Ayrton Senna, McLaren, 1988

Senna’s first McLaren victory

1988 San Marino Grand Prix flashback

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Ayrton Senna scored his first win for McLaren on this day 25 years ago in the San Marino Grand Prix.

He led a crushing one-two for the team. He and team mate Alain Prost were the only drivers to complete all 60 laps at the Autodromo Dino Ferrari in Imola.

Wielding the devastating Honda-powered MP4-4, Senna picked up the first nine points on the way to his first world championship triumph, all of which came with McLaren.

But May the 1st is also a poignant date in the history of Ayrton Senna. Exactly six years after that maiden McLaren win, Senna lost his life in a crash at the very same circuit.

1988 San Marino Grand Prix qualifying

If you thought you saw dominance in 2011, when Red Bull typically had a few tenths of a second over their rivals in qualifying, think again.

Behind the two McLarens on the front row of the grid for the San Marino Grand Prix, Nelson Piquet’s identically-engined Lotus 100T was a staggering 3.3 seconds slower. In the race, both McLarens lapped quicker than anyone else qualified.

Lotus, unlike McLaren, had the advantage of familiarity with Honda’s engines having used them the year before. But the car, Gerard Ducarouge’s last design for the Hethel team, suffered from an excess of drag and no longer enjoyed the active suspension developed by the team at Senna’s urging the year before.

The turbo-powered teams had long enjoyed a surfeit of power which had allowed them to crank up wing angles for more downforce regardless of the consequent increase in drag. But in 1988 the FIA’s cut in turbo boost pressure from 4 bar to 2.5 and reduction of fuel tank size from 195 litres to 150 had checked their power advantage.

Others were alert to the importance of efficient downforce. Among them was March designer Adrian Newey, who had developed the last three Indianapolis 500-winning cars in an environment where aerodynamics were critical.

His new 881 chassis, entirely conceived on wind tunnel work, pointed the way forward for F1 car design. Tightly sculpted around the dimensions of its drivers, the Leyton House team found the new car piled on more downforce than its predecessor without adding drag.

This was especially important as they lacked a turbo and used John Judd’s 3.5-litre V8 engine instead. At Imola, as in the season-opening race in Brazil, Ivan Capelli lined up a promising ninth on the grid.

1988 San Marino Grand Prix grid

Row 1 1. Ayrton Senna 1’27.148
2. Alain Prost 1’27.919
Row 2 3. Nelson Piquet 1’30.500
4. Alessandro Nannini 1’30.590
Row 3 5. Gerhard Berger 1’30.683
6. Riccardo Patrese 1’30.952
Row 4 7. Eddie Cheever 1’31.300
8. Thierry Boutsen 1’31.414
Row 5 9. Ivan Capelli 1’31.519
10. Michele Alboreto 1’31.520
Row 6 11. Nigel Mansell 1’31.635
12. Satoru Nakajima 1’31.647
Row 7 13. Philippe Streiff 1’32.013
14. Derek Warwick 1’32.483
Row 8 15. Philippe Alliot 1’32.712
16. Andrea de Cesaris 1’33.037
Row 9 17. Gabriele Tarquini 1’33.236
18. Luis Perez-Sala 1’33.239
Row 10 19. Yannick Dalmas 1’33.374
20. Mauricio Gugelmin 1’33.448
Row 11 21. Julian Bailey 1’33.874
22. Adrian Campos 1’33.903
Row 12 23. Jonathan Palmer 1’33.972
24. Alex Caffi 1’34.204
Row 13 25. Piercarlo Ghinzani 1’34.567
26. Stefano Modena 1’34.782
Euro Brun-Ford

Alain Prost’s attempt to beat Senna’s time was wrecked when he came across former team mate Rene Arnoux. Too busy grappling with the evil-handling Ligier JS31, Arnoux put Prost onto the kerbs, causing minor damage to the McLaren.

That secured pole for Senna, who had switched chassis after damaging his car from Brazil in a crash in testing at the Imola track.

Neither Ligier made the cut. For Stefan Johansson, the sight of his replacement at McLaren qualifying on pole position with a lap 8.5 seconds faster than his must have been especially galling.

With 31 cars entered for the race a pre-qualifying session was originally planned. It was called off when Osella’s single-car entry – appropriately called FA1L – did not pass scrutineering.

However Alex Caffi put Dallara’s single entry on the grid for its first ever race. The struggling Euro Brun and Zakspeed teams – the latter plugging away with their own four-cylinder turbo – had one car each in the race.

Did not qualify

32. Oscar Larrauri, Euro Brun-Ford – 1’35.077
26. Stefan Johansson, Ligier-Judd – 1’35.654
25. Rene Arnoux, Ligier-Judd – 1’36.123
10. Bernd Schneider, Zakspeed – 1’36.218

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The race

Those waiting in expectation to see if there might at least be an exciting contest for the lead between the two McLaren drivers had their hopes dashed quickly. Prost’s car stuttered away from the line, leaving Senna to sprint off into an unchallenged lead.

Having come around at the start of lap two in sixth place, it took Prost until lap eight to pick off his rivals and take up second place. He did this with cruel ease, out-dragging Gerhard Berger’s turbo-powered Ferrari as if it were a DFV-engined backmarker on the uphill climb to Piratella.

But by the time Prost had demoted Piquet to third on lap eight his team mate was eight seconds up the road. He never made serious inroads into that deficit until Senna backed off in the closing stages.

‘Best of the rest’ battle

Had it not been for the unreal speed of the McLarens, the FIA’s attempts to redress the balance between the turbo-charged and regular cars would have been judged a triumph. For behind them an excellent battle for third place raged between Piquet, Berger and their normally-aspirated rivals Riccardo Patrese, Thierry Boutsen, Alessandro Nannini and Nigel Mansell.

Nannini’s Benetton passed Berger early in the race then applied fierce pressure to Patrese, who made his Williams as wide as possible. Lap after lap Nannini dodged around in his mirrors on the flat-out run through Tamburello and Villeneuve to the Tosa hairpin. On one lap he had to abandon a move as Stefano Modena’s dawdling Euro Brun got in the way.

Their respective team mates were next to pass Berger, who was minding his fuel consumption. The four normally-aspirated cars briefly formed a high-speed quartet, until Nannini launched a surprise attack on Patrese at Tosa to claim fourth. Boutsen and Mansell picked of Patrese in rapid succession, and now the two Benettons went hunting Piquet’s Lotus.

While Nannini concentrated on Piquet, Boutsen almost went up the back of his team mate at the Variante Alta chicane. Mansell seized the opportunity to claim fifth. That became fourth when Nannini spun at Tosa.

Now it was Mansell’s turn to attack Piquet, and on lap 40 he dived down the inside of his former Williams team mate at Rivazza to claim the place. But it was short-lived: at the fastest part of the track the superior power of the Lotus blasted it ahead. Moments later, Mansell’s Judd engine cried enough, leaving the Benettons to attack Piquet.

Berger came on strong towards the end of the race, picking off Patrese whose exhaust had broken. On the final lap Berger barged Nannini aside to claim fifth.

Goodyear were the only tyre supplier, and their conservative compounds meant none of the top six visited the pits.

1988 San Marino Grand Prix result

Pos. No. Driver Car Laps Time/gap/reason
1 12 Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda 60 1:32’41.264
2 11 Alain Prost McLaren-Honda 60 2.334s
3 1 Nelson Piquet Lotus-Honda 59 1 lap
4 20 Thierry Boutsen Benetton-Ford 59 1 lap
5 28 Gerhard Berger Ferrari 59 1 lap
6 19 Alessandro Nannini Benetton-Ford 59 1 lap
7 18 Eddie Cheever Arrows-Megatron 59 1 lap
8 2 Satoru Nakajima Lotus-Honda 59 1 lap
9 17 Derek Warwick Arrows-Megatron 58 2 laps
10 14 Philippe Streiff AGS-Ford 58 2 laps
11 24 Luis Perez-Sala Minardi-Ford 58 2 laps
12 29 Yannick Dalmas Lola-Ford 58 2 laps
13 6 Riccardo Patrese Williams-Judd 58 2 laps
14 3 Jonathan Palmer Tyrrell-Ford 58 2 laps
15 15 Mauricio Gugelmin March-Judd 58 2 laps
16 23 Adrian Campos Minardi-Ford 57 3 laps
17 30 Philippe Alliot Lola-Ford 57 3 laps
18 27 Michele Alboreto Ferrari 54 Engine
33 Stefano Modena Euro Brun-Ford 52 Not Classified
4 Julian Bailey Tyrrell-Ford 48 Gearbox
5 Nigel Mansell Williams-Judd 42 Engine
31 Gabriele Tarquini Coloni-Ford 40 Fuel pressure
36 Alex Caffi Dallara-Ford 18 Gearbox
9 Piercarlo Ghinzani Zakspeed 16 Gearbox
16 Ivan Capelli March-Judd 2 Gearbox
22 Andrea de Cesaris Rial-Ford 0 Suspension

Berger’s last-lap lunge salvaged something for Ferrari in what turned out to be their last home race before the death of founder Enzo Ferrari. Having qualified tenth, Michele Alboreto started last after stalling on the grid. He recovered to eighth until his engine died six laps from home. Already rumours were circulating that Alboreto’s fifth season at Ferrari would be his last.

Eddie Cheever finished out of the points in seventh, the ex-BMW Megatron engine in his Arrows suffering from a lack of power. At one point he thought Alboreto’s Ferrari was bearing down on him to overtake, but it turned out to be the black-and-orange AGS of Philippe Streiff. Cheever hurriedly cranked up the boost to spare himself the ignominy of being overtaking by an inferior car which was 25kg over the minimum weight limit for normally aspirated cars.

Capelli’s race lasted two laps until his gearbox selected two gears simultaneously as he braked for the Variante Alta, spinning him out.

Sport or entertainment?

The 1988 San Marino Grand Prix was not an exciting race. It did not witness a stirring battle for the lead, the first appearance of a game-changing new technology, or a controversial crash between two bitter rivals.

Aside from its retrospective significance for being Ayrton Senna’s first victory for McLaren, it was a somewhat unremarkable affair. It was exactly the sort of race Formula One tries to avoid having these days.

Today’s strict technical regulations have narrowed the gap between the front running teams to the point that a margin of victory such as that seen at Imola in 1988 is unthinkable. Mandatory pit stops, rapidly degrading tyres and DRS add further spice to the all-important ‘show’.

While F1 in 1988 did not have such artificial devices nor such strict rules, the consequence was the racing could often be one-sided and processional. That was inescapably true at Imola that year.

Whether Formula One should prioritise entertainment over sporting integrity to the degree it has is a debate which continues to recur in the comments here.

Next year the resumption of competition between engine manufacturers in development of the new engine formula opens up the possibility of one team stealing a march on the opposition and dominating the championship. What will an audience which has seen 32 lead changes in the last four races make of that?

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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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50 comments on “Senna’s first McLaren victory”

  1. Traverse (@)
    1st May 2013, 12:47

    F1 used to be a sport but nowadays it’s as if entertainment and pleasing the laugh a minute, here today gone tomorrow, ready meal generation takes precedence over REAL sport.

    People must realise and accept that not every race will feature an overtake at every corner, nor controversy at every turn. I fear that the way F1 is going, it won’t be long before Vince McMahon is announced as Bernie’s successor.

    1. What makes you say this @hellotraverse. Most races especially at Imola in the late 1980’s were fuel conservation runs and as this article shows there was a huge field spread. As technology advanced, it was impossible to avoid processional races due to aerodynamics.

      Now, I see myself as one of the old school, who would happily watch these races many consider ‘boring’. I, personally dislike DRS and am no fan of KERS, however I can see why they were introduced. The commercial side has advanced according to the age, and in all honesty F1 is probably a little behind the times if anything. Interaction with fans still leaves a great deal to be desired.

      Most importantly though, I believe that we are currently in the ‘Golden Age’ of F1 at the moment and probably only rose tinted spectacles will help most people see that.

      1. Traverse (@)
        1st May 2013, 13:45

        I personally preferred F1 prior to DRS, because when a driver executed a perfectly timed overtaking manoeuvre, you knew that it was their skill that enabled them to pull it off and not a button/lever marked “DRS” on their steering wheel.

        My point is that Football fans accept that not every match is going to be a 6-5 goal fest, some games will end nil-nil. Likewise not every Boxing bout will feature a bone crunching KO, some fights will be boring. Both Boxing and Footy fans accept this as a natural propertie of real sport, sometimes it’s unfathomably exciting and other times it’s boring as hell. (Many) F1 fans on the other hand appear to lack this virtue and want non-stop edge-of-the-seat entertainment 24/7, and if they don’t get it they expect the powers that be to manufacture it by any means necessary (DRS, tissue paper tyres ets..).

        This ridiculous approach is killing the sporting aspect of F1 and will result in a system that rewards entertainment value over actual skill and ability, thus resulting in races where the driver that wins doesn’t win because he (and crucially his team) are better skilled and talented than their competitors, but because these fake peripherals fail. You need look no further than this years Bahrain GP for evidence of this. Both Alonso and Massa were hindered big time, not because they made mistakes, but because their gimmicky DRS and tyres failed (respectively).

        I know that integral components such as engines, gear box’s and suspension can fail from time to time and also ruin a drivers race, but the difference is DRS and KERS aren’t integral, they’re peripheral and thus dispensable.

        1. I think it’s hard to compare F1 (or any motorsport) to football, boxing or whatever, because the car is such a large part of the equation. Cars are pretty artificial, and so are the rules governing their design and construction.

          I’m no fan of DRS, but I’m also no fan of significantly faster cars being unable to overtake slower cars due to the aerodynamics. I would rather they fix the aerodynamics of the cars, but I’m guessing that after McLaren invented the F-duct some bright spark thought, “Hey! We can just use that and leave the aero alone!”

          KERS I see as a natural progression of technology, like turbocharging. I’d class it completely differently to DRS as it’s available to both attacker and defender as and when they see fit. And from next year ERS will be integral to the powertrain.

        2. You know I think a lot of fans that understand the sport even slightly would agree that that DRS should be rid off, I think though that the top guns and I think BE would be looking at the bigger crowd which knows very little about the F1 DNA and they are targeting that market for revenue purposes of course.. I mean the number of people that are now watching F1 has increased I think and this is exactly what BE and crew want because obviously this generates more money…I agree with @Max Jacobson not many, that have not followed F1 for long, would enjoy out and out pure racing without the gadgets and based on pure talent sadly…. I’m curious whether they will at some point look to find a balance of the new gadgets without losing F1 roots and how they might do that

    2. I don’t think its fair to keep blaming the younger generation for the direction the sport is heading. I am 21 and would much prefer things like DRS to be removed, and that is a viewpoint that from reading the comments on this site that a lot of young fans agree about. You are labelling a whole generation of fans with a tag that only applies to a minority.

      1. I’m only 15, yet I acknowledge (despite the fact I’ve only seen one whole season without DRS) that the racing would probably benefit from it, an opinion shared by most on this forum. That may not be the same for the “casual” audience though…

        1. Bernie is doing what Nintendo did with the Wii, strongly target casual gamers (fans) and people who don’t play games (watch f1), to increase the fan base, and thus profits. Only problem is they risked alienating their original fan base, which is exactly what is happening with f1 now. I will always be a fan and ill always watch f1, but I can see others are already switching off, and many more will no doubt follow if the situation gets any worse unfortunately.

  2. Imola is one my favorite circuits.it is one of those few counter clockwise circuits. Though a place of some tragedies. It is also a place of some great races and also some interesting schumi Alonso wheel to wheel racing.

  3. Who would have known that 6 years later it would be his las race ever. You are missed Ayrton! R.I.P.

    1. Ι agree with you :(

  4. Interesting article. Wonder if we’ll ever see F1 at Imola again? (race, not testing)

    Berger, who was minding his fuel consumption.

    How times change, but stay the same!

  5. I also prefer to remember May 1st 1988 to 1994. Not to say we should ever neglect what happened that tragic weekend but instead embrace the magical time in between these races. After the bitter blow of being disqualified in Brazil, despite an epic drive, this win in Imola is what started a new chapter of Ayrton Senna’s life. One with a car good enough to achieve his dreams, and a period most fans reference as their favourite team-mate battle of all time.

  6. 10.5 seconds between first and last on the grid. Anyone who questions the ability, skill and professionalism of Caterham, Marussia and the late HRT should remember that stat.

    1. Oh dear, in my mind I saw 1.37.4!

      1. 7.5 seconds is still a pretty big gap! If you do the sums with the 107% rule we have today 19th downwards would have failed to qualify.

  7. Will engine manufacturers be allowed to develop their engines or they will be freezed?

  8. Great article Keith, but a couple of minor points I need to point out:

    1) You make it sound as if Prost missed out on pole because of Arnoux. He didn’t. Even if Prost could have bridged the 8 tenths deficit on that lap, Senna would have just got out and went half a second quicker as he always did

    2) What did the audience make of the 2011 season which was one of domination, not even of 1 team but of 1 driver? That was the 6th season of the engine regulations. Still the racing behind Vettel(and at rare races, including Vettel) was pretty good, as it was at times during the 1988 season(with added bonus of Prost vs Senna). What does the audience make of the thousand overtakes per race in NASCAR? And what with the ten thousand overtakes per race in endurance fast engineering exercise that some dare call “racing”? So I don’t think the engine formula has nowadays any relevance at all to the enjoyment of the public. It’s rather the overall quality of the racing that’s important(ie. is overtaking possible but not too easy?). We’d rarely seen Vettel on camera in Bahrain but by the looks of it the “audience” rather enjoyed the race after all.

    Lastly, the domination of Mclaren came not only because of the engine. After all the rest of the turbo teams couldn’t hold a candle to them. So it was the rare combination of best engine, chassis and drivers that did the trick. And an purely engine inspired domination is even less likely in 2014, because every engine manufacturer supplies engines of the same specification to multiple teams

    1. Agree with the last point strongly. Thankfully, no team will have exclusive use of the strongest engine, like McLaren-Honda & Williams-Renault in the 80s and early 90s.

      Having said that, if the Ferrari powertrain is dominant in 2014, guess which team will win the races? It won’t be Toro Rosso… Similarly, the Mercedes team has seen the Mercedes engine first. And if they’re still using high-wear exploding tyres like this year, that should mix things up and give underpowered cars a chance.

      Thanks for a very welcome different angle on Senna on the first of May, by the way.

      1. @tomsk You’re welcome! On the point of teams having access to the same engines, Lotus also had Honda power in 1988. As far as I know they were the same specification.

        But Lotus didn’t have Senna and Prost and an MP4-4, they had Piquet and Nakajima and a 100T. And it’s worth remembering this recent interview with Piquet where he said he was never the same after his crash at Imola the year before:


    2. With regards to the last point also, the rules regarding the design of the engines are so constrictive that it is unlikely one manufacturer will be able to steal a huge march on the others. Also, I’m pretty sure the development freeze date is fairly soon after the start of the season, so likely we’ll see very little development also.

  9. missing the point of the article.
    It’s good to watch how superior senna was than the little political frenchman. In qualy was so superior it was sick.
    Lucky prost, through politiking , got his hands on the williams for the 1993 season, and he could improve his tally of poles, than without that superior car, would have been a little weak, to say the least.

    1. But his tally of wins was pretty fine without the Williams, at 44.

    2. Hmm, labling Prost as nothing other than political misses the point of Prost too. He also had a devastating turn of pace, he just chose his moments when to release it. Those who doubt Prost’s speed should check out this quote from Niki Lauda: “In qualifying, particularly, you need that extra something, a mixture of enthusiasm and madness. Prost – six years my junior – was more capable of it than I was. At Monaco in particular, I couldn’t believe how he went through traffic.” Need more proof? How about Keke Rosberg, who many rate as one of the quickest of his generatino, who after being Prost’s team mate at McLaren said: “He’s the best I’ve ever known, no question about it. As an all-round race driver he’s head and shoulders clear of anyone else, because he’s brilliant in every department…and he’s bloody quick, I can tell you.”

      As for his tally of pole positions, they are a little underwhelming I admit. But Prost always played the long game, recognising that points don’t get dished out on Saturday but on Sunday, he always set the car up for the race. That is common sense more than anything.

      I fall firmly on the Senna side of the Prost/Senna rivalry, but I think that the attitude that Prost only ever achieved anything in the sport through poitiking is going the legacy of the film “Senna”.

      1. Oh, and Prost scored 41 fastest laps to Senna’s 19….also a pretty telling statistic.

      2. all that you say is true, but you can see it the other way around. Lauda was on his way out of f1 when prost beat him on qualy 1984, the same can be said about rosberg. If you compare prost with some teammates at the same level he was matched by arnoux in 1982 with 4 poles both, and beat by arnoux in 1981 3 prost and 4 arnoux, and the most shocking 1990 mansell 3 prost 0. I don’t even want to mention senna, because that’s humiliating. in race pace he was a master, but he was not good at all in the wet. So overall he was very good, but always with the best equipment.

  10. Osella’s single-car entry – appropriately called FA1L – did not pass scrutineering.

    That made my day. :D

  11. I wonder if 1988 season may have something more to offer in Grand Prix flashback. Bearing in mind that Australian GP was the last race for turbos, until their return next year.

  12. Regarding the everlasting sport v entertainment discussion: I think a lot of F1’s current state is due to a change in viewing audience, not just the sport that has evolved slowly over time. Formula 1 is basically a two-hour long commercial break, and for maximum effect this commercial needs to be as entertaining as possible. So F1 is just giving people what they want to see: constant action and excitement. So if there is anyone to blame, I’d say blame Formula 1’s audience.

    The general impression I have from the past is that people were a lot more patient, or at least more willing to wait for something. I think this is due to advances in technology: many people (not me) now have the entire world in their pocket or in the palm of their hand – which can be a good thing, but looking up stuff doesn’t require a lot of ‘effort’ anymore. Every bit of information is handed to you with just a few simple taps on a screen, so basically you are king and your digital minions do all the hard work for you. In my opinion, this contributes to people expecting a ‘show’ when they watch F1: in 25 years, it has become a lot harder for anything to entertain such a crowd, and especially a two-hour thing must be some special to keep an equally-sized audience.

    So the real discussion point is: should F1 give people what they want and deliver a show, or do we keep it a sport? Obviously I would choose the latter (I think you would too), but the real problem is that Formula 1’s seemingly unable to choose either, so now it’s a kind of sport and a kind of show. Either F1 should just admit it’s a show and just adopt Nascar’s rules, or it should become a sport like it used to be – either of them will do, as long as it makes up its mind.

    1. Oh, and thanks for not choosing the 1994 but the 1988 GP as subject for this flashback.

  13. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    1st May 2013, 17:23

    Lovely article and a great perspective, Keith. For all of us F1 fans, the 1st May has always heralded yet another anniversary of that dark day, but it is so refreshing to remember that is was was also the day on which Senna took his first McLaren victory; the dawn of arguably the greatest era in F1. I hate the fact that in some respects Senna has become a statistic, the last driver to in F1. But he wasn’t just a driver, he was the driver. He wasn’t the romantic legend that some believe, he wasn’t the “saviour of Brazil”, he was quite simply the finest talent that ever sat in a racing car. And I will hear no arguments on that. You can call me sentimental, but there was an intangibility to the way he drove the car, a spiritual connection between man and machine. He didn’t glide from apex to apex, he didn’t jab, wrestle and slide the car in a Mansellian manner, he simply read every vibration from the car, and sort of “shimmied” the car around the track over the edge of grip. I believe the it was this vehement belief in the grip of his car that became a factor in 88-9 some of the best years in F1 history, and kept my good self so hooked. So for me, and hopefully other fans of my orientation, Senna was not “the last man to die in F1”, or a romantic hero glazed by rose tint of death, or a saviour of the Brazilian people, a religious icon or a paradoxical psychological case. No, for me Aryton Senna was, quite emphatically, the greatest racing driver that ever lived.

    1. @william-brierty +1!

      I think Senna may very well be the best we ever see: the statistics would give the impression that Schumacher was the greatest but the way in which Senna could pull 1.5 seconds out of the bag in qualifying over no less than Alain Prost is mesmerising.

      1. @vettel1
        Back then, it was a lot more common for drivers to have big gaps in qualifying between them for 2 reasons.

        1. F1 wasn’t as car dependent hence the driver could make the difference.
        2. The grid was genuinely weaker and less talented.

        Take nothing away from Ayrton’s abilities, but I personally believe that they are over-exaggerated. If Senna could pull 1.5 seconds over his teammate in qualy, an equally talented driver today might only have been able to pull out 1.5 tenths from his teammate today because of the nature of modern Formula 1.

        1. @kingshark of course, it is all but impossible to have such an advantage in modern F1, but remember, this is Alain Prost we are talking about here – not a “weak member” of the grid. It’s still a pretty remarkable achievement.

      2. In fairness to Prost, I think it was an extremely unusual day when Senna beat him by 1.5 secs in qualifying. And he did not do so in San Marinio in 1988.

        1. @jonsan oh absolutely again, but Senna’s average advantage in qualifying in 1988 was 0.423 seconds, and 3 times did Senna out-qualify Prost by more than a second.

          That is a remarkable achievement against any teammate, but Alain Prost? Incredible, even with all factors considered.

    2. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
      1st May 2013, 21:50

      @vettel1 – I have never been one for subtracting from Schumacher’s achievements, but he simply did not have Aryton’s sheer talent behind the wheel of a racing car. Fact. Had fate been kinder, Senna may have even been able to challenge Schumacher’s 7 WDC titles, and I am sure Senna would’ve been champion in ’94, ’96 and ’97 had he lived. However would Senna have received the infallible legendary status that he currently enjoys had he lived?

      @kingshark and @jonsan – I really don’t think anything can be subtracted from Senna’s qualifying performances. Yes, the talent of the field was sparser, but the fact that Senna beat Prost by 1.3 seconds on a weekend that Prost was happy with the car and after what he described as a “clean lap” is an utterly shameful performance of Prost’s behalf. And surely if there was a greater focus on driver ability, the grid would be closer to together? OK, the lack of downforce of the cars made the handling more inconsistent back then so it was harder to get a really sweet lap, but if anything that further emphasizes Senna’s skill. For me, there is no argument of any validity that correctly pays down Senna’s driving skill, especially when subsequent modern analysis of some of Senna’s laps (including his ’88 Monaco pole) have further consolidated his almost inhuman talent.

      1. @william-brierty I for one hold Schumacher in very high regard: he also had an immense amount of natural talent and is deserving of his legendary status but agreed I think Senna was just on another level. I always find qualifying to be a better indication of a driver’s talent than the races themselves and in that regard Senna was unrivalled. Quite simply, no-one was faster over a single lap, not even the great Alain Prost.

      2. The talent was by no means sparser in the 80’s and the first half of the 90’s. Senna got his poles against the likes of Prost, Piquet, Mansel, Lauda and Schumacher – just to cite those that are in all lists of all time greats. Current drivers that you could speak in the same breath as those above are limited to 3: Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton.
        Of Drivers like Button and Webber, F1 has always had ample supply throughout its history (to cite a few from the period: Berger, DeAngelis, Keke Rosberg, Alboreto, Alesi, Patrese, Damon Hill, Mika Hakkinen). As for Raikkonen, this fellow is no different to Button and Webber – just more overhyped. Look at his comparison against team-mates: When they were not thoroughly worthless, he was beaten by them (Massa and Heidfeld – no super drivers themselves).

  14. That 3.5 second gap between first and fourth in qualifying really jumps out at you. I think that was unusual even by the standards of 1988, but even so – the difference in cars back then (and anytime before 2005 to be honest) was extremely pronounced. Modern drivers compete in much more equal machinery.

    1. 1988 was by no means the norm pre-2005. Sure, there were years in which a single team dominated (84, 87 88, 92, 93, 02 and 04), but most of years one had at least two teams with real chances to get to top spot (and in 84, 87 and 88, even though they were one-team seasons, there were two heavy weights competing for the championship – with the same equipment!). Further, there were years (81, 82, 83 and 86) in which multiple drivers were on the run for the title.
      The last 2 or 3 seasons have been giving an impression that a new chapter has come to F1, but I cant see why next year one team cannot find a Holy Grayl of design and totally dominate the season (2011 was not very far from that….).

  15. Another great article Keith, raising interesting points to think and debate about. Thanks

  16. Interesting to note that the San Marino GP was also the only race Senna failed to qualify for in his debut year in 1984.

  17. if you pay money to watch a sport event, it became entertainment.

  18. Great article and way to remember Ayrton, Keith. Not by his death, but by his first Mclaren victory. The legend lives on.

  19. jc (@senna729)
    2nd May 2013, 5:35

    Thanks for excellent write up. Very technical and in depth!!!

  20. While F1 in 1988 did not have such artificial devices nor such strict rules, the consequence was the racing could often be one-sided and processional. That was inescapably true at Imola that year.

    Whether Formula One should prioritise entertainment over sporting integrity to the degree it has is a debate which continues to recur in the comments here.

    One sided races are not exclusive to lack of artificial devices, Vettel’s 2011 processional one-sided white wash championship is testament to this. I could quote the 1986 season where Prost, Mansell, Piquet and Senna had options to win the title with 3 races to go (which needles to say was epic), we could revue many a great battle in the 80’s and pre-80’s. 1988 at least was an inter-team battle Prost v Senna which again was epic in its own right. 2011 had artificial devices and was incescapably Vettel v no-one

    There is no doubt the FIA always try and avoid having 1 team dominate the sport through changing/tweaking the regs to let the other teams catchup as without competition it gets tedious very quickly for your average fan. Not good for profit. This has increased with the manipulation of tyres and overtaking as the sport has entered the era of ‘growth’. Formula 1 like any other business or sport cannot afford to lose market share and cannot afford another 2011. One sided and processional will not be the sole trademark of any one era of Formula 1 one, (although Schumacher-Ferrari-Bridgestone years would undoubtedly win the award of ‘most’) artificial devices or not

    Senna often said the racing that he most enjoyed in his career was when he used to race go karts and defined it as ‘pure racing’. Most people prefer show and entertainment, I admit I havent and won’t stop watching F1 however artificial and gizmoey the racing becomes. But its the pureness of racing that has undoubtedly withered with the rise of the show

  21. I’m glad there is an article here celebrating Senna in this way rather than simply remembering his death.

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