best corner of the track for motogp very demanding

  5. This is surely a perfect drive by Ayrton Senna. From saturday, he achieved first place in an inferior car (well you can call it inferior & unreliable if you compare it to the Mclaren).

    Then in the race he was just an absolute master class; he controlled a heavy fueled car in the rain with no traction at all, the car at that time was inferior, it has a turbocharged engine so therefore it’s hard to handle the car in the corners (and this one is in wet conditions), he almost lapped everybody in the wets, he never made a serious mistake, he beats the “super fast” Mclarens in the wets! Despite achieving the win from pole. Therefore, Senna is the real rainmaster, not Schumacher.

    1. Schumacher, in a poor Ferrari won the Spanish Grand Prix in horrendous conditions in 1996 when everyone knew that the Williams was faster. Likewise the year before at Belgium where his Bennetton held off the faster Williams (on wets) for over a lap on dry tyres on a wet track, and took another great win. Therfore Schumacher fully deserves his title of being the rainmaster.

      1. Senna, Donnington, 1993.

        Not even Hamilton’s Silverstone downpour exhibition or Vettel’s recent work at Monza threatened that performance as the ultimate display of wet weather skill.

        1. Well, a great performance, but it doesn’t take away from what others like Schumi have done.

          1. It certainly doesn’t, but Damon Hill’s drive in horrid conditions in Suzuka 94 where he held of MSC to keep his title hopes was also a pretty special drive in the wet…

        2. Senna’s Donington win was probably the most overrated win in F1 history. MP4-8 had traction control and other advanced electronic systems – it was probably the easiest McLaren to drive in the team’s history. The race was more about being on the right tyre and guessing and gambling on the weather.

  6. I was 7 at the time, and remember, that i was a Nelson Piquet fan and collecting F1 stamps for an album was such a big deal for me.
    That Lotus was such a beautiful design, wish we could see such masculine designs these days…

  7. I remember 1985 because of the 4 retirements Alboreto had at the end of of the season. Senna drove a great race and the conditions got the better of most in this race. If you watch the start there must be at least 10 cars moving before the green light.I was also a fan of Elio De Angelis who won the next race at San Marino. I did enjoy this period of F1, it seemed that there was always a chance of any one in 10 drivers winning.

  8. massive grid! and i thought today’s was big.

    ‘As rain began to fell before to race started’- keith how late were you writing this! ha.

    1. Fixed it.

    2. yeah, but with only 9 finishers and 6 laps between first and 9th… a bit more spread out than nowadays apparently :D

      1. Indeed, and check out the gap from the front of the grid to the back – nearly 10 seconds, or 112%.

  9. I miss the Estoril circuit. Should make a return to F1.

    1. I don’t miss it. In dry conditions the circuit was too twisty and only had 1 line around the corners making passing too hard.

  10. What a driver. But what a diference between drivers. Top6 in 3 seconds LOL

  11. Didn´t see the video because still remenber that race quite well. I’m portuguese but not ayrton´fan, but what he did in that race was just incredible, no dougt one of the best of all time. Some years later i was there to see Nigel Mansell wining in a Ferrari.
    Don´t like Estoril very much, but i think Portimâo circuit
    would be very good for F1, unfortunately don´t expect that to hapen any time soon.

  12. i was at estoril that day. I was 18 at the time, and it was my second race live, being the first, the title decider at estoril just a few months before. Remember it was the last race of 1984, while senna’s victory was the second of 1985.
    All i can say, is i spent the hole race at the end of the main straight, and i saw prost’s mistake in front of me. That made me very happy. I wasn’t a senna fan yet, but i was a prost hater already. I also remember at the chequered flag, watching mansell flat out, almost crashing, and thinking, jesus, mansell still around, he must have made a hell of a race. I was in a state, similar to what they call, fog of war.
    It took a few day’s to realize, that i just watched one of the best races ever.
    Nigel roebouck, and denis jenckinson were watching the race at the end of the straight as well, and denis said, look at the young brazilian, it’s like watching gilles villeneuve al over again.

    1. Fantastic! I’m guessing you got soaked through?

      Were you able to get a look around the paddock in those days?

      1. Amazing! I’ve read some articles about the race, and according to a portuguese journalist, there was about 18 thousand spectators – the ticket prices were beyond reality for a relatively poor country, it was raining and six months before Estoril hosted a terrific battle for the title.

        For brazilians, like me, it was a special and very meaningful day too. First, April 21th is a hollyday here in Brazil – a national hero who was killed in the 18th century. And above all, in the very same day it was announced that Tancredo Neves, the first non-militar president Brazil would have in more than 20 years, finally died without take place. It was like Senna was replacing the nation’s self-esteem.

      2. not at that particular gp, but i did several times in later years. For instance at the first gp ever held at jerez next year 1986, i went into the paddock after the race. Remember senna won again with less than a second in front of mansell. I went into the lotus garage, and i saw one of the national senna’s caps sitting on top a tool box. i asked bob dance if i could have it, and he gave it to me. The best way to enter in those days, was to wait until the end of the race, and ask for a pass to someone leaving the race track. If he doesn’t give it to you go to the next one. this system worked at the us gp 1991, and when i was tyred of looking around, i went to the exit, there were at least two dozen people waiting around the gate just to get a glimps of a driver. I just gave my pass to the first one in line, and the guy just couldn’t believe it. Everybody was happy.

  13. I re-watched the race today during my lunch break…senna was amazing that day… http://twitpic.com/1h93px
    Kowalsky I’m envious of you ;-)
    Jeck says that like gilles ayrton arriving before his car ;-)
    thansk to f1fanatick for this article!

    1. I desperately need to download it, where did you get it from?

  14. The narrative reminds us that such domination, such displays of sublime skill and determination, reflects a different scale of performance than evident in drivers today. Such performance is those cars, where were awful by todays standards, in which “power curve” was a euphemism, is not like the domination of today. Until he met the likes Prost, Senna was laying seconds on his teammates in qualifying. He did not need “number 1 status” or his teammante to pull over on the last lap for him. Stories like this remind us of why he is still withou parallel, whatver the statistics say.

    1. He did not need “number 1 status” or his teammante to pull over on the last lap for him.

      At least not until Warwick tried to join him at Lotus in ’86…

      I take your point though, Senna was always happy to go up against Prost in equal equipment, and though Prost was at first, by 1992 he’d clearly gone off the idea.

      1. Senna was not worried about Warwick, he was concerned about the Lotus team’s ability to fielding 2 competitive cars was the reason I read.

        1. Indeed – he even sent the bemused Warwick a Christmas card…

  15. Yes, I watched it live in ’85, with Murray Walker on the BBC. It would be astounding to have actually been there!

    The safety comments are interesting. Stirling Moss, sorry, Sir Stirling Moss, still argues that some of the appeal and meaning was lost from the sport when the risk was dialled out. Jackie Stewart argues the opposite: that it was a cull, and needless risk doesn’t help anyone. It’s clear which side Perisoft comes down on. I’ve always admired and sided with the JYS view, he is undoubtedly and single-handedly responsible for some number of drivers being alive and uninjured today. But I can’t 100% let go of Moss’s point, that ultimately if there is no risk at all, it might as well be a video game. There was a spectacle to watching someone exit the Boschkurve at 160, half a meter from the guardrail, in a turbo car which had more power than grip, on one-lap boost and tyres. Before the carbon tub era in the 80s, it was clearly needlessly risky, drivers would get hurt in mindlessly arbitrary and sometimes even slow impacts. Circuits were not prepared and medical support was terrible. I think only a ghoul would argue for a return to that, and clearly we can’t and won’t go there. But sometimes now it pains me to watch people fly off and rejoin, sometimes without even losing any time and sometimes even gaining a bit of time. Progress is what it is and I won’t argue for any changes that threaten life or limb, but, looking back at days like Estoril ’85, or even dry qualifying sessions in the turbo era, I can see that risk is part of the value of the memories we have, and I won’t make any apologies for a bit of nostalgia.

    1. The risk should be to your lap, your race, your championship, or your career, not to your life.

      I agree that tarmac runoff areas which eliminate *sporting* penalty for mistakes are bad. But to me, seeing someone exit the Boschkurve at 160 half a meter from the guard rail is great because they’re making all of these balances – between grip and no grip, between wobbling and losing time or not, between crashing and wobbling, between crashing and losing the championship or taking it too easy…

      If your excitement in seeing someone come close to the wall is because they might be hurt, not because they’re pushing to the limit of their ability and risking their position, then something is seriously amiss.

      1. Needless to say the source of my excitement has never been the possibility of seeing people hurt. That would just be ghoulish, and in fact there’s nothing worse than seeing people hurt, as I think was clear with Massa last year. There was nothing, exactly nothing, positive to feel or say after Imola 94, and I’d say almost all the short and long-term effects in F1 were negative ones. So I wouldn’t argue putting guard rails on the outside of fast corners again, obviously, like Blanchimont for example. But I do value the history and the memory and the reality of what those guys did, and the conditions under which they did them. I stood on the exit of Blanchimont once when there was nothing but a few feet of grass and a guardrail. It was ’87 or ’88, turbo era. The marshals said just keep out of the line of sight of the TV camera, between the trees. It was simply unbelievable to watch. Like I said, only an idiot would want to turn back the clock and go back there. But I saw something I will never see again. These days if you balls up Blanchimont you run wide a bit and rejoin. OK, Kimi hit the inside barriers there (I guess that’s the next step…huge run-offs on the insides of corners). I’ve taken Blanchimont flat in Radicals on track days, safe in the knowledge that this vast run-off was there. I really doubt I’d have done that in the 80s. I don’t wanna go back there, but I sure as heck cherish the memory and respect what it took to do what Senna did there, gaining tenths between the walls and guardrails, in the wet with no TC, manual gears and the rest.

  16. Those were the days senna the fastest ever master in the rain and the king of monaco a brilliant driver in is own right a long with prost,piquet,rosberg,lauda.He’s a legend just like schumacher he would have won more titles if he was’nt killed r.i.p senna the king

  17. Jackie Stewart has never argued for the elimination of all risk in motor racing, but rather for the elimination of needless risk.

    Stewart’s views on safety are understandably coloured by his accident at Spa in 1966. He found himself trapped in the upturned BRM with fuel leaking into the cockpit and next to no help from the nearest marshalls, who didn’t have so much as a spanner to undo the steering wheel to release him from his car. A single spark could have added Stewart to the long list of drivers killed in the 1960s and made him a footnote rather than a three time champion. When Stewart was eventually released from his car (by two fellow drivers) the ambulance promptly got lost on the way to the nearest hospital. A non-serious, non-fatal accident could have so easily become a fatal one.

    It wasn’t the inherent risk of crashing a racing car that got to Stewart, it was the fact that so much life was being lost because of a casual disregard for safety.

    Look at Roger Williamson’s death at Zandvoort in 1973. A tyre failure put Williamson’s March off the circuit and into an unsecured barrier that acted as a launching ramp. The car landed upside-down and burst into flames. Williamson was trapped and none of the marshalls had flameproof clothing or sufficient firefighting equipment. One driver (David Purley) tried desperately to right the car, but couldn’t. Williamson survived the crash relatively unscathed and died from smoke inhalation.

    Motor racing will always be dangerous – look at what happened to Henry Surtees just last year. But there is a distinction to be made between inherent risk in an activity and the risks that don’t need to be taken. I don’t think anyone seriously wants to go back to the days when talented drivers died for the most futile and pointless reasons.

    1. I think this expresses my sentiment pretty spot on. Let the cars go fast. The the barriers punish mistakes. We’ll do all we can to keep it from being deadly, but let the cars race, for goodness sake.

  18. I live 7 miles away from Autodromo do Estoril and I was there in 1985.

    By then I already knew Ayrton quite well. I started following his career in the 70`s when he was racing in karts. He raced an international kart competition here in Estoril in the 70’s and that was the first time I watched him racing. I was stunned with his kart drive. He was incredibly quick, and spectacular. He always started in the middle of the grid because he had several technical issues, and I had the chance of seeing him overtaking everybody. Finally he didn´t win due to those technical problems but what a great show. The big guns were racing there, and you didn´t need to be a specialist to apreciate his drive. He was so much better than the other stars… And by far and large.

    Since then I just tried to read everything about him, and in 1984 I had the chance of talking to him in the pits of Estoril GP. He drove a Toleman in that year.

    In 1985 he drove a Lotus in Estoril. I was siting just in front of his pit box. Some minutes before he came out, he was sitting inside his Lotus (inside the box), and the sky was very cloudy. In the pit lane I could see Gerard Ducarouge looking at the sky. As soon as the first drops of rain started to fall, Ducarouge pointed to the sky and looked at Ayrton, who immediately understood that it was coming, and reacted to that message with a happy thumb up.

    Some minutes after that he started his engine, came out from his box and came to the grid. From that moment I was almost sure that we could have a boring race. And that´s what happened. The race began, and he immeditely started to pull away from everyone else. After three laps his advantage was too large, in fact so large that everybody understood that the race could finish there. The guy succeeded to kill the race in just three laps.

    Usually I love wet races but that one was different. It was just too boring. He just kept pulling away, and away, and he just desapeared.

  19. Great post Keith.

    Big thanks to you and to Kowalsky and Nuno also for sharing with us their experience (live) in this GP.

  20. DamionShadows
    21st April 2010, 22:58

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but that has got to be the greatest, most legendary race car livery ever.

  21. “By now Rosberg’s race was over. The lumpy power delivery of his Honda turbo engine caught him out at the Parabolica, his Williams snapped out of control and hit the barrier”

    A great driver isn´t only the one who is the first to accelerate and the last to brake. A great driver is pursuing at every corner the optimum condition.

    The lumpy power is due the turbo lag. One of the best stories about Senna I know is the one of a Monaco Grand Prix (I don´t remember the year). It was rainning and he realize that he was going much faster simply turning off the turbo…

    1. 1984. Probably not an option at a quicker track like Estoril though.

      1. That´s exactly my point. Probably he didn´t it in Estoril, but, the question is: how many drivers turned off their turbos in Monaco in 1984? Schumacher usualy modified his car setup many times during a single lap.

  22. It’s amazing what a high regard Senna is still held in. After all these years, so many remember and still aspire to be as good as him. He really was something special…

  23. luisfernando- rio de janeiro
    30th April 2010, 16:57

    senna the best.

  24. @ GeeMac… since you did watch F1 back then and I didn’t.. did you know the drivers back then had ABS and Traction control? there are NO driver aids NOW not back then they were banned in 1994 or 93. the modern F1 driver has like 15 buttons and switches which he uses every race more than 25 different setting modes that they have to play with at 190 MPH while overtaking and or defending… you’re telling me thats not skill? NO ONE can ever be like Senna don’t even bother bringing Senna in comparison to any driver not even Prost.. or Schuewy( Ferrari’s dominance like Redbull now) even Ayrton Senna spun after TC got banned… the drivers now are talented and are fast the only things that changed is that they aren’t crazy for doing it anymore cuz its safe and the gear changes are easier

  25. F1 cars did not have traction control until 1992; That year Williams first used it and because of that their car was way better than the rest, allowing Mansell to win the championship. That’s why Senna moved to Williams in 94′ so he could win the championship again – it doesn’t matter how good you are, if your car is slower or much harder keep on track you are probably not going to win. Unfortunately, FIA in 1994 prohibited the use of traction control in order to keep the richest teams from having a “super” car compared to the rest.

    If you are interested to know more about this or want to know if the information is reliable, it is all explained in the documentary “Senna” directed by Asif Kapadia.

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