Ayrton Senna, Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Start, Interlagos, 1994

Todt reveals why he turned down chance to sign Senna for Ferrari in 1994

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Ayrton Senna urged Ferrari’s sporting director Jean Todt to sign him for the 1994 F1 season, despite the team already having two drivers under contract.

Todt, now the president of the FIA, revealed how Senna pressed him to do a deal in a private, three-hour meeting between the pair during the 1993 Italian Grand Prix weekend.

Speaking to RaceFans in an exclusive interview at the FIA Conference in South Africa, Todt described the meeting which took place three months after he took charge of Ferrari’s F1 team.

At the time Senna was driving for McLaren, who had been unable to prevent Williams from dominating the last two championships. With arch-rival Alain Prost contracted to stay at Williams for 1994, Senna was looking for alternatives.

“I spent three hours in my room with him talking about him joining Ferrari,” said Todt. “At that stage, in September in Monza in ’93, he was very interested to come.

“But he wanted to come [in] ’94. And ’94 we had two drivers with contracts, [Jean] Alesi and [Gerhard] Berger.

“I said ‘we have two drivers’. He said: ‘But in Formula 1, contracts is not important’. And I said to him ‘for me, contracts is important’.”

At the following round in Portugal, Prost announced his decision to retire and Senna grabbed the chance to join Williams. It proved a fateful decision, as he was killed at the third round of the 1994 season at Imola.

RaceFans will mark the 25th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death today by publishing a new, exclusive interview with his karting mentor and mechanic Lucio Pascual Gascon, better known as ‘Tche’.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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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37 comments on “Todt reveals why he turned down chance to sign Senna for Ferrari in 1994”

  1. Derek Edwards
    1st May 2019, 7:24

    Interesting read. Wasn’t Senna stood down from Toleman at Monza in 84 precisely because the team thought they had him tied down to a three year contract, but instead he had decided to go off to Lotus?

    1. Yes, that is correct – they did indeed stand him down for that race.

      If you read the viewpoint of those at Toleman, it seems it wasn’t necessarily the move to Lotus itself, but more from the sense of betrayal that they felt in the way that Senna had actively deceived everybody at Toleman, not only humiliating them but also badly damaging the trust that a number of sponsors had in the team.

      The other aspect is that there were those at Toleman who suspect that Dupasquier, who was the head of Michelin’s competition department, had secretly tipped Senna off in advance that Michelin were pulling out at the end of the 1984 season – and it seems that Senna had kept that news to himself, which caused the team a lot of pain when Michelin did finally tell them that they were going to leave F1.

  2. That’s a bit surprising. Ferrari were nowhere since 1990, and I was under the impression that Senna really wanted to drive for Williams, which had been very strong since 1991. Also, I thought Prost decided to retire because he didn’t want to be teamed with Senna anymore. It’s a long time ago, though, and my memory of reading Autosport magazines from 25 years ago may be letting me down here.

    1. Those things are both true @adrianmorse, as like most things in F1 there is always more than 1 thing going on! The fact is Senna was keen to get out of McLaren because he couldn’t see them winning without a works engine deal. So it was a choice between Williams or Ferrari, with Williams being his preference because they dominated 92 and 93. When that door seemed to be closing (because of Prost’s veto on him being his teammate) he must have put feelers out to Ferrari, hence this meeting with Todt.

      This article is interesting given the piece Autosport put out a few days detailing Ron Dennis’s memories of Senna. He mentioned that Senna said to him after McLaren announced the Peugeot engine deal for 94 at the end of the 93 season that Senna told him he would have stayed at McLaren if he knew about that deal.

      1. Tommy Scragend
        1st May 2019, 10:37

        Even if he’d known about the deal, if he’d known how awful the Peugeot engine was going to be, I bet he wouldn’t have stayed.

      2. I was only 20 years old during the 1994 seaon, but at that stage a “veteran” of 10 years thanks to my dad lol.

        Already a massive Ferrari fan(although a hardcore fan of Michael since 1991 and the battles of him and Senna was such a joy at the time), I do remember actually how fast yet so fragile the beautiful 412T1 was. Hockenheim 94 was a highlight for me, although most people remember the Jos pit incident. Interesting to think that Michael said when he tested the 1995 412T2(the most beautiful F1 car ever made imo) that he thought it was actually better than the B195. 1996……? Senna and Schumacher at Ferrari?

        Thanks for the article Dieter. One thing i do remember when I was younger was reading your articles in the newspapers. Getting any info on Formula 1 wasn’t as easy as today. Back then i use to buy scrapbooks for every season and every article about the season was cut out and pasted, and plenty of your articles featured.

        1. @Eddie

          I think Senna would have stayed at least for a few years at Williams, and he would have liked to retire at Ferrari. So we are probably looking more at 1996-1998.

      3. Ferrari war nowhere, but in 1993 they started some major restructuring, and some results were already showing that year.

        It has been no secret Senna was in discussion with Ferrari in 1993, but it was always reported to have been for 1995 or later.

        Prost retired from Williams not because he wanted to, but because Renault really wanted to have Senna drive for them, so given Prost’s “no Senna” clause, they basically forced him to retire.

        Senna had other options for 1994, it has been reported, e.g. Benetton.

  3. This is another illustration of why I never liked Senna. His opinion appeared to be that rules were for others, he would do as he pleased, and most gave him a free pass with that attitude.

    One can speculate why, but his privileged upbringing in a deeply unequal country might have had something to do with it.

    1. but his privileged upbringing in a deeply unequal country might have had something to do with it.

      @frasier I agree, another factor was his religion. He was very committed to Catholicism and his attitude was that God would protect him, he drove accordingly. I think Alain Prost had somethings to say about this at the time.
      He was a brilliant driver but not the most caring for the welfare of other drivers at the beginning of his career, but I think he did mellow later on.

      1. Yes indeed, the Prost quotes about Senna and God have been aired a few times. Is this the definitive evidence of God’s [non?]existence I wonder?

      2. José Lopes da Silva
        1st May 2019, 15:58

        “He was very committed to Catholicism”

        Can you source this?

        1. You can, for example, turn to Alex Hawkridge’s memories of Senna during his time at Toleman (Hawkridge was the former team boss) in “The Last Romantics”, which is a history of Toleman.

          In that book, Hawkridge does talk about Senna’s religious beliefs and how Senna gave him the impression that he believed that he had been given his ability by God and that God had placed him on Earth to serve a particular purpose.

          That said, Hawkridge does suggest that, during Senna’s pre-race prayer sessions (he would pray to God before every race), it wasn’t so much about race by race concerns, or that he necessarily thought that God was providing divine protection in that sense. It seems to perhaps have been more of a case of Senna believing that, in the purpose of serving that higher purpose he felt God had charged him with, the end result would justify the means by which he achieved it, no matter how base those means were.

          His sister has also spoken about his attitudes towards religion and the Catholic faith, and in particular how there was an intensification of his interest in the more spiritual aspects of Catholicism in the wake of the 1988 Monaco GP, where his dejection at wasting that victory seemed to result in him wanting to focus more on religion as a means of achieving a sense of transcendence.

          In that sense, perhaps it did create a sense of invulnerability in him, but perhaps not in the direct sense of direct intervention by God. Rather, it seems that he sought to use his faith as a means of achieving a sense of inner calm that allowed him to achieve a sense of nirvana – a sort of heightened state of awareness in which he achieved a state of perfection in what he did, and in that sense making him invulnerable to what might be thrown at him (which gives the context of the time when he talked about how, in qualifying once at Monaco, he felt that he was achieving something akin to almost a trance like state).

          It was a complex attitude to religion that he had, in the sense that he felt it allowed him to access a sense of perfection in his driving, but one that sometimes also made it easier to justify actions to himself that were also extremely malicious towards others.

      3. @JohnH

        Senna donated millions to the poor in Brazil and no one even knew about it until after he died.

        I also think Ferrari would have done much better with Senna instead of Alesi. Alesi turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments of that era.

    2. Regarding rule bending and the cavalier attitude.

      Success at all costs often costs all.

    3. I think he was more complex character than that. Even if people are selfish they can still do good things and even people who are extremely competitive until death can still care for other people. Senna definitely had a gift for speech and there are numerous examples of his statements being out there quoted as facts and as good codes of life while the surrounding drama and events from which those statements came out of are largely ignored. While he was also believer in religion I think he also used it as a tool. With prost I think it was equally annoying for both how senna used religion as his defense whereas prost pointed out the obvious contradictions. After all senna for sure did not believe a god was keeping him safe. He was just willing to do everything to not get passed or pass someone else.

      On one level senna was relentless competitor who on track would make sure he had totally destroyed his opponent. Like he did with his team mate berger. It was not enough to prove that he was faster than berger. He had to destroy berger and totally dominate him. Senna never gave an inch and would never think twice about putting his or competitor’s life and health at risk just to prove point or get some. He crashed multiple times to when he made a move and expected the other driver to back off or they’d crash. But at the same time he did care as proven by the eric comas incident where eric had crashed and senna was the only one to stop.

    4. I don’t think Senna was adored as a man but as a symbol. He gained that lofty sense of purpose through religion and singular dedication to his craft. Only religion can convince you that your’s is the only true cause (i.e. other’s contracts don’t apply, you deserve to win every race)
      I am not designed to finish second or third, I am designed to win!

      It’s manna from heaven for purists.

    5. Honestly, everyone does what Senna did, if they can get away with it. Its incredible how similar lewis and senna are. A lot of under handed things going on, the bad losing attitude, and speed.

    6. @Frasier

      If you would be so articulate on rules and them applying to everyone, what can we say about Todt and the many privileges enjoyed by Ferrari? You know the FIA un-banned electronic aid in the end of the 90s because they couldn’t enforce them? Ferrari was the team that benefited the most from the FIA’s rulings in the period up to the return of slick tires. There was even the case in 2003 when the FIA broke its own rules and changed the tire regulations mid-season because Michelin had found a tricky (and obviously legal way, if the rules had to change to stop it) way to beat the Bridgestone cars, including Ferrari.

      Let’s not look at it so black and white.

  4. ColdFly (@)
    1st May 2019, 9:50

    It takes Todt 3 hours to say that contracts are important to him ?

    1. well, after 3 hours of not being able to reach an agreement with the best driver with perhaps the best driver in the world for whatever reason, doing the honorable thing and standing by your existing contracts sounds pretty good.

      1. ColdFly (@)
        1st May 2019, 21:06

        @lancer033, I negotiate contracts on a weekly basis and in a honarable way it does not make sense what Todt says.
        – either you stick to the contracts and tell the other party the very first minute; or
        – you are open to breaking contracts open, and when you don’t come to an agreement you give them the ‘real commercial reason’ why you decide not to go ahead.

        1. It was probably more about persuading him to drive for ferrari the next year, not saying that contracts are important. The events and oral negotiations that lead to actual paper contracts are more important. No offence, but your case is different, and, people, stop accusing people of lying.

          It was a good read and thanks for the article.

          1. @TurboBT

            Indeed, it has long been reported the 1993 discussions were for 1995 or later!

        2. sorry if I wasn’t clear, but what i mean is that Toldt is editing history after the fact to make himself sound good. He would have been more than happy to to put Senna in his car if he could have, but when he couldn’t for whatever reason he falls back on the excuse of “honoring contracts”

    2. Exactly my thought. What did they talk about in the remaining 2 hours and 59 minutes?

      1. 1995? 1996?

        plenty to talk about and Ayrton trying to convince him otherwise as he has clearly stated.

  5. He doesn’t want Senna because he has Berger and Alesi? Jeez..

    I thought Todt could do no wrong, but that was just crazy. What was he thinking?

    There must be more to this story. Maybe Senna’s demands were too much?

    1. He doesn’t want Senna because he has Berger and Alesi? Jeez..

      That’s not quite how I read it. I read it as him sating he couldn’t have Senna because he had Berger and Alesi signed to race for Ferrari in 94 and that he thought it was important to abide by contracts.

    2. Of course there is more to it. They couldn’t negotiate and Senna died, let it go.

  6. F1oSaurus (@)
    1st May 2019, 19:16

    Sounds like utter nonsense. Or at the very least pulled way out of context. Ferrari was beyond useless in 93. Why would Senna even want to move there?

    And then one race later Senna suddenly has a contract with Williams? The team where he actually wanted to go and a team with which he must have been in contact for ages already?

    1. You could argue as to why Schumacher decided to go to Ferrari as well then?

      Todt was a embarking on a project to bring Ferrari back to the front. One which was ultimately a great success. Reading the article above, it appears as if Todt was interested to sign Senna, but just not for 1994, as he mentions, Alesi and Berger were already contracted. Perhaps he was trying to sell Ayrton the idea of signing in 1995?

      This would have made sense. Ferrari needed a top line driver to carry their project forward. Signing Senna would have been a major marketing coup for Ferrari, but it would not have been the long term plan that would have come with Schumacher.

  7. Nobody mentioning Michael Schumacher here? He was clearly a force to be reckoned with. Thinking with Tod’s head, building a new Ferrari would definitely mean signing Schumacher for 95 (which only came true in 96). So I can imagine they argued for the nr 1 sear at Ferrari for three hours.

    1. @lkapitany

      I don’t think Schumacher was a factor for Ferrari at that time. It seems Schumacher was interested in joining McLaren after 1995, but his manager persuaded him to go to Ferrari. But in 1993, Schumacher was more than happy at Briatore’s project.

      1. At least Schummi was touched by sennas death. Even some years later this was his response:

  8. I think people need to understand that in F1 at that time at least, for lots of the teams, drivers and sponsors, contracts were not always honoured, they could be rescinded, it’s something that happened more often in F1. There were several examples. Ex: Schumacher got a contract with Benetton even if Moreno had a contract with them; Alan Jones had a contract with Ferrari but was replaced by Villeneuve; even Senna had a multi year deal with Toleman and moved to Lotus; there were more examples like that. If 2 parties are willing, ex, driver + team, they could work out a way. I believe Senna tried to access his chances at Ferrari. It’s just that Jean Todt wouldn’t do that, which is fine. I think maybe people are reading too much on the “I’m Senna , I can do anything because I believe in God “ thing.

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